Saturday, March 24, 2018

20th Anniversary Salute: Aquemini

What's happening people?!  Glad you maneuvered yourselves back around my way once again.  With it being 2018, it's time to salute those monumental projects that really made '98 such an amazing year in hip-hop.  We will begin with an album that many say was hands down the best album of '98 (aside from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) and definitively one of the greatest hip-hop releases of all-time.  While the prior two efforts of this particular southern duo really helped to establish the boom of the south, it was this album that really showed their artistic side in a way that was undisputed.  From influences of funk, soul, blues, and gospel incorporated into hip-hop, this album was astounding.  This album was Aquemini.

It was evident Outkast was becoming a hip-hop act to not be overlooked or ignored whatsoever.  With Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens being platinum-plus gems and Big Boi and Dre earning Best New Artist at The Source Awards, they were becoming bigger and bigger stars.  Enter Aquemini.  Combining their respective astrological signs Aquarius and Gemini, Big Boi and Dre reflected their signs and their traits within their music to bring together a momentous occasion on wax.  The album's first single was the ol' traditional blues sounding, "Rosa Parks".  This fantastic single was followed up with the soupy "Skew It On The Bar-B" featuring a surprising collabo with Wu-Tang's legendary chef, Raekwon.  This pairing fit very well though, and made for a standout cut.  The rest of the album was simply a musical experience. 

Lyrically, the duo excelled even more than they did on ATLiens, and contained more of a mixture of spirituality, soul, and down home southern culture that resembled more Southernplayalistic than ATLiens, as the latter was more extra-terrestrial and spiritual in nature overall.  From cuts like the fantastic Southernplayalistic extra, "West Savannah" to cuts like "Slump" and "Y'all Scared", they never mind exploring the streets and lifestyle of where they come from.  However, they go into more poetic, artistic routes with unbelievable cuts like the two-part "Art Of Storytelling" (Part Two in particular is just so left brained amazing), the ultra-funky and compelling spoken-word piece "SpottieOttieDopalicious", and the eargasm "Liberation", which is simply soulfulness at its finest with Erykah Badu, Cee-Lo, and Joi, with a spoken piece by Dungeon Family affiliate Big Rube. 

Musically, this is their richest and most ambitious effort to this very day.  Experimenting with live instrumentation to sampling, this album is production genius.  As was aforementioned, elements such as blues, soul, gospel, world music and especially funk are thick on this album and exemplify the next level they were trying to achieve.  There were no outside producers, just Dre and Mr. DJ.  None others were needed.  The horn blares from "SpotieOtieDopalicious" to the synths attached to "Synthesizer" and the harmonica from "Rosa Parks" showed that they were not trying to be in one other person's lane besides their own.

This album was brilliant, case closed.  Aquemini pushed every musical boundary previously shunned in that era's hip-hop.  Considered one of the most influential albums to ever grace our ears, regardless of genre, Outkast became officially the best duo in hip-hop not named Mobb Deep.  This was an album that kept it soulful and southern like gumbo, but also opened hip-hop up to other influences that were simply about music and less about image.  This became the third straight classic for Outkast, and they officially challenged A Tribe Called Quest and Eric B & Rakim for the greatest hip-hop trilogy ever./  While their other projects of the mega smashes Speakerboxx/The Love Below and Stankonia were equally stellar, Aquemini just may be their greatest overall musical achievement, and redefined how the south an sound.  Happy twentieth Aquemini!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Underrated Albums Of 2017

What's happening kind folks?! We are finally at the end of the most underrated albums of each year this decade.  While there were a number of notable projects that debuted in the top twenty of Billboard 200 or even won Grammy Awards, there were more than enough albums that got very high acclaim but didn't get as recognized as most of their counterparts.  Last year wasn't any different.  We saw a modern masterpiece and a couple of other instant classics that will continue to be heralded another decade from now.  In 2017, it was all about Kendrick's third straight benchmark release, DAMN, and the highly successful return of Jay-Z with his hallmark effort, 4:44.  However, as you're about to see, others delivered every bit as incredible, if not more.  With that said, let's go!

15. Sean Price
Imperious Rex
Production: The Alchemist, Harry Fraud, Nottz, others

The hip-hop world had been really been in a melancholy state with the loss of Sean Price in 2015.  The talk was that he was nearly in completion of an album called Imperious Rex.  Thanks to his wife, as well as Dru Ha, the late great Bar-barian had his album released and it was as gully as one would expect from P-Body.  With releases like this from him, he will forever live on and here's to hoping there are more music he left behind.

14. Quelle Chris
Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
Production: artist, The Alchemist, Chris Keys, others

One of the most enigmatic, yet intriguing acts from the D is Quelle Chris.  Previous efforts such as Ghost At The Finish Line and Innocent Country were very decent projects that exhibited his talent and the ability to help carry the motor city on his back.  With Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often, this may arguably be his most well-rounded project, but also his most affirming.  Throughout the album, he pushes confidence and self-love in the face of being odd, unique, and different.  A very needed album that celebrates individuality, and rest assured, he has no problem being himself.

13. MC Eiht
Which Way Iz West
Production: DJ Premier, Brink Santana

Whenever the term "West coast legend" is used, one name that must be mentioned, Compton O.G. MC Eiht.  The former Compton's Most Wanted emcee has been one of the realest spitters to emerge from the left coast.  To commemorate over twenty-five years in the game, he gets up with another legend in DJ Premier to deliver Which Way Iz West.  With a verbal hunger we haven't heard in years, Eiht sounds damn near like a new man over some fresh production by Brink Santana and Premo.  Eiht showed that skills and respect truly have no age limit.

12. Milo
Who Told You To Think?
Production: artist

Milwaukee emcee Milo has garnered a silent yet loyal following.  The Hellfyre Club member released his first project, A Toothpaste Suburb, in '14, but it was his his third solo album, So The Flies Don't Come, that started to really have him on more people's radar.  Somewhat eclectic but definitely an intriguing listen, Milo's left-brained, spoken word-esque delivery garnered him much ado acclaim.  His 2017 effort, Who Told You To Think?, is definitely a continuation, if not better.  Milo's poetic-like delivery, over very melodic production that's very intrinsic with his style, seems compelling and notable.  This was an acquired taste, but worth the drink.

11. Talib Kweli & Styles P
The Seven (EP)
Production: Marco Polo, Oh No, Khrysis, 88 Keyz, others

It's something about gool ol' fashioned hip-hop with no gimmicks, images, or labels.  Just an emphasis on spitting with some education thrown in there.  That's what we have here with the exciting collabo between Brooklyn legend Talib Kweli and LOX member Styles P.  Their debut EP, The Seven, was a highly intriguing and very knocking project that was quite the listen from top to bottom.  Hopefully one day we will get an entire full-length project and it will match the fire that this was.

10. Skyzoo
Peddler Themes (EP)
Production: Apollo Brown, !llmind, MarcNfinite, others

Ah, the ever consistent Skyzoo.  One of hip-hop's most prolific emcees continues to deliver heat year after year.  In 2016, he dropped a hell of a collabo album with Detroit beat giant Apollo Brown, The Easy Truth.  He decided to follow that up with the announcement of a forthcoming full-length solo album, In Celebration Of Us (spoiler alert: possibly the album of his career).  Before then, however, we was dropping an EP entitled Peddler Themes, and this was just a KNOCKING piece of work.  Absolutely zero sub-par cuts on here, Sky went lyrically nuts on every single track.  What can you say? Sky is just THAT emcee.

9. Talib Kweli
Radio Silence
Production: KAYTRANADA, The Alchemist, Oh No, Robert Glaspar, others

Talib Kweli Greene is an all-around emcee.  Although labeled as conscious, he can go beyond that box when need be, and often does.  Through it all, he educates and informs.  With his latest offering, Radio Silence, he focuses on the injustices and social misdealings we currently face among our community, while trying to present hope and pride reminding us of our strength.  Lyrically, Kweli is as on point as ever and continues to make his case as one of the most respected and influential emcees of his generation.

8. Roc  Marciano
Rosebudd's Revenge
Production: artist, Arch Druids, others

One of the most consistent emcees in the game right now is Long Island native Roc Marciano.  Starting things off with his memorable debut, Marcberg, and following that up with the equally mesmerizing Reloaded, then subsequent releases such as Marci Beaucoup and his Pimpire Strikes Back mixtape were also quite dope.  After a very brief hiatus, he returned with his anticipated album, Rosebudd's Revenge.  Mixing street philosophy with gritty tales of hustling and vengeance, Marci was as cold blooded as ever, but over some painfully soulful production made it sound so good.

7. J.I.D.
The Never Story
Production: Childish Major, J. Cole, Christo, others

While many are in full complaint mode over today's hip-hop scene, especially the mumble rap culture, one young southern emcee is looking to be his own man and establish his own identity.  Atlanta's J.I.D. had made a buzz with friends Earthgang, but his talent alone was enough for Grammy nominated emcee J. Cole to sign him to Dreamville Records and deliver his debut album, The Never Story.  Filled with intricate, yet clever, rhymes and a unique style makes this an exciting listen. Not to mention his singing ability isn't to be completely slept on either.  By the end of this album, you knew the sky was the limit.

6. Freddie Gibbs
You Only Live 2wice
Production: KAYTRANADA, Speakerbomb, BADBADNOTGOOD, others

After releasing the acclaimed milestone that was Pinata (with Madlib) and a strong follow-up with Shadow Of A Doubt, Freddie Gibbs was riding upwards.  Until, an unfortunate rape accusation temporarily derailed his career.  After having all charges dismissed, Gibbs returned pissed, but more hungry and focused than before.  The man behind such excellent gangsta releases such as Str8 Killa and Cold Day In Hell dropped a more reflective project, You Only Live 2wice.  While expressing his anger over the accusations and the evening in question, he was also bringing some of his best verses of his career in an effort arguably every bit as incredible as Pinata.

5. Cyhi The Prince
No Dope On Sundays
Production: S1, Lex Luger, Shawty Redd, Novel, others

Kanye protege from Atlanta, Cyhi The Prine, first turned heads on his mentor's landmark My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  From there, the buzz was about this young A-town native that really didn't sound like or fit the typical Atlanta scene.  Although he dropped the crazy, Black Hystori Project mixtape, we heard little else from him.  That changed with his debut full-length album, No Dope On Sundays.  Mixing gritty street tales with spiritual affirmations and redemption, Cyhi delivered a phenomenal album that showed the world how immensely talented of an emcee and writer.  Kanye invested well.

4. Jonwayne
Rap Album Two
Production: artist

Jonwayne comes across as the least hip-hopish guy you would ever meet. Long hair, glasses, and no good fashion sense, he resembles one of the hippy culture than hip-hop.  However, this Cali native is a fantastic emcee, poet, and producer.  This was displayed on Rap Album Two.  Although he had released a few other albums prior, this one may likely be his most acclaimed body of work.  Filled with introspection and, at times, painful transparency, this was an album that told us more about him than ever.  It's clear Jonwayne has a pronounced love of hip-hop in the most anti-cliche form possible. He doesn't want to be a star, but he does want to make some sort of impact.  He's on his way more and more.

3. Oddisee
The Iceberg
Production: artist

D.C. native Oddisee has been steadily having his light grow for around a decade.  The Diamond District member has been among the most highly touted talents you've likely never heard of.  That is until 2015 when dropped the highly acclaimed The Good Fight and more people started tuning in their antennas towards this very talented emcee.  He followed that up with the equally impressive EP, Alwasta, and his acclaim and following was growing.  Once 2017 hit, he dropped The Iceberg and it was clear this was gonna be an album to pay attention to.  No gimmicks, just immensely dope music and transparent lyrics.  This was just a very well-constructed effort.

2. Brother Ali
All The Beauty In This Life
Production: Ant

It had been some years since we had heard anything from Brother Ali.  The emcee behind one of the most breathtaking debuts of the first millennium decade with Shadows On The Sun, as well as other very highly acclaimed efforts such as The Undisputed Truth and Us had finally returned with All The Beauty In This Life.  Reuniting with longtime producer Ant of Atmosphere, Ali delivers a powerful album that centers on beauty, from the internal to the external, the sweet and the bitter.  As very impactful as this album had potential to be, no better example of how essential his return was than the touching and gripping "Dear Black Son", a tear-jerking conversation he has with his teenage son over the pressures of today's society as a young Black man.  Ali delivered another knockout album that exhibits his love of culture and the importance of perseverance and overcoming obstacles.  That's the real beauty.

1. Rapsody
Laila's Wisdom
Production: 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Nottz, Eric G., others

Ever since the early millennium, NC has been n hip-hop's radar.  While most knew Petey Pablo, but only the underground knew about Little Brother.  While Pablo was hitting gold and platinum, LB was clearly putting out the better product.  Now with artists like J. Cole, Rain910, Lute, and Phonte bringing the Tarheel State into the limelight of hip-hop, another extraordinary emcee has pushed NC even further.  Enter Show Hill's Rapsody.  Already achieving critical acclaim with mixtapes and EPs like Crown, Thank H.E.R. Later, and She Got Game, Rapsody was starting to get courted among the most respected lyricists in the game.  However, with 2017's Laila's Wisdom, any lingering doubts were immediately put to rest about her talent.  This album had depth, emotion, some of the best overall production years, and damn sure BARS.  An album worthy of legendary releases like To Pimp A Butterfly, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, and The Low End Theory, this album was rightfully nominated for a Grammy, but was overshadowed by the success of albums like DAMN, 4:44, and Culture.  By the time you've finished listening, you've realized you just heard and experienced greatness.

Honorable Mentions

Brockhampton- Saturation I
Brockhampton- Saturation II
Brockhampton- Saturation III
Prodigy- The Hegelian Dialetic
Your Old Droog- Packs
Snoop Dogg- Neva Left
Action Bronson- Blue Chips 7000
Big Boi- Boomiverse
Anime- Good For You
Goldlink- At What Cost
Jaden Smith- SYRE
Wu-Tang Clan- The Saga Continues
A$AP Ferg- Still Striving
David Banner- The God Box
Cunninlynguists- Rose Azura Njano
Wiki- No Mountains In Manhattan
Belly- Mumble Rap
Binary Star- Waterworld 3
DJ Quik & Problem- Rosecrans
Uncommon Nasa- Written At Night
Armand Hammer- Rome
TiRon & Ayomari-  WET: The Wonderful Ego Trip
Statik Selektah- 8
Open Mike Eagle- Brick Body Kids Still Dreaming

Last year was a simply tremendous year of exciting and formidable hip-hop.  From Rapsody shattering any lingering myths of women in hip-hop to fantastic returns of veterans such as MC Eiht and Brother Ali, this will be a year remembered for stellar lyricism and poignancy within today's heavily divisive communities and corrupt governmental leadership. Thank God for music like this.

Underrated Albums of 2016

What's the haps folks?! It was hard to match the simply stunning year that 2015 was in terms of quality hip-hop, but 2016 wasn't far off whatsoever.  Although we lost another legend in hip-hop with the passing of A Tribe Called Quest's five foot assassin Phife Dawg, the hip-hop that came from that year would surely make him proud and picking up a mic upstairs with God himself.  Among those included were his own group's swan song with We Got It From Here...Thank You For Your Service, Kendrick's masterful lost tapes album, untitled, unmastered, Kanye's The Life Of Pablo, ScHoolboy Q's blazing Blank Face LP, and Chance The Rapper's stellar gospel-influenced breakout effort, Coloring Book, there were quite a number of projects that were equally as impressive and sonically stimulating.  Without further adue, let's get into these efforts shall we?

15. Flatbush Zombies
3001: A Laced Odyssey
Production: Erick "Arc" Elliot

Beast Coast representatives, Flatbush Zombies, are among the most intriguing up-and-coming acts out there.  With their mixtapes of D.R.U.G.S. and BetterOffDead earning them a following, they dropped their first full-length album with 3001: A Laced Odyssey to some pretty decent acclaim. The fellas of Arc Elliot, Meechie Darco and Zombie Juice deliver their own brand of drug humor and, at times, thought-provoking anecdotes that exemplify the unique energy of this trio. This was every bit as dope as their mixtape efforts, as well as their collaborative EP with The Underachievers, Clockwork Indigo.  The Zombies are ones to watch.

14. T.I.
Us Or Else: Letter To The System
Production: Nottz, Mike & Keys, Lil' C, others

Southern legend T.I. has always been about the trap, while occasionally spitting some jewels for you to digest and reflect upon.  With Us Or Else: Letter To The System, he aggressively and bluntly addresses the state of Black America and the injustices that we live with and face daily.  With the heartbreaking deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and many others, along with other issues like gentrification and the judicial system, this is arguably the most important effort of his career.  Don't be fooled, there's a lot of knock with this album too. Thumping production with charged, meaningful lyrics equals greatness.

13. Apathy
Handshakes With Snakes
Production: artist

Connecticut's own Apathy has been regarded as one of the most consistent emcees in the underground.  Since his days with the Demigodz and Army Of The Pharoahs to his numerous mixtapes, EPs, and solo full-length debut, the flames Eastern Philosophy, Apathy has steadily garnered a cult like following, and rightfully. He returned with his fifth full-length project, Handshake With Snakes. It was more of the same from this charged up emcee.  Thunderous production with piercing delivery and in-your-face rhymes.  This was another fantastic release from Willimantic's favorite son.

12. Elzhi
Lead Poison
Production: Bombay, 14KT, Kareem Riggins, Oh No, others

One of the most lyrical emcees to emerge from the D (Detroit, that is) is Elzhi. The one time Slum Village member had already established himself in the underground and then got his breakout shine with SV. Once he left the group, he delivered projects such as the instant classic, The Preface, and the unbelievable tribute to Nas' Illmatic, Elmatic.  However, during his time away, he was dealing with a rather lengthy bout of depression, and it was evident in his next project, Lead Poison.  Although still an overall dope effort, you can tell that the same ferocity we had known was missing, but we did get very honest, soul-bearing rhymes that were both wrenching and brave.

11. Royce 5'9"
Production: Denaun Porter, Jake One, Nottz, S1, DJ Khalyl, Antman Wonder, others

Sticking with Motor City, one of the lyrical gods of Detroit is Royce 5'9".  His extensive catalog may have some sure fire hits such as Street Hop and the brooding Death Is Certain, but lyrically, he's perhaps the most complete technical emcee in the game. His 2016 full-length, Layers, was an autobiographical, honest piece of work that showed more Ryan Montgomery than Royce.  The one-time Slaughterhouse member has never been afraid to let us in, and he did so again in excellent fashion.

10. Dave East
Kairi Chanel
Production: Cardo, Buda & Grandz, Mr. Authentic, others

Harlem's Dave East is seen as one of the young up-and-comers looking to put NYC hip-hop back to the forefront.  He earned the attention of Nas to be signed to his Mass Appeal label and his debut mixtape under the banner, Hate Me Now, was filled with raw lyrics and heavy street imagery that got him a lot of attention than with prior mixtapes.  He followed that up with his 2016 release, Kairi Chanel, named after his daughter.  The project is more of the same, only with more conceptual cuts like "Keisha" and cuts filled with urgency like the bangin' yet unfortunate "Don't Shoot".  This continued to show that East is definitely among the future greats in the game.

9. Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition
Production; Black Milk, The Alchemist, Paul White

Yet another Detroit representative grabbed hip-hop by the throat in 2016.  In this case, it was Danny Brown.  The quirky, yet highly talented, emcee who was responsible for dropping very dope projects such as XXX and Old delivered the most complex, yet fascinating, album of his career wit Atrocity Exhibition.  An eclectic mixture of sounds mixed with warped, drugged-out, and occasionally bizarre lyricism makes for an album that was highly ambitious and intriguing.  Brown's niche for bringing us into his own psychedelic world has some oddball moments, but with this album is still a very enjoyable ride.

8. Royce 5'9"
Tabernacle: Trust The Shooter EP
Production: DJ Premier, Antman Wonder, Nottz, Jahlil Beats, AraabMuzik, others

Just before he dropped his Layers LP, Royce 5'9" gave us a hell of an appetizer with his surprise EP, Tabernacle: Trust The Shooter.  Folks, this is straight up and down lyricism here.  No frills. No chaser. Over top of some sick production from Nottz, AraabMuzik and PRhyme partner, DJ Premier, Royce is in full battle mode here and reestablishes himself as one of the single most dominating mic destroyers in the business.  Cuts like "Which Is Cool" and "Dead President Heads" solidify his mark that could legitimately put him among the most underrated emcees of all-time. Talk about God flow.

7. Ab-Soul
Do What Thou Wilt
Production: Digi-Phonics, Wondagurl, FrancisGotHeat, Mike WILL Made It, others

While we all give much props and accolades to TDE's Kendrick, SZA, and ScHoolboy, there's absolutely no way we can forget about Isaiah Rashad, Jay Rock, SiR, Lance Skiiwalker, and especially the stoned thinker, Ab-Soul.  Garnering much acclaim from his projects of Longterm Mentality and Control System, Soulo quickly asserted himself on a level critically as high as King Kendrick.  While his follow-up, These Days, didn't quite measure up to the greatness of the prior releases, he attempted to get it back with D.W.T.W. (Do What Thou Wilt).  This effort was fantastic, as he delved into familiar subjects like drugs, heartbreak, and society frustrations, while also yearning to fully comprehend women and understand their value.  A step up from These Days, Soul delivered, and delivered well.

6. NoName
Production: Saba, Phoelix, Cam O'bi, Monte Booker

Chi-town emcee Noname got some mainstream notoriety for her guest spots on Chance The Rapper's famed and revered Coloring Book effort.  Although not new to the game, her name created more of a buzz to many that may not have known who she was.  In comes Telefone, a rather amazing project that lets us know more about the emcee/poet.  Over mostly breezy and jazzy soundscapes, Noname lets us into her world of complicated relationships and complex outlooks on life as a whole while discovering and establishing self-worth.  Hopefully there's a lot more where this came from.  A lot.

5. Apollo Brown & Skyzoo
The Easy Truth
Production: Apollo Brown

Skyzoo is such a technically gifted emcee.  Among the most slept-on emcees of the decade. He has consistently dropped tremendous project after tremendous project with efforts like The Salvation, A Dream Deferred, and The Great Debater. In 2016, he collaborated with Detroit production phenom Apollo Brown to deliver, The Easy Truth. With Apollo's sick production pedigree, making insane beats for the likes of Ras Kass, Guilty Simpson, and Westside Gunn, this was a virtual marriage in underground heaven, this was just pure boom bap, lyrical proficiency.  Hardly a blemish at all here, Sky and Apollo could very well be among the next producer/emcee duos of the game with more releases like this.

4. Westside Gunn
Production: Daringer, Camouflage Monk, The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Tha God Fahim, Statik Selektah, Roc Marciano

Buffalo, NY. No one had ever heard of much hip-hop from this city.  That changed with the emergence of Griselda Records.  Founder Westside Gunn and his brother Conway made it a mission to make Buffalo the next great NY city.  The first major full-length release was the grimy as SHIT debut from Gunna, FLYGOD.  Achieving much acclaim with multiple mixtapes and appearances, this debut was as gritty and streetcore as you could imagine.  For those that had been missing that gutter trash NYC rap from the nineties like Mobb Deep, C-N-N, Screwball, or even recent acts like Roc Marciano, this is your new addiction.

3. KA
Honor Killed The Samurai
Production: artist

Brownsville veteran KA had dropped highly acclaimed projects such as Grief Pedigree, The Night's Gambit, and 1200 B.C. going into 2016, and his next effort, Honor Killed The Samurai, was more of the same.  Jewels upon jewels mixed the vivid nature of the cold streets of NYC, KA methodically gave us an aura of caution and sharp wisdom coupled with dark and bleak tracks that reflect the world he presented.

2. Run The Jewels
Production: El-P

Could hip-hop's most socially angst duo complete the trifecta with an equally momentous album? With Killer Mike and El-P, the answer was a resounding hell yeah.  With RTJ3, the album was released as a surprise release near the very end of the year, and it was one of the best post-Christmas gifts a hip-hop head could ask for.  On the heels of the most deplorable set of events this generation with the election of Trump as president, they had PLENTY to say, and it was at times ugly, other times painful, but all times necessary.  This was an album for the ages.

1. Common
Black America Again
Production: Kareem Riggins, Robert Glaspar

When you have amassed a twenty-five year career like Lonnie Rashid Lynn has had, greatness is attached to you.  One of the true modern legends, Common is the man behind truly hallmark moments in the game such as BE, Like Water For Chocolate, and Resurrection, but added to his nearly immaculate discography with perhaps the most important album of his career, Black America Again.  Filled with love, pain, pride, and anger, this album reflected Black culture at its most transparent.  From the gripping title track with the icon himself Stevie Wonder to the simply beautiful eulogy to his late father "Little Chicago Boy", this was a new benchmark in the already celebrated career of Common.

Honorable Mentions

Ugly Heroes- Everything In Between
Open Mike Eagle & Jack White- Hella Personal Film Festival
Aesop Rock- The Impossible Kid
Mick Jenkins- The Healing Component
A$AP Mob- Cozy Tapes Vol. 1
J DIlla- The Diary
Atmosphere- Fishing Blues
A$AP Ferg- Always Strive And Prosper
Snoop Dogg- Coolaid
Domo Genesis- Genesis
Like- Songs Made While High
Homeboy Sandman- Kindness For Weakness
Pete Rock & Smoke DZA- Don't Smoke Rock
L'Orange & Mr. Lif- The Life & Death Of Scenary
Oddisee- Alwasta EP
Mr. Lif- Don't Look Down
Westside Gunn- There's God and There's FLYGOD...Praise Both (EP)

As you can tell, 2016 was a year that pretty explosive year socially and politically as the music reflected this.  While Common, Run The Jewels, and T.I., injustice and hostile society narratives were the story, others like Royce, Elzhi, Noname, and Ab-Soul dropped introspective releases that explored their emotions and thoughts in such transparent fashion.  This was definitely an interesting, yet very dope, year of hip-hop.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Underrated Albums of 2015

What's good peoples?!  The year of 2015 has been considered the best year within hip-hop this decade music-wise, and rightfully so.  We saw what may be the best album this generation of To Pimp A Butterfly, the landmark sophomore album by Kendrick Lamar, as well as Drake's excellent If You're Reading This, It's Too Late, Dr. Dre's LONG-awaited return with the flammable Compton, Game's phenomenal sequel to his 2005 classic debut, The Documentary, and Lupe Fiasco's best album since his 2007 release, The Cool, Tetsuo & Youth.  Not to mention other stellar releases from Joey Bada$$ and the triumphant return of Scarface.  There was critical acclaim all over the place in 2015, and it was such a time to be a hip-hop fan.  Of course, we also mourned the loss of the legendary Sean Price that summer as well.  Such a blow to the hip-hop community hurt us, but musically, we knew Sean was pleased even in his afterlife.  However, there were other releases that were almost just as acclaimed as the ones you heard and rotated more, and these are the ones we will give love to.  With that said, let's start this simply awesome list.

15. Earl Sweatshirt
I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
Production: artist, Left Brain

Arguably the most talented, albeit the most enigmatic, ember of the former OFWGKTA was Earl Sweatshirt.  His mixtapes plus appearances on various members projects made him a standout star.  His prior album, Doris, introduced us to his deeply personal and complex world while seeing how very talented this kid was.  He followed it up with the brooding I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside.  Even more personal and introspective than before due to the loss of a close relative and his battles with depression, this was very dark but very insightful.  Earl is among the brightest young emcees in the game, even if sometimes his material is melancholy.

14. Freddie Gibbs
Shadow Of A Doubt
Production: KAYTRANADA, Frank Dukes, Mike Dean, Murda Beatz, Speakerbomb, Boi-1nda, others

Fresh off his career-defining classic with Madlib, Pinata, Gangsta Gibbs dropped Shadow Of A Doubt.  The album was filled with what we usually expect from Gibbs, only varying up his style at a time or two.  Much like prior albums like ESGN, Str8 Killa, and Cold Day In Hell, Gibbs brought the rawness as only he could and it became an album that took him from just a mixtape sensation to a bonafide artist.  Lyrically focused over some tight production, Gibbs' stature was building and building, without being on a major label.

13. Rapper Big Pooh & Apollo Brown
Words Paint Pictures
Production: Apollo Brown

In the wake of the saddening deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland among countless others, former Little Brother member Rapper Big Pooh addressed society's heavy, tense climate on the excellent Words Paint Pictures.  He tackles issues such as racism and police brutality and other societal issues on this release.  Arguably his best project up to this point, Pooh came back from his hiatus in a big time way with this highly dope project with one of the hottest up-and-coming producers around in Apollo Brown.

12. Milo
So The Flies Don't Come
Production:Kenny Segal

Milwaukee emcee Milo is a complex lyricist with a quirky, yet unique, approach to hip-hop.  typically categorized in the alt hip-hop arena, Milo has a sense of humor and eclectic vision for his talent.  Although make no mistake about it, he has a lot of talent.  This is made evident by his album, So The Flies Don't Come.  Often times fascinating and intriguing, Milo delivers aesthetically smart rhymes into his independent thinking.  He is an emcee that requires a lot of listening in order to get the full gist of who he is and where he comes from on an artistic level, but it's worth the ride.

11. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD
Sour Soul

The ever prolific Ghostface Killah had been hitting on all cylinders for the majority of his career, if not his whole career period.  Back to back to back smash releases puts him among hip-hop's true elite.  He followed up his incredible Twelve Reasons To Die and ambitious 36 Seasons with Sour Soul, a collaboration with Canadian jazz production group BADBADNOTGOOD.  As had been the case, the production very nicely suited to Ghost's distinctive style and complimented him damn near perfectly.  Along with guests like Elzhi, Danny Brown and MF DOOM, Big Face Ghost knocks another one out and continues to show why he should rightfully be considered among the legends of the game.

10. Rapper Big Pooh
Home Sweet Home
Production: Nottz

As was previously mentioned, Rapper Big Pooh had reemerged on the scene, but he didn't just drop one project.  Although the aforementioned Words Paint Pictures was the more serious in terms of tone and content, his collaborative effort with highly acclaimed VA beatmaker Nottz, Home Sweet Home, was definitely more flavorful in terms of just good ol' fashioned hip-hop.  While you almost rest assured anything Nottz touches turns to a certified banger, Pooh almost flawlessly glides over each track with ease over some of the most thumping production that year.  What a year for Pooh.

9. Czarface
Every Hero Needs A Villain
Production: 7L

After the critical success and acclaim of their debut self-titled album, the crew of Czarface (7L, Esoteric, and Inspectah Deck) decided to do it again with the release of their follow-yup effort, Every Hero Needs A Villain.  Literally every bit as knocking as their debut effort, this album is cleverly executed with relentless lyricism and quite the blistering production.  Easily a throwback to nineties styled hip-hop, this album also serves a great purpose in today's times as well.  This team was two for two.

8. L'Orange & Jeremih Jae
The Night Took Us In Like Family
Production: L'Orange

One of hip-hop's most brilliant, yet highly slept-on, producers is NC native L'Orange.  His penchant for dramatic, vintage-themed production is borderline breathtaking at times and can be very distinctive.  This was very evidenced on the collaborative effort with LA rapper/producer Jeremiah Jae, The Night Took Us In Like Family.  Thematically, this piece has a scent of dark hip-hop from far earlier eras such as the thirties or forties.  One gets the aural feeling of being in the gangster age in New York during that time period, and  you'll notice how seamlessly each track blends into the next.  This is a dynamite piece of work that will leave you wanting more from them.

7. Skyzoo
Music For My Friends
Production: !llmind, Antman Wonder, Jahlil Beats, Thelonious Martin, Apollo Brown, others

One of the leaders of the new school from Brooklyn is Skyzoo.  Dropping consistent acclaimed mixtapes, EP, and full-lengths, Sky is one whom you would consider an emcee's emcee.  His focus on being honest and letting you into his world is refreshing and at times quite captivating.  With his third full-length album, Music For My Friends, Sky brings us into his adolescence much like The Game did on his stellar 1992 album.  With simply fantastic production from the likes of frequent collaborator !llmind, Apollo Brown, and Thelonious Martin, Sky effortlessly owns each beat he's on.  Conceptually, musically, and lyrically, Sky hit another home run with this one.

6. Ghostface Killah & Adrien Younge
Twelve Reasons To Die II
Production: Adrien Younge

When emcees attempt to deliver sequels to major efforts, they can be hit or miss.  For every Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, there's a Blueprint 2.   Fortunately that was not the case with Twelve Reasons To Die II, the sequel to Ghostface's knockout album Twelve Reasons To Die.  Scored and produced once again by Adrien Younge and narrated by RZA, Ghost is not done raising hell on those who killed him in the first installment.  With more co-stars with him such as Chino XL, Vince Staples, and his Wu brother Raekwon, this latest version is every bit as intriguing and visually stunning as its predecessor.  Will Ghost ever lose? Don't bank on it.

5. Big K.R.I.T.
It's Better This Way
Production: artist

After packing up and leaving Def Jam, K.R.I.T. went back to the indie route and dropped another critical darling of a mixtape, It's Better This Way.  Every bit as soulful as previous efforts, K.R.I.T. is at a crossroads on this release, as evidenced by the cover art.  It's this paradox and ambiguity that K.R.I.T. wrestles with on this project, which makes this even more orf a project to peep.  His honest duality and complexity is very human at this stage in his career and we're just elated we get to hear him bear it all to us.

4. Vince Staples
Summertime '06
Production: No I.D.

Long Beach emcee Vince Staples had been much the buzz from his appearances on Earl Sweatshirt's Doris to his own Def Jam debut EP, Hell Can Wait.  It was time to deliver his debut full-length, Summertime '06, which was a double album filled with flames.  An overall dark yet lyrically gifted project, Staples details his life in the streets letting us in to his one time world of gangs and violence.  The world outside his window wasn't pretty and with knockers like "Street Punks" and the DOPE "Summertime", Staples secured his place as one of hip-hop's brightest newcomers.

3. Joe Budden
All Love Lost
Production: AraabMuzik, Boi-1nda, Vinylz, others

Joe Budden is quite the polarizing emcee.  While most won't dispute his verbal and lyrical talents, it's his antics away from the mic that have made him gain almost as many detractors as fans.  However, musically, the one time Slaughterhouse member has been delivering some fairly dope efforts such as Padded Room and definitely Some Love Lost.  However, he hit a career high with All Love Lost.  Unquestionably the most personal and honest we've ever heard him, Budden bares his soul like never before and it comes off equally troubling and refreshing.  Jersey Joe put his pride to the side and let us into his personal diary and the result was a career hallmark.

2. Oddisee
The Good Fight
Production: artist

DMV native Oddisee has often times been overlooked when it comes to up-and-coming stars within hip-hop.  The Diamond District member has dropped some very dope efforts, but it was his seventh solo album, The Good Fight, where he finally see him come into his own.  An exceptional piece of work, Oddisee dropped a jewel of an album that was relatable to the common man and those just trying to maintain out here in the world.  The epitome of not giving up and living dreams, Oddisee emphasizes that off and on throughout this effort and it's so very needed.

1. Scarface
Deeply Rooted
Production: N.O.Joe, Mike Dean, Nottz, others

The ever legendary Brad Jordan.  Known for being among the most influential emcees to ever grace a mic, Face dropped his first album in seven years with Deeply Rooted.  His best album since his seminal classic The Fix in '05, Face shows once again why he's been such a big part in helping mold the careers of cats like Ludacris, T.I., and Bun B, while garnering massive respect from the likes of Jay, Nas, and The Game.  Tackling social issues, dropping jewels. and reminding everyone just who's the hardest of the hard is what Face is about on this album.  This was classic Scarface, and this was so very welcomed.

Honorable Mentions

MED, Blu, & Madlib- Bad Neighbor
Conway The Machine- Reject 2
Kirk Knight- Late Knight Special
Tyler The Creator- Cherry Bomb
Canibal Ox- Blade Of The Ronin
The Underachievers- Evermore: The Art Of Duality
Dizzy Wright- The Growing Process
Donald Trump & The Social Experiement- Surf
Death Grips- The Powers That B
Mick Jenkins- Wave(s)
Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder- Indie 500
Raury- All We Need
Statik Selektah- Lucky 7
Dr. Yen Lo- Days With Dr. Yen Lo
Georgia Anne Maldrow- A Thoughtiverse Unmarred
Quelle Chris- Innocent Country
Mello Music Group- Persona
Pete Rock- Petestrumentals 2

What a hell of a year 2015 was in hip-hop. We had some very triumphant highs and some heartbreaking lows, but this was among the best hip-hop years of the decade.  Underdogs rose to the occasion and crews such as Pro Era showed their potency among some of hip-hop's true finest.  It would be hard pressed to find a better year (besides the prior year) than 2015, and for good reason.  Until next time folks!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Underrated Albums of 2014

What's happening folks! Before we get into the popping year that was 2014, let's lift one up for one of hip-hop's true icons.  The legendary Lovebug Starski passed last week.  The triple OG is considered one of the earliest innovators of the genre, being credited with coming up with the term "hip hop".  We salute this brotha who now sits with the Most High and we say thank you for helping to present this beautiful give of art and expression that we so value and live in every day.  Sincere condolences and sympathy to his family during this very difficult time.

The year of 2014 was a particularly incredible year of hip-hop.  ScHoolboy Q's major label debut, Oxymoron, officially established him as a star, while YG's My Krazy Life gave gangsta rap the much missed boost it needed.  Also, J. Cole dropped a career defining album in 2014 Forest Hills Drive near year's end.  Other releases by 50 Cent, Big K.R.I.T., Common, and Rick Ross were blaring in many a car deck from city to city.  However, the most acclaimed albums of the year never saw high chart rankings or were minimized by mainstream's consciousness, including one of the most impactful releases of the entire decade. With that being said, let's get into this fantastic list.

15. Pharoahe Monch
Production: artist, Lee Stone, Marco Polo, Quelle Chris, others

Following up 2011's very dope W.A.R. album, he continues the war-esque series with P.T.S.D.  He had already through "war" conceptually with the music industry, now he's feeling the ill effects of it.  This album was based around a veteran who returned home and whose life became a downward spiral with addiction and paranoia.  Another innovative and thought-provoking release from one of the game's true lyrical monsters.

14. Skyzoo & Torae
Barrel Brothers
Production: DJ Premier, Antman Wonder, !llmind, Black Milk, Oh No, Khrysis, Jahlil Beats, others

Two of the most talented emcees to emerge from NYC throughout the decade has been Brooklyn's Skyzoo and Coney Island's Torae.  Sky's laid-back, scholarly flow mixed Torae's no holds barred, unfiltered style meshes like hand in glove with their flames debut collab album, Barrel Brothers.  The chemistry here is just impeccable track to track and over tracks from the likes of frequent Skyzoo collaborator !llmind, Oh No, Black Milk (their track with Random Axe "All In Together" is just unfairly dope), and the legendary Premier made for one of the most hard-hitting albums to come from NY that year.

13. DJ Quik
The Midnight Life
Production: artist

West coast legend DJ Quik is still bringing that Compton funk some twenty-three years after his influential debut album, Quik Is The Name.  In 2014, he dropped The Midnight Life and showed that he still had it and didn't lose a single step.  Considered one of the greatest emcee/producers ever, Quik reminded these young gunnas that he still is Way 2 Fonky.  He even reunited with protege Suga Free and his own son on a couple tracks.

12. Black Milk
If There's A Hell Below
Production: artist

Curtis Cross was on a roll.  From his promising debut, Sound Of The City, and his highly intriguing follow-up, Popular Demand, up to 2013's excellent, No Poison, No Paradise, Milk was gaining more and more momentum as an emcee and damn sure as a producer.  He delivered the follow up to Poison, If There's A Hell Below, which is a darker transition from his prior effort.  This is a bleak, intricate release, although the sparse, 80s sounding 'Detroit's New Dance Show" was a rather welcomed surprise that would normally come off sticking out like a sore thumb, but leave it to Milk to make it fit in place and make it work.  Arguably Black Milk's best effort to date.

11. Vince Staples
Hell Can Wait EP
Production: No I.D., DJ Infamous, others

Introducing Vince Staples, a highly dope young emcee from the LBC.  First heard with close friend Earl Sweatshirt on his album Doris, he got signed to Def Jam and he dropped his EP, Hell Can Wait.  Obviously talented and someone to keep your eyes peeled to, he gave heads a project that didn't even scratch the surface on how high he could go  While Summertime '06 became his career highlight, it drew from this very dope effort.

10. Cormega
Mega Philosophy
Production: Large Professor

Queensbridge's own Cormega is one of the underground's most acclaimed artists, despite initially being a part of The Firm and having his Def Jam debut shelved.  He never gave up, remembered his hustle game, and has been putting out standout and after standout since.  In 2014, he dropped Mega Philosophy, a gem of an album solely produced by another Queens legend, Large Professor.  Mega took it back to the basics and reminded people that he hasn't fallen off one iota.  Although being noted for it being free of profanity, this album still packed a wallop, as lyrically and conceptually, Mega is still as hungry as he was when he started in the nineties.

9. Dilated Peoples
Directors Of Photography
Production: Evidence, DJ Babu, The Alchemist, DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, Oh No, Diamond, Jake One, others

When it was announced that Dilated Peoples would be reuniting for an album for the first time in eight years, heads rejoiced immediately, and rightfully so.  Their seventh album, Directors Of Photography, showed their world through their "lens" (partially taken from Ev's legit love of photography).  This album was easily among their best work, if not their overall best since their sophomore hallmark release, Expansion Team.  Sounding as fresh as ever and rejuvenated, DP's brought everything back in...well...focus.

8. Step Brothers
Lord Steppington
Production: artist

After being on several projects together, Dilated People's Evidence and emcee/producer extraordinaire The Alchemist delivered their much talked about debut, Lord Steppington.  It goes without saying that their chemistry was on point, as the two emcee-producers delivered a project that's very lax in content and just an album filled with witty bars and an overall enjoyable album.  Don't get It confused however, this isn't a fun and games album, as you can tell they took this album seriously and this tag team needs to have more championship collabs in their future.

7. Isaiah Rashad
Cilvia Demo
Production: Sounwave, Black Metaphor, Antydote, Danny Dee, others

One album that people somewhat missed and they really shouldn't have whatsoever was Isaiah Rashad's debut EP, Cilvia Demo.  This new TDE signee at the time from Tennessee was a highly talented young cat who's transparency was poignant and at times jarring.  From suicidal thoughts to addiction to beefing with his father, this was a project that has people arguing that this may have been the best album from the TDE camp that year, and in most cases, that's a strong argument.  Top Dawg had a new star in the making.

6. Rapsody
Beauty & The Beast
Production: 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Eric G., others

Throughout the decade, we had seen Snow Hill's finest really see her buzz and her notoriety increase with efforts such as Thank H.E.R. Later, She Got Game, The Idea Of Beautiful, and The Black Mamba.  She continued her acclaim with Beauty & The Beast, a ten track (thirteen if you include the three bonus cuts) firestarter that has Rap being her charming, yet in control and focused self on this project.  Lyrical as ever and reminding everybody that she's more than just a "female rapper", Rap's rep only grew bigger.

5. Damani Nkosi
Thoughtful King
Production: Warryn Campbell, others

One album that was arguably the most acclaimed album you never even peeped in 2014 was from former Snoop-affiliate Damani Nkosi.  Previously having worked with the likes of Kurupt, The Clipse, and the aforementioned Snoop, Nkosi delivered the simply fantastic Thoughtful King.  Naming the album after the translation of his name, he displays how thoughtful he is lyrically and conceptually.  Over some of the most relaxing, jazzy, soulful tracks you'll hear in hip-hop, this was grown folk hip-hop in its fullness: classy, honest, introspective, and even free of profanity.

4. Mobb Deep
The Infamous Mobb Deep
Production:  Havoc, !llmind, KAYTRANADA, Boi-1nda, The Alchemist, others

Twenty years after the album that put them among hip-hop's consciousness, The Infamous, Hav and P brought back a sound that was somewhat reminiscent of their legendary second album,The Infamous, with The Infamous Mobb Deep.  Definitely their best overall effort since Murda Muzik in '98, they sounded like two veterans showing and proving that they were still among the best duos in hip-hop's history and with searing cuts like "My Block" and "Dirt", these QB kids reminded us they still had us shook off the realness.

3. PRhyme
Production: DJ Premier, Adrien Younge

Anytime one of the game's legendary producers and one of the game's most complete emcees would get together in DJ Premier and Royce 5'9", we were in for something unequivocally knocking, and with cuts like "Shake This" and "Boom", we were naturally in full sweat when the announcement came that they would do a full collab project together.  Calling themselves PRhyme, their self-titled debut EP was one of the most magical and naturally gifted works of the decade. Using samples compiled by producer/composer Adrien Younge, Preem and Royce scorched every single track. We even had Preem bless us with a MUCH overdue rhyme.  Not to mention Royce alongside guests such as Black Thought, Common, Logic, and ScHoolboy Q over Preemo tracks were nothing short of momentous.

2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Production: Madlib

A lot of us remember the hallmark moment that was Madvillainy and the practically just as amazing Champion Sound.  The common element with both classics was west coast legendary producer Madlib.  This year, he assisted red hot Indiana emcee Freddie Gibbs with the anticipated Pinata.  We knew we were in for something special when we first "Thuggin'", as it sounded like Gibbs naturally belonged over Madliberator's production.  The rest of the album followed suit, as this easily got mentioned with the two aforementioned epic efforts.  Gibbs' star power hit a new high and Madlib continued to reveal his importance to hip-hop production.

1. Run The Jewels
Production: El-P

When Killer Mike and El-P got together to officially become Run The Jewels, it was met with a huge sense of intrigue.  Coming off El-P's excellent work on Mike's R.A.P. Music album, their self-titled debut was incredible and showed their infectious chemistry.  However, the gloves came off and they didn't play nice on their masterful sophomore album RTJ2.  This was one of the most explosive releases in many years and arguably the most in-your-face album of the decade up to this point.  Social and political commentary by the truckloads, Mike and El-P officially declared themselves unfuckwittable.

Honorable Mentions

Ghostface Killah- 36 Seasons
Bishop Nehru & MF DOOM- NehruvianDOOM
Azaelia Banks- Broke With Expensive Taste
Open Mike Eagle- Dark Comedy
Various Artists- Shady XV
Mick Jenkins- The Water(s)
Tech N9ne- Strangeulation
Flying Lotus- You're Dead!
The Underachievers- The Cellar Door
Joe Budden- Some Love Lost

This was a super strong year of quality hip-hop and a bunch of time tested releases saw the light of day to bless our ears.  With each passing year, releases were getting stronger and stronger and with he previously mentioned projects and honorable mentions, this was possibly the best year up to this point.  We were almost halfway done with the year, and the best was still yet to come.  Until next time.