1/26/13

HDD Radio #13

HotDogDayz Radio #13. Songs, dudes. Songs. Twenty of 'em. Check it out. Pretend this is a mixtape given to you by a boy who has a crush on you. There are some gems, some clunkers, and some "I didn't really like this song before, but this guy is cute, so now I kind of like it" moments. Then think about maybe giving him a handy when you go to the movies. He will really appreciate it.  I mean, he's obviously a nice guy; he made you a tape... Tracklist:
Boiled in Lead - Pig Dog Daddy
The Clash - Cool Confusion
Fugazi - Five Corporations
Black Face - Monster
Black Humor - Aufwiedershen Juden
Bauhuas - She's in Parties
Suicide - Ghost Rider
Hole - Beautiful Son
Sebadoh - Shit Soup
Crocodiles - Welcome Trouble
Crystal Castles - Pale Flesh
Darling Farah - Fortune
Cutty Ranks - Rumble
Bad Brains - Popcorn
OFF! - Harbor Freeway Blues
Kromosom - Paranoid
WAR//PLAGUE - ???
Black Humor - Refugee Suicide
Sonic Youth - (I've Got A) Catholic Block
The Dead Milkmen - Bleach Boys

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1/21/13

Record Review: 9th Wonder & Buckshot - The Solution

9th Wonder & Buckshot - The Solution (Duck Down)
By Nathan G. O'Brien on Scene Point Blank

The Solution marks the third time the two have collaborated on an album. Falling in line with time-honored tradition of deejay ‘n’ emcee combos, 9th’s imperturbable boom-bap is complimented favorably by Buck’s clear and concise delivery. And, like his vocal conveyance, Buck’s lyricism is also fairly simplistic in that it’s largely free of allegories and nonsensical word-associations. Although there are plenty of braggadocio rhymes, his most attention-grabbing verses come when he opens up about deeply personal experiences with unfaithful girlfriends and divorce.  Overall though, the record’s greatest strength can be attributed to 9th’s production.  ...Read entire review here.

1/20/13

The 26 Best Records of 2012 (That Aren't Rap)

The 26 Best Albums of 2012 (That Aren't Rap)
By Nathan G. O'Brien exclusively for HotDogDayz

After giving a considerable amount of space to the best hip-hop records and mixtapes of 2012 (in conjunction with Scene Point Blank), I figured a good way to wrapup our Year-End Best-Of coverage would be to talk about some of the great records from the past year that aren't rap.  Being a rabid consumer of music makes narrowing down a list quite a difficult task.  To make it easier on myself I excluded anything that wasn't a full-length release.  Unfortunately this takes a bunch of punk and hardcore 7"s out of contention, as well as some EPs.  (If some time frees up, I may attack that, but don't hold your breath.)  So, after meticulously combing through the releases that soundtracked the last year of my life, I have narrowed it down to twenty six of the best.  (I didn't want to do thirty, but I had one more than twenty five.)  Like with the previous lists, were going alphabetical, and when applicable, click on any highlighted title to read a full-length review.  With that, here are The 26 Best Records of 2012...That Aren't Rap...   

Bad Brains - Into the Future
While Bad Brains hardcore punk-to-metal-and-back-again approach to fast music has been a bit frustrating at times, it's their reggae where they hsa really improved.  This album is missing the detailed touches of the late Adam Yauch (who produced '07's Build a Nation) but the entire things is dedicated to him, and ends with a riddim called "MCA Dub."  Into the Future is undeniably Bad Brains, and that alone, makes it one of the year's best.


Cannibal Corpse - Torture
Torture is the latest tech-y death metal outing from the masters of tech-y death metal, Cannibal Corpse.  Chalk another one up in their abhorrent tributary of blood, guts, and grossness.  Get killed by it, bro.


Crocodiles - Endless Flowers
Although the San Diego, CA duo Crocodiles has softened things up a bit this time around, there is still enough of the lo-fi, druggy, indie-pop goodness of their previous material intact that it shouldn't scare anyone off that was hoping for another Summer of Hate or Sleep Forever.  Endless Flowers may take a few spins to get into but eventually it will warm your skin like a sunny day at the beach.  Except without all the wet dogs, screaming children and broken glass.

Crystal Castles - III
Aptly-titled, III is the third album by Ethan Kath and Alice Glass, the Canadian experimental electro-noise duo collectively known as Crystal Castles. They are everything you wish you could be: shadowy, ingenious, skinny, and punk as motherfucking fuck.  I’ve never done heroin, but I’m guessing this is what the first taste is like. III is mood-altering, strangely danceable, and most of all, frightening yet beautiful vandalism.

Cutty Ranks - Full Blast
A veteran rude boy--having got his start in Jamaican music at the tender age of 11, and as a participant in one of the biggest sound clashes in the country's history--Cutty Ranks broke a seven year hiatus with a fiery new album that had him not only returning to form but showcasing his growth as artist, employing a variety of reggae in his methodology.  From traditional to lover's rock to dub and of course, dancehall, it's all on here.  Cutty called upon some Jamaica's best riddim players for Full Blast, and the end result is a wholly enjoyable reggae record from needle drop to completion.

Darling Farah - Body
Detroit-born, United Arab Emirates-raised, London-dwelling 20 year-old (You get all that?) Darling Farah's debut album is as varied as his background.  Body leads the listener on a head-nodding peregrination through sub-low, minimalism, house, techno, and early UK dubstepOne of those rare electronic records that transcends beyond the genre.


Fastkill - Bestial Thrashing Bulldozer
Band name and album title says it all.  And look at that artwork.  It's a skeleton riding a tank while drinking beer!  Also, they're Japanese.  That should do it.




Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Japandroids create incredibly awesome poppy, punky, indie-rock-y, sing-a-long summer jams, and I unabashedly love every single one of them. Listening to this record is like riding your bike to work on a cool, sunny Friday morning and deciding that today is the day you’re going to stop being such a wimp about consequences and go ahead and finally have sex with your crush from the office. Probably not in the office…that could result in you getting fired…but like, later, after a night of drinking and possibly cocaine. But what do I know; I don’t even own a bike.

Kylesa - From the Vaults, Vol. 1
Just as its name implies, From the Vaults, Vol. 1 is an assortment of tracks culled from the band’s back catalogue of psychedelic-hardcore-crust-punk-sludge-metal. It’s not a massive, quickly thrown-together, best-of set though; but rather a twelve-song collection of unreleased, new and alternate versions, that took twelve plus months to amass. The band poured over old songs, covers, and rare tracks. They gathered the ones they felt would fit together well before re-recording, or remixing, or adding whatever finishing touches it is that people with a such meticulous attention to detail do.  The end result is a great representation of Kylesa’s different styles from early on to present day. This should appease not only avowed collectors but newcomers seeking a perfect example of what these genre-hopping heavyweights are all about.
  
Martyrdod - Paranoia
For over a decade now, Swedish purveyors of stench, Martyrdod have been unleashing their trademarked style of blackened everything to the crust-consuming masses. Despite the richer sounding production value on Paranoia, there is still the full-on power and blunt straightforwardness indicative of D-beat. It’s just been polished up enough that you can clearly distinguish the multitude of layers created by the skilled axemen—incorporating, among other things, aspects of punk, hardcore and classic Swedish death metal. In that same regard, the partition of instrumentation allows the the listener to hear the rhythm section’s impact on the overall sound, as they plod and pound their way through a thunderous Dis-laden low end. While the guitar work hints at it, it’s really the hateful, tortured vitriol of the vocals that adds a heavy dose of black metal to the mix—a distinction longtime fans will recognize and appreciate.

Mean Jeans - On Mars
On Mars is punk rock for skater kids, alternateens, and hopeless romantics raised on frozen pizza and gas station nachos, just as much as it for those fending off adulthood; still lurking around the dim corners of fringe society in worn out Chucks and pinned-up hoodies; swilling tall boys of whatever the cheap beer of the moment is; and hipping “the kids” to the days when Danny Panic, B-Face and Danny Vapid were in The Queers instead of, well, whoever is now.

Nu Sensae - Sundowning
Hailing from Vancouver, BC this trio pins the snotty punch of classic L7 and Babes in Toyland alongside the auditory ambush of Dinosaur Jr. and the Melvins, while peppering it with Sonic Youth-y and Pixies-ish flirtations. Yes, it’s nearly impossible for anyone who lived through it the first time around to describe the band’s muddy, grunge-nodding brand of punk without playing the “sounds like” game. And that’s in no way a bad thing. NĂ¼ Sensae effectively retools the weightiest incisions from that exciting and hopeful era when “college rock” was becoming “alternative” and applies a punky methodology.

OFF! - Self-Titled
While firing shots at Gregg Ginn and mocking Black Flag three decades after the fact may be oddly entertaining, we’d be better off to forget the entire hubbub of old punkers jogging out ancient rivalries. The bottom line is this is just good hardcore punk rock. Period. Keith Morris, much like on 2010’s First Four EPs, sounds as youthful a singer as he ever has—this is what he loves to do and he does it really well. And the band exercises flawlessly loud-ass Black Flag/Circle Jerks worship for which Morris can blow his vocal chords over. Much like with the production on the previous record, the same can be said of this one—it has a demo-like quality that is quite favorable to the overall sound.

Oiltanker - Shadow of Greed / Crusades
Shadow of Greed / Crusades is a combo package put together by Southern Lord, bringing two previously vinyl-only releases--an LP and a 7" respectfully--into the CD/digital world.  Hartford, CT--one of the oldest and wealthiest cities in the United States--on the surface doesn’t exactly scream crust punk, but Oiltanker’s existence there is further affirmation of one of the most appealing aspects of crust: it subsists virtually everywhere; bubbling under the surface; angst-ridden, socio-politically conscious, and in stark opposition to the surrounding affluence and excess.


Outlook - Our Time is Now
Female-fronted fast hardcore from Olympia, WA.  Like the kind where the band sets up on floor in front of the stage and all the kids go bananas.  Rad shit, man.





Phobia - Remnants of Filth
Punky grind veterans Phobia dropped a new album that's a little less crusty and a little more metal-y.  Pretty slick production, but still very anachro, scream-filled and jam-packed with crushing blast beats.



Public Image Ltd. - This is PiL
Roughly two years after reforming his influential post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Ltd. for a world tour, John Lydon decided it was time to write some songs and record a new record.  This is PiL is as simple a title as it is accurate.  Although there are some adventurous moments, the album largely follows the typical PiL formula.  That is, luscious, danceable, dub-tinged post-punk grooves accompanied by Lydon's omnipresent vocal chords, which walk the fence between complimentary and contrasting.  Listening to PiL is rarely an easy task--it takes work--in fact it's downright agitating at times--but ultimately it's a rewarding experience.


Sick Fix - Vexed
Hardcore.  Members of Coke Bust.  Super fast and pummeling at the same time.  Like straight-edge kids doing crust punk...or something.  Get into it. 



Soundgarden - King Animal
Hey, did you know that Soundgarden reformed and put out a new record?  Well they did, and it's pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be.  More on the Superunknown / Down on the Upside end of the spectrum than the Loud Love / Badmotorfinger end, which is only a little disappointing because, like, it's fucking Soundgarden. 

Testament - Dark Roots of Earth
Much like fellow thrash titans Anthrax did in 2011 with Worship Music, Testament returned from a lengthy hiatus with Dark Roots of Earth, a rousing reclamation of the throne.  Chuck Billy, all goofiness aside (Playing air-guitar on a fabricated half mic stand that lights up, actually owning a fabricated half mic stand the lights up, being named Chuck Billy, etc.) is undoubtedly a masterful vocalist.  His intense growls become enthusiastic howls, as rolls in sync with a concoction of thrash perfection, led by original guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick and bassist Greg Christian, the nucleus behind most of the band's best work; including '08's The Formation of Damnation.  The lineup is rounded out by Gene Hoglan, who has done time in Dark Angel, Death and Opeth, returning to the band for the first time since 1997.     

The Men - Open Your Heart
I'm not going to tow the line with the whole "saviors of rock 'n' roll" thing the lazy journalists are saying about The Men.  (I mean, let's be real, rock 'n' roll isn't dead, and isn't in need of any "saviors."  The only thing more tired and played out than rock 'n' roll [which it's not,] is saying that rock 'n' roll is tired and played out.)  However, I have to admit that  Open Your Heart is a goddamn fine-ass rock 'n' roll record.  It reminds me of SST-era Screaming Trees and Husker Du as much as it does recent-ish bands like No Age or Cloak/Dagger.

Tragedy - Darker Days Ahead
With their latest record Tragedy departed a bit from the D-beat swiftness, epic crust, and pure rage of their previous albums.  Darker Days Ahead finds them experimenting more with their sound—integrating drone vibrations, doom metal and even some demonic snarls. But despite the slow builds, chuga-chuga and other metal facets, it is still very much punk rock, thanks in part to the archetypal lyricism centering around bleak societal outlooks and anarcho-politics. It has been six years since these DIY-renowned Portland crust punk luminaries last released an LP, and what a slab of earth-crushing wax it is.

Vybz Kartel - Kingston Story: Deluxe Edition
Vybz Kartel, who got his start in Jamaican music by penning tunes for Bounty Killer,  is the reigning king of dancehall reggaeHis debut album, Kingston Story was originally released in 2011 as a digital-only release.  Since then the vultures of hip culture, Vice Records reached into their ever-expanding wallets and pulled out a double-gate fold vinyl version that includes two extra songs.  Aside from Vybz' patios, Kingston Story sounds very Americanized, thanks in large part to the hip-hop-informed beats made by Brooklyn producer Dre Skull. Lyrically, Vybz pulls no punches, as he espouses ghettoized tales and misogyny-laced toasters without apology.   

WAR//PLAGUE - A Darker Dawn
With A Darker Dawn, Twin Cities scene vets, WAR//PLAGUE veered in a slightly different direction while still snarled up in their crust punk roots. The conglomeration of styles and genres is varied enough though that it makes it difficult to put a solid label on them. Sure, in simplest of terms they are crust, but they are also quite a bit more than that too.

White Lung - Sorry
Vancouver, BC's White Lung exist within' the loosening parameters of melodic punk and hardcore but incorporate some of the more favorable aspects of Pacific Northwest indie rock.  The most notable comparison would be the jangly guitar work and vocal styling of the late Pretty Girls Make Graves.  Sorry is grabbing, frenzied and over in under twenty minutes; which is kind of too short, but also pretty much perfect.

Wolfbrigade - Damned
Swedish crust punk veterans Wolfbrigade returned with their signature brand of metal-tinged D-beat. On Damned there is a noticeable attention to detail as it relates to the quality of production. It has cleaner and more user-friendly mix than past outings—likely a result of Southern Lord’s deeper pockets. Although the wall of sheer sound has been partitioned, allowing a few delicate gradations to flourish at unexpected times, they have kept intact all the anarcho-rage and Motorhead leanings they have perfected over that last seventeen years.

1/18/13

The Best Hip-Hop Mixtapes of 2012

The Best Hip-Hop Mixtapes of 2012
An Excerpt From 2012: A Year In Review
By Nathan G. O'Brien on Scene Point Blank

When listing the best hip-hop releases of the year, why add a separate list for mixtapes? What is a mixtape exactly? What makes a mixtape different than, oh, I don’t know, an album? And shouldn’t mixtape be spelled as two different words—mix and tape—or, at the very least, have a hyphen in it like, say, mix-tape? These are questions a rap novice might ask. Hell, these are questions a rap scholar
should ask. But like many things in the universes of rap music, there is really no good answer; it’s just the way it is. In case you begin to ask yourself another question—“Why the hell am I still reading this?”—I will do my best to answer the question that opens this very paragraph—why a separate list for mixtapes? This straightforward answer is that basically it’s a way to include some more (or in this case, double the amount of) notable releases. The slightly more convoluted answer, which also addresses the second question—what makes a mixtape different than an album?— is that typically (and I want to stress the importance of typically here) there a few key elements that distinguish them from each other, lest they should not be judged by the same criteria. While albums are official releases on record labels with a price tag, mixtapes are by and large available for free download. Albums are slimmed down to artist’s best songs, while mixtapes are normally collections of twenty plus songs; many of which are freestyles over recycled beats and/or tracks that didn’t make the cut for the album. In fact, often times the sole purpose of a mixtape is to promote the artist’s upcoming album. Furthermore, some artists only do mixtapes because that’s just how they like, keep it real ‘n’ stuff. So, in the interest of keeping it real ‘n’ stuff, here are the 20 Best Hip-Hop Mixtapes of 2012…

Action Bronson – Blue Chips
This project—which borrows its title, imagery, and some key samples from the 1994 Nick Nolte, Shaq, and Penny Hardaway basketball film of the same name—brings together Brooklyn producer Party Supplies and the Flushing-Queens emcee-on-the-rise Action Bronson. At his brightest moments Bronson sidesteps his oft-scatterbrained lyricism, to shine some light on his storytelling ability. On “Hookers at the Point” he weaves a misogynist-leaning tale of the street-level sex trade by assuming the roles of a cast of characters—pimps, johns, prostitutes, etc. Peculiar movie samples and Party Supplies’ near-harrowing beat lend the song an authentically disturbing feel. Although Blue Chips came as a free download via all the normal outlets, it plays more like an actual album than it does a mixtape.

Action Bronson & Alchemist – Rare Chandeliers
Bronson’s first verse on Rare Chandeliers, his collaborative project with journeyman producer Alchemist, and his second album-worthy mixtape of the past year, is indication that he’s not about to stray far from the eccentric word-association rhyme style he’s perfected in the short period of time since he abandoned a culinary career in favor a shot at the rap game—“All I wanna do is buy boots, ride Coupes, hide loot, flick chives in the soup, stick knives where you poop, backflips of the ledge, hang glide of the roof.” In a year that already saw him release his solo record, Russian Roulette as well as collaborative projects with Oh No and Domo Genesis, Alchemist continued by churning out another druggy soundtrack for the finest emcees to rap on—Roc Marciano, Mayhem Lauren, Evidence, Styles P, and Schoolboy Q all make appearances on here. One of the tape’s standout tracks, “Blood of the Goat,” features Bronson, Big Twin and Sean Price, going all ‘90s-gorilla-rap on a hard-knocking beat that will remind old-heads of the cypher-ish parts from Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus.

A$AP Mob – Lord$ Never Worry
Harlem’s A$AP Rocky broke out in 2011 with his LiveLoveA$AP tape, so it’s appropriate that while the release date for his first official album, LongLiveA$AP continued to get pushed back into, well, sometime in 2013, that he would appease eager fans with a crew tape in 2012. Lord$ Never Worry shines the spotlight on other emcees in his collective, the A$AP Mob—A$AP Ferg, A$AP Twelvy, A$AP Ant, A$AP Nast—as well as a handful of producers; the majority of which apply a liberal amount of Southern hip-hop worship in their methodology. While the best songs are the ones in which A$AP Rocky and his cohorts are featured prominently, some of the more memorable ones feature members from outside the A$AP Mob. “Coke and White Bitches: Chapter 2” features oddball Danny Brown and mixtape regulars Fat Trel and Gunplay, while Flatush ZOMBiES show up on “Bath Salts.”

Domo Genesis & Alchemist – No Idols
While Tyler the Creator seems to get all the press, it’s Odd Future’s lesser-known members (see: Mellow Hype, Earl Sweatshirt) that turn in some of the crew’s finest work, and Domo Genesis, perhaps their best-kept secret, is no exception. Teaming up with beatsmith Alchemist resulted in No Idols, an album-worthy tape that not only features SpaceGhostPurrp, Action Bronson, Smoke DZA, WWE samples, and a song called “Elimination Chamber”, but the following line: “I’m raw like Monday nights.” Even if pro-wrestling isn’t your thing, likely—seeing as how you’re still reading this—rap music is. And you needn’t look any further than “Til the Angels Come,” the final song—guest starring Freddie Gibbs and Prodigy—to find a perfect example of some supreme rap music in 2012.

Eric Sermon – Breath of Fresh Air
Whether it be one half of EPMD, a solo career or behind the boards for other emcees, The Green Eyed Bandit has somehow managed to remain one of the more pivotal people in the rap game for twenty plus years. Breath of Fresh Air is not entirely all new stuff—some of it is rarities and unreleased tracks from previous projects—but it is still an aptly titled tape. Aside from his recognizable voice, it’s got all the signature Sermon production you’ve come to expect—more or less, traditional East Coast boom-bap. And as per the usual , it is ripe with guest spots—KRS-One, Method Man, Too $hort, Rick Ross and Def Squad alums Redman and Keith Murray all make appearances, as do newbies Twone Gabz, the mysterious Lockness Monster. 

Fat Trel – Nightmare on E Street
Washing D.C.’s Fat Trel is a heavily-tattooed sorta fat guy who calls himself, ah, Fat Trel, rarely wears a shirt, and has a photo floating around the Internet of him tossing the proverbial salad of some random girl. If that doesn’t automatically make him one of your favorite people ever, the fact that he also puts out exceptional mixtapes, in which he raps really well over Harry Fraud, Big K.R.I.T. and Lex Lugar trap beats should do it for you.

Flatbush ZOMBiES – D.R.U.G.S.
Closely affiliated with A$AP Mob, Flatbush ZOMBiES blew up the underground this year, ripped to the tits on forties, LSD, Molly, kush, and any other mind-altering substances that were within’ arm’s reach. D.R.U.G.S. is an impressive outpouring of blunted, trap-tinged, psychedelic horrorcore.
Tracks like “S.C.O.S.A.” and “Remember, I Got Money” are downright creepy, thanks in part to their eerie beats and molasses-slow screwed vocals. “Laker Paper” has an undeniably sing-a-long-able hook: “Purple in the blunt; Swishers be the paper. Mouth full of gold; I’m feeling like a Laker.” And of course, there’s “Thug Waffle”; the song whose video almost broke the Internet last summer.

Freddie Gibbs – Baby Face Killa
Gary, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs is a hip-hop chameleon. That is to say, he easily adapts to any beat and drops verse after impressive verse on top of them, cross-pollinating without a hint of the gimmicky-ness that oft-befalls other rappers who attempt a multi-regional approach to rap music. “Kush Cloud” is a hazy ode to the herb, in which Gangsta Gibbs brings along SpaceGhostPurrp and Krayzie Bone for the ride. Young Jeezy and Gibbs go the Molly route on “Go For it”, while Gibbs is in full-on trap mode for “The Diet”, “Bout It Bout It” and the Z-Ro feature “Boxframe Cadillac.” Frequent collaborator Statik Selektah laces Gibbs, Jadakiss and Jay Rock with one his signature laid-back boom-bap beats for “Krazy.”

Gigs510 – I Need Food, Swishers and Papers
While Oakland rapper Gigs510’s I Need Food, Swishers and Papers does have its faults—it’s twenty songs long, has a few amateurish rhymes (Like putting two words together in a song just because they sound the same.), some R&B-ish hooks, and questionable beat selection—it still makes the list because the things it has going for it outweigh those going against it. Mainly, when he’s focused, he’s an able-bodied emcee on par with many of the other highly applauded emcees on this list. (See: Joey Bada$$) And when he blatantly indulges the exemplary Bay Area sound, he does it really well. Stripper pole-ready bounce tracks like “Throw it”, “Go Girl” and “Ass Cheeks” are the type of thizzle/hyphy songs that predated (and subsequently outlasted) the jerkin’ movement.

Guccie Mane – Trap God
Guccie Mane is determined to stay relevant to the game, even if he has to do so one ubiquitous trap beat and Waka Flocka Flame feature at a time. And here’s the thing: it’s kinda, sorta, OK, pretty much is, working. (See also: Trap Back mixtape, I’m Up mixtape, Free Bricks mixtape w/Young Scooter.)

Gunplay – 601 & Snort
Perhaps more famous for off-mic antics like going one-on-four against members of G-Unit at the BET Awards and delivering beatdowns to his accountant, Maybach Music Group's Gunplay shows he’s a force to be reckoned with on wax as well. 601 & Snort is a short ‘n’ sweet, yet impressive collection of freestyles, remixes and new songs. It’s been said many times, but that doesn’t make it any less worth repeating, that Gunplay is the Old Dirty Bastard of MMG. I can’t take credit for that realization, but I certainly endorse it. And apparently Gunplay does too, or at least recognizes it, as he goes over the top of a classic Wu-Tang beats for a few tracks, including “Criminology Freestyle” and “Gullitine Swords Freestyle.” While the runtime on this tape is brief, it leaves a lasting impression, thanks in large part to Gunplay’s wildin’ out approach to rapping and the fact that he's oozing personality. (See also: Bogota Rich mixtape)

I Self Devine – Culture Series
In the months leading up to the release of his album The Sound of Low Class Amerika, Rhymesayers veteran I Self Devine released a succession of mixtapes known as the Culture Series. Featuring production from a number of producers, including Vitamin D, Alchemist and Oh No and guest spots from the likes of Twin Cities mainstays Budda Tye and Muju Messiah, each tape tackled a different subject matter of cultural significance. LA State of Mind, The Uplift Struggle, Reports From the Field: in the Trenches, and The Shining Path proved I Self to be not only a prolific artist, but a man with a lot to say. Not surprising considering it had been seven years since the release of his last solo record, the excellent Self-Destruction. (See also: The Sound of Low Class Amerika album)

Joey Bada$$ - 1999
Early on 1999, Joey Bada$$ states, “I’m tryin’ to go global…tryin’ to be a mogul” and later, “I won’t stop ‘til I meet Hova and my moms is driving a Rover.” And if this tape is any indication—as well as extramural things like calling out Kanye on his current mediocre-ness and (purportedly) beefing with Odd Future—it may not be long before he finds himself sitting in the front row of the BET Awards with a Kardashian on his arm. The Brooklynite, at just 17 years old, has crafted a surprisingly remarkable mixtape that recalls some of the most revered hip-hop in history. Over the course of fifteen tracks, Joey, along with his rhyme partner Capital STEEZ and the rest of the producer/emcee/artist conglomerate Pro Era, breathe new life into the tried and true ‘90s NYC rap formula. 1999 isn’t just the name; it’s the whole style—featuring production from J-Dilla, Statik Selktah, MF Doom, and Lord Finesse to boot. This cat has all the potential in the world to be H-to-the-UGE. (See also: Rejex mixtape)

Mayhem Lauren – Respect the Fly Shit
Action Bronson’s running mate and fellow foodie, Mayhem Lauren’s tape Respect The Fly Shit comes with no purchase point, but at only twelve songs and with the majority of the beats handled by a singular producer—Harry Fraud— it presents itself in album format. It also boasts an impressive guest list—Action Bronson, Heems, Roc Marciano, Sean Price—connecting the dots to what’s really exiting about current NYC rap. Regular Harry Fraud collaborator Smoke DZA tag teams with Lauren on “Radioactive Tuna”, one of the tape’s standout tracks. (See also: Mandatory Brunch Meetings mixtape)

Mill – Dreamchasers 2
In anticipation of his solo album Dreams and Nightmares, Maybach Music Groups’s Philadelphian cornerstone Meek Mill dropped the second installment of his Dreamchasers series. The tape features production from Jahlil Beats, All-Star and a number of other beatsmiths. Beat Bully lays the foundation for the “House Party (RMX)”, which is the first time in recent memory that I can recall being able to actually tolerate Mac Miller. Meek goes the emo route a few times with personal stories of struggle and whatnot, but it’s most enjoyable when he unabashedly indulges the listener with sex raps and stereotypical gangsta shit; such as “Str8 Like That” and the Sam Sneaker-produced “Facedown.” (See also: Dreams and Nightmares album)

M-Phazes – Phazed Out (Mixed Version)
This is a playlist of tracks from Coalmine Records’ recent catalog that have been remixed by Australian producer M-Phazes. The whole thing has been superbly beat-matched and scratched into a non-stop party-rockin’ joint by DJ Rhettmatic of the World Famous Beat Junkies. Veterans like Heltah Skeltah, Inspectah Deck, Phil Da Agony, Masta Ace, and CL Smooth rap alongside up-n-comers Torae, Bekay, Saigon, Skyzoo, and Termanology. This reminds me of the ‘90s when mixtapes were actually cassette tapes of various rap songs mixed together by a DJ without the use of Serato. That’s not to say there isn’t some sort of mixing software at work here—I literally cannot tell—but if there is, it’s cleverly disguised by Rhettmatic’s impeccable turtablism. Fans longing for the days of hip-hop live-mix radio shows will dig this.

Showbiz & AG-Mugshot Music: Preloaded
Bronx vetarans Showbiz & AG returned this year with both a new album, Mugshot Music and the precursory mixtape, Preloaded. Riding on the strength of Show’s signature boom-bap and AG’s poignant and complimentary flow, this tape proved these Diggin’ in the Crates crew members still maintain a reputable presence in hip-hop some twenty-two years after first debuting on Lord Finesse’s Funky Technician album. In some ways, especially due in part to the R&B hooks that dictate the official album, Preloaded is the superior release—it’s straightforward East Coast rap music. (See also: Mugshot Music album)

Tree – Sunday School
Sunday School is a labor of love, detailing life in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Chicago, entirely written and produced by the emcee known as Tree. Despite being a Midwesterner, his beats are crammed with mournful soul, rigid bass line and multi-layered samples that recall the bounce ‘n’ roll of classic Southern hip-hop. In stark contrast to his production are his vocals. He has an odd pitch to his voice that might not immediately grab the listener, but given time it works its way into your conscious and sets up shop, demanding your full attention. He effortlessly switches from hostile patterns to churh-esque crooning, to raspy barking, and back again.

Various Artists – Closed Sessions Vol. 2
Preseted by Chicago’s Soundscape Studios and rap & culture blog site Ruby Hornet, the second volume of Closed Sessions (named after the small record label run by Soundscape's owners) dropped this last summer and it has held a favorable place on my iPod ever since. Recorded from the spring of 2010 through the winter of 2012, this tape features an impressive cross-selection of present day underground hip-hop. Each track features a meticulously-selected paring of emcees and producers. Among the many unique combinations, you’ll find L.E.P. Bogus Boys, Action Bronson, Raekwon, Mr.MFN eXquire and Freddie Gibbs tag-teaming with beatsmiths The Olympicks, Thelonious Martin, DJ Babu, Mike Jaxx, and Million $ Mano. The most pleasantly surprising result comes courtesy of Ninjasonik, Million $ Mano, and Hollywood Holt (whom I personally hadn’t heard from since his ‘07 ode to mopeds, “Throw a Kit”)—and producer Roofeo on the club-ready bouncer, “This Is How We Treat ‘Em.

Various Artists – Rock the Bells
Rock the Bells is a mixtape sponsored by DatPiff, Guerilla Union, Boost Mobile, and the Soul Assassins (Did I miss anyone?) that was put together to promote the annual traveling summer hip-hop festival of the same name. The tape features mostly new and unreleased tracks from artists spanning the spectrum of indie hip-hop. This artist selection is literally all over the place—KRS-One, Supernatural, Murs, Sick Jacken, Chali 2na, Tech N9ne, and Everlast are all on the title track—but it works well, thanks in part to the continuous playlist mix courtesy of DJ Muggs. While it is beset with the type of between-song shoutouts that will sound familiar to listeners of ‘90s Funkmaster Flex or DJ Honda tapes, it’s not to the point where it disrupts the feeling of a live mix. Some of the most bracing verses belong to Cassie Veggies, Sean Price and Atmosphere, whose song “Millenium Dodo 2” features a return to form for Slug, as he goes harder than anything on 2011’s The Family Sign. Also of note is surprising appearances from Deltron 3030 and Keith Murray.

Top 5 Hip-Hop EPs of 2012: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Shame, Gangrene - Odditorium, Mr. MFN eXquire - Power & Passion, Quelle Chris - 2 Dirt 4 TV, Smoke DZA - Cuz I Felt Like It

Please check out Scene Point Blank's entire 2012: A Year In Review here.