1) Serengeti, Noodle-Arm Whimsy (www.thefrozenfoodsection.com). Serengeti -- a.k.a. Dave Cohn -- brags that he raps "as pretty as mutherfuckin' canoe races," and he does. Standouts on this art-hip-hop masterpiece include "Pilates," which was produced by Cohn's eleven-year-old nephew, and "Mad Whimsy," which introduces the album's theme: being dead-fucking-serious about pursuing the nonsensical. Most of these tracks were done in one or two takes, but the production is seamless. Tracks like "Outta My Way" and "F5 Messageboard" are as infectious as anything released -- mainstream or underground -- in the past year. Though he lives in Chicago, Serengeti can be seen here often, and the album was produced locally, and...he's ours, all right?
2) Royal Illete, King's English (email@example.com). Royal Illete pays tribute to old-school hip-hop, which involves a lot of scratching and sing-along instructions ("When we say drop those, y'all say doses/When we say hip-hop, say psychosis"). This diverse crew (Dekoy, E-Funk, Prophet, Seven, Orbix, DJ LB, Nyquill, Noodles and Paulie Girl) continually surprise with fresh sounds and hot rhymes. The best part is that everyone holds up their end of the bargain; the rapping, the hooks and the beats are universally solid.
3) Tucker Booth, Tucker Booth 4 President (www.thefrozenfoodsection.com). Despite its title, Tucker Booth's sophomore release isn't concerned with politics. Instead Booth -- along with fellow Christian Scientist MC Jonathan Toth from Hoth -- simply fashions fat hook after fat hook. "Born High" and "Fast Living (fat children remix)" are the album's most obvious bangers; others are funny (In "Shane Witnesses a Mauling," a Siegfried & Roy show attendee wants his $70 back). But the album's best tracks are the slow burners "Too Blunt Affair" and "Funny Hooks," the latter of which encourages the listener to follow his or her dreams, Tucker Booth-style: "Don't be blue unless you listen to a Miles riff and/Notice the copyright and then infringe, man."
4) Scott Eagle, The Inner-section (www.outflowproductions.com). Contributors on this disc represent a basic who's who of St. Louis underground hip-hop, including Jia Davis, Kash, Teflahn Poetix and many more. How impressive it is, then, that Scott Eagle's MC talents -- and his production capabilities -- stand out. Standout tracks include "Rideout," "Options" and "Know My Style," but you're not going to find anything substandard on this CD.
5) Nite Owl, Chemistry (firstname.lastname@example.org). Former Q95.5 personality L.A. Maclin (otherwise known as Nite Owl) flew the coop to Atlanta earlier this year; fortunately, he left behind this hot joint. Highlighted by the hookalicious single, "Eboniks," Chemistry features the talents of the now-defunct Q95.5's Isis Jones and production from Jayson "Koko" Bridges (who has worked with Nelly) and Kenautis Smith (who has worked with Serengeti). All told, this album is tight from start to finish, from hydrogen to...um...whatever element is last on the periodic table.
6) Quor, Datkilladawg (www.thequor.com). Murphy Lee "presents" this album and shows up on a few of the songs; apparently Murph Dirt "grew up" with members of this crew (it would seem the St. Lunatics grew up with just about everyone in town). But no matter: "Bumrush," the first single, bumps, as do "Cheatin," "Dip N Dip Out," "Quor Niggas" and many others. U.V., Ambitious, Adonis and Potzee are pushing this album locally now; they plan to release it in other Midwestern locations in January.
7) Spaide R.I.P.P.E.R, Da People's Champ Mix CD (www.spaideripper.com). Spaide's manager, BoOo (don't ask), says that Corey Spinks plans to come out to "The Champ is Here" -- this album's first track -- at upcoming fights. Whether or not this is true, much of the disc has a rousing, "Eye of the Tiger" feel. Half of the album, and many of its best tracks, are freestyles. So while the beats on this "mix CD" aren't original, Spaide's talents definitely are.
8) Meta4 Experience, Street Tape (email@example.com). Meta4 Experience is Karim "Gotta B" Hameed and Brandin "B-Hollywood" Vaughn, and the main producer on Street Tape is Stoney Rock. This album is for both the thinking hip-hopper and the hip-hopper who wants to bounce in the club; the single "Hammer Time" is hard to deny.
9) Sac Lunch, Sac Lunch EP (www.saclunch.com). The rapsters meet the funksters in Sac Lunch, essentially a six-piece band with Watt$on and A-Bex taking turns on the mic. The group's only been around for a couple years, and most of its members are under 25. But their experiment shows a lot of promise, especially on the tracks that stick tighter to hip-hop and steer further away from the patchouli-smelling funk. P.S. -- until further notice, you can catch Sac Lunch every Friday at Velvet.
10) Lil' Skandalaz, Survival of da Spittest (www.lilskandalaz.com). Lil' Skandalaz's mother released his first album posthumously, seven months after his death in a car crash. A shame because Skandalaz -- a.k.a. Nicholas Brown -- shows talent. Though the production leaves something to be desired (his ma supervised it, after all), Brown's skills live on tracks like "Only in America" and "Let It Go."