IT'S A THREE FOR ALL: The Space Dungeon hip-hop collective is blasting into the new year with force: Three separate records from a few of its constituent members are newly released. First up is the anxiously awaited debut EP by Lingua Franca, the project of Mariah Parker. A release show is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18 at The World Famous, and this just happens to be the one-year anniversary show for the Hot Corner Hip Hop series. What Parker seems to understand on a preternatural level is the importance of personality as a distinguishing marker of artistic authenticity. This new record has personality all over it, from the exuberant, thoughtful production (courtesy of Savannah’s Letsruntrack, Athens' murk daddy flex and WesdaRuler and French producer Visual Rich) to Parker's pointed rhymes. The pro-choice “Eight Weeks” stands its ground, but concedes difficulty, and opening salvo “Up Close” lays things bare with its “what you see is only the start of what you'll get” statement of strength. There’s also the calling-card “The Good Feels” and the pharmaceutical confessional “Midnight Oil.” Stylistically, Lingua Franca is akin to several early-to-mid-’90s hip-hop groups. I hear echoes of Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, Souls of Mischief and Gang Starr. The beats are catchy enough to pull you in, and the lyrics strong enough to keep you thinking. Look for this at lingua-franca.bandcamp.com, and shout out at facebook.com/liiinguafranca.
BLACK MIRROR: Next up on the radar is Obsidian, from multi-instrumentalist and rapper Lex Callahan (aka Imorie Curry). There are a few collaborators here, but they're selective and effective. Across the album’s eight tracks, there are guest vocals from Squalle, Lefty, T-Rexx the Tyrant and Space Dungeon compatriot Son Zoo. Most tracks were produced by WesdaRuler, with additional production work by North Carolina's Michael “Professa” Butler. Callahan fleshed everything out with additional instrumentation. Things start off kinda slow with “Full Chamber.” Callahan's mid-tempo vocal flow is well-showcased, but the snare-rim tap-tap beat and thin keyboard here is kind of a false start compared to the rest of the album. After the opener, there’s a logical descent from the backpacker style of interlude “Velvet” into the almost Massive Attack-ish “VibezZ” into the psychedelia of “Vendetta.” From there, it all sort of straightens its tie, so to speak, and dips into slight new-jack swing and jazz territory through “Vacancy,” “Visions” and closer “Cool Hand Luke.” Not a bad way to start the year. Check it out at lexcally.bandcamp.com, and do your part at facebook.com/lexcally.
KNOW THYSELF: Finally, we come to the six-track Visions by Son Zoo (aka Kevin Boyd). Easily the most aggressive of this new trio of records, it's also the most accessible. While it doesn’t really fall into full-on pop territory, it definitely skirts its hem in a style most recently emphasized by Run the Jewels. Ironically, the deftness of its production makes its lyrics less important and more easily ignored. Even so, Son Zoo is a fine MC with a knack for memorable hooks (“Lucid Dream”), and, above criticism notwithstanding, he delivers solid and poetic critiques of chasing success at the expense of life itself in “What If.” By the time the record closes with “Introspection,” it's easy to find oneself going back through the whole thing and paying even closer attention. Grab it at iamsonzoo.bandcamp.com, and keep up at facebook.com/iamsonzoo.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: OK, local businesses, it's time to register for the upcoming Athens Business Rocks benefit organized by, and for, Nuçi’s Space. This is one of the most popular annual benefit shows, and pretty much everyone has a blast participating. All you have to do is get a band together from your place of work, register at athensbusinessrocks.com and pay the non-refundable $50 registration fee, then get three cover songs ready for performance. Please note that this benefit is an active fundraising effort, and participants are expected to continually raise funds until competition time. The winner is whoever raises the most money for Nuçi’s Space. Bands receive one point for each dollar raised. The night of the show, there are also awards presented for “Crowd Favorite” and “Judges’ Favorite.” The deadline to register is Feb. 28, and the live competition happens at the 40 Watt Club Saturday, May 13.