In 2008, a host of underground hits came out of Michigan via Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Buffi. Next to rock the scene is Kiyoshi Shelton, better known simply as Yoshi. With a couple indie releases already under his belt, the half-Marshallese, halfblack emcee (with some Japanese ancestry, hence the name) is now poised for mass appeal. His latest, The Talent Show, pairs his soulful swagger and conscious rhyming with thumping production. "Run Away" and "Dream" are the type of positive, uplifting anthems rarely heard in hip-hop today. "The Black Plague" is the album's banger with its deep, warbled synths and dark atmosphere - perfect for Yoshi's apocalyptic raps on the track - while the upbeat grooves of "Dance Tonight" and "Meet the Deadline" will make even the hardest screw-faced wallflower tap his toes. Thankfully, he doesn't fall into the pitfall of rapping about the state of rap. Instead, he takes creative shots at whack emcees through hilarious skits - for a laugh, check the 808-infused "Slap You With a Donut" and the weak game of "Pimpalicious Macaroni Tony." If hip-hop is truly a game, then Yoshi's gunning for top ranking. - Z.M.
Music editor ZONEIL MAHARAJ took a break from his normal Hyphen duties ("get advance copies of albums, bootleg them sumbitches and slang 'em in the Mission") to profile iLL-Literacy, a spoken word crew he calls "some of the most creative live performers I've come across." San Francisco-based Maharaj has learned a few things about unconventionality from his own family: "My dad still kills goats in the back of his car shop. And there's a huge Hindu trident on my parents' front lawn. That right there should sum up how we roll." After two years with Hyphen, Maharaj is, sadly, leaving to focus on his role as editor in chief at urban culture magazine Oh Dang!, which he co-founded.