After 50 years of Hip Hop (and about 40 years of albums) there are a lot of Hip Hop albums in the world. With the coming into existence and widespread use of the internet just before the turn of the millennium and the advance of music streaming in the past decade, more albums are coming out than before. Even the most devout Hip Hop heads and fanatical crate diggers will have missed some gems that dropped over the years. Casual Hip Hop fans will find a lot of albums on this list they’ve never listened to before, and even YOU may be in for a surprise or two. For this list, we’ve selected 100 forgotten or ignored Hip Hop albums that are worth your time, released between 1987 and 2022. Check it out, and let us know when you find some new favorites here.
Schoolly D - Saturday Night!: The Album (1987)
Credited by none other than original gangster Ice-T as “the forefather of gangsta rap,” Schoolly D is a Hip Hop pioneer also for having produced, released, and distributed his early recordings, such as the classic single “P.S.K. ‘What Does It Mean?'” (1985). The West Philadelphia native’s confrontational nature and willingness to shock – using terms and themes that became common in Hip Hop years after he made a name for himself – might be most frequently associated with his mid-’80s breakthrough, but he has cultivated a formidable discography crossing four decades, far beyond foundational LPs such as Schoolly-D (1985), Saturday Night! The Album (1987), and Smoke Some Kill (1988).
While his first album Schoolly-D may be better known (mainly because “P.S.K. ‘What Does It Mean?'” is on it), Saturday Night! The Album arguably is Schoolly D’s best work, no doubt one of the best albums to emerge from the Philadelphia Hip Hop scene in the mid-80s – with classic cuts on it such as “Saturday Night”, “Do It, Do It”, “We Get Ill”, “Parkside 5-2”, and “Dis Groove Is Bad” (one of the dopest instrumental Hip Hop tracks ever). Schoolly D’s self-produced beats are hard as f, and his lyrics and attitude match the vibe created by the musical backdrops. Schoolly D is not nearly mentioned often enough when the origins of Hip Hop are discussed, if you missed out on Schoolly D’s music somehow, now is the time to get up to speed.
Just-Ice - Kool & Deadly (1987)
`Sir Vicious’ Just-Ice’s Manronix-produced classic first album Back To The Old School was released in 1986 and quickly followed up by 1987’s Kool & Deadly: Justicizms. This album was produced by Boogie Down Productions’ KRS-One, who comes with sparse, straightforward beats – perfectly tailored for Just-Ice’s powerful baritone and his raw lyrics. The album opens with its best track: “Going Way Back“, an oral history of Hip Hop’s origins in the Bronx, followed by the beatbox-driven “The Original Gangster of Hip-Hop” (an explicit version of his first LP’s “Gangster of Hip-Hop”). The third song “Freedom Of Speech” is another one of the stand-out tracks, and the rest of the album is dope too. Just-Ice’s love for dancehall reggae is evident on several cuts, most notably on “Moshitup”, with one of the few KRS-One appearances on the album. Don’t let the aesthetically questionable cover art put you off – this is a great album.
The 7A3 - Coolin In Cali (1988)
DJ Muggs pre-Cypress Hill. Together with brothers Sean and Brett Bouldin, Muggs formed the 7A3. Their most notable effort was a contribution to the Colors Soundtrack (“Mad Mad World”) in 1988, but this album can more than hold it’s own. Although the 7A3 was marketed as an L.A. crew, all members hailed from New York City – and it shows. With production from Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O and the Bombsquad, this is not a typical West Coast album. It doesn’t matter though – with engaging production from DJ Muggs and entertaining rapping from the Bouldin brothers this simply is a well-rounded Hip Hop album with timeless tracks such as “Coolin’ In Cali”, “Drums Of Steel”, and “Hit Em Again” on it.
Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five - Piano (1989)
Bronx native Melvin Glover, better known as Melle Mel, was the face of one of the most influential Hip Hop groups of all time: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. Melle Mel served as the main rapper of The Furious Five and was an integral verse-writer and songwriter for the group. The group got together in 1978, when Mel was just 17 years old, and quickly debuted with 1979’s “Superrappin’”. The group would drop a slew of singles between 1980 and 1982 and would become the best-known group in Hip Hop of their era. Melle Mel was responsible for some of the first socially and politically charged lyrics in Hip Hop, and as such a hugely influential emcee, not to mention one of the best to ever do it.
Melle Mel’s 1989 album Piano was totally overlooked back in the day and is obscure and forgotten now, and that’s too bad. Admittedly, the production on this record is nothing special, but this album is all about Melle Mel’s unbeatable skill as an emcee, and of his Furious Five crew. Check out tracks like “Piano”, “Old School”, and especially “Free Style” and know why Melle Mel is one of the all-time greats.
Black Rock & Ron - Stop The World (1989)
Hailing from Hollis Queens (and well influenced by their neighbors Run-DMC), Lord Black, The Ruler Master Rock, and Ron Scratch released their first single “Hard Rap” on Next Plateau in 86 under the name the Vicious Four. Released during the emergence of the “New School” where samplers and drum machines such as the Lynn Drum and the SP-12 hit the market, producers and Hip Hop artists were better able to create a less expensive and more complex structure to tracks that wasn’t previously available without having connections or a backing band. The era of loop heavy samples and drum breaks were upon us. In 1987 Black, Rock & Ron hooked up with Jazzy Jay (Strong City) who produced their next single “That’s How I’m Livin” also on Next Plateau. At the request of LL Cool J they then went on to be managed by the one and only Russell Simmons’ Rush Town. Then getting signed to RCA Records Black, Rock and Ron put together the material for their debut album Stop The World.
Stop The World failed to gain much attention upon its release, and even now it’s hardly ever mentioned when 1980s classics are celebrated. A shame, because there’s plenty to enjoy here. With legendary engineers like the late Paul C. (Ultramagnetic MC s, Super Love Cee & Cassanova Rudd, Organized Konfusion), DJ Doc (Boogie Down Productions, Spyder D), and Skeff Anselm (A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian) at the boards they put out this underrated LP, a few 12 inch singles, and a couple videos. Stop The World really is a dope album (even if it sounds a little dated today) that should not be forgotten.
Awesome Dre - You Can't Hold Me Back (1989)
In the late 80s, Detroit rap pioneer Awesome Dre was among the first to stomp onto the national scene from the Midwest. With his mix of political and hardcore Hip Hop, he provided a unique perspective and voice during the height of Hip Hop’s golden era. A voice that would not shy away from controversy by asserting Detroit’s place in Hip Hop by challenging New York legends Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J.
Movement Ex – Movement Ex (1990)
The dynamic duo of DJ and MC was a firm staple of Hip Hop’s Golden Age. Eric B & Rakim. DJ Premier & Guru. Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Lord Mustafa & DJ King Born Allah… Who?! many of you might ask. Well, while the last pairing isn’t as well known or celebrated as the others mentioned, the LA duo’s one-and-only album is definitely worth checking out. Lord Mustafa’s rhymes are steeped in 5%er ideology, supreme mathematics, and three crucial pillars of Hip Hop: knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. The strong presence and immense talent of DJ King Born is possibly the album’s main draw. The DJ is the cornerstone of Hip Hop – and Movement Ex shows King Born some love by placing him right at the forefront alongside Mustafa. He totally kills it, ripping up every single track – and even has his own solo cut. Single-handedly showcasing the turntables as an instrument, King Born cuts, scratches, and transforms his way to one of the most spectacular DJ performances ever put on wax. To a degree, Movement Ex is what you’d get if you mixed Public Enemy, BDP, and Brand Nubian together with a dash of early Main Source. But make no mistake – their quietly militant, revolutionary-minded LP has a style and flavor all of its own. (PW)
Boo Yaa Tribe - New Funky Nation (1990)
Boo-Yaa Tribe came with that typical 90s West Coast flavor on their debut album New Funky Nation: very funky, yet hardcore at the same time. It blends Hip Hop, funk, and even some metal into a dope mix of musical styles – this is an album that definitely stood the test of time and it should be part of any music lover’s collection. Don’t Mess!
Godfather Don - Hazardous (1991)
Godfather Don is an emcee closely affiliated with Kool Keith and is probably best known for their collaboration under the The Cenobites group name. Godfather Don dropped some dope solo material in the 1990s as well. This debut album is an excellent example of boom-bap done right and shows the competence of Godfather Don both on the mic and especially on the production tip. Slept on, definitely worth checking out.
OG Style - I Know How To Play Em (1991)
One of the early Rap-A-Lot releases, which went strangely unnoticed at the time and is mostly forgotten now. Strange, because there is a lot to like here. A very consistent album with a funky sound, no weak songs, and a few stand-outs such as “Funky Payback”, “Catch Em Slippin’”, “Power”, and “Playing It Cool”.
Yall So Stupid – Van Full Of Pakistans (1992)
Before Outkast put the South firmly on the map, Atlanta-based rappers H2O, Unkle Buk, Sha Boogie, Logic, and producer Spearhead X represented A-Town as Yall So Stupid. Signed to Rowdy Records in 1992, they released the largely unnoticed Van Full Of Pakistans the following year – an LP full of boisterous adolescence and bugged-out raps. One notable appearance comes from DJ Majesty of labelmates Da King & I, who produces one of the album’s standout cuts, “Bootleg Beatdown.” But the lion’s share of production came from Spearhead X, whose boom-bap-centric beats presented a fresh alternative to the sound coming out of ATL. Even the skits here are entertaining enough not to disrupt the LP’s flow – a rarity for many Hip Hop albums. Ultimately, Yall So Stupid’s time on Rowdy was brief. Released from the label due to poor sales just months after the LP dropped, the group disbanded soon after; and H2O and Spearhead X formed part of Mass Influence later in the decade. You won’t find any vans or Pakistans whatsoever on Y’All So Stupid’s debut – but that doesn’t make this slept-on treasure any less worthy of being included here. (PW)
Hard Knocks - School Of Hard Knocks (1992)
School Of Hard Knocks is one of the most underappreciated albums released in the early 1990s. The album holds 12 tracks which are all good, full of street narratives and socially concious rhymes complemented by tight production – School Of Hard Knocks is an intense and powerful record, now available on streaming, so no reason to sleep on it anymore if you have never listened to it before.
Capital Tax – The Swoll Package (1993)
Oakland was a hotbed for Hip Hop talent in the ’90s, from Digital Underground, Hieroglyphics, and The Coup to legendary Oaktown veteran Too Short. Few, though, will have heard East Oakland crew Capital Tax. That’s not to say they didn’t leave their mark on the Bay Area Rap scene. Dropping The Swoll Package in 1993, Capital Tax came up with an album that didn’t typify the region’s sound – creating a style all of their own, unconstrained by their geographical boundaries. Producer DJ Smooth G’s intricately spliced jazz, funk, and soul samples, and gritty, bouncy boom-bap beats had a unique, bicoastal flavor. The album’s subject matter also helped set it apart from many other Bay Area releases. Rapper TMD (Total Mind Devastator) creatively tackles the topic of male impotence with “Mista Wonka.” And on “I Can’t Believe It,” he carefully illustrates how poverty and drug addiction can impact family life. TMD could also rip the mic – as demonstrated on “The Masha” and “Nottie Natural.” Sadly, The Swoll Package was met with minimal fanfare and largely slept on, getting lost in the shuffle amongst the landmark releases of 1993. (PW)
Mad Kap – Look Ma Duke, No Hands (1993)
Hip Hop and Jazz. The perfect marriage – particularly during the Golden Age, with artists incorporating jazz music into their sound by either sampling the genre’s greats and lesser-known performers or using live instrumentation. Occasionally, it was a bit of both. Enter LA’s Mad Kap, composed of MCs Coke and Motif and rapper-slash-trumpeter Dr Soose. Their debut LP Look Ma Duke, No Hands is a meticulously crafted recipe of lush, obscure jazz samples, upright bass, and boom-bap beats, with Dr Soose’s live trumpet licks and solos putting the icing on the cake. Sadly, this was Mad Kap’s only LP, but two of the group’s members didn’t disappear altogether. Coke reemerged as a member of the group Colored Section, who dropped the independently released Bomb MC in 1998. Dr Soose – still active in the music biz – has produced tracks for Freestyle Fellowship and Kendrick Lamar, among many others. The album’s title is doubtless a nod to just how effortless and sublime Look Ma Duke, No Hands sounds, and as one of the LP’s standout tracks declares: “The Proof Is In The Pudding.” So sit back, relax, put the needle on the record and let Mad Kap take you on a Hip Hop-Jazz journey like no other – with no hands! (PW)
Dred Scott - Breakin' Combs (1994)
Wrong year, wrong coast? If this outstanding album had dropped in NYC a few years earlier, it probably would have been bigger back then and universally recognized as a classic right now. As it is, Breakin’ Combs is an unjustly forgotten album. Entirely self-produced, Los Angeles-based artist Dred Scott comes with energetic flows and the horns and jazz instrumentation prominent in early 90s East Coast Hip Hop on this album, reminiscent of the sound of acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders Of The New School, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Why this album is so underappreciated is a mystery, it definitely deserves its props.
Hard 2 Obtain – Ism & Blues (1994)
When it comes to records by artists who released just one album in the ’90s, Ism & Blues by Long Island trio Hard 2 Obtain is definitely up there with the best of them. Following the moderate success of their breakout ’93 single “L.I. Groove,” DJ Six Seven and MCs Taste The Terror and DL dropped their first and final LP in 1994 to a somewhat muted reception. But – in a year littered with exceptional releases – this wasn’t just another average LP deserving to be left on the shelf gathering dust. What really makes this record shine is the beautiful production by The Stimulated Dummies (AKA SD50s), which gives the album a sonically rich, cohesive sound and vibe. Their fusion of jazzy loops and soulful samples layered over tight, swinging drum breaks interspersed with lush musical interludes is pure gold. Sure, Taste and DL won’t set the world alight or appear in any greatest rappers of all-time lists, but they come up with the goods. Taste flexes his storytelling skills on “Local Hero” and “Heels Without Souls,” plus his distinctive, gravelly vocals make him the standout rapper. Not only an album with a great name and eye-catching cover photo, Ism & Blues is also a true Golden Age sleeper with no gimmicks – a slept-on underground classic worthy of more props. (PW)
The B.U.M.S (Brothas Unda Madness) – Lyfe ‘N’ Time (1995)
Coming up in the rap game through their affiliation with Sway & King Tech of LA’s infamous Wake Up Show, Oakland rhymers D.Wyze and Evocalist released Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme in 1995 after appearing on ’94’s Streetfighter soundtrack. Long-time Wake Up Show DJ and Oaktown beatmaker Joe Quixx supplied the dope sounds for the vast majority of the LP. Though not as prolific as his West Coast peers, Quixx was one of the hottest producers out of Cali many heads had never heard of – and Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme is pure sonic perfection. His mid-tempo head-nodders flavored with exquisite jazz samples and luxurious basslines blend superbly with D.Wyze and Evocalist’s spirited, freestyle-flavored raps. The Brothas Unda Madness also had something to say on their debut. The aspirational title track is dedicated to the players, hustlers, and ghetto entrepreneurs and realizing your dreams while staying true to yourself. And the perfectly produced “Elevation (Free My Mind)” – their ode to music industry woes and shady A&Rs – is a reminder to everyone about Industry Rule #4080. Sorely overlooked and now long out of print, this lost Left Coast gem should be in every discerning Hip Hop head’s collection. (PW)
Ill Biskits – Chronicle of Two Losers: First Edition (1996)
Several albums from the Golden Age received little fanfare or promotion, often being given a limited release before suddenly getting pulled – leaving the record languishing on the shelf. The first and final LP by German-born, Virginia-based duo Ill Biskits sadly met this fate in 1996. Featuring beats by Mike Loe, Jesse West, and D.I.T.C. producer heavyweights Buckwild and Lord Finesse, Chronicle Of Two Losers has that traditional mid-’90s boom-bap sound: anthemic horns, prominent, crispy snare drums, and smoothed out, filtered basslines. Rappers Deeda and Kleph Dollaz (RIP) spit profoundly introspective, existential rhymes, seldom straying from the project’s core themes. Combined with the lack of guest vocalists, this can create a slight lack of variety. But the duo’s ability on the mic and the album’s superb production will tempt you away from reaching for the fast-forward button. This lost jewel in the crown of Hip Hop’s Golden Age remains in the annals of ’90s Rap history as a coveted holy grail that demands an official, remastered vinyl release. For the real heads and connoisseurs of that East Coast, D.I.T.C. flavored mid-’90s goodness – this one’s for you. (PW)
Mood - Doom (1997)
This crew from Cincinnati, Ohio dropped a (slept-on) masterpiece with Doom. The album features melodic boom-bap production from Hi-Tek and guest appearances by Talib Kweli and Wu-Tang-affiliated group Sunz of Man – 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 atmospheric beats – no weak spots on this hour-long album.
Styles of Beyond - 2000 Fold (1998)
This album from Los Angeles underground crew Styles Of Beyond is a forgotten gem. Originally released in 1998, it suffered from lack of promotion and several re-releases, which was cause for it never really got any spotlight. The album stands heads and shoulders above most other albums released in the late nineties, however. There’s great synergy between emcees Ryu and Tak, who sound like seasoned veterans (even though this is their debut), and the album contains nothing but excellent production, dope sampling, clever rhymes, and entertaining wordplay – this album is an underground classic.
All Natural - No Additives, No Preservatives (1998)
Chicago underground Hip Hop heavies All Natural dropped one of the most slept-on albums of 1998. If you for some reason missed out on this hidden treasure, you will not regret checking it out now – never too late to catch up!
Rubberoom - Architechnology (1999)
With their full-length debut Architechnology, this crew known as Rubberoom emerged from the depths of the Chicago Hip Hop underground. Progressive production unit The Opus (Isle Of weight, Fanum, and DJ Stizo, plus over a dozen of the Windy City’s most talented turntablists) crafted well over an hour of ominous soundscapes for emcee Lumba and Meta-Mo to spit their abrasive bars over – the intensity of the lyrics and music combined is insane. “Smoke”, “Lockjaw”, “The Shining”, “Bleach”, “Acid”, “Sector Rush (Re-Built)”, “Architechnology Nine”, “Trail Of The Vampire”, “Style Wars” – nothing but gothic bangers on Architechnology. This is one of the most slept on albums of the 1990s, even in the underground.
Da Grassroots – Passage Through Time (1999)
Highly respected and influential production team Da Grassroots were at the core of Canada’s burgeoning underground Hip Hop scene in the mid to late ‘90s – their beats were consistently dope and hugely sought-after. Toronto trio Mr Attic, Swiff, and Mr Murray singly and collectively helped set the city’s audio standard, becoming the go-to and in-demand production crew. Eventually releasing their much-anticipated producer album just before the turn of the century, Passage Through Time was an all-out production tour de force and well worth the wait. Featuring a who’s who of certified Toronto Rap legends including Saukrates, Choclair, Ghetto Concept, and Thrust alongside many of the city’s up-and-coming MCs, this was a celebration of Hip Hop from the T-Dot. An underground Canadian Rap classic but highly slept-on LP, Passage Through Time exhibited Da Grassroots’ accomplished skills on the boards and showcased the great wealth of Hip Hop talent north of the US border. (PW)
Deep Puddle Dynamics - The Taste of Rain...Why Kneel (1999)
The Taste of Rain… Why Kneel is the only studio album by Deep Puddle Dynamics, a collaboration between Sole, Doseone, Alias, and Atmosphere‘s Slug – this is one of the best albums released on Los Angeles-based avant-garde record label Anticon.
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. This is one of our favorite albums that emerged from the British Hip Hop scene around the turn of the millennium.
Masters Of Illusion - Masters Of Illusion (2000)
Kutmasta Kurt arguably is the only beatmaker that has ever fully understood Keith’s style and who was able to provide him with the most suitable framework for his lyrical expressions on multiple projects. Besides the more widely celebrated Sex Style and First Come First Served, Masters Of Illusion is their best collaboration.
On this album, Kool Keith is paired up with Bay Area rapper Motion Man. Both emcees spit great rhymes over Kutmasta Kurt’s stellar old-school-style production. As always Kurt provides banging boom-bap beats complemented with some real turntable work. Plenty of excellent cuts on this one, but you have to check out “The Bay-Bronx Bridge” – a perfect throwback old-school flavored Ultramagnetic track.
Antipop Consortium - Tragic Epilogue (2000)
Tragic Epilogue is one of those albums that went tragically unnoticed in an era where materialism and jigginess were the norms. Addressing exactly that kind of mainstream Hip Hop cliches, this album offers quality and originality – intelligent lyrics over innovative, boundary-pushing instrumentals. Maybe not for everybody due to the experimental nature of the musical backdrops and the off-kilter rhyme styles of the three emcees but this is an excellent album nonetheless – with plenty of highlights such as “Lift”, “Your World Is Flat”, “Heat Rays”, “What Am I?”, “Nude Paper”, “Laundry”, and “9.99”.
Foreign Legion - Kidnapper Van: Beats To Rock While Bike-Stealin' (2000)
Foreign Legion was founded in the late ’80s in San Jose, CA, by Prozack Turner and DJ Design. Years later, after meeting and collaborating with Marc Stretch, the duo became a trio, and Foreign Legion’s cynical, lyrical take on underground Hip Hop was born. “Full-Time B-Boy”, the group’s debut 12″ single, was released in 1999 and is one of the centerpieces of Foreign Legion’s shamefully slept-on debut album, Kidnapper Van: Beats to Rock While Bike-Stealin’. Dope beats and entertaining lyrics throughout – this is an hour of 100% pure uncut Hip Hop.
Ugly Duckling - Journey To Anywhere (2001)
Journey to Anywhere is the first full-length studio album by Long Beach, California trio Ugly Duckling, bringing a sound that was very atypical for West Coast Hip Hop at that time, or in fact ever. The group’s style is primarily a throwback to Golden Age Hip Hop, using a lot of drum breaks, loops, scratches, and sampling. Like fellow Californians Jurassic 5, Ugly Duckling is all about Hip Hop tradition and this excellent debut album is fresh, entertaining, and fun – a tribute to Hip Hop and its origins.
Musab - Respect The Life (2002)
Respect The Life is one of the most slept-on albums ever released on the Rhymesayers label. Rhymesayers co-founder Musab Saad is a dope emcee, and his lyrical content is intelligent and entertaining. Guests include Brother Ali and One Be Lo, and there’s production work from Ant, Jake One, and Brother Ali (among others). Respect The Life is funky and clever – a memorable album that deserves more attention than it got.
Danger Mouse & Jemini – Ghetto Pop Life (2003)
Ghetto Pop Life is a collaborative album by Danger Mouse & Jemini, with guest appearances from Tha Alkaholiks, J-Zone, Prince Po, and The Pharcyde. This is a superb album, mainly because of the atmospheric and layered soundscapes Danger Mouse provides. Jemini holds his own on the mic, but this is a producer’s album to its core. The album has a throwback vibe to it but has its feet planted firmly in the 2000s at the same time, so it should appeal to old and new heads alike. It’s hard to imagine anybody not liking Ghetto Pop Life.
The Last Emperor – Music, Magic, Myth (2003)
Philadelphia’s The Last Emperor should have had a much bigger career, he is one of the best all-around emcees out there. Music, Magic, Myth is an excellent album, but sadly almost nobody took notice back in 2003. Last Emperor takes it back to the essence and shows he is good at everything; from story-telling to bragging & boasting to being introspective to being philosophical. His lyrics are intelligent, his rhymes are tight, and his flow & delivery are top-notch. Look for this album if you slept on it, you will not be disappointed.
Cryptic One - The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory (2004)
Cryptic One is a slept-on artist. If you’re familiar with and appreciative of music from other Atom’s Family members (associated with the Cold Vein project from Cannibal Ox), you will love The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory. The dark and experimental production – mostly done by Cryptic One himself with some assistance from Jestoneart, Blockhead, and Blueprint – is dope as f, and Cryptic One’s abstract lyrics are clever and thought-provoking – unpacking them gives this album endless replay value. No weak tracks on this (70 minutes) long album, but the atmospheric “Apocolypse Zone” with Aesop Rock is a particular stand-out, as are songs like ”Unicycle (Water Cycle)”, “Tempt Fate”, “Intricate Schemes”, “Uncomfortable Silence”, and “Willow”. The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory, released on MF Grimm’s Day By Day Entertainment label, is a forgotten masterpiece – one of the most consistent 70-minute records you’ll ever hear.
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’s 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).
The U.N. – UN Or U Out (2004)
The U.N. was an underground Hip Hop crew from New York City, consisting of Laku, Dino Brave, Mike Raw, and Roc Marciano. The U.N. was Roc Marciano’s post-Flipmode Squad vehicle that would put him on the path of becoming the reinventor of mafioso rap in the 2010s, and one of the most influential artists in that particular subgenre.
UN Or U Out is more straightforward underground Hip Hop – an album that would have been considered a classic had it been released a decade earlier. Roc Marciano’s skills as a producer are on full display here (with a couple of tracks produced by Pete Rock and Large Professor), it’s the beats that elevate this project to a higher level. UN Or U Out is an album to remember.
Eyedea & Abilities – E&A (2004)
E&A is the second studio album by Eyedea & 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 (R.I.P.) & Abilities was a great MC/DJ tandem and E&A is their best and one the most under-appreciated albums of 2004.
Typical Cats – Civil Service (2004)
Typical Cats – emcees Qwel, Qwazaar, Denizen Kane, and DJ/producers Natural and Kid Knish – are one of the big acts on indie Chicago label Galapagos4. They debuted in 2001 with an excellent self-titled debut album, in 2004 they returned with this equally strong sophomore effort: Civil Service.
The 3 emcees all have an own, distinct style and DJ Natural’s well-crafted, groovy beats mixed with live instruments serve as the perfect backdrop for their entertaining lyrics. Highlights include “Style Wars Theory”, “Can’t Save”, “Easy Cause It Is” and “The Trouble”, but the album is smooth and fresh from start to finish. Civil Service is a great album and a nice counterweight to the non-creative, soulless music that dominated the mainstream in 2004.
Rob Sonic – Telicatessen (2004)
Rob Sonic is a former member of Sonic Sum (1998-2004, with Fred Ones, Eric M.O., and Preservation) and Hail Mary Mallon (2009-2018, with Aesop Rock and DJ Big Wiz). Telicatessen is Rob Sonic’s debut solo album. All production, lyrics, and vocals on the album were done by Rob Sonic himself, with the exception of the verses on “Sniper Picnic” by Creature, and Alaska and Windnbreeze from Def Jux labelmates Hangar 18. Scratches were done by Fred Ones from Sonic Sum, and by DJ Big Wiz. Telicatessen has the trademark Def Jux flavor with a quirky beat style, and Rob Sonic knocks it out of the park lyrically too – with an off-kilter style similar to his close collaborator Aesop Rock.
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 really well. Ipecac Neat is a hidden gem and an essential piece of the Doomtree legacy.
Blueprint - 1988 (2005)
Not counting his work as part of Soul Position this may be Columbus Ohio emcee/producer Blueprint’s best-known album. 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.
Jazz Addixx – Oxygen (2005)
Jazz Addixxx’s Oxygen is a top 10 album of 2005. Rhymes, beats, scratches – everything is on point here. The Jazz Addixx duo gives us a perfect blend of Jazz and Hip Hop with this smooth album – Oxygen feels like a trip back to Hip Hop’s Golden Age that will keep your head nodding with nostalgia. Smooth and thought-provoking lyrics by Jazz Addixx’s emcee M.U.D.D., stylish cuts by DJ Ragz, and dope jazzy musical backdrops – this album is pure gold. If you have never dug this deep and failed to peep this album you are in for a treat.
Busdriver – Fear Of A Black Tangent (2005)
Together with Temporary Forever (2002) and Perfect Hair (2014), Fear Of A Black Tangent is Busdriver’s best work. It’s a Busdriver album, so it’s experimental and DIFFERENT, and definitely not for everybody. To say Busdriver is unconventional is an understatement. Musically as well as lyrically Fear Of A Black Tangent is as quirky as is to be expected, but it’s arguably slightly more accessible than some of Busdriver’s other albums. Smart and hilarious rapid-fire flows over innovative production, and features by fellow Project Blowedians Abstract Rude, Rifleman Ellay Khule, Mikah 9, and 2mex, make for one of the most unique and original Hip Hop albums released in 2005.
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 superior musical backdrops – S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. = pure and uncut Hip Hop by a true emcee.
Cool Calm Pete – Lost (2005/2006)
Lost is Korea-born New Yorker Cool Calm Pete’s first (and only) studio album. Originally released in the United States via Embedded Records in 2005, it was re-released with additional bonus tracks in Europe via Definitive Jux in 2006. Lost arguably is the most underappreciated album released on the Def Jux label. Dope beats, mostly crafted by Cool Calm Pete himself (with additional productions from the likes of Ed Live, Doc Strange, DJ Pre, Snafu, RJD2, and Blockhead), and interesting wordplay make for an excellent, cool and calm, Hip Hop album.
MF Grimm – American Hunger (2006)
60 tracks? Really? This triple album, with 20 tracks and around 70 minutes of playing time for each of the three albums, by all rights should have been a bloated failure. Most double albums – let alone triple albums – have their share of fillers: something that even plagued some of the most popular albums in Hip Hop, like 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me and Biggie’s Life After Death. But somehow, MF Grimm makes it work on American Hunger.
MF Grimm has stated once that the album is not intended to be listened to in one sitting, rather it is intended to be taken in over the course of three separate listening sessions, reflecting the names of each disc: “Breakfast,” “Lunch” and “Dinner.” However you consume this insanely ambitious project, it will be hard to point out weak spots or skippable material. American Hunger is amazingly consistent and coherent. This project is phenomenally crafted, and it stays interesting and entertaining for the whole ride through.
The Boss Hog Barbarians - Every Hog Has Its Day (2006)
Every Hog Has Its Day is not an album for the easily offended or for those without a sense of humor, no doubt a problem for the book burners of the 2020s. Quite different from J-Zone and Celph Titled’s work outside this collaboration, Every Hog Has Its Day is kind of a concept album on which the duo explores… something (how to be as misogynistic as possible, maybe). The blurb on their Bandcamp page may tell you something about what they’re going for here:
If you feel froggish, then leap. But if you feel hoggish, then creep! It was inevitable. Say no more, the Hogs are here. As a group, J-Zone and Celph Titled (aka Kenny Hoggins and Wade Hoggs) are the Bo$$ Hog Barbarian$. The two multi-talented beatsmiths/rappers/entertainers/masters of all that is rude are in the house for a full-length ride. Enter Hog Heaven, where the order of the day is foul-mouthed trash talk, funkafied beats, and a sense of humor, to the 50th power. With nearly all production by J-Zone and Celph Titled, the lone outside beat comes from none other than the legendary Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz’, longtime Hog affiliates. On the rapping side? No guests!! Hogs don’t need em. Celph and Zone are the Jordan and Pippen of Hog Heaven, so no help is necessary. 100% pure unadulterated hoggin’. With the single, “$teady $mobbin’” b/w “Celph Destruction”, already makin noise, this album will Hog your arteries. You’ve been warned… they won’t stop hoggin’ nooooo!
Obviously intended as a comedic presentation, or maybe even as a parody of artists who do this kind of thing as if they mean it, Every Hog Has Its Day is nothing but harmless – if at times deeply offensive – fun, with funky beats and humorous punchlines. A hate-it or love-it kind of album probably, depending on the listener’s sense of humor and ability to not take things all too seriously.
Surreal & The Sound Providers – True Indeed (2006)
True Indeed is an excellent presentation of upbeat Hip Hop, by Florida-based rapper Surreal and production duo The Sound Providers (Soulo and J Skills). Jazzy instrumentals, scratched-in hooks, smooth flows, and positive vibes – True Indeed offers 90s-centric boom-bap at its finest, this is just good music all around.
Blue Sky Black Death & Hell Razah - Razah's Ladder (2007)
Wu-Tang affiliate Hell Razah has put together an extensive and pretty strong catalog over the years, this collaborative album with production duo Bue Sky Black Death is one of his best, arguably even his absolute best. The stellar production serves as the perfect backdrop for Hell Razah’s conscious lyrical imagery – Blue Sky Black Death and Hell Razah have great synergy. The Killah Priest-esque Razah’s Ladder is one of the finest underground Hip Hop albums released in 2007.
Super Chron Flight Brothers - Emergency Powers: The World Tour (2007)
Emergency Powers: The World Tour is billy woods and Priviledge’s first and best album. Emergency Powers is packed with intricate and intelligent rhymes about societal issues, nicely balanced with lots of weed raps and some straight-up braggadocio – this is a clever and witty piece of work that stays entertaining for its full 71-minute duration. The MF DOOM-Esque musical backdrops (DOOM actually produced one song) are dope as f too, rhymes and beats go together beautifully here. Emergency Powers is a striking debut, and one of the most slept-on albums of 2007.
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.
Polyrhythm Addicts – Break Glass (2007)
Polyrhythm Addicts is a four-man crew consisting of DJ Spinna, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, and new member Tiye Phoenix (who replaced Apani B Fly). Break Glass is structured and sequenced well, with a good mix of bangers and slower jams, and is filled with clever observations and conscious lyrics. Dope production from DJ Spinna, and great rhymes from Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, and Tiye Phoenix. Guest appearances made by Pharoahe Monch (“Reachin’”), Large Professor (“The Purist”), Planet Asia (“One Chance”), & Phonte (“It’s My Life”) help round out the album, keeping it varied and strong from start to finish.
Prolyphic & Reanimator – The Ugly Truth (2008)
Prolyphic & Reanimator’s The Ugly Truth is an excellent but sadly slept-on album. It was released on Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records, and features guest appearances from Sage Francis himself, along with regular collaborators Macromantics, B. Dolan, and Alias. Reanimator’s inventive instrumentals are a delight from start to finish – the dark and dirty boom-bap beats infused with live instrumentation serve as a perfect backdrop for Prolyphic’s clever bars.
NYOIL - Hood Treason (2008)
Staten Island, NY, native NYOIL came up in the late 1980s under the name Kool Kim, as one-half of the UMC’s with Haas G. Together they were responsible for the low-key classic Fruits Of Nature (1991), which contained the hit singles “Blue Cheese” and “One to Grow On”. After a disappointing second album, the duo split up, and Kool Kim reemerged as NYOIL.
As NYOIL he is best known for his raucous single and accompanying video for “Y’all Should Get Lynched“, which featured photos of “bullsh*t emcees and fake-*ss gangstas” Three 6 Mafia, Jim Jones, The Game, and 50 Cent juxtaposed with stark images of slavery and lynchings. The video generated an immediate firestorm of controversy and was banned from YouTube within its first 48 hours of upload. Both a divisive and unifying figure, NYOIL speaks unabashedly about the deplorable state of commercial Hip Hop music and culture on this debut album.
NYOIL has publicly stated that Babygrand Records stole his music and that he didn’t make any money off this album, indicative of the questionable way a lot of artists were treated whilst signed to Babygrande. Shady label politics and controversy notwithstanding, Hood Treason is an excellent project, and NYOIL deserves his props for it.
Johnson & Jonson - Johnson&Jonson (2008)
Johnson&Jonson is the collaborative debut studio album from Johnson & Jonson, better known as Blu and Mainframe. Following on Blu & Exile’s classic Below The Heavens (2007), this album went virtually unnoticed – unfortunately, because this project is dope as f too. Owing to Mainframe’s production Johnson & Jonson is totally different from the Exile-produced Below The Heavens in style, but not in quality. Blu is on fire with his wordplay here, and Mainframe beats are innovative and different.
Grip Grand – Brokelore (2008)
Six years after a distinctly mediocre debut, Bay Area producer/emcee Grip Grand returns with this truly excellent sophomore album. Brokelore is the most surprising album of 2008. Excellent rhyming – lyrics and flow – and smooth, infectious beats from beginning to end. The album has a couple of great, well-placed guest appearances too, especially NYC legends Percee P and A.G. steal the show with their features. This is a near-perfect album, expertly blending traditional West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop sounds and adding a unique contemporary vibe. The mark of a classic? Endless replay value and no skips – Brokelore is such an album.
Killah Priest – Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) (2009)
Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) is Killah Priest’s 8th solo album and the most underrated album in his vast discography. Killah Priest’s metaphysical deep and thought-provoking lyrics are not for everybody, but those who are in tune with Killah Priest’s particular style will love this album. With 23 songs on Elizabeth and at over 77 minutes of playing time, this is another LONG Killah Priest album but it holds hardly any filler material. There are no features and all production is handled by DJ Woool, which makes for a super consistent presentation that is able to keep attention despite its length. Elizabeth is a quality listen – an experience with a lot of replay value and deep lyricism that will have you coming back for more.
Diamond District – In The Ruff (2009)
Diamond District is the truth. In The Ruff is that perfect example of an album with a Golden Age sound but with one leg firmly in the present as well. Oddisee is a talented producer and emcee, and together with emcees X.O. and YU he delivers an excellent record, filled with hard AND smooth boom-bap beats and dope flows. A breath of fresh air in 2009; and an album that should have a place in any Hip Hop fan’s collection – easily one of the best Hip Hop albums released in that year.
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 off complex internal rhyme schemes and multi-syllabic rhyming combined with a distinctive flow 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.
Marco Polo & Torae – Double Barrel (2009)
Traditional, Golden Age flavored, East Coast boom-bap Hip Hop. With Marco Polo on the boards and dope emcee Torae on the mic, this is an album real heads will love. Double Barrel was preceded by Marco Polo’s critically well-received debut album Port Authority (2007), and Torae’s inaugural release Daily Conversation (2008) on which Polo has produced three tracks. Plenty of standouts on Double Barrel, most noteworthy the title track, “Lifetime” (with a great hook and DJ Revolution absolutely killing it on the turntables), and “Hold Up” which features legends Sean Price and Masta Ace.
Blacastan – Blac Sabbath (2010)
Blac Sabbath offers close to an hour of raw, underground Hip Hop by late Hartford, Connecticut emcee and Army Of The Pharaohs member Blacastan. Blacastan was a dope emcee with a strong voice, a dope cadence, storytelling abilities, and some great lyrics. Beatmaker ColomBeyond produced 12 of 18 of the songs on Blac Sabbath, and his work on the boards is great here. Blue Sky Black Death, Statik Selektah, Mr. Green, and DJ Doom take care of the rest of the production duties, and guest spots from the likes of Celph Titled, Esoteric, and Mark Fury help round out this dope project that is a must-listen for fans of that gritty East Coast boom-bap sound.
H.I.S.D. - The Weakend (2010)
H.I.S.D. is a four-man crew from Houston, comprised of Savvi, Equality, Scottie Spitten, and Lda Voice. The Weakend is one of the most slept-on albums of 2010 – the lyrics and wordplay are entertaining, and the beats are fantastic. H.I.S.D.’s sound is like an amalgamation of OutKast and CunninLynguists, with a touch of Dilla on the production side too. This is a great album.
Rashad & Confidence - The Element Of Surprise (2011)
Too quickly we label albums as ‘classic’ these days, but this album deserves it – everything about Rashad & Confidence’s The Element Of Surprise feels CLASSIC. The golden age-esque album cover, inspired by Lord Finesse’s debut album Funky Technician (1990), is a perfect primer for what you can expect. This album is boom-bap Hip Hop at its very best. In the era of ringtone bubblegum rap, Rashad & Confidence stayed true to Hip Hop’s roots and brought the heat. The Element Of Surprise is produced to perfection with that early 90’s feeling – echoing the best work of legends like DJ Premier and Pete Rock – and Rashad’s great rhyming skills and storytelling matches Confidence’s top-notch production.
We said The Element Of Surprise is a true classic and we will stick to that claim, even though there is one aspect that doesn’t fit classic status: recognition and commercial success. It’s a shame that a beautiful album like this has never reached a large audience. Wack albums released in the same year from Lil Wayne (Tha Carter IV) and Drake (Take Care) went multiplatinum, while The Element Of Surprise – superior in every aspect but sales – sold next to nothing. If you like albums like Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother from the early 1990s, you will also love The Element Of Surprise.
Rasheed Chappell – Future Before Nostalgia (2011)
Remember the days when Hip Hop artists actually had something to say, and when they were in the game not just for the sake of record sales or to promote some wannabe-gangsta image? Well, authentic Hip Hop artists have always been around – they just lost the spotlight, unfortunately. New York emcee Rasheed Chappell is one of those authentic Hip Hop artists – his long-awaited debut album, with beats crafted by veteran producer Kenny Dope, offers Hip Hop in its purest form. With the added touches of DJ Scratch and DJ Mell Starr, Rasheed Chappell, and Kenny Dope kept it real to the true essence of Hip Hop. Superb production and top-tier wordplay – in a year where Lil Wayne’s Carter IV and Drake’s Take Care were the biggest sellers, people slept on Rasheed Chappell & Kenny Dope’s way superior Future Before Nostalgia – and that’s a damn shame.
MarQ Spekt & Kno – MacheteVision (2011)
On the heels of CunninLynguists’ monumental Oneirology, Kno knocks another one out of the park – this time with this collaboration with Philadelphia emcee MarQ Spekt: MacheteVision. Production-wise this project is less subtle and less layered than most of Kno’s work as part of CunninLynguists, but it has the same bass-heavy instrumentals – the in-your-face boom-bap beats suit MarQ Spekt’s lyrics and lyrical style. Many people slept on this one, and they’re missing out. Gotta love that cover art too.
Thurz - L.A. Riot (2011)
Thurz’s L.A. Riot was massively slept on when it was released in 2011. L.A. Riot‘s central theme is the Los Angeles riots in 1992, sparked by general discontent and the dissatisfactory outcome of the trial of the four police officers responsible for the Rodney King beating (on March 3, 1991).
The album starts out strong with “Molotov Cocktail”, but it’s the second track that is the absolute highlight of the album: “Rodney King” is a 5-minute tour-de-force, re-enacting the assault from the point of view of Rodney King. The musical backdrop is incredibly impressive and the lyrics hit hard. One of the best Hip Hop songs of the 2010s, if not of the best Hip Hop songs ever. Yes, it’s that good. The next two tracks – “F*** The Police” and “Colors” are evident nods to the West Coast Hip Hop classics by N.W.A. and Ice-T, and Thurz doesn’t let up after that. A special mention goes out to another stand-out track, “Riot”, which has Black Thought as guest emcee. L.A. Riot is one of the best albums of 2011 and one that deserves far more shine than it got.
Akua Naru - The Journey Aflame (2011)
The Journey Aflame is the title of New Haven, CT native, Akua Naru’s debut album. One can describe the album’s musical spectrum covering a range from soul tradition-conscious rhymes to classic head-nod Hip Hop mixed with elements of Blues, Jazz, and West African sounds. With a collection of 14 diverse songs and 3 interludes, Naru’s first official release shows her true craft as a lyricist and self-described ‘Poet of Passion’. Those who slept on this gem should go and check it out now and come back here later to thank us for pointing you in the right direction
billy woods - History Will Absolve Me (2012)
History Will Absolve Me is billy woods’ 3rd full-length solo album, and his best. The cover of this album has a close-up picture of controversial former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe paired with one of Cuba’s Fidel Castro’s most infamous quotes – an album cover that clearly indicates this is not a bubblegum rap album. Musically this album could have been part of the Def Jux realm with its dusty and experimental-sounding musical backdrops. The beats set the perfect stage for woods’ staccato flow and thought-provoking lyrics; with his views on subjects such as politics, race, sex, and class. History Will Absolve Me is a challenging and intense listening experience, but ultimately an extremely rewarding one.
Yugen Blakrok – Return Of The Astro-Goth (2013)
Yugen Blakrok is an emcee from South Africa and her debut album Return Of The Astro-Goth is one of the best albums on this list. Hypnotic instrumentals and empowering content, complemented by Yugen Blakrok’s powerful voice and silk-smooth flow – Return Of The Astro-Goth is a totally immersive experience, an atmospheric masterpiece to get well and truly lost in.
Qwel & Maker - Beautiful Raw (2013)
Maybe you 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. 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.
Jam Baxter - ...So We Ate Them Whole (2014)
…So We Ate Them Whole is British emcee 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.
clipping. - CLPPNG (2014)
clipping is an experimental Hip Hop trio from Los Angeles, California, consisting of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. CLPPNG is clipping’s debut studio album, following their midcity mixtape of the year previous. Daveed Diggs lyrics are dense, disturbing, and captivating – he explores the feelings of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the gangbangers. The harsh and distorted production is as dense as the rhymes are – abrasive and atmospheric in equal measures. There’s not as much ‘noise’ on CLPPNG as on some of their other releases – arguably making this their most accessible project.
Dag Savage - E&J (2014)
Dag Savage is a duo consisting of famed Los Angeles producer Exile and San Diego emcee Johaz. E&J (“Exile & Johaz” you see) is their collaborative debut full-length which offers a potent dose of traditional-vibed Hip Hop but completely in touch with this day and age. Exile’s signature melodic loops and hard drums serve a complimentary backdrop for Johaz’s raw, deeply felt lyrics. Also, Dag Savage enlisted the help of a host of affiliate artists to cover some features on E&J – Blu drops a dope verse on “Don’t Stop” for instance – to add some variation to the album. All in all, this is a more than fine project, in line with more celebrated Exile collabos like Below The Heavens (2007, with Blu) and Boy Meets World (2009, with Fashawn).
Jazz Spastiks & Rebels To The Grain - Unkut Fresh (2015)
Jazz Spastiks is a crew of producers and DJs from the UK, for Unkut Fresh they teamed up with Los Angeles duo Rebels To The Grain (MP & Cheddy). It’s like Jazz Spastiks took what they learned from icons like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Showbiz, and Q-Tip, and threw their styles in the Jazz Spastiks cooking pot to come up with the instrumentals for this album. This is very much a producer’s album, but there’s solid enough lyricism from MP and Cheddy to go with the great Jazz Spastiks beats too – Unkut Fresh is a must for fans of 90s-centric jazzy boom-bap.
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.
Asphate - Closed Doors To An Open Mind (2015)
This is as underground as it gets, Closed Doors To An Open Mind is an album even the most serious heads slept on. Released on the unsung Galapagos4 label – home to dope acts like Qwel & Maker, Batsauce, Denizen Kane, Qwazaar (and others) – this Asphate album is 2015’s best-kept secret. Des Moines’ Asphate is a real emcee, who earned his chops coming up in 90s freestyle battle circuits. On Closed Doors To An Open Mind, he shows off his dope flow and delivery, his great wordplay ability, and that he has something to say. Closed Doors To An Open Mind features Qwel & Qwazaar of Typical Cats, Hellsent of Outerlimitz as well as DJ TouchNice of Maxilla Blue on several tracks, all tracks were produced by Maker. Smooth and hard-hitting at the same time – Closed Doors To An Open Mind is a well-rounded project that deserves more attention than it got.
Semi Hendrix - Breakfast At Banksy’s (2015)
Semi Hendrix is a collaboration between Grammy-winning producer Jack Splash and legendary lyricist Ras Kass – they joined forces to make Breakfast at Banksy’s. This album is excellent but totally overlooked by almost everybody, unfortunately. Jack Splash manages to come up with different sounds for every track, maintaining a high energy level from start to finish. The beats are exactly what Ras Kass needs to match his intensity. Ras Kass, as always, comes with clever, humorous, and hard-hitting lyrics, while Jack Splash manages to hold his own on the mic as well. This is one of 2015’s hidden treasures.
Ray West & Kool Keith - A Couple Of Slices (2015)
A Couple Of Slices is one of the many forgotten projects in Kool Keith’s vast catalog. A shame, in this case. A Couple Of Slices is a strong project, with excellent production from Ray West, and a Kool Keith who sounds like he’s having fun.
KA - Honor Killed The Samurai (2016)
A chilling barrage of aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes from KA – Hip Hop’s Shakespeare from Brownsville, NYC. Like its equally excellent predecessor The Nights Gambit (2013), the conceptual Honor Killed The Samurai is a beautiful project consisting of minimalistic, understated instrumentals that serve to give room to KA’s narrative and subtle wordplay.
Code Nine & Purpose - Below Sumerian Skies (2016)
Below Sumerian Skies is the debut solo album from Code Nine of Massachusetts super-crew Tragic Allies. Production is held down entirely by fellow Allies member, Purpose. The dusty soul-strewn beats make the perfect backdrop for Code Nine’s gritty wordplay, rife with historical figures and metaphors. Guest features on the release include Paranom, Estee Nack, Purpose, and M-Credible. Below Sumerian Skies is a mature and graphically verbose Hip Hop offering that any 90s Hip Hop purist needs in their library.
Wise Intelligent - Stevie Bonneville Wallace (2016)
Poor Righteous Teacher frontman Wise Intelligent’s deep rhymes and messages are uncompromising and unapologetic, and his delivery is as sharp as ever. Addressing topics like institutional racism, the state of Hip Hop, the state of society, the corporately directed dispersal of ignorant unintelligent content to the masses, and the brainwashing of the public through full media control – Stevie Bonneville Wallace is an intelligent album with substance (and not just because it runs for more than an hour).
Willie Green - Doc Savage (2016)
Doc Savage is an album from Brooklyn producer Willie Green, a hidden gem from the unsung BackWoodz Studioz label, best known for billy woods’ releases in the 2010s, and one of the current torchbearers for left-field Hip Hop. Doc Savage is a typical Backwoodz Studioz album – in style and quality.
“This album is the culmination of all my previous work, expanding on styles and production techniques I’ve explored before. It uses samples, live instruments, orchestration, and loops; sometimes all at the same time. I wanted to make this album because while I’ve always had a vague idea in my mind what all these different parts of my experience would sound like together, now I finally had the capability of putting it together”, is what Willie Green himself says about this project.
Doc Savage features some of independent Hip Hop’s most celebrated voices; Open Mike Eagle, billy woods, Denmark Vessey, Milo, Elucid, PremRock, Henry Canyons, Junclassic & Uncommon Nasa amongst them.
Ryu - Tanks For The Memories (2016)
Tanks For The Memories is the most slept-on album of 2016. You may know Ryu as one-quarter of Styles Of Beyond, a Los Angeles crew who dropped an underground classic in 1998 with their debut album 2000 Fold. Almost 20 years later Ryu surprises with Tanks For The Memories. With work on the boards from West Coast legend Divine Styler, Ryu dropped this gem of an album to little or no fanfare. That’s a shame because Tanks For Memories is awesome. Ryu brings the boom-bap back – the album is a near-perfect modern interpretation of 90s Hip Hop, using the beat structures of Hip Hop classics from Gangstarr and Big Daddy Kane on two of the stand-out tracks, sampling Public Enemy on another, and bringing back the Funky Drummer break too – especially people who know their classics will enjoy this album. Ryu is a great lyricist too, with dope flows and clever wordplay.
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 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 – Tell Them It’s Winter truly is a work of art.
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White - Hella Personal Film Festival (2016)
Hella Personal Film Festival is Open Mike Eagle’s most accessible album, thanks to the melodic production work of British producer Paul White (who was also largely responsible for the instrumentals on this Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition from this year). Even if Hella Personal Film Festival is a relatively easy listen, Open Mike Eagle’s music remains an acquired taste. His mix of a monotone spoken-word rapping style with a sing-songy flow, combined with his often abstract inner thoughts and ruminations will not appeal to everybody, but his clever wordplay and personal lyrics will resonate with listeners willing to put in the time and attention that his music demands. It’s never easy or straightforward, and it doesn’t have to be. Hella Personal Film Festival is almost as good as OME’s more celebrated Dark Comedy (2014) and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017), and one of Open Mike Eagle’s best albums.
Dope KNife - NineteenEightyFour (2017)
NineteenEightyFour is Savannah, Georgia emcee Dope KNife’s 4th full-length release, and his Strange Famous/
Hex One - Words Worth A Thousand Pictures (2017)
Hex One’s Words Worth A Thousand Pictures is one of the most slept-on Hip Hop albums of 2017. While the mainstream was dominated by mumblers and quasi-crooners, a skilled rapper like Hex One gets no shine, which is ridiculous if you think about it. Hex One is an emcee from Queens, NYC (with Columbian origins), half of the renowned underground rap duo Epidemic. Hex One is a true emcee, who possesses extreme technical prowess and lyrical dexterity. Words Worth A Thousand Pictures is a treasure for all those who love the sounds of the Golden Age Hip Hop of the 90s. Sick beats plus sick rhymes with razor-sharp wordplay – 100% pure uncut Hip Hop.
lojii & Swarvy - DUE RENT (2017)
Lojii is an artist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, DUE RENT is a collaboration with producer Swarvy, and stands as his debut full-length. A lo-fi masterpiece, this album has echoes of Madvillainy in its vibe – and like Madvillainy it is an acquired taste. Some may say DUE RENT is boring, while others will rave over its brilliance. The monetary desperation we’ve all felt at some point is the overarching message of this project, and the blend of Lojii’s low-key vocals with Swarvy’s dusty and soulful lo-fi beats offers a perfect meditative backdrop to let that theme resonate.
Anti-Lilly & Phoniks - It's Nice Outside (2017)
Smooth, jazzy boom-bap Hip Hop of the highest order from Houston emcee Anti-Lilly and Portland, Maine producer Phoniks. A typical top-quality record from the unsung Don’t Sleep Records label. The two other albums that make up the duo’s trilogy – Stories From The Brass Section (2014) and That’s The World (2019) – are just as good.
Hermit & The Recluse: Orpheus vs. The Sirens (2018)
Hermit & The Recluse is a collaboration between Brownville NYC’s niche-rapper Ka and producer Animoss. Not even Ka’s best work of the decade – those are The Knights Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) – but Orpheus vs. The Sirens is still better than most other Hip Hop releases in 2018. Orpheus vs. The Sirens follows deep Greek mythology over the course of ten tracks, each one named after chapters, characters, and teachings from ancient Greek myths. Top-notch production from Animoss and Ka’s typical immaculately crafted bars combine into a tight and cohesive listening experience.
Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club (2018)
Avantdale Bowling Club is a jazz-rap project headed by Auckland, New Zealand-based artist Tom Scott. This is one of those albums that seems to exist in a bubble, it’s highly acclaimed by people in the know but those people are far too few. Maybe this album was slept on by wider audiences because Avantdale Bowling Club is from New Zealand?
Anyway, Avantdale Bowling Club’s eponymous LP is audacious and boundary-pushing, an album that transcends the genre of Hip Hop – this is not ‘just’ jazz-rap, but more like jazz with rap. Build on live instrumentation from a full-on jazz modal band with saxes, flutes, trumpets, strings, upright bass, and drums, and with Scott’s killer lyrics, Avantdale Bowling Club is one of the most captivating albums released in 2018. The album is perfectly sequenced, opening with the impeccably structured “Years Gone By”, a seven-minute crescendo of jazz instrumentation over which Scott recalls his entire life year by year, to the instrumental closer “Tea Break” – every song is its own story, from a different side of Tom Scott’s life, with subject matter including damaged and lost relationships, mental health issues, substance abuse, poverty, and fatherhood – this album is personal and engrossing from start to finish.
Avantdale Bowling Club is an effortless fusion of neo-jazz and Hip Hop, a must-have for people with an appreciation for music from acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Guru, Freestyle Fellowship/Aceyalone, The Pharcyde, The Roots, and even Kendrick Lamar – there are a lot of TPAB ‘Kendrickisms’ here. Too many people slept on this album – if you are one of them it’s never too late to go check out Avantdale Bowling Club, you can come back here later to thank us for pointing you in the right direction.
The Diceman - The Power Of Now (2018)
The Power Of Now is one of 2018’s most slept-on albums. The Diceman is part of Bronx crew The Legion – a veteran emcee and a rapper’s rapper, who spits nothing but dope bars supported by flawless production from start to finish here. Unfortunately, Diceman flew so far under the radar with The Power Of Now that even most true heads missed out on it. It’s never too late to catch-up though – go on and check out one of 2018’s hidden treasures.
ANKHLEJOHN & Big Ghost Ltd - Van Ghost (2018)
Van Ghost is a true work of art. Every track on Van Ghost is named after a Van Gogh painting, ANKLEJOHN’s lyrics touch upon some aspect of each particular painting, and the cover art created by Big Ghost is done in the artistic style of the famous Dutch painter. Similar to looking at a fine painting, there’s a lot of to unpack listening to Van Ghost, and every single listener may take away something different from the experience. ‘Atmospheric’ and ‘haunting’ are overused adjectives in describing albums like this one, but in the case of Van Ghost, they are as apt as can be. Big Ghost’ cinematic instrumentals and ANKLEJOHN’s grimy lyrics gell into a truly intense listening experience.
Van Ghost is tight and focused: 12 tracks, no useless interludes or other fillers, and guest artists on just 2 of the 12 tracks – Hus Kingpin makes an appearance on “Almond Blossoms”, Fly Anakin, Eto, and Crimeapple on “At Eternity’s Gate”. All in all, Van Ghost is a unique and intriguing piece of work, the benchmark against which all other albums in this rap-noir niche should be measured.
Epic Beard Men - This Was Supposed to Be Fun (2019)
This Was Supposed To Be Fun, the debut LP from Epic Beard Men, is an indie-rap tour de force by two of the underground’s ﬁnest; Sage Francis and B. Dolan. Fun and clever lyrics and sonically knocking all the way through, This Was Supposed To Be Fun is a must-listen – one of the most entertaining Hip Hop albums released in 2019.
Last Sons - Chekhov's Gun (2019)
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.
Cambatta - LSD: Lunar Solar Duality (2020)
From the album’s Bandcamp blurb:
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), is a hallucinogenic chemical compound, first synthesized in 1938. Upon its introduction into popular culture in the 1960’s it quickly shifted not only the mind of the artist but also the person experiencing the art.
Hip Hop artist Cambatta is known for his thought-provoking and psychedelic-inspired rhyme techniques. His newest album entitled, “LSD”, is just as the title insinuates- mind-bending and consciousness-shifting. This album was created throughout four years of psychedelic usage and reality-based life-changing events. This process has made the album a duality of both real and surreal interpretations. The album’s title is also an acronym for “Lunar Solar Duality,” alluding to the album’s dichotomy of light and dark conceptualizations and countless other polarizing and multi-entendre-latent compositions. Whether you have ever experienced LSD or not, this album is sure to impact anyone receptive and perceptive enough to take a dose.
The album sure is a trip, a total mindf*ck. LSD offers well over an hour of dense lyricism, full of Cambata’s musings on subjects like life, history, science, religion, spirituality, mythology, existentialism, culture, and drug(ab)use. The beats on LSD are strong, and Cambatta’s voice and flow are a pleasure to listen to – but what makes this album something truly special are Cambatta’s deep lyrics. His varied lyrical approaches and themes are fascinating – this album can’t really be compared with anything you have heard before. In sound, style, and content Cambatta is like an amalgamation of Killah Priest, Kool Keith, Canibus, Cage, and Immortal Technique – making Lunar Solar Duality a truly unique experience, an album that invites multiple listenings to really try to appreciate what’s going on.
Third Root – Passion Of The Poets (2020)
Third Root is a trio that consists of Charles Peters (Easy Lee), Marco Cervantes (Mexican StepGrandfather), and DJ Chicken George (DJCG). Peters is an accomplished poet/author/MC & educator, Cervantes is a producer/MC/Ph.D. who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and DJCG is a world-renowned DJ, musicologist, designer, and Jazztronica! Peddler. Passion Of The Poets is their fourth full-length album. The album is produced by Grammy-winner Adrian Quesada, nu-cumbia legend El Dusty, and veteran beatsmith Illfudge, and has features from Black Pumas, Kam Franklin, Grupo Fantasma, Bavu Blakes, and Mad1ne.
Passion Of The Poets is a soundtrack to the time we live in now, with clever and thought-provoking lyrics from Easy Lee and MexStep. Both are educators and their backgrounds show in their lyrical content. Without becoming preachy anywhere, they succeed in being educational and entertaining at the same time, perfectly balancing sh*ttalking with insightful socio-political commentaries.
Musically, Passion Of The Poets offers a potent blend of 90s-centric boom-bap, Southern Hip Hop, and Latin sounds. The album’s 12 tracks are perfectly sequenced, and every song hits, no skips are necessary. Even the cover art is done exactly right. Passion Of The Poets will probably fly way below most people’s radars, but those who take note will discover one of 2020’s best projects.
Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill - Jorun PMC (2020)
There have been a lot of great albums released in the wave of Golden Age revivalist boom-bap we’ve been experiencing in the past decade, but NONE as good as Jorun PMC.
The whole album is packed with nods to classic songs and styles from acts like Run DMC, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, UTFO, LL Cool J, Roxanne Shante, Mantronix, Cold Crush Brothers, Melle Mel, and many more of the 1980s legends – from the title of the album to the cover art to the beats, to the samples, to the turntablism, to the lyrics – this project is the best kind of trip down memory lane any old-school Hip Hop fan could wish for. Jorun Bombay’s 80s-centric beats and scratches are crisp and fresh, and Phill Most Chill’s raps are dope as f. His flow, his delivery, his cadences, his lyrics – what he did here is simply brilliant.
This is not Phill Most Chill’s first excellent throwback project, but it is his very best to date. The self-proclaimed torchbearer of traditional Hip Hop really outdid himself on this one, and his match-up with Jorun Bombay proves to be golden – Jorun PMC is a Hip Hop traditionalist dream. It will most likely go way over the head of this generation’s trap-crowd, but those who grew up with 80s Hip Hop and younger Hip Hop listeners who know their classics will LOVE Jorun PMC.
Lewis Parker - Frequency Of Perception (2021)
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 Hip Hop. Frequency Of Perception is one of his 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, one of the finest albums released in 2021.
Jermiside & The Expert - The Overview Effect (2022)
“The Overview Effect by emcee-producer duo Jermiside & The Expert is a vast musical collage of psychedelic soundscapes merged with Hip Hop’s golden age. A socially conscious psychedelic Hip Hop album inspired by Marvin Gaye’s narrative on What’s Going On mixed with tripped-out beats reminiscent of Edan’s Beauty & The Beat (2005).
The production on The Overview Effect takes on late-60s psychedelic folk/rock, viewed through a 90s b-boy mentality of heavy drums and dope breaks. Built with a keen ear for detail, The Expert densely layered his productions with tons of samples, seamlessly weaved together. Swirling strings, sitars, Moogs and crunchy guitars are all present, accompanied by trippy sound effects.
The Overview Effect is an album that never overstays its welcome and demands repeated listening. The carefully crafted collage on the album cover reflects war, greed, injustice, racism, and social ecology. Jermiside’s vivid imagery paints his own picture of a broken world yet one where the power is still in our hands to change it, with stand-out tracks including “I Love You, Still?” which has Jermiside questioning his love for his home country, “Black Tears” that sees Jermiside and Stik Figa trade experiences about racial challenges and inequalities, while “Bullet shock” deals with police and the use of authority. The album then ends on a positive note with “A Little Love”, stating that love conquers all.”
The Overview Effect is a GREAT piece of music, don’t sleep on this one.
Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals - King Cobra (2022)
Experimental and political – Baltimore-based duo Brian Ennals and Infinity Knives’ King Cobra is a must-listen for anybody who appreciates forward-thinking and thought-provoking Hip Hop. Like fellow Baltimore experimentalist JPEGMAFIA, these two pull no punches. Brian Ennals has a straightforward old-school flow, his socio-political bars hit hard, and Infinity Knives’ unsettling soundscapes amplify his content – the production on King Cobra is genuinely great. On the album, their sound is described as ‘post-apocalyptic Run-DMC’, and that sounds about right: the instrumentals and flows on King Cobra are abrasive and innovative at times but rooted in traditional 80s Hip Hop at the same time (listen to “Premium Malt Freestyle” for instance – old heads will recognize the Schoolly D and Sir Mix-a-Lot inspiration there). King Cobra is a special album, unlike anything else released in 2022.