It’s easy to turn on the radio and immediately be depressed by the state of commercial hip-hop playlists. On the one hand, there’s very little actual hip-hop being played, as R&B artists like Mary, Trey, and Keyshia split time with ringtone rappers like Flo Rida, Plies, and Gucci Mane. On the other, hip-hop acts that do make it into rotation (Lupe, Jay-Z, Kanye) are hammered over and over until you’re sick of the song. Only college and community stations have kept the genre from being buried under major label “product.”

But if you’ve been keeping your ear to the street, you may have noticed that independent, conscious and soulful hip-hop is again cropping up all over. Recent releases by New Jersey’s S.O.U.L. Purpose (The Construction, Dunn Deal), the Bay Area’s Moe Pope & Headnodic (Megaphone, Natural High), North Carolina’s Nicolay & Kay (Time: Line, Nicolay Music), and D.C.’s Jazz Addixx (Oxygen Refreshed, Domination) prove that excellent, conscious, well-produced hip-hop is alive and well, and thriving all over the U.S.

Could this herald the critical mass that fans have been waiting for, where commercial radio will have no choice but to add decent independent artists to their playlists? Time will tell. But in the meantime, late-spring and summer will be bustling with superb, authentic hip-hop releases from all states and quarters. For starters, XLR8R’s recently profiled EMC drops The Show today, Tuesday April 8. EMC’s dominant lyrical quartet of Masta Ace, Wordsworth, Punchline, and Stricklin is a juggernaut of talent. Here’s a guide other albums to anticipate:

April 22
C.R.A.C.The Piece TalksTres
C.R.A.C. (Collect Respect Anna Check) is pronounced “Crass” and emcees Ta’Raach and Blu earn their due and challenge status quo power structures with this penetrating album.

May 20
Giant PandaElectric LaserTres
Los Angeles-based GP’s second album is a symphony of boom-bap, with a futuristic, synthed-up sound on tracks like “Laser Ray,” “CinemaX,” and “Speakers Funk.”

Raashan AhmadThe PushOm Hip-Hop
Ahmad holds it down regularly with Crown City Rockers, but takes time to stretch out on the solo tip for an expressive set that features production from DJ Vadim, Procussions’ 89th Key, Headnodic, and D-Sharp.

June 5
J-LiveThen What HappenedBBE
New York’s J-Live refuses to quit on this, his fifth album since 1996. What happens is uncompromising production and lyrics on songs like “Be No Slave,” “The Zone,” and “Simmer Down.”

June 10
Time MachineLife Is ExpensiveGlow In The Dark
This L.A.-based trio’s third album is brimming with party vibes that recall The Jungle Brothers, De La and Jurassic 5, offering 12 tracks that smash it with humor, observations, and personal revelations.

June 17
Detroit’s Invincible from Anomolies crew gets respect across the board – from Bling 47’s Wajeed to Talib Kweli – for her ardent, forthright lyrics that quickly cut through any rap industry or personal BS. If you’re looking or firebrand hip-hop, this is it.

PrestoState of the ArtConcrete Groove
One of L.A.’s most accomplished working-class producers, Presto has assembled his best cast yet to flow over his jazzy productions. Peep crucial tracks from CL SmoothFatlip, Trek Life, LOWD, Blu and Sadat X with O.C. and Large Professor.