Discussing ‘best ever’ Hip Hop albums is fun, but at the same time often a futile exercise. It’s fun because it forces you to think and sometimes to re-evaluate, and it’s fun because talks with others can make you discover some great albums you otherwise might have slept on. But at times it’s futile too because inevitably not everyone has the same amount of knowledge. Nobody has listened to EVERY Hip Hop album ever released, but someone who’s exposure is limited to a couple of dozen of popular albums, and who is inclined to dismiss anything unfamiliar out of hand (lots of people are like that), obviously is not really qualified to talk Hip Hop with any sort of authority.
Trying to pitch more obscure Hip Hop titles to people who have only listened to 2Pac and Biggie or to Kanye and Kendrick – and who don’t want look any further – can get kind of tiring. Some people seem to think these four, along with names like Jay-Z, Eminem, Dr. Dre, and OutKast are all Hip Hop ever had to offer. That’s too bad because there’s SO MUCH other great Hip Hop out there. Casual Hip Hop listeners who ARE open and willing to discover some non-mainstream Hip Hop music they have never listened to before may find this list to be of value.
For this piece, I have selected – in no particular order – another 50 of my favorite Hip Hop albums released after the turn of the millennium that I consider to be underappreciated. Some albums listed here are better known than others, but even heads who are used to digging deep may discover an album or two they have missed out on for some reason.
Apollo Brown & O.C. - Trophies (2012)
Apollo Brown is one of the best producers in the game today. The number of top-quality projects he has put his stamp on in the past decade is amazing. His best work includes Gas Mask (with DJ Soko & Journalist 103 as The Left) and Brown Study (with Boog Brown) in 2010, Clouds and Daily Bread (with Hassaan Mackey) in 2011, Dice Game (with Guilty Simpson) in 2012, Ugly Heroes (with Red Pill & Verbal Kent as Ugly Heroes) in 2013, Blasphemy (with Ras Kass) in 2014, Words Paint Pictures (with Rapper Big Pooh) and Grandeur in 2015, Everything in Between (as Ugly Heroes) and The Easy Truth (with Skyzoo) in 2016, Anchovies (with Planet Asia) in 2017, No Question (with Locksmith) and Mona Lisa (with Joell Ortiz) in 2018, Sincerely, Detroit in 2019, and As God Intended (Che’ Noir) in 2020.
With Sincerely, Detroit the best Apollo Brown project of the 2010s is Trophies, his 2012 collaboration with D.I.T.C. legend O.C. O.C. is one of the most slept-on emcees in Hip Hop ever: he had two near-perfect albums in the 1990s with Word… Life (1994) and Jewelz (1997) and he is still going strong as his latest projects Same Moon Same Sun (2017) and A New Dawn (2018) prove. Like on those two massively slept-on albums, on Trophies shows he is an emcee that can easily hold down an album by himself – he doesn’t need guests to add flavor or variety. Trophies is 16 tracks of straight to the point Hip Hop; no frills, no gimmicks. There are no guest emcee appearances, no hook singers, no skits, no wasted moments – and despite the album is about one hour long, it never gets boring. The album’s entire focus is on beats and rhymes, the result is one of the best neo-boom-bap albums of the decade.
Killah Priest – Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) (2009)
Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) is Killah Priest’s 8th solo album and the most underrated album in his vast discography. Killah Priest’s metaphysical deep and thought-provoking lyrics are not for everybody, but those who are in tune with Killah Priest’s particular style will love this album. With 23 songs on Elizabeth and at over 77 minutes of playing time, this is another LONG Killah Priest album but it holds hardly any filler material. There are no features and all production is handled by DJ Woool, which makes for a super consistent presentation that is able to keep attention despite its length. Elizabeth is a quality listen – an experience with a lot of replay value and deep lyricism that will have you coming back for more.
Awon & Phoniks - Knowledge Of Self (2015)
Two years after the brilliant Return To The Golden Era (2013), Awon & Phoniks’ return with Knowledge Of Self. Just like its predecessor, this album is a near-flawless presentation of authentic Hip Hop – with close to an hour of dope beats, scratches, lyricism, and storytelling. Knowledge Of Self: smooth, jazzy boom-bap at its finest.
Jedi Mind Tricks – Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell (2006)
Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell is the fifth studio album by legendary Philly crew Jedi Mind Tricks and arguably their best, in a series of mostly excellent albums. It is also their best-performing album commercially but still went criminally unnoticed (especially when compared to 2006’s highest-selling and wack rap albums from the likes of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and others like them).
Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell is worth the price of admission alone for the masterpiece that is “Uncommon Valor”, with an epic verse by guest emcee R.A. The Rugged Man. But the rest of the album bangs too. Stoupe’s unique and cinematic soundscapes and Vinnie Paz’s vicious lyrics get equal shine, every track works. With some dope additional rhyming from guests like regular JMT collaborator Chief Kamachi, Sean Price, and especially the aforementioned R.A. The Rugged Man, this album truly is a worthy addition to anyone’s music collection.
Diamond District - March On Washington (2014)
Diamond District is a trio consisting of producer/emcee Oddisee and emcees yU and Uptown XO. Their collaborative debut was the excellent but slept-on In The Ruff (2009). March On Washington is their second album together, and it is another winner. Each of the three Diamond District members has proven himself solo with other projects (especially Oddisee), but their group efforts really are something special. Although March On Washington doesn’t explicitly make race an issue, the LP clearly was inspired by the legendary event during which Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I Have A Dream speech. The album is smart and fun at the same time, the intricate lyrics backed by Oddisee’s soulful bass-heavy instrumentals. With March On Washington, Diamond District dropped a sleeper classic. 14 songs deep, none of them skippable.
Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust (2005)
A Healthy Distrust is the second album from Providence, Rhode Island’s indie rapper Sage Francis. After his critically acclaimed first solo album Personal Journals (2002), with A Healthy Distrust he proved that the level of quality he set with his debut wasn’t a one-off. Quality production, dope wordplay, and deep lyrical content combine into a not-run-of-the-mill album that deserves an attentive listen.
Rashad & Confidence - The Element Of Surprise (2011)
Too quickly we label albums as ‘classic’ these days, but this album deserves it – everything about Rashad & Confidence’s The Element Of Surprise feels CLASSIC. The golden age-esque album cover, clearly inspired by Lord Finesse’s debut album Funky Technician (1990), serves as a perfect primer for what you can expect. This album is boom bap Hip Hop at is very best. In the era of ringtone bubblegum rap, Rashad & Confidence stayed true to Hip Hop’s roots and bring the heat. The Element Of Surprise is produced to perfection with that early 90’s feeling – echoing the best work of legends like DJ Premier and Pete Rock – and Rashad’s great rhyming skills and storytelling matches Confidence’s top-notch production.
As you may know, here at HHGA we hate it that mainstream rap gets labeled as Hip Hop. Artists like Drake, Migos, Travis Scott, Lil This-or-that and their like have very little to do with Hip Hop if you ask us. They do pop-rap or something and have found a very lucrative niche in the music biz – their sh** gets promoted by the media companies with the power and the kids eat it up. But Hip Hop it is NOT. The Element Of Surprise IS Hip Hop. Golden Age Hip Hop fans who turned away from Hip Hop around the turn of the millennium because all the mainstream offered up was watered-down dumbed-down rap music, should check out albums like The Element Of Surprise and have their faith in and enthusiasm about Hip Hop restored.
We said The Element Of Surprise is a true classic and we will stick to that claim, even though there is one aspect that doesn’t fit classic status: recognition and commercial success. It’s a crying shame that a beautiful album like this has never reached a large audience. Wack albums released in the same year from Lil Wayne (Tha Carter IV) and Drake (Take Care) went multiplatinum, while The Element Of Surprise – superior in every aspect but sales – sold next to nothing. If you like albums like Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother from the early 1990s or Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show and Ohmega Watts’ The Find from the early 2000s, you will also love The Element Of Surprise – one of the best albums of 2011, and even of the entire decade.
J-Live – All Of The Above (2002)
A year after his official debut, the brilliant The Best Part, slept on emcee J-Live drops another near-perfect gem with All Of The Above. All Of The Above is the best Hip Hop album released in 2002, much-lauded by critics, but under-appreciated by wider Hip Hop audiences. J-Live is way above most of his peers, one of those emcees who truly deserves the overused label ‘underrated’. The whole album shines, there’s no need to skip any tracks and it has endless replay value – the mark of a true classic. “Satisfied?”, “MCee”, “Traveling Music”, “A Charmed Life”, “One For The Griot”, “The Lyricist” – just a few of the highlights on this long but completely brilliant album.
Ka - The Night's Gambit (2013)
On the heels of the solid Grief Pedigree (2012), Ka’s The Night’s Gambit proved to be a creative step ahead for the Brownsville, NYC native. Ka shows and proves he is an extremely gifted emcee, with next-level poetical lyrics, clever metaphors, and subtle wordplay – with the album’s narrative centered around chess. Musically more stripped down and minimalistic than Chief Pedigree was, The Night’s Gambit is an atmospheric delight that may not be for everybody, but that will be appreciated by Hip Hop connoisseurs.
Senim Silla – The Name, The Motto, The Outcome (2007)
Senim Silla is 1/2 of Binary Star, the duo he formed with the equally unsung One Be Lo. The Name, The Motto, The Outcome is his first (and only) solo album and another hidden 2007 treasure. The Name, The Motto, The Outcome is deep, layered, and complex – both lyrically and musically – and not an easy album to get into maybe, but one that amply rewards those who are willing and able to invest the time and attention this gem deserves.
Murs - Love & Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation (2011)
Love & Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation is a smooth and solid playthrough from start to finish: dope beats provided by Ski Beatz and with Murs’ trademark clever lyrics. Murs is great at letting emotion show – just check the single “Remember 2 Forget”, about ex-girlfriend woes or the poignant album closer “Animal Style”, a tale of a closeted high school homosexual that ends tragically – and at storytelling too: the tragic-comic story of a trip gone wrong in Tuscon, Arizona on “67 Cutlass” is a great example. Other highlights are his tribute to the legacy of West Coast Hip Hop on “Eazy E”, the Ab-Soul and D.I.T.C. rapper O.C. assisted “Life & Time”, and his criticism on the music industry on “316 Ways”. Overall, Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation is another fine album in Murs’ extensive body of work, one of his best in fact.
Busdriver - Temporary Forever (2002)
Weird, but wonderful. Los Angeles’ Busdriver has never made a straightforward or accessible album, and like all of Busdriver’s work, Temporary Forever is an acquired taste without a doubt. Busdriver’s unorthodox and wild flows and his general abstract and experimental style will leave many heads spinning, but those who allow themselves to be swept away by Busdriver’s eccentricity and by the beats that perfectly gel with his lyrical antics will soon count this underground classic as one of their favorite albums.
Temporary Forever is Busdriver’s second album, and although he would go on to release a couple more great projects (especially Fear of a Black Tangent (2005) and Perfect Hair (2014) are must-haves too), this one stands as his absolute masterpiece.
First Division - Overworked & Underpaid (2015)
First Division’s debut album Overworked & Underpaid is 90s-centric boom-bap Hip Hop to the core. Perhaps unoriginal, but originality isn’t an issue when the execution is done to near-perfection. Overworked & Underpaid features production by Marco Polo (who also executive produced the project), DJ Premier, Kev Brown, Jake One, The Doppelgangaz, BeatWyze, and guest appearances from Prince Po, Rah Digga, Torae, HannibalStax, and others. Overworked & Underpaid offers over an hour of top-grade beats, bars, and turntablism – this is a must-have for fans of that good old early 90s East Coast Hip Hop.
Tonedeff – Archetype (2005)
Archetype is the official solo debut studio album from CunninLynguist affiliate Tonedeff, following 2 EP’s and a compilation of his singles. The often-delayed Archtype is Tonedeff’s magnum opus. Tonedeff has a unique flow, lyrics worth listening to, and the instrumentals mostly crafted by Tonedeff himself (one track is produced by CunninLynguist’s Kno) are smooth and easy-listening.
Lots of dope tracks on Archetype – one of the standout tracks is “Quotables”, with Wordsworth, Rise, Pack FM, Substantial, Supastition, and Session as guests. Only one throwaway track (“Gathered”) – on an album that runs for over an hour that’s OK, fortunately, it’s the last track – as if Tonedeff knew his attempt at singing wouldn’t go over well with everybody (although there’s some Eminem type singing on a couple of the other tracks too). The singing here and there is just a minor complaint though – an hour of dope Hip Hop is more than what we got from most other Hip Hop albums released in 2005.
Wise Intelligent - Stevie Bonneville Wallace (2016)
Stevie Bonneville Wallace by the Poor Righteous Teacher frontman Wise Intelligent is an important album, one that is sadly slept-on. Wise Intelligent’s deep rhymes and messages are uncompromising and unapologetic, and his delivery is as sharp as ever. Addressing topics like institutional racism, the state of Hip Hop, the state of society, the corporately directed dispersal of ignorant unintelligent content to the masses, and the brainwashing of the public through full media control – this is an album with substance (and not just because it runs for more than an hour). This is grown-man rap for intelligent people who know how to recognize real jewels.
Apathy – Eastern Philosophy (2006)
Known for being part of Hip Hop collectives Demigodz, Get Busy Committee, and Army Of The Pharaohs, and of his association with acts like Jedi Mind Tricks and others from the unsung Babygrande Records label, Connecticut emcee Apathy dropped this solo-debut in 2006. While Apathy’s later solo-albums like Wanna Snuggle (2009), Honkey Kong, (2011), Connecticut Casual (2014), Handshakes With Snakes (2016), and The Widows Son (2018) are all dope, Eastern Philosophy still stands as his best work as a solo artist. Eastern Philosophy is an album filled with vicious, in-your-face lyrics and the beats to match the ferocity of the bars Apathy spits.
The Diceman - The Power Of Now (2018)
One of 2018’s most underrated albums. The Diceman is part of Bronx-crew The Legion – a veteran emcee and a rapper’s rapper. Supported by flawless production from start to finish, Diceman managed to fly so far under the radar with The Power Of Now that even most true heads missed out on it. It’s never too late to catch-up though – go on and check out one of 2018’s hidden treasures.
Prolyphic & Reanimator – The Ugly Truth (2008)
Prolyphic & Reanimator’s The Ugly Truth is an excellent and sadly slept-on treasure. The album was released on Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records, and features guest appearances from Sage Francis himself, along with regular collaborators Macromantics, B. Dolan, and Alias. Reanimator’s inventive instrumentals are a delight from start to finish – the dark and dirty boom-bap beats infused with live instrumentation serve as a perfect backdrop for Prolyphic’s clever bars.
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017)
On the heels of 2016’s strong collaboration album with Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival, Open Mike Eagle continues his streak of consistency with Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. The ambient and psychedelic production on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is more subdued than on past OME efforts, which complements his low-key delivery. The smooth instrumentals and Open Mike Eagle’s vocals sound deceptively loose and laid-back, but the lyrical content is clever, thoughtful, relevant, and emotionally potent. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream rivals Dark Comedy (2014) for the title of Open Mike Eagle’s best album to date.
Ugly Duckling – Taste The Secret (2003)
Ugly Duckling never failed in creating that pure fun and 100% authentic Hip Hop, in the vein of fellow West Coast acts like Jurassic 5 and People Under The Stairs. Taste The Secret is one of the best UD albums.
CunninLynguists - Oneirology (2011)
Before dropping Oneirology in 2011, Deacon The Villain, Natti & Kno had already established their names with four straight dope albums: Will Rap for Food (2001), SouthernUnderground (2003), A Piece of Strange (2006), and Dirty Acres (2007).
Oneirology is the study of dreams – listen carefully to tracks like “Darkness (Dream On)” and “Shattered Dreams” and you’ll understand where the album’s title is coming from. The lyrics and flows on Oneirology are dope as hell and the soundscapes are even better – once again it’s Kno’s production that’s stealing the show. Oneirology is fantastic in every way – an exceptional follow-up to Kno’s Death is Silent and another jewel in the CunninLynguists crown.
Blackalicious – Blazing Arrow (2002)
Blazing Arrow is the second studio album by Blackalicious, the duo hailing from Sacramento, California, made up of rapper Gift of Gab and DJ/producer Chief Xcel. Their debut album Nia (1999) is an absolute masterpiece, so to come up with a follow-up a strong as Nia was a near-impossible task. Even if Blazing Arrow doesn’t quite match Nia, it is an excellent album in its own right. Gift Of Gab is an underrated emcee, with a superb flow and a style that may be too complex for the average listener to fully appreciate and Chief Xcel soundscapes are an acquired taste – Blackalicious’ music is better suited for the advanced Hip Hop listener than for the average fan, but all those who are open for something different from the general rap fare have to like this one.
Blacastan & Stu Bangas - The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes (2017)
Blacastan & Stu Bangas second collaborative album The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes is another excellent but sadly slept-on album. Along with Hex One’s Words Worth A Thousand Pictures which dropped in the same year, this is one of 2017’s hidden treasures. Blacastan (from Hartford, CT and known as part of Army Of The Pharaohs & Demigodz) is a dope emcee with a 90s style flow, Stu Bangas (from Boston, MA) is an underrated producer crafting hard-hitting neo-boom-bap Hip Hop. With features from the likes of Apathy, Ill Bill, Esoteric, and Tragedy Khadaffi you know what to expect: hard rhymes over hard beats, complemented with dope sampling and some good old fashioned turntable work. Don’t sleep on The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes.
P.O.S – Ipecac Neat (2004)
Ipecac Neat is P.O.S’ first studio album, released in 2004 on Doomtree Records, then re-released the next year on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Energetic and angry-sounding lyrically as well as musically, Ipecac Neat offers an intense listening experience that is aging quite well. A bit closer to ‘regular’ Hip Hop than some of his later albums, Ipecac Neat already showcases P.O.S’ original style and flow. A hidden gem and an essential piece of the Doomtree legacy.
Tone Spliff - Ardore Melodico (2019)
Los Angeles based DJ and Producer Tone Spliff (who originally is from Utica, NY) dropped a gem with this crowdfunded project. Ardore Melodico (Italian for something like ‘fierce melody’) is one the best examples of the boom-bap renaissance that is going on right now. Tone Spliff is a producer AND a DJ – this album is not just produced flawlessly, just about every song has Tone Spliff scratching in carefully selected vocal samples – this emphasis on the DJ gives the whole album even more of that Golden Age vibe HHGA obviously loves.
Toen Spliff recruited a host of talented emcees to do his beats justice – Kool G Rap, Big Shug, Sadat X, Ed OG, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Illa Ghee, Ruste Juxx, Pacewon, C Rayz Walz, Tha God Fahim, Daniel Son, Ren Thomas, Young Lo, Solomon Childs, Realio Sparkzwell, Ill Conscious, Recognize Ali, Supreme Cerebral, Zagnif Nori, Kool Taj Tha Gr8, Localblac, Suezar, and Born Talent – adding this project to your music library should be a no-brainer if you’re a traditional boom-bap head.
Army Of The Pharaohs – The Torture Papers (2006)
The Torture Papers is the debut album by underground Hip Hop collective Army of the Pharaohs, released in 2006 after years of anticipation. The crew was established in 1998 by Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz, and originally featured Jedi Mind Tricks, Chief Kamachi, 7L & Esoteric, Virtuoso, and Bahamadia. Virtuoso and Bahamadia later split from the group. When The Torture Papers was recorded, AOTP consisted of Paz, Kamachi, 7L & Esoteric, Apathy, OuterSpace, King Syze, Reef the Lost Cauze, Des Devious, Celph Titled, and Faez One.
The single “Battle Cry” is a standout track on The Torture Papers – an all-out insane rap-fest with nine emcees spitting bars over a great beat with violins and bass. Other highlights include cuts like the title track, “Feast of the Wolves”, “King Among Kings”, “Gorillas”, “Henry the 8th”, “Pull The Pins Out”, “Tear It Down”, “Into The Arms Of Angels” and “All Shall Perish”. The Torture Papers is a very strong, well rounded, and complete album and a must-have for all those into hard, underground battle-rap kind of Hip Hop.
People Under The Stairs - 12 Step Program (2014)
People Under The Stairs – Thes One and Double K – is one the most underrated duo’s in the history of Hip Hop. 12 Step Program is the Los Angeles based duo’s ninth full-length studio album, and one of the best in their all-around excellent catalog. Nothing mysterious about PUTS modus operandi – on 12 Step Program they come with another selection of meticulously produced smooth, neo-boom-bap instrumentals to back up their dope vintage flows. Every PUTS release is a celebration of the true essence of Hip Hop, and 12 Step Program is no exception.
Finale – A Pipe Dream And A Promise (2009)
In Detroit’s post-Dilla world, Finale deserves a mention alongside the likes of Apollo Brown, Black Milk, Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9″, Guilty Simpson, Esham, and of course Eminem as a top representative of D-town’s Hip Hop scene.
Finale’s wordplay on his independently released debut album A Pipe Dream And A Promise is simply CRAZY. Finale shows of complex internal rhyme schemes and multi-syllabic rhyming combined with a distinctive flow (reminiscent of R.A. The Rugged Man) and razor-sharp delivery – this guy is a true lyricist and a verbal acrobat. With beats provided by J-Dilla, Black Milk, and Nottz (among others), the production is top-notch too – this album really is a must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop fan.
billy woods - Known Unknowns (2017)
Known Unknowns is one of HHGA’s favorite albums of 2017 and one of the best Hip Hop albums of the decade, but it was totally overlooked by most Hip Hop fans and noticed only by those heads who dig deep or those who have always been following billy woods.
billy woods’ debut album Camouflage (2003) and the albums that followed in the 2000s were all fine enough, but it was the excellent History Will Absolve Me (2012) that started a new level of excellence in woods’ career. Dour Candy (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Hiding Places (2019) (with Kenny Segal) and Terror Management (2019) are all top quality Hip Hop albums. Together with the projects he dropped as Armand Hammer (a collaboration with rapper/producer ELUCID) – Race Music (2013), Rome (2017), Paraffin (2018), and Shrines (2020) – and Known Unknows, that’s ten straight dope projects since the 2010s that should appeal to all Hip Hop fans who had enough of generic empty-headed mainstream rap.
Substance over fluff, creativity over genericness, intelligence over materialism – that’s what characterizes billy woods, and knowing that dumb sh** dominates the mainstream means little chance on mainstream exposure for woods’ music. Admittedly woods’ music may be an acquired taste and not be easy to get into for everybody, but it’s clear that he likes to make his music to have more meaning and substance than that of your typical Hip Hop artist. Known Unknowns is one of billy woods’ most easy-to-get-into albums, mainly because of Blockhead’s dope and reasonably accessible production (with also a couple of beats from woods’ longtime collaborator Aesop Rock).
Don’t sleep on billy woods.
Abstract Tribe Unique – P.A.I.N.T. (2001)
Mellow, jazzy sounding Hip Hop of the highest level. With all the dumb sh*t going on in Hip Hop at the time, it was good to see there were still artists like Los Angeles’ Abstract Rude and Tribe Unique around, with evident respect for the art form and the ability to elevate it. Smooth production and guest appearances from the likes of Aceyalone, Myka 9, Moka Only, Grouch, Eyedea, Slug, Busdriver, and others to add extra flavor – it all leads to a long (72 minutes) but thoroughly enjoyable album. Cool and stimulating – this is one of the albums released in 2001 that served as the much-needed counterweight to all the dumb thugging and pimping rap music that got so much of the spotlight.
Ugly Heroes - Ugly Heroes (2013)
Ugly Heroes is a trio consisting of MCs Verbal Kent and Red Pill, along with producer Apollo Brown, and Ugly Heroes is their self-titled collaborative debut album. As always Apollo Brown’s sound is straight from the nineties, polished bass-heavy beats, complimented by atmospheric strings and piano chords. This is blue-collar Hip Hop, Ugly Heroes focuses on the struggles of Verbal Kent and Red Pil, who present themselves as working-class MCs from Chicago and Detroit, describing the struggles of the working-class life. Filled with serious subject matter and unflinching lyrics, backed up by deep and slow head-bobbing beats – this is another gem by Apollo Brown, an excellent album that deserves a lot more attention than it got.
Snowgoons – Black Snow (2008)
Snowgoons is a crew of German producers who are basically making the same album over and over again – all their projects feature hard-hitting and bass-heavy boom-bap beats in the best Jedi Mind Tricks and Army Of The Pharaohs tradition, and for each project they recruit a bunch of the finest underground emcees to do justice to those beats.
Black Snow is Snowgoons’ second studio album and of their best, also thanks to the vocal contributions of heavy hitters like Apathy, Reef The Lost Cauze, King Magnetic, Ill Bill, Smif-n-Wessun, Edo G, Killah Priest, R.A. The Rugged Man, and many more.
Philmore Greene - Chicago: A Third World City (2018)
Chicago: A Third World City by Chicago’s veteran emcee Philmore Greene is another one of the most slept-on albums of 2018. The album was a few years in the making and the time and effort that went into its creation shows. Chicago: A Third World City is kind of a concept album, following two young people on their life’s journey in Chicago; addressing issues like poverty, violence, political corruption, and failing school systems – all meaning to show that Chicago is no better than a third world country in a lot of regards. Philmore Greene has a great voice and flow, his lyrics are meaningful, the beats are dope – Chicago: A Third World City is a keeper.
Leak Bros. – Waterworld (2004)
Waterworld is the first and only studio album by Leak Bros, which consisted of Cage and Tame One, released on the Eastern Conference label.
Waterworld is a concept album – every song on the album is about the drug PCP. Street names for PCP like “water,” “wet,” “leak,” “fry”, “sherm,” “dip,” “death,” “angel dust,” “dust,” “purple rain,” “embalming fluid,” and “formaldehyde” are all constantly referenced throughout the album. Cage and Tame One frequently mentions “dipping” cigarettes, blunts, and other smoking material in PCP. A dark subject matter, that may not sound appealing to a lot of people – but somehow Cage and Tame One make it work. They also play well of each other – Tame One is more of a traditional kind of emcee with a strong voice (as he showed earlier as part of Artifacts), Cage has always been as more of a ‘shock-core’ rapper, relying on shocking and crazy imagery.
Waterworld consists of dark beats with thumping baselines and eerie samples by producers like Camu Tao, DJ Mighty Mi, El-P, J-Zone, RJD2 (among others), and completely off the wall lyrics that make for an interesting albeit uncomfortable, dark listening experience. Waterworld will not be for everybody, but it is a definitive must-listen for fans of other records released on labels like Eastern Conference and Definitive Jux.
Add-2 - Jim Crow The Musical (2019)
Chicago emcee Add-2’s Jim Crow: The Musical is his first full-length project since 2015’s Prey For The Poor – one of HHGA’s favorite albums of 2015, third only after Kendrick Lamar’s TPAB and Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth. Jim Crow: The Musical is 19 tracks (14 songs, 5 skits) deep and comes equipped with contributions from Phonte, Brittney Carter, Oliv Blu, Neak, and others. Featuring narration by Kadeem Hardison (from A Different World fame), Jim Crow: The Musical is a poignant and powerful project about living life as a black man in America. like Prey For The Poor, this is an important album – Hip Hop for thinking people.
Binary Star - Masters Of The Universe (2000)
One of the most slept-on albums of the year 2000 (or that whole decade even) is Binary Star’s Masters Of The Universe. Where dumbed down factory rap was selling millions of copies, this gem of an album sold less than 50.000 units, which is crazy when you think about it. Binary Star’s One Be Lo and Senim Silla, along with producer Decompoze, give us intelligent lyrics, great flows, and dope beats – what more do you want?
MarQ Spekt & Kno – MacheteVision (2011)
On the heels of CunninLynguists’ monumental Oneirology, Kno knocks another one out the park – this time with this collaboration with Philadelphia emcee MarQ Spekt: MacheteVision. Production-wise this project is less subtle and less layered than most of Kno’s work as part of CunninLynguists, but it has the same bass-heavy instrumentals – the in-your-face boom-bap beats suit MarQ Spekt’s lyrics and lyrical style. Many people slept on this one, and they’re missing out. Gotta love that cover art too.
Ryu - Tanks For The Memories (2016)
Tanks For The Memories is the most slept-on album of 2016. You may know Ryu as one-quarter of Styles Of Beyond, a Los Angeles crew who dropped an underground classic in 1998 with their debut album 2000 Fold. Almost 20 years later Ryu surprises with Tanks For The Memories. With work on the boards from West Coast legend Divine Styler, Ryu dropped this gem of an album to little or no fanfare. That’s a shame because Tanks For Memories is awesome. Ryu brings the boom-bap back – the album is a near-perfect modern interpretation of 90s Hip Hop, using the beat-structures of Hip Hop classics from Gangstarr and Big Daddy Kane on two of the stand-out tracks, sampling Public Enemy on another, and bringing back the Funky Drummer break too – especially people who know their classics will enjoy this album. Ryu is a great lyricist too, with dope flows and clever wordplay. Tanks For The Memories is a throwback and homage to Golden Age Hip Hop, one that belongs in your collection if you’re into that vintage boom-bap sound.
The Crest – Skeptik (2005)
AD and Jack Cracker, two brothers from Madison, Wisconsin, are The Crest. Skeptik is a typical exponent of mid-2000s mid-western introspective boom-bap Hip Hop, reminiscent of acts like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Eyedea & Abilities. Skeptik has a good balance of serious and playful lyrics, and the album features some seriously addicting production from the likes of DJ Skrabble and Jayson Blare. Clever wordplay, catchy hooks, and dope instrumentals from start to finish – Skeptik is one of the most slept-on albums of 2005.
Celph Titled & Buckwild - Nineteen Ninety Now (2010)
Legendary D.I.T.C. crate digger Buckwild came through with a sh*tload of vintage 90s beats for New York’s Celph Titled’s official solo-debut full-length (coming after the 2006 compilation The Gatalog: A Collection of Chaos). This album is simply excellent – it offers a dose of Hip Hop in its purest form: 16 tracks with nothing but dope beats, scratches, and rhymes. Well-placed guest spots from fellow Demi Godz and Army Of The Pharaohs members Vinnie Paz, Esoteric, and Apathy, as well as features from seasoned emcees as R.A. The Rugged Man, Sadat X, Grand Puba, A.G. Diamond D, O.C., Chino XL, and Treach, combined with Buckwild’s stellar production, make this album one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2010.
Dela – Changes Of Atmosphere (2008)
French producer Dela recruited a host of dope emcees (J-Live, Elzhi, Talib Kweli, J. Sands, Blu – among others) to create this excellent 90s-centric jazzy Hip Hop album.
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything’s Fine (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.
Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth (2007)
Over the years Brother Ali has put together a consistently dope catalog. Where Shadows On The Sun (2003) arguably is the absolute best Brother Ali album and the crown jewel in Ali’s body of work, The Undisputed Truth is not far behind. Characteristical flawless production by Atmosphere’s Ant and elite lyricism by Ali – The Undisputed Truth runs for an hour but never gets repetitive or stale. This album was met with mixed critical acclaim upon its release which is crazy really – this easily is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2007.
CRIMEAPPLE & Big Ghost Ltd. - Aguardiente (2018)
New Jersey-based and Colombia-born emcee CRIMEAPPLE is one of a new generation of Hip Hop artists pumping out projects at a steady rate, and he’s becoming one of the underground’s frontrunners of the new noir kind of street rap, Griselda style. For Aguardiente he teamed up with blogger-turned-producer Big Ghost Ltd., who supplies CRIMEAPPLE with some of the hardest neo-boom-bap beats of 2018 – almost as good as the beats he crafted for ANKHLEJOHN’s Van Ghost which was released in the same year. Aguardiente is CRIMEAPPLE’s best project, the chemistry with Big Ghost is tangible, and the instrumentals serve as perfect backdrops for his vivid storytelling.
Masters Of Illusion - Masters Of Illusion (2000)
Kutmasta Kurt arguably is the only beatmaker that has ever fully understood Keith’s style and who was able to provide him with the most suitable framework for his lyrical expressions on multiple projects. Besides Sex Style and First Come First Served, Masters Of Illusion is their best collaboration.
On this album, Kool Keith is paired up with Bay Area rapper Motion Man. Both emcees spit great rhymes over Kutmasta Kurt’s stellar old-school-style production. As always Kurt provides banging boom-bap beats complemented with some real turntable work. Plenty of excellent cuts on this one, but you have to check out “The Bay-Bronx Bridge” – a perfect throwback old-school flavored Ultramagnetic track.
Hex One - Words Worth A Thousand Pictures (2017)
Hex One’s Words Worth A Thousand Pictures is one of the most slept on Hip Hop albums of 2017. While the mainstream was dominated by mumblers and quasi-crooners, a skilled rapper like Hex One gets no shine, which is ridiculous if you think about it. Hex One is an emcee from Queens, NYC (with Columbian origins), half of the renowned underground rap duo Epidemic. Hex One is a true emcee, who possesses extreme technical prowess and lyrical dexterity. Words Worth A Thousand Pictures is a treasure for all those who love the sounds of the Golden Age Hip Hop of the 90s. Sick beats plus sick rhymes with razor-sharp wordplay – 100% pure uncut Hip Hop.
Non Phixion – The Future Is Now (2002)
3rd Bass’ MC Serch has been responsible for a few feats not everybody may know about. As executive producer, he played an important role in the realization of Nas’ Illmatic, one of the acclaimed albums in Hip Hop history. Another act Serch was responsible for bringing into existence is Non-Phixion. He put together his protege Sabac Red, with DJ Eclipse and Ill Bill, who were later joined by Goretex to form Non-Phixion.
Non-Phixion’s debut album The Future Is Now is loosely based around one concept: almost every song paints a picture of a violent, disturbed, and apocalyptic future, where anarchy reigns and technology has all but taken over. This is an effective and powerful album, one of the first of many dope albums to emerge from the wider Non-Phixion camp.
Bobby J From Rockaway - Summer Classics (2019)
Summer Classics is the debut album from Queens, NYC native Bobby J From Rockaway. Boasting production from Hip Hop veterans like Kwame, Statik Selektah, Sway in the Morning’s DJ Wonder, and Jake One and features from lyrical heavyweights like Lil’ Fame and Killah Priest, the album is not only an homage to his hometown of Rockaway Beach but also to classic Hip Hop.
The title is inspired by the “Summer Classic” basketball league that has been a staple of his community for generations. In his own words, Bobby states: “I feel like every rapper wants that one song that dominates the summertime. My goal was to make a project full of those kinds of records. Something you can play from top to bottom while driving with the top down – Summer Classics.”
This is a GREAT album people, one of the best of 2019. Summer Classics has been a long time coming and the time that went into crafting the album shows. 16 tracks, all flawlessly produced, sequenced just right and most importantly filled with lyrics worth listening to. Bobby has something to say and he possesses the pen-game and mic skills to carry an album by himself too. The guest verses Kwame, Lil’ Fame, Killah Priest, and Michael Fiya drop just add a bit of extra flavor – but four guest spots on 16 tracks mean Bobby J isn’t overcrowded on his own record like so many other artists are when they have a guest feature on almost every song on their albums.
Not a weak song on Summer Classics, but “The Collector” with Killah Priest, “Hook Drop”, a M.O.P. anthem with Lil’ Fame, “The Return”, which has Bobby and unsung icon Kwame trading well-crafted bars (“Its the return of the boom-bap black hoodie sh** / Back with the back and forth, back on our bully sh**”), “On My Own”, with its booming beat and echoes of Eminem, and the single “Hometown” are some of the definitive highlights.
“Does anybody make real sh** anymore?” Bobby J asks in the first lines of the opening song “Bobby J For President”. The answer is yes: Bobby J From Rockaway does. Don’t let the somewhat a-typical album cover art fool you – this is real Hip Hop, an album with great replay value and a must-have for anyone who likes authentic, quality Hip Hop with perfectly executed Golden Age Hip Hop vibes, without sounding dated at all.
The Boss Hog Barbarians - Every Hog Has Its Day (2006)
Every Hog Has Its Day is not an album for the easily offended or for those without a sense of humor. Quite different from J-Zone and Celph Titled’s work outside this collaboration, Every Hog Has Its Day is kind of a concept album on which the duo explore… something (how to be as misogynistic as possible, maybe). The blurb on their Bandcamp page may tell you something of what they’re going for here:
If you feel froggish, then leap. But if you feel hoggish, then creep! It was inevitable. Say no more, the Hogs are here. As a group, J-Zone and Celph Titled (aka Kenny Hoggins and Wade Hoggs) are the Bo$$ Hog Barbarian$. The two multi-talented beatsmiths/rappers/entertainers/masters of all that is rude are in the house for a full-length ride. Enter Hog Heaven, where the order of the day is foul-mouthed trash talk, funkafied beats, and a sense of humor, to the 50th power. With nearly all production by J-Zone and Celph Titled, the lone outside beat comes from none other than the legendary Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz’, longtime Hog affiliates. On the rapping side? No guests!! Hogs don’t need em. Celph and Zone are the Jordan and Pippen of Hog Heaven, so no help is necessary. 100% pure unadulterated hoggin’. With the single, “$teady $mobbin’” b/w “Celph Destruction”, already makin noise, this album will Hog your arteries. You’ve been warned… they won’t stop hoggin’ nooooo!
Obviously intended as a comedic presentation, or maybe even as a parody of artists who do this kind of thing as if they mean it (acts like Three 6 Mafia come to mind), Every Hog Has Its Day is nothing but harmless – if at times deeply offensive – fun, with funky beats and humorous punchlines. A hate-it or love-it kind of album probably, depending on the listener’s sense of humor and ability to not take things all too seriously.
Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill - Jorun PMC (2020)
There have been a lot of great albums released in the wave of Golden Age revivalist boom-bap we’ve been experiencing in the past decade, but NONE as good as Jorun PMC.
The whole album is packed with nods to classic songs and styles from acts like Run DMC, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, UTFO, LL Cool J, Roxanne Shante, Mantronix, Cold Crush Brothers, Melle Mel, and many more of the 1980s legends – from the title of the album to the cover art, to the beats, to the samples, to the turntablism, to the lyrics – this project is the best kind of trip down memory lane any old-school Hip Hop fan could wish for. Jorun Bombay’s 80s-centric beats and scratches are crisp and fresh, and Phill Most Chill’s raps are dope as f. His flow, his delivery, his cadences, his lyrics – what he did here is simply brilliant.
This is not Phill Most Chill’s first excellent throwback project, but it is his very best to date. The self-proclaimed torchbearer of traditional Hip Hop really outdid himself on this one, and his match-up with Jorun Bombay proves to be golden – Jorun PMC is a Hip Hop traditionalist dream. It will most likely go way over the head of this generation’s trap-crowd, but those who grew up with 80s Hip Hop and younger Hip Hop listeners who know their classics will LOVE Jorun PMC.