Aceyalone - Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones

This album is the second in a series of albums that Aceyalone decided to do as experiments in crossing other genres with hip hop, which started with 2007’s Lighting Strikes, his foray into reggae. While reggae is not the oddest direction to take hip hop (the family tree doesn’t split that far back), I had to pause when I heard that this album with be Acey’s experiment with doo-wop. This isn’t as quite a natural fit, and it takes a little bit of finagling to make it work.

Anti-Pop Consortium - Flourescent Black

If there was any doubt that Anti-Pop wasn't going to hit hard on their long-awaited reunion album, they don't waste any time answering your questions. The opening track, “Lay Me Down,” opens up with some turn-up-the-volume metal guitar shredding, only to drop out and have some sinister slow drums start pulsing as M. Sayyid begins to lay it down. It's been six years since they last released an album together, and they've released albums as solo artists and side projects, but nothing came close to what they create when all four members are playing off and challenging each other.

Big Quarters - From the Homes of Brown Babies and White Mothers

Big Quarters consist of brothers Brandon and Zach Bagaason, an up-and-coming duo from Minneapolis who shouldn't be unknown for much longer. For one, they are very much committed to connecting to their fans, passing out free CDs at shows, and providing affordable download subscription services for their music. First and foremost, though, is the music, and BQ certainly brings it on their new album. They bring such a great marriage of inventive, varied production mixed with smart, thoughtful lyrics, this is album is definitely in the running for best surprise of the year.

Bike For Three! - More Heart Than Brain

Bike for Three! is the collaboration between Canadian emcee Buck 65 and Belgian producer Greetings from Tuskan. I'm not familiar with Greetings from Tuskan, but I'll be honest and admit that I've completely lost interest in Buck 65’s career since Talkin’ Honky Blues. I just couldn't get into his spoken-word-ish delivery over music that was pretty uninteresting. This album was being put out on anticon, though, so I thought maybe this would be a departure of the material of recent years.

Blueprint - Sign Language

While many people might be familiar with Blueprint as an emcee, fewer people are probably aware of his efforts as a producer. Which is a shame, because you're not getting the full picture if you haven't spent time with his instrumental works. As an emcee, he's bold and playful, telling tales of social unrest and personal struggles with a good balance of seriousness and humor. As a producer, he explores areas of music outside of hip hop that are warm, soulful, and sexy.

Cage - Depart From Me

These days, I try to remind myself that Hell's Winter is a really good album and it was before that idiot Shia LeBouf started championing Cage as his favorite and said he was going to make and star in a biopic about him. It had been a while since that album had come out now, though, and I was curious to see what he had in store for a follow up.

Various Artists - Definitive Jux Presents 4

So for a short time there, it seemed like this was going to be a yearly event, a sort of State-of-the-Union album from one of underground hip hop's hottest labels. Well, after the third one, I guess they got distracted, ‘cause we hadn’t heard one in quite a few years. The most important thing about the DJP series is that it provided a place to collect good singles that didn't have a home on an album but needed an audience.

Dälek - Gutter Tactics

I've never really gotten into Dälek before. The experimental Jersey duo who have been putting out albums since 1998, and upon listening to this album, it quickly becomes clear to me why I've never connected to their music. The opening track, “Blessed Are They Who Bash Your Children's Head Against A Rock,” is sure to stir up emotions as a slow, ominous, pulsing beat builds while Rev. Jeremiah Wright's speech discusses race and international relations in the United States.

J Dilla - Dillanthology Volume 1

So it doesn't appear we're anywhere close to running out of tributes, unreleased material and anthologies for the late J Dilla. Considering how much music he produced in his short life, I'm not really surprised. Nor am I complaining. The nice thing about the compilation is that it gives a decent cross section of different artists he worked with. Some of the tracks work perfectly (Common's “The Light” and Erykah Badu's “Didn't Cha Know”), and some of them not quite as well (Busta Rhyme's “Show Me What You Got” or Frank n Dank's “Okay”), but they all highlight what made J Dilla worth celebrating.

J Dilla - Dillanthology Volume 2

Following up the first anthology of Dilla's production for other artists, Rapster Records comes back with a collection of remixes that Dilla did across his career. Unfortunately, the collection starts off with two tracks that he produced originally, “Stakes is High” by De La Soul and “Y? (Be Like That)” by the Pharcyde, and they don't vary that much from the original version. I'm not quite sure the reasoning behind this approach other than these are two of the better known artists on this volume.