Juggaknots were the great almost-weres of the mid-1990s New York independent hip-hop renaissance. The group’s stellar 1996 debut album “Clear Blue Skies” (Fondle ’Em) was one of that era’s essential documents, a dazzling show of lyricism and scrappy boom-bap purism. But despite a fitful mid-2000s comeback run, that’s remained the group’s defining statement. The excellent lost-tapes reissue “Baby Pictures [c. 1989-1993]” (Chopped Herring) helps color in the lines. Chopped Herring is an England-based obscurantist label with a particular interest in lost gems of northeastern American hip-hop of the 1990s, releasing limited vinyl batches of songs overlooked even by the network of bloggers who have long specialized in this sort of thing. Rescuing these old demos is essential archival work. “Baby Pictures” is full of limber party rhymes, skeletal but earthy musical arrangements and a confidence born of thinking no one was listening. “Ol Faithful,” especially, is a showcase for the rough-edged clinician Breeze Brewin, but mainly these songs cut their expertise with a playful edge. And in these carefree, protean moments, you can hear the template for the uprising to come.
PhotoOn “You Should Be Here,” Kehlani sings of lovers and others who have let her down. Credit Arturo TorresKehlaniYou Should Be HereThe promising young R&B singer Kehlani spends most of “You Should Be Here” weighed down by the fatigue of dealing with feckless romantic partners. On “Jealous,” it’s a partner with a phone full of old photos used as weapons. On “Down for You,” it’s someone who’d prefer to keep the boundaries between friend and lover blurry. And it’s not just love that lets Kehlani down. “The Letter” is about a mother who remains distant, and therefore an enigma: “I didn’t deserve you/Maybe I just couldn’t cure you,” Kehlani sings. On this, Kehlani’s second self-released album, there’s a calm swagger that underpins even the most anguished of these songs. She easily channels the attitude and swing of mid-1990s R&B girl groups, especially on “The Way,” a saucy face-off with Chance the Rapper. Kehlani will get her due, though. That’s clear on “Wanted,” where she’s the one in control: “I hate to be you watching him touch me/Now I am blessed to have what I need.”