100 Essential Midwest Hip Hop Albums: [Midwest Hip Hop is a regional genre of Hip Hop music performed by artists from the Midwestern United States. In contrast with its East Coast, West Coast, and Southern counterparts, Midwest Hip Hop has very few constants in style or production.
Midwest hip hop’s first dose of national popularity came in the mid-90s with the extremely fast-paced rappers known as choppers, such as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (Cleveland), Twista (Chicago), Tech N9ne (Kansas City), and Eminem (Detroit). While the artists mentioned became some of the first to introduce Midwest Hip Hop that rivaled the popularity of West and East Coast styles, other subsequent acts have or already had also risen to national fame such as Common, Kanye West, Nelly, D12, and Kid Cudi – but they share very few similarities. Other notable midwest rappers and producers include Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Lupe Fiasco, Royce da 5’9, J Dilla, Apollo Brown, Elzhi, Freddie Gibbs, and Danny Brown. It is because of the lack of constants between acts from different cities (and sometimes even between artists from the same city) that it can be extremely difficult to define a “typical” Midwest sound.]
Hip Hop originated in New York City, and East Coast Hip Hop was quickly rivaled by the output coming from the West Coast. Over the past two decades, it is the South that has become the most dominant region in terms of influence on the rap game. East, West, and South are almost all that is talked about when geographical areas in Hip Hop are discussed – the Midwest is often left out of the conversation. That’s wrong, as this list will show.
In this piece, you will find 100 Hip Hop albums – no mixtapes, no EPs – we consider to be essential works to come out of the Midwest, not ranked but presented in release year order. What do YOU think? Are your favorite Midwest Hip Hop albums here? Do you think any essential records are missing? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Tung Twista - Runnin' Off At Da Mouth (1992)
This debut album was released after Chicago-based (Tung) Twista entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fastest emcee. Since 1992 there have been plenty of other rappers who are as fast or even faster as Twista is on this album, but (together with Chip Fu from The Fuschnickens) Twista was one of the pioneers of speed-of-light rhyming. Twista dropped a lot of projects after this one, but Runnin’ Off At Da Mouth remains our favorite Twista album.
Common - Ressurection (1994)
Clever and conscious wordplay over excellent production – on his second album Common is maturing into what he would eventually become: one of Hip Hop’s most revered emcees and personalities. In one of Hip Hop’s biggest years, this album measures up to any of the other releases with ease.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal (1995)
The debut full-length album from this Cleveland crew under the name Bone Thugs N Harmony. This group of talented Eazy E protegees pioneered their own style of harmonized sing-song rapping, and with this album they really delivered on the promise made by the BNTH’s EP of the year previous. Because of their unique triple-time rhyme style, their undeniable chemistry, and the eery vibe of the album, E.1999 Eternal has been universally recognized as a Hip Hop classic – influencing many rappers’ styles.
Mood - Doom (1997)
This crew from Cincinnati, Ohio dropped an underground sleeper classic with Doom. Atmospheric and melodic production complemented with clever lyrics – this is real Hip Hop at its finest. The album features production by Hi-Tek and guest appearances by Talib Kweli and Wu-Tang-affiliated group Sunz of Man, and this album can be seen as a springboard for all their careers. Mood emcees Main Flow and Donte do an excellent job over Hi-Tek’s beats, the result is a slept-on masterpiece. It’s hard to single out standout tracks from this album because its strength is its consistency: one hour of excellence.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - The Art Of War (1997)
The Art Of War is a bit overlong and inconsistent, but it is an essential BTNH album nonetheless. As with most double albums in Hip Hop it could have been better f it had been condensed into one tight 15 track album – in that case, it would have been an absolute classic. Still, there’s plenty of BTNH gold here – including tracks such as “Look Into My Eyes”, “Body Rott”, “Ready 4 War”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Changed”, “Clog Up Yo Mind”, “If I Could Teach The World”, “Wasteland Warriors”, and “Thug Luv”.
Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997)
Another great Common album, the one that made the Chicago emcee a Hip Hop A-lister. Consistent high level of quality throughout, creative and thoughtful lyrics combined with excellent, soulful production: One Day It’ll All Make Sense is part of the top-half of Common’s excellent catalog, an album that is aging like a fine wine.
The Dynospectrum - The Dynospectrum (1998)
The Dynospectrum is a collaboration from Rhymesayers Entertainment artists, between Slug, I Self Devine, Musab (Sab the Artist), and Swift. As The Dynospectrum they performed under the pseudonyms Sept Sev Sev Two, Pat Juba, General Woundwart, and Mr. Gene Poole, respectively. The production was handled by Atmosphere’s Ant, who assumed the name Solomon Grundy for the project. This is an underground treasure, an excellent album for all those who are into real lyricism, fat beats, and just plain old Hip Hop.
Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (1999)
Eminem‘s sophomore album – and his major-label debut – was a game-changer. The real start of an epic career that would make Em a worldwide phenomenon and one of the best-selling artists in music ever. A few weaker songs aside, The Slim Shady LP is a great album and a unique talent’s perfect introduction to the world.
Slum Village - Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)
Pretty much everything J Dilla has been involved in bears the mark of pure quality, and this official debut album from Detroit’s Slum Village is no exception. Brilliantly produced, this is an album you will appreciate more for the beats than for the lyrics, and that’s perfectly fine. Some great guest spots, great vibe – this is an album for the ages.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - BTNHResurrection (2000)
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has always been a group for listeners with an acquired taste. If you don’t dig their sing-song harmonizing style of rapping it’s hard to listen to more than a few songs at a time, if you do then you will love them. This comeback album is not their best, but it is an improvement on the overlong mixed bag of an album that was Art Of War (1997), exhibiting all the talent, lyrics, and production that makes BTNH great. BTNHResurrection is more mature than their earlier albums and less mainstream-oriented than The Art Of War, making this a must-have for BNTH fans at the very least.
Binary Star - Masters Of The Universe (2000)
One of the most slept-on albums of the year (or the decade even) is Binary Star’s Masters Of The Universe. Where dumbed-down factory rap was selling millions of copies, this gem of an album sold less than 50.000 units, which is crazy when you think about it. Binary Star’s One Be Lo and Senim Silla, along with producer Decompoze, came with intelligent lyrics, great flows, captivating soundscapes, and dope beats – with stand-out cuts such as “Reality Check”, “Conquistadors “, “Fellowship”, and “Indy 500”.
Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
In an overall excellent discography, Like Water For Chocolate certainly is up there as one of Common’s best, together with Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Black America Again, and the monumental Be – Common’s very best.
Like Water For Chocolate is just about as good as Be is though, and it is one of those rare albums that musically transcends the genre of Hip Hop but at the same time is pure Hip Hop to the core. With jazzy and soulful production work from the likes of Questlove, J Dilla, and DJ Premier, and with Common in top form on the mic – this truly is a masterpiece that is aging like a fine wine.
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Eminem in his prime, lyrically unbeatable. Released after his breakthrough The Slim Shady LP (1999) and before the equally excellent The Eminem Show (2002), The Marshall Mathers LP still stands as Eminem’s magnum opus – the middle of an impressive three-album run and one of the best as well as best-selling Hip Hop albums ever.
D12 - Devil's Night (2001)
Juvenile fun from Eminem and his D12 friends, guest appearances on Devil’s Night include Dr. Dre, Obie Trice, Truth Hurts, and Dina Rae. The hit singles “Fight Music” and “Purple Pills” are the obvious centerpieces of this album, but the whole album is good fun if you can get with the D12 brand of humor. The album is also notable for a ‘hidden’ track by Eminem called “Girls”, which is a diss track aimed at Limp Bizkit, DJ Lethal, Dilated Peoples, and Everlast. D12’s biggest hit “My Band” is on Devil’s Night follow-up D12 World (2004), but Devil’s Night is the better overall album, making it D12’s best.
J Dilla - Welcome 2 Detroit (2001)
Welcome To Detroit is J Dilla’s debut solo album. The album is not as consistent or as boundary-pushing as some of J Dilla’s other works are, but it is an essential part of his catalog anyway.
Tech N9ne - Anghellic (2001)
Tech N9ne is a phenomenon from Kansas City, who succeeded in building an indie empire on his own unique sound. Anghellic is his third album and one of the best in his vast catalog. Hard, gritty, and aggressive – but with commercial appeal at the same time. The production is excellent, and Tech N9ne’s lyrics hit hard. Anghellic is a LONG listen, but it never bogs down because Tech N9ne shows great versatility – practically every song has its own unique sound. Lots of highlights, including songs such as “Breathe”, “Tormented”, “Psycho B*tch”, “Einstein”, “Suicide Letters”, “Going Bad”, and “This Ring”.
Atmosphere - God Loves Ugly (2002)
On God Loves Ugly Atmosphere’s Slug and Ant wanted to show how far away they stood from conventional, traditional Hip Hop imagery and themes. Absorbing their need to be different, they came up with some of the most conceptually intriguing Hip Hop of the early millennium. On God Loves Ugly, Slug and Ant managed to weave tales of sorrow, frustration, and forgiveness together seamlessly over beds of melancholic melodies that swell with tension and angst over bone-cracking snares and taut bass lines. With some of the most beloved classics in Atmosphere’s catalog, including “F*@k You Lucy”, “Godlovesugly”, “Lovelife”, “Modern Man’s Hustle” and “Shrapnel”, God Loves Ugly was effectively a lesson on processing pain without becoming a victim to it. Considered one of the first ’emo-rap’ (an over-used label these days) albums, Atmosphere brings passion with an intricate poetic nature that makes God Loves Ugly of their very best albums.
Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002)
Three-in-a-row for Eminem. The Eminem Show – his fourth album – is another classic, just like its predecessors The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marschall Matters LP (2000). Not completely flawless, but near enough – The Eminem Show was Eminem’s last truly great album, released when he was at the peak of his power and fame.
Brother Ali - Shadows On The Sun (2003)
While all of Brother Ali’s albums are great, Shadows Of The Sun is his absolute best. Over some of the most engaging beats Ant ever crafted, Ali paints honest, poignant, and compelling pictures all over the album. While every track is exceptional in its own right, perhaps it’s the painfully open “Forest Whitiker” – where Ali bravely points out all his physical imperfections while embracing them at the same time – showing the importance of self-love in one of the most empowering cuts ever. Other stand-outs include “Room With A View”, “Shadows On The Sun”, “Blah Blah Blah”, “Champion”, “When the Beat Comes In”, “Win Some Lose Some”, and the heartbreaking “Picket Fence”.With Shadows Of The Sun Brother Ali delivered a landmark album – the best Hip Hop album released in 2003, and one of the best Hip Hop albums of the 2000s.
Soul Position – 8 Million Stories (2003)
Soul Position is the unsung Blueprint’s collaboration with fellow Columbus, Ohio DJ/producer RJD2. It was their first full album together (after an EP in 2002), released on Rhymesayers Entertainment. 8 Million Stories probably is the best-known and best-received Soul Position release, with dope RJD2 instrumentals and varied and clever rhymes by Blueprint. Still, it never received the wider acclaim it deserved. Never too late to check it out though!
P.O.S - Ipecac Neat (2004)
Ipecac Neat is P.O.S’ first studio album, released in 2004 on Doomtree Records, then re-released the next year on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Energetic and angry-sounding lyrically as well as musically, Ipecac Neat offers an intense listening experience that is aging quite well. A bit closer to ‘regular’ Hip Hop than some of his later albums, Ipecac Neat already showcases P.O.S’s original style and flow. A hidden gem and an essential piece of the Doomtree legacy.
Eyedea & Abilities – E&A (2004)
Just one of the many Rhymesayers Entertainment gems. E&A is the second studio album by the late Eyedea & DJ Abilities. In their own words:
‘We makin’ music, just tryin’ to put the fun back in
Turntablism, lyricism, ain’t no gun packin”
This quote from “Kept” sums up the album – Eyedea & Abilities was a great MC/DJ tandem and E&A is one the most under-appreciated and one of our favorite albums of 2004.
Kanye West –The College Dropout (2004)
Whatever you think about later-Kanye, his seminal debut album is a true classic. Having already earned stripes producing for others (most notably on Jay-Z’s magnum opus The Blueprint), he exploded on the scene in 2004 with his first album.
The College Dropout is unique and musically diverse, and very listenable – even if Kanye isn’t the best emcee ever and even if the album has too many skits and a few filler songs: always a risk on a 75-minute album. Songs like “Spaceship”, “All Falls Down”, “Jesus Walks”, “Two Words”, “Last Call”, and “Never Let Me Down” all are classics though, and there are plenty more to enjoy besides.
Illogic – Celestial Clockwork (2004)
Celestial Clockwork is Ohio-based emcee Illogic’s third solo studio album, production is entirely handled by regular collaborator Blueprint, and it features vocal contributions from Aesop Rock, Vast Aire, Slug, and Blueprint. Lyrically complex, poetic, and intelligent: Celestial Clockwork is Illogic most personal and best album, offering one hour of top-tier left-field Hip Hop with stand-out cuts like “Time Capsule” (with Aesop Rock and Vast Aire), “1000 Whispers”, “Celestial Clockwork”, “First Trimester”, and “Stand” (with Atmosphere‘s Slug).
Royce Da 5’9″ – Death Is Certain (2004)
Death Is Certain is Detroit emcee Royce Da 5’9″ second studio album, his best project released in the aughts. Royce Da 5’9″ is one of the best lyricists in post-2000 Hip Hop, on Death Is Certain he showcases his elite technical abilities as well as his top-tier pen game – with dark, deep, and personal content. “Hip Hop”, “Throwback”, “Something’s Wrong with Him”, “I & Me” – plenty of Royce Da 5’9″ classics on Death Is Certain.
Blueprint – 1988 (2005)
Not as widely known as it should be, but most real heads will own or will at least know 1988. The short intro sets the tone for the album nicely: a mash-up of Stetsasonic’s “Stet Troop ’88” and KRS-One’s “Fresh For 88” statement. This intro is followed by a short track incorporating a classic Run-DMC beat, before the third track titled “1988” kicks in with some old-fashioned scratching and a great old-school battle rap attitude to it. After that, there are a whole lot more stand-out tracks, like “Tramp”, “Trouble On My Mind”, “Fresh” and “Liberated” – but the whole album is great, it’s the overall cohesiveness of this project that makes it the essential release that it is.
To simply call this album a throwback would be wrong, it’s more layered than that. Some tracks may have that retro feel, and even if Blueprint manages to invoke a great golden age atmosphere, he simultaneously brings more modern vibes to the table. 1988 is one of the crown jewels in Blueprint’s discography, one of the better Hip Hop albums released in 2005, and a definite must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop fan.
Atmosphere - You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005)
Rhymesayers co-founders Sean Daley (Slug) and Anthony Davis (Ant) are one of the label’s flagship acts, releasing music as Atmosphere since 1999. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, is their fifth album, a release as beautifully crafted and put together as any other album in that entire decade – Ant has rarely been better behind the boards, and Slug is just fantastic on the mic. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having has dope beats and intelligent rhymes all the way through, stand-out tracks like “Say Hey There”, the fascinating “Pour Me Another” and the touching standout “Little Man” help to make this album Atmosphere’s absolute magnum opus and one of 2005’s best releases.
One Be Lo – S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (2005)
One Be Lo is best known for being half of Binary Star, under which name he and his Binary Star partner Senim Silla dropped the underground gem Masters Of The Universe in 2000. He has released a bunch of excellent solo albums as well, and this one is the best of them all.
S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. stands for Sounds Of Nashid Originate Good Rhymes And Music, a title true to the content of the album: more than twenty tracks and pretty much all worthwhile, with One Be Lo cleverly and skillfully exploring a wide variety of topics over consistently superior musical backdrops. Pure and uncut Hip Hop by a true emcee.
Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)
Kanye West’s second album, and one of his best – even with The College Drop Out (2004) and MBDTF (2010) in that discussion. Late Registration is one of the major albums of the 2000s.
Common – Be (2005)
Common’s second, third and fourth album – Ressurection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997) and Like Water For Chocolate (2000) were all classics in their own right, but many thought Common was over and done with after he released the bizarrely experimental Electric Circus in 2002. Disenchantment with Hip Hop at that time lead Common to drop that strange (though not necessarily bad) album, many doubted if Common would ever be able to come back from that. However, what happened was Common got up with Kanye West and J-Dilla to deliver the album of his career.
On Be Common found his fire and his love for the game again. Stellar tracks like “Testify”, “The Food”, “The Corner”, and “Go” are classic Common – in fact, the whole album is tight and consistent as can be. Common would go on to drop a whole bunch of other excellent albums but Be will forever be his magnum opus.
Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor (2006)
Lupe Fiasco’s debut is one of the best of the 2000s. In an age of simplistic rhymes and lack of meaningful concepts, Lupe Fiasco brought intelligence and consciousness back to mainstream Hip Hop. As this list reflects, he would drop more excellent projects later on (and some misses as well), but Food & Liquor remains his best album.
Psalm One - The Death Of Frequent Flyer (2006)
Chicago emcee Psalm One is an interesting artist, there is definitely something unique about her sound. The beats on her Rhymesayers debut The Death Of Frequent Flyer are fine, but this album is all about Psalm One’s dope flow, her clever observations (“Rapper Girls”), and her excellent storytelling abilities – this is an album with HEART and SOUL.
J Dilla – Donuts (2006)
Released just three days before his untimely death on Feb. 10, 2006, Donuts turned out to be J Dilla’s magnum opus. Donuts is a fitting reflection of Dilla’s creativity and musicality, and an apt tribute to his career. Together with DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing (1996), Donuts has become THE landmark album when it comes to instrumental Hip Hop. It serves as the perfect example and as a great inspiration for countless aspiring beatmakers and DJs, showing where talent and dedication can lead to Donuts is the defining masterpiece from an amazingly talented musician who died much too young.
Rhymefest - Blue Collar (2006)
Blue Collar is the debut album by Grammy Award-winning artist Rhymefest, most notable for the hit single “Brand New” with Kanye West – but the album has more to offer. “Tell A Story”, “Sister”, “Devil’s Pie”, “More”, “Stick”, “All I Do”, “Get Down΅, and the catchy “Fever” are all dope tracks. Rhymefest has a great flow and lots of charisma and humor – Blue Collar is an outstanding album.
P.O.S – Audition (2006)
Following his excellent debut album Ipecac Neat, P.O.S doesn’t disappoint with his sophomore effort Audition. Like all of his albums, Audition offers a potent blend of Hip Hop and other musical styles like punk-rock – with P.O.S dropping his challenging semi-abstract, metaphor-heavy, anti-conformist lyrical imagery. The music on this album is amazing, with lots of live instrumentation, electric guitars, drums, etc. Standout tracks include: “Bush League Psych-Out Stuff”, “Bleeding Hearts Club” (both featuring Atmosphere‘s Slug), “De La Souls”, “A Teddy Bear And A Tazer “, and the razor-sharp rap-metal fusion of “Half-Cocked Concepts”. Fans of acts like Doomtree or Sage Francis should not sleep on Audition.
Tech N9ne - Everready (The Religion) (2006)
Everready is our favorite Tech N9ne album, after Anghellic (2001) and K.O.D. (2009). Everready is more accessible than some of his other releases, more consistent and cohesive too – even if it is an album of two halves. The first half has a party feel to it, the second half is darker and grittier, more in the vein of Anghellic. It all fits together and comes off beautifully though, this is an essential listen in Tech N9ne’s catalog.
J Dilla – The Shining (2006)
The Shining is the third studio album by J Dilla, who died February 10, 2006. The Shining was incomplete (but mostly done) at the time of J Dilla’s passing and was posthumously completed. With features from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Common, Madlib, Guilty Simpson, Black Thought, and more – and Dilla’s trademark soundscapes throughout, The Shining simply is a great listen. While not an absolute classic like Dilla’s masterpiece Donuts is, The Shining nevertheless is another testament to the exceptional talent J Dilla possessed.
Lupe Fiasco - The Cool (2007)
Lupe Fiasco’s debut, Food & Liquor (2006), was among the most revered debuts in any era of Hip Hop. Could Lupe achieve that acclaim again with his sophomore album, The Cool? Damn sure. This album practically served as an unofficial sequel to Food & Liquor (the official sequel, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album didn’t quite meet those expectations). Powerful cuts like “The Coolest”, “Gold Watch” and “Hip Hop Saved My Life” are exhibits of how intelligent and well-read Lupe Fiasco is. Easily comparable to his classic debut in terms of quality, The Cool is one of 2007’s best releases.
Kanye West – Graduation (2007)
Completing the trilogy subjecting around a school theme, Kanye dropped another dope album with Graduation. Combining the best of The College Dropout and Late Registration, Graduation saw him reaching back into his backpack and bringing good old soulful Hip Hop. With excellent cuts such as “Stronger”, “Champion”, and “Everything I Am”, Kanye knocked it out of the park once again, making his classic record streak three-for-three.
Senim Silla – The Name, The Motto, The Outcome (2007)
Senim Silla is 1/2 of Binary Star, the duo he formed with the equally unsung One Be Lo. The Name, The Motto, The Outcome is his first (and only) solo album and another hidden 2007 treasure. The Name, The Motto, The Outcome is deep, layered, and complex – both lyrically and musically – and not an easy album to get into maybe, but one that amply rewards those who are willing and able to invest the time and attention this gem deserves.
Black Milk – Popular Demand (2007)
Detroit’s beatsmith Black Milk comes off very nice with his sophomore album Popular Demand. Another one of those producers who can hold his own on the microphone, Black Milk has strung together a catalog of very good albums – and Popular Demand is no exception. This is an album filled with soulful bangers, with adequate emceeing by a rapping producer and guest appearances from the likes of Slum Village’s T3, Elzhi and Baatin as well as from Guilty Simpson, One Be Lo, and others.
Common – Finding Forever (2007)
After his merely OK debut album Can I Borrow A Dollar (1992), Chicago’s Common dropped three classics back-to-back: Resurrection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997), and Like Water For Chocolate (2000). After that came the highly experimental Electric Circus (2002) – a hate it or love it kind of album, and certainly an odd duck in Common’s otherwise amazingly consistent discography (not counting Univeral Mind Control (2008), which is his weakest album if you ask us).
Anyway, after for most people disappointing Electric Circus, Common came back incredibly strong with Be (2005), for us the best album of his career and one of the best of this decade. The question was if Be‘s follow-up could be as strong as its predecessor – almost impossible of course. Even if Finding Forever does not quite reach Be‘s level of near-perfection, it is an excellent album in its own right. The Bilal-assisted “U, Black Maybe” is the absolute highlight of the album, but like Be the whole album is as tight and consistent as you’d expect from Common, once again with assistance from Kanye West on most tracks.
Brother Ali - The Undisputed Truth (2007)
The Undisputed Truth is the best Hip Hop album released in 2007. Powerful, political, and personal: activist Brother Ali shows himself in a song like “Truth Is”, the biting political commentator in the classic “Uncle Sam Goddamn” and “Letter From The Government”, and the vulnerable family man comes out in the bitter letter to his ex-wife “Walking Away” and one to his son “Faheem”. Great messaging, intricate lyricism, beautiful guitar-driven bluesy rhythms crafted by Ant – and not one miss in the tracklist: The Undisputed Truth is a classic.
Doomtree – Doomtree (2008)
Doomtree’s first album as a group, and what an album! When the beat from the first track (after the intro) “Drumsticks” kicks in you know what you’re in for. The album received mixed reviews upon its release in 2008, but those who underrated it either clearly didn’t really listen to it or were otherwise not in a right state of mind. Top-notch beats, top-notch rhymes, and top-notch production – this is the first official release on which the individual Doomtree talent combine their skills to create something that is bigger than the sum of its individual parts. Make no mistake: this is one of 2008’s best albums and if you have never listened to it before you are in for a treat.
Invincible – Shapeshifters (2008)
Shapeshifters by Detroit artist Invincible is the most underrated and slept-on album released in 2008. Invincible is a superb emcee, her flow and her technical abilities are top-notch: her wordplay is packed with internal rhyme schemes and with meaning too – she proves she has an astute sociopolitical mind and something to say. Maybe the beats could have been better here and there – but Shapeshifters is all about Invincible’s rhymes. Don’t sleep on Invincible and Shapeshifters.
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh** Gold (2008)
Following their breakthrough project God Loves Ugly (2002) and their best album You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005), Slug and Ant dropped what would go on to become their highest-charting album in 2008: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh** Gold. All Atmosphere’s strengths are in evidence here: Ant’s beats are mostly excellent from start to finish (a little too pop-polished here and there perhaps), and Slug does what he does best, wearing his heart on his sleeve all as well as doing great storytelling work. With “Yesterday”, the heartfelt ode to Slug’s deceased father, the albums also holds one of Atmosphere’s best songs ever.
Guilty Simpson - Ode To The Ghetto (2008)
Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson’s debut album Ode To The Ghetto is an excellent album – with dope bars and great beats. Production of the album was handled by elite producers, including Madlib, Oh No, J Dilla, Black Milk, DJ Babu, and Peanut Butter Wolf, who served as executive producer. It also features guest appearances from Black Milk, Sean Price, MED, Kon Artis, and Simpson’s A.D. groupmates Konnie Ross, Kriz Steel, Supa Emcee. Ode To The Ghetto is like an exposé on life in the ghettos in Detroit: kind of weird, but catchy and captivating too. Don’t sleep on the underappreciated Guilty Simpson.
Elzhi – The Preface (2008)
Elzhi is one of the most underrated emcees in the game. The Detroit lyrical giant dropped an instant classic with The Preface. Bangin beats – mostly provided by equally underrated Detroit producer Black Milk – and excellent wordplay by Elzhi himself and guests like Guilty Simpson, Royce da 5’9″, and Black Milk, make this one of 2008’s best albums. “Guessing Game”, “Motown 25”, “Colors”, “Transitional Joint”, “What I Write”, “Talking In My Sleep” – just a few standout tracks on an album with not a bad song on it. “Show these motherf***ers what a classic is…” In the intro of the album Elzhi sets himself up for a tall order, but boy does he deliver.
Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon: The End Of Day (2009)
Man On The Moon: The End of Day is the debut studio album by Cleveland-native Kid Cudi. Man On The Moon: The End Of Day plays like a concept album, and is narrated by Common. The album follows the release of his first mixtape A Kid Named Cudi (2008) and is the first installment of the Man on the Moon trilogy. Production was handled by several high-profile record producers, including Kanye West and No I.D., among others.
Man On The Moon: The End of Day is a genre-bending piece of music, with a more eclectic musical feel to it than ‘regular’ Hip Hop has. Kid Cudi’s singing rap style is engaging, the personal lyrics and moody subject matter are immersive, and the haunting production is phemomenal. The album has a spacey, atmospheric vibe that fuses psychedelic, indie pop, R&B, electronica, and rock styles – typified by infectious melodies, sparse arrangements, experimental structures, and lush beats laced with shuddering keyboards, brooding synths, syncopated drums, sinister strings, and light pianos.
Man On The Moon: The End Of Day is an immersive experience, to be taken in in single sittings – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, even if individual songs like “My World”, “Day n Nite”, Sky Might Fall”, “Alive (Nightmare)”, “Cudi Zone”, “Make Her Say”, “Pursuit Of Happiness”, and “Up, Up And Away” are all great. Man On The Moon: The End of Day is a masterpiece and a modern classic.
Tech N9ne - K.O.D. (2009)
K.O.D. (King Of Darkness) is Tech N9ne’s second release of 2009 after the collaboration filled Sickology 101. K.O.D. is sort of a concept album, divided into three acts: Anger, Madness, and The Hole – telling the story of Tech N9ne as the “King of Darkness”. The album features guest appearances from Three 6 Mafia, Brotha Lynch Hung, King Gordy, Kutt Calhoun, Krizz Kaliko, and Big Scoob, among others.
This is arguably Tech’s darkest and most emotional album, built on him dealing with his mother’s failing health and the repercussions on his own life, plus other deeply personal subject matter. The stylish and haunting instrumentals as well as Tech’s flows, rhythms, and lyrics fully engage and manage to sustain interest all the way through this LONG 78-minute album. K.O.D. is our favorite Tech N9ne album, alongside Anghellic (2001).
Toki Wright – A Different Mirror (2009)
Minneapolis artist Toki Wright came up as an opening act for Brother Ali and as his hypeman. A Different Mirror is his official solo debut on Rhymesayers and the first installment of the Rhymesayers Spotlight Series. Toki Wright has a good voice with a smooth melodic flow, and his intelligent lyrics are worth listening to. The production is competent enough, but a bit spotty and forgettable here and there – Wright deserved better beats. But even if the album could have been better beats-wise, A Different Mirror is a must for fans of smooth boom-bap and conscious lyrical content.
Brother Ali - Us (2009)
Us signified another Brother Ali gem – one hour of music, with 16 non-skippable tracks laced with truth and emotion – Ali never disappoints. Few emcees are able to come with thought-provoking content without sacrificing rhyme schemes, wordplay, and masterful flows the way Brother Ali is – songs like “House Keys”, “The Travelers”, “Tight Rope”, “Baby Girl”, and “Us” cases in point. Other stand-outs where Ali is boasting his lyrical abilities are “Best@it”, and “Bad Muf*cker Pt. 2”. Us has outstanding Ant instrumentals too, as always – with the incorporation of a lot more live instrumentation this time around. Following Shadows On The Sun (2003) and The Undisputed Truth (2007), Us is another Brother Ali sure shot, and of 2009’s best releases.
Eminem – Relapse (2009)
Eminem is one the biggest names in Hip Hop ever, with one absolute classic – The Marschall Matters LP (2000) – on his name, and two albums that come close enough: The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Eminem Show (2002). The rest of his catalog is more miss than hit, though. Even if Eminem’s lyrical abilities are never in question, most of his other albums are usually plagued by weak beats, bad features, and corny hooks. That said, Eminem tends to be over-hated by a lot of people, because his output besides his three classics is not all bad.
Relapse is an example of an Eminem album that received much more hate than it deserved. There are no misplaced popstar features here, the hooks are mostly OK, as are the beats. The dark, horrorcore concept works and Em’s pen game and lyrical skill are unbeatable. Relapse is a great album, and easily Eminem’s best after the three classics.
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.
J Dilla – Jay Stay Paid (2009)
Nine times out of ten posthumous releases are doing a disservice to the memory of the artist in question, and are often obvious cash-grab attempts by rightsholders. Not the case with Jay Stay Paid. The album is a 28 track collection of unreleased Dilla beats mixed and arranged by Pete Rock. Although Jay Stay Paid is mostly instrumental, it includes guest vocals from several artists that Dilla worked with or admired, such as Black Thought, Havoc, Raekwon, MF DOOM, and M.O.P. It was executive produced by Dilla’s mother Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey along with the musical supervision of Dilla’s musical idol, Pete Rock. In regard to the album’s feel and direction Ma Dukes stated:
It wasn’t rushed and it wasn’t haphazard. This album combines what he did in the beginning of his career, what he did in some of our early hospital stays, which was very deep, and some stuff pulled from old floppy disks & DATs. It’s mind blowing… this is like the missing links to Dilla’s legacy. (Wikipedia)
The format of the album plays like a radio show with Pete Rock as the program director.
P.O.S – Never Better (2009)
Doomtree’s P.O.S best album? It may be hard to pick one and label it ‘best’, but Never Better certainly is our P.O.S favorite. Every single track on this album is great. Like most other Doomtree projects Never Better may require multiple listens to fully appreciate its brilliance – this is not easily digestible and forgettable bubblegum pop-rap after all. What Never Better is, is a creative blend of Hip Hop and other musical styles like punk-rock – with P.O.S dropping his challenging semi-abstract, metaphor-heavy but at the same time relatable and accessible lyrics over unique instrumentals.
Take an hour, sit yourself down, play the album from start to finish, and read along to let the lyrics sink in. Or just listen to the emotional “Been Afraid”, or other stand-out cuts like “Goodbye”, “Optimist”, “Purexed” and “Low Light Low Life” (with Dessa and Sims) to get a taste and you will go in for more P.O.S without a doubt.
Qwel & Maker – Owl (2010)
As part of the Typical Cats crew Chicago emcee Qwel was responsible for three solid albums – Typical Cats (2001), Civil Service (2004), and 3 (2012). In addition to those albums and his work as a solo artist, Qwel has been releasing projects ever since 2004 with producer Maker. Owl is their fourth collaborative album, and the duo’s best after Beautiful Raw (2013). Qwel is an excellent rapper with a dope flow and intricate wordplay, and Maker’s instrumentals are dope as f too.
Apollo Brown & Boog Brown - Brown Study (2010)
Boog Brown is a female emcee based in Atlanta but originally from Detroit, and she’s one of the most slept-on artists of the 2010s. For Brown Study, she hooked up with Detroit’s then-upcoming beatsmith Apollo Brown. Boog Brown‘s laidback street poetry and Appolo Brown’s soulful boom-bap beats prove to be a potent combination. Boog Brown shows she’s an in-depth writer, with a sick flow and great voice. Apollo Brown does what he would be doing for the rest of the decade: creating lush bass-heavy beats for his collaborative artists to shine on. No weak tracks on Brown Study, if you slept on this gem for some reason go check out tracks like “Masterplan”, “Carpe Diem” or “Understanding”- and you’ll find yourself adding this one to your library real quick.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Because he is such an
idiot excentric it’s not difficult to dislike Kanye West, but whether you like him or not it’s impossible to deny the excellence of this album. We have never been big fans of Kanye West, but we’re not haters either. We think his first three albums are all pretty great (even if they all have flaws), but we don’t care at all about his work after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (although The Life Of Pablo is growing on us). My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sits in the middle of Kanye West’s career as an artist, and it is his absolute best work if you ask us – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is bombastic, overblown, ridiculous, AND brilliant – just like Kanye himself.
Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager (2010)
Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager is the underappreciated second part of Kid Cudi’s MOTM trilogy. This one is just as strong as the first MOTM installment is and way better than Kid Cudi detractors would have you believe. Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager incorporates alternative and psychedelic elements similar to the sounds that Cudi explored on his previous album. It features a blend of dark and emotional lyrics, exploring themes of depression, loneliness, detachment, and isolation. The album also highlights other topics, such as Cudi’s former cocaine addiction, fame, and alcoholism, as well as family issues and women.
Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager arguably is slightly less accessible and less catchy than its predecessor is, and much darker too – for us not a reason to love this album any less than we love Man On The Moon: The End of Day. “GHOST!”, “Trapped In My Mind”, “Mr. Rager”, “Marijuana”, “The End”, “Ashin’ Kusher”, “REVOFEV”, “Mojo So Dope”, “Erase Me” – all brilliant Kid Cudi songs. Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager is a well thought out and perfectly executed sequel to Man On The Moon: The End of Day, once again with engaging lyrical content and transcendent production from start to finish. This is Kid Cudi’s second masterpiece.
Danny Brown - X X X (2011)
Danny Brown’s second studio album X X X is another intriguing project from one of Detroit’s most fascinating artists of the past decade, reminiscent of someone like ODB with his out of this world personality, his energy, and his off-the-wall craziness level. X X X is experimental and dark, but funny and lighthearted at the same time, with Danny Brown’s unique sound and some of the craziest but also some of the funniest lines ever.
Drugs and the role it plays in Danny Brown’s life is the main theme of the album. During the first half of the album, Danny Brown is on an incredible high talking about the most outlandish things, on the second half the album transitions into a less intense and more serious tone, telling more serious stories about Danny Brown’s life experiences where drugs and violence take over his world. X X X is a great album that solidifies Danny Brown’s status as one of the Hip Hop game’s most exciting newcomers of the 2010s.
Doomtree – No Kings (2011)
Always pushing genre boundaries, Doomtree is known for incorporating a wide range of musical influences into their work with lyrical complexity and deep wordplay – both on their group albums and their solo efforts. No Kings arguably is Doomtree’s most impressive effort – showcasing what 10 years of experience in the game can lead to. Their solo efforts prove what the Doomtree members can do in their own distinctly different styles. Their group efforts prove they can blend their different styles into a perfect mix.
It’s not a given that the very different lyrical styles of artists like P.O.S, Dessa, Cecil Otter, Sims, and Mike Mictlan can be turned into a cohesive whole – in fact, it could easily turn into a disaster. What has always worked for Doomtree though – and what is perfected on No Kings – is that the crew admiringly succeeds in being complementary. “Team The Best Team” is just one of the tracks on this album that exemplify their strength as a unit. Other highlights are cuts like “Own Yours”, “Punch Out”, “Bolt Cutter”, “The Grand Experiment” and the bombastic “Bangarang”.
It helps that the instrumentals provided by Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger are so layered and musical, the beats and sounds really add to the dense but clever verbiage and the collective fiery energy the Doomtree vocalists bring to the table. No Kings is a triumph. If you somehow missed out on Doomtree up to now, start here and you will be stocking up their collective and individual catalogs in no time.
Tech N9ne - All 6's And 7's (2011)
All 6’s And 7’s is the eleventh studio album by Tech N9ne, one of the best-balanced and most complete ones in his catalog. Tech N9ne doesn’t do short albums, and All 6’s And 7’s is another monster – 77 minutes this time around. The album features an impressive roster of guests with Hopsin, Snoop Dogg, Jay Rock, Twista, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, E-40, Busta Rhymes, and Kendrick Lamar, among others. The centerpiece on this album is the classic “Worldwide Choppers”, and “Am I A Psycho”, “He’s A Mental Giant”, “Love Me Tomorrow”, “Cult Leader”, “So Lonely”, “Mama Nem”, and “Promised Land” all are dope tracks too – in fact, this album has few if any weak spots. All 6’s And 7’s is an essential piece of Tech N9ne’s vast discog.
Common – The Dreamer / The Believer (2011)
After the misstep that was Universal Mind Control (2008) and in the midst of his beef with Drake, Common comes back strong with The Dreamer / The Believer. Gems like the Nas-assisted “Ghetto Dreams”, the Maya Angelou featured “The Dreamer”, the subliminal Drake-dis “Sweet”, and the reflective “Lovin’ I Lost”, (about the end of his relationship with Serena Williams), are some of the stand-outs, but there are no weak tracks on The Dreamer / The Believer. Not a classic like his magnum opus Be (2005), or like Resurrection (1994) and Like Water For Chocolate (2000), but close enough.
Brother Ali - Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color (2012)
Brother Ali is one of the stalwarts of the lost art of conscious Hip Hop. He has never released a sub-par album, his discography is one of the strongest and most consistent in Hip Hop, and Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color is another jewel in his crown. Although Ali did most of his very best work with Atmosphere’s Ant on the boards, Jake One is a more than competent producer as well, providing subdued soundscapes here for Ali’s lyrics to shine. Ali comes with the same politically and spiritually conscious fire that he’s known for. Lots of standouts, cuts like the heartfelt ” All You Need” and especially “My Beloved” are classic Brother Ali, as are songs like “Letter To My Countrymen”, “Mourning In America” and “Only Life I Know”.
Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson - Dice Game (2012)
Not even the best set of Apollo Brown instrumentals you have heard, but Apollo Brown’s beats prove to be the perfect match for fellow Detroitian Guilty Simpson’s bars, making Dice Game one of Simpson’s best. Dope beats and dope rhymes, that’s all we need.
Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise (2013)
The concept-driven No Poison No Paradise is Black Milk’s fifth and best album. No Poison No Paradise is centered around a young man’s survival on the streets of Detroit, the narrative making this Black Milk’s most emotionally charged and deepest album to date. Black Milk expertly meshes synthesizer production with dusty soul/jazz/rock samples, with a bit of a darker and rougher edge to the beats than on some of his earlier projects. No Poison No Paradise is a great album from an underrated producer and rapper.
Ugly Heroes - Ugly Heroes (2013)
Ugly Heroes is a trio consisting of MCs Verbal Kent and Red Pill, along with producer Apollo Brown, and Ugly Heroes is their self-titled collaborative debut album. As always Apollo Brown’s sound is straight from the nineties, polished bass-heavy beats, complimented by atmospheric strings and piano chords. This is blue-collar Hip Hop, Ugly Heroes focuses on the struggles of Verbal Kent and Red Pil, who present themselves as working-class MCs from Chicago and Detroit, describing the struggles of the working-class life. Filled with serious subject matter and unflinching lyrics, backed up by deep and slow head-bobbing beats – this is another gem by Apollo Brown, an excellent album that deserves a lot more attention than it got.
Qwel & Maker - Beautiful Raw (2013)
You may know Chicago emcee Qwel as part of the Typical Cats crew, who had three pretty good albums with Typical Cats (2001), Civil Service (2004), and 3 (2012). In addition to his work as a solo artist, Qwel has been releasing projects ever since 2004 with producer Maker. Beautiful Raw is their fourth collaborative album and their best. Maker’s instrumentals serve as the perfect backdrop for Qwel’s rhymes – which were some of the best recorded in 2013. Qwel is an excellent rapper, one of the best most of you probably have never listened to. For those who are up to speed with Qwel’s work will know it to be true, for those who have slept on Qwel up to now are in for a treat – before you go check out his back-catalog, begin with this album, enjoy Maker’s beats and really listen to Qwel’s lyrics to appreciate his skill and intricate wordplay.
Danny Brown - Old (2013)
Old is Danny Brown’s third studio album, and it’s another intriguing presentation – a great lead-up to what would turn out to be Danny Brown’s masterpiece: Athrocity Exhibtion (2016). But Old is more than just a stepping stone, it proves once again Danny Brown is one the most unique personalities in 2010s Hip Hop. Old is an album with very different sides, it’s like it is two albums in one. The first half one of the 19 tracks shows us an introspective and more serious Danny Brown who touches upon all kinds of his craziness and personal turmoil, the second half is not much less crazy in subject matter but is a little more lighthearted, consisting more of club bangers. Both sides work – Old manages to stay cohesive despite the diversity presented, and overall it’s a good showcase of the different sides and the crazy, messy life of Danny Brown. Old will not be for everyone, but all those who allow themselves to be captured by Danny Brown’s wild personality, unique lyrical style, and left-field production choices will consider Old a treasure.
Clear Soul Forces - Gold PP7s (2013)
Clear Soul Forces is a four-man crew from Detroit, consisting of E-Fav, L.A.Z., Noveliss en producer/emcee Ilajide. Gold PP7s is their best album to date – 100% fun Detroit style underground Hip Hop, with vibes reminiscent of crews like ATCQ, De La Soul, Jurassic 5, The Pharcyde, and Slum Village. Just a crew of real emcees trading verses over solid boom-bap beats.
Tech N9ne - Something Else (2013)
Something Else is Tech N9ne’s thirteenth studio album, a 65-minute presentation broken up into three portions – Earth, Water & Fire. The album features guest appearances from Big K.R.I.T., CeeLo Green, The Game, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Krizz Kaliko of course, and The Doors (!), among others. Apparently, opinions are divided on this one even among Tech N9ne fans, we say it is one of Tech N9ne’s five best albums though – fifth after the other four Tech N9ne albums on this list. Tech N9ne noobs should turn to Anghellic (2001), Everready (The Religion) (2006), K.O.D. (2009) and All 6’s And 7’s (2011) first – but Something Else is an essential Tech N9ne release too.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (2014)
Typically we don’t much care for gangsta rap or coke rap or whatever label is attached to tough-guy crime rhymes, but the fruits of the out-of-the-box collaboration between Gary, Indiana-based gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs and the Oxnard, California native, left-field production-genius Madlib are a firm exception. As with Madlib’s collaboration with MF DOOM, which resulted in the best Hip Hop album of the 2000s, his partnership with Freddie Gibbs leads to a product that is bigger than the sum of its parts. On Piñata Gibbs’ coarse flow works perfectly with Madlib’s soulful and funky soundscapes – arguably Madlib’s best work since 2004’s Madvillainy. Guest spots by the likes of Scarface, Raekwon, Danny Brown, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt (among others) add extra flavor, which results in 2014’s second-best album (just after RTJ2). The album could have done without some of the skits, but all-in-all this powerhouse of an album truly is a masterpiece.
Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy (2014)
Open Mike Eagle is a Los Angeles-based but Chicago-born (enough reason for us to include him here) artist who dropped some of the most interesting albums in abstract underground Hip Hop in the 2010s – with his soft spoken-word style, poetic lyrics, and experimental production. Dark Comedy is Open Mike Eagle’s fourth solo album and arguably his best album to date. Belying the at times breezy production, Open Mike Eagle’s subject matter never is lightweight. He approaches a variety of serious topics with dark and deliciously sarcastic humor – hence the title of the album. Open Mike Eagle’s lyrical performance on Dark Comedy is as good as we’ve heard from him, and the ambient production is fantastic throughout. The lyrical and instrumental intricacies give Dark Comedy more layers than anything else out this year, as always with an Open Mike Eagle release there’s a lot to unpack – Dark Comedy is an album with endless replay value.
Black Milk- If There’s A Hell Below (2014)
Black Milk is so underrated as a producer, kind of like a Detroit version of DJ Quik. Similar to DJ Quik’s albums, every single Black Milk project has something distinctive, something to differentiate it from his other works. On If There’s A Hell Below the focus is more on Black Milk rapping than on his beat-crafting, and surprisingly it works. Again, like DJ Quik, Black Milk is a producer first and a rapper second, but his lyricism on If There’s A Hell Below is strong, and the minimalistic production serves to bring the bars to the forefront. No Poison No Paradise is our favorite Black Milk album, but If There’s A Hell Below is not far behind.
Apollo Brown - Grandeur (2015)
Grandeur is another great release from the most consistent producers from the 2010s. 19 tracks of the smooth boom-bap Apollo Brown brand, with vocals by the likes of Skyzoo, Torae, Oddisee, MOP, Chino XL, Evidence, Rapper Big Pooh, Ras Kass, Vinnie Paz, Blacastan, Your Old Droog, Masta Ace, Wordsworth, Freddie Gibbs, O.C., Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Sean Price, Reks, and Ugly Heroes, among others. Beats by one of the best beatsmiths in the game, and rhymes by a roster of the greatest emcees of this era – quality Hip Hop guaranteed.
Add-2 - Prey For The Poor (2015)
Prey For The Poor is Chicago emcee Add-2’s debut solo LP since signing to 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records. It’s his official debut album after a string of excellent mixtapes – an album that went sadly unnoticed upon its release in 2015. Make no mistake though – this is one of the best Hip Hop releases of 2015. Add-2 is a spectacular lyricist, who combines supreme technical skill as an emcee with the ability to write intelligent, socially conscious lyrics. The smooth jazzy beats are produced by the likes of Nottz, AMP, 9th Wonder and mainly Khrysis, and the album’s guest features include A-listers like Rapsody, Jamila Woods, Sam Trump, and Raheem DeVaughn. Add-2 touches on a myriad of important societal issues in a thought-provoking manner, this is an important album more people should have picked up on. Don’t sleep on Add-2.
Freddie Gibbs - Shadow Of A Doubt (2015)
Not as strong as the Pinata, his classic collaboration with Madlib, Shadow Of A Doubt nevertheless is another formidable release by the charismatic Indiana rapper – filled with immersive songs depicting scenes of violence, crime, and drug use, a reflection of Freddie Gibbs’s roots. The album could have benefitted from more varied production, and fewer attempts at mainstream/trap appeal but all in all this is a strong album. Best track: “Extradite”, with a killer feature from the unbeatable Black Thought.
Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth (2015)
After the terrible Lasers and the disappointing Food & Liquor 2, Lupe Fiasco came back strong in 2015 with Tetsuo & Youth – his best album of the decade, an album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Food & Liquor and The Cool.
Tetsuo & Youth is another ambitious and daring effort by Lupe Fiasco, who is never afraid to take creative risks. So this is not an easy listen, but for those willing to invest attention and time in it, it is a totally rewarding experience. Like the cover of the album (which he painted himself), Lupe created a true work of art with the music on this album. And not to forget: with the 8-minute tour-de-force “Mural” Tetsuo & Youth contains one of the best songs of the decade.
Ugly Heroes - Everything In Between (2016)
Everything In Between is an excellent album to Ugly Heroes’ self-titled debut album, which was released in 2013. Ugly Heroes – Apollo Brown, Verbal Kent & Red Pill – deliver once again. Those familiar with Apollo Brown know he is as consistent in crafting quality beats as any producer in the game. Red Pill and Verbal Kent stepped up the lyrics on Everything In Between, which makes for a Hip Hop album of the highest quality – a presentation of well-rounded boom-bap for all generations. “This World”, “Heart Attack”, “Unforgiven”, “Daisies”, “Force Fed” are stand-outs, but this album really doesn’t have any weak spots.
Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
Danny Brown hit a home run with Atrocity Exhibition. This album feels like a feverish nightmare that gives us a glimpse of the insanity, depression, and hedonism of the Danny Brown psyche. This album is deep and dark and at times over the top, both sonically and lyrically. Production is superb though, and even those who gravitate towards more traditional styles will find a lot to like here. Danny Brown’s crazy flows range in style from hype and energetic to somber and reflective – but the content always is thought-provoking. You can call it experimental, or crazy, or weird – but be sure to call it a classic too: Atrocity Exhibition is Danny Brown’s best album.
Elzhi - Lead Poison (2016)
Detroit emcee Elzhi dropped another top-quality project with Lead Poison. Known for being part of Slum Village on Trinity: Past, Present, And Future (2002), Detroit Deli: A Taste Of Detroit (2004), and Slum Village (2005), he surprised the Hip Hop world with his solo-debut The Preface in 2008 – one of the best albums of that year. In 2011 he cemented his reputation as a top-class emcee with the Elmatic mixtape, his re-working of Nas’ Illmatic. In 2016 he continued his streak of excellent releases with Lead Poison, his most personal album to date. On Lead Poison, Elzhi shares his life experiences of a dark period he went through, making for a poignant listen. The understated production serves to add the right weight to Elzhi’s vividly painted lyrical pictures. Lead Poison is not a casual listen, but it is a good one.
Royce Da 5'9'' - Layers (2016)
No one will dispute the claim that Royce Da 5’9″ is one of the most complete emcees in the game. For some reason though, he has never been able to translate his skills into the creation of an album befitting his stature as a lethal emcee. His albums up till this one have been decent to good – but never classic. While Layers is not quite the classic Royce surely has in him either, it is a really good album, his best up to that point in time. One of the reasons is that production on this project is better than on most of his previous albums, making for a more cohesive effort. Of course, Royce has bars for days and he has something to say too. Dope rhymes and wordplay all the way through – a good mix of introspective self-reflection and straight-up sh*t-talking. Layers is one of Royce’s best albums, second only to Book Of Ryan (2018).
Common – Black America Again (2016)
As this list reflects, Common has dropped quite a few excellent albums in his long career – and this one is up there with the best of them. Meaningful, profound, captivating, intelligent, soulful, and lyrical – Black America Again has everything a Hip Hop album needs to have. Truly great from start to finish, there are no skippable tracks. Production is excellent throughout and Common’s flow and lyrics are as good as they ever were.
Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo (2016)
This is Kanye West’s best album since his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), and with Yeezus (2013) his most polarizing one. His projects since MBDTF have been messy and more miss than hit, and The Life Of Pablo is a mess too, but it’s a beautiful mess.
Kanye West is a genius and an idiot in equal measures, and this album is the epitome of his absurdity. Similar to more of his other recent projects, TLOP sounds rushed and unfinished on the one hand, but over-produced on the other – it really is all over the place. Kanye West has never been a very good emcee but he used to be competent enough, on this album his skills as a rapper are worse than ever. But still… he does manage to captivate and intrigue, especially because of the energy he puts into the production.
The Life Of Pablo will likely go down in history as Kanye West’s most confusing and polarizing album. Hate it or love it, it’s vintage Kanye though. And there is plenty of quality on display: “30 Hours”, “No More Partying In LA”, and “Ultralight Beams” – are just a few of the classic Kanye tracks on TLOP. Forget about the head-scratching moments and recognize TLOP as a solid part of Kanye West’s catalog.
Brother Ali - All The Beauty In This Whole Life (2017)
All The Beauty In This Whole Life signified Brother Ali’s return to recording after a five-year hiatus. At this point in his career, it was clear what to expect from Brother Ali – lyrical precision, honest emotion, social commentaries, and intelligent observations. Where his last album Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color was filled with socio-political insights reflecting the state of American affairs mixed with Ali’s personal stories, All The Beauty In This Whole Life is all about inner transformation. Ant provided Ali with perfect lush boom-bap instrumentals to accompany his soulful collection of personal stories about the ups and downs of life, highlights include “Own Light,” “Can’t Take That Away”, “The Bitten Apple”, “Before They Called You White”, “Out Of Here”, “Dear Black Son”, and “Pray For Me”. All The Beauty In This Whole Life is another amazing album by Brother Ali – powerful and meaningful grown-up music, a breath of fresh air in a rap year filled with face-tatted mumblers dominating the mainstream.
Quelle Chris - Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often (2017)
Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is another excellent album by prolific Detroit artist Quelle Chris, with guest input by regular collaborators like Jean Grae (Quelle Chris’ wife), Homeboy Sandman, Denmark Vessey, Chris Keys, and others like Elzhi and Roc Marciano, among others.
Like all of Quelle Chris’s work Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is neither an easy or straightforward listen. Sure, musically it’s more accessible than some of his other works (but still plenty left-field), but lyrically it’s typical Quelle Chris: challenging, often dense, but always compelling. Quelle Chris’ introspective musings on existentialism are both poignant and hilarious, and an hour of Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often reveals much of who Quelle Chris is as a human being.
As for the near-flawless production, most of the beats were done by Quelle Chris himself, with some assistance from The Alchemist, MNDSGN, and Iman Omari. All in all, Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is an awesome project.
P.O.S - Chill, Dummy (2017)
P.O.S, from Minneapolis, Minnesota is a founding member of the indie Hip Hop collective Doomtree, and responsible for a whole bunch of dope albums over the years. Not counting the excellent work he has been responsible for as a member of Doomtree (and other collectives he’s part of), he has released 5 albums as a solo artist: Ipecac Neat (2004), Audition (2006), Never Better (2009), We Don’t Even Live Here (2012), and Chill, Dummy (2017).
Chill, Dummy is P.O.S’s first album since 2012 when health problems, eventually necessitating kidney transplantation, caused him to break off his first national tour. P.O.S’s newfound health also brought back the beautiful cynical anger that made listening to his first albums so intriguing. On Chill, Dummy P.O.S reveals an element of self-reflection that was less in evidence on most of his earlier albums. Also, P.O.S’s love for punk-rock is less evident here than on some of his earlier releases, which can make this effort more accessible to P.O.S noobs than some of his other albums. That’s not to say this is a run-of-the-mill-sounding album – it is evident Aesop Rock is one of his biggest inspirators. Chill, Dummy is sonically adventurous and ultimately a consistent and cohesive listening experience.
Ces Cru - Catastrophic Event Specialists (2017)
Kansas City duo Ces Cru (Ubiquitous and Godemis) continues its streak of excellence with Catastrophic Event Specialists, the duo’s third studio album released on Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, following Constant Energy Struggles (2013) and Codename: Ego Stripper (2014). These guys got skills and they have bars for days. Ces Cru’s constant bashing of legging-wearing, ghostwritten, mainstream mumblers may be kind of tired at this point, but hot damn, it’s funny too.
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017)
On the heels of 2016’s strong collaboration album with Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival, Open Mike Eagle continues his streak of consistency with Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. The ambient and psychedelic production on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is more subdued than on past OME efforts, which complements his low-key delivery. The smooth instrumentals and Open Mike Eagle’s vocals sound deceptively loose and laid-back, but the lyrical content is clever, thoughtful, relevant, and emotionally potent. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream almost rivals Dark Comedy (2014) for the title of Open Mike Eagle’s best album to date.
Noname - Room 25 (2018)
Room 25 is the official debut studio album by Chicago poet and rapper Noname, dropping two years after her excellent mixtape Telefone and five years after her standout feature on Chance the Rapper’s classic Acid Rap mixtape. Room 25 is a self-released project chronicling the two years since the release of Telefone, most notably Noname’s move from Chicago to Los Angeles and an intense, short-lived romantic relationship. The album’s title is in reference to Noname’s lifestyle while in Los Angeles, living out of different hotel rooms, and that she was 25 years old at the time.
Room 25 is an understated poetic gem. Noname expertly mixes jazzy neo-soul vibes with her conversational rap style. The result is a mellow-sounding journey – overseen by fellow Chicagoan and multi-instrumentalist producer Phoelix – where Noname guides the listener through her light and dark thoughts, being consistently compelling all the while.
Royce 5’9″ - The Book Of Ryan (2018)
When the best emcees since the turn of the century are discussed, the name of Royce Da 5’9″ doesn’t come up nearly enough. Book Of Ryan is Royce’s seventh solo studio album, and arguably his best yet. Production duties were taken care of by a wide array of producers, including Mr. Porter, S1, Boi-1da, Cool & Dre, DJ Khalil, and Frank Dukes, among others – and the beats are dope across the board, serving as the perfect backdrop for Royce’s lyrics. On Book Of Ryan, Royce is at his most introspective – but there’s plenty of lyrical variety, ranging from deeply personal to straight dope wordplay by one of the greatest emcees of this age.
Lupe Fiasco - Drogas Wave (2018)
Coming off the underwhelming Drogas Light, Drogas Waves is another one of those Lupe Fiasco projects that show insane scope and ambition. A 100-minute concept album dealing with the overall theme of resurrection, this could have been a bloated mess – but fortunately, it isn’t. In fact, this is a brilliant album. The thing is that it probably is too clever, it needs to be ‘studied’ in order to be able to appreciate its deepness. With just casual listens, the whole thing will go over your head. It’s like with a serious 100-minute movie – you just don’t watch a couple of few-minute snippets at a time – you watch the whole thing from beginning to end, paying attention all the time. Drogas Wave has to be approached in the same way.
In a 2018 Billboard interview, Fiasco revealed the main idea of the project:
“It’s about a group of slaves on a slave ship on their way to Africa to the West Indies and they are thrown off the boat. But they didn’t die. They stayed alive and they lived under the sea. And they dedicated their lives to sinking slave ships — so they became this super, underwater force against slavery. It’s like a super-deep story that I am building on different fronts. But that’s the main idea and the source material for the album.”
Drogas Wave is often misunderstood and consequently dismissed – for us this is a classic though, and one of the four monumental Lupe Fiasco albums that made our Best 250 Hip Hop Albums Of All Time list.
Saba - Care For Me (2018)
After having made a big enough impression with two mixtapes and his excellent debut project Bucket List Project in 2016, 23-year-old Chicago rapper Saba dropped a modern classic with his sophomore album Care For Me. In February 2017, Saba’s cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member, Walter E. “John Walt” Long was stabbed to death in Chicago. In an interview, Saba spoke about the mental process and how writing the songs on the album were therapeutic saying:
“Care For Me is the first time I delve into talking about depression and anxiety, and then all of these factors as to why I am the way I am. A lot of it had to do with losing my best friend and older cousin, [John] Walt, which is throughout the album. I think why Care For Me is so important is because it talks about mental health in a lot of ways that are simple but I just haven’t heard it done in Hip Hop music that way.”
Care For Me is a subtle and intimate concept album dedicated to the memory of his cousin. The emotion involved can be felt throughout the 10 tracks on Care For Me, and this is one of those albums where the instrumentals and the lyrics complement each other perfectly, the minimalist but tasteful soundscapes Saba cooked up himself serving only to enhance the poignant emotions reflected in his lyrics.
Besides his obvious musical talent, Saba’s biggest strength on Care For Me is his ability to vividly tell his stories, all the while being completely open and honest, which really helps to make feel listeners right there with him. In that regard, Care For Me is very comparable to Kendrick Lamar’s monumental good kid, m.A.A.d city – and Care For Me deserves to mentioned in the same breath, it’s that good.
Quelle Chris - Guns (2019)
Quelle Chris’ 2019 full-length solo release is not for everyone, which is par for the course with his music. On Guns Quelle Chris comes with his usual off-kilter drum patterns and heady wordplay, this time with a unifying theme: the impact of gun violence on American society in particular and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general. Neither an easy nor an accessible listen, a few years down the road this album may turn out to be a modern classic anyway.
Apollo Brown - Sincerely, Detroit (2019)
most complete portrait of the Detroit Hip Hop scene ever? With 56 featured Detroit artists (with Eminem being the most notable absentee), it will be hard to argue against that claim. Sincerely, Detroit is Apollo Brown’s tribute to his hometown and a love letter to the culture. From different eras and different walks of life, veterans and newcomers alike lend their styles and deliveries to this 21 track album. Featuring artists like Royce Da 5’9”, Black Milk, Trick Trick, Elzhi, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, One Be Lo, Bronze Nazareth, Kuniva, Clear Soul Forces, Boog Brown, and many, many more, Sincerely, Detroit is a nearly comprehensive look at the styles and flavors of Detroit.
In this day and age of short hype-circles and short attention spans Sincerely, Detroit is a project with extraordinary substance – and not just because it runs for 78 minutes. Where lots of artists are content with dropping a bunch of 25-minute projects each year to stay in the public for as much time as possible, Apollo Brown goes the other way: taking the time to craft a work of quality that really resonates and that will undoubtedly prove to have longevity.
Sincerely, Detroit has 21 tracks – 20 full songs and an intro – and each and every track is beautifully put together, showing and proving that Apollo Brown is a master at his craft. His ear for detail is evident, and you can sense the passion and love that went into the creation of this album. 78 minutes is not too long if every single song is exquisitely executed. Apollo Brown’s smooth boom-bap is the common thread that holds this album together and from the host of featured artists nobody disappoints – who shines most will likely be dependent on the personal preference of the listener. Among our favorite tracks are “God Help Me”, “Dominance” and “Can’t Lose” – not coincidently tracks on which DJ Los adds extra flavor with some dope turntable work – but there are no filler tracks.
Apollo Brown has been one of Hip Hop’s most consistent producers for over a decade now and with this album he firmly solidified his status as one of the game’s top dogs. Sincerely, Detroit is one of 2019’s best albums and it deserves its high ranking among the decade’s best too.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana (2019)
Bandana is 2019’s best album. The first full-length collaboration album from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, 2014‘s Pinata, is a modern classic. The question was if they could do it again – and the answer is a resounding yes. Bandana is cut from the same cloth as its seminal predecessor and is just about as good. With Pinata they showed that their apparent differences only served to create a result that was bigger than the sum of the two parts; with Bandana they prove it was not a fluke.
Add-2 - Jim Crow The Musical (2019)
Chicago emcee Add-2 returned in 2019 with the release of his latest album, Jim Crow: The Musical. This is his first full-length project since 2015’s Prey For The Poor – one of HHGA’s favorite albums of 2015, second only after TPAB. Jim Crow: The Musical is 19 tracks (14 songs, 5 skits) deep and comes equipped with contributions from Phonte, Brittney Carter, Oliv Blu, Neak, and others. Featuring narration by Kadeem Hardison (from A Different World fame), Jim Crow: The Musical is a poignant and powerful project about living life as a black man in America. This is an important album – like Prey For The Poor Hip Hop for thinking people.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2 (2020)
If there’s one constant in Quelle Chris’s body of work it’s that he never does the same thing twice. Unlike many other artists who make the same album over and over again, this eclectic Detroit rapper never takes the easy way out, instead, he is always looking for new directions. Innocent Country 2 is sort of a sequel to 2015’s Innocent Country. A sequel, but a direct opposite as well – where the initial Innocent Country focused on isolation, pessimism, and the notion of finding peace within pain, this one offers soothing light in a bleak timeline: a hopeful record in a hopeless moment, precisely when it’s needed most.
Innocent Country 2 is a jazzy and warm listening experience with smooth synth loops over dusty drums crafted by Chris Keys, but it’s not breezy – there’s always depth to Quelle Chris’s lyrical musings. And although this album is not as deep or important as 2019’s Guns (on which Quelle Chris addressed the impact of gun violence on American society in particular and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general), Innocent Country 2 is an album with substance as well.
Standout tracks include “Living Happy”, “Graphic Bleeds Out”, “Black Twitter”, “Grease From The Elbows” (featuring billy woods and Pink Siifu), “Sacred Safe”, with a show-stealing verse from Homeboy Sandman – but Innocent Country 2‘s strength is its consistency, it’s a perfect album to keep on rotation in the summertime (and in other seasons too, for that matter).
Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon III: The Chosen (2020)
Man on the Moon III: The Chosen is the seventh studio album by Kid Cudi, coming 11 years after his debut Man on the Moon: The End of Day. MOTM3 is a great project, arguably his best since his second installment in the MOTM trilogy (and the short but sweet Kids See Ghosts (with Kanye West) from 2018).
Thematically, the album’s concept has Kid Cudi fight against his evil alter ego, Mr. Rager, in hopes to win back his peace and happiness. As with the previous two installments, the album is split into four “acts”: Return 2 Madness; The Rager, The Menace; Heart of Rose Gold; and Powers.
Musically, MOTM3 crosses genre boundaries as Cudi’s music usually does, it always hard to pigeonhole Kid Cudi’s music – it can never be categorized as straight-up Hip Hop. This time around Cudi’s sound is something like soulful R&B-infused trap. Kid Cudi proves trap can be done in a tasteful, mature, and intelligent way, in contrast with the genericness and dumbness of most trap music out there.
MOTM3 is musically rich, dark, and psychedelic, and it’s lyrically deep enough to hold interest all the way through – this hour-long, 18-track album is well-produced and expertly put together: a worthy final chapter of an excellent trilogy.
- MC Breed – 20 Below (1992)
- Common – Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992)
- Esham – Judgement Day (1992)
- Esham – KKKill The Fetus (1993)
- Esham – Closed Casket (1994)
- Da Brat – Funkdafied (1994)
- Twista – Resurrection (1994)
- Esham – Dead Flowerz (1996)
- Do Or Die – Picture This (1996)
- Twista – Adrenaline Rush (1997)
- Atmosphere – Overcast! (1997)
- Slum Village – Fan-Tas-Tic Vol 1 (1997)
- No I.D. – Accept Your Own And Be Yourself (The Black Album) (1997)
- All Natural – No Additives, No Preservatives (1998)
- Tech N9ne – The Calm Before The Storm (1999)
- Dice – Black Monday (2000)
- Illogic – Got Lyrics? (2001)
- Eyedea & Abilities – First Born (2001)
- Typical Cats – Typical Cats (2001)
- Molemen – Ritual Of The Molemen (2001)
- One Be Lo – Project F.E.T.U.S. (2002)
- Musab – Respect The Life (2002)
- Slum Village – Trinity (Past, Present, and Future) (2002)
- Oliver Hart (Eyedea) – The Many Faces Of Oliver Hart (2002)
- Semi.Official – The Anti-Album (2003)
- Atmosphere – Seven’s Travels (2003)
- Vakill – The Darkest Cloud (2003)
- Obie Trice – Cheers (2003)
- Slum Village – Detroit Deli (A Taste of Detroit) (2004)
- D12 – D12 World (2004)
- Eminem – Encore (2004)
- Twista – Kamikaze (2004)
- Typical Cats – Civil Service (2004)
- Micranots – The Emperor & The Assassin (2004)
- Tech N9ne – Vintage Tech (2005)
- Twista – The Day After (2005)
- Sims – Lights Out Paris (2005)
- Qwel & Maker – So Be It (2005)
- Bizarre – Hannicap Circus (2005)
- Slum Village – Slum Village (2005)
- Proof – Searching For Jerry Garcia (2005)
- I Self Devine – Self Destruction (2005)
- Hi-Tek – Hi-Teknology²: The Chip (2006)
- Bronze Nazareth - The Great Migration (2006)
- Obie Trice – Second Round’s On Me (2006)
- Soul Position – Things Go Better with RJ and AL (2006)
- Phat Kat – Carte Blanche (2007)
- One Be Lo – The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. (2007)
- Black Milk – Tronic (2008)
- Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
- Illogic – Diabolical Fun (2009)
- Tech N9ne – Sickology 101 (2009)
- Danny Brown – The Hybrid (2010)
- Black Milk – Album Of The Year (2010)
- Guilty Simpson – O. J. Simpson (2010)
- Slum Village – Villa Manifesto (2010)
- Eminem – Recovery (2010)
- Atmosphere – The Family Sign (2011)
- Royce Da 5’9″ – Success Is Certain (2011)
- Quelle Chris – Shotgun & Sleek Rifle (2011)
- Blueprint – Adventures In Counter-Culture (2011)
- I Self Devine – The Sound Of Low Class Amerika (2012)
- Journalist 103 – Reporting Live (2012)
- P.O.S – We Don’t Even Live Here (2012)
- Typical Cats – 3 (2012)
- House Shoes – Let It Go (2012)
- Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 (2012)
- Quelle Chris – Ghost At The Finish Line (2013)
- Ces Cru – Constant Energy Struggles (2013)
- Greenhouse – Bend But Don’t Break (2013)
- Boldy James – My 1st Chemistry Set (2013)
- Eminem – The MMLP 2 (2013)
- Kanye West – Yeezus (2013)
- Tech N9ne – Strangeulation (2014)
- Ces Cru – Codename: Ego Stripper (2014)
- Atmosphere – Southsiders (2014)
- Common – Nobody’s Smiling (2014)
- Verbal Kent – Sound Of The Weapon (2014)
- Slum Village – Yes! (2015)
- Finale – Odds & Ends (2015)
- Asphate – Closed Doors To An Open Mind (2015)
- Chris Orrick – Look What This World Did To Us (2015)
- Quelle Chris – Innocent Country (2015)
- Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise (2015)
- Atmosphere – Fishing Blues (2016)
- Saba – Bucket List Project (2016)
- Buy Muy Drugs – Buy Muy Drugs (2017)
- MInk (Musab & Ink Well) – Intellectual Property (2017)
- Atmosphere – Mi Vida Local (2018)
- Chris Orrick – Portraits (2018)
- Black Milk – Fever (2018)
- Blueprint – Two-Headed Monster (2018)
- Mick Jenkins – Pieces Of A Man (2018)
- Brother Ali – Secrets & Escapes (2019)
- Ubi – Under The Influence (2019)
- Danny Brown – U Know What I’m Sayin? (2019)
- Boldy James – The Price of Tea In China (2020)
- Elzhi – Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (2020)
- One Be Lo – Baby (Being a Black Youth) (2020)
- Royce Da 5’9″ – The Allegory (2020)
Adrenaline Rush has to make this list. The influence it had on Chicago rap is immeasurable.