Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2012 Year in Review: Detroit Hip Hop Albums

It's that time of year again, when we self-righteous rap bloggers boost our massive egos by formulating these definitive lists 'n sh*t. I know I'm the laziest of the bunch, but at least I try to make a strong push in December. I always give you my Samples of the Year playlist; I drop a Best of 20XX edition of The Tape Deck; I put together artist-specific compilations with ill Blue Note-inspired artwork; and yeah, I give my opinions on albums of the year, etc. This year I'm doing things a little differently, taking a cue from blogger extraordinaire Dart Adams on his prolific Poisonous Paragraphs sh*t, just unloading on you with lists of recommendations on real, authentic rap. This is part one: No particular order on these lists. This one focuses on the year's music outta Detroit, Michigan. Can't guarantee that the others will have a theme. I'm just like that. Aight, here we go:

House Shoes - Let It Go

You might know him as "Detroit's Hip-Hop Ambassador to the World." Perhaps you saw him a few times at Fat Beats (R.I.P.). Or maybe you only just heard his name referenced on D12's "One Shot 2 Shot." Whatever the case, Shoes is one of those hip hop relics that heads respect. Though he's been in the game since the mid-90s, 2012's Let It Go is actually House Shoes' debut album. It's been a long time coming. Worth the wait? Definitely. Shoes hooks up with fellow Motor City artists (Danny Brown, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson), along with likeminded spitters from around the map (The Alchemist, Roc Marciano, Chali 2na), to deliver music as rugged as it is smooth. Let It Go is as much of a family affair as a DJ Khaled album - with the exception that you can actually play this through front to back without feeling like you've been violated. It's simply a dope record with a wide stylistic palette. Get it.

eLZhi - Out of Focus

Last year, eLZhi rhymed over some (re-interpreted) Illmatic beats and called it Elmatic. It truly was "ill" hearing Elz rhyme over dusty '90s beats. One year later, we've got Out of Focus. Okay, so I'm kinda cheating here because Out of Focus was originally released in 1998. But for most of us, it's the first time hearing this EP (originally released on blank cassettes; read the history here). The album features multiple collaborations with Detroit crooner Dwele, along with Lacks a.k.a. Ta'Raach, Hodge Podge a.k.a. Big Tone, and production from DJs Houe Shoes and Magnetic. If you're that nerdy Eminem fan who always boasted that you could recite Em's bars word for word off Infinite, here's another 313 gem you'll wanna add to your collection.

Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson - Dice Game

Earlier this year, Michigan beatsmith Apollo Brown dropped a phenomenal record with O.C. called Trophies. Just a few months later, he hit us with Dice Game, a collaborative project with fellow Motown artist Guilty Simpson. A favorite of the late, great J Dilla, Guilt's been one of the nicest (and most underrated) emcees for years now. He's got one of the most thorough deliveries I've ever heard, and hearing him spit heat over Apollo's gritty and soulful production is really just the best of both worlds. Support the 3; pick this one up.

Slum Village & Mick Boogie - The Dirty Slums

"What is the new Slum Village? Actually, there's no new Slum Village; it's just people who's been around and affiliated with Slum for the longest." That's T3 on an interlude track off The Dirty Slums, describing the "evolution" of Slum Village. The Dirty Slums features Mick Boogie chopping on the 1s and 2s, along with a squad of emcees like Little Brother, De La Soul, Black Milk, Big Sean and more. It's a valiant effort by T3 and Illa J, holding down the fort for the historic Slum Village brand.

Frank Nitt - Stadium Music: The View from the Underground

Best known as one half of the Detroit-based duo Frank-N-Dank, rapper/producer Frank Nitt gets a little introspective on Stadium Music, his third solo LP. Conceptually, Stadium Music is a memoir of Frank's life in hip hop. It's an honest, funny, and funky chronicle of Nitt's career thus far. The package even includes a 48 page book, The View From The Underground, sharing stories of coming up in the D, as well as classic memories with his man J Dilla.

Danny Brown - It's a Art

Around summertime, a mysterious download titled It's a Art featuring music by Danny Brown popped up on the internets. It seemed to be a new project by Danny, featuring production from Johnson&Jonson (Blu and Mainframe). Apparently it wasn't new at all. Brown claimed the album was already released in 2010. I don't know a single soul who had this on their hard drive back then, so for all intents and purposes, this sh*t is practically new. It's got that patented, rugged, Blu-esque sound to it, thankfully barring Blu's also-patented terrible file quality. It's a fun project, but don't expect it to sound anything like XXX, or even worse: the mindfuck that'll be Danny Brown's 2013 album, ODB. (Are you wit'it?) Clever title, huh?

Kuniva - Midwest Marauders 2

Out of the whole D12 crew, I've always felt that Kuniva (and Swift) were ridiculously underrated and overlooked. On Midwest Marauders 2 - a follow-up to his 2010 mixtape - Kuniva unloads on a series of classic freestyle beats including The High & Mighty's "B-Boy Document 99", Lloyd Banks' "Warrior", Nas' "Thief's Theme", Jayo Felony's "Whatcha Gonna Do?", and many more. These aren't struggle bars. This is real rap, hard as a pistol barrel to your jaw bone.

Clear Soul Forces - Detroit Revolution(s)

Clear Soul Forces is a soulful quartet of Detroit emcees who first popped up on my radar this year with the Bandcamp release (on 3/13!) of Detroit Revolution(s), a promising glimpse of what's to come from these young cats in the future. I can't tell just yet if they're the Midwest's answer to SoCal's Black Hippy crew. Guess we'll just have to wait and see...

Big Sean - Detroit

Though he was born in Santa Monica, California, Sean Michael Anderson a.k.a. Big Sean spent most of his life in Detroit. He reps hard for the D, single-handedly making Lions snapbacks popular across the map (reminiscent of what Jay-Z did with Yankees fitteds). Serving as an interlude of sorts between 2011's Finally Famous and next year's release of Hall of Fame, Big Sean's Detroit mixtape is a solid playlist full of stadium records and dope collaborations with artists like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and fellow Michigander Royce Da 5'9". Apparently Detroit was downloaded half a million times within the first three hours of its release. The hype is real.

Journalist 103 - Reporting Live

My introduction to this Detroit emcee came in 2010, with the release of Gas Mask by 103, DJ Soko and producer Apollo Brown. That album was definitively gully, and Journalist 103 follows up right where Gas Mask left on his solo effort, Reporting Live. Journalist 103 spits bars like a track and field athlete jumps over hurdles. His delivery can be frenetic as f*ck - perhaps intensified by his riotous beat selection - but he's straight and sharp as a blade. Reporting Live is incredibly impressive. A true underground gem, just like Gas Mask.

Obie Trice - Bottoms Up

This album is far from perfect, but I've always had a soft spot for Mr. Real Name No Gimmicks since I first heard him spit on that Devil's Night's skit. Featuring production by Dr. Dre and Eminem (and a collab track) and a party joint with the late MC Breed, Bottoms Up is a fairly consistent effort from the "boisterous Ob'ster." A nice (though long overdue) follow-up to 2009's Special Reserve.

DJ Critical Hype - The Art of Danny Brown Blends

My man DJ Critical Hype drops these ill "Art of..." blends tapes every once in a while. He's given the blends treatment to artists like Guru, Nate Dogg, Talib Kweli, and Slaughterhouse, just to name a few. His latest collection of mixes, honing in on current hip hop hot commodity Danny Brown, are as ill and on-point as any of his previous tapes. Gotta love these reinterpretations to neo-classical DB sh*t. (In the next few days, Critical Hype'll be dropping The Art of Kendrick Lamar Blends. Get ready!)

Dwele - Greater Than One

Not a rap album, I know; still, Dwele's been a member of the D's hip hop circuit for so long, how could I not include him on this list? Featuring fellow soul artists LaLa Hathaway and Raheem DeVaughn (not to mention Detroit hip hop staple Black Milk), Dwele's Greater Than One's got a smooth, 80s-to-mid-90s style to it. Simply lovely.

J Dilla - Respect the Detroit Architect

My final entry on this all-Detroit list has gotta go to the pioneer, J Dilla. Around springtime, we got a compilation album called Rebirth of Detroit, featuring production by Dilla and a roster of Motor City artists. I wasn't really f*cking with that album though for a couple of reasons: 1) apparently J Dilla's mother didn't receive proper payment for this project, and 2) most of these artists simply don't belong here. So instead, I got wind of this other Dilla project, labeled Respect the Detroit Architect. If you're looking to purchase this record, good luck. Ain't too many vendors selling this one (though I've seen a few copies available on eBay for a little over twenty bucks). If you liked 2006's The Shining, Dilla's first official posthumous release, you'll enjoy Respect the Detroit Architect.

Well, that's it. For now. Stay posted for more lists, more volumes of The Tape Deck, more Blue Note compilations, and of course, #SOTY2012 a.k.a. Samples of the Year 2012. Turn it up!! One.