2018 is shaping up to be a great year for Hip Hop, with quality releases all around – at least when you are able to ignore music (sadly labeled as Hip Hop) released by types like Migos or Post Malone, whose albums debuted on at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 earlier this year. Of course, that kind of mainstream rubbish ‘rap’ can hardly be called Hip Hop, but it’s a shame it sells while most real Hip Hop gets none of the spotlights these days. Real Hip Hop has always been there though for those who know where to look, so who really cares what charts on lists like Billboard?
HHGA contributor Brandon King compiled an excellent list with 20 of the best releases of the year so far, with great albums from the likes of August Greene, Black Thought & 9th Wonder, Phonte, Skyzoo, Royce 5’9″, and others getting their deserved props.
There were more dope releases this year, albums that undeservedly flew far under most radars. Here you’ll read about 9 of those albums, some of my favorite releases of the year, recommended for all fans of real Hip Hop.
Dr. Octagon - Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation
For me, this is one of the best albums of the year so far. The first Dr. Octagon is one of my favorite albums of all-time, and this one is looking to become a favorite as well. It’s no secret that Kool Keith’s prodigious output over the last 30 years has been hit-and-miss in terms of quality, but Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation is up there with the best of his work.
What was missing on the second Dr. Octagon album – and one of the reasons Dr. Octagonecologyst is the classic that it is – is back here: the input of producer Dan The Automator and the cuts of DJ Q-Bert. On Dr. Octagonecologyst Dan The Automator brought out the best in him, and even if Kool Keith may sound a little less animated than he did 22 years ago on Dr. Octagon’s first outing, the synergy between producer and emcee is tangible once again.
There is a lot to be enjoyed here, one of the highlights is the continuation of the “Bear Witness” series – a dope instrumental cut, which serves as a nice reminder of what turntablism is all about. Also fun is Del’s guest appearance on “3030 meets The Doc”, another artist whose best album – in 2000 with Kid Koala as Deltron 3030 – came into existing thanks to the magical work from Dan The Automator. And tracks like “Polka Dots”, the thumping “Area 45” and “Operation Zero” are as good as it gets too.
Moosebumps is exactly what fans of the first album could have wanted: a reminder of the unique greatness of Dr. Octagonecologyst and a worthy successor to that classic at the same time. My only complaints: I’m not a fan of the ambient funk of “Flying Waterbed” and I could have done with a few more tracks – at 11 tracks and barely 50 minutes of playing time the album is not exactly short but definitely not long enough!
Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation is a must-have, at least for Kool Keith fans.
Murs - A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable
If I could take all of my tears and cry them into a chain
I wonder how many million more followers I’d gain
I bet my socials would be super lit
It wouldn’t even matter what type of vocals that I have to spit
I could turn all this salty water that fell from my eyes into some diamond karats
Then when I cry in public I could finally do so without having someone tell me I should feel embarrassed
‘Cause I’m not and I cried a whole lot
When I filed for divorce and when the homie got shot
And not one time did I laugh at Tyrese’s tears
‘Cause when I was separated from my son I cried every day for almost a year
And at the end of that year span I was filled with joy
‘Cause my new fiance and I were expecting a baby boy
But after 40 weeks he was born without a heartbeat
Still we chose to march forward instead of retreat
The spoken-word opener to the first song immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album. Never one to shy away from expressing emotions through his music, on A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable Murs is open and authentic as ever. Having to deal with the pain of a hard divorce, a custody battle, the death of a friend and a stillborn son, to say Murs had a difficult couple of years is an obvious understatement – something he makes very clear in the emotional album opener “The Unimaginable” and the second track “Melancholy”.
After these heavy and heartfelt tracks, things get lighter – with some typical humorous and clever Murs tracks, with his always dope flow and diction in full effect. 9th Wonder’s work on the boards used to bring out the best in Murs, but Murs can also bring it without 9th Wonder backing him up. Tech N9ne’s Strange label’s in-house producer Michael “Seven” Summers produced this whole album, with gives A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable a consistent and fresh jazzy boom-bap vibe throughout.
O.C. - A New Dawn (2ndPhase)
This low profile release by Hip Hop veteran O.C. is one of the best albums of this year if you ask me. A New Dawn serves as the follow-up to 2017’s Same Moon, Same Sun, which was billed as the “first phase” of the three album series. Production on A New Dawn is handled by Showbiz, Motif Alumni, Dark Keys and Gwop Sullivan – and the beats they lay down serve O.C.’s lyrics well.
A New Dawn is a straight solo album, with no guest appearances at all. Not a problem for O.C., who – as the confident veteran he is – can easily carry a full-length album by himself. Clever, next-level lyricism – it’s O.C., you know what to expect.
Czarface & MF DOOM – Czarface Meets Metal Face
Drawing from their collective childhood love of comic book heroes, Czarface became the joint avatar for Wu-Tang Clan legend Inspectah Deck and Boston’s Hip Hop purists 7L & Esoteric. Their mission is to save Hip Hop, as Inspectah Deck stated in an interview with HipHopDX in 2013. The way Czarface is saving Hip Hop is by consistently dropping authentic Hip Hop albums, with interesting – sometimes experimental, sometimes traditional – soundscapes and dense lyricism. Adding MF DOOM to the Czarface roster for this album is a great move and a seamless fit.
“Phantoms” (with a guest performance by Open Mike Eagle and a dope hook by Kendra Morris), “Captain Crunch”, “Bomb Thrown” and “Nautical Depth” are some of the gems on this record, but it’s a consistent effort throughout. Even if this Czarface effort may not be quite as dope as Every Hero Needs a Villain by Czarface and not better than MF DOOM’s classic albums – this is still one of the most exciting releases this year.
Showbiz - A-Room Therapy
This is another true Hip Hop album. Much like 2018 releases from fellow D.I.T.C. members – O.C.’s New Dawn and A.G.’s The Taste Of AMBrosia – A-Room Therapy brings it back to the essence: soulful and musical boom-bap beats crafted by Showbiz, along with great lyrics by O.C. and A.G., among others.
A Room Therapy arrives over 25 years after Showbiz with A.G. released their classic debut album Runaway Slave. Between then and now lay 25 years of excellent Hip Hop Showbiz has been involved in, this last album just another entry in the excellent catalog of one of Hip Hop’s most underrated producers.
A lot of highlights on this album, like “Pull Out The Gage” and “The Science” – but a special mention goes out to the atmospheric “Bronx Day,” featuring Tashane and Majestic Gage – which serves as a prime example of what Showbiz is capable of as a beatmaker. This is a great album, people.
Blueprint - Two-Headed Monster
Blueprint is one of Hip Hop’s underrated treasures. Prolific and consistent, Blueprint is an excellent emcee and an excellent producer who gave us a whole bunch of quality albums – as a solo artist and as part of Soul Position (with RJD2) and as a member of Greenhouse (originally formed as Greenhouse Effect by Blueprint, Inkwel, and Manifest) now consisting of Blueprint and Illogic.
With Two-Headed Monster Blueprint gives us a dose of soulful boom-bap of the highest quality. Produced entirely by Blueprint himself, and with guest appearances of other underground heroes like Atmosphere’s Slug, Mr. Lif, Wordsworth and Aceyalone, Two-Headed Monster is a gem of an album that can go up against any release this year and come out on top. The fact that we are surrounded by musical barbarians who choose to buy albums by the likes of Migos, Lil Yachty or 6ix9ine instead of an album like Two-Headed Monster is a sad sign of the times.
“Don’t Look Back”, “Two-Headed Monster, “All Shock No Value” with Aceyalone, “Health Is Wealth”, which features Mr. Lif and Supastition, and especially “Night Writers”, with its nostalgia-inducing scratched-in samples of classic Hip Hip cuts, are highlights – but really there are no weak tracks here.
Two-Headed Monster is an essential purchase for any self-respecting Hip Hop fan.
AG - The Taste Of AMBrosia
The third album of a D.I.T.C. member on this list, there is no sense in denying I have always been a fan of most things coming out of the D.I.T.C. camp.
The Taste Of AMBrosia features confident boom-bap production from the likes of Lord Finesse, Alchemist, Diamond D and more. On this album, A.G. is on his A-game from beginning to end, along with a slew of dope guest emcees. The Taste Of AMBrosia serves a full dish for mature Hip Hop fans who cannot tolerate contemporary mainstream rap wackness.
“The Bronx”, featuring fellow first-hour D.I.T.C. member Diamond D, is an easy favorite, but the whole album is fire. Dope beats, clever lyricism – this a quality album and a more than worthy addition to your music library if you are into real Hip Hop.
Cop The Taste Of AMBrosia here.
Kool G Rap & 38 Spesh - Son Of G Rap
Son Of G Rap is a great collaboration between Kool G Rap, one of Hip Hop’s greatest emcees ever and 38 Spesh, a promising new talent. 38 Spesh and Kool G Rap first worked together in 2014 when they released the DJ Premier-produced cut entitled “The Meeting,” which is also featured on this album and which is one of the album highlights, with excellent lyricism from both emcees and Premier’s trademark sample-scratching sounds. Even if “The Meeting” is the centerpiece, Son Of G Rap has much more quality tracks to offer. In fact, the album is perfectly consistent, with a great NYC throwback vibe throughout.
Son Of G Rap features vocals from 38 Spesh on all 15 tracks and vocals from Kool G Rap on 9 tracks, and there are guest appearances from the likes of N.O.R.E., Cormega, AZ – and Meyhem Lauren and Freddie Gibbs on “Flow Gods”, one of the other highlights, this one produced by another legendary producer: Pete Rock.
The chemistry between G Rap and Spesh is undeniable, and the younger emcee more than holds his own, not being outshined by the legendary veteran anywhere. If you are into that traditional, gritty NYC Hip Hop, this album is a must-have.
Planet Asia - Mansa Musa
Fresno, CA’s Planet Asia has been a much respected but at the same time massively underrated emcee for over two decades now. He rose to some prominence in the early 2000’s for being one half of the now broken up duo Cali Agents (with Rasco). They dropped three albums together, from which especially the first one – How the West Was One, released in 2000 – has become something of an underground classic over time (even if it didn’t sell much due to lack of promotion). Definitely an album to check out if you slept on it up til now.
Besides his three Cali Agents albums, since 1998 Planet Asia released or was involved in a truck full of EP’s, mixtapes, collaboration and compilation albums. He also released 8 solo albums – before dropping his latest solo effort at the beginning of this year: Mansa Musa.
Mansa Musa is easily up there with the best of his work. Banging beats, powerful lyricism – this is true Hip Hop from one of the game’s most consistent emcees, who once again sees a project that is head and shoulders above most other releases in the same year fly way under the radar. If you don’t have it already, get it now or stream it: