Hip-Hop History: Looking Back on Hip-Hop Connection June 2004

Music

The mid 2000’s were a very interesting time in hip-hop, an era that doesn’t always get a great amount attention but in my opinion was one of the greatest periods the genre has had. It was a time of progression, hip-hop was breaking away from the nostalgia of the so called “Golden Age” while the scene became further fragmented as new sounds emerged. The era coincided with a massive boom in internet use which massively affected the musical landscape, from how people consumed music, to how it was distributed to where it was discussed. The artists from these years are the main influences for a lot of today’s most popular acts and it was these years in which Kanye West, one of the biggest names in all of music today began his rise to stardom.

While recently sorting through some boxes of my old belongings at my parents’ house I found a stack of Hip-Hop Connection magazines from around 2004-2007 and it got me buzzing with nostalgia. Hip-Hop Connection was once the longest running monthly hip-hop magazine, which was quite an accolade for a British publication considering the America-centric nature of the genre. I absolutely loved this magazine, it had the perfect mix of interviews, reviews and editorials, an entertaining read that could concisely cover serious political issues then having you laughing on the next page. HHC was very focused on the music while other hip-hop magazines often read like a tabloid newspaper, more concerned with beef and rap gossip than actual music. It’s this concentration on music that kept me reading month after month and helped cement my obsession with hip-hop, having a huge impact on my teenage years.

Looking through these old magazines was fascinating. Reliving the trends of the time, seeing how rappers have changed and observing the different (or in some cases very similar) topics that were discussed. I felt like I needed to share this with people as I’m sure others will find this as intriguing as I do. So this is the first in what will hopefully be a series of articles looking at the pages of these old magazines and writing about their contents.

Under each page I’ll post an Imgur link so you can see the page clearer and read it. The album with all pages is here. I’ll also insert YouTube links were relevant so you can check out the msuic being written about. I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with me.

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On this first trip back to the mid 2000’s we’re looking at the June 2004 edition of Hip-Hop Connection. Popularity wise Prince Po may have been a strange choice for the cover photo as he has never been the biggest name, but his album “The Slickness” that came out in 2004 definitely makes him worthy of this position.

Second most prominent position on the cover goes to D-12 which is underlined with the quote “Eminem is no racist”. This quote seems odd now but at the time some people did throw these accusations around.

The other bigger features on the cover come from Method Man who had recently released the mostly lacklustre Tical 0: The Prequel, Lil Flip who was one of the biggest names from the South at the time and legends Pete Rock & CL Smooth who had been on a reunion tour.

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Skipping ahead to the middle of the magazine, here is the monthly chart pull out with lists from various DJs covering different styles of hip-hop. I thought this would be a good place to start before we move on with the rest of the magazine as it can give you a good feel for what hip-hop at the time sounded like. I’ve collated of of the tracks from the main chart in a YouTube playlist here.

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As always, the issue opens with an editorial which this month ponders the short shelf life of rappers and the fast paced nature of the genre. The thought conveyed here is that most rappers don’t have lasting success, that they blow up fast but their popularity quickly deteriorates and they end up either on an indie label or leaving the rap game altogether. We’re then given a number of exceptions to this rule, most of which just so happen to be the main features of this month’s issue.

This topic is still relevant today as there are many rappers who rise to the top very quickly only to be seen as a fad months later when the hype dies down. In the space of less than three years Lil Yachty has risen to fame on the back of a well-received (although very polarising) mixtape, released a number of disappointing albums and is already fading from the limelight. Time will tell if Yachty can recapture some of that hype and maintain some of his relevance but it’s starting to seem very unlikely. A few years ago it looked like Yung Lean was set to become an unlikely rap star as his releases gained popularity and the co-signs from big names such as Travis Scott started coming in. Unfortunately for Yung Lean most of the hip-hop world quickly lost attention in his catchy cloud rap and although he’s continued putting out music, his audience has dwindled to a small cult fan base.

Looking back at some of the big names of 2004 many of them have long since dropped off the radar. The crunk movement was in full effect with acts like Paul Wall, Trillville, Lil Scrappy, Bone Crusher and David Banner all releasing big hits but are now either getting poor sales are not putting out music at all. Even Lil Jon, the king of crunk, is now little more than distant memory of a Dave Chappelle sketch to many.

You may argue that the quick rise and fall of these artists is down to them being somewhat gimmicky in nature but it’s not only the outlandish rappers that suffer from this. 50 Cent’s popularity peaked quickly, at the time of this issue he was a very big name and a legitimate talent but has since dabbled in other industries and is now only in the public eye when he says something else stupid and hateful. Kid Cudi is a more recent example, in the space of a few years he gained commercial and critical success only to quickly slip out of the mainstream. His recent collaboration with Kanye definitely brought him back to the front of everyone’s mind but a glance at his historic album sales shows a rapid decline.

There are obviously exceptions though, since 2004 there have been a number of rappers that have managed to sustain their relevance and spot in the limelight. Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar have all been going strong for at least 5 years now and although their hype may dip somewhat in between releases everyone pays attention when they drop new music.

Some of the examples mentioned in the above editorial are a bit off, but I assume their inclusion is largely based on their presence in the issue. Prince Po is a fantastic MC and has released a fair bit of great music but Organized Konfusion weren’t big outside of the underground and Prince Po’s solo work unfortunately didn’t do much to raise his profile. Pete Rock & CL Smooth were big names in the early 90s but seem to be among the most forgotten of that era. And despite the continued popularity of Southern hip-hop, the platinum selling Lil Flip is no longer known to most modern day rap fans.

No one is safe in the world of rap, no matter how popular you are and how long you’ve been at the top you can always lose that spot. Just think of all the big names that have peaked since 2004, in addition to those above, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Waka Floka Flame and B.o.B have all past their prime popularity. It could be just a matter of time before the likes of Kanye and Drake lose that top spot to the next big name.

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Reading the letters section today I can’t but laugh at how little things have changed in the 14 years since this was published. All this time has passed and the same discussions are still arising. Firstly we have a 30 year-old Swedish hip-hop fan complaining about how modern hip-hop is all about “saying how ‘bad’ they are, and how many girls they can have, alcohol to drink, joints to smoke and what fancy clothes they wear”. This is a complaint I’m sure you’ve all seen and heard many times before, if anything I’m hearing it less now than I used to. Today’s rap fans tend to either be well aware of the fact that there is plenty of more varied subject matter out there or they embrace these shallow topics. Large egos, sex and drugs have always been a big part of hip-hop as well as politics and introspection, all these topics have a their place in the genre. Hip-hop is more varied than ever, you really can find whatever you’re looking for if you look hard enough. People like this reader just aren’t looking hard enough.

A reader named Ben Spurr brings up a topic that has been discussed at great lengths over the last couple of years; the issue of producers not getting their due when they are the ones responsible for making hits. In the last couple of years producers and fans have been complaining that beat makers don’t get enough money or respect for all of the work that they do. After all, can you imagine what Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Migos and Lil Pump would be without the quality instrumentals backing their vocals? But this is nothing new, rappers have almost always been the focal point of hip-hop (the very early years being an exception), they are the face of the music and because of this they’re generally the ones that reap the rewards of their releases. After so long of being overlooked it’s definitely time that producers get the props and the money that they deserve, from Alchemist and Timbaland in 2004 to Metro Boomin and Zaytoven today, producers are often the heart of a hit.

There’s also a letter from someone called Sam who starts off by criticising Westwood, something that many people still do. The UK has always had a bit of a love hate relationship with Westwood, he’s a bit of a goofball but he has certainly done a lot for hip-hop in this country. The letter continues by praising the magazine but blasting their coverage of “this crunk bullshit”. These few sentences still feel really familiar and if you swap “crunk” with “mumble rap” and “Juvenile” with “Lil Pump” this could have been posted yesterday as a comment on a hip-hop Facebook page.

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“Say What?” was the monthly news round up in HHC and it’s really interesting looking back on what was happening at the time. Down the left hand side we’re treated to some intriguing quotes from rappers around that time. First off we have a quote from 50 Cent spewing homophobia in a Playboy interview. In the 14 years since that was published the hip-hop community has grown more accepting but sadly we still have a very long way to go as homophobia remains common place. You can see the progression that has been made because 50 Cent didn’t face much backlash for his words whereas Migos have been condemned for their anti-gay remarks and lyrics, so at least this type of ignorance isn’t as accepted as it used to be. We also have some openly gay rappers now which (as far as I’m aware) didn’t exist even in the most obscure corners of the 2004 world of hip-hop. But with acts like Migos all too often expressing their hate and tracks littered with homophobic slurs we need to continue growing as a community until these backwards ideologies are gone for good.

The music industry has changed a lot since 2004 but one thing that remains the same is record companies ripping off the artists, as is evident the DMX quote. It’s no wonder that since then we have seen more and more artists go down the independent route, and with the increased creative freedom that comes along with that it can only be a good thing.

We have another quote from 50 Cent saying that he could make a record in three days but that he will take a lot longer because he wants to top his last one. Things have definitely changed in this respect as a lot of rappers put out copious amounts of music all year round. These days fans get impatient when it’s coming up to a year without a fresh album from their favourite artist but back in the early 2000s in many cases you were lucky to get one every 3 years. It’s great to get so much new music but I think a lot of fans are now wishing things would go back to how they used to be when artists spent more time on an album to perfect it. I love getting 3 Future projects in a year but I can’t help but wonder how good an album from him could be if he spent 3 years making it.

Looking through the news bullet points there are a few noteworthy entries. I hadn’t heard Trina’s “Leaving You” but after a quick YouTube search it’s pretty hilarious since she tells us that Nelly, Jay Z, Ja Rule and others all have big dicks. I’m not surprised her label didn’t approve it. Redman and Ludacris both landed themselves movie roles, neither of them have had a whole lot of luck in Hollywood since. DMX had also stated that he was moving in to the movie industry, this also didn’t turn out too well as a small part in Jet Li’s Cradle 2 The Grave is probably the best role he ever had.

My favourite news piece on this page has to be the report that Dre had scrapped plans to complete Detox. This is in 2004, and it wasn’t until 11 years later that rumours of the release were finally put to rest as Dre dropped his 2015 album Compton, stating that it’s basically what The Detox would have been. And now in 2018 rumours have started once more that Dre is working on the mythical album again. There are a lot of albums that were announced but will probably never come out; DoomStarks, Madvillainy 2, Kendrick/Cole collaboration etc. but Detox will always be the biggest.

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A short interview with eclectic producer RJD2. This was fairly early in his career and he had just dropped the spectacular ‘Since We Last Spoke’ (reviewed later in the magazine) which really showed his versatility as an artist. It isn’t even a hip-hop album, it’s a strange collage of musical genres all stitched together through RJD2’s incredible production skills. He has continued to release fantastic solo projects as well as solid collaborations with artists such as Acey Alone and STS. He released Dame Fortune in 2016 and put out an experimental, drumless album this year called ‘Tendrils’ under the pseudonym “The Insane Warrior”.

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The “Major Playaz” column was a monthly piece on recent major releases and club hits. A top 10 club bangers chart on the left is full of great tunes including ‘Jay Z’s 99 Problems’ which was huge when it first came out, Mobb Deep’s dark classic ‘Got It Twisted’ and Lil Flip’s video game infused anthem ‘Game Over’. Strangely enough Clipse’s seminal album Hell Hath No Fury is on the chart even though it came out in late 2006. The LP had been pushed back many times due to label problems and this writer must have got hold of one of the early iterations of the project. I’d be very interested to hear what that leaked version sounded like.

As with many current rap releases Ghostface’s ‘The Pretty Toney Album’ had been pushed back a number of times. This is one of my favourite albums from Ghost and is criminally overlooked. There are a few names here that I haven’t heard in a long time such as Cassidy, J-Kwon, Lil Scrappy and Trillville, they were all putting out hits at the time though and ‘Tipsy’ will always a party classic. It is also mentioned that Lil Jon is releasing an energy drink called “Crunk!!!” and Dip Set are behind a new alcoholic drink called “Sizzurp Purple Punch”, this was around the time that Nelly’s “Pimp Juice” energy drinks were available. There seemed to be more bizarre rap related products on the shelves back then and I kind of miss it, I feel like we need some Lil Yachty branded sherbet or a range of frozen desserts from Maxo Kream.

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A fun little interview with Jazzy Jeff who has been fairly elusive since his days with the Fresh Prince. He has stayed in active in a low key fashion though, putting out mixes here and there which are always solid. He showed his proficiency as a producer on a recent episode of Rhythm Roulette and put out a funky album called ‘M3’ earlier this year.

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It was a pretty big deal when Channel U first launched, a music video channel for urban UK music was a great way for our smaller scene to get some much needed exposure. Channel U remained fairly important for a while, pushing some grime legends in to the lime light with their low budget videos. As with a lot of music TV it lost some of its popularity in the late 2000s, and it was rebranded as Channel AKA. In June of this year the name was changed to Massive R&B, to most people this marked the true death of Channel U and sparked a lot of nostalgia for the early years.

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J-Zone is a multitalented guy, as well as being one of the most underrated producers in hip-hop, a solid rapper and more recently a skilled funk drummer, he’s a pretty good writer too. In this monthly segment he reviewed classic “ign’ant” albums to accompany a humorous editorial piece. Zone has always brought some of the funniest lyrics around these articles always had me chuckling. After taking a break from music around 2008, J-Zone returned in 2013 with a couple of dope rap releases before moving on to making some great funk music.

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Hip-hop connection had a number of interesting regular editorials including “Great Rap Misconceptions” were writers would pick apart commonly held hip-hop opinions. Here the writer looks at the hate directed towards P Diddy (previously known as Puff Daddy) and argues that it isn’t deserved. There have always been people in the hip-hop scene that are the focus of a lot of hate, these days the “mumble rap” scene gets a load of hate as well as Drake and Kanye who tend to be very divisive. Back in 2004 Diddy’s fame was fading and so was the hate towards him but for years he had been seen a negative force in rap.

I think Diddy was one of the catalysts in the segmentation of hip-hop, a player who active when hip-hop became more divided in to high energy, club friendly rap and the more lyrical side of genre. Although purists would probably disagree, in my opinion this segmentation has been a good thing, it has allowed artists to find different sounds and push the genre in all types of exciting directions. P Diddy really did pave the way for acts like Migos and Lil Pump so it’s no wonder that the same section of “real hip-hop” zealots have dished out hate towards them all.

“Rapper’s Rough Guide To…” regualr editorial piece that gave a short, often humorous summary of a hip-hop tropes. In this issue they take a quick look at hip-hop snobbery, mainly in the form of disliking music once it gets popular, a behaviour now commonly known as being a hipster.

Snobbery definitely still exists in hip-hop but I don’t think it’s a bad as it was, and it has taken different forms. Back in the early 2000s the genre was full of “real hip-hop” elitist fans who were obsessed with knowing about the latest underground MCs and dismissed anything that made its way in to the charts. Although things had started to change slightly there was still a clear divide between mainstream hip-hop and the rest of the genre, especially when looking at the audience.

Nowadays there is much more of a sliding scale between the underground and the mainstream and many fans appreciate both. You still have people on old school hip-hop Facebook groups making memes about mumble rap and kids calling anyone who listens to boom bap an “old head” but I think you’re average hip-hop fan is more open-minded than ever. A lot more people are now judging artists on their music rather than their popularity which is definitely a welcome change (although with the rise of social media more importance is placed on image but that’s a whole other topic).

Strangely we have seen a new form a snobbery appear among hip-hop heads, the antithesis of the snobbery discussed in this article. I often see people criticising artists based on their poor album sales or arguing that a rapper is superior due to the gold or platinum status of their albums. Previously fans prided themselves on their plethora of knowledge and would avoid admitting they were unaware of a particular MC. Now internet dwellers leave comments such as “who” when underground rappers are mentioned, a smug declaration of ignorance and a supposed slight at the artist. Fortunately these people are in the minority but it is an interesting paradigm shift.

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The “Dirty South” was huge in the early/mid 2000s and Lil Flip was one of the biggest names. As with many of the artists in this scene at the time his popularity dwindled a while ago although he has continued making music. Flip put out a number of projects in 208 and although they had their moments they didn’t have the highs of previous projects such as ‘Undaground Legend’ and ‘U Gotta Feel Me’. The 2004 hit single ‘Game Over’ will always have a special place in my heart.

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I remember buying Madvillainy the week it came out (based on this magazines recommendation), it was my first exposure to MF DOOM and I really didn’t know what to think at first. DOOM’s raps sounded kind off beat, the instrumentals were weird and the tracks were really short, it was like nothing I’d heard before. After a few listens though it really clicked and I became obsessed with both of these incredible artists.
Even though I wasn’t familiar with MF DOOM, this release felt like quite a big deal at the time (as far as underground rap goes anyway). Him and Madlib were already established names in hip-hop but this album really elevated them both as artists at the top of their game and some of the best in the genre. The release was very well-received as soon as it came out so it’s no surprise that it’s generally thought of as a classic now.

Not long after this we were told that Madvillainy 2 was coming soon but here we are in 2018 and we’re still no closer to hearing it (although we did get a kind of redundant remix album). Both DOOM and Madlib went from being two of the most prolific guys in underground hip-hop to releasing projects a lot more sparingly. When they do put out fresh music Madlib really hasn’t lost a step, his beats continue to evolve and often push boundaries still. His projects with Freddie Gibbs and Blu & MED were both fantastic and we’re all eagerly waiting on the Gibbs follow up. DOOM is still very capable but is no longer in his prime, his recent collaborative album with Czarface was solid but lacked the magic of his earlier work. The couple of tracks we got with Westside Gunn were stronger though and people still pay attention whenever the masked one drops a verse.

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Today hip-hop is completely ubiquitous but in the early 2004 its complete invasion of mainstream culture was still in the early stages(here in the UK anyway). For years there had always been a few very popular acts who had a large presence on TV but the majority of the genre stayed hidden and musically there was little variation in the rappers getting attention.

As a teenager, I remember watching Sunday morning kids show ‘Smile’ when I heard DJ Devstar play some Gang Starr instrumentals (as mentioned in this article) and I lost my mind. Apart from a couple of close friends no one at my school knew who Gang Starr were so hearing it played on a BBC kids show was of exciting to me. Back then I would scour the TV guide looking for any shows that were even slightly related to hip-hop so that I could record them on VHS. Now and then My eyes would light up when I spotted that a documentary, usually about violence or sex in the genre, was going to be on late at night on Channel 4. These shows were usually very basic but I didn’t care, if it was rap related I had to watch it. Once I struck gold and managed to record a late night showing of the superb 2001 documentary ‘Scratch’, I recorded it and played that tape until it wore out.

This editorial piece does a good job of summarising the situation at the time. The article closes by asking if “programmes could cover more than the dog-eared question of whether rap music encourages violence” or that documentaries “could finally stretch beyond those whirlwind histories ticking all the usual boxes” so I think the writer has got his wish. TV documentaries covering hip-hop tend to have a lot more depth now, a recent BBC show hosted by Rodny P was especially great. It’s not uncommon to see an interesting documentary showing on BBC or Channel 4, certainly a lot better than they used to be, not to mention the plethora of hip-hop related shows on more niche channels such as Viceland. The advent of streaming has also opened the door to massive amounts of content as Netflix is scattered with rap docs and there is an endless stream of discussion videos on YouTube. There has never been a better age to be a hip-hop fanatic.

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Hip-Hop Connection frequently had comedy articles and they were usually pretty funny. Here they imagine up a bunch of super rare albums from established acts such as a country album from Premier and an Eric Sermon Crooning Record.

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One half of the sublime Organized Konfusion, Prince Po is often overlooked in favour of his former rap partner Pharoahe Monch. Where Pharoahe rose to relative fame after going solo Prince Po became quite inactive, only putting out a few guest verses and one single until his debut solo album that is being promoted in this interview. It was worth the wait though as The Slickness is an incredible album featuring production from Danger Mouse, Madlib and J-Zone while Prince Po shows versatility on the mic.
Po followed up the release with ‘Prettyblack’ in 2006 and ‘Saga of the Simian Samurai’ in 2007, both of which were very solid releases but never got the attention they deserved.

After another hiatus he returned in 2014 with the mighty Oh No on their collaborative album ‘Animal Serum’ but has since gone quiet again. Prince Po has a unique style and I really hope we hear more music from him soon because with the right producer I think he could easily match the greatness of The Slickness or even his earlier work in Organized Konfusion.

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Just before hitting the reviews this regular editorial piece touched on topics raised earlier in the magazine, often referring to the artist on the cover and it’s usually quite poignant. In this issue the subject of selling out is investigated and it’s an aspect of hip-hop that I think has changed a lot in a number of ways.

Firstly, I don’t think people care as much about selling out any more. Most people would like to be rich and successful so why criticise those who use their talent to do so? “Keeping it real” has always been such an important thing in hip-hop, legitimacy was of the utmost importance and for some reason making it big was seen as going against that. Although this attitude still exists to some extent it’s no where near as prevalent as it used to be and as I mentioned earlier many people now judge an artist’s worth by their ability to sell records. It’s strange to see things flip so much and I’m not completely sure what has caused it, although my next point may have something to do with it.

Selling out doesn’t seem to happen as much, or at least it doesn’t seem as dramatic as it did. Hip-hop isn’t as dangerous as it used to be, it’s much more mainstream as a whole so whereas it felt strange to see Busta Rhymes drop a verse for the Pussycat Dolls it didn’t feel as weird to see Kendrick on a Tailor Swift track. Many rappers also seem to stay in their lanes more, people who start making club bangers and radio hits tend to continue doing so while the lyrical MCs stick with their own styles. Part of why this happens is because hip-hop is now big enough to allow for it, you don’t need to change your style as much to gain popularity.

Lastly, the divide between critically acclaimed hip-hop albums and ones that sell well isn’t as present as it used to be (despite what the “hip-hop is dead” crowd want you to think). The critically loved MF DOOM wasn’t doing big numbers in the early 2000s but Kendrick has reached almost unanimous critical acclaim for his last 3 albums which all went platinum. The whole landscape of hip-hop has changed so much in the last 14 years, the mainstream media is more open now so artists can get the radio and TV time they need to sell out, without “selling out”. It’s still hard to make it big but at least now rappers can get there without changing who they are.

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We’re now moving on to the reviews section of the magazine which is the main reason I bought Hip-Hop Connection. I found that the reviews were almost secondary in other rap magazines but HHC always had a large section dedicated to them and covered the majority of new releases. The singles reviews were usually a bit daft, with more jokes than actual critiques and the selection of songs they chose to look at where usually quite obscure.

Single of the month this time went to Jay-Z for ’99 Problems/Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ even though the writer is very negative about the Timbaland produced club hit. In the last couple of years I have seen ‘The Black Album’ lauded as a classic but this always seems strange to me as the reception was mixed, and mostly lukewarm when it was released. Many people where disappointed as the album was touted as Jay’s last and they didn’t think it lived up to the hype, especially as far as the production was concerned which lead to a number of remix versions of the album (most notably the fantastic Danger Mouse produced ‘Grey Album’ which I actually prefer to the original). I guess certain albums look different in hindsight but I still can’t see this as more than an average album. That being said I can’t deny that ’99 Problems’ is one of the best hip-hop hits of the early 2000s.

Elsewhere in this section we have quite a lot of UK releases, some more noteworthy than others. Veteran UK hip-hop producer Mark B collaborated with Tommy Evans for a catchy, fun single, Harry Love was another UK producer who was on fire at the time which is evident on ‘Surprize’ featuring the killer line up of Verb T, Yungun & Mystro. Lewis Parker & Yungun’s ‘The Big Idea’ was a favourite of mine at the time, with a perfect example of Parker’s signature production and some light hearted bars from Essa.
Taz was being built up to be a big name on the UK scene (notably working on the beat for Dizzee’s ‘Jus a Rascal’) and the catchy, grime infused hip-hop of ‘Can’t Contain Me’ showed he had some potential. His debut album ‘Analyse This’ dropped soon after and although it was a solid LP Taz disappeared soon after. Looking back on these UK releases many of the rappers had short careers, especially when compared to their American counter parts. I imagine the lack of money in the scene made it hard to achieve any type of longevity. Looking on the bright side, the few that have managed to stay in the game are still releasing great music. Artists like Jehst and Cappo don’t seem to have lost a step since they were dropping classics in the early 2000s.

The American indie rap scene was in good health at the time with solid releases from Josh Martinez and DJ Nu-Mark. Eyedea and Abilities dropped ‘Now’, a great single from their album ‘E&A’. The duo are frequently brough up as some of the most talented in the 2000s indie rap scene and with good reason. Unfortunately Eyedea passed away in 2010 but he is still remembered in discussions of the lyrical greats of the indie rap scene.

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This issue’s album of the month went to Ghostface for the very underrated ‘The Pretty Toney Album’. Ghostface has a stellar discography so it’s understandable that some albums get forgotten but I feel like this LP gets unfairly overshadowed by ‘Fishscale’ which was released 2 years later. Don’t get me wrong, I think his 2006 release was a very solid album but it doesn’t stand out to me like ‘The Pretty Toney LP’.

Oozing with serene soul samples contrasted by a rawness that perfectly exemplifies Ghostface’s unique delivery, this album was one of my favourites of the era. Tracks like ‘Biscuits’, ‘Beat The Clock’, ‘Save Me Dear’ and ‘Run’ (with a classic Jadakiss feature) all stay in my regular listening to this day. Ghost throws the rule book out the window when he uses an unedited Delfonics track as the beat on ‘Holla’, no looping, no added drums, just him going in over a soul classic. Except on ‘Big Girl’ from ‘Fishscale’ I’ve never heard a track like this where the beat samples a song in its entirety, I’d be interested to hear someone else try it although I’m not sure anything could compete with the greatness of ‘Holla’.

Ghostface was working a lot with Theodore Unit at the time, with Trife having one of the best verses on this album on “Biscuits”. The collective had an album out as a group the year after this which had some really great tracks and a number of the members showed a lot of promise (others not so much, I’m looking at you Shawn Wigs). Apart from Trife who has had a few sporadic releases, I’ve heard very little from any of The Unit since around 2006. I find it interesting how some rappers seem to disappear so early in their careers and it’s almost impossible to predict which ones will stick around, I wonder which newcomers in 2018 will still be around in 5 or ten years from now.

I couldn’t write about this page without mentioning this outstanding picture of Ghostface and his crew, all dressed in matching red and white with some big chains and shiny leather. What a glorious example of the terrible hip-hop fashion that was popular in the early to mid 00s. Lots of the music from this era still sounds fresh today, but I really can’t say the same about the dress sense.

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Now we get in to the bulk of the album reviews, it’s worth giving these a read to pick up on some releases you may have missed. I’m just going to comment on some of the more interesting names and albums I enjoyed the most.

At this point in time garage was way passed its peak popularity and So Solid Crew had pretty much disappeared. Asher D had been one of the more well known of the group and was trying to transition in to a solo career. This album had its moments and he continued to release 2 albums in the 5 years after this but never made a big impact musically. Fortunately for Asher D (real name Ashley Walters) his acting career that started years earlier went from strength to strength and he is now a successful actor.

Boot Camp Clik had been putting out great music for years at this point but it was Sean Price who was about to break out and enter the prime of his career. The year after this group album Price released his debut album ‘Monkey Barz’ which brought him attention from all across the scene. With one of the greatest flows in rap history and production from the likes of 9th Wonder and Khrysis the 2005 album is a perfect example of underground hip-hop. The quality of his music stayed consistent until his untimely death in 2015, a real loss to the genre. RIP to one of the true greats.

Experimental hip-hopper Busdriver put out his third solo album, one of his strangest and jazziest releases to date. ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ is frequently overlooked but may be my favourite album of his, it’s a succinct piece of uncut, boundary pushing hip-hop. Busdriver continued to evolve his sound over the years, going in a more electronic direction on most of his albums with slightly mixed results (although mostly consistent). The catchiness of ‘RoadKillOvercoat’ and sonic variation of ‘Pefect Hair’ have been further highlights in Driver’s discography but my favourite album of his since ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ is the phenomenal LP he put out earlier this year. ‘Electricity Is On Our Side’ is the jazziest album he’s put out in the last 14 years but instead of going back to his old sound it feels like he’s taken all the aspects of his albums in between and merged the best bits to devise something fresh. Over the course of his career Busdriver has continued to reinvent his sound, surprising us with every release, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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J-Kwon was very popular for a very brief period of time, his hit single ‘Tipsy’ was particularly massive for a while. His album ‘Hood Hop’ gets a favourable review here but I don’t think most people would be able name more than the above mentioned track. He certainly never reached the fame that Nelly did as the reviewer suggests he might, although both have been very quiet for years now.

It’s strange to think that people were ever negative about Pharrell’s 2000s musical output but at the time there were lots of people who were very critical of his work. I think this is mainly due to the snobbery and hatred of “selling out” that I mentioned earlier in this piece. Hip-hop heads would often write off artists purely because they were popular and Pharrell was no exception to this. He has only become more successful since, working on a wide variety of projects but for me his work during the mid 2000s was absolutely groundbreaking and the pinnacle of his career.

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We have an early release from John Legend who later rose to fame as acclaimed singer-songwriter so it’s kind of weird looking back at when he was just “Kanye’s little helper”. The interviewer mentions Kanye’s “Very Good Records” and I’m unsure of whether this is a joke, a mistake or a previous name for the label (although Google gives me nothing so I assume it’s one of the former).

It’s a shame that we never got a proper second album from Non Phixion but ‘The Green CD’ almost made up for it. A real mixtape full of raw freestyles and great unreleased tracks like ‘Skum’ and ‘We All Bleed’. The trio never sounded as good as when they were working together, their chemistry was great and they had production from the likes of Necro in his prime and even a Premier beat. The group split shortly after this release and started putting out solo work which was hit and miss. Ill Bill had the most success with his solid ‘What’s Wrong With Bill?’ as well as a plethora of releases continuing through to present day. Meanwhile Goretex and Sabac Red had a couple of releases shortly after this (Sabac’s album also reviewed in this issue) and have been pretty quiet since. I once spoke to Goretex in a WinMX (old P2P software) chatroom, or at least someone claiming to be him. He said he borrowed ‘The Green CD’ from the library and never returned it. It’s weird that someone would need to steal their own CD from a library but it would also be weird for someone to be in a chatroom pretending to be Goretex.

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Crunk was really prominent around this time and was pretty much the precursor to ringtone rap which was followed shortly by the rapid growth of trap music (although trap preceded crunk, it was just a while before it blew up). Hip-hop Connection was generally very positive about the scene which is evident by the five star rating they gave the above compilation. 5 star ratings were incredibly rare in the magazine, the only other one I remember seeing was given to Kidz In The Hall – ‘School Was My Hustle’. Two strange choices considering all of the other amazing releases they reviewed. This compilation did do a good job of summarising the sound of the time and although a lot of crunk tracks now sound very dated there is something lovable about them.

The man, the myth, the legend, Tim Westwood also featured here for one of his many compilations. He may be a weirdo but he’s done a lot for hip-hop in the UK and generally had a good idea of what was hot. If you told me back then that Westwood would still be active in the music scene in 2018, putting out bizarre interviews online with big names then I’d assume you were having a laugh. Yet here we are, and with all the other odd events of the last year, a video of Westwood awkwardly hitting on girls with G-Eazy actually feels kind of normal.

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A lot has happened in Chappelle’s career since the first season of his show came out on DVD. I’m sure that like me, many other hip-hop fans have spent hours sat around with friends watching this show so it was sad to see him step back from comedy. Although I wasn’t a fan of his recent Netflix specials it is good to see him active again.

I’m almost certain this magazine got a lot of their funding from soft porn producers “Hip-Hop Honeys” because each magazine featured a centre pull out of one of the models and here they are plugging the DVD in the review section. It always felt out of place to me because it’s not really in keeping with the rest of the magazine but I guess they had to make money were they could. With free porn now so widely available online it’s hard to imagine a time when people would pop in to HMV and grab a DVD of girls posing in bikinis to hip-hop music, but these types of DVD were actually quite common, Snoop even had a few of his own.

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Here we have a fun page after the reviews with a few small pieces on it. The “Rapometer” has some interesting points. “Bad Rappers” is on the hot side of things which may have been somewhat of a premonition. For the last few years there has definitely been shift away from needing to be technically skilled on the mic. Many popular MCs from recent times have not been what you would call a traditionally “good” rapper. It was obviously meant as joke but it is interesting that this was around the time that the shift away from technicality started happening in hip-hop. It depends who you ask but I don’t think the change has been a bad thing, just a natural evolution and expansion of the genre.

“Mix Compilations by Name Deejays” being on the cold side of things also seem relevant to today’s hip-hop. Not so much the “Name Deejay” side of things but the fact that so many people are now selling mixtapes as albums, or maybe they’re labelling album mixtapes? It’s hard to know and the line between mixtape and album continues to be blurred.

Elsewhere on the page we have my favourite regular comedy piece in the magazine “My Crazy Hip-Hop Life”. This month it’s a run down of Pharrell’s typical day including a dig at the unnecessary amount of ‘Cot Damn’ remixes they made amongst other things (although I can now only find one remix of that track but I’m certain there were more). We also have the regular hip-hop crossword, this month it’s Organized Konfusion themed. These crosswords were always too difficult for me, I’m not sure whether that’s because I didn’t know as much about rap as I thought I did or the fact I’m just terrible at crosswords in general.

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Before we get to the closing editorial piece I thought it would be fun to look at some of the adverts that featured throughout the magizine. These ads look partiular dated and some are simply bizarre.

Snoop has a large official discography but he also has an almost endless catalogue of unofficial mixtapes and compilations. Here Hip-Hop Connection has an “exclusive offer” for us; an unreleased Snoop Dogg CD for only £10 (plus postage & packaging). Although I’m almost certain this collection of tracks is not worth a tenner I am very curious to give it a listen, especially for the Marvin Gaye “collaboration” (OK, so I found the Marvin Gaye track and it’s actually pretty good). Thankfully, if you can’t afford the CD you can step your game up with one of the incredibly cool mobile phone wallpapers which inexplicably can take 28 days to be delivered.

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The regular advertising block is pretty funny to look back on. The graphic design was poor for the time but it looks really terrible now, I imagine a lot of these were whipped up on Word or MS paint. The record shop ads are fairly standard, it’s the ones for urban fashion shops that look especially dated. Labels like Fubu, Phat Farm, Roca Wear and Ecko were all the rage with their super baggy clothes and bulky shoes, covering people in twice the amount of material than was necessary. I was disappointed as a teen that there weren’t many shops in my area to buy these brands but looking back it was definitely a blessing, checking out old pictures of myself is embarrassing enough as it is. There’s even some UK fashion represented here by “Souljah”, complete with an especially budget looking ad and boasting a “New ‘No Yank’ Design” that I’m sure all of the coolest kids were rocking.

We also have a beautiful add for WellCoolStuff.com which has you covered for all of your borderline illegal needs. If you want to trip on mushrooms and grow weed while firing off rounds from an air rifle then these guys have you covered, they’ll even sort you out with a t-shirt adorned with edgy motifs.

I tried to visit some of the websites on display here but none of them are live anymore, so unfortunately I assume all of these companies are now out of business. As much as I’m chuckling at these old ads it’s sad to think that all of these companies had owners that have since had to go through the stress of a failing business. Or maybe some of them have moved on to bigger and better things, I think this has to be the case for genius behind WellCoolStuff.com, a true entrepreneur.

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Out of all the changes that have occurred in hip-hop since the early 2000s I think the most dramatic is surrounding fashion and this advert is a great example of that. Now even for the time this is terrible marketing, the people behind this clearly had no idea about hip-hop culture. The model looks like a cop going undercover at a school in a bad comedy film, trying hard to fit in wearing his long sleeve shirt under short sleeve shirt combo. You can see what looks like a chain hanging from his pocket and an awkward stance that says “how do you do, fellow kids?”, the whole thing is awful. The tag line “Why’s everything gotta fit for?” is really the icing on the cake, the creators clearly thought that using bad grammar instantly made them very hip. The quote is even attributed to “#Aaron” which is bizarre because this was years before twitter and the era of the hashtag, I guess adding random symbols was also deemed hip by Levi’s clueless marketing team.

Even though this was a pretty out of touch advert it tapped in to the very real obsession that hip-hop had with baggy clothes. Baggy clothes were the norm in hip-hop for so long, from the early 90s right through to the late 2000s but it’s a style that we have recently shaken for the most part. Sure there are still scenes within the genre that have clung to their oversized garments but the general trend has definitely moved towards more fitted clothes. The segmentation of hip-hop in to sub genres has further expanded the variety of clothing styles that we see and has gone hand in hand with a greater importance being put on image. Rappers have always had signature looks but there were usually some universal style choices that covered the whole genre, baggy clothes being one of them.
Nowadays fashion is incredibly important to a lot of rappers whether they’re draped in extravagant designer labels or rocking a casual skater vibe, their clothes are an extension of their identity and it is a way to get themselves recognised.

Hip-hop artists were already getting involved in fashion around the time of this magazine, you had Rocawear from Dame Dash and Jay Z, G-Unit had their own clothing range and others were also jumping on this emerging financial opportunity. The partnership between rap and fashion has never been stronger than it is today and it’s being lead by the skinny jeans gang, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until the bagginess makes a real comeback.

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‘Speak Ya Clout’ always closed out issues of Hip-Hop Connection, a short opinion piece on a specific facet of the rap game. Here they look at the ever poignant topic of ghost writing with a scathing critique of those that choose to outsource their lyrical construction. It’s a criticism that is still regularly thrown at artists, most notably Drake and to a lesser extent Kanye West, although I imagine the practice spreads far wider that.

I think it’s undeniable that the use of ghostwriters drastically discredits a rapper’s technical ranking, you can’t argue that someone is a great MC if they don’t write their own lyrics. I’d argue that delivery is a more important factor but crafting rhymes is such a fundamental part of hip-hop that if an artist can’t do that for themselves then it detracts from their credibility.

That’s not to say that using ghostwriters makes you a bad artist, or incapable of making good music though. Some people work best in a collaborative environment, coordinating a number of contributors to mould a cohesive body of work. Kanye West and Dr Dre in particular thrive in this environment, bringing together a number of artists on all of their albums and acting as the conductor that brings out the best in everyone.

On the other side we have Drake who is more of a brand than anything, the face of a musical marketing campaign backed by ghostwriters. That’s not to say that his music is bad, I just don’t think there is much of a case for him being a great rapper. Regardless of who wrote it, good music is good music, but if a rapper won’t write his own rhymes then they can’t take the credit.

That’s it for this issue. This post has ended up a lot longer than I first envisioned but I feel like there was a lot to discuss, if you made it this far then I appreciate your patience. I’ll hopefully do more of these focussing on the other issues I found so keep an eye out for future posts.

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Mook Life Music: Top 50 Projects of 2017

Music

So here we are at the beginning of 2018, a perfect time to reflect on all of the music releases that 2017 had to offer. After having such an abundance of amazing projects in 2016 I thought last year started off quite slowly, there was a decent amount of good music but not a whole lot of great albums. Things really picked up around June though and I’ve struggled to keep up with everything.

2017 was an incredible year for underground hip-hop, a year that saw boom bap make a comeback in a fresh, evolved form. There have been a number of artists creating gritty, minimal and soulful hip-hop for the past few years but in 2017 the sound really exploded. With cold blooded raps about crime and street life, and a vibe reminiscent of mid 90s Ghostface but more stripped down. Griselda records have been gaining quite a lot of attention with releases from Westside Gunn, Conway and Benny, but it’s Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim who have dominated 2017 musically. The sheer amount of music those two have dropped is incredible but the consistency of it all is what really impressed me.

The king and originator of this minimal, soulful hip-hop, Roc Marciano dropped an almost perfect album this year, packed with cold lines, complex rhymes and lavishly understated instrumentals. Planet Asia also continued to excel at this sound as he teamed up with heavyweight producer Apollo Brown on Anchovies, one of the strongest releases I’ve heard from either of these artists.

Elsewhere on the underground we had one the hardest boom bap albums I’ve ever heard as Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on and Tuamie give us ferocious bars on knocking beats with Panama Plus. Milo and Homeboy Sandman both dropped poetic masterpieces with dreamily smooth instrumentals and we got weird with Quelle Chris’ superb Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often. Billy Woods and Elucid combined forces again to bring us an apocalyptic soundscape on their brutal album Rome. Wiki, J.I.D, Nolan The Ninja and Lando Chill all cemented their places as the future of the underground as they refined their sounds and all dropped focussed, cohesive albums. In the later part of the year we were also treated to another colourful album from Open Mike Eagle who continues to deliver insightful, witty and often emotional compositions.

It was a strong year for UK releases with a number acts evolving their sound a breathing new life in to the scene. UK veteran Jehst dropped one of his strongest albums to date with Billy Green Is Dead, creating his signature gloomy vibe but with a fresh set of interesting instrumentals. Melanin 9 went lo fi with Old Pictures and Strange U crafted a bizarre electronic project laced with no nonsense political bars. Nottingham MCs Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage combined for a neon phantasmagoria of brilliant poeticism and hip-hop absurdity.

As well as the hip-hop releases out of England there was some fantastic high energy music coming out too. Grime’s popularity stays strong as the legendary Wiley dropped Godfather, gaining him significant recognition overseas. My favourite grime release of 2017 came from Manga Saint Hilare on his Lewi B produced album Outbursts From The Outskirts, delivering back to back bangers. UK drum & Bass was on top form with Kings Of The Rollers members Serum & Voltage putting out an LP of chest rattling tunes while Alix Perez curated a compilation of forwarding thinking D&B flavoured electronic mayhem on 1985 Music’s Edition 1.

Although I didn’t love a lot of 2017s trap releases there were some notable exceptions such as the solid collaboration between 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin, Future’s self-titled album and Young Thug’s melodic Beautiful Thugger Girls. Rich The Kid, Jay Critch & Famous Dex had one of the catchiest trap mixtapes I’ve ever heard in Rich Forever 3 and Kodak Black got soulful on his laid back Painting Pictures LP.

There was some real experimentation on the bass heavy and electronic side of hip-hop this year. Ethereal released the terrifying Mankind, packed with abrasive beats and slurred raps while Kweku Collins gave us a beautifully off-kilter, R&B laced album. Chicago’s Supa Bwe channelled his inner pop punk fan to create a uniquely energetic melodic hip-hop project and fellow Chicago native Lucki expressed the sadness of an addict on Watch My Back. Pushing the boundaries of hip-hop to their limit was Zelooperz and Shigeto on their challengingly futuristic project A Piece Of The Ghetto that had me hooked for most of the year.

All these releases and many more made 2017 a sublime year for music. Check out my official rankings below and listen to the corresponding episodes of my podcast to get a taste of these projects for yourself.

A track from each release (where available) on an Apple Music playlist here.

A track from each release in the top 50 (where available) in a YouTube playlist here.

50. 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin – Without Warning

49. Oh No x Tristate – 3 Dimensional

48. Conway – G.O.A.T. (Grimiest of All Time)

47. Future – Future

46. Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 5

45. Cdot Honcho – Takeover

44. Lando Chill – The Boy Who Spoke To The Wind

43. Strange U – #LP4080

42. Al Divino – Dump Gawd: Divino Edition 2

41. Serum & Voltage – Strike Back

40. Tha God Fahim – Tha Ineffable Conflict Of Roosevelt Creek

39. Supa Bwe – Finally Dead

38. Malanin 9 – Old Pictures

37. Babylon Dead – 2000 BD

36. 1985 Music – Edition 1

35. Tiron & Ayomari – WET: Wonderful Ego Trip

34. Branko – Branko Presents: Enchufada Na Zona

33. Yung Simmie – Big Smokey

32. Wiley – Godfather

31. Dom Kennedy & Hit Boy – Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil

30. Rich Homie Quan – Back To Basics

29. Kweku Collins – Grey

28. Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

27. Shigeto – The New Monday

26. J.I.D. – The Never Story

25. Nolan The Ninja – YEN

24. Zed Bias – Different Response

23. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

22. Homeshake – Fresh Air

21. Tha God Fahim – Tha Dark Shogunn Saga Vol. 2

20. Lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent

19. Ethereal – Mankind

18. Kodak Black – Painting Pictures

17. Jehst – Billy Green Is Dead

16. Famous Dex, Jay Critch & Rich The Kid – Rich Forever 3

15. Mach-Hommy – DUMPMEISTER

14. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

13. Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan

12. Manga Saint Hilare x Lewi B – Outbursts From The Outskirts

11. Homeboy Sandman – Veins

10. Milo – Who Told You To Think

9. Tha God Fahim – Dump Goat

8. Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on & Tuamie – Panama Plus

7. Armand Hammer – Rome

6. Mach-Hommy – Dump Gawd: Hommy Edition

5. Lucki – Watch My Back

4. Quelle Chris – Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often

3. VVV – Bozo Boys

2. ZGTO – A Piece Of The Geto

1. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge

Mook Life Music Round Up: Quarter 4 2015 and Quarter 1 2016

Music

It’s been quite a while since I’ve put one of these round ups out. Unfortunately I’ve had some laptop troubles and life often gets in the way of things you really want to do. I haven’t had time to go in to depth with this article but I just couldn’t let these releases go by without at least giving them a mention. Going forward I should be back to my usual format of giving all the releases a small review.

I told myself at the beginning of the year that I would slow down with music, try to just focus on the things I really wanted to listen to and give them more time. That has been thrown straight out the window because there has been so much good music coming out this year, I cant help myself.

So take a look through this article and catch up on all the music you may have missed. As always I’ve included a link to listen on YouTube (where possible) and a link to buy or download. You can also access all the YouTube tracks on a playlist here and here.

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21 Savage – Slaughter King

Trap Mixtape.

Listen On YouTube

Download For Free

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6Blocc – Dark Side Of The Boom

Dubstepy, hip-hopy remix of the famous Pink Floyd album.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Abra – Rose

Synth pop vibes from the Awful Music camp.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Acre – Better Strangers

Noisy and experimental dance music.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Add-2 – Prey For The Poor

Soulful hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman – Lice

Two of the best lyricists in hip-hop come together for a free EP.

Download For Free

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Amine – Calling Brio

Hip-hop with some heavy beats and tribal vibes.

Download For Free

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Apollo Brown – Grandeur

Hip-hop producer calls in a plethora of guest MCs to rap over his signature soulful beats.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Azizi Gibson – Prehistoric Till Death

Synth heavy hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Bad Lucc – Breathe

Soulful hip-hop from the Jamla crew.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Big K.R.I.T. – It’s Better This Way

Southern hip-hop.

Download For Free

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Blackalicious – Imani Vol. 1

Funky hip-hop from the West Coast legends.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Blended Babies – The Anderson .Paak EP

Somewhere between hip-hop and soul with some great beats.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Bones – Banshee, Frayed and HermitOfEastGrandRiver

Hip-hop / trap / grunge / indie genre hopper Bones hits us with more melancholy vibes.

Listen On YouTube

Download Banshee For Free

Download Frayed For Free

Download HermitOfEastGrandRiver For Free

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Botany – Dimming Awe The Light Is Raw

Interesting instrumental hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Break – Simpler Times

Tech drum & bass.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Busdriver – Thumbs

Bizarre underground MC Busdriver taking things in a slightly less jovial direction.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Casey Veggies – Live & Grow

Hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Cavalier – Lemonade

Off kilter jazzy hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Cavanaugh – Time & Materials

Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti collaborate for a beautifully moody hip-hop album.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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CGB – Think

Hip-hop with jazzy, golden age vibes.

Listen On YouTube

Name Your Price Download

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Chase & Status – London Bars

Heavy weight D&B producers call in some big names from the grime scene.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Chinese Man & Tumi – The Journey

Bass heavy and fun hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Chris Travis – Art Of Destruction

Dark, melancholy trap vibes.

Listen On YouTube

Download For Free

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Chuck Inglish – Everybody’s Big Brother

Hip-hop with a strong 80s gangsta vibe.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Constrobuz – Raw Dinner

Hip-hop instrumentals.

Listen On YouTube

Name Your Price Download

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Curren$y – Canal Street Confidential

More smoothness from one of the most consistent and prolific hip-hop artists.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Current Value – Rocket Science

Heavy tech D&B.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Dam-Funk – Invite The Light

P-Funk.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Darkstar – Foam Island

Floaty electronica.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Da$h – 17 More Minutes and Skrewface

Hard hitting hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Download 17 More Minutes For Free

Stream Skrewface

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Delorean – Perfect Black

Southern hip-hop.

Listen On YouTube

Download For Free

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Diddy – MMM

Club friendly hip-hop from the veteran.

Listen On YouTube

Download For Free

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Dirty Dike – Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight

UK hip-hop from the High Focus crew.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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The Doppelgangaz – Beats For Brothels Vol. 3

Boom bap.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Doug Hream Blunt – My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt

Funk.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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D.R.A.M. – Gahdamn!

Spacey hip-hop / R&B vibes.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Drew Lustman – The Crystal Cowboy

Amen break heavy electronica.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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EarthGang – Strays With Rabies

Soulful Southern hip-hop with some lush beats.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Electric Wire Hustle – Aeons EP

Hip-hop infused electronic music.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Eric Dingus – Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Sparse and ambient hip-hop remixes.

Listen On YouTube

Download For Free

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Erick Sermon – E.S.P. Erick Sermon’s Perception

Hip-hop veteran back at it.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Ethereal – Final Fantasy and I Think I’m On Fire 1 & 2

Deep and drugged up hip-hop from the Awful Records camp.

Listen On YouTube

Buy Final Fantasy

Download I Think I’m On Fire 1 For Free

Download I Think I’m On Fire 2 For Free

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Falls – You Have Been Keeping

Dark and ambient instrumentals.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Father – Papicodone

EP of minimal hip-hop bangers from the Awful Music figurehead.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Finale – Odds & Ends

Detroit Boom Bap with an edge produced by Oddisee.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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Fis – The Blue Quicksand Is Going Now

Atmospheric electronic noise.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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FKA Twigs – M3LL155X

Experimental electronic R&B flavours.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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FloFilz – Speakthru

Chilled instrumental hip-hop with a few guest MCs.

Listen On YouTube

Buy

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The Foreign Exchange – Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey

Beautiful neo soul from Phonte and Nicolay. Taking the sound in some new directions.

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Frank Nitt – Frankie Rothstein

Detroit hip-hop.

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Freddie Gibbs – Shadow Of A Doubt

Freddie Gibbs back to his gangsta rap vibes.

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Frenic – Monomyth: Separation

Intricate hip-hop instrumentals.

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Friendzone – While You Wait EP

Instrumental cloud rap vibes.

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Future & Drake – What A Time To Be Alive

Two of the biggest names in hip-hop give us an album full of bangers.

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The Game – The Documentary 2

The Game’s big return delivers so great moments.

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Gerald Jacobs – The Loudest Quiet

UK hip-hop.

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Gillie Da Kid – Welcome 2 Gilladelphia

Hip-hop.

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GOD – The Gospel

Crazy flows and some great trap beats.

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Goldlink – And After That We Didn’t Talk

Forward thinking hip-hop.

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goreshit – nrrv4

Heavy dance music with a serious hardcore influence.

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Guilty Simpson – Detroit’s Son

Gritty Detroit hip-hop.

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Hubert Davis – Framework

Chilled out instrumental hip-hop.

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Hurt Everybody – 2K47

Futuristic hip-hop from Chicago.

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Hyroglifics

Hyroglifics – No Drama EP

Tech D&B.

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Iberian Juke – Iberian Juke & Friends

Great compilation of footwork and juke from around the world.

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Illa J – Illa J

Somewhere between soul and hip-hop.

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iLoveMakonnen – iLoveMakonnen 2

Bizarre R&B and trap vibes.

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J-Live – How Much Is Water

Undergound hip-hop.

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Jadakiss – Top 5 Dead Or Alive

Hip-hop.

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Jakes – Deep In The Trench

Dubstep.

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Jay 305 – Inner City Hero

West Coast gangsta vibes.

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Jay Rock – 90059

Hip-hop.

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Jeremih – Late Nights

R&B.

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JGivens – Fly Exam

Jazzy underground hip-hop.

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Jlin – Dark Energy

Intense footwork.

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Joanna Newsom – Divers

Incredible return from the incredibly talented singer songwriter.

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Joe Budden – All Love Lost

Hip-hop.

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John Givez – Soul Rebel

Soulful mixture of R&B and hip-hop.

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Jonwayne – Here You Go Pt. 1 & Pt. 2

High quality instumental hip-hop.

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Junglepussy – Pregnant With Success

Hip-hop.

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Kardinal Offishall – Kardi Gras Vol. 1 The Clash

Dancehall legend back with a more hip-hop heavy album.

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Key – Screaming Dreams Prelude

Hip-hop.

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Kirk Knight – Late Knight Special

Boom bap hip-hop fromt he Pro Era gang.

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Kelela – Hallucinogen

Complex electronic R&B.

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Knxwledge – H.S.PRT8.8, H.S.PRT9, WT.PRT9 & WrapTaypes

New instalments for two of the experimental producer’s album series and a compilation of some of his best reworks.

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Kode9 – Nothing

Experimental electronic music with strong footwork influences.

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Kool A.D. – O.K.

Huge underground hip-hop mixtape.

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Kool Keith & Kurious – Don’t Know Why

Underground hip-hop.

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L-Wiz – The Orange Tree

Funky down tempo dubstep.

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LE1F – Riot Boi

Interesting album from the gay rap scene.

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LHF – For The Thrown

Mellow house music.

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G Herbo – Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe

Trap mixtape.

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Lil Ugly Mane – Oblivion Access

Underground hip-hop.

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Little Simz – A Curious Tale Of Trials & Persons

UK hip-hop.

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Lofty305 x F1lthy – Elise

Bizarre and floaty 808 heavy hip-hop.

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Lucki Ecks$ – Freewave

Drugged out hip-hop.

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Luv NY – Luv NY (Deluxe Edition)

Compilation of underground New York hip-hop.

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Lymbyc Systym – Split Stones

Uplifting electronica.

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Marc Renton – Out There

Tech D&B.

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Marcus D & LA – The Golden Gun EP

Boom Bap.

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Maxo Kream – MAXO 187

Trap.

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Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa

Tribal world music.

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MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbour

Underground collaboration album.

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Method Man – The Meth Lab

Wu-Tang legend back with another solid album.

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Mick Jenkins – Wave[s]

Intricate and forward thinking hip-hop.

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Mickey Factz – Y-3

Hip-hop mixtape.

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Michael Christmas – What A Weird Day

Hip-hop.

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Mindscape – Phantoms

Heavy D&B.

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Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come

Poetic underground hip-hop.

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Moresebya – Free Instrumentals 2015 Pt. 1 & 2 and ясновидение

Down beat hip-hop instrumentals from Russia.

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Moss – Marching To The Sound Of My Own Drum

Hip-hop producer brings in a large cast of guest MCfor a boom bap style album.

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Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Live Forever

Underground hip-hop.

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Murlo – Odyssey

Complex instrumental bangers with a strong grime influence.

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Mykki Blanco – C-ORE

Compilation curated by one of gay rap’s biggest names.

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Naibu – Case Study

Liquid D&B.

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Navie D – OPRA EP

Instrumental hip-hop.

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Nef The Pharaoh – Nef The Pharaoh EP

Catchy Bay Area hip-hop.

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Neroche – Elixir

Dark and moody instrumental hip-hop.

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Nickelus F – Triflin

Hip-hop.

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Nolan The Ninja – Fuck The Hype

Underground hip-hop.

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NxWorries – Link Up And Suede

Knxwledge and Anderson .Paak team up for a soulful and jazzy EP.

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Ohbliv – Raw Spirit Jewels

Instrumental hip-hop.

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OG Boobie Black – The Boobie Trapp

Trap mixtape.

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Opio And Free The Robots – Sempervirens

Jazzy hip-hop.

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Pastor Troy – War In ATL

Trap mixtape.

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Paul Wall – Slab God

Southern hip-hop.

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DJ Paypal – Sold Out

Footwork with some real depth.

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PeeWee Longway – Pounds Money Ammunition 2

Trap mixtape.

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Pell – LIMBO

Hip-hop and R&B.

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People Under The Stairs – The Gettin’ Off Stage Step 1

Boom bap hip-hop.

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Potatohead People – Big Luxury

Synth heavy, funky instrumentals.

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Prof – Liability

Underground hip-hop.

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Pusha-T – King Push – Darkest Before The Dawn: The Prelude

Hip-hop.

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Rabit – Communion

Ambient electronic noise.

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Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz – Home Sweet Home

Soulful hip-hop.

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Raury – All We Need

R&B and hip-hop.

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Ray West & Kool Keith – A Couple Of Slices

Minimal soulful hip-hop.

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Redman – Mudface

Hip-hop legend with a solid album.

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Rich The Kid – Dabbin’ Fever

Trap mixtape.

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Rich The Kid & iLoveMakonnen – Whip It Mixtape

Collaborative trap mixtape.

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Rick Ross – Black Market

Hip-hop album with trap vibes.

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Robb Banks – Year Of The Savage

Dark, 808 driven hip-hop.

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Roots Manuva – Bleeds

UK hip-hop legend returns with an interesting album.

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RP Boo – Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints

Frantic footwork.

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RTKAL – Skunk Rock

UK hip-hop with ragga vibes.

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Rustie – EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE

Rustie gets back to the sound of his early work with this album of bangers.

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Sandpeople – Old Fruits

Jazzy instrumental hip-hop.

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Scarface – Deeply Rooted

Hip-hop from the Southern legend.

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SD – Just The Beginning

Trap.

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Sean Price – Songs In The Key Of Price

Great underground hip-hop EP from one of the greats (RIP).

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Semi Hendrix (Ras Kass & Jack Splash) – Breakfast At Banksy’s

Incredibly funky album from an unexpected duo.

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Serial Killers (B-Real, Xzibit & Demrick) – The Murder Show

Hip-hop.

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Sheek Louch – Silverback Gorilla 2

Hip-hop.

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Sir Michael Rocks – Populair

Fantastisc futuristic hip-hop.

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SlimThug

Slim Thug – Hogg Life Vol. 3 Hustler Of The Year

Southern hip-hop.

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Smino – BLKJUPTR and S!ick S!ck S!ck

Innovative hip-hop EPs.

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DJ Smokey – Evil Wayz Vol. 3

Psychedelic trap instrumentals.

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Soul Chef – Good Vibes LP

Soulful instrumentals with some strong guest MCs.

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Styles P – A Wise Guy And A Wise Guy

Hip-hop.

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$uicideboy$ – Black $uicide Side C, $outh $ide $uicide, My Liver Will Handle What My Heart Can’t

Dark cloud rap vibes.

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Supreme Ace – Trill Influence

Soulful hip-hop mixtape.

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Talib Kweli – Fuck The Money

Free album from the underground hip-hop legend.

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Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder – Indie 500

Underground hip-hop.

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Termanology – Term Brady EP

Underground hip-hop.

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Thelem – We Ain’t The Same EP

Dubstep.

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Tim Jones – Everyday

Gangsta R&B vibes.

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Tom Misch – Beat Tape 2

Instrumental hip-hop.

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Toro Y Moi – Samantha

Interesting mixtape of instrumentals from the chill wave artist.

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Tsu Surf – Newark

Hip-hop.

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Twista – Livin’ Legend

Hip-hop EP from the fastest rapper alive.

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The Underachievers – Evermore The Art Of Duality

Underground hip-hop.

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Vanilla – Origin

Instrumental hip-hop.

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VDon – The Opiate

Underground hip-hop.

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Vibes Only Crew (v.o.c) – v.o.c EP2 vol.1

Footwork.

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Wave Racer – Flash Drive

Synth heavy dance beats.

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The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness

R&B.

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Wiki – Lil Me

Underground hip-hop from the Ratking MC.

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YG, Blanco and DB Tha General – California Livin’

West Coast hip-hop mixtape.

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Yo Gotti – The Return

Trap.

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Young Thug – Slime Season 1 & 2

Mixtapes packed with bangers.

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Yung Simmie – Basement Music 3

Laidback trap vibes.

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Zero T – Golden Section

Drum & Bass.

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2 Chainz & Lil Wayne – Collegrove

Hip-hop.

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AG Da Coroner – Sip The Nectar

Underground hip-hop.

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Allan Kingdom – Northern Lights

Synth driven hip-hop / R&B.

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Anderson .Paak – Malibu

R&B / soul packed with sunshine vibes.

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Audio-Push

Audio Push – Inside The Vibe

Hip-hop.

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Average Rap Band – El Sol

Bizarre hip-hop from Australia.

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AyOh – MillennialComicBook

Instrumental hip-hop.

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Baby Killa – Baby Killa

Instrumental trap.

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Bas – Too High To Riot

Hip-hop.

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Black Kray – Soulja Luv Rari World

Cloud rap.

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Blu & Ray West – Crenshaw Jezebel

Mellow and jazzy hip-hop.

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Boosie Badazz – Thug Talk

Trap.

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Chris Travis – The Ruined

Cloud rap / trap.

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Chuuwee & Trizz – The Smoke Out & Amerikka’s Most Blunted 2

Hip-hop.

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Count Bass D – Dwight Around Your Lips & Instantly New

Hip-hop.

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Cozz – Nothin’ Personal

Hip-hop.

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Crimewave – fvckcrimewave

Heavy and dark hip-hop.

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Curren$y – The Owner’s Manual & Weed & Instrumentals

Mellow hip-hop.

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Curren$y & Alchemist – The Carrollton Heist

Hip-hop and producer dream team with a great mixtape.

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D-JaySremm – Trail Mix

Hip-hop.

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David Banner – Before The Box

Hip-hop.

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Daz -N- Snoop – Cuzznz

West Coast legends bring the funk.

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Denzel Curry – Imperial

One of hip-hop’s most promising young MCs with another great release. Brutal bars and fantastic production.

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Domo Genesis – Genesis

Mellow hip-hop.

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Dream Junkies – Good Religion

Hip-hop.

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Elzhi – Lead Poison

Long awaited return from the Slum Village MC.

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Father – I’m A Piece Of Shit

Minimal and dark hip-hop.

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Flatbush Zombies – 3001 A Laced Odyssey

Hip-hop.

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French Montana – Wave Gods

Hip-hop.

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Future – Evol & Purple Reign

Trap.

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Hernän – Passing Levels EP

Footwork.

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The Hip-Hop House – Mixtape Vol. 1

Scottish hip-hop mixtape.

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Hodgy – They Watchin’ Lofi Series 1

Hip-hop.

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Hus Kingpin – #HOKTRE (House Of Kingpin – The Revamp Edition)

Underground hip-hop.

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Iamsu – Kilt 3

hip-hop.

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iLoveMakonnen – Drink More Water 6

Bizarre trap and R&B vibes.

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Iman Shumpert – Shumpman The M.D.

Hip-hop.

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Ital Tek – Hollowed

Dark electronic music.

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Ivan Ave – Helping Hands

Jazzy hip-hop.

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Jace – Jace Tape

Hip-hop.

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Jacquees – Mood

Smooth R&B.

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Jahlil Beats & CRMC – New Levels New Devils

Hip-hop.

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Jake One – PrayerHandsEmoji

Instrumental hip-hop.

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Jazz Cartier – Hotel Paranoia

Hip-hop.

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Joell Ortiz – That’s Hip-Hop

Hip-hop.

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J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League – J.U.S.T.I.C.E. For All

Hip-hop.

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Kamaiyah – A Good Night In The Ghetto

Hip-hop.

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Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

Highly anticipated album from one of hip-hops biggest names. I’m sure everyone has their opinions on this by now.

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Kano – Made In The Manor

UK hip-hop / grime

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Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered

Collection of unreleased tracks from hip-hop’s golden boy.

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Killa Kyleon – Blessed To Raise Hell

Hip-hop.

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Kilo Kish – Reflections In Real Time

Not sure how to classify this, some hip-hop vibes, bit of spoken wide style vocals, some singing, kind of alternative indie pop stuff. Whatever it is it’s a fun listen.

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Knxwledge – HEX.9.8

Twisted jazzy reworks of classic R&B and hip-hop.

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Koi Child – Koi Child

Funky hip-hop with a live backing band.

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Kool Keith – Total Orgasm

Underground hip-hop.

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THE KXNNEDYS – Any Last Requests

Hip-hop.

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Kyo Itachi & Ruste Juxx – Meteorite

Underground New York hip-hop.

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Lecrae – Church Clothes 3

Hip-hop.

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Le$ – Dreamcast

Hip-hop.

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Levelz – Lvl 11

UK hip-hop with big influences from grime and D&B.

Listen On YouTube

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Lex Luger – Lex Luger Experience: The Tour Vol. 1

Instrumental trap.

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Lil Yachty – Lil Boat

Bizarre, synthy trap style hip-hop. You’ll either love it or hate it.

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Lofty305 – Ice Cream World

Psychedelic cloud rap vibes.

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Lord Sizzle – The Numerous Aromas Of Lord Sizzle

Cloud rap.

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Lucki Eck$ – Son Of Sam

Dark and drugged out hip-hop.

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Migos – YRN 2 (Young Rich Niggas 2)

Trap.

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Mix Master Mike – Magma Chamber

Legendary turntablist with a great mix.

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Nature – Target Practice

Underground hip-hop.

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NEDLOG ERA – SGLP

Hip-hop.

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Nef The Pharaoh – Neffy Got Wings

Bay Area hip-hop.

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Nick Grant – ’88

Hip-hop.

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N.O.R.E – Drunk Uncle

Hip-hop.

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Nyck Caution – Disguise The Limit

Hip-hop.

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Oddisee – Alwasta

Hip-hop.

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OG Maco – The Lord Of Rage

High energy hip-hop.

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One Be Lo – The Original Born Ones

Hip-hop.

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Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival

Creative underground MC and UK super producer team up for some lush funky vibes.

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P.E.A.C.E. – The Green Mile

Hip-hop.

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Peewee Longway – Mr Blue Benjamin

Trap.

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Planet Asia & DJ Concept – Seventy Nine

Hip-hop.

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Prodigy – RIP 1, 2 & 3

Free bundles of unreleased tracks from the Mobb Deep legend.

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Quelle Chris – Lullabies For The Broken Brain

Strange and melancholy instrumental hip-hop.

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Raz Simone – Trap Spirituals

Hip-hop.

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RJD2 – Dame Fortune

Hip-hop producer with an interesting, genre defying album.

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Rome Fortune – Jerome Raheem Fortune

Electronic hip-hop / R&B

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Rubble Kings

Hip-hop soundtrack to the documentary on New York gangs.

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Samiyam – Animals Have Feelings

Instrumental hip-hop.

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Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing

Rapper / poet with more innovative music that’s hard to define.

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SBTRKT – Save Yourself

Smooth electronica.

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Skeme – Before 4eva

Hip-hop.

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Smoke DZA – He Has Risen

Hip-hop.

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Soundz – Sheets EP

Smooth R&B.

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Stalley – Saving Yusuf

Hip-hop.

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Statik KXNG (Statik Selektah & KXNG Crooked) – Statik KXNG

Boom bap hip-hop.

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Taso – Cold Heat Vol. 1 & 2

Footwork.

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Tim Gent – For The Love EP

Hip-hop.

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TM88 – 88 World

Trap.

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Torae – Entitled

Hip-hop.

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Tre Capital – I Can’t Die Yet

Hip-hop.

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Trapo – She EP

Hip-hop.

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Stream

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Vampsterdam – PTSD

Dark and twisted trap vibes.

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Vic Spencer & Chris Crack – Who The Fuck Is Chris Spencer?

Chicago MC duo with some interesting soulful hip-hop.

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Westside Gunn – Flygod

Underground hip-hop.

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Yo Gotti – The Art Of Hustle

Trap.

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Young Dolph – King Of Memphis

Trap.

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Young Thug – I’m Up & Slime Season 3

Two new albums / mixtapes from the divisive but brilliant trap innovator.

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Yung Lean – Warlord

Cloud rap.

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Zelooperz – Bothic

Strange, high energy hip-hop from Bruiser Brigade.

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Mooklife Music’s Top 40 Releases Of 2015

Music

I think most people can agree that 2015 was a really great year for music and especially for hip-hop. I’ve read through many top albums of 2015 and while I’ve enjoyed a lot of the choices others have made I’ve noticed that many of my favourite releases have gone mostly unmentioned. Because of this I really wanted to put together my own top releases of 2015 (and chose 40 because I spent my youth watching Top Of The Pops) to give some of those overlooked artists some appreciation.

If you’ve been following my posts over the last year you’ll know just how much music I’ve been listening to which has made it very hard to narrow this list down. I’ve never done a ranked list like this before because it’s always so hard and usually just makes people angry when they don’t agree, but I’m sure this list will get people riled up anyway so I’m going for it.

Remember, these are my favourite releases of 2015, I’m not trying to tell other people they’re wrong, I’m just trying to show some love for the artists that have provided the soundtrack to my 2015. I’ve decided to write this article later than most other media outlets have because I wanted to give some late entries a chance and let the dust settle before I made my mind up. I didn’t mean to publish the article quite this late though, I’ve just been busier than I expected.

So here it is, probably the last best albums of 2015 list that you’ll read. I hope you enjoy the read, find some new favourites of your own and try not to get too mad that you’re favourite album isn’t included. Oh, and try not to lose your minds over the fact that I haven’t even even included ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’.

Here’s a Youtube playlist with a track from each release to make listening easier.

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40. Busdriver – Thumbs

Busdriver rarely disappoints with his albums, always giving us something interesting, unique and cohesive. After his mostly upbeat and playful 2014 release ‘Perfect Hair’ Busdriver has delivered a much more serious album with ‘Thumbs’. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t your hard hitting political rap but Busdriver seems to have been somewhat affected by all the horrible events that plagued 2015. This is very evident at the end of the track ‘Species of Property’ which he says he wrote for Baltimore. The beats support this melancholy turn as they plod along, driven by heavy synths and at times descending into drum filled chaos.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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39. Tuxedo – Tuxedo

I spent some of my favourite evenings of 2015 sat in the garden on one of our rare sunny days, and this album was the perfect soundtrack for it. Mayer Hawthorne has one of the most soothing voices in modern music and hip-hop producer Jake One really brings the funk with the instrumentals, creating an album that feels like a really happy head massage. Every song on this album brings a smile to my face and I think the world needs more music like that.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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38. Clear Soul Forces – Fab Five

Underground hip-hop group Clear Soul Forces have been making a name for themselves since the late 00s and have refined their sound to produce their best album to date. The album is produced entirely by Nameless who takes the art of sampling to another level, cutting up soul tracks and transforming them into knocking beats. The 4 MCs in the group deliver non-stop punchlines with impeccable flows. The track ‘Bpswr’; an acronym for Back Pack Sub Woofer Rap sums up the album well. ‘Fab Five’ is all the vibes of that early 90s hip-hop that everyone loves so much but updated it with a more developed rap style and really luscious production.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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37. Chuck Inglish – Everybody’s Big Brother

It’s strange how sometimes music can go so old school that it starts to sound futuristic again. That’s what this album sounds like to me. The beats have that 80s gangsta rap feel, packed with simple 808 drums, deep basslines and catchy keyboard riffs. The album features a plethora of guest appearances from the likes of Donnie Trumpet, Boldy James, ManManSavage and a number of rappers I was not previously familiar with but they all deliver raps fitting of the vibe.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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36. Lynx – I Am Lynx

Drum & Bass isn’t as popular as it was 5 years ago but there are still lots of producers out there working hard to keep the genre exciting. Lynx has been making Drum & Bass for over 10 years now and has always stayed original. This latest album does something a lot of dance albums don’t manage, it stays interesting throughout. I love dance music but a lot of the time tracks are made to be mixed so you wont hear the whole thing and because of this full albums can become tiresome. I Am Lynx steps away from this by delivering frenetic, complex Drum & Bass that progresses enough to stay exciting throughout. Heavy basslines, intricate percussion and unique synth sounds make for a very satisfying listen.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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35. Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred

Georgia Anne Muldrow has been making music for a long time now and has stuck mostly to singing but on this album she shows that’s she actually an amazing MC as well. Georgia has one of those voices that is simply a pleasure to listen to and has an accomplished flow to match, switching between rhythmic rhymes and soulful singing. Chris Keys provided some of 2015’s best production and a lot of that is present on this album which he produced in its entirety. The album is very strong lyrically with Georgia delivering powerful lines about racism, spirituality and the mainstream media.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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34. EarthGang – Strays With Rabies

I first heard of EarthGang in February last year when they released their mixtape “Torba”. I wasn’t blown away by the tape but it was easily good enough to get me to listen to Strays With Rabies and I’m so glad I did. The Atlanta duo have put together a superb album that’s easy going and accessible yet stays fresh and interesting. The beats are soulful with a bass heavy edge to them, really standing out on “Liquor Sto'” which has a crazy, unexpected drop a few bars in to the verse. I can see these guys being very popular in the near future, they have the appeal of 90s Outkast with a modern twist.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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33. Father – Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?

I have to admit, I overlooked Father for quite a while. When I first heard this album I didn’t get the appeal, it wasn’t until I became obsessed with his earlier track “Look At Wrist” that I started understand. Father’s music is almost self-contradicting in that it’s simultaneously understated and outrageous. The beats are very low key, stripped down beats with repetitive samples and booming basslines. It’s Father’s personality that shines and makes his music so unique, he rambles through his bars in a monotone flow that is interrupted sporadically by odd intonations as he details his sex and drug fuelled escapades.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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32. Bones – Powder

It’s amazing what you get from an artist when they aren’t restrained by a record label or even the need to sell records. Bones releases all of his music for free and this gives him an amazing creative freedom that not many musicians show. Powder is a brilliant showcase of Bones’ abilities in a variety of genres He’s basically making whatever music he feels like but his personality ties it all together to keep the mixtape cohesive. From floaty cloud rap, to jazzy hip-hop and all way through to Pavement-esque indie rock, Bones proves himself to be one of the most exciting and versatile musicians working today.

Listen on Youtube here

Download for free here

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31. Billy Woods – Today I Wrote Nothing

Billy Woods has been steadily releasing fantastically dark albums for over 10 years now and he has refined his sound. Woods raps with a poetic intensity that you don’t hear very often, his flow is unique and sounds more like spoken word poetry than rap at times. His lyrics paint harrowing urban landscapes while the instrumentals complement them with jazzy, off kilter drums and melancholy piano riffs.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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30. Young Thug – Slime Season

Young Thug has improved massively over the last few years and positioned himself as one of the most talked about artists in hip-hop. This is a solid collection of tracks featuring some crazy beats and even crazier flows. Thugger is the only artist to have two releases on this list so I’m saving more of my love for later.

Listen on Youtube here

Download for free here

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29. Sean Price – Songs In The Key Of Price

Sean Price has always been one of my favourite rappers so I was upset when I heard he passed, my thoughts go out to his family and I can’t believe we will never again hear fresh bars from one of the best MC’s to ever do it. This EP came out soon after Price passed away and is a great monument to the man. P brings it as always, spitting his insane flow with some serious punchlines. The beats are interesting and minimal, we haven’t heard Price on beats quite like this before but it felt really natural. There was a second release of the EP, adding a lot more tracks and although there are some good extras in there I think the original is stronger. I urge you to buy this, not just because it’s a great listen but because the funds raised go to Price’s family at this difficult time.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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28. Quelle Chris – Innocent Country

Quelle Chris hits us with a text book underground hip-hop album. Chris Keys produced 4 sublime albums last year (Jean Grae – iSweatergawd, Declaime – Southside Story, Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred and Quelle Chris – Innocent Country) but this is my favourite. The instrumentals are mainly repetitive and at times unsettling with a few rays of sunshine coming through in the form of beautiful piano riffs. This backdrop really lends itself to Quelle Chris’ effortless raps which cover topics from compulsive liars to conversations with God.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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27. Various Artists – Iberian Juke & Friends 

Including this is kind of breaking the rules as it’s not so much an album, EP or mixtape but a 3 hour long compilation. Some exceptions have to be made though and this collection is too good not to mention. Iberian Juke is a collective of juke and footwork producers based in Spain. This is their second compilation and for this one they have called in producers from all over the world to contribute. The Juke and Footwork scene is one of the most exciting electronic music scenes of the last few years, I love the complexity, progression and off-kilter grooves that the genre offers. This compilation is an amazing showcase of talent that is on the scene worldwide, delivering a taste of the different styles developing and giving us some serious bangers.

Listen on Youtube here

Free download here

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26. L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae – The Night Took Us In Like Family

L’Orange has really made a name for himself over the last 5 or so years, working with some gifted MCs as well as putting out some stellar instrumental works. Jeremiah Jae has also been putting in work over that time, staying firmly underground but making some breathtaking albums. Together we have one of the most fitting collaborations since Madvillain. This album is so cohesive, it all flows seamlessly and the sporadic instrumental breaks littered with old movie samples create an extremely cinematic feel. The old jazz samples are used in a really fresh way, forming these melancholy vibes that Jeremiah Jae uses to paint pictures of urban despair and cold-hearted criminals.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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25. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow Of A Doubt

Freddie Gibbs stepped away from his usual style on the Madlib produced “Pinata” but he’s back to his gangster vibes with Shadow Of A Doubt. The soul samples are mostly gone and this album is a lot more reminiscent of “ESGN”, straight up hard flows, 808 driven beats and booming sub bass. We do see a slightly smoother Gibbs on this album as he takes to singing on a few tracks and kicks out an R&B classic with “Basketball Wives”.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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24. Knxwledge – Hexual Sealings Prt.8

It was a big year for Knxwledge in 2015, he got signed to Stones Throw, released an EP with one of the most hyped up artists of the year Anderson .Paak and had a beat on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Despite all of this it was the next edition of Knxwledge’s long running album series Hexual Sealings that really impressed me. The first “Hexual Sealings” was the third of Knxwledge’s many releases and he’s kept the same unique sound running since. This album features more unhinged remixes of classic R&B and hip-hop tracks, replacing the original instrumentals with vibrant jazz samples mangled together to create beautifully messy grooves.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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23. Cavanaugh (Open Mike Eagle & Serengeti) – Time & Materials

Open Mike Eagle made one of my favourite albums of 2014 and Serengeti has been putting out amazingly creative music for years so when this album was announced I was really excited. The finished product definitely lived up to expectations, the two musicians really rubbed off on each other, Serengeti has brought out the dark, moody side in Open Mike Eagle and Open Mike Eagle’s more jovial side has rubbed off on Serengeti. What we’re left with is a very atmospheric album that’s profound one minute and tongue in cheek the next. This is the first project entirely produced by Open Mike and I cant wait to hear more, he has twisted droning guitar sounds in to atmospheric marvels.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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22. Dr. Yen Lo (Ka and Perseverance) – Days With Dr. Yen Lo

Sometimes in music someone comes along and drastically alters one of the defining aspects of a genre. Hip-Hop has always been very percussion driven but this album is almost entirely void of drums, and it sounds amazing. The instrumentals are stripped down to repetitive (mostly guitar) samples creating an intense feeling that sounds like a film score at times. Ka’s rapping is perfect for these sparse instrumentals, he flows in a laid back, rhythmic manner laying down complex rhyme schemes and conjuring up dark images of inner city sagas.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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21. Hurt Everybody – 2K47

Chicago trio Hurt Everybody sound like the future. Switching between biting raps and sorrowful singing, vocally these guys are bringing something incredibly fresh to the table. The vibes on the mixtape vary between euphoric and introspective to menacing and violent. Most of the production is handled in house and is very exciting, mostly synth driven and scattered with intricate percussion. Fellow Chicago native Twista even drops by and gives us one of his tightest verses in years.

Listen on Youtube here

Download for free here

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20. Jonwayne – Jonwayne Is Retired

I’ve been a big fan of Jonwayne’s beats for a while now and this album cements that even further. There is so much space in these instrumentals, they’re mostly simple boom bap drum loops with just a basic but incredibly high quality riff on either a bass guitar or synth. It’s a real testament to Jowayne’s production that he can make such basic beats sound so crisp and beautiful that you don’t want tracks to end. It’s not just the beats that shine on this album though, Jonwayne really brings his A game on the mic, he strongly punctuates his lines and flows fantastically proving he’s one of the best all round musicians in hip-hop.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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19. Bilal – In Another Life

It’s always been hard to pin down Bilal, he’s often been labelled neo soul but has worked in and around other genres. “In Another Life” is hard to pin down too, it’s oozing with funk, his vocals are soothingly soulful and there are some heavy psychedelic rock vibes in there too. The drums on the album really stand out, slightly distorted and played to perfection, driving the tracks forward. Bilal’s voice is so serene which makes it even more shocking when he suddenly strays from his soft tones. This album not like anything else I’ve heard from Bilal, it’s not quite like anything I’ve heard from anyone but it is magnificent.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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18. Lofty305 X DJ Complex – Haitian Silk

I’m sure some of you will hear this EP and not get why I would put it in a top releases list. When I first heard it myself I was a bit unsure, it’s very lo fi and Lofty305’s vocals are strange. It is these things that make this so good though, it’s raw and filthy but at the same time the beats are packed with soul and emotion. The alluring samples are beefed up with rough, distorted drum samples that you cant help but nod your head to. Lofty305’s vocals are half way between rapping and singing, he slurs his words and croons out of tune, rambling about his sexual exploits. This EP sounds weird, and it is, but Lofty pulls it off in a way no one else can.

Buy here

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17. Future – 56 Nights

Future is definitely one of the biggest names in hip-hop right now with a string of really solid releases, starting with his near perfect mixtape “Monster” that was out in 2014. This tape was released back in March and although he had 3 more releases later in the year 56 Nights is firmly my favourite. All the tracks on the tape are produced by Southside apart from “March Madness” which is produced by fellow 808 Mafia member Tarentino, and these dark, murky beats all sound incredibly hard. Future is one of the few guys who really knows how to ride these simple beats, many other rappers would sound boring on such sparse back drops but Future makes them come to life. Future’s vocals sound drugged out as he rambles through lines that at times don’t even rhyme, he’s not your average rapper but there is a sincerity in his voice that really shines through and his ability to convey emotion is almost unparalleled.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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16. Joanna Newsom – Divers

It’s been quite a few years since we heard from Joanna Newsom and it was only when I heard this album that I realised how much I missed her. There is a magic about Joanna Newsom’s music that is hard to explain, she really is one of the best musicians of the last 15 years. Newsom’s last album album “Have One On Me” was fantastic but wasn’t quite as enchanting as her 2006 album “Ys”, the addition of other instruments somewhat detracted from the sheer beauty of Joanna and her harp. “Divers” is definitely more like “Ys” than her other albums but has just the right amount of backing instruments to create a more textured sound. Every song on the album is an intensely euphoric saga, they take you on a journey as the melodies progress throughout. As always with Joanna Newsom, this is a challenging listen, after hearing the album through at least 20 times I’m still getting to grips with the compositions and I continue to love it even more.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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15. Gangrene (Alchemist & Oh No) – You Disgust Me

The best rapper/producer and rapper/producer duo since Jaylib returned last year with what I think is their strongest project to date. Both of these guys make phenominal beats and their styles mesh very well. What I love so much about this album is how cohesive it is, littered with odd samples conjuring up city images and grimy beats to match. The production is mainly sample based, using jazzy samples in their trademark fashion, layering them to create unrelenting beats that sound simple on first listen but have subtle complexities hidden in the musical depths. The duo both more than hold their own on the mic, they have steady flows that fit perfect with the overall vibe of the album and even with the plethora of accomplished guest MCs on the release they never sound outmatched.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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14. Robb Banks – Year Of The Savage

There are few rappers out there that have such an amazing cadence to their voice that you could listen to them rap about anything and for me Robb Banks is one of those guys. There is a certain charisma to Banks that I’ve always found very exciting, there is an intense and unsettling character to his music that makes it stand out. I’ve been following Robb Banks’ career for a few years now as he released solid mixtapes and EPs but he steps it up a lot on this debut album. The instrumentals here are so menacing and violent yet understated; 808 drums, deep bass and discordant riffs create a seriously hard and satisfying backdrop. Banks shows he can rock a number of different styles and flows as he goes fast over some tracks but also shines when he slurs his words and slows it down to a steady, methodical delivery. Just check out 2Phoneshawty to hear how Banks can kill even the craziest beats.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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13. DJ Paypal – Sold Out

There are a lot of haters out there who criticise electronic music, saying it’s not real music, it’s easy to make or that it’s too simple and I think this album is great proof of how misinformed they are. Footwork took a massive blow when DJ Rashad died, it felt like a lot of the momentum the genre had built up just disappeared, but on this release I can feel that same excitement and ingenuity that we lost. From start to finish this album is simply phenomenal, this music is rich, complicated and exudes a great variety of emotion. The album starts off with the title which works as a great opener, buzzing around and constantly building up but never quite dropping how you would expect. The following tracks are frantic and jazzy, constantly progressing and rattling around with a sophisticated groove. Moving through some magnificently soulful footwork tracks and finishing on the epically euphoric “Say Goodbye” DJ Paypal proves he is ready to take footwork to new levels.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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12. Ray West & Kool Keith – A Couple Of Slices

Kool Keith is a real anomaly, he is definitely a massive weirdo (in a good way) but that’s not what makes him so unique. The majority of musicians in any genre hit their peak early in their career and while some do show a level of longevity they tend to burn out fairly quick. Kool Keith has now been rapping for over 30 years, has more than 20 albums to his name and amazingly he has recently been putting out some of his strongest work to date. Last year Kool Keith put out a collaborative album with producer L’Orange and while it was a great release it is this work with Ray West that has me the most impressed. Ray’s beats are soulful but stripped down, the samples are repeated with little variation and minimal percussion. I’ve never heard Kool Keith on instrumentals like these and I’ve never thought that it would work but on this album the production has brought out the best in him. Keith’s style is bizarre, his rhyme patterns are odd, he delivers non-nonsensical lyrics in an almost conversational manner and that works perfectly over Ray West’s instrumentals. If Motown records was based on Mars it would sound something like this.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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11. Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too

I’ve always been a fan of a very wide range of music and I used to listen to a lot of punk, metal, indie, hardcore etc. but I have found that over the last 5 years I have become less and less interested in the umbrella genre of rock. It feels to me like “guitar music” has become a bit stagnated while hip-hop and dance music continue to evolve and stay exciting. It kind of makes sense then that the first rock album in years that I really enjoy is from a hip-hop group (kind of). Young Fathers started off making hip-hop and have moved further away from the genre with every album until we’ve got to this release which is almost unclassifiable but is definitely some kind of rock. The tracks on this album are raw and lo-fi, on tracks like “Rain Or Shine” and “Old Rock n Roll” they bring a brutal heaviness while on “Shame” and “Still Running” we see a much more melodic and heartwarming sound. If you’ve been craving some rock recently but haven’t found anything to excite then you need to get this album in your life.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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10. Sir Michael Rocks – Populair

Ex member of The Cool Kids; Sir Michael Rocks got me very interested in him when he released his 2014 album “Banco”. The album was a definite progression from his time with The Cool Kids and had some really unique, inspired moments but overall I didn’t think we’d seen this guy reach his full potential. That potential has certainly come closer to being fulfilled as this EP blew me away the first time I heard it, the sound of this release is not like any other hip-hop I’ve heard. The beats are so fresh and different, they make you want to dance at times but at others instil a sense foreboding. I’ve wanted to hear someone rap over footwork beats for a long time now so I was so happy to hear the heavy influence on some of these tracks. “Come Outside” is an awesome song which I’m pretty sure samples “It’s Wack” by Rashad and Heaave D. It’s not just the instrumentals that are so good though, Sir Michael Rocks is incredibly versatile, going from a conversational style, to singing, to a crazy flow reminiscent of The Pharcyde. The last track on the album “Alone” is a melancholy and introspective track about the things Sir Michael Rocks hates in his life and is one of the most personal tracks I heard all year.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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9. Cavalier – Lemonade

I had never heard of Cavalier before this album but when I saw Iman Omari took care of the production I had to check it out and I’m so glad I did. I’ve seriously enjoyed Iman Omari’s solo work, he makes complex psychadelic beats from jazz samples and is obviously influenced by the fantastic Knxwledge. Iman actually has some of his strongest beats on this release, the colourful jazz samples and staggered percussion is given an extra depth in the form of rich bass sounds, all of this combines to make a dreamy back drop. The superb production is matched by Cavlier’s vocals, he is very fluid, riding the difficult and varied rhythms with gusto. Cavaliers lyrics have that perfect mix of insight and humour, particularly shining on “Commitment” which plays on the word’s different meanings.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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8. Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come

Musicians don’t come much more poetic than Milo and with a few releases now under his belt the Wisconsin MC has truly perfected his style. I’ve been a fan of Milo since his 2013 mixtape “Cavalcade” but I’ve found that his overly poetic style can feel a little bit forced at times although the ingenuity definitely outweighed any of his negative traits. Milo has changed his style a little bit on this album, he’s using a more traditional flow which gives the music more of a groove but he still has that complex poetic delivery that makes him so unique. The production was handled entirely by Kenny Segal who is a magician when it comes to making beats. Kenny creates some beautiful instrumentals on this project, full of serene melodies and descending synth notes, overall the sound is very full and rich. Every time I listen to this album I notice even more of its nuances and become hypnotised by the beauty of Milo’s lyrics.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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7. Main Attrakionz – 808s and Dark Grapes III

The cloud rap scene that was so big a few years ago seems to have almost died out but these pioneers of the genre just created one of its best albums yet. Friendzone hold down the production and have created some of 2015s best beats on this release. Dreamy, lush and complex, the beats spiral around in to colourful kaleidoscopes of sound. Stand out track “Dip” has an intensely intricate riff played on a harp like instrument with euphoric results. As is often the case with cloud rap it is the beats that hold a lot of the importance but MCs Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N. have stepped up their game, showing that they can pull off some difficult, fast flows as well as continuing their smooth, laid back style.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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6. P Money – Money Over Everyone 2

Grime was going through a massive resurgence last year as MCs like Skepta and Stormzy were even getting a lot of hype in the U.S. Although these big names were making waves across the Atlantic it was London MC P Money who came with one of the most high octane and entertaining grime albums I’ve heard in years. The energy on this album is through the roof, almost every track is an absolute banger and the few that aren’t just show a more lyrically astute P Money. I don’t think I can remember a more fun release than this, from viciously funny battle raps on “Crushed” to straight up good vibes with the aptly named “On A Fun One”. It’s not all fun and games though, tracks like “Roll Up” and “Yearrrh” are the definition of gully. If you’re looking to get deeper in to grime or need a good party album then look no further, this album is so full of tunes you don’t need to make a playlist to get hyped to.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

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5. Tree & Vic Spencer – VicTree

Tree was responsible for one of my favourite releases of 2014 (THE @MCTREEG EP) and had me very excited to hear more of his “soul trap” style  but although his next release (Trap Genius) was good it lacked that sound I was craving. When this EP came out I wasn’t familiar with Vic Spencer but knowing Tree was involved and seeing “SOULTRAP” written on the cover had me hyped. I definitely wasn’t disappointed as this is the sound I have been waiting for. The beats are more lo fi and raw than they are on “THE @MCTREEG EP” but they have the same emotive, off-kilter vibe and the rawness makes things even better. The Chicago flavour is strong on here as you can feel the footwork vibes coming through on the instrumentals, not so much in the actual style but the method in which they’re made, with beautiful soul samples brutalised by well placed 808 sounds. Vic Spencer’s vocals also continue the soul trap vibe as he often strays from the beat, verging on singing then kicking his flow back in to the rhythm. There is a real soul to Spencer’s voice that shines through, he sounds like an old blues singer with his gravely voice laying his essence out on to the tracks.

Listen on Youtube here

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4. Van Hunt – The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets

Being as obsessed with hip-hop and other electronic music as I am it takes something really special outside of that to truly interest me. “The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets” had me mesmerized from the first time I heard it, taking so many influences from sounds I’m familiar with but combining them in to something completely unique and immensely creative. If I had to pigeon hole the album I’d say it was soul or neo soul but it’s so much more than that. The funk influences are very strong here as well as R&B, psych rock, indie rock, jazz and even a bit of Bowie-esque glam rock, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Van Hunt’s voice is spectacular, it’s soothing and pure whether he’s making you dance with a funky number or seducing you with his bizarre love songs. The lyrics on the album are often nonsensical but have a certain beauty to them, I’m not certain what he’s getting at when he sings “If I want to dance with you, I have to use my remote control” but there is something strangely poetic about. From the funky opening track to the grand, euphoric title track ender (which I’m pretty sure is about your lover being on her period, it’s odd) this album is exceptional.

Listen on Youtube here

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3. MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor

Hip-hop is one of the only genres were you get so much collaboration and it’s one of the things I love about it. It’s not that rare in hip-hop that you get to hear a number of your favourite musicians together on the same track, it is rarer though to hear them make a full album, and one that sounds as good as this. Madlib is well known for putting out amazing albums and brining out the best in people, his ear for samples is second to none and he’s responsible for a number of classic albums. Blu has been putting out fantastic underground hip-hop albums for years now, spanning a number of different styles but always keeping it creative. Signed to Stones Throw record label, M.E.D. has been releasing solid work for over ten years and has one of those steady flows that works on almost any beat. Put these three guys together and you have one hell of an album. As is expected from Madlib, the instrumentals on this album are really superb but what makes them so special is the variation of sounds he gives us. Recently Madlib has been sticking more to his dusty, soulful, jazzy beats and as good as he is at that I’ve been wanting to hear him break away from that style a bit. Way back in 2004 Madlib produced De La Soul’s “Shopping Bags” and that beat blew my mind, it sounded like a raw and twisted Neptunes beat, but since then we haven’t heard much of that sound from him. It seems Madlib has answered my prayers because on this album we get more of these synth driven tracks that I’ve been craving, one of which is the obscenely good “The Stroll” which has a beat so off the wall people won’t truly get their head around it for years. Later on in the album we do hear more of the soulfulness we expect from Madlib so we really do get the best of both worlds here. Although to an extant it is the beats that make this LP so outstanding the raps are from average. MED and Blu both drop a lot of great verses. Blu has a very recognisable voice and there’s something about his delivery that I find comforting, he just has a very enjoyable voice to listen to. I know a lot of people will hate me for saying this but I think “Bad Neighor” is the best Madlib collaboration album since “Madvillainy” and although it’s not getting that much attention now, just like his legendary album with DOOM this will be one that will grow in popularity as people start to understand it.

Listen on Youtube here

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2. Young Thug – Barter 6

As is often the case with great musicians, Young Thug was one if the most polarising rappers of 2015. Dismissed by many because of his strange delivery and obscene lyrics but loved by others for the same reasons, Young Thug definitely stands out from the crowd. After a string of decent mixtapes in 2014 Thug had been making steady improvements and this came to a peak with the phenomenal Barter 6. Few MCs have a voice as recognisable as Young Thug’s, he has a very strange cadence which can be shrill one moment but smooth the next and his delivery is incredible with his many different flows which he switches between to suit whatever beat he is on. The instrumentals on this album are mostly quite understated, off key synths dance on top of deep sub bass and crisp 808 drums, building up and dropping out as the tracks progress, creating the perfect obstacles for Thug to manoeuvre along. Lyrically you’re not going to find anything profound on this album but that doesn’t matter, the most important aspect of music is that it sounds good and Barter 6 sounds glorious!

Listen on Youtube here

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1. Denzel Curry – 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms

Denzel Curry grabbed a lot of people’s attention with his 2013 album “Nostolgic 64” which has some amazing tracks like the violence inducing “Threatz” and the luxuriously smooth “Denny Cascade”. Although that album was very good, it felt a little bit disjointed at times and Curry was definitely still finding his feet musically. “32 Zel / Planet Shrooms” was released as a “double EP” and shows a lot of progression from the young Florida rapper as he’s created an incredibly fluid and visceral collection of tracks. The first EP “32 Zel” has a spacey feel to it, the beats are quite heavy with beeps and blips bouncing to the groove. This sci-fi journey quickly goes in to overdrive on the release’s 4th track “Ultimate” which along with being my favourite song of 2015 is one of the most aggressive songs I’ve heard. Throughout the album Denzel’s flow is relentless but he really goes berserk on “Ultimate” as he rapidly shouts his bars with an energy that is more familiar to hardcore punk than hip-hop. The first half of the release continues to flow along with the same futuristic vibe, often ending tracks with intricate little beat interludes that really tie everything together. Although this double EP is very fresh and unique there are some strong Outkast influences in there, initially showing up strongly on “Delusional Shone” which has a very “B.O.B.” style guitar solo / scratching breaking down and later the Outkast sound is also noticeable on “Past The Wudz Intro” and “Planet Shrooms”. The vibe really switches up when “Planet Shrooms” kicks in, bringing that psychedelic sound. As the name suggests “Planet Shrooms” feels like a trip, starting out with a chilled out, organic vibe which quickly gets vibrant on the excellently floaty “Captain Sea Fonk”. Things continue in this dreamy manner until the title track takes you to a darker place with its cascading synths and intense snare drums before the EP is rounded off nicely with the more settling tones of “Void”. Overall this release sounds like a lot of thought has gone in to it, the tracks follow on naturally from each other, the beats are magnificently composed and even Curry’s voice is distorted in a number of different ways to fit whatever song he is on. The hip-hop scene is full of innovators right now but Denzel Curry is leading the pack with his abrasive, high energy style that has me desperate to hear his next release.

Listen on Youtube here

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Mook Life Style: Pawn Future Kings

Everything Else

This isn’t something I’d usually write about here but I really wanted to give these guys some support because they deserve it. Growing up in Hull I often visited a clothing shop called Space. I’ve always been a massive hip-hop head and Space was one of the only shops in the area where you could get your hands on urban clothing labels and hip-hop mixtapes. Unfortunately the shop is no longer open but the owner has since established a fantastic new streetwear brand called Pawn Future Kings.

Pawn Future Kings describe themselves as being inspired by music, sport, surf culture and positive vibes, which is very evident when you look at their Autumn 2015 collection. From striking branded sweatshirts to vibrant patterned t-shirts, the new line is incredibly stylish and very high quality. With so many big names out there it can be hard to stand out from the crowd with fashionable and unique clothing but Pawn Future Kings will have you looking your best without turning you in to a high street clone.

There is a real classic, 80’s/90’s American streetwear influence in Pawn Future Kings’ designs, the bold fonts and powerful chess piece logo give the clothes a real iconic look. With a free snapback on offer when you buy 2 t-shirts, now is the time to head over to the website and get yourself looking fresh for autumn.

Check out the website to place an order and find out more.

Music Round Up – August 2015

Music

Another few months have passed since my last round up and there are even more fantastic releases coming out every week. This year has been great for hip-hop and we’ve had an abundance of sublime funk and soul releases in the last few months on top of that. Once again I’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to, open your ears and get a load of these. As usual most of these releases came out in the last 3 months but some came out longer ago and I was late listening to them.

Youtube playlist with a track off each release here

21 Savage – The Slaughter Tape

Very solid trap mixtape packed with bangers featuring production from Metro Boomin’ and Zaytoven.

Listen on Youtube here

Download for free here

2econd Class Citizen – A Hall Of Mirrors

Mainly instrumental trip hop style compositions with accomplished use of drum samples. Reminiscent of DJ Shadow.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

6Blocc – Trapped In My Mind EP

Bleak, sub heavy dubstep.

Listen on Youtube here

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88 Ultra & No Merci – Para Bellum

Swirling, 808 heavy melodies laced with bewitching vocals.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

The Alchemist – Israeli Salad

The Alchemist never really makes a misstep with his music and this release is no different. Built entirely of samples from Israeli music this collection of beats has that signature Alchemist sound that will keep your head nodding.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

The Alchemist – Retarded Alligator Beats

Another lovely collection of boom bap instrumentals from The Alchemist.

Listen on Youtube here

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All Caps – Independent Variable

Bandcamp has become such a massive gold mine for hip-hop. I have found so much great music on there by randomly clicking on albums. This is one of my favourite recent finds. The beats on this release are catchy yet obscure and complex using a mixture of samples and synths. The intricate flows from All Caps are a real joy to listen to as he rides the beats perfectly.

Name your price download here

All These Finger – Offerings

A huge collection of dope beats created over the last 7 years from an incredible up and coming producer. This guy needs more exposure because he has a real talent for making beats. Jazzy and spaced out with just the right amount of bounce.

Listen on Youtube here

Name your price download here

Allen Halloween – Hibrido

Portuguese rapper with an interesting album containing a satisfying mixture of vibes. I have never heard rapping in Portuguese before but Allen Halloween makes it sound incredible with a guttural cadence to his voice and a slurred flow.

Listen on Youtube here

I’m struggling to find a place to buy/download because all of the sites are in Portuguese but I’m sure you can find somewhere if you try hard enough.

A$AP Rocky – At Long Last A$AP

This album seems to have fans fairly divided, many want more of the old Rocky and other are happy to see the evolution of him as an artist. I’m really enjoying this album, I think Rocky still hasn’t reached his full potential but ALLA is definitely a step in the right direction. The LP flows amazingly from track to track, taking things slow then getting hyped again just at the right moment and with an overarching tone that ties it all together. Lyrically there isn’t anything particularly impressive but Rocky’s flow is on point as always and he rides every beat with confidence, from bangers like ‘Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2’ to spaced out tracks like ‘West Side Highway’.

Listen on Youtube here

Buy here

Audio Push – My Turn II

Audio Push have been steadily making a name for themselves recently with a stream of solid releases. This is a nice little EP that shows what the duo can do on the mic over some established beats like ‘Fuck Up Some Commas’ and ‘Shook Ones’.

Listen on Youtube here

Download for free here

Bilal – In Another Life

Bilal has been at the forefront of neo soul for years now and his latest album ‘In Another Life’ is the work of a truly accomplished