Tag Archives: Trophies

52 Best Albums & EPs Of 2012 (Part One) – Roc Marciano / Mystro / House Shoes etc.

vinyl rack pic

With 2012 almost out the door, it’s about that time for magazines, websites and blogs to take the customary look back over the last twelve months to highlight those releases most worthy of recognition for really hitting the sonic bullseye during the course of the year.

Whilst the usual debates concerning the state of Hip-Hop have continued to rage on street corners, social media sites and everywhere else music fans may congregate, inbetween the vast amount of mediocre and downright terrible music that’s come from the mainstream / underground rap worlds during 2012, there’s also been a decent number of impressive album and EP releases from various corners of Planet Rock which have all delivered in terms of quality, creativity and overall dopeness.

As I always say when putting a list like this together, the projects and artists included in this 2012 round-up aren’t the only names and releases that were worth checking over the last year, but they are the ones that spent the most time booming out of my headphones and speakers.

So, in no particular order…

Roc Marciano – “Reloaded” (Decon) – With the release of 2010’s “Marcberg” album transforming Strong Island’s Roc Marciano from respected underground emcee to Hip-Hop cult hero, the former UN member refined his Rotten Apple sound even further on this sophomore solo shot, delivering a relentless barrage of vivid wordplay over melodic, minimalist production.

roc marci cover

Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam) – Arguably Queensbridge’s favourite son’s most cohesive and consistent body of work since 1994’s timeless “Illmatic”. Nas might not have chalked-up another universal classic with his latest album, but he did sound more comfortable in his own skin on this project than he has done in a long time, as he reminisced about 90s New York, dealt with parental responsibility and reflected on his recent marriage problems.

nas cover 1

Mystro – “Mystrogen” (Don’t Bizznizz) – Having started 2012 amidst rumours of retirement, veteran London emcee MysDiggi laid any such talk to rest with the release of his long-awaited debut full-length, lacing a varied selection of up-beat production from the likes of Mr. Thing and Black Einstein with his witty verses, leftfield life observations and sharp humour.

mystro pic 3

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – “Kolexxxion” (Gracie Productions / Works Of Mart) – The infamous Freddie Foxxx teaming-up with hardcore composer DJ Premier for a full-length project was always going to result in something memorable and “Kolexxxion” definitely lived up to expectations. Bumpy proudly displayed his OG stripes, schooling upcoming artists on the rules of the game and giving his opinion on the state of the culture, whilst Premier crafted an impeccable selection of thoroughbred bangers tough enough to crack concrete.

kolexxxion cover

Keith Science – “Vessels Of Thought Volume II” (Central Wax Records) – A polished collection of instrumentals from the New Jersey-based producer, this album encompassed a number of different musical vibes and emotions, ranging from jazzy optimism to aggressive boom-bap, with each track maintaining its own unique sonic personality thanks to Science’s mastery of true-school Hip-Hop production.

keith science cover

Apollo Brown & OC – “Trophies” (Mello Music Group) – Having built himself a solid reputation as the go-to man for drum-heavy underground production, Detroit’s Apollo Brown tested his talents to the limit by joining forces with legendary D.I.T.C. emcee OC, resulting in a quality concept-driven album full of head-nodding beats and lyrical jewels that contained enough creative chemistry to make the uninitiated think the pair had been recording together for years.

trophies cover

Timeless Truth – “Brugal & Presidentes” (Timeless Truth) – Steeped in Rotten Apple heritage, Queens, NY brothers Solace and Oprime39 paid homage to their city’s traditional boom-bap sound on this EP unleashed at the top of 2012 without sounding like they were simply chasing the musical ghosts of a lost era. The duo’s intense, sample-heavy style and ferocious verbal artillery kept heads salivating all year for the release of their recent full-length “Rock-It Science”.

timeless truth ep

Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought – “Attractive Sin” (Parallel Thought Ltd) – Ice Cube’s cousin has faced criticism in recent times for being just a little too off-the wall on some of his solo material, but whether it was a conscious decision or just natural creativity, on this Parallel Thought-produced project the Hiero emcee sounded more focused than he has in a long time. Backed by beats ranging from anthemic West Coast funk (“On Momma’s House”) to breakbeat-driven old-school flavour (“1520 Sedgewick”), Del delivered a potent lession in lyrical excellence that recalled the brilliance of his early critically-acclaimed work.

del album cover

DJ Format – “Statement Of Intent” (Project Blue Book) – A rejuvenated Format returned to burn on his third album, pulling together musical influences that ranged from old-school New York block parties and 80s electro to golden-era greatness, creating a diverse but ultimately-satisfying musical mosaic featuring the likes of Edan, Mr. Lif and Phill Most Chill holding down microphone duties. An entertaining sonic journey back to the future.

dj format cover

House Shoes – “Let It Go” (Tres Records) – A close friend of the late, great Dilla and a talented producer in his own right, Detroit’s House Shoes pulled together an impressive line-up of Motown talent such as Black Milk and Guilty Simpson plus a few out-of-towners (Roc Marciano, The Alchemist etc) to ensure his official debut album was something to remember. Clearly feeling he had something to prove to the non-believers out there, “Let It Go” wasn’t just the sound of a producer putting together a typical compilation-style album, this was the sound of a man on a musical mission.

house shoes album cover

Ryan Proctor

Part Two coming soon.

New Joint – OC & Apollo Brown

OC & Apollo Brown – “The Biggest Loser” (Mello Music Group / 2012)

Unreleased bonus track from the “Trophies” album recording sessions.

Album Review – Apollo Brown & OC

Apollo Brown & OC

“Trophies”

(Mello Music Group)

With a strong catalogue of album releases already behind them from the likes of Oddisee, DTMD and Gensu Dean, the Mello Music Group imprint have added yet another musical jewel to the label’s independent crown with the release of this collaborative project from Detroit producer Apollo Brown and veteran NY lyricist OC of Diggin’ In The Crates fame.

With Brooklyn’s OC coming to prominence in the 90s with the release of his classic debut “Word…Life” and Apollo Brown having only recently gained his underground notoriety during the last few years, “Trophies” finds the pair finding a common ground in their passion for the art of Hip-Hop, effortlessly bridging the potential generation gap with the DITC legend’s intelligent, forthright lyricism meshing seamlessly with Brown’s unique brand of boom-bap which has already made albums from The Left and Hassaan Mackey firm fan favourites.

A concept album of sorts, “Trophies” is based around the idea that, in today’s society, so many of us focus our attention on the materialistic rewards we can receive for our work and deeds, rather than simply just doing. We look for the recognition of others in order to validate our contributions in whatever walk of life we may be in. We judge others and allow ourselves to be judged on the material items we’ve acquired, knowing full well that cars, cash and clothes have no true relation to the content of an individual’s character. In short, with this album, Apollo Brown and OC are looking to remind listeners that we need to look inside of ourselves for personal fulfilment, be honest about our shortcomings, celebrate our individuality, treat others as we would want to be treated, and value the real rewards of life.

That said, “Trophies” is in no way an overly preachy album full of long patronising lyrical sermons. Always known for his reflective rhymes and ability to tap into the vast expanse of universal human experience (see 1994’s “Born 2 Live”), OC’s verses throughout this project are honest and down-to-earth, with the gifted emcee prepared to put himself under the microscope just as much as those he is hoping to reach with his poignant poetry.

The previously released “Prove Me Wrong” finds OC acknowledging his below-the-radar status in today’s corporate rap world. Over Apollo’s swooping strings, melodic samples and solid drums, the proud microphone master remains defiant in the face of mainstream appeal and fast-money trends, claiming that “dumbin’ down would be a sign of weakness” and reassuring longstanding supporters that he will always remain true to his original artistic blueprint.

The sparse “Nautica” is based around dramatic weather-related metaphors, with OC painting striking pictures of extreme natural disaster with expert lyrical precision (“Trenches turn muddy, Water levels rise up, Way above sea level, Meet God or the Devil”). The soulful “We The People” analyses the selfish nature of mankind, encouraging listeners to respect each other and unite in the face of adversity as OC admits to “trying to take my own advice from the rhymes I write” over Brown’s booming drums.

The short “Signs” is a hypnotic two-minute head-nodder with haunting production inspiring OC to try to make sense of a “modern-day Rome” in economic meltdown with the “smell of chaos in the air”, whilst the sombre “Caught Up” weaves 80s-style synths around verses detailing the plight of a young generation of females looking for both respect and ways to boost their self-esteem in all the wrong places.

Easily one of the strongest cuts here is the brilliant “The Formula”, a perhaps unexpected nod to Dr.Dre-affiliate The D.O.C., with OC explaining how the Dallas-born emcee’s 1989 Ruthless Records solo debut “No One Can Do It Better” played a huge part in encouraging a then young Omar Credle to continue developing his own lyrically-instense style. Apollo Brown’s stunning use of chopped strings here elevates the emotion heard in OC’s sincere rhymes to near epic proportions.

The closing “Fantastic” is an effective overview of the East Coast legend’s career so far, with OC recalling recording his classic debut, admitting how the lacklustre response to 2001’s “Bon Appetit” hit home hard, and stating that even without the levels of recognition enjoyed by some of his peers, he remains satisfied that his words will live on through time thanks to his dedication to his craft.

A quality collection of thoughtful, well-constructed beats and rhymes, “Trophies”offers both musical depth and lyrical substance throughout.  The next time someone tries to tell you that Hip-Hop is nothing more than immature one-dimensional lyrics about girls, guns and money, put them up on this album and let them know that some of us within the culture did grow up and mature.

Ryan Proctor

Apollo Brown & OC – “Prove Me Wrong” (Mello Music Group / 2012)

New Joint – Apollo Brown & OC

Apollo Brown & OC – “People’s Champ” (Mello Music Group / 2012)

Another banger from the long-awaited “Trophies” collabo album from the Detroit producer and New York emcee – the project debuted on iTunes today and is given a general release next week.

New Joint – Apollo Brown & OC

Apollo Brown & OC – “Prove Me Wrong” (Mello Music Group / 2012)

DJ Premier radio-rip of the first official leak off the highly-anticipated collabo album “Trophies” from the Detroit producer and D.I.T.C. lyrical legend – this ish is nice.