Monday, March 18, 2013

2K12's Most Slept On Hip Hop Gems

The Lowdown, 3/18/13

Well, 2012 is far behind us, and I swear that this will be my last post about hip hop from that year.  Instead of offering up one of those pointless top ten album lists, I figured that I'd highlight my picks for most criminally slept on gems of 2K12.  Some real great albums on this list, please give them a listen if you haven't already: 

   1)   Edison “Delayed Reaction Elements” (self-released) 

Edison’s latest album is a masterful display of beat-making skill that stands out as the best instrumental hip hop album of last year, as well as one of the top ten releases of 2012 period.  This album has been in the works for a minute, with many of the songs playing a major role in Edison’s amazing live beat show over the course of the last few years.  Edison is known as a master at rocking the Monome, a sophisticated piece of blinky button-based electronic equipment that’s used by some of the more brilliant IDM musicians out there.   While Daedelus will often use the Monome as a means of crafting new mixes at his live shows, Edison’s live set involves a different sort of improvisation.  He digs into his own Monome compositions and plays them live in an exciting and unpredictable fashion, harking back to familiar tunes but never playing them quite the same way twice.  “Delayed Reaction Elements” is everything that one could have hoped for from an Edison album after seeing his live show, with plenty of very detailed and intricate beat compositions that relay a lot of emotion while keeping folks’ heads nodding.  Too many stand-out songs to cover in a short review blurb, but some favorites include the chunky guitar based brilliance of “Bare Feet on Lego Bricks,” the creeping chords of “The Poetry of Public Transportation,” and the extra funky bassline kick of “There Is No Hand Too Left, No Cubicle Too Deadly.”  The whole album has a really interesting choppy rock sample vibe that gets one wondering whether Edison could have been a stadium rocker in another life, but the tone and sounds are diverse enough to keep you guessing from song to song.  This album was originally going to be released by Fieldwerk Recordings, a Chicago label at the forefront of the instrumental hip hop scene, but monetary issues ended up preventing it from happening and the album ended up getting released independently on Bandcamp with little to no publicity.  Anyone who’s had the chance to see Edison play in the Bay Area or open for Aesop Rock and Dark Time Sunshine on their last tour will know how much of a crime it would be to sleep on this one.  The album is available for sale via Edison’s Bandcamp Page and is worth every penny of the price.  Please invest in it so the man can press this thing up properly!  You can stream the album in full below if you’d care to test its quality:  

2)      Avatar “This Machine Has Gone Wrong…” (Dumptruck) 

Avatar has been putting some extra hard into the LA underground scene for some time now, and this fourth solo release of his is his strongest material to date.  “This Machine Has Gone Wrong…” is the darkest and grittiest Avatar album thus far, and the feel of the album works perfectly with his production aesthetic and style of rapping.  Av is often thought of as a Shapeshifters and Ex Vandalz affiliate, with many tracks produced for members of the Shifters and a dope album with Bleek under the group name Speak Easy.  My first impression when listening to this new album was that the sound harkened back to some of the older and iller Shapeshifters recordings, with tracks like "Passage" and "Invasion" really capturing the oddball futuristic styling generally associated with that crew.  But to paint this album as some sort of Shifters knock-off would be doing it a great disservice, as Avatar really delivers an original sound here that taps into his punk rock roots and dwells upon the wickedness of the world.   Avatar's verses are smart and wordy enough to measure up to your favorite nerd rapper, but there's a gruffness to his voice and a rugged quality to his words that reflects his rough upbringing and Inglewood home.  Tracks like "Shatterproof" find Avatar relentlessly barreling through his verses while numbers like "Cold Piece of Work" and "How Could You?" convey a more reflective and personal mood.  The beats that Av delivers throughout the album are exceptional and far better than the beats on any of his previous collabs, with a very sinister and raw sound that's easily distinguishable amongst the wealth of LA talent.  The stand-out jam "Propellers" is a great example of the quality of the production on here, pitting Avatar's catchy sung hook and chaotic verses over a noisy and immaculately layered track of marimbas and evil basslines.  The album's got lots of stand-outs, and features the likes of Awol One, 2Mex, Dumbfoundead, Xololanxinxo, K-the-I??? and Megabusive amongst others (hats off to Smile Oak for destroying his verse on "Passage").  Another album that got insanely slept on due to only being released on Bandcamp with zero promotion... I doubt the awful cover art helped in selling it either! Stream it below, and don't forget to drop some dollars on it over at Avatar's Bandcamp Page if you enjoy it. 


3)   Adeem & DJ MF Shalem "Made in New Hampshire" (self-released)

A completely unexpected new album from Adeem and Shalem, and a damn funky one at that!  I'll freely admit that I thought Adeem & DJ MF Shalem's first album as a duo "Transitions" was a complete mess and a total let-down, particularly in light of the far superior Glue material that was surfacing from Adeem at the time.  "Transitions" had a few classy songs like "Good Company" that stood out to me, but overall it felt like an album that had been worked on for too long and that had gone through too many transitions (ahem) before its completion.  "Made in New Hampshire," on the other hand, features such an effortless chemistry between Adeem and Shalem that one gets the sense that it could have been hammered out in a week's time.  Though if it really was crafted in that short a period, then the sheer amount of polish and cohesiveness would be worth singing praises over.  Both Adeem and Shalem are at their funkiest and most upbeat here, abandoning some of their more conceptual endeavors (see: Adeem's "Volume in the Ground") in a determined effort to bring some good old-fashioned happy hip hop tunes to the masses.  They might not be breaking any bricks with the approach, but the formula works extremely well.  Adeem's voice has a very confident and soulful quality to it now that goes well with the music at hand, and he kicks plenty of dope flows and hooks without skipping a beat.  DJ MF Shalem continues to build upon the excellent funk production he laid down for Grip Grand's "Rewinder" album, now incorporating lots of live instrumentation that conveys a truly charming old school hip hop feel.  Lots of groovy basslines and funky guitar licks to get your ass in gear too.  Definitely an ill album...  My understanding is that there was a limited rough version of this album pressed up on CD, but that they're already all gone and that Bandcamp's the only way to go.  So stream the album below, and check out Adeem and Shalem's page if you want to make a purchase: 

4)   Bi-Polar Bear "When Ledge is Home" (Modern Shark) 

This was one of the most mysterious slept-on hip hop albums of 2012 in my book.  I know very little about these guys, other than that they go by Ug Orwell and August, they live in Brooklyn, and they make some fine lo-fi rap musics.  Their recent connection to the NY-based Modern Shark label turned me on to their music, and I'm glad that I was since this new album of theirs is full of catchy melodic rapping and some very creative production.  Like many projects put out by Modern Shark, the album has a very likeable home-made feel to it that never detracts from the quality of the music at hand.  Stand-out songs include "The Days" with its warm keyboards and super catchy hook, "Fuck Her Pt. 2" which samples some kind of strange Japanese pop ballad, and "Ledge" which features production from Blue Sky Black Death and raps from Baje One of Junk Science (every bit as good as it sounds on paper).  The album has a good-natured goofiness to it in its choice of film samples and hooks, and you get the sense that these two have got a lot of heart in what they do.  Strong song-writing and production make "When Ledge Is Home" worth checking for in my book.  The album also gets extra props for being the only album on this list that's actually available for ordering on CD, and with hand-painted packaging no less!  Stream it for yourself below and then go order one over at the Modern Shark Store if you dig. 

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