• Rah Digga, 'Classic' (Raw Koncept)

    Back in the late '90s, fire-breathing battle rapper Rah Digga was the only sidekick in Busta Rhymes' Flipmode Squad who could outroar the dungeon dragon himself. A decade after her 2000 debut, Dirty Harriet, she's still going full throttle. "Who's gonna check me, boo? / Not you!" she shouts on Classic, a set well-stocked with energy blasts like "Back It Up" and "This Ain't No Lil' Kid Rap," all produced by New York head-nod specialist Nottz. Save for "Viral," where she addresses some online gossip chatter, Rah Digga doesn't show much patience for introspection. But what Classic lacks in subtlety, it makes up in rowdy exultation. BUY:iTunesAmazon

  • Slum Village, 'Villa Manifesto' (E1)

    Since the release of their defiantly angsty fifth album in 2005, these Detroit indie hip-hop stalwarts have mourned the passing of founding members J Dilla and Baatin. Now reduced to the duo of T3 and Elzhi, the group struggle to celebrate their former members via prerecorded material, while still indulging the playa lifestyle. "Prayer works / The Lord gave me another chance," Baatin rhymes posthumously on the poignant "The Reunion Pt 2." But SV is at their best macking over deep electro-soul grooves -- from the postcoital bliss of "Faster" to the Dwele-assisted entreaties of "Don't Fight the Feeling." ?BUY:?iTunes??Amazon?

  • Freddie Gibbs, 'Str8 Killa' (Decon)

    On "Rep 2 the Fullest," Gary, Indiana's Freddie Gibbs makes a simple, provincial claim: "Midwest street shit, I brought it back." But Str8 Killa offers a wealth of themes and styles, from the Tupac-quoting "National Anthem (F*ck the World)" to dope-boy tall tales to vintage double-time flows à la Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Gibbs elevates this eight-song EP above '90s-gangsta-rap homage with his baritone-deep hauteur and studious lyricism. When he raps, "Every line I write is straight frostbite," on "The Coldest," you believe him. BUY: iTunes?BUY:? ??Amazon?

  • Black Milk, 'Album of the Year' (Fat Beats)

    Black Milk has one of the liveliest production styles in hip-hop, mixing instrumental funk with loose, chopped beats reminiscent of J Dilla. On his fourth full-length, he keeps the focus rhythmic, layering percussive jams like "Distortion" and "Keep Going" with crashing cymbals and pounding bass drums. The crisp arrangements often overshadow his stiff, stentorian delivery, but he still manages to convey moments of both personal loss-the death of mentor/Slum Village rapper Baatin-and professional triumph.

  • Uffie, 'Sex Dreams & Denim Jeans' (Ed Banger/Because Music/Elektra)

    Uffie's 2006 novelty hit "Pop the Glock" was the essence of dumb hot, marrying her sexy riffs on Audio Two's "Top Billin'" with boyfriend Feadz's lissome, dripping beat. The Miami-born, Paris-based socialite subsequently wastes most of her somewhat-dated debut album boasting about MySpace friends and fiddling with torturous, Ed Banger-produced synth pop ("Illusion of Love"). "I never claimed to be an artist / I can't even sing, you know?" she admits on "Our Song." Stick to what you do best, Uffie: making airheaded electro-hop come-ons like "MCs Can Kiss." BUY:Amazon

  • The Infesticons, 'Bedford Park' (Big Dada)

    Musician and poet Mike Ladd's hip-hop satire of the true-school "Infesticons" dueling with bling-obsessed "Majesticons" has lain dormant since 2005's Beauty Party. So why revisit it now with Bedford Park? Ladd acknowledges that the grimy New York indie-rap scene he once defended no longer exists, and this final chapter is mostly a conceit for his messy avant adventures: the scarred, noisy punk of "Blockin' Door Anthem," the mock-Southern swag of "Bombs Anthem," and the gallant ragga of "Plane Anthem." The rap wars are over; all that remains are mash-ups. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Crystal Castles, 'Crystal Castles' (Fiction)

    On Crystal Castles' 2008 debut, frontwoman Alice Glass snarled and squawked over partner Ethan Kath's electro-punk beat barrage like the second coming of X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene. Two years later, our Canadian antiheroes return with something deeper than digital histrionics and crazily infectious beats. Kath is still addicted to eight-bit keyboard melodies, and Glass is just as confrontational. However, she's mostly abandoned her agitated screaming (the digital hardcore of "Doe Deer" and electro-squalls of "Baptism" being notable exceptions). She coos seductively on "Celestica" and yelps through "Pap Smear," drawing you into her cryptic poetry.

  • Reflection Eternal, 'Revolutions Per Minute' (Warner Bros.)

    Talib Kweli is beloved by many for his topical themes, and deplored by others for his often convoluted verbiage. This reunion with producer Hi-Tek, Kweli's partner in late-'90s underground champs Reflection Eternal, fuels both camps with smart essays on addiction ("Lifting Off") and celebrity culture ("Got Work"), as well as forced, throwaway couplets like "You know I'm so influential / Because I'm glowing like a candle." Thankfully, Hi-Tek remains a generous collaborator whose jazz-inflected riffs and soulful vibes bring out the best in the mercurial MC. BUY:Amazon

  • Flying Lotus, 'Cosmogramma' (Warp)

    Widely acknowledged as an avant-beat auteur, Flying Lotus is a hybridist at heart. More than his contemporaries (Nosaj Thing, Daedelus), he understands that it's about the voice as much as the beats. Warm and inviting, his latest opus occasions swan dives into future soul, funky dubstep ("Dance of the Pseudo Nymph"), Theo Parrish–styled house ("Do the Astral Plane"), and astonishingly, Sun Ra jazz ("Arkestry"). Constant is FlyLo's peerless blend of processed glitches, eight-bit squelches, and percussive flurries. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Little Brother, 'LeftBack' (Hall of Justus)

    Throughout the aughts, this crafty Durham, North Carolina group has stubbornly explored working-class black life, but now they're finally calling it quits to focus on other careers. MCs Big Pooh and Phonte depart with an epilogue of new tracks and outtakes from 2007's Getback (their first album without cofounder-producer 9th Wonder), and it's like a hastily written open letter, with loose, spiky rhymes and rangy beats. Even amid the odds and sods, though, Phonte's honesty is bracing. "Truthfully, I don't think the rap game needs savin'," he asserts on "Tigallo for Dolo." "I think we've got wives and sons that need raisin'." BUY:Amazon

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