Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light (Tommy Boy)
The legendary hip-hop pioneer traveled around the world to record his most recent treatise on the state of the art. From Baltimore house to British electro—and featuring collaborations with TC Islam and Gary Numan—Bam hasn’t sounded this inspired in years.
De La Soul
Grind Date (Sanctuary Records)
Hip-hop has rarely been kind to the veteran, but this venerable Long Island trio’s latest has maintained their edge with age. Fusing throwback rhymes and grown-man introspection with thumping, almost radio-friendly beats, this was one of 2004’s better discs.
Cultura Copia (Mochilla)
Similar to the host of stateside mix-tapes dedicated to hard funk and soul break-beats, this excellent mix highlights the sounds and flavors of DJ Nuts’ native Brazil. Ranging from Tropicalia and samba to obscure American-styled funk and disco, Nuts’ record collection and scratching are indeed nuts.
By Day By Night (ABB)
Fields re-imagines what we have come to know as “Philly Soul.”With her carefree spirit and an eclectic sound assimilating elements of hip-hop, electronic music and jazz, Fields’ debut is as impressive as it is ambitious.
Get Lifted (Sony)
Though Legend is best known as producer Kanye West’s high-profile protégé and hook specialist, the singer/keyboardist is more of a throwback in the tradition of Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. Stepping out on his own, Legend’s impressive debut displays a maturity and craftsmanship that belies his young age.
Arular (XL Recordings)
The Sri Lankan-born, London-raised Maya Arulpragasam was one of 2004’s breakthrough stars, thanks largely to the frenetic, grimy dancehall-isms of her debut single, “Galang.” Her debut album promises more of the same globetrotting, border-smashing excitement.
Hua Hsu is a doctoral student at Harvard University, a DJ and a writer for Slate, the Village Voice and the Wire, among other publications.