J-Live - Undivided Attention

Unfortunately, J-Live flew under a lot of people’s radars. This is in large part due to the shelving of his debut album and not really belonging to a crew or particular scene that blew up. But J-Live plugged away, proud to call himself a hip hop triple-threat: emcee, deejay, and producer. As he preps his fifth full-length album, J-Live releases this EP as a teaser. It’s a fulfilling six-song collection, with his own production mixed in with the likes of Locsmif and Nicolay.

Lyrics Born - As U Were

So I need to preface this review with my biases. Lyrics Born’s first solo album, Later That Day, was one of my favorite albums of 2003. It was funky as hell and featured some smart, politically-minded lyrics. It wasn’t perfect, but it was really damn good. I saw him in concert three times in support of that album including a show with RJD2, where I picked up an LB hoodie, which I proceeded to wear for the next four years until it was literally falling apart.

Black Milk - Album of the Year

First things first - this album sounds great. If you can listen to the opening track and not instinctively turn up your stereo, you might want to check your pulse. Of course, I would expect nothing less coming from someone who has already established themselves as one of the best working producers, who cut his teeth collaborating with J Dilla. I know that connection is both a blessing and a curse to him, but I think this album might be the last time we get hung up on it.

KingHellBastard - Remember the Name

If you’re like me, you know next to nothing about Milwaukee hip hop. Not that I’m unwilling to learn. It’s just that when I heard KHB was from Milwaukee, I was stumped to come up with another group from there. I’m sure stuff is happening, but little has made a national splash. However, KHB is changing that. The four-man crew of Dana Coppafeel, Clark Beez, DNA, and DJ1L are seeking to make a statement, as is evident from the title of the EP.

Busdriver - Computer Cooties

While we wait on his new solo album and the much anticipated debut of his band, Physical Forms, Busdriver hopes to hold his fans over with this free digital EP. It’s an interesting mix of new material, remixes Busdriver did of other artists, remixes that different musicians did of Busdriver, and songs by others that Busdriver guests on. So, most aspects of the artist known as Busdriver are on display here.

TOKiMONSTA - Midnight Menu

Los Angeles-based electronic artist Jennifer Lee records the ostensibly degendered handle TOKiMONSTA. She is associated with Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder scene and has been active since 2006. As such, TOKiMONSTA complements the sound that has come to define the West Coast environment, with an emphasis placed on riding a steady groove over fetishizing the glitch as artists like Prefuse 73 did earlier in the last decade. TOKiMONSTA’s moniker itself is instructive. “Toki” is Korean for “bunny rabbit,” a term that reflects both her cultural heritage and suggests cuteness.

Zumbi & The Are Present: The Burnerz

The Burnerz is a collaboration between emcee Zumbi from Bay Area group Zion I, and Houston-based producer The Are, who has worked with everyone from Keyshia Cole to Canibus. While you might expect a Houston producer to sound like UGK, The Are shows that he can lay down some laid back West Coast grooves with the best of them. The first couple of tracks do have a more aggressive Southern style to them, with a more straightforward beat and minimal synthesized instrumentation and ominous background vocals.

Mr. J Medeiros - Friends Enemies Apples Apples

After listening to Shad name-drop Medeiros on his new album and reading that he is currently in the studio working on a new album, I’ve decided to add a “Better Late Than Never” review to this site. Mr. J. Medeiros got started with overlooked group The Procussions in the early 2000s. When the Colorado Springs-based outfit called disbanded in 2006, Medeiros kept recording as a solo artist. Now on his third release, he moves forward with hip hop that is both accessible and progressive.

Andreya Triana - Lost Where I Belong

Most of us were first introduced to Andreya Triana when Bonobo’s album Black Sands came out earlier this year. She was the featured vocalist on three tracks. It certainly caught my attention, and I was excited to learn that her solo debut would come out later the same year, with Bonobo producing. Well, the short wait is over, and it’s time to listen. While Black Sands has a dreamy sound that includes lots of instrumental works that needs a patient listener to wait for all the layers to build, Lost Where I Belong has a more immediate impact.

Shad - TSOL

The third album from the Canadian rapper, Shad is set to cross over and become a major force stateside. His music is accessible, with most songs featuring killer soul samples reworked to a funky new life. What is going to put Shad in that upper echelon of emcees is his clever wordplay. He’s a smart guy who strikes a great balance between exploring his own emotions and life experiences and connecting them with the larger world.