Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip Hop DJ by Mark Katz

For all the books and documentaries that have focused on hip hop, there are very few that deal explicitly with the role of the DJ, with the exception of Doug Pray’s 2001 documentary, Scratch. Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton cover hip hop in Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, their book chronicling the history of the DJ, but the book seems much more interested in exploring dance music than hip hop.

Stik Figa - As Himself

I’m always excited when hip hop comes from unexpected places, and Topeka, Kansas is about as unexpected as it gets. Even though it’s the capital of Kansas, it’s not a city a lot of people have on their mind, least of all as a hip hop scene. Maybe this is all about to change, though, because Topeka native Stik Figa has just dropped an album that is so entertaining and enjoyable, I found myself thinking, “Wow - what else does Topeka have to offer?

Kristoff Krane - fanfaronade

When speaking with Astronautalis about working with Bleubird on Cannonball!!!! earlier this year, he explained that while Bird had made some good records, he felt that Bid hadn’t yet made the amazing record that captured his full potential. Up to this point, I felt similarly about Kristoff Krane. He had made some great collaborative records, and some really good solo records, but hadn’t reached the next level that I knew he was capable of.

Moka Only & Ayatollah - Bridges

Vancouver’s Moka Only is one of the most prolific emcees working today. It comes as no surprise that he would follow up a busy fall and winter that saw a couple of full length albums drop with yet another album this spring. This time he enlisted the help of Queens producer Ayatollah, best known for his work with Mos Def, amongst others. On paper, it’s a great fit, and I was very interested to hear what they’d come up with.

Apollo Brown & OC - Trophies

Apollo Brown has been building his name as a producer over the last couple years, whether it be his work with The Left or Brown Study or his solo instrumental album, Clouds. This isn’t to say there haven’t been any bumps along the way. His album with Hassaan Mackey, Daily Bread, released last year, featured uninspired production and lyrics and left me wanting. I’m sad to say that’s the case again with his latest album, Trophies, done in collaboration with D.

Open Mike Eagle - Rent Party Extension

L.A. emcee Open Mike Eagle is not one to let his fans sit long without new music. Just a few months after his last EP, he’s come back with one more to tide us over until his new album comes out later this year on Fake Four. While the last EP used a remix of the song “Nightmares” as a stepping off point, this one uses “Rent Party Revolution” to get things rolling.

PremRock & Willie Green: Reassembled

Emcee PremRock and producer Willie Green have been slowly gaining momentum over the last couple years, trying to find their own space in an always crowded New York scene. However difficult it can be to get that first bit of attention, people will recognize talent when they hear it, and these two have been getting respect from their peers. Nowhere is this more apparent than this remix album. An interesting cross section of producers tried their hand at re-interpreting their music, from the firmly established, such as Blockhead, to the newer voices such as Man Mantis or Has-Lo.

Joules - Equations of Darkness

I was first came across Atlanta producer Joules when he collaborated with Adam WarRock and Tribe One on the EP Paper Cutters & Dangling Headphones last year. This year I had the opportunity to see him deejaying for WarRock during his set at SXSW. Neither of these points of exposure prepared me for the instrumental EP he just released, though, a short collection of beautiful down tempo songs. I’d have to say this is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

One Be Lo - K.I.C.K. P.U.S.H.

Less than a year after One Be Lo released his ambitious LABOR album, he’s come right back with another full length effort. Coming out of the recording sessions of his last record, Lo assembled a production team called The Autocons, who then laid down the foundation for this album. While LABOR was grand and ambitious in it’s scope, K.I.C.K. P.U.S.H. (which stands for “Keep It Cool Kid, People Usually Show Hate”), is much more personal and intimate.

s/s/s - Beak & Claw

s/s/s is the collaboration of three artists - Son Lux, Serengeti, and Sufjan Stevens. Five or more years ago I would have never thought to put Stevens and anticon. together, but given the musical directions the label and Stevens have taken in recent years, they’re not as far apart as they once were. That said, this EP still makes for a very unique record, and a very interesting blending of sounds, from the orchestral folk-pop background of Stevens, the wry, sarcastic delivery of Serengeti’s rhymes, and the bedroom ambiance of Son Lux’s production.