Caleborate - 1993

It isn't a hip-hop hotbed yet, but Berkeley, CA has quietly been producing gifted MCs who blend the medicinal mellow of traditional West Coast rappers with a soulful sense of introspection. Caleborate has been grinding away for a while, and 1993 is the fullest realization of his talents yet.

The production is smart and varied, handled largely by Bay Area co-conspirator Julia Lewis, who provides a variety of backdrops for Caleborate to showcase his skills, while always giving the rapper room to breathe. Particular highlights include the smooth glide of 'Lil Cel' and Pell and Sylvan LaCue team-up 'Options'.

Ye Ali - TrapHouse Jodeci

Ye Ali's TrapHouse Jodeci is everything a good rap&B record should be - equal parts melodic and menacing. Ali hails from Indiana, but clearly draws on the spacey autotune indebted sound that's synonymous with OVO's Toronto. What sets Ali apart from the droves of artists trying to effect a similar sound and swagger is that his verve and love of making music cuts through the foggy layers of instrumentals to provide clarity and focus.

Artists too often use the same trappings Ali does as an excuse to make low-energy tunes, or because they're not good enough of a rapper or singer to do either full-time. Ali proves on 'Rodeo' that he can craft first-rate bedroom R&B and drops quality bars on K Camp collab 'What to Do'.

Tink - Winter Diary 4

A female rapper still hasn't broken out of Chicago and reached the same stratosphere as Chance the Rapper or Vic Mensa, but that has nothing to do with a lack of national-limelight ready talent. 21-year-old rhymer and Timbaland protégé Tink isn't waiting around for her major label debut to put her in that conversation, dropping album-quality mixtapes annually to fill the void. Her latest, Winter's Diary 4, is packed with track after track of cypher-quality bars blended with dense yet radio ready instrumentals and hooks that would cost a less talented MC a hefty fee.

Tink has always been a top shelf lyricist, but her growth as an overall songwriter and a singer is evident on the incandescent 'Wet Aquafina' and the autobiographical 'Blood Sweat & Tears', a staggering therapy session also serving as a reminder that if her label doesn't put her record out soon she might be big enough that she'll no longer need them to do it for her.

Hodgy Beats - Dukkha

Now more than ever, we're in an era of rap where aesthetic carries equal weight to content. That's perfectly fine, but sometimes you just need a dude to rap at you, relentlessly, for the duration of a mixtape. This is what Hodgy Beats (now apparently going by Hodgy Star) does on his latest project, Dukkah. It's an eye opener for an MC who has yet to seize his moment as forcefully as Odd Future brethren Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis. He gives us his story, road bumps and all, on the backpack krap beauty 'Soul', and provides a powerful, if grim, mission statement on 'Bizness'.