Rakaa - Crown of Thorns

Rakaa might be the most overlooked member of Dilated Peoples. DJ Babu gets attention as part of the Beat Junkies crew, and fellow emcee Evidence has a couple of solo releases. With Crown of Thorns, Rakaa looks to step out and create an identity for himself. On the first few tracks, which are decent, it’s a bit more of the same in terms of his work with DP, but nothing really stands out.

How To Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip Hop by Dave Tompkins

Tompkins certainly picked an interesting topic to cover in his first book. There isn’t a wealth of material out there on the history of the vocoder, an interesting piece of equipment if there ever was one. I was certainly on board with the subject matter, and when someone like Jeff Chang, one of my favorite critics, tells me that Tompkins is the best hip hop writer born, I certainly take notice.

Declaime - Fonk

Going into 2010, I knew very little of Declaime or Georgia Anne Muldrow. As July draws to a close, they are both defining the year in music for me. They put out a great album together, and Muldrow released a stellar solo album on which Declaime was featured. With this release, the journey through smart psychedelic hip hop funk continues. As is quickly becoming a pattern for me, I love the tracks with Muldrow.

Say My Name directed by Nirit Peled

First, a call to action: please watch Nirit Peled’s Say My Name. I caught the 2008 documentary during the film portion of 2009’s SXSW and it was definitely the highlight of the week. Women Make Movies are in the process of getting it out on DVD after the film completes its festival circuit. Save it to your Netflix queue. Lobby your local rental store or library to obtain a copy. Make it a priority to see it.

The Roots - How I Got Over

This is the eighth studio album from Philadelphia legends The Roots. I’ve been looking forward to this album for a while, if only because I was a little let down with The Rising Down. Not that the album was bad, but it didn’t stick with me like The Tipping Point or The Game Theory. How I Got Over starts off slow with a treble a capella group singing dos and dahs as electric piano, bass, and drums are folded in, but it never grows beyond that until we get to the second track.

The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble - Miles Away

Madlib has done so much hip hop production, it’s easy to forget that he’s just as serious a jazz musician. This is his second jazz album of the year, along with the Young Jazz Rebels album. Here, we take a journey to the fusion jazz of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, paying tribute to artists like Derf Reklaw, Roy Ayers, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders. Madlib apparently spent the last two years tweaking this album until he was happy with it, and while I don’t know what the rough draft was like, I can say I enjoy the finished product.

Dosh - Tommy

On his fifth full-length album, anticon. mainstay Dosh brings us a world of music that has no real use for genre or classification. His typical composition method is based on looping multiple instruments, and his association with his label mates align him with hip hop and electronic music. He also just went on tour with indie-rock violinist Andrew Bird, who also makes an appearance on this album. I imagine others would want to put some sort of post-rock label on him, due to the mostly instrumental nature of the album and the loose song structure and ever-present drums.

Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek are Reflection Eternal - Revolutions Per Minute

Ten years after their initial collaboration as Reflection Eternal, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek have once again joined forces to produce some fun and accessible hip hop that will also make you think. It takes a little bit for the album to get going, with an intro/skit that doesn’t quite come together, and a couple of songs that are decent but don’t really go anywhere. At this point, I’m just a little nervous that this ten-year reunion is going through the motions.

Sage Francis - Li(f)e

Sage Francis has had a pretty interesting career so far, with a background that ties him to anticon. and spoken word/slam poetry circles. With the release of the Non-Prophets record, it seemed for a hot minute like he might go a more traditional hip hop route, but that didn’t last at all. It wasn’t that long after that he was collaborating with the likes of Will Oldham to create a unique indie-folk/hip hop hybrid.

B. Dolan - Fallen House Sunken City

B. Dolan has been plugging away for a few years as a spoken word artist and social activist. When I found out he was friends with Sage Francis and would be touring with him in support of their new albums, this made sense. On this album, which Dolan collaborated with anticon. member Alias on as producer, he comes at you with a focused, intense barrage of songs. At times, it feels that Alias is channeling El-P, laying down a sonic background of funky, harsh, urban decay.