Devin The Dude - To Tha X-Treme (7.5/10)
Despite working with artists like Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Nas, Xzibit and Scarface, not to mention two great albums, Devin The Dude continues to fly beneath the radar. The horribly titled "To Tha X-Treme" isn't likely going to change that, but it is another dope album from the Dude nevertheless. Solidifying his ranking as one of hip-hop's most lovable characters, Devin once again intertwines raunchy humor with hard ships, sorrow and drugs in a way that can't be explained. Really, all those things rarely work in the same context, but Devin pulls it off so naturally (see "She's Gone"). "To Tha X-Treme" is noticeably slower and smoother than his previous efforts, which does tend to drag a little at some points. Still, an excellent album that should be heard by all. Just listen to songs like "Kooter Brown" and "What" and try not to become a fan of The Dude.
Capital D - Insomnia (7/10)
With Kanye West putting Chi-town in the spotlight once and for all, one can only hope that All Natural's Capital D is the next to blow in the Windy City. Possessing not only great style and technique ("The Awakening"), but critical content ("Start The Revolution," "Miss America," and pretty much the entire LP), and sharp production skills ("Transformations," "Iman," and "Mississippi"). In terms of content and quality, this is yet another LP that needs to be heard by the masses. Too many are sleeping, not enough insomniacs.
Leak Bros - Waterworld (8/10)
When I heard that Cage and Tame One were teaming up to make an LP entirely dedicated to PCP, I must admit, I was quite skeptical. Not because of the talents of either involved, or the stellar production line up (Rjd2, J-Zone, El-P, Camu Tao, Mighty Mi, Mondee), but because an entire album dedicated to getting wet would be uninteresting after a few songs. I was wrong, really wrong. Tame and Cage keep things interesting by incorporating a drug theme park concept and by sheer force of good music. The production is excellent (and very fitting), all the way through and both emcees really step up their games. Cage in particular, who hasn't sounded this good since "Agent Orange." Somebody get me some embalming fluid.
Johnny Five - Summer (6.5/10)
The latest to emerge from fledging Cali underground label Basement Records is Johnny Five. The 22 year old North Hollywood emcee/producer has created an album custom made, and titled, for mother nature's finest season. "Summer" is 17 tracks of breezy soul peppered with funk stylings. While Johnny is definitely a competent emcee, his true talent lies in production. This is particularly evidenced on the front half of the album with lovely offerings such as "Call Response" and "Sand Castles 1 & 2." It's a nice debut that is definitely worth a spin or two, especially if the sun is shining.