1. Joe Budden - Padded Room
Urgent, deep, reflective, but hard and defiant as a damn hammer. Joe Budden throws his all into each one of his rhymes, and this album displays that beautifully from the opening track to the closing notes. And he's bloody uncompromising too. There isn't a single line that is sanitized, cliched, or takes the easy way out. The truth Budden spits is often hard to listen to, but by that same token it's impossible to stop. Aptly titled, this is an album that connects with that sinking feeling of insanity that so easily creeps into our psyches in times like these.
2. The Draft - In A Million Pieces
This Florida group--who rose from the ashes of the more-than-notable Hot Water Music--walk a line between so many different sub-genres of punk that it's impossible to classify them. The dissonant lead guitars of hardcore, catchy hooks of pop-punk, and Chris Wollard's gravelly voice is so heart-on-sleeve that it verges on emo without drifting into that turgid territory (thank god). While Hot Water Music were integral in developing the Florida scene's sound, The Draft shows that there's a lot of evolution to be discovered in the midst of the Sunshine State's swampy alienation.
3. Invincible - Shapeshifters
Motor City's been putting out some crazy MCs lately (keep an eye on Finale's upcoming release this April, for example), but Invincible is most definitely one of my favorites. Jeff Chang recently told me he considers her one of his favorites too, and it's easy to see why. Her commitment to resistance is damn admirable, all the more so because it is woven into her flow and her pulsing beats with effortless grace. Invincible starts from the point that so many "conscious" MCs haven't figured out yet--personal honesty before political ideology, truth before ideology. When artists figure that out, there's very little to stop them.
4. Mongrel - Better Than Heavy
Can you say supergroup? This is one of the tightest and most eclectic side-projects I've heard in quite some time. The slick rhymes of UK rapper Lowkey (from the Poisonous Poets), the vocals of John McClure, Joe Moskow on keyboards (both from Reverend and the Makers, and we know how much I love them), Drew McConnel from Babyshambles on bass and the drums of Arctic Monkeys' Matt Helders. A seamless yet often explosive collision between Rap, Rock, Soul and Pop that is as on-point as it is fun to hear.
5. Intifada - 7"
Taking in their set in a dingy Chicago basement this past Friday, I was definitely convinced that this band (as well as several others here in Chi-town) are among a vanguard of groundbreaking artists coming out of this city. Chicago has a thriving hardcore scene, and despite the undeserved misconception of today's hardcore scenes being parochial and insular, this young, radical and infinitely energetic group most definitely have the potential to be remapping the face of music in these dynamic times. Acts like this deserve a lot more attention for the simple fact that we need them now more than ever!