K9 ft. Kimba – “Give It Up” (@K9London / 2020)
London-based lyricist K9 links with Union Blak’s Kimba for this self-produced dose of true-school flavour from his “What Is Boombap Reggae?” mixtape.
K9 ft. Kimba – “Give It Up” (@K9London / 2020)
London-based lyricist K9 links with Union Blak’s Kimba for this self-produced dose of true-school flavour from his “What Is Boombap Reggae?” mixtape.
Ka & Preservation – “Days With Dr. Yen Lo” (Mon Dieu Music) – Partly inspired by the classic 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate”, Brooklyn’s Ka once again teamed-up with producer Preservation to craft this understated masterpiece. Combining minimalist, atmospheric soundscapes with Ka’s vivid-yet-subtle lyrical craftmanship, this project was the sonic equivalent of driving through inner-city New York in slow-motion, looking out the window and watching some of the Rotten Apple’s eight million stories unfolding right in front of your eyes.
Union Blak – “Street English” (Effiscienz) – UK / US duo Sir Williams and Kimba followed-up their 2014 debut for France’s Effiscienz imprint with another quality selection of melodic, uplifting boom-bap and inspirational rhymes, with the pair’s shared love of Hip-Hop and passion for their respective crafts shining through on every track.
Jise – “The Passion Of Jise” (Creative Juices Music) – Part conceptual, part semi-autobiographical, this intense solo project from Arsonists member Jise One was a dramatic, well-executed sonic roller-coaster which found the Brooklyn emcee pushing the creative envelope as he told emotionally-charged stories from various character perspectives over well-chosen production from the likes of Q-Unique, DJ Insite and Dras79.
Spit Gemz – “Godly Features” (Broken Home) – As one of the illest emcees to have emerged from NYC in recent years, it came as no surprise to hear Queens resident Spit Gemz holding his own against veteran wordsmiths such as Tragedy Khadafi, Kool G Rap and Shabaam Sahdeeq on this potent release. A tour-de-force of verbal skill, “Godly Features” showcased Gemz delivering a standard of lyricism that many artists today could only hope to aspire to.
BOOM – “From PG, With Love” (DTMD.BandCamp.Com) – Maryland microphone master BOOM delivered slick, self-assured rhymes over soulful beats on this debut project produced entirely by Dunc of DTMD fame. Representing for his Prince George’s County stomping grounds, the talented artist exuded a quiet confidence throughout this nine-track release which couldn’t fail to endear him to listeners.
The Kingdom – “Kingdom Come” (TheKingdomMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Following up last year’s impressive “No Rest In The Kingdom” project, North Carolina-based duo King Draft and Jerm Scorcese returned with the boundary-pushing “Kingdom Come”, an album that successfully blended future-shock soul vibes, dusty samples and accomplished, intelligent wordplay into one cohesive, rewarding listening experience.
Pete Rock – “Petestrumentals 2” (Mello Music Group) – Mount Vernon’s legendary Chocolate Boy Wonder emerged from his basement once again with a new collection of instrumental flavours for 2015, expanding on his trademark production style which influenced a generation of beat-makers. Capturing a variety of sonic tones and textures, Pete did his legacy justice here, effortlessly retaining his title of Hip-Hop’s Soul Brother #1.
Cold Fusion – “The Elixir” (RingzOVSaturn.BandCamp.Com) – Prior to the 2015 release of the Triple Darkness album “Darker Than Black” (previously mentioned in Part One of this list), group members Ray Vendetta and Cyrus Malachi set the year off with this hardcore jewel, meshing their heavy mental wordplay with the gritty, atmospheric boom-bap of HellzEcho production partnership Ringz Ov Saturn and 7th Dan. “The Elixir” stood as proof that there will always be those whose motivation for picking up a microphone runs deeper than simply chasing overnight success, fame and fortune.
Starvin B & Fel Sweetenberg – “Soul Museum” (Effiscienz) – Backed by the knocking production of New Jersey’s Fel Sweetenberg, the always-impressive Starvin B added another worthy project to his ever-expanding catalogue with this succinct, straight-to-the-point release for France’s Effiscienz label.
Chrome & Illinspired – “The All C N I” (B-Line Recordings) – A throwback to the late-80s when the BPMs of hardcore Hip-Hop inspired immediate dancefloor activity, this release from UK duo Chrome & Illinspired was packed with frantic drums, lively loops, fast-paced cuts and high-velocity verbals. If you could listen to this album without breaking into The Running Man at least once, you really needed to get your pulse checked.
Apathy – “Weekend At The Cape” (Dirty Version Records) – Released as a companion EP to 2014’s “Connecticut Casual” album, “Weekend…” found the acid-tongued Demigodz member once again drawing inspiration from his New England surroundings, delivering typically thorny barbs over largely self-produced beats which ranged from the funky to the melancholy.
Maffew Ragazino – “VII Million Stories” (WPG) – A potent dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap, Brooklyn’s Ragazino undoubtedly made his borough proud with this street-savvy combination of hard-knock sentiments, motivational jewels and life lessons.
Mellow Man Ace – “The Lost Decade” (Ultra Slump! Records) – Perhaps one of the most unexpected releases of 2015 came in the form of this album from California veteran Mellow Man Ace. Dropping his own brand of Latin lingo over funky, soulful soundscapes, with the likes of Dinco D (Leaders Of The New School), Jarobi (ATCQ) and Ultra Slump! label-mate Cazal Organism on-hand to offer lyrical assistance, the West Coast emcee delivered a project that was as refreshing as it was nostalgic.
BRTSound – “Boombap Therapy” (DirtyBeauty) – After checking the title of this release from Russian producer BRTSound, it would have been easy to be misled into thinking you were going to be hearing the work of an unaccomplished beat-head simply attempting to emulate their favourite DJ Premier tracks. However, “Boombap Therapy” was an impressive eight-track effort which found the Moscow music man drawing on both his love of heavy drums and mellow jazz grooves, resulting in what was one of the best instrumental projects heard in 2015.
AUTOmatic – “ARISING” (AUTOmatic.BandCamp.Com) – Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s A.P.R.I.M.E., Trellmatic and JDL Rockwell combined organic, infectious feel-good vibes with down-to-earth rhymes and soulful, organic beats on this polished five-track EP.
Nolan The Ninja – “f_ck the hype” (NolanTheNinja.BandCamp.Com) – This highly-anticipated project from Detroit’s Nolan The Ninja showcased the 23-year-old artist’s ferocious flow and gritty delivery to great effect, with the passionate producer-on-the-mic being joined by Phat Kat, Finale and Hassaan Mackey as he verbally attacked a selection of raw, basement-style beats.
UGeorge – “The Many Faces Of UGeorge” (WorldExpo Records) – The Atlanta-based Soundsci member unleashed his brilliant solo project “The Many Faces Of…” towards the end of the year, featuring UGeorge defining the term ‘grown-man rap’ as he invited listeners into the world of the proud “40-year-old rapper”, tackling a number of topics with a true-school attitude over impeccable production from Ollie Teeba, Jonny Cuba, SilentSomeone and more.
Lewis Parker & Eastkoast – “MK Ultra” (KingUnderground Records) – Talented UK producer Lewis Parker (aka The Man With The Golden Sound) laced NY-raised emcee Eastkoast with a typically high-standard of beats on this captivating collaborative effort featuring Shabaam Sahdeeq, $amhill and El Da Sensei.
Grand Daddy I.U. – “P.I.M.P.” (Steady Flow Records) – The tone of this album from veteran Strong Island emcee Grand Daddy I.U. was summed up succinctly by just one lyric – “I don’t make trap music, I ain’t from down South, I make New York Hip-Hop, ‘Cos that’s what I’m about.” Combining the same blend of slick street talk and cocky bravado heard on his 1990 debut “Smooth Assassin”, the Rotten Apple wordsmith embraced his OG status in no uncertain terms on this release, proving that with age comes wisdom, experience and the right to slap a young buck in the domepiece.
Constant Deviants – “Avant Garde” (Six2Six Records) – Two decades after their debut, the Baltimore / NY duo of DJ Cutt and M.I. proved they were still capable of delivering quality beats and rhymes, with their music remaining rooted in the group’s golden-era origins without sounding stuck in the past. Displaying a creative chemistry that deserved to be compared to that once shared by the likes of Gang Starr or Pete Rock & CL Smooth in their prime, this fourth full-length Constant Deviants project found Cutt and M.I confirming a definite mastery of their distinctive brand of authentic East Coast flavour.
Part Four coming soon.
Union Blak – “Street English” (@UnionBlak / 2015)
Title track from Sir Williams and Kimba’s impressive sophomore album released via France’s Effiscienz label.
US / UK duo Kimba and Sir Williams drop their sophomore album “Street English” via France’s Effiscienz label on February 9th.
Sir Williams and Kimba return with the title track from their forthcoming sophomore album dropping February 9th.
It can’t be denied that 2014 was a great year for quality Hip-Hop. When I initially sat down to start putting together Old To The New’s annual 52 Best Albums & EPs list, it soon became clear that staying with that format would mean having to leave out a large amount of releases that I’ve had in heavy rotation over the last twelve months.
Another reason for wanting to highlight just how many worthwhile albums and EPs dropped in 2014 was to prove a point to those who still insist there just isn’t a notable amount of good music being released today. There are still plenty of talented emcees, deejays and producers across the globe who’re busy in their respective labs, meticulously crafting beats and rhymes in the hope that those of us who say we’re looking for high-standard Hip-Hop will take the time to listen.
As always, by no means am I presenting this as the definitive list of 2014 releases. In today’s internet-era, it’s impossible for anyone to say they’ve heard everything that’s worth listening to. No matter how much time you spend online listening to music, there will always be a dope project out there from someone, somewhere on Planet Rock that you won’t yet have heard of. The search is never-ending.
So, with all that being said, here are the albums and EPs that kept my head nodding throughout 2014…
TPS Fam – “Hot Water Music” (Revorg Records) – Finding creative inspiration in the mundane aspects of the daily grind, Jack Diggs, Big Toast and Strange Neighbour crafted a brilliant, sample-driven soundtrack for the working-class Hip-Hop fan. Balancing dreams and aspirations with day-jobs and overdue bills, the UK trio delivered down-to-earth rhymes with passion and sincerity, encouraging us all to make every day count whilst promoting their motto of “living like kings on a tight budget.”
Starvin B – “Blood From A Stone” (Goblin Music) – The first of two projects released by the talented Queens, NY resident in 2014, the One-Take-produced “Blood From A Stone” showcased the Rotten Apple rhymer as being a true student of the lyrical arts. Packing his vivid verses with gritty imagery, raw humour and witty wordplay, Starvin B let his personality shine throughout this project, with the likes of Spit Gemz, Tragedy Khadafi and Foul Monday on-hand to fill some well-placed guest spots.
Ray West & OC – “Ray’s Cafe” (RedApples45) – Proving that true talent really is timeless, two decades after the release of his classic debut album “Word…Life”, Diggin’ In The Crates legend OC teamed-up with Bronx producer Ray West to serve hungry Hip-Hop customers with this appetising platter of flawless lyricism and warm, soulful production. What’s next on the menu?
Stu Bangas & Blacastan – “Watson & Holmes” (Brutal Music) – Joining forces with producer Stu Bangas, Connecticut emcee Blacastan retained his reputation as one of the rap game’s most consistent artists with the release of this abrasive, hard-hitting album. Backed by Stu’s cinematic, drama-laced beats, the AOTP member delivered his usual high standard of raw rhyming, with brothers-in-arms Esoteric, Vinnie Paz and Apathy each taking a turn to help crush the competition.
String Theory – “String Theory” (Mic Theory Records) – Breaking the periodic table of poetry down to its very last compound, Florida’s Hex One (of the duo Epidemic) and Swiss producer B.B.Z. Darney came together to “swallow planets and freeze suns”, combining inter-dimensional mic techniques with rocket-fuelled boom-bap beats as they pondered both the laws of the universe and the art of rap.
DJ JS-1 – “It Is What It Isn’t” (Ground Original) – Veteran NY turntablist and long-standing Rock Steady Crew member JS-1 enlisted the help of a lengthy list of talented lyricists for his fourth collection of underground science. From golden-era icons such as Sadat X, KRS-One and X-Clan’s Brother J, to more recently established wordsmiths like Spit Gemz, Fashawn and Rasheed Chappell, “It Is What It Isn’t” effectively bridged the gap between the old and the new with impressive results.
Union Blak – “Union Blak Friday” (Effiscienz) – US-born emcee Kimba and UK beatsmith Sir Williams joined forces with France’s Effiscienz label to deliver a solid, succinct debut album. Demonstrating their shared passion for Hip-Hop with positive, upbeat rhymes and melodic production, the duo made it clear throughout “Union Blak Friday” that their aim is to add on to the culture rather than simply take from it.
J-Live – “Around The Sun” (Mortier Music) – There may not be anything new under the sun, but there’s still plenty of quality music to be found. Case in point, veteran NY-raised, ATL-based emcee J-Live’s seventh album release, which found the accomplished wordsmith delivering the clever, intelligent lyricism fans have come to rely on him for over production from Oddisee, Audible Doctor and DJ Spinna.
Souls Of Mischief / Adrian Younge – “There Is Only Now” (Linear Labs) – A concept album set in 1994 involving jealous emcees, kidnapping and revenge, “There Is Only Now” found the Souls Of Mischief members weaving intricate, story-telling rhymes around the live, drum-heavy musicianship of the talented Adrian Younge, resulting in an epic Hip-Hop tale which contained more drama than an episode of “The Wire”.
Es – “Aspire To Inspire” (Essenchill Records) – Inviting everyone along on his quest for self-improvement, Canadian emcee Es’s second full-length project lived up to its lofty title in no uncertain terms. Packed with full-bodied production and uplifting rhymes about everything from fatherhood and relationships to self-worth and striving to maintain a positive mental attitude, it was near impossible to play this album and not feel better about life whilst listening.
Skyzoo & Torae – “Barrel Brothers” (First Generation Rich / Internal Affairs) – Self-confessed “products of Albee Square Mall” and Brooklyn-based brothers-from-other-mothers, Skyzoo and Torae came together to create one of the best examples of pure emceeing you were likely to hear in 2014. With bold deliveries and painstakingly well-crafted verses, the two BK lyricists sparred with each other over heavyweight production from the likes of Illmind and DJ Premier, each proving why their place among NY’s long line of noteworthy mic controllers is well-deserved. No frills, just skills.
Figub Brazlevic – “Train Yards” (FigubBrazlevic.BandCamp.Com) – Having already demonstrated his undeniable production skills via his work with the Man Of Booom crew, this instrumental EP release from Berlin’s Brazlevic blended head-nodding beats with jazzy samples and well-placed vocal snippets, creating a spell-binding project with plenty of musical depth and soul.
Confidence Presents… – “Confidence Presents GDot & Born Featuring Edo.G” (Audible Con Records) – Building on his already strong reputation as one of today’s most consistent producers, the talented Confidence orchestrated this true-school gem of an album which bridged the gap between the Boston Hip-Hop scene’s past and present. Relative newcomers GDot & Born shared mic time with Beantown vet Edo.G throughout this project, with all three emcees delivering positive messages mixed with b-boy bravado over Confidence’s quality brand of crisp, boom-bap beats.
Parallax – “Depth Perception” (ParallaxOfficialStore.BandCamp.Com) – The upcoming UK artist proved he’s as nice behind the boards as he is behind the microphone with the release of this succinct, largely self-produced EP. Utilising solid drums and dusty samples, Parallax waxed lyrical about a number of topics, dropping punchline-heavy food-for-thought on the state of Hip-Hop, media manipulation and the British justice system. Mental stamina, indeed.
Prince Po & Oh No – “Animal Serum” (Wandering Worx / Green Streets Entertainment) – Staying true to his claim of “having a lotta jewels, but don’t gotta wear a chain”, Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po administered a new brand of musical medicine to the Hip-Hop faithful with the welcome assistance of West Coast producer Oh No. Tackling a number of modern-day issues with typically dense, multi-layered lyricism, Po succeeded in soothing the suffering of all free-thinkers who find themselves trapped inside the Matrix.
Early Reed & J Scienide – “The Dose (The MFN Files)” (J-Scienide.BandCamp.Com) – Whilst putting the finishing touches to his own impressive 2014 releases, Low Budget’s Kev Brown found time to get behind this EP from his two fellow Washington D.C.-based crew members. With Reed demonstrating his mastery of the SP and Scienide proving himself to be a formidable talent on the mic, “The Dose (The MFN Files)” gave listeners a potent shot of pure Hip-Hop.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Pinata” (Madlib Invazion) – Arguably the greatest mix of raw gangsta rhymes and dope breaks since Brad Jordan joined forces with the Rap-A-Lot production squad for his 1991 debut solo album, Gary, Indiana native Gibbs’ drawling delivery sounded right at home over Madlib’s range of random sample material, resulting in an album that covered a variety of moods, from the soothing and laidback to the dramatic and urgent. Witness the strength of street knowledge.
Akrobatik – “Built To Last” (Playaktion Recordings) – Returning to the rap game after surviving emergency heart surgery in 2011, the title of Boston veteran Akrobatik’s third full-length solo album was as much a statement about enduring personal struggle as it was a comment on his forthright approach to his craft. Balancing content which covered his near-death experience, social commentary and Hip-Hop politics, Ak firmly stood up for his personal principles at a time when so many other artists are busy chasing trends and trying desperately to please the masses.
Divine – “Ghetto Rhymin'” (Supreme Records) – Mixing Five Percent terminology with the influence of Rakim and a proud New York state of mind, Brooklyn’s Divine proved himself to be a true product of his environment on his latest project, taking it back to a time when Rotten Apple wordsmiths were more concerned with capturing the essence of the five boroughs in their music rather than allowing their sound to be shaped by outside forces.
Ghostface Killah – “36 Seasons” (Tommy Boy Entertainment) – Fresh from 2013’s “Twelve Reasons To Die” collabo with Adrian Younge, the Wally Champ dove straight into another concept-based project with “36 Seasons”. Based around a story-line that was part 70s blaxploitation flick, part Marvel comic book territory, Ghost was joined by Brooklyn’s AZ and the legendary K00l G. Rap, weaving action-packed tales of love, drama and betrayal over the classic vintage soul thump of NY band The Revelations.
Part Two coming soon.
French label Effiscienz rounds-up a few of its artists to drop verses over a smooth sample from L.T.D.’s 70s soul classic “Love Ballad” courtesy of DJ Brans.
Union Blak ft. DJ 279 – “Glory Days – “NightTime Remix” (@UnionBlak / 2014)
The US / UK duo of emcee Kimba and producer Sir Williams deliver some remix pressure off their recent album “Union Blak Friday”.
Union Blak ft. DJ 279 – “Glory Days” (Effiscienz.BandCamp.Com / 2014)
Melodic boom-bap from the UK / US duo’s recent album “Union Blak Friday”.
Taken from the UK / US duo’s album “Union Blak Friday”.
UK-based producer / emcee duo Sir Williams and Kimba have teamed-up with Effiscienz’s DJ Djaz to put together this sampler for their forthcoming album “Union Blak Friday”.
Union Blak – “Silly (A Demo)” (@UnionBlak / 2013)
Mellow, soulful vibes from the UK / US duo Kimba Bush and Sir William.
Union Blak – “Celebrity” (UnionBlak.BandCamp.Com / 2013)
Produced by Sir Williams.
Quality lead single taken from the US / UK duo’s forthcoming album “Street Englisch”