Though it's really only been a few years since Los Angeles' prodigious Blu first really caught my attention (2007 to be exact), I nonetheless was close to forgetting about him. The handful of low-key projects like Johnson&Jonson (with Mainframe) and C.R.A.C. (with Ta'Raach) generally let me down—and he kept a low profile as a new crop of LA rappers came to prominence. So I didn't see his brand-new album, NoYork!, coming at all. Laced with a hallucinatory suite of grimy, pixelated, eclectronic hiphop production from the likes of Madlib, Flying Lotus, Shafiq Husayn, SamIAm, and Exile (plus vocal help from U-God, J*Davey, and Edan, among others), the album is far from a freshman, sophomoric, or even junior effort. Blu's game is elevated, confident, and more artful with the shapes thrown, more subtle with the hooks and melodies conjured. I know the last thing I expect these days is for a rapper's long-awaited major-label debut to be one of the best albums of the year, but that's exactly what's happened here. Expectations are a motherfucker, too; I'm sure Warner Bros. didn't expect Blu—fed up with label foot-dragging—to pass advance copies out to the audience during this year's Rock the Bells shows. As a result, it's currently easy to find a stream or download online. I don't know how his label feels about that, or how its official release will even look now, but I'll proudly buy a hard copy when it hits stores, though there's currently no indication as to when that might be.

I had a clue I wasn't going to like Rize of the Boom, the collaborative EP from producer Boombox Massacre (who recently laced Neema for his Black Roses record) and spoken-word artist/MC Josh Rizeberg. Unfortunately, I was right. Rizeberg—a genuine, positive, and bighearted dude—is clearly far better suited to spoken word than rap. His heart's right, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he sometimes sounds like a clunkily flowing parody of a NW sandal-wearing conscious rapper who could've been in an old Boom Bap Project skit. (Just listen to the EP's intro, I mean "The Entrolomotion.") Still, I listened to the whole thing, and found during my journey that Boombox's creative and bouncy synth production had a pleasant iciness and heft, and that Rizeberg occasionally found enough actual rap flow to make you forget that his content is so terribly corny for a hook or maybe part of a verse, though never really for a full song. So there's that.

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For some relief, I instead checked new tunes from Seattle's beast La (formerly Language Arts), a guy who sounds like he has Big L and Reasonable Doubt tapes pumping through his Polo-branded heart. You hopefully know his two full-lengths, Gravity and Roll with the Winners, produced by Def Dee, who recently signed to Mello Music Group, home to Oddisee and Diamond District, and Blu-Ray. Will his upcoming Sealab 2012, produced by Jester, finally wake up ears here and abroad to his fairly flawless game? Let's just hope, while that's still free. recommended

This story has been updated since its original publication.