Gift of Gab - Escape to Mars

Remember, back around ‘03/‘04, when Quannum could do no wrong? What happened, guys? It seems like everything the past couple of years have been decent to disappointing. Also, production seems to have slowed down and their website is not great. This saddens a guy who wore his Lyrics Born hoodie every day for years until the holes were big enough that he finally had to retire it this year. 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up was one of my sleeper favorite albums of 2004.

K'naan - Troubadour

K’naan is a Somali-Canadian hip hop musician whose been slowly been building a following which is surely going to grow even more with the release of Troubadour. First and foremost, we need to be honest in assessment of K’naan - he has a compelling story and an interesting and accessible sound. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I just felt the need to put this out front before I delved any deeper into picking apart this album.

Lateef The Truth Speaker - Truth is Love Mixtape

Sometimes, good artists go bad. I wish I could explain it better, but the man who helped bring such albums as Latyrx and Maroons and mixtapes as killer as Ahead of the Curve, delivers us a mixtape that fails pretty much from start to finish. I’m hard-pressed to pick an part of this album that isn’t cheesy as hell. I do like the cool envelope packaging, but that’s about it. The only good tracks are from previous albums like Maroons and Generel Elektriks.

Madlib - Beat Konducta Vol. 5 & 6: Dil Cosby Suite & Dil Withers Suite

One of the first hip hop releases of 2009, and it turns out to be one of the most difficult to discuss. Why? Because there are so many different contexts in which to listen to this album. Do you discuss it in terms of other volumes of the Beat Konducta series that Madlib has been engaging in? Do you discuss it in terms of other instrumental hip hop albums? Do you dare touch it in terms of a tribute to fellow producer and friend J Dilla?

Major Lazer - Guns Don’t Kill People...Lazers Do

Here’s where we expose my ignorance in regards to dancehall music. Major Lazer is the project from producers Diplo and Switch, whom most people know from their involvements with M.I.A. Supposedly, Major Lazer is a character they created who is a Jamaican commando who lost an arm fighting a zombie war. This is an interesting concept, but doesn’t necessarily affect the music on the album, just the art work. As for the music on the album, I have to say I’m a little let down.

Mankwe Ndosi - do gooders' blues

Mankwe Ndosi may have been an active participant in the art and music communities up in Minneapolis, but most of us outside of the area haven’t heard of her. Hopefully, that will change in the near future, now that do-gooders’ blues is out. The easy comparison to make is to Erykah Badu, but to stop there is lazy doesn’t do either justice. Ndosi has a beautiful, silky delivery that delivers each word with care, but then can switch it up and slang some thoughts down on a funky beat.

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.