Black Milk - Popular DemandBlack Milk - Popular Demand
Although 2006 was a hard year for Detroit hip-hop, with the death of both Proof and J Dilla, it brought more attention to the scene than it had experienced since the rise of Eminem in 1999. Suddenly, everyone was heralding the genius of the late James Yancey, giving him shout outs and crediting him as a major inspiration. Of course, for some, these claims are actually true, and can be proven in their work. One such artist who falls into this category is Black Milk, who besides having already produced tracks for Slum Village, was also part of the duo B.R. Gunna with RJ Rice, Jr. On his first official solo debut, the Fat Beats-issued Popular Demand, Black shows off his skills both behind the boards and the mic. Read more >>

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're DeadEl P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
With even commercial rap's fortunes on the decline during 2007 and RJD2 going indie rock, the rap underground must have seemed like a lonely place to El-P. Perfect time for a community album featuring contributions from most of the Definitive Jux community as well as some expertly fitted outsiders (the Mars Volta, Nine Inch Nails, even Cat Power). As a producer, El-P's only gotten better since Fantastic Damage. If a Bomb Squad production made it sound like the Apocalypse was nigh, El-P's tracks come post-apocalypse -- no less heavy but dark, dusty, and brittle, marching numbly like an army of the popping and locking dead. I'll Sleep When You're Dead is definitely the best-produced and most powerful Definitive Jux record since Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein -- which makes it the best in underground rap during that time. Read more >>

Esoteric - Pterodactyl TubewayEsoteric - Pterodactyl Tubeway
If you go to 7L & Esoteric’s MySpace page and order yourself a copy of Esoteric’s new solo album Egoclapper, you’ll get one heck of bonus. Sent to you free of charge is the full-length Pterodactyl Tubeway, a collection of Esoteric rhymes over Gary Numan beats. As cool as the cover’s blinged-out portrayal of a Tubeway Army-era Numan is, what’s inside is even cooler. Esoteric’s raps are up to their usual high level but his newfound love of production really shines, creating a hyperactive and laugh-out-loud funny album that’s a wonderful kind of overwhelming. Read more >>

Jay-Z - American GangsterJay-Z - American Gangster
"Y'all n*ggas got me really confused out there. I make 'Big Pimpin' or 'Give It to Me,' one of those -- that had me as the greatest writer of the 21st century. I make some thought-provoking sh*t -- y'all question whether he fallin' off." When you've built up a back catalog of eight studio albums and walk the earth as one of the biggest, most high-profile artists of the '90s and 2000s, you're bound to get some mixed signals from those who pay attention to you. However, the jury did not take long to reach a verdict on 2006's Kingdom Come: the consensus on it (as a major fall-off) was as swift and strong as the consensus on Reasonable Doubt (as a classic). Once used copies of Kingdom Come became easily attainable for less than two dollars, it was apparent the next Jay-Z album might not be so anticipated. He'd need to get some fresh inspiration and make some corrective maneuvers. Read more >>

Little Brother - Get BackLittle Brother - Get Back
It should be an easy story to tell: vaunted rap group loses the producer who made them a quality act, then slowly sinks back into the underground, never to be heard from again. From Get Back, it's clear that Little Brother didn't mind the loss of 9th Wonder and decided to rewrite the script. Not only do Phonte and Pooh sound like nothing has changed, in point of fact they sound more energized and engaged than ever before. They've got more to say and more intriguing ways to say it, including touches like fronting a flashy production worthy of Bad Boy for the anti-materialist "Good Clothes," inviting Lil Wayne for "Breakin My Heart"…and floating an utterly hilarious exposé of late-night hook-ups ("After the Party"). Read more >>

Pharoahe Monch -- DesirePharoahe Monch - Desire
What if Kool G Rap's second album came out approximately eight years after his first? That would be a period long enough to leap from Road to the Riches to Roots of Evil, over Wanted: Dead or Alive, Live and Let Die, and 4, 5, 6. While it's an unfair analogy to make -- for many reasons -- when talking about the frustrating lag between Internal Affairs and Desire, it's a helpful one to think about if you're approaching Desire with the expectation of hearing Internal Affairs, Vol. 2. On Internal Affairs, a track-to-track strongarm tactic to reach more ears without too many creative concessions, Pharoahe Monch toughened up. Read more >>

Super Chron Flight Brothers - Emergency PowersSuper Chron Flight Brothers - Emergency Powers
There is certainly a reason that the Super Chron Flight Brothers are named as such: their debut full-length, Emergency Powers, is laced heavily with drug references, many of which are not particularly hidden (songs are called "Dirtweed" and "Panama Red," for example). But the duo is much, much more than a couple of stoners stumbling lazily over beats. Instead, Priviledge and Billy Woods prove themselves to be talented rappers, able to write and deliver intricate, intelligent rhymes that reference pop culture, societal and political problems as well as weed. Read more >>

UGK - Underground KingzUGK - Underground Kingz
When UGK member Pimp C was released from prison in late 2005, his anxiousness to get the group back in the game after three years off was obvious. Combine this with his partner Bun B's loyalty to UGK -- he begrudgingly released a great solo album in September of 2005, just to keep the brand going -- and it sure seemed like the late-2006 street date announced for their comeback effort was more likely to be pushed up than pushed back. Then Pimp C released a solo album and the group's promised double CD with too many guest stars to mention was pushed back for the first of many times, which often means "unruly mess." Underground Kingz, the album, is a glorious triumph over all these challenges that earns its two-disc sprawl, and while it can't turn back time, the missed street dates were a small price to pay for something so solid. Read more >>