Five Must-Have Mello Music Group Releases

Hive Five: Our Daily Listicle of Musical Musings

You’ve probably heard this before: Hip-hop just isn’t the same. The rhymes aren’t as potent and the music isn’t as good. It seems the Arizona-based Mello Music Group label harbors the same feelings, given its dedication to intelligent, street-wise boom bap. From Boog Brown to Apollo Brown, Georgia Anne Muldrow to Oddisee, these artists make attainable music that doesn't find them praising their jewelry or stunting on private jets. Instead, they talk about real-life issues that relate to everyday listeners — paying bills, raising children, and finding inner peace. “We’re more into the work than the celebrity,” says label head Michael Tolle. “We’re not chasing numbers, we’re giving artists more room to create and explore.” That head-down approach has quietly made Mello Music Group a go-to label for underground rap. Here are the five must-have albums.

1. Diamond District, In the Ruff

Arguably the best hip-hop album ever released in D.C., rappers Oddisee, X.O., and yU crafted a project that spoke directly to the city’s underlying civic despair -- ongoing gentrification and unrest, with the U.S. Capitol in plain view. But while it spoke to D.C.’s darker side, the messages were conveyed with a broad lens; listeners everywhere could relate to its wide-ranging approach. From top to bottom, In the Ruff was a certified banger that showcased the group’s ability to mesh their impressive abilities into one coherent set.

2. The Left, Gas Mask

Much like the Diamond District’s album, the Left created a recording that sonically captured the gritty ethos of Detroit, Michigan: Dusty soul loops, scratchy drums and hard rhymes characterized this opus. What better way to honor the Motor city.

3. yU, The EARN

Known as “the Humble King,” yU shuns lavishness with the cool-headed demeanor of a wise elder. But while he prefers a low profile, the Maryland-raised rapper can easily topple most peers with tightly constructed bars about peace and personal struggle. yU can rap better than many MCs, but he’d be the last to mention it.

4. Oddisee, Rock Creek Park

Recorded over a two-week period in June 2011, Rock Creek Park was Oddisee’s first bold step beyond his backpacking roots. Here, the producer/MC opted for layered instrumentation and lush melodies; the results were made for your next foray through the landmark D.C. space. Or any park, for that matter.

5. Apollo Brown, Clouds

Apollo’s beats usually contain the same formula: an obscure vocal sample, crackling vinyl and hard percussion. The method has worked well for the Detroit composer; rappers like Guilty Simpson and O.C. sound natural atop his granular soundtrack. On the instrumental Clouds, Apollo softens his sound while remaining true to himself.