BEST HIP-HOP The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp, January 2024 By Phillip Mlynar · February 01, 2024

January’s best hip-hop releases include a couple of self-styled sonic omnivores from Tampa, an Ontario MC’s take on the winter world, and the return of ’90s Southern hip-hop trailblazers. We also dig back into the December vault to select a handful of releases that might have flown under your radar during the holiday season.

Arrested Development
Bullets In The Chamber

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Bullets In The Chamber continues the pleasantly unexpected second life of Arrested Development, Grammy-winning Southern hip-hop trailblazers who were lazily tagged as “alternative rap” with the release of 1992’s 3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life Of… Over two decades later, group leader Speech has reason to boast: “How else would you have known that this ’90s phenom was still the bomb?” he asks on album opener “Hello,” going on to describe Arrested Development as a group that’s “always been in—but on the outside.” Helmed by UK producer Configa, the 21 tracks that make up Bullets In The Chamber channel the soothing nature of soul music, with uplifting swaths of melody that bring out the optimism in Speech’s voice. On crucial cut “Hip-Hop Saves Lives,” the group is joined by Chuck D to relay thoughts on rap careers and personal journeys, with the Public Enemy powerhouse smartly mirroring Speech’s opening gambit: “And it don’t stop and it don’t quit/ Yeah, we don’t care if it don’t fit.”

Bun B & Statik Selektah
Trillstatik 3

“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration we present to you Trillstatik 3/ An ill arrangement/ Produced by Statik Selektah/ The boss of Boston and me.” That’s Bun B at the top of “Welcome Back,” the opening salvo on the Houston rap icon’s latest collaboration with boom bap merchant par excellence Statik Selektah. Then comes the conceptual crux of the collaboration—which was recorded over a 14-hour stretch in December of last year, with a revolving door of guest MCs: “So whether you like your hip-hop flossing or traditional/ Terms are unconditional/ When we spit out this vicious flow.” Underscoring the idea of bridging generations of rap, the 15-track project includes standout turns from Griselda MCs Rome Streetz and Benny The Butcher on the brooding, piano-infused “Trillselda”; Brooklyn’s ’90s Timberland ambassadors Smif n Wessun, who amp up the aggression on “Super Legend”; and Detroit block corner philosopher Boldy James, teaming with H-town staple Paul Wall for the nervy piano-powered “We Got A Problem, Houston.”

Nocturnal Hooli Vol. 1

The latest from the London-based label GourmetDeluxxx, Nocturnal Hooli Vol. 1 brings together the composed verbals of Da Flyy Hooligan with the subtly bewitching lo-fi beat science of Wun Two. “Kobe steak on hot stones, we dining lovely/ Gambling with my life, still alive to praise the one above me,” raps the MC on mid-project moment “WUN TWO,” rolling out a combination of both lifestyle brags and humble asides over a slab of leisurely humming funk. Ostensibly inspired by the winter weather, the five track outing has an immersive and intimate feel, with Wun Two’s production hovering around the mid-tempo zone and employing clusters of lonesome piano. Bringing an element of nostalgia tint to the record, “MOBB DEEP HELLY” is brimming with references to ‘90s cultural touchstones, as Da Flyy Hooligan journeys back to remember a time of BMX bikes, click suits, and extended gaming sessions on Sega Genesis.

G’s Us

G’s Us is a collaboration between Ruby Yacht captain R.A.P. Ferreira and Seattle spitter AJ Suede. Both MCs excel at introspection, but the friendly competition that comes with two verbal swordsmen working in tandem adds edge and urgency to the seven-track WHAT THEM DOGS DON’T KNOW THEY KNOW. Ferreira begins album opener “UNIVERSE” in ascetic fashion: “The master scoffed as I left the temple/ My ball and chain, me and my heavy mental/ R.A.P. Ferreira sharp as a prison pencil/ G’s Us, it just leak out the speakers/ I’ll makе you motherfuckers beliеve us with this good word/ Ruby Yacht big bookworm.” Suede responds by recalling frigid Pennsylvania winters before weaving together a string of quips about nihilism and socialism. On “FREAKS,” Ferreira invokes images of ritualistic dances and cobwebbed goblins while Suede takes aim at those mining positions of privilege: “People still suffering/ Billionaires might launch to space/ How you on the moon when the doom slowly coming soon?/ Listening to DOOM/ Had the Caesar with the half-moon/ High right, low left, Tupac in Juice shit.” Behind the boards, producer Steel Tipped Dove provides backdrops that resemble paranormal radio broadcasts spliced into lurching slow-mo drum patterns—a combination that instills the duo’s words with appropriately haunting gravitas.

Kid Acne

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette

Kid Acne‘s verbal volleys are brimming with idiosyncratic pop culture references. On HAUNTOLOGY CODES, the Sheffield-based MC and visual artist’s long-awaited debut for Lex Records, nods to the nonsense slang of comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are rolled out alongside recollections of ’90s Atlanta alternative rap troupe Y’All So Stupid and flashbacks to villainous tycoon Cyril Sneer from ’80s cartoon The Raccoons. “Lord of the flies, of the rings, of the underground,” brags the MC on “DUES PAID (NOW I’M OVERDRAWN),” flowing confidently over a backdrop provided by Chicago beatmaker Spectacular Diagnostics. The production across the album exudes a scuzzy swagger, thanks to granite-hard drums and ambient spot effects that could have been captured at a smoky ’80s arcade. As HAUNTOLOGY CODES progresses, Kid Acne supplements references with thoughts about the ebb and flow between self-doubt and personal confidence, which helps ground the project. “Went through some shit while I wrote this/ It’s not like anybody noticed,” laments the MC, before inching HAUNTOLOGY CODES towards a heartfelt victory: “Except my girl and my bro did/ And they helped me maintain focus.”

The Last Emperor & DJ Madsol Desar

The Last Emperor dropped “Secret Wars” during the ’90s heyday of indie rap, a cult track that imagined comic book characters sparring against classic rap figures. Since then, the Philadelphia MC has establishd a reputation as a savvy wordsmith, one who excels at executing high concept rap songs. Backed by intoxicatingly moody, mid-tempo production from New York beatsmith DJ Madsol Desar, Programme furthers the MC’s credentials. “Revenge” casts The Last Emperor as a reincarnated rapper driven by payback: “I sat down and penned this vengeful song/ To get back at every rapper that ever did me wrong/ And record labels that wouldn’t sign me/ I’m deadly and I’m petty and I’ll never put that behind me.” On “Musketeer,” over glassy strings, the MC and guest JuneLyfe blitz back to the American Revolution era, while elsewhere in the album support comes courtesy of Ed O.G., Maylay Sparks and Kool Bob Love.

Shad x TLO

Released on Boxing Day, THIS WINTER is a gem of soul-warming hip-hop. Capped at just three tracks, the project pairs Juno award-winning Ontario wordsmith Shad with the mellow soul-swaddled production of TLO. “It’s kid’s stuff, Pig-Pen, Babar, Barbie, Hanna-Barbera/ Best bars and I’m not even in my bars era/ Had the bars up since Starbucks was nothing but a startup,” raps Shad on “NO CHILL,” opening the album on a nostalgic note before graduating to contemporary social commentary: “Nothing means much it seems, just some memes/ Troubled teens clutching screens, muffled screams/ We’re all just data they’ve been wanted to mine/ Since they see us as numbers, kids cocking the nine.” “LIGHT A CANDLE” takes shots at Spotify’s anti-artist business model, and observes the way current events turned the holiday season into a “strange Christmas.” The organ-blessed “CIRCUS” closes the EP on a mature note: “Dre said 40-plus rappers got nothing to say/ I think it’s fair to assume they heard something today.”

They Hate Change
Wish You Were Here…

Merch for this release:
Cassette, Vinyl

Released via indie titan Jagjaguwar, Wish You Were Here... is a showcase for the expansive, electronic-leaning music of Tampa duo Dre and Vonne. The five-track project knits together a wide array of sound textures with flair: Early on, “stunt (when I see u)” pairs braggadocious bars with a bed of rumbling, rapid-fire bass and wormy synth riffs. On “Wallabies & Weejuns,” Manchester producer 96 Back channels club panache; and the beat-shifting “Biscuits” climaxes with a drum & bass intensity while branding They Hate Change as “soundbombing from here to Mars.” Mirroring the gleefully eclectic nature of the sonics, Dre and Vonne’s lyrics are an award tour of quick-fire references that combine nods to New Orleans icons the Big Tymers with outfits scored from London’s Savile Row street and breakfast goods picked up from UK bakery chain Greggs.

Nostalgia ThEraPy

There’s a mighty healthy ’90s throwback feel to Nostalgia ThEraPy. Lyrically commandeered by Queens MC Truth, the album is fueled by rugged boom bap beats courtesy of revered Brooklyn production duo Da Beatminerz, along with vital scratches from Blahzay Blahzay’s PF Cuttin and verbal contributions from Harlemite veteran Al Skratch, CM Mob member Kurious, and fellow Queens representer Royal Flush. “Knock me off my pedestal? An impossible task/ I counted your move, remove your psychological mask,” warns Truth on mid-album cut “Da Beatminerz Sound,” speaking his truth over a prowling backdrop; then, he salutes the squad’s geographical heritage: “From QU to Bucktown/ It’s the Beatminerz sound/ A deadly combo/ The melody and convo’s profound.” Continuing the theme of regional pride, key cut “Queens Carnivores” prompts Truth and Royal Flush to assert their status as New York natives over swaggering, low-slung production, complete with a name-check to legendary underground fire-starters Non Phixion.

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