This article is a work in progress and it will be updated regularly until we reach the end of the year – where it will result in our list with 2020’s best Hip Hop releases. This year, we especially look forward to expected releases by Black Star, Run The Jewels, R.A. The Rugged Man, Shabazz Palaces, and Ab-Soul, and rumored projects by LL Cool J, KRS-One, De La Soul, and Kendrick Lamar.
Not included are instrumental albums, compilations, and EP’s. Some artists bill barely 30-minute-long projects as albums – HHGA sees projects that clock in at under 30 minutes as EP’s however, and we do not rank them on our album (= LP) list. Creating an LP is an art in itself, releasing a couple of songs as an EP or dropping a 20-minute ‘album’ with a bunch of 1 and 2-minute songs is not enough to make it on our best albums list. But having said that, there are lots of dope EP’s out there, so we will not completely ignore them – scroll all the way down (below the Honorable Mentions) for a section with some of the best EP’s released in 2020, as well as a listing of 2020’s best Hip Hop adjacent projects. (Last updated April 3, 2020)
R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages
Purple Moonlight Pages is the first album by R.A.P. Ferreira, the new moniker of the artist formerly known as Milo. Little over a year ago Milo officially retired that stage name to continue as R.A.P. Ferreira – which is a play on his real-life name: Rory Allen Phillip Ferreira (and on Rhythm And Poetry Ferreira). The name-change also seems to come with a bit of an artistic change, and whether that change works for you or not is – as always – a matter of taste.
Purple Moonlight Pages offers a slice of delicious poetic jazz-rap, produced and expertly engineered by The Jefferson Park Boys (the production team consisting of beatmaker Kenny Segal, and musicians Mike Parvizi and Aaron Carmack). The album feels more accessible than R.A.P. Ferreira’s work when he was still operating as Milo. Milo’s best work who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, was sonically denser and more abstract – but that’s not to say Purple Moonlight Pages is a straightforward or an easy listen.
Just like R.A.P. Ferreira’s earlier work Purple Moonlight Pages definitely is different than the general rap fare – R.A.P. Ferreira’s slam-poetry/spoken-word type flow and stream-of-consciousness type lyrics demand full attention. Musically Purple Moonlight Pages is a delight – with songs full of live instrumentation, obviously heavily jazz-inspired. Involvement of Kenny Segal is a mark of quality, everything he has touched recently has turned to proverbial gold – most notably (but not limited to) his collaboration with NYC underground giant billy woods on Hiding Places, one of the best albums of 2019.
With the assistance of The Jefferson Park Boys, R.A.P. Ferreira reinvented his sound and turned it into a new type of excellence. Purple Moonlight Pages is a rich and rewarding listening experience, at the least for those willing to invest the time and attention this fantastic album deserves.
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ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel
Curly Castro and PremRock are ShrapKnel, the formal pairing of two longtime friends and artistic collaborators. It was a shared affinity for emcee/producer ELUCID’s beats that sparked the ShrapKnel project. Curly Castro and PremRock debuted as a duo with Cobalt, their 2019 debut EP. Just like on Cobalt, the chemistry between Curly Castro and PremRock is evident and the instrumentals here are awesome – all beats were crafted by ELUCID, in conjunction with Backwoodz-affiliated producer Willie Green. ShrapKnel is more accessible than most of his ELUCID’s projects are, but the beats are still unorthodox enough to set this project apart from most other Hip Hop releases.
ShrapKnel features guest appearances from Castle, Zilla Rocca, Googie, Henry Canyons, and billy woods, adding to the lyrical variety brought on by PremRock’s smooth delivery and Castro’s more aggressive growl. The way they trade rhymes is dope as f, the boom-bap rhythms and deliveries fit with ELUCID’s more industrial/experimental touches. ShrapKnel‘s all-around vibe is reminiscent of the best releases in the heyday of DefJux around the turn of the millennium, a great recommendation of course. The album starts off strong with the brilliantly titled “Ghostface Targaryean” and doesn’t let up. Don’t sleep on ShrapKnel – another gem out of Backwoodz Studioz, one of the most interesting record labels out there today.
Boldy James & The Alchemist - The Price Of Tea In China
Following their supremely underrated debut collaboration My 1st Chemistry Set (2013), Detroit emcee Boldy James and top-tier producer The Alchemist team up again for the long-awaited The Price Of Tea In China, their second collaborative full-length project. Like My 1st Chemistry Set, The Price Of Tea In China delivers on all fronts. Their Boldface EP from late 2019 proved to be a great appetizer for this project – we get powerful Detroit style lyrics from Boldy James and elegantly understated boom-bap beats from The Alchemist, and the synergy between the two is as tangible as ever.
The work and attention that went into the making of The Price Of Tea In China is evident. The album holds 12 tracks, all masterfully produced and expertly sequenced, with just the right amount of features. Lots of artists today tend to clutter their projects with guests, on The Price Of Tea In China Boldy James avoided that trap and went the exact right route. Only 4 of the 12 tracks feature guest appearances, and the guests Boldy James recruited – Freddie Gibbs, Benny The Butcher, Vince Staples, and Evidence – all are A-listers who add their own distinct flavor to the album. Boldy James’ pen game remains razor-sharp, and The Alchemist’s excellent soundscapes are perfectly suited for Boldy’s lyrical finesse. In this day and age of short hype circles, The Price Of Tea In China is one of the exceptions – an album that will prove to have staying power.
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Royce Da 5'9'' - The Allegory
The Allegory is another excellent Royce Da 5’9″ album. Royce is one of the rare emcees that gets better with age. Nobody will dispute the fact that Royce is one of the most complete emcees in the game, and has been ever since he debuted on Eminem’s Slim Shady LP in 1999. But even though he dropped decent solo albums with Rock City (2002), Death Is Certain (2004), Independent’s Day (2005), Street Hop (2009) and Success Is Certain (2011), as well as solid albums as part of Slaughterhouse and with Eminem as Bad Meets Evil, he was never really able to parlay his reputation as a deadly emcee into a classic album befitting his status.
That changed in 2014 when he released PRhyme, an excellent collaborative record with DJ Premier, and later with his next two solo’s Layers (2016) and Book of Ryan (2018) – which can both be counted among the best albums of the 2010s decade. So in 2020 Royce Da 5’9″ returns with The Allegory. Does it continue the upward trajectory in terms of quality and substance? Is it on par with Layers and Book of Ryan? The answer is YES. At a sprawling 22 tracks and 1 hour and 8 minutes of playing time, The Allegory is a LONG album, but there’s little (if any) filler here.
The Allegory offers fire production mostly done by Royce himself, grade A wordplay, thought-provoking content, well-placed guest spots (from Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, Vince Staples, KXNG Crooked, DJ Premier, and others), and expert sequencing – this album was put together JUST RIGHT. Some skits could have been left off, and some of the messages are questionable (the anti-vaccination sentiments are controversial, to say the least) – but these are minor niggles. Stand out tracks include “I Don’t Age”, “Tricked”, “FUBU”, “Thou Shall”, Upside Down”, “Pendulum”, “On The Block”, “Young World”, and “Hero” – but the whole album slaps.
Forget aging gracefully and fading out of Hip Hop slowly or simply staying semi-relevant by regularly releasing luke-warm placeholder albums – Royce Da 5’9″ has legitimately gotten better and better each and every year and with The Allegory he takes yet another step forward. The Allegory stands with Layers and Book Of Ryan as one of Royce’s best albums.
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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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The Leonard Simpson Duo (Guilty Simpson & Leonard Charles) - LSD
Detroit emcee Guilty Simpson & New Zealand producer Leonard Charles team up as The Leonard Simpson Duo to provide a one of a kind 70’s inspired, psychedelic & acid influenced album. Guilty Simpson is one of the finest emcees ever to come out of Detroit (that’s saying something), and his distinctive and uncompromising lyrical style meshes really well with Leonard Simpson’s trippy boom-bap instrumentals, resulting in something truly unique. Guilty Simpson and Leonard Charles make a formidable duo and LSD is a formidable album.
D Smoke - Black Habits
Black Habits is the second album from D Smoke (he debuted in 2006 with Producer of the Year), the winner of Netflix’s Hip Hop competition series Rhythm & Flow in 2019. The album is the follow-up to his Inglewood High EP, which was released in October of 2019. The Inglewood, Los Angeles emcee managed to recruit Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, Ari Lennox, and his brother SiR (among others) for this project, which clocks in at 16 tracks and over an hour of playing time. A long album, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome at all, Black Habits stays entertaining for the whole duration.
D Smoke (real name Daniel Farris) is a UCLA graduate who worked as a Spanish and music theory teacher in Inglewood. His background is evident on the album – D Smoke’s incorporation of Spanish in lyrics gives Black Habits a unique kind of twist. The album is eminently musical too – the funky bass-heavy beats and smooth jazzy loops make for an easy listening experience. Kendrick fans should love this one, the GKMC/TPAB influence is palpable in the music and in D Smoke’s flow – but D Smoke has enough of an own sound to be sufficiently authentic and not merely a K-dot copy cat. Black Habits is a real treat.
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CJ Fly - RUDEBWOY
Brooklyn emcee and Pro Era member CJ Fly’s official debut studio album RUDEBWOY offers a fantastic blend of contemporary rap and old school boom bap flavor. Elite beat smith Statik Selektah handles all of the production, guests include Griselda’s Conway The Machine and CJ Fly’s fellow members of Pro Era like Joey Bada$$, Kirk Knight, Chuck Strangers, Nyck Caution, and others.
Everything clicks on this album: Statik Selektah’s instrumentals are excellent throughout, all guests deliver, CJ Fly’s rhymes are masterful, and even the hooks work. The record’s title, as well as its content, nod to CJ Fly’s Caribbean heritage – RUDEBWOY is full of energy, summertime vibes, and good old fun. CJ Fly balances his Jamaican and NY influences perfectly, sounding entirely authentic. CJ Fly and Statik Selektah prove to be a perfect combination – giving us that classic Pro Era sound combined with modern vibes. RUDEBWOY is a winner – Hip Hop for the 2020s, an album that will stay in rotation without a doubt.
Jahi & Configa - Forward Future
Jahi (aka Public Enemy 2.0) is a member of Enemy Radio (along with Chuck D, DJ Lord and the S1W’s). For Forward Future Jahi has teamed up with Configa, a producer hailing from the UK who you may know from his album Configaration Volume 1 which was released via Chuck D’s SLAMjamz Records.
Forward Future is unique in today’s Hip Hop landscape in that it has no outside features or production – simply put: all rhymes are done by Jahi, all beats are supplied by Configa. “Collaborating with one producer allowed us both to focus, concentrate and build a full narrative of boom-bap, consciousness, and creative expression,” Jahi states in the YouTube video description of the “Future Forward” single.
Configa’s lush boom-bap tapestries combined with Jahi’s throwback flow and delivery make Forward Future a blueprint for how to execute Golden Age flavored Hip Hop for the 2020s – no surprise that a project like this is an easy HHGA favorite.
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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.
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
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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Supreme Cerebral & D.Mar - Soul Trained
Soul Trained has been 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.
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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.
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.
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Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony
Jay Electronica is one of the most intriguing – almost mythical – figures in post-millennium Hip Hop, building immense hype and expectation around himself after the release on MySpace of his debut mixtape Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) in 2007. That fantastic debut project was followed by several collaboration appearances and solo songs but never with a follow-up project – until the long-long-awaited A Written Testimony, Jay Electronica’s full-length solo debut album.
What has to be said though is that A Written Testimony really isn’t the Jay Electronic solo album the word has been waiting over 10 years for – the (uncredited) Jay-Z is featured on 8 of the 10 tracks (the two non-Jay-Z tracks are the intro and an interlude), making A Written Testimony effectively more of a Jay-E/Jay-Z collaborative album than a Jay Electronica solo joint. Having featured Jay-Z so heavily (and he kills most of his verses here), is like the student getting help from his favorite professor to get his project out – after all that anticipation and hype it does feel kind of anticlimactic and disappointing not to finally get that real Jay Electronica album. In fact, it’s safe to say Jay Electronica STILL doesn’t have a solo album.
But OK – let’s take A Written Testimony not for what it is billed like (a Jay Electronica album), but for what it is: a collaborative album from Jay Electronica and Jay-Z. So, now we know what A Written Testimony really is – is it any good? Why, yes it is.
It’s 2020, and Jay-Z is a 50-year old billionaire who could be forgiven not to have the hunger or ambition anymore to lay down bars (especially on somebody else’s record), but he still has something to say and the skill to do it – addressing among other things the criticism directed at him for his NFL-deal on “Flux Capacitor” – one of the best tracks of the album. Even Travis Scott auto-tune crooning the bridge on “The Blinding”, does not bring down another one of the stand-outs. Most of the other tracks are pretty great too, from the first song “Ghost Of Soulja Slim”, an ode to fallen New Orleans legend Soulja Slim, to “Shiny Suit Theory” and “Ezekiel’s Wheel”, both with vocals from R&B singer The-Dream, to “Universal Soldier”, to “A.P.I.T.D.A”, a track with real emotional resonance – a Song Of The Year contender – to close the album out on a perfect note.
Production, mostly done by Jay Electronica himself, on this album is abstract and creative – a good sound system is needed for optimal enjoyment though (or maybe it’s just the mixing and mastering that’s a little of here and there). The album is a mostly chill listening experience, with a conscious/religious side to it – lyrically Jay Electronica and Jay-Z bring their A-game, both of them dropping more lyrical nuggets and Quotables here than most modern-day rappers do in their whole career. At 8 real songs and 39 minutes of playing time, A Written Testimony is on the short side – but short albums like this one are not unusual these days.
A Written Testimony is a fine collaboration between two of the game’s most interesting lyricists – Hov complements Jay Electronica like Ghostface Killah complemented Raekwon on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx or Snoop Dogg did Dr. Dre on The Chronic. Ultimately, A Written Testimony may be a bit too underwhelming to eventually be considered on par with those two classics, but no doubt it will prove to be an album that will stay in rotation for a good while – at least until the day Jay Elec may finally drop his actual solo debut.
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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. Lyrically K.A.A.N. is something else, he has his own distinct style, and his vocals demand attention – he has a bigger vocabulary than most other rappers, with poetic flourishes and clever thought-provoking content abound.
Those who are already familiar with K.A.A.N. will not be disappointed with Twenty Nine, those who slept on K.A.A.N. up to now have a lot of good music left to discover.
MH The Verb - Space Ninja
Space Ninja is the third installment in the Afronout series by emcee/DJ/producer/activist 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 wants 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. The album draws inspiration from the West Coast funk from the likes of The Coup, Dr. Dre, and DJ Quik, as well as from Parliament, Funkadelic and Tower of Power, and also from jazz-infused vibes from East Coast giants like A Tribe Called Quest and especially The Roots – capturing the essence of the live Philadelphia Hip Hop sound. The vocal interludes on Space Ninja serve as an homage to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders.
Space Ninja offers a beautiful organic fusion of Hip Hop, jazz and funk. It’s musically assured and lyrical astute – enchanting and eclectic, exuding positivity and intelligence. Keep an eye on MH The Verb, while he takes his music and activism from the underground to the spotlight.
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Vinnie Paz - As Above So Below
As Above So Below is Jedi Mind Tricks and Army Of The Pharaohs frontman Vinnie Paz’s fifth solo album and his twenty-second (!) studio album in total – in addition to five the solo albums, he has released nine albums with Jedi Mind Tricks, five with Army Of The Pharaohs, two with Ill Bill as Heavy Metal Kings, and one with Tragedy Khadafi, plus a bunch of mixtapes and EP’s. In Vinnie Paz’s catalog of solo albums, As Above So Below follows Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016) and The Pain Collector (2018). If there’s one word that would best typify VP’s body of work – solo and group efforts – it is CONSISTENCY.
With instrumentals from renowned boom-bap beat crafters such as Giallo Point, Stu Bangas, Vic Grimes, and Bronze Nazareth and guest appearances from Block Mccloud, Nowaah The Flood, Eamon, Vast Aire, Recognize Ali and others, As Above So Below fits right in with the rest of Vinnie Paz’s discography. Gritty, hard-edged lyrics and boom-bap beats are what we have come to expect from Vinnie Paz, and gritty, hard-edged lyrics and boom-bap beats are what we get. Stand-out cuts include the rock-infused first single “I Am The Chaos“, the hardbody boom-bap gem “Silician Bull”, and the emotional tribute to his father “Spilled Milk”, but there are a lot more dope tracks on offer. A couple of the hooks and some of the features could’ve been better, but at 18 tracks and almost an hour of playing time a few weaker moments are to be expected.
As Above So Below is a more than solid addition to Vinnie Paz’s catalog, and if you enjoyed his earlier work you will also enjoy this one.
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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
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.
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.
The production is on point, the lyrics have substance, and guest spots from Jay Electronica, Talib Kweli, and CyHi the Prince give Shaykh The World even more allure. The time and attention that went into the creation of this album is evident even in the gorgeous cover art – Shaykh The World is a project worthy of your attention.
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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.
At well over an hour of playing time, Invisible War is a project with substance, but it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome anywhere – well-placed instrumental breaks offer relief from the lyrical and sonic intensity Onoe Caponoe and his production team serve up, making for a perfectly sequenced album. Never sticking to genre conventions, Invisible War is wholly original and unpredictable – not a casual listen by any means, but those willing to invest time and attention in this project will be amply rewarded.
Download Invisible War
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.
Download We Had A Good Thing Going
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.
Estee Nack & Superior - BALADAS
This is a great little project from one of the finest underground emcees out there. Like so many Hip Hop projects out today, the sound of BALADAS definitely is Griselda-influenced. At this point, the Griselda flavor tends to 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.
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. Some people knock albums like this one for their lack of originality, but that’s BS. No originality is needed when the execution is done as well as it is done on New World Order.
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.
Download Dueling Experts
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, with a new album – with Flavor Flav – expected to drop in June.
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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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 – 15 tracks of dope beats and rhymes, what more do you want?
Download Aspirational Regret
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 masterful 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.
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.
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 cover art. Deadly Venoms is a great album, a must-listen for those who think beats and bars matter.
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 most likely be ignored by all the Hip Hop outlets that are looking for the 2020 projects of Migos and Young Thug and such but for HHGA a project like Habit Of A Lifetime easily trumps all those mainstreamers. Habit Of A Lifetime will not win any originality prices, but it will stay in rotation – and that’s all that matters.
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 get 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.
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?
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 ranked higher.
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.
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). Just like on 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.
Squeegie O - F.N.T.G (From N*****z To Godz)
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.
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 an (even) higher ranking, but Astro Blocks is a great album anyway. Stand out tracks: “Astro Blocks”, “Groupies”, “Greasing Palms”, “Tunnel Light”, and the posse cut “Rock Salt”.
Stevie Crooks - Street Elegance
What do you know about Stevie Crooks and his latest project Street Elegance? Read 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.
Download Street Elegance
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.
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.
Stove God Cook$ & Roc Marciano - Reasonable Drought
Syracuse rapper Stove God Crooks’ debut LP Reasonable Drought is produced entirely by Roc Marciano – whose name is featured prominently here of course, as it’s a mark of quality which will draw listeners to Stove God Cooks he might have not had without Roc Marci’s involvement. Roc Marci re-pioneered and rejuvenated the ‘mafioso’ subgenre: tough-guy coke-rap street rhymes over dirty minimalistic beats. Griselda helped make this sound a whole new subgenre of itself, so now we get a whole bunch of the same kind of projects by different artists. Stove God Cooks is a fine emcee, copycatting Westside Gunn’s whiny delivery and adlibs here and there, but thankfully not overmuch. The subject matter here fits the genre mold exactly: tough-guy coke-rap street rhymes is what’s to be expected and tough-guy coke-rap street rhymes is what we get. It’s Roc Marci’s beats that steal the show though, it’s the instrumentals that elevate Reasonable Drought a few pegs above average.
Cage - Death Miracles
Apparently “accidentally” launched by the distributor earlier than planned without the artist’s word, Cage’s Death Miracles officially dropped in February 2020. After a slow 2010s decade – with the mediocre Kill The Architect (2013) and the merely OK Book Ov Sam (2018, as Sam Hill), Death Miracles is a return to form for Cage – actually coming close to the quality of classic underground projects like Movies For The Blind (2002), Waterworld (2004, with Tame 1 as Leak Bros), and Hell’s Winter (2005).
Due to its occult/satanic vibe Death Circles may feel more like a release of Cage’s alter ego Sam Hill than as a proper Cage album (and maybe it was originally intended to be a Sam Hill release?). But be it as Sam Hill or as Cage, as a solo artist he has almost never been one for light or happy subject matter, and Death Miracles is a typically unsettling Cage experience – with dark lyrical imagery and eery beats creating a creepy and off-kilter atmosphere that is sustained throughout the whole album. Death Miracles may lack the sense of authenticity and intensity (as well as the magic touch of Blockhead and especially El-P on the boards) that made Hell’s Winter a DefJux classic and one of the best albums of the 2000s, but it is one of the best and most fully realized horror-themed Hip Hop albums released in recent years.
Download Death Miracles
TooBusy - Red Tape
Swiss producer TooBusy recruited a group of great emcees for Red Tape – the likes of Keith Murray, Edo G, Billy Danze, Rah Digga, Pacewon, Planet Asia, Reks, Blaq Poet, Ill Bill, Ruste Juxx, (and others) make appearances. Nothing especially memorable nor anything you haven’t heard before on Red Tape, just a solid presentation of boom-bap tracks. What elevates this project over most others is the quality of the emcees – it’s especially good to hear Rah Digga, Edo G, Keith Murray, and Reks – their tracks being among the stand-outs on Red Tape.
Jahn Dough - Obsidian
Dallas/DeSoto, Texas (by way of Inland Empire, California) emcee Jahn Dough dropped a gem of an 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 an 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 great. Jahn Dough is one to watch.
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 deserves attention.
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 that got buried under the slew of classic releases in one of Hip Hop’s best years. 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 musical vibes, the 90s samples, the lyricism – even the cover is a direct play on Like It Should Be. Snupe still is a dope emcee, with great wordplay, a smooth flow, and versatility in his delivery.
Production-wise 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”, “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.
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.
Download Language Arts Unit
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.
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.
Download Microwave Cooking 2000
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 consists of 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 this year’s 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 their affiliates can’t go wrong with Royaume Du Sauvage.
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 way 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 boom-bap is your brand of Hip Hop.
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 project. You should check out this project if you’re into lyrical throwback Wu-Tang-style NYC Hip Hop.
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 gritty and atmospheric, and some of the emcees here copy the unfortunate trend Griselda head honcho Westside Gunn started, using the same kind of annoying adlibs WSG made his gimmick. Grown men making gunshot sounds with their mouth [sigh], oh well. But despite this minor irritant, Carpe Noctem is nice enough. The single “Gladiator School” is an obvious standout, but the whole album is fine. With Carpe Noctem Big Ghost Ltd. builds 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
- Jadakiss – Ignatius
- Kungg Fuu – Enigma Roots
- Kenny Segal & Serengeti – Ajai
- TrumpCard – Sellout
- Cotardz Matthew – A Shot In The Dark
- Billion Man Rebellion – The Static Files
- Senica Da Misfit – Poetic Ruckus 2
- Lord Goat – Coffin Syrup
- Ruste Juxx & Zealot Of FWM – Sulfuric Acid
- Vic Spencer – Psychological Cheat Sheet
- AK 9ine – Therapy
- Lojii – lo&behold
- Ruby Watson – Carry Me
- Big Kahuna OG & Monday Night – Thug Tear
- Grafh & Dj Green Lantern – The Oracle III
- Paul Wall – Mind Over Matter
- Chris Skillz & Zain – Olvido
- Valhalla Cartel – Valhalla Cartel
- Kut One – Live Wires
- King Iso – World War Me
- Thorough – King Articulate
- Lync Lone – We Don’t Know Sh*t
- Celus Da Nomad – Based On Sum Real
- The Palmer Squares – With Or Without It
- Awol One – Tony The Walrus
- All Hail Y.T. & Tone Beatz – The Spoils Of Babylon
- Hus Kingpin – End Of A Decade
- Cardo, Payroll Giovanni & Larry June – Game Related
- Versetti & Boomz – Take The Good With the Bad…
- Kingikeem – Blast For Me
- Mic Gutz – World War G
- Psypiritual & The Lasso – Kirlian
- Akai Solo – Ride Alone, Fly Together
- Akai Solo & BSTFRND – Like Hajime
- Big Mic – It’s All Love???
- TenchoO – Live From The Crojo
- Ramson Badbonez – Death Mask
- King B.A.V. – 20/20 Vision
- Prestigious – 50/Fifty, Pt. 1
- Pounds448 – Trafficante
- Pilot Perc – Pip
- Dawhud & Da Beatminerz – Crown Jewels
- Blak Prophet – Make East Coast Boom Bap Great Again
- Dialect & YuckNasty – Will Be Done
- Stylz & Wells – Vibes
- Raze The Ratchet – Regal
- Sidewalk Tha Villain – Tha Villain Is Back
- Flash (N.B.S.) & Lightfoot – Flashlight
- Esham – She Loves Me
- Esham – She Loves Me Not
- Fly Anakin – At The End Of The Day
- Dirt Platoon – Get Ya Handz Dirty
- Uptown X.O. – Culture Over Corporate
- Mayhem Of EMS & Reckonize Real – Audio Murals
- Kay The Aquanaut & Maki – The Nautical Blue
- Sir Michael Rocks – Broken Window Of Opportunity
- Thomas Who? – Splash
- C.I.A. (Shogun Assason & Kinetic) – Criminals In The Army
- Jaz-O – The Warm Up
- Rebel Rodomez – Boston Ave
- Asun Eastwood & Vago – Sewer Science
- Insideus – Black Mesa
- BadFX & SonoTWS – Together
- J Hus – Big Conspiracy
Best EPs Of 2020
Some of the projects listed here were actually billed as albums/LPs, but HHGA categorizes projects with a playing time of 30 minutes or less as EPs.
- Count Bass D – CBD
- Conway The Machine & Alchemist – LULU
- 38 Spesh – 1000Words
- Uncommon Nasa – Ornate
- Tha Soloist & Tone Spliff – Mettamology
- Clear Soul Forces – ForcesWithYou
- Pawz One & DJ Dister – Watch & Learn
- Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED
- D. Lanham – Ikarus Rising
- UFO Fev & Statik Selektah – Fresh Air
- Planet Asia & 38 Spesh – Trust The Chain
- Black Geez & Eto – Flower City Street Bible
- John Creasy – The Omen
- Ca$ablanca & The Pad Scientist – The Darker $ide
- Pep Love (Hieroglyphics) – Magnam Ostium
- Damone Tyrell – Numbers Don’t Lie
- V Don – Black Mass
- Sean Strange – No Hermano
- Che Noir & 38 Spesh – Juno
- Hus Kingpin – King Of The Underworld
- Stu Bangas – Beats And Blood
- Mick Jenkins – The Circus
Ovrkast. – Try Again
- Kota The Friend – Lyrics To Go Vol 1
- Spectacular Diagnostics – Raw Unknown
- Curren$y & DJ Fresh – The Tonite Show With Curren$Y
- Tha God Fahim – Lost Kingz
- Navy Blue – Àdá Irin
- Stu Bangas & Blacastan – Watson and Holmes 3: The Case of the BPM Killer
Best Instrumental Hip Hip Albums Of 2020
- Knxwledge – 1988
- Phoniks – Time Goes By
- C-Lance – The Ghosts of Mount Fuji
Best Hip Hop Adjacent Albums Of 2020
- The Weeknd – After Hours
- Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
- Mac Miller – Circles
070 Shake – Modus Vivendi
- Afu-Ra – Urban Chemistry
- Watsky – PLACEMENT
- NNAMDÏ – BRAT
- LEX the Lexicon Artist – Alter Ego
Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2019
Click here or on the image for the full list.