Hip Hop

Shadow Of A Doubt (CD)

We’ve been waiting for Freddie Gibbs’ new album since his gritty vocals graced last year’s Pinata, his dynamite collaboration with Madlib. And he doesn’t disappoint—Gibbs’ latest is a contender for underground rap album of the year. Over a digital bounce, Gibbs establishes his powerful presence early on with “Fuckin’ Up the Count” (“Gangsta shit in my DNA, I just can’t explain that/Even if I die tell my enemies I remain that”). His collaboration with Black Thought proves inspired on “Extradite,” as Mikhail’s beat blends ’70s soul with “Twilight Zone” organs while Gibbs and Black Thought’s words spill out like rolling dice. Like similarly great albums released this year by Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples, Shadow of a Doubt is grim but enlivening—seek the hard-hitting “Packages” as proof. Gibbs is the quintessential thirtysomething rapper who’s toiled in the underground only to see younger guys get the glory—if there’s any justice, Shadow of a Doubt should make that a thing of the past.

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Livin' Foul (CD)

Freed from major label shackles, Wax is running afoul in the world of underground hip hop. Discovering what being over-the-hill feels like (meaning being over 21), Wax preaches the contradictory nature of trying to be an adult, but still wanting to drink and party like you did when you were 18. Tough stuff!

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Ingleworld 3 (CD)

2015 might be the greatest year for hip hop. Numerous essential, original releases have rounded up the calendar and Skeme's third album keeps the train going. Cruel and unrelenting, Skeme pounds you (literally) with tough imagery and pure animal-like ferociousness in an album that you spar with, not listen to. A knockout.

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Run the Jewels 2 (CD)

Run The Jewels, the super talented hip-hop power duo of El-P and Killer Mike, outdid themselves in 2014 with their anticipated follow up to last year's excellent self-titled debut on Fool's Gold. For the all killer no filler sequel, released via Nas' newly launched Mass Appeal Records and simply entitled RTJ2 or Run The Jewels 2, they turn up the sonic and lyrical assault with an in your face album that is as much rock as it is hip-hop and, while only eleven songs deep, it satisfies on every level, leaving listeners longing for more. If only for the pitch-perfect second single and best song on the album "Oh My Darling Don’t Cry," this album would be worth buying but everything on here kicks ass. As E-Lit at Amoeba Berkeley noted, Run The Jewels is better than anything either El-P or Killer Mike have done individually up to this point in their respective careers - and they've each done some amazing work! RTJ2's select featured guests include Zack de la Rocha, Travis Barker, Diane Coffee, and BOOTS.

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Stereotypes (CD)

Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste like to break stereotypes as much as they like to subvert social and sonic norms. With each wielding a violin, they shred away on their instrument against heavy beats and drum-machines clashing in cool cocophony. Who knew hip-hop and classical would work so well together?

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The Good Fight (CD)

The Good Fight is an instant classic. This album is filled with phenomenal songs written and produced by Oddisee. Lyrically, the album is extraordinary. Rhymes about goals, struggles, and love are delivered in interesting ways and can serve as a self-help guide for any listener.

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Compton (CD)

With the release of the biopic Straight Outta Compton about pioneering hip hop group N.W.A., Dr. Dre has found himself rejuvenated as an artist. The rapper and onetime N.W.A. member has long been largely behind the scenes as a producer and businessman, but there’s still been hope he’d release something of his own, with a long-promised Detox album now shelved. That’s for the better; with an artist of Dre’s caliber, we’d rather have something polished to compare with his first two solo albums, and Compton, a companion piece to the film, doesn’t disappoint. Among A-list guest spots (Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Eminem) and lush jazz-funk production by Dre and a score of others, the album finds Dre looking back at his legacy. “Goddammit, I'm too old, I forgot I got it all/But Andre young enough to still get involved” he says on “Talk About It,” embodying his younger self to hang with the next generation he’s helped mentor. Dre tells the story of Compton’s troubled history (along with fellow Compton native Lamar) on standout “Genocide,” with dizzying production by Dem Jointz and a sick hook by Marsha Ambrosius. It should go without saying that the rapping across Compton is jaw droppingly great, not least of all by Dre himself, who raps circles around the young’uns on tracks like “It’s All On Me.” It’s too soon to call Compton a new hip hop classic, but with countless memorable moments across the album’s 16 tracks, it’s looking that way. Certainly it’s an appropriately great finale to Dr. Dre’s rap career, and along with Straight Outta Compton, nicely caps off an important part of hip hop history.

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The Night Took Us In Like Family (CD)

Producer L’Orange worked with numerous emcees on last year’s Orchid Days and goes for a full-album collaboration with Brainfeeder rapper Jeremiah Jae. Noirish soul and warped jazz samples deliver the smoky atmosphere for Jae’s outsider tales. A concept album of sorts, The Night is great to savor like good whiskey, nice to have on either for a mellow listen or to pick apart its impressive sampling and storytelling.

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Persona (CD)
Mello Music Group’s unparalleled roster of independent emcees and producers gets rounded up on this raw, blistering comp, featuring appearances from Kool Keith, Oddisee, Oh No, L’Orange and more. Read more
808s & Dark Grapes III (CD)

The official follow-up to 2012's critically acclaimed Bossalinis & Fooliyones is the Oakland hip hop duo’s finest work to date, a psych-leaning alt-rap masterwork.

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