• Shape of Broad Minds, 'Craft of the Lost Art' (Lex)

    Craft of the Lost Art is essentially a showcase for the formidable talents of Philly-based producer Jneiro Jarel. Layering handclaps over a whirling dervish of guitars on "OPR8R" and pumping out squelchy glitch-funk for "Lullabanger," he blends hip-hop and electronics with a fresh style reminiscent of Madlib and J Dilla at their abstract best. But Jarel's awkward rapping (under a variety of pseudonyms) slows the momentum. He's better off handing the mic to guest MCs Count Bass D, MF Doom, and Stacy Epps and focusing on his richly textured, next-level beats. Now Hear This: Shape of Broad Minds - "OPR8R" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Prefuse 73, 'Preparations' (Warp)

    On Guillermo Scott Herren's latest techno/hip-hop excursion as Prefuse 73, he chops computer beats into a white-hot flurry of B-boy breaks, crashing percussive noise, and loopy folk-hop beats. Sometimes his productions coalesce into recognizable songs like the magnificent "Prog Version Slowly Crushed"; other times, as with "Aborted Hugs," they just dissemble like a freak-out session. Past Prefuse albums were anchored by assorted MCs (MF Doom and Ghostface Killah), but with few voices to interpret his sound and fury, Preparations will leave you dizzy and wondering what it all means -- which may be the point. Now Hear This: Prefuse 73 - "The Class of 73 Bells" DOWNLOAD MP3 Now Watch This: Prefuse 73 - "The Class of 73 Bells" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • 9th Wonder, 'Dream Merchant, Vol. 2' (6 Hole/ Hall of Justus)

    Savvily dipping into '70s soul and R&B samples, 9th Wonder has produced ace tracks for Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, and his ex-group Little Brother. But this showcase for countless, relatively unknown MCs is a lot to sift through. While distinctive, 9th's style rarely strays beyond boom-bap territory. And the quality of the tracks ranges from jewels like "Shots," where Sean Price and Big Dho ruminate about gun-obsessed rappers over lush strings, to unremarkable cuts like Camp Lo's "Milky Lowa," which drones on and on like a bad funk metronome. Now Hear This: The 9th Wonder - "Sunday!" ft. Keisha Shontelle and Chaundon DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Simian Mobile Disco, 'Attack Decay Sustain Release' (Interscope)

    Some years back, James Ford and Jas Shaw made two albums of dreamy Britpop in the group Simian. And despite their second act as a dance-oriented production unit, a twee undercurrent still runs through this debut album. Former Simian singer Simon Lord offers an operatic slice of electro-house balladry on "I Believe," and the Go! Team's Ninja adds giddy vocals to the Technotronic-influenced "It's the Beat." Simian Mobile Disco could be hokey, if they didn't swerve so smoothly from the Detroit-style techno of "Wooden" and the block-rockin' breaks of "Tits and Acid." The duo's effortless ability to plunder electronic genres without losing their own identity makes Attack consistently fresh. Now Hear This: Simian Mobile Disco - "Hustler" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Baby Elephant, 'Turn My Teeth Up!' (Godforsaken Music)

    Remember De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and wacky skit host Don Newkirk? Nearly 20 years later, he reunites with De La mentor Prince Paul and P-Funk keyboard legend Bernie Worrell for a predictably eccentric, semi-concept album. The trio craft creeping, sinuously elastic grooves that are like dense, avant-garde variations on an '80s slow jam. Nona Hendryx ("Crack Addicts in Love"), George Clinton ("Baby Elephants N Thangs"), and David Byrne ("How Does the Brain Wave?") introduce their own bizarre perspectives, adding to the inscrutable freakathon. Now Hear This: Baby Elephant - "How Does the Brain Wave" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunes

  • Galactic, 'From the Corner to the Block' (Anti-)

    For their sixth album, New Orleans jazz-funk quintet Galactic solicited a bevy of guest rappers: On "What You Need," Lyrics Born plays a boisterous street boot-legger, while Mr. Lif ("And I'm Out") and Gift of Gab ("The Corner") portray black men haunted by random violence and police sweeps. Galactic complement these inspired contributions -- as well as others from New Orleans native Juvenile, Digable Planets' Ladybug Mecca, and the Coup's Boots Riley -- with chunky wah-wah guitars, chugging rhythms, and beats so tightly action-packed that they could be the soundtrack to a sleek Hollywood crime frolic. Now Hear This: Galactic - "I Got It (What You Need)" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • T.I., 'T.I. vs. T.I.P.' (Grand Hustle/ Atlantic)

    All is not well in the trap. Clifford "T.I." Harris, the Southern MC who ruled the rap airwaves last year with his fourth album, King, is at war with his alter ego, T.I.P. The personae represent two stages of his career: the lyrical smoothie dancing alongside Justin Timberlake on "My Love" and the hardened young thug from Atlanta's rough Bankhead neighborhood. In Act I, T.I.P. is at his boastful best, nodding to N.W.A and breaking down the formula for street entrepreneurship on "Da Dopeman," as producer Mannie Fresh supports a gothic, ethereal beat with rhythmic handclaps. By Act II, T.I. is reasserting his position as an international playboy and musical savior: "Got the game on lock / And it ain't gon' stop / Say hello to the man who saved hip-hop," he claims on "Help Is Coming," a Just Blaze anthem layered with gospel keyboards.

  • Socalled, 'Ghettoblaster' (JDub)

    The second album from Montreal rapper/producer Josh "Socalled" Dolgin may be the most unusual hip-hop album of the year. A trippy exploration of Jewish identity, it teems with collaborators, from indie MC C-Rayz Walz to Fiddler on the Roof legend Theodore Bikel. Klezmer melodies waft over Socalled's MPC beats, evoking New York's Second Avenue district, a.k.a. "Yiddish Broadway," West Coast turntablism, and old-school funk. Weirdest of all, he closes with an electro-house remix of "Let's Get Wet" that's as crunchy as a Justice stomper. The result is a smorgasbord of sounds both ancient and appealingly bohemian. Now Hear This: Socalled - "You Are Never Alone" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Blue Scholars, 'Bayani' (Massline/ Rawkus)

    On their second full-length, Seattle's Blue Scholars try to promote hip-hop's potential for personal transformation and political change, dedicating songs to soldiers in Iraq ("Back Home") and protesters at the 1999 WTO demonstrations ("50 Thousand Deep"). Referencing brown rice and embattled working-class communities in equal dollops, the provocative lyrics of soft-spoken yet persistent MC Geologic don't always match up with DJ/producer Sabzi's rangy keyboard-and-bass beats. But when Sabzi creates a musical backdrop worthy of his partner's insights, like on the neo-G-funk of "Loyalty," the results are sublime. Now Hear This: Blue Scholars - "North by Northwest" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Lifesavas, 'Gutterfly: The Original Soundtrack' (Quannum)

    For the follow up to their promising 2003 debut, Spirit in Stone, this indie-rap duo reinvent themselves as ghetto superheroes, rechristen their Portland, Oregon hometown "Razorblade City," and invite George Clinton, Fishbone, dead pres, Smif N Wussun, and others to join the fun. The blaxploitation concept allows Jumbo the Garbageman and Vursatyl to ruminate on the war in Iraq ("Long Letter"), fresh MC'ing ("Double Up"), spirituality ("Take Me Away"), and urban pathology ("Dead Ones") from a myriad of perspectives. But no matter how esoteric the narrative gets, Jumbo's bulbous, bassy, and soulful beats keep the party grounded. Now Hear This: Lifesavas - "Gutterfly" DOWNLOAD MP3 BUY: iTunesAmazon

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