Moor Mother – Black Encyclopedia of the Air
Moor Mother is a truly interdisciplinary artist. Her output blends musician, poet, and rapper and traverses genres ranging from hip-hop to jazz to noise. The stunning Black Encyclopedia of the Air sees her further expand her ambitious scope, unpacking weighty but timely themes concerned with confronting the long, dark shadows of our histories. Though the album is easily the Philadelphia artist’s most accessible work, it’s still rich with textured musicianship, haunting ideas, and stellar guest features, including E L U C I D, Ioji, and Pink Siifu.
Sons Phonetic – Nakatomi
Ireland hip-hop is in rude health. Rejjie Snow, Kojaque, and Nuxsense are all producing top-tier work, earning them acclaim from beyond the Emerald Isle. Sons Phonetic – a six-piece collective hailing from the small port town of Waterford appear next in line to add to this list. Their latest album Nakatomi is another effortless slab of streetwise rap that is both laid-back and delicately experimental. Its palette falls somewhere between the stoned swagger of the High Focus Records roster and the darker, more oblique rappers that define the Blah Records sound. These guys are one to watch.
D Smoke – War & Wonders
D Smoke’s 2020 Black Habits was a solid second debut (D Smoke’s first dropped way back in the mists of 2006) and saw the winner of Netflix’s competition show Rhythm + Flow gain immediate respect and plaudits. His follow-up War & Wonders is even better, featuring excellent production, imaginative tonal variation, and solid features. Comparisons have been made based on similarities in vocal cadence and timbre to Kendrick Lamar. However, confident and engaging album highlights such as “Road Rage” and “Find My Way” ensure that D Smoke stands firmly on his own.
Blu – The Colour Blu(e)
It’s easy to lose track of Blu’s insanely prolific output. Over the last decade, the Los Angeles rapper had put out at least one album or more every year, including 2019, when he released three (all excellent) collaborative full-lengths. The Colour Blu(e) finds this veteran incredibly ambitious and invigorated, crafting a loosely linked concept album that features 12 tracks connected to the color blue. His jazzy and uptempo style is as likable as ever, with tracks like “Everyday Blu(e)” and “Mr. Blu(e) Sky” providing particularly life-affirming examples of this hard-working master’s formidable skills.
Dark Lo & Havoc – Extreme Measures
Extreme Measures is as gritty as hip-hop comes. Not only is its harsh boom-bap production expertly realized by Mobb Depp legend Havoc, but Dark Lo’s charismatic and aggressive flow also has all the flared-nostril intensity of a man who is soon to begin a seven-year prison sentence. If Extreme Measures is his last project for some time, what an album to go out on. This is tough-as-nails, raw hip-hop that utilizes Havoc’s sinister soundscapes and Dark Lo’s evocative street tales to visceral, troubling, and enormously compelling effect.
ECID – Zen Repair
ECID’s idiosyncratic approach has made for a fascinating and eclectic body of work. The Brooklyn-based rapper’s latest album Zen Repair doubles down on this weirdness, resulting in something that resembles a more ornate version of Aesop Rock and Tobacco’s strange and underrated Malibu Ken project. Zen Repair is initially disarming by using colorful synthscapes and intelligent, often cryptic lyrics to paint psychedelic vistas that recall a frantic but entertaining acid trip. Still, it possesses a deep-seated charm that rapidly becomes apparent as it worms its way into your brain.