Wide Eyes - Hands Tied

There’s something very exciting about the first time you put on album by an artist you haven't heard before. Sure, it could suck and you just throw it in the discard pile. But every once in a while, you’ll come across an album that totally moves you and finds a way into your permanent rotation. That's definitely the case with Wide Eyes. I knew nothing about what to expect going into the album, but I'm a fan now.

DJ Shadow - Live in Los Angeles, 10/31/09

DJ Shadow has been around and produced so many albums and tracks, it can be easy to forget how great of an actual deejay he is. While I felt that his official live album Live! In Tune and on Time felt really flat and uninteresting, this album is quite the opposite. Maybe it's because this wasn't planned for wide release, so no one felt the need to package the album in any way, and as a result, Shadow just gets to do his thing.

RJD2 - The Colossus

RJD2 has had an interesting career so far. His first album, Deadringer, had him being hailed as heir to the throne of DJ Shadow, an instant instrumental hip hop classic that helped lay the foundation for Definitive Jux. On Since We Last Spoke, he went in a different direction, incorporating noisy rock to counterbalance the hip hop, creating a unique and rewarding listening experience. On The Third Hand, he parted ways with Jux, signed with XL, and dropped an album that was more in line with the electro-pop stylings of acts like Hot Chip, and prominently featured his own vocals.

Blockhead - The Music Scene

To those who don't know, Blockhead is the guy who produced “Daylight” for Aesop Rock. Those that have been paying attention know that this is the fourth in a series of great instrumental hip hop albums that he's put out. The biggest thing about this album is how much space Blockhead gives himself to work. It's an extremely complex album with elements of jazz, funk, dub, rock, and whatever else might float in and out of his head.

C-Rayz Walz - Who The F%@K Are You?

C-Rayz is a guy that's been around for years, but is mostly known to only the purest of hip hop heads. It seemed for a moment that he might break out when he put out a couple of releases on Def Jux, but in general, he doesn't seem translate well on record. The first time I heard him was when Ravipops came out. I liked it, but wasn't blown away by it.

The Grouch and Eligh - Say G&E!

As two of the members of Living Legends, The Grouch and Eligh have been making hip hop for years. As a duo, this comes as the fourth volume of G&E music, and they've certainly got chemistry together. Eligh handles the majority of production on the album, with some complimentary tracks laid down by Flying Lotus, Amp Live, and Rick Rock. Flying Lotus fits in nicely, as does Rick Rock (if you’re not paying attention, you might think they were also Eligh tracks), but Amp Live's “Boom,” never comes together to work as well as intended.

J Dilla - Jay Stay Paid

Solillaquists of Sound - No More Heroes

Not since Arrested Development has a group wrestled with balancing inherent talent with being preachy. Listening to this album, I feel like I'm constantly on the brink of liking the music and the challenging directions and stylings they're bringing in. But then I'll be completely taken out the moment by lyrics that come across as smarter-and-holier-than-thou. And then there are moments that just go over the top ridiculous and I feel like I’m not on the inside of a joke - there’s just something about hearing a chopped and screwed voice saying “Harriet Tubman would be proud,” that makes me shake my head and say “What?

Blakroc - Blakroc

I can't tell you how excited I was to hear about this project - The Black Keys, a blues/garage rock act I've followed and enjoyed for years, was going to team up with a wide array of hip hop artists to make an album. I'm sold. Listening to the album, the results are a bit more mixed than I'd hoped for. I think the biggest disappointment for me is that the album opens with the song, “Coochie,” with ODB and Ludacris laying down rhymes that are less than inspired about a subject matter that I was hoping this album wouldn't pander to.

Busdriver - Jhelli Beam

Busdriver's 2007 album Roadkill Overcoat felt like a culmination to me, a coherent album from start to finish that flowed well, with Boom Bap and Nobody working closely with him to create what I consider to be a modern classic. How do you follow up an album like that? In Busdriver's case, you make a disjointed, challenging album that bites the hand that feeds it. How else do you explain an album that starts off with the artist claiming, “Be real.