The last 15, or even 20 years, saw real Hip Hop gradually lose ground to mainstream rap music. Generic – and often negative and dumb – rap music pushed out by the major corporations; ignoring the creativity, originality, and skill that characterized Hip Hop in the early days.
But there always was and still is plenty of excellent Hip Hop around, you just have to know where to look for it. On this list, you will find nine somewhat overlooked and underappreciated albums released in the 2000’s, albums that perfectly capture the essence of traditional and uncut Hip Hop.
These nine albums are quality-wise head and shoulders above most of the mainstream rap albums released since the turn of the millennium, and all nine deserve greater recognition than they received. From this selection, which one is YOUR favorite?
Zion I - True & Livin' (2005)
True & Livin is the third album from Oakland’s duo Zion I, the first album on their own label LiveUp Records. Zion and Amp Live expand their creative and experimental sounds on the album, featuring a wide range of musical styles, laced with intelligent, socially conscious lyrics.
Amp Live’s head nodding beats are laced with jazzy and elegant musical backdrops, and Zion’s thoughtful and expressive lyrics complement the soundscapes beautifully. Guests like Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Gift of Gab only add to the quality of the album.
The singles “Soo Tall”, the Talib Kweli featuring “Temperature” and especially the excellent “Bird’s Eye View” are immediate standouts, and cuts like the abstract “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay” (with Aesop Rock), “The Bay”, “Stranger In My Home” (with Gift Of Gab) and the jazzy “Doin’ My Thang” also bang – but there are no weak tracks on this album.
True & Livin’ flew way under the radar in 2005 – if you missed it somehow it definitely deserves your attention.
Masta Ace & Edo G - Arts & Entertainment (2009)
Arts & Entertainment is a collaborative album from legendary emcees Masta Ace and Edo G. Ignored by critics and fans alike, there is plenty to like on this album. Ace and Edo confidently drop their bars over vintage Hip Hop beats, and other Hip Hop alumni like KRS-One, De La Soul’s Posdnuos and Large Pro bring some extra flavor to the table with dope guest verses.
Sure, this isn’t a classic Disposable Arts or A Long Hot Summer, but there are some memorable tracks here. “A’s &E’s”, “Ei8ht Is Enough”, “Pass The Mic”, “Good Music”, the personal “Reminds Me” and “Little Young” (where Ace and Edo cleverly take on all the rappers with Lil’ or Young in front of their names) are all dope tracks. Only the last track (the kind of wack “Dancing Like A White Girl”) should have been left off the album, but overall this is more than solid Hip Hop album by two all-time greats, an album that is worth checking out.
Marco Polo & Torae - Double Barrel (2009)
Traditional, Golden Age flavored, East Coast boom bap Hip Hop. No ringtone pop-rap garbage on this album. With Marco Polo on the boards and dope emcee Torae on the mic, this is an album real heads will love.
Double Barrel was preceded by Marco Polo’s critically well-received debut album Port Authority (2007), and Torae’s inaugural release Daily Conversation (2008) on which Polo has produced three tracks.
Standouts aplenty on Double Barrel, most noteworthy the title track, “Lifetime” (with a great hook and DJ Revolution absolutely killing it on the turntables) and “Hold Up” which features legends Sean Price and Masta Ace. If you’re into real Hip Hop and somehow missed this gem, go cop it now & enjoy!
Black Milk - Album Of The Year (2010)
Black Milk is a producer & emcee from Detroit, Michigan; known for funk- & soul-flavored, jazzy beats and innovating yet traditional feeling Hip Hop.
Album of the Year, Black Milk’s fourth full studio album, is an excellent album with real musicality to the flow & beats. Rough drums combined with experimental samples & electronic sounds, this album takes a step away from the smokey jazz & funk flavor of Black Milk’s earlier work, and ventures more in the direction of a raw funk/rock sound.
“Deadly Medley” (with Royce Da 5’9″ and Elzhi), “Welcome”, “Round Of Applause”, “Distortion”, “Black And Brown” (with an epic appearance by Danny Brown) – this album is packed with great songs.
With “Album of the Year” Black Milk continues his successful run as a producer & emcee, honoring the legacy of one of his biggest influences: fellow Detroitian J Dilla. If you missed Black Milk’s Album Of The Year – go check it out!
EMC - The Show (2008)
The Show is the debut album by supergroup eMC, which consists of Masta Ace, Punchline, Wordsworth and Stricklin.
After his supposed retirement with the excellent concept album A Long Hot Summer, legendary Masta Ace returns with this collective, recruiting underground battle rappers Punchline and Wordsworth as well as his protege Stricklin, a.k.a. Strick.
With production duties handled by the likes of Marco Polo, Ayatollah, Nicolay, The ARE, Frequency, Koolade and Quincey Tones and with guest appearances from Sean Price, Ladybug Mecca, and Little Brother all ingredients are there for well over an hour of dopeness.
The Show does not disappoint and gives what we want to hear: real Hip Hop, cleverly structured as a thematic concept album that follows a day in the life of eMC doing a show on the road. Great album.
Finale - A Pipe Dream And A Promise (2009)
In Detroit’s post-Dilla world, Finale deserves a mention alongside the likes of Apollo Brown, Black Milk, Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9″, Guilty Simpson, Esham and of course Eminem as a top representative of D-town’s Hip Hop scene.
Finale’s wordplay on his independently released debut album A Pipe Dream And A Promise is simply CRAZY. Finale shows of complex internal rhyme schemes and multi-syllabic rhyming combined with a distinctive flow (reminiscent of R.A. The Rugged Man) and razor-sharp delivery – this guy is a true lyricist and a verbal acrobat.
With beats provided by J-Dilla, Black Milk and Nottz (among others), the production is top notch too – this album really is a must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop fan.
Percee P - Perseverance (2007)
Percee P is a criminally underrated emcee. One of the best lyricists in the game, ever. Active in the Hip Hop game since the 1980s, Perseverance, his official solo debut album came out as late as 2007. If he could have gotten himself released in the early 90s, no doubt he would be widely recognized now as one of the all-time greats. As it is, this album may have come too late – in a time when Hip Hop was being watered down and dumbed down for near on a decade already and quality Hip Hop like this was not promoted anymore by the big money people.
This is a real Hip Hop album, that should have a place in any real heads collection. Superior lyrical skill, astute lyrics and produced by one of the best producers in the game: Madlib. It has Madlib’s signature sound; a bit modern & experimental at times, but still with enough of an ‘old-school’ feel to them to match Percee P’s lyrics.
The album has a couple of guest spots – Guilty Simpson, Vinnie Paz, Diamond D, Prince Po, Aesop Rock – all quality emcees, but Percee P outshines them all effortlessly.
Diamond District - In The Ruff (2009)
Diamond District is the truth. This is real, raw & pure Hip Hop done right. In The Ruff is that perfect example of an album with a Golden Age sound but with one leg firmly in the present as well. Oddisee is a talented producer and emcee, and together with emcees X.O. and YU he delivers an excellent record, filled with hard AND smooth boom bap beats and dope flows.
A breath of fresh air in 2009; and an album that should have a place in any Hip Hop fan’s collection – easily one of the best Hip Hop albums released in that year. Don’t sleep and go get Diamond District’s In The Ruff if you didn’t before.
Ohmega Watts - The Find (2005)
What an excellent album! In a year where wack albums like 50 Cent’s The Massacre sold millions of copies, this gem of a record went largely unnoticed.
Perfectly encapturing the 90’s boom bap vibe, sonically paying homage to sounds of the likes of Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Diamond D, Q-Tip, Large Pro and other NYC mid-nineties production giants – but also capturing the vibe of west coast groups like The Pharcyde and Souls Of Mischief – Ohmega Watts simultaneously succeeds to give his beats and rhymes his own authentic and contemporary feel.
The self-explanatory “Where It All Started”, the old-fashioned-feeling “Full Swing” and cuts like “Saturday Night Live”, “Treatment”, and “Mind Power” are just some of the highlights, but the whole album slams.
Filled with jazzy and soulful beats, great sampling and lyrics worth listening to, The Find simply is an amazing debut and an all around brilliant album – one for the true Hip Hop connoisseur. Cop.