Artist: Black Milk
Album: Album of the Year
Label: Fat Beats
Best known as the beatmaker for the likes of Slum Village, Elzhi, Pharaohe Monch and Canibus, the Dilla desciple is well known in hip-hop circles as a capable producer. But the lyrical content, shaped by the deaths of Slum Village's Baatin and Black's aunt as well as the near-fatal stroke of his manager Hex Murda--all within a single year--takes his emcee shine to a level on par with Elzhi and Royce Da 5'9". With a name like Album of the Year, the bar is set high--maybe a little higher than it should have been--but that's not to say this record shouldn't absolutely be a part of your collection.Artist: Bilal
Album: Airtight's Revenge
Label: 1st Born Second / Interscope
The classically trained Philadelphia neo-soul vocalist and member of artist collective Soulquarians (founded by the likes of ?uestlove and J Dilla) took a different tack with his third full-length release--and first in nearly a decade. Airtight's Revenge is more genre-crossing, and his vocal transitions match the eclectic sound while gliding between baritone, falsetto and silky croon. And while Bilal still sounds good, his lyrics are more worth listening to than ever.
Artist: Rah Digga
Label: Raw Koncept
While Classic is technically the former Flipmode Squad emcee Rah Digga's sophomore solo record, it's her first in more than a decade. Produced entirely by game legend Nottz, the record is proof that Digga--also known as Harriet Thugman--can still go as hard as or harder than her rowdy squad leader Busta Rhymes. For all those touting Nicki Minaj as the high point of modern female rap, give Classic another few spins.