HONORABLE MENTION: SPUTNIK BROWN - "THREE SHADES OF BLACK"
Although not officially included on my countdown of this year's best albums I want to give an honorable mention to Sputnik Brown's "Three Shades Of Black" which is another equally impressive debut release that heads first got to hear this summer. The reason I don't think it would be fair to include it is because the group actually recorded it for release in 2008 but due to label conflicts the LP was shelved. The crew decided to give away the full LP in free digital format for a short period of time of about two weeks on July 7. I recently asked group member Oxygen if it would be possible for me to bring it out once more for those who might've missed it but because there are plans to later release it one way or another y'all who missed out on it then will have to wait a bit longer - and as always to respect the artist's wishes is A and O of The Lost Tapes.Sputnik Brown - "U Havin' Fun Yet" (Raw Demo Version)
So what is "Three Shades Of Black" and who are Sputnik Brown. The group is a rather big crew of emcees, producer and DJ's on that pure hip-hop shit; Oxygen (who's also part of Soundsci and SPOX-PhD), Xis10s, Slim Don and Howard Lloyd all spits excellent verses while the latter also provides the majority of the prouction together with fellow group member E Tha 5th. Also included in the group is turntablist DJ Shark so like I said it's a family thing where the team is bigger than the individual. There's plenty of crazy verses all over the album; just check Ox on tracks like the low-key funk banger "Power" or Xis10s short but deadly darts on "Titles" or them both going head to head on the late '80s sounding, vibes heavy "Mic, Pen & Pad". Unlike Oxygen's recent project with DJ Spinna (SPOX-Phd), here Ox is instead of the singular leading voice, one part of a sum and with several verses from him, Slim Don, Howard Lloyd and Xis10s over mostly in-house production, "Thee Shades Of Black" creates a sick feeling of unity that's often missing in rap these days.
The few guest productions comes from the two legends known to the world as DJ Spinna and DJ Jazzy Jeff but no matter who's behind the boards, the music has a strong true school feel to it; chopped funk and soul samples, atmospheric vocals, distorted guitars, vibraophones and muddy piano lines, hard ass rhythm tracks and the type brings back memories of the golden era whether you consider that to be the late '80s or early to mid '90s. There's much goodies on here but if I have to pick one, I'd have to go with the beautiful and soulful posse cut "Straight Down" which features a sick cameo from John Robinson who appears alongside Lloyd, Xis10s and Ox. Hopefuly this will get the proper release sooner than later; it's a shame a lot of great, independent hip-hop records gets caught up in limbo like this when they truly deserves to be heard by the world.