50 Under-appreciated Post-2000 Hip Hop Albums | Part 4: 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 whose 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 to 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.
Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club (2018)
Avantdale Bowling Club is a jazz-rap project headed by Auckland, New Zealand-based artist Tom Scott. This is one of those albums that seems to exist in a bubble, it’s highly acclaimed by people in the know but those people are far too few. Maybe this album was slept on by wider audiences because Avantdale Bowling Club is from New Zealand?
Anyway, Avantdale Bowling Club’s eponymous LP is audacious and boundary-pushing, an album that transcends the genre of Hip Hop – this is not ‘just’ jazz-rap, but more like jazz with rap. Build on live instrumentation from a full-on jazz modal band with saxes, flutes, trumpets, strings, upright bass, and drums, and with Scott’s killer lyrics, Avantdale Bowling Club is one of the most captivating albums released in 2018. The album is perfectly sequenced, opening with the impeccably structured “Years Gone By”, a seven-minute crescendo of jazz instrumentation over which Scott recalls his entire life year by year, to the instrumental closer “Tea Break” – every song is its own story, from a different side of Tom Scott’s life, with subject matter including damaged and lost relationships, mental health issues, substance abuse, poverty, and fatherhood – this album is personal and engrossing from start to finish.
Avantdale Bowling Club is an effortless fusion of neo-jazz and Hip Hop, a must-have for people with an appreciation for music from acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Guru, Freestyle Fellowship/Aceyalone, The Pharcyde, The Roots, and even Kendrick Lamar – there are a lot of TPAB ‘Kendrickisms’ here. Too many people slept on this album – if you are one of them it’s never too late to go check out Avantdale Bowling Club, you can come back here later to thank me for pointing you in the right direction.
Antipop Consortium – Fluorescent Black (2009)
Antipop Consortium is a group that has been at the forefront of left-field Hip Hop since the late 1990s, and the innovative Fluorescent Black is one of their strongest projects. Stream-of-consciousness lyrics and an effective blend of electronic and industrial beats make for an experimental but accessible enough album that deserves more recognition than it received upon its release.
Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul (2015)
Sour Soul is a collaborative album from Toronto jazz-hop band BadBadNotGood and Wu-Tang Clan icon Ghostface Killah. Inspired by 1960s and 70s music – taking inspiration from the recording techniques and production of that era, and eschewing sampling in favor of live instrumentation, BBNG with producer Frank Dukes have created a dramatic, cinematic musical staging for Ghostface’s vivid storytelling. Sour Soul features guest spots from MF DOOM, Elzhi, Danny Brown, and Tree (from Project Mayhem).
At 33 minutes, this project is barely over EP-length and that’s the most important knock against it but as it is, it’s a great project anyway – just another example that out-of-the-box collaborations often result in surprisingly strong projects. Make no mistake, Sour Soul is one of the most underappreciated projects in Ghostface Killah’s celebrated discography.
Invincible – Shapeshifters (2008)
Shapeshifters by Detroit artist Invincible is the most underrated and slept-on album released in 2008. Invincible is a superb emcee, her flow and her technical abilities are top-notch: her wordplay is packed with internal rhyme schemes and with meaning too – she proves she has an astute sociopolitical mind and something to say. Maybe the beats could have been better here and there – but Shapeshifters is all about Invincible’s rhymes. Don’t sleep on Invincible and Shapeshifters.
Dilated Peoples – Directors Of Photography (2014)
Directors of Photography is the fifth studio album by Los Angeles trio Dilated Peoples, and their best. Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience, and DJ Babu all brought their A-game, as did the production team consisting of 9th Wonder, The Alchemist, Bravo, Diamond D, DJ Premier, Jake One, Oh No, and Twiz The Beat Pro along with DJ Babu and Evidence themselves. The album runs for 55 minutes, which is long enough to keep the guest rappers – Vince Staples, Aloe Blacc, Catero, Gangrene, Sick Jacken, Krondon, Fashawn, Rapsody, Domo Genesis, Vinnie Paz, and Action Bronson – from overcrowding proceedings. Directors of Photography is executed flawlessly – this is matured underground boom-bap at its finest.
Sage Francis – Human The Death Dance (2007)
Human The Death Dance is Sage Francis’ third solo album, and arguably his best – even if Personal Journals (2002) and Healthy Distrust (2005) are dope as hell too. Great beats and skillfully delivered lyrics that are worth listening to – what more could you need to satisfy your Hip Hop cravings? Sage Francis is one of the most under-appreciated artists in post-2000 Hip Hop.
Apathy & O.C. - Perestroika (2017)
Perestroika is a collaborative album by Apathy & O.C. – two of the most consistent emcees in the game. D.I.T.C. member O.C. is best known for the two classics he dropped in the 1990s: Word… Life (1994) and Jewelz (1997), but people tend to overlook he’s been on fire in the 2010s as well. His two solo full-lengths – Same Moon, Same Sun (2017), and A New Dawn (2018) – are both excellent, as is his collaboration with Apollo Brown: the superlative Trophies (2015). Apathy has been dropping dope project after dope project for well over 10 years, as a solo artist (Eastern Philosophy (2006), Wanna Snuggle? (2009), Honkey Kong (2011), Connecticut Casual (2014), Handshakes With Snakes (2016) and The Widow’s Son (2018)), and for his work with acts like Demigodz, Celph Titled, Jedi Mind Tricks, Army of the Pharaohs, and others.
From Apathy’s Bandcamp page:
“Perestroika is inspired by the cold war being waged on the rap industry. Anti-mainstream propaganda has become a bit of a cliche, so instead of speaking out against the unflattering direction that today’s mainstream Hip Hop music has gone in, Apathy and O.C. have taken action by building a pillar in the ruins of what’s left of true school Hip Hop. Picture the first time you heard Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album “Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers” and were immediately swept up in to a dark Kung Fu movie, with the sound effects and painted visuals – “Perestroika” is intended to have the same effect… except it transports you to Cold War, Soviet Russia. From the Kremlin to small villages affected by the economically devastating times of Perestroika, this album is a salute to the underdog and all those who are able to survive the coldest winters. Not entirely conceptual, however, the album allows both wordsmiths to flex their greatest strengths over solid head-nodding East Coast-style production. Showing up for the cause, guests Celph Titled, Slaine, Marvalyss, Kappa Gamma and Jus Cuz add to the palate alongside production that is mostly handled by Apathy, with MoSS and Illinformed (The Four Owls) contributing tracks as well. In a time of worldly political conflict and scandals, this project plays as the perfect soundtrack to the madness.”
That sums it up adequately – Perestroika is an excellent album and a must-have for all O.C. and Apathy fans (of course), but also for those who appreciate true lyricism and boom-bap Hip Hop in general.
Sean Price – Monkey Barz (2005)
Monkey Barz is the solo debut studio album by Sean Price of Heltah Skeltah and Boot Camp Clik fame. The album was the first release from Duck Down Records 2005 “Triple Threat Campaign”, followed by Buckshot & 9th Wonder’s Chemistry, and Smif-N-Wessun’s Smif ‘N’ Wessun: Reloaded. – which were also dope albums that deserve a mention here. Monkey Barz arguably was the best of the three though, and a bonafide underground Hip Hop classic.
Obvious highlights are the singles “Peep My Words”, “Onionhead”, “Heartburn”, “Boom Bye Yeah”, “Monkey Barz” and “Slapboxing”, but the whole albums slams – raw, underground Hip Hop from start to finish by one of the most authentic figures Hip Hop has ever known. R.I.P. Sean P.
Elzhi & Khrysis are Jericho Jackson - Jericho Jackson (2018)
The combination of Khrysis and Elzhi proves to be a potent one. Khrysis had already worked with Elzhi on a Slum Village project and most notably on Elzhi’s brilliant mixtape Elmatic – his reworking of Nas’ Illmatic. With this full-length, they prove their chemistry is outstanding. Khrysis had long since proved he is a top producer, and Elzhi is one of the most underrated emcees around. Their cooperation should pay dividends, and it does. Khrysis & Elzhi Are Jericho Jackson offers a dose of dope boom-bap Hip Hop, no fronts, no fillers.
Canibus – Rip The Jacker (2003)
Nobody ever disputed Canibus’ superior lyrical skills. The fact he made a bunch of not-so-good albums had more to do with subpar production than his work on the mic. On Rip The Jacker, his fifth studio album, everything finally comes together for Canibus – resulting in what undoubtedly is his best album.
Production is done completely by Jedi Mind Tricks’ production genius Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind, ensuring a totally cohesive sound throughout the whole album. The intricate soundscapes laid down by Stoupe mesh well with Canibus’ complex and sharp rhymes. “Indibisible”, “Showtime At The Gallow”, “Genabis”, “Levitibus”, “No Return” and the 8-minute epic “Poet Laurette II” (in which Canibus spits 200 bars over 3 different beats) are standouts, but all eleven tracks on this album are fire.
Blacastan – Blac Sabbath (2010)
Blac Sabbath offers close to an hour of raw, underground Hip Hop by Hartford, Connecticut emcee and Army Of The Pharaohs member (since 2011) Blacastan. Blacastan is a dope emcee with a strong voice, a dope cadence, storytelling abilities, and some great lyrics. Beatmaker ColomBeyond produced 12 of 18 of the songs on Blac Sabbath, and his work on the boards is great here. Blue Sky Black Death, Statik Selektah, Mr. Green, and DJ Doom take care of the rest of the production duties, and guest spots from the likes of Celph Titled, Esoteric, and Mark Fury help round out this dope project that is a must-have for fans of that gritty East Coast boom-bap sound.
L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae - Complicate Your Life With Violence (2019)
North Carolinian L’Orange is one of the most underappreciated producers active in the Hip Hop game in the past decade. He was responsible for excellent projects like The City Under The City (with Stik Figa, 2013), Time? Astonishing! (with Kool Keith, 2015), The Life & Death Of Scenery (with Mr. Lif, 2016) and of course the first project he did together with Chicago emcee Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us In Like Family (2015).
Like The Night Took Us In Like Family, Complicate Your Life With Violence is a concept album, examing the (insane) nature of war and violence by asking and answering some difficult questions on the subject. Guests like Chester Watson, billy woods, Zeroh, and Loji add their perspectives – resulting in a poignant project meant for thinking people. Even with Jeremiah Jae’s dense lyrical content being meaningful and outstanding, it’s L’Orange’s production that steals the show. Those familiar with his work will have an idea of what to expect: unique sampling choices, dirty drums, and atmospheric vibes throughout – it all leads to one of the most intriguing albums of 2019.
Ill Bill – What’s Wrong With Bill? (2004)
What’s Wrong With Bill? is another strong release coming out of the Non-Phixion camp, not the only one this year. With production duties handled by his brother Necro, Ill Bill graphically combines themes of sex, violence, drugs, gory imagery, and social/political themes – maybe a bit too much outside the norm for the average fan and casual Hip Hop listener. Nonetheless, What’s Wrong With Bill? is creative, unique, honest, and intelligent – overall an exceptional album from an equally exceptional label.
Evitan – Speed Of Life (2012)
As everybody knows the Native Tongues are responsible for some of the very best albums in Hip Hop history. This album has a Native Tongues stamp, as it is a quarter A Tribe Called Quest and half Black Sheep – Evitan is a duo consisting of Tribe Called Quest’s Jarobi and Black Sheep’s Dres. Evitan is Native spelled backward, so there’s the explanation for the name the duo chose to operate under. Dres’ skills as an emcee have never been in doubt, but most of us never knew what Jarobi is capable of on the mic. On Speed Of Life, he proves he has serious skills and bounce as a rapper. Smooth beats and great rhymes – also by guests like Rah Digga, Craig G, Sadat X, Havoc, Punchline, Homeboy Sandman, and others – this is a well-rounded Hip Hop album that deserves more recognition than it got.
Sonic Sum – Films (2008)
“Emerging from Amaechi Uzoigwe’s Ozone collective (Anti-Pop Consortium, Company Flow, Mike Ladd, Mr. Lif, Saul Williams), Sonic Sum has developed a unique formula which brought hip-hop to still unknown areas and level. Straight from the Bronx, the band features 2 DJs/producers, Fred Ones and Jun aka Preservation, Eric MO on bass, and the talents of MC/producer Rob Sonic, later Def Jux solo artist and half part of Hail Mary Mallon beside Aesop Rock.
Influenced by Kraftwerk, Public Enemy, or Led Zeppelin, Sonic Sum worked out the perfect alchemy between musicality and lyricism, abstraction, and retrofuturism.” (Bandcamp)
Films is a GREAT album. Not for everybody maybe – but those who appreciate Def Jux’s best and best-known albums will no doubt the alt-Hip Hop creativity of Sonic Sums’ Films.
Anti-Lilly & Phoniks - It's Nice Outside (2017)
Smooth, jazzy boom-bap Hip Hop of the highest order from Houston emcee Anti-Lilly and Portland, Maine producer Phoniks. A typical product from the unsung Don’t Sleep Records label.
Surreal & The Sound Providers – True Indeed (2006)
True Indeed is an excellent presentation of upbeat Hip Hop, by Florida-based rapper Surreal and production duo The Sound Providers (Soulo and J Skills). Jazzy instrumentals, scratched-in hooks, smooth flows, and positive vibes – True Indeed offers 90s-centric boom-bap at its finest, this is just good music all around.
Killah Priest – The Psychic World Of Walter Reed (2013)
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, along with his debut Heavy Mental (1998), the often forgotten but superb Elizabeth (2009), and later albums Planet Of The Gods (2015), Rocket To Nebula (#15 on our top 60 Hip Hop albums of 2020 list), The Third Eye In Technicolor (#18), and Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 (2021).
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.
People Under The Stairs – Carried Away (2009)
Carried Away is the seventh studio album by the unsung Los Angeles duo People Under The Stairs. Like most of their other albums, Carried Away is a great experience, tailormade for Hip Hop traditionalists – a presentation of entertaining rhymes and dope beats dotted with well-placed samples, all without guest producers or rappers. This album continues the tradition of the PUTS’ brand of independent, organic Hip Hop, created by two talented artists who are the definition of the art form. Carried Away is another PUTS album to treasure.
ELUCID - Save Yourself (2016)
Born in Queens and raised in Long Island, longtime Brooklyn resident ELUCID worked with some of indie Hip Hop’s most celebrated artists: Open Mike Eagle, Tanya Morgan, J*Davey, Beans from Antipop, milo, billy woods, Busdriver, Small Professor, and Rob Sonic, amongst others. He’s put out a few mixtapes and a couple of collaborative projects—as part of Cult-Favorite with A.M. Breakups, and Armand Hammer with billy woods – but never a solo album, until this one. While a couple of outside producers like Willie Green, Messiah Musik, and A.M. Breakups, make memorable contributions, Save Yourself is primarily self-produced.
“Save Yourself is my most immediate and personal record to date. It’s difficult to articulate but handling the bulk of production may have had something to do with that. I didn’t really know what I was making. When the spirit moved, the raps poured out. I was talking about myself. My community. About where I came from and future possibilities,” ELUCID says on his Bandcamp page. “At its core, Save Yourself is about rebirth—of both self and community. An examination. An assessment. A shedding. I was working through personal issues that spilled over into the music. Events regarding police brutality and shootings of unarmed black folk dominated news headlines in a way that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Liberation was on my mind. I reaffirmed myself in the idea that I couldn’t truly be free until we were all free.”
Save Yourself is yet another dope project coming out of the Backwoodz Studioz camp, if you’re into billy woods and/or Armand Hammer, or ‘experimental/abstract’ Hip Hop in general, picking up this project is a no-brainer.
Polyrhythm Addicts – Break Glass (2007)
Polyrhythm Addicts is a four-man crew consisting of DJ Spinna, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, and new member Tiye Phoenix (who replaced Apani B Fly). Break Glass is structured and sequenced well, with a good mix of bangers and slower jams, and is filled with clever observations and conscious lyrics. Dope production from DJ Spinna, and great rhymes from Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex, and Tiye Phoenix. Guest appearances made by Pharoahe Monch (“Reachin'”), Large Professor (“The Purist”), Planet Asia (“One Chance”), & Phonte (“It’s My Life”) help round out the album, keeping it varied and strong from start to finish.
Dope KNife - Things Got Worse (2019)
This is a great album by an underrated artist. Dope KNife, hailing from Savannah, Georgia, has been making a bit of a name for himself in the underground in the decade past but has yet to find the real spotlight he deserves. Sonically and lyrically Things Got Worse is deliciously dark and gritty, this is one of those rare albums that is totally consistent throughout – no skippable tracks at all. Don’t sleep on Dope KNife.
J-Live – S.P.T.A. (Said Person Of That Ability) (2011)
Even if J-Live has never been able to reach the level of quality he reached on his first two albums The Best Part (2001) and All Of The Above (2002) – both cult-classics and top 10 albums of the 2000s – he has been consistent in releasing strong Hip Hop albums. S.P.T.A. (Said Person Of That Ability) is his fifth studio album, and together with Then What Happened? (2008) his best after his two classics. Intelligent lyrics, dope beats – this is a great project.
Alias – The Other Side Of The Looking Glass (2002)
The Other Side of the Looking Glass is the debut solo studio album from Alias, the late co-founder of the famed indie Hip Hop record label Anticon. Highly original and unlike anything else released in 2002, this dense album is perfectly executed and the pinnacle of Alias’ work.
Qwel & Maker – Owl (2010)
As part of the Typical Cats crew Chicago emcee Qwel was responsible for three solid albums – Typical Cats (2001), Civil Service (2004), and 3 (2012). In addition to those albums and his work as a solo artist, Qwel has been releasing projects ever since 2004 with producer Maker. Owl is their fourth collaborative album, and the duo’s best after Beautiful Raw (2013). Qwel is an excellent rapper with a dope flow and intricate wordplay, and Maker’s instrumentals are dope as f too.
Jazz Spastiks & Rebels To The Grain - Unkut Fresh (2015)
Jazz Spastiks is a crew of producers and DJs from the UK, for Unkut Fresh they teamed up with Los Angeles duo Rebels To The Grain (MP & Cheddy). It’s like Jazz Spastiks took what they learned from icons like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Showbiz, and Q-Tip, and threw their styles in the Jazz Spastiks cooking pot to come up with the instrumentals for this album. This is very much a producer’s album, but there’s solid enough lyricism from MP and Cheddy to go with the great Jazz Spastiks beats too – Unkut Fresh is a must-have for fans of 90s-centric jazzy boom-bap.
Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (2000)
Perfectly capturing that throwback Hip Hop vibe, this Californian crew are all about flawless emceeing over dope instrumentals. Chali 2na, Mark 7even, Zaakir, and Akil can flow and harmonize with the best of them. while DJ Nu-Mark and the legendary DJ CutChemist add value with the beats and cuts they provide. Much needed upbeat Hip Hop in times when materialism and violence of gangsta wannabes dominated the mainstream.
Roc Marciano - Reloaded (2012)
Reloaded is the second studio album from former U.N. and Flipmode Squad member Roc Marciano. Marciano produced most of the album himself and was assisted on a couple of tracks by The Alchemist, Ray West, Q-Tip, and The Arch Druids. The album features guest contributions by rappers Ka and Knowledge Pirate. In addition to Reloaded, Roc Marciano has released an impressively consistent set of albums this decade – Marcberg (2010), Marci Beaucou (2013), Rosebudd’s Revenge (2017), RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018), Behold A Dark Horse (2018), Kaos (with DJ Muggs, 2018), and Marcielago (2019) – all great, but Reloaded is the best of them all.
Reloaded is this decades’ epitome of the mafioso sun-genre pioneered in the mid-90s by legends such as Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, AZ, and Nas. Ever since the advent of gangsta rap, there have been tons of Hip Hop albums filled with crime talk, but Roc Marciano rises far above all the genericness. Immersive, cinematic storytelling, complemented by atmospheric boom-bap instrumentals – Reloaded is a staple of the subgenre.
Apollo Brown - Grandeur (2015)
Grandeur is another great release from the most consistent producer from the 2010s. 19 tracks of the smooth boom-bap Apollo Brown brand, with vocals by the likes of Skyzoo, Torae, Oddisee, MOP, Chino XL, Evidence, Rapper Big Pooh, Ras Kass, Vinnie Paz, Blacastan, Your Old Droog, Masta Ace, Wordsworth, Freddie Gibbs, O.C., Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Sean Price, Reks, and Ugly Heroes, among others. Beats by one of the best beatsmiths in the game, and rhymes by a roster of the greatest emcees of this era – quality Hip Hop guaranteed.
Aceyalone - Accepted Eclectic (2001)
Aceyalone is a West Coast underground legend, who came up in the late 1980s as part of the Los Angeles-based Hip Hop crew Freestyle Fellowship. He dropped two exceptional solo albums in the 1990s (All Balls Don’t Bounce in 1995 and A Book Of Human Language in 1998) and continued dropping quality Hip Hop in the 2000s. You can’t go wrong with any Aceyalone album, and Accepted Eclectic is a perfect example of Aceyalone’s master lyricist abilities.
Armand Hammer - Rome (2017)
Rome is the second album by Armand Hammer, those familiar with the respective artist’s other work, you know what to expect: raw, cryptic lyrics and dark, grimy, off-kilter beats. Despite work on the boards from a host of different producers – Messiah Musik, August Fanon, Fresh Kills, High Priest, Kenny Segal, and JPEGMafia – Rome sounds entirely cohesive, also thanks to the as per usual intriguing lyrical performances of ELUCID and billy woods. Cerebal, stream-of-consciousness rhymes and stinging observations (“skimmed through your music, found no reason not to approve it/it was all relatively toothless, you’re just a guy”) – this is one of those albums with endless replay value, on which you can discover something new with each spin. Rome may be a dark and challenging listen, but it’s a hypnotically beautiful experience if you allow yourself to be grabbed by it.
Psalm One – The Death Of Frequent Flyer (2006)
Chicago emcee Psalm One is an interesting artist, there is definitely something unique about her sound. The beats on her Rhymesayers debut The Death Of Frequent Flyer are fine, but this album is all about Psalm One’s dope flow, and her clever observations (like on “Rapper Girls”), and excellent storytelling abilities – this is an album with HEART and SOUL.
Evidence - Weather Or Not (2018)
Dilated Peoples’ Evidence drops one of the purest Hip Hop albums of 2018 with Weather Or Not. Uncomplicated but hard-hitting bars by a veteran emcee backed up by beats supplied by the likes of Alchemist, DJ Premier, and Evidence himself – what more does a Hip Hop head want? Uncut Hip Hop for Hip Hop purists.
Braille – Shades Of Grey (2004)
Oregon’s Braille is a talented individual, who dropped an unnoticed gem with Shades Of Grey, his second album. With production by the likes of 9th Wonder, Ohmega Watts, DJ Rob Swift, Kno, Illmind and others this album offers a lot of different tastes but still manages to sound like a cohesive whole. The album has a great throwback feel about it, with dope sampling and turntable work complementing most beats. Too many people slept on Shades Of Grey, if you did too now’s the time to go look for it.
Ugly Heroes - Everything In Between (2016)
Everything In Between is an excellent follow-up to Ugly Heroes’ self-titled debut album, which was released in 2013. Ugly Heroes – Apollo Brown, Verbal Kent & Red Pill – deliver once again. Those familiar with Apollo Brown know he is as consistent in crafting quality beats as any producer in the game. Red Pill and Verbal Kent stepped up the lyrics on Everything In Between, which makes for a Hip Hop album of the highest quality – a presentation of well-rounded boom-bap for all generations. “This World”, “Heart Attack”, “Unforgiven”, “Daisies”, “Force Fed” are stand-outs, but this album really doesn’t have any weak spots.
Busdriver – Fear Of A Black Tangent (2005)
Together with Temporary Forever (2002) and Perfect Hair (2014), Fear Of A Black Tangent is Busdriver’s best album. It’s a Busdriver album, so it’s experimental and DIFFERENT, and definitely not for everybody. To say Busdriver is unconventional is an understatement. Musically as well as lyrically Fear Of A Black Tangent is as quirky as is to be expected, but it’s arguably slightly more accessible than some of Busdriver’s other albums. Smart and hilarious rapid-fire flows over innovative production, and features by fellow Project Blowedians Abstract Rude, Rifleman Ellay Khule, Mikah 9, and 2mex, make for one of the most unique and original Hip Hop albums released in 2005.
Brother Ali - All The Beauty In This Whole Life (2017)
Brother Ali had some of the best Hip Hop albums in the 2000s with Us (2009), The Undisputed Truth (2007), and especially his masterpiece Shadows On the Sun (2003). After Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color (2012), he dropped another near-flawless album in 2017 with All The Beauty In This Whole Life.
It’s Brother Ali so you know what you will get – lyrical precision, honest emotion, social commentaries, and intelligent insights. Atmosphere’s Ant provided Ali with perfect lush boom-bap soundscapes to accompany his soulful collection of personal stories about the ups and downs of life. All The Beauty In This Whole Life is another amazing album by Brother Ali – powerful and meaningful grown-up music, a breath of fresh air in a rap-world filled with dumb-ass face-tatted mumblers.
Dr. Yen Lo – Days With Dr. Yen Lo (2015)
Days With Dr. Yen Lo (inspired by John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate) is another good album from Brownsville NYC independent underground veteran Ka, this one as Dr. Yen Lo – a collaboration with producer Preservation. Days With Dr. Yen Lo is similar in vibe and quality to the last two albums Ka released under his own name in the 2010s – The Night’s Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) – and it’s almost as good. Preservation’s psychedelic and minimalistic (almost percussion-free) instrumentals suit KA’s hushed flow and his intricate wordplay and lyrical subtleties are in full effect, as always. Not for everybody maybe, but those familiar with and appreciative of Ka’s other work will no doubt value Days With Dr. Yen Lo.
Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001)
The first installment of the two-part Revolutionary series bangs out with harder subjects and anger that’s even more pronounced than on the more celebrated second volume that would be released in 2003. Compared to Public Enemy classics like Fear Of A Black Planet and It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, on this incredible debut Immortal Technique spares no expense sounding off on anybody and anything deserving of his wrath. This is an album that is among the most important of the 2000s – with lots of classic Immortal Technique cuts on it, like “Creation & Destruction”, “Dominant Species”, “Positive Balance”, “No Mercy”, and of course “Dance With The Devil“.
Natti – Still Motion (2013)
Still Motion is the first solo album Natti, best-known for being a part of the unsung CunninLynguists. CunninLynguists is one of the most underappreciated crews in Hip Hop, with a couple of sleeper classics on their name – especially A Piece Of Strange (2006) and Oneirology (2011) are masterpieces. In 2010, CunninLynguists producer dropped his own solo album Death Is Silent, which is among this decades best. In 2014 it was Natti’s turn to try his hand at a solo project.
Guest appearances on Still Motion include Deacon the Villain, Freddie Gibbs, Sha Stimuli, and Substantial, among others, and the album is produced mostly by CunninLynguist buddies Deacon the Villain and Kno. This means this is a project which has that CunninLynguist mark of quality all over it. While not quite as brilliant the other CunninLynguist projects mentioned, Still Motion is a top-quality project anyway. Supersmooth Hip Hop, sonically true to Natti’s Southern roots and with lyrics worth listening to. You just can’t go wrong with a CunninLynguist release.
Cage – Hell’s Winter (2005)
Not an easy or comfortable listen, as per usual with Cage – the Orange County rapper who never shied away from talking about his troubled past and his personal demons. Compared to other Cage releases, Hell’s Winter is less demented but even more personal – even if some of the stories Cage relates are hard to stomach, especially with the knowledge that at least some of these stories he tells are based on real events and personal experiences.
With his move to Definitive Jux, superior production values under the supervision of DefJux head-honcho El-P are guaranteed. El-P, Blockhead, Camu Tao, DJ Shadow, and RJD2 each bless Cage with musical backdrops, for him to bare his mind and soul. Sonically superior and lyrically intense – Hell’s Winter is Cage’s magnum opus and one of the many jewels in the DefJux crown.
Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger On McNichols (2020)
With Manger On McNichols, Detroit emcee Boldy James continued his 2020 winning streak. Only a few months after his collaborative album with top-producer The Alchemist, the excellent The Price Of Tea In China, Boldy James dropped this completely different but equally captivating project.
Manger On McNichols is a release that has been a long time coming, a result of a collaboration with fellow Detroiter and veteran producer Sterling Toles that started over 10 years ago. Much of the lyrics on Manger On McNichols were recorded between 2007 and 2010, with some new lyrics added to a couple of tracks to finish the album for its 2020 release. Sterling Toles provides Boldy James vocals with a selection of experimental jazz instrumentals that make this album much more left-field in sound than James’ albums with The Alchemist. Because of its experimental vibe, Manger On McNichols probably is more of an acquired taste and less likely to appeal to wider audiences than TPOTIC and other Boldy James projects do, but it is an intriguing listening experience that deserves attention.
Doomtree – Doomtree (2009)
Doomtree’s first album as a group, and what an album! When the beat from the first track (after the intro) “Drumsticks” kicks in you know what you’re in for. The album received mixed reviews upon its release in 2008, but those who underrated it either clearly didn’t really listen to it or were otherwise not in a right state of mind. Top-notch beats, top-notch rhymes, and top-notch production – this is the first official release on which the individual Doomtree talent combine their skills to create something that is bigger than the sum of its individual parts. Make no mistake: this is one of 2008’s best albums and if you have never listened to it before you are in for a treat.
R.A. The Rugged Man – Legends Never Die (2013)
R.A. The Rugged Man is an exceptional emcee – better than your favorite rapper. Few, if any emcees can go bar-for-bar with R.A. The Rugged Man. His technical skill, his incredible flow, his breath control, and his bar-building skills are second to none. Due to all kinds of label woes and a strong-minded personality with an unwillingness to compromise, he only released two albums in the more than two decades he’s been active in the game – but on those two albums, and on numerous guest appearances on other people’s songs (where he usually bodies everybody else involved), R.A. has consistently shown an unbeatable lyrical ability.
Legends Never Die is R.A.’s second album, displaying his superior flow and wordplay, with lyrics that are clever, humorous, braggadocious, self-depreciative, personal, and provocative – this guy really is something else. The beats on this album are dope too, Legends Never Die is one of the most entertaining albums of 2013.
Ugly Duckling – Audacity (2009)
Audacity is Ugly Duckling’s fourth studio album. Compared to the first three projects from the Los Angeles-based trio, Audacity is a little less upbeat – but it’s solid UD nonetheless, an album that will delight Hip Hop traditionalists.
Yugen Blakrok - Anima Mysterium (2019)
Yugen Blackrock is a female emcee from South Africa, who stepped on the international scene with a high-profile appearance on the Black Panther movie soundtrack. Anima Mysterium is her second album and one that should be her international breakthrough. Dark, brooding, and atmospheric beats, with Yugen Blakrok’s abstract lyrics laced with mysticism and sci-fi-like subject matter – this album will not be for everyone, certainly not for the mainstream rap listener. But for those who are a little more adventurous in their Hip Hop tastes, Anima Mysterium will be an easy favorite.
Lightheaded – Pure Thoughts (2003)
Lightheaded dropped a real fine album with Pure Thoughts. Dope rhymes, beats, and cuts – this is an album that will be a joy to all those nostalgic for the golden days of Hip Hop. Reminiscent of Jurassic 5 in fun, energy and throwback flows – Lightheaded (consisting of Ohmega Watts, Othello, Braille, and Muneshine) created a refreshing, good-natured, super smooth listening experience for those who appreciate real Hip Hop.
Skyzoo & !llmind – Live From The Tape Deck (2010)
Live From The Tape Deck is a collaborative studio album by Brooklyn rapper Skyzoo and New Jersey producer Illmind. It was preceded by Skyzoo’s first studio album, The Salvation (2009), although it isn’t its follow-up. The album serves as a prelude to his second studio album A Dream Deferred (2012). Although both these albums are sold Skyzoo albums, Live From The Tape Deck is the best of the three. Between the lyrics and beats, this album is one of the best albums of 2010, with highlight cuts such as “Barrel Brothers” & “Speakers on Blast”
Felt – Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (2005)
When Atmosphere’s Slug and Los Angeles underground phenomenon Murs combine forces the result has to be something special, right? Right! As established already with their first collaboration Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci Slug and Murs prove once again they have great synergy. “Dirty Girl”, “Early Morning Tony” (with all its references to eighties classics), “Marvin Gaye” and especially “Breaker Down Like A Shotgun” are easy favorites but Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet is consistent throughout, no skips necessary.
Marlowe – Marlowe 2 (2020)
Seattle-based producer L’Orange and North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham reunite as Marlowe for a second album, straightforwardly titled Marlowe 2. The first Marlowe album was one of the best (and most underappreciated) albums of 2018, Marlowe 2 is just as good, if not better.
L’Orange’s trademark psychedelic, dusty, lo-fi, boom-bap instrumentals laced with obscure samples are as strong as ever, and Solemn Brigham has something distinctive that sets him apart from other emcees – an erratic one-of-a-kind type flow that perfectly matches the strange atmosphere set by L’Orange’s production. There was nothing wrong with Brigham’s performance on Marlowe 1, but he managed to step up his lyrical game for this one, once again coming with tight bars and complex rhyme patterns to go with his unique flow and delivery.
Even more than the first album, Marlowe 2 isn’t easy or straightforward. It may take a few spins to truly appreciate, but those willing and able to give this album the attention it deserves will find that Marlowe 2 is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2020.