'Tis the season for giving, and if you have friends or loved ones who have a thing for the hippity-hop, you might want to stuff their stocking with some hype shit this year. They've probably already downloaded or burned a pirate copy of all the high-profile stuff that's out now, like OutKast, Ludacris, Jay-Z and G-Unit. So is there anything else to bump to?
In a word, yes. There are a boatload of new, independent hip-hop releases that are out and ready for the taking. Now, don't get scared off because you just read the word "independent." Just because the following artists haven't been snatched up by Roc-A-Fella or Shady Records doesn't mean a thing. Besides, if you know serious hip-hop fans, they certainly wouldn't mind being hipped to something new. And if they don't like it, you can just tell the ungrateful bastards to give them back to you so you can keep them for yourself.
Anyway, here is a selection of some new hip-hop joints that shouldn't be overlooked:
Something's Gotta Give (Third Earth Music), the debut album from duo Roosevelt Franklin (yes, they did name themselves after the first black Muppet on Sesame Street), simply has to be heard to be believed. Ex-Masterminds MC Kimani Rogers and former Company Flow man Mr. Len come together to drop a smart, sarcastic and undoubtedly funny release that also comes as hard as any rap album of recent months. As the two break down the difference between what's wacky and what's wack in rap music, Jean Grae and Atmosphere's Slug (both of whom also have wicked albums out now) drop in with guest shots. It's worth it just to check out the track where one of the boys holds up Kurt Loder at an ATM. See, I told you these boys were out there!
Another album on the different tip is Later That Day (Quannum Projects), the debut solo release from Latryx's Lyrics Born. More of a funk ride than a straightforward hip-hop album, Later finds the Asian-American MC delivering a lackadaisical yet utterly banging trip inside the nooks and crannies of his cerebral cortex. (Shocked by the idea of an Asian rapper? You shouldn't be -- quite a few of them are ripping up mikes out there.) Don't get it twisted -- appearances by such Cali players as DJ Cut Chemist and MC Gift of Gab assure the listener that it is a hip-hop album, not to mention the fact that it has the kind of G-funk vibe any Snoop fan could easily enjoy.
If you want to give someone a nice union of hip-hop and soul this Christmas, you can't go wrong with Pete Rock's Lost & Found: Underground Hip-Hop Soul Classics (BBE). Consisting of unreleased tracks Rock recorded nearly a decade ago, the double disc unearths a treasure trove of old tunes that maintain their fluid, soulful resilience. Rap crew INI and MC Deda also star, but the true star of the collection, of course, is Rock's stone-cold production work. If you get this one, you may also wanna get the Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth best-of package that Rhino released earlier this year. That way, you have a gift package for the die-hard Pete Rock fan in your life.
Like Rock, DJ Peanut Butter Wolf is also raiding his vaults. On Big Shots (Stones Throw), the West Coast beat man draws from a bounty of lost tracks he did with MC Charizma, tunes with a very old-school slant, more in the vein of Black Sheep and Digable Planets than anybody current. And for good reason: All these tracks were recorded in the early 1990s, before the botched robbery that led to Charizma's 1993 shooting death. The result is a vibrant, not to mention poignant, tribute to an MC who got taken away before he could make a real dent in this world.
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For sheer, relentless hip-hop, there's Always Will Be (Triple Threat/Fat Beats), the latest from underground journeyman J-Live. Always is eight tracks long, and each one packs more punch than a gallon of Hi-C. The beats are relentless, and J-Live shows he's an MC who isn't afraid to expose how so not ghettofabulous the rap game is. To wit, "Car Trouble" finds him sharing his struggles in getting a major record deal with another aspiring MC -- while he's driving a cab with the other MC as his passenger. Here's hoping that MC will be among J-Live's last fares.
Another J who is coming with the beats is J. Sands, one half of the underground duo Lone Catalysts. On The Breaks, Vol. 1 (B.U.K.A. Entertainment), Sands drops his blunt wordplay over some familiar old-school breaks and samples. For the down-and-dirty brothas, he does riff on "nothing-ass broads" who are good at giving "brains" when they're not offering up "too much pussy." But that's a brief detour into raunch for Sands. Elsewhere, Sands shows even he has some rhymes worthy of giving some worn-out breaks one last spin.
And finally, let's end this holiday gift guide with Urban Renewal Program supp. 1.5 (Chocolate Industries), a little something extra from the folks who gave hip-hop listeners the Urban Renewal Program compilation last year. That album's stars are back to provide some intense hip-hop for these chilly times. Mos Def and Diverse get their "Wylin Out" track reworked by Kutmasta Kurt, while hip-hop's new "it" boy Aesop Rock reworks himself on "Train Buffer." Prefuse-73 and Caural return to throw in some tracks, while first-timers Atmosphere and the Timeout Burner contribute a couple of sensory-overloading numbers. A collection like this makes you believe that sometimes, just sometimes, you really can get what you want during the holidays. No socks. No fruitcake. No pink bunny outfit from your grandma who thinks you're a four-year-old girl. Just nothing but good hip-hop.
So happy holidays, and remember, merry Christmas to all and to all -- holla!