Safari Al - Highlands EP

After releasing his debut mixtape at the beginning of the year, Safari Al is back again with a new EP. The Milwaukee emcee works as an engineering student by day, and this release takes inspiration from a trip to Guatemala he took as part of the Engineers Without Borders program. Listening to Highlands, it seems like it’s been a long time since Hermitage Academy, just in terms of growth, even though it hasn’t been a full year.

Paper Tiger - Summer EP

One of the great things about Doomtree that sets them apart from other groups is that they not only have great chemistry together, but also shine uniquely as individual artists. This year we were already treated to Lazerbeak’s excellent instrumental album Lava Bangers. Now that the dust has settled from some extensive No Kings touring, Paper Tiger steps up to the plate with some differently-styled instrumental hip hop on his Summer EP.

B.Lewis - A Lion's Aperture

There’s not a whole lot of extraneous information floating out there on Bay Area beat maker B.Lewis, but that just means that a release like A Lion’s Aperture will have to speak for itself. Fortunately, this album has plenty to say, even though it’s instrumental. The first thing that will hit you about A Lion’s Aperture is how enveloping B.Lewis’s music is. I strongly encourage you to listen to it by yourself on headphones, so you can really lose yourself in the listening experience.

Adam WarRock - Self-Help

If you’re not paying close attention, it would be easy to pigeonhole Adam WarRock as “that guy who does the pop-culture mixtapes.” However, his talent and ability go well beyond that, and his love for hip hop is legitimate. Getting serious isn’t anything new, either, who most recently dropped the fantastic anti-Chik-fil-A single, “Guilty as Charged,” and whose album You Dare Call That Thing Human?!? featured serious tracks alongside the nerdier and funnier ones.

Anthony Maintain - The Elephant Race

As part of an emerging beat scene in Austin, Anthony Maintain drops his debut album. Maintain actually got started as an emcee up in Boston years ago, but moved to Texas a few years back and made the shift to focus more on production. Listening to this record, it’s a decision that I’m glad he made. The Elephant Race is a really interesting record, because most instrumental albums today aren’t being made in this fashion.

Encognito - A Soulstice Cancer

Coming across an artist like Encognito is my favorite part of my work with Scratched Vinyl. Every once in a while, you get that random, unsolicited submission from a young artist that makes you sit up and take notice. It also helps matter that I’ve been to a few shows recently where I sat through plenty of opening acts where young emcees had technical issues to work out, but even more importantly, they were just regurgitating images that they had absorbed from TV and radio and didn’t feel genuine.

The ThoughtCriminals - The Game Changer EP

Charlotte nerdcore group The ThoughtCriminals have gone through a lineup change recently, essentially scaling back the group to the duo of Mikal kHill and Sulfur. While their next full length album is due out this winter, they’ve just released a four song EP, both to tide fans over and to raise funds to cover their trip to Nerdapalooza in Orlando. It’s over before you know it, but it delivers exactly what you want from them.

Roane Namuh & Reva DeVito - Cloudshine

After releasing her debut EP last year, Portland singer Reva DeVito quickly garnered attention for her soulful, smoky vocals. Her style recalled the jazz/R&B style of artists like George Benson and Gil Scott-Heron (namely his work with Brian Jackson). There was also a touch of disco and hip hop to the production, which helped her sound more contemporary, and the appeal was pretty obvious. To follow up her debut, she teamed up with producer and fellow Portland resident Roane Namuh.

Sweatshop Union - Is The Leisure Gang

Vancouver’s Sweatshop Union follow up their enjoyable Bill Murray EP from last year with this summer’s Is The Leisure Gang. The title implies that there’s a concept to the EP, but the group hasn’t come forward with any insight, and the lyrics to the title track and the video don’t provide any clarity. So while the alter ego/concept to the EP is a little confusing, you can easily throw that all out the window and just treat this as another EP from the Sweatshop Union.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Superconductor

There’s always two pieces that need to fit together well when a producer and emcee get together. I know this isn’t groundbreaking news to most hip hop fans, but sometimes it needs to be said. If a really talented emcee can’t find a producer to give them just the right amount of challenge and comfort, they’ll be doomed to wallow in obscurity. On the flip side, if a really talented producer works with a mediocre to poor emcee, the most progressive and challenging music can seem more mundane than it is.