When a lot of people think of Los Angeles rap, they automatically think of gangsta rap. And don’t get us wrong, we got nothing but love for OGs like Ice-T, N.W.A., DJ Quik, Compton’s Most Wanted, and Snoop Dogg – but there’s so much more to Los Angeles Hip Hop than just them. See, LA Hip Hop is a melting pot of different cultures, experiences, and influences. We got artists from all over the city spitting real talk about the struggle, love, and everything in between. And the good part? They’re not all about that gangsta rap.
So, we’re gonna talk about 20 must-hear Hip Hop albums from Los Angeles that aren’t gangsta rap (although some sometimes get lumped into that category). We got artists from all walks of life, representing different styles and perspectives. From the socially conscious lyrics of Good Life alumni to the experimental sounds of Project Blowed affiliates to celebrated albums from high-profile artists and media darlings, these albums showcase the diversity and creativity that has made LA such a hotbed for Hip Hop over the years.
So if you’re a real Hip Hop head, or if you just appreciate good music, these 20 albums are a must-listen. They represent the heart and soul of LA Hip Hop, and they prove that there’s a whole lot more to Los Angeles Hip Hop than just gangsta rap. So sit back, relax, and get ready to discover some of the best Hip Hop albums to ever come out of LA. Note: there are artists on this list like The Pharcyde, People Under The Stairs, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, and Murs who could have easily had more than one album on a list like this, but we limited ourselves to one album per artist that will represent their whole catalog.
The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)
Now, when this album came out, gangsta rap was at its peak on the West Coast. But Bizarre Ride was something different, something refreshing. The album had a playful, light-hearted humor and a lush, jazzy production that made it stand out from the hardcore rap dominating the scene. It was like a breath of fresh air. Along with albums like To Whom It May Concern… by Freestyle Fellowship, and I Wish My Brother George Was Here by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Bizarre Ride helped create a new alternative scene on the West Coast. Other artists, like Souls of Mischief, Hieroglyphics, The Coup, and Jurassic 5, followed in their footsteps.
The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde was released during the height of West Coast gangsta rap in the early 90s. This period was characterized by aggressive lyrics and a focus on violence and crime. In contrast, Bizarre Ride was an album that celebrated the lighter side of life. Its playful humor and jazzy production stood out from the more hardcore rap of the time. The album introduced a refreshing and new style of Hip Hop that would influence future artists and define the alternative Hip Hop genre.
One of the album’s strengths was its ability to create a unique and humorous storytelling experience. The group’s four emcees, Fatlip, Imani, Bootie Brown, and Slimkid3 were known for their comical lyrics and witty wordplay. They created a surreal and vivid world with their lyrics that was both engaging and entertaining. Their lighthearted approach to Hip Hop was a breath of fresh air that provided an alternative to the often-serious rap of the time.
The album’s eccentricity and comedic content made it stand out from other releases of the era. The album’s opening track, “Oh S***,” sets the tone with its humorous anecdotes about drunken misadventures and sexual escapades. The song is a hilarious and relatable take on the embarrassing moments we’ve all(?) experienced. The group’s storytelling abilities are on full display in “On the DL,” where they share personal stories that they want to keep private. Topics include masturbation, murder, and other taboo subjects. “Ya Mama” is another standout track that features the four rappers trading comedic insults about each other’s mothers.
Despite the album’s emphasis on humor, it also touches on more serious topics, such as racism and unrequited love. The track “Officer” deals with the issue of racial profiling and its impact on the black community. The song’s poignant lyrics highlight the experiences of being racially profiled and unfairly targeted by law enforcement. “Otha Fish” is a reflection on the group’s past and their struggles with unrequited love. The song is a melancholic take on the difficulties of navigating love and relationships. The Pharcyde’s ability to combine humor and social commentary made Bizarre Ride a unique and influential album that stood the test of time.
Arguably the absolute standout on the album is “Passin’ Me By“, which features a memorable sample from Quincy Jones’ “Summer in the City”. The song tells a relatable story of unrequited love, with each member of the group sharing their own experiences of falling for someone who doesn’t feel the same way. The catchy chorus and smooth flow of the verses made the song an instant hit, and it remains one of the most beloved Hip Hop songs of the 90s.
Another notable aspect of the album is the group’s vocal interplay. Each member of The Pharcyde has a unique voice and flow, and they take turns trading verses and harmonizing on the choruses. This dynamic creates a sense of camaraderie and fun that permeates the entire album. It’s clear that the four emcees were having a blast recording this album, and their joy is infectious.
Bizarre Ride‘s production was just as important to the album’s success as the rappers’ skills. The album’s beats were provided by former group member J-Swift, who created a lush, jazzy soundscape that perfectly complemented the group’s unique style. Swift used live instrumentation and sampling to create a textured and layered sound that was both intricate and catchy. He used samples from a variety of artists, including James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, and Marvin Gaye, to create a sound that was both classic and modern. The album’s production was inventive and daring, and it helped to define the alternative Hip Hop sound that would become so popular in the years that followed.
Bizarre Ride was critically acclaimed upon its release, but it was a commercial disappointment. The album only reached No. 75 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and it failed to gain widespread attention outside of alternative Hip Hop circles. However, on the strength of “Passin’ Me By,” the album was eventually certified gold in sales on March 28, 1996. Despite the lack of commercial success, the album’s impact on the genre was undeniable. It helped to establish a new alternative scene on the West Coast that would influence future artists and inspire a new generation of rappers.
In conclusion: Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde is a must-listen for any fan of Hip Hop. It is a classic album that has stood the test of time and continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest Hip Hop albums ever made. The Pharcyde’s playful, lighthearted humor and J-Swift’s innovative production helped pave the way for a new wave of alternative Hip Hop on the West Coast, and its influence can still be heard in the music of today’s artists.
Also: Labcabincalifornia (1995)
Freestyle Fellowship – Innercity Griots (1993)
Freestyle Fellowship was a Hip Hop group that formed in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. The group was comprised of four MCs – Myka 9, Aceyalone, P.E.A.C.E., and Self Jupiter. The group was part of the Project Blowed collective, which was a group of underground rappers and producers who were all about pushing the boundaries of what Hip Hop could be. Project Blowed was based out of the Good Life Cafe, which was a venue in Los Angeles where MCs and producers would gather to showcase their skills and collaborate with each other.
Freestyle Fellowship quickly gained a reputation for its unique style, which was characterized by complex rhymes, intricate flows, and a jazzy, experimental sound. They released their debut album, To Whom It May Concern, in 1991, which was well-received in the underground Hip Hop scene. But it was their second album, Innercity Griots, that really put Freestyle Fellowship on the map. The album was released in 1993 and immediately made waves. It was praised for its innovative production, complex rhymes, and unique group dynamic.
From the intro and very first track, “Bullies of the Block“, you can tell that you’re in for something special. Production on this album is absolutely incredible – it’s jazzy, experimental, and full of unexpected twists and turns. And the MCs are on another level entirely. Myka 9, Aceyalone, P.E.A.C.E., and Self Jupiter are all incredible in their own right, but when they come together as Freestyle Fellowship, it’s something truly special. The rhymes on this album are complex, intricate, and full of wordplay. There are moments where it feels like the MCs are practically bouncing off of each other, finishing each other’s sentences, and playing off each other’s flows. It’s a testament to their chemistry as a group that they’re able to pull off such intricate rhymes without ever stepping on each other’s toes.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “Inner City Boundaries,” which features a jazzy beat and has the rappers (with an appearance of Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O) trade verses about life in the inner city and identity. The rhymes are powerful and thought-provoking, and the beat will have you nodding your head in no time. Another standout track is “Way Cool,” which has a funky, uptempo beat and features the MCs rapping about their individual styles and what makes them unique. It’s a celebration of individuality and creativity, and it’s an absolute blast to listen to – the rhymes on this track are absolutely insane. Each member of Freestyle Fellowship takes a turn on the mic, spitting intricate rhymes that weave in and out of each other in a dizzying display of skill and creativity.
Other highlights include the upbeat “Hot Potato,” which features a beat that samples “You and Love Are the Same” by The Grass Roots (1968), and “Park Bench People”, a slow, jazzy track that features Myka 9 rapping about the people he sees sitting on park benches in his neighborhood. It’s a poignant and heartfelt meditation on poverty, addiction, and the struggle to survive in a harsh world. And the production on this track is incredible – it’s full of lush, jazzy instrumentation and it perfectly complements Myka 9’s flow.
Overall, Innercity Griots is a phenomenal album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as classic Hip Hop albums like ATCQ’s The Low End Theory (1991), The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride (1992), and De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate (1993). Innercity Griots is a testament to the power of collaboration and experimentation, and it’s an album that continues to inspire and influence artists to this day.
Also: To Whom It May Concern… (1991)
Aceyalone - All Balls Don’t Bounce (1995)
Aceyalone’s All Balls Don’t Bounce is an excellent piece of music that stands the test of time as one of the finest early underground Hip Hop albums from Los Angeles. The album was originally released in 1995 on Capitol Records, and in 2004, it was re-released on Project Blowed and Decon as All Balls Don’t Bounce: Revisited with a bonus disc, offering a fresh perspective on the iconic album.
Before the release of All Balls Don’t Bounce, Aceyalone had already established himself as the lead emcee of the Freestyle Fellowship crew. Known for his poetic and intricate lyrics, Aceyalone’s solo debut is a showcase of his unique style and talent. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Aceyalone is not interested in gangster posturing or materialistic themes. Instead, he focuses on exploring different topics with a depth and complexity that is rare in mainstream rap. From social commentary to personal struggles, Aceyalone’s lyrics are thought-provoking and impactful.
All Balls Don’t Bounce opens with the title track, an upbeat and funky song that sets the tone for the album. The track features a catchy hook and Aceyalone’s signature flow, demonstrating his ability to ride the beat with ease. Another standout track is “Mic Check,” a dope song that showcases Aceyalone’s lyrical prowess.
Other notable tracks on All Balls Don’t Bounce include “Mr. Outsider,” which explores themes of identity and belonging, and “Arhythmaticulas,” a playful song that showcases Aceyalone’s ability to incorporate complex wordplay into his lyrics. The album also features guest appearances from other notable Project Blowed-affiliated underground rappers, including Abstract Rude and Mikah 9.
All Balls Don’t Bounce is an essential album for any Hip Hop connoisseur. Aceyalone’s talent as a lyricist and his ability to blend different styles and genres make this album a true gem. The re-release of the album in 2004 as All Balls Don’t Bounce: Revisited only solidifies its status as a low-key classic of the genre. If you are looking for intelligent and thought-provoking rap that breaks the mold, look no further than Aceyalone’s All Balls Don’t Bounce.
Also: A Book Of Human Language (1998), Accepted Eclectic (2001)
Ras Kass - Soul On Ice (1996)
Ras Kass, Born John Austin IV in Los Angeles, is a legendary rapper and lyricist known for his socially conscious and politically charged music. His debut album Soul on Ice is a classic. Released in 1996, it was a bold and ambitious project that explored a wide range of social and political issues, from race and identity to poverty and inequality. The album showcased Ras Kass’s lyrical prowess and his ability to weave intricate rhymes and metaphors into his verses, while also showcasing his talent for storytelling and social commentary – Soul on Ice is one of the most lyrically complex albums ever.
“Nature of the Threat” is the centerpiece of Soul on Ice, the most controversial track on the album, and also the most powerful. The seven and half minute opus is a history lesson in the form of a rap, tracing the evolution of human civilization from its origins in Africa to the present day. Ras Kass touches on a wide range of topics, from the role of religion in shaping society to the impact of slavery and colonialism on the African continent. The song is dense with historical references and cultural critiques, and Ras Kass’s rapid-fire delivery and complex rhymes make it a challenging but rewarding listen. Some of the more controversial elements of the song, such as its treatment of Jewish history and the use of homophobic language, have been criticized by some listeners, but the song remains a powerful and thought-provoking statement about the nature of human civilization.
The album closer “Ordo Ab Chao” is another standout track on the album, exploring the concept of order and chaos in society. Ras Kass raps about the ways in which power and authority are used to maintain social order and the ways in which that order can be disrupted and subverted by those who are oppressed. The song is filled with vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, the song is a potent critique of the status quo and a call to action for those who seek to challenge it.
“Anything Goes” is a critique of capitalism’s corrupting influence and the culture of criminality it encourages. The hook highlights the greed that drives illegal activity, while the verses caution against its potential consequences. Ras Kass advocates for self-preservation and pursuing wealth through nonviolent means. The outro alludes to systemic corruption in the legal system. The song is a call to action for social and economic justice.
Overall, Soul on Ice is a powerful and ambitious album that tackles a wide range of social and political issues. Ras Kass’s dense and complex lyrics require careful listening and attention to fully appreciate, but the effort is well worth it. The album is a testament to Ras Kass’s skill as a lyricist and his commitment to using his platform to speak truth to power. The themes and ideas that are explored in the album are just as relevant today as they were when it was released three decades ago, and the album remains a touchstone for socially conscious Hip Hop.
In addition to the themes mentioned above, Soul on Ice also touches on issues such as police brutality, capitalism, and the prison industrial complex. Ras Kass’s dense and complex rhymes require multiple listens to fully unpack, but they are a testament to his skill as a lyricist and his commitment to using his platform to raise awareness about important social and political issues.
Soul on Ice is a landmark album and a testament to the power of music to address social and political issues. Ras Kass’s intricate rhymes and powerful metaphors make the album a challenging but rewarding listen, and the album is a reminder that hip hop can be a powerful tool for social and political change and that artists have a responsibility to use their platform to speak truth to power.
Styles Of Beyond – 2000 Fold (1998)
Styles of Beyond is a group hailing from the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, comprised of MCs Ryan Patrick Maginn (known as Ryu) and Takbir Bashir (known as Tak), Colton Raisin Fisher (also called DJ Cheapshot), and producer Jason Rabinowitz (who went by Vin Skully). Their 2000 Fold is an underrated album, a departure from the typical west coast Hip Hop sound of the time, eschewing gangsta rap themes in favor of a more lyrical approach, backed by boom-bap instrumentals.
The album’s “Intro,” sets the tone for what’s to come with its boom-bap beat and crisp cuts & scratches. From there, the album takes the listener on a journey through a variety of sonic landscapes, from “Style Warz” which continues the boom-bap sound set in the intro, to the atmospheric “Spies Like Us” to the upbeat and funky “Easy Back it Up.”
Throughout the album, Ryu and Tak showcase their impressive lyrical skills, seamlessly weaving together intricate wordplay and storytelling. On tracks like “Winnetka Exit,” they delve into their personal struggles and the challenges of growing up in a rough neighborhood, while on other songs they take a more tongue-in-cheek or boastful approach, Their lyrical content delves beyond typical hardcore posturing, exploring a wide range of ideas with a tone that is neither lighthearted nor overly serious.
Meanwhile, Vin Skully and Cheapshot’s polished production – with additional work on the boards done by Divine Styler and Mike Shinoda – provides the perfect backdrop for the duo’s rhymes, incorporating a diverse range of sounds and influences, from rock and metal to electronic and jazz.
Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of 2000 Fold is the album’s cohesion and flow. Each track seamlessly transitions into the next, creating a sense of narrative and progression throughout. Despite its many strengths, 2000 Fold was largely overlooked upon its initial release. But looking back now, it’s clear that 2000 Fold is a true gem of a Hip Hop album. With its unique blend of diverse lyric content, diverse production, and cohesive flow, it’s a must-listen for any fans of underground Hip Hop.
People Under The Stairs – The Next Step (1998)
People Under the Stairs (PUTS) was a duo consisting of Thes One and the late Double K, both hailing from Los Angeles. The duo formed in 1997, and their debut album, The Next Step, was released the following year.
The Next Step is an underground Hip Hop classic. One of the album’s standout features is its production, which is entirely done by Thes One and Double K themselves. They skillfully sample a wide range of musical genres, including jazz, soul, and funk, to create a sound that is both innovative and familiar, with a sound that harkened back to the golden era of Hip Hop, with a heavy focus on jazzy, soulful boom-bap beats and clever, introspective lyrics.
One of the album’s most memorable tracks is “San Francisco Knights,” which features a smooth, jazzy beat, a catchy hook, and clever rhymes from Thes One and Double K. The track has become a fan favorite and remains one of the group’s most popular songs, along with “Los Angeles Daze”.
Despite never achieving mainstream success, PUTS maintained a devoted following throughout its career. Their love for Hip Hop, commitment to their craft, and dedication to creating innovative yet traditional-feeling Hip Hop shine through on The Next Step and throughout their entire discography.
Also: Question in the Form of an Answer (2000), O.S.T. (2002), ..Or Stay Tuned (2003), Stepfather (2006), Fun DMC (2008), Carried Away (2009), Highlighter (2011), 12-Step Program (2014), Sincerely, The P (2019)
Jurassic 5 – Quality Control (2000)
Jurassic 5 consists of four emcees, Chali 2na, Mark 7even, Zaakir, and Akil, while the beats and cuts are provided by DJ Nu-Mark and the legendary DJ CutChemist. Jurassic 5’s album Quality Control is a dope album that perfectly captures the throwback Hip Hop vibe many have come to know and love from the group. The Los Angeles crew’s focus on flawless emceeing and Cold Crush brothers-like harmonizing over dope instrumentals is what sets them apart from other groups in the genre.
Quality Control represented a refreshing departure from the materialism and violence that had dominated mainstream Hip Hop during its release in 2000. The album offers a much-needed upbeat and positive perspective on Hip Hop, which had become an exception at the time. Jurassic 5 takes listeners on a journey through their world of music, which is full of energy, creativity, and positivity.
The album opens with the “How We Get Along,” intro which features a catchy horn loop and a solid bassline, perfectly sequencing into “The Influence” which has the emcees trade bars effortlessly, showcasing their lyrical prowess and their ability to harmonize with each other. The track also features a hook that is sure to get stuck in your head.
Another standout track is one of Jurassic 5’s signature cuts “Quality Control,” which features an infectious beat that is both funky and smooth. The emcees’ flow on this track is impeccable, as they ride the beat effortlessly while delivering clever lyrics and slick harmonizing. The chorus is also memorable, another head-nodder that will stay with you.
“Lausd,” another highlight, critiques the superficiality and danger of Los Angeles. The group warns against being seduced by wealth and material possessions, urging listeners to focus on skills and creativity. The lyrics reflect on the difficulty of surviving in the city, touching on high crime rates and fake people in Hollywood. Despite the negativity, the song highlights the importance of staying true to oneself and values amidst the city’s materialism and scheming.
Other critical J5 cuts on the album are “Monkey Bars”, a lively track with references to the golden era of Hip Hop with lyrics celebrating the art of MC-ing and the importance of the DJ in setting the atmosphere, a celebration of Hip Hop culture and a testament to the group’s skill and influence; and our favorite “Improvise”, features each member taking turns rapping in throwback flows and adding to the melody, boasting about their abilities and clever wordplay, also paying homage to the origins of Hip Hop through references to the Wild Style ’75 documentary.
Throughout the album, Jurassic 5 shows off their lyrical dexterity and their ability to craft catchy hooks that stick in your head long after the song is over. The production is top-notch, with DJ Nu-Mark and DJ CutChemist providing beats and cuts that perfectly complement the emcees’ rhymes. Whether you’re a fan of classic Hip Hop or the new school, Quality Control is an album you need to hear.
Also: Jurassic 5 (1998), Power in Numbers (2002)
Dilated Peoples – The Platform (2000)
Dilated Peoples’ The Platform is a true classic in the underground Hip Hop scene. Released in 2000, the album features some of the finest emcees and producers in the game. Rakaa-Iriscience and Evidence, the two main emcees of the group, bring their A-game with their sharp lyrics and impeccable flows. They are joined by a host of guest emcees, including B-Real, Aceyalone, Defari, Planet Asia, and Everlast, who all add their own flavor to the album.
The production on The Platform is equally impressive, with DJ Babu, Alchemist, E-Swift, Joey Chavez, Ev, T-Ray, and Kutmasta Kurt all contributing beats that are hard-hitting and gritty. The result is an album that is real Hip Hop through and through, with each track showcasing the group’s raw talent and unapologetic attitude.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “Work The Angles”, which features a catchy hook and Rakaa and Evidence’s signature back-and-forth verses. The beat, produced by Kutmasta Kurt, is stripped-down and heavy, allowing the emcees’ rhymes to take center stage. The guest spots on the album are also noteworthy. B-Real of Cypress Hill brings his distinctive voice and flow to “No Retreat”, while Aceyalone of Freestyle Fellowship adds his unique style to “The Shape of Things to Come”.
Rakaa and Evidence complement each other perfectly, with Rakaa’s more aggressive style balancing out Evidence’s laid-back flow. They tackle a variety of subjects, from braggadocious raps to the struggle to make it in the music industry to social and political issues, always with a keen eye for detail and a commitment to their craft.
The group’s name, Dilated Peoples, is a nod to their desire to expand their minds and their art, and this ethos is reflected throughout the album. Tracks like “Triple Optics” and “The Shape of Things to Come” showcase their forward-thinking approach to Hip Hop, with intricate wordplay and clever metaphors that reward repeated listens.
The Platform is a must-listen for any fan of underground Hip Hop. It’s an album that has stood the test of time and still sounds fresh and relevant today. Rakaa-Iriscience and Evidence are masters of their craft, and the production is top-notch. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a casual Hip Hop listener, The Platform is an album that deserves a place in your collection.
Also: Expansion Team (2001), Directors of Photography (2014)
Busdriver – Temporary Forever (2002)
Busdriver, born Regan Farquhar, is a rapper and producer known for his avant-garde approach to Hip Hop. Born in Los Angeles in 1978, Busdriver first gained attention in the early 2000s with a string of underground releases that showcased his complex lyrics and experimental production. He is one of the most boundary-pushing artists in experimental Hip Hop, and his 2002 album Temporary Forever is a testament to his genre-defying approach to music.
At a time when mainstream Hip Hop and gangsta rap were dominating the airwaves, Busdriver’s Temporary Forever offered a breath of fresh air. The album featured abstract lyrics, complex rhyme schemes, and a production style that incorporated elements of jazz, funk, and electronic music. This made it stand out from the rest of the Hip Hop landscape and established Busdriver as an artist unafraid to push boundaries.
Temporary Forever is not only an innovative album, but it’s also a precursor to the sound that would later become popularized by other experimental Hip Hop artists. The track “Imaginary Places” is a standout on the album, featuring Busdriver’s signature rapid-fire delivery over samples of classical music by Bach and Paganini. The song is frenetic and full of energy, perfectly capturing the album’s overall vibe. Other highlights include “Along Came a Biter”, “Gun Control”, “Mindcrossings”, and “Unplanned Parenthood”. But really, there are no weak spots on this album.
Busdriver’s abstract wordplay and dense rhymes may be challenging to decipher at times, but they are undeniably impressive. His lyrics touch on a wide range of topics, from social commentary to personal introspection. The result is an album that rewards repeated listens and reveals new layers with each play.
Although it may not have gained the same level of mainstream recognition as some of his contemporaries, Temporary Forever has become a cult classic among fans of experimental Hip Hop. If you’re looking for something outside of the typical Hip Hop fare or a fan of innovative and boundary-pushing music, then Busdriver’s Temporary Forever is definitely worth a listen.
Also: Fear of a Black Tangent (2005), Perfect Hair (2014)
Living Legends - Creative Differences (2004)
Living Legends is a powerhouse Hip Hop collective that emerged from California’s Project Blowed scene in the late 1990s. Comprising nine emcees with an extended family of collaborators, the group has consistently pushed the boundaries of underground rap, experimenting with different sounds, themes, and styles. Their 2004 album, Creative Differences, is a testament to their collective strength and individual talents.
One of the standout features of Creative Differences is its innovative structure. Rather than conforming to the usual formula of featuring a few lead rappers and relegating the rest to backup roles, the album gives each member equal time to shine. This approach is a nod to the group’s name and their willingness to embrace the struggles of working with so many different personalities and perspectives. The result is a collection of tracks that showcase the band’s diversity and dynamism, with each member bringing their unique approach to the table.
Despite the abundance of talent on display, Creative Differences never feels disjointed or haphazard. The production is tight and cohesive, with a consistent West Coast sound that’s both classic and contemporary. In many ways, Creative Differences feels a throwback to the golden age of classic Hip Hop albums. Like early De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Living Legends aren’t afraid to incorporate pop-culture references and cross-cultural influences into their music. And like Public Enemy and the Wu-Tang Clan, they’re not afraid to tackle tough issues and challenge the status quo. But what sets Living Legends apart from their predecessors is their ability to maintain quality control even as their ranks expand. With members hailing from all over the world, the group could easily succumb to the pitfalls of excess and dilution. Yet they manage to stay true to their roots while evolving their sound and message.
Overall, Creative Differences is a masterful album that showcases the best of what Living Legends has to offer. From the individual skill of each rapper to the collective chemistry of the group, there’s something here for every fan of underground Hip Hop. While it may not have achieved the commercial success of some of its peers, it’s a testament to the group’s staying power and influence. If you’re looking for a Hip Hop album that’s both timeless and of its time, Creative Differences is a must-listen.
Also: Almost Famous (2001), Classic (2005)
Haiku D'Etat - Coup de Theatre (2004)
Haiku D’Etat’s Coup de Theatre is a hidden gem in the world of underground Hip Hop. The second studio album by the trio of Los Angeles underground legends, Haiku D’Etat, this LP is a testament to the group’s skills as lyricists and their ability to craft beats that complement their unique style.
Featuring Aceyalone and Myka 9 of Freestyle Fellowship, as well as Abstract Rude of Abstract Tribe Unique, Haiku D’Etat is a project that showcases the strengths of all three members. All of them are heavily affiliated with Project Blowed, with Aceyalone and Abstract Rude being co-founders. The name “Haiku D’Etat” is a clever portmanteau of haiku and coup d’état, suggesting a musical revolution or “poetic takeover,” as one of their songs puts it.
The LP’s beats are still jazzy with dope boom-bap deep cuts, providing the perfect backdrop for the trio’s cerebral and intricate rhymes. The production is sophisticated, with live instrumentation and expertly layered samples that lend the album a timeless feel.
Coup de Theatre is a more focused and cohesive album than its predecessor, Haiku D’Etat, which was a dope enough album in its own right, that also went largely unnoticed. The trio seems to have found their groove on this sophomore effort, and their chemistry is palpable throughout the record.
The group is heavily influenced by jazz, and this influence is apparent throughout the album. The trio is able to blend jazz and Hip Hop seamlessly, creating a unique sound that is at once old-school and modern. Their lyrics are dense and intricate, with multiple layers of meaning that reward careful listening. Coup de Theatre is a must-listen for fans of underground Hip Hop and anyone who appreciates sophisticated, cerebral music.
Blu & Exile – Below The Heavens (2007)
Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens was released in 2007 and was an instant underground hit and it remains a much-loved album to this day. The occasional duo consists of rapper Blu and producer Exile, both from Los Angeles. Before the release of Below The Heavens, Blu had only released a handful of mixtapes, while Exile had produced for a number of underground artists.
Record sales don’t always determine the quality of an album, and that’s certainly the case with Below The Heavens. It’s a timeless album that still sounds just as fresh today as it did back in 2007. From the opening track, “My World Is…”, Blu’s introspective lyrics and Exile’s soulful production draw you in and never let go. The album is consistent in its quality, with each track flowing seamlessly into the next.
The album’s themes of love, life, and spirituality are timeless and relatable. Blu’s lyrics are both introspective and intelligent, touching on subjects like growing up in poverty, relationships, and the struggle to find one’s place in the world. Exile’s production perfectly complements Blu’s lyrics, with soulful samples and jazzy instrumentation.
Below The Heavens represented a newer era of West Coast rap where everyday life and soulful production meet. The album has a laid-back vibe, with tracks like “No Greater Love” and “Dancing In The Rain” providing the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer day.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “The World Is (Below The Heavens)”. It features a sample from “I’m So Proud” (1964) from The Impressions and interpolates Nas’ “The World is Yours” (1994), and has Blu contemplating the idea of heaven. Another highlight is “First Things First”, which features a warm and loving instrumental and Blu’s clever wordplay about the amorous approach of a girl he would like to get with.
Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens may not have received the sales or mainstream attention it deserved, but it has rightfully earned its place as a classic album in the underground Hip Hop scene. Fast forward to 2020, when the duo returned with the excellent Miles, and Below The Heavens remains a reference and a landmark for the duo. From its seamless production to Blu’s honest and introspective lyrics, Below The Heavens is a true Hip Hop gem of the 2000s.
Also: Miles: From an Interlude Called Life (2020)
Evidence – The Weatherman LP (2007)
The Weatherman LP is a masterful debut solo album by Evidence, one-third of the legendary group Dilated Peoples. With his trademark slow flow and introspective lyrics, Evidence paints a vivid picture of his life experiences and the world around him. This album, released in 2007, features collaborations with a number of talented emcees, including Phonte, Planet Asia, Rapper Big Pooh, and Slug, as well as scratches by DJ Revolution and Evidence’s bandmate DJ Babu.
The album kicks off with “I Know”, produced by Evidence himself, which sets the tone for what’s to come. The beat is smooth and soulful, with Evidence spitting about his life struggles and the importance of perseverance. “Mr. Slow Flow”, produced by Sid Roams, is a standout track, with Evidence’s laid-back flow perfectly complementing the slow boom-bap beat. Throughout the album, Evidence delivers intricate rhymes and thoughtful lyrics. On “Chase the Clouds Away”, produced by The Alchemist, Evidence reflects on the ups and downs of his life, celebrating a particularly good day, rapping “I must be happy today / I must have chased the dark clouds away”.
The Weatherman LP is not just a collection of great rhymes and beats, it’s a deeply personal album that showcases Evidence’s growth as an artist. Clocking in at 70 minutes, The Weatherman LP is a long album, but there’s no filler here. Every track is a banger, with Evidence and his collaborators delivering pure Hip Hop from start to finish. While Evidence’s “slow-flow” style of rapping may not be for everyone, it’s a perfect fit for the soulful boom-bap production on this album.
The Weatherman LP is an underappreciated West Coast Hip Hop album that deserves more recognition than it has received. While it may not have had the commercial success of some of Dilated Peoples’ group albums, it’s a gem that true Hip Hop heads should not overlook.
Also: Cats & Dogs (2011), Lord Steppington (with The Alchemist) (2014), Weather or Not (2018), Unlearning, Vol. 1 (2021)
Thirsty Fish – Testing The Waters (2007)
Thirsty Fish’s Testing The Waters is a concept album that revolves around fish and water themes. Thirsty Fish is an alternative Hip Hop trio, which consists of Dumbfoundead, Open Mike Eagle, and Psychosiz, and is an offshoot from the Project Blowed movement. Testing The Waters certainly showcases their unique style.
While it’s questionable if the concept of a fish-themed album really comes off, Thirsty Fish makes the best of it. The album is packed to the gills with references to water and fish, and the trio has managed to create a cohesive sound that ties everything together. The quirky beats and abstract lyrics on this album will especially resonate with fans of the typical Project Blowed West Coast underground Hip Hop vibe.
The beats on Testing The Waters are intricate and layered, providing a backdrop for the trio’s creative and offbeat flows and lyrics (Kenny Segal produces one of the album’s highlights “Fall Apart”). The album’s sound is unique, with elements of jazz and funk mixed in with classic Hip Hop vibes. The production is experimental and accessible at the same time, making it a perfect fit for the alternative Hip Hop scene.
Lyrically, Testing The Waters is a showcase of the trio’s creativity and wordplay. Dumbfoundead, Open Mike Eagle, and Psychosiz are all talented lyricists, and their styles complement each other perfectly. The verses are clever and fun, and the trio’s chemistry is evident throughout the album. Project Blowed affiliates Aceyalone and Abstract Rude show up for a guest appearance. Overall, Testing The Waters is an excellent part of the Los Angeles alternative Hip Hop scene and is definitely worth a listen.
Murs – Love & Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation (2011)
Murs, real name Nick Carter, is a rapper from Los Angeles, who started his music career as a member of the Hip Hop group 3 Melancholy Gypsies and later joined the collective Living Legends. In 1997, Murs released his first solo album, the obscure F’Real. In 2004, he gained critical acclaim with his breakthrough album Murs 3:16- The 9th Edition, released on El-P’s Definite Jux label and produced solely by Little Brother’s 9th Wonder.
In 2011, Murs released Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation, produced by Ski Beatz. The album is a smooth and solid playthrough from start to finish, showcasing Murs’ trademark clever lyrics and Ski Beatz’s dope beats. The album features collaborations with Tabi Bonney, Ab-Soul, and D.I.T.C. rapper O.C.
“Remember 2 Forget” is the first single off the album and a great example of Murs’ ability to let emotion show. The song is about an ex-girlfriend and the difficulties of letting go of a relationship. One of the other highlights of the album is “67 Cutlass,” a tragic-comic story of a road trip gone wrong in Tuscon, Arizona. The song is a great example of Murs’ storytelling abilities and his ability to make you feel like you’re right there with him on the journey.
Murs pays tribute to the legacy of West Coast Hip Hop on “Eazy E” and collaborates with Tabi Bonney on “Hip Hop & Love,” a dedication to women who share their same musical interests. “Life & Time” features Ab-Soul and D.I.T.C. rapper O.C. and discusses the ups and downs of their lives and careers. Murs openly criticizes the music industry in “316 Ways,” discussing the struggles of being an independent artist and the challenges of navigating the industry. The album ends with “Animal Style,” a poignant tale of a closeted high school homosexual that ends tragically. The song is a powerful message about acceptance and the consequences of hate and ignorance.
Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation is another great album in Murs’ extensive body of work. The album is a must-listen for fans of West Coast Hip Hop and anyone who appreciates great storytelling in music.
Also: Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (2004), Murray’s Revenge (2006), Murs for President (2008)
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)
Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is one of those rare Hip Hop albums that manages to be both an incredible listening experience and a thought-provoking piece of art. Released in 2012, this album was Kendrick Lamar’s second studio album and major-label debut, but it quickly became one of the most celebrated albums of the 2010s.
Born in Compton, California in 1987, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth began rapping as a teenager under the name K-Dot. He signed his first major label deal with Interscope Records and Aftermath Entertainment in 2012, the same year he released Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. He has since become one of the most respected and influential artists in Hip Hop, known for his lyrical depth and storytelling abilities.
Although often categorized as gangsta rap, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City can in fact be seen as an anti-gangsta rap album, as it deconstructs and offers a more realistic and darker portrayal of teenage gang life. The album tells the story of a young Kendrick Lamar growing up in Compton and navigating the dangerous world around him. It’s a concept album that plays out like a short film, with each track contributing to the overall narrative.
The album cover and inside sleeve work in harmony with the narrative of the album, adding a layer of depth to the storytelling. And it’s the production of the album that elevates this album another notch. Each track is perfectly crafted to fit within the album’s overall sound and theme, with a balance that’s rare in Hip Hop albums. The singles “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are classic tracks, but there are so many other standout cuts on the album, such as “Money Trees,” “m.A.A.d City,” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”
“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is particularly noteworthy, as it’s a 12-minute epic that serves as the climax of the album. The song explores the themes of mortality, legacy, and the power of storytelling in a way that’s both poignant and thought-provoking. Kendrick’s talent and skill as a storyteller are on full display here, and it’s a track that rewards multiple listens.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is a total experience, and it’s an album that needs to be listened to in full to be fully appreciated. It’s a concept album that manages to be both personal and universal, offering a glimpse into the experiences of a young Kendrick Lamar while also exploring themes of identity, race, and the American Dream.
In conclusion: Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is a modern classic and one of the most important Hip Hop albums of the last decade. It’s an album that showcases Kendrick Lamar’s immense talent and storytelling abilities, and it’s an album that will continue to be celebrated and analyzed for years to come.
Also: To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Ab-Soul – Control System (2012)
Ab-Soul is a rapper hailing from Carson, California, who has been making music for over a decade. He rose to prominence as a member of the Black Hippy collective, which also includes Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock. His style is known for being dense, abstract, and philosophical, often dealing with themes of spirituality, politics, and personal struggles.
In 2012, Ab-Soul released his second studio album, Control System, which is widely regarded as one of his best works. The album features a diverse range of beats and styles, showcasing Ab-Soul’s versatility as an artist. The lyrics are introspective and thought-provoking, challenging listeners to think deeply about the world around them.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “The Book Of Soul,” which is a deeply personal and emotional song about Ab-Soul’s experiences with love, loss, and illness. He opens up about his struggles with Steven-Johnson Syndrome, a rare condition that affected his vision and caused a skin condition. He then speaks candidly about the death of his longtime girlfriend and the pain and grief that followed. The song is a testament to Ab-Soul’s skills as a lyricist, as he weaves together a powerful narrative that is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. The production is minimalistic, with a simple piano melody and sparse drums that allow the lyrics and the emotion to take center stage.
But “The Book Of Soul” is just one of many great tracks on Control System. “Soulo Ho3” and “Track Two” are hard-hitting openers that set the tone for the rest of the album. “Bohemian Grove” features a catchy hook and a laid-back vibe, while “Terrorist Threats” is a cinematic and menacing collaboration with Danny Brown.
Other standout tracks include “Pineal Gland,” which explores themes of spirituality and consciousness expansion, and “Double Standards,” which critiques societal norms and expectations around gender and relationships. “Mixed Emotions” is another introspective track that delves into Ab-Soul’s struggles with depression and anxiety.
Overall, Control System is a fantastic album that showcases Ab-Soul’s skills as a rapper and lyricist. The beats are diverse and well-crafted, and the lyrics are deep and thought-provoking. While some listeners may find Ab-Soul’s dense and abstract style challenging to decipher at times, those who take the time to engage with his lyrics will be rewarded with a rich and rewarding listening experience.
Also: Do What Thou Wilt. (2016)
Earl Sweatshirt - Doris (2013)
Earl Sweatshirt, born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile in 1994 in Los Angeles, is an American rapper, songwriter, and producer. He first gained prominence as a member of the Hip Hop collective Odd Future, before embarking on a successful solo career. Doris, his 2013 debut album showcased his lyrical prowess and unique style, which combines gritty storytelling with experimental soundscapes.
Doris is an album that commands attention from the moment it begins. The opening track, “Pre,” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its grimy, experimental production and Earl’s introspective lyrics. From there, the album delves deep into Earl’s psyche, exploring themes of depression, isolation, and addiction. The beats on Doris are dark, complex, and often abrasive. They draw inspiration from a wide range of genres, including jazz, soul, and even punk rock. The result is a sound that is distinctly Earl’s own, and it perfectly complements the raw emotion of his lyrics.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “Chum,” which was also the album’s lead single. The song finds Earl grappling with his past and his troubled relationship with his father. The beat is minimalistic, consisting of little more than a piano riff and a drum loop, but it creates a haunting atmosphere that perfectly captures the mood of the lyrics. Earl’s flow is slow and deliberate, allowing the weight of his words to sink in. Another highlight is “Sunday,” which features a guest verse from Frank Ocean. The beat is built around a soulful sample and a steady drum pattern, and Earl’s lyrics touch on his struggles with addiction and the difficulties of maintaining relationships. Frank Ocean’s verse is a perfect complement to Earl’s, providing a different perspective on the same themes.
The album’s guest features are well-chosen and add to the album’s overall texture. Vince Staples, Tyler, The Creator, RZA, and Mac Miller all make appearances (among others), and each brings a unique energy to their respective tracks. But it is Earl who remains the star of the show, and his lyrics and delivery are what make Doris such a powerful listening experience.
Doris is an album that rewards multiple listens. On the surface, it may seem like a collection of dark, moody tracks, but there are layers to be uncovered. Earl’s lyrics are often cryptic and require close attention to fully understand. But the payoff is worth it. The album is a deeply personal exploration of Earl’s inner demons, and it provides a window into the mind of one of the most talented and enigmatic figures in modern Hip Hop.
The album can be overwhelming at times – the production is so dense and layered that it can be difficult to fully digest everything that is happening. But this is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things: Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris is a low-key masterpiece. Its experimental production and introspective lyrics set it apart from the pack, and Earl’s raw honesty and vulnerability make it a deeply affecting listening experience. The album is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to dive in and explore its depths, it is a gem.
Also: I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015), Some Rap Songs (2018)
Vince Staples - Summertime '06 (2015)
Vince Staples’ debut album, Summertime ’06, is a low-key masterpiece that tells a coming-of-age story in a way that only he could. As a Long Beach native, Vince gives listeners an inside look into his life growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood in California, not glorifying the lifestyle, but simply recounting it. The album’s 20 tracks are split into two halves, each one highlighting a different side of his life.
The first half of the album is more lighthearted, with Vince reminiscing on his younger years with humor and wit. The instrumentals are smooth and catchy, with tracks like “Norf Norf” and “Señorita” showcasing his unique style and delivery. The beats are fresh and modern, yet still capture that classic West Coast sound. The second half of the album is darker and more introspective, with Vince diving into the harsh realities of his environment. Tracks like “3230” bring to light the violence and paranoia that come with living in a gang-ridden area.
The production on Summertime ’06 is top-notch, with No ID leading the charge and bringing Vince’s vision to life. The beats are layered and complex, yet never overpower the lyrics or message. Each track is unique, with no filler or throwaway tracks to be found.
In many ways, Summertime ’06 can be likened to Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, as both albums focus on the coming-of-age story of a young man growing up in a rough neighborhood. However, while Kendrick’s album has a more cinematic feel to it, Vince’s album is more raw, unfiltered, and disjointed. From start to finish, Summertime ’06 is a journey that is both enjoyable and compelling, and one stays with listeners long after the final track ends.
Ryu – Tanks For The Memories (2016)
Ryu’s Tanks For The Memories is another hidden gem of an album that unfortunately flew under the radar when it dropped in 2016. For those familiar with Ryu as one-quarter of the Los Angeles crew Styles Of Beyond, the release of this album came as a pleasant surprise. Mostly produced by West Coast legend Divine Styler, Tanks For The Memories is like a modern interpretation of 90s Hip Hop that pays homage to the golden age of the genre.
Listeners are treated to beat structures that are reminiscent of Hip Hop classics from artists like Gang Starr and Big Daddy Kane. On one track, Ryu samples Public Enemy, while on another, he brings back the Funky Drummer break. For those who are well-versed in the classics, the nods to these legendary artists and sounds will be especially appreciated.
Ryu’s lyrical prowess is also on full display on this album. His flows are tight, and his wordplay is clever and thought-provoking. There is a certain level of nostalgia that comes with listening to Ryu’s lyrics, as they harken back to a time when Hip Hop was about storytelling and lyrical skill, rather than gimmicks and commercial appeal. With Tanks For The Memories, Ryu proves that he still is a great lyricist who can hold his own in today’s Hip Hop landscape.
While the album pays homage to the past, it is by no means stuck in it. Tanks For The Memories also features a modern edge that keeps it fresh and relevant. Divine Styler’s production is top-notch and gives the album a polished sound that is both contemporary and timeless. Ryu’s rhymes are matched perfectly with the beats, creating a cohesive sound that will keep listeners engaged from start to finish.
Despite being a relatively unknown album, Tanks For The Memories deserves a spot in any Hip Hop fan’s collection. Its throwback sound is a refreshing departure from the auto-tuned, trap-influenced music that dominated the current Hip Hp landscape in 2016. Ryu’s dedication to the craft is evident in every track, making this album a must-listen for anyone who appreciates the art of Hip Hop.
How can you not put K-Dee “a**, gas or cash” on this list 🤦🏾
Hol up…. No Fashawn “Boy Meets World”?
Fashawn is from Fresno, not LA.
No Liks! 21 & Over & Coast 2 Coast are not gangsta, and are much better than half of the boring albums of the list.
Also I don’t get how yall think PUTS are ‘innovative’ and Evidence & Rakaa are great rappers