Sole and the Skyrider Band - Hello Cruel World

Four years have passed since Sole first collaborated with The Skyrider Band. In that time, their sound has evolved, striking an interesting balance between electronic music, post-rock, art-rock, and mainstream hip hop. It’s a fascinating combination of influences. They’ve covered a lot of ground since they first started collaborating together, and they are certainly a great distance away from Sole’s early work. I can’t say a lot of albums sound like Hello Cruel World.

Various Artists - The Heart Volume 2

The Heart is a compilation series Tokyo Dawn launched last year after finding themselves with a back log of unreleased R&B ballads. It’s fairly straightforward, but certainly enjoyable if this is your cup of tea. My only real complaint with the compilation is its homogeneity. All of the songs are of the slow jam/quiet storm variety, which makes listening to the album from start to finish a little bit of a chore.

Sole - Nuclear Winter Volume 2: Death Panel

The first Nuclear Winter mix came about when Sole became disappointed that every version he heard of “My President” didn’t seem to criticize Obama at all. The decision to record his own version was a launching point for this project, in which he samples current pop/hip hop songs and re-appropriates them as a platform to discuss current events in a critical fashion. If you’re already familiar with Sole, you probably know about his far left politics (he describes himself as an anarchist).

K-Murdock - The Ronin

K-Murdock is a D.C.-based producer that has been plugging away from years, mostly as part of the group Panacea, but also with such artists as Mega Ran. His name might not be as well known as other producers, but I get the feeling that this will be changing in the near future. This EP gives us a brief glimpse as to why. The EP came from a bunch of random songs that K-Murdock recorded over the last couple years that didn’t have a home.

The Extremities - The Mint Condition

The Extremities are Canadian producers Fresh Kils and Uncle Fester. They are long-time friends and collaborators and this album is the culmination of several years of work together. The project started when Fester worked at the CBC and had access to a ton of CBC jazz sessions that became source material for a hip hop project. Kils often describes a lot of his work as support staff, opting for a production style that lets the artist he’s working with shine, so he was excited to have a project with his good friend Fester to showcase their own talent.

Prometheus Brown & Bambu - Walk into a Bar

Promtheus Brown (aka Geologic from Blue Scholars) and Bambu are long-time friends who have collaborated a few times over the years, most notably on “Slow Down,” from Bambu’s …paper cuts… EP. Due to the distance between Brown and Bambu’s respective home bases in Seattle and LA, they haven’t been able to find much time in which to collaborate. Fortunately, the opportunity came up last winter, when the University of Hawaii’s Ethnic Studies department invited the two Pilipino American activist/emcees to come and speak to the students about community organizing.

Kosha Dillz - Gina and the Garage Sale EP

Kosha Dillz is a Jewish rapper from Jersey who’s been on his grind for years. He’s collaborated with the likes of C-Rayz Walz, Homeboy Sandman, and others. With his new EP, he’s looking to kick off a new chapter in his life, which is evidenced by the opening track, “Garage Sale,” which serves as an extended metaphor for cleaning out past clutter and starting fresh. On a nine-track EP, Dillz manages to cover a wide range of styles, from the soul-funk of “Garage Sale,” to the new wave synth of “All These Years,” the West Coast gangsta swagger of “To The Most High,” to the pop soul of “Dance Away the Pain,” to the Latin-inspired “Span-Hebrish (Ech Ani Olech),” to the Timbaland-esque “The Sweatpants Song.

Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

I’ve long been a fan of Digable Planets. Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and Blowout Comb rank among my favorite hip hop albums of all time. It’s always bothered me that they don’t get the recognition given to other artists from that era. I suppose this can in part be attributed to how all three members disappeared from the spotlight for a while, then struggled to find new projects that worked as well as Digable Planets.

Zero Star - Don't Look Now

After releasing The Ink Pen Method earlier this year, Zero Star is back with an eight song EP. For this project, he enlisted fellow Columbus native J Maggz to produce and rhyme on a couple of tracks. It’s a solid effort, and one that hopefully sets the stage for Zero Star’s sophomore full length album. The production is solid, with a lot of jazz-inspired grooves that provide a platform for Zero Star to rhyme.

The Real Hiphop: Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the LA Underground by Marcyliena Morgan

Marcyliena Morgan is a professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard and founder and executive director of its Hiphop Archive. When I saw that she put together a book about Project Blowed, I was excited. This is the Life is one of my favorite hip hop documentaries. It focuses on the open mic sessions at the Good Life, a health food store in L.A. where many underground hip hop artists cut their chops.