Elsewhere on this site, you can find a list with what we think are the best Hip Hop albums of 2020. This Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2020 – The Honorable Mentions list is a selection of albums that (in some cases just barely) missed the cut. All kinds of Hip Hop styles on this list: some of these 2020 honorable mentions are traditional boom-bap, some neo-boom-bap/rap-noir, some alternative/experimental, some more mainstream-sounding – whatever category-label you can stick on any particular project, all albums here deserve attention.
Because our list with the best Hip Hop albums of 2020 and this list with the year’s honorable mentions are both works in progress, some of these honorable mentions might yet make the ‘best of’ list. In any case, all the albums listed here are well-worth checking out – peruse this list at your leisure, and no doubt you will discover a couple of Hip Hop projects JUST for you, albums you otherwise might have missed out on.
So here it is, in no particular order: the best Hip Hop albums of 2020 – the honorable mentions.
Also read: The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2020 & The Worst Rap Albums Of 2020
Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By – Side B
Eminem is one of the GOATS – no discussion about that – who had his peak around the turn of the millennium: The Slim Shady LP (1999), The Marshall Mathers LP (2000), and The Eminem Show (2002) are indisputable classics. Since then, Eminem’s output has been more miss than hit – Relapse (2009), generally underrated, was his best album since The Eminem Show.
Eminem hit his lowest point with Revival (2017), and even if both Kamikaze (2018) and Music To Be Murdered By were a step up from that disaster, he didn’t fully redeem himself with them. Music To Be Murdered By – Side B is solid enough, but it’s not that album either.
Music To Be Murdered By – Side B is Eminem’s 16-track bookend to January’s Music To Be Murdered By. Music To Be Murdered By was a mixed bag and this companion LP is the same. Like on the first one there are plenty of flashes of Eminem’s lyrical brilliance, but with way too much juvenile one-liners there is just as much corniness. Also, like so many Emimen albums in the last 20 years, the album is plagued by mediocre beats, weak choruses, and unnecessary guest spots (autotune crooners like Ty Dolla Sign and White Gold shouldn’t have a place on an Eminem album).
All in all, Music To Be Murdered By – Side B is a little more consistent than Music To Be Murdered By is. There is a marginally less cringe here, and Eminem sounds more ‘comfortable’. But even if Music To Be Murdered By had deeper lows, it had higher highs too. There is no “Darkness” on Music To Be Murdered By – Side B. And the overabundance of trap-like beats brings this album down a notch or two as well. A track like “Zeus” symbolizes the album: great wordplay diminished by a weak beat and a weak hook.
Best tracks: “Alfred’s Theme”, “Discombobulated”, “Higher”, and “Book Of Rhymes” (which presents the interesting juxtaposition of having DJ Premier scratching over a trap beat).
Keep the best 14 or 15 tracks from both albums and the result is a GREAT Eminem album, as it is we have two mixed bags that despite their good moments ultimately do not have enough replay value to reward them with repeated listens.
Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon III: The Chosen
Man on the Moon III: The Chosen is the seventh studio album by Kid Cudi, coming 11 years after his debut Man on the Moon: The End of Day. MOTM3 is a smooth project, arguably his best since his debut (and the short but sweet Kids See Ghosts (with Kanye West) from 2018).
Thematically, the album’s concept has Kid Cudi fight against his evil alter ego, Mr. Rager, in hopes to win back his peace and happiness. As with the previous two installments, the album is split into four “acts”: Return 2 Madness; The Rager, The Menace; Heart of Rose Gold; and Powers.
Musically, MOTM3 crosses genre boundaries as Cudi’s music usually does, it always hard to pigeonhole Kid Cudi’s music – it never is straight-up Hip Hop. This time around Cudi’s sound is something like soulful R&B-infused trap. Kid Cudi proves trap can be done in a tasteful, mature, and intelligent way in contrast with the genericness and dumbness of most trap music out there. This is the best trap-infused album of the year, alongside the more in-your-face Savage Mode II from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin.
MOTM3 is musically rich, dark, and psychedelic, and it’s lyrically deep enough to hold interest – this 18-track album is well-produced and expertly put together. Good music.
Boldy James – Real Bad Boldy
Real Bad Boldy is Boldy James’s fourth project of the year, and it’s another strong effort. His Griselda debut The Versace Tape was a solid EP, and The Price Of Tea In China (with The Alchemist) and Manger On McNichols (with Sterling Toles) are both top 20 albums of the year.
“With Real Bad Boldy, I’m talking about my life before music; before I caught this second wave that I got right now. Things that I am into, this art of hustling” Boldy commented. “I didn’t really make it in this industry as a youngin,’ I made it once I got a little older and I feel I am in my prime now. I had a life before music and that’s what I rap about. I’ve lived enough life to where it writes the music for me. I don’t have to recap, or reflect, back on it too hard because this is my real life. This isn’t me taking something I’ve seen, or been fascinated with and creating a fictional truth out of it, because I’ve seen it. I am not a “seen it” kind of guy. I am a “lived it type of guy, and this is what it sounds like when you’ve really lived it.”
Real Bad Boldy (is it an EP? or an LP?) runs for just under 30 minutes, its brevity causing it to feel more lightweight than Boldy James’ two real full-lengths that were released this year. The ten tracks we get are all great though, with atmospheric beats (all produced by Real Bad Man), strong lyricism, and a couple of well-placed features from the likes of Meyhem Lauren, Stove God Cooks, Eto, Mooch, and Rigz.
Download Real Bald Boldy
Raashan Ahmad & Rita J - Black Koala
Black Koala is a collaborative album from former Crown City Rockers crew member Rashaan Ahmad and Chicago emcee Rita J. Smooth jazzy vibes from beginning to end make Black Koala an easy listen that will appeal to lots of people. Those in tune with Hip Hop history and its classics will find a lot to enjoy here – from the dope remake of A Tribe Called Quests “Buggin’ Out” to more hidden influences from acts like Gang Starr – this is one for real heads and for more casual listeners alike. Fans of the music from acts like ATCQ, Digable Planets, and The Roots can’t go wrong with Black Koala.
Download Black Koala
Murs & DJ Fresh - Love & Rockets Vol. 2: The Declaration
This is another solid Murs project, not as good as Love & Rockets Vol 1: The Transformation (2011) though, which was one of the best albums of that year.
K-Rino - A Long Short Way
What’s a year in Hip Hop without a K-Rino album? K-Rino is one of the most prolific artists in Hip Hop and one with one of the longest careers too. K-Rino is a Houston legend, who started rapping in 1983 and whose first release was with the group Real Chill in 1986. In 1987 he founded the S.P.C. (South Park Coalition) and starting from the early nineties (with the classic Stories From The Black Book in 1993) he has released around 50 (fifty!) albums to date.
Naturally, not all these albums are equally good – but K-Rino has been surprisingly consistent over the decades. K-Rino is a natural lyricist, and his albums are strongest when the emphasis is on his lyricism. A Long Short Way is not his best album in that regard, and even if there is lots of thought-provoking lyrical depth and great wordplay here, this album is more one to ride to with its smooth bass-heavy instrumentals and catchy hooks. Nothing wrong with that, this is a solid enough album that fits right in with the rest of K-Rino’s immense body of work.
Download A Long Short Way
Statik Selektah - The Balancing Act
Black Thought, Nas, Joey Bada$$, Conway the Machine, Killer Mike, Dave East, Method Man, Jadakiss, Styles P, Termanology, Benny the Butcher, Evidence, Blu, Lil Fame, Sean Price, Bun B, Havoc – these names do not even make up half of the roster of featured artists on this Statik Selektah album. It’s a little much maybe, but despite the overabundance of guests, there is a cohesiveness to aptly titled The Balancing Act.
Statik Selektah can always be relied on to come with dope production, the beats on this album are smooth and easy to listen to. The hooks on some songs are too smooth maybe, but the vocal contributions of that insane guest list make up for the corniness of some of the choruses. No real standout tracks, but none of the 16 tracks stick out negatively either – The Balancing Act is totally consistent from start to finish.
Favorite track: “Watch Me” with Joey Bada$$ – it’s time for a new full-length from the Pro Era chief.
Download The Balancing Act
Freestar Rigz & Futurewave - Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse is the debut solo album from Rochester, New York emcee Rigz. He did well to recruit Toronto beatmaker Futurewave to take care of production duties – Furuturewaveś been on a roll lately and this is one of those examples of an emcee/producer combo where both bring out the best in each other. Futurewave’s atmospheric neo-boom-bap instrumentals are as good as anything that came out of the Griselda camp this year, and Rigz’s lyrics have that Griselda attitude too. Guest appearances by Asun Eastwood, Mooch, Daniel Son, Rob Gates, Times Change, and Vinnie Paz add extra flavor.
Sleep Sinatra & August Fanon - Routes
Lincoln, Nebraska emcee Sleep Sinatra teamed up with Dallas producer August Fanon for Routes. Both Sleep Sinatra (Sleeper Effect) and August Fanon (most notably his work with Iceberg Theory) had noteworthy projects this year, Routes fits right in quality-wise.
11 tracks, with no annoying skits & interludes to break the flow of the album – Routes is really well put together. Guest spots from the likes of Stik Figa, Fresh Daily, Iceberg Theory (and others) add extra spice, but it is Sleep Sinatra who carries this album with his laidback flow and personal lyrics – his style meshing well with August Fanon’s mid-tempo jazzy boom-bap beats, with interesting loops and samples giving the instrumentals a slightly experimental, ‘dirty’ feel.
Stay Tuned - Remote Control
Stay Tuned is a Denver crew consisting of emcees Ichiban and Mane Rok and deejay DJ AWHAT!!!. Stay Tuned is their second full-length, following a self-titled project that was released 5 years ago. Stay Tuned is a great little project – excellent instrumentals and interesting lyrical concepts make for a well-rounded album that rewards multiple listens. The production on Remote Control is outstanding – traditional-feeling boom-bap with experimental twists, plus lots of dope turntable work. Well worth checking out.
Download Remote Control
Verb T & Illinformed - The Land With The Foggy Skies
Veteran London, UK emcee Verb T already had one of the better albums of the year with Nocturnal (as part of the four-man The Four Owls crew), close to the end of the year he dropped another dope project with The Land With The Foggy Skies.
The Land With The Foggy Skies is a collaboration with producer Illinformed and a sequel to their 2015 album The Man With The Foggy Eyes. Where Four Owls’ Nocturnal is an in-your-face boom-bap kind of experience, The Land With The Foggy Skies is more musical and jazzier.
The Land With The Foggy Skies is a long album with 19 tracks and a running time of close to an hour, but it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome anywhere. Illinformed’s jazzy instrumentals manage to hold attention throughout while they serve as atmospherical backdrops for Verb T’s entertaining lyrics, along with those of guests The Four Owls, Eric The Red, Smellington Piff, Datkid, Chillman, Wishmaster, and Jman.
Download The Land With The Foggy Skies
Your Old Droog - Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition
Your Old Droog is an NYC-based rapper of Ukrainian and Eastern European descent. He released three full-length albums in 2019, with It Wasn’t Even Close, Transportation, and Jewelry – Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition is his first full-length of 2020. On Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition Your Old Droog embraces his roots, reflecting on his life as a Russian-speaking immigrant in Brooklyn (there’s even one track – “Malchishka Krutoy” – done entirely in Russian).
Plenty has been said about Your Old Droog having a vocal sound similar to Nas – suffice to say that the comparison is valid, and it says enough about Droog’s skills. Sonically rooted in raw, minimalist production, Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition has an ‘old-world’ vibe through atmospheric sampling – making the album’s thematic focus clear not only in the song-titles.
Regular contributor Mach-Hommy makes a couple of appearances, most notably on the posse cut “Pravda”, which has bars from Tha God Fahim, El-P, and Black Thought as well. The incomparable billy woods features on “Odessa”, one of the other standouts.
All In all, Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition is a solid presentation – those who’ve been following Your Old Droog with interest since his debut in 2014 will be well satisfied.
Download Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition
Apokalips The Archangel - 1137Q
Apokalips The Archangel is an underground emcee hailing from New York. 11372 is the zip code of the neighborhood where Apokalips The Archangel was raised aka Jackson Heights, Queens – which is why he chose the title 1137Q for this project. The whole album was produced by longtime collaborator and fellow New Yorker Seasra23.
1137Q is a dope throwback boom-bap album – everything about this thing breathes traditional Hip Hop – the beats, the cuts, the flow, the rhymes, even the cover art. Great project.
The Visionaries - V
The Visionaries is an underground Hip Hop crew from Los Angeles, California – consisting of Key-Kool, Dannu, Lord Zen, LMNO, 2Mex, and Dj Rhettmatic. The Visionaries formed in 1995, and have since released four full-length albums – V is their first group effort in 15 years.
V was produced by Dj Rhettmatic (who you should know for being a founding member of Southern California’s first turntable crew, the legendary Beat Junkies), with additional production by Adrian Younge on the single “All Along” – one of the standout tracks. The album sounds retro and contemporary in equal measures, with entertaining wordplay and excellent beats & scratches by Dj Rhettmatic. V is well worth checking out.
Rasheed Chappell & Buckwild - Sinners & Saints
New York emcee Rasheed Chappell teamed up with iconic D.I.T.C. producer Buckwild for the short but sweet Sinners & Saints. Buckwild can always be trusted to come with quality music, and on Sinners & Saints he provides Rasheed Chappell with a collection of laidback boom-bap instrumentals, that gel really well with Chappell’s style of rapping. Some good features too – 38 Spesh, Che Noir, Ransom, and Planet Asia among them. Great beats, skilled emcees, thoughtful lyrics – this is a dope project. Check it out and no doubt you’ll add cuts like “Rock Bottom” and “Bredren” to your 2020 playlist real quick.
Download Sinners & Saints
Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin - FlySiifu's
FlySiifu’s is different and interesting. The album is built around the concept of two stoners ineffectively running a record store (as is evidenced by unhappy customers’ voicemail message skits). Despite the difference in the sound of their past few individual releases, Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin really show great chemistry on FlySiifu’s – arguably favoring Fly Anakin’s sounds more than Pink Siifu’s (especially when compared with his latest – the angry punk-rap of NEGRO). FlySiifu‘s is more chilled out, almost loungy, but the style fits the concept and the stream-of-consciousness type lyrics. FlySiifu’s = abstract underground Hip Hop at its finest.
Context & Figarate - Grand Schemes
Context is an emcee based out of Melbourne, Australia and for Grand Schemes he teamed up with UK producer/emcee Figarate. As so often these days the best 90s-centric NYC boom-bap is created outside the USA and this project by Context & Figarate is another example.
Grand Schemes does nothing you haven’t heard before, but what it does it does well. Beats, rhymes, samples, turntablism – this is a well-executed traditionalist boom-bap album that deserves a listen.
Download Grand Schemes
Goodie Mob - Survival Kit
Survival Kit is Goodie Mob’s sixth studio album, with all four original members – Big Gipp, Khujo, T-Mo, and Cee-Lo Green – present. Goodie Mob’s 1995 debut album Soul Food is an undisputed Hip Hop classic. The follow-up to Soul Food – Still Standing (1998)- is a top-tier Southern Hip Hop album too – both albums succeeded in striking a perfect balance between gritty gangsta-ism and socially conscious scope, not to mention both albums having groundbreaking production by Organized Noize production team Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown.
The three subsequent albums weren’t as good as the first two, even if they weren’t all bad. World Party (1999) was a bit of a disappointment disenfranchising some fans with its quasi-commercialism, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show (2004) may not have been great but it was a solid and underrated comeback (even without Cee-Lo who had left the group to pursue a solo pop career), and Age Against The Machine (2013) had its moments but was a mixed bag because of its messy musical eclectism, arguably too focused on the returned Cee-Lo.
So what about Survival Kit? Is it on par with Goodie Mob’s first two, or more in line with the last three? Survival Kit is a kind of Dungeon Family reunion – Organized Noize takes care of production duties, OutKast legends André 3000 and Big Boi show up for guest verses (though not on the same song), and Big Rube make appearances on the two interludes. Organized Noize can always be relied on to provide smooth musical backdrops, and lyrically Survival Kit is an album for the times with its socio-political commentaries – dealing with topics like police brutality, societal unrest, injustices, and such.
Public Enemy’s Chuck D takes care of the hook on the rock-flavored album opener “Are You Ready”, one of the strongest tracks on the album. Other stand-outs include “Frontline”, “No Cigar” (with André 3000), “Prey 4 Da Sheep” (with Big Boi), the empowering “4 My Ppl”, the feel-good anthem “off-Road”, the beat-switching “Calm B4 Da Storm”, and “Amazing Grays”. There are a couple of weaker tracks too (like “Try We”) but on a 14-song tracklist with a 54-minute runtime, a dud or two can be forgiven.
All in all, Survival Kit is a well put together comeback effort – Goodie Mob’s best album since Still Standing.
Download Survival Kit
More Or Les - The Human Condition
Veteran Toronto emcee, DJ, and producer More Or Les dropped an intriguing album with The Human Condition – an hour-long album mainly dealing with mental health issues. More Or Les does not shy away from getting deep and personal, but there are enough moments of levity to keep things from getting depressing. More Or Les has a unique voice, his lyrics are thoughtful and relatable, the nostalgic boom-bap beats bump, and there’s a bunch of blazing scratches to add extra flavor – The Human Condition is a dope album that deserves attention.
Download The Human Condition
Billy Danze & TooBusy - The Listening Session
M.O.P..’s Billy Danze hooked up with Swiss producer TooBusy for The Listening Session. The album packs 13 songs, including the DJ Premier-assisted “Take A Step“, “Gotham” with Method Man, “That Time” with M.O.P. partner Lil Fame, and “One To Grow On” with Mobb Deep’s Havoc. Other feature guests include Cormega and Daz Dillinger – an interesting line-up without a doubt.
TooBusy already dropped a pretty good album (titled Red Tape) with appearances from lots of quality emcees in March of this year. For The Listening Session, he provided Billy Danze with a similar collection of smooth boom-bap type instrumentals. Nothing really wrong with The Listening Session, but nothing really special about it either – it’s just another one of these albums from a respected Hip Hop veteran, with some high-profile features and a collection of solid beats. Respectable, but forgettable.
Download The Listening Session
Mr. Lif & Stu Bangas - Vangarde
Mr. Lif and Stu Bangas – an interesting combination. Stu Bangas is one of the most consistent boom-bap producers in the game these days – and his beats on Vangarde are dope as always. Mr. Lif is an intelligent and intriguing writer – with one classic album on his name: the awesome Def Jux staple I Phantom (2002). Mr. Lif is a conscious rapper, so no doubt he felt he needed to add his thoughts to the multitude of other Hip Hop acts who spoke their feeling about this crazy year we are living through. It’s questionable if Vangarde really adds something to what Run The Jewels, Public Enemy, Paris, Sa-Roc, Arrested Development, and others already did in 2020 – mainly because of its short run time (31 minutes) the album feels a bit lightweight and forgettable.
That said: the instrumentals on this project are pretty great, Mr. Lif’s lyrics are worth listening to, and there are a bunch of guests – Blacastan, Reef the Lost Cauze, Bluprint, Murs, Akrobatik, Insight, and Puma Ptah – who add extra flavor.
Deuce Ellis - Midnight Ouroboros
Honolulu, Hawaii-based rapper/producer Deuce Ellis has an interesting story – just listen to “RZA’s Keyboard” on which it is related how he was gifted an old keyboard from Wu-Tang chief RZA by the late Popa Wu, and the influence it had on him and his music. The atmospheric “RZA’s Keyboard” is a stand-out track on Midnight Ouroboros, but the other 9 tracks are pretty great too.
Hus Kingpin, Ty Farris, Camoflauge Monk, Napoleon Da Legend, Estee Nack, and Rome Streetz (among others) make appearances, helping make Midnight Ouroboros a well-rounded project full of smooth beats, great rhymes, and dope flows.
Download Midnight Ouroboros
N.B.S. & SnowGoons - Still Trapped In America
Still Trapped In America is a follow-up to 2015’s Trapped in America. Like many other artists this turbulent year (Public Enemy, Paris, Run The Jewels, Sa-Roc, Arrested Development (among others) come to mind), Natural Born Spitters come with an album filled with socio-political commentaries (combined with battle-rap type wordplay on some songs). Hip Hop alums like this one are much needed in the crazy times we are living through right now, but it has to be said the other artists mentioned had better albums than Still Trapped In America. There’s little wrong with the lyrical content of N.B.S. (and guests like Fredro Starr, Wise Intelligent, Recognize Ali, Che Noir, Planet Asia, Lord Jamar, Termanology, and Reks), but it’s the beats that fall flat here and there.
Production-crew Snowgoons has always been known for creating banging bombastic boom-bap beats but with the exception of a few tracks the instrumentals on this album feel more subdued than their usual work somehow – maybe to give more emphasis to the lyrical content. Whatever the reason, the album could have been better if the beats had been more ‘Snowgoons-like’, the music on Still Trapped In America is a bit too unremarkable, too forgettable, lacking the Snowgoons ‘punch’.
That said, this is not a bad album at all – lyrically it’s on point and sonically it’s all easy-listening and entertaining enough.
Download Still Trapped In America
Ty Farris & Bozack Morris - Wired Different
Detroit emcee Ty Farris connected with Toronto producer Bozack Morris for Wired Different, with features from the likes of Rome Streetz, M.A.V., Smoovth, Melanie Rutherford, and Pahlavi. Ty Farris is an above-average emcee with a good pen, and on Wired Different he showcases his consistency – this project is on par with his January release No Cosign, Just Cocaine 3. Dope beats and dope rhymes all-around – Wired Different is just a little bit too unremarkable to stand out in the pile of similar Hip Hop releases in 2020.
Download Wired Different
Verbz & Mr Slipz - Radio Waves
Lots of pretty good 90s-centric boom-bap albums coming out of the UK this year, this Verbz and Mr Slipz collaboration is one of them. Radio Waves is a LONG album at 76 minutes – but it’s mostly great, so its length is not a problem. Mr Slipz’s atmospheric beats, samples, and scratches manage to capture that 90s vibe, and Verbz is a fine emcee with a great flow and a confident delivery. Guests like Melanin 9, Confucius MC, Coops, Axel Holy, Riah Knight, Indira May, Benaddict, Fliptrix, and Nelson Dialect bring some welcome lyrical variation to the table – all resulting in a dope album that should be checked out by boom-bap traditionalists at the very least.
Download Radio Waves
King Magnetic & Tone Spliff - Nobody's Safe
For Nobody’s Safe Los Angeles-based DJ and Producer Tone Spliff hooked up with Army of The Pharaohs member King Magnetic – arguably the ‘biggest’ rapper alive at At 6’9” and 400+ pounds.
Tone Spliff had one of the best traditionalist boom-bap albums of 2019 with Ardore Melodico, and Nobody’s Safe is a nice continuation of that sound – this is pure 90s-centric boom-bap with dope beats, rhymes, and turntable work. King Magnetic is a competent emcee, a bit one-note maybe with his gruff sound. A couple of more features could have done Nobody’s Safe good – the one track with two features (“Ice Cream Sandwiches” with Tug McRaw and the incomparable Kool Keith) is one of the best of the album because of its variation in vocal flavor).
That’s just a minor complaint though, Nobody’s Safe is all about Tone Spliff beats, especially traditional boom-bap aficionados will not be disappointed. The biggest knock against Nobody’s Safe is its length, at barely 30 minutes it straddles the fence between being an EP and LP – projects like this one are just too short to really get in to.
Download Nobody’s Safe
Elementree & Major Briggz – The Midlife Crisis
The Midlife Crisis from emcee Elementree and producer Major Briggz offers close to an hour of straightforward early 90s-centric underground boom-bap. Dope beats, rhymes, scratches, and samples – nothing you haven’t heard before here, but boom-bap fanatics need to check this one out.
Download The Midlife Crisis
Vel The Wonder - Trophy Wife
Trophy Wife is a short but sweet album from former Soundcloud rapper Vel The Wonder, one of the finest female voices in Hip Hop today. Los Angeles area based Vel The Wonder has a strong vocal presence, with a soothingly monotonous flow – reminiscent in a way of Bahamadia.
Trophy Wife is produced in its entirety by Chase Moore, a producer based out of Los Angeles who has produced for the likes of Slug of Atmosphere, Royce Da 5’9′, Raekwon, Freeway, Smoke DZA, The Jacka, Brotha Lynch, Rock, Sean Price, and others – and the 90s-centric instrumentals he crafted for Trophy Wife go well with Vel’s consistent delivery. Trophy Wife is a nice little project that leaves the listener wishing for more.
Download Trophy Wife
J. Sands - ABORVFT
ABORVFT (A Bunch Of Racist Voted For Trump) is Pittsburgh-based J. Sands’s follow-up (or companion album) to VFBOYAB (Vote For Biden Or You Ain’t Black), which dropped in September of this year. Smooth beats crafted by J. Sands himself, and a potent combo of dope rhymes and scathing socio-political commentaries, delivered by J. Sands and guests Guilty Simpson, Wordsworth, Grap Luva, Mädness, Donte, Dank, Piakhan, and Ready – ABORVFT is a pretty good project, even better than the solid VFBOYAB.
Ill Bill - La Bella Medusa
D.V. Alias Khryst, Conway the Machine, Pharoahe Monch, Tech N9ne, Rite Hook, Lord Goat (Goretex), Recognize Ali, Jay Royale, Kool G Rap, Slaine, Little Vic, Crimeapple, Nems, Tony Yayo, Vinnie Paz, and Sabac Red – all these features on a 40-minute album make it feel like a compilation album – there is only one track on La Bella Medusa that has no guest verses. In any case: lots of high profile guests – so even if they overcrowd Ill Bill here and there, it’s not bad for the album. On La Bella Medusa Ill Bill does what he always does: coming with hard-edged lyrics over bombastic boom-bap beats. Some real bangers on La Bella Medusa, but a couple of cuts with weaker beats too. Overall the balance is positive, though.
Standout tracks: “BE AFRAID” (with Conway The Machine & Pharoahe Monch), “IlLEST KILLERS” (with Tech N9ne), “DINNER PLATE” (with Lord Goat, Recognize Ali, & Jay Royale), “CHRISSY SNOW” (with Kool G Rap), and “BORA BORA AURA” (with Nems, Tony Yayo & Vinnie Paz).
Download Ill Bill – La Bella Medusa
Dizzee Rascal - E3 AF
One of the most interesting rappers to come out of the UK in the past 20 years drops a solid project with his seventh album E3 AF. While grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 debut Boy In Da Corner will forever be his most impactful album and his best work, E3 AF is a worthy addition to his catalog – on par with his 2017 Raskit album and way better than the two before that one.
Musically, E3 AF is a little too smooth and unadventurous at times – more sonic boldness would have been better to do justice to Dizzee Rascal’s energy level, as evidenced on the album’s best tracks “God Knows” and “Don’t Be Dumb”. A couple of more songs to fill out the tracklist would also have been welcome, at 33 minutes E3 AF is on the short side for an LP.
All in all, E3 AF is a more than fine Dizzee Rascal album and well worth a listen. Those new to Dizzee Rascal would do better to look for the innovative masterpiece Boy In Da Corner, though.
Download E3 AF
Sareem Poems & Newselph - The Art Of Living
Following their 2019 collaboration 88 To Now, Michigan-native Sareem Poems and Newselph (from Alberta, Canada) teamed up again to drop this delightful little project. Smooth production by Newselph and thoughtful lyrics by Sareem Poems make The Art Of Living a slow-burner of an album, one that gets better with every listening. In these troubled times, it’s refreshing to get an album to has a positive vibe about it – Poems lyrics are generally uplifting and Newselph’s jazzy and soulful boom-bap beats help to set the stage for Poems’ poetics. The Art Of Living is on the short side at 34 minutes, but this is one to keep on rotation anyway.
Download The Art Of Living
JR Writer - I Really Rap Too
Harlem, New York rapper JR Writer – of Diplomats fame – returns with I Really Rap Too, a sequel to his 2017 tape I Really Rap. (The I Really Rap album cover art sparked up some controversy for depicting him sitting awkwardly in a theatre surrounded by a bunch of mumble rappers, and Danny Brown, who seemed out of place in that crowd of wack rappers).
The cover art of I Really Rap Too is similar, this time the rest of the theatre seats are empty). I Really Rap Too is a dope sequel. Sure, musically it’s kind of generic and forgettable, but JR Writer is a way above average emcee who comes with listen-worthy wordplay, and the smooth beats are solid enough. JR Writer is a respected lyricist who proves his worth here, and features by 38 Spesh, Royce da 5’9″, Fred Money, and Dave East add extra flavor. I Really Rap Too is well-worth checking out.
Download I Really Rap Too
Mark Ski - Catch-REC
After two critically acclaimed beat tapes and a limited edition vinyl EP, UK producer/DJ Mark Ski return with the self-produced full-length LP Catch-REC. At 32 minutes Catch-REC is on the short side for a proper full-length, but fortunately, the 12 tracks on offer are all consistently dope. One of the obvious highlights is the lead single and title track “Catch-REC”, a boom-bap banger for which Mark Ski joined forces with MC’s El Gant (Jamo Gang) & G. Huff. Other standouts include “Rhyme After Rhyme” with its dusty drums, the uptempo party jam “Let It Roll”, and classic-sounding bangers like “Voodoo”, “Nitty Gritty” and “Truck Jewels”.
Catch-REC features collaborations with the some of the best of the UK and the US underground, including Booda French, Devin Malek, Emma Lee, H3RO, JSWISS, Lulla HF, MCRE, Tenacity (Street Corner Music), Think2wice, and FiveSe7en Collective label mates Blame One (Dirty Science) & J57 (Brown Bag All-Stars/Jamo Gang), and all cuts on the album are done by Mark Ski himself.
Recent times have seen a resurgence of late 80s early 90s-centric boom-bap Hip Hop – a lot of albums like this one drop these days. A good thing, especially if they are as good as Catch-REC is. The biggest knock against Catch-REC is its brevity, but that’s a minor complaint. Copping this Mark Ski project is a no-brainer for all those who can’t get enough of traditional Hip Hop.
Supreme Cerebral - Ultimate Mind
Ultimate Mind is Los Angeles emcee Supreme Cerebral’s third release of the year, following his March release of Soul Trained and the August release of Loose Change. With production from the likes of D.Mar, Slum Lord, Architech, Slide Beatz, KAOSS, and Giallo Point, and cuts by DJ Grazzhoppa and DJ TMB. Underground emcees such as Jay Royale, Ill Conscious, Born Unique, Daniel Son, and others add extra lyrical flavor – all in all, this is another dope 90s-centric Supreme Cerebral project, arguably his best of the year.
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Juga-Naut X Micall Parknsun - Twelve Bricks
Solid underground Hip Hop from the UK. Twelve Bricks is a collaboration between Nottingham emcee Juga-Naut and London producer Micall Parknsun, a full-length following their Six Bricks EP (2017). Juga-Naut had a great album with Giallo Point last year (Back To The Grill Again), with Twelve Bricks he adds another dope album to his catalog. Twelve Bricks: hard-hitting beats and lyrics, with a golden age vibe but at the same time with enough modern-day sensibilities to not sound dated.
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Westside Gunn - Who Made The Sunshine
Who Made The Sunshine is Griselda mastermind Westside Gunn’s third release of the year (following Flygod Is An Awesome God 2 and Pray For Paris), and his debut on Shady Records.
We have much respect for Westside Gunn the businessman, for his vision, and for his aesthetic flair. Nothing wrong with his ear for beats either. But admittedly we have never been a fan of Westside Gunn the rapper. We think his adlibs are intolerable (he thankfully toned them down some on this release), and we can’t stand his voice. There are plenty of other rappers with high-pitched voices, but the likes of B-Real, Sadat X, Ghostface Killah, and Danny Brown sound like grown men despite their high pitches – unlike WSG, who always comes off sounding like a child. If his voice and his adlibs don’t bother you, you’ll be able to enjoy his projects better.
Westside Gunn obviously knows about his shortcomings as an emcee, because like he did on Pray For Paris he stacked Who Made The Sunshine with features. Benny the Butcher, Black Thought, Boldy James, Busta Rhymes, Conway the Machine, Elcamino, Estee Nack, Flee Lord, Jadakiss, Keisha Plum, Slick Rick, Smoke DZA, Stove God Cook$, AA Rashid, and Armani Caesar – that’s an impressive list of names and the best feature list on a Griselda release so far, and there’s a roster of elite producers too to supply the musical backdrops.
Daringer, Beat Butcha, Conductor Williams, The Alchemist, and Just Blaze’s beats are mostly great – the typical dusty Griselda boom-bap sound is here. Benny the Butcher, Black Thought, and Jadakiss had killer verses, Conway always delivers, and Stove God Cook$ had the best verse on the 8-minute posse cut “Frank Murphy”.
“Frank Murphy” is the song on this album that will probably polarize opinions most, some will say the eerie and nightmarish instrumental is brilliant, others will say it sounds like a badly mixed recording of cats getting strangled. We like the track and will go as far as to say its artistic risk makes it one of the best cuts on the album.
The appearances of Busta Rhymes and especially Slick Rick are memorable too. They really don’t sound like they did in their prime anymore, but Busta’s energy is still there, and Slick Rick’s velvet-smooth flow is incomparable – it sure is good to see two Hip Hop icons appear on a Griselda album.
A couple of standout tracks on this album like “98 Sabers” with Benny, Conway, Armani Caesar, and an awesome Just Blaze beat), “The Butcher And The Blade” (with Benny and Conway), Ishkabibble’s (with Black Thought), “Ocean Prime” (with Busta Rhymes and Slick Rick), “Good Night” (with Slick Rick), and “Frank Murphy” (with Stove God Cook$, Elcamino, Estee Nack, Flee Lord, and Smoke DZA) – but a couple of throwaway tracks too, like “Liz Loves Luger” (with a smooth Armani Ceasar hook but some cringe-worthy WSG sex bars), the lackluster “Lessie” (with Keisha Plum), and “All Praises” (with dope verses from Boldy James and especially Jadakiss but terrible WSG singing on the hook).
The weaker tracks stand in the way of a higher rating, but all in all, this is another solid Griselda release. Westside Gunn takes a backseat to his guests, and he took it easy with his adlibs – both are good things. It’s better than the disappointing Flygod Is An Awesome God 2 tape and on par with the more polished Pray For Paris.
Download Who Made The Sunshine
bRavenous - Between The Lines
After Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill’s “Jorun PMC“, Cut Beetlez’s “What Beetlez?“, and Eleven & Jason D’s “Strike Back“, “Between The Lines” from California-based veteran emcee bRavenous is one of the best throwback Hip Hop albums of the year. Booming AND smooth beats, sharp turntablism, and entertaining wordplay – this is traditional boom-bap done right.
The singles “Classic Material Remix” “Tape Deck Flex”, and “Boombap Reflections” are standouts, but this whole album is fire – a must-listen for Hip Hop traditionalists at least.
Download Between The Lines
Saipher Soze, Futurewave & Finn - Eat What You Kill
Former Brown Bag Money collective member Saipher Soze’s third full-length solo project Eat What You Kill is one of the finest underground Hip Hop albums you will hear this year. For Eat What You Kill, The Toronto emcee teamed up with producers and fellow Torontonians Futurewave and Finn, who crafted a selection of excellent dark and gloomy neo-boom-bap beats to match Saipher Soze’s hard-as-nails bars.
Eat What You Kill is reminiscent in sound and vibe of what has steadily been coming out of the Griselda camp in recent times – on par with Conway’s last album, and better than anything Westside Gunn released this year. If the Griselda sound is your thing, copping Eat What You Kill is a must.
Download Eat What You Kill
21 Savage & Metro Boomin - Savage Mode II
Not all music categorizable as trap sucks.
Because of the lack of lyrical and musical creativity, most of what is released in this subgenre of Hip Hop is lightweight and forgettable at best. Savage Mode II is an exception. This album is well put together, there’s variation and some kind of a unique vibe to Metro Boomin’s beats and the lyrics are not (all) cringe-worthy. 21 Savage does not need to use autotune to be able to get by, also a good sign. Not our genre this, but after a couple of listens, we can say more will follow. And having Morgan Freeman as a narrator: wow.
Download Savage Mode II
Unstable Components - Subjective Illness
Unstable Components (P-Ro x Tali Rodriguez) dropped a pretty dope project with Subjective Illness. With features from G Fam Black, Grimm, Aztech, I.N.F., Slant Heddshotts, Mayhem of EMS, Sant1, Judge The Disciple, and Nonsense this is one for the underground. The project offers entertaining wordplay from start to finish and a nice mix of atmospheric and funky boom-bap beats. An experimental vibe to the instrumentals here and there.gives this project enough of a unique vibe to prevent it from being thirteen-a-dozen.
Download Subjective Illness
Cyrus Malachi - The Blind Watchmaker
Dusty, atmospheric boom-bap from UK rapper Cyrus Malachi. “Trained KIller”, “Knights Of Malta”, “Maroons”, “Murder From A Memoir”, “Sicarios”, “From The Essence” – no shortage of dope tracks on The Blind Watchmaker. The strength of this album is its consistency and its cohesiveness, the haunting atmosphere is maintained from beginning to end thanks to the ominous beats crafted by Evil Ed and DJ Drinks and Cyrus Malachi’s distinctive voice and raw rhymes. Don’t sleep on Cyrus Malachi and The Blind Watchmaker.
Download The Blind Watchmaker
Andy Cooper - L.I.S.T.E.N.
Andy Cooper has made a name for himself as one-third of Ugly Duckling (alongside Dizzy and Young Einstein) with a bunch of dope albums since the mid-90s. L.I.S.T.E.N. (Lyrical Innovation Supplying The Ear’s Need) is an essential listen for fans of traditional sounding Hip Hop in general and of course for Ugly Duckling fan in particular.
L.I.S.T.E.N. follows on his last solo release The Layered Effect (2018) and it is just as good. With its funky and fresh instrumentals and Cooper’s throwback rap flow, L.I.S.T.E.N. may be old school in spirit, but it never sounds dated or derivative. In fact, because of its creative instrumentation and Cooper’s infectious lyricism, L.I.S.T.E.N. has a distinctively unique vibe that has a place in 2020.
There are lots of dope traditionalist Hip Hop albums out this year and this one fits right in, on the upbeat/funky/musical boom-bap side of the throwback Hip Hop spectrum. L.I.S.T.E.N. is kind of breezy but at the same time great fun – a pleasure to listen to.
Eastern Sunz - Fuel For A Fool’s Errand
Eastern Sunz is a duo from Portland, Oregon consisting of Courage and Travis T. On Fuel For A Fool’s Errand, Eastern Sunz comes with a potent blend of live instrumentation and traditional feeling boom-bap, with funky drums, jazzy basslines, and even some fresh guitar and piano work combined with well-dosed old school turntablism and sampling. Lyrically, Eastern Sunz covers a wide range of topical issues such as climate change, police brutality, corporate influence in politics, and misconceptions about social assistance – this is Hip Hop for thinking people, which can be enjoyed just as well by those who don’t care about lyrics but who listen to Hip Hop simply for smooth sounding instrumentals and dope flows.
Fuel For A Fool’s Errand is put together perfectly, there are no useless interludes or other fillers to be found here – just 12 equally strong tracks, with no weak spots at all. Some well-placed features (from Ras Kass among others) complete this eminently listenable album. Unfortunately, most people will sleep on Fuel For A Fool’s Errand – but those willing to look beyond the standard rap fare will be happy to discover one of this year’s most pleasant surprises.
Download Fuel For A Fool’s Errand
Action Bronson - Only For Dolphins
Only For Dolphins is the follow-up to Action Bronson’s solid 2018 EP-length LP White Bronco and his 2019 EP Lamb Over Rice (with The Alchemist). At 36 minutes Only For Dolphins also is short for an album billed as a full-length. With such short projects, everything has to hit, there’s no room for filler or misses. Fortunately, Only For Dolphins is pretty consistent, more of what we got with his last releases. Action Bronson always has bars worth listening to, and the album’s jazzy instrumentals are laidback and smooth.
Nothing really memorable on Only For Dolphins maybe (or it has to be the single “Mongolia” with its instrumental heavily built on sitar string sounds, and featuring the only guest appearances on the album, from Meyhem Lauren and Hologram), and the album is not on par with his early mixtapes and his best album (Dr. Lecter, 2011), but this is an enjoyable little Action Bronson project nonetheless.
Download Only For Dolphins
Dray Yard - Rugged Gems Made By Rusty Razors
Dray Yard is a producer from Brest in Belarus, and for this Rugged Gems Made By Rusty Razors project he recruited a host of American underground emcees to do justice to his beats. The likes of Nowaah The Flood, Jamal Gasol, GeneralBackPain, Killy Shoot, Deuce Hennessy, All Hail Y.T., SageInfinite, Killa Kali, Heem Stogied, Phyba, Vinny Vindetta, King Coldpack, Chuck N Lock, Boob Bronx, Stoop Rebel Murda, 1 Shot Spitune, and Haleem The GodBrother make appearances – looking at these names it’s not hard to see this project is as underground as it gets.
The vocals on Rugged Gems Made By Rusty Razors are almost universally great, and Dray Yard’s beats are suitably dirty – this project fits right in with all the other raw neo-boom-bap releases we’ve been seeing in recent times. Dray Yard has enough of an own sound to set this project apart from the competition – his layered instrumentals often have a haunting atmospheric vibe that invites multiple listenings. Rugged Gems Made By Rusty Razors is a dope project, well worth checking out if you’re a fan of gritty neo-boom-bap.
Download Rugged Gems Made By Rusty Razors
Nappy Roots - 40RTY
With their debut Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz (2002), Louisville, Kentucky crew Nappy Roots arrived on the scene exactly on the right time to bank on Southern Hip Hop’s rise to dominance – the album reached multi-platinum status. But even with that success, Nappy Roots are hardly ever mentioned when early Southern rap is celebrated – it’s always OutKast first, and then acts like Scarface & Geto Boys, Goodie Mobb, UGK, Eightball & MJG, and Three 6 Mafia who come up, or even pop rappers like Nelly, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, and their ilk.
Nappy Roots deserve to be in that conversation. Their second album Wooden Leather (2003) was a critical and commercial triumph too (reaching gold status eventually, and their third album The Humdinger (2008) also charted. Since then commercial success eluded them, but critical acclaim never was far away.
The mature and soulful 40RTY follows on the slept-on projects 40Akerz Project (2015) and Another 40 Akerz (2017) and is just as good. The instrumentals on 40RTY are butter-smooth, the beats Southern-style bass-heavy, and the thoughtful lyrics are worth listening to all the way through. They should have left the album’s last song “Good Life” on the cutting room floor, but that’s the only weak track – other than that 40RTY is another great Nappy Roots project. Be sure to listen to 40RTY on a good system or quality headset – the bass on this project demands it.
Googie & Henry Canyons - Hijinx
A nice surprise project coming out of Backwoodz Studioz. Kind of an atypical release for Backwoodz too, far less left-field than releases from Backwoodz flagship artists like billy woods, Elucid, and Kenny Segal. Hijinx offers 34 minutes of smooth beats and mellow live instrumentation, plus chilled-out vocals from Googie & Henry Canyons.
Read the Bandcamp blurb: “After several one-off collaborations and years of friends and fans saying, “yo, you guys should do a project,” Googie and Henry Canyons finally got their act together. A knuckle sandwich of styles, Hijinx sees the two rappers serve and-volley their way through gritty cityscapes and snow-capped mountains, culinary adventures, and romantic entanglements. With production from Matt Bowen, Fresh Kils, and others, one thing is guaranteed–your body will move when you hear it. From the lowest of lows to the highest highs, Hijinx is a gloriously irreverent ride, popping wheelies all the way.”
Hijinx is a great little project: confident and mature Hip Hop for grown-ups.
Chokeules - Nepotism
As one-half of Sequestrians, one-third of Swamp Thing, one-third of Toolshed, and one-twentieth of Backburner Crew, Toronto emcee Chokeules has been (co)responsible for a whole lot of dope Hip Hop over the years. He also dropped a couple of pretty good solo projects, his last one – Stay Up – in 2014. In 2020 Chokeules is back with another solo full-length (if a short one at 36 minutes): Nepotism.
Nepotism is a very well-balanced album – it may be short, but there’s not a moment wasted. Choke has the effortless flow of a seasoned veteran, and he expertly balances serious subject matter with great wordplay and fun punchlines. The chilled-out boom-bap beats crafted by LRYBRDBTZ and the well-placed cuts by DJiRATE fit Choke’s’ lyrics to a T. This is a stylish and classy album that will be appreciated by 90s Hip Hop fans for sure, but that’s up-to-date enough to not just appeal to old heads – Nepotism is a project that will satisfy the tastebuds of all Hip Hop connoisseurs, and not just of the old heads.
Agallah & Sadat X - The Gods Have Arrived
The Gods Have Arrived is a short but sweet project by two of NYC’s finest. Veteran producer/emcee Agallah’s gruff tone of voice goes well with Brand Nubian legend Sadat X’s high pitch – these two play well off each other. Agallah is kind of underrated as a producer and as an emcee, people sometimes forget he produced for acts like EPMD, Das EFX, and Onyx back in the day, and he collaborated with a lot of other industry greats like DJ Premier and The Alchemist. He put his production prowess on full display for The Gods Have Arrived – crafting a selection of menacing, hard-bodied bangers. Recently he has been extremely prolific as an emcee too, dropping a couple of pretty good projects in 2020 alone.
Sadat X is co-responsible for one absolute Hip Hop classic with Brand Nubian’s One For All (1990), and he has put together a substantive solo catalog, starting with 1996‘s acclaimed Wild Cowboys LP. On The Gods Have Arrived the pair bring out the best in each other – this is a thoroughly solid project, the biggest knock against it is that it’s too short at a mere 33 minutes.
Download The Gods Have Arrived
J. Sands - VFBOYAB
Pittsburgh’s J. Sands is back with a new album, the title a play on a ‘clumsy’ remark Joe Biden made in an interview with Charlamagne Tha God for the 2020 presidential race. Vote For Biden Or You Ain’t Black is a showcase of the writing skills of J. Sands – on VFBOYAB Sands covers many of the social ills that face many people every day in this day and age. VFBOYAB includes features from Hubbs, Craig G, Blu, and Headkrack, and others – their vocal contributions nice additions to J. Sands´wordplay. The thought-provoking lyrics combined with the smooth instrumentals make this album a well-rounded effort that definitely is worth checking out.
Artisin - Sinamatik
ST. Da Squad is a New England based Hip Hop Supergroup comprised of Termanology, Ea$y Money, Reks, SuperSTah Snuk, Artisin, Clip, Hectic, Dj Deadeye, and Machete.
On the heels of Reks’ somewhat disappointing T.H.I.N.G.S. (The Hunger Inside Never Gets Satisfied), ST. Da Squad’s rapper Artisin comes with a stronger effort: Sinamatik. Artisin has listen-worthy wordplay in store, and production from Artisin himself (along with work on the boards from DJ Manipulator, Shortfyuz, Loman, DJ Flash, and Termanology) is nice.
Reks, Ea$y Money, Termanology, Wais P, SuperSTah Snuk, and Runt Dawg show up as guests to add variation – all in all, this project is a very solid listen that will appeal to those who can’t get enough of 90s-centric beats and flows.
DRE Colombian Raw - Dre’s Corner 2
Jersey’s DRE Colombian Raw latest album Dre’s Corner 2 is a nice surprise. “Just Venting” “Why (Live This Way)” and “That Come Up” were the previously released singles leading up to this project, and the rest of Dre’s Corner 2 is of the same quality. What we get is 12 tracks with gritty atmospheric neo-boom-bap beats, and raw street rhymes by DRE Colombian Raw, whose attitude and Columbian roots (some of his rhymes are in Spanish) give him enough of an own sound to set this project apart from most others in this overpopulated corner of contemporary Hip Hop.
Download Dre’s Corner 2
POUNDS - There Is No Mafia
There Is No Mafia is Rochester, N.Y. native Pounds latest hard-hitting effort, arguably his best yet (and certainly better than Trafficante – his first album released in 2020). Like all Pounds projects, There Is No Mafia packs some serious tough talk and hard-nosed bars into its 32 minutes, but it’s the atmospheric instrumentals that elevate this project above most of Pounds’ earlier works, plus there are a bunch of good features too (by 38 Spesh, G4 Jag, JoJo Pellegrino, and Primo Profit – among others).
Like so many Hip Hop projects these days There Is No Mafia is something in between an EP and an LP, but despite its (too) short running time, this album is part of the better half of the neo-mafioso type rap projects out there right now.
Download There Is No Mafia
Realio Sparkzwell & Clypto - Bloody Luciano
Bloody Luciano is one of the better projects in the neo-mafioso rap niche this year. Soulful drumless instrumentals crafted by Cali-based beatsmith Clypto serve as fitting backdrops for Syracuse, New York-based rapper Realio Sparkzwell’s gritty street tales. This album is well put together and isn’t cluttered with features – only Nowaah The Flood and Ty Farris make appearances (with Tone Spliff on the cuts on one of the tracks). Bloody Luciano is a must-listen for Griselda and Roc Marci fans.
Download Bloody Luciano
Touch & DJ Matto - Electric Sheep
From the Bandcamp blurb: “With his new album, Electric Sheep, Touch explores artificial intelligence, cyberpunk, futurism, and humanity as a social animal. Continuing his collaborations with a single producer, the Edmonton MC is joined by DJ Matto, previously of Vancouver, BC, horrorcore rap duo Hidden Fortress and currently holding down multiple MCs as DJ and producer in Fukuoka, Japan. DJ Matto’s crisp mix of heavy drums, deep bass, and haunting synth sounds as if the music is emanating from an off-world colony and beamed directly into your mind, while the choruses consist primarily of his consummate cuts, a constant reminder that the album is also an exploration of Hip Hop.
It begins with beats, bars, and cuts, but Touch’s detailed character studies and his nuanced story further enable the listener to explore as far as their imagination will take them… into the dystopian universe of Electric Sheep.”
Yes. This is a great album. DJ Matto instrumentals fit the futuristic theme from start to finish and the beats are different enough from the general Hip Hop fare to give this project its own unique vibe. Touch’s lyrics – he comes off like a hybrid of Aesop Rock, Kool Keith, and billy woods – manage to sustain interest too: Electric Sheep is one of the finest Hip Hop albums to come out of Canada this year.
Download Electric Sheep
Reks - T.H.I.N.G.S. (The Hunger Inside Never Gets Satisfied)
Reks’ twelfth studio album is a bit of a mixed bag. At 19 tracks and one hour of playing time, T.H.I.N.G.S. (The Hunger Inside Never Gets Satisfied) is a long album, but Reks has proven in the past that delivering a consistent lengthy project usually isn’t a problem for him. T.H.I.N.G.S. is too long though, there are a bunch of tracks that should have been left off.
Reks is a great lyricist, but he only shines sporadically on this album – his rhyming certainly is not on par with his work on his best albums Grey Hairs (2008), Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme (2011), Straight, No Chaser (2012), and The Greatest X (2016). But the biggest problem on T.H.I.N.G.S. are the meandering beats and the weak hooks – there’s too much ‘meh’ here.
That said: there are dope tracks too, like ‘T.H.I.N.G.S.’, “Civilized Barbarians, “Ego”, “White House”, “Benjamin’s Dead”, “King Of The Town”, and “The Complex” (with a verse from the incomparable Pharoahe Monch) – but all in all it’s not enough to count this album among Reks’ best.
MC Eiht - Lessons
“Honcho” with Conway The Machine and DJ Premier is the absolute standout track on Lessons, but there is plenty more to enjoy. Besides Conway and Premier, there are more notable features – like B-Real, Talib Kweli, Yukmouth, Havoc, and Kurupt (among others). As with most projects that run for well over an hour there is some inevitable filler, but overall this is a good MC Eiht effort – almost as good as Official, Eiht’s March 2020 release.
On the Official album MC Eiht overused his trademark “Gyeah” to the point of caricature, on Lessons you’ll hear him say it a couple of hundred times too – it can get a little annoying just (like him mentioning the name of his “Blue Stamp Official” label over and over and over). But these are minor complaints – Lessons is another solid project from one of gangsta rap biggest legends.
Vic Spencer & SonnyJim - Spencer For Higher 3
Spencer For Higher 3 is another great installment in the Spencer For Higher series by Chicago rapper Vic Spencer & UK producer/emcee SonnyJim. Just like on the first two Vic Spencer’s distinctive rhyming style gels well with SonnyJIm’s chilled-out beats – making for a well-rounded and fun listen. Features from Ironside Hex, C.Rich, Hus Kingpin, Jeremiah Jae, Rome Streetz, Che Noir, Tonika J., and House Shoes add extra flavor, but the synergy between Vic Spencer and SonnyJim alone is enough to make sure this one a keeper.
Download Spencer For Higher 3
Playwright Performer - Playwright’s Den
The cheap-ass cover art of Playwright’s Den does a disservice to the actual content of this project. Playwright’s Den is a pretty dope album with all production from veteran Long Island producer/emcee Playwright Performer.
The album features a host of underground names like Ixion Form, Cliff Clavin, Elz Sinatra, Bravos Exodus, Louie Freelunches, Rated R CNY, DJ TMB, I.N.F. Dr Foulmouf, HI Q, Al Harden, Nico the Beast, Jake Haw, Awful P, Drew Dollars, Psych, Julius Sleazer, and Coal Cash – their contributions along with Playwright Performer’s polished boom-bap instrumentals make for a tight album that is much better than the cheapo cover suggests.
Download Playwright’s Den
MAD1NE - King Leo Green
King Leo Green is San Antonio emcee Mad1ne’s second album of the year, following Insane Hate Poems (which was released in February). Like Insane Hate Poems, King Leo Green is another solid throwback boom-bap project. Mad1ne’s flow and delivery come straight from the 90s and the beats – once again produced by Kizer and Ruler Why – are suitably 90s-centric as well.
King Leo Green will not go and win any originality prices, but especially Hip Hop traditionalists will find plenty to enjoy here. Nice cover art too.
Download King Leo Green
Marvalyss - Where The Sidewalk Ends
Marvalyss of Hartford Connecticut is an emcee’s emcee, with a powerful voice, a dope 90s-centric flow, and listen-worthy bars. Where The Sidewalk Ends offers close to 40 minutes of atmospheric boom-bap beats crafted by Pittsburgh-based producer Alcapella, and great rhymes by Marvalyss and a couple of guests. The likes of Recognize Ali, A-F-R-O, and King Magnetic make appearances – especially “Neighborhood Bullies” with cuts by Chumzilla and rhymes by the incomparable A-F-R-O is a banger.
If smooth boom-bap beats combined with quality rhyming is your thing, checking out Where The Sidewalk Ends is a must.
Download Where The Sidewalk Ends
Iceberg Theory & August Fanon - The Cabal(a)
Left-field underground Hip Hop at its finest. As with all collaborative projects Iceberg Theory and August Fannon dropped this year (this is their fifth release of the year), The Cabal(a) is an acquired taste without a doubt. Iceberg Theory may not be the best emcee to ever pick up the mic when it comes to flow and delivery, but his intelligent and intricate wordplay makes up for any possible technical shortcomings. August Fannon crafted a collection of fine instrumentals to support Iceberg Theory’s rhymes, with jazzy keys and piano loops over for the most part dope beats, the abstract sounding production a perfect match with the esoteric lyricism.
Those looking for trendy, catchy Hip Hop will have to take a pass, but those who appreciate dirty beats, murky jazz sounds, and meditative lyricism will find plenty to enjoy here.
Download The Cabal(a)
Drunken Arseholes - Strength
Raw and uncompromising. Strength is a pretty good album from Canada’s veteran duo Drunken Arseholes. DJ Moves and Cee!!!!!!! have been around for a decade or two, but with Strength they drop what is arguably their strongest release yet. Strength offers mostly dope instrumentals crafted by DJ Moves, and Cee comes with his characteristic mix of socio-political commentaries, juvenile vulgarity, and all-around unfiltered “I don’t give a f**k what you think about what I say” type lyrics. Not for everybody, but those who are not easily offended or who are interested in lyrics with substance (whether you can get with what is said, or not) will enjoy this presentation.
OC From NC & D.R.U.G.S. Beats - Crown Royal
OC From NC (so not to be mistaken for the legendary DITC O.C.) is one of the hardest emcees to come out of North Carolina. Crown Royal is produced entirely by D.R.U.G.S. Beats and it features guest appearances by Boog Brown, Jarren Benton, Maestra, Seb Zillner, Illpo, Precyce Politix, Kieston Prophecy Reece, Lacy Haith, S.P.A.D.E, J Gunn, Seb Zillner, Jozeemo, and Vanessa Ferguson.
Bars and beats: if raw underground boom-bap (with some melodic flourishes here and there) is your thing, Crown Royal is a must-listen.
Download Crown Royal
Napoleon Da Legend & Giallo Point - Street Universe
Another album from the prolific Paris-born, Comoros Islands and Washington DC raised, Brooklyn-based artist Napoleon Da Legend, this one a continuation of his collaborations with UK-based producer Giallo Point – following the solid Coup D’État (2018) and the decent (but compared to its predecessor slightly disappointing) Coup D’État 2 (2019). Street Universe is on par with the first Coup D’État.
Giallo Point has been one of the more interesting producers in the game for a long while, getting more and more recognition in recent years through his international collaborations. His collaborative album with Los Angeles rapper D Strong – Suitcase Full Of Gunz – remains the strongest albums this year with his name on the cover, but Street Universe is pretty good too. The chilled-out beats suit NDL’s lyrics, and there’s little to none skippable material here. At 36 minutes, Street Universe is short, but sweet.
Download Street Universe
Jay Royale - The Baltimore Housing Project
The Baltimore Housing Project, the sophomore full-length LP from Baltimore emcee Jay Royale, is a surprisingly good album for such a low-key release. It’s clear where Jay Baltimore’s inspiration comes from – this album wears influences by classics like Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Nas’ It Was Written thin on its sleeve.
While Jay Baltimore is no Raekwon or Nas, he is a competent enough emcee, and The Baltimore Housing Project is a more than decent 90s-centric street rap album with solid production by the likes of Ray Sosa and J Soul (among others) and entertaining rhymes by Jay Royale and guests like Skyzoo, Termanology, Ill Conscious, and Ransom. Nothing you haven’t heard before on The Baltimore Housing Project, but if 90s-type mafioso rap is your thing, this album is a must-listen.
Download The Baltimore Housing Project
UnLearn The World - Light Years
Light Years is NYC-raised and San Francisco-based emcee/producer, UnLearn The World’s latest project, and arguably his best work yet. On this album UnLearn The Wolrd speaks about his personal history, and on topics like the rap game, society, love, fatherhood, religion, and more. If you have never listened to Unlearn The Word before, now it’s time to get up to speed. His lyrics are worth listening to, and his flow and delivery are dope, different enough from most others to give his vocals a distinctly unique vibe.
Light Years is mostly self-produced, and Unlearn The World’s work on the boards is as admirable as his intricate wordplay is. The album runs for close to an hour and contains 16 smooth and soulful tracks, on which trap and boom-bap influences are expertly blended into a new sound. Great beats and great lyrics: Light Years is a great album.
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Recognize Ali & Stu Bangas - Guerilla Dynasty
Guerilla Dynasty is a collaborative project by underground emcee Recognize Ali & prolific producer Stu Bangas. There’s A LOT of this kind of neo-boom-bap projects being released in recent times, and even if there’s little innovative or surprising to be found here, Guerilla Dynasty is one of the best albums of its kind out this year. More than the lyrics, it’s the beats that make this album an above average listen. As always Stu Bangas comes with his signature booming drums, this time around laced with menacing piano and sax loops, to serve as perfect backdrops for Recognize Ali’s rhymes.
Guerilla Dynasty features contributions from Ill Bill, Lord Goat (Goretex), Blacastan, Verbal Kent, SmooVth, Marvalyss, SageInfinite, DJ Tray, and DJ Eclipse, to make for a well-rounded and hard-hitting boom-bap album – one of the most potent collaborations of the year.
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Gawds - The Other Side
GAWDS ( Going At Whoever Don’t Surrender) is a crew forged in 2016 by Regulus and Pinpoint, two Baltimore-based emcees, and renowned DJ Rocky Styles. It’s good to see there are still artists out there willing to buck the trend that has artists going for a series of quick quantity-over-quality EP releases (everything to stay in the public’s eye as much as possible), instead opting for the good old-fashioned long-format listening experience. GAWDS knows how to do it – The Other Side offers 18 tracks, a full hour of dope music.
The Other Side is pretty good, admirable at the least for doing something different than everybody else is doing. On this album, we get an unorthodox blend of styles and it turns out to work wonderfully well. From traditional boom-bap to alternative, to jazz-hop, to hardcore rap, to 50 Cent type hooks, to the emo the cover art promises – this album cannot be pigeonholed and it is better for it. The Other Side is entertaining from start to finish – with interesting beats and samples, and lyrics worth listening to. Don’t sleep on GAWDS.
Download The Other Side
The Musalini - Return Of The Oro
The Return of The Oro is Bronx emcee The Musalini’s third release of the year and his first proper full-length of 2020. The Return Of The Oro is a totally satisfying listen, one that should appeal to those who dig the music from the likes of Roc Marciano and Westside Gunn. There’s a lot of artists out there right now trying to ride the Roc Marci/Griselda style wave, resulting in a slew of generic neo-boom-bap coke-rap releases, with the same kind of minimalistic beats and the same kind of cliched tough-guy crime rhymes.
The Return Of The Oro fits the Roc Marci/Griselda mold but definitely stands out from the crowd. The Musalini has more flair than most others, and the beats on this project really fit his style. There are a lot of features (by relative unknows like Izzy Hott, O Finess, Putwork, Ransom, Emilio Craig, Risktaker P, G4 Jag, Q Stilla, and Rasheed Chappell) and a whole bunch of producers responsible for the instrumentals on The Return Of The Oro, but despite all the different people involved somehow this project sounds entirely cohesive. The Musalini’s lyrics will not go and win him a Pulitzer, but it’s all entertaining enough to hold attention for 45 minutes.
All in all, The Return Of The Oro is a fine addition to what’s on offer in this niche of Hip Hop. And that cover art is just GREAT.
Download The Return Of The Oro
MC Shinobi - The Revenge Of Shinobi
Nice one. Phoenix, Arizona rhymer MC Shinobi comes with one of the better 90s-centric boom-bap albums of the year. The Revenge Of Shinobi sounds likes it came straight from Pete Rock’s playbook, or maybe from DITC’s Showbiz’s – the horns-infused beats laced with samples from 90s Hip Hop classics take the listener straight back to 1992.
“For the Golden Age of Hip Hop I have to give a bow”, MC Shinobi says on “1520 Sedgwick Ave” (Hip Hop fans will know the significance of that address). DJ Obsolete, DJ DareDevil, B.B.Z Darney, Soe95, Q-Knight, and MPadrums provide musical backdrops Pete Rock will approve of, and Shinobi has the skills to do the beats justice. His 90s-type flow and delivery suit the instrumentals, and although there’s nothing especially memorable here, The Revenge Of Shinobi is a consistent and above-average addition to the ever-growing collection of boom-bap renaissance albums we are treated to lately.
Download The Revenge Of Shinobi
Pruven - Asiatic African Arts
Asiatic African Arts is Bronx-by-way-of-Connecticut emcee Pruven’s second full-length project this year. Clandestine Rituals dropped earlier this year and it arguably is Pruven’s best yet – a lyrically deep, sonically layered, and generally well-rounded album. Asiatic African Arts is another interesting release, lyrically and musically just a little less impactful than its predecessor. As is the case with all Pruven projects, Asiatic African Arts requires multiple listens to fully appreciate its lyrical and musical intricacies – a Pruven album is never easy or straightforward. But it doesn’t have to be – those who are willing to invest the time and attention an album like this demands and deserves will be amply rewarded.
Download Asiatic African Arts
Heron & Serum - Heron & Serum
Miami residents DJ Heron and renowned battle rapper and graffiti artist Serum teamed up for their straightforwardly titled collaborative debut: Heron & Serum. The duo will not go and win any originality prices with this nostalgic piece of work, but that’s probably not what they set out to do.
Heron & Serum should be appreciated for what it is: a delicious Golden Age flavored project with a tightly produced selection of beats and scratches by Heron and enjoyable wordplay by Serum and guests like Shabaam Shadeeq, Reks, Wrekonize, and Graig G (among others). Heron & Serum will most likely gain no traction among the mainstream crowd, but for those stuck in the early 90s, this album is gold.
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Pruven - Clandestine Rituals
Thought-provoking, conscious lyrics by Bronx-by-way-of-Connecticut emcee Pruven over a selection of fire beats crafted by producer Jak Progresso. Pruven is one of those independent artists who has been grinding for a while, with a bunch of dope projects on his name – go check out his other full-lengths 1st Words: Earn Everything (2010), Designed Growth Destiny (2013) and Reach Surroudings (2017) too if you like this one.
Pruven’s lyrical style is like of blend of Killah Priest and billy woods, fans of either one of those two will no doubt love this album. Clandestine Rituals arguably is Pruven’s best yet. This is a deep, layered, and well-rounded album – Hip Hop for thinking people.
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Tenacity - Inspired By True Events
Michigan native and Los Angeles based Tenacity’s Inspired By True Events is an interesting release. With production from the likes of House Shoes, Exile, 14KT, J57, Nameless, Swarvy, Dert Beats, Drugs Beats, and Illingsworth and features from Guilty Simpson, Ras Kass, One Be Lo, Chino XL, and Jimetta Rose, this album holds a lot of promise.
Tenacity’s voice combined with his flow and delivery is an acquired taste though. Those who can get with his vocal style are in for an enjoyable experience – the instrumentals are smooth and fun to listen to and there’s nothing wrong with Tenacity’s pen game. He comes with interesting lyrics showcasing societal awareness and meaningful analyses of the world around him. Check this one out, you might be in for a nice surprise.
Download Inspired By True Events
Taiyamo Denku & Bofaatbeatz - Den-Bo-Wu
Den-Bo-Wu is Wisconsin emcee Taiyamo Denku and German producer Bofaatbeatz second collaboration of the year, following their Kollab Kong album. (It’s Taiyamo Denku’s third full-length album released in 2020, The Darker Side of Light is his solo release).
Like Kollab Kong, Den-Bo-Wu is a 90s-centric album with lots of guest artists, but that’s where the similarities end. Where Kollab Kong offered more traditional boom-bap beats and cuts (and a spectacular list of features), Den-Bo-Wu tries to emulate the Wu-Tang kind of sound. The guest list reflects that intention – Wu-affiliated emcees like Killah Priest, Shabazz The Disciple, Bronze Nazareth, Cappadonna, Shogun Assassin, Hell Razah, Shyheim, 9th Prince, and Solomon Childs show up for vocal contributions. Just like Kollab Kong, Den-Bo-Wu is a solid effort. Nothing spectacular or especially memorable maybe, but for those who can’t get enough of 90s-sounding Hip Hop, this project is well-worth checking out – especially for fans of the extended Wu-family this is a must-listen.
Ray Swoope - Thou Shall Not Kill
A nice surprise, this one. Thou Shall Not Kill is the debut solo release from Chicago artist Ray Swoope. Ray Swoope has a dope syncopated flow and his lyrical content is worth listening to, offering an unfiltered look at life on the streets. The production on Thou Shall Not Kill is on par too, with a varied selection of instrumentals consisting of hard-hitting drum loops and interesting samples, with some good old-fashioned scratching here and there as well.
There’s a lot of genericness in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop market, but Thou Shall Not Kill definitely is not one of those thirteen a dozen releases. Ray Swoope is way better than the average emcee, and his musical backdrops have enough uniqueness about them to set this project apart from the crowd. Check out Thou Shall Not Kill, you will not regret it.
Download Thou Shall Not Kill
Iron Wigs - Your Birthday's Cancelled
Chicago emcees Vic Spencer and Verbal Kent joined forces with UK’s Sonnyjim (who also produced the entire album) to form Iron Wigs. A surprising collaboration taking into account the very different things the three have done in the past, but on Your Birthday’s Cancelled they showcase undeniable chemistry.
Your Birthday’s Cancelled offers a potent blend of smooth, jazzy vibes, and the noir neo-boom-bap sounds popularized by the likes of Griselda and Roc Marciano. Roc Marci actually shows up as a guest vocalist on this project, together with CRIMEAPPLE and Quelle Chris. “Bally Animals & Rugbys”, the track with Roc Marci, is one of the standouts, along with cuts like “A Lot Of Money”, “Purple Alien”, “Problematic” (with CRIMEAPPLE), “Unagi”, and “No Reservations” (with Quelle Chris).
Vic Spencer, Verbal Kent, and Sonnyjim play off each other well, the guests add extra flavor and Sonnyjim’s instrumentals are consistently good. Your Birthday’s Cancelled is a dope album.
Download Your Birthday’s Cancelled
Killy Shoot & Onaje Jordan - Heavy Math
Killy Shoot and Onaje Jordan from the Hometeam collective teamed up for this collaborative effort. Killy Shoot comes with hard street rhymes, over cinematic instrumentals crafted by Onaje Jordan. Heavy Math is another one of those releases obviously inspired by the sound and aesthetics of Griselda, with the same brand of street rhymes and dark, minimalistic production – this is one of the better albums of its kind. Killy Shoot is an above-average emcee and contributions from General Back Pain, Chuck Chan, Lupus Dei, DNTE, and Muggz on Drugs add some extra flavor. Nice.
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Roccwell - Still Lovin' Boombap
A remarkable thing in the boom-bap resurgence we are currently living through is that a lot of the best albums of this kind are created by non-American producers. Giallo Point (UK), Leafdog/The Four Owls) (UK), Kyo Itachi (France), Protektahz (Australia), DJ M-1 (Ireland), Bo Faat (Germany), Insideus (Australia), Kut One (Australia), Cotardz (Brazil) – just a few names of producers who were all involved with or responsible for dope traditional-sounding boom-bap projects that dropped this year.
Roccwell is a producer from Munich, Germany. The title of the album doesn’t leave anything to the imagination – Still Lovin’ Boombap does exactly what you’d expect. Bars, beats, and turntablism – that’s what you get here. Some people complain about the genericness or lack of innovation on projects like this, but why? If boom-bap Hip Hop with a 90s vibe is your thing, then this will satisfy your cravings for sure. Of course, you can listen to the classics released back in the day, and you should, but it’s refreshing to see there are talented producers all around the world – like Roccwell – willing and able to keep the subgenre alive with quality projects like this one.
On Still Lovin’ Boombap, Roccwell gathers not only the 90’s heroes QnC (Q-Ball and Curt Cazal – the latter from the legendary JVC Force), Craig G and Maylay Sparks but also other hungry underground emcees from the US like M-Dot, Ruste Juxx, Born Unique, Wildelux, Bankai Fam or Glad2Mecha. Also, there are scratches in all of the songs, for which DJ Case, 12FingerDan and B-Base (Soulbrotha), DJ Danetic (Snowgoons), DJ LP2, DJ Tricky, and DJ Skruff contributed numerous cuts.
Still Lovin’ Boombap offers grown men rap of the best kind, listen to albums like this one for timeless Hip Hop.
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Henny L.O. & Ohbliv - Sages
Richmond, Virginia based rapper Henny L.O. continues to raise his profile with his second solid release of the year. Sages may not be quite as good as Henry L.O.’s Battle Scar Decorated collaboration with Monday Night from earlier in the year, but it’s plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Ohbliv is a quality producer who comes through with a selection of atmospheric instrumentals, and Henry L.O.’s bars entertain. There are a couple of good features too, most notably by Ankhlejohn and Fly Anakin.
Estee Nack & Superior - BALADAS
This is a great little project from one of the finest underground emcees out there. At this point, the Griselda flavor can get kind of generic because of the oversupply of it, but BALADAS is at the top end of the market in that regard. Tragic Allies member Estee Nack is a better emcee than most, and German producer Superior’s gritty production is different and authentic enough to stand out. With guest spots by other top spitters like Eto, Daniel Son, and Recognize Ali, BALADAS is one of 2020’s finest releases of its kind. The biggest complaint (as so often in this era of short attention spans) is that the album is too short at 34 minutes but OK – let’s count it as quality over quantity. Lastly – cover art counts too, and this here is dope as f.
Taiyamo Denku & Bo Faat - Kollab Kong
Kollab Kong is Wisconsin native emcee Taiyamo Denku’s second album released in 2020, after The Darker Side of Light. Taiyamo Denku and German-based producer Bo Faat team up again to release this collaborated album. Over the years Denku has earned the title ‘Collab King’ which he changed to “Kollab Kong”. This album shows why he uses that title to describe himself. Collaborations on the Kollab Kong album include Busta Rhymes, Jim Jones, Benny the Butcher, Conway The Machine, 38 Spesh, Skyzoo, Kool G Rap, Planet Asia, Tragedy Khadafi, and Sadat X – among others. Denku and Bo Faat have been creating Hip Hop music for 25-30 years, and with Kollab King they take it right back to Hip Hop’s Golden Age. Great production and lyrics, and DJ cuts by DJ Brisk Fingaz give it that little extra – this is a must-listen for fans of 90s-centric Hip Hop.
Download Kollab Kong
Senseless - Franklin Park
Columbus, Ohio’s Senseless drops a short but sweet album with Frankin Park. Because of its running time of barely 35 minutes and the summertime-like beats, Franklin Park might seem a bit breezy and lightweight at first listen – but there’s enough to unpack here to give this project (LP? EP?) plenty of reply value.
Senseless is an emcee reminiscent of Atmosphere’s Slug in style and even in lyrical content. That’s not to say Senseless and Franklin Park are derivative though, there’s enough authenticity here to be able to appreciate this project as a piece of work of an artist with his own sound. Franklin Park should have been a little longer to give it a little more weight – but all in all, this is an enjoyable enough little project.
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Ca$aBlanca & TITO TheCZAR - The Elephants Who Spoke
The Elephants Who Spoke by Ca$aBlanca and TITO TheCZAR is yet another one of the slew of projects inspired by the Griselda sounds that are currently flooding the Hip Hop world. Minimalistic, dark, atmospheric beats, combined with street rhymes and the evidently inevitable WSG adlib copycatting. Despite its genericness, The Elephants Who Spoke is one of the better releases of its kind, mainly because of TITO TheCZAR’s dope instrumentals.
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M.A.V. & Rob Gates - The Dark Side Of Nature
The biggest attraction of The Dark Side Of Nature is the involvement of Big Ghost Ltd, who produced the entire project. Big Ghost Ltd is one of the most interesting producers out there, and his name on a project is like an auto-mark of quality.
Rochester emcees M.A.V. & Rob Gates (members of Da Cloth along with Mooch & Rigz) may not be the best emcees you have ever heard though. They both have that mid-90s NYC street rap style, but you have heard a bunch of better emcees doing it better, then and now. Their subject matter is limited too – guns and tough-guy talk, it gets tiring. M.A.V. & Rob Gates get outshined and overpowered by the beats, even if these are not the best instrumentals Big Ghost has ever produced (look to Ankhlejohn’s 2018 masterpiece Van Ghost for that).
The albums closer “Smokin Aces” ft. iLLanoise, Symph, Times Change, Mooch and Rigz is the best track here – an awesome 8-minute posse cut with fine lyrical performances over a wonderfully atmospheric beat. Other than that, The Dark Side Of Nature is solid enough, but not great.
Download The Dark Side Of Nature
Wisecrvcker & Kyo Itachi - The Nth Degree (Supreme Paradigm Act II)
The Nth Degree (Supreme Paradigm Act II) is the follow up to Arizona emcee Wisecrvcker’s excellent (but sadly slept on) 2018 album Supreme Paradigm: The Grand Scheme. That album was completely produced by Moka Only, The Nth Degree is a collaboration with French producer Kyo Itachi.
Just like on Supreme Paradigm: The Grand Scheme Wisecrvcker recruited an impressive roster of emcees to appear on The Nth Degree – Conway the Machine, Ruste Juxx, Rockness Monsta, Diabolic, Tragedy Khadafi, Guilty Simpson, Madchild, Killah Priest, Cappadonna, Planet Asia, Andre Nickatina, Nems, Moka Only, Myka 9, and Sadat X (among others) all contribute bars.
At 19 tracks and over an hour of playing time, there’s a lot of substance to The Nth Degree, but little to no fat. Sure, some of the tracks are better than others, and some guests shine more than others, but overall this is a totally consistent presentation – a must-listen if hard-bodied 90s-centric underground Hip Hop is your thing.
Download The Nth Degree
Bishop Nehru - Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
Bishop Nehru is grown up. His most notable releases all dropped when he was still in his teens – like Nehruvia (2013) and his famed collaboration with MF DOOM NehruvianDoom (2014). Now, at 23, it seems he’s ready for the next stage of his career – Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts can be seen as his coming-of-age album. Cuts like “All Of My Years”, “Me & My Thoughts”, “Colder”, the DJ Premier-produced “Too Lost”, and the trappy “My Zone” all showcase Bishop Nehru’s growth as a human being (and as an artist).
With the backing from industry heavies like DJ Premier, Madlib, and MF DOOM early on in his career, expectations were always going to be high. In 2020, it’s clear Bishop Nehru has become his own man. The work of MF DOOM, Madlib, and DJ Premier on this album no longer feels like the help of mentors, these are regular collaborations now.
Stylistically Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts is kind of a strange beast, with its blend of styles ranging from boom-bap to trap to experimental – even drawing influences from pop, rock, emo, and jazz. A risk, because it could have easily resulted in being an incohesive mixed bag – but Bishop Nehru gets away with it. He is a strong songwriter and a good emcee, and the diversity in musical backdrops gives him the chance to show off his versatility. Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts is a strong album, and Bishop Nehru’s best yet.
Favorite tracks: “Too Lost”, “3:50 In L.A.”, “Little Suzy (Be Okay)”, “OurEnergyIsAstral”, “MEATHEAD” (with MF DOOM), “Never Slow”.
Download Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
Chuck Chan & Pad Scientist - Polly By The Powder Keg
Pad Scientist is a producer from Maine, one to watch. For Polly By The Powder Keg, he teamed up with rapper Chuck Chan (who also took care of the cuts and scratches on the album, as well as the mixing and the mastering). Polly By The Powder Keg is a pretty good project, in fact, it’s up there with the best of recent underground Hip Hop releases of its kind. Those with a taste for lo-fi, dirty, atmospheric beats laced with dope wordplay by Chuck Chan and a roster of talented guests emcees should not hesitate to go check this one out.
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Awful P & Conflikt - The BoomBaptism
Generic throwback boom-bap? Maybe. But even there is nothing new or innovative about The BoomBaptism, there are no weaknesses to be found either. People who have a love for trap and mumble rap and such will probably be quickly turned off by The BoomBaptism, and it is easy enough to dismiss this album as another typical product by and for out-of-touch old heads who can’t (or don’t want to) understand the new cats who are creating a kind of rap music that’s just not for them. So fans of Lil This-or-That should probably stay away from The BoomBaptism, but people who grew up on 90s Hip Hop and who have little love for trappers and mumblers will find a lot to like here. And it’s not all dismissing today’s rap and glorifying the days of old, on a track like “It Was All So Simple” Awful even reaches out to the new brand of rappers to say they just should do their thing, as long as it’s clear that he will do the same – and that’s creating authentic Hip Hop.
The BoomBaptism offers an hour of banging throwback beats and the bars to go with them, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
Download The BoomBaptism
Monday Night & Henny L.O. - Battle Scar Decorated
Henny L.O. (1/11 of Mutant Academy) teams up with fellow Richmond, Virginia emcee Monday Night for Battle Scar Decorated. There are a lot of albums with this kind of neo-boom-bap sound around these days, Battle Scar Decorated is part of the upper echelon of its kind. Monday Night & Henny L.O. prove to have great chemistry, trading bars over a fine selection of dirty, minimalistic beats – don’t sleep on Battle Scar Decorated.
Download Battle Scar Decorated
Nohokai - Mixed Emotions
Nohokai’s Mixed Emotions is a pretty good producer’s album. Casual, Gift of Gab, R.A. The Rugged Man, Diabolic, Pep Love, Tone Spliff, Apathy, Nems, Chino XL, Slaine, Rite Hook, Locksmith, Eligh, Ill Bill, Matt Maddox, DJ Eclipse, True Justice, Big Earth, and DJ Gi Joe make appearances – that’s an impressive list of features with some top-lyricists among them. Maybe nothing especially memorable here, but Mixed Emotions offers a selection of fine chilled-out boom-bap beats, cuts, and rhymes.
Download Mixed Emotions
Bowery Bruisers - Bowery Bruisers
Cliff Clavin, Hi-Q & Elz Sinatra are Bowery Bruisers. This self-titled full-length LP was created from scraps of other projects that were given new life once the group compiled unfinished songs and concepts. It is also the debut of the production team The DreadKnocks comprised of Cliff Clavin and Hi-Q. All cuts on this album were done by the indelible DJ TMB.
This is another one of those albums that will fall through the cracks and will remain unnoticed by most in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop landscape. A shame, because Bowery Bruisers is dope as f. Hard rhymes, hard beats, hard scratches – this is real Hip Hop folks.
Download Bowery Bruisers
Cas Metah & Blast Mega - Pow Bundy
Ohio-based duo Cas Metah and Blast Mega are Pow Bundy. This is another one of those albums that will not turn up in any other major Hip Hop outlet’s best-of-the-year lists, because most of those outlets don’t curate anymore – they only pay attention to what they are fed by major labels, so they all act like that generic mainstream trap is all there is. Real Hip Hop heads know better though, they will pay attention to quality and they will know where to find it.
Pow Bundy is an example of a project that deserves more attention than it will get. If you like your Hip Hop to have substance, this self-proclaimed ‘blue-collar Hip Hop’ project is for you. Thought-provoking lyrics, skillful wordplay, dope beats, nice throwback vibe – everything we like in Hip Hop comes together on Pow Bundy. Just look past that Married With Children album cover (even if there are thematic links to that TV-series in the album title and album’s content), and give this project an attentive listen – no doubt you’ll quickly add Pow Bundy to your library.
Download Pow Bundy
4-IZE - Look Into My IZE
This is a solid Hip Hop album. Beats and bars, that’s what it’s all about, right? Look Into My IZE delivers on both fronts, with features from Ludacris, the late Sean Price, Talib Kweli, J-Live, Planet Asia, Punchline, Rapper Big Pooh, and señor KAOS (among others) and production from Justice League, 9th Wonder, and Swizz Beatz (among others).
4-IZE is one-half of emcee duo Ultra Beast (with señor KAOS), two Hip Hop veterans from the Atlanta region in Georgia. Look Into My IZE has a Southern vibe to it, but it’s musically too diverse to call it a typical product of the South – not so strange seeing the emcee and producer roster with people from all over the place. Despite all this different input, Look Into My IZE is an entirely cohesive album though. Recommended.
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Serengeti & Kenny Segal - Ajai
Kenny Segal and billy woods. Kenny Segal and Hemlock Ernst. Kenny Segal and R.A.P. Ferreira. And now Kenny Segal and Serengeti. Kenny Segal is on fire of late, Ajai is the next in what is growing into an ever-more impressive series of collaborative albums with the LA-based producer’s name on it.
Even if Kenny Segal’s production work is an important part of the appeal of Ajai, this is very much a Serengeti project. On Ajai, the idiosyncratic Chicago emcee/poet revisits Kenny Dennis – a character Serengeti has built a whole history around on multiple previous releases. The Kenny Dennis character supposedly was ‘retired’, but now reappears on the second half of the album, while the whole album takes place in the ‘Kenny Dennis universe’.
Serengeti is such a good writer – he really deserves props for his storytelling and worldbuilding abilities, even if his dense lyrical imagery may prove to be too much for the casual listener. Those familiar with Serengeti’s other works and Kenny Dennis’s backstory will know what to expect, newcomers will be rewarded if they are willing and able to invest the time and attention a project like this needs to be fully appreciated.
Ajai is a fascinating project, that deserves attention. Probably not for everybody, but fans of Serengeti and the likes of R.A.P. Ferreira (fka Milo), Open Mike Eagle, Quelle Chris, and others from that corner of Hip Hop will love Ajai.
C. Ray - Rhodes
Charles Rhodes II, better known as C. Ray, is a producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and audio engineer from Pasco, Washington. C. Ray is part of Boostwell Music, Rebellion 9 as well as Twisted Insane’s label Brainsick Muzik. Rhodes is C. Ray’s first full-length project in the 2020s, one that deserves attention. There’s nothing wrong with C. Ray’s instrumentals, but it’s the vocals that make Rhodes an interesting album. C. Ray is a versatile vocalist – he changes styles continuously, from a fast, choppy, off-beat flow to a more ‘traditional’ delivery, with some singing thrown in the mix as well. His style takes some getting used to, and it will not be for everybody, but it is different enough to stay captivating – plus he comes with lyrics worth listening to. Rhodes runs for a full hour but doesn’t feel a minute too long – that says all about the quality and the entertainment value of this project.
In this oversaturated market where artists need to do what they can to capture the music consumer’s attention, too many artists place themselves at a disadvantage by slapping ugly cover art on their projects. A bad cover gives the impression the content will suck too. C. Ray does it right here – the cover art of Rhodes looks fresh and inspires curiosity, which gives the album a headstart.
Rhodes is one of the many projects released this year that will be (unwittingly) ignored by most Hip Hop listeners due to lack of exposure and reach, but it’s much better than new projects by overhyped mainstream rappers like Lil Baby and Lil Uzi Vert that dropped in the same week as Rhodes did and which got all the attention. It’s all about marketing and hype these days – replace C. Ray’s name with Kendrick Lamar’s and people would be tripping over each other to put the Album Of The Year label on Rhodes. You could do worse than check out this album – it just might be for you.
Protektahz - Protektahz Of Da Lost Art
Protektahz Of Da Lost Art is an excellent throwback boom-bap project from Australian crew Protektahz. With appearances from big names like Cella Dwellas, Rockness Monsta, KRS One, Sadat X, Onyx, Ruste Juxx, Killah Priest, Prodigal Sunn, and Lords Of The Underground (among others), Protektahz recruited a bunch of names that help elevate this project to the next level. Right now Hip Hop is experiencing a boom-bap resurgence, there are lots of quality projects dropping that sound as if they time-traveled to 2020 straight from the early 1990s. Protektahz Of Da Lost Art is such an album, one of the better ones of its kind. Dope beats and scratches, and rhymes by some of the very best emcees – this is a great album.
Download Protektahz Of Da Lost Art
Daddy-O - G.O.A.T. Antidote
Coming off of 2019’s surprisingly enjoyable From My Hood 2 U, Stetsasonic legend Daddy-O brings another solid project with G.O.A.T. Antidote.
G.O.A.T. Antidote is unlikely to gain Daddy-O any new fans, but all those who grew up on Stetsasonic’s classics On Fire (1986) and In Full Gear (1988) will want to check out this album. Like its 2019 predecessor, this project is a bit too uneven in its production and too generally lightweight to be rated higher, with too many weak hooks as well – but the vocals of Daddy-O and guests like Chuck D, Wise Intelligent, Big Mike (and others) make for an interesting enough listen.
Download G.O.A.T Antidote
Grand Daddy I.U. - The Essence
Industry veteran and Juice Crew affiliated Grand Daddy I.U.’s recording history has been sporadic over the decades, and he has never been able to top his 1990 debut Smooth Assassin – a pretty good album that was swept away by all the classics that dropped in the same time period. P.I.M.P. (Paper Is My Priority) from 2015 was his second-best up to now, The Essence is on par with that release.
For The Essence Grand Daddy I.U. recruited a host of quality guest emcees, with a couple of Golden Era legends like Method Man, O.C., Lil Fame, Rah Digga, Sadat X, Craig G, Large Professor, Bumpy Knuckles, General Steele, and Prince Po among them. The problem with that many features is that The Essence feels more like a compilation project than a Grand Daddy I.U. album. At 54 minutes, this is a long album too, and almost inevitably there are a bunch of weaker tracks – there are 5 or 6 tracks here with R&B choruses that should have been left on the cutting room floor. If The Essence had been a bit shorter, with a tighter focus on that good old 90s boom-bap, this album could have been one of the best throwback projects of the year.
As it is, it’s too much of a mixed bag, but when it’s good it’s great: tracks like “Fully Charged” (ft Lil Fame, Bumpy Knuckles, and Rah Digga), “Politically Incorrect” (ft Sadat X, Ruste Juxx, and Shortee Sha), “Legendary” (ft Craig G, Large Professor, and Don Black), “Cash In Abundance” (ft John Jiggs, Inf Da God, and Babbs Bunny), and “The Essence” (ft Method Man, among others) are all bangers.
Download The Essence
Lunch Breaks - Orange State Project Vol. 1
Lunch Breaks is an Orlando, Florida-based duo consisting of Jakal and Swamburger. Both are producers first, Swamburger is the one who is rapping too here. Orange State Project Vol. 1 is a refreshingly different kind of project, it doesn’t really fit in any of today’s genre boxes. It has nothing to do with generic mainstream rap, it’s not jazz-rap, it can’t be labeled as traditional boom-bap, nor does it fit the dark and dusty neo-boom-bap mold.
Experimental boom-bap may be the best way to describe the sounds of Orange State Project Vol. 1. – the beats are creative and musical, with the lyrics to match. Swamburger is a more than competent emcee, coming with dope wordplay and clever insights. Looking for something different than the standard? Check out Orange State Project Vol. 1, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Download Orange State Project Vol. 1.
D-Cypha - The Special Ingredient
D-Cypha’s 1st official album The Special Ingredient is one of the best producer-albums of the year. D-Cypha has a great ear for atmospheric boom-bap beats, and some good old fashioned turntablism adds extra flavor to the instrumentals. 13 dope tracks, without interludes, skits, or other useless filler.
With contributions from Busta Rhymes, Kool G Rap, Jadakiss, Cella Dwellas, Tragedy Khadafi, Sean Price, Rockness Monsta, Ruste Juxx, Blaq Poet, El Da Sensei, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, Bronze Nazareth, Cappadonna, Craig G, Sadat X, and others, The Special Ingredient is an excellent collection of beats and bars.
Download The Special Ingredient
Odd Squad Family - The Flamingo Complex
Odd Squad Family (not to be confused by the 90s Rap-A-Lot Odd Squad crew led by Devin The Dude) is an independent Hip Hop trio from Phoenix, Arizona. In 2016 founding member Frosty passed away, Odd Squad Family is now made up of Nubs, Snowman, and A-Factor (who joined the crew later).
The Flamingo Complex is Odd Squad Family’s second full-length studio album. With 15 tracks and a full hour of playing time, this is a project that demands a substantial investment of time and attention, but it’s worth it. Similar to their earlier output, the music on The Flamingo Complex is an inspiring blend of positive vibes and classic Hip Hop influences intertwined with a fresh, modern delivery. These guys have skills, and with this album, they deserve a break to wider recognition, outside their current following.
This album has little to no weaknesses, but the single “Smoke My Pain” deserves a special mention, such a powerful track that will resonate with anybody using weed to cope with loss, physical imperfections, or whatever kind of issue. The lyrical content on this album is REAL (no crime story fronting here), the personal adversities the Odd Squad Family guys have to live with every day make them all the more relatable and inspirational.
The Flamingo Complex is an easy-listening, musically well-rounded, lyrically deep, all-around great album (with gorgeous cover art too). Don’t sleep on Odd Squad Family and The Flamingo Complex.
Download The Flamingo Complex
Ill Bill & Nems - Gorilla Twins
Nems is a well-known veteran battle rapper from Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, who had one of the rawest boom-bap albums last year with Gorilla Monsoon. Ill Bill known for his solo work (his albums The Hour Of Reprisal (2008) and The Grimy Awards (2013) are low-key underground classics), he’s also part of Non-Phixion, Circle of Tyrants, La Coka Nostra, and Heavy Metal Kings (with Vinnie Paz). What Nems and Ill Bill have in common is that they’ve always totally consistent in dropping that raw New York boom-bap. They have collaborated in the past, this is their first full-length (albeit a short one at 35 minutes) together.
Gorilla Twins does exactly what could be expected. Grimy, hard-hitting beats and rhymes – and some extra flavor added by regular collaborators like Immortal Technique, Vinnie Paz, and Goretex. Gorilla Twins offers nothing you haven’t heard before lyrically nor musically but this one is a touch above the average because of the skill and the chemistry these two underground titans have.
Download Gorilla Twins
Kota The Friend - Everything
Lightweight and breezy, but totally enjoyable nonetheless. Great vibes.
Styles P - Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm
Styles P has always had the same problem as his LOX colleague Jadakiss: there is no doubt about his ability as an emcee, but he never really succeeded in translating his skill into a memorable album. Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm is not that album either. It’s not bad at all, but it doesn’t leave an impression. Thankfully he refrained from infesting this album with corny R&B choruses, something both he and Jadakiss usually spoil their own albums with, but overall the album still lacks punch.
Producers Dayzel the Machine, DJ Wonda, Khardier da God, Nice Rec, Prophe.t AKA Noah Styles, Supa Stylez, Trey On Da Beatz, and Vinny Idol crafted the beats here and it’s all solid enough, but also kind of bland. Styles P (and Jadakiss too) should get with a producer like The Alchemist or Apollo Brown and let them create some beats to justice to the rhyme skills.
Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm: good, not great – at least Styles P is consistent in his output.
Download Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm
Medhane - Cold Water
Cold Water is Earl Sweatshirt co-signee Medhane’s second release of the year, following the Full Circle EP which dropped in February. Other exponents from the sLUms movement like Navy Blue, Pink Siifu, and Akai Solo already had interesting releases in 2020, but Cold Water is the best of what came out of the sLUms lo-fi corner of Hip Hop this year so far. Lyrically Medhane sounds more focused than ever before, and musically Cold Water is well-rounded – less experimental and more accessible than some of the other ‘sLUms albums’. Cold Water is a short (32 minutes) but great listen from start to finish.
Download Cold Water
John Jigg$ - Jigganometry
John Jigg$ is an artist repping New York City Hip Hop scene. With his latest release, he drops a solid presentation of 90s-centric East Coast Hip Hop – a mix of melodic verses, catchy hooks, punchy punchlines, and straight-up battle raps. Jigganometry will not go and win any prizes for originality and innovation, but it definitely is a few pegs above the average retro-boom-bap that’s been flooding the market lately. Standout track: “Oprah” – with a dope guest verse from Illa Ghee and sharp cuts by DJ Eclipse.
Tahir Jahi - the loST ART
Tahir Jahi is a great writer, with positive and inspiring bars, and he has the talent and versatility to carry an album. On the loST ART, he teams up with regular collaborator and fellow Pittsburgh resident BusCrates, who takes care of some of beat-crafting on this project. the loST ART is a great album, offering 40 minutes of intelligent Hip Hop of the finest sort. Nobody is talking about this album and that’s a shame – the loST ART will be a contender for the title of the most underrated/most slept on Hip Hop album of 2020.
Best tracks: “All Y’all Do” (featuring Prince Po), “1,2”, “Who’s Cooler”, “Black Chronicle”.
Download the loST ART
Cee Gee Incorporated - Classical Gifted
Cee Gee Incorporated is a producer and DJ from Buffalo, New York, 1/2 of The Almighty Rebelz with emcee Semi-Auto and 1/2 of Green Giant with emcee Frigid Giant. Three years after he released his proper solo full-length album The Research, Cee Gee Incorporated comes with his anticipated and long-delayed second production album, Classical Gifted.
This is a long album, with 21 songs on its tracklist, but it’s expertly sequenced with some instrumental tracks mixed in between the songs that carry vocals. The rhyming on the album is done by a host of underground emcees and is interesting enough, but this is producer’s album through and through. Great production, great vibes, great album. And just gotta love that cover-art too.
Download Classical Gifted
MOAR - Boom Bap Mentality
31 minutes of playing time – does that make Boom Bap Mentality an EP or an LP? With a few instrumental interludes making up the tracklist, this certainly is a very short project. It’s pretty lightweight in content too – breezy boom-bap with some jazzy vibes thrown in the mix (that album cover is done really well, perfectly signaling what to expect from Boom Bap Mentality).
So it’s short and lightweight, and the lyrical content is not really a reason to seek out this album either – the vocals are here to add a bit of flavor to MOAR’s beats, more than the other way around. That said: Boom Bap Mentality is a solid listen, fun, and entertaining throughout, in an easy-listening kind of way – forgettable but enjoyable.
Download Boom Bap Mentality
Vellione - DMS
Echoes of 2Pac in more ways than one here. Oakland, California rapper Vellione’s biggest inspiration is obvious. He sounds similar to 2Pac – his tone of voice, his delivery, his diction, it all harks back to the late great Tupac Shakur. Vellione’s gritty tales of street survival are reminiscent of his big example too. it’s all a bit too much 2Pac, maybe? Vellione is not 2Pac, you see.
The album is well enough put together, with a bunch of skits giving the whole thing a coherent and even empowering feel, but there’s something missing. Maybe the thing is that Vellione is going for that 2Pac vibe so much, you just can’t help but miss the power, charisma, and poetic flair of the original man. Vellione has skills, no mistake about that, but emulating Pac may be too big an ambition. The musical backdrops on DMS are 90s-centric Bay Area – nothing wrong with them, but nothing especially enticing about them either – it’s all a bit too generic to justify the 67 minutes running time.
Having said all that: DMS is not a bad album at all. Fans of 2Pac or of 90s Bay Area/West Coast Hip Hop will probably dig this album.
Jungle Brothers - Keep it Jungle
While their Native Tongues brethren De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest are still (and rightfully) universally praised these days, too often Jungle Brothers are overlooked. People sometimes forget that before De La Soul dropped 3 Feet High & Rising in 1989 and ATCQ debuted with People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990, it was Jungle Brothers who started that Native Tongues movement sound with the low-key classic Straight Out The Jungle in 1988, quickly followed by the still underrated Done By The Forces of Nature (1989).
Their output since these two classics has been hit and miss, and we haven’t seen an album since 2006. In 2020 the JB’s are back with Keep It Jungle. This is definitely a return to form, and their best release since Raw Deluxe in 1997. The album has a light feel to it, nothing complicated – just 10 dope traditional boom-bap tracks in the best upbeat Jungle Brothers tradition. If you loved the first Jungle Brother albums, you will like this one too.
Download Keep it Jungle
4th Disciple - The Algorythm
4th Disciple has always been one of the best Wu-Tang-affiliated producers, as he proved with his work on the boards for his own Killarmy, as well as for Sunz Of Man, Killah Priest, and lots of others from the extended Wu-family. The Algorithm is a fine collection of songs with atmospheric Wu-flavored beats and vocal contributions from Rah Digga, Vinnie Paz, Sadat X, the inevitable Planet Asia, and the late Sean Price, among others. Biggest complaint: at barley 30 minutes The Algorithm is just too short.
Download The Algorythm
Jon Connor - SOS
After a long hiatus and finally released by Aftermath records after being on the back burner there, Flint, Michigan’s Jon Connor returns with SOS. On SOS, Jon Connor straddles the fence between a mainstream sound with a couple of songs with smooth instrumentals and poppy hooks alternated by a bunch of tracks with hard beats and fire bars. What could have ended up in being an incohesive mixed bag, turns out to be a surprisingly cohesive presentation.
With a playing time of 1 hour and 17 minutes, the album arguably is a little bit too long for its own good – with a couple of inevitable filler tracks (like “Every Other Word”, “Stay Distracted”, and “Beautiful”) – but there’s more killer than filler to be found on SOS. “Black” is a highlight (with its booming beat and a dope sampled hook that fans of Chris Rock’s classic CB4 movie will immediately recognize), other standouts include cuts like “Vehicle City (Flint, Michigan)”, “Work Of Art”, “Words To My Younger Self”, “The Procedure”, and the banging posse cut “The Cypher” (with A.F.R.O. and Termanology, among others).
Jon Connor is a lyricist and not just a rapper, that means he comes with bars that are actually worth listening to. The instrumentals supporting his lyrics are solid enough, which results in a pretty good album. For HHGA, SOS would have been better with more of the bars & beats tracks and less of the poppy songs (where Connor sometimes even uses a kind of unfortunate trap-like cadence). But even if SOS is not as good as his last album – Unconscious State (2013) – was, it still represents a successful comeback for Flint’s finest.
Moemaw Naedon - Dr. Deadhorse
Moemaw Naedon is a Pittsburgh based MC and producer. His production work is sample-heavy and dusty while his rhymes are poetic with a flair for the abstract. Dr. Deadhorse is about as underground as it gets. Who is going to pick up on this album? Popularity is all about marketing and hype these days, without a strong social media presence and/or major cooperation backing your music will not get much exposure. Gradually developing a loyal cult-following is a way to go, and Moemaw Naedon is an artist who deserves such a following. Dr. Deadhorse is an album deserving of more attention than it will get, anyway. The wordplay is solid and the beats are GREAT. Don’t sleep on Moemaw Naedon’s Dr. Deadhorse.
Download Dr. Deadhorse
Markis Precise - No Wings Without Scars
Markis Precise is a producer and keyboardist from California. This is his second solid album, following The Feeling Of Flying (2015). Like on The Feeling Of Flying, Markis Precise managed to enlist a veritable who’s who of underground emcees to do his instrumentals justice – Talib Kweli, Conway, Murs, Brother Ali, Locksmith, Fashawn, Ill Camille, The Grouch, Eligh, Reuben Vincent, Stro, and Jon Keith make appearances.
Markis Precise sound is a brand of chopped, melodic boom-bap, accessible and easy-listening (maybe a little bland here and there). Standout tracks include: “Hearth Cold” (ft Conway), “Decisions” (ft Locksmith), “Rejoice” (ft Murs), “When You’re Gone” (ft Brother Ali). Bonus points for great cover art.
Download No Wings Without Scars
Casual - Big Head Science
Big Head Science is a fine album, arguably Casual’s best since his underappreciated 1994 solo debut Fear Itself. Fellow Hieroglyphicans Phesto and Tajai make appearances, as do high profile guests like Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest, Ras Kass, and Planet Asia (king of features, lately). Casual can still spit and the beats on Big Head Science are universally dope – the whole album has a nice throwback-vibe going on, ideal for those who have been vibing with the Hieroglyphics crew since the 90s.
Download Big Head Science
Blaksmif - Platforms X Trophies
Maybe you know Springfield MA emcee Blaksmif as a battle rapper, who came up through circuits like Fight Klub and SMACK/URL. Platforms x Trophies is his second album, and his best yet. This is a well-rounded project, with dope beats and bars from start to finish, with guest appearances from RJ Payne, Blaze Gee, Young Briggs, Los, Nall, Fabeyon, Dtayls, Berto Bravo, and D Days. It’s a sad reality most people who claim to love Hip Hop will listen to trash like DaBaby’s latest release while ignoring projects like Blaksmif’s Platforms X Trophies.
Download Platforms X Trophies
Logic - No Pressure
Logic’s retirement album No Pressure is one of the best in his catalog (which, admittedly, contains a couple of very crappy projects). Compared to the two wack releases he dropped in 2019, No Pressure is excellent. Logic sounds more focused and less irritating here than he did on a lot of his earlier projects, and his lyrical performance is helped in great measure by elite producer No I.D.’s work on the boards – like he was on his 2014 debut Under Pressure. No I.D.’s beats are smooth as f. and consistently great from start to finish. Logic’s decision to hook up with No I.D. again definitely was a good one – closing the circle for him.
Logic is easy to hate apparently, and he gets sh*t on disproportionately. This last project will not redeem him in the eyes of his haters, but those able to judge him objectively should like this straightforward, easy-listening album, with dope beats throughout and for the most part strong lyrics too. Logic’s catalog is more miss than hit, but if this really is his last album, he goes out on a high note with what probably is his best album.
Download No Pressure
Supreme Cerebral & D.Mar - Soul Trained
Soul Trained was a long time coming. The single “Prophetic Jewels” featuring Cali Agents legend Planet Asia dropped in 2016. It was followed by “Writings On The Wall” featuring Definite Mass, “Underground Kings” featuring SmooVth & Eloh Kush, and “On The Corner” featuring Recognize Ali & Ill Conscious. With all this scattered throughout the 4 years since 2016, Los Angeles emcee Supreme Cerebral has dropped a bunch of dope projects but the waiting was for this Soul Trained album. Now it is here – this 14 song LP is beautifully put together, with features also including the likes of Tristate, Hus Kingpin, Ralphiie Reese & Banish Habitual.
This is how it should be done. Soul Trained is produced entirely by D. Mar, ensuring a totally cohesive sound from start to finish. A lot of tracks on Soul Trained have old soul classics worked in the boom-bap instrumentals, in keeping with the theme set by the album’s title and cover art. Soul Trained offers dope beats and turntablism from beginning to end, and above all real lyricism by Supreme Cerebral and his guests. Soul Trained: 90-centric Hip Hop of the highest quality.
Download Soul Trained
HDBeenDope - BrokeN Dreams
Brooklyn’s HDBeenDope is an atypical ‘modern’ Hip Hop artist as he doesn’t seem to feel the need to drop a mini-project every three months to stay in the public’s eye – BrokeN Dreams is his latest full-length album (running close to an hour), coming over 3 years after his previous release PHeace Be The Journey. The album’s title represents HDBeenDope’s feelings after living his dreams touring and performing, but then realizing that he was still broke afterward. BrokeN Dreams‘ overall message is one of positivity – telling listeners to keep striving and you’re going to get yours eventually.
Today’s Hip Hop world is a game of marketing and hype, more than it’s about talent and ability. BrokeN Dreams has commercial appeal and modern aesthetics, but since HDBeenDope doesn’t have major cooperation backing, this album will probably fly under most people’s radars. They’re all missing out because BrokeN Dreams has everything appeal to a wide Hip Hop audience. HDBeenDope is a skilled writer and versatile rapper, who has bars worth listening to and who showcases a variety of flows. The instrumentals are mostly great too, despite the variety in styles BrokeN Dreams is entirely cohesive and consistent.
Standout tracks: “Hollywood”, “0200 FDR Drive”, “Superheroes” (inspired by Eminem’s “Stan”), and the 7-minute opus “Broken Dream”, a tale of HDBeenDope’s career thus far.
Download BrokeN Dreams
Wrecking Crew - Raheem's Lament
Wrecking Crew is a collaboration of Philadelphia artists Curly Castro and PremRock (the duo that dropped the excellent ShrapKnel album earlier this year) with Career Crooks’ Zilla Rocca and Small Professor. As the name Wrecking Crew, along with the album cover and title (referring to Juice – 1992’s cult movie hit) suggests, this project has some definite throwback vibes.
This is not an album that can be lumped together with all the other (kind of generic) retro boom-bap albums that drop these days, though. There is a contemporary, even experimental vibe to Raheem’s Lament – Wrecking Crew pretty much nails creating a sound that should please fans of 90s-centric boom-bap, as well as those who had enough of the genericness of that sound – Raheem’s Lament has something distinctly unique going on in its sound. Appearances by Wrecking Crew affiliates BLUU Edwards and FreshKils as well as from Hubbs and Backwood Studioz heavy-hitters Armand Hammer add extra flavor to the tracklist.
At 31 minutes Raheem’s Lament feels kind of lightweight due to its brevity, but what’s there is GREAT: dope beats and bars, what more do you want?
Download Raheem’s Lament
D Strong & Giallo Point - Suitcase Full Of Gunz
Following their first collaboration in 2015 (the excellent Dangerous Ground EP), British producer Giallo Point and Los Angels emcee D-Strong team up again, this time for a full-length: Suitcase Full Of Gunz.
Giallo Point has been active in the UK Hip Hop scene for decades, but he really is on a roll the last couple of years – collaborating with emcees from all over the world, dropping one quality project after the other. Suitcase Full Of Gunz is another winner, with killer rhymes by D-Strong – who has a great voice and dope throwback flow – and smooth vintage boom-bap production by Giallo Point. Suitcase Full Of Gunz succeeds in taking you back to the essence of Hip Hop without leaving you in the past. This is quality Hip Hop, a must-listen for Hip Hop traditionalists and younger heads alike.
And that cover art is NICE!
Download Suitcase Full Of Gunz
Iceberg Theory & August Fanon - Rinpoche
Left-field underground Hip Hop at its finest. Rinpoche in Tibetan Buddhism stands for an incarnate lama or highly respected religious teacher (often used as an honorific title). Iceberg Theory & August Fanon didn’t choose Rinpoche as an album title for nothing – this project is filled with spiritual and philosophical musings all packed in dense lyrics. Iceberg Theory may not be the best emcee to ever pick up the mic when it comes to flow and delivery, but his intelligent and intricate wordplay makes up for any possible technical shortcomings. August Fannon crafted a collection of fine instrumentals to support Iceberg Theory’s rhymes, with jazzy keys and sax loops over for the most part dope beats. Rinpoche is an acquired taste to be sure, and it may require a few listens to really appreciate all its intricacies, but those open to something different from the general rap fare will find plenty to enjoy here.
Kool Keith & Thetan - Space Goretex
Space Goretex is a strange beast, weird even by Kool Keith’s standards. Because Kool Keith’s output has been so prodigious over the decades, and because quality control has never been one of his main concerns, people sometimes forget he has a bunch of classics and near-classics on his name. Critical Beatdown (1988, with Ultramagnetic MCs) and Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996) are absolute classics, First Come First Served (1999), The Original SoundTrack Album of Project Polaroid (2006, with TomC3 as Project Polaroid) (2006), Sex Style: The Un-Released Archives (2007) and the vastly underrated Feature Magnetic (2016) come close enough.
Space Goretex may not be quite on that level, but it is better than the projects he dropped last year, and it is his best since the excellent Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (2018). Kool Keith has always been at his best when working with one producer (like Kutmaster Kurt or Dan The Automator), and for Space Goretex Kool Keith successfully teamed up with Nashville power-violence duo THETAN (Chad L’Plattenier and Dan Emery). Their dark and unnerving instrumentation is primarily comprised of bass, drums, theremin, and synths – and it gels well with Kool Keith’s trademark bizarre lyrics. On Space Goretex Kool Keith for the first time combines the experiences of some of his primary personas – Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, and Black Elvis – which makes for some interesting lyrics (“Complicated Trip” is is a good case in point.)
Space Goretex also features input from Casey Orr of the heavy metal band GWAR and the punk band X-Cops, Gangsta Boo of the pioneering trap group Three 6 Mafia, Blag Dahlia of the punk band Dwarves, Ashley Mae of the dark country outfit Lost Dog Street Band and DJ Black Cat Sylvester. Especially notable is the feature by veteran rapper Blowfly (known for being an early pioneer of explicit sexual rap) who makes an appearance as his character “Uncle Tom Bowker.”
As is always the case with Kool Keith’s work, appreciation for this project will depend on the listeners’ familiarity with and tolerance for Kool Keith. If you can’t get with Kool Keith you may hate Space Goretex, but HHGA loves Kool Keith, and we like this album – which we think is definitely part of the better half of his vast discography.
Download Space Goretex
Eleven & Jason D - Strike Back
Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, Hip Hop veterans Eleven & Jason D bring back that traditional boom-bap sound to the 2020s with Strike Back, their third collaborative project. An album that kicks off with the opening part of the classic “Stoop Rap” from Wild Style sets itself up to be a winner. And no mistake, Eleven & Jason D’s Strike Back is dope as hell. To get the only complaint out the way first: at 9 tracks and just over 30 minutes of playing time Strike Back is way too short – this album should have contained 4 or 5 extra cuts to give it the substance a true full-length project needs.
But even if Strike Back is not long enough, the 9 songs we get are FIRE. Eleven (born and raised in San Diego, California) is the emcee, consistently coming with smart and focused lyrics, and with a great throwback flow too. DJ Jason D got his start in the Bay Area of California, learning the DJ craft from Pam the Funkstress, the late great Bay Area DJ from The Coup. True to his start in Hip Hop in the late 80s his music has that raw throwback sound, perfectly suited for Eleven’s flow and delivery. Through Eleven’s bars and the cuts and samples Jason D worked in his booming beats, it’s evident these guys know, love, and respect Hip Hop from the 80s and early 90s. One of the stand-out cuts that perfectly illustrates this point is the posse cut “It’s So & So“, which interpolates KRS-One’s “My Philosophy” to great effect.
In recent years Hip Hop has experienced a resurgence of boom-bap Hip Hop, roughly separable in neo-boom-bap and a more traditional form. Strike Back is an exponent of the latter – this is boom-bap Hip Hop as authentic as it gets. If you can’t get enough of 80s Hip Hop, copping Strike Back is a no-brainer.
Download Strike Back
Damu The Fudgemunk & Raw Poetic - Moment Of Change
Panacea’s Raw Poetic teamed up with frequent collaborator Damu The Fudgemunk for this project titled Moment Of Change. Raw Poetic is a great emcee and Damu The Fudgemunk is one of the most underappreciated producers in the game, so the result is as could be expected when taking into account Raw Poetic and Damu The Fudgemunk’s skill-levels: Moment Of Change is a totally fine project, with solid lyricism and dope melodic boom-bap beats.
Download Moment Of Change
Enemy Radio - Loud Is Not Enough
So the ‘firing’ of Flavor Flav from Public Enemy in February turned out to be a hoax (“a hoax that ain’t no joke”) cooked up by Chuck D to show and prove that only negativity gets publicity in the poisonous mass media landscape. He has a point: 33 years of Public Enemy and rarely any mainstream media attention for all the good P.E. has done, but headlines worldwide at the first apparent major negativity surrounding the group. The media attention coming with the revelation that the Flavor Flav controversy was a manufactured conflict was also meant to promote this project. Even if Flavor Flav is saying he wasn’t part of any hoax after Chuck D’s revelation, it’s obvious Public Enemy will keep on going strong.
Enemy Radio is in effect Public Enemy, minus Flavor Flav, plus Jahi. Oakland-based emcee Jahi is having a strong year, besides this project he released Future Forward, an excellent collaborative album with UK-based producer Configa. Jahi is an excellent emcee, and his voice is a welcome alternative for Chuck D’s booming baritone. Loud Is Not Enough is a short project at 32 minutes, but it packs enough of a punch. The highest-profile song here is the single “Food Is A Machine Gun”, with an appearance of Flavor Flav who assists on the hook. Loud Is Not Enough is a solid presentation all the way through, even if there are no real stand-outs. What we get is exactly what we can expect from a Chuck D project – intelligent, meaningful, and thought-provoking lyrics, over some nice throwback instrumentals.
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The Palmer Squares - With Or Without It
The Palmer Squares are a Chicago-based Hip Hop duo composed of Acumental (aka Ac), and Term (aka Terminal Knowledge and Term K). They originally began writing raps as Ordinary Dogs, and then iLLiteracy, changing their name to The Palmer Squares in 2010. Before With Or Without It, the duo has released a bunch of mixtapes, EPs, and some collaborative projects with other artists, as well as two full-length albums, Finna (2013) and Planet Of The Shapes (2016).
With Or Without It is… different. If you have been following The Palmer Squares you know what to expect, if you’re new to them you have to go in with an open mind. Sometimes the duo is written off as a pair of corny YouTube rappers, but that’s selling them short. Dope flows and wordplay on this album and the jazzy instrumentals are mostly fine too, the singing on a lot of choruses may turn off some listeners, though. The Palmer Squares may be somewhat of an acquired taste, With Or Without It is exemplary of that. Not bad at all though.
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Tha God Fahim, Jay Nice & Left Lane Didon - Dump Life
This is a great collaboration project by some of the underground finest emcees: Tha God Fahim, Jay Nice & Left Lane Didon. Dump Life is a little on the short side at 35 minutes, but all 10 tracks are dope as f. With features from Stack Skrilla, All Hail Y.T., and Chris Skillz and production from The Architect, Benji Socrate$, JigInThaBasement, $hy Guy, JLVSN, Wavy Da Ghawd, Eyeree, Zain, and Mute Won, Dump Life offers smooth chilled-out boom-bap that should appeal to old heads as well as younger ones.
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Vic Spencer - Psychological Cheat Sheet
Vic Spencer has been one of the best-respected figures of underground Chicago Hip Hop for about a decade now – but he never really succeeded in getting wider recognition, despite a prolific release schedule. No doubt his time will eventually come though, Psychological Cheat Sheet definitely is another step in the right direction. There’s an ever-evolving distinctiveness to Vic Spencer’s gritty baritone and off-beat flow, and on Psychological Cheat Sheet his style and stream-of-consciousness type lyrics mesh really well with the dope instrumentals, which were all crafted by producer August Fannon. Because of the sonic cohesiveness, and because there are no features, Psychological Cheat Sheet is a tight and consistent album, one of Vic Spencer’s best projects yet.
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Killarmy - Full Metal Jackets
Killarmy light. Without Killa Sin and Dom Pachino, and without 4th Disciple beats it’s just not the same. 9th Prince does a good job on the production though, he manages to create and maintain that typical Wu-Tang vibe throughout. The absence of Killa Sin and Dom Pachino is covered by guest appearances from Elcamino, Willie da Kid, William Cooper, Rev Burk, Cappadonna, Planet Asia, Ras Kass, stic.man (of Dead Prez), Timbo King, Master Ace, LA The Darkman, Ill Bill, Killah Priest, 60 Second Assassin, and Prodigal Sunn.
Full Metal Jackets is not as good as Dirty Weaponry (1998) and the low-key classic Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars (1997), but it is a solid Wu-Tang type boom-bap project with a couple of bangers on it, a must for Wu-Tang fans at least.
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The Bad Seed × Team Demo - KILL SWITCH
The Bad Seed is a veteran underground emcee from Brooklyn NYC, his career began in 1998 with his group O.B.S. (Original Blunted Soldiers), which included artists such as Jean Grae, Pumpkinhead, Krisis, and others. KILL SWITCH is The Bad Sees’s best project since the underappreciated Intelligently Ignant (2010).
In this concept album, 10-year-old Malik is a good innocent kid who has a deep curiosity for street life and hood culture. He finds a comic book called “KILL SWITCH” which chronicles life in hell, exposing a world of violence, robbery, extortion, etc. As he reads, Malik begins to find himself immersed in the world. Will he remain the innocent little boy…? Or will he become what he is reading?
KILL SWITCH is produced By Team Demo and features Ali Vegas, Planet Asia, Poison Pen, Napsndreds, Fevermoorefire, Wais P, Yogi, Stuck B FOH, Mikey D, this The Bad Seed project is a nice surprise. The dark and dirty boom-bap instrumentals crafted by Team Demo suit the narrative, and The Bad Seed is a dope emcee. Don’t sleep on this one.
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Daniel Son & Finn - Dirty Dishes
Toronto’s Daniel Son is one of the most notable up and comers of Canadian Hip Hop, having been pretty prolific with album/mixtape releases and highly visible through lots of guest appearances ever since his debut in 2016. For Dirty Dishes, he teamed up with Toronto emcee/producer Finn. With features from Asun Eastwood, Rome Streetz, Rob Gates, DJ Grouch, Jay Royale, Raz Fresco, Rigz, Saipher Soze, and Black Nazi, Dirty Dishes is a solid neo-boom-bap album that is worthy of your attention.
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Stevie Crooks - Street Elegance
What do you know about Stevie Crooks? From his Bandcamp blurb: “Hailing from a small city 60 miles from Los Angeles, Stevie Crooks represents Moreno Valley with his highly stylized lyrics over avant-garde jazz-influenced production. In Crook’s latest offering, Street Elegance, vivid lyrical pieces tell the story of a hitman whose vices, like most men, include fashion, models, cars, weapons, and liquor — but there’s something that sets him apart… his sound. Envision watching a Japanese assassin movie with a Black man playing the lead role. Every track was carefully sequenced to be cinematic from intro to close.”
This is an interesting project. Somehow the intended cinematic experience works – from start to finish Street Elegance stays entirely coherent, the atmospheric instrumentals gelling well with Stevie Crooks’ skillfully delivered lyrics. Street Elegance is surprisingly good.
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All Hail Y.T. & GeneralBackPain - Classic Villains
Classic Villains is prolific Delaware-based emcee All Hail Y.T. ‘s second project, coming on the heels of his collaboration with Tone Beatz, The Spoils Of Babylon. The Spoils Of Babylon is a thoroughly enjoyable project, Classic Villains is even better. For Classic Villains, All Hail Y.T. teamed up with up and coming Inglewood emcee GeneralBackPain. With production from Chop The Head, Ecto-84, HobGoblin, Jig In The Basement, Pad Scientist, Tars One, and Tone Beatz, and vocal contributions from Killy Shoot, Chris Skillz, and Chuck Chan, Classic Villains is a short but dope presentation of neo-boom-bap at it’s finest.
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MC Eiht - Official
Official is legendary Compton Most Wanted rapper MC Eiht’s 12th solo album. The project offers more of his typical brand of no-nonsense West Coast gangsta rap, on no less than 27 tracks. His last solo effort – Which Way Iz West (2017) – was surprisingly good, mainly because it was partly produced by DJ Premier, an out-of-the-box collaboration that paid off.
The production on Official is more generic, but it suits Eiht’s lyrics. Official is not as good as Which Way Iz West is, but it’s better than Gangsta Bizness, Compton Most Wanted’s first album in 13 years that was released last year. Official maintains a chilled-out vibe throughout, with smooth instrumentals and decent enough lyrics. Major complaint: we all know Eiht’s trademark ‘gyeah’ interjection – he is overusing it on this record, almost to the point of caricature.
It is unlikely Official will win MC Eiht (m)any new fans, but old heads who know and love his earliest Compton Most Wanted and solo albums will find enough to enjoy here.
DJ Beanz - Deadly Venoms
DJ Beanz is an active tour, radio, club, and mixtape DJ, hailing from Boston. Deadly Venoms is her official debut album. To take care of the vocals she recruited a host of today’s finest underground emcees, like Hus Kingpin, SmooVth, Ty Farris, Termanology, Bubu The Prince, Eto, Hex Luthor, Rim, Eddie Kaine, Jai Black, Bub Rock, M80, and Solomon Childs – even Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA make an appearance. Wu-Tang inspiration can be felt throughout the whole album, most obvious in the first song “Snow Cream” which uses the C.R.E.A.M. instrumental, but a Wu-Tang vibe is tangible on the rest of Deadly Venoms too – from the samples, the street rhymes, and the gritty beats, to the album title and the cover art. Deadly Venoms is a great project, a must-listen for those who think beats and bars matter.
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Sean Doe The Sucio Gringo - Sean Doe Da Bastard Sun
This is as underground as it gets. How many people will actually take notice of and listen to this Sean Doe The Sucio Gringo album? Due to a lack of promotion and visibility, not a lot most likely. That’s unfortunate because Sean Doe Da Bastard Sun is a pretty good album – thoroughly solid 90s-centric boom-bap, with bars upon bars upon bars. Sean Doe carries most of the album himself, but there are a few well-placed features by underground spitters like Pawz One, Spit Savage, Billy NoJokes, Comet, Blame One, Frankie Fadeless, and Thirstin Howl The 3rd. Throwback boom-bap enthusiasts better not sleep on Sean Doe Da Bastard Sun.
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Extra Prolific - Like It's Supposed To Be
Extra Prolific was a duo composed of rapper Duane “Snupe” Lee and producer/DJ Michael “Mike G” Gray and was a subgroup of Hip Hop collective Hieroglyphics. In 1994 they released the slept on Like It Should Be, a pretty good album with smooth lyrics and production. Pretty soon after Like It Should Be Mike G quit the duo, while Snupe kept the Extra Prolific name and continued to release music under the name into 1998.
In 2020 Snupe is back with Like It’s Supposed To Be. Like It’s Supposed To Be sounds like a mid-90s semi-alternative West Coast Hip Hop record, reminiscent in all ways of Extra Prolific’s first album: the title, the vibe, even the cover is a direct play on Like It Should Be.
Like It’s Supposed To Be is a bit of a mixed bag with a few mid songs too many to be considered a keeper, but there are some absolute bangers on here: “Fresh Prince” (with an intro by Masta Ace), “Likwit Nitrogen”, “DJs & MCs”, “Accurate”, “Last Sermon”, and especially “Bang The Drums” are all tracks that will not be out of place on any ‘ ‘Best Hip Hop Songs Of 2020’ playlist.
Download Like It’s Supposed To Be
Illah Dayz - Coby
Detroit emcee Illah Dayz (of Wisemen) dropped an excellent album with Coby, his second solo full-length (following 2015’s slept on The Illahstrator). Produced almost entirely by fellow-Wisemen member and Wu-Tang affiliate Bronze Nazareth Coby is one of those timeless feeling albums. Gritty yet soulful boom-bap instrumentals and dense, and thought-provoking lyrics – Bronze Nazareth’s production is incredible and Illah Dayz holds it down on the mic. Dope beats, dope bars – what more do you need?
Senica Da Misfit - Poetic Ruckus 2
Senica (Da Misfit) is an emcee from Severn, Maryland by way of Baltimore. He made a name for himself by battling on local Hip Hop station 92Q JAMS and becoming a reigning champion on its cypher series. He has worked with super producer 9th Wonder, Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang Clan and Czarface and is a frequent collaborator with Doitall from Lords of the Underground.
Poetic Ruckus 2 is a solid album boasting top-caliber lyricism over sometimes smooth and sometimes rugged boom-bap beats, reminiscent of the early ’90s but sonically rivaling today’s sounds as well. Top tracks: “Soul Escape”, “Boom Bap Invasion”, and ‘Building”.
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Dueling Experts (Verbal Kent & Recognize Ali) - Dueling Experts
Chicago’s Verbal Kent (of Ugly Heroes) joins forces with Ghana emcee Recognize Ali for Dueling Experts, their collaborative self-titled debut album produced by Lord Beatjitzu. This is what Verbal Kent and Recognize Ali themselves have to say about Dueling Experts:
“I had a treasure trove of beats from legendary Lo-Fi beat maker Lord Beatjitzu that I needed to put to use…and sonically me and Ali were right there. The beats sound like they were dropped on the floor, almost beta-like quality while at the same time exemplifying that 90’s RZA peak.” – Verbal Kent
“Dueling Experts is that raw unadulterated hardcore boom-bap” – Recognize Ali
So that’s what to expect – gritty boom-bap beats, and dope rhymes by two real emcees.
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Darko The Super & Steel Tipped Dove - The Devil Defeated
The Devil Defeated is the new album from Philadelphia prolific self-proclaimed rap weirdo Darko The Super. The album is entirely produced by Steel Tipped Dove. Is there anybody out there who has listened to every single project Darko The Super has ever dropped? Seeing the sheer number of albums (dozens) on his name, that seems unlikely (outside loyal followers or family members perhaps). The Devil Defeated, Darko’s umpteenth album, is not bad at all. A little weird and left-field here and there, but overall surprisingly accessible tbh.
The Devil Defeated will probably not gain Darko The Super many new fans, but people who have never listened to him before and who are willing to listen to what’s often called experimental or abstract Hip Hop may find something to enjoy here.
Download The Devil Defeated
Blaq Poet - Simon Phoenix
Simon Phoenix is a release by Queensbridge legend Blaq Poet, produced entirely by The Blaq One. The tracklist of Simon Phoenix promises 16 tracks, but that’s misleading: this is a short project at 33 minutes and 6 out of the 16 are intro/interludes/outro tracklist fillers. So we have no more than 10 real songs, but thankfully these are all pretty good. The album starts off strong with “Public Enemy”, with vocal samples from Chuck D and Flavor Flavor scratched in, and doesn’t let up after that.
The DJ Premier produced Tha Blaqprint (2009) will forever stay Blaq Poet’s best album, but Simon Phoenix is a fine addition to his catalog. This is a project that will most likely appeal to old heads only, as it is fairly generic in its hard-hitting throwback boom-bap production and its lyrical (“I’m better than these young rappers”) content – but those who experience a disconnect with today’s mainstream rap will appreciate this Blaq Poet project.
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Ardamus & Height Keech - Astro Blocks
Baltimore producer/rapper/podcaster Height Keech teamed up with Washington, DC emcee Ardamus for Astro Blocks, their first full-length collaborative project. The two show they have excellent chemistry, Height Keech’s futuristic meets old-school instrumentals gell seamlessly with Ardamus’ rhymes and throwback flow. Two or three weaker tracks stand in the way of a spot on our best Hip Hop albums of 2020 list, but Astro Blocks is a great album anyway.
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Sankofa - Glyde Drexler
For the unfamiliar: Sankofa is a Fort Wayne-based emcee who collaborated with underground Hip Hop mainstays like CunninLynguists, Tonedeff, and many others, and who has dropped a bunch of great projects in the past decade – he had an especially fruitful 2019, with two excellent full-lengths and one dope EP. He doesn’t let up in 2020, with what may very well be his best project to date: Glyde Drexler. (The title an obvious play on the legendary NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler).
Sankofa has a dope flow and a great-sounding voice – something of an amalgam of Geto Boys legend Scarface and Philly’s The Last Emperor. The soulful instrumentals are smooth and chilled-out, the sampling is on point, and Sankofa’s relatable lyrics are a pleasure to listen to. Glyde Drexler is a presentation of grown-up Hip Hop at its finest.
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MH The Verb - Space Ninja
Space Ninja is the third installment in the Afronout series by Philadelphia emcee/DJ/producer MH The Verb, and his ArtHouse95 collective. Space Ninja intends to connect the different generations through Hip Hop: Ninja is a play on the N-word, so over-used in Hip Hop lyrics, which according to MH The Verb causes a disconnect with many members of the older generation(s), who have a hard time to see the message some artists try to convey through their often overly offensive or profane language. With this album, and as an Afronout, MH The Verb and his people want to move the culture forward by honoring and respecting the past. The album features all live instrumentation, blending jazzy East Coast boom-bap with futuristic West Coast funk – this is a dope project with enjoyable instrumentals and lyrics with substance. Don’t sleep on Space Ninja.
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Clbrks & Morriarchi - Microwave Cooking 2000
This is one of the strongest Hip Hop albums to come from the UK this year. London-based emcee CLBRKS and Sheffield beat-maker/producer Morriarchi show off their chemistry with their first collaborative LP: Microwave Cooking 2000. Not riding the UK grime-wave, CLBRKS and Morriarchi opt for a more experimental sound – the instrumentals are smooth and chilled-out, the lyrics creative and fun.
Released on Blah Records – one of the UK’s most exciting and consistent independent record labels – Microwave Cooking 2000 comes with a strong Blah contingent in tow, with CL and Morri bringing in Bisk, Capriisun, Lee, Conrad Mundy, and Obijuan for finely selected contributions, resulting in a heady blend of styles but each complemented perfectly thanks to Morriarchi’s as ever on-point production.
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Squeegie O - F.N.T.G.
Prolific Staten Island emcee Squeegie O teamed up with Netherlands-based producer P Soulosit for this From N****z To Godz project. According to Squeegie O himself, this album is a true definition of Hip Hop Blues: it offers a personal retrospective of his life and his music. Squeegie O’s lyrical ability and his song content matches well with P Soulosit’s instrumentals, the synergy between the two is evident and the alternately psychedelic and bass-thumping music enhances the vibe and emotional resonance of Squeegie’s bars. Don’t sleep on this album: Squeegie O’s flow, delivery, and lyrical content will hold your attention, and P Soulosit’s beats are dope as f.
Sons Of Yusuf - Shaykh the World
Born in Kuwait City and raised in Los Angeles, brothers Ya’koob & Humble Abdul are Sons of Yusuf, and Shaykh The World is their official debut album. Even though the raps on Shaykh The World are mostly in English, there are enough Arabic flourishes in the lyrics as well as in the music to give this project a distinctive authentic vibe. In this day and age of so many generic and totally interchangeable Hip Hop releases, an album like Shaykh The World truly is a breath of fresh air.
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King B.A.V. - 20/20 Vision
This is a strange one. A quick skim listen may lead a lot of listeners to a quick dismissal of 20/20 Vision, rejecting it as an iffy attempt to create a throwback eighties Hip Hop album, or as a parody on 80s Hip Hop even. More attentive listens might change minds though.
King B.A.V. is a veteran emcee from San Diego, California (by way of Chicago, Illinois), arguably best-known for his third album Behind The Wall (2005), 20/20 Vision is his sixth album. If anything, King B.A.V. has been always been consistent in his sound. To talk about ‘hate it or love it’ kind of albums/artists is kind of a cliche, but in King B.A.V.’s case, it applies without a doubt.
As stated earlier, 20/20 Vision may sound like a cheap throwback attempt at first glance, but there’s more to this album. In fact, 20/20 Vision is quite clever in its execution. The instrumentals are not just made up of simple, booming throwback beats, there’s an element of more modern experimental/abstract Hip Hop at work here too. King B.A.V.’s rapping style goes well with the production – like the beats have an old-school feeling (albeit it with a modern experimental twist), the rapping style has a clear 80s inflection too – and it works. For some reason, this album is reminiscent of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1988 Swass album, even if the beats and the pitch of King B.A.V.’s voice are different – it’s more of a vibe thing. Like Sir Mix-A-Lot, King B.A.V. is just DIFFERENT.
An acquired taste, to be sure – your mileage may vary, but HHGA kind of likes 20/20 Vision.
Download 20/20 Vision
Elaquent - Forever Is A Pretty Long Time
Forever Is A Pretty Long Time is a solid addition to prolific Canadian producer Elaquent’s catalog. Like most of his previous (mainly instrumental) works, Forever Is A Pretty Long Time is an exercise in tranquility. Internalizing the sounds of great producers like J Dilla, Q-Tip, and Pete Rock and making them his own, Elaquent manages to create a distinctive own vibe with his butter-smooth beats, syncopated bass patterns, lush synths, and soothing melodies. Elaquent is a great producer, and with vocals from the likes of Oddisee, Guilty Simpson, Blu, and others, Forever Is A Pretty Long Time offers close to 40 minutes of soulful, chilled out Hip Hop of the finest sort.
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Shabaam Sahdeeq & J57 - Precious Stones
On the same February day mainstreamers like Lil Baby and G Herbo dropped totally bland trap albums, Shabaam Sahdeeq & J57 came out with Precious Stones, to show and prove Hip Hop is still alive and well. Brooklynite Shabaam Sahdeeq has been a mainstay for NYC underground Hip Hop for decades and is internationally recognized for his work on the classic Soundbombing & Lyricist Lounge series on Rawkus Records, and for having been featured alongside Hip Hop icons such as Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Red Man, Method Man, Kool G Rap, Common, Talib Kwali and others.
For Precious Stones, Shabaam Sahdeeq teamed up with renowned producer J57. With feature appearances from the likes of Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Nems, Casual, and others, Precious Stones is straight boom-bap, with bangers from start to finish. Listen to tracks like “Razor Sharp Vernacular” (feat. Born Unique & Tri State), “Put You Up On Game” (feat. Planet Asia & Casual), “Smoke Screens” (feat. Rim Da Villin & Nems), “Bar Etiquette” (feat. Ras Kass & El Gant), and the title track “Precious Stones” to be reminded about what Hip Hop is all about. Precious Stones would have been even better if a couple of weaker tracks with corny hooks (“Can I Talk To You”, “Feel So Good”) had been left off, but the album is long enough to allow a few duds. This is our kind of Hip Hop.
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Onoe Caponoe - Invisible War
Onoe Caponoe, a respected veteran of London’s Hip Hop underground, has become one of the most progressive and exciting – as well as dividing – artists in the London music scene. On the heels of 2019’s career-defining Surf or Die, the UK rapper comes through with another thoroughly interesting release.
His fourth full-length Invisible War is a wonderfully weird experience, an unsettling journey through Onoe Caponoe’s universe. The beautifully constructed dark instrumentation with menacing beats, shrieking synths, and spacey vibes complement the rhymes beautifully – there’s an unhinged quality to Onoe Caponoe’s lyrics and as well as to his delivery and quick-fire flows, reminiscent of Danny Brown at times.
Neither a straightforward nor an easy listen, Invisible War is a project to get immersed in – to be taken in like a book or movie. Don’t listen to snippets or a few songs randomly, but let it run from start to finish and pay attention too – you might just like the experience.
Download Invisible War
Taiyamo Denku - The Darker Side Of Light
On the heels of his 2019 release The Book Of Cyphaden, veteran Milwaukee emcee Taiyamo Denku releases The Darker Side Of Light – a 19-track album with guest appearances from (among others) Killah Priest, Big Shug, Che Noir, 38 Spesh, Pacewon, and Planet Asia (he’s on everybody’s album this year). As was the case with The Book Of Cyphaden, it is evident Taiyamo Denku knows what he is doing here – the features are well-placed and the sequencing is done just right. All songs are produced by Germany-based producer Bo Faat, who provides a chilled-out and cohesive musical backdrop for Taiyamo Denku’s bars. Like The Book Of Cyphaden, The Darker Side Of Light is a pretty good album – one hour of straightforward Hip Hop, no frills no gimmicks.
Download The Darker Side Of Light
Big Ghost Ltd - Carpe Noctem
Big Ghost Ltd. is an anonymous online personality/beatmaker, who started making a name for himself in the early 2010s as a blogger, and as a beatmaker since 2015. Following a couple of dope singles, Big Ghost dropped his debut full-length Carpe Noctem on January 10th, 2020, with raps from a roster of talented underground emcees like Rome Streetz, Estee Nack, Rigz, Mooch, Rahiem Supreme, Recognize Ali, Asun Eastwood, Crimeapple, Lukey Cage, and Ty Farris.
Griselda’s influence on the game is evident on this project: the beats are as gritty and atmospheric, and some of the emcees here copy the unfortunate trend Griselda head honcho Westside Gunn started, using the same kind of adlibs WSG made his gimmick. Grown men mimicking gunshot sounds with their mouth [sigh], oh well. But despite this minor irritant, Carpe Noctem is GREAT. The single “Gladiator School” is an obvious standout, but the whole album is fire. With Carpe Noctem Big Ghost Ltd. delivers on the promise he showed with his recent production work for artists like Ghostface Killah, Vic Spencer, Crimeapple, and Hus Kingpin – and no doubt we can expect more heat from him in the years to come.
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Ruby Watson - Carry Me
Ruby Watson – known from being one-half of duo Free Snacks and one-fourth of Why? Footclan – is an emcee and producer from Chicago (by way of Kansas City). His sophomore album Carry Me is a beautiful coming of age album, an engrossing exploration of love, loss, and life – in three acts. Ruby Watson impresses with gripping bars full of depth and emotional resonance – the lyrics combined with the and trippy, at times weird, instrumentals make for a challenging listen, but a gratifying one. Musically diverse and lyrically deep, Carry Me is not a run-of-the-mill Hip Hop album. Carry Me is not for everybody, listeners open for something different will find plenty to enjoy though.
Download Carry Me
Tragedy Khadafi & BP - Immortal Titans On HBO
Immortal Titans On HBO is a collaborative project by Tragedy Khadafi and BP. Tragedy Khadafi fka Intelligent Hoodlum can be viewed as one of the originators of the modern Queensbridge sound, coming up as the youngest member of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew in the late 1980s and going on to pioneer the sounds legends such as Nas and Mobb Deep would build on. BP has been crafting his sound and style for over 10 years. His ability to develop whole projects with a distinct sound, feel, and theme separates him from other beatmakers and producers.
Immortal Titans On HBO is a revamped version of the first Immortals Titans, which was released in 2018. The first Immortal Titans was a solid boom-bap project that was totally slept on – so a new version isn’t a bad idea at all, maybe this one will get more spotlight. Immortal Titans On HBO has the same lyrics as the 2018 version, but with new beats and new samples and such – all to create a common ‘HBO’ theme – all song titles on Immortal Titans On HBO refer to HBO series (like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, A Game Of Thrones, The Wire, etc), and recognizable samples or melodies from those series are incorporated in the songs (check “The World Is A Wire”, where BP used the theme song of The Wire in the hook).
So, Immortal Titans On HBO is not an entirely new project, but it is a successful reworking of the first Immortal Titans record. If you enjoyed that one, you will no doubt love this one too. If you missed the first Immortal Titans, now is the time to get up to speed.
Download Immortal Titans On HBO
Dug & Happy Tooth - The Signal Glittering Inside The Storm
The Signal Glittering Inside The Storm is an enjoyable portion of alternative Hip Hop by occasional duo Dug and Happy Tooth, two artists hailing from Columbus, Ohio. For The Signal Glittering Inside The Storm, they teamed up with producer Evaridae. Evaridae’s eclectic production and Dug and Happy Tooth’s lyrical styles may be too left-field for those inclined to a more traditional Hip Hop sound, but listeners into alternative Hip Hop with some emo-rock influences mixed in will find a lot to enjoy on The Signal Glittering Inside The Storm.
K.A.A.N. - Twenty Nine
K.A.A.N. (an acronym for Knowledge Above All Nonsense) delivers once again with Twenty Nine. K.A.A.N. has been extremely prolific since he debuted with his first mixtape in 2014, dropping multiple projects every year. Amazingly, despite the quantity, his output has been fairly consistent in quality – and definitely different enough in styles to set him apart from most other artists.
Twenty Nine is a nice and tight little project, sonically more straight-forward Hip Hop than some of his other, musically more eclectic works (like 2019’s excellent Gathering) – Twenty Nine is a good entry point for traditional Hip Hop listeners who are new to K.A.A.N.’s music.
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Zebra Katz - LESS IS MOOR
Born Ojay Morgan, Zebra Katz, is a first-generation Jamaican-American born in West Palm Beach, Florida. Zebra Katz is well-known for being a prominent part of a wave of queer Hip Hop artists who emerged in the 2010s, influenced by elements of the LGBT African American ball culture. Written and produced between Berlin and London, LESS IS MOOR is sexually charged and abrasive, a bold, sonic experiment that meshes industrial Hip Hop with drum ‘n’ bass and unidentifiable sonic territory.
Definitely not for everybody, but fans of albums like Tyler The Creator’s IGOR and JPEG Mafia’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs should like LESS IS MOOR.
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Rebel Rodomez - Boston Ave
Rebel Rodomez is a veteran lyricist from Iowa, Boston Ave is one of his finest releases. The centerpiece of the album is the track “Scare No One”, on which Rebel Rodomez teams up with Griselda’s heavy-hitter Benny The Butcher to exchange rapid-fire bars over a dope E. Smitty-produced beat. Other noteworthy tracks are “Help Me” where Rebel Rodomez brings attention to depression and suicide prevention, and “The Return Of El Ceniri Di Corleone” where the classic The Godfather film music is incorporated in the instrumental. Production is solid throughout and Rebel Rodomez is a competent emcee (reminiscent of Freddie Gibbs in some places), a couple of tracks with weak hooks bring the album down a bit, but Boston Ave is well worth checking out all the same.
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The Professionals - The Professionals
The Professionals is a duo consisting of producer extraordinaire Madlib and rapper/producer Oh No, Madlib’s younger brother. Both brothers have built impressive discographies over the years – especially Madlib of course – responsible for a couple of absolute Hip Hop classics like Madvilliany (2004, with MF DOOM) and Pinata (2014, with Freddie Gibbs). There have been talks about a collaborative album between the brothers ever since 2008 and it finally arrived in 2020 with The Professionals. Was it worth the wait?
Now, The Professionals doesn’t come close to Madvillainy or Pinata levels of brilliance, and it probably wasn’t fair to expect it to. Oh No is a competent emcee and Madlib’s beats are topnotch, as usual. With guest spots from Elzhi, Chino XL, and Adub, The Professionals is a solid and thoroughly consistent Hip Hop album, just a little bit too forgettable to be rated higher.
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Skanks - New World Order
Self-proclaimed Hip Hop extremist Skanks The Rap Martyr drops a great throwback banger with New World Order. Skanks (co-founding member of the supergroup Bankai Fam) is an emcee’s emcee out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn – a Hip Hop purist who has little patience with today’s crop of wack mainstream rappers, and who is not concerned with being innovative or commercially appealing.
New World Order features other renowned underground names such as Ruste Juxx, P General, StaHHr, Napoleon Da Legend, Stephen James, Uncle Nick, Tah Murdoc, G-Stats, Buck Oner, Venom, Shatike, Pheno, Tre Eiht, Chez Rocka, Ill Conscious, Forever Chosen, Bobby Stone, and DJ Fastcut – and is unapologetically throwback in everything. Skanks’ is a dope emcee whose flow and delivery sound like it’s lifted straight from the 90s, and the beats and scratches on New Wolrd Order only add to the Golden Age vibe. Just listen to the last cut “The DJ”, and it’s easy to understand where Skanks is coming from.
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Ruste Juxx & Zealot Of FWM - Sulfuric Acid
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Sean Price affiliate Ruste Juxx ended the 2010s decade strong with bunch of dope projects in 2019: Hardbodie Hip Hop (a collaborative LP with Kyo Itachi), 12 Rounds In The Clip (with ILL), Magma (with Tone Spliff), and Culturally Rich (with BigBob).
Ruste Juxx continues his prolific recording streak in 2020, with numerous guest spots on other artists albums and a new full-length project, this time with producer Zealot Of FukWitMe. Sulfuric Acid features spitters like Conway the Machine, Termanology, Bumpy Knuckles, Skanks The Rap Martyr, Rim Da Villin, and Block Mc Cloud – reading these names you should know what to expect: raw and authentic boom-bap with ferocious rhyming by Ruste Juxx and his guests. “Kings Link With Kings” (with Termanology and Bumpy Knuckles), “Wig Shot” (with Conway The Machine), “God In The Flesh”, “Sulfuric Acid”, and “Bang Ya Head” are stand-out tracks but Sulfuric Acid offers heat from beginning to end. Sean P. would approve.
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Flash & Lightfoot - Flashlight
Flash of N.B.S. (Natural Born Spitters) teamed up with producer Lightfoot to collaborate on Flashlight, an instantly likable boom-bap project that sounds like it could have been lifted straight from the mid-90s. Flash is half of Cambridge, Massachusetts duo Natural Born Spitters (together with V-Knuckles). As N.B.S., Flash has been responsible for a bunch of dope projects in the 2010s, and with Flashlight he started of the 2020s with a bang.
“$ Gang” is a highlight, with scratched in samples from a couple of classic Hip Hop cuts, another noteworthy song is “IDK”, which features Red Shaydez – the Boston-born emcee who was nominated for “Best Female Rapper of the Year” at the 2015 NYC Underground Music Awards and whose upcoming 2nd album Feel The Aura is one to watch out for.
Flashlight offers nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’s a must-listen for those who can’t get enough hard beats and hard rhymes with that throwback vibe.
Rhys Langston - Language Arts Unit
Multi-talented Los Angeles artist Rhys Langston’s Language Arts Unit is a 37 min album, written, (mostly) produced, and mixed by Rhys Langston himself, and he also painted the cover art. On top of that, he wrote an accompanying 104-page book – making Language Arts Unit an all-around impressive achievement. What is Language Arts Unit about? According to Langston’s own Bandcamp page:
“Language Arts Unit: A Rap Textbook” is an exploration of rap as theory and praxis, race as form and content, music as social mobilizer and opiate. In a winding, discursive prefatory note Rhys Langston utilizes biting, absurdist humor to seriously appraise the power of words, music, and all manner of extra-lingual connotations in the age of rapid-transit information technologies. As the written half of a multimedia project, what follows are the lyrics from his long-play album, written as poems with the clever enjambment of his characteristically idiosyncratic wordplay.”
Right. That blurb should tell you this is not a run-of-the-mill Hip Hop album. In fact, this is a unique kind of project. Not just because it’s different in its presentation, but also because it’s REALLY GOOD. Sonically pleasing and lyrically stimulating, there’s nothing generic about Language Arts Unit. Poetic, intelligent lyrics over innovative yet accessible instrumentals – this project is a keeper.
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Sy Ari Da Kid - It Was Unwritten
It Was Unwritten by Sy Ari Da Kid (from Atlanta by way of The Bronx, NYC) is an excellent departure from the kind of rap/trap music he has been making ever since his debut mixtape (The Ultrasound) in 2011. On the day of the release of It Was Unwritten Sy Ari tweeted: “This It Was Unwritten album is not for clout/radio. I did this 1 not only for myself and the people but for those who truly appreciate & miss that true 90s hip hop music. When a story was told from the soul of an artist to as soon as you hear it you feel their pain”. This artistic change turned out to be a great decision – It Was Unwritten (the title an obvious play on Nas’ 1996 classic It Was Written) easily is Sy Ari Da Kid’s best project in his quite extensive catalog.
With a playlist consisting of 14 tracks, It Was Unwritten offers great variation with a bunch of bangers like “A Dream A Plan” (with Big K.R.I.T.), “Reap What You Sow”, “Chain Reaction”, “Pioneer/Peace”, and “The Lost & Found Files Pt 1”, and some mellower tracks like “Aria” and “Temporary Love” – all with dope instrumentals and strong lyricism. At just over an hour It Was Unwritten is a long album, but there are almost no weak spots (only “Under & Over The Influence” is a dissonant because of a kind of wack trappy flow and chorus). It’s good to see an artist as Sy Ari Da Kid possesses the versatility and the inclination to create a ‘real’ Hip Hop album – hopefully, it’s not a one-off and he continues down this path.
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Valhalla Cartel - Valhalla Cartel
Valhalla Cartel? These guys obviously took a page out of Vinnie Paz’s playbook and created a project more than a little reminiscent of Vinnie Paz’s work, as a solo artist or as part of Jedi Mind Tricks, Heavy Metal Kings, or Army Of The Pharaohs. What Valhalla Cartel offers is 12 tracks of bass-heavy boom-bap beats and tough-guy rhymes delivered in Vinnie Paz-like growls. But despite the lack of originality, Valhalla Cartel is not a bad album at all. If the JMT/AOTP/Vinnie Paz sound is your thing, Valhalla Cartel will not disappoint.
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Psypiritual & The Lasso - Kirlian
Bandcamp blurb: “Westside Tucson (Barrio Hollywood) native Psypiritual and Detroit producer the Lasso’s new album is Kirlian. Named after the high voltage photo technique that reveals auras, the album is a bombastic synthesis of Sonora & Wu-Tang – smokey, soulful, and reflective like a Jobim piano part. From guitar solo’s to lush pads & translucent synths, time was traveled as Psypiritual & The Lasso created a record devoted to their local experiences both personally and culturally. This is Southwest border rap through the lens of underground Detroit musicality.”
So is it any good? Kirlian sure is interesting – and different enough to stand out from the general fare. Not for everybody, but those listeners with an appreciation for trippy left-field Hip Hop will no doubt enjoy this one.
IAlive - I'll Wait Forever
On I’ll Wait Forever, Philadelphia producer/emcee IAlive focuses solely on his eclectic work behind the boards, leaving mic-duties to a host of underground rappers from across the US. To take care of the vocals, IAlive recruited fellow Philadelphians Yikes the Zero, Curly Castro, and Andrew, as well as others such as Zilla Rocca, Uncommon NASA, Googie, Goldzilla, Mister, Ray Strife, DayTripper (and others). Despite the diversity of styles and backgrounds in the roster of the emcees, I’ll Wait Forever turned out to be an entirely cohesive and consistent project. IAlive’s intricate instrumentals form the common thread that ties the 17 tracks on I’ll Wait Forever together, making for a pretty good album that merits a listen.
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Asun Eastwood & Vago - Sewer Science
Toronto’s Asun Eastwood teamed up with Surrey, B.C. based producer Vago for Sewer Science – a hard as nails boom-bap project with guest appearances from underground emcees Mooch, Che Uno, Raz Fresco, Black Nazx, Recognize Ali, M.A.V., Primo Profit, and Daniel Son. This is just one of the many neo-boom-bap releases that will go virtually unnoticed in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop market. Too bad, because Sewer Science is perfectly enjoyable. Asun Eastwood’s street rhymes are on par with those of top dogs like Roc Marci and Benny The Butcher, his throwback flow and delivery are great, the guest emcees come with the heat too, and Vago’s beats bang. Sewer Science is on the short side at 36 minutes and it brings nothing new to the table, but it is totally consistent throughout and well-worth your attention.
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Akai Solo & BSTFRND - Like Hajime
Like Hajime is a solid piece of abstract/alternative Hip Hop by Brooklynites Akai Solo & BSTFRND. Like Hajime is a 35-minute exercise in dissociation. 12 tracks, all with hypnotic, murky, lo-fi beats crafted by BSTFRND and abstract (and sometimes funny) bars by Akai Solo – his level of abstractness and stream-of-consciousness like delivery are reminiscent of billy woods in a way – a good thing.
Not for everybody, but fans of billy woods and those who dig what comes out of the SLUms Movement could do worse than to step into the world of Akai Solo & BSTFRND.
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Observe Since 98 - Royaume Du Sauvage
Observe since 98 is a producer and the founder of underground rap label Loretta Records. He originally recorded as an MC in the late ’90s and early 2000s but retired and left the scene in 2002. He reemerged as a producer and revived the label in 2016. This is the third and final installment in his “Savage” series. Royaume Du Sauvage holds 15 tracks, featuring rapping by underground emcees like Hus Kingpin, Elcamino, Tha God Fahim, Smoovth, G4jag, Mooch, Vic Spencer, Jay Nice, Lucky Seven, Haze, Sully Nomad, Lord Juco, Cousin Feo, Snotty, Juga-Naut, Jamil Honesty, John Creasy, Nino Graye, Che Uno, and Unorthodocks.
Royaume Du Sauvage is another one of those releases influenced by the sounds (re)pioneered by the likes of Roc Marciano and Griselda: gritty, atmospheric, lo-fi beats, and hard-ass lyrics. Royaume Du Sauvage is not just a Griselda knock-off though, Observe Since 98 manages to create his own distinctive vibe mainly due to creative sampling all the way through. Those into Griselda and affiliates can’t go wrong with Royaume Du Sauvage.
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Seven Spherez - BoomBap x Blunt Raps
Seven Spherez is a Hip Hop duo from Manchester, UK, consisting of Dr. G and Ghost One. Following the equally excellent Boombap x Baseball Bats and BoomBap x Timbo Boots which were both released in 2019, BoomBap x Blunt Raps is the third and last edition in Seven Spherez’s BoomBap Trilogy. Dope rhymes, beats, scratches, and samples – everything about this project exudes late ’80s or early ’90s Hip Hop, for heads fans nostalgic for the Hip Hop of back in the day, BoomBap x Blunt Raps is a must-have.
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V Don - Black Mass
Black Mass is a 12-track project, fully produced by NYC-based producer V Don. For Black Mass, V Don cooked up a batch of dark, minimalistic, brooding beats in the best Griselda meets DJ Muggs tradition. With vocals from underground emcees and regular V Don collaborators Eto, Smoke DZA, Elcamino, 38 Spesh, Da$h, Willie the Kid, Adonis, Dark Lo, Rigz, Sauce Heist, Dave East, D Polo, and Kadeem you should know what to expect from Black Mass. Nice.
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Big Kahuna OG & Monday Night - Thug Tear
Richmond, Virginia going strong. Big Kahuna OG has been responsible for a bunch of dope projects and collaborations in the 2010s, Thug Tear is another solid effort – this time with Monday Night. Both Big Kahuna OG and Monday Night have bars for days, and the beats crafted by Unlucky Bastards and Graymatter are dope as well. At 33 minutes Thug Tear is short and tight, and a little more substance to the tracklist wouldn’t have been bad – but despite its brevity, this project is a keeper and an appetizer for more heat to come.
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Awol One - Tony The Walrus
Los Angeles’ AWOL One latest album Tony The Walrus is another addition to his catalog that will have opinions firmly divided. Haters usually dismiss his work as boring, fans call it brilliant. His rapping style is unique and unconventional – raspy and brooding, sometimes barely above a whisper and with some questionable singing thrown in the mix as well. It’s not difficult to see why people can’t get into AWOL One. But… his uniqueness is a large part of the charm. Like most of his previous output, Tony The Walrus certainly is different. But is Tony The Walrus terribly boring, or is it understatedly brilliant? It’s up to yourself to decide, but HHGA opts for the latter. The lo-fi and dirty instrumentals on Tony The Walrus, combined with AWOL One’s dark and brooding lyrical style make for an intriguing listen we keep going back to. Your mileage may vary, but for HHGA Tony The Walrus is a keeper.
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Jahn Dough - Obsidian
Dallas/DeSoto, Texas (by way of Inland Empire, California) emcee Jahn Dough dropped a fine album with his second full-length project Obsidian. After making a name for himself on the Dallas scene with a couple of EPs and his first full-length My Afro Is My Halo (2018), Obsidian should be his break to wider audiences.
Jahn Dough obviously is influenced by the sounds of both West Coast and Southern Hip Hop. Obsidian is a nice blend of the West and the South, with elements from Outkast to Kendrick Lamar and from UGK to Ab-Soul, with some echoes of the style of Detroit’s Danny Brown thrown in the mix as well. Obsidian has a nice fluent feel and vibe throughout, with smooth instrumentals and lyrics worth listening to. The album could have done without the skits attached to some of the songs, but all in all, this album is pretty good. Jahn Dough is one to watch.
DJ M-1 - Habit Of A Lifetime
DJ M-1 is a Dublin based DJ & producer who debuted with a great little project titled Choose Your Own Adventure (with Queens, New York MC Starvin B) in 2017. In 2020 he’s back with his first full-length: Habit Of A Halftime. With features from Sadat X, Wildelux, G.S. Advance, LMNO, Glad2Mecha, Vakill, Zilla Rocca, Baby Aztro, DJ Eclipse, Gutta Grimey 910, DreamTek, and Tre Eiht Special, Habit Of A Lifetime is a well-rounded album that is a must-listen for those who can’t get enough of Golden Age Hip Hop. Dope throwback beats and rhymes all the way through, and a lot of authentic DJ work too – with scratched in vocal samples mostly taken from classic Hip Hop cuts. “How Many Times” (featuring Sadat X and Wildelux) is a prime example of the quality of this project – two emcees flowing over a classic-feeling beat with DJ M-1 cutting up KRS-One and Rakim snippets.
Habit Of A Lifetime will not win any originality prices, but it will stay in rotation – and that’s all that matters.
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Pro The Leader - Aspirational Regret
Topnotch lyricism and intricate wordplay – that’s what you can expect from American Poets 2099 and Armor Of Gods emcee Pro The Leader. Aspirational Regret features appearances by other veteran emcees such as Casual of Hieroglyphics, Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Killah Priest & others, and is produced entirely by the renowned Skarekrow. Packed full of clever rhymes and solid boom-bap production, Aspirational Regret is an album perfectly suited for those who value authentic Hip Hop music.
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All Hail Y.T. & Tone Beatz - The Spoils Of Babylon
All Hail Y.T. is a Delaware emcee (by way of Germany, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Texas). The Spoils Of Babylon is not his first project – in fact, he has been very prolific with a whole bunch of dope releases in the 2010s, most of which flew way under most people’s radars. The Spoils Of Babylon will likely suffer the same fate in this day and age of Hip Hop market oversaturation, and that’s a shame because this album deserves attention. Produced entirely By Tone Beatz and with features from Eto, Tha God Fahim, Chris Skillz, Left Lane Didon, and Jay Nice, this All Hail Y.T. project is surprisingly well-rounded, offering up 36 minutes of smooth boom-bap with All Hail Y.T. skillfully flowing over the soulful production with bars worth listening to.
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Leaf Dog - Live From The Balrog Chamber
People familiar with the UK Hip Hop scene will know who Leaf Dog is. He is a producer/emcee who has been releasing music since 2005 and who is currently part of Brother Of Stone and The Four Owls (their 2015 album Natural Order was excellent). Live From The Balrog Chamber is Leaf Dog’s third solo full-length, after From A Scarecrow’s Perspective (2011) and Dyslexic Disciple (2017).
Live From The Balrog Chamber is an 18 track album that features Havoc (Mobb Deep), Grand Puba, Edo G, Cella Dwellas, BVA, Smellington Piff, Thirstin Howl III & The Last Emperor. The album is produced entirely by Leaf Dog himself (except one track which is produced by Fel Sweetenberg). Live From The Balrog Chamber is a great album, with a nice boom-bap throwback vibe all over it, and with enough distinctiveness in the production to separate it from the bunch and to keep it in rotation. Appearances by a bunch of Golden Age legends help of course – the Grand Puba assisted “What You Don’t Know”, “Legend” with Havoc, “Tryna Keep” with Edo G, and especially “Rhyme Chemist” with Cella Dwellas are obvious highlights. But Leaf Dog can hold his own on the mic too, and most tracks here are fire. If you have never checked out Leaf Dog before now Live From The Balrog Chamber is a great place to start, no doubt you will be checking for his back catalog in no time too.
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Hus Kingpin - End Of A Decade
End Of A Decade is a great full-length from Long Island rapper Hus Kingpin, following the more than decent Slime Wave (released in the summer of 2019) and the recent The Connect Tape (with SmooVth). Hus Kingpin is another one of those underground emcees who are riding the ever more powerful Roc Marciano / Griselda wave – dropping project after project with gritty, neo-boom-bap.
With guest appearances from Rozewood, Ralphiie Reese, Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Tristate, Conway the Machine, Rosati, SmooVth, Supreme Cerebral, Kool G Rap, Guilty Simpson, Chris Crack, and Vic Spencer you should know what to expect. Relentless street rhymes over dope, atmospheric beats – copping End Of A Decade is a no-brainer if you’re into the sounds of Roc Marciano and Griselda.
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Charlie Smarts - We Had A Good Thing Going
Charlie Smarts is one of the two emcees from North Carolina’s 5-man crew Kooley High. Hailing from North Carolina’s rich tradition of smooth boom-bap Hip Hop, Kooley High’s music is perfect for fans that enjoy Little Brother, 9th Wonder, and Rapsody. This solo-outing by Charlie Smarts is another excellent addition to North Carolina’s Hip Hop legacy. On We Had A Good Thing Going Charlie Smarts brings stories of love and loss over a collection of butter-smooth bass-heavy beats laid down by producer T-Mos. This is one of those albums that has no excess fat: no intro, outro, useless skits or interludes – no filler at all, just 40 minutes of delicious music you can put on repeat and listen to over and over again without getting tired of it. We Had A Good Thing Going dropped in January, but no doubt this is an album that has the power and quality to escape today’s ever-shortening hype circles and attention spans and stay in rotation for a good while – if only enough people pick up on it. Don’t sleep on Charlie Smarts and go check out We Had A Good Thing Going if you haven’t done so yet.
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Chris Skillz & Zain - Olvido
London-based producer Zain and Delaware emcee Chris Skillz have teamed up for Olvido, an 11-song project with features from Guilty Simpson, iLL Conscious, Hus Kingpin, SmooVth, Left Lane Didon, Jay NiCE, Ronnie Alpha, Junii & All Hail Y.T. This another fine project from a corner of Hip Hop that has been consistently seeing heat in the last couple of years, qualitatively transcending most of what passes for Hip Hop in the mainstream. Olvido is on the short side at 33 minutes, but fortunately, no time is wasted on skits and interludes and such. Zain provides a collection of smooth dreamlike instrumentals for Chris Skillz and his guests to flow over. Dope rhymes and great music – Olvido is a nice little project that is well worth your attention.
Lojii - lo&behold
Lojii is an artist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and lo&behold is his third full-length project, following DUE RENT (2017) and lofeye (2018). lo&behold is made up of 16 tracks, with features coming from Pink Siifu, Akeema-Zane, and Nikko Gray, and with production handled by Swarvy, Alexander Spit, Absent Avery and Jacob Rochester. In this day and age with a lot of genericness and quantity over quality in terms of Hip Hop releases, Lojii definitely brings something different to the table. lo&behold is a confident blend of lo-fi Hip Hop, jazz, and soul – perfect for discerning listeners who are tired of all the genericness. The underground scene for jazz-hop is awesome right now, and Lojii is one of the scene’s frontrunners. Lyrics and wordplay worth your attention and soulful, jazzy, sample-based production – lo&behold is a beautiful project.
Ty Farris - No Cosign Just Cocaine 3
Coming up in Detroit’s cutthroat and competitive battle scene Ty Farris was fast to gain respect and notoriety for his sharp lyrics and clever wordplay. No Cosign Just Cocaine 3 is the third part in Farris’ “No Cosign Just Cocaine” series, a perfect blend of parts 1 and 2 – the storytelling and introspective songs from NCJC1 combined with the witty and aggressive bars of NCJC2. No Cosign Just Cocaine 3 features guest appearances from Eto, Flee Lord, M.A.V., and Eddie Kaine, and production from Bozack Morris, The Standouts, Mr. Authentic, Stu Bangas, Vinyl Villain, Sebb Bash, Dirty Diggs, MichaelAngelo, Trox, and J Bansky.
Ty Farris doesn’t reinvent the wheel with No Cosign Just Cocaine 3, but the Detroit rap-vet has the skill and confidence to elevate a project like this above the average Hip Hop release. The beats are dope, the lyrics are on point – No Cosign Just Cocaine 3 is a must-listen if smooth neo-boom-bap is your brand of Hip Hop.
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June Marx - Sophisticated Weaponry
This is a must-listen for NYC Hip Hop revivalists. June Marx is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and independent artist from Brooklyn, New York, who has been very productive in the past decade, dropping over a dozen projects in the 2010s. Sophisticated Weaponry is self-released and entirely self-produced, and another interesting release in a consistently strong catalog. Spanning 17 full-length tracks, this album takes listeners on a sonic adventure where strange worlds are weaved together by Marx’s devastating flows over his own sharply produced, atmospheric instrumentals. June Marx is a fine emcee, with a nice cadence and flow and with lyrics worth listening to. Like all of his projects, Sophisticated Weaponry will most likely fly way under almost everybody’s radars, which is a shame because this is another great June Marx effort. You should check out this project if you’re into lyrical throwback Wu-Tang-style NYC Hip Hop.
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C.I.A. (Shogun Assason & Kinetic) - Criminals In The Army
Killarmy, along with Sunz of Man, is one of the earliest and most successful of the many Wu-Tang Clan affiliates. Killarmy members Kinetic 9 & Shogun Assason return as C.I.A. with Criminals In The Army, the long-awaited album that dropped on January 1st of 2020. The album brings nothing new to the table, and it doesn’t have to. Dope beats and lyrics is what we expected and dope beats and lyrics is what we got – this album is a more than worthy addition to the Killarmy catalog, and the wider Wu-legacy. The album’s first single “Air ‘Em Out” (featuring Ghostface Killah) is an obvious standout, but tracks like “Vampire Blood”, “C.I.A.”, “Leak Water”, the RZA-produced “How Can You Be That Dumb”, and the posse cut “The Gifted Briefcase (My Briefcase 1.4)” are great as well. A must-have for Killarmy and Wu-family fans at the very least.
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Uptown X.O. - Culture Over Corporate
Uptown X.O. is best known for being one-third of Diamond District, the underrated Washington DC trio he is part of together with Oddisee & yU. Of course, Oddisee is DD’s highest-profile member with a couple of sleeper classics on his name (The Good Fight (2015) and Tangible Dream (2013) are just two of the gems Oddisee dropped in the 2010s). Diamond District has two albums – In The Ruff (2009) and March On Washington (2014) that need to be in your collection if you appreciate quality Hip Hop. As a solo artist, Uptown X.O. released a number of dope projects over the years, his official solo debut Colour De Grey (2013) arguably the most noteworthy of his solo releases.
Culture Over Corporate – produced in its entirety by Alexandria, Virginia producer Drew Dave – dropped on January 1st of 2020, and it signified a fine start of the Hip Hop year. The album runs for 33 minutes and holds 9 tracks – on such a short album there’s no room for error. Fortunately, all 9 tracks are pretty good. Nice beats, fine emceeing, and thought-provoking lyrics throughout – the biggest complaint is the album’s brevity, it could have done with a couple more tracks. That said, Culture Over Corporate offers a tight package of 100% pure Hip Hop that deserves your attention.
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Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By
These days there seem to be a lot of people suffering from ‘Eminem Derangement Syndrome’ – lots of folks are ready to sh*t on everything Eminem does, no matter what (just like they will auto-praise anything media darlings like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler The Creator drop, no matter what). Music To Be Murdered By has its flaws, but it’s not the trainwreck some make it out to be – it’s not anywhere near as bad as Revival (2017) was. It’s more on par with Kamikaze (2018) – a mixed bag, with highs and lows.
The bad: at 17 full tracks, the album is too long with too many weak songs (especially “Those Kinda Nights” with Ed Sheeran is terrible). The features and hooks on songs like “Unaccomodating”, “Leaving Heaven”, and “No Regrets” kind of suck, with guests like Young MA, Skylar Grey and Don Toliver (and Ed Sheeran) obviously on this album for no other reason than for marketing purposes – but their presence doesn’t do the quality of the album any good. Then there are some weak trap beats here and there and a few cringe-worthy lyrics (a reference to the terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert where 22 (mostly) kids were killed being in especially bad taste).
The good: tracks like “Godzilla” (despite a meh posthumous appearance by Juice WRLD)”, “Yah Yah” (featuring Royce Da 5’9″, Black Thought, and Q-Tip), “I Will” (featuring KXNG Crooked, Royce da 5’9″ and Joell Ortiz), “Darkness” (honing in on mental health issues and gun violence and drawing a parallel between the two) and “Premonition” (with killer bars like “Instead of us being credited for longevity / And being able to keep it up for this long at this level, we get told we’ll never be what we were / Bitch if I was as half as good as I was / I’m still twice as good as you’ll ever be / Only way that you’re ahead of me’s alphabetically”) are vintage Eminem. Also, Eminem shows and proves he still has the lyrical skill to blow most other rappers out of the water.
Eminem should have left 6 or 7 tracks on the cutting room floor, then Music To Be Murdered By would have been great. As it is, the album has its moments and is not all bad – it’s just too cluttered with weak beats and corny hooks to be rated much above average.
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