Dark Time Sunshine - ANX

Northwest emcee Onry Ozzborn has been around a while, whether it be as part of Oldominion or Grayskul or as a solo artist. His latest project, Dark Time Sunshine, a collaboration with Chicago producer Zavala, only began in 2009, but they’ve quickly established themselves as their own entity. With their latest release, ANX, they deliver a moving and intimate album that is sure to set themselves apart. The title of the album stems from both Ozzborn and Zavala’s struggles with anxiety, and the music on ANX was meant to reflect that.

Phashara - Pathways

Pathways is the sophomore solo album from Beatmonstas member Phashara. The Chicago emcee and producer (he produced all but three tracks on Pathways) originally had a high concept name for the album, attempting to compare how traditional high art is created and received with how art is expressed when coming out of the hood. After growing tired of explaining the concept to everyone and making sure each song he wrote fell in line with the theme, Phashara decided that he needed a new direction and title for the album.

ILLROY - Dress For Success

When one is deejaying, there’s basically three general types of interactions that you’ll have. One is the nice and simple, “Good job” variety. It’s always appreciated, and doesn’t distract from the job at hand. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to group all negative interactions into one group, which range from the request that makes you think, “Have you listened to a single thing I’ve been playing?” to the obnoxious drunk who can’t take a hint and keeps coming back with more inane comments.

YC the Cynic - Good Morning, Midnight

When you go to a festival like SXSW, one of the things you’re always hoping for is that moment when you unexpectedly come across a new talent. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does happen, it’s special. It didn’t happen this year, but in 2011, J-Live’s turned the stage over to a young emcee by the name of YC the Cynic for part of his set. Most of the time, when I see an artist as young as YC (still not old enough to drink), I spend most of my time frustrated, thinking of all the things that they still haven’t figured out, whether it be their flow, or shifting the focus from style over substance.

Aesop Rock - Skelethon

Yes, it’s been five years since the last Aesop Rock solo album, but that doesn’t mean he’s been in hibernation all this time. In 2009, he produced the third effort from Felt, the collaboration series between Murs and Slug. Just last year, he teamed up with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz to form Hail Mary Mallon, and released their debut album on Rhymesayers. On top of all that, he’s produced tracks and laid down guest verses for a few artists, including Kimya Dawson, with whom a full length collaboration is forthcoming.

Bigg Jus - Machines That Make Civilization Fun

Most people still probably think of Bigg Jus as the other emcee from Company Flow, even though it’s been fifteen years since the release of Funcrusher Plus. That said, it’s also been seven years since his only solo album, so he hasn’t made a lot of noise since then to establish his career as a solo artist. On the other hand, that record, Poor People’s Day, held a lot of promise.

LMNTlyst - Popcorn Earworm

Milwaukee producer LMNTlyst has been making music for years, but is still unknown to a lot of hip hop fans. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s because his music is so eclectic and odd, people have a hard time pinning him down. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have scene/background/label support of someone like Madlib. I don’t know. Working as a multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer, he gives us his latest instrumental album, Popcorn Earworm, and he certainly makes his case as one of the most interesting and eclectic instrumental artists working today.

Curumin - Arrocha

Like most Americans, I was introduced to Brazilian artist Curumin through Quannum Projects. On a trip to Brazil, Chief Xcel discovered the artist, and set about producing his cross-over record, Japan Pop Show, which featured appearances from Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truth Speaker. Fast forward four years, and Curumin finally gives us a new record, this time stepping out on his own. Arrocha, which in Portuguese means to squeeze, sees Curumin working without the direct influence of the Quannum crew.

Blockhead - Interludes After Midnight

While it seems like his production work for emcees will always get him the most recognition, New York artist Blockhead has been quietly putting together one of the most impressive runs of instrumental hip hop albums over the last eight years. Starting in 2004 with Music By Cavelight, up through his most current release, Interludes After Midnight, Blockhead has given us five full length albums full of complex and rewarding psychedelic down tempo hip hop.

Open Mike Eagle - 4NML HSPTL

On rare occasion, we get to witness a run of music from one artist where it all comes together, and something truly special happens. Most artists are fortunate to have one album where they are at their best for the length of the entire LP. When we’re really lucky, the right combination of talent and ability within an artist lines up with the right outside factors to bring us an impressive string of releases.