• Masta Ace, 'Ma_Doom: Son of Yvonne' (Fat Beats)

    He raids MF Doom’s spice rack for old beats, but they add no zest to his golden age hip-hop memories.

  • Aesop Rock, 'Skelethon' (Rhymesayers)

    With Kimya Dawson in tow and beat poems about Converse and haircuts, Aes Rock is the hip rap-dad you never had.

  • Visioneers, 'Hipology' (BBE)

    Marc Mac’s nu-jazz versions of classic hip-hop breaks (like "Apache") is catnip for easy listening aesthetes.

  • Open Mike Eagle, '4NML HSPTL' (Fake Four)

    The world hates backpackers; what’s a sardonically funny L.A. MC to do — at least Danny Brown likes him.

  • Del the Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought, 'Attractive Sin' (Parallel Thought Ltd.)

    Del's freestyling and shitting on "microwave rap"; who needs hooks anyway?

  • Oddisee, 'People Hear What They See' (Mello Music Group)

    The D.C. producer raps more than last year’s gem Odd Seasons; sounds both inspired and clumsy.

  • Big K.R.I.T., 'Live From the Underground' (Island Def Jam)

    Big K.R.I.T.'s Dirty South classicism is a gift and a curse. For all his bellicosity — celebrating "Country Shit" and rubber-band men and eating collard greens — he simply isn't as amorally opportunistic as, say, Gucci Mane, who probably would rap about selling china white to grade-school kids if it netted him more downloads. For K.R.I.T., the Mississippi rapper's love for Southern hip-hop's pioneers is as much professorial as it is personal, and he tends to package his songs in a sociological context that helpfully canonizes his heroes while explaining their world to cultural tourists. He's what was once called a "conscious rapper," and that quality has helped him win fans in unlikely places — last week, the ever-so-tasteful NPR hosted an advance stream of his major-label debut, Live from the Underground, a rare event for a rap record.

  • Doseone, 'G is for Deep' (Anticon)

    Doseone’s "singing" project is like his speed-raps: Laptop funk, synth washes, and elliptical, heartfelt poesy.

  • Cadence Weapon, 'Hope in Dirt City' (Upper Class)

    The Alberta rapper evokes the Last Poets' "Mean Machine," mocks weed carriers, struggles to care.

  • A pale kid calamity artist

    El-P, 'Cancer for Cure' (Fat Possum)

    El-P occupies a singular perch. The Brooklyn rapper-producer has never sounded quite like anyone else, not even in the late 1990s, when the Sasquatch thumps and xylophone flows of his Company Flow crew birthed a generation of similar-minded travelers, spawned the hugely successful independent label Definitive Jux, and briefly transformed the hip-hop underground into a land of no-wave art-jazz and super-scientifical theorizing. Now, ten years after Def Jukies last ruled the indie circuit (and two years after the label went dormant), the new generation whines about living in the suburbs, doing prescription drugs, and drinking sizzurp while molesting white girls, all while begging Jay-Z to cosign them. Meanwhile, the man who declared himself "independent as fuck" swims against the tide. I mean, what can you even compare Cancer for Cure to… Nine Inch Nails?

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