This slept-on Chicago trio had something special with their debut. Denizen Kane and Qwazaar both held their own and stole the show at points, but it was Qwel who really provided the spark that made this album next level. The album is laced with jazzy production from DJ Natural and an always sharp and poetic take on the backpacks, graf, train rides, cyphers, and everything that this underground crew lived and loved. Unlike some group albums that sound like three separate artists pasting verses together, these guys seemed to all be on the same exact page.
As Rawkus rode a series of singles (and the aforementioned full length debut of Company Flow) to indie prominence, an intrepid duo of young Brooklynite emcees united to record an album that set the table for conscious rap that followed years later. With jazzy production reminiscent of their progenitors the Native Tongues and rhymes fully grounded in the present, Mos Def and Talib Kweli crafted an album that is often as beautiful and poignant as it is head nod inducing.
Shouldering high expectations after his touted signing to Def Jux, Long Island wordsmith Aesop Rock delivered a career defining statement in Labor Days, an album that expanded on his trademark abstraction while dipping further into his favorite themes (modern labor, the effects of city living on the psyche, artistic creation) and a kind of lucidity nonexistent on previous releases. 1e1e36bf2d