Cap D - Polymath

Activist/Lawyer/Emcee Cap D has been plugging away in Chicago for over ten years, as a solo artist and with his crew, All Natural. On his latest release, Polymath, we see a mature artist struggling with the gap between where he is and where he wants to be. With production laid down by !LLMiND, NO I.D., and Cap D himself, we get some hard beats that bring a sense of urgency to the album.

Blueprint - Who

Picking a group as source material for an EP is something that Blueprint has done a couple times now, first with Radiohead, then with Funkadelic, and now with The Who. It’s certainly a fun hook for an EP, and by keeping the project small, the idea runs its course without running out of steam. One of the nice things that Blueprint provides is a series of interviews with Roger Daltry, lead singer of The Who, providing some nice color to the release.

Fatgums - Gumstrumentals Vol. 1

Fatgums is a deejay, producer, and the founder of Beatrock Music, a young label out of Long Beach. He’s worked with artists like Bambu, Power Struggle, and Novelists. If you’re not familiar with any of this, don’t worry. This album works as a gateway to this scene and also holds up on its individual merits. If you hadn’t figured out by the title, these are instrumental versions of songs Fatgums produced over the years.

Zion I - Atomic Clock

Before the dust had settled on the Burnerz album, Zumbi comes right back with his main project, Zion I. The collaboration between Zumbi and AmpLive has been going strong for over ten years, and Atomic Clock is their seventh album. At this point in their career, things could easily get stale or drift in a strange or ill-advised direction. Or, best-case scenario, their chemistry would be strong and they would push each other, expand their sound, and make a great, urgent album.

Paper Tiger - Made Like Us

As one of the primary beat makers for Doomtree, Paper Tiger usually works behind the scenes and doesn’t necessarily get to shine the way Dessa or P.O.S. do. Following the release of an EP in 2007, his first full-length will hopefully get the attention he deserves. Made Like Us is an interesting collection of atmospheres. The album begins as something of a down tempo instrumental hip hop project, walking the line between RJD2’s Deadringer and something you might hear on Ninjatune.

Foreign Exchange - Authenticity

For those who don’t know, Foreign Exchange is an effort between Little Brother emcee Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay. They met over the Okayplayer message board and started collaborating online without meeting in person, thus the name of the group. When Foreign Exchange first began, it was more hip hop-oriented. It definitely pushed the envelope, but mostly featured Phonte rapping over some interesting and beautiful music. Now on their third album, the two are definitely more influenced by R&B and progressive rock.

J-Live - Undivided Attention

Unfortunately, J-Live flew under a lot of people’s radars. This is in large part due to the shelving of his debut album and not really belonging to a crew or particular scene that blew up. But J-Live plugged away, proud to call himself a hip hop triple-threat: emcee, deejay, and producer. As he preps his fifth full-length album, J-Live releases this EP as a teaser. It’s a fulfilling six-song collection, with his own production mixed in with the likes of Locsmif and Nicolay.

Lyrics Born - As U Were

So I need to preface this review with my biases. Lyrics Born’s first solo album, Later That Day, was one of my favorite albums of 2003. It was funky as hell and featured some smart, politically-minded lyrics. It wasn’t perfect, but it was really damn good. I saw him in concert three times in support of that album including a show with RJD2, where I picked up an LB hoodie, which I proceeded to wear for the next four years until it was literally falling apart.

Black Milk - Album of the Year

First things first - this album sounds great. If you can listen to the opening track and not instinctively turn up your stereo, you might want to check your pulse. Of course, I would expect nothing less coming from someone who has already established themselves as one of the best working producers, who cut his teeth collaborating with J Dilla. I know that connection is both a blessing and a curse to him, but I think this album might be the last time we get hung up on it.

KingHellBastard - Remember the Name

If you’re like me, you know next to nothing about Milwaukee hip hop. Not that I’m unwilling to learn. It’s just that when I heard KHB was from Milwaukee, I was stumped to come up with another group from there. I’m sure stuff is happening, but little has made a national splash. However, KHB is changing that. The four-man crew of Dana Coppafeel, Clark Beez, DNA, and DJ1L are seeking to make a statement, as is evident from the title of the EP.