Fremdtunes - Series 2

Fremdtunes is a relatively new label based in the Netherlands, but in the past year that I’ve been aware of their work, they’ve released two of the strongest instrumental albums I’ve heard from Coco Bryce and Optimace. On the heels of the Optimace album, they’ve come right back with the second in series of label samplers. It’s only six tracks long, but it still manages to cover a lot of ground and give us a very fulfilling listening experience.

Bambu - ...exact change...Reloaded

Bambu was part of the Los Angeles-based group Native Guns, a politically-minded hip hop group consisting of two Filipino American emcees and a Chinese American deejay. Bambu kept going strong as a solo artist since the group broke up in 2007. …exact change…Reloaded is a re-release of an album that originally came out in 2008. A lot of people (myself included) slept on this album when it originally came out, but hopefully this time around more people will recognize what a strong album it is.

DJ Cosm - Time and Space

DJ Cosm is one half of the Calgary-based duo Dragon Fli Empire. They’ve been together since 2002 and have released three albums and one EP. Time and Space marks Cosm’s first solo LP and features a plethora of guest emcees, Canadian and American. Cosm isn’t reinventing the wheel as a producer. But piecing together funky drum beats with soul and jazz samples is a time-tested formula and Cosm is really good at it.

Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy by Ruth Nicole Brown

As a Girls Rock Camp Austin volunteer who is about to reenter the academy as a feminist media studies scholar, I have tremendous respect for scholars who put theory into practice. Ruth Nicole Brown does the reverse with Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy, which casts a critical eye toward SOLHOT (Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths), an afterschool program for black girls that Brown helped found in Illinois.

Has-Lo - In Case I Don't Make It

Has-Lo is a producer/emcee hailing from Philadelphia. He’s only been releasing records for a few years, but he’s already developed a distinct style, dropping dark introspective rhymes laced with humor over some down tempo beats. For his Mello Music debut, Has-Lo produced a concept album, walking us through the mind of a man close to breakdown. While this could easily give way to maudlin self indulgence, Has-Lo avoids all of these trappings.

Bing Ji Ling - Shadow To Shine

Taking his name from the Mandarin term for “ice cream” (He picked up the language after spending a year abroad there), Quinn Luke has been making music for several years, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Phenomenal Handclap Band. He is also a frequent collaborator with Tommy Guerrero. The former San Francisco-based artist is now a New York resident, and has tapped into its soul scene, hooking up with musicians from The Dap Kings, Antibalas, and others.

Optimace - Used Future

Optimace is the collaboration between Dutch deejays/producers Optimus and Mace. They previously collaborated on Fremdkunst, the first release put out on Fremdtunes. This EP shows what great chemistry they have, creating instrumental hip hop that covers a wide range of styles and emotions. When I first played Used Future, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As electric piano and saxophone came in and built riffs off of each other, I was a little worried.

Atmosphere - The Family Sign

In the fourteen years since their first album, Atmosphere has created a unique cultural space for themselves. They’ve built up a huge audience on their own terms, and played a big part in putting Minneapolis on the map. For all they’ve done, though, it seems like everybody has a different idea as to what role they should be playing and what they do best. Personally, I try to stay away from placing these sorts of expectations on musicians – it just sets you up for disappointment.

Del The Funky Homosapien - Golden Era

Twenty years after the release of his first album, Oakland hip hop mainstay and Hieroglyphics member Del The Funky Homosapien is still going strong. Along with the new material, the CD is being sold as a triple pack, including two albums only previously available as digital downloads, Automatik Statik and Funk Man. It’s a great gesture for his fans, but for the purposes of this review, we’ll be focusing only on the new material.

Blueprint - Adventures in Counter-Culture

In the six years since his solo debut, Columbus-based artist Blueprint has stayed busy, releasing the second Soul Position album with RJD2, two Greenhouse EPs with Illogic, a few solo EPs, and a collection of instrumental hip hop. The whole time this was happening, though, he was slowly crafting what was to become Adventures in Counter-Culture. Not taking the typical approach to a hip hop album, Blueprint started at the piano every day, and went from there.