Like a lot of longtime, old school fans of the genre, I am pretty much disgusted with what passes as "hip-hop" these days. You know, that boringly predictable, cliched crap that is dumbed-down, bling & sexist heavy lyrical fodder delivered over a carefully researched radio & club ready beat. Fortunately though, there still are many good producers and emcees making new music today. It's just that you have to dig for them. And while most are underground or indie artists, just because an artist is some underground indie hip-hop loving emcee doesn't always guarantee that he or she will shine. Below are several of the recent or about to drop releases that, as a DJ, I have been really feeling and playing. All should be available at Amoeba Music. Just ask if you can't find them.
Madlib Beatkonducta Vol. 3-4: India (Stones Throw)
Like 2006's Beatkonducta Vol 1-2 CD release, this collection was also originally released on vinyl only -- now offering many a chance to catch up on the brilliance that is the production of Madlib. For this collection he effortlessly melds Bollywood soundtracks (mostly instrumental, but about 15% with vocals and spoken word soundbites mixed in, usually at beginning) with hip-hop beats -- generally looped into hypnotic patterns. The 34 tracks are mostly short (2 minutes or less) in length.
Z-Trip All-Pro Soundtrack (Decon)
Like its series predecessor -- Dan The Automator presents 2K7 on Decon for 2K Sports, which was also a DJ produced collection featuring guest emcees and turntablists -- this is another video game soundtrack. And it rocks, thanks to Z-Trip's perfect choice of collaborators (mostly West Coast), including Chali 2na, Aceyalone, Quannum's Lateef and Gift of Gab, Hiero's Pep Love and Casual, plus LA turntablist duo Backyard Bangers. Also includes a track from longtime collaborator of Z-Trip's DJ Faust (of Faust & Shortee fame), plus Z-Trip's inspired turntable remix of Rush's "Tom Sawyer."
Copperpot WYLA? (Fanatic)
Second strong outing from fine Chicago based turntablist/beat-maker Copperpot, WYLA? (what're you looking at?) enlists some of the best of talent out there, including Masta Ace, Psalm One (she of Rhymesayers' fame and one of today's strongest female emcees), KRS-One (who has to be hip-hop's most consistently prolific artist) and Braintax (the brilliant British wordsmith who, on the track "Demo," perfectly sums up the state of rap today) and fellow UK emcee Rodney P.
MF Grimm The Hunt for the Gingerbread Man (Class A Records)
MF Grimm (who many know from working with MF Doom on "Operation Doomsday") returns after a rough patch that sidetracked his once vibrant career and forced him to spend time in prison and in the hospital. The talented hip-hop artist was shot at in an attempt on his life that resulted in him being crippled from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair for life. On top of this, he spent many years behind bars for crimes he got caught up in. All of these harrowing and humbling life experiences he touchingly tackles on tracks such as "Earth" on this highly recommended hip-hop album that also boasts tight production c/o Stricknine, Prowla, Sammsonite, and Aksim. Note this album doesn't hit get released for a couple more weeks, but look for it then.
DJ Yoda "The Amazing Adventures of DJ Yoda" (Antidote)
UK DJ and cut'n'paste/turntablist master DJ Yoda has served up the best hip-hop album of the year to date! The appropriately titled Amazing has everything you want and more -- and all delivered in the classic era hip-hop style: incredible production with amazing scratching and cutting on each track, plus some of the best guest emcees you could ask for, including the Jungle Brothers, rapid lyrical spitting emcee Sway (who is a million times better here than fellow UK emcee Dizzee Rascal's disappointing new outing), and the star guest emceee of Amazing -- the Diabolical One -- Biz Markie, who sounds as fresh and inspired here he did back in the day on such incredible songs as "Breakfast Cereal" and "Haunted House."
Baron Zen at the Mall: Remixes (Stones Throw)
Yes, this latest collaborative outing from hip-hop DJ/producer/label mainman Peanut Butter Wolf and other guest producers is not hip-hop, but it is still a great fucking release that (in my mind) fits the broad range of what is hip-hop music (a genre built out of all other genres). Baron Zen is Peanut Butter Wolf's (PBW) age old recording project re-released and remixed. It is from when he made beats for his old punk rock meets rap loving lyricist buddy from San Jose, Sweet Steve (aka Baron Zen) back in the day (circa 88-92). This two-CD set includes all the original recordings on one disc (including the brilliant "Night In Jail" plus covers of Joy Division and Debbie Deb) and remixes of all the same songs on CD 2 by PBW and others including M-80, J-Rocc, and Danny Breaks.