The past month has been rather a tumultuous time for hip-hop. It has been a month that has featured three very different landmark hip-hop releases. Kanye West's much anticipated Yeezus astounded and disgusted in almost equal measure. With trademark hubris and a complete disregard for convention, Kanye delivered a dense, sonically thrilling album that sounded like hip-hop from another planet. At times, it sounds brutal and primeval. Kanye's voice sounds permanently on edge and fevered.

As exciting as Yeezus undoubtedly sounds, it is hamstrung by an uncomfortable number of crass and lamentable lyrics. By now the lines about croissants and sweet and sour sauce are well known and oft repeated. There is certainly troubling and really quite bleak about Kanye's supercharged conflicted persona. A bit of the joy has gone out of his music. Joy is an underrated musical concept. However, there is no denying though that Yeezus is a remarkable work from one of hip-hop's truly fascinating figures. At the other end of the spectrum is Kanye's Watch The Throne partner Jay-Z. Jay-Z's new album Magna Carta Holy Grail represents Jay-Z the globe trotting multi-millionaire businessman just as much as it represents Hova the NYC rapper. Released initially to millions of people on the Samsung smartphone platform, it is the definition of a 21st century event album.

Because Ill Communication is not blessed with such technology, the music remains a mystery except for the oddly subdued Nirvana referencing lead track 'Holy Grail' featuring a very prominent Justin Timberlake hook and comparably little Jay Z rhymes. It's obvious that Yeezus and MGHC will be compared; however, the comparison is rather misguided. Kanye is a rapper who has very much blown apart the system. He is something of a loose cannon. Jay-Z, in comparison increasingly represents the system. His album is likely to be smoother, less surprising and certainly less visceral.

Arguably though, the greatest hip-hop release of the month or even the year came not from two global rap behemoths but from two classic rappers who have formed one of the tightest rap bonds in a strikingly short time. Killer Mike and El-P have formed a symbiotic relationship of staggering power in the shape of Run The Jewels.

The duo originally came together on last year's exceptional Killer Mike LP R.A.P Music, which was produced by El-P. Finding that they worked so well together and were something of rap kindred spirit's the duo's musical relationship has blossomed ever since culminating in the release of last months self titled free download album. It is an album fuelled by a brutal, primal aggression. It drips with vibrant and vicious energy. The futuristic beats provided by El-P combine with Mike's visceral aggression as the duo create a dark and portentous, dystopian hip-hop future. Mike and El-P may be the only hope for the future.


In a month packed with major releases there is less space for new stuff. However, one noteworthy release snuck out rather unnoticed. Vince Staples is an LA rapper who is one of the myriad affiliate members of the Odd Future collective. Staples' debut release, ShyneColdChain Vol 1. was one of last year's outstanding mixtapes. It has taken the young rapper a while to follow it up but in that time he has been quietly and impressively refining his skills and finding his voice.

The resulting Stolen Youth is 10 pieces of prime cut inventive hip-hop that showcase an intriguing new voice. The collection was produced by Mac Miller (whose own second album Watching Movies With The Sound Off is well worth a listen) under his alias of Larry Fisherman. The sounds on here are subtly wondrous. The music is a gloopy, trippy, weirded out swirl sound that gives each track a disorientating beguiling quality. Staples' voice itself is lush and smooth. His rhymes are incredibly warm and loose. He sounds completely at ease. Tracks like 'Guns & Roses' and 'Stuck in My Ways' are great pieces of off-kilter hip-hop full of soul and idiosyncratic hooks.

The choice of guests is faultless. Mac Miller himself provides some rhymes while Black Hippy crew members Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q make striking appearances, Schoolboy Q's unhinged growl is particularly thrilling on 'Back Selling Crack'. Perhaps the album's strongest moment is the menacing rumble of 'Sleep'. It's hard to quite place Vince Staples sound. It's neither golden age reverent nor obsessed with a jumped up futuristic trap sound. Instead, it's full of simply undeniable hip-hop beats and rhymes. You're left enraptured by its charms.