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list Jan 9 2022 Written by

100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums

100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums

100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums: [The UK Hip Hop scene emerged in the 1980s, with many early acts paying homage to American heroes such as Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five or Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, crafting Electro epics for the dance floor (examples being Broken Glass and Newtrament). These artists would imitate their heroes heavily prior to groups such as London Posse or Asher D & Daddy Freddy, who rapped in their native accents and added Ragga influences to their music, thus creating truly British, unique Hip Hop.

By the 1990s, the UK had progressed to a denser, more aggressive style similar to Public Enemy termed Britcore and eagerly moved beyond imitating American accents and inflections. This coincided with a growing trend: the use of patois, a form of Caribbean slang used in Yardie and Rastafarian culture. This different slang lexicon helps differentiate some UK artists from other regions. In the mid-2000s, UK hip hop was mostly supplanted in popularity with the emergence of Grime, an urban music style heavily influenced by UK Garage and Hip Hop. Interest in UK Hip Hop began anew in the 2010s with the advent of UK Drill, a grime-influenced style of Drill commonly associated with gang culture which became an international phenomenon; the appearance of Afroswing, a Dancehall and Afrobeats-influenced style of Hip Hop; as well as with a flourishing underground scene.]

100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums

In this piece, you will find 100 UK Hip Hop albums – no compilations, no instrumental albums, no EPs – we consider to be essential, not ranked but presented in release year order. Artists like Slick Rick, MF DOOM, and Monie Love, who have their roots in the UK, but who have had mostly ‘American careers’ are not included here. Scroll all the way down to see which are our 10 favorite albums out of the 100 listed here.

What do YOU think? Are your favorite UK Hip Hop albums here? Do you think any essential records are missing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums

Derek B - Bullet From A Gun (1988)

Bullet From A Gun is the only album by the late British rapper and producer Derek B, released in 1988 on Tuff City Records. US rap mogul Russell Simmons later soon signed Derek to Rush Artist Management and the album was re-released on Profile Records later in the year. Thanks to the tie-up with Simmons, Derek B toured the world with Public Enemy and Run-DMC that year to promote the album. Bullet From A Gun was one of the first successful Hip Hop albums by a British artist, with classic cuts such as ‘Bullet From A Gun”, “Bad Young Brother”, “Rock The Beat”, “Get Down”, “We’ve Got the Juice”, and “Good Groove” on it.

Asher D & Daddy Freddy - Ragamuffin Hip-Hop (1988)

Asher D & Daddy Freddy’s Ragamuffin Hip-Hop was a highly innovative album, combing irresistible ragga vibes with skeletal Hip Hop drum beats to great effect. Ragamuffin Hip-Hop is not the best album on this list, but it’s an essential album in UK Hip Hop history.

Demon Boyz - Recognition (1989)

Recognition sounds kind of dated now and not all songs on the album are equally strong, but because it was one of the first Hip Hop LPs released in the UK it needs to be on this list anyway. Demon D, Mike J, and DJ Devastate came with infectious energy and attitude on their debut album, and a couple of memorable tracks – “This Is A Jam” most notable among them. Demon Boyz’s sophomore album Original Guidance: The Second Chapter is probably the better album, and deserves a mention here too.

Cookie Crew - Born This Way (1989)

Cookie Crew – a duo that consisted of Susan Banfield (Susie Q) and Debbie Pryce (MC Remedee)  – is an iconic act in British Hip Hop history. Formed as early as 1983, Cookie Crew paved the way for lots of UK Hip Hop artists, and not just for females. “Born This Way (Let’s Dance)”, “Got to Keep On”, and “Come and Get Some” were the hits off the album – a hugely influential piece of music. Born This Way is a product of its time, but still sounds surprisingly fresh today.

MC Duke - Organised Rhyme (1989)

East London artist MC Duke first gained notoriety at the DMC World Championships, where he beat the MC champion of that year in an impromptu battle at the aftershow party. “I’m Riffin’” is his best-known track, the centerpiece of his debut album Organised Rhyme.

Overlord X - Weapon Is My Lyric (1989)

Overlord X’s Weapon Is My Lyric is one of the notable albums that constituted the first wave of British Hip Hop, paving the way for the 90’s hardcore Hip Hop scene in the UK. Top tracks: “Rough In Hackney”, “Weapon Is My Lyric”, and our favorite “2 Bad”.

London Posse - Gangster Chronicle (1990)

London Posse was named by New Yorkers, where they watched the production of the video for BDP’s iconic “The Bridge is Over”. Back home in the studio, the sneers and jaunts and tints of Cockney shine riddled through one of UK Hip Hop’s earliest cohesive efforts.

MC Mell'O' - Thoughts Released (Revelation I) (1990)

“Our Time” is the strong opening track on Thoughts Released (Revelation I), and the second song “A Total Eclipse of the Art” is an all-time UK Hip Hop classic. MC Mell’O’s debut album doesn’t let up after these first two cuts, it is surprisingly consistent and contrary to some other early UK Hip Hop albums production has held up – even if it’s over 30 years old, the album still sounds kind of fresh. MC Mell’O’ can rap too, his flow and delivery are top-notch and his style is distinct. Thoughts Released (Revelation I) is an underappreciated album, it not only is an essential release, but it is one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out in the UK in Hip Hop’s early days.

Stereo MCs - Supernatural (1990)

Stereo MCs is a group from Nottingham (formed in 1985), who gained international fame with “Connected”, a catchy pop song from their third and most popular album Connected (1992). For us, it’s this second album that is the best Stereo MCs LP. The group debuted in 1989 with the rough around the edges 33-45-78 and proceeded to reach their peak a year later with Supernatural – the Stereo MCs album that has the most of a ‘Hip Hop feel’ to it of all their albums, despite the pop influences (that would become even stronger on their later releases).

Stereo MC vocalist Rob Birch isn’t the best or most natural rapper ever, but it doesn’t matter – it’s his charisma and infectious energy combined with funky instrumentals that make this album such as joy to listen to. “Elevate My Mind” is the best-known song on Supernatural, and a special mention has to go out to the dope “Whatcha Gonna Do” – which features an appearance from Jungle Brothers’ Afrika Baby Bam. Supernatural is a great album, that sounds as fresh today as it did on the day it was released over 30 years ago.

The Ruthless Rap Assassins - Killer Album (1990)

The Ruthless Rap Assassins were a trio from Manchester and their debut Killer Album is a brilliant project, offering a potent mix of hard beats and laid-back vibes with thought-provoking content, to make for a diverse but well-rounded album that has stood the test of time.

Black Radical Mk II - The Undiluted Truth: A Black Man's Leviathan (1991)

Black Radical Mk II is a rapper from Tottenham, London, England, and one of the pioneers of the UK Hip Hop scene, releasing his first single (“We Outta Here/B.Boys Be Wise”) in 1987 at a time when the British Hip Hop scene was just starting. He is best known for his strident political views, which he often used as the basis for his records. In 1990 he released a single titled “Rippin’ Up The Industry” in which Black Radical slammed the practices of the UK record industry – a typically uncompromising move from an artist who had just moved to Mango Records, one of the UK’s biggest Hip Hop record labels at the time.

After two further singles, his debut album followed: The Undiluted Truth: A Black Man’s Leviathan – widely regarded as Black Radical’s best album, a showcase of his political and religious views. The album was popular, but Black Radical’s controversial views also caused an angry reaction from many people – including his own record company, who unceremoniously dropped the artist after the album was released.

Black Radical Mk II would go on to release two more albums – Double-Edged Sword: The Pre LP (1995) and Khaos & Konfusion: The Spell of Leviathan (1998) – both as obscure and hard to find now as his debut. Be that as it may:  The Undiluted Truth: A Black Man’s Leviathan is an essential album in British Hip Hop history.

Hijack - Horns Of Jericho (1991)

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Hijack had been making noise in the UK Hip Hop scene since they dropped their dope debut single “Style Wars” in 1988. “Style Wars” and later quality singles gained them the attention of Ice-T, who signed them to his Rhyme Syndicate label. Behind gas masks, police batons, and hunting knives, the Hijack crew poise menacingly on the cover of their 1991 debut LP. Whilst unreleased to US markets – despite Ice T’s guiding – Horns of Jericho circulated heavily around Europe. The Public Enemy-esque sounds boasted rowdy, funk-breathing samples, familiar yet brazen drums, and a demanding vocal authority. Horns Of Jericho serves as a textbook example of the adaptations UK rappers undertook to satisfy labels while hammering in their own flavor in this primal yet significant release.

Silver Bullet - Bring Down The Walls No Limit Squad Returns (1991)

“20 Seconds To Comply” and “Bring Forth The Guillotine” are the classic singles off this underappreciated album, but the whole project is amazing: fast, energetic, aggressive, and hard-as-nails – Britcore at its finest, a relentless audio assault on the ears. If you liked Hijack’s Horns Of Jericho, you will also love this one. Bring Down The Walls is available on streaming services, so there’s no reason for you not to check it out if you’ve slept on this timeless masterpiece up to now.

Caveman - Positive Reaction (1992)

Caveman was a trio consisting of MCM, the Principal, and Diamond J. They were the first British Hip Hop group to be signed to a major U.S. record label, Profile Records. Caveman is known for establishing a jazz-based style of Hip Hop in the UK, influenced by U.S. artists such as Gang Starr. Caveman’s best-known song “I’m Ready”, however, was based on Jimi Hendrix’s, “Crosstown Traffic” and showed early on a liking for the harder style that they would adopt later. Positive Reaction is an important piece of UK Hip Hop history.

Son Of Noise ‎– The Mighty Son Of Noise (1992)

Sons Of Noise is a crew from London, established after the splitting of pioneering Britcore collective Hardnoise. The Mighty Son Of Noise is their debut album, and it may sound kind of dated now – but it does represent the sound of British Hip Hop in the early 90s perfectly. Raw and unpolished, but fun and full of character – this is an album to remember (and fortunately it’s available on Bandcamp now). The follow-up to The Mighty Son Of Noise, the 1995 release Access Denied – Bullsh​*​t & Politics Pt 1. is pretty solid too.

Krispy 3 - Can't Melt The Wax (1993)

Krispy 3 was a trio formed in 1987, in Chorley, Lancashire, consisting of Mikey DON, Mr. Wiz, and Sonic G. Can’t Melt The Wax is Krispy 3’s second and best album (of the three they released as a trio in the early 1990s). This underrated album had the same fresh funky jazz feel reminiscent of the early 90s work of American acts such as Leaders Of The New School, Lords Of The Underground, and Fu-Schnickens. Nothing really spectacular or terribly innovating, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless – Krispy 3 deserves a spot on a list like this if only because they were one of the first to do it, helping pave the way for the second generation of UK Hip Hop artists.

Gunshot - Patriot Games (1993)

Along with Hijack’s The Horns Of Jericho and Silver Bullet’s Bring Down The Walls, Patriot Games is the absolute epitome of Britcore. Frenetic 100 bpm instrumentals, wicked flows, and hard bars – this album kicks ass. Standout cuts include “25 Gun Salute”, “World War 3”, “Day Of The Jackals “, “Patriot Games”, and “Mind Of A Razor”, but there’s nothing but bangers on this album. Gunshot’s Patriot Games is a stonecold classic.

Us3 - Hand On The Torch (1993)

Hand On The Torch is the debut album by British jazz-rap group Us3. It received much attention because of its mix of jazz and rap, using live jazz musicians. All samples used on the album are from old Blue Note classics: the most famous being Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island”, used on the track “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)”, which was recorded with two different music videos.

Blade - The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength (1993)

Blade is not the best lyricist around, and not all beats on The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength are strong enough to label this album a classic, but this IS an essential album in the early 90s UK Hip Hop landscape nevertheless. Raw power and in-your-face attitude mark the strength of this album, and the unpolished aspects actually work to add to the charm of The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength.

First Down - World Service (1994)

First Down, originally from Hythe near Folkestone Kent, changed their lineup for their second release Let The Battle Begin EP three years after “Jaw Warfare“, the new lineup was Aroe, Corrupt, Baron Demus, DJ Hyste, and Indian Ropeman, and were then based in Brighton. Once signing to Blitz in 1994 they released an EP called Mad Dogs And Englishmen and their debut album World Service.

World Service is a delicious mash-up of Britcore and more funky stylings – with crisp scratches, heavy bass lines, and old-school flows to make for a wonderfully unpolished underground release.

Fun-da-Mental - Seize The Time (1994)

Fun-da-Mental’s Seize The Time is a highly political album, with a very strong anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and pro-Islam message. Seize The Time is reminiscent of early Public Enemy albums because of its attitude, and also because of the Bomb Squad-esque production – even with the South-Asian/Indian music samples that do give this album its own unique twist. Because of its intense messaging and a runtime of 95 minutes, the album can be quite an exhausting listen, but there’s no denying the power of Seize The Time – with standouts including songs such as “President Propaganda”, “Mera Mazab”, “Bullet Solution”, “Mr. Bubbleman”, “No More Fear” and “New World Order”.

The Brotherhood - Elementalz (1996)

The Brotherhood was a pioneering Hip Hop collective (established as early as 1984), and their debut album Elementalz is one of the best British Hip Hop albums released in the 1990s. 75 minutes of well-produced melodic boom-bap instrumentals complemented by strong performances and potent lyrical content –Elementalz is a gem that is aging really well.

Blak Twang - Dettwork S.E. (1996/2014))

The debut album from Blak Twang, (Deptford rapper Tony Olabode), is a lost classic. As it was shelved in 1996, for almost two decades there have been barely a handful of copies in existence, just a few test pressings and a small run of promo cassettes given out to journalists ahead of its planned release in 1996. in 2014 it finally saw an official release – and it’s too great a project not to include it here. Maybe it should be listed as a 2014 release, but we decided to stick it on this list with its intended release year – imagine the impact this album could have had had it seen its official release in 1996 as was planned.

Funky DL - Classic Was The Day (1997)

Classic Was Day is the slept-on debut album of British producer/emcee Funky DL. He would go on to drop a long series of jazz-flavored projects following this one, Classic Was The Day signified an excellent start to a distinguished career – this album offers over an hour of top-tier jazzy boom-bap composed of tight beats and loops, creative sampling, and fun wordplay. Classic Was Day is a great album, and if you have slept on it up to now you are in for a nice discovery.

57 Dynasty - The Spoken Word (1999)

57 Dynasty is a collective from Brixton, London. The eight-man crew was active from 1997 to 2003, then re-formed in 2014 by its two founding members, Charlie “Parker” Bucknall and Marcus “Paradise” Dawes. The group’s debut The Spoken Word is now recognized as a landmark album, its singles “Lil Bro,” “Love Of Hip Hop,” “Still I Rise,” and “Boro 6” classics.

Parlour Talk - Padlocked Tonic (1999)

Classic Bristol Hip Hop. Breaks, beats, samples, cuts & scratches, and fun rhymes – this is pure uncut Hip Hop.

Roots Manuva - Brand New Second Hand (1999)

Rodney Hylton Smith, better known as Roots Manuva, has often been described as one of the most influential artists in British music history. It’s hard to deny he has a couple of classic albums on his name, and his debut album Brand New Second Hand is one of his absolute best projects, along with his masterpiece Run Come Save Me (2001), of course. The futuristic boom-bap of this Hip Hop/dub hybrid sounds as good today as it did over 20 years ago – this truly is a timeless album, the perfect introduction of Roots Manuva’s unique sound to the world of music. “Movements”, “Motion 5000”, “Strange Behaviour”, “Juggle Tings Proper”, “Soul Decay”, “Clockwork”, “Fever” – no shortage as classic Roots Manuva tracks on Brand New Second Hand. 

Equilibrium - New Flesh For Old (1999)

New Flesh For Old is a unique project. It’s an experimental album that builds upon the legacy of Britcore and ragga-flavored Hip Hop, to morph it into a new sound new with quasi-industrial bass-heavy beats, and the very distinctive voices and rap styles from the two emcees to add to the weirdness. Fans of the early DefJux sound (think Cannibal Ox or Company Flow) or of what Antipop Consortium used to do will no doubt love this Equilibrium album as much as we do.

The Nextmen - Amongst The Madness (2000)

The Nextmen are a duo consisting of Dom Search and Brad Baloo, and this debut album is a delight – fresh throwback Hip Hop, composed of funky beats, crisp cuts & scratches, great sampling, and fun rhymes. Amongst The Madness is all killer and no filler, a must-have for Hip Hop traditionalists.

Phi-Life Cypher - Millenium Metaphors (2000)

Millennium Metaphors is the debut studio album by the Luton-based crew Phi Life Cypher. Millennium Metaphors is a monster of an album at 80 minutes, but Life and Si-phillie keep things interesting with their insightful commentaries on social issues in the UK and their fluid and fast flows over consistently tight production.

Skitz - Countryman (2001)

Skitz gained recognition as a homegrown Hip Hop producer and DJ, fusing the rawness of UK emcees with solid production and distinctively Jamaican-influenced basslines. Countryman is a great album, with artists appearing on the album including Roots Manuva, Rodney P, Phi-Life Cypher, Taskforce, and Dynamite MC.

Braintax - Biro Funk (2001)

Biro Funk is the debut studio album by Braintax, released on his own Low Life Records label in 2001. The album features guest appearances from Mystro, Skinnyman, Task Force, and Jehst, and scratches performed by DJ Harry Love. Biro Funk is a great album filled with intelligent lyrics, varied subject matter, and passionate flows. Combined with the flawless beats on the album, the total package really is superb.

Techno Animal - The Brotherhood Of The Bomb (2001)

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Techno Animal’s The Brotherhood Of The Bomb is one of the landmark records of industrial/noise Hip Hop. Half instrumental, half with vocals from experimental Hip Hop acts like Dälek, Antipop Consortium, El-P, Vast Aire, Sonic Sum, and Rubber Room – The Brotherhood Of The Bomb truly is a classic of the subgenre. Fans of Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, El-P’s Fantastic Damage, and Dälek’s first three projects better not sleep on the breathtaking hellscapes that make up The Brotherhood Of The Bomb. 

Roots Manuva - Run Come Save Me (2001)

Roots Manuva’s second album Run Come Save Me is the defining work of his career (also thanks to the excellent companion remix album Dub Come Save Me). Due to its experimental nature, Run Come Save Me is less accessible than his debut album Brand New Second Hand (1999), but it’s the more popular album anyway.

Even more than on his debut, Roots Manuva’s Jamaican heritage is evident here – with strong Jamaican inflections in his flow and voice adding to the strength of the flawless mash-up of Hip Hop, dub, dancehall, trip-hop, garage, and electronic dance music vibes that characterize the innovating and daring Run Come Save Me. The first single “Witness”, “Bashment Boogie”, and “Join The Dots” (with Chali 2na from Jurassic 5) are standouts, but there are no weaknesses on Run Come Save Me. This is a timeless masterpiece, way ahead of its time.

Jehst - The Return Of The Drifter (2002)

Jehst is an emcee from Huddersfield, who was 23 years old at the time of the release of his debut album, The Return Of The Drifter – still his best album (even if most of his later albums are formidable as well). Jehst’s intricately-constructed rhyme schemes show off Hip Hop craftsmanship and raw talent, his narrative flair is second to none, his (mostly) self-produced boom-bap beats are meticulously crafted, and the album’s tracks are sequenced perfectly. The Return Of The Drifter is one of the best albums on this list – a timeless masterpiece, with classic songs such as “High Plains Anthem”, “1979”, “Staircase To Stage” and “People Under The Weather” on it.

Fleapit – Music From The Ditch (2002)

Fleapit’s Music From The Ditch is one of our favorite albums on this list. Fleapit’s styles are one-of-a-kind, and the bars on this album are hard-hitting and humorous at the same time. But it’s the instrumentals that elevate this album to the next level, the beats on the first track suck you in and all that follows will keep you captivated – the combination of the idiosyncratic flows and the unique soundscapes make for an album that is unlike any other on this list.

The Streets - Original Pirate Material (2002)

The Streets’ second installment sees Mike Skinner adopting song-writing techniques for country singers he’d studied during its making. And the product? A legendary rap opera of daily complications, tainted reflection, frenzied conjecture, and emotion masked through a narrative where it’s frequently difficult not to place yourself.

New Flesh – Understanding (2002)

Understanding is New Flesh’s second full-length, featuring an all-star cast of underground MCs, including Roots Manuva, Ty, Beans (Anti-Pop Consortium), and Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) backing up New Flesh producer Part 2 (aka Keith Hopewell) and lyricists Toastie Tailor and Juice Aleem. This is one of those rare albums that only gets better as time goes by, its strength is a paradoxical blend of mainstream accessibility and a futuristic experimental blend of styles such as drum N bass, dancehall, garage, soul, R&B, and straight-up Hip Hop. New Flesh’s Understanding is a timeless album.

Ty - Upwards (2003)

The late Ty was a Brixton-born artist of Nigerian descent, and Upwards is his second and best album. Infectious energy, a perfect blend of musical styles (while staying Hip Hop all the time), and mainstream appeal make for a timeless album that sounds as fresh today as it did on the day it was released two decades ago. Upwards is a classic.

Foreign Beggars - Asylum Speakers (2003)

Foreign Beggars is a London-based act that makes Hip Hop, grime, and dubstep. The band, formed in 2002, comprised emcees Orifice Vulgatron and the late Metropolis, as well as producer Dag Nabbit and DJ NoNames. Asylum Speakers is the first in an impressive run of albums, EPs, and mixtapes, and our favorite in their whole catalog. Awesome beats and strong lyrical content – Asylum Speakers still sounds as fresh today as it did when it came out in 2003.

Jehst - Falling Down (2003)

This sophomore album is another Jehst winner. Even if it misses the ‘spark’ that makes his debut The Return Of The Drifter a next-level album, Falling Down has everything we want in a Hip Hop album: top-tier lyricism and flawless 90s-centric beats. Like on The Return Of The Drifter, production is mainly done by Jehst himself, with Lewis Parker, LG, Apollo, and Cee Why all contributing some, most notably LG for “ESP”, the absolute standout track on the album – with other standouts including songs such as “Run Hard”, “China Shop Taurus”, “Falling Down”, Die When U Die”, and “Manimals”. Overall, Falling Down is another very good Jehst LP, undisputedly the top end of UK Hip Hop in the early 2000s.

Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner (2003)

With strong influences of typical British musical styles like garage, techno, and dancehall, Boy In Da Corner sounds absolutely different from the usual Hip Hop fare. It sounded way ahead of its time when it came out – still sounds ahead of its time today. This album was hugely influential too, it was essential in establishing the grime niche in (UK) Hip Hop.

Dizzee Rascal’s achievement is all the more impressive knowing he was not even 18 years old when he wrote most of this album. Boy In Da Corner is filled with sharp, sometimes witty, sometimes grim commentaries on modern life from the perspective of a troubled inner-city youth, delivered in Dizzee’s claustrophobic and disturbing style over stripped-down beats and bouncing baselines.

“Fix Up, Look Sharp” with its pounding drumbeat is the song that comes closest to the sounds ‘traditional’ Hip Hip and one of our favorite tracks on Boy In Da Corner. Other highlights include “I Luv U” (a breath-taking synopsis of teenage pregnancies), “Jezebel” (an anti-single motherhood tale), and “Brand New Day” – but the whole album is special.

Boy In Da Corner proves that creative audacity and raw authenticity can go a long way. Sonically and lyrically dense, dark and discomforting, this album will definitely not be for everyone, but those who are up for an incidental change of menu or those who are feeling musically adventurous could do worse than to dip into Dizzee Rascal’s East-London genre-bending take on Hip Hop.

Wiley - Treddin' On Thin Ice (2004)

Where Dizzee Rascal can be seen as the apprentice, Wiley is the master. A pioneer in the British underground music scene (coming up in the mid-90s), and widely considered a key figure in the creation of grime – and therefore often labeled the “Godfather of Grime”. Treddin’ On Thin Ice is his debut album and an essential release for the subgenre.

The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come For Free (2004)

A Grand Don’t Come For Free is the second studio album by rapper/producer Mike Skinner, under the music project name The Streets. It is a rap opera and concept album that follows the story of its protagonist’s relationship with a girl named Simone, alongside the mysterious loss of £1,000 from his home (the eponymous “grand”).

Like the first The Streets project (Original Pirate Material), this one is not for everybody. It’s unique and different from anything else in Hip Hop, but it’s so insightful, clever, and heartbreakingly human, it is hard not to love A Grand Don’t Come For Free. 

Rodney P - The Future (2004)

The Future is the long-awaited and sole solo studio album by Rodney P, the iconic London Posse’s frontman. Rodney P is a UK Hip Hop pioneer, and his solo debut was released at least 10 years too late, imagine the impact this album would have had had it been released in the early 90s. As it is, The Future is a fantastic album anyway – offering the same kind of slick reggae/hip-hop-fusion that Rodney P pioneered with London Posse. Fresh, fun, and sophisticated – The Future is a GREAT album.

Klashnekoff - The Sagas Of… (2004)

K-Lash is one of the most recognizable artists in the UK Hip Hop scene. His first album The Sagas Of is regarded as an iconic classic, hosting the infamous “Murda”. Other songs such as “All I Got’ and “Black Rose” established Klash as lyrically diverse, mixing emotional tracks with thoughtful reflections on issues such as urban struggles and socio-political commentary. 

Skinnyman - Council Estate Of Mind (2004)

Council Estate Of Mind is the first and only studio album by London rapper Skinnyman. While it set out to capture contemporary working-class Britain, the LP’s tracks are glued together by interludes sampled from Alan Clarke’s 1982 TV play Made in Britain. Skinnyman self-recorded the album, taking it to Low Life Records for a formal release. Label owner Joseph Christie, also known as Braintax, shut down the label a few years after the release of Council Estate Of Mind, allegedly without compensating Skinnyman with album royalties.

Council Estate Of Mind is produced by DJ Flip, DJ Noize, Baby J, Stoned Soldiers, and Adam M is heavily influenced by soul, jazz, and blues, going against the emerging grime trend in UK Hip Hop at the time. While the tasteful instrumentals are great throughout, it’s Skinnyman’s narratives that make Council Estate Of Mind a seminal album in UK Hip Hop history.

Dizzee Rascal – Showtime (2004)

Missing the wow factor of his revolutionary and hugely influential 2003 Boy In Da Corner debut, Showtime is a solid album in its own right. Building on Boy In Da Corner‘s sound with an added polish to make it a bit more accessible, Showtime is a must-listen for everybody who was touched by this young East-Londoner debut. For those who never listened to Dizzee Rascal before Showtime is not a bad entry point, be sure to go back to Boy In Da Corner too, though.

Genesis Elijah - Deh Pon Road (2005)

Genesis Elijah is a Brixton-born Watford-based rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer. Deh Pon Road is his debut album and our favorite project of his. Atmospheric boom-bap with hard-hitting lyrics – this album that is composed of songs recorded between 2001 and 2005 (with the older recordings being replaced with updated versions or new mixes) is a low-key UK Hip Hop classic.

Roots Manuva - Awfully Deep (2005)

Awfully Deep is Roots Manuva’s third LP, and while not as strong or impactful as Brand New Second Hand (1999) and Run Come Save Me (2001), it is better as it sometimes gets credit for. Awfully Deep is different from his first two albums, showcasing growth as a person and as an artist:  the lyrics are more introspective than before, and while production is less innovative as it was on his prior albums, the music is still recognizable Roots Manuva – his sound remains one of a kind.

Micall Parknsun - Working Class Dad (2005)

Working Class Dad is the debut LP from emcee/producer Micall Parknsun, easily his best record as a whole. Intelligent and relatable rhymes, and soulful boom-bap beats make for a dope project that is standing the test of time.

Kano - Home Sweet Home (2005)

Home Sweet Home signified a great debut from Kano. Hard to stick a genre label on  Home Sweet Home – it definitely has grime sensibilities, but it is more accessible than Dizzee Rascall and Wiley’s first albums. Kano admirably succeeded in morphing gutter sounds, experimental synths and blips, and more mainstream-friendly vibes into a totally enjoyable project that should appeal to most Hip Hop audiences.

“What you call it, garage? What you call it, grime? Call it what you wanna call it, I’m fine.”

Terra Firma – The Foundation (2006)

East London Hip Hop crew Terra Firma consisted of Klashnekoff, Skriblah, D.Ablo, Sparrow, Diamond Ruff, and Kyza (who left the group in late 2006). Their debut album The Foundation contains classic tracks such as “War”, “Git Down”,  “The Foundation”, “My Brothers Keeper”, “Heed The Warning”, “Mental Flight”, “Angels Beside Me”, and “New Era”.  The Foundation is awesome, an essential album with over an hour of tight beats, bars, and flows.

Task Force - Music From The Corner: Volume 4 (2006)

The grimy and atmospheric Music From The Corner: Volume 4 is the best installment in Task Force’s MFTC series – and they’re all strong enough. Task Force – led primarily by brothers Chester P and Farma G – debuted in 1999 with chilled-out boom-bap on the short but sweet New Mic Order, and then proceeded to release a great series of albums with Music From The Corner Volumes 1 through 5. All entries in the series could and maybe should have been included on this list – this exquisitely produced entry serves as a nod to Task Force’s whole catalog.

M.I.A. - Kala (2007)

Kala is M.I.A.’s second studio album, and while her debut album Arular (2005) was impressive enough, with Kala she steps her game up even further. Kala is less pop-friendly than its predecessor – it’s more abrasive, noisier, harder-hitting: politically charged catchy raps with a punk electronic finish.

“Paper Planes” is the obvious stand-out, but there’s plenty of other heat on Kala with tracks such as “BirdFlu”, “Boyz”, “Hussel”, “Mango Pickle Down River”, “20 Dollar”, “World Town,”, and “Come Around”. Kala incorporates prominent influences from South Asian music, featuring samples of Bollywood and Tamil cinema. Additionally, the album draws on various other musical styles, from electro-pop and funk carioca to noise and African folk – so many different musical influences all rolled in one album can be overwhelming at first, but after a couple of listens it all comes together beautifully.

Rhyme Asylum - State Of Lunacy (2008)

Rhyme Asylum was a London-based crew formed in 2002 by emcees Possessed, Psiklone, and Skirmish, with Leatherface and Plazma joining in 2004 and leaving after the group’s independently released debut album State Of Lunacy was released. Rhyme Asylum is known for its vivid imagery, complex wordplay, and intricate rhyme schemes – this bar fest is all about the art of lyricism. State Of Lunacy is the ultimate UK underground Hip Hop classic, an album that is surrounded by an air of obscurity that only helps cement its near-mythical status.

Orphans Of Cush - White Noize (2009)

Cyrus Malachi, M9, Masikah, and Kyza are Orphans Of Cush. White Noize is a deliciously dark and atmospheric boom-bap album, much in the vein of the music of Cyrus Malachi and M9’s solo works, and of their Triple Darkness crew albums. This is a great album and definitely worth a listen if you slept on it up to now.

Akala - DoubleThink (2010)

It’s hard to stick a genre label to rapper and activist Akala’s third album DoubleThink, but this alternative rock-rap hybrid has enough Hip Hop sensibilities to include it on this list. Musically DoubleThink bangs from start to finish, with strong lyrical content to go with the energetic instrumentals. Akala is not the best rapper or singer you’ve ever heard, but this album is not so much about how things are said, but more about WHAT is said. The title refers to doublethink, a plot element in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Akala noted this novel, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We as the stimulus for DoubleThink‘s dystopian qualities. Not for everybody, but those with a taste for thought-provoking content and adventurous musicality will no doubt enjoy this album. If you like DoubleThink, the follow-up The Thieves Banquet (2013) is worth checking out too.

Fliptrix - Theory Of Rhyme (2010)

High Focus Records head-honcho Fliptrix is one of the big names in UK Hip Hop. He is part of the fantastic The Four Owls and has a series of great solo albums on his name too. His sophomore album Theory Of Rhyme is a pivotal album in UK Hip Hop history, building on the sounds of his debut album Force Fed Imagery (2007) it is one of the albums that kicked off the wave of 90s-centric ‘real’ Hip Hop releases that made the UK underground such an exciting place in the past decade.

Contact Play - Champion Fraff (2010)

Contact Play is a supergroup consisting of Dirty Dike, Jam Baxter, Edward Scissortongue, Mr. Key, Ronnie Bosh & DJ Sammy B-Side. Champion Fraff is Contact Play’s first album, and it’s a low-key underground classic – highly acclaimed by those in the know, but sadly ignored by larger Hip Hop audiences. Champion Fraff is one of the best UK Hip Hop albums released in the early 2010s.

Rhyme Asylum - Solitary Confinement (2010)

Rhyme Asylum’s second and final album Solitary Confinement was released in April of 2010 featuring Crooked I, Ill Bill, and frequent collaborator Reain. A long album at 72 minutes, it is still underground to its core, but a bit more polished and mature than the group’s State Of Lunacy debut album. Rhyme Asylum’s unique selling point is still in full evidence – Solitary Confinement is a masterful display of lyricism, filled with dope wordplay and punchlines.

The Four Owls - Nature's Greatest Mystery (2011)

London-based quartet The Four Owls were at the forefront of a movement in London to bring back the dusty, sample-based 90s-centric Hip Hop. The Four Owls are  Verb T (“Bird T”), BVA (“Rusty-Take Off”), Fliptrix (“Big Owl”), and Leaf Dog (“Deformed Wing”), the sole producer of Nature’s Greatest Mystery. Leaf Dog’s work on the boards is reminiscent of DJ Premier’s, and all four emcees come with their own sound and rap styles, making for a great and varied boom-bap album with banger after banger on its tracklist. Four Owls classic “Life In The Balance” is the obvious eye-catching song on Nature’s Greatest Mystery, but the whole album is fire from start to finish – an impressive group debut.

Lowkey - Soundtrack To The Struggle (2011)

Soundtrack To The Struggle by London rapper Lowkey, the follow-up to his 2008 debut album Dear Listener. Soundtrack To The Struggle is a 95-minute behemoth and every second counts. This is one of the best albums to come out off Brittain ever, and it will forever be remembered as a great commentary of the time in which it was released, touching on subjects such as international politics, the neverending Palestine/Israel conflict, the war in Iraq, America’s eternally imperialist nature, societal unrest, poverty, feminism, racism, cultural bigotry, life in general, and much more. This is a cathartic and inspiring album straight from the HEART, and Lowkey’s sincerity really stands out. Brutally honest and thought-provoking, Soundtrack To The Struggle includes guest appearances from other outspoken rappers such as Immortal Technique, Mai Khalil, M1, Black the Ripper, Klashnekoff, and others to add even more weight to proceedings. Soundtrack To The Struggle is a masterpiece, an album to be treasured forever.

Cyrus Malachi - Ancient Future (2011)

Cyrus Malachi burst onto the Hip Hop scene as a member of the Triple Darkness crew with their 2008 debut album Anathema. Ancient Future is his solo debut and the best in a series of mostly excellent albums. Ancient Future‘s addictive throwback sound, crafted by UK production heavyweights such as Beat Butcha, Endemic, Jon Phonics, and Anatomy has Wu-Tang vibes, and Cyrus Malachi’s lyrics are deep and passionate. Well-placed guest spots from the likes of Ruste Juxx, Bronze Nazareth, The Wisemen, Killa Sha, Darkim Be Allah, Kyza, M9, and Iron Braydz help round out what is one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of the UK in the early 2010s.

Jehst - The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family (2011)

Jehst’s The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family dropped after a six-year hiatus, following the disappointing Nuke Proof Suit EP (2005). Thankfully, The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family – Jehst’s third LP – is somewhat of a return to the style of The Return Of The Drifter (2002), and Falling Down (2003), with production in a similar vein of these first two Jehst LPs. And even if the beats on this album are not quite as captivating as the ones on Falling Down and especially The Return Of The Drifter, they do the job. Lyrically Dragon is a good as any Jehst album, with clever wordplay, deft multi-syllabic rhyming, and strong content. “England” is the key track, and there are plenty more strong songs besides on The Dragon Of An Ordinary Family.

Edward Scissortongue - Better.Luck.Next.Life. (2012)

This Edward Scissortongue and Lamplighter collabo was a first snapshot of what these two could accomplish together. Better.Luck.Next.Life. is atmospheric, melancholic, and dark – not quite as impactful and unique as Tell Them It’s Winter (2016), but a superb album in its own right.

Melanin 9 - Magna Carta (2012)

Orphans Of Cush/Triple Darkness emcee Melanin 9’s Magna Carta offers close to an hour of top-tier 90s-centric Hip Hop. This is one of the best albums to come out of the UK in the 2010s, and there have been plenty of dope ones. Magna Carta is one of the most underrated albums on this list, better even than Triple Darkness colleague Cyrus Malachi’s excellent Ancient Future. Impassioned performances supported by all-around fantastic instrumentals – Magna Carta is a masterpiece.

Brothers Of The Stone - Brothers Of The Stone (2013)

Leaf Dog, BVA, and Illinformed are Brothers Of The Stone, and this is their eponymous collaborative debut album. Brothers Of The Stone’s mission statement is clear: they aim to reintroduce real Hip Hop to a scene so riddled with commercial dishwater radio rap that it has become hard to see the underground through the mainstream sludge. Brothers Of The Stone is a proclamation of real Hip Hop; just ask KRS-ONE, Vinnie Paz, Reef The Lost Cause, and High Focus chief Fliptrix – some of the emcees who contribute verses to the album. Brothers Of The Stone is dope as f.

The Mouse Outfit - Escape Music (2013)

The Mouse Outfit is a Hip Hop production team and live band from Manchester. Escape Music is a delicious piece of music, with terrific and jazzy beats and great lyricism and flows all around, with a great variation in styles from the emcees present.

Lewis Parker – The Puzzle: Episode Two: The Glass Ceiling (2013)

best hip hop 2013

Lewis Parker is a London-born veteran producer/emcee – a self-proclaimed Hip Hop craftsman, and ‘the deadliest man with an SP’. Those familiar with Lewis Parker’s work will know this to be true – all his music oozes pure dedication to traditional Hip Hop. He has a lot of dope projects on his name, this 30-track monster with nothing but expertly crafted boom-bap is one of his best.

M.I.A. - Matangi (2013)

This potent blend of Hip Hop and electro-pop from the incomparable M.I.A. is an album with mainstream sensibilities and underground vibes in equal measures. The musical weirdness of M.I.A. is in full force on Matangi, and it works beautifully. Hard beats and fearless lyrics – M.I.A. is in a class all by herself.  “Warriors”, “Come Walk With Me”, “Exodus”, “Bad Girls”, “Sexodus”, and the banging “Bring The Noize” – no shortage of fire tracks on Matangi. M.I.A.’s catalog is incredibly consistent, but along with Kala (2007), this is her absolute best project.

Jam Baxter - ...So We Ate Them Whole (2014)

…So We Ate Them Whole is Jam Baxter’s absolute best album as far as we are concerned. Dark, deep, semi-abstract lyrical content and perfectly crafted slightly experimental beats (done by Chemo) to go with them – this is an album you need to allow yourself to be immersed in, an album that gets better with every listen. That cover art is pretty awesome too.

Dirty Dike - Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight (2015)

Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight is Dirty Dike’s best solo LP. The album features guest appearances from Fliptrix, Jam Baxter, Chester P, Verb T, Remus, Ocean Wisdom, Lee Scott & Dabbla and production by Dirty Dike, Joe Corfield, Chairman Maf, Konchis, Klagen, Dr. Zygote, and Jazz T.

There is always something unique quality about Dirty Dike’s work, both on the boards and on the mic, and his idiosyncratic sound comes off beautifully on this album. Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight may take a few listens to be able to fully appreciate it, but it definitely is one of our favorite albums in what is one of the strongest years in UK Hip Hop history.

Triple Darkness - Darker Than Black (2015)

Lots of dope Hip Hop albums came out off the UK in 2015, Triple Darkness’ sophomore album Darker Than Black is one of the best of them. The group originally started out as a two-man crew called The Heresy, which consisted of Cyrus Malachi and Nasheron aka Crown Nectar, and with the addition of Melanin 9 (M9), the group became Triple Darkness to release their solid debut album Anathema.

For Darker Than Black the crew’s lineup changed once again, morphing in a 12-man supergroup consisting of core members Melanin 9 and Cyrus Malachi, now joined by Ray Vendetta, Tesla’s Ghost, Solar Black, Iron Braydz, Ringz Ov Saturn, Black Prophet, Crown Nectar, Neta Rootz, Blasphemy, and Bad Company. With production handled by Ringz Ov Saturn, 7th Dan, Bad Company, Tony Mahoney, and UK beat legend Evil Ed the whole LP combines dark, atmospheric beats with the varied vocals styles of the whole crew. The cover art and the album’s title adequately convey how Triple Darkness’ music sounds: this is hard-as-nails boom-bap of the highest order. At 90 minutes of playing time, this is an album with substance too – don’t sleep on this one if quality boom-bap is your thing.

Little Simz - A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015)

British rapper Little Simz’s official debut album A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons is a little rough around the edges production-wise, but full of potential and promise – Little Simz is one of the most exciting artists to come of the UK in the past decade. A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons is essential if only for the incredible “Dead Body”, the stand-out song here and one of Little Simz’s best. Awesome cover art too.

Mr Key & Greenwood Sharps - Yesterday's Futures (2015)

Mr Key & Greenwood Sharps’ debut album Yesterday’s Futures is not a typical-sounding Hip Hop album, but it’s a captivating one. The ambient production is experimental and abstract, very atmospheric too. The rhymes and flows are just as unconventional and add to the dream-like vibe of Yesterday’s Futures – a beautiful and poignant album from start to finish.

Roots Manuva - Bleeds (2015)

Bleeds signified an incredibly strong comeback for UK music icon Roots Manuva, his best work since Brand New Second Hand (1999) and Run Come Save Me (2001). The atmosphere on Bleeds is somber and dark, with hard-hitting beats and lyrics. The unique Roots Manuva sound is still in effect, it’s just more refined, more mature in its innovation this time around. Bleeds is a beautiful piece of music, our third favorite Roots Manuva album.

The Four Owls - Natural Order (2015)

Verb T, BVA, Leaf Dog, and High Focus head honcho Fliptrix amalgamate into the airborne steam-rollers known as The Four Owls. As if to exhibit the progress UK rap has painstakingly achieved, Leaf Dog polishes off instrumentals to balance firestorms of vicious wordplay and fine-tuned ruminations. The quartet seamlessly meshes together a cannon of styles aimed precisely at their now globally captivated audience.

Edward Scissortongue & Lamplighter - Tell Them It's Winter (2016)

Tell Them It’s Winter is one of the most idiosyncratic albums on this list. Edward Scissortongue and Lamplighter’s synergy is awesome – both the vocals and the instrumentals are intensely dark and moody, and the one wouldn’t have worked without the other. Emotive and disturbing, this album is not a casual or straightforward listen, but rather an immersive experience that needs total attention for optimal ‘enjoyment’ – an album to listen to with good headphones on, in the dark. Heavy stuff, but gorgeous music at the same time – truly a work of art.

Fliptrix - Patterns Of Escapism (2016)

Force Fed Imagery (2007), Theory Of Rhyme (2010), Third Eye Of The Storm (2012), Road To The Interdimensional Piff Highway (2012), Out Of The Box (2014), Polyhymnia (2014), Inexhale (2018), and Light Work (2020) are all excellent Fliptrix albums, and all of them deserve a mention on this list.

We went with Theory Of Rhyme and Patterns Of Escapism as actual entries to represent Fliptrix’s solo work here, Theory Of Rhyme because of its pivotal role in kicking off the ‘real’ Hip Hop renaissance in the UK underground, and the Illinformed-produced Patterns Of Escapism because it arguably is Fliptrix’s best-rounded album (taking away nothing from his other projects, mind you – they’re all dope as f).

Skepta - Konnichiwa (2016)

Crisp production, banging beats, nice flows, and some clever lines – Konnichiwa is Skepta’s magnum opus and a watermark moment in grime’s history.

Little Simz - Stillness In Wonderland (2016)

Stillness In Wonderland – her second full-length studio album – is not Little Simz’s best record, but it is an intriguing listen nonetheless. A variety of production styles make for an album that gets somewhat muddled at times, but when you allow the vibe and the concept of the album to catch you, this is a quality listen from front to back. Stand-out songs include “King Of Hearts”, “Poison Ivy”, “No More Wonderland”, “Our Conversations”, “Backseat”, and especially “Doorways + Trust Issues”.

Wiley - Godfather (2017)

Godfather is the eleventh studio album by grime pioneer Wiley. For us, this is Wiley’s best album. Filled with grime bangers, this album is the most significant in Wiley’s extensive catalog (along with his 2004 debut Treddin’ On Thin Ice, of course).

Lee Scott - Butter Fly (2017)

Butter Fly is butter smooth – Dirty Dikes’ jazzy beats are hypnotic and Lee Scott’s flows are laidback to the max. Stupid Poignant Sh!t (2013) and Tin Foil Fronts (2014) are excellent Lee Scott projects too (that could have made this list), but Butter Fly is our favorite of his – one of the best UK Hip Hop releases of 2017 as far as we are concerned.

Jehst - Billy Green Is Dead (2017)

Fifteen years after his classic debut The Return Of The Drifter, Huddersfield-native Jehst released Billy Green Is Dead, his fourth official LP. Billy Green Is Dead is completely different from but just about as good as The Return Of The Drifter is, which automatically makes Billy Green Is Dead one of the best albums on this list too.

Inspired by Gil Scott-Heron’s song of the same name, Billy Green Is Dead is a conceptual album that follows fictional everyman character Billy Green on his solitary journey through an uncaring, individualistic world. The dark instrumentals on this LP are fantastic and perfectly suited for Jehst’s powerful content. Because of the semi-abstract narratives and the airy, slightly experimental instrumentals, this album is way less accessible than The Return Of The Drifter is, but the investment of time and attention Billy Green Is Dead demands will pay off in spades. Jehst is one of the most underappreciated figures in UK Hip Hop, at least when it comes to mainstream recognition. Real heads will know what’s up though and recognize this is quality Hip Hop.

Loyle Carner - Yesterday’s Gone (2017)

Loyle Carner has the most exciting future of any UK rapper right now. He’s cracked the mainstream with poignant storytelling and being himself. Beyond the gloomier elements of his music, the guy radiates a smiling love for his art. Yesterday’s Gone is a reminder of the floral patterns worn by forgotten elders and the warmth of a home-cooked meal. Fluent, evocative jazzy beats tinker with the verbal parley taking place around them as Carner uproots all burrowed despair with soft, naturally harnessed intonations. He highlights the wholesome pleasures in the relationships many overlook, with traditional Hip Hop production that makes for a nostalgically bright debut.

Brothers Of The Stone - Return To Stoney Island (2018)

Return To Stoney Island is Brothers Of The Stone’s (Leaf Dog, BVA, and Illinformed) second collaborative full-length album, and it’s just as awesome as their group debut Brothers Of The Stone (2013) is. Straight beats and bars, no gimmicks, no R&B hooks, no bullsh* t skits – just pure unadulterated Hip Hop. Feature verses on the album by M.O.P., Inspectah Deck, Young Z, Rome Streetz, Smellington Piff, and Eric the Red, plus cuts by Jazz T, help round out what is an excellent presentation of 90s-centric boom-bap Hip Hop.

Dirty Dike - Acrylic Snail (2018)

Dirty Dike’s fifth album Acrylic Snail is just about as good as its predecessor Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight, which is our favorite Dirty Dike album. Featuring a roster of guests vocalists (Rag ’n’ Bone Man, Jam Baxter, Lee Scott, Dabbla, Leaf Dog, Eva Lazarus, J Man, Ronnie Bosh, Inja, Killa P, Foreign Beggars), and instrumentals from a team of producers (including Dirty Dike) himself, Acrylic Snail is one of the many many strong projects released on Fliptrix’s High Focus Records label.

Last Sons - Chekhov's Gun (2019)

This is a project for listeners with an acquired taste, Checkhov’s Gun will most likely not appeal to the casual Hip Hop listener. This is an all-around outstanding album nonetheless – one that demands complete attention but one that gets better with every new listen.

Nottingham, UK duo Furious P and Duke01 are Last Sons, for this project they got together with Uncommon Nasa, the veteran underground NYC rapper/producer. Uncommon Nasa’s distinctive production style is evident throughout the whole album, his industrial flavored beats and unconventional noise patterns coming off like a cross between work from the Bomb Squad and El-P in his early DefJux days. It all culminates in an intense listening experience, also because of the weighty lyrics by Duke01 and the prominently featured turntablism from DJ Furious P.

Dense, but never impenetrable – Chekhov’s Gun is a GREAT hybrid of UK and NYC underground Hip Hop. Check this album out if you are up for a dose of progressive production, intense lyricism, and excellent cuts and scratches – you will not be disappointed.

Onoe Caponoe - Surf Or Die (2019)

Onoe Caponoe’s best album? We say yes. Surf Or Die is more consistent than Voices From Planet Cattele (2015) and Spells From The Cyclops (2016), and easier to get into than Invisible War (2020) – Surf Or Die is abstract Hip Hop at its finest, experimental but accessible at the same time. At 78 minutes Surf Or Die is a LONG album, but it never overstays its welcome. Over the 20 tracks, Onoe Caponoe employs a bunch of different styles and vibes but somehow Surf Or Die is entirely consistent. If you’ve never listened to Onoe Caponoe before, Surf Or Die is the place to start.

Stormzy - Heavy Is The Head (2019)

More enjoyable overall than Stormzy’s debut Gang SignsHeavy Is the Head is a well-rounded mix of grime bangers and radio-friendly pop tracks. Stormzy can rap (and sing too), and the diverse musicality with elements of Hip Hop, R&B, dancehall, and trap surprisingly doesn’t hurt the album’s cohesiveness. Heavy Is The Head is pop-rap at its finest. Obviously, we prefer the more aggressive tracks over the pseudo-emotional slow burners, but overall this is a totally enjoyable album (except for the throwaway track “Own It”).

slowthai - Nothing Great About Britain (2019)

Nothing Great About Britain is a socio-politically charged and at times emotional snapshot of Britain in 2018/2019, capturing the mental state of a fractured nation from the perspective of an angry and embittered young adult. With this debut album slowthai established himself as an exciting new voice in UK Hip Hop – with a brash punk attitude but with plenty of charisma and charm as well. With the impactful Nothing Great About Britain slowthai stepped into the international spotlight.

Dave – PSYCHODRAMA (2019)

In 2019 Dave was a 20-year-old talent from London in the UK, and with PSYCHODRAMA he has dropped an incredible debut album. PSYCHODRAMA plays like a cathartic therapy session, with Dave exploring issues like family, relationships, identity, and life in general. The whole album is great, but be sure to check out “Lesley”, a gripping 11-minute tour-de-force that depicts an abusive relationship and its shattering fallout in harrowing detail.

This album is all about Dave’s personal insights – the intricate, autobiographical themes and subject matter make this an album to sit down and really listen to. Because of its raw emotional content PSYCHODRAMA is not an easy listen, but it doesn’t have to be – there’s more than enough fluff music out there, this is music with substance.

Little Simz - Grey Area (2019)

Grey Area is Little Simz’s third album – coming after the release of four mixtapes and five EPs, her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015), and her second studio album Stillness in Wonderland (2016). Grey Area was her best effort up to then, and a career-defining one. Nice and tight at ten tracks, Grey Area is utterly consistent and cohesive: all killer and no filler. Smooth, atmospheric production, poetically beautiful lyrics, and great flow and delivery: Little Simz is one the of big names in contemporary UK Hip Hop.

Datkid & Leaf Dog - Confessions Of A Crud Lord (2019)

Bristol emcee DatKid teamed up with underground heavyweight producer/emcee Leaf Dog to come correct with DatKid’s third full-length album and the duo’s first collaborative album, Confessions Of A Crud Lord. Confessions Of A Crud Lord is unflinching in its lyrical content – self-aggrandizing, misogynistic, violent – sometimes to the point of caricature. Even if the lyrics are sometimes cringe-worthy juvenile, DatKid can spit – verbal dexterity, confident flows, and dope wordplay from start to finish, even if the “I will say whatever I want and I don’t give a f***” attitude can get a bit tiring. Just don’t go in expecting substance and astute introspection like Little Simz and Dave brought to the table with their 2019 albums, and you’ll be in for a fine time – especially because Leaf Dog’s soundscapes are excellent: gritty boom-bap beat patterns all the way through. With features from American counterparts Roc Marci, Conway, and Westside Gunn this album is gutter to the max, but in a good way.

The Four Owls - Nocturnal Instinct (2020)

hip hop 2020

The Four Owls is a supergroup consisting of 4 of the UK’s finest Hip Hop artists, who can all boast strong solo careers: Fliptrix, Leaf Dog, BVA & Verb T. Nocturnal Instinct is not their first excellent album together (especially Natural Order (2015) is a must-listen), but this 2020 album may be their best yet. The smart thing they did is to recruit a couple of heavy hitters from the US to get that cross-the-Atlantic appeal – appearances by Kool G Rap, Roc Marciano, R.A. The Rugged Man, and Masta Killa help to give Nocturnal Instinct extra allure. Also, DJ Premier shows up, supplying his signature scratches for one of the stand-out tracks, “100%”. But there are no weak tracks here. Nocturnal Instinct consists of 14 songs, all strong, with no interludes or other useless filler. Nocturnal Instinct is a masterclass in pure Hip Hop.

Onoe Caponoe - Invisible War (2020)

the best hip hop albums of 2020

Onoe Caponoe, a respected veteran of London’s Hip Hop underground, has become one of the most progressive and exciting – as well as dividing – artists in the London music scene. On the heels of 2019’s career-defining Surf or Die, the UK rapper came through with another thoroughly interesting release.

His fourth full-length Invisible War is a wonderfully weird experience, an unsettling journey through Onoe Caponoe’s universe. The beautifully constructed dark instrumentation with menacing beats, shrieking synths, and spacey vibes complement the rhymes beautifully – there’s an unhinged quality to Onoe Caponoe’s lyrics and as well as to his delivery and quick-fire flows, reminiscent of Danny Brown at times.

Neither a straightforward nor an easy listen, Invisible War is a project to get immersed in – to be taken in as a book or movie. Don’t listen to snippets or a few songs randomly, but let it run from start to finish and pay attention too – you might just like the experience.

Lewis Parker - Frequency Of Perception (2021)

Best 25 Traditional Boom Bap Albums Of 2021

Frequency Of Perception is one of Lewis Parker’s best projects yet, a fully realized album with over an hour of excellent music – with beats AND rhymes from Lewis Parker himself (and with contributions from artists Eloh Kush, John Robinson, Planet Asia, Lil Dap, Eastkoast, Enny Integrity, Killa Sha, Zu, Ric Branson, and T.R.A.C.). Frequency Of Perception is a presentation of stylistic 90s-centric Hip Hop, with tasteful boom-bap beats and relatable rhymes. Musical and classy – Frequency Of Perception is grown-up Hip Hop of the highest order.

Dave - We're All Alone In This Together (2021)

We’re All Alone In This Together is British rapper Dave’s sophomore effort, the follow-up to the excellent PSYCHODRAMA (2019). Like he did on PSYCHODRAMA, on this new album Dave eloquently explores issues like relationships, identity, immigration, racial injustices, and life in general. The centerpiece on PSYCHODRAMA was “Lesley” (a gripping 11-minute tour-de-force that depicts an abusive relationship and its shattering fallout in harrowing detail), the stand-out on We’re All Alone In This Together is “Heart Attack” – another 10-minute masterpiece in which Dave gets raw and deep in a way few are able to.

“We’re All Alone”, “Both Sides Of A Smile” (with great guest vocals from James Blake), “Verdansk”, “Three Rivers”, “In The Fire”, and “Survivor’s Guilt” are other highlights – somber-sounding piano-laced songs that showcase Dave’s songwriting talent and his ability to deliver unsparing social commentary with vivid imagery. Even a couple of more radio-friendly Afrobeat cuts like “System”, “Lazarus”, and “Law Of Attraction” work in the context of the album – these tracks (and a couple of others more lighthearted ones) do not distract, but rather provide some necessary levity from the deeper tracks on an hour-long tracklist.

Following up on a debut as iconic as PSYCHODRAMA is hard to do, but with We’re All Alone In This Together Dave nailed it. Because Dave’s bars are kind of heavy on life in the UK (so they may go over the heads of some non-British listeners) it remains to be seen if Dave will earn much international recognition with this album. He deserves it though – where PSYCHODRAMA tentatively established his name outside of the UK, We’re All Alone In This Together is a confirmation that should further cement Dave as a bonafide generational talent.

Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021)

Little Simz: NPR Music Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

British-Nigerian emcee Little Simz had one of our favorite albums released in 2019 with the punchy GREY AREA – her third LP and international breakthrough project. Now she’s back with her fourth full-length studio album: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an astounding album, absolutely Little Simz’s magnum opus. It’s an album to listen to over and over again, an album that will easily survive today’s short hype circles, an album people will have on rotation for years and years to come. With a runtime of 65 minutes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is not a second too long – Little Simz effortlessly manages to captivate from start to finish with her superior flow and personable lyricism, dealing with topics such as race, womanhood, self-esteem, and family.

The album’s 19 tracks are sequenced perfectly – picking “Introvert” as the album opener was cleverly done, as it sets the whole thematic and philosophical scene of what Little Simz set out to do with this record. Production on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is virtually flawless – straddling numerous genres from hard-hitting Hip Hop to R&B-and neo-soul, to Afro-beat and even synth-funk, going from orchestral and bombastic to smooth and laid-back seamlessly. So many different influences crammed into one record resulting in an entirely cohesive package: this is an album unlike any other.

“Introvert”, “Woman”, “Little Q, Pt 2”, “Two Worlds Apart”, “Speed”, “Standing Ovation”, “I See You”, “Rollin Stone”, “Point and Kill”, “How Did You Get Here”, “Miss Understood”, and especially the symphonic “I Love You I Hate You” – nothing but stand-outs on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Even the interludes work and add value to the album, which is unusual.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert echoes Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998) in ambition, scope, musicality, and timelessness – there can be no higher praise. This is a phenomenal album, the kind of album you will want to replay the moment you finish it. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of the better Hip Hop albums released in the last five years, a future classic without a doubt.

HHGA's 10 Favorite UK Hip Hop Albums Of All Time (Not Ranked)

100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums

  • Hijack – Horns Of Jericho (1991)
  • Silver Bullet – Bring Down The Walls No Limit Squad Returns (1991)
  • Equilibrium – New Flesh For Old (1999)
  • Techno Animal – The Brotherhood Of The Bomb (2001)
  • Jehst – The Return Of The Drifter (2002)
  • Lowkey – Soundtrack To The Struggle (2011)
  • Melanin 9 – Magna Carta (2012)
  • Jam Baxter – …So We Ate Them Whole (2014)
  • Edward Scissortongue & Lamplighter – Tell Them It’s Winter (2016)
  • Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021)

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3 responses to “100 Essential UK Hip Hop Albums”

  1. Chris says:

    Gotta have more Kano albums on here Hoodies all summer and made in the manor are two essentials!

  2. Deez Steez says:

    19 Long Time by Blak Twang is my favorite UK rap album of all time, and one of my favorite rap albums, period.

  3. Simo says:

    Missing Chester P The Postapocalyptic Story Teller. Seriously dope album

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