Jyroscope & Montana Macks – “Happy Medium” (Jyroscope.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s I.B. Fokuz and Collasoul Structure worked their way through the stresses of daily life on this therapeutic release. Job. Family. Relationships. Social injustice. Health. Finances. Anxiety. Frustration. Doubt. The rhyming duo completely opened up over the five tracks on offer here, giving listeners full access to their personal (and extremely relatable) thoughts. The jazzy, easy-going production supplied by Montana Macks gave the EP a soothing, relaxed vibe, ensuring Jyroscope’s verses had plenty of room to breathe. Easy does it, do it easy.
J Littles & Claude Money – “Godbody Tapestry” (KJamm-BFR.BandCamp.Com) – This blend of cool-but-deadly rhymes and soulful rare groove loops from Nottingham duo J Littles and Claude Money was a supreme display of smoothed-out musical arrogance laced with lyrical gems from two individuals who were clearly meant to build together. Best listened to whilst sat comfortably on a butter-soft leather sofa, blowing smoke, wearing a velour robe and a pair of box-fresh Air Max. Exquisite.
John Robinson – “King JR” (JohnRobinson.BandCamp.Com) – Sounding as fresh and enthusiastic in 2021 as he did when debuting as a member of Scienz Of Life back in the mid-90s, NY-raised emcee John Robinson called on the production talents of West Coast favourite Blu for this stimulating collection of thoughtful wordplay and dynamic beats. Music with substance.
Shortie No Mass – “here goes nothing.” (ShortieNoMass.BandCamp.Com) – Having first made a name for herself in the 90s working with the likes of De La Soul and The Roots, Boston-born, Philly-based artist Shortie No Mass made a welcome return to the mic after a long hiatus and sounded like she’d never been away. Her lively, infectious flow and straight-to-the-point rhymes sat comfortably here over production from Da Beatminerz, J-Zone and Shortie’s son Jay Law.
DJ Cosm – “Natural Within” (MakeBelieveHipHop.BandCamp.Com) – DJ Cosm of Canada’s Dragon Fli Empire pulled together a varied selection of underground talent for this follow-up to his 2011 release “Time And Space”, with Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, Brown Bag Money’s Daniel Son and Bankai Fam’s Skanks The Rap Martyr all making stellar appearances.
Al-J & Kane Major – “Blak To The Old School” (KaneMajor.BandCamp.Com) – Boston emcee Al-J (of Blak Madeen) painted vivid lyrical pictures of his experiences growing up in the 80s on this Kane Major-produced album. Covering everything from watching Saturday morning cartoons and first hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to navigating his way through the crack era, Al-J’s personal memories were further brought to life by the authentic electro-influenced sounds of Major’s production. A sonic blast of back to the future flavour.
Dagha – “D-A To The G” (Dagha.BandCamp.Com) – With this being his first release since 2014, it was apparent even before the end of the first track that Boston’s Dagha was intending on making-up for lost time with this album. No distractions. No gimmicks. “D-A To The G” was all about skills. Dagha tore through the beats of collaborator DJ Real with his confident delivery and clever wordplay, keeping it funky throughout with flows for days.
The Good People – “The Greater Good” (TheGoodPeople.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding NY duo Emskee and Saint came correct with yet another collection of quality true-school beats and rhymes, offering lyrical food for thought and warm, melodic production throughout. Joined by the likes of Lords Of The Underground, Craig G and Shabaam Sahdeeq, “The Greater Good” was the sound of artists really doing it for the culture.
Apollo Brown & Stalley – “Blacklight” (ApolloBrown360.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit producer Apollo Brown has built a career on bringing the best out of the emcees he chooses to collaborate with. From Boog Brown and OC to Skyzoo and Che Noir, Apollo’s brand of soulful boom-bap has inspired some brilliant performances from a variety of lyricists. “Blacklight” continued that trend. Formerly signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music label, Ohio’s Stalley sounded totally at home over Brown’s mellow thump, spitting down-to-earth, street-smart verses that stayed with you long after the music stopped.
Wish Master x Illinformed – “Cold Harbour Tales” (WishMaster.BandCamp.Com) – Bristol’s Wish Master has consistently sharpened his skills with each release he’s dropped over the last few years. This full-length collaboration with producer Illinformed saw Wish Master finding an ideal musical partner, with crisp beats and atmospherics samples providing the perfect backdrop for the UK lyricist’s raw wit and life lessons.
Breeze Brewin – “Hindsight” (Juggaknots.BandCamp.Com) – Some people are just born to rhyme. It’s as simple as that. NYC’s Breeze Brewin is one such individual. Twenty-five years after debuting as a member of The Juggaknots with a cult classic release on Bobbito’s Fondle ‘Em label, Breeze proved that his underground legend status is still firmly intact with the release of this brilliant album. Backed by production from the likes of Sebb Bash, Marco Polo and DJ Spinna, the BX emcee covered a lot of lyrical ground here, delivering every verse with charisma, skill and originality.
Planet Asia x Evidence – “Rule Of Thirds” (BiggerPictureRecordings.Com) – West Coast giants Planet Asia and Evidence had worked together before this release earlier in their respective careers. But to hear the pair come together in 2021 having long established themselves as two of the most consistent artists the game has seen was a beautiful thing. Asia’s effortlessly dope flow swaggered over the stripped-down production supplied by Evidence, lyrically blending the fly and the righteous as always, with Domo Genesis, Milano Constantine and Rome Streetz offering verbal support.
Ea$y Money x Nozs – “2090” (STDaSquad.BandCamp.Com) – 2021 was a productive year for Massachusetts-based microphone fiend Ea$y Money, with his name gracing the cover of a handful of projects during the twelve month period. Whilst quality control was high on all of those releases, this six-track EP with New England producer Nozs was the standout for me. Street-smart rhymes were paired here with boom-bap beats that were full of character, resulting in a memorable, concise release. Also, props to Ea$y Money for the respectful nod to the great Grand Puba with the EP’s cover art.
Backwood Sweetie – “Christina Shauntay” (BackwoodSweetie.BandCamp.Com) – As a fan of Hip-Hop there’s nothing better than the moment you hear an artist for the first time whose talent immediately captures your attention and has you sitting with your ear pressed against the speaker hanging off every word being said. In 2021, Maryland’s Backwood Sweetie was one of those artists. Rhyming with passion and purpose over a well-chosen selection of beats from a variety of producers, Sweetie had a lot to say as she touched on a number of topics, including Black pride, white supremacy, police brutality and social injustice. Urgent, thought-provoking Hip-Hop.
Beneficence & Confidence – “Stellar Mind” (IllAdrenalineRecords.Com) – A no-nonsense collection of heavyweight head-nodding Hip-Hop, New Jersey’s Beneficence and Boston’s Confidence made a great team here, celebrating the essence of golden-era beats and rhymes whilst injecting their own personalities into the music. A long line of guest artists also complimented the album’s true-school vibe, including El Da Sensei, Craig G and Chubb Rock.
Ka – “A Martyr’s Reward” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – At this point, highlighting Ka’s incredible lyrical ability just feels like stating the obvious. The Brooklyn emcee is a truly unique artist and for some time his only real competition has been himself, with each of his releases setting the bar even higher for what we can expect to come from his pen. The largely self-produced “A Martyr’s Reward” was another deep dive into Ka’s life experiences, his thoughts, his hopes and his regrets. This was the work of a genuine poet containing pain and peace in equal measures.
Kaimbr & Sean Born – “Nino Green” (NinoGreen7.BandCamp.Com) – A potent mixture of vividly raw rhymes laced with street-smart swagger and intoxicating production full of uncut vintage soul flavour, this “New Jack City”-influenced collaboration from longstanding Maryland artists Kaimbr and Sean Born was as fly as a 1988 Dapper Dan sweatsuit with a matching Kangol. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. I. Am.
Heist Life – “Heist New York” (HeistLife.BandCamp.Com) – Ty Da Dale, Sauce Heist and Baby Maine repped for the Rotten Apple with pride on this short-but-effective EP, evoking images of rattling subway trains, street-corner ciphers and scuffed Timberlands over production from Spanish Ran, Nes and Wavy Da Ghawd.
Vandal Savage & Sonnyjim – “Sauvage” (IAmVandalSavage.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s very own Bic Master Vandal Savage leaned heavily into the luxury loops supplied by Sonnyjim throughout this release, with his conversational delivery overflowing with lyrical jewels, life observations and witty punchlines. With appearances from Da Flyy Hooligan, Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim himself adding further verbal weight to the project. “Sauvage” was a laidback lesson in how to craft understated hardcore Hip-Hop.
N.R.F.S. – “N.R.F.S.” (NRFS.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago’s Neak, Rashid Hadee, F.A.B.L.E. and Since9ine6ix joined forces on this impressive collabo album as “uncrowned kings on the underground sharing thrones”, with all four artists bringing their best to the table, complimenting each other’s styles and putting together a potent showcase of undeniable Windy City talent.