Madlib - Medicine Show No. 1: Before the Verdict

The first volume in Madlib’s newest series of releases is something of a preview of the O.J. Simpson (Madlib + Guilty Simpson) album coming out later this year. Unfortunately, this mix quickly falls into my least favorite combination in hip hop = good producer with lackluster emcee. Guilty Simpson is something of a trite gangsta rapper, but doesn’t even have much in the way of delivery to make it interesting. His delivery is slow and clumsy, and he often says things that makes me cringe.

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Gil Scott-Heron, as he’s spent the past few years sorting out personal and legal issues. When you’re dealing with a unique talent like Scott-Heron, though, it’s always worth the wait. The musician’s forays into jazz, blues, r&b, funk, and spoken-word poetry made him one of the most influential pre-hip hop artists. He’s come back with a moving and personal album. Working with Richard Russell, he’s concocted a type of minimal elctro-blues that allows the weight of his words to really come across.

Galactic- ya-ka-may

I’ve always felt good that I got into Galactic at the ground floor, because they’ve had such a rich and rewarding musical career so far. The New Orleans-based funk group have built up a fan base throughout the years and have grown musically the longer they’ve been together, bringing in elements of jazz, R&B, funk, hip hop, blues, New Orleans brass bands, and basically anything else they might get their hands on.

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.