The musician and emcee who brought you classic albums such as Inner City Soul, Nina Simone By …, Os The Great & Powerful and Pisces returns with his fifteenth and sixteenth LPs, respectively named B/aQ Majik 1 and B/aQ Majik 2. O’hene Savant (Kawann Shockley) last released an album in 2016 with ALOC, or A Lack Of Convention, but this most recent output is proof of his hard work since that time. True to its title, B/aQ Majik is a reappraisal of black culture and there’s no devaluing it in O’hene’s mind, yet in addition to his love for Africa and the African diaspora, he’s got plenty more intelligence and compassion that know no ethnic boundaries, and he gives strength to all marginalized groups whether racial, economic or other. All of which is delivered via brilliant wordplay, stories, innovative production including jazz, funk, easy listening, Afro-beat and dance, plus fine guest performances from Teephlow, AJ Nelson, Che Che Da Lyricist, Honey B, E Snipe, Sheda B and Lo. Celebrate these two stellar issues from top five hip-hop artist of his time, O’hene Savant.
If you’re tired of the typical best hip-hop of the year list and want better than the usual mainstream mainstays, look no further than this rundown of the finest rap projects of 2017.
10. Catastrophic Event Specialists – Ces Cru (February 10 / Strange Music, Inc.)
Although Ces Cru rappers Godemis and Ubiquitous have perfected traditional quick-paced lyricism and delivered it in all their projects, each LP is unique, especially in the case of their sixth, Catastrophic Event Specialists. Stockpiled with fresh material, from commentary on the art of rap and corrupt politics to the common good and non-material valuables, the third CES album on Strange Music, Inc. is a series of thematic time bombs that the group set off and control, set off and then control again and again. After all, they’re catastrophic event specialists. And with fantastic camaraderie between all the Strange and non-Strange guests, it’s a rally for a worthy cause by heroes who wouldn’t harm a fly.
9. Hip Hop Hooray – Dan Bull (January 13 / self-released)
English rapper, gamer and internet comedian Dan Bull released his twelfth Generation Gaming album less than six months after Hip Hop Hooray (his fourth stand-alone LP) came out in January 2017, proof of the momentum he received from the triple H project. The light whimsical Bull continues his legacy by making fun of himself, by sorting out some social incongruences and by placing family- and home-health high on his list of values. True to his methods, Hip Hop Hooray comes straight out of Dan’s web-based cottage industry and serves up rich sweet layers of homemade beats and lyrics—a treat that’s instantly enjoyable and impossible to forget.
8. Olive Branch – Locksmith (March 31 / Landmark Entertainment)
Locksmith, from The Frontline, specializes in moral principles and character development and naturally, he is on no major label. His solo albums go back to 2014 but the Olive Branch LP sees him in his greatest form yet. In 2016, he dropped a huge hint of coming grandeur via The Lock Sessions mixtape, the preview to Olive Branch. Here, the upper echelon of flowing skills, messages and production treats listeners in a spirit of coming together in goodwill. Locked and loaded with immense rhyme power and heart, Locksmith serves as a standup role model and excellent example for rappers new and old.
7. Otis King: Return of the G – Otis Reed (August 18 / Palmtree Entertainment)
Fresno guardian angel Otis Reed in his fourth studio album, Otis King: Return of the G, is as powerful as he is playful, a shining speaker of real talk from the hood. A guidance counselor of sorts, Reed focuses on issues affecting families in downgraded communities, the degradation of the family unit and that of relationships of every kind. Outside of the home, Reed turns his attention to stereotypes and other common struggles. A wallop of material yes but the production is the spoonful of sugar to this medicine. Smooth soulful vibes get us through the hardest parts with ease. King Otis Reed returns as the best type of G imaginable.
6. Into The Further – Wrekonize (May 5 / Strange Music, Inc.)
As hip-hop enters the future, few in the mainstream are taking it to new artistic territory, especially since many “rappers” aren’t even emceeing anymore. Of the ones that still do, about half or less add genuine wisdom to their bars. Put Wrekonize (of Mayday! and Strange Music) in that last group. Into The Further, his third solo LP, works double duty at being both cool and enlightening. Wrekonize supports gratitude, love and consideration of others, and he axes extreme conformism and denial of the truth. Textured musicality and choruses give it great feeling and staying power. To absorb the album is to rediscover the beauty in people and to bring humanity back to the public.
5. Crooked – Propaganda (June 30 / Humble Beast Records)
Spiritual LAlien Propaganda (Jason Petty) transfers deep knowledge and intricate wordplay (including spoken word) onto his tracks. The Tunnel Rats member and fortitudinous solo artist released his fourth album last year but has maintained a smart hearty style since the beginning. With his mind on the pain and darkness of adversity, Propaganda encourages us to reject hate and hypocrisy, and for all the vocal shocks, a steady diversity of music balances the payload. Not only does Propaganda have technical skill but also compassion for the marginalized and suffering.
4. A Time And Place – Anoyd (April 25 / Pace Music Group LLC)
A bit new to releasing albums but no spring chick at his craft and hardworking as well, independent Connecticut emcee Anoyd (Dashorn Whitehead) has already released four studio albums in the last two years, all on Pace Music Group. A Time And Place is Anoyd’s finest to date. The talented, socially conscious wordsmith and melodic romantic in the man guarantee a blend of intelligent poetry and powerful love songs. Activist pronouncements flourish in the income gap study of “Cardboard Box” and in the mixed bag that is “Phony Habits.” A fine example of maturity, wisdom and love in the field, Anoyd motivates all creatives with like integrity.
3. Kairos, Pt. 1 – Kristoff Krane (July 11 / F I X)
The journey of Kristoff Krane (Christopher Keller) from Minneapolis has so far yielded six albums (five solo and one collaboration). They’ve all come either self-released or on indies. Unlike the name of his former label (Crushkill Recordings), the highly lyrical Krane is the opposite of a crushing killer in personality, maybe in ambition, but not in character. His newest album, the Graham O’Brien-produced Kairos Part 1, an experimental smorgasbord from two artists with a great conception of art rap, visits just about every dimension of human emotion and intelligence, with symbolism of animals, animal eyes and more. O’Brien’s electronically proactive beats twist and turn in parallel with Krane’s fluctuating vocals and vice versa. Kairos 1 neatly layers raw thought, leading to open interpretation and limitless imagination.
2. Lazarus – Sha Stimuli (September 25 / 10 Minutes Late Records LLC)
Not only is the Lazarus LP a comeback for Brooklyn emcee Sha Stimuli but it’s also an amazing one. The well-rounded lyricist is a tough cookie with a gentle soul. Though he criticizes the system, he also comments on the faults of those targeted by the system with searing condemnation of alcoholism, infidelity, domestic violence and fatherlessness. Elsewhere, he shows loads of appreciation for life. His wholesome influence proves rap can offer much more than kicks and giggles to the people.
1. Destined: The [R]Evolution – SkyBlew & SublimeCloud (June 25 / self-released)
You don’t get as far as someone like SkyBlew (Mario Farrow) without ambition and brimming positivity, and no matter what he has experienced—from collaborations and tours to features and awards—they have never been nor will they ever be the ultimate goal for him. He is intent on affecting progressive change in the world through music. In 2017, SkyBlew collaborated on two projects, first Dreams, Toonami and Jazzier Days with producer Pabzzz and then Destined: The [R]Evolution with producer SublimeCloud. For its cool lovely soundtrack and wonderful character, The [R]Evolution, which is the sequel to Destined: The Rebirth, stands atop last year’s best rap albums. SkyBlew is a brilliant beacon for the truest path in life, and his partner SublimeCloud is a masterful selector of folk rock, pop and smooth jazz. Get inspired by wisdom and soul from this North Carolina duo nonpareil.
Microphone Jackson – Rise Rashid
Watch What I Do – Sam Shoemaker
Fay Grim – Likwuid & 2 Hungry Bros
Dreams, Toonami & Jazzier Days – SkyBlew & Pabzzz
The Potential LP – C4 The Explosive
The World Is Mind – KRS-One
$cribble – Esham
Resolution – Mr. Lif & Akrobatik
The Golden Age 2 – Dizzy Wright
Darwin’s Frankenstein – Esh
Extra Credit – Mega Ran
The Deeper They Dig The Blacker The Planet Gets – Millenium Falcon
Writing HERstory – Jazzmyn Red
Welcome To My Dreams – Manuel
Hip-Hop* – MC Bravado
All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ – Joey Bada$$
Game Of Death – Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent
“Chloraseptic” causes the first major symptom of Interscope-slash-Eminem-made toxicity by way of gratuitous, inappropriate sexuality and the next comes in the raunchiness of “Remind Me.” The macabre Eminem comes back full force in “Framed,” in the form of a guilty man making a weak plea of innocence on wax. The next three songs continue to unabatedly supply bitter spitting at misperceived enemies (“Nowhere Fast”), objectification of women (“Heat”) and then extreme misogyny (“Offended”). Right before he tries to explain himself in the last two tracks, Eminem admits in such a way that he is literally out of his mind via “In Your Head.”
When all is said and done, all the big name singers, Eminem’s famous wordplay virtuosity and even Rick Rubin’s classic pop-rock resurrections (if you’re into his slightly cheesy style of it) together can’t make up for Eminem’s awful rap persona ruining the vast majority of the project. Once again, his sharp rhyme mechanics have been employed to twist and confuse the minds of listeners. If Eminem continues his relationship with Interscope Records (subsidiary of Universal Music Group, subsidiary of Vivendi SA) or another major label and especially if he continues to pump out filth, his credibility as an integral artist is hereby gone. (1 out of 5 stars)
Emcee Futuristic, or Zach Beck, from Illinois and Arizona, couldn’t let the year slip by without a project so he’s released the What More Could You Ask For? EP. In safe independent fashion, Beck has added a few spiritual elements that go back to the essence of existence, particularly at the end, when he upholds life high above money and material gain in “Human Being.” Before that he shows love to those he’s been distanced from by work and success. Still he rejoices in making it, through struggle, to the celebration after reaching goals, and all the way to his appreciation for his fans. Beck does spend time strutting his stuff, and sections like “I Want It, I Get It” are simply fly jams just for fun, but little integrity is sacrificed in general. We might not be challenged to think outside the box or leave our comfort zones much, but again, Beck proves himself one of the best at making feel-good rap at this point in time. (3 out of 5 stars)
Unlike his one time Funk Volume labelmate Hopsin, Las Vegas emcee Dizzy Wright is on the right track when it comes to giving fruit-bearing subject matter. Wright’s second album of the year, and the followup to The Golden Age 2, bursts forth with wisdom, ultra-positive as usual for the independent rhyme-artist. The album, State of Mind 2, the sequel to Wright’s 2014 EP, advocates for an alkaline diet, rediscovers the importance of black activism, exhorts us to consider others’ hardships and much more. Guests like Audio Push, Ill Camille and Jon Connor promise lectures for above-and-beyond thinkers, and producers Roc N Mayne, DJ Hoppa, FreezeOnTheBeat and others guarantee a mixture of traditional hard-hewn sounds and relaxing soul and jazz. It has the typical Dizzy Wright feel and format and not many new talking points (the newest of which are Wright’s abbreviated raps on healthy eating) but fans and newcomers will still appreciate his commitment to intelligence, philosophy and consciousness. (3 out of 5 stars)
Official Dizzy Wright website
Let’s make one thing very clear before we delve into Undercover Prodigy Hopsin’s fifth LP, No Shame. It is his first on his second self-made label since the dissolution of Funk Volume in 2016 but more important to note, it is also released in association with 300 Entertainment, which hosts several mumble rappers and is the creation of former major label execs Lyor Cohen, Roger Gold, Kevin Liles and Todd Moscowitz, men whose mission has always been to turn out the most popular music, not the most publicly beneficial music. It comes as no surprise then that No Shame has plenty of demons.
The new project features some new storylines, the accuracy of which is questionable, and a general change of course for Hopsin yet they’re highly problematic. The bulk of it revolves around the plot of Hopsin splitting with his cheating, stripping girlfriend who is also pregnant with his son, a perfect storm of relationship misery and misfortune. Poisoned by angry misogyny and bitterness, Hopsin slings dirt around and about, with a resentful fixation on his departing lady. It’s depicted that she is all bad and that he is pretty much fine.
More wicked and toxic than ever, Hopsin has obviously been badly influenced by 300, alternately vulgar and sexually grotesque, self-absorbed, and sick and twisted in tracks “Money on the Side,” “Black Sheep” and “I Must Be on Somethin” respectively. When he aims to sound serious he’s instead a monotonous, emotionless talk-machine, and the ninth entry in his signature “Ill Mind of Hopsin” series is reserved for him to explain the break in the family to his new son, with blame that doesn’t go around but is rather plopped all on the woman.
In an ironic, hypocritical twist, “No Words” vocal-drunkard Hash Brown (from Pound Syndrome) returns to be further ridiculed despite his voice actor being on a label that directly supports that same type of artist. But the problem is not alleviated by Hopsin rapping clearly and articulately. He must also rap in a socially responsible manner, which he does not do in No Shame. Hopsin has went the shady path here simple and plain. His talents have been wrenched into unnatural, uncomfortable configurations, all for shock value. Through this sordid engagement of dark tones and growth-stunted production, no one will see the light and few will make it out unharmed. (1 out of 5 stars)
Brooklyn Black Star and Reflection Eternal emcee Talib Kweli had been teasing his Radio Silence solo album since 2015 (at the most recent) so for it to come a full two years later is just enough time for fans to wait, even with the other projects Kweli’s label Javotti Media made in the interim. Relax and exhale because the anticipated album, finally here, passes the hardest critical tests. With that cool, post-2010 Talib Kweli feel (in other words the first impression made after Javotti’s inception), Radio Silence is an indie affair of flyness, anthems, calm vocal protest against violence in the streets, love, and guests from the under- and aboveground, all of them, even Waka Flocka and Rick Ross, pulling substance out for this particular artist and occasion. Despite all the wisdom and awareness in the author, the subject matter takes only some risks and not quite seismic, and the production, while prominent, won’t have everyone coming back for seconds or thirds. It doesn’t match the perfection or near-perfection of Talib Kweli‘s earliest work, but because it’s nicely conscious, free of any major slip-ups and arriving at a time when mainstream rap is lowering its performance-related standards, Radio Silence really can catch on and silence the radio. (3 out of 5 stars)