With the ever-evolving dominance of mainstream hip-hop and the industry over what was once an art-form primarily represented in the streets, it is important to acknowledge and pay respects to those artists who are still doing it independently. With budgets that are usually less than the cost of shooting one video for a mainstream artist, these labels, producers, and rappers, have kept it independent, sometimes by necessity, but more often by choice. Bearing such a huge separation in production costs, we decided it was unfair to compare mainstream and independent records, and came up with the following. Here are the Top 10 Independent Hip-Hop Albums of 2006.
10. Murs and 9th Wonder â€“ Murrayâ€™s Revenge
After a near classic outing with their first collaboration, Murs and 9th Wonder are back with Murrayâ€™s Revenge. Although not nearly as powerful as the first album, the two come together to create a cohesive record, backed of course by 9thâ€™s consistent production, and Murs sometimes self-deprecating, but often confident, honest lyrics. Everyday subject matter from Murs is what makes Murrayâ€™s Revenge redeeming. Itâ€™s comforting to know as a listener that even if things are moving along slowly, Murs will soon drop a line that makes you recognize his talent in being so simple, yet so profound. Original topics and clean flows from Murs, backed by 9th Wonder production makes this album pretty much exactly what youâ€™d expect from the two.
9. Ken Starr â€“ Starr Status
Classic braggadocio mixed with new-school patterns, and the ability to get conscious when he wants to, make Ken Starr, and his release 2006 release Starr Status, a must-check this year. Starr resembles AZ in that he is a dope MC, able to keep it fresh while keeping it street, but after a while, the voice and the patterns can get stale. Itâ€™s these fallbacks that keep Ken Starr from reaching a higher number on our list this year, but dude shows mad potential, and donâ€™t be surprised if by his next release heâ€™s climbed up the list a few spots.
8. Termanology & DC â€“ Out the Gate
Coming out of Boston, MA, at only 22 years, Termanology proves that he is the next MC to look out for with his debut release, Out the Gate. Co-signed by DJ Premier, with the breakout track of the year, â€œWatch How It Go Downâ€ (not featured on this album), Termanology represents true-school hip-hop to the fullest, on tracks like â€œThis is Hip Hop.â€ Where most â€œthrowback MCsâ€ are boring and sound dated, itâ€™s Termanologyâ€™s brash new school confidence that makes him interesting on the mic. If Format had a rookie of the year award in 2006, Termanology would get it, so make sure to look out for dude in 2007.
7. Mr. Lif â€“ Moâ€™ Mega
Education and humor is a combination that more rappers need to adopt as the industry continues to dumb down hip-hop music. Mr. Lif has never had a problem with getting political, or with keeping his raps entertaining. With his 2006 release, Moâ€™ Mega, Lif keeps consistent with his subject matter, mentioning in the liner notes that the album is a commentary on the intersection of lower-class culture and an increasingly modernizing world. Luckily, Lif isnâ€™t too serious on the record, as he makes sure to drop a couple tracks to keep things lighthearted. Introspective, political, educational, and humorous, Moâ€™ Mega is an important release in 2006.
6. Boot Camp Clik â€“ The Last Stand
Riding off the success of their â€œTriple Threatâ€ campaign in 2005, the Clik is back with The Last Stand to show and prove that they still have what it takes to compete in todayâ€™s oversaturated underground movement. Classic 90s style production with a millennium twist provides the perfect backdrop for the whole team to get their streetscape on, speaking about gunz, onez, and why the Clik is still running things in 2006. Buckshot may have lit the Boot Camp flame with Black Moon thirteen years ago, but Heltah Skeltah soon grabbed the torch. Ruck and Rock carry the album, but itâ€™s the combination of the whole family accenting track by track that makes The Last Stand a tight release.
5. Pigeon John â€“ Pigeon John and the Summertime Pool Party
Blurring the lines between genres, while still keeping your music straight-up hip-hop sounds like a contradiction, but donâ€™t tell that to Pigeon John. One of the most original artists making hip-hop music today, Pigeon John came back in 2006 with his strongest album yet, Pigeon John and the Summertime Pool Party. Considering his previous work, and the title of the album, one will likely expect a happy go lucky, hip-hop meets the Beach Boys album, and yes, some of the record does sound like that, but it has its darker moments too. Pigeon covers the full spectrum from talking about growing old in hip-hop (â€œGrowinâ€™ Oldâ€) to girls rejecting him (â€œMoney Back Guaranteeâ€) to societal ills and introspection (â€œWeight of the Worldâ€), but itâ€™s his ability to consistently deliver with humor and wit that makes the whole album light-hearted and fun to listen to.
4. Planet Asia – The Medicine
Finalizing his thee-part series with the strongest album of the bunch, Planet Asia returns with The Medicine in 2006. A healthy mix of concept tracks and straight spitting make this album a perfect listening experience for both headphones and background music. Perhaps best known for his original patterns and unpredictable flow, Planet Asia doesnâ€™t disappoint with The Medicine, keeping his structure tight. Surprising appearances by Prodigy and Black Thought keep things fresh for listeners who are tired of the west-coast underground collabos Asia is known for. Check this one out for some solid true-school wit a hint of new-school hip-hop.
3. Oh No – Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms
Producer/rapper Oh No gets creative with his sophomore release, Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms, sampling exclusively from Galt MacDermot to produce a beautifully crafted collaboration effort with some of the undergrounds finest. A seemingly bottomless stockpile of samples and stabs sprinkle Oh Noâ€™s soundscapes, which are sequenced to perfection, providing a soulful swing reminiscent of MacDermotâ€™s original songs. Oh No only contributes vocals to three tracks on the album, but his presence is felt behind the boards where he arranges for an all-star underground line-up including, Cali Agents, Murs, Wordsworth, AG, Buckshot, Posdonus, and Wise Intelligent. A healthy mix of concept tracks and talking shit make Exodus positive, yet bumpable music.
2. Soul Position – Things Go Better With RJ and AL
In an single-driven market, where album production credits lists consist of whatâ€™s hot at the moment, any producer that is still making efforts to bang-out a full-length with one emcee in 2006 deserves serious respect. With 9th Wonder, and Kanye West at the forefront of this movement, and many more on the same path, there is still hope for the survival of the producer/emcee one-two punch that we all grew to love in the early 90s. On that note, say hello to RJD2. In addition to crafting the Magnificent City for Aceyalone at the beginning of 06, RJ rekindles the flames with Blueprint for the Soul Position sophomore release, Things Go Better With RJ and AL. Fresh, humorous topics from Blueprint, with a profuse production palette from RJ prove the chemistry these two have developed is far from an experiment gone wrong; itâ€™s a full-blown lab emergency.
1. AZ â€“ The Format
AZ has to be the least evolved mainstay emcee in the game over the past ten years. Get it straight â€“ this is not a diss. The thing about AZ has always been that you know what youâ€™re getting: soulful street commentary, brash braggadocio, and straight-up spitting coupled with one of the best multi-syllabic flows in hip-hop is almost synonymous with his name. And although there have been sidesteps throughout the years, AZ has always kept on pace, so when we finally listened to his 2006 return, and sixth album, The Format, we were hoping AZ just kept it moving like he always has. Stand-out tracks include the opener, â€œI Am the Truth,â€ the Little Brother assisted â€œRise & Fall,â€ the recollection piece slash 50 diss â€œRoyal Salute,â€ and the Primo produced title track, but the album, coming in at a tight 12 tracks is solid throughout. Straight up, The Format will remind you why you love hip-hop.