Tag Archives: Vic Spencer

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2022 (Part Five) – Dres & Stu Bangas / Little Simz / Tommy Evans etc.

Fifth and final part of my 2022 wrap-up – check Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four.

Homeboy Sandman – “Still Champion” (HomeboySandman-MMG-BandCamp.Com) – There was a genuine sense of hope and optimism running throughout this album that gave it a rejuvenating quality, both for listeners and Sandman himself it would seem. Sounding relaxed and at ease, the NY emcee bounced all over the lively, melodic production supplied by Colorado’s Deca, resulting in an entertainingly upbeat collection of tracks that contained its fair share of life-affirming lyrical gems.

Rapper Big Pooh – “To Dream In Color” (Soulspazm.BandCamp.Com) – Little Brother’s Big Pooh has always been known for personal, honest lyrics, but on “To Dream…” it felt like the North Carolina emcee was peeling back even more layers of his story as he masterfully looked back over his life and career whilst also looking towards the future. From his beginnings as a young rapper with a dream, then signing and leaving a major label deal, to his present situation as an independent artist, Pooh offered insight and transparency very step of the way, with his candour being given just the right amount of thump by producers such as DK The Punisher, D.R.U.G.S. Beats and Nottz.

Eddie Kaine x K-Sluggah – “Chosen” (EddieKaine.BandCamp.Com) – Exuding the street-smarts, swagger, bravado and lyrical wit we’ve come to expect from top-tier Brooklyn emcees, Eddie Kaine delivered the goods once again on this collaborative album with Sweden’s K-Sluggah. Telling vivid stories of the BK outside his window that were laced with struggle, tragedy and determination, Kaine’s verses were complimented by Sluggah’s atmospheric, almost gothic style of production. Crooklyn keeps on taking it.

Dres & Stu Bangas – “Sheep Stu” (BrutalMusic.Org) – Black Sheep member Dres’s place in the Hip-Hop history books is secured. As part of the Native Tongues family the Bronx-bred emcee helped to define an era in rap with one of the most recognisable voices (and flows) in the game. Some thirty years later and this team-up with hardcore composer Stu Bangas found D-R-E-S delivering his trademark blend of slick punchlines and life observations over a well-chosen selection of quality beats (this EP also included “Hate”, possiby my favourite song of 2022).

All Hail Y.T. & Anthony Danza – “All Hail Danza” (AllHailtYT.BandCamp.Com) – Any album featuring a track entitled “Keith Sweat” was almost guaranteed to be on some smooth, cool-out ish and this collaboration from Delaware’s All Hail Y.T. and Seattle’s Anthony Danza didn’t disappoint. Calmly and confidently delivering lessons from the hustler’s handbook over 80s / 90s R&B loops, Y.T. and Danza shared stories of the paper chase with genuine chemistry and aplomb.

Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – “The Elephant Man’s Bones” (RocMarci.Com) – Underground kings Roc Marc and Uncle Al joined forces here and it could be argued brought the best out of each other in the process. Strong Island’s Marcberg dropped his understated crime rhyme drama with his usual cool, calm demeanour, appearing to be living the luxury life of a high roller, whilst at times the subtle tension in Alchemist’s expert production hinted that at any moment the walls could come closing in with the unknown being just around the corner.

Ka – “Languish Arts” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – One of two albums released in 2022 by Brooklyn’s Ka and further proof (if it were needed) that the Brownsville emcee is one of the most gifted writers of his generation. “Languish Arts” found Ka once again finding meaning in the delicate balance of life, capturing feelings of love, pain, peace, turmoil, hope, regret and a myriad of other emotions in his mesmerising verses. An elite talent whose music is chiseled out of the memories and experiences of a period in New York history never to be forgotten, Ka once again allowed us the privilege of looking into his soul.

TrueMendous – “Great. On Purpose” (TrueMendous.BandCamp.Com) – Birmingham’s TrueMendous showcased her creative brilliance once again on this sophomore album for the UK’s High Focus label, wrapping her shape-shifting flow around a diverse array of production from the likes of Illinformed, Pitch 92 and Forest DLG. True’s magnetic personality shone brightly here, as she waxed lyrical about life, relationships and the world at large in her own inimitable style.

junclassic – “Long Days And Short Lives” (junclassic.BandCamp.Com) – This release from NY’s junclassic played out like an audio diary, with the Queens emcee vividly recounting numerous memories, scenarios and situations that captured a variety of feelings and moods, all linking back to the overall concept of the album and reminding us all that however difficult some of our days may seem, ultimately life can be short so should never be taken for granted. Production from the likes of Semi, J Slikk and The SOULution offered a smooth backdrop for junclassic’s verses.

Vic Spencer & August Fanon – “Psychological Cheat Sheet 3” (VicSpencer.BandCamp.Com) – The third installment of Vic Spencer’s “Psychological…” series featured the Chicago artist teaming-up with producer August Fanon for another striking display of clever, conversational rhymes with a personal edge, complimented by brilliant, jazz-influenced beats.

J. Sands – “Women” (LoneCatalysts.BandCamp.Com) – A feel-good collection of fly love songs, this album from Pittsburgh’s J. Sands bumped and bounced with all the upbeat energy of a new relationship. Playful, humorous and butter-smooth, Sands showed himself to be a stone cold gentleman as he celebrated the ladies in sincere fashion over a selection of soulful cool-breeze beats that would definitely make Bonita Applebum bob her head.

Archibald Slim – “Worldly Ways” (POWRecordings.BandCamp.Com) – Offering listeners a constant flow of street-smart thoughts and observations delivered over lush, laidback soundscapes, Atlanta’s Archibald Slim packed a lot into the ten cuts that made up this album. Possessing a talent for being able to quickly pull you into his world on each track, the Southern emcee’s down-to-earth demeanor and openness meant you found yourself willing Slim to win as he detailed his everyday struggles.

Truck North – “Feast Of Violence” (TruckNorth.BandCamp.Com) – An absolute master of his craft, Philly’s Truck North (who first came to the attention of many via his work with The Roots) stands as part of a long line of talented Illadelph emcees, capable of turning his experiences in the shadows of the City Of Brotherly Love into vivid, hard-hitting verses of gritty poetic excellence. This album was further proof of North’s potent rhyming abilities and was the sound of an individual making music with a genuine sense of purpose.

Jermiside & The Expert – “The Overview Effect” (TheExpert.BandCamp.Com) – An album crafted for today’s unsettling times, New Jersey’s Jermiside and Dublin’s The Expert shared a creative partnership here which resulted in some truly powerful and striking music that pushed buttons, demanded thought and prompted reaction. With lyrics tackling subjects such as war, racism and social unrest being paired with an eclectic, unpredictable selection of sample-heavy, 60s-influenced beats, “The Overview Effect” succeeded in its mission to draw lessons from the past, comment on the present and offer hope for the future.

Artifacts x Buckwild – “No Expiration Date” (SmokeOnRecords.Com) – At the time of its release announcement, this long-awaited album was a cause for celebration as Brick City favourites El Da Sensei and Tame One reunited over the production of D.I.T.C. legend Buckwild, with the duo of course offering a nod of respect to the late DJ Kaos who passed away in 2019. By the end of 2022, however, this project stood as an unexpected tribute to Tame One who sadly passed himself in November. That said, “No Expiration Date” captured everything that has always been great about Artifacts – lyrical skills, brotherhood, true-school attitude and speaker-shaking beats. RIP Tame One and DJ Kaos!

Renelle 893 & King Kashmere – “Cocoa Butter” (Renelle893.BandCamp.Com) – As a recent signing to the UK’s mighty High Focus label, London-based emcee Renelle 893 made sure everyone knew he’d arrived on this five-track EP. Possessing a laidback delivery and a penchant for sharp punchlines, Renelle calmly swaggered through this release, with his entertaining rhymes being complimented by the off-kilter funk and hazy retro soul vibes of cult hero King Kashmere. Vibes and stuff in abundance.

Danger Mouse & Black Thought – “Cheat Codes” (DangerMouseBlackThought.Com) – Philly’s Black Thought has been so good for so long that it could be easy for some to take his consistently incredible feats of lyrical excellence for granted. This album with boundary-pushing producer Danger Mouse was a reminder that, yes, Thought is still that good (one of the best to do it, in fact) and that his rhyming capabilities are anything but normal. As always, the Roots front-man’s verses spilled out here like a roller-coaster of verbal virtuosity, twisting, turning, requiring the listener to hold on to every word uttered in an attempt to keep up with his unrelenting rap momentum.

Little Simz – “NO THANK YOU” (LittleSimz.Com) – To say this album from London’s Little Simz was brilliant would be an understatement. Having received critical acclaim, media attention and awards for 2021’s “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” after years of hard work and numerous releases, “NO THANK YOU” was the sound of an artist who had finally been let through the music industry door, looked around, didn’t like what she saw and walked back out wanting to talk about it. The level of honesty heard here was both courageous and refreshing as Simz tackled the greed, racism and overall fickleness found within the corporate music game in measured tones, with justified anger and frustration just below the surface. Longtime collaborator Inflo’s production ranged from subtle to symphonic, perfectly complimenting Simz and adding further levels of emotion to the album which helped the rhymes hit that bit harder. True greatness.

Tommy Evans – “Tragedy And Hope” (TommyEvansOfficial.Com) – A longstanding fixture of the UK Hip-Hop scene, Tommy Evans delivered an album that felt uplifting and optimistic whilst still touching on some of life’s daily challenges. Produced entirely by Bobby Hex who provided a unique sonic dimension to the release with the attention to detail displayed in his work, this was an album that massaged your spirit with a warm, inspiring energy.

Grunge Gallardo – “Before The Winner Comes The Fall” (TheOpioidEra.BandCamp.Com) – Dropping right at the end of the year, Grunge Gallardo (of Virginia’s Opioid Era crew) showcased his formidable rhyme skills on this impressive UKAT-produced album, spitting passionate verses packed with life reflections, street knowledge and social / cultural commentary over raw beats.

New Joint – Vic Spencer

Vic Spencer – “Pain Influence” (@VicSpencer / 2022)

Chicago’s Vic Spencer uses his sister’s 45th birthday party as an opportunity to show the importance of family in this latest video off “Psychological Cheat Sheet 3”, with the Windy City wordsmith laying his conversational flow over a choice August Fanon loop.

New Joint – Vic Spencer x August Fanon

Vic Spencer x August Fanon – “Strollin’ & Bowlin'” (@VicSpencer / 2022)

Chicago’s irrepressible Vic Spencer continues to deliver greatness with this cut lifted from his new August Fanon-produced album “Psychological Cheat Sheet 3”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer & Small Professor

Vic Spencer & Small Professor – “WAVEZ, micro” (VicSpencer.BandCamp.Com / 2022)

Taken from the Chicago / Philly duo’s recent collabo album “Mudslide”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer x Doc Da Mindbenda / Aakeem Eshú / Lil Kydd

Vic Spencer x Doc Da Mindbenda ft. Aakeem Eshú & Lil Kydd“JAMBORINE” (SupaSoundsLLC.Com / 2022)

Taken from the Chicago duo’s impressive collabo album “Still Here”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer x Doc Da Mindbenda

Vic Spencer x Doc Da Mindbenda – “Contemporary Section” (@SupaSoundsLLC / 2022)

Chicago’s mighty Vic Spencer comes through to crush the competition once again with this lead single off the forthcoming album “Still Here” produced by fellow Windy City representative Doc Da Mindbenda.

100 Favourite Albums & EPs Of 2021 (Part Three) – Evidence / Children Of Zeus / Arrested Development etc.

Check Part One and Part Two.

Ca$ablanca x The Mali Empire – “Xtreme Xcellence” (Casablanca92fs.BandCamp.Com) – Dallas, Texas-based emcee Ca$ablanca has been dropping gems for a number of years now, but this Mali Empire-produced album may just have been his finest moment yet. Featuring the likes of Ray Vendetta, YNX716 and Nowaah The Flood, “Xtreme Xcellence” was packed with hard-hitting, precise lyricism delivered over a sublime selection of sample-driven tracks.

AZ – “Doe Or Die II” (QuietMoneyDirect.Com) – The idea of the ‘sequel album’ has become something of a cliché amongst golden-era rap artists. Some have seen the light of day. Some have remained unexecuted concepts destined only to be repeatedly mentioned during interviews. Some have succeeded. Some have failed. Thankfully, Brooklyn’s ever-consistent AZ managed to live up to the hype surrounding this follow-up to his 1995 debut, matching his slick, street-savvy verses with an experienced perspective and smoothed-out production from the likes of Bink!, Baby Paul and Pete Rock.

Milano x Showbiz – “Eating But Still Hungry” (MilanoxShowbiz.BandCamp.Com) – Any release coming from the Diggin’ In The Crates camp brings with it a high level of expectation from fans. Understandably, there’s a certain level of quality expected from members of the crew who really did it for the culture and became one of the most dominant forces in East Coast Hip-Hop. Milano and Showbiz rose to that challenge in no uncertain terms on this album packed with swaggering Rotten Apple attitude, skills sharpened in unforgiving street-corner ciphers and dope, dusty-fingered beats.

Kev Brown & J Scienide – “Stray From The Pack” (KevBrown.BandCamp.Com) – Following up their impressive 2019 collaboration “Drum Machine Tape Cassette”, DMV duo Kev Brown and J Scienide offered up another collection of loose, spontaneous sounding beats and rhymes inspired by both a love of the art and the satisfaction of making the competition feel inadequate. B-boy basement flavour.

The Primeridian & Rashid Hadee – “Prime Diesel” (RashidHadee.BandCamp.Com) – A product of Chicago’s rich underground scene, this collaboration between veteran duo The Primeridian and fellow Windy City representative Rashid Hadee was a shining example of top-tier beat science and carefully crafted lyricism. With additional production from Tall Black Guy and featured artists such as Thaione Davis, Pugs Atomz and Philmore Greene, this album captured a lot of talent at their very best.

Flashius Clayton x Jster – “The Dust Diary” (25NoteDope.BandCamp.Com) – A naturally gifted emcee, Cali’s Flashius Clayton was firing on all cylinders here, with his usual high-standard of lyrical expertise accompanied by the dark, hypnotic beats of West Coast producer Jster. An atmospheric dose of rough, rugged and raw Hip-Hop. As Doug E. Fresh once said, play this only at night.

Khrysis – “The Hour Of Khrysis” (JamlaRecords.Com) – Featuring a diverse selection of artists, from golden-era greats De La Soul and Hiero legend Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, to Compton’s Problem and Jamla Records own Reuben Vincent, this long-awaited album from Away Team / Soul Council producer Khrysis was firmly held together by the North Carolina music man’s sonic creativity. Drawing the most out of his list of collaborators thanks to the masterful, carefully constructed soundscapes on offer, Khrysis succeeded in stamping his own personality all over this release, complimenting the variety of emcees and vocalists included here rather than being overshadowed by them.

Vic Spencer – “Legend Laws Of Power” (SupaSounds.BandCamp.Com) – The last few years has been a relentless period of productivity for Chicago’s Vic Spencer, with the talented emcee dropping four albums in 2021 alone. “Legend Laws Of Power” found Spencer teaming-up with Chi-town producer Original Super Legend, delivering his barbed punchlines over strong beats, making it abundantly clear how unimpressed he’s been with the so-called opposition.

Nas – “King’s Disease II” (MassAppeal.Com) – Aside from a few tracks, I wasn’t a big fan of the first “King’s Disease” album. I just didn’t connect with it. This follow-up, however, prompted a totally different reaction. Aside from a couple of misplaced tracks I felt this was an inspired piece of work, with Nas and Hit-Boy really hitting their stride as a creative partnership. The Queensbridge legend sounded relaxed and focused here, embracing his elder statesman status and reminiscing on the experiences that shaped him, whilst still clearly looking towards the future.

L-Biz & Castle Money Beats – “The Cool Table LP” (IStayBizzy.Com) – Backed by the solid, melodic production of California’s Castle Money Beats, Buffalo, NY’s L-Biz encouraged artists and listeners alike not to conform and follow trends in order to have a place at “the cool table”, but instead walk your own path and carve out your own niche as an individual. Head-nodding Hip-Hop that was guaranteed to have a positive impact on your confidence levels and self-esteem.

Arrested Development – “For The FKN Love” (OfficialArrestedDevelopment.BandCamp.Com) – Powerful. Uplifting. Needed. Just a few of the words that could be used to describe this epic album from the longstanding Arrested Development crew. Largely produced by the UK’s Configa, who matched Speech’s motivational verses with some rousing work behind the boards, this was ultimately a positive album with a realistic outlook that was further enhanced by appearances from the likes of Masta Ace, Freddie Foxxx and Big Daddy Kane. Music to feed your Hip-Hop soul in today’s unsettled times.

DJ Nappa – “Redress” (DJNappa.BandCamp.Com) – A veteran of the UK Hip-Hop scene, Phi-Life Cypher’s Nappa dropped a stellar instrumental release for the We Stay True label which found the Luton-based producer upping the creative ante and moving in potentially unexpected directions, whilst remaining clear about his artistic vision at all-times. Steering away from typical boom-bap territory, “Redress” encapsulated a variety of styles, whilst capturing Nappa’s genuine passion for the art of making music.

Evidence – “Unlearning Vol. 1” (MisterEvidence.BandCamp.Com) – As a fan, the growth and evolution shown by West Coast emcee-slash-producer Evidence over the years has been a joy to behold (and hear). From his keep-it-underground approach in the 90s as a member of Dilated Peoples, to the more personal content of his solo albums, through to his instrumental work, Evidence has consistently moved forward whilst remaining rooted in his Hip-Hop foundations. “Unlearning Vol. 1” represented yet another important step in the right direction, with Evidence dropping timely lyrical gems over carefully selected production from the likes of The Alchemist, Nottz and Daringer.

Children Of Zeus – “Balance” (ChildrenOfZeus.BandCamp.Com) – To describe this sophomore album from Manchester’s Children Of Zeus as being a masterpiece would definitely be no overstatement. Having already appeared to have perfected their blend of soul and Hip-Hop on previous releases, Konny Kon and Tyler Daley refined their sonic aesthetic even further on “Balance”, reaching higher heights of creative perfection that transcended typical categorization. This was spiritual music that existed in its own unique time and place.

Awon & Phoniks – “Nothing Less” (AwonAndPhoniks.Com) – A partnership whose chemistry clearly points to them being destined to make music together, Virginia / Maine duo Awon & Phoniks came correct once again on their fourth long-player, effortlessly bringing together personal, socially-aware rhymes and strong production packed with sublime soul and jazz samples.

Guilty Simpson & Gensu Dean – “EGO” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com) – Detroit’s Guilty Simpson has built a career on straight-no-chaser verses full of been-there-done-that life observations and cautionary street knowledge. Simpson offered more of the same on this collaboration with esteemed producer Gensu Dean, who provided the Motor City emcee with a raw, stripped-down collection of beats over which to reassert his position in the rap game.

Confucius MC – “Somewhere” (YNRProductions.BandCamp.Com) – London’s Confucius MC really took listeners on a lyrical journey throughout this album. Where was the destination? Well, that was largely down to your interpretation of the cerebral rhymes on offer here, which contained splashes of nostalgia, present day commentary and depictions of an uncertain future. The jazz-influenced production of France’s Keor Meteor fully complimented the UK emcee’s musings, with appearances from the likes of Jehst, Sonnyjim and Verbz adding to the overall feel of the album.

El Da Sensei & Jake Palumbo – “Solving Cases” (SpaceLABRecordings.BandCamp.Com) – Buoyed by a real sense of momentum and energy, this collaboration between Artifacts legend El Da Sensei and NY’s Jake Palumbo was full of upbeat joints powered by punchy, drum-heavy production and true-school lyricism. With appearances from Sadat X, John Robinson and Shabaam Sahdeeq, this album had the feel of a lively cipher session at times, with everyone involved clearly on a mission to celebrate Hip-Hop.

Ambassador Rick – “The Tape Nobody Made” (TheOpioidEra.BandCamp.Com) – One-third of Virginia’s Opioid Era crew, Ambassador Rick continued the group’s tradition of crafting uncompromising, emotionally-charged street music on this solo release. Bridging the gap between raw and righteous, Rick combined verbal grit with moments of genuine reflection, all delivered over vintage soul samples and smooth loops.

Snaggapuss & Ramzee – “Bronx Dundee” (RapRecordsAU.BandCamp.Com) – Veteran NY emcee Snaggapuss joined forces with Australian producer Ramzee for this hardcore-yet-entertaining album, with the former member of Doo Wop’s Bounce Squad utilising his inimitable flow to deliver punchline-heavy rhymes laced with humour over satisfyingly sparse, stripped-down beats.

Part Four coming soon.

New Joint – Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim / Rim

Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim ft. Rim – “Opp Anthem” (@VicSpencer / @Sonnyjim01 / 2021)

Smooth-and-deadly flavour from the fourth instalment of the US / UK duo’s “Spencer For Higher” album series dropping later this week.

New Joint – Vic Spencer x Mil Beats

Vic Spencer x Mil Beats – “Rough Environments” (@Effiscienz / 2021)

Third single to be lifted off the forthcoming “Brainstem Factory” collabo album from Chicago’s Vic Spencer and Belgium’s Mil Beats.

New Joint – Vic Spencer

Vic Spencer – “Online Desperation” (@VicSpencer / 2021)

Ill loops, swaggering punchlines and sharp lyrical jabs from the talented Chicago emcee’s forthcoming Original Super Legend-produced album “Legend Laws Of Power”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer

Vic Spencer – “Visionware” (@VicSpencer / 2021)

Some emcees are so naturally talented they simply sound like they were born to rhyme – Chicago’s Vic Spencer is one such individual – this latest display of lyrical dexterity from the Windy City wordsmith is off the forthcoming August Fanon-produced album “Psychological Cheat Sheet 2”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer / D. Brash / Goose

Vic Spencer ft. D. Brash & Goose – “Green Room Villains” (@VicSpencer / 2021)

Produced by Zepeda and taken from the Chicago lyricist’s recent album “Rather Be A Real One”.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2020 (Part Four) – Vic Spencer / Tesla’s Ghost / Elzhi etc.

Check Part One, Part Two & Part Three.

Vic Spencer – “Psychological Cheat Sheet” (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Joined by the brilliant August Fanon on production duties, Chicago’s inimitable Vic Spencer dropped verses packed with punchlines, dry humour and charisma throughout this album. As ever, Vic came across as the type of artist who would kick it with you for a few minutes if you bumped into him on the street, but he’d also be likely to laugh in the face of your favourite rapper if they happened to walk past.

Royce 5’9 – “The Allegory” (Royce59.Com) – This self-produced effort found Royce using the same microscopic attention to detail he’d applied to his personal life throughout 2018’s brilliant “Book Of Ryan”, but this time he turned to look outwards at wider society. Covering issues such as racism, violence and economic inequality, the Detroit artist used laser-like lyrical precision to cut through the noise and deliver some striking commentary on life in Amerikkka.

Stove God Cooks – “Reasonable Drought” (The Conglomerate Entertainment / Marci Enterprises) – 2020 was a breakout period for Stove God Cooks, but this was definitely no overnight success story, with the NY emcee having spent recent years working with both Lord Jamar and Busta Rhymes under the name Aaron Cooks prior to Roc Marciano’s involvement in his career. But it wasn’t just the name change and album full of Marci beats that gained people’s attention, it was also Cooks’ ability to breathe new life into the coke-rap genre with his distinctive delivery and creative punchlines involving references to aliens, singer Jon B and DITC’s Diamond D, amongst others.

Verbz & Mr Slipz – “Radio Waves” (HighFocus.Com) – Proving themselves to be a potent partnership, this full-length collaboration from London emcee Verbz and Brighton-based producer Mr Slipz was an absolute gem of an album, blending inner-city introspection and mellow beats with sublime results. Appearances from the likes of Melanin 9, Confucius MC and Coops added further depth to what was already an impressive release.

Craig G – “The Fragile Ego” (Soulspazm) – Juice Crew legend Craig G put us all on the therapist’s couch with this thematic release revolving around the human psyche. In today’s social media-driven era of instant gratification and the constant desire people have for attention, the Queensbridge-raised emcee took a step back to look at how our relationship with our ego can impact mental health and have real life consequences. Compelling stuff.

Oddisee – “Odd Cure” (Oddisee.BandCamp.Com) – In mid-July, inspired by the shared pandemic experience being endured globally and heightened social tensions in America, DMV favourite Oddisee dropped this life-affirming EP which dealt with the realities of the situation, with some moments of light relief sprinkled throughout. Leaning heavily on live instrumentation, which gave the EP a warm, soulful feel, this release may not have solved all the problems people were facing, but it did provide a welcome distraction from the madness.

D.C. Cortez & Drew Dave – “Stoop Stories” (DrewDaveMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Emcee / producer duo D.C. Cortez and Drew Dave stopped to take a look around in order to craft this observational, concept-based project inspired by everyday life in America’s capital city. Dealing with issues such as systemic racism, gentrification, education, unemployment, family and friendships, Cortez tackled potentially difficult subject matter in an engaging, conversational manner, complimented by Drew Dave’s full-bodied beats.

Conway The Machine – “From King To A GOD” (WhoIsConway.Com) – The third 2020 project from The Machine found the Buffalo emcee balancing the code of the streets with the politics of the rap game, as Conway acknowledged the pain and loss he still experiences due to his connections with hood life, whilst dealing with new pressures and issues associated with his rising industry reputation. Perhaps Conway’s most revealing release to date, fittingly original production from the likes of Daringer, Beat Butcha and DJ Premier really allowed his verses to resonate.

Rashid Hadee – “6 Packs & Cognac” (RashidHadee.Com) – The Chicago artist delivered lyrics with substance throughout this dope six-track EP, featuring production from Kenny Keys, Nottz, 5ifth Element and Hadee himself. Offering thoughts on the realities of life as a Black male in the Windy City, Rashid addressed issues such as police brutality, white privilege and mental health, with the finished product providing heads with a poignant listening experience.

MidaZ The Beast – “Where The Sidewalk Ends” (MidaZTheBeast.BandCamp.Com) – Orlando’s MidaZ teamed-up with producer Delle Digga to craft this collection of short-but-effective tracks which played like sonic chapters in an engrossing musical book. Needing to be heard in its entirety to be fully appreciated, the relationship here between the Florida-based emcee’s detailed verses and Digga’s subtle, sample-based tracks was nothing less than exquisite.

Phoenix Da Icefire x The Strange Neighbour – “Cinematic” (RevorgRecords.BandCamp.Com) – A clever album, this film-influenced collaboration between London’s Phoenix Da Icefire and producer Strange Neighbour offered plenty of high-definition, action-packed beats and rhymes, drawing listeners in with gripping lyrical narratives and a dramatic, well-crafted score. Pass the popcorn!

Tesla’s Ghost – “Strange Heirlooms” (TeslasGhost.BandCamp.Com) – A true lyrical craftsman, Triple Darkness emcee Tesla’s Ghost has an incredible talent for penning verses that combine raw street rhetoric with striking gothic-like imagery, leading listeners into a captivating creative space somewhere between reality and fiction. Production from the likes of Evil Ed, Karnate and The Historian provided the Ghost with some fittingly moody and eerie sonic backdrops. Play this only at night.

Sleep Sinatra – “No Anthems” (SleepSinatra1.BandCamp.Com) – When you’re an emcee who constructs lyrics that are as intricate and layered as those penned by Sleep Sinatra, you have to choose your beats carefully. On this release, the Nebraska-based artist found ideal musical allies in the form of production duo Parish & Bird, whose brand of understated mellow madness gave the rhymes here plenty of room to breathe, with Sinatra’s expert wordplay floating over hypnotic soundscapes.

Willie Waze – “Avant Scarred” (WillieWaze.BandCamp.Com) – Virginia-based emcee Willie Waze used the events of 2020 as inspiration for this honest, hard-hitting release, with production from the likes of DreamLife Beats, Kount Fif and Jewels Polaar bolstering the talented wordsmith’s striking bars. Acting almost as an audio diary, Waze did a great job here of expressing his thoughts, feelings and experiences during these undeniably turbulent times.

Ransom & Nicholas Craven – “Director’s Cut: Scene Two” (Presidential / Momentum) – Jersey City emcee Ransom definitely left his mark on 2020, releasing a trilogy of “Director’s Cut” projects with Canada’s Nicholas Craven behind the boards that effectively showcased his formidable rhyme skills. To be fair, any of the pair’s releases could have filled a slot on this list, but there was something about the “Scene Two” EP that stood-out to me in particular. Craven’s soulful-yet-melancholy production really brought the emotion out of Ransom’s hard-knock life lyricism on this one.

Elzhi – “Seven Times Down Eight Times Up” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – Former Slum Village member Elzhi’s first full-length release since 2016 was a deep dive into the Detroit representative’s mind-state, produced entirely by JR Swiftz. Encouraging persistence and resilience in all areas of life, not one word was wasted here, as Elzhi rhymed with a clear purpose, further cementing his status as one of the rap game’s most talented artists.

Oliver Sudden – “Sudden Impact” (RevorgRecords.BandCamp.Com) – This self-produced full-length from the Cronx Don Oliver Sudden was full of South London swagger, soulful loops and sharp wit. Taking time to look back on his career so far, whilst also looking towards what is still to be achieved, this album felt like the work of an artist taking stock of their position in life before embarking on the next chapter of their journey. Quality beats and rhymes.

Radio B – “All ARt AiN’t PreTTy” (KillTheDreamer.Com) – How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That was the question posed at the beginning of this album from Richmond, Virginia’s Radio B. The content of the project, however,  made it very clear what the talented emcee’s answer to that particular query was.  Released during the summer, following the tragic murder of George Floyd and with protests sweeping across American cities, Radio B used this album to drop social commentary, encourage Black pride and inspire independent thought. Powerful.

Magno Garcia x Chairman Chow – “Ba-Loo-S” (ChairmanChow.BandCamp.Com) – A great collaboration between two gifted Boston individuals, Magno Garcia’s contemplative, street-smart rhymes found a perfect match here in the boom-bap-influenced, boundary-pushing production of Chairman Chow. The pair definitely proved themselves to be a good combination throughout this release, increasing hopes that they’ll be working together again in the future.

Athletic Mic League – “Playground Legends Vol. 1” (AthleticMicleague.BandCamp.Com) – Originally hailing from Michigan but with members now scattered across the US, the Athletic Mic League crew (responsible for such underground favourites as 2002’s “Sweats And Kicks”) reunited for this quality seven-track EP, with the likes of Buff1, 14KT and DJ Haircut (aka Mayer Hawthorne) proving that the group’s chemistry and bond were both as strong as ever.

Part Five (the final instalment) coming soon.

New Joint – Vic Spencer

Vic Spencer – “Unbothered In LA” (@VicSpencer / 2020)

Chicago’s Vic Spencer teams-up with production duo DirtyDiggs during a trip to the West Coast and crafts a dope cut for his forthcoming album “Rather Be A Real One”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer / Jamal Gasol

Vic Spencer ft. Jamal Gasol – “Haitian Dropkicks” (@VicSpencer / 2020)

Taken from the Chicago artist’s forthcoming album “Rather Be A Real One”.

New Joint – Icon Curties & Vic Spencer

Icon Curties & Vic Spencer – “Grim Reaper In Sneakers” (IconCurties.BandCamp.Com / 2020)

Chicago’s Vic Spencer delivers his trademark brand of laidback lyrical dominance over the understated sonic drama of producer Icon Curties off the pair’s new EP “Bare Maximum”.

New Joint – Iron Wigs / Roc Marciano

iron wigs cover

Iron Wigs ft. Roc Marciano – “Bally Animals & Rugbys” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp.Com / 2020)

Second drop off the forthcoming “Your Birthday’s Cancelled” collabo album from Chicago emcees Vic Spencer and Verbal Kent produced entirely by the UK’s Sonnyjim.

 

New Joint – Kenautis Smith & Race Bannon / Vic Spencer / Mac Millie

Kenautis Smith & Race Bannon ft. Vic Spencer & Mac Millie – “Curdled Milk” (Race.BandCamp.Com / 2020)

Cool, calm, competition-crushing verses and menacing beats from the Chicago duo’s 2019 album “Out To Lunch”.

New Joint – Vic Spencer

Vic Spencer – “Rehab Resort” (@VicSpencer / 2020)

Produced by August Fanon and taken from the Chicago emcee’s new album “Psychological Cheat Sheet”.

100 Best Albums & EPs Of 2019 (Part One) – Roc Marciano / Nems / Jeff Smith etc.

Every year this ‘best-of’ list becomes increasingly harder to put together, with 2019 possibly having been the most challenging round-up to compile yet. Not because there haven’t been enough worthy projects released over the past twelve months, but because there has potentially been too many!

I initially sat down with a list of approximately three hundred albums and EPs that had dropped this year which I felt deserved to be considered. Three hundred??!! After plenty of deliberation and arguments with myself, I finally managed to get that list down to the one hundred releases you’ll find featured in this five-part 2019 overview.

Of course, there are going to be artists not included who some heads will feel should have been. That’s the beauty of music – everyone has their own opinion. But if a particular album or EP hasn’t been mentioned, that shouldn’t lead anyone to automatically assume I didn’t rate that project at all. As previously stated, I started with three hundred releases. When scaling that list down I had to really just consider which albums and EPs I’d enjoyed the most. It was as simple as that. No politics. No favours. Just the thoughts of a lifelong fan of beats and rhymes.

As always, huge props to all the talented artists out there (whether included in this list or not) who put their time, effort and creative energy into making music that adds something of value to this incredible culture called Hip-Hop.

Now, like we always do about this time….

Roc Marciano – “Marcielago” (RocMarci.Com) – As one of the most influential artists of the last decade it’s fitting that ten years after the release of “Marcberg”, an album that made an indelible impact on the sound of underground Hip-Hop, Strong Island’s Roc Marci would book-end his incredible run of releases with a project that further solidified his position in the game. Once again proving himself to be a master of his craft (both lyrically and musically),  the NY favourite fused vivid, larger-than-life rhymes with smooth, atmospheric (largely self-produced) beats and loops. Cinematic mood music best heard late at night in a haze of weed smoke.

 

roc cover

Nems – “Gorilla Monsoon” (Lyfer Gang) – Brooklyn emcee Nems is no newcomer, having released a string of projects over the past fifteen years. But on this album, the Mayor Of Coney Island appeared to capture Hip-Hop lightning in a bottle, elevating his skills to new heights in the process. Backed by the masterful production of fellow BK resident Jazzsoon, whose beats thumped harder than a heavyweight boxer working a punch-bag, Nems paid homage to the traditional Rotten Apple sound without getting caught up in nostalgia, delivering rhymes that ranged from aggressive, competition-crushing bars to brutally personal and honest life stories. Powerful music.

nems cover

Joker Starr – “G.A.W.D.” (FlukeBeatMusic.BandCamp.Com) – The irrepressible UK artist made a welcome return at the beginning of the year with another quality collection of unrestrained lyricism to add to his catalogue, at times sounding about ready to burst out of the speakers like a Hip-Hop Hulk. Largely produced by Micall Parknsun (with input from Anyway Tha God and OphQi), the UK wordsmith mixed social commentary and Black pride with larger-than-life emcee bravado throughout this entertaining showcase of raw hardcore talent.

joker starr cover

Vic Spencer & Sonnyjim – “Spencer For Higher 2” (Daupe Media) – Chicago’s Vic Spencer delivered slick wit and smooth arrogance over sublime production from the UK’s Sonnyjim on this sequel to the pair’s original 2018 “Spencer For Higher” project. A naturally gifted emcee, Spencer dominated the beats and loops on offer here with seemingly effortless skill, sharing a creative chemistry with Sonnyjim that lent the project a satisfyingly seamless and organic feel.

Funky DL – “Life After Dennison” (FunkyDL.BandCamp.Com) – Following on from 2018’s “Dennison Point” project, which captured Funky DL’s memories and experiences between 1992 and 2005 as a resident of Stratford, East London, “Life After Dennison” found the multi-talented UK artist bringing listeners up-to-date with his personal journey in his inimitable warm and witty style, accompanied by his jazzy and soulful trademark production sound.

Pitch 92 – “3rd Culture” (HighFocus.Com) – An album of epic proportions, this project from Pitch 92 fully showcased the Manchester music man’s range as a producer, incorporating Hip-Hop, jazz and soul influences into one smooth and cohesive listening experience, featuring a long list of top-tier UK talent including Jehst, MysDiggi and DRS. An ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable release.

Jeff Smith – “Fear Of A Black Messiah” (GiftedJeffSmithStore.BandCamp.Com) – In today’s divided and troubled times, music from artists such as Virginia’s Jeff Smith is needed more than ever. Following in the footsteps of acts such as Public Enemy, Paris and Kam, the outspoken emcee delivered an uncompromising look at what it means to be Black in Amerikkka today from his own perspective. Dealing with racial, social and political issues head-on, Smith proved that edutainment is still alive and well in Hip-Hop.

The Legion – “Three The Bronx Way” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – Grounded in memories of 80s Bronx block parties, street-corner ciphers and nights at the Latin Quarter, NY trio Molecules, Chucky Smash and Dice Man (aka Cee-Low) jingle jangled their way through this uncompromising dose of traditional Rotten Apple rap. The BX keeps creating it.

Damani Nkosi and ill Camille – “HARRIETT” (DamCam.BandCamp.Com) – West Coast duo Damani Nkosi and ill Camille combined their talents on this full-length project, determined to satisfy your soul and stimulate your third-eye via an organic blend of smooth, melodic production and uplifting lyrical content which was influenced by the past, grounded in the present and looking towards the future.

Infinite Thoughts – “Instrumentals” (1990SomethingLLC.BandCamp.Com) – Washington’s DJ NOZs and E Boogie delivered a stunning selection of uplifting, soulful beats on this brilliantly crafted project, showcasing not only their passion for boom-bap but also their shared ear for quality musicianship, blending dusty, basement-style drums with melodic keys and horns.

Showbiz x Milano – “Boulevard Author” (DITCEnt.Com) – A shining example of quality now-school Rotten Apple rap, this concise collection of dusty-fingered beats and well-executed, laser-precise rhymes found the Diggin’ In The Crates duo each residing at the top of their game. Milano has been a lyrical force to be reckoned with since his debut in the late-90s and Show’s ear for an ill loop definitely hasn’t faded over time, with this album carrying on DITC tradition and proudly supporting the classic sound of NYC.

Lisaan’dro – “M.A.D.E. (My Allies Died Early)” (Lisaandro.BandCamp.Com) – Gang Starr’s Guru once said it’s mostly the voice of an emcee that sets him or her apart from the competition. If Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal were still here today he would no doubt hold NY’s Lisaan’dro up to prove his point. The Long Island lyricist’s immediately recognizable raspy flow does indeed give his music a unique quality, but aside from that, as showcased on this album, Lisaan’dro also has a real talent for penning verses filled with pimpish slick talk and street-wise observations, which were backed up here by production from the likes of The Custodian Of Records, Leaf Dog, Flashius Clayton and more.

Es – “Social Meteor Vol. 1:Inspired By My Timeline” (EsMusik.BandCamp.Com) – If you were already familiar with Canadian emcee Es before 2019 via previous albums such as “Aspire To Inspire” (2014) and “We Are Only Getting Older” (2017), then you would have already been well aware that this talented wordsmith offers plenty of food for thought in his music. This latest project continued that tradition, with Es tackling the pros and cons of social media and our obsession with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram etc, accompanied by production from Pro-Logic, DJ QVP and Rel McCoy.

O The Great – “This Art Is Real” (OTheGreat,BandCamp.Com) – NY’s O The Great swung a heavy lyrical sword throughout this project, which bristled with a true passion for the art and culture of Hip-Hop. Mixing contemplative rhymes and observational jewels with raw bravado, the skilled emcee (who also produced the majority of this release) held the listener’s attention with ease via his sharp delivery and down-to-earth attitude. The album also featured worthwhile appearances from the likes of  Supreme Cerebral, BanishHabitual and Supreme Magnetic.

Benny Diction & Able8 – “Oak Dreams” (MillenniumJazz.BandCamp.Com) – Recapturing the creative chemistry heard on their brilliant 2013 collabo album “Life Moves”, UK emcee Benny Diction and Australian producer Able8 joined forces once again for this EP on the Millennium Jazz label. A concise collection of honest, thoughtful lyricism and forward-thinking soundscapes, “Oak Dreams” was yet another worthy addition to Benny’s already impressive catalogue.

WateRR & The Standouts – “The Honorable” (WateRR.BandCamp.Com) – Chicago emcee WateRR appeared to have found the perfect sonic backdrop for his swaggering, forthright rhymes in the form of Texas production duo The Standouts, who supplied the Windy City wordsmith with a strong selection of attention-grabbing loops and samples on this impressive long-player.

Finale – “62” (FinaleDet313.BandCamp.Com) – Longstanding supporters of Detroit’s Finale will already know he is an emcee determined to fill his verses with substance, honesty and integrity. This latest album from the Motor City wordsmith continued in that tradition, with Finale offering personal rhymes about family, relationships and fatherhood over a well-chosen selection of soulful production.

Otis Mensah – “Rap Poetics” (OtisMensah.BandCamp.Com) – Unique, refreshing and possessing an undeniable mastery of words, flow and language, UK rapper-slash-poet Otis Mensah packed this six-track EP with a seemingly effortless stream of vivid imagery, stimulating lyricism and magnetic energy, all delivered over a nice selection of crisp, jazzy beats.

Super Duty Tough Work – “Studies In Grey” (SuperDutyToughWork.BandCamp.Com) – The idea of a live band making Hip-Hop is nothing new, but it is a concept that takes real skill to execute effectively. At the top end of the scale, groups like The Roots and the UK’s Mouse Outfit have consistently released incredible music based around the live band format. But when done badly, the end product can sound limp and bland, lacking the thump and grit many Hip-Hop fans demand. Based on this EP, it would appear that Canadian band Super Duty Tough Work are definitely masters of their craft, balancing head-nodding beats and nimble rhymes with smooth instrumentation, incorporating vibrant keys, lively bass and punctuating horns.

Asun Eastwood & Onaje Jordan – “Danger My Ally” (AsunEastwood.BandCamp.Com) – Canadian artist Asun Eastwood has steadily built himself a reputation over the last couple of years as one of the nicest emcees making noise in the underground. This latest release (produced by Chicago’s Onaje Jordan) offered more of the raw, uncut wordplay that supporters have grown accustomed to, reflecting the darker side of Toronto’s streets.

Part Two coming soon.