Hip Hop

The Iceberg (CD)

Washington, D.C. based rapper Oddisee has been prolifically releasing material since 2008, and The Iceberg marks his 11th album in that span. Explicitly political and topical, Oddisee shies away from any frivolous hip-hop clichés to rail against heavy topics like racism, sexism, and hypocrisy in this ultra-contentious day and age. This is the ugly reflection of 2017 America, with Oddisee more than happy to hold the mirror. An accomplished producer as well, Oddisee crafts a sound that seamlessly combines programmed beats with live band instrumentation, creating a dynamic atmosphere that brings a sense of buoyancy to the often weighty subject matter at hand. Forget the tired “conscious rap” tag; The Iceberg is the sound of a gifted MC simply telling it like it is.

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1992 Deluxe (CD)

Princess Nokia’s acclaimed underground debut 1992 Deluxe has been remastered and expanded to reach an even larger audience — which the NYC-based rapper proves she’s definitely worthy of. The beats are hard and hypnotic, Nokia’s flow is smart, sassy, and insightful. She’s tough. She’s street smart. She’s proud of who she is — and she wants you to feel the same way, too. That’s what makes this album so special: lots of bangers, to be sure, but there’s also a lot of heart behind the dance floor fillers. Princess Nokia is one-of-a-kind and our world is better for having her in it.

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Trial By Fire (CD)

After a two year absence since his last release, a troubled period of time that found the loss of a close friend, a cancelled tour, and a brief stint in a psych ward allegedly forced by a former manager, Yelawolf emerges triumphant with Trial by Fire, his most ambitious project yet. Though it’s an overused cliché at this point, Yelawolf is one of the few rappers out there who can truly lay claim to having a style all their own. Country, hip-hop, rock, pop, and blues are all meshed together into a sound that exists outside of any comfortable genre tag. Take the song “Punk,” which features the unlikely combo of Juicy J and Travis Barker as guest artists. Beginning at a breakneck pace courtesy of an oompah beat from Barker’s drums, the song melds slide guitars and Yelawolf’s lyrical acrobatics before switching gears into a pseudo-trap beat that finds Juicy J sounding right at home, that indelible Triple 6 swagger fully intact. Landing somewhere between Everlast and Kid Rock on a spectrum of closest contemporaries (the heavy tone of the former mixed with the boisterousness of the latter), Yelawolf is not interested in chasing current hip-hop trends or anything else that doesn’t involve him doin’ the southern rap thang his own way. Haters be damned.

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The Mountain Will Fall (CD)

On The Mountain Will Fall, DJ Shadow’s first album in five years, the groundbreaking hip-hop/electronica producer proves he’s still one of the most forward-thinking artists in the game. The atmospheric, instrumental title track opens the album with dreamy, futuristic vibes before launching into the funk-inflected “Nobody Speak,” which features Run the Jewels. German ambient/modern classical composer and producer Nils Frahm makes an appearance on “Bergschrund,” where spaced out washes of sound meet hyperactive textures and beats. The LP finds Shadow pushing the limits even further on his own original compositions, but of course half the fun is guest appearances from the previously mentioned artists, as well as avant grade electro dude Bleep Bloop, bass-heavy experimentalist G. Jones, and bright young UK jazz trumpeter Matthew Halsall.

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Yes Lawd! (CD)

On Yes Lawd!, Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge’s debut LP as NxWorries, the duo have crafted a sublime modern soul/funk record. With soaring strings, gritty vocals, and ultra cool cinematic flourishes that sound like the soundtrack to a forgotten Blaxploitation flick, the album manages to sound both super contemporary and like a bona fide classic. Despite its October release date, this is a definite summer record, essential for backyard BBQs, driving with the windows down, and sitting around the pool. .Paak himself has called the collaboration “my best work” and it’s definitely something special; let’s hope these two continue to make beautiful music together.

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Awaken, My Love! (CD)

Things move fast in the internet age. Only three weeks ago did Childish Gambino announce his new album and now here it is. His second album, Because The Internet, was more complex and sensitive than any other hip hop album of 2013 as Gambino would jump moods from self-loathing to good humor to long passages of loneliness and 21st century angst. Now, at nearly three years since that album and at the end of the first season of his television show, Atlanta on FX, comes his hotly anticipated third album. In the wave of Kendrick Lamar's and Kamasi Washington's spiritual journey of African-American music that's simultaneously spiritual, retro, and futuristic, Awaken, My Love! shows more influence from George Clinton, Prince, and even King Crimson than it does with the world of modern hip hop. The epic three-part track "Me and Your Mama" opens with a chorus crying out against some new agey rhythms that suddenly cut out amid a glut of drum machines and prog drums that turns the song into classic psych funk by way of gospel. Childish Gambino cries out with real pain "This is the end of us / Sleeping with the moon and the stars" as his voice distorts into a cacophonic echo of insanity. But the song mellows out by the end with a soft melody that feels right at home in the world of The Isley Brothers. "Redbone" is a smaller, less ambitious song that instantly catches you with a simple melody that trots along at a more leisurely mood. Channeling Prince, he turns up his falsetto into a screechy performance that shows off his chops as an R&B singer. The minimal funk gives him a chance to show off his real range that stretches beyond what he's shown on other albums. 2016 has been a great year for hip hop and Awaken, My Love caps the year off beautifully with new directions and more far out ideas than anyone else.

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