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list Mar 31 2022 Written by

40 Immersive Hip Hop Albums You Need To Hear

40 Immersive Hip Hop Albums You Need To Hear

immersion
ɪˈməːʃ(ə)n
a state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption

Most musical albums are built on or around just a couple of songs, standouts tracks that can be easily be transported individually to a compilation playlist because the rest of the album they’re on is not ‘needed’ to optimally enjoy them. Some albums however are greater than the sum of their parts and need to be taken in as a whole for optimal enjoyment. These albums may not have any particular standout tracks on them, but their strength is their (thematic) cohesiveness and interconnectedness. For this piece, we’ve selected 40 of our favorite albums that are composed of nothing but great songs that happen to work better in the context of the complete album, as opposed to when they are randomly stuck on a compilation playlist separately. Let’s get into it: 25 immersive Hip Hop albums (in no particular order) you need to hear – a bunch of well-known and widely celebrated classics on this list, but some lesser-known ones as well, albums you may have missed out on for some reason up to now.

Yugen Blakrok – Return Of The Astro​-​Goth (2013)

best hip hop 2013

Yugen Blakrok is an emcee from South Africa and her debut album Return Of The Astro​-​Goth is one of the most underrated Hip Hop albums released in 2013. 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.

Dälek – From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots (2002)

100 Essential Experimental Hip Hop Albums

Dälek is an experimental Hip Hop crew from Newark, New Jersey – comprised of MC Dälek, Oktopus, and DJ Still ( who passed away in 2018). From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots is their second album and arguably their best, even if there is much more quality to be found in their catalog. Dälek’s music is never easy or straightforward and no doubt this album is an acquired taste, with its boom bap-driven beats backed up by noisy and industrial soundscapes and unorthodox instrumentation. This album was way ahead of its time, and a classic in the industrial Hip Hop subgenre.

Lupe Fiasco - DROGAS Wave (2018)

In a 2018 Billboard interview, Fiasco revealed the main idea of this project:

“It’s about a group of slaves on a slave ship on their way to Africa to the West Indies and they are thrown off the boat. But they didn’t die. They stayed alive and they lived under the sea. And they dedicated their lives to sinking slave ships — so they became this super, underwater force against slavery. It’s like a super-deep story that I am building on different fronts. But that’s the main idea and the source material for the album.”

Drogas Waves is a project that shows insane scope and ambition. A 100-minute concept album dealing with the overall theme of resurrection, this could have been a bloated mess – but fortunately, it isn’t. In fact, this is a brilliant album. The thing is that it probably is too clever, it needs to be ‘studied’ in order to be able to appreciate its deepness. With just casual listens, the whole thing will go over your head. It’s like with a serious 100-minute movie – you just don’t watch a couple of few-minute snippets at a time – you watch the whole thing from beginning to end, paying attention all the time. Drogas Wave has to be approached in the same way.

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)

ranking kendrick lamar albums

Arguably the highest profile release of 2012, Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album – and major-label debut – deserves to be heralded as a modern classic. Billed as a “short film by Kendrick Lamar” on the album cover, GKMC is a concept album that follows the story of Lamar’s teenage experiences in the gang- and drug-infested streets of his native Compton.

GKMC is a total experience and not just a collection of songs. A perfect example of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not to say the individual songs on the album are lacking in anything – in fact, there are plenty of classic cuts on this one. The singles “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are easy favorites of course, but tracks like “Money Trees”, “m.a.a.d. City” (with MC Eith), “Compton” (with Dr. Dre), and the 12-minute epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” are awesome too – as is the production of the album from start to finish.

The album cover and the inside sleeve work in harmony with the narrative of the album, which is a great touch. GKMC is a balanced and cohesive piece of work, that needs multiple listens to fully appreciate its intricacies and Kendrick’s talent and skill.

Killah Priest - Rocket To Nebula (2020)

This late in his career, Killah Priest showed he was still capable of evolution and growth – Rocket To Nebula is unlike anything he has done before, but it rivals his best releases in terms of quality anyway – even if it’s even more of an acquired taste than most of his other albums, a perfect example of a hate it or love it kind of project.

On Rocket To Nebula, we get the same kind of stream-of-consciousness type lyricism we know from Killah Priest, filled with his characteristic abstract metaphysical musings and slick subliminals. Musically, this album is totally different from his earlier works though – there are no bass-heavy beats to be found here, in fact, the whole album is practically drumless. The instrumentals on Rocket To Nebula are very low-key, offering dream-like backdrops to Killah Priest’s lyrics and his conversational-style delivery, which makes listening to this album something akin to a meditative experience.

This may not be an easy album to get into, and it certainly demands real attention – but if you’re willing to take an hour and 15 minutes to tune out everything else going on around you Rocket To Nebula will be sure to satisfy you.

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

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…So We Ate Them Whole is British rapper 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.

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To Die (2013)

Twelve Reasons To Die serves as the score to a fictive vintage Italian horror film. The album’s story is set in 1960s Italy featuring an alter ego character of Ghostface Killah, Tony Starks. He is an enforcer for the DeLuca crime family, who is murdered by his former employers after striking out on his own and falling in love with the kingpin’s daughter. His remains are melted in vinyl and pressed into a dozen LPs that, when played, resurrect him as the Ghostface Killah, a force for revenge incarnate.

Sounds crazy right? But it works – producer Adrain Younge goes all out here, integrating a wall of different soundscapes as the musical backdrop, merging iconic spaghetti Western film music from the likes of Ennio Morricone with haunting opera singing and 70’s soul & blaxploitation vibes featuring thick bass lines and organs.

Younge’s music is as much integral to the cohesiveness of the album as Ghostface’s excellent lyrical performances are. Cuts like “I Declare War”, “The Catastrophe” and “Beware of the Stare” are exemplary of the dopeness of this album, but it’s all fire. Twelve Reasons To Die is different and weird, but interesting and ultimately satisfying, up there with Ghostface Killah’s best work – if you allow yourself to get into it.

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’s lyrics are dense, disturbing, and captivating here – 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. That said: CLPPNG is not a casual listen and it’s hard to take individual songs from this album for a compilation playlist – these songs simply belong together.

Aesop Rock – Labor Days (2001)

Ranking Aesop Rock's Albums

Labor Days is Aesop Rock’s third studio album and one of his absolute best. As always with Aesop Rock, the instrumentals are innovative and exciting, and you need to really listen closely to his next-level wordplay to get his meanings – this is music for thinking people. “Daylight,” with its epic bass-line, clever lyrics, is a stand-out, as is “Save Yourself,” which addresses Hip Hop traditionalists who’d rather talk about their skills and diss the bubblegum rappers than say anything meaningful. But there’s much more to enjoy on Labor Days, one of Def Jux’s flagship albums, an album that was instrumental in moving forward the alternative Hip Hop scene around the turn of the millennium. All of Aesop Rock’s albums are immersive experiences, Labor Days arguably his biggest classic.

Marlowe - Marlowe (2018)

top 40 hip hop albums 2018

Seattle-based producer L’Orange teamed up with North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham under the name Marlowe to create the self-titled Marlowe. L’Orange is a master of obscure sampling and of creating his own brand of psychedelic, dusty, lo-fi, boom-bap – and his synergy with Solemn Brigham is evident. Solemn Brigham has an effortless but impeccable flow that gels perfectly with L’Orange’s extraordinary instrumentals, and he comes with tight bars and complex rhyme schemes to complement his flow and delivery. Marlowe: 38 minutes, 17 tracks, zero filler – this is one of the most underappreciated albums of 2018.

Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030 (2000)

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One of the best concept albums ever created, this collaboration between producer Dan the Automator (as The Cantankerous Captain Aptos), rapper Del the Funky Homosapien (as Deltron Zero/Deltron Osiris), and DJ Kid Koala (as Skiznod the Boy Wonder) is as timeless as music gets. A challenging listen maybe, but ultimately extremely rewarding – a milestone not just for Hip Hop, but for music in general.

Ka - Honor Killed The Samurai (2016)

2010s best rap album50 Hip Hop Cult Classics You Need To Hear

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 another beautiful project consisting of minimalistic, understated instrumentals that serve to give room to Ka’s narrative and subtle wordplay.

Kno - Death Is Silent (2010)

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In 2010 CunninLynguists producer Kno released Death Is Silent: a solo album on which he also accounts for a large part of the lyrics. The production on this album is nothing short of spectacular, and the beats and the stories blend together like gears on a machine. “Loneliness”, “Rhythm Of The Rain”, “Spread Your Wings”, “Graveyard”, “I Wish I Was Dead”, “They Told Me” and “The New Day” are all highlights, but this album’s strength is its consistency. The whole album has the same feel, without ever sounding monotonous. This is an album to zone out on, to press play and let it run from start to finish – no need to skip anything, there are no fillers tracks and no stupid skits. Of course CunninLynguists colleagues Natti and Deacon The Villain make appearances, as do regular collaborators like Tonedeff and Substantial. But even if Kno will always be a producer before he is an emcee, he can carry an album on the microphone as well. He calls himself the Emo Premo on one of the tracks, providing lyrics that should shame most full-time rappers.

Death Is Silent is one of our favorite albums released in 2010, a true musical gem in a world full of fake thugging, bling-bling, dumb-ass b.s. From start to finish, this is a masterpiece of music (not just Hip Hop).

Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix (2021)

Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix | Review

Injury Reserve is a trio formed in 2013 in Tempe, Arizona by rappers Stepa J. Groggs (Jordan Groggs), Ritchie With a T (Nathaniel Ritchie), and producer Parker Corey. After two well-received mixtapes (Live from The Dentist Office (2015) and Floss (2016)) and an equally acclaimed EP (Drive It Like It’s Stolen (2017)), the trio released their eponymous full-length debut album in 2019. Injury Reserve turned out to be an excellent culmination of what Injury Reserve has been all about from the beginning: making forward-thinking, genre boundary-pushing Hip Hop music. The music on Injury Reserve hit hard and was kind of pop-friendly at the same time: like a weird blend of the sounds of acts like Run The Jewels, JPEG Mafia, Dälek, and clipping – a superb left-field Hip Hop album that contained a ton of promise for future Injury Reserve projects.

A year after the release of Injury Reserve, tragedy hit with the untimely death of Groggs – who passed away on June 29, 2020, at age 32. It’s almost as if you can hear the remaining members’ physical reaction to Groggs’ death through the music on the second Injury Reserve full-length. By The Time I Get To Phoenix is a touching, heartfelt salute to a bandmate and friend, framed by a lot of the jarring boldness that made Injury Reserve such a gripping listen on their debut. Given Groggs’ integrality to the Injury Reserve sound and what losing him signified, it was not hard to predict that By the Time I Get to Phoenix would be unlike anything the group had released prior, and it is – even if the album was partly conceived while Groggs was still alive and he appears posthumously throughout. Groggs’ bars on “Knees” dealing with his alcoholism and the nature of addiction are particularly poignant.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix is even more experimental than the previous Injury Reserve album was, way darker, brasher, denser, and way more inaccessible too. With its blend of shoegaze-esque synths, post-punk, glitch-hop, industrial noise, and dissonant sounds, it’s impossible to fit this project in a genre box. Post-rap may do, but all in all, this is one of those albums that defy genre conventions with their uniqueness – reminiscent that way to Death Grips’ classic The Money Store (2012), another once-in-a-decade kind of album.

Parker Corey’s soundscapes on By The Time I Get To Phoenix are dystopian and anxiety-inducing, making for an incredibly immersive and affecting canvas of loss and grief. Ritchie delivers emotionally raw, cathartic verses throughout the whole album – especially his poetry on the stand-out “Top Picks For You” is heartbreaking. The perfect synthesis of the emotive beats and bars on By The Time I Get To Phoenix results in a dark and raw album, a harrowing and intensely moving tribute to a friend gone way too soon. R.I.P. Stepa J. Groggs.

Prince Paul - A Prince Of Thieves (1999)

A Prince Of Thieves follows the story of an aspiring young emcee named Tariq, played by Juggaknots emcee Breezly Brewin, who needs to collect money to record a demo tape before a meeting with Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA. The story follows a desperate Tariq, who quits his low-paying job and turns to his friend True, played by emcee Big Sha, who introduces him to drug dealing. The two make their way through the drug world, a police ambush, jail, and, finally, a deadly showdown. A Prince Among Thieves, sometimes dubbed the first ‘rap opera’features cameos by Kool Keith, Big Daddy Kane, Chubb Rock, Biz Markie, De La Soul, Everlast, Sadat X, Xzibit, Kid Creole, Special Ed, Chris Rock, RZA and Buckshot. Fresh beats and dope rhymes throughout – without a doubt this is one of the best concept albums in Hip Hop, ever.

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

Tell Them It’s Winter is one of the most idiosyncratic albums on this list, and one of the best to come out of the UK in the 2010s. Edward Scissortongue and Lamplighter’s synergy is awesome – both the vocals and the instrumentals are intensely dark and moody, and the one wouldn’t have worked without the other. Emotive and disturbing, this album is not a casual or straightforward listen, but rather an immersive experience that needs total attention for optimal ‘enjoyment’ – an album to listen to with good headphones on, in the dark. Heavy stuff, but gorgeous music at the same time – truly a work of art.

Cryptic One - The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory (2004)

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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 is a forgotten masterpiece – one of the most consistent 70-minute records you’ll ever hear.

Killah Priest – The Psychic World Of Walter Reed (2013)

50 Hip Hop Cult Classics You Need To Hear

41 tracks, 2 hours & 17 minutes of music – The Psychic World Of Walter Reed is a monster of an album. Despite its length, Killah Priest’s tenth album is one of his best. In typical Killah Priest fashion, The Psychic World Of Walter Reed is laced with cryptic observations, cosmic imagery, and religious references, all of it mixed up with street wisdom – his content can be heavy-going at times, making his music something for a niche audience. But there’s plenty to enjoy even if you are not inclined to dissect all of Killah Priest’s relentlessly dense lyrical content – his resonating baritone is a joy to listen to, and the beats on this album are dope. It says a lot that the instrumentals crafted by elite beat crafters like RZA, 4th Disciple, and Ayatollah don’t even stand out – the beats from producers like Jordan River Banks, Ciph Barker, and Kalisto are just as good: for a 41-track album, The Psychic World Of Walter Reed is incredibly cohesive and consistent.

With The Psychic World Of Walter Reed, Killah Priest solidified his status as one of the most consistent artists out of the extended Wu-Tang family, second only maybe to Ghostface Killah (who not coincidentally had the best feature on this album). The Psychic World of Walter Reed may not be an easy or straightforward listen, but it’s an intriguing one – one that deserves attention. Killah Priest is to be applauded for his vision and artistic audacity, few (if any) artists are able to do behemoth projects like this one, and coming out on top, Killah Priest succeeded admirably.

Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein (2001)

100 Essential Experimental Hip Hop Albums

Cannibal Ox really delivered something special with The Cold Vein. With invaluable work on the boards of El-P, this album is nothing less than a masterpiece. The lyrical prowess displayed by Cannibal Ox’s two emcees Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is outstanding, they succeed in painting a grim picture of modern NYC life with imagery that’s highly creative. El-P’s innovative and layered production is what sets the atmosphere for the album though – this one of those albums where the beats perfectly complement the lyrics and vice versa, creating a musical tableau that is atmospheric and hypnotic at the same time – complex but ultimately eminently rewarding. The Cold Vein was years ahead of its time and is only getting better as time goes by.

Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

100 Essential Midwest Hip Hop Albums

Danny Brown hit a home run with Atrocity Exhibition. This album feels like a feverish nightmare that gives us a glimpse of the insanity, depression, and hedonism of the Danny Brown psyche. This album is deep and dark and at times over the top, both sonically and lyrically. Production is superb though, and even those who gravitate towards more traditional styles will find a lot to like here. Danny Brown’s crazy flows range in style from hype and energetic to somber and reflective – but the content always is thought-provoking. You can call it experimental, or crazy, or weird – but be sure to call it a classic too: Atrocity Exhibition is Danny Brown’s best album.

Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (2011)

9 Of The Best Unconventional Hip Hop Albums Of The 2010s

Black Up is the debut studio album by Shabazz Palaces, the duo consisting of Palaceer Lazaro (formerly known as Butterfly of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. This album is pretty much amazing, unlike anything you have ever heard before. Experimental Hip Hop, Progressive Hip Hop, Abstract Hip Hop – call it what you want, just know no label can do this project justice. And it doesn’t need a label either, other than ‘classic’. At ten songs, Black Up is a tight presentation, but not a second is wasted. Throughout the 10 songs, deep beats highlighted by electronic flourishes complement the idiosyncratic flows and intricate lyrics filled with abstract metaphors and intelligent observations – there’s a lot to unpack here.

Even though Shabazz Palaces’ follow-up efforts were interesting enough – especially Lese Majesty (2014) is good – up to now they have never reached Black Up‘s level of outstanding excellence again, and it is hard to see how they could. This album is something special, unique like It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is unique, or like Madvillainy is.

To really do justice to this musical treasure you need to listen to it on a quality system or with really good headphones or earbuds – otherwise, you might miss the deepness of the bass and other sonic intricacies. Black Up certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those open for a challenging listen or just for something different from 13-in-a-dozen rap, this album really is pure gold. Black Up is one of the most (if not THE most) creative, innovative, and captivating Hip Hop albums of the 2010s.

lojii & Swarvy - DUE RENT (2017)

9 Of The Best Unconventional Hip Hop Albums Of The 2010s

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 neo-classic, this album has echoes of Madvillainy in its vibe – and like Madvillainy it is an acquired taste. Some may say DUE RENT is boring, 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 offer a perfect meditative backdrop to let that theme resonate.

Sticky Fingaz - [Blacktrash] The Autobiography Of Kirk Jones (2001)

The greatest Hip Hop album you have never heard. Or have you? Either way – this is one criminally underrated album, easily one 2001’s finest. Blacktrash tells us the story of Sticky Fingaz’ maniacal alter ego Kirk Jones and the trials and tribulations he went through. The album plays like a movie and lyrically Sticky Fingaz has never been this good, however dope his work with Onyx has been throughout the years. With guest appearances from Eminem, Canibus and Raekwon (and others) the album has no shortage of star power, but the true star here is Sticky Fingaz / Kirk Jones. Blacktrash is a perfectly executed concept album.

Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything’s Fine (2018)

best hip hop albums 2018

Husband-and-wife team Quelle Chris & Jean Grae make up an enigmatic and lovable duo, Everything’s Fine is the first whole album that they have worked on together. The album is firmly left-field in sound and theme – Everything’s Fine is a satire, addressing complacency and examining what it really means to be ‘fine’ in this day and age. Hilarious and sobering at the same time, Quelle Chris and Jean Grae succeed in what they presumably set out to do – with dry humor and witty observations they make you THINK. The chilled-out, left-field instrumentals serve to lend potency to the lyrics that are abstract and subtle here, and straight on the nose there. Not for everybody, but if you’re willing to invest time and attention in Everything’s Fine you will probably find it to be an album that will grow on you.

The Roots - Undun (2011)

Undun is a dark and poetic masterpiece, different but intriguing. Short but (bitter)sweet, it chronicles the life and death of Redford Stephens, a fictional character who makes some bad choices in his life and ends up paying the ultimate price for it, and it tells this story in reverse – it begins with his death and works it’s way back to the beginning of the story, which is the end of the album. Few acts in Hip Hop can boast the same longevity and number of superior albums as The Roots can, and Undun certainly is up there with their best efforts – and that’s saying something.

Krum – Dart (2021)

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Dallas-based producer/emcee Harry Krum is in a lane of his own, his sound cannot be pigeonholed – some of his music is labeled urban gospel, some of his other projects are closer to straight-up Hip Hop. At 50 minutes, DART is a fully realized album – and one of the most idiosyncratic albums released in 2021. DART will certainly not be for everybody, Krum’s genre-boundaries stretching instrumentals have too much of an experimental edge, and his rapping is mixed with singing on this album. As it follows a narrative, this is an album you need to allow yourself to be immersed in to be able to fully appreciate it (there’s a book tie-in – “The Dirty Angels Ride Tonight” tells the story, each song on the DART album is the first-hand thoughts and emotions of the characters living the story). Not an easy listen, but DART is one of our favorite albums released in 2021 nonetheless.

Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)

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This album is ART, pure and simple. Madvilliany redefined the underground and is a perfect example of what can happen if two left-field geniuses combine powers. MF DOOM and Madlib have both produced many pieces of brilliant music, but this epic album is the crowning achievement of both their careers. The best album of the aughts and a top 10 Hip Hop album of all time. Madvillainy is one of the ultimate examples of an album that has to be taken in as a whole for optimal enjoyment.

Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy (2014)

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Open Mike Eagle is a Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based artist who dropped some of the most interesting albums in abstract underground Hip Hop in the 2010s – with his soft spoken-word style, poetic lyrics, and experimental production. Dark Comedy is Open Mike Eagle’s fourth solo album and arguably his best album to date. Belying the at times breezy production, Open Mike Eagle’s subject matter never is lightweight. He approaches a variety of serious topics with dark and deliciously sarcastic humor – hence the title of the album. Open Mike Eagle’s lyrical performance on Dark Comedy is as good as we’ve heard from him, and the ambient production is fantastic throughout. The lyrical and instrumental intricacies give Dark Comedy more layers than anything else out in 2014, as always with an Open Mike Eagle release there’s a lot to unpack – Dark Comedy is an album with endless replay value.

Brotha Lynch Hung – Dinner And A Movie (2010)

Dinner and a Movie is the first album in a trilogy of concept albums, preceding the equally excellent Coathanga Strangla (2011) and Mannibalector (2013). Sacramento’s Brotha Lynch Hung is one of those rappers who is sure to polarize – you either love him or hate him. The fact is he is a skilled rapper, whether you like his subject matter or not. Dinner & A Movie (as the other two albums in the trilogy) plays like a horror movie and should be enjoyed as such – a piece of (admittedly at times pretty sick) entertainment. Those who are able to stomach his horrorcore lyrics – and his depravity knows no limits – are in for a treat. Great production and rapping – this trilogy is dope as ‘hell’.

B. Dolan - Kill The Wolf (2015)

best hip hop 2015

Following his intriguing spoken-word oddity The Failure (2008) and the boom-bap banger Fallen House, Sunken City (2010), B. Dolan’s self-produced Kill The Wolf is a sweeping, powerful opus five years in the making. The album reinforced Dolan’s status as a complex lyricist and introduces him as an ambitious, versatile producer, dedicated as ever to concept and vision over fleeting Hip Hop trends. Formidable vocals and intricate lyrics (guests include Aesop Rock and Doomtree’s Cecil Otter) complemented by flawless production with live guitars, analog synths, violins, upright bass, and sharp drumbeats. Kill The Wolf is straight fire from the first track to the last track.

CunninLynguists - A Piece Of Strange (2006)

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This third CunninLynguists album is a masterpiece from start to finish. Much darker and denser than their more light-hearted and fun first two albums, A Piece Of Strange takes us on a journey following the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, while at the same time exploring the religion and racism that were (and are) so prevalent in the south. The 16 songs contain loose connections with certain defined Biblical numerics and their interpretations. In Kno’s own words:

“This album is not meant to be overtly Christian in theme or presentation, but more so delivering an amoral slant to a storyline communicated through Hip Hop. Deacon’s life growing up as the son of a preacher definitely led us to some of the insights and story molding that went on when we were making and recording the album, but as most moderate Christians will tell you…you have to relate the material as generally as possible without preaching and talking down to people. APOS wasn’t meant to teach faith-infused lessons necessarily, but simply to deliver a story.”

A Piece Of Strange offers excellent production and clever lyrics – the whole album is as good as it gets. Standouts tracks aplenty, but cuts like “Brain Cell” and “Nothing To Give” are particular standoutsDon’t sleep folks, this truly is a landmark album.

billy woods - History Will Absolve Me (2012)

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billy woods was born in Washington, D.C., to a Jamaican mother and a father from Zimbabwe. In 1981, the family moved to Africa, to return to the States after the death of woods’ father in 1995. woods’ African perspective is evident in his music – giving his music a special edge, sonically and content-wise. 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.

History Will Absolve Me is billy woods’ 3rd full-length solo album, and one of his best. 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 as politics, race, sex, and class. History Will Absolve Me is a challenging and intense listening experience, but ultimately extremely rewarding. It is one of the best albums of 2012, which was sadly ignored upon its release. It is standing the test of time though, so it is never too late to check it out if you never did before.

Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club (2018)

100 Essential Jazz Rap Albums

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.

Aceyalone – A Book Of Human Language (1998)

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Aceyalone is one of the most versatile and unique emcees in the game. He has released a string of great albums throughout his career, but A Book Of Human Language is his absolute best solo project. A Book of Human Language is a left-field masterpiece that blends intelligence, creativity, and superior lyrical skill into a brilliant concept album you need to hear.

JPEGMAFIA - Veteran (2018)

JPEGMAFIA is a rapper and producer from Baltimore, and his self-produced second studio album Veteran is his best work (along with the unofficial version of 2021’s LP!, that is) – way better than its overhyped follow-up All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019). Veteran offers an awesome blending of different musical styles like industrial, noise, R&B, 90s Hip Hop, trap, and electronic into one potent off-kilter kind of new sound – the in-your-face walls of sounds bombarded on the listener complemented by Peggy’s sharp-edged lyrics.

Dälek – Absence (2005)

100 Underrated Hip Hop Albums

Frontrunners in industrial Hip Hop, Dälek debuted in 1998 with the captivating Negro Necro Nekros and developed their sound with their first proper full-length From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots (2002). Dälek’s music is always dark, noisy, and atmospheric – but no album in their catalog is darker than Absence. Producer Oktopus is one of the most interesting avant-garde producers of all time,  and his instrumentals on this album are unique and progressive. Emcee Dälek comes with his characteristic apocalyptic bars, but it’s Oktopus whose talents truly shine on Absence – his nightmarish industrial soundscapes provide a thick atmosphere full of menace and terror.

“A Beast Caged”,  “Culture for Dollars”, “Distorted Prose”, “Asylum (Permanent Underclass)”, “Ever Somber”, “Opiate The Masses”, “Eyes to Form Shadows” nothing but highlights on what is one of the most underrated Hip Hop albums released in 2005.

clipping. - Splendor & Misery (2016)

Splendor & Misery is clipping’s second studio album. The album, with a weird but effective mix of ambient futuristic noise and gospel-choir instrumentation, tells the story of an enslaved person, referred to as Cargo #2331, in the future in outer space. Never easy to get into, this impressive clipping project demands even more attention than their other works. The cinematic Splendor & Misery plays like a movie or a radio play: it has to be listened to in order, and with full concentration for optimal appreciation. This is one of those records that gets better the more you listen to it.

Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994)

100 Underrated Hip Hop Albums

Following their eponymous debut LP, Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po had a lot to live up to. They admirably succeeded in creating an album with similarities to the first album, while doing something completely different at the same time. Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch come with unparalleled lyricism on this dark, dense, complicated, and intellectual album. This album was way ahead of its time in vision and execution. Some albums from this era sound dated now but Stress: The Extinction Agenda sounds as fresh today as it did on the day it was released – the mark of a true classic.

In terms of wordplay, flow, delivery, AND content – this is the gold standard. Pharoahe Monch is and has always been the better rapper of the two, but Prince Po is perfectly able to hold his own – which is incredible enough. Both emcees manage to step up their already considerable game from their debut, they come with phenomenal rhymes and complex flows – bar for bar lyrical Hip Hop doesn’t get much better than this. Whether they are storytelling, philosophizing, joking, bragging, being conscious, or simply throwing out battle raps – their lyrical performances are top-tier in every aspect – there is NOTHING cliche or run-of-the-mill about the lyricism on Stress: The Extinction Agenda. Some of the tightest and most inventive rhymes you’ll ever hear are on this album, with the conceptual gem “Stray Bullet” being a particular lyrical highlight.

The mostly self-produced beats on Stress: The Extinction Agenda are dope as f too – dark and menacing, but jazzy at the same time: musically this album comes off as a hybrid of the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan – combining the best of both worlds.

Stress: The Extinction Agenda is one of the most underrated albums released in the 1990s – this truly is a one-of-a-kind kind of album. If you’ve ever wondered why many consider Pharoahe Monch a GOAT emcee – study this album and you will know. Stress: The Extinction Agenda is an all-around brilliant album that should not be overlooked.

Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide (2020)

Aesop Rock - Spirit World Field Guide | Review

Owing to the lyrical and sonic intricacies in his music, Aesop Rock has always been a hate-him or love-him kind of artist. Like him or not, there’s no denying he has a couple of classic projects on his name – especially his third album and Definite Jux debut Labor Days (2001) is a monumental album, followed by the equally excellent Bazooka Tooth (2003) and None Shall Pass (2007).

After the folding of Def Jux, Aesop Rock signed with Rhymesayers EntertainmentSpirit World Field Guide is Aesop Rock’s eighth full-length solo album and his third one released on Rhymesayers, following the great Skelethon (2012) and The Impossible Kid (2016), one of the best albums released that year.

Spirit World Field Guide arguably is even less easily accessible than some of the other Aesop Rock albums because of its concept: the album acts as a “guide” to a fictional world, following a narrator through an alternate world.

“Be not afraid! Whether you’re simply sightseeing, enjoying temporary flights of fancy, or considering a more permanent relocation, the all-new Spirit World Field Guide offers twenty-one insightful chapters of firsthand know-how into the terrain, wildlife, and social customs of our parallel universe. The narrator’s vast expertise of multiple global entry points and various modes of inter-dimensional transport informs a rich tapestry of tips, tricks, and tools to unfailingly aid in your ultimate survival. If you are among the countless individuals who find themselves feeling both dead and alive at the same time, the information contained within may serve as an invaluable asset to your journey. Godspeed and good luck.”

Those are the words of the album’s narrator — an attempt to prepare listeners, both old and new, for a safe entry into the Spirit World.”

Enough has been said about the extensiveness of Aesop Rock’s vocabulary, but having an extensive vocabulary means nothing if you can’t write. Aesop Rock is an incredible writer though – the quality levels of Aesop Rock’s lyrics, bar structures, rhyme patterns, and flows are essentially a given at this point. His production skills can not be in doubt either. Both on lyrical and musical levels Spirit World Field Guide is top-tier work, even by Aesop Rock standards. The beats here are unbelievably dynamic and immersive – giving a kind of unsettling vibe and setting the perfect mood as the record progresses. The lyrics are there to dissect and study, but this album can be enjoyed just as easily without diving in that deep – the beats and flows alone are enough to lose yourself in Spirit World Field Guide, the lyrical depth just adds an extra dimension.

Spirit World Field Guide is Aesop Rock STILL at the peak of his game, an incredible feat after 25 years in the game. This album proves it is still possible to create a one-hour album, without features, that manages to captivate from start to finish AND that has lots of replay value. For the short attention span crowd it may all be too much, but those who can deal with lengthy immersive listening experiences will LOVE Spirit World Field Guide.

Nerves Baddington - Micro/Macro (2022)

Nerves Baddington is a trio from Birmingham, Alabama, consisting of Kilgore Doubt, inkline, and Cam the Invisible Man. Their Micro and Macro albums are two fantastic projects we will consider a double-LP because the two are inextricably connected. In this era of music streaming, we see a lot of artists dropping short EP-length projects, presenting them as full-length albums. Nerves Baddington bucked this trend by dropping two ambitious 45-minute projects that combine into one near-flawless album that’s not a second too long. Micro/Macro offers an hour and a half of top-tier experimental but accessible Hip Hop – this is one of those rare projects that might appeal to casual rap fans and to more discerning Hip Hop listeners alike. 

Micro/Macro features production by all three Nerves Baddington members (mostly from Kilgore Doubt), with some assistance from outside collaborator The Phasing Octopus. Nerves Baddington emcee inkline is joined on the microphone by a host of other Birmingham rappers, like MC Kano, Black Plastique, Shaun Judah, Nick Dire, Mane Rok, Fleetwood Deville, Akil Pratt, K1NG ELJAY, and others.

Micro/Macro is a project with power and purpose. The soundscapes are meticulously crafted, the rhymes offer a perfect blend of the thoughtful and the abstract, and the flows of inkline and guests are tight. Micro and Macro are excellent listening experiences separately – and because of subtle sonic and lyrical cross-reference points, they are even stronger combined. Micro/Macro is an ambitious and totally captivating piece of music, one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2022.

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