MIRANDOM - The Memorandum

In case you didn’t know, Mega Ran, who dropped his latest album of video game-inspired hip hop last month, has also been performing under the name Random for years before he developed this alter ego. The Philly artist recently teamed up with Phoenix emcee Mr. Miranda to form the duo of MIRANDOM. The pairing might be new, but they sound so comfortable trading verses on the mic, it sounds like they’ve been doing it for years.

IV the Polymath - New Vs. Old

2011 has been a good year for IV the Polymath, having already released a solid instrumental EP in January, and then an excellent collaboration with emcee Jondis as i.deals in June. If that wasn’t enough, he’s giving us a full length collection of instrumental hip hop to close out the year, and it is some of the best work he’s done to date. The Indiana-based producer, working with a combination of sample-based hip hop beats and live instrumentation, has given us a varied album with a wide scope of sounds and solid grooves.

KingHellBastard - The War Room

Despite being geographically located in between strong hip hop scenes in Chicago and Minneapolis, hip hop hasn’t taken hold in Wisconsin in the way you might expect, or at least the way that I would like it to. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t anything good happening, but you have to search for it, and the support system isn’t where it needs to be to keep interesting artists going. I knew about KHB from their EP Remember the Name before I moved up to Wisconsin, so I knew I could at least look forward to this Milwaukee crew.

Ark Arsenal - In Those Shoes

In Those Shoes is latest work from musician Mark Dowdell, who began releasing self-produced EPs under the name Ark Arsenal last summer. In the course of a little over a year, he has shown noticeable growth. With more of a rock background, his first EP found a territory somewhere in the prog-rock/post-rock area. It showed promise, but wasn’t especially interesting or unique. Fast forward sixteen months, and the leap forward in quality is noteworthy.

Boog Brown - The Brown Studies Remixes

Last year, Detroit emcee Boog Brown teamed up with producer Apollo Brown to create the full length album, The Brown Study. She had released a few mixtapes previously, but this served as her first proper album and an introduction to a larger fan base. While her notoriety has grown, a lot of people still haven’t realized her talent yet. To re-introduce herself before her next album is ready, we get a full length remix album of The Brown Study.

Sole & The Skyrider Band - The Challenger EP

Rounding out a year that has seen him touring, protesting, releasing mix tapes, and joining the Skyrider Band to make one of the strongest and most unique albums of the year, Sole comes back one more time with the Skyrider Band to give us this four-song EP. Most artists would use this as an opportunity to release something fun at the end of the year, just something to say thanks to their fans.

Small Professor - Leftover Jawns

Small Professor is a producer from Philadelphia who has been slowly building a following over the course of this year with his “Jawn” series of EPs. This is the fourth installment in the series, and as you can guess from the title, it’s a collection of songs without homes. The second installment, Elderly Jawns, was the most fully formed and far reaching effort, but that isn’t to say that Leftover Jawns doesn’t have it’s moments.

Mikal kHill & Romero Shaw - dust.

Emcee Mikal kHill from the North Carolina nerdcore group Thoughtcriminals first approached Pennsylvania producer Romero Shaw (Sage Francis, Sadistik) about working together on an EP seven years ago. It took longer than expected to make the project finally come together, but when it did, they realized that they would have enough material for a full length album. If you’re expecting fun songs about video games or comics, though, this isn’t the release for you.

Chilo - Natural Evolution

Christopher Cajigas spends his days teaching social studies to kids in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and that commitment to his community shines through when he performs as the emcee Chilo. The Irish-Puerto Rican American is a student of classic New York hip hop, dropping a fair mix of socially aware lyrics and battle rhymes over a steady serving of boom bap. With his booming low voice, he can drop lines with authority.

A Loud Heart - A Loud Heart

A Loud Heart is the pairing of Minneapolis emcee Guante with singer-songwriter Claire Taubenhaus. They also bring in upright bass and cello on a couple of their songs. When done well, a project in this style can be really moving, but when done poorly can come across as the most ridiculously pretentious and self-righteous coffee house music. Unfortunately, A Loud Heart is the latter. Taubenhaus is a good singer-songwriter, and she’s got a strong voice, but she doesn’t really get the chance to shine or do anything interesting on this EP.