Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement

Mayer Hawthorne, the Michiganite-by-way-of-L.A. musician, makes his debut here on Stones Throw with a great collection of ‘70s throwback soul music. My first thought upon listening to him was, “This is a guy who knows his Tower of Power and Average White Band, probably some Holland-Dozier-Holland, this guy gets it.” Hawthorne isn’t going to blow you away with his vocals, and he doesn’t leave much space for any band members to get flashy, but it’s not really necessary when you’ve got the collection of songs that he does.

Mr. Lif - I Heard It Today

This album is Lif’s 3rd full-length solo album, following up the stellar one-two punch of I, Phantom and Mo’ Mega. This album marks a departure of sorts, in that it is the first not released on Definitive Jux and it doesn’t feature any production from El-P. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad or good, just different. As I listened to this album a few times, I think I finally figured out why this wasn’t sticking as hard as Mega did.

NASA - The Spirit of Apollo

The Spirit of Apollo comes to us as the debut album of N.A.S.A., a collaborative effort from L.A. producers/DJs Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon. N.A.S.A. stands for “North America/South America,” reflecting on the duo’s cultural origins (United States and Brazil, more specifically) and combining their creative endeavors. The first thing that might catch your eyes and ears is the impressive guest list on the album, with seemingly disparate artists like David Byrne, M.

P.O.S. - Never Better

P.O.S. didn’t grow up straight b-boy in the Bronx, he grew up a punk kid in Minnesota, and it wasn’t until he was older that he realized the potential of hip hop to express himself. It took a while for him to find a balance in his personalities and his music to find a good balance of punk and hip hop. His previous albums on Rhymesayers, Ipecac Neat and Audtion, both felt like a struggle between the two worlds that occasionally hit, but also missed.

People Under The Stairs - Carried Away

People Under the Stairs have been mainstays in the L.A. scene for years, although they are sometimes overlooked by casual fans of underground hip hop. There are reasons for this, such as being on Om, a label more known for electronic, down-tempo, and house music. Another reason is that their music is usually pretty laid back, and therefore doesn’t hit the listeners as hard as others. This second issue is definitely being taken to task on their latest release, the seventh of their career.

Q-Tip - Kamaal The Abstract

By now, if you know much about Q-Tip, you’ve surely read up about how trying this decade has been on his career. Trying to follow up on his solo debut Amplified, which came out in 1999, Q-Tip decided to get more experimental, only to see his efforts shelved while Outkast and Common released strange albums in the years following, to critical acclaim. It wasn’t until last year that we finally saw the release of The Renaissance that his musical career got feet again.

Rakim - The Seventh Seal

So it’s not as well known as Q-Tip’s struggle in the 2000s, but it has also been ten years since the last Rakim release. And as one of the illest emcees to ever grab a mic, that’s a shame. I had the good fortune of seeing him perform at SXSW a few years ago, and he had the audience eating out of his hand. It shouldn’t take that long to get thing right.

theFREEhoudini

Doseone and Jel, who make up Themselves never took a break from working with each other, even though their last album under this moniker was released in 2002. In between then and now, they joined forces with other musicians, most notably as part of the group Subtle, who reached a fair amount of success over the course of several albums. This mix tape, mixed by Odd Nosdam and mastered by Daddy Kev, was put out to get the name back out there while Jel and Dose get their next full length ready.

A Different Mirror

If you know Toki Wright already, it’s probably because you’ve seen him as a hype man at some other Rhymesayers artist’s concert. What you probably didn’t know was that Wright was honing his skills and writing his own rhymes in preparation to be the next great underground emcee. I say this in part because he has a song on the album called “Next Best Thing,” but also because this is one of the stronger debut albums I’ve come across.

Audacity

Before I even listened to this album, I was already planning out how I was going to write this review - about how Ugly Duckling never blows you away, but they are always enjoyable and I’m always happy to hear a new UD album, etc. Something happened, though. It’s not that this album is a huge departure or so challenging it’s not accessible or anything like that, it’s more that this album just nestles its way under you skin and really grows on you.