Armor Of God by Vakill

Listening to Vakill go bar for bar with some of rap’s most reputable battle emcees on “Beast Ballad” makes you wonder why the Chicago-native hasn’t gotten his just due. Alas, five years between releases will do that, yet he shows no signs of lyrical relapse as Armor Of God marks a stellar return for the Molemen-affiliate. From his extra-raw demeanor on “Mean Mug Muzik” and “Proof” to his personal potent descriptions of the past on “Wild Wild” and “You Don’t Know,” Vakill’s vivid narratives over bruising production punctuates the significance of hardcore Hip Hop that is seldom heard on the radio. Peep “Bi-Polar,” a telling record that perfectly epitomizes the love-hate relationship within today’s scene.

For Adam by Illus

In an attempt to curb overt cynicism in Hip Hop for records that carry positivity, Illus offers up the Adam Walsh-inspired (look him up) For Adam. Easily accessible tracks like “Brighter Day” and “Free” give the listener hope for a better future, while the Eternia-assisted “Sons & Daughters” touches on the appreciation for parents who give their children a positive outlook on life. Though creative, the various celebrated novel references littered throughout “R.I.F.” fail to depict a clear direction. Then on “Better,” Illus’ execution of requesting “more peace less war, we can make it better / never say never man, get up and make it better” sounds amateurish at best. At 33 minutes, For Adam is a novelty release lacking substantial content, though the message is one that can be appreciated.

Black Up by Shabazz Palaces

In 1993 Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler was rapping over the Grammy-winning jazz-rap fusion record “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like That)” with Digable Planets. In 2011? He’s now rapping under the moniker Palaceer Lazaro alongside Shabazz Palaces, a non-descript group that likewise masks their full-length debut Black Up with obscure transitions and haunting vibes that castrate the listener from anything reminiscently contemporary. Lazaro’s cold delivery meshes well with this new conceptual style, with tracks like “free press and curl” and “Are you…Can you…Were you? (Felt)” reveling in the experimentation of audible senses. No track is constructed with a beginning-to-end scenario, and Black Up could best be personified by “Recollections of the wraith” where Lazaro advises, “Clear some space out, so we can space out.” This is definitely music to zone out to.

Raising The Bar by Cold Heat

Cold Heat’s album Raising The Bar is not what you’d expect from a rap duo representing Queens, New York. Made up of emcee Jak Danielz and producer Johnny Walker, Cold Heat trade in East Coast boom bap for smooth, relatable cuts that sound more Atmosphere than Rakim. Whether it’s the melancholic grooves on “When You Coming Home” and “Looking For You” or the stream of consciousness found on “Thinking Out Loud,” Jak Danielz shows a knack for delivering rhymes with purpose. At times the production sounds rough around the edges, such as the weak trumpet synth on “Place Near You” or the hollow melody on “Spanish Guitars.” Overall though Raising The Bar is a nice break from the norm and a reason to give Cold Heat a future look.