Blockhead - The Music Scene

To those who don’t know, Blockhead is the guy who produced “Daylight” for Aesop Rock. Those that have been paying attention know that this is the fourth in a series of great instrumental hip hop albums that he’s put out. The biggest thing about this album is how much space Blockhead gives himself to work. It’s an extremely complex album with elements of jazz, funk, dub, rock, and whatever else might float in and out of his head.

C-Rayz Walz - Who The F%@K Are You?

C-Rayz is a guy that’s been around for years, but is mostly known to only the purest of hip hop heads. It seemed for a moment that he might break out when he put out a couple of releases on Def Jux, but in general, he doesn’t seem translate well on record. The first time I heard him was when Ravipops came out. I liked it, but wasn’t blown away by it.

The Grouch and Eligh - Say G&E!

As two of the members of Living Legends, The Grouch and Eligh have been making hip hop for years. As a duo, this comes as the fourth volume of G&E music, and they’ve certainly got chemistry together. Eligh handles the majority of production on the album, with some complimentary tracks laid down by Flying Lotus, Amp Live, and Rick Rock. Flying Lotus fits in nicely, as does Rick Rock (if you’re not paying attention, you might think they were also Eligh tracks), but Amp Live’s “Boom,” never comes together to work as well as intended.

J Dilla - Jay Stay Paid

Is it wrong to state publicly that I’ll pick up any J Dilla release at this point? I realize that everything he would have wanted circulating has probably been released, but the guy was just that good. This album is something of a mixtape of stuff he did over the course of his career, with 28 short tracks clocking in at just under an hour. And while there are some gems on here, there is also material that is lesser or unrealized.

Solillaquists of Sound - No More Heroes

Not since Arrested Development has a group wrestled with balancing inherent talent with being preachy. Listening to this album, I feel like I’m constantly on the brink of liking the music and the challenging directions and stylings they’re bringing in. But then I’ll be completely taken out the moment by lyrics that come across as smarter-and-holier-than-thou. And then there are moments that just go over the top ridiculous and I feel like I’m not on the inside of a joke - there’s just something about hearing a chopped and screwed voice saying “Harriet Tubman would be proud,” that makes me shake my head and say “What?

Blakroc - Blakroc

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear about this project - The Black Keys, a blues/garage rock act I’ve followed and enjoyed for years, was going to team up with a wide array of hip hop artists to make an album. I’m sold. Listening to the album, the results are a bit more mixed than I’d hoped for. I think the biggest disappointment for me is that the album opens with the song, “Coochie,” with ODB and Ludacris laying down rhymes that are less than inspired about a subject matter that I was hoping this album wouldn’t pander to.

Busdriver - Jhelli Beam

Busdriver’s 2007 album Roadkill Overcoat felt like a culmination to me, a coherent album from start to finish that flowed well, with Boom Bap and Nobody working closely with him to create what I consider to be a modern classic. How do you follow up an album like that? In Busdriver’s case, you make a disjointed, challenging album that bites the hand that feeds it. How else do you explain an album that starts off with the artist claiming, “Be real.

Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls - Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls

Lord Newborn is the collaboration between hip hop-ish instrumentalists Tommy Guerrero, Money Mark, and Shawn Lee. When I first heard of the collaboration, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a natural gathering, and my hankering was soon proved to be correct. The three travel a musical landscape that combines, blues, funk, dub, jazz, Latin, and hip hop stylings in a way that is completely comprehensive. Of the three, Guerrero is the musician I’m most familiar with, and his guitar-playing is quite superb, but in true collaborative fashion, it doesn’t overpower the album.

Dam-Funk - toeachizown

It’s odd to me how so many people project their own expectations onto this album. I feel like I keep reading about how this is a return to G-Funk, or how this album could only happen in L.A., or how this is a Gangsta with a capital “G” album. Frankly, I’m not sure I hear any of this. To me, Dam-Funk is all about late ‘70s and early ‘80s experimental synth and drum artists, and I find him interesting because he pulls off the feat of being a throwback artist while still being progressive.

Mos Def - The Estatic

Remember the days when it seemed like Mos Def might become an interesting artist to cross over into the mainstream? Clearly he is not interested in doing that with his music. After the contractual “F-You” that was True Magic, Mos decided to make an album with the likes of Madlib and Oh No, two brothers who don’t want to make pop records. They do have quite a track record of making interesting and challenging music, and that’s definitely what’s going on here.