This is now a really tough category to even make. True there are more independent artists out than ever and more albums being actually released through digital means than ever before it is hard to go through a list and pick out what albums to go and listen to to qualify. When you add in all of the EP's, street albums, and mixtapes it gets down right overwhelming. There is no way anyone can continuously listen to new stuff and keep up as well as be able to accurately rate when they don't ever get the time to go back to their base of what they know they like and is good. So my list is going to be a mic of somewhat mainstream artists, mainstream guys who have no real promotion beind them and possibly true independent efforts from henceforth.
Once again, let me state some of these guys are on major deals but don't get major promotion and support from their actual labels.
King Los - God, Money, War - Los finally got his debut album and it featured decent production overall and more depth than I was expecting. While it allowed him to showcase his lyricism, the one thing is it didn't really allow him to get any good singles and he is capable of mixing the two as he killed Kid Ink's "No Options" single so there did need to be some more work to punch this album up a bit.
Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo and Youth - Lupe is definitely one of the nicest rappers around and mixed with his consistent political and socially conscious message allows him to constantly put out quality music. The problem is sometimes he can get so engrossed in his flow that it gets hard to follow and he can be to esoteric. Some of the songs were too long overall.
Joell Ortiz and Illmind - Human - I can say the first listen didn't make me love this but it grew on me after multiple listens as the production wasn't as over done as I was afraid of and Joell's lyrics were on point. The topics however seemed to be the same however as Joell's other solo albums.
Hopsin - Pound Syndrome - I had never really given too much time to Hopsin but I did know he had technical ability and a different view and way he approaches his songs. He turns people off because he is a 'corny' type of rapper and not street but it was interesting in a lot of ways.
Skyzoo - Music For My Friends - Skyzoo it would seem might be one of the heirs to the fans who were left behind by the untimely death of Sean Price. He is classic NY with the sound and feel of the mid 90's. He has a good skill and ability especially if you really love or enjoy that sound with the gritty classic beat up the pavement feel. now he isn't as thugged out as Price or someone like Styles but he is has those moments.
And the Winner is:
This was one of the toughest to really look at because I felt like all of these albums were worth listening to but also flawed enough that at times they came back down to each other but in the end I think the Hopsin album had more High points and was still accessible even though it can have it's moments that are sort of out there and geeky the production and lyrics are still solid. Contrast that with Lupe whose album is overflowing with lyrics but the concepts can often become crowded out and muddled in metaphors. Los also had solid lyrics and production but some of the reaches to make singles didn't really work and the back half of the album fell off.
Hopsin I think best completed all of the items on my potential checklist and the Ill Mind of Hopsin holds up well as a series still. The album is far from perfect though and being truly independent kind of is a negative because he does need some direction to make sure the album stays unique all the way through and to switch up the sounds just a little bit to an outside production sound so it ends up being more than one note. By a small margin Hopsin gets the award from me this year.