Mello Music Group Best Hip Hop Albums: Mello Music Group is one of our favorite record labels and has been ever since the label’s first Oddisee, Diamond District, and Apollo Brown releases in 2009 and 2010. What do you know about Mello Music Group?
[Mello Music Group (MMG) is an American independent record label based in Tucson, Arizona. Founded in 2007, Mello Music has released Hip Hop compilations and albums by producers and emcees such as Oddisee, Apollo Brown, Mr. Lif, Ghostface Killah, Open Mike Eagle, L’Orange, Quelle Chris, Jean Grae, Kool Keith, Chris Orrick, Nottz, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Pete Rock, Skyzoo, Rapper Big Pooh, Homeboy Sandman, Ras Kass, and Cambatta. In 2012 MTV Hive described MMG as having a “dedication to intelligent, street-wise boom-bap,” although the label has released a number of purely instrumental albums as well. Forbes magazine called Mello Music Group the most successful indie-rap label of the decade in 2016.]
Like Lao Tzu in Hip Hop, Mello Music Group provides music for the soul, from the heart of American culture, opening the realm of the intelligent Hip Hop experience through melodic evocations, beats that corroborate the truth, and voices that roar above the rising void and impose order on the terrible & triumphant moments of everyday life.* (*Adapted from James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues”)
“After a year of working 80 hour weeks, I was missing the days when I dug through records all night, helped throw after hours events, and lived for music. I had continued listening, but now I had some extra money and didn’t know sh*t about flipping houses or the market, so I invested in what I knew about, what I wanted to support – beats, rhymes, and cuts” – Mello Music Group founder Michael Tolle
Presented here are HHGA’s 40 favorite MMG projects – check out Mello Music Group Best Hip Hop Albums.
40. Homeboy Sandman - Dusty (2019)
Dusty is the ninth studio album by Queens, New York emcee Homeboy Sandman, his first one on the Mello Music Group label. Homeboy Sandman is a well-respected underground emcee, and an acquired taste – similar to contemporary and frequent collaborator Quelle Chris in that regard. Dusty is produced entirely by Mono En Stereo (previously known as RTNC), who also provided beats for some of the Homeboy Sandman earlier Stones Throw releases. Dusty is more accessible than some of Homeboy Sandman’s earlier releases, and consistently entertaining because of Homeboy Sandman’s interesting thoughts and observations – with a few stand-out tracks like “Yes Iyah” (with Black Thought-like bar spitting), “Wondering Why” (reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s “What”) and the soulful “Picture On The Wall”. Dusty is a bit (too) short at 34 minutes but it’s a worthwhile listen and a dope Homeboy Sandman project nonetheless.
39. Oddisee - Mental Liberation (2009)
While Washington DC’s Oddisee already had one of the best albums of this year with Diamond District’s In The Ruff, his second solo album Mental Liberation is a top album of 2009 as well. The whole album is masterfully produced by Oddisee himself, and he holds his own as an emcee too. The album also features contributions from LMNO, Hassaan Mackey, Bilal Salaam, Dudley Perkins, Prince Po, yU, Kenn Starr, Silent Knight, XO, J-Live, Stik Figa, Trek Life, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Rapper Big Pooh, Black Milk, DJ Romes, DJ Clear, MED, Invincible, and Finale. Mental Liberation is a great album that is not talked about nearly enough.
(Two album covers circulate, we like this one better than the original one.)
38. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2 (2020)
If there’s one constant in Quelle Chris’ body of work it’s that he never does the same thing twice. Unlike many other artists who make the same album over and over again, this eclectic Detroit rapper never takes the easy way out, instead, he is always looking for new directions. Innocent Country 2 is sort of a sequel to 2015’s Innocent Country. A sequel, but a direct opposite as well – where the initial Innocent Country focused on isolation, pessimism, and the notion of finding peace within pain, this one offers soothing light in a bleak timeline: a hopeful record in a hopeless moment, precisely when it’s needed most.
Innocent Country 2 is a jazzy and warm listening experience with smooth synth loops over dusty drums crafted by Chris Keys, but it’s not breezy – there’s always depth to Quelle Chris’s lyrical musings. And although this album is not as deep or important as 2019’s Guns (on which Quelle Chris addressed the impact of gun violence on American society in particular and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general), Innocent Country 2 is an album with substance as well.
Standout tracks include “Living Happy”, “Graphic Bleeds Out”, “Black Twitter”, “Grease From The Elbows” (featuring billy woods and Pink Siifu), “Sacred Safe”, with a show-stealing verse from Homeboy Sandman – but Innocent Country 2‘s strength is its consistency, it’s a perfect album to keep on rotation in the summertime (and in other seasons too, for that matter).
37. Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson - Dice Game (2012)
Not even the best Apollo Brown instrumentals you have heard, but Apollo Brown’s beats prove to be the perfect match for fellow Detroitian Guilty Simpson’s bars, making Dice Game one of Simpson’s best. Dope beats and dope rhymes, that’s all we need.
36. Has-Lo - In Case I Don't Make It (2011)
Has-Lo’s In Case I Don’t Make It is an entertaining listen, despite its dark nature and monotone sound. Slick production and haunting lyrical imagery make for an album you need to immerse yourself in to be able to fully appreciate it.
35. Quelle Chris – Innocent Country (2015)
Innocent Country is the first collaborative album by Detroit rapper Quelle Chris and producer Chris Keys. The biggest knock against this project is the short runtime of 33 minutes divided amongst Innocent Country‘s twelve tracks. Quelle Chris proves he is a unique talent with a unique sound, and Chris Keys’ musical backdrops go with Quelle Chris’s thoughtful lyrics seamlessly, these two have chemistry. As Quelle Chris’ Bandcamp page states: “Innocent Country is a deceptively subtle character study self disguised as an excellent piece of stoner head nod Hip-Hop.”
34. Georgia Anne Muldrow – A Thoughtiverse Unmarred (2015)
A Thoughtiverse Unmarred is an exceptional album, lyrically and sonically. Listening to Georgia Anne Muldrow you can hear echoes of giants like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, but Georgia Anne Muldrow has her distinct own sound.
In the words of Mos Def:
“She’s incredible. She’s like Flack, Nina Simone, Ella, she’s something else. She’s like religion. It’s heavy, vibrational music. I’ve never heard a human being sing like this. Her voice is wildly, finely expressive. It’s so singular. It’s hip-hop, the way that she approaches it rhythmically, she’s got so many jazz influences. It’s something else and you can just feel it. With “Georgia Anne Muldrow Presents Ms. One” (Someothaship) she’s like J. Dilla, the legendary producer. She makes her own beats, she rhymes, she sings, and she plays. If people love Amy Winehouse, they’re going to get their minds blown when they hear Georgia Anne Muldrow.”
If you’re looking for a companion to Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation classic, you need to get this conscious and affirming genre-bending gem from Georgia Anne Muldrow.
33. Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz – Home Sweet Home (2015)
Rapper Big Pooh’s solo-work has received the same kind of praise he got as part of Little Brother, and his solo albums have always kind of stood in the shadow of the more acclaimed albums of his LB colleague Phonte. Home Sweet Home is a pretty strong project though, arguably Big Pooh’s best, and one that deserved more attention than it got. The chemistry between Big Pooh’s thoughtful real-life rhymes and Grammy-award winning producer Nottz’s soulful boom-bap beats is impeccable. At 33 minutes, Home Sweet Home is much too short, but that’s the biggest complaint.
32. Cambatta - LSD: Lunar Solar Duality (2020)
From the album’s Bandcamp blurb:
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), is a hallucinogenic chemical compound, first synthesized in 1938. Upon its introduction into popular culture in the 1960’s it quickly shifted not only the mind of the artist but also the person experiencing the art.
Hip Hop artist Cambatta is known for his thought-provoking and psychedelic-inspired rhyme techniques. His newest album entitled, “LSD”, is just as the title insinuates- mind-bending and consciousness-shifting. This album was created throughout four years of psychedelic usage and reality-based life-changing events. This process has made the album a duality of both real and surreal interpretations. The album’s title is also an acronym for “Lunar Solar Duality,” alluding to the album’s dichotomy of light and dark conceptualizations and countless other polarizing and multi-entendre-latent compositions. Whether you have ever experienced LSD or not, this album is sure to impact anyone receptive and perceptive enough to take a dose.
The album sure is a trip, a total mindf*ck. LSD offers well over an hour of dense lyricism, full of Cambata’s musings on subjects like life, history, science, religion, spirituality, mythology, existentialism, culture, and drug(ab)use. The beats on LSD are fine, and Cambatta’s voice and flow are a pleasure to listen to – but what makes this album something truly special are Cambatta’s deep lyrics. His varied lyrical approaches and themes are fascinating – this album can’t really be compared with anything you have heard before. In sound, style, and content Cambatta is like an amalgamation of Killah Priest, Kool Keith, Canibus, Cage, and Immortal Technique – making Lunar Solar Duality a truly unique experience, an album that invites multiple listenings to really try to appreciate what’s going on. This is another Mello Music Group winner.
31. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White - Hella Personal Film Festival (2016)
Hella Personal Film Festival is Open Mike Eagle’s most accessible album, thanks to the melodic production work of British producer Paul White (who was also largely responsible for the instrumentals on this Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition from this year). Even if Hella Personal Film Festival is a relatively easy listen, Open Mike Eagle’s music remains an acquired taste. His mix of a monotone spoken-word rapping style with a sing-songy flow, combined with his often abstract inner-thoughts and ruminations will not appeal to everybody, but his clever wordplay and personal lyrics will resonate with everybody willing to put in the time and attention his music demands. It’s never easy or straightforward, and it doesn’t have to be. Hella Personal Film Festival is almost as good as 2014’s Dark Comedy and 2017’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, and one of Open Mike Eagle’s best albums.
30. Ugly Heroes - Everything In Between (2016)
Everything In Between is an excellent album to Ugly Heroes’ self-titled debut album, which was released in 2013. Ugly Heroes – Apollo Brown, Verbal Kent & Red Pill – deliver once again. Those familiar with Apollo Brown know he is as consistent in crafting quality beats as any producer in the game. Red Pill and Verbal Kent stepped up the lyrics on Everything In Between, which makes for a Hip Hop album of the highest quality – a presentation of well-rounded boom-bap for all generations. “This World”, “Heart Attack”, “Unforgiven”, “Daisies”, “Force Fed” are stand-outs, but this album really doesn’t have any weak spots.
29. Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz - Mona Lisa (2018)
Joell Ortiz is one of the finest lyricists of this era. Apollo Brown is one of the most consistent beatsmiths of the 2010s. These two heavy-hitters combining forces lead to a solid project from front to back – no filler on Mona Lisa, so no skips are necessary. Joell Ortiz’s lyricism is great and Apollo Brown’s beats are sharp and match the wordplay perfectly. Fellow Slaughterhouse member Royce Da 5’9″ drops by on “Timberlan’d Up” for the only feature on the album, but the rest of the album is confidently carried by Joell Ortiz himself. Mona Lisa is a dose of timeless Hip Hop by two of the game’s finest.
28. Homeboy Sandman - Don't Feed The Monster (2020)
Homeboy Sandman’s conversational style of rapping is an acquired taste – he firmly belongs to a left-field corner of Hip Hop, the same niche contemporaries like Open Mike Eagle and Quelle Chris occupy.
It’s Quelle Chris who is responsible for all the production on Don’t Feed The Monster, his quirky beats the perfect foil for Homeboy Sandman’s intricate thoughts and observations. Don’t Feed The Monster offers close to an hour of music: 15 tracks, no useless skits, no filler, and only one guest appearance – by Quelle Chris, of course.
Lots of highlights on Don’t Feed The Monster – from the painful memories of the intensely open and personal opening track “Trauma” to the humorous (and for some of us very relatable) “Waiting For My Girl” to cuts like “Extinction”, “Stress”, “Don’t Look Down”, “Monument”, and “Alone Again” – with this album Homeboy Sandman opens a window to his world to offer a view on his state of being, showing a wide range of emotions and insights on what obviously is a cathartic album for him.
Don’t Feed The Monster is a confirmation, and one of Homeboy Sandman’s best albums yet.
27. L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae - The Night Took Us In Like Family (2015)
The Night Took Us In Like Family is the first project North Carolinian L’Orange did together with Chicago emcee Jeremiah Jae. Jeremiah Jae admirably succeeds in synergizing with the challenging instrumentals – proving at once theirs is a seamless pairing. L’Orange is one of the most interesting producers active in the Hip Hop game of the 2010s – responsible for a bunch of excellent projects – the cinematic concept album The Night Took Us In Like Family is just one of them.
26. Semi Hendrix - Breakfast At Banksy’s (2015)
Semi Hendrix is a collaboration between Grammy-winning producer Jack Splash and legendary lyricist Ras Kass – they joined forces in 2015 to make Breakfast at Banksy’s. This album is excellent, totally overlooked by almost everybody, unfortunately. Jack Splash manages to come up with different sounds for every track, maintaining a high energy level from start to finish. The beats are exactly what Ras Kass needs to match his intensity. Ras Kass, as always, comes with clever, humorous, and hard-hitting lyrics, while Jack Splash manages to hold his own on the mic as well. This is one of 2015’s hidden treasures.
25. Apollo Brown & Ras Kass - Blasphemy (2014)
Apollo Brown has been on an incredible roll in the 2010s, to name him the MVP producer of the decade is an easily defendable claim. Apollo Brown dropped a lot of dope collaborative projects in the 2010s, this is just one of them. Ras Kass is one of the best lyricists the game has ever seen, and Apollo Brown’s signature brand of polished, bass-heavy boom-bap beats serves Ras Kass’ lyrics well. A few great features from the likes of Pharoahe Monch, Sean Price, Royce Da 5’9″, and Xzibit (among others) help make Blasphemy a solid, well-rounded album.
24. Jeremiah Jae & L'Orange - Complicate Your Life With Violence (2019)
L’Orange is one of the most underappreciated producers active in the Hip Hop game in the past decade. He was responsible for excellent projects like The City Under The City (with Stik Figa, 2013), Time? Astonishing! (with Kool Keith, 2015), The Life & Death Of Scenery (with Mr. Lif, 2016), Marlowe (with Solemn Brigham as Marlowe, 2018), and of course the first project he did together with Chicago emcee Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us In Like Family (2015).
Like The Night Took Us In Like Family, Complicate Your Life With Violence is a concept album, examing the (insane) nature of war and violence by asking and answering some difficult questions on the subject. Guests like Chester Watson, billy woods, Zeroh, and Loji add their perspectives – resulting in a poignant project meant for thinking people. Even with Jeremiah Jae’s lyrical content being meaningful and outstanding, it’s L’Orange’s production that steals the show. Those familiar with his work will have an idea of what to expect: unique sampling choices, dirty drums, and atmospheric vibes throughout – it all leads to one of the most intriguing Hip Hop albums of 2019.
23. Oddisee - People Hear What They See (2012)
This is another great album by one of Hip Hop’s MVP’s of the 2010s. Even if he would go on to create even better albums than this one with Tangible Dream (2013) and The Good Fight (2015), his full-length solo-debut (after a string of EPs and the excellent In The Ruff (2009) as part of Diamond District), People Hear What They See is top-quality as well. Oddisee always produces the kind of soulful beats you FEEL, and his lyrics and flow are on par.
22. The Left - Gas Mask (2010)
The Left is a 3-man collaboration consisting of rapper Journalist 103, turntablist DJ Soko and producer Apollo Brown. Apollo Brown is the star of the show here, as it is his production-work that steals the show. Journalist 103 is a competent emcee and DJ Soko adds extra flavor with his cuts and scratches – the first track “Change” sets the tone nicely by showcasing the trio’s synergy. At 19 tracks Gas Mask is not a short album but the same level of quality is maintained throughout – this album is a perfect representation of the strength of Detroit’s underground Hip Hop scene. Booming beats and fine lyricism – Gas Mask is a must-have.
21. Marlowe - Marlowe (2018)
Producer L’Orange teamed up with fellow North Carolinian Solemn Brigham under the name Marlowe to create the self-titled Marlowe. L’Orange is a master of obscure sampling and of creating his own brand of psychedelic, dusty, lo-fi, boom-bap – and his synergy with Solemn Brigham is evident. Solemn Brigham has an effortless but impeccable flow that gels perfectly with L’Orange’s extraordinary instrumentals, and he comes with tight bars and complex rhyme schemes to complement his flow and delivery.
Marlowe: 38 minutes, 17 tracks, zero filler – this is one of the most underappreciated albums of 2018.
20. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything’s Fine (2018)
Husband-and-wife team Quelle Chris & Jean Grae make up an enigmatic and lovable duo, Everything’s Fine is the first whole album that they have worked on together. The album is firmly left-field in sound and theme – Everything’s Fine is a satire, addressing complacency and examining what it really means to be ‘fine’ in this day and age. Hilarious and sobering at the same time, Quelle Chris and Jean Grae succeed in what they presumably set out to do – with dry humor and witty observations they make you THINK. The chilled-out, left-field instrumentals serve to lend potency to the lyrics that are abstract and subtle here, and straight on the nose there. Not for everybody, but if you’re willing to invest time and attention in Everything’s Fine you will probably find it to be an album that will grow on you.
19. Kool Keith - Feature Magnetic (2016)
Quality control has never been a priority for Kool Keith. He has released something like 60 projects since his debut with Ultramagnetic MCs in 1988, and not all of these releases are must-haves, exactly. Because of the large number of Kool Keith releases over the years, people tend to dismiss all of them as trash. That’s not correct, though – there’s plenty of gems in his catalog. Dr. Octagon (1996), Sex Style (1997), and First Come, First Served (1999) are his obvious classics, but titles like Big Time (1996), Masters Of Illusion (2000), Diesel Truckers (2004), Project Polaroid (2006), Sex Style: The Unreleased Archives (2007) and Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (2018) all are excellent albums.
Feature Magnetic is another one of those projects that is much better than most people seem to think. Like most Kool Keith releases, this one was dismissed out of hand upon its release, just because it was yet another Kool Keith release. But the reality is that Feature Magnetic is really really good. Raw beats (mostly produced by Kool Keith himself) and fun rhymes all the way through. Kool Keith is in top form with his typical cadences and bizarre stream-of-consciousness lyrical imagery. Another strength of this album is the features: there is a guest rapper on almost every track and all of them gel really well with Kool Keith. You can’t go wrong with names like MF DOOM, Godfather Don, Craig G, Bumpy Knuckles, Slug, Edo G, Sadat X, and Ras Kass, of course. Feature Magnetic is Kool Keith at his finest, and his best release of the 2010s. – not a coincidence his best work of the decade was released via Mello Music Group.
18. Apollo Brown - Grandeur (2015)
Grandeur is another great release from the most consistent producers from the 2010s. 19 tracks of the smooth boom-bap Apollo Brown brand, with vocals by the likes of Skyzoo, Torae, Oddisee, MOP, Chino XL, Evidence, Rapper Big Pooh, Ras Kass, Vinnie Paz, Blacastan, Your Old Droog, Masta Ace, Wordsworth, Freddie Gibbs, O.C., Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Sean Price, Reks, and Ugly Heroes, among others. Beats by one of the best beatsmiths in the game, and rhymes by a roster of the greatest emcees of this era – quality Hip Hop guaranteed.
17. Quelle Chris - Guns (2019)
Quelle Chris’ 2019 full-length solo release is not for everyone, which is par for the course with his music. On Guns Quelle Chris comes with his usual off-kilter drum patterns and heady wordplay, this time with a unifying theme: the impact of gun violence on American society in particular and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general. Neither an easy nor an accessible listen, a few years down the road this album may turn out to be a modern classic anyway.
16. Ugly Heroes - Ugly Heroes (2013)
Ugly Heroes is a trio consisting of MCs Verbal Kent and Red Pill, along with producer Apollo Brown, and Ugly Heroes is their self-titled collaborative debut album. As always Apollo Brown’s sound is straight from the nineties, polished bass-heavy beats, complimented by atmospheric strings and piano chords. This is blue-collar Hip Hop, Ugly Heroes focuses on the struggles of Verbal Kent and Red Pil, who present themselves as working-class MCs from Chicago and Detroit, describing the struggles of the working-class life. Filled with serious subject matter and unflinching lyrics, backed up by deep and slow head-bobbing beats – this is another gem by Apollo Brown, an excellent album that deserves a lot more attention than it got.
15. Apollo Brown & Skyzoo - The Easy Truth (2016)
What happens when one of the most consistent producers of the 2010s hooks up with one of the best true school emcees of the 2010s? You get an amalgamation of the best of what Detroit and New York City Hip Hop has to offer: a smooth, soulful, classic-feeling treasure of an album. Apollo Brown’s dope neo-boom-bap beats and Skyzoo’s tight rhymes are both of the highest quality – this is one of the best albums of 2016 – authentic Hip Hop for true Hip Hop fans.
14. Diamond District - March On Washington (2014)
Diamond District is a trio consisting of producer/emcee Oddisee and emcees yU and Uptown XO. Their collaborative debut was the excellent but slept-on In The Ruff (2009). March On Washington is their second album together, and it is another winner. Each of the three Diamond District members has proven himself singly with other projects (especially Oddisee), but their group efforts really are something special. Although March On Washington doesn’t explicitly make race an issue, the LP clearly was inspired by the legendary event during which Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I Have A Dream speech. The album is smart and fun at the same time, the intricate lyrics backed by Oddisee’s soulful bass-heavy instrumentals. With March On Washington, Diamond District dropped a sleeper classic. 14 songs deep, none of them skippable.
13. Oddisee - The Iceberg (2017)
Oddisee had two potential future classics in the 2010s with Tangible Dream (2013) and The Good Fight (2015). The Iceberg is even more eclectic in its musicality than the two albums mentioned – with live-band instrumentals and non-Hip Hop influences, which makes this album more of an acquired taste than previous Oddisee efforts are. Thought-provoking lyrics about contemporary socio-political issues, and well-rounded musical backdrops – The Iceberg offers 45 minutes of grown man Hip Hop of the best kind, that sadly went well over the heads of most of 2017’s rap music consumers.
12. Marlowe – Marlowe 2 (2020)
Seattle-based producer L’Orange and North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham reunite as Marlowe for a second album, straightforwardly titled Marlowe 2. The first Marlowe album was one of the best (and most underappreciated) albums of 2018, Marlowe 2 is just as good, if not better.
L’Orange’s trademark psychedelic, dusty, lo-fi, boom-bap instrumentals laced with obscure samples are as strong as ever, and Solemn Brigham has something distinctive that sets him apart from other emcees – an erratic one-of-a-kind type flow that perfectly matches the strange atmosphere set by L’Orange’s production. There was nothing wrong with Brigham’s performance on Marlowe 1, but he managed to step up his lyrical game for this one, once again coming with tight bars and complex rhyme patterns to go with his unique flow and delivery.
Even more than the first album, Marlowe 2 isn’t easy or straightforward. It may take a few spins to truly appreciate, but those willing and able to give this album the attention it deserves will find that Marlowe 2 is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2020.
11. Apollo Brown & Boog Brown - Brown Study (2010)
Boog Brown is a female emcee from Atlanta by way of Detroit, and she’s one of the most slept-on artists of the 2010s. For Brown Study, she hooked up with Detroit’s then-upcoming beatsmith Apollo Brown. Boog Brown‘s laidback street poetry and Appolo Brown’s soulful boom-bap beats prove to be a potent combination. Boog Brown shows she’s an in-depth writer, with a sick flow and great voice. Apollo Brown does what he would be doing for the rest of the decade: creating lush bass-heavy beats for his collaborative artists to shine on. No weak tracks on Brown Study, if you slept on this gem for some reason go check out tracks like “Masterplan”, “Carpe Diem” or “Understanding”- and you’ll find yourself adding this one to your library real quick.
10. Quelle Chris - Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often (2017)
Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is another excellent album by prolific Detroit artist Quelle Chris, with guest input by regular collaborators like Jean Grae (Quelle Chris’ wife), Homeboy Sandman, Denmark Vessey, Chris Keys, and others like Elzhi and Roc Marciano, among others.
Like all of Quelle Chris’ work Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is neither an easy or straightforward listen. Sure, musically it’s more accessible than some of his other works (but still plenty left-field), but lyrically it’s typical Quelle Chris: challenging, often dense, but always compelling. Quelle Chris’ introspective musings on existentialism are both poignant and hilarious, and an hour of Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often reveals much of who Quelle Chris is as a human being.
As for the near-flawless production, most of the beats were done by Quelle Chris himself, with some assistance from The Alchemist, MNDSGN, and Iman Omari. All in all, Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is an awesome project.
9. Skyzoo & Pete Rock - Retropolitan (2019)
One of the most anticipated albums of 2019 delivered on all accounts. This is what happens when an elite lyricist teams up with an elite beatsmith and when everything clicks: 11 songs, all of them strong. The sequencing of the album is perfect too – “Glorious” is a confident opening track and it just gets better and better after that, with the last two songs arguably being the absolute best of the album. “Eastern Conference All-Stars”, is a dope a.f. posse cut featuring Detroit’s elite emcee Elzhi and Griselda heavy’s Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine and Westside Gunn, and “Audacity Of Dope” is a blueprint of how Hip Hop should sound.
Retropolitan solidifies Skyzoo’s status as one of the most pre-eminent emcees of his generation. The Salvation (2009), Live From The Tape Deck (with Illmind, 2010), A Dream Defered (2012), Music For My Friends (2015), The Easy Truth (with Apollo Brown, 2016) and In Celebration Of Us (2018) are all great albums, but Retropolitan may just be Skyzoo’s very best yet – with Pete Rock behind the boards bringing out the best of him. Pete Rock has nothing left to prove but just adds to his legendary status with this album.
8. Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017)
On the heels of 2016’s strong collaboration album with Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival, Open Mike Eagle continues his streak of consistency with Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. The ambient and psychedelic production on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is more subdued than on past OME efforts, which complements his low-key delivery. The smooth instrumentals and Open Mike Eagle’s vocals sound deceptively loose and laid-back, but the lyrical content is clever, thoughtful, relevant, and emotionally potent. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream almost rivals Dark Comedy (2014) for the title of Open Mike Eagle’s best album to date.
7. Oddisee - The Good Fight (2015)
The Good Fight is Oddisee’s tenth studio album (also counting the two excellent albums he did as Diamond District with yU and Uptown XO), and it showcases his continuing growth as a producer and as an emcee. Soulful and eclectic, this album almost transcends genre boundaries in its musicality. Lyrics-wise The Good Fight is more than a worthwhile listen as well – with Oddisee telling us about his experiences as an artist in the music business and life in general. The Good Fight is put together meticulously from start to finish resulting in a remarkable blend of lyrical depth, complexity, beauty, and soul. “Counter-Clockwise”, “First Choice”, “Contradiction’s Maze”, “Want Something Done” and “Book Covers” are a few of the stand-out tracks, but this album has no filler tracks at all. The Good Fight is one of those albums that gets better with each spin.
6. Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir – As God Intended (2020)
As God Intended is Apollo Brown’s first major project of the 2020s, for which he teamed up with Che’ Noir. 26-year old Buffalo emcee Che’ Noir has been making a name for herself in recent years, having worked alongside the likes of Benny The Butcher, 38 Spesh, Kool G Rap, and Fred The Godson – she has emerged as one of the most extraordinary and exciting New York talents heard in a while. Following a couple of dope EP’s and collaborations, As God Intended is her full-length debut album.
Apollo Brown really never misses, but what raises some of his albums to the next level is when there is palpable chemistry between himself and the artist he collaborates with. Trophies with O.C. is the best example, another winning combo was Brown Study with Boog Brown. The synergy between Apollo Brown’s majestic boom-bap instrumentals and Che’ Noir’s engaging flow and lyrics make As God Intended a total winner. Che’ Noir is incredible. Her voice, her diction, her flow, her personality – she really is an emcee’s emcee, who has the skill to seemingly effortlessly carry an album, and who has something to say too. Che’ Noir’s views on topical societal issues and her personal stories are unfiltered and no-holds-barred – her pen game is as powerful as her delivery.
As God Intended comes equipped with 14 tracks, with no interludes or other filler. As God Intended features collaborations with Black Thought, Skyzoo, Planet Asia, Ty Farris, and Blakk Soul – definite proof of Che’ Noir’s power is that their presence is hardly noticeable (even if especially Black Thought shines with a killer verse on “Hustle Don’t Give). There are no weak tracks on this album, but a couple of standouts nevertheless – including “Daddy’s Girl” (a poignant account about growing up without a stable father figure), “’94” (a trip down memory lane about Che’ Noir’s Hip Hop influences), the Skyzoo-assisted “Follow The Money” (check what Apollo Brown does with Scarface’s “My Block” on the hook), and “Money Orientated” (which brilliantly incorporates part of AZ’s classic verse on Nas’ “Life’s A B****”).
As God Intended is another jewel in Apollo Brown’s crown and the official arrival of Che’ Noir to the Hip Hop Majors. In this day and age of forgettable bubble-gum rap, As God Intended is the clear exception – no doubt this is an album people will keep in rotation for years to come.
5. Diamond District – In The Ruff (2009)
Diamond District is the truth. This is real, raw & pure Hip Hop done right. In The Ruff is that perfect example of an album with a Golden Age sound but with one leg firmly in the present as well. Oddisee is a talented producer and emcee, and together with emcees X.O. and yU he delivered an excellent record, filled with hard AND smooth boom-bap beats and dope flows. A breath of fresh air in 2009; and an album that should have a place in any Hip Hop fan’s collection – easily one of the best Hip Hop albums released that year.
4. Apollo Brown - Sincerely, Detroit (2019)
The most complete portrait of the Detroit Hip Hop scene ever? With 56 featured Detroit artists (with Eminem being the most notable absentee), it will be hard to argue against that claim. Sincerely, Detroit is Apollo Brown’s tribute to his hometown and a love letter to the culture. From different eras and different walks of life, veterans and newcomers alike lend their styles and deliveries to this 21 track album. Featuring artists like Royce Da 5’9”, Black Milk, Trick Trick, Elzhi, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, One Be Lo, Bronze Nazareth, Kuniva, Clear Soul Forces, Boog Brown, and many, many more, Sincerely, Detroit is a nearly comprehensive look at the styles and flavors of Detroit.
In this day and age of short hype-circles and short attention spans Sincerely, Detroit is a project with extraordinary substance – and not just because it runs for 78 minutes. Where lots of artists are content with dropping a bunch of 25-minute projects each year to stay in the public for as much time as possible, Apollo Brown goes the other way: taking the time to craft a work of quality that really resonates and that will undoubtedly prove to have longevity.
Sincerely, Detroit has 21 tracks – 20 full songs and an intro – and each and every track is beautifully put together, showing and proving that Apollo Brown is a master at his craft. His ear for detail is evident, and you can sense the passion and love that went into the creation of this album. 78 minutes is not too long if every single song is exquisitely executed. Apollo Brown’s smooth boom-bap is the common thread that holds this album together and from the host of featured artists nobody disappoints – who shines most will likely be dependent on the personal preference of the listener. Among our favorite tracks are “God Help Me”, “Dominance” and “Can’t Lose” – not coincidently tracks on which DJ Los adds extra flavor with some dope turntable work – but there are no filler tracks.
Apollo Brown has been one of Hip Hop’s most consistent producers for over a decade now and with this album he firmly solidified his status as one of the game’s top dogs. Sincerely, Detroit is one of 2019’s best albums and it deserves its high ranking among the decade’s best too.
3. Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy (2014)
Open Mike Eagle is a Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based artist who dropped some of the most interesting albums in abstract underground Hip Hop in the 2010s – with his soft spoken-word style, poetic lyrics, and experimental production. Dark Comedy is Open Mike Eagle’s fourth solo album and arguably his best album to date. Belying the at times breezy production, Open Mike Eagle’s subject matter never is lightweight. He approaches a variety of serious topics with dark and deliciously sarcastic humor – hence the title of the album. Open Mike Eagle’s lyrical performance on Dark Comedy is as good as we’ve heard from him, and the ambient production is fantastic throughout. The lyrical and instrumental intricacies give Dark Comedy more layers than anything else out this year, as always with an Open Mike Eagle release there’s a lot to unpack – Dark Comedy is an album with endless replay value.
2. Apollo Brown & O.C. - Trophies (2012)
Apollo Brown is one of the best producers in the game today. The number of top-quality projects he has put his stamp on in this decade is amazing. The best Apollo Brown project of the 2010s is Trophies, his 2012 collaboration with D.I.T.C. legend O.C. O.C. is one of the most slept-on emcees in Hip Hop ever: he had two near-perfect albums in the 1990s with Word… Life (1994) and Jewelz (1997) and he is still going strong as his latest projects Same Moon Same Sun (2017) and A New Dawn (2018) prove. Like on those two massively slept-on albums, on Trophies shows he is an emcee that can easily hold down an album by himself – he doesn’t need guests to add flavor or variety. Trophies offers 16 tracks of straight to the point Hip Hop; no frills, no gimmicks. There are no guest emcee appearances, no hook singers, no skits, no wasted moments – and despite the album is about one hour long, it never gets boring.
1. Oddisee - Tangible Dream (2013)
Oddisee really is something else. He is an incredible producer AND a great lyricist. He is responsible for two near-flawless albums as one-third of the Diamond District trio, and he has released a string of great solo-projects. Tangible Dream is his best solo-effort of the 2010s. This album is full of great songs. “Tomorrow Today”, “Back Of My Mind”, “Killin’ Time”, “Be There” “Tangible Dream” – just a few of the stand-out tracks on this awesome project. Tangible Dream offers smooth and intelligent Hip Hop of the highest quality – this album should be a part of any serious Hip Hop collection.
- Sareem Poems – Black & Read All Over (2009)
- Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime – Someothaship (2009)
- yU – Before Taxes (2010)
- DTMD – Makin’ Dollas (2011)
- Trek Life – Wouldn’t Change Nothing (2011)
- Hassaan Mackey & Apollo Brown – Daily Bread (2011)
- Substantial – Home Is Where the Art Is (2012)
- Gensu Dean – Lo-Fi Fingahz (2012)
- Stik Figa – As Himself (2012)
- Trek Life – Hometown Foreigner (2013)
- Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – Abrasions (2013)
- Uptown XO – Colour De Grey (2013)
- Quelle Chris – Ghost At The Finish Line (2013)
- L’Orange & Stik Figa – The City Under The City (2013)
- Dudley Perkins – Dr. Stokley (2013)
- Castle – Gasface (2013)
- Castle – Return Of The Gasface (2014)
- Has-Lo & Castle – Live Like You’re Dead (2014)
- The 1978ers – People Of Today (2014)
- Mello Music Group, VA – Mandala, Vol. 1: Polysonic Flows (2015)
- Mello Music Group, VA –Mandala Vol. 2 Today’s Mathematics (2015)
- Mello Music Group, VA – Persona (2015)
- Rapper Big Pooh & Apollo Brown – Words Paint Pictures (2015)
- Finale – Odds & Ends (2015)
- Verbal Kent – Sound Of The Weapon (2015)
- Kool Keith & L’Orange – Time? Astonishing! (2015)
- Red Pill – Look What This World Did To Us (2015)
- Red Pill – Instinctive Drowning (2016)
- L’Orange & Mr. Lif – The Life & Death of Scenery (2016)
- Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies (2017)
- MC Paul Barman – (((echo chamber))) (2018)
- Chris Orrick – Portraits (2018)
- Joell Ortiz – Monday (2019)
- Ras Kass – Soul on Ice 2 (2019)
- Elaquent – Forever Is A Pretty Long Time (2020)
- Iron Wigs – Your Birthday’s Cancelled (2020)