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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

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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

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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
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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

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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

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'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

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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

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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

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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

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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.
 
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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...
 
 
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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.
 
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SHIRT :: MUSEUM / NIKE ADIDAS RECORDS

 
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.
 
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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.
 

mouths of madness

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Best of 2015, Part 2: Art Rap Underground & Outer Space Type Shit Edition

Dial In (Get Ya Own) - Black-Tokyo Musik / Iron Rose - Cannibal Ox (feat. DOOM) / Mutate - ialive (feat. Mr. Lif) / Danger - Mr. Moods / Hook Fish Sheep - C.S.X.T.C. / Vietnam Sports Coat - PremRock / Having Too Good of a Time - Uncommon Nasa (feat. Black-Tokyo Musik & Carl Kavorkian) / Chopa Sidi - Basmala / Sleep - billy woods / Steep Tech - Ratking (feat. Despot & Princess Nokia) / Galapaghost - Juan Deuce & Falside / Typecast - Cavanaugh (Open Mike Eagle & Serengeti) (feat. P.O.S., Hemlock Ernst & Busdriver) / Return of the Angst - Words Hurts (feat. Zilla Rocca) / Santeria - Kool A.D. / Arrows - Homeboy Sandman / An Encyclopedia - milo / Brooklyn Freestyle - Russ / Day 1125 - Dr. Yen Lo / Quantum Spirit of Creation - Killah Priest / No Records Sold - SHIRT

Nine Best Indie Underground Albums of the Year
Dolan came back from a long hiatus with two records that stormed the bunkers, overthrew the moneychangers' tables and generally knocked fools' fucking heads together.

billy woods :: Today I Wrote Nothing
woods has been on my year-end lists every year since I started 'em in 2009, and good to see him getting some shine on a lotta others' this time round.  His output's been prodigious lately with no let up in quality.  With most songs clocking in well shy of three minutes, there's a sense of notebook pages or short poems (the impressionistic 'Woodhull' sketch of Bed Stuy healthcare) instead of the novels of previous, but the references still dig deep.

Cornel West Theory :: Coming From The Bottom
Boasting guest-drop cosigns from Chuck D, Mumia, MOVE and others, CWT brings back the uncompromising bombastic political sound of P.E. and X-Clan with loud, gravy-thick beats.

C.S.X.T.C. :: C.S.X.T.C.
After a long hiatus, Raven from Solaris Earth Pipeline drops this solo dojo of hobo rap.

Jel :: Greenball 6
Another dope instrumental LP from the Anticon sphere. Fatter beats than you'd expect, for reals.

Killah Priest :: Planet of the Gods
My faith in the Priest is resolute and unquestionable, but since Heavy Mental he's rarely able to find the beats to rock upon which to found that church.  On this one though he brought down Godz Wrath to provide the right 70mm backdrop of flutes and chants and samples--finally befitting his epic of Mac 10s, sandals, eagles, pyramids, flying saucers, wise elders, Biblical computers, convicts, evil ancient scientists, galactic thrones and chakra points, and that's just the intro track.

PremRock :: Who Art In Nada
Rap bohemian remixes and offcuts, straight from foggy bridges, greasy spoons and dive bars.

Uncommon Nasa :: Halfway
Nasa's newest ruminates on what it means to be halfway through your life--what matters, where you come from and where you're going. You gotta admire the man's grind and how he pushes himself into new territory with every record.

Words Hurts :: ALKAST:REMIXES
Remix EP that was as good as the originals. On point heaters. Go grab that.

Honorable Mention in the Form of a Rhetorical Question Running Along the Bottom of the Album Cover
Public Enemy :: Man Plans God Laughs
Look peoples, I was born listening to P.E. and I'll die listening to P.E. I always check their new shit, and their 13th is pretty good for late-epoch-Chuck et al., even if it has a Country & Western joint for no reason I can possibly think of.

Honorable Mention for Records I Didn't Get a Chance to Listen to Yet But Are Probably Dope, Maybe That's Cheating But Too Fucking Bad
Defcee :: Damn Near Grown
Red Pill :: Day Drunk EP

the usual roughnecks

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It's your Best of 2015 Roundup, Rappitty-Rap Rapping edition. Just the bangingest bangers and the hottest heaters and the tastiest joints.


Blacka - Blackalicious / World Premier - Czarface (feat. Large Professor) / Man Plans God Laughs - Public Enemy / Razor Blade Rhyme - A-F-R-O / The History of Atlantis - B. Dolan / Fractured - Guilty Simpson (feat. Fat Ray) / Organ Donor - SHIRT / Garbanzo Beans/4 No Reason - Sean Price / Rubble Kings (Dynamite On The Street) - Run The Jewels / Paris Texas - Jel & Odd Nosdam / Yesman Shit - Apollo Brown (feat. Sean Price & REKS) / Unlimited Metro Card - Your Old Droog & Statik Selektah / Falconry - Action Bronson (feat. Meyhem Lauren & Big Body Bes) / Bodega! - Bodega Bamz & Statik Selektah / Dooo It! (Remix) - R.A. The Rugged Man / Hell's Messenger - Jedi Mind Tricks / I'll Die For This Shit - The Cornel West Theory (feat. Queen Helene of Les Nubians) / Kirk Fuckin' Douglas - The Alchemist

The Six Best Rappitty-Rapping Records of the Year*
Guilty Simpson :: Detroit's Son
Can't get enough of the D's sharpest hattori hanzo, and don't understand why this record hasn't been on anyone else's lists this year.  It's his hardest, sharpest, meanest, illest, blessedest work to date, more on point than a box of needles.  An all-around 7th place for album of the year. 

Sean Price :: Songs In The Key of Price / About 85,000 Guest Verses
My favorite actors have always been character actors--the guys who come in as weird sidekicks, creep-ass villains, but always make their mark.  This record ain't here because we lost him, it's because it's a damn fine record.  P was one of the greats and most definitely gone too soon.  He was a rapper's rapper who never turned down a guest verse but always brought his A-game to it, endlessly quotable, with more punchlines than Nintendo's unreleased Mike Tyson: Punch Factory. He got stoopid without ever being ignorant--he slips in more political lines than he gets credit for.  P! was the illest of the usual roughnecks.

Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric came back to body you on this one, bringing along Meth, DOOM, GZA, Large Pro and other thugs. Just a good, solid album for all your head-nodding, mad-face-making needs.

Action Bronson :: Mr. Wonderful 
The second most notorious Albanian in the tri-state area comes through again. Like every Bronson record, it's hit and miss on the beat choices, but also solid as his massive gut when he does hit it. Dude has cemented his career, and I now can't see any haute cuisine reference like 'scrape a ravioli envelope' or 'venison au jus reduction' without thinking 'I wonder how Action Bronson would rhyme that into a deviant sexual act?'

Jedi Mind Tricks :: The Thief & The Fallen
If you were ever down with JMT, this is their comeback from Stoupe forgetting how to make beats. Just forget the last 10 or so years happened. If you like that 'Cypress Hill, but with more beheadings' sound, this one's for you.

Your Old Droog :: Kinison EP
I kinda think I'm over this dude. He's definitely nice with the rhyming of the words, mostly picks good beats, but there's something too...technical? Something missing, I don't know if it's a narrative or sense of character or charisma. I just don't know who the droogie is somehow. I mean, content-wise Redman is not exactly Virginia Woolf,** but you feel like you know the guy, he's that cat you got high with in the parking lot that one time or whatever.  With Droog I don't get that. I like the work but I'm not catching feels from it.  OK not really selling this, but the EP is solid work.


*Fuck arbitrary round numbers and fuck long lists. Like I'm really gonna go peep out all 100 records you recommended. I have five jobs for fuck's sake.
**If Redman is now inspired to do a three-CD Mr Dalloway concept album, come back and thank me.

elephants of style

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So 2014 was supposed to be The Worst Year In Rap Ever? C'mon son. Worst year to be Syrian, maybe. Or Yazidi. Or Ukrainian. Or to get Ebola. Or to be in a cop-on-black encounter. But worst year in rap ever? Y'all just making up stupid shit to argue about on the Rap Internets. Seems to me it was the year of big-ass, dusty elephant beats and another exponential jump forwards in rap styles. 

First up we got the best-of mix for the second half (cop the first here):

Rap Stampede - Guilty Simpson / Behold The Opera - The Black Opera / "Produced By The RZA" - Stripclub Casino / Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) - Run The Jewels (feat. Zack De La Rocha) / Jonathan - Hail Mary Mallon / Everything Bagel - Rob Sonic / Re-Escape - The Hinderance (feat. L.I.F.E.Long) / Shoot The Piano Player - Zilla Rocca & The Shadowboxers (feat. Has-Lo) / Worlds Apart - J-Live / Loosie In The Store With Pennies - Your Old Droog / Sands - ATOMS / Criminal Childish - PremRock (feat. Curly Castro) / War Drum - Loop Minded Individuals (feat. Moe Pope, Roc Doogie, Elucid) / Here We Go - Diabolic (feat. Coast) / Binary Thinking - Skipp Coon / Fck - Chester Watson / This Bodega (Is Trying To Kill Me) - Uncommon Nasa (feat. Elucid) / B.E.T. - Armand Hammer / Mood Swings - Henry Canyons (feat. billy woods) / Stop Growing - L'Orange (feat. Meyhem Lauren & billy woods) / Stolen Norman Rockwells - SHIRT / In Gaol - milo (feat. Kool AD) / Big Pretty Bridges (3 Days Off In Abuquerque) - Open Mike Eagle / So It Goes - Ratking / Lost Prophet Report - Ka / Sleepwalk - SleepwalkERS / Ishmael - Shabazz Palaces

Albums of the Year :: 14 for '14
Top 5

1) Ratking :: So It Goes Been a long time since I heard a record that took me back to eating purple mescaline at the downtown Halloween parade. Every time rap seems to be starting to be divided between dumb teenage shit and grown man stuff, some kids come along and jumpstart it all again. Just like the first Cypress Hill LP threw rap forwards ten steps (and similarly introduced the joy of high-pitched nasal rapping), I felt the same kinda excitement about So It Goes. It's anthemic, generation-defining without setting out to do that. Somehow it crosses way into the past and way into the future, it's the cast of Wild Style in Kids, it's an episode of Welcome Back Kotter where Special Guest Star Rammellzee on some Kazoo shit time-jumps them into a 2039 of poplocking robots. It's The Basketball Diaries via Jamel Shabazz Vines. It's smoking hash on an autumn afternoon and watching Herculoids with a girl you can't quite figure out. It's one of those records that distills and jumps off from the last NYC trio's zetigeist LP, in rap tradition--Run-DMC begat License to Ill begat Funcrusher Plus begat Cold Vein begat So It Goes. It's not a revival or a resurrection. It's new blood, flowing.

2) Skipp Coon :: Miles Garvey I been checking on the regular for new from Skipp Coon since the one-two of 2010's women revolution tennis shoes and Sophmore Slump. Was worth the wait. Political rap can be polemic, didactic, oversimplistic and reductive; more than anything, it can be all rage and no soul, all political and no personal.  Skipp Coon overstands and overcomes all that. He's a prophet of rage, sure, with coals in the belly but also an ox-sized heart. It's a father's anger, not a collegiate rebellion, closer to late The Coup LPs than early P.E. Rebellion Assemble! superheroes.

The thing that struck me about Bobby Shmurda's video wasn't the dumb dance. It was the kid's thousand yard stare, soulless, empty eyes staring out as he mumbled lyrics about three kinds of death. This was a young black man we'd all failed, who just happened to go from viral video/novelty dance/dancing on record exec's conference table on some Invisible Man shit/indictment and tearful perp walk in less than a year. It's a good song. It's everything that went wrong with hip hop. Skipp Coon is reparations. I wish more cats would hear this record when they bitch about the lack of rap addressing the year's police shootings. We don't need knee-jerk singles from Jay and Kanye hashtagging #icantbreathe, we need the depth in this record.

3) Shabazz Palaces :: Lese Majesty On the real, at first I really thought this wasn't as good as the earlier records, but once I cut out the songs I don't like I couldn't stop listening to this. It's like wearing intergalactic plushpluvial Dapper Dan underpants. It tastes like purple. But it still has street weight, still has depth, still transcendent. It's exactly the record we should've expected 20 years after Reachin', here in the future where we have talking computers in our pockets and flying killer robots fighting wars.

4) Ka & Preservation :: 1200BC Just a 5 track taste, but better than most anyone's long player. Ka's narrative compression as always rewards multiple replay, and while maybe I prefer his own beats to Preservation's, it's another brick in Ka's discography cementing his legend. I spoke at length on this cat last year and the year before. He's still standing.

5) Armand Hammer :: Furtive Movements Once again Elucid & woods give us the dark, bitter political fruit for a year where we needed it most. If shit seems to be getting refracted through The Purge: Anarchy into a locked cycle of oppression and death, woods & Elucid are the sidekicks on the sidelines growling discourse and commentary like a Statler & Waldorf duo merged with Chomsky & Fanon.

Next 9 In Semi-Alphamabetical Order
The Black Opera :: The Great Year When Sister Souljah met Mother Courage.  That time Biggie starred in the kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan.  Great beats on this one, interesting range.  This one definitely got slept on.

Dday One :: Dialogue With Life After a three year hiatus since Mood Algorithms, Dday One returns with another LP of his finely crafted, superbly arranged instrumental beats.

I said most of what I gots to say about these cats previously, but these new records see them pushing the antelope of what we define as 'rap,' taking their styles into more introspective, more personal territory. Playing Teju Cole to Mike's Paul Beatty, milo explores his hopes and griefs over ever-more ethereal beats, and M. Eagle whittles his wit to a sharp point and pokes us with it.

These three cats are keeping the underground alive, the heavy gritty shit. Lazy bitches might say it's the post-Def Jux sound, survivors of the backpacker purge sneaking around the ruins. True maybe but these records take it forwards, evolve the style and develop it.  The word density is there. The crunch of beats and Wall of Nails sound is still there. But there's a sense of forward direction, a sense of playfulness that was absent from the multisyllabic seriousness of the late '90s.  This ain't throwback, it's pass forwards.

SHIRT gave himself an un-SEOable name and a record title that's...is it supposed to be all-encompassing, braggadocio omnipotent, or fuck you punk rock generic like the supermarket in Repo Man? I don't know. He pulled a publicity stunt where he faked the entire NY Times site. I thought it was kinda funny. Took balls. Doesn't matter. The kid can rap. He raps the fuck out of the rapping. You slept. Cop it.

Like SHIRT, Droog is a young kid from NY who raps. And kills it dead.  Difference being this kid blew the fuck up off the back of some dumbass Illuminati Youtube conspiracy mindedness that he was Nas in disguise (recap for my four readers who get all their rappity-rap news here.)  This created a Scooby Doo level mystery and not-suspenseful reveal.  I said it from the start: Droog can't be Nas, because Nas has never read A Clockwork Orange, and the one time he tried to watch the movie he got too high and fell asleep on the couch. Case closed. Anyways. The kid can flow and comes out the box assured, game tight and measured. I expect some heavyweight belts in the next couple years.


So a lotta usual suspects here maybe, but worst year in rap? Fuck outta here. Get you some of these records and a nice bowl of cereal or a cream soda or something. Stay positive like the copper top side of a battery fam.

beef & brolic

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Your 2014 half-time roundup of banging shit. Rappity-ass-rapping shit. Make you say 'GodDAMN' shit. Laying on the quadruple-guest-verse steez like a Dagwood sandwich to max out the word count.  Got beef?  Get brolic.

Nutty Bars - Your Old Droog / Oh Word? - Blueprint / $100 Taper - Rozewood (feat. Hus Kingpin) / Street Hop - Meyhem Lauren & Buckwild (feat. Troy Ave & Retch) / Anytime - Prodigy / Life's A Bitch - Timeless Truth / Take Off - SHIRT / God Particle - Army of the Pharaohs (Vinnie Paz, Planetary, Esoteric, Apathy & Celph Titled) / Thick Lord (Lord Finesse Remix) - D.I.T.C. / Truth Be Told - Gensu Dean & Guilty Simpson / Destroyer - The White Shadow of Norway (feat. Kool G Rap, Caustic Logic & KRS-One) / Ain't Nothing - Willie The Kid & Bronze Nazareth (feat. Boldy James) / Six Degrees - Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD (feat. Danny Brown) / Dirt - Mobb Deep / Silent Murder - Innocent? (feat. Ruste Juxx & Sean Price) / Bug Fights - Ratking


the year in freshness :: 2013

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2013 left me with 400 songs worth keeping, amounting to a full day of good shit. That says something about the quality year we just had (and that I’m rap game audio packrat).

My top records has a lot of usual suspects you’ve heard me hosanna about before, but hell, they keep putting out consistently good music. I think the underground just keeps getting bigger, stronger and more diverse…and also more recognized: a grip of these picks also made big-time lists. Part of that is ‘nobody doesn’t like Danny Brown,’ and 'everybody was feeling that
Run The Jewels shit,' but Ka is getting some serious love too. Anyways let’s get into this shit.
 
 
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Top 3 of the Year
In little more than a year or so Ka’s become a ‘rapper’s rapper,’ beloved by those who know what it’s about, and slept on by those who don’t.

The Night’s Gambit is a fully realized epic novel pared down and pared down and whittled down once again until each line can stand alone, like the letters are cut into steel by steel, then polished smooth with his sandpaper muttering. He’s taken GZA’s line-twisting, syllable-by-syllable build and compressed it even further. 

 
I read this article the other day saying that, if you apply enough pressure, molecules and atoms and particles rearrange themselves—so much so that peanut butter ups become diamonds. That’s what happens here: he slices down to the bone until the words glisten with lapidary brilliance. He’s taken rap’s entire history of street tales and boiled it down to a rust-dark sea that fits in a 40 oz. bottle.

There are two undercurrent themes on Night’s Gambit—the slum Bible, the ill Tarot: the spiritual search for meaning and the discipline that comes with it; and chess. While chess has been the 6th, 7th element of hip-hop since the Wu era, for Ka it becomes not only another mode of self-mastery, and the countering view of us as pawns in the game, but also a call of resistance—that the knight can champion, move sideways and attack.  There's other thematics—about luck, about chance, about destiny, and the search for grace.


No doubt the world Ka gives us is bleak, unrelenting—there is only the city, the man, and the struggle. There’s little bravado or humor. It’s Escape From New York Reloaded and Ghost Dog Returns. But if this is a Brownsville The Grey where Ka is solo punching the wolves with broken glass, well, it’s a cold world out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting a little frosty myself. But the hope comes from how we rise up against it; the record closes with the celebration of the art in “Off The Record”—as Chuck D said, hard times get me down I pump the hard rhymer. The music is where the salvation lies.

The beats once again are ghosts of fat beats for the man who plies his trade outside the ghost of Fat Beats: stripped down to base metals, barely loops but so finely chosen, only a hint of drums, like it’s been unraveling slowly off that same damn ‘Lo sweater from ’93, til infinity.

The world ground on him and he grinds back. The record is not simply good, it’s necessary. All praise is due; deserved.

 
This is probably cheating and unfair and gonna piss people off, but over the course of the year Elucid and billy woods (mics), A.M. Breakups, Blockhead & other great producers (beats) created this huge Oort Cloud of illness, a sprawling, four volume testament broadcast on dead city radio.

Cult Favorite brought down some Rap Game Blood Meridian shit, Elucid croaking out prophecy somewhere between Charles Manson and Stokely Carmichael, live from a combo command center and shooting gallery basement where A.M. cooks beats from formaldehyde, dirty pigeon wings and infrared light.

Over some dirty Blockhead beats, “bout it like Victor Bout,” Woods chewed on some dour candy to give us a Rap Game Manhattan Transfer, compressing geopolitical, sports, hip-hop and old school street references into a collection of portraits and vignettes on some No Exit From Brooklyn tip.

Together as Armand Hammer, they gave us “black steel in the hour of layoffs,” chewing bitterness and spitting nails. You got apostasy in my Clockers! No, you got Clockers in my apostasy! When woods says “go hard like Old Testament God / You burning bush? They livin’ large” and Elucid spits “catch him breaking fast where the angels laugh,” among other drops, the records catch the true spirit—the Yahweh who shits on Job to settle a bet with the Devil, kills the firstborn then lays down the law.  That's the world we living in. Woods be “pimping where the water ain’t fit for drinking,” and Elucid is “dead man’s Bally’s I’m sporting,” and us? We learning.

 
Like a rabbit leaves all those little poops, Milo's series of short records/EPs add up to one big album. Which is not what rabbit poops do, I got rabbit poop on the brain here. Though 'myxomatosis' sounds like the title of a Milo song. Though he’s been around for a couple of years, this was definitely his breakout year with a string of four incredibly strong releases.

Using minimalistic but lush off-kilter beats that kinda fall into the shoegaze/illbient/witchtit whatever the fuck they call that shit now, Milo wears his heart and his brain on his sleeve, giving us a look into his life and worldview so far beyond anything we’ve heard before. There’s been a lotta rappers lately making blogs swoon that I thought were just riffing or biting on DOOM, Kool Keith or Odd Future, whereas everything about Milo’s style is fresh and unique.

Playing PhD-Nice to Open Mike Eagle’s KRS-LOL, sort of, (OK not really, judges also would have accepted ‘Kool Moe PhDee to Hellfyre Club’s Persnickety Three’) there’s a syllabus level of references and name-checking ranging from Kierkegaard to Mamet to Mobb Deep, an intense love of wordplay, humor and quotables. The meandering, conversational tone creates an intimacy but also hides the level of work that’s gone in—not a throwaway line in sight.

But what is it that Milo is doing, exactly? Is he really even rapping? Is this more like poetry slam than what we’d define as hip-hop—what with the laidback-on-the-futon flow, the lack of beats or steadily staying on them? Is this taking nerd rap/art rap/emo rap into Moleskine rap? Is this Rap Game Whole Foods Wasabi Peas?

No, I think it isn’t. It’s far too sincere for that, ironic without being cynical, funny without just riffing, and smart without being pedantic. All I know is, for me, the Fried Rice Nietzsche raised the bar to another level. I heard a bunch of records this year which were decent, standard meat & potatoes joints about guns/drugs/lyrical ability/high-end footwear and just thought, ‘well, it’s pretty good, but ever since Milo it’s just not that interesting.’ Keep your eye on this kid, he’s gonna go all the way.

 
 
Best of the Rest
Aeon Grey :: Lead Breakfast Years in the making and it definitely shows. The level of craft is superlative, with guitar-tinged beats and well-wrought rhymes. A little bit of a throwback to mid/late ‘00s independent hip-hop but also a really personal and unique piece of work.
 
Danny Brown :: OLD Danny Brown still sounds hungry and came out hard as fuck on this one. Side A is some of his strongest work, and while Side B is that wooba-wubba shit the kids like, you can’t fuck with the party-gone-horribly-wrong anthem “Smokin & Drinkin.” Brown’s breakthrough was The Hybrid, and once again he shows he’s the hybrid of Ol’ Dirty and Spalding Gray on the wrong meds. Did Tina Turner have some kinda prancing, devilish, shabby court jester in Beyond Thunderdome? I forget. She shoulda. Cuz that dude woulda been Danny Brown.
 
Guilty Simpson & Small Professor :: Highway Robbery Guilty never fails to deliver and Small Pro really hooked up some slaps on this one. This just some old fashioned, hardbody, brolic, gully, knocking type shit, music to wear Timberland boots and army jackets to. Serious business.
 
Greenhouse (Blueprint & Illogic) :: Bend But Don’t Break I been tryna put you peoples on to Blueprint for years now. I think some of his tightest work comes out of the Greenhouse Crew joints he does with Illogic, and BBDB is once again a really strong record combining tight drums and the expansive, Radiohead/Blade Runner sounds with the gruff and intelligent rhyming. Cop the deluxe edition with the instrumentals.
 
Jean Grae :: Gotham Down Never having gotten the props she deserves, and maybe feeling liberated by that to do whatever she wants, these three EPs are a lot more experimentalish and impressionistic than you might expect. That don't mean they don't bang though.
 
RA The Rugged Man :: Legends Never Die Look fam everybody knows RA can rap his fucking ass off. On this record, he raps his fucking ass off. There’s other MCs who can do that, but not many in his weight class…and there’s always this slightly disturbing undercurrent that there is something just not right in the head with this dude. Also having lost my father too, I’m man enough to admit “Legends Never Die (Daddy’s Halo)” had me weeping. Not too many hip-hop joints you can say that about.
 

Run The Jewels :: Run The Jewels You know what, I held a bias against this for a long while because I have this alternate-reality grudge where the El-P of a few years ago doesn’t go and hang around with indie-rock guys but gets all arty like he almost did when he did High Water, and does the best film soundtracks ever, and collabos with Philip Glass or some shit. But then I got that “Get It” beat stuck in my head for three days and decided actually this album kicks, because boop boop, BOOP boop, boop boop, BOOP boop, boop boop, BOOP boop, for three days, OK, it’s all good.

 
YC The Cynic :: GNK Political without being polemical, intelligent without pretension, PREACH! without being preachy. More than anything YC gets to the complexity, contradictions, struggles not yet won and battles both personal and historical in our supposedly ‘post-racial’ nation.
 
 
Instrumental Albums
3:33 :: Bicameral Brain Coming hard off the back of last year’s In The Middle of Infinity, Brain is more diffuse and ambient and less with the back-breaking drums, but no doubt a sonic journey through your nether neurons.

A.M. Breakups – Pull Back EP A.M. had a great year, dropping his 924 Myrtle LP and production on Cult Favorite. This EP had some more of his great beats.

Bartholomäus Traubeck :: Years You smoke trees. He makes records with them. Unique sounds that really have a non-human quality, of deep time.

Black Chamber :: Black Chamber Actually a jazz album, but it’s so incredibly tight and definitely shows hip-hop influences. Peerless work.

Dr. Quandary :: Wayfarers Quando grabs the crown of Ali Farka Toure-like beat conducting. His loops are dusted with desert sands and imaginary palaces.

Mr. Moods :: Prototype 68: Structures Moods puts out about an album a month it seems like, which is mad prolific to a point of insanity, but this one was on point from start to finish.

PSY/OPSogist :: The Secrets in The Shadows If you’re not hip to the OPS by now, what I gotta do, inject it directly in your earholes? Secrets is the soundtrack to Stan Brakhage’s lost X-Files episode.

Walter Gross - Dear Dirt McGirt Tributes to Ol’ Dirty have ranged from the tasteless (THIS HOLOGRAM COSTEDED A LOT OF MONEY) to a pretty awesome boxset. Gross’ glitch-hop tribute takes snippets and distorted samples of the man himself to create a woozy hallucination that’s a near death experience in itself. Aka Shimmy Shimmy I’m Drowning In A Broken Washing Machine.


Mixes
Bil Basmala :: Brother From Another Planet The homie née Autolect had a prolific-ass year again, building a solid label/platform on FKA Co. and dropping this head-knocking audio journey laced up with samples from the seminal Sayles flick.

DJ Moneyshot :: Solid Steel & The Hour of Chaos Moneyshot deconstructs Nation of Millions on its 25th anniversary, then reconstructs it with samples, sample sources and interview snippets. 

DJ Yoda :: How to Cut & Paste: The Asian Edition because Orientamalism, great mixing and an undercurrent of commentary on portrayals of Asians in film and hip-hop.
 
See you cats around the way.

ninja pennies

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Last best-of 2013 mix. On some cold wind shit for the long winter of our dis contents.

Side A (Old) - Danny Brown / Rikki Tikki Godly - Live Percenters / Piggy Bank - Troy Ave / Juggaknots Control - Breeze Brewin / Who's Really In Control? - Jasiri X / The Pacs - YC The Cynic / Nothing Is - Ka / Owl - The Child Of Lov (feat. DOOM) / Bend But Don't Break - Greenhouse (Blueprint & Illogic) / Mourn - Tame One / The Cauldron - Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire / Degrassi Picture Day (Hellfyre Jackets) - Open Mike Eagle (feat. Busdriver) / Manteca - Billy Woods / Native Sun - Armand Hammer / Capacity (Lynn, Bronx) - Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd (feat. Lynn Hill) / Costly Bottle - Gorgeous Children / Long Tokes - Quelle Chris (feat. Cavalier) / Monologion - Milo
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