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.

Bilal - Airtight's Revenge

Why haven’t I been listening to Bilal this entire time? I feel like I’ve been had. I realize this is due in part to Bilal falling prey to a dispute with Interscope that saw his sophomore album shelved indefinitely, so his solo career has been bit dormant for most of the last decade. Now that he’s freed from that burden and on independent label Plug Research, hopefully he can just go out there and make music and reach the appropriate audience.

Atmosphere - To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EPs

Released as something to tide fans over until the next official album, this tour-only double EP contains twelve new tracks. The nice thing about this release is that they made the stakes so low with the presentation - it feels like every song you enjoy is a bonus. Atmosphere can get away with this because they’ve been around for a long time and have built up a devoted fan base, which they accomplished by constantly touring and churning out hip hop that’s interesting and challenging but still accessible.

Woman @ Work, Volumes 2 and 3

The two most recent installments of Psalm One’s self-released Woman @ Work series confirm that these collections are all of a piece. At the moment, I feel I may have reviewed her first entry in haste. I wasn’t as aware of the ways in which evaluating it individually without fully processing the subsequent releases would turn an ongoing dialogue about working through childhood, self-image, interpersonal relationships, and professional aspirations into fragments.

DJ Muggs vs. Ill Bill - Kill Devil Hills

This album is a collaboration between of DJ Muggs, the DJ and producer for Cypress Hill, and Ill Bill, an emcee from the group Non Phixion. It continues in the path of one-off collaborations that Muggs has been doing with artists such as GZA and Planet Asia. I have to admit that I’m out of my element, in that it’s a more hard-core New York gangsta than I normally listen to, but I’m going to do my best to be objective.

Camu Tao - King of Hearts

This is definitely one of the hardest reviews I’ll have to write. There are just so many factors going into this album, it becomes very difficult to listen to it and judge it on its own merits. First of all, Camu Tao passed away in May of 2008 due to complications from lung cancer. He had a career that mostly had him lurking behind the scenes as a producer, although he did have a few collaborative releases such as S.

Psalm One Woman @ Work Volume 1

After years on her grind and three releases to her credit, retired chemist Cristalle Bowen captured a lot of attention in 2006. It was recorded under her alias Psalm One in 2006 for her album, The Death of the Frequent Flyer, and released on Rhymesayers. The full-length introduced the Chicago-based MC’s swagger and formidable rhyming skills to a larger audience and made an invaluable contribution to the relative dearth of female artists in underground hip hop.

Eulorhythmics - Green St. & Avers

Eulorhythmics is the joint effort of Chicago artists Kenny Keys and MC Adad. I hadn’t heard either of these two before this album, but from my first listen, I was intrigued. They seemed playful and inventive, dropping some interesting beats and heavy bass. There was definitely some West Coast influence here, maybe some Pharcyde or Aceyalone. I dug the beginning of this album and wondered if I could add them to my list of new favorites for 2010.

Homeboy Sandman - The Good Sun

The NYC native known as Homeboy Sandman began releasing music in 2007, and this is already his third album. Listening to him rhyme, I thought about emcees like Eyedea, Buck 65, or Sage Francis. This is partially because of his gruff, rapid-fire delivery, but also because of his smart, sarcastic lyrics. However, I don’t want to paint Sandman into a corner. As I continue listening to this album, I better appreciate how he’s made his own style that still allows for variance.

El-P - Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3

Not too long ago, El-P stepped aside as CEO of Definitve Jux to concentrate on making music. In his first major release since that announcement, we are treated to an all instrumental mix from one of hip hop’s premier beat makers. The album won’t knock you over the head the way I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead did, but I don’t believe it is supposed to. It still contains a pervasive dark overtone, as much of his work does.