Best Left-Field Hip Hop Albums Of 2021: Alternative Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop, Abstract Hip Hop, Industrial Hip Hop, Noise Hip Hop. There’s no shortage of labels to stick on acts and albums that color outside the lines of mainstream or traditional Hip Hop. On this list, you will find 25 excellent left-field Hip Hop albums released this year, taken from our lists with The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2021 and Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2021 – The Honorable Mentions. So here goes, in no particular order: the best left-field Hip Hop albums of 2021 (so far, no doubt changes will be made before the year is over). Which is your favorite album from this selection? Are there albums missing that should have been mentioned here? Share your thoughts in the comments!
JPEGMAFIA - LP!
Because of JPEGMAFIA’s futuristic, singular and experimental vision of what Hip Hop is, his music is an acquired taste. We liked Black Ben Carson (2016) and loved the brutal Veteran (2018), but we didn’t care for All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019) – which was edgy strictly for edginess sake as far as we are concerned. For us, AMHAC was little more than a bunch of badly mastered sounds seemingly thrown together randomly, a messy wall of noise with so-so rapping and worse singing.
LP! is way better, more like Veteran: still experimental and edgy, but a rap album at its core – and an intriguing one too. Peggy’s personality and attitude, and his willingness to push the envelope come off as always, and on LP! he has reached a new stage of maturity. The synth- and bass-heavy production on LP! is masterful and Peggy shines with his vocal performances this time around.
Two different versions were released: the Online Version and the Offline Version. The online version is the one on streaming services and can be seen as the record label’s ‘theatrical release’ (with all samples cleared), while the offline version is like Peggy’s own ‘director’s cut’, the album as he intended it to be but wasn’t allowed to release commercially because of a bunch of uncleared samples. Both versions are great, but the Offline Version is the superior project. The Online Version feels more like a compilation (with a couple of tracks carried over from Peggy’s last two EP’s), the Offline Version has the original tracks and no recycled ones – the Offline Version should have been the commercial release. Anyway: of the two, the Offline Version is the one that has the feel of a future classic.
The offline version of LP! is by far the best JPEGMAFIA project to date. It’s much more fleshed out than Black Ben Carson, Veteran, and AMHAC are, more accessible and less abrasive too – while managing to retain the aspects that made these works so edgy and fun. After a suitable period of marinating, LP! (The Offline Version) will undoubtedly be considered one of the best experimental Hip Hop albums ever made.
The Grouch & Eligh - What Would Love Do
West Coast veteran underground artists The Grouch and Eligh are founding members of the Living Legends collective, and regular collaborators as a duo too. Since the mid-1990s they’ve released a lot of music individually and collectively, What Would Love Do is the duo’s latest collaborative full-length project. As with most of the music from The Grouch and Eligh, What Would Love Do is for a niche audience – longtime followers will no doubt love this one, but it will probably escape the notice of most other Hip Hop listeners. But even if you never picked up on the music of The Grouch and/or Eligh, you could do worse than give What Would Love Do a listen. What you will get is a smooth and mature album: old-fashioned backpacker Hip Hop vibes combined with some quirky elements typical for the styles of these two artists and reminiscent of left-field artists like Homeboy Sandman and Open Mike Eagle.
L'Orange & Namir Blade - Imaginary Everything
Seattle-based producer L’Orange and Nashville rapper Namir Blade teamed up for Imaginary Everything, their first album together. The album comes on the heels of Blade’s breakthrough 2020 album, Aphelion’s Traveling Circus, and L’Orange’s Marlowe 2, his second collaborative album with Solemn Brigham – one of our favorite albums of 2020.
Much like Solemn Brigham, Namir Blade has a unique voice, with a quirky and erratic sing-song type flow – and L’Orange’s psychedelic and dusty boom-bap beats bring out the best in Namir Blade (just as his production worked perfectly for Solemn Brigham on the two Marlowe albums). Imaginary Everything contains some of Blade’s most interesting writing yet, and L’Oranges instrumentals are the best he got to work with up to now. Appearances from Quelle Chris, Marlowe, Fly Anakin, and Jordan Webb help round out what is another quite excellent L’Orange project – hopefully, the first in a series of collaborations with Namir Blade.
Ka - A Martyr's Reward
A Martyr’s Reward is Brownsville, NYC emcee/producer Ka’s 8th studio album (the 6th as Ka), following on the heels of 2020’s Descendants Of Cain. Descendants Of Cain is a top-5 album of 2020, and his other masterpieces The Night’s Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) are among the best Hip Hop albums released in the 2010s.
Ka’s pen game is among the most refined in the game, he always comes with beautifully crafted poetic lyrics, aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes. A Martyr’s Reward is no different: this is another amazing Ka project, built on his signature minimalistic instrumentals that serve to give room to his hushed hoarse flow and his intricate wordplay. The narrative this time is centered around his own life, making this one his most personal album to date. Just like on his previous efforts, on A Martyr’s Reward there’s a strong focus on ambiance and sound, and it may take many listens to really pick up on all Ka’s lyrical subtleties and hidden meanings – as always there’s a lot to unpack in his content. Ka’s music is an acquired taste, those with an ear for atmospheric instrumentals and true lyricism will know to cop this one though.
Killah Priest - Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1
Heavy Mental (1998), Elizabeth (2009), The Psychic World of Walter Reed (2013), and Planet Of The Gods (2015) are the standouts in Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and Sunz Of Man member Killah Priest’s catalog – along with the two LPs he released in 2020. Rocket To Nebula (#15 on our top 60 Hip Hop albums of 2020 list) is a left-field masterpiece, and The Third Eye In Technicolor (#18) is not far behind.
Exactly 23 years after the release of his debut solo album Heavy Mental, Killah Priest comes with Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1. Similar to Rocket To Nebula, the instrumentals on Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 are ethereal and often drumless – and even more experimental at times. Killah Priest’s dense stream-of-consciousness bars about religion, history, mythology, spiritualism, science, philosophy, esotericism, extraterrestrialism, and other such topics, are delivered in a powerful spoken-word type delivery. Killah Priest’s music has always been an acquired taste, and this project certainly is – but those with the patience and capacity to surrender to his lyrical style, open themselves to his content, and adapt to the instrumentals, will find a lot enjoy on Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1.
With this album, Killah Priest continues his winning streak. Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 is another absorbing Killah Priest listen that further cements his status as one of Hip Hop’s best – albeit unsung – writers.
Pink Siifu - GUMBO'!
Pink Siifu is one of the more interesting figures in today’s underground Hip Hop, always pushing genre boundaries with experimentation and forward-thinking ideas. With GUMBO’! Siifu continues this dynamic vision, like always pulling from varied sources of musical and thematic inspiration to provide a collage of sounds, mixing ingredients like in a good bowl of gumbo. Pink Siifu brought on a host of guest vocalists and producers to add to his musical stew – Big Rube, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Maxo, The Alchemist, and DJ Harrison most notable among them. GUMBO’! is more chilled out than last year’s hard-nosed electronic punk-rap banger NEGRO, and more accessible because of it – despite the experimental vibes that permeate every aspect of the album. Strong jazz, neo-soul, and funk influences, combined with noise rock, ambient, and plunderphonics, all of it laced with Dungeon Family-inspired Southern Hip Hop sounds make for a unique record – another strong addition to Pink Siifu’s catalog.
Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix
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.
Noyz82 - Blade Runner Basquiat
Blade Runner Basquiat is a great project that will pass way under most people’s radars, unfortunately. This is one of today’s many independently released projects that are suffering from a total lack of marketing and promotion – even the artists themselves sometimes don’t seem to be making much of an effort to get their music noticed. You will not find projects like this one if you’re not willing to dig deep. NYC-based rapper/producer Noyz82 almost doesn’t have much of an online presence, so it’s up to people to stumble upon his Bandcamp page. Often it’s not a bad thing music is hard to find, but in this case, it’s a shame – Blade Runner Basquiat is way too good to stay unnoticed.
Blade Runner Basquiat is Noyz82’s first full-length presentation, about which he stated: “10 songs dealing with exposing my demons, flaws, lamenting on my successes and failures as a human…all while being a narcissistic pompous a**hole talking the biggest sh*t in the only way I know how.” Noyz82’s bars and flows are dope enough, but it’s his beats that steal the show here – the production on Blade Runner Basquiat is superb. Deliciously dark and atmospheric, with bass-heavy beats and slightly experimental vibes – Noyz82 comes with a unique own sound you shouldn’t sleep on.
Bolt Seminar - Bolt Seminar
Bolt Seminar is a self-titled collaborative album from Swiss producer John Sarastro and Brooklyn-based emcee Dell Wells. Bolt Seminar offers 40 minutes of edgy, slightly experimental boom-bap – reminiscent of the kind of Hip Hop that was released on El-P‘s iconic Def Jux label. Let’s hope this collaboration isn’t a one-off – we’d sure like to hear more Bolt Seminar music.
Dark Time Sunshine - LORE
Seattle-based alternative Hip Hop duo Dark Time Sunshine – rapper Onry Ozzborn and producer Zavala – return after a 9-year hiatus with LORE, their third full-length studio album together. Their last collaborative album Anx ranks on our top 40 Hip Hop albums of 2012 list, and despite such a long time between DTS projects, there’s been no drop-off in the level of quality. Like Anx, LORE is an excellent album. Arguably slightly more accessible than Anx was, LORE still is left-field enough to stand apart from today’s crowd of generic rap and Hip Hop releases.
Zavala’s lush instrumentals perfectly synergize with Onry Ozzborn’s clever wordplay, and a well-chosen roster of featured artists – Ceschi, R.A.P. Ferreira (fka Milo), Homeboy Sandman, and Hail Mary Mallon (Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz) – round out LORE, offering some welcome variation to Onry Ozzborn’s brooding conversational-rap style. LORE offers 46 minutes of intelligent alt-Hip Hop, a great project well-suited for the surreal times we are currently living in.
Passalacqua - Passalacqua LP
Passalacqua is a Detroit indie alt-rap duo consisting of emcees Blaksmith and Mister. Passalacqua LP is the culmination of a ten-year partnership – ten years during which the duo dropped a number of great projects, but arguably none as good as this one. The genre-boundaries pushing Passalacqua LP is unlike any other Hip Hop album you will come across this year. Produced in its entirety by fellow Detroitian Zach Shipps, this album is deeply layered musically as well as lyrically – there’s nothing generic about this project. Not for everybody, but listeners with an appreciation for beautifully crafted left-field Hip Hop will find a keeper in Passalacqua LP.
EvillDewer - ANOMIA
ANOMIA by producer EvillDewer is one of the weirdest and most unique albums you’ll hear this year. ANOMIA is a delicious presentation of experimental psychedelic instrumentals, with vocals from underground spitters like SPNDA, Bloo, Chris Crack, Koncept Jackson, Vic Spencer, AJ Suede, Rome Streetz, and Estee Nack on about half of the tracks. “Espiritismo” featuring Rome Streetz, Chris Crack, and Estee Nack is a stand-out, but the strength of this project is its consistency and its ability to captivate from beginning to end thanks to the hypnotic dream-like soundscapes it is composed of. ANOMIA is a slow burner, an album that gets better with each repeated listen. Don’t sleep on ANOMIA.
Aesop Rock & Blockhead - Garbology
“After over 20 years of collaboration, which also birthed Aesop’s two most popular songs to date (“Daylight” and “None Shall Pass”), Garbology is the first Aesop Rock album fully produced by Blockhead. Garbology came together over the course of the pandemic, as well as in the midst of Aesop processing the loss of a close friend in January of 2020, resulting in a period of time of feeling uncreative. Looking back, Aesop recalls, “The world got real weird during those months. I knew at some point I had to get back to making something. Make a beat. Draw a picture. Write. Just go. But the idea of making a beat felt like math homework, and drawing is just so hard. Writing is hard too, but at some point I had to pick one.” With writing as the chosen path, Aesop hit up Blockhead to send over some beats. At the beginning there wasn’t a plan for an album, or any particular plan beyond creating some songs. However, it didn’t take long for one song to become a few, then a handful, until finally an album was born.”
Aesop Rock is one of our favorite artists, with a bunch of essential underground classics on his name. Garbology dropped almost exactly one year after Aesop Rock’s latest opus Spirit World Field Guide – one of our favorite Hip Hop albums released in 2020. Garbology is completely different from that more conceptually driven album, but it is just as good. Blockhead’s experimental but accessible beats go well with Aesop Rock’s lyrical genius – it really was high time these two did a full album together. Garbology is not as deep or complex as Spirit World Field Guide is, but it is still plenty challenging AND rewarding. Aesop Rock doesn’t miss. Even if Garbology is not his best project, it is still way better than most other rappers’ best albums – it’s one of our favorites of the year, in any case.
Release date: November 12, 2021.
Happy Tooth - The Laughter's Rehearsed
Columbus-based artist Happy Tooth is half of a duo that dropped one of the best left-field Hip Hop albums of last year: Dug & Happy Tooth’s The Signal Glittering Inside The Storm. For The Laughter’s Rehearsed Happy Tooth teamed up with producer Bum Theory, and the result is another eclectic mix of musical and lyrical styles. Bum Theory deftly incorporates indie-rock, soul, and funk influences into his beats and Happy Tooth navigates the soundscapes with lots of versatility – going from rapping to singing to spoken-word without missing a beat. This project is not for everyone, but those with a taste for an alternative Hip Hop sound will be well pleased with The Laughter’s Rehearsed.
Backxwash - I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES
Zambian Canadian trans artist Backxwash’s bold and forward-thinking I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES serves harrowing raps over industrial horrorcore beats. This powerful and energetic audio-visual landscape of pain and despair features Backxwash as an empress of chaos on a path of self-destruction. The deeply atmospheric and immersive I LIE HERE is Backxwash’s best project yet – taking nothing away from her previous releases which are strong too, especially the short but hard-hitting God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (2020). I LIE HERE expands directly upon the foundation she built with that project.
The sinister and dark style on I LIE HERE serves to make Backxwash sound even more focused than she did on God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, with an even greater sense of catharsis present. Touching on topics such as gender identity, mental illness, racism, and substance abuse Backxwash’s visceral vocals hit like hammers – the unapologetic lyrical content backed by ominous beats that assault the listener’s eardrums relentlessly. Not for everybody, but those up for an abrasive listen with a strong LGBTQ+ message will find this to be an impressive album. Fans of acts like Dälek and clipping should definitely pick up I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES.
Sharkula & Mukqs - Take Caution On The Beach
Free-associative Chicago rapper Sharkula teamed up with Hausu Mountain Records producer Mukqs for Take Caution On The Beach. This is a wonderfully weird project, with quirky synth-saturated drum patterns crafted by Mukqs and stream-of-consciousness lyrics from Sharkula – his lyrical content is reminiscent of Kool Keith‘s in its bizarreness. Take Caution On The Beach is different, but intriguing.
Krum - Black Lung
Harry Krum is a producer/emcee based in Dallas, Texas. Krum’s work on the boards is outstanding, the instrumentals on Black Lung are FIRE – some of the best you’ll hear this year. Krum cooked up a heady blend of psychedelic vibes and dusty but crisp boom-bap beats laced with some exquisite sampling – reminiscent even of the best work from icons like Madlib and MF DOOM.
The strength of Black Lung is its consistency as well as its thematic and musical cohesiveness – which is bolstered even further by the quality of the vocalists Krum recruited. Black Lung features contributions from Tanya Morgan, Theory Hazit, Propaganda, Derek Minor, JGivens, Ozay Moore, Sivion, Solemn Brigham, Manchild, Sareem Poems, Stik Figa, Heath McNease, Copywrite, Pigeon John, Jabee, Headkrack, Sintax the Terrific, and Freddie Bruno – a selection of excellent emcees whose vocals prove perfectly suited to go with Krum’s organic production.
“Ultra Mag” with Solemn Brigham is one of the highlights on Black Lung, his voice is one of the most unique ones in contemporary Hip Hop. In fact, the whole Black Lung album feels similar in many ways to Marlowe 2 – the excellent album (#3 on our best of 2020 list) Solemn Brigham did last year with producer L’Orange – likening Black Lung to Marlowe 2 is a strong recommendation, of course. Other stand-outs on Black Lung include “Danger Bag” with Theory Hazit, “Uptown Eyes Wide” with Sareem Poems, “Not One Thing” with Tanya Morgan, “Riddle Me This” with JGivens, and “Trials & Tribs” with Heath McNease – but there isn’t a single bad track on Black Lung.
Akai Solo & Navy Blue - True Sky
Hypnotic, murky, lo-fi beats crafted by Navy Blue and abstract stream-of-consciousness bars and erratic flows from Akai Solo. True Sky holds some of the best instrumentals Navy Blue ever created, and if you can get with Akai Solo’s style of rapping you should find plenty to enjoy here. Akai Solo’s style is reminiscent of billy woods in many ways – a good thing of course. This kind of left-field Hip Hop is not for everyone, but people familiar with either one of these artists will know what to expect.
Moor Mother - Black Encyclopedia Of The Air
Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is Philadelphia-based experimental musician, poet, and activist Camae Ayewa’s seventh studio album as Moor Mother. BRASS, Moor Mother’s collaborative album with billy woods was one of our favorite albums released in 2020. Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is not as experimental and abrasive as BRASS is or as most of her other previous projects are, but that’s not to say there is no edge to this project. A Moor Mother album is never easy or straightforward and this one is a challenging listen too. The instrumentals are smooth and meditative with mellow jazz rhythms and soothing ambient vibes, giving room for Moor Mother’s spoken word flow and to her dense, meaningful lyrics – “Made A Circle” is the highlight, along with tracks such as “Mangrove” and “Shekere”. Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is a slice of avant-garde Hip Hop at its finest, accessible enough to also appeal to listeners who normally steer clear from this corner of Hip Hop.
MIKE - Disco!
Bronx-based rapper MIKE has been flying under most people’s radars for a while now, maybe Disco! will be the project that gives him a little more of the deserved spotlight. Following strong albums such as 2020’s Weight Of The World and 2019’s Tears Of Joy, 2021’s Disco! is a confirmation of MIKE’s talent and a strengthening of his position as one of the leading artists in the lo-fi subgenre of Hip Hop.
MIKE’s experimental jazzy grooves (self-produced under his DJ Blackpower alias) and his monotone slow-flows on Disco! captivate, leaving the listener with something of an upbeat feeling despite the murkiness of the soundscapes and MIKE’s mournful tone. As always his music is an acquired taste, but Disco! is more accessible than some of his other works and feels like a pivotal work for MIKE – one that should open the door to wider recognition.
Lync Lone & Iceberg Theory - Acid Jazz
Iceberg Theory is one of the most interesting producers out there, able to come up with something different every time. The work he did on Acid Jazz is more accessible than some of this more left-field type of production – the content of this project is jazzy and smooth, the album cover should tell you a lot about what to expect. Lync Lone’s vocals are an acquired taste, but if you can get with his laid-back whispery style no doubt Acid Jazz will find its way into your best-of-2021 library.
PIRATA - PIRATA
Atoms Family members Cryptic One and Jestoneart are PIRATA. Cryptic One and Jestoneart are longtime collaborators, most notably on Cryptic One’s masterpiece The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory (2004). PIRATA is not as progressive, but it is left-field enough to be a worthy part of the Atoms Family legacy. Jestoneart atmospheric instrumentals are dope, full of delicious drum breaks, bluesy loops, and obscure samples, plus Cryptic One’s potent rhymes are entertaining. PIRATA is an accessible and smooth listen, almost hypnotic and totally immersive – this is a beautiful piece of music.
Bruiser Wolf - Dope Game Stupid
Detroit-based Bruiser Wolf’s debut LP Dope Game Stupid on Danny Brown’s freshly minted Bruiser Brigade Records label is something else. Bruiser Wolf’s voice is unique without sounding gimmicky (“Nobody sound like this, I’ve got my own sound, I’m an instrument”), his flow and delivery are like a blend of the quirky styles of Bay Area legend E-40 and Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo Green, only turned up to eleven. Bruiser Wolf’s weird style will no doubt be an immediate turn-off for some, but those who can get with his oddities will consider Dope Game Stupid a keeper.
Dope Game Stupid is incredibly well-written, with a constant barrage of introspective as well as humorous metaphors and similes detailing Bruiser Wolf’s life in Detroit, all of it backed by excellent production from front to back. Label boss Danny Brown jumps on “I’m An Instrument” with a killer performance for which is one of the stand-out tracks. Other memorable songs include “Dope Game Stupid”, “Use Me (I’m Dope)”, “Whip Test”, “Syndicate”, and the personal and poignant “Momma Was A Dopefiend”.
The idiosyncratic Dope Game Stupid is off-the-wall and unpredictable but totally engaging – a project that has us excited to see where Bruiser Wolf will go next.
Dear Derrick - Superthot: Post Deitch Depression / How Do I Bang Boone?
Brooklyn artist Derrick B Harden or Dear Derrick comes with a one-of-a-kind project with Superthot: Post Deitch Depression / How Do I Bang Boone? – in a Hip Hop landscape where lots of artists sound kind of the same, this Dear Derrick album definitely is different. The album deals with serious matters in a conceptual way: “The concept is about the black person being the global prostitute and starting the conversation” according to Derrick. So the content is something to pay attention to, and the beats are adventurous and entertaining too. Derrick employs different styles and flows (on “Do Yourself A Favor” reminiscent of Kool Keith for instance) – which keeps things interesting as well. At well over an hour this is a LONG album, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome at all. Superthot: Post Deitch Depression / How Do I Bang Boone? is a nice surprise, a must-listen if you’re up for something a little different from generic mainstream rap, from all the Griselda-style underground rap albums, or from the same-sounding 90s-centric boom-bap projects that drop these days.
Release date: November 19, 2021.
Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram
Armand Hammer is a duo consisting of experimental Hip Hop titans billy woods and ELUCID. billy woods is one of the most consistent artists in contemporary Hip Hop. He has five solo albums on our top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2010s list – History Will Absolve Me (2012), Dour Candy (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Known Unknowns (2017), and Hiding Places (2019), along with three Armand Hammer albums – Race Music (2013), Rome (2017), and Paraffin (2018) – making billy woods our MVP of the 2010s. The 2020s started off strong for him too – with Armand Hammer’s 2020 album Shrines, and BRASS, billy woods’ collaboration with experimental musician and poet Moor Mother. Both Shrines and BRASS rank high on our best of 2020 list. ELUCID had a strong year as well, with the excellent Don’t Play It Straight, an experimental collaborative project with The Lasso.
And now we have Haram – for which Armand Hammer hooked up with producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. This is what the blurb says about the album: “Haram is a mercurial collaboration between incendiary rap duo Armand Hammer, and living legend The Alchemist. For the first time ELUCID and billy woods have crafted an album with a single producer and the result is extraordinary. With their unmatched penchant for stirring imagery and incisive storytelling, the two rappers dive into an ocean of Alchemist’s creation: warmly inviting on the surface, black and bone-crushingly cold at depth. Haram is a collection of the profane and the pure; a reminder that that which is forbidden is also sacrosanct.
The artists are joined by their friends and fellow travelers on this journey. KAYANA’s golden voice ups the wattage on “Black Sunlight,” while Fielded’s sultry alto gets chopped and screwed on “Aubergine”. Earl Sweatshirt makes a sun-soaked appearance, while Curly Castro and Amani mix like ice and salt on Brooklyn sidewalks, and Quelle Chris, as always, finds a pocket all his own. Still, there is a natural rapport that belies the New York-to-Los Angeles-and-back nature of the project, allowing Haram to be more than the sum of its parts, however impressive those parts may be. This isn’t just the genre’s most insistent contemporary voices paired with arguably its best producer. This is when you buy a beautiful house only to discover, hidden behind a heavy bookcase, a stairway twisting up and away into the darkness.”
Now, the question is: is Haram on par with billy woods’ and Armand Hammer’s earlier releases? The answer is: yes, Haram 100% met expectations – it may even one-up the stellar Paraffin as Armand Hammer’s best work yet. On Haram, the Islamic term meaning “forbidden”, billy woods and ELUCID explore all kinds of taboos – in their own cryptic ways. As always, it takes some effort on the part of the listener to penetrate the dense poetics penned by billy woods and ELUCID – there’s is so much to unpack and to think about here, it gives Haram endless replay value.
The Alchemist’s work on the boards arguably makes Haram a little more accessible than the four previous Armand Hammer albums are, but his atmospheric instrumentals are left-field enough to suit billy woods and ELUCID avant-garde rhyming. This is The Alchemist’s finest music in a while, even better than his much-lauded work on Freddie Gibb’s Alfredo of last year – in fact, we will go as far as to say The Alchemist crafted a masterpiece here.
Stand-outs include “Falling Out The Sky”, with some incredible lyrical imagery also from guest rapper Earl Sweatshirt, “Wishing Bad”, “Chicharonnes”, with a bone-chilling instrumental over which billy woods and Quelle Chris tackle police violence and BLM, likening the whole culture to pigs on a spit roast, and “Stonefruit”, with a jaw-dropping last verse from billy woods to close the album out on a high note. Besides these 4 stand-outs, there are no weak tracks on Haram – everything on the album is well-thought-out and perfectly executed – even the gruesome album cover which serves to enhance the mood of the music, in an in-your-face kind of way, with no hint of artificial coolness. Haram is a confirmation of Armand Hammer’s status as one of the most intriguing and most consistent duos in contemporary Hip Hop, and it is the first AOTY-contender released in 2021.