Freeway & Jake One - The Stimulus Package

First things first, this album has some of the sweetest packaging I’ve ever seen. It comes in a freakin’ billfold, people! Seriously, it’s tight. Now, onto the music. Jake One’s reputation a producer from the Seattle scene precedes itself. He’s hooked up with everyone from De La Soul to G-Unit. Freeway has had an interesting career path, starting out as a Roc-a-Fella protégé. I heard a song or two, and had somewhat written him off.

Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson

Strong Arm Steady have been around the L.A. scene for a while, and are mostly known for their association with X-Zibit. Frankly, after listening to this album, all I can help think is that they are very lucky they have successful and talented friends. The entire album is produced by Madlib, who has one of the strongest track records in hip hop, and doesn’t disappoint here. The beats are interesting, soulful, laid back and sound great pounding through your car speakers.

k-os - YES!

Over the years, k-os has won me over with his unique blend of hip-hop, reggae, rock, and R&B. While I haven’t loved everything he’s done, I’ve always appreciated his unique voice. I never listen to k-os and think he’s anyone else but himself. And when he does find a perfect blend in his music, it can really be something. Anybody who’s listened to “B-Boy Stance,” “Superstar Part Zero,” or “Sunday Morning” can attest to this.

Dessa - A Badly Broken Code

I was first made aware of Dessa last year when P.O.S. dropped Never Better on us, and Dessa killed a verse on the song, “Low Light Low Life.” I knew of Doomtree, but like most people I hadn’t listened to any of the other artists outside of P.O.S. Well, I was certainly curious about Dessa now, and thankfully, she happened to be putting out her first full-length album this year. Even better, the album is amazing.

Wide Eyes - Hands Tied

There’s something very exciting about the first time you put on album by an artist you haven’t heard before. Sure, it could suck and you just throw it in the discard pile. But every once in a while, you’ll come across an album that totally moves you and finds a way into your permanent rotation. That’s definitely the case with Wide Eyes. I knew nothing about what to expect going into the album, but I’m a fan now.

DJ Shadow - Live in Los Angeles, 10/31/09

DJ Shadow has been around and produced so many albums and tracks, it can be easy to forget how great of an actual deejay he is. While I felt that his official live album Live! In Tune and on Time felt really flat and uninteresting, this album is quite the opposite. Maybe it’s because this wasn’t planned for wide release, so no one felt the need to package the album in any way, and as a result, Shadow just gets to do his thing.

RJD2 - The Colossus

RJD2 has had an interesting career so far. His first album, Deadringer, had him being hailed as heir to the throne of DJ Shadow, an instant instrumental hip hop classic that helped lay the foundation for Definitive Jux. On Since We Last Spoke, he went in a different direction, incorporating noisy rock to counterbalance the hip hop, creating a unique and rewarding listening experience. On The Third Hand, he parted ways with Jux, signed with XL, and dropped an album that was more in line with the electro-pop stylings of acts like Hot Chip, and prominently featured his own vocals.

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.