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.

Digital Martyrs - Remix Beatrock

Digital Martyrs are a trio from the Bay Area who are still relatively unkown. Beatrock Music is a young label based out of Los Angeles, producing plenty of great politically aware hip hop from artists such as Bambu and Rocky Rivera. If you’re not familiar with the work they’ve been doing, this remix collection is a great starting point. The formula on this collection of remixes is fairly simple, but it works extremely well: well-chosen soul samples, funky beats, and smart lyrics.

Jesse Dangerously - Humble & Brilliant

Jesse Dangerously has been making hip hop for years out of Halifax, contributing to the rich hip hop culture of the city before relocating to Ottawa in 2007. Humble & Brilliant marks his sixth solo album, and features a complex and varied range of music that is smart, funny, and moving. He’s not as well known in the states, but hopefully this album will change that. Dangerously is not only an emcee.

Dennis Coffey - Dennis Coffey

Ever since I saw Dennis Coffey perform during SXSW, I’ve been telling people that they know his work, just not by name. If it doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll give you a brief overview: he played guitar with the legendary Funk Brothers, Motown Records’ in-house backing band. He also played guitar on such notable records as “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers and Edwin Starr’s “War,” and scored the movie Black Belt Jones.

Kyle Rapps - Re-Edutainment

New Jersey native Kyle Rapps has been on his grind for a few years, working with the Thought Breakers and the Mayhem Poets. The EP Re-Edutainment marks his debut as a solo artist, but this does not come across as the work of an inexperienced emcee. Working with producer Kev Brown and including a title that pays homage to Boogie Down Productions, what we have is a solid set of music that recalls some classic NYC hip hop.

Zion I & The Grouch - Heroes in the Healing of the Nation

Five years after their first full-length together, Zion I has once again paired up with The Grouch. When they collaborate, they really push each other to create hip hop that not only entertains, but encourages political action and community involvement. These are noble intentions, but it wouldn’t reach that many listeners unless the music was good. No need to worry - they got that on lockdown. AmpLive, who handles the production for Zion I, switched gears from his fantastic work with live instrumentation on the last Zion I album, Atomic Clock and went back to the first Z & G album, Heroes in the City of Dope, as a starting point.