“Middle of the Map” by Les Izmore, from Vital (self-released):
Both halves of KC duo Izmore are among those who’d love to see hip-hop’s reigning moneygrubbers overthrown and conscious rap return to its early ’90s glory. Rapper Les Izmore makes his case for mainstream malaise with the plainspoken enthusiasm of fellow Midwesterner Rhymefest, and Rich Izmore has a knack for creating richly textured soundscapes. At its best, the familiar-sounding combination is still striking. The first three tracks indict the industry with laid-back flair, especially the sarcastic “That Work,” which flips an old Chris Rock routine to make its point about Afro-centrism-as-commodity. Handsome though the tracks are, too much musical subtlety makes the middle of the album sag. Still, “Zombies Scene 1” — which recasts the battle for hip-hop’s soul as a horror movie — and “Something Raw” boast equally propulsive beats and end this accomplished album on an appropriately vital note.