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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 29, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Concluding an astonishingly productive decade which brought collaborations with Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Joell Ortiz, and countless others, beatmaker Apollo Brown penned a love letter to his home city with the expansive, masterful Sincerely, Detroit. The album's guest list includes what seems like practically the entire Detroit rap scene, or at least everyone within Mello Music Group's orbit, including Guilty Simpson, Boog Brown, Crown Nation (Quelle Chris and Denmark Vessey), and Chris Orrick. As with Brown's previous top-billed albums like The Reset and Grandeur, the producer has such a focused artistic vision that it's just as cohesive as his collaborations with a single MC, and it never feels like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Simply put, he knows exactly the right people to work with, and how to channel their energies into deeply inspired, powerful work. Brown's productions are heavy on vintage soul -- several tracks begin with a slow, weepy sample seemingly grabbed from a scratchy old 45 or a late-night radio broadcast. He then flips them into meticulously crafted beats, with some edits approaching microhouse-level precision, yet it never sounds cluttered or random, and there's always plenty of room for the emcees to shine. The lyrics, as to be expected, are all informed by the struggles of daily life, touching on pressing issues such as denial of medical care and the city's ever-growing gentrification, as well as the rappers' personal concerns, related to mental health or loss of loved ones. Still, even as some of it gets intensely soul-searching, there's no shortage of confidence on display, and highlights like the mighty Slum Village's "All Day" and "What Up" (featuring 87, One Be Lo, and A Minus) are absolutely triumphant. The album is a testament to the strength of Detroit's hip-hop scene, as well as Apollo Brown's brilliance. ~ Paul Simpson
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released February 24, 2017 | Mello Music Group

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As with every Oddisee record, The Iceberg adheres to a high concept; in this case he's taking aim at the tendency to accept surface-level information and forget about underlying complexities. Much to his credit, and possibly disdain, the entire album can be enjoyed for its musicality alone; his production skills are on point as always, if a little less organic and broader-sounding than the more overtly jazz-leaning Odd Tape. However, much like an actual iceberg, the album's true mass lies in the underlying message, which Oddisee actively encourages the listener to consider -- see opening track "Digging Deep" -- and ultimately invest in for greater reward. Both approaches to The Iceberg seem appropriate by design; Oddisee's keen ear for both vocal and melodic hooks becomes something of a test, a challenge even, to divide those who critically analyze and those who just want to hear a good beat. With a surface that sounds this smooth and soulful, it's easy to imagine casual listeners -- particularly those who aren't aware of Oddisee's worldview -- accepting it at face value. This is no more exemplified than by second track "Things," with its uplifting tempo and catchy chorus belying the lyrical plea to remember that we all have relative problems to deal with. Oddisee has always had a reputation for personal honesty, and even though this album finds him tackling many prevalent issues (Islamophobia, police brutality, Donald Trump), every message is conveyed from that same personal perspective. This isn't Oddisee making the issues all about himself, though; if anything, the opposite is true, as he openly muses about the limitation of perspective with "If I was last in line I'd probably be the first to whine." Lending to that singular vision is the relative lack of collaborations, the prevalence of which has become something of a trope in hip-hop. Instead, Oddisee's all-round strengths as producer, mixer, and lyricist make for a more cohesive record, allowing for his personality and message to shine that much brighter. As a side effect, this gives the two present collaborators, Toine and Olivier St. Luis, greater emphasis, making them symbiotic to the overall vibe of The Iceberg. Despite the potential for broader appeal, it's something that Oddisee has never been that interested in; for a start, he defines success based on his own terms (an attitude that by all means is the right one to adopt). The result is a finely crafted niche that allows for Oddisee to sound off on his personal perspective, have all the creative freedom he could desire, and make a decent living in the process. Whether you're along for the ride based on aesthetics alone, or because of a deep relation to the lyrics, with The Iceberg everybody wins. In reality, however, Oddisee's point remains: we need to stop reacting to surface-level events and start analyzing the causes instead; it's the only way things will change. ~ Liam Martin
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Soul - Released May 17, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 26, 2018 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released September 20, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 24, 2016 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released September 30, 2016 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 4, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 21, 2013 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released September 15, 2017 | Mello Music Group

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Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is rapper Open Mike Eagle's ode to the Robert Taylor Homes, the South Side Chicago housing project his aunt lived in, which has since been demolished. While still heavy on Eagle's abstract wordplay, pop culture references, and self-deprecating sense of humor, the album contains the rapper's most personal lyrics, relaying stories of his turbulent childhood as well as his current-day troubles. It's also a highly political album, especially the song "Happy Wasteland Day," which pleads "Can we get one day without violence, can we get one day without fear?" For the most part, the songs have an easy, laid-back flow, with Eagle's voice having a gentle singsong quality, but there are some more aggressive moments, such as the more cathartic "No Selling (Uncle Butch Pretending It Dont Hurt)" and the harrowing "My Auntie's Building," in which Eagle slowly chants "That's the sound of them tearing my body down to the ground" over a wash of noisy industrial guitar. On "TLDR (Smithing)," he unleashes a torrent of breathless raps, including zingers such as "I been woke so long I might need to take a nap," over a loping, MF Doom-esque beat by Illingsworth. On "Hymnal," he's outshone by Sammus, whose sharp verses are a wake-up call after Eagle's sleepy near-whispering. Eagle excels at delivering thoughtful, relevant lyrics in a creative manner, sounding both arty and accessible, and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream contains his most affecting work yet. ~ Paul Simpson
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released May 19, 2015 | Mello Music Group

Known for both her beats and her words, Georgia Anne Muldrow is a self-proclaimed "seeker and truth-teller," which is verified by the excellent lyrics throughout this LP, but for the end user, she's a Gil Scott Heron-like combination of authoritative and alluring. In her work, hard truths and the daily grind are framed poetically because, as she explains here on "Fifth Shield," every flower is attracted to the light, "Not in theory, but for real tho." Thoughtiverse Unmarred is her 15th full-length with plenty of production albums, offworld R&B LPs, and Dudley Perkins collaborations in the back catalog, but it's also her "first rap album" as producer Chris Keys supplies the beats. Keys prefers a chilled-out West Coast style with muted trumpets and solid kickdrums, making this music an artful strain of G-Funk, and if Muldrow's raps have been cosmic streams of consciousness in the past, she's syncopated and tight over a Keys beat. Highlight "Tungsten Babalawo" "makes sense of the madness that plagues our time" by working a single rhyme scheme for bars and bars ("Unmechanized, the soul is divine/More opulent than Rolex time/The soul is blind, the funds, they shine…") while "Great Blacks" ("My heart do the beatin', but the blood ain't mine") is the Muldrow cut to bridge songs by Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar on any given mixtape. Still, returning fans will recognize "The Outcome" as family, as it contains verses from Someothaship regulars MP Is Free and Perkins as Declaime ("Most of you rap cats are tokens/The whole mind game is broken"). Anyone down for the cause of improving the universe is welcome and rewarded, because Thoughtiverse Unmarred is a funky and filling revolution, and proof that Muldrow's words are just as great a gift to the world as her superior beats. ~ David Jeffries
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released October 12, 2018 | Mello Music Group

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Soul - Released March 21, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released November 15, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 12, 2012 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released March 30, 2018 | Mello Music Group

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
Jean Grae is surely the most talented female rapper of her times. On the scene for over twenty years, she has always been in the forefront of what has sometimes been called alternative rap, alongside Talib Kweli, Mr. Lif and 9th Wonder. Her music is set apart by her gobsmacking technique, her constant research, and an unparalleled sense for mockery. At her side, Quelle Chris is an extremely creative all-rounder who takes great pleasure in subverting established conventions, whose roots are in J-Dilla’s Detroit. The major thing he shares with Jean Grae is a heightened sense of independence, a determination to follow his one’s path. They are both lodging in today’s best label for independent innovation: Mello Music Group.The encounter of tradition and experimentation brings a multitude of colours to Everything is Fine. Full of improvisations that verge on free jazz and analogue distortions, Quelle Chris’s production and Jean Grae’s ideas open up a mysterious space. Jean Grae takes centre stage lyrically with lines that always contain the right dosage of cynicism and a regal performance, in particular on the bouncing “Gold Purple Orange”. Quelle Chris always punctuates these bravura sequences with his own deep and enveloping voice, adding a different flavour with a ludic touch. The boundaries are fluid. Over a psychedelic rock breakbeat, the duo indulge themselves and invite offbeat comedian Hannibal Buress onto “Ohsh” for a pitch-perfect sparring match.In fact, contrary to what the title says, nothing’s going well, everyone knows it, and the duo uses this double discourse to develop some very intelligent little pieces on the nature of happiness. By working on the idea of “wellbeing” in the modern world, they create some often-dystopian vaudevilles recalling the finest hours of MF Doom, Cage and Run The Jewels. These echoes sound the loudest on the labyrinthine “Zero”. With some very filmic synths, the album closes on some lighter notes, in particular drawing on some brilliant turns from Anna Wise. Very profound, Everything’s Fine is a masterpiece among the output of these two artists; it’s a joyful meeting between two rebellious spirits whose content is sure to inspire reflection on a number of subjects in our societies – while having a lot of fun with the form. © Aurélien Chapuis/Qobuz  
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released November 13, 2012 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released March 29, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released June 21, 2019 | Mello Music Group

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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released April 29, 2014 | Mello Music Group

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Mello Music Group in the magazine