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

Is it wrong to state publicly that I’ll pick up any J Dilla release at this point? I realize that everything he would have wanted circulating has probably been released, but the guy was just that good. This album is something of a mixtape of stuff he did over the course of his career, with 28 short tracks clocking in at just under an hour. And while there are some gems on here, there is also material that is lesser or unrealized.

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.

Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls - Lord Newborn & The Magic Skulls

Lord Newborn is the collaboration between hip hop-ish instrumentalists Tommy Guerrero, Money Mark, and Shawn Lee. When I first heard of the collaboration, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a natural gathering, and my hankering was soon proved to be correct. The three travel a musical landscape that combines, blues, funk, dub, jazz, Latin, and hip hop stylings in a way that is completely comprehensive. Of the three, Guerrero is the musician I’m most familiar with, and his guitar-playing is quite superb, but in true collaborative fashion, it doesn’t overpower the album.

Dam-Funk - toeachizown

It’s odd to me how so many people project their own expectations onto this album. I feel like I keep reading about how this is a return to G-Funk, or how this album could only happen in L.A., or how this is a Gangsta with a capital “G” album. Frankly, I’m not sure I hear any of this. To me, Dam-Funk is all about late ‘70s and early ‘80s experimental synth and drum artists, and I find him interesting because he pulls off the feat of being a throwback artist while still being progressive.

Mos Def - The Estatic

Remember the days when it seemed like Mos Def might become an interesting artist to cross over into the mainstream? Clearly he is not interested in doing that with his music. After the contractual “F-You” that was True Magic, Mos decided to make an album with the likes of Madlib and Oh No, two brothers who don’t want to make pop records. They do have quite a track record of making interesting and challenging music, and that’s definitely what’s going on here.

Souls of Mischief - Montezuma's Revenge

Souls of Mischief, the subset of Hieroglyphics consisting of Opio, Tajai, A Plus, and Phesto, haven’t released an album since 2000. For this one, they enlisted the help of Prince Paul on production duties. His work on this album is great; the beats sound great coming through my speakers. However, just three songs into the album, I can’t believe how bad the lyrics are. “Won!” features sexist and homophobic lyrics, talking about “pantyhose critics,” and other lines I’m not comfortable repeating.

Crown City Rockers - The Day After Forever

Crown City Rockers are a bit of a hidden gem from the Bay Area as a group with live instrumentation. You might not be familiar with them because it has taken them four years to follow up their last album. You might be familiar with member Headnotic and his work with The Mighty Underdogs, but otherwise they’ve probably been overlooked if you’re not from the region. With their style, I don’t see them knocking anyone out with this album, but I do see it creeping into a lot of people’s rotations.