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miraculous weapons



Nobody loves language the way rappers do. Outside of some poets and writers, nobody. This is why I don't listen to non-instrumental, non-rap music: the lyrics are stupid. (Oh but Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize! *makes jerk off motion*)

Rappers love words, the sound of words, the play of words, the double and deep meanings. Burroughs said language is a virus: rappers weaponized it like biological warfare. Language is a curse. Rappers are real good at cursing.

Rappers use language as a miracle, rappers use language as a weapon against oppression and the entire universe of Ten Thousand Things. They spit with miraculous weapons.

This is the Best of 2017.

This Is What It Comes Too - Raekwon / U.S. Embassy - Da Buze Bruvaz (feat. Ruste Juxx) / Smash The Crowd - Public Enemy / Bannon - B Dolan (feat. Jasiri X & Bambu DePistola) / Colonizers Corpse - Elucid / American Robot - Buy Muy Drugs (feat. Open Mike Eagle) / Welcome to Quazarz - Shabazz Palaces / Retro - Camp Lo / You Don't Stop - Killah Priest & 4th Disciple (feat. Raekwon) / Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift Freestyle) - RA The Rugged Man / Smoke (Supa Dave West Remix) - The Difference Machine (feat. Homeboy Sandman) / Corrupt Novelist - Career Crooks (feat. DJ Manipulator) / The Chase - Controller 7 / Gingerbread Hag - Uncommon Nasa (feat. Brzowski & C-Money Burns of Vinyl Cape) / Refrigerator P! - Sean Price / Malt Liquor - Son Of Sam (feat. Guilty Simpson & Fat Ray) / Bottom Dollar - Jihad the Roughneck MC / Vigilantes - Wiki & Your Old Droog / Actual Facts - Ockz (feat. Conway) / XXXtras - Conway / The Chairman's Intent - Action Bronson / Facts - Royalz (feat. Roc Marciano) / Camel Crush - Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs / Saga City - Tha God Fahim (feat. Mach-Hommy & Your Old Droog) / Fear Is The Key - Diabolical Doctor Strange (feat. Zhaoski) / It Was Written - Armand Hammer / Bodhisattva - Words Hurt / Babaji - Atma / Samsara - Movement I: Existence, Movement II: Reoccurence, Movement III: Resurgence - Has-Lo / Rapper - milo (feat. Busdriver)

best hip hop of mmxvii


What kind of fucking neighbourhood is this?

2017's year-end lists look more schizophrenic than ever--Drake rubs elbows with Elucid, Run The Jewel's December '16 LP taking top slots, people actually remember Rick Ross dropped a record at some point, not everyone is worshipping at the Kendrick altar, and '4:44' is for some still of-the-moment and others it's already 5:02.

Also Wu-Tang released an album. Yeah, I'm trying not to remember that too. Remember when a Wu release date filled you with joy and unbridled anticipation, instead of gut-clenching dread for the worst?

At the same time the whole year went by without the Trump-era Sleeping With The Enemy or even 'FDT3'.  I was really expecting at least B. Dolan or Bambu or even Immortal Technique to come out of retirement to drop that.  Maybe the era of the polemic rap album isn't coming back any more than DJ scratching or beatboxing is. Maybe the art's moved on. Maybe the personal is the political.

Oh wait, Eminem took care of it with his BET freestyle. Never mind. We're good.

Still, though. All this is because rap is getting broader, more nuanced, wider, more artful, more mature, and despite a firm headlock by big splash releases and Soundcloud bullshit with face tats and dumb hair, it feels like people are more willing and able to dabble here and there to find what they like. Cats are fucking with Brockhampton and Quelle Chris, Lil Pump and Snoop, whatever they feel.

Maybe we're in a short sweet spot where Spotify isn't quite yet choked at the gate by corporations making sure you hear their heavy investments. Rap Caviar and 'curated' playlists and robot-made ambient chillout will soon enough bring us full circle to spoon-fed tastes--that is, back to radio days.

If anything, there's more and more records where I was all, 'is this even rap? I mean, it feels...rappy...but...'  Moor Mother has more in common with Diamanda Galas than MC Lyte.  The dälek record swerved even further towards indie rock.  This Brzowski is some spoken word/punk rock.

What's not lost is the urgency, the personal, the flipped linguistics, the fire-and-ice beats.  The raging against power, the heart, raw thirst for fame, money, for more life.

People are under a lot of stress, Bradley.

Either way, I racked up about 30 or so albums as solid keepers, which at my usual hit rate of 5-10% means I peeped out...a lot of records.  There were a lot of great loosies too, some kinda randomly collected here.

What I still don't fuck with though: made on a 1985 Casio watch beats. Jesus fuck, fam. You could sample any sound in recorded history from a 60,000 year old Neanderthal flute to all the BRAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMPPPPPPPs of the entire Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack and this blippity-blip crap is what moves your booty? Maybe I don't go to enough strip clubs to feel that.

The shit I like is the multi-layered, the don't-know-what-he-said book, the Genius-annotators-don't-have-the-PhDs-to-handle-these-lyrics-sonTo quote Allen Poe quoting a Busdriver tweet, which is a very 2k17 thing to do, word to Digital Piglet: some of the best American writing is locked in these dense rap songs that no one likes.

Not numbered and not a countdown. This ain't Amerikkkan fucking Bandstand. Hit the titles to peep 'em out and buy 'em.

Albums Of The Year

The Fall & Fallerer of the Amerikkkan Empire Trilogy


Elucid :: Valley of Gracebilly woods :: Known UnknownsArmand Hammer :: ROME

These three records work as a triple-LP for me: like Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy--the first two books following two characters individually, bringing them together for the bleak denouement at the end of the Amerikkkan dream--*sigh*, OK fine, it's like The Defenders, except with Luke Cage and Another, More Sarcastic Luke Cage. Fucking triumphant nerd culture.

This is 'airport music for the perpetually detained,' no Tom Hanks or Otm Shank. It's the slow noose tightening on a fat neck. Milly rocking out the casket. Words stolen from neighbors in bodegas. The soundtrack to the 2019 Netflix series, Ghost Dog Returns: Bitter Wastelands which is 8 episodes of him waiting on line with QR ration coupons and regretting how shit turned out, laying awake waiting for that call in the night. Roll the dice, fuck around lost your life.

woods' newest--strangely for a Trump-era record--felt more expansive, less compressed and dare I say fun, thanks to the Blockhead/Aesop beats, but still blew more hard-crafted words out your dome than Hemingway's shotgun. Still requires multiple re-listens to unpack the footnotes. Every woods song sounds like the closing track from a long road's discography, an epitaph and epilogue. ROME was the fiery fiddle diatribe we were waiting for, a tag team cage fight between Nemesis The Warlock and Frantz Fanon vs. Baked Alaska and Steve Bannon.

What I always love about these cats is the way they cross the Biblical 'in the beginning...' God-body voice with Across 110th Street:

And the Henny flowed like rivers
And the blunts was like Shaq's fingers
And mens was men, bitches was bitches
All was paradise until the first one started snitching
It was written

If I had to choose, Valley of Grace was the record of the year I kept coming back to, that shook my dry bones. It felt like a complete work of rap reaching to higher art. It felt like the record we needed.


Mach-Hommy x Tha God Fahim :: Dollar Menu / Mach-Hommy :: HBO / Dumpmeister / etc.

By general consensus (in the category of rappers I fuck with), Mach-Hommy won 2017. Despite his weird-ass business model of monthly $1,000 albums and barely being on anyone's radar a year ago, that's some talent son. I felt like the Dump Gawd Business School thing got really old fast--I don't wanna sort through 10, 15 tracks every month to find the best or have $777 to spend. And no doubt there was some true fire--Dumpmeister was the standout for me--the first drop of Dollar Menu was a truly drum-tight, crafted record. Fact is his 2013 F.Y.I. is as good as anything he dropped this year, maybe better, but we all slept on it: this is a well-honed blade. There's always a sense of a dude who really, really knows his craft.

Mach has a crisp, shot-pellet cadence and never-ending flow, with Jenga-stacked lyrics on lyrics that never unravel, and a good ear for lofi beats to ride on. He clips out lines one after another, with the precision and skilled relentlessness of John Wick popping head shots. His compressed density stacks like quantum microchips rather than loops from here to there in the more associative freewheels of other MCs; there's no variation in voice or tone, just a GZA-level science. Let's see where he goes next.


MVPs: The Griselda Microphonic Universe


Conway :: Reject On Steroids,  More SteroidsG.O.A.T. et al. / Westside Gunn :: Hitler On Steroids et al. /  Benny :: Butcher On Steroids et al.

The way they were killing it last year, this was supposed to be Griselda's year. No doubt across a slew of releases and weekly guest verses, they were everywhere. And no doubt, they killed every single verse. But with spotty distribution--sometimes DatPiff, sometimes Soundcloud, sometimes their weird data-mining website--and lack of definitive product (which is an 'album'? Which is a 'mixtape'? What do those things mean anymore?), it felt more diluted. And it's gotten to the point (like with Mach and Marci) where I just peep out the beat to see if it slaps, since the verse will be--but none of this is resulting in classics we'll be talking about years from now.

Think about this crew vs. Wu-Tang: they arrived big and came hard, but there's no definitive classic--there's no 36 Griseldas, no Only Built 4 Westside Cackling. Maybe that's how we roll now, but people's attention is starting to slip, and you can only imagine what this crew coulda done with a RZA plan of staggered, tight releases.

When it works it's gold--the ice grill lyrics and the warm, drum-light Daringer beats is pure essence of street rap. Conway's regretful warrior with the thousand-mile stare, Gunn's Jimmy Jump devil-trickster, and Daringer's static crackle, haunted Cadillac beats--they've created their own classic sound.

I collected up the best joints here for the Academy's consideration.

You Already Knew...Right?


milo :: who told you to think??!!?!?!?! 

milo just gets better and better with every record. He coulda easily disappeared on the college-tour gravy train, rapping clever about Nietszche and Harry Potter, but he doubled down on X-Clan and tapped his fury and his sadness for a record that's personal, political, artistical, uncompromising, heavy, funny and majestic in every way. The 8-bit and breezier beats are swapped out for lusher, funkier, jazzier ones, and it gives a heavier gravitas. In his own words: 'Rap is like speaking through time to black people. And I love it. I love it. I love that it's just the grand fucking compendium of black thought.' Still leaving room for the Borges, Jack Spicer & Nabokov checks, it's another solid one from an artist who keeps growing. 

Open Mike Eagle :: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

This record's gotten a lot of well-deserved praise--it's rare for a record like this to hit the lists of NPR, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc.--and better writers than me have tackled it in depth.  Maybe this is the Trump-era defining record we needed, without the gunshot-revenge fantasies Paris would've brought: one about Black Lives Mattering, about real people, real losses. This was rap's Invisible Man meets The Jungle. This was music about the literal search for home. A eulogy, both wry and dry, mournful and playful.

Shabazz Palaces :: Quazarz vs The Jealous MachinesBorn on a Gangster Star

Double album with no filler, light years ahead literally and figuratively, Palaceer and crew never disappoint. Jealous Machines goes somewhat better than the more quiet nebula storm of Star, and maybe at the heat death of the universe I'd still ride a cyberlaserbeam for their first nameless and unknowable LP. Either way, we'll be living on Kepler 3000 before anyone catches up. This is Black Panther by way of the '80s Flash Gordon. Flow my beats, the timecop said.

Wiki :: No Mountains In Manhattan / Wiki & Your Old Droog :: What Happened To Fire?

Wiki decompressed his lyrics from the Naked Lunch-level street abstraction he brought on Ratking for a much more heartfelt, personal paean to New York today and yesterday. It's a bodega Basketball Diaries. His team-up with Droog is a hardbody microphone joyful noise, as close as we'll get to a 2k Meth & Red record--and man, y'all slept on that one. Listening to these two youngbloods flex their muscles, knowing they're heavy on the rise is some bravura balling shit.


Pillow Factory Kings: Most Slept On

These ones were so fucking great, and y'all didn't pay no attention.


Camp Lo :: The Get Down Brothers

Solid ten tracks of shit that just goes, it goes it goes it goes.  So funky, so fresh. This was just unarguably fine-ass hip hop. 

The Diabolical Doctor Strange & Frients :: s/t

Complete mystery who these cats are or where they're from, this LP is a peerless throwback to '97. Alternating between old school Tims/bean pies/street raps and early Jedi Mind-type interludes with the spooky beats (really, really excellent beats) and sci fi/UFO/Atlantis/MK Ultra samples, it's proudly un-2017 in a really unique way. There's a new mixtape just out, The Friday Night Philosopher, which is exactly the dusty, echoing sound of the inside of my head in the mid-'90s when I used to chase the dragon and listen to Red Alert.

The Difference Machine :: Triangle Schemes

Remix compilations rarely as good as the original, but this collection of revisits/loosies/deleted cuts from last year's equally great, equally slept on 4th Side makes for a slightly more hip-hop version of the Zach-de-la-Rocha-in-Funkadelic sound. 'Bruce Willises' got more props and stunts than lemonade, and the remix of 'Another Tomorrow' takes an already psychedelic joint out to Nibiru's orbit.

Killah Priest & 4th Disciple :: Don't Sit On The Speakers, Vol. 1 

Priest plus Wu guests like Ghost and Rae flip and flow over heavy old, old school beats--1980s beats, block rocking, power-from-the-streetlight beats. It's some time travel shit of the Wu 10 years early, when they would've been Prince Rakeem & The Ninjafied Nine or some shit. What could you not fucking love about this?!



So nobody knows what this kind of hip hop is called anymore...because 'Chance The Rapper is independent' and 'DJ Booth says everyone's mainstream because of the internet' and Open Mike Eagle's mad love across the board--I mean, when you get props in Entertainment Weekly, you ain't subway tunnel level.  And Career Crooks and Jihad The Roughneck go right alongside Sean Price in the solid rappity-ass rapping department.  I can't even fit shit into my own categories.  Let's call it...uh...arthop...abstroprog...indieground...smarthop...I got nothing. Those all suck. I'm going with...

Young Club Sandwich Club



Career Crooks :: Good Luck With That

Zilla Rocca & Small Pro brought their A-game on this one, with top-notch, Ghost-worthy storytelling ('Cold Ten Thousand') and headbangers Chuck Chillout woulda bugged out for a hot August Friday night show ('Corrupt Novelist'). This one's for the Suzuki Samurai. This one's for the rap nerds who still have a tight fade.

dälek :: Endangered Philosophies

19 years deep and still bringing it, Philosophies continues from last year's Asphalt for Eden in waveform wavering between industrial noise-hop and a more melodic sound, but still comes correct and brings that beauty-in-the-car-crusher distortion and smart, raging lyrics.

Dr. Quandary :: Jukebox Buddha

The good doctor's been my primary care beat physician for a while, and he's settled on his own sound of delicate melody with a strong Afrobeat/Ali Farka Toure feel. He's rounded up lyrics from PremRock, Zilla, Louis Mackey, Has-Lo and Godforbid to lace these medications. Shit is better than Lexapro to re-align your chi.

Jihad The Roughneck MC :: The Wretched of the Verse

Stepping out of the Third Sight shadow he's cast for years but still chilling with dead bodies in a b-boy stance, Jihad brings a more traditional, solid rap record with a funkier, more flowing set. Great beat picks, still with the hype cadence. 

LNYCHPIN :: s/t 

Hey you know those superhero movies the kids like? Imagine if there were one where all the superheroes teamed up to fight aliens, or robots, or alien robots. That would be cool, right? Now imagine that, except with East Coast underground rappers like SKECH185, Teddy Faley, Warren Britt and...all of them.  Brought together by Lt Headtrip & Willie Green in a Rap Nick Fury style, this is Soundbombing 2017. Man, we need more comps like this. 

Uncommon Nasa :: Written At Night 

So many of the cats I been rocking with for years really stretched themselves and went for it this year, stepped up their game in a big way, stretched their wings and flew in your face like a rabid NY pigeon.  Nasa definitely did, lining up guest verses from some of the best MCs in the game, known and should-be-more-known (Open Mike Eagle, Guilty Simpson, Skipp Coon, Quelle Chris, the legendary Mike Ladd).  His production game is tighter than the jeans on rappers we denigrate. It's a long night's run through the city on drum-driven adrenaline.

Words Hurt :: Soul Music for the Soulless

Alaska unleashed his sardonic, witty rage against the stupid fucking country Amerikkka's become, and Lang Vo brought basement-cracking beats to the table for this one. Maybe it's Old Man Raps At Cloud but I was scorched by that Henry Godzilla radioactive fire breath.

Unpacking that sentence, Lang needs to lend me his Home Depot card and Alaska better give up his insurance details. C'mon son, fun is fun but we're responsible fucking homeowners here. 

Yikes The Zero :: Doctor Molotov's Gallery of Portals

Amazingly accomplished and polished record with rhymes like a steampunk Earl Sweatshirt (Earl Steampunk?), alternating with instrumental joints which are sometimes like Herb Alpert nodding on lean on the deck of the Pequod and sometimes like Godspeed Whoops You! Dropped The Boston Philharmonic Down The Stairs In 4x Slow Motion. This cat's new to me, and I can't wait to delve into his back catalog.


Part Of A Complete Breakfast


Action Bronson :: Blue Chips 7000

I like Bronson more when he sticks to his gluttonous construction of gourmet food+baroque substance abuse+sexual perversions, when he really revels in his tremendous appetites.  He does less of that here, but it definitely goes and it's a lot less hit-or-miss trackwise than his earlier LPs.

Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs :: Gems From The Equinox 

Muggs continues the Vs. series of collabos with rappers who aren't in many people's GOAT lists, but elevates them to a higher level while high. Meyhem brings his best to this, and it definitely delivers.

Roc Marciano :: Rosebudd's Revenge

There will never be another Marcberg anymore than there will be another Cold Vein. That's some Louvre shit that can't be repeated. Still, another Roc LP that rolls like a brushed-copper Escalade with butter-leather seats is always worthy of our worship. He simply runs the fucking game, and we're living in the Marcazoic Era where every new MC is carbon-dated against his 2001-monolith shadow.

And once again for the fifth year running, Marci ruled the guest-verse-recorded-in-a-private-Per-Se-dining room.  Hand-picked selection of 16 of those here.

Sean Price :: Imperius Rex 

The best posthomous release ever assembled. How could it not be? Price was such a microphone fiend, guest verses he did are still dropping two years after his death. It's a fitting closing act to one of the most solid discographies in the game.


Old School University


Prince Paul :: The Redux

Crazy mixtape of lost, forgotten, b-side, remix joints with always-dope Paul production and featuring a jaw-dropping list of greats--Breeze Brewin, Jean Grae, Horror City, Trugoy, Guru, DOOM, Masta Ace...man. This is probably gonna disappear soon, so cop it while you can.

Public Enemy :: Nothing Is Quick In The Desert

Free LP celebrating PE's 30 years in the game that's now disappeared from official release, they sound as good as ever. This one really fucking goes as good as anything they've dropped since Muse Sick* (*insert your last favorite PE record as directed by your dentist).


Dept. of Illstrumentals


Controller 7 :: Right Handed Straw 

Been a long, long time since I heard a straight-up instrumental album of this quality--acrobatically flipping from track to track, great drum precision, wide-ranging samples and styles. Watch the boy flex his chops, it's a bravura performance.

DDay One :: Artifact EP

I've been riding for DDay One's peerlessly crafted sounds and hard-be-bop drums since 2008's Heavy Migration, and he still keeps it haunting, head-nodding and opening up new worlds in the brainpan.

X to the L




Ten years in the game today.

So many of the blogs I came up with, or fucked with heavy--all gone. I'm still standing here.

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a DJ.

Not some long-haired bitch in the club in an ironic t-shirt. And I didn't have the skills to be a Grandmaster. But I wanted to be DJ Red Alert.

I started making pause tapes in 1987. Off the Marley Marl, Mr Magic, Chuck Chillout and Red Alert shows. One night Red Alert started cutting up 'South Bronx,' spinning it, scratching it. That was when I saw what hip hop was, what it could be.  Something ever-elastic, ever-changeable; you could always add something new, remix it, play elements off each other. It was like a living thing.

And Red Alert would always bring you the best new shit. You knew he was gonna let you know all the latest fire.

I made 50 pause tapes through to 2007. The MP3 era. How was I supposed to get a digital file on to a cassette? Went digital. Went worldwide.

X to the L

There's 153 posts up in here, 116 are mixes. There's about 2,500 different ill joints I brought you. I had over 300,000 listens from almost every country on earth, except like North Korea and Vatican City.

I only had three reasons for doing this. First, there's that feeling when you hear a joint that's so tight, so perfect: you feel like grabbing cats by the shirt and hollering, 'LISTEN TO THIS!' You gotta share it with someone, some how. That's why people start music blogs, until they get married, get bored, or get pimped out by Complex.

Second, rap's given me so much, I wanted to give something back--especially to the fam who are so fucking talented and don't get enough shine. I been hyping up the best of the year shit since 2008. I feel like I championed a lotta cats early on who went on to get respect--Ka, milo, Elucid, billy woods, Open Mike Eagle--and other cats who I'm still waiting for you to catch the fuck up on, like Shirt.

Third, I wanted to see if the mixtape could be--maybe not an artform, but a medium. Could you sonically paint with it, collage with it.

Could you even make narratives with it? So over three mixes I tried telling a story about robots--robots as slaves, robot revolution, a melding of human and machine.  I never felt like 9/11 got any kind of artistic treatment that really felt like the thing itself. And so much of it was visual, the video, the photos--what could you do with just sound?  So The Falling. That's probably the best thing I ever did.

Could a mix be a kind of curation, cataloging--that's been another side of it. What kind of juxtapositions could you do without it being stupid? How incredible is the art of crate digging and sampling--transformation, alchemy from any element into strictly dope?  Here's all the best joints with Asian samples. With classical music samples. I gave you eight Super Chicken dub-hop mixes. Seven B-Bop For B-Boys mixes of the illest jazz-hop.  The spaghetti Western ones.  I can't scratch or beat juggle or any of that shit. But I got a mean ear and I curate. This is the place where I explore what hip hop can be, because it covers so much ground--so many styles, so many topics, so much life.  Never forgetting that at its core, hip hop is political.  Hip hop is street stories. Hip hop is about injustice.


Thing is, I kinda feel like I did all I set out to do here. It's getting old. There's not really another level to take this to. Once you do the Old and New Testaments in mixtape form, where you gonna go with it? The odes to graffiti, They Live We Sleep--that's as tight as it gets.

I could do interviews but nah. I could do more label-oriented mixes I guess, like the ones I did for Uncommon and World Around. I could do more single-artist mixes I guess, but anyone could do that. The Autolect two, PSY/OPSogist vs Zardoz and Rammellzee ones are tight, not sure I could top those. I thought about trying to get artists together for compilations to raise money for good causes, but man--they gotta eat.

I could try making my own beats but they would be pretty strictly amateur hour, and there's so many talented people trying to eat off their beats--I'm not gonna add to the competition.  I could be more of a blog--but nobody reads fucking blogs and there's talented writers trying to eat off that too. I used to write press releases for rappers for $100 back in the day: there's only so many ways to say 'it's got a funky beat and you can dance to it.'

I might write some stuff for other sites or throw it on Medium though. Thirteen Ways of Looking At Critical Beatdown, Letters To A Young Rapper, Towards A Complete Theory of Rap Music--look out for those eventually. Who knows, if I find an 808 in a garbage can you might hear beats from me some day.

Also all the mixtape sites that used to show me love are gone--Pearson Towers, Mr Blentwell, Mixcrate, and the mighty Percussion Lab. And everyone has a goddamn podcast now. And everyone's making Spotify playlists instead of mixes. Shit, Spotify makes playlists for you.  Apple Music has 'playlist curators.' You got an algorithm DJ, fuck you need me for? Go ask the robot DJ what lives in your phone. And you can't put no Joe Pesci samples up in your playlists fam.

iTunes won't fuck with me because I only speak with my hands. I got a Mixcloud but who doesn't?  Pay for SoundcloudPro? Nah g. These dudes won't fuck with me because...whatever. But I don't do this for clicks, I'm not interested in building a brand, never was. I do it for those of you who listen, and I thank you. But I done run out of ideas, places to go with this that aren't like what anyone else does.

So there's four, maybe five more mixes to come, and I'm out.

If you fucked with me along the way, I'm grateful--I really am. I might throw up some of the pause tape archives. Hollering retirement and then making a comeback is the 68th Element of Hip Hop, so you never know, right?

But I'm still looking for the perfect beat. The perfect beat was already made by The 45 King in 1987. The perfect beat is Roc Marciano's 'Snow.' The empire never ended. The search is the thing. You never stop searching for the perfect beat. It don't stop.

what if…melle mel was the herald of galactus?



So old school heads complain that hip hop isn't political anymore, by which they mean there aren't as many didactic calls for revolution.  I'd argue that the records cats like Elucid and Kemba are making are political--just more personal, more exploratory, more complex.  They're drawing on wider influences than slogans and fighting powers more insidious, more entrenched, internal as well as external.  If race, and discrimination based on race, is ever going to be eliminated it has to be treated for what it is: a social construct. We need to hear wider narratives than guns and butta. So the more subjective experience, complexity and nuance are explored, that's pushing beyond race a lot more than hashtag activism. And the furthest beyonds are space and the future. I mean, even W.E.B. DuBois wrote science fiction.

The Silver Surfer, in case you're not a nerd or don't have kids who read comics, was like the Invisible Man with the power cosmic, reflective (literally and emotionally) instead of transparent. You could write a dumb Master's thesis on Galactus, The World Eater, The Cosmic Hunger, as Space Whiteness (and The Watcher as Space White Liberal) and the Surfer as an afrofuturist slave narrative, but hey let's not (especially because you have to twist up a connection with surfing and there ain't enough lentils in all of grad school for that).  Let's put it in afrofuturism instead as another new cosmology, like Farrakhan's Mothership Connection.  But no doubt Galactus is about holocausts, genocides, the total erasure of civilisations. And the Surfer is the sole survivor, who's also morally compromised by what he's done to try and save his people. And loses everything.

When Galactus rolled up on his planet to eat it, the Surfer gave himself up to save it, but after years? Centuries? of servitude, he turns on his master and for this rebellion is exiled. He never finds his way home. That's the feeling imbued in the joints in this mix--they're not necessarily about flying saucers, but they have a celestial heft, whether it's raging against the planet-eating machine or the loneliness of the galactically disenfranchised.  They're shooting bars like energy beams all up in Galactus' Kirby-purple grill.

And let's not forget that in that shitty Fantastic Four movie, the Surfer's voice was provided by none other than Laurence Fishburne, aka Mr. Clean/Jimmy Jump/Morpheus/Ike Turner/Furious Styles/the guy who evaded the slave hunters in 'Predators' himself. (Uh, also Cowboy Curtis.) That's some afrofuturistic shit right there--'Time is this really fluid thing. Now is now, but the past is now and the future too.'  -Niama Safia Sandy

There's a superstring of the cosmic in rap's legacy, with seeds from Sun Ra, the Black Ark and P-Funk mythology...from 'Whitey On The Moon' to 'Planet Rock,' 'Space Rap' and 'Space Is The Place' to the O.G. (Original Galactic) Rammellzee, to Kool Keith to Divine Styler to Deltron to Killah Priest and even Killarmy--remember 'Galactics'?--through to Binary Star, Cannibal Ox, Shabazz Palaces, Cudi and on and on, you don't stop. An ever-expanding universe. There's always been that reaching for something up from the gutter, beyond the dirty streets, something higher, the strength within infused with power from beyond. Something above the clouds.

These songs from 2016 reflect the power cosmic, the soulfulness and loss of traveling the spaceways, the intersection of Sun Ra and The Message.

Intro / High John The Conqueror Speaks - War Church / Exquisite Cutlery - Bigg Jus / Kill Your Masters - Run The Jewels (feat. Zach de la Rocha) / Guaranteed Struggle - Dälek / A Palace In The Sky - L'Orange & Mr. Lif / Organ Donor (UZ Remix) - DJ Shadow / Sativa - Killah Priest & 4th Disciple / Testify - Guilty Simpson / That Cold and Lonely - Ka / Already - Kemba / M.A.B.A. - Atoms Family (Cryptic One & Alaska) / Blame The Devil - Elucid / Waves - The Quantum (feat. Vordul Mega) / Waiting For The Barbarians - Pawcut (feat. Billy Woods) / Open The Brain - Quelle Chris / Lordstaviour - Ill Clinton / Facts (Extended) - Yung Gutted (feat. Wiki) / All Coltrane Solos At Once - Saul Williams (feat. Haleek Maul) / Another Tomorrow - The Difference Machine (feat. Stacy Epps)

the year in litness :: mmxvi

Another year in rap, another list that I can't keep down to 5 or 10. And I still don't know how to pronounce Rae Smreurrd? Smruerdrd? and I really don't see what's so great about that 'Black Beatles' joint.  On the other hand, that stupid 'Panda' bullshit came and went.


Albums of the Year


Ka :: Honor Killed The Samurai

Ghost Dog didn't die at the end of The Way of the Samurai.  He lives in a Brownsville basement, waking at 3am from PTSD nightmares and digging in the crates for the dustiest loops.  Another way: Illmatic never got released, and Nas has spent 20 years refining and compressing his craft for a wintertime debut.

Ka has blessed us with his fifth release, and it carries on the tradition of both reducing and elevating rap to its finest natural elements.  The sword-sharp writing, the pared-down beats, all delivered with exacting precision.  It's street-level frescoes carved on grains of rice.  Just as there's five elements of hip-hop (six including arguing about Wu-Tang), Zen includes the tea ceremony, sword fighting and calligraphy--the art and meditation practice of writing just one letter, just one thought, after long and careful clearing of the mind, with one chance only to get it right.  So it is, as always, with Ka. He soldiers on. He blesses us with his service.

Elucid :: Osage EP / Save Yourself

Did Amerikkka get the president it wanted or the president it deserved?  Elucid's one-two drops were the records we needed, and didn't know we wanted. Personal and political, strictly hip-hop yet reaching far and wide beyond it, it's a roam through what it means to be here, today. Like I said earlier, he's breathing ghosts on this one.  It's fractured blues and St. Augustine visions. Sipping on Flint water in ruined tabernacles. Sprinkling baby powder in kicks on power lines.  For real, god took a bag of coal and turned it into gems.  Every cut on these are repping some Jane Jacobs, some Amiri style.  Skinny Luther nailing it up son.


 Most Slept On


Man. Y'all slept so hard on these, you got those pillow creases on your face.

The Difference Engine :: The 4th Side of the Eternal Triangle

Can't recommend this one enough. Huge, funky live sound but still with great drums and on-point cosmic, literate and political rhymes. It's like if Zach de la Rocha had been more into Fishbone, Bad Brains, Parliament and Heavy Mental than Anthrax and Minor Threat. Go get this one.

The Higher Up :: The Higher Up Album

An amazingly accomplished debut that bridges early Digable with '98 Juggaknots with today's lighter but still iller cats like Denmark Vessey. Polished production maintaining a consistent, lush sound, smooth & soulful but also rugged, introspective but also rhyming-about-rhyming, great storytelling without sparing the wordplay. It's the greatest record nobody was talking about this year.


MVPs :: Griselda Gang

These cats ran shit in 2016, hands down. They had every guest verse on lock and ran the East Coast, no doubt. I mean, they never left the studio this year I don't think. They're at the peak of their powers, able to lace a verse on every track out there without any dip in quality. A lot of cats complaining about how many MCs out there copping the Marcberg style, but Griselda rode out the cold Buffalo winters to bring it back with a lot more Mobb Deep up in it.  I mean, these dudes named their crew after one of the evillest narcos there ever was, Griselda Blanco, a cold-blooded killer at 11 years old and dropped in a drive-by at 69. (Not The Story of Griselda like I first thought, which is good, I don't really fuck with Boccaccio.) 

WestSide Gunn brings the nasal, on some AZ with more attitude or the Troy Ave that shoulda been. Conway brings the million-yard-stare of Prodigy after thirty years on lockdown. I mean the dude been shot in the face and is still rhyming.  Together they go for that great high/low combo a la Cypress, PE and Rae/Ghost. They know how to ride a beat, drop their illest lines when you least expect, and keep it straight old school G.  The secret weapon here is Daringer, who produced all their best tracks--a close study of the grimy loop genealogy of Muggs begat RZA begat Havoc begat Alchemist begat Roc Marci. The kid goes deep and knows how to pull down that foreboding, smoked-out, hazy sound.

If you ever owned a pair of Timbs and don't fuck with these guys, something wrong with you.

You Already Knew


A Tribe Called Quest :: We Got It From Here

I never was the biggest Tribe fan outside of a long drive or a drunken house party, but I definitely fuck with this (along with everyone else).  Thicker and heavier than their old stuff. It just. Fucking. GOES.

Danny Brown :: Atrocity Exhibition 

Didn't understand some of the older heads not feeling this.  I mean, it's a straight trilogy from XXX and Old, who's done that since P.E. or Gangstarr? What, you want him to go back to those shitty flip-phone beats from the Detroit State series? He keeps killing it, keeps putting more of his raw self out there, keeps experimenting, keeps making great records.

Also those 'When It Rain' and 'Pneumonia' joints though! Sounds like two cats fucking and one cat has a eye scratched out and both of them are on acid somehow and they're fucking in a pile of crushed up Adderall and spilled rum and it's smearing all over the place and they knock over a pile of dirty plates and THEN the party gets started. That's what that shit sounds like.

Underground Kings



'Underground' hip hop...the term's a lousy catch-all for any record not on a major label, on Bandcamp not Youtube, getting more play in indie bookstores than strip clubs. But under that umbrella is incredible breadth, artistry, complexity and an ever-expanding definition of what it can be.  I mean you got your Def Jux vets (Aesop, Lif), your Original Dirge Rap (dalek), your Neo-Afro-Futurists-sic (Kemba, Saul Williams), your rising multiplatform 'art rapper' (Open Mike), your weird frustrated kid in a gold mask pouring his bitter heart out (NoEmotion), and your If-There-Was-A-Dischord-or-SST-for-Rappers-These-Dudes-Would-Be-Signed, Never-Stop-Rhyming-&-Grinding, Cats-I-Always-Fuck-With (all the others who I always fuck with).

None of these records are alike, except they're all outstanding examples of the art and the craft.

Aesop Rock :: The Impossible Kid

Blueprint :: Vigilante Genesis

dalek :: Asphalt for Eden

Kemba :: Negus

L'Orange & Mr Lif :: The Life & Death of Scenery

Mr Lif :: Don't Look Down

NoEmotionGoldMask :: A Freaking American

Open Mike Eagle & Paul White :: Hella Personal Film Festival

PremRock & Fresh Kils :: Leave In Tact

Saul Williams :: Martyrloserking

Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa :: Autonomy Music

We Are Not For Them :: Captures, Vol. 1

Words Hurt :: Fuck That Pretty Boy Shit


Meat & Potatoes Just Goes Hard Shit


Fuck your kale smoothie and cinnamon-spice frappucino.  There'll always be room in the rap diet for a Waffle House breakfast or the now-infamous bodega chopped cheese.*

Czarface :: A Fistful of Peril

DJ Rude One :: ONEderful

Vinnie Paz :: The Cornertone of the Corner Store

(*Offer may vary depending on your location.)


Ill True Mentals


Best of the illbient, beat-driven shit this year I heard that made the hairs on my neck stand up.

Bugseed :: Street Mentality

FRKSE :: Rode A Horse Made of China

Ill Clinton :: Juniper

odd nosdam :: Sisters

Quelle Chris :: Lullabies for the Broken Brain


it was litten



It's that time of the year familio.  Your roundup of the second-half bangers.  Joints that provoke, as the kids say, 'flaming emotions.'

I'll break you off a proper year-end list and one more mix before the MMXVII.

We The People - A Tribe Called Quest / Steranko - Czarface (feat. Meyhem Lauren & Rast RFC) / Nineteen Ninety Three - Vinnie Paz / Signs - We Are Not For Them / The Abyss - Mr. Lif / When It Rain - Danny Brown / Feast - PremRock & FreshKils (feat. C-Rayz Walz & El Da Sensei) / Phone Check - Geechi Suede / Same Damn Thing - Little Shalimar (feat. Ghostface Killah, Boldy James & Mr MFN eXquire) / Brain Damage - Sick Jacken / Can't Wait (Remix Instrumental) - Pawcut / Residual Tingles - The Gaslamp Killer / It's Alive - The Difference Engine (feat. Paten Locke) / Wit No Pressure - Ras Beats (feat. Roc Marciano) / God Bless Me (SKYWLKR Remix) - Wiki (feat. Antwon, Sporting Life & Skepta) / Dunks - WestSide Gunn (feat. Conway) / Bible On The Coffee Table - Benny / Red Tops - Conway (feat. WestSide Gunn)


the devil’s dynamite


Summertime mid-year roundup of all the fire.  Also reminiscing about the blackout of '77 a year early because fuck your round numbers.

Keep cool familio.

Summer Not Coming - SHIRT / Hall & Nash 2 - The Purist & WestSide Gunn (feat. Conway) / R.E.D. - A Tribe Called Red (feat. Yasiin Bey, Narcy & Black Bear) / Rubble Kings Theme (Dynamite On The Street) - Run The Jewels / Mystery Fish - Aesop Rock / Smoke - The Difference Machine (feat. Homeboy Sandman) / We Are Fucked - Words Hurt / Not Sure Why I Came Back - Blueprint / Breakdance for the Def - Short Fuze & Uncommon Nasa / Dimelo - Timeless Truth / Bosses - Skizz (feat. Roc Marciano & Conway) / Nas Album Done - Nas & DJ Khaled / El Dorado - Milano Constantine / Park Avenue - AG Da Coroner (feat. Action Bronson & Roc Marciano) / PayPal The Feature - Ras Kass (feat. Steele & Sean Price) / Rap Professor - Sean Price & DJ Skizz / Halftime - The Higher Up (Mark Scott x Kye Brewin) (feat. Breeze Brewin) / Surreal N*gga - Gensu Dean & Denmark Vessey / Rose Water - Baje One / Smiling (Quirky Race Doc) - Open Mike Eagle & Paul White / SummerSlam 88 - WestSide Gunn, WS Pootie & Your Old Droog / Fame - Bugseed

Albums of the Year, MMXV

As much as To Pimp A Butterfly didn't really interest me that much--it's not as complex or artistic as people think if you listen to a lot of complex and artistic rap music--it's great to see an ambitious and socially conscious rap record at the top of so many year-end lists instead of, you know, Drake.  Also I know a lotta cats were feeling Vince Staples, but I rep Office Max so that one didn't really do it for me either.


Ka & Preservation :: Days With Dr. Yen Lo

I been rocking with Ka since Grief, and this is the latest capstone on the temple.  Bringing behind the boards the legendary Preservation instead of his own beats, it's got a classic sound that again eschews drums for brushstrokes of jazz, bossa nova, Ali Farka Toure-sounding guitars.  As great as the instrumentals on Grief and Gambit, the soundtrack here is lusher and works more directly in counterpoint to the words. "In these parts, get shot in your heart--it ain't Cupid / One sacred loop, one naked truth, my lane's suited."  Once again I'm fiending for the instrumental LP too. This is Sketches In Spain but not in Spain, Brownsville.  

The record uses The Manchurian Candidate as its jumping off point.  The days move in a haze from Day 0 to Day 1125 in no order.  It's a fever dream, a delirium.  Yen Lo is the mad scientist of the book/movie, but while Ka alludes to indoctrination, brainwashing, cultural hypnosis, programmed violence, and state-sponsored terror, it's a motif but not a concept album.  When you're raised around rage and vengeance / you can change, but in your veins remains major remnants.

"I usually don't talk about my art," Ka says, "I just give it to you and you eat it how you eat it." So don't look for literalism.  On previous joints, Ka compressed and twisted whole epics into couplets. Here he's reached a level of abstraction--no logos, no shootouts, bare bones of stories--that he's painting with pointed syllables.  Blood, blood, blood with the pen flow.

The voice is still there, the rasp and the pyramid-stacked syllables and compressed rhymes.  His voice sounds kinda like LL's actually. If LL had early on experienced some great tragedy. Like LL had lost his arm and spent twenty years eating beans out the can.  Ka's often compared to Guru or Rakim, fair cop, but he doesn't have their swagger.  He's the first ego-less MC; no namechecking Buddhist monks, this is true Zen.

Scorcese called the overhead shots in Taxi Driver 'sacramental perspective.'  Ka moves from those down to virtuouso tracking shots through subways and past chainlink into elevators crazy wet with piss. It's an epic of whispered forbearance and suffering. I need more prayer to stay out the crosshair.
Of all the elaborate rituals performed at ancient Egyptian funerals, the most important was the Opening of the Mouth.  Symbolically cutting open the corpse's mouth.  It enabled the dead to pass into the afterlife seeing, hearing and breathing, and able to eat to sustain the Ka--the vital spark. That part of the soul that distinguishes the living from the dead.  You here in the spirit? You only brung flesh / I keep it primal 'til it's final, who wanna come test? / I use a mic device to give a slice of life...

Ratking :: 700 Fill

Like I said last year, Ratking is the freshest shit out there right now. Their music pulses with the pure vibrancy of youth, something unusual in rap's sphere of street weariness and wary posturing.  And somehow they create a bridge from hip-hop's solidly NY past to its global future...you could poplock on cardboard to 'Steep Tech' or you could make it rain bitcoins in that Blade Runner club with the robot stripper with the robot snake.  'Makeitwork' would rock the Wild Style bandshell or a Panther Moderns oculus rave.

I don't really get these cats saying Ratking is reviving the '90s.  Nobody made icy, translucent beats like this in the '90s.  Aside from the ethereal sense of a wider world from Hyderabad to Rio to Tokyo, there's the compression and re-purposing of trap and grime elements that's transformative and elevating.  It can't be like the '90s when it so firmly sounds like the '10s. It's nostalgic for '90s puffy coats only because global warming's putting New Year's in t-shirts.

The new Wiki solo record, Lil Me, is a pretty great record on some bodega coffee and late night stoop confessions shit. But it doesn't reach the shimmering transcendence of Ratking-proper, the fractured concrete-and-fiber-optics verbal playgrounds.



Y'all really fucking sleeping on this cat.  SHIRT is the best new rapper hands down in a while.  You gotta dig into his Soundcloudsite, his old Bandcamp and YouTube to find the gems, but they're diamonds as big as the Ritz.  There's something in the water in Queens that just springs forth the best goddamn rappers.

SHIRT brings hard-spitting sandpaper flow and a hunger for the mic that's compelling--it's heart, it's raw ambition, it's ego triumphant ripping through the speakers. He jacks beats with and without producer's consent and he's got a great ear--in fact I like those joints more than his RAP MONEY EP where he actually had producer and studio time.  Struggle and underground suits his style.

Then there's the art. He throws up his dot-Mickey in Brownsville.  He jacks Philip Petit. He quotes Brion Gysin: 'Writing is 50 years behind painting.' Gysin meant collage and abstraction.  Burroughs flipped that in 1959 with cut-ups. But music was 20 years behind writing until '79 when Herc stepped on the scene.

But SHIRT doesn't actually rhyme hardly about art; there's the odd reference to Guggenheim grants or 'Top of the Whitney.'  He raps pretty much about...rap shit.  Polo robes and fly whips, Timbs and herb. It's all good.

I'll wait for 'the modern art rapper,' who drops bars like 'Coke so white, Robert Ryman' or 'Box in hand like my name was Cornell' or 'Dick hard as a Richard Serra / bitch reconsidered her perception of public space' and finally lets me know what rhymes with Kandinsky.  SHIRT is not that rapper, I don't think. Maybe he will be. Maybe we don't need that rapper though. SHIRT's too real to get pretentious, too much doing his own thing.  

Thing is, when he did drop "THEORY"--spitting Kenneth Goldsmith--it doesn't quite work as well as, say "NY TAP WATER." Maybe because it's Goldsmith's theories and not SHIRT's. Maybe because I'm on the fence whether Goldsmith's repurposing of texts as his own art is brilliant or bullshit.  It's interesting, but it's not engaging, aesthetically crafted, honest, raw or heartfelt--all of which are exactly what I love about SHIRT's shit. It's got heart.

On the flipside, he's bringing in the yacht-level swagger of Koons and the gangsta threats of Dada.  He knows about art as repurposing, art as re-appropriation, art as statement--what the fuck you think rap music is?  Jenny Holzer is just Chuck D on postcards and Richard Prince is just Puffy on Wooster Street.  

So there's those who say SHIRT is trolling with his Nike/Adidas shirts, $250 Soundcloud campaignshirtfuckedrihanna and fake NY Times article. Word to COST Fucked Madonna. Word to Fluxus. Word to art concrete for the internet age. If you do it downtown it's art and if you do it in Queens it's the thirst of a struggle rapper? Fuck outta here son.

Look peoples, SHIRT is too hungry to fizz out.  Pay attention and get with him before you gotta pay Sotheby's prices. This king was raised to go for the crown. He's standing on top of the Whitney watching for the blimp that says BE FEARFUL OF MEDIOCRITY. Get with the kid. I think it's time, I think it's time.


milo :: So The Flies Don't Come

milo closed out last year with the fuck-around-in-the-studio, freestyle-and-bandcamp (Boyle) and Piles mixtape, then shot back again in May in his scallops hotel alter ego for Plain Speaking. To be honest that one had me go ruh-oh...the raps were pretty much on point as always, but the Casio clock radio beats made me worry milo was about to just keep hoeing the row he's dug, slowly devolve into a jokey-profound, campus touring, Portlandia guest star, Rap Game Trader Joe's Maple Syrup Popcorn.

Come September, he dropped the Kenny Segal laced Flies, and cue worldwide acclaim.  Milo's not gonna tread water. He pushed himself forward stylistically, lyrically and musically here, asking more questions than he can answer and creating another journal for the bibliography.  The lyrics are still well-compressed and laced with references to Camus and the Hagakure and the Voynich Manuscript and Tekken and stuff like that. But there's also a barely-suppressed anger and reconsideration of milo's place in rap and maybe in Amerikkka in general.

He's still doing his own thing like no one else's thing.  Splitting the difference between the Golden Rectangle and 3/5ths of a man and Schopenhauer's maxim that we forfeit 3/4s of ourselves to be like other people.  He's still running the math.

Honorable Mention
Earl Sweatshirt :: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
The album was OK, but the title completely describes my life, so it gets props for that.