This Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2020 list is a work in progress. 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. In the second half of this year, we especially look forward to expected releases by Black Star and Ab-Soul and rumored projects by Q-Tip, 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.
So let’s get into it, check out what we think are the best Hip Hop albums of 2020 so far. (Last updated October 4, 2020)
Latest entries: Sa-Roc – The Sharecropper’s Daughter, Elzhi – Seven Times Down Eight Times Up, Arrested Development – Don’t Fight Your Demons, Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?, Spillage Village – Spilligion, Paris – Safe Space Invader
Run The Jewels - RTJ4
In 2012 El-P produced Killer Mike’s album, R.A.P. Music – one of our favorite albums of 2012 – which was soon followed by Killer Mike’s appearance on the track “Tougher Colder Killer” from El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure. When R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure were released within weeks of each other, the two decided to tour together. The success of the tour eventually led to the decision to form Run The Jewels.
Run The Jewels (2013), Run The Jewels 2 (2014), and Run The Jewels 3 (2016) all are among the best Hip Hop albums of the 2010s, three important albums for Hip Hop as a genre. Because of its predecessors, Run The Jewels 4 is one of the most-anticipated albums of the year – and it delivers on all fronts.
As El-P promised: RTJ4 is a punch in the face – and in a good way. This is an album the world needs right now. RTJ4 is a near-perfect presentation of fresh, exciting, banging beats and politically potent lyrics. Given their track record with the first three RTJ albums it was hard to imagine Killer Mike and El-P disappointing – but even equalling the level of quality of especially RTJ2 and RTJ3 was ever going to be a tall order. RTJ4 is on par with its predecessors though, if not better.
Killer Mike and El-P sound as powerful and as hungry as ever before, and with this album, they prove that Hip Hop can still be entertaining as well as meaningful. There can be no higher praise than comparing an album to Public Enemy’s monumental 1988 classic It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but in this case, the comparison is totally justified. El-P’s top-notch production is like a perfect evolution of the famed Bomb Squad sound and the politically-charged lyrical content is intelligent, hard-hitting and thought-provoking in the best Public Enemy tradition.
RTJ4 is a confirmation – at this point, we can start calling Run The Jewels one of the best duos in Hip Hop history. Four phenomenal albums in a row, it’s undeniable. Throw in Killer Mike and El-P’s respective solo work and they’re all-timers.
Timely and timeless – RTJ4 goes HARD.
Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter
The Sharecropper’s Daughter is Sa-Roc’s long-awaited debut album for Rhymesayers since signing with the label in 2015. Washington DC-born and Atlanta-based Sa-Roc has been of the most interesting artists out in the past decade, with a bunch of great but underappreciated projects on her name before signing with Rhymesayers (especially Nebuchadnezzar (2014) is an awesome album). The Sharecropper’s Daughter was led by the singles “Deliverance”, the self-love anthem “Forever”, and “Goddess Gang” – enough to raise anticipation levels to the max. Does the album live up to expectations? The answer is an unreserved yes. No doubt this is Sa-Roc’s highest-profile project yet and the album that should be her real breakthrough to wider audiences.
From Sa-Roc’s Bandcamp page: “Speaking on the meaning of the album’s title and inspiration, Sa-Roc shares, “The Sharecropper’s Daughter speaks to my father’s actual beginnings on a Virginia tobacco farm where his family sharecropped. The title is meant to signify that both my father’s and my upbringing, though so different, are linked by a shared history that informs the way I move through the world. Although his formative years were spent in the Jim Crow era of the south, where he suffered through poverty and racial oppression, and mine were shaped in the heart of DC, amidst the war on drugs and the effects of its fallout, the album finds points of connection in two very different yet tragically familiar stories of Blackness in America. It’s a sonic reflection of the things we inherit. About the emotional weight that we unknowingly bestow upon the next generation; the genetic transfer of both trauma and triumph that we, both donors and beneficiaries, are tasked with reshaping into a future of our own.”
The Sharecropper’s Daughter album is entirely produced by a veteran renaissance man from the Atlanta Hip Hop scene, Sol Messiah, with the exception of “Deliverance” produced by Evidence and co-produced by Al B Smoov. And, while Sa-Roc’s crafty wordplay, razor-sharp delivery, and exceptional writing are the prominent highlight, this undeniable quality is only further enhanced by stellar guest performances from a small, but formidable, all-star cast of guests, including Saul Williams, Styles P, Ledisi, Chronixx, and Black Thought.”
The Sharecropper’s Daughter is an excellent album, one of the best of the year. Refined production, with soulful and musical boom-bap beats, serves as the perfect backdrop for Sa-Roc’s powerful vocals – she once again proves she’s an elite emcee and a great singer as well. Her lyrics are intelligent and thought-provoking – The Sharecropper’s Daughter is just one of the 2020 albums that mark the return of consciousness to the forefront of Hip Hop – fitting right in with the latest projects from Arrested Development, Public Enemy, Paris, Run The Jewels, and others.
15 tracks and 50 minutes of music on The Sharecropper’s Daughter and not a moment is wasted. No weak tracks on this album, but a special mention goes out to the timely “The Black Renaissance” which is a SOTY contender – Sa-Roc and Black Thought both kill it, and their back and forth on the last verse is great. The Sharecropper’s Daughter is grown-people Hip Hop of the highest order – it doesn’t get much better than this.
Download The Sharecropper’s Daughter
Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir – As God Intended
Apollo Brown’s signature style of soulful, boom-bap production has become a staple in the 2010s. The number of top-quality projects he has put his stamp on in this decade is amazing. His best work of the 2010s includes (but is not limited to) Gas Mask (with DJ Soko & Journalist 103 as The Left) and Brown Study (with Boog Brown) in 2010, Trophies (with O.C.) in 2012, Ugly Heroes (with Red Pill & Verbal Kent as Ugly Heroes) in 2013, Blasphemy (with Ras Kass) in 2014, Grandeur in 2015, The Easy Truth (with Skyzoo) in 2016, Mona Lisa (with Joell Ortiz) in 2018, and of course what is arguably his best work of the 2010s: Sincerely, Detroit in 2019.
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.
And now we have As God Intended.
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 – on par even with Trophies. 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 with14 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.
Download As God Intended
Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill - Jorun PMC
There have been a lot of great albums released in the wave of Golden Age revivalist boom-bap we’ve been experiencing in the past decade, but NONE as good as Jorun PMC.
The whole album is packed with nods to classic songs and styles from acts like Run DMC, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, UTFO, LL Cool J, Roxanne Shante, Mantronix, Cold Crush Brothers, Melle Mel, and many more of the 1980s legends – from the title of the album, to the cover art, to the beats, to the samples, to the turntablism, to the lyrics – this project is the best kind of trip down memory lane any old-school Hip Hop fan could wish for. Jorun Bombay’s 80s-centric beats and scratches are crisp and fresh, and Phill Most Chill’s raps are dope as f. His flow, his delivery, his cadences, his lyrics – what he did here is simply brilliant.
This is not Phill Most Chill’s first excellent throwback project, but it is his very best to date. The self-proclaimed torchbearer of traditional Hip Hop really outdid himself on this one, and his match-up with Jorun Bombay proves to be golden – Jorun PMC is a Hip Hop traditionalist dream. It will most likely go way over the head of this generation’s trap-crowd, but those who grew up with 80s Hip Hop and younger Hip Hop listeners who know their classics will LOVE this one.
Download Jorun PMC
Marlowe – Marlowe 2
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 the year.
Download Marlowe 2
Elzhi – Seven Times Down Eight Times Up
With over 20 years in the game, Detroit’s 42-year old ‘syllable sensei’ Elzhi can rightfully be called a veteran at this point. He joined Slum Village shortly after J Dilla’s departure, and the projects he has done with Slum Village starting with 2002’s Trinity: Past, Present And Future are all solid enough. But it is his solo catalog that is truly exceptional.
His solo debut The Preface is a top 5 album of 2008 Hip Hop. In 2011 he cemented his reputation as a top-class emcee with the Elmatic mixtape, his brilliant re-working of Nas’ Illmatic. In 2016 he continued he run of excellent releases with Lead Poison, the most personal album he has released to date. Two years later he teamed up with Khrysis to form Jericho Jackson, under that name they released a critically acclaimed self-titled banger, one of the best albums released in 2018. In 2020 Elzhi returns with his third full-length studio album: Seven Times Down Eight Times Up.
Seven Times Down Eight Times Up continues Elzhi’s streak of excellence. Up-and-coming producer and Griselda affiliate JR Swiftz kills it on the production side of things, sonically this is one of the most cohesive albums you’ll hear this year – cohesive without sounding repetitive. Detroit comedian and “Real Hip Hop Advocate” Foolish provides commentary throughout the album, providing sort of a common thread. But it’s Elzhi’s lyricism that elevates this album above most others released this year.
Elzhi is one of the best lyricists of the past two decades, and this album is yet another confirmation. Elzhi is sharp as always, his flows are smooth, and his rhyme schemes are on another level. Seven Times Down Eight Times Up is filled with meaningful concepts and vivid imagery – Elzhi is one of those emcees whose bars demand full attention and reward repeated listenings. Seven Times Down Eight Times Up gets better with each and every spin and offers 45 minutes of grown-man rap of the highest quality – this is one of the best Hip Hop albums released this year.
Download Seven Times Down Eight Times Up
Blu & Exile - Miles
2020 marks eight years since Blu & Exile’s last full-length album Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, and 13 years since their classic collaborative debut Below The Heavens, one of the best albums released in 2007. Now the duo is back with double album Miles: From An Interlude Called Life (Miles for short), Blu & Exile third full-length collaboration. The title references jazz-legend Miles Davis, who gets multiple mentions/shout-outs throughout the album, as do lots of other jazz and other music legends. It’s clear Blu and Exile know and appreciate their musical history – this album is their tribute to that history and its legends, and a study of Blu’s origins, his influences, and his personal life experiences.
When Blu is in top form, there are not a lot of artists out there better than him. Unfortunately, with a series of decent-at-best projects he hasn’t been in top form for large parts of his career. Most of his projects have been underwhelming, excepting of course Below The Heavens, and albums like Johnson&Jonson (2008, with Mainframe as Johnson&Jonson) which was pretty great, as were Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (2012) and last year‘s Oh No-produced A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night.
Where Blu has never been able to approach the level of awesomeness he reached with his monumental debut Below the Heavens, BTH arguably is Exile’s best production work too – even if he is responsible for a couple of more (near)classics, Boy Meets World (2009) with Fashawn and the underappreciated E&J (2014) with Johaz as Dag Savage most notable among them.
So, what bout Miles? Miles may not be quite as good as Below The Heavens is, but it’s definitely better than Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them. At 95 minutes the album is very long, but unlike most artists who try their luck on lengthy projects such as this one, Blu & Exile succeed in keeping things mostly fresh from start to finish – there’s little filler (some songs go on for a bit too long, maybe) to be found on Miles, which is kind of unique for a double album. Standout tracks include “When The Gods Meet”, “True & Livin’”, “Miles Davis”. “To The Fall, But Not Forgotten”, “Spread Sunshine”, and “The End”.
Aloe Blacc, Fashawn, Miguel, Dag Savage, Cashus King, Ishe, Jacinto Rhines, Choosey, Jimetta Rose, Aceyalone, Iman Omari, C.S. Armstrong, Gappy Ranks, Jacinto Rhines, The Last Artful, Dodgr, and Adad make appearances to provide some welcome vocal variation – but Blu easily carries this album with his intelligent and conscious lyricism, helped by Exile’s elegant instrumentals.
Despite its length and laidback vibes, Miles is a powerful album and another testament of Blu & Exile’s undeniable chemistry.
R.A. The Rugged Man - All My Heroes Are Dead
R.A. The Rugged Man is one of our favorite personalities in the Hip Hop game: he is totally authentic and says what he thinks, no matter what other people think about his opinions. But R.A. is not just one of our favorite personalities, he is one of our favorite emcees as well. Few, if any emcees can go bar-for-bar with R.A. The Rugged Man. His technical skill, his incredible flow, his breath control, and his bar-building skills are second to none. Due to all kinds of label woes and a strong-minded personality with an unwillingness to compromise, he only released two albums in the close to three decades he’s been active in the game – but on those two albums, and on numerous guest appearances on other people’s songs (where he usually bodies everybody else involved), R.A. has consistently shown an unbeatable lyrical ability. Anyone who saw him performing live knows he can rock a crowd too – as a real emcee should be able to.
So now here we have his third album, All My Heroes Are Dead. Is it on par with his previous work? Well, yes it is. All My Heroes Are Dead is a LONG album, at 22 tracks and 1 hour and 16 minutes, but there’s a lot more killer more than filler. For those unfamiliar with R.A. The Rugged Man, the album may seem a bit schizophrenic. Some songs are personal or emotional, about family and fatherhood and such, other songs have some conscious and political tendencies, some are about Hip Hop (history) and some songs have that typical R.A. vulgarity (always with plenty of tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating humor).
What all songs have in common though is R.A. The Rugged Man’s unparalleled wordplay and lyrical skill. All My Heroes Are Dead has a host of guest artists, and unlike a lot of other rappers R.A. The Rugged Man really doesn’t need any features to help carry his albums, but the feature list here is CRAZY.
Ice T. Chuck D. Kool G Rap. DJ jazzy Jeff. Brand Nubian. Ghostface Killah. Inspectah Deck. Masta Killa. Chino XL. M.O.P. Onyx. Immortal Technique. Vinnie Paz. Atmosphere. A-F-R-O. And others besides – this has to be one of the most impressive guest lists ever. Despite all these guests, this is very much a Rugged Man album, though – he is never outshined and nowhere overcrowded.
Legends Never Die was one of our favorite albums of 2013, this will be one of 2020’s best. Awesome rhyming, amazing features and fire production too. Fans of mainstream pop-rap will likely not like this album, older heads and those in tune with Hip Hop history will. This is a perfect album for the HHGA demographic and an AOTY-contender.
“Some say I’m a troll and a grumpy old a-hole / ‘Cause I prefer Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel over J. Cole“. Ha!
Stand-out tracks: “Gotta Be Dope”, with incredible rhyming by R.A. and his protege A-F-R-O, and with cuts by the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff, “The Slayers Club”, the best posse cut you will hear this year (featuring Ice T, M.O.P., Onyx, Brand Nubian, Vinnie Paz, Chris Rivers, and Chino XL), “Dragon Fire”, the other posse cut (with Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, and Kool G Rap) that’s almost as dope, “Golden Oldies” (with Atmosphere and Eamon) with all its nods to classic Hip Hop, “Who Do We Trust” featuring Immortal Technique, with its eery beat and thought-provoking lyrics, and the deep and emotional single “Wondering”.
Download All My Heroes Are Dead
Arrested Development – Don’t Fight Your Demons
Arrested Development debuted in 1992 with the now-classic 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life Of... (4x times platinum!) – a masterpiece of conscious Hip Hop, and because of its positive thinking and positive imagery a breath of fresh air in the era dominated by gangsta rap – celebrating life instead of death.
Ever since that monumental debut (except for a 4-year break between 1996 and 2000), Arrested Development has continued to create quality music in ever-changing line-ups (frontman Speech is the only AD-member who has always in the group since its inception in 1988). Despite Arrested Development’s long history, Don’t Fight Your Demons arguably is the group’s best album since 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life Of...
Don’t Fight Your Demons really is a GREAT album. Speech’s lyrical imagery is as sharp and thought-provoking as ever, and extremely topical in this year of unreal political and societal turmoil. The album is as musical as you’d expect an Arrested Development record to be – but the work on the boards from British producer Configa gives this album an authentic Hip Hop vibe at the same time. Only the poppy “Journey On” could have been left off, but on a 14-song tracklist one small misstep can be forgiven (there are 16 tracks actually, but two are remixes of the anthemic “Amazing” – which IS an amazing track by the way).
Next to “Amazing”, standouts include “Back Down”, “Moses”, “The Same People”, “Play With Fire”, the soulful single “Becoming”, and the awesome “Sunset In Ghana” – besides the one mentioned there are no weaker tracks on Don’t Fight Your Demons really.
With Public Enemy, Paris, and Arrested Development all dropping new quality albums, September 25 2020 truly proved to be a memorable day for conscious Hip Hop, showing that Hip Hop as an art form still is perfectly suited to bring a meaningful message the people. Both Public Enemy and Paris dropped albums that are among their best since their work in the 1990s, and the same can be said unreservedly about this Arrested Development project.
Download Don’t Fight Your Demons
Ka - Descendants Of Cain
Descendants Of Cain is Brownsville, NYC emcee/producer Ka’s seventh studio album, following 2018’s Orpheus vs. The Sirens, which he made with producer Animoss. Descendants Of Cain is his first album under the name Ka since 2016’s Honor Killed The Samurai. He has been responsible for a couple of the best Hip Hop albums released in the 2010s, especially his last two albums as Ka are low-key classics that have gained him a host of loyal fans.
Following the solid Grief Pedigree (2012), Ka’s The Night’s Gambit (2013) proved to be a creative step ahead for Ka, evidencing his abilities as a gifted rapper, with beautifully crafted poetic lyrics and clever metaphors – and with the album’s narrative centered around chess. Musically more stripped down and minimalistic than Chief Pedigree was, The Night’s Gambit was an atmospheric delight that may not have been for everybody, but that was rightfully recognized and appreciated by Hip Hop connoisseurs. The Night’s Gambit‘s follow-up Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) was another chilling barrage of aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes. Like its predecessor, the conceptual Honor Killed The Samurai was another beautiful project consisting of minimalistic, understated instrumentals that served to give room to Ka’s narrative and intricate wordplay.
In 2020 Ka returns with Descendants Of Cain, going for a biblical theme this time around, as is evidenced by the album’s title and cover art, and by most of the song titles. Just like on his previous efforts, on Descendants Of Cain there’s a strong focus on ambiance and sound, and it may take many listens to really pick up on all Ka’s lyrical subtleties and hidden meanings – there’s a lot to unpack here. Descendants Of Cain is a delightful hypnotic Hip Hop meditation, with Ka excelling in his own brand of poetical lyricism – his hushed and hoarse tone gelling perfectly with the atmospheric instrumentals (produced by Preservation, Animoss, Roc Marciano, and Ka himself).
Ka is one of those artists who clearly REALLY knows what he’s doing, with a perfectly-tuned awareness of how his music works from every angle. Descendants Of Cain is put together and sequenced just RIGHT, and the cover art is gorgeous too. Ka’s style is of the take-it-or-leave-it kind, an acquired taste to be sure – but for those with an appreciation of not-run-off-the-mill kind of Hip Hop, Descendants Of Cain will be a treasure: Hip Hop for grown-ups at its finest.
Download Descendants Of Cain
Third Root – Passion Of The Poets
Third Root is a trio that consists of Charles Peters (Easy Lee), Marco Cervantes (Mexican StepGrandfather), and DJ Chicken George (DJCG). Peters is an accomplished poet/author/MC & educator, Cervantes is a producer/MC/Ph.D. who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and DJCG is a world-renowned DJ, musicologist, designer, and Jazztronica! Peddler. Passion Of The Poets is their fourth full-length album. The album is produced by Grammy-winner Adrian Quesada, nu-cumbia legend El Dusty, and veteran beatsmith Illfudge, and has features from Black Pumas, Kam Franklin, Grupo Fantasma, Bavu Blakes, and Mad1ne.
Passion Of The Poets is a soundtrack to the time we live in now, with clever and thought-provoking lyrics from Easy Lee and MexStep. Both are educators and their backgrounds show in their lyrical content. Without becoming preachy anywhere, they succeed in being educational and entertaining at the same time, perfectly balancing sh*ttalking with insightful socio-political commentaries.
Musically, Passion Of The Poets offers a potent blend of 90s-centric boom-bap, Southern Hip Hop, and Latin sounds. The album’s 12 tracks are perfectly sequenced, and every song hits, no skips are necessary. Even the cover art is done exactly right. Passion Of The Poets will probably fly way below most people’s radars, but those who take note will discover one of this year’s best projects.
Download Passion Of The Poets
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo
Gary, Indiana phenomenon Freddie Gibbs is like a modern-day Ice-T in a way: maybe not the best rapper ever, but the leader of the pack anyway. Similar to Ice-T, it’s Freddie Gibbs’ charisma and power of personality that sets him apart from most others – that and his ability to develop synergetic collaborations with Hip Hop’s top producers that results in projects that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Freddie Gibbs has had enough solid releases in the past decade, but his stand-outs are the two albums he did with Madlib – Pinata (2014) and Bandana (2019) both are modern classics. If Alfredo will eventually be considered to be on that Pinata and Bandana level remains to be seen, but most ingredients are there. Most, because Alfredo feels more ‘light-weight’ due to its length – where Pinata runs for little over an hour and Bandana for a solid 45 minutes, Alfredo is barely over EP-length at 35 minutes. On such a short project EVERYTHING has to hit, no misses can be afforded.
Fortunately, there are not a lot of misses, if any. Freddie Gibbs is on top of his game here. His recognizable voice, flow, delivery, and cadences sound as good as ever, and his connection with The Alchemist is as strong as it is with Madlib. The Alchemist already had one of the best albums of 2020 on his name with his Boldy James collabo The Price Of Tea In China, Alfredo tops even that one. Luckily Alfredo is not cluttered with guests and features are limited to appearances by Rick Ross, Benny the Butcher, Tyler The Creator, and Conway the Machine – who all come through with great verses. The album is very much Freddie Gibbs’s show though. Normally someone like Benny outshines anybody else with his features, on Alfredo the guests very much are guests – it’s Freddie Gibbs who rules here.
Freddie Gibbs comes with organic and vivid lyricism from beginning to end, supported by The Alchemist’s flawless instrumentals. Alfredo is paced and sequenced perfectly, and is over before you know it – which leads to the only complaint: Alfredo is just too short. This kind of quality should have lasted for 45 minutes to an hour. Other than that: Alfredo is a continuation of Freddie Gibbs’ winning streak and another rap-noir masterpiece, a project that deserves to mentioned in the same breath as Pinata and Bandana.
Alfredo is short, sharp, and punchy, with top-tier lyricism and songwriting from Freddie Gibbs, and a perfect collection of instrumentals from The Alchemist – 10 tracks, no filler, all killer. Alfredo is a keeper – no doubt Alfredo will stay in rotation for the rest of the year, and well beyond 2020 too.
Spillage Village – Spilligion
Spilligion is the major-label (Dreamville/Interscope) debut album by Hip Hop collective Spillage Village. The collective consists of EarthGang, JID, Hollywood JB, Jurdan Bryant, Mereba, 6LACK & Benji. The album features guest appearances from Ant Clemons, Ari Lennox, Buddy, Chance the Rapper, Masego, Lucky Daye, and Big Rube.
Spilligion follows and builds on Spillage Village’s Bears Like This trilogy. Because of the hype surrounding Earthgang and especially JID in recent times, this project has the potential to be a mainstream success, even if it sounds different from most things these artists have done before, individually or together. Spilligion is more eclectic, more atmospheric, more mature. Spilligion‘s overall feel is contemplative and melancholic but somehow upbeat at the same time. It offers positive, uplifting vibes in a troubled world, with clever use of religious imagery in order to critique things like today’s America and organized religion. It really is a perfect album for the dark times we are living through right now.
For Hip Hop purists there probably is too much singing on Spilligion, but all the harmonic ensemble choruses and background vocals work out beautifully for the most part. Also, the sublime chilled-out instrumentation, with smooth soulful beats and some great guitar and bass work to add flavor, make the genre-defying Spilligion a totally enjoyable listening experience.
Spilligion is a beautiful album. Even Hip Hop traditionalists who usually avoid the artists involved would do well to go and check out this project.
Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
Public Enemy’s return to the legendary Def Jam label (their last Def Jam album was the He Got Game soundtrack in 1998) results in one of their best albums since the mid-90s. On What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? the urgency that characterized P.E.’s absolute classics It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988), Fear Of A Black Planet (1990), and Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) is back in full force – obviously fueled by today’s incendiary political climate.
It has to be said though that not all tracks on What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? are new, about half of the tracks on the album are recycled from their 2017 Nothing Is Quick In The Desert album. Even the cover art is more than a little bit similar. But OK – the tracks that were revamped from Nothing… are all pretty strong, so it does in no way hurt the cohesiveness of this (semi)new album.
Even if the songs lifted from Nothing…, all are good enough, the 2020 singles from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? are the strongest tracks. The powerful statement “State Of The Union (STFU)” with DJ Premier can be counted among the best tracks Public Enemy ever did, the same goes for the updated “Fight The Power”. “Fight The Power (2020 Remix)” is awesome and as vital as the first “Fight The Power” was back in 1989 – perhaps even more so in this year of almost unprecedented political idiocy and extreme societal unrest. Contributions from Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG, and Questlove complete this juggernaut of a track – one of the best and most important songs of the year.
Another standout new track is “Public Enemy Number Won”, which has Beastie Boys Adrock and Mike D doing a similar intro as Flavor Flav did on the original “Public Enemy No. 1” song from 1987, while Flavor Flav raps Chuck D’s original first verse and Run & DMC show up to leach do a verse too. Even if DMC’s voice is far from the powerful hardy baritone it once was, it’s good to hear Run and DMC on a track together with Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and the two remaining Beastie Boys in 2020. DJ Lord finished the song with a dope beat switch and good old-fashioned scratching.
Other icons that appear on the album include Ice-T, EPMD’s PMD, Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and of course the legendary George Clinton – the last two on “GRID”, another album highlight. The fact that What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? does not contain all new material is a bit of a disappointment, but the 45-minute record we have here is great nonetheless – this album shows and proves that after almost 35 years since their debut Public Enemy STILL is at the forefront of consciousness in Hip Hop. From start to finish, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down is a powerful record that can stand alongside some of Public Enemy’s strongest efforts.
Felt - Felt 4 U
18 years after the short but sweet A Tribute to Christina Ricci and 11 years after the last Felt album Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez, Slug and Murs are back with Felt 4 U, this time around with production from Slug’s Atmosphere partner Ant. Ant’s production for Felt 4 U is absolutely incredible, it’s among the best work best he has ever done.
“Hologram” with The Grouch and Aesop Rock is an obvious highlight, but there are few if any weak spots on this album. It’s Ant’s smooth instrumentals that steal the show, but Slug and Murs both deliver too with confident displays of mature lyricism. These two are veterans by now, both with more than a few top-quality albums on their respective names, and Felt 4 U is a new jewel in both artist’s crowns.
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Conway The Machine – From King To A GOD
Conway The Machine has already put his mark on 2020 with two collaborative EP’s – one with Alchemist (LULU), the other with Big Ghost Ltd (No One Mourns The Wicked). From King To A GOD is Conway’s third release of the year, and his first proper full-length.
From King To A GOD‘s cover strikes a resemblance to Reject 2 (2015), Conway’s debut mixtape on Griselda. On the Reject 2 cover, Conway is facing fully away from the camera with his naked torso showcasing his bullet wounds, one on the back of his head and one on his shoulder. On FKTG, he’s adopted more or less the same pose, but this time with a shirt on, plus expensive glasses, a gold chain, and a shining crown made of the letters in the album’s title. With the bullet wounds hidden, this cover (along with the album’s title) represents how far he has come.
From King To A GOD is Conway’s most diverse project to date and it includes the previously released tracks “Fear of God” featuring Dej Loaf, “Front Lines, “Seen Everything But Jesus” with Freddie Gibbs, and the Method Man-assisted “Lemon.” Conway’s fellow Griselda members Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn also make an appearance, along with Lloyd Banks, El Camino, Armani Caesar, Flee Lord, and Mobb Deep’s Havoc, and the album features production from The Alchemist, Beat Butcha, Daringer, DJ Premier, Erick Sermon, Havoc, Hit-Boy, Khrysis, and others.
Westside Gunn may be the most flamboyant personality from the Griselda camp, and Benny The Butcher the best emcee when it strictly comes to bars and storytelling and such, but Conway is the one with the ATTITUDE. He is one the hardest rappers out, but on this album he comes off vulnerable at times too, making FKTG one of his best-rounded projects yet – his growth as an artist and as a person throughout the years evident.
The album contains 14 tracks, with a few monologues from DJ Shay, the something of a mentor figure to Griselda who passed away recently. Of the actual songs, there’s only one or two that could have been left off (the El Camino-assisted “Forever Droppin Tears” stands out negatively, not because of its heartfelt lyrics but because of its sugary sweet instrumental and hook), but overall the atmospheric and powerful From King To A GOD certainly lives up to expectations.
In short: From King To A GOD is a GREAT Conway project – the best to come out of the Griselda camp this year so far.
Download From King To A GOD
Jamo Gang - Walking With Lions
Jamo Gang consists of LA legend Ras Kass, NYC veteran emcee El Gant, and J57 on production. The album features DJ Premier, Slug from Atmosphere, Sid Wilson from Slipknot, Sick Jacken from Psycho Realm & Slaine from La Coka Nostra. Walking with Lions embodies head-nodder boom-bap infused with big sounding, lush soundscapes as Ras Kass & El Gant command the listener’s attention speaking on subject matter ranging from school shootings to what life would be like with a nuke arriving in 38 minutes.
Walking With Lions is a textbook example of how it should be done. In this era of unlimited music streaming and short hype circles, a lot of artists seem to more concerned with producing quantity instead of quality. Staying in the public’s eye with this a new project every few months is being given higher priority than the actual quality of the music that is released. Ras Kass, El Gant, and J57 clearly went the other way. It’s evident a lot of time and attention went into the creation of Walking With Lions – resulting in a well-thought-out and well-executed album.
Everything is done right here – from the razor-sharp lyricism to the flawless production to the sequencing of the songs to the cover-art – the total package is dope as f. Starting with the booming RTJ-flavored album opener “Belushi & Aykroyd” straight through to the last track “Lighters Up” – this album is FIRE. J57 produced the whole album except for “The 1st Time” which was produced by legendary DJ Premier. “The 1st Time” is one of the stand-outs, along with cuts like “Stephen”, “Francis Scott Key”, “Walking With Lions”, “38 Minutes”, and “Belushi & Aykroyd”
This is an excellent blend of traditional and avant-garde Hip Hop – hopefully Walking With Lions is not a one-off, if they can keep this up Jamo Gang will give Run The Jewels a run for their money.
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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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Cambatta - LSD: Lunar Solar Duality
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.
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Armand Hammer - Shrines
Between RTJ4 and Shrines, the 1st week of June was a great week for political rap and forward-thinking music. Where RTJ4 is hard-hitting and in-your-face, Shrines is more subtle and layered – but no less intelligent and thought-provoking.
Masterfully produced left-field instrumentals serve as claustrophobic backdrops for a barrage of dense and dizzying lyrics. By now we know what to expect from Armand Hammer. There’s never anything straightforward in the messages ELUCID and billy woods come with, and on Shrines, their lyrics are as fogged in metaphors and hidden meanings as always – it’s going to take a while to dissect these bars.
Shrines has vocal contributions from Quelle Chris, Earl Sweatshirt, Akai Solo, Curly Castro, Pink Siifu, and R.A.P. Ferreira – among others. A stacked features list, but a carefully curated one – none of these artists feel out of place here. They were invited because they are all perfectly in tune with the Armand Hammer aesthetic, and not for marketing purposes as we so often see in more mainstream rap releases (think Wale showing up on a Westside Gunn album, or Ed Sheeran appearing on Eminem’s latest).
Shrines is singularly attuned to the grim political and societal realities of 2020. The cover art of the album (which is a real news photo of the subduing of a 425-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger reared and living in a Harlem apartment) is like a micro snapshot of the crazy world we live in, and the image reflects the album’s content. This is not a casual listen by any means, but an album that demands – and rewards – close attention and engagement. Shrines is another Armand Hammer master class in left-field Hip Hop, and a superlative continuation of their hot streak.
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.
Download The Allegory
Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger On McNichols
With Manger On McNichols, Detroit emcee Boldy James continues his 2020 winning streak. Only a few months after his collaborative album with top-producer The Alchemist, the excellent The Price Of Tea In China, Boldy James dropped this completely different but equally captivating project.
Manger On McNichols is a release that has been a long time coming, a result of a collaboration with fellow Detroiter and veteran producer Sterling Toles that started over 10 years ago. Much of the lyrics on Manger On McNichols were recorded between 2007 and 2010, with some new lyrics added to a couple of tracks to finish the album for its 2020 release. Sterling Toles provides Boldy James vocals with a selection of experimental jazz instrumentals that make this album much more left-field in sound than James’ albums with The Alchemist. Because of its experimental vibe, Manger On McNichols probably is more of an acquired taste and less likely to appeal to wider audiences than TPOTIC and other Boldy James projects do, but it is an intriguing listening experience that deserves attention.
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Eastern Sunz - Fuel For A Fool’s Errand
Eastern Sunz is a duo from Portland, Oregon consisting of Courage and Travis T. On Fuel For A Fool’s Errand, Eastern Sunz comes with a potent blend of live instrumentation and traditional feeling boom-bap, with funky drums, jazzy basslines, and even some fresh guitar and piano work combined with well-dosed old school turntablism and sampling. Lyrically, Eastern Sunz covers a wide range of topical issues such as climate change, police brutality, corporate influence in politics, and misconceptions about social assistance – this is Hip Hop for thinking people, which can be enjoyed just as well by those who don’t care about lyrics but who listen to Hip Hop simply for smooth sounding instrumentals and dope flows.
Fuel For A Fool’s Errand is put together perfectly, there are no useless interludes or other fillers to be found here – just 12 equally strong tracks, with no weak spots at all. Some well-placed features (from Ras Kass among others) complete this eminently listenable album. Unfortunately, most people will sleep on Fuel For A Fool’s Errand – but those willing to look beyond the standard rap fare will be happy to discover one of this year’s most pleasant surprises.
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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.
Cut Beetlez - What Beetlez?
Cut Beetlez is a DJ/producer duo from Finland, consisting of HP Lovescratch and J-MAN. In recent years they dropped a couple of dope EP’s for which they teamed up with Hip Hop traditionalists like The Good People and Nice Guys. What Beetlez? is a real full-length at 44 minutes, and it arguably is Cut Beetlez’s best project yet. For this album, the duo recruited a bunch of great emcees like Guilty Simpson, Rah Digga, El da Sensei, J-Live, Reks, and The Good People (among others) to take care of the vocals.
What we get here is a selection of dope boom-bap beats, a lot of good old-fashioned turntablism, and nostalgia-inducing sampling – Cut Beetlez is one more example of the fact it is European producers who are carrying the torch for traditional-sounding Hip Hop right now. Due to its 100% throwback vibe What Beetlez? may not be for everybody – but for Hip Hop purists stuck in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this album is GOLD.
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Preservation - Eastern Medicine, Western Illness
DJ Preservation’s Eastern Medicine, Western Illness was produced and arranged in Hong Kong, and you can sense the oriental influences in the music – because of Preservation’s s intricate sampling there’s definitely a Chinese vibe going on. Preservation recruited an impressive roster of emcees to do justice to his beats, most of whom he did production work for in the past – including Roc Marciano, Your Old Droog, Ka, A.G. (of D.I.T.C.), Mach-Hommy, Quelle Chris, Navy Blue, and billy woods – all names to get excited about of course.
“Dragon Town” the album’s first track with YoungQueenz turns out to be an unlucky choice for an album opener because it’s the weakest track by far (due to YoungQueenz’s ‘unconventional’ style) – after that one, it’s all pretty great, especially the second half of the tracklist is AWESOME. Standouts include “Children Of Never” with A.G., “Medicine Drawer” with Roc Marci, “Correspondence” with Your Old Droog and Mach-Hommy, “Lemon Rinds” with billy woods, and the superlative “A Cure For The Common” with Ka.
Eastern Medicine, Western Illness is a fantastic album (despite its shaky start), an album that deserves attention – and a must for people already familiar with Preservation’s production work or with the featured artists’ music.
Download Eastern Medicine, Western Illness
Recognize - Ali Recognition
Recognize Ali is one of the most prolific emcees in the game these days. He is one everybody’s album as a featured artist, and Recognition is his third full-length release of the year – following the solid Duelling Experts project (as Duelling Experts, with Verbal Kent), and the boom-bap banger Guerilla Dynasty, a collaborative project with producer Stu Bangas.
Recognition arguably is the best of the three, better than the decent but kind of one-note Duelling Experts album, and musically and lyrically deeper and more interesting than the excellent but more straightforwardly boom-bap content of Guerilla Dynasty. At 55 minutes Recognition is also Recognize Ali’s longest album of the year so far, refreshing in an era where a lot of artists are happy to release a string of barely 30-minute long projects and call them albums.
Recognition has production from the likes of Brisk Fingaz, C-Lance, B-Sun, Sultan Mir, Karnate, Hobgoblin Beats, Brian Burns, Crystal Camino, Vago, Bar Code, JBL The Titan, K. Sluggah, and Tone Spliff – but despite the number of different people crafting the beats, the album manages to sound entirely cohesive. Recognize Ali holds down about half of the songs on the tracklist by himself, for the rest he recruited a who’s who of underground rap – Vinnie Paz, Verbal Kent, Planet Asia, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Ill Bill, Tragedy Khadafi, Ruste Juxx, Reef The Lost Cauze, King Magnetic, Bronze Nazareth, Napoleon Da Legend, and others, make appearances to give some extra weight to this album.
Recognize Ali is an excellent emcee who’s got bars for days, and with this album, he solidifies his status as one of the MVPs in today’s underground Hip Hop scene. Recognition is one of the best underground Hip Hop albums of the year.
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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Eto - The Beauty Of It
Eto has been extremely prolific in recent years, dropping EP after mini-project after mixtape – most of them with a playing time of 30 minutes or less – keeping up with the trend that has artists release short projects as frequently as possible to stay in the public’s eye continuously. The Beauty Of It, at 40 minutes, can be considered his first proper full-length in a long time, and it’s his best project since 2018’s Hells Roof (with DJ Muggs).
With features from Willie the Kid, Rome Streetz, Vinnie Paz, Goretex, Ill Bill, Sha Hef, Flee Lord, Grafh, Jai Black, Watts, Nyticka Hemingway and production from The Alchemist, Daringer, DJ Green Lantern, Large Professor, Marco Polo, V-Don, and Statik Selektah (among others), The Beauty Of It is a well-rounded project in the best Griselda tradition.
The Beauty Of It is in the same lane as Westside Gunn’s Pray For Paris, but better. Despite the fact that every track was produced by a different producer, the album sounds entirely cohesive. The Beauty Of It is one of this year’s best albums in the neo-boom-bap / noir niche, together with Boldy James’ The Price Of Tea In China and ANKHLEJOHN’s The Face Of Jason.
Download The Beauty Of It
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 great album deserves.
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ANKHLEJOHN - The Face Of Jason
ANKHLEJOHN has been very prolific with a slew of LP and EP releases since his debut in 2017, some better than others of course, but overall his output has been pretty consistent. Even so, The Face Of Jason is one of his better projects – second only to Van Ghost (2018), his best work up to now.
So, in 2020 we have two distinctly different brands of boom-bap flooding the market: the more traditional, 90s-centric kind, and The Face Of Jason kind of neo-boom-bap with dark, dirty, and dusty instrumentals. There are A LOT of albums similar to The Face Of Jason out right now, but few as good (only Boldy James’ The Price Of Tea in China is in the same league). The Face Of Jason is much better than West Side Gunn’s Pray For Paris for instance, the album that can be kind of considered this year’s standard for this niche.
ANKHLEJOHN’s lyrics are fun and interesting, with clever and crazy punchlines all the way through. And even if he sometimes does the same kind of gun adlibs most of these neo-boom-bap guys are using now, ANKHLEJOHN is much more subtle about it than WSG and most of his copycats are – this album has everything we love about Griselda without everything we don’t. Lots of replay value here, The Face Of Jason is a keeper.
Download The Face Of Jason
Iron Wigs - Your Birthday's Cancelled
Chicago emcees Vic Spencer and Verbal Kent joined forces with UK’s Sonnyjim (who also produced the entire album) to form Iron Wigs. A surprising collaboration taking into account the very different things the three have done in the past, but on Your Birthday’s Cancelled they showcase undeniable chemistry.
Your Birthday’s Cancelled offers a potent blend of smooth, jazzy vibes, and the noir neo-boom-bap sounds popularized by the likes of Griselda and Roc Marciano. Roc Marci actually shows up as a guest vocalist on this project, together with CRIMEAPPLE and Quelle Chris. “Bally Animals & Rugbys”, the track with Roc Marci, is one of the standouts, along with cuts like “A Lot Of Money”, “Purple Alien”, “Problematic” (with CRIMEAPPLE), “Unagi”, and “No Reservations” (with Quelle Chris).
Vic Spencer, Verbal Kent, and Sonnyjim play off each other well, the guests add extra flavor and Sonnyjim’s instrumentals are consistently good. Your Birthday’s Cancelled is a dope album.
Download Your Birthday’s Cancelled
D Strong & Giallo Point - Suitcase Full Of Gunz
Following their first collaboration in 2015 (the excellent Dangerous Ground EP), British producer Giallo Point and Los Angels emcee D-Strong team up again, this time for a full-length: Suitcase Full Of Gunz.
Giallo Point has been active in the UK Hip Hop scene for decades, but he really is on a roll the last couple of years – collaborating with emcees from all over the world, dropping one quality project after the other. Suitcase Full Of Gunz is another winner, with killer rhymes by D-Strong – who has a great voice and dope throwback flow – and smooth vintage boom-bap production by Giallo Point. Suitcase Full Of Gunz succeeds in taking you back to the essence of Hip Hop without leaving you in the past. This is quality Hip Hop, a must-listen for Hip Hop traditionalists and younger heads alike.
And that cover art is NICE!
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.
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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The Four Owls - Nocturnal Instinct
The Four Owls is a supergroup consisting of 4 of the UK’s finest Hip Hop artists, who can all boast strong solo careers: Fliptrix, Leaf Dog, BVA & Verb T. Nocturnal Instinct is not their first excellent album together (especially Natural Order (2015) is a must-listen), but this 2020 album may be their best yet. Smart thing they did is recruiting a couple of heavy hitters from the US to get that cross-the-Atlantic appeal – appearances by Kool G Rap, Roc Marciano, R.A. The Rugged Man, and Masta Killa help to give Nocturnal Instinct extra allure. Also, DJ Premier shows up, supplying his signature scratches for one of the stand-out tracks, “100%”. But there are no weak tracks here. Nocturnal Instinct consists of 14 songs, all strong, with no interludes or other useless filler. Nocturnal Instinct is a masterclass in pure Hip Hop.
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Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
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 last year’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).
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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.
Chokeules - Nepotism
As one-half of Sequestrians, one-third of Swamp Thing, one-third of Toolshed, and one-twentieth of Backburner Crew, Toronto emcee Chokeules has been (co)responsible for a whole lot of dope Hip Hop over the years. He also dropped a couple of pretty good solo projects, his last one – Stay Up – in 2014. In 2020 Chokeules is back with another solo full-length (if a short one at 36 minutes): Nepotism.
Nepotism is a very well-balanced album – it may be short, but there’s not a moment wasted. Choke has the effortless flow of a seasoned veteran, and he expertly balances serious subject matter with great wordplay and fun punchlines. The chilled-out boom-bap beats crafted by LRYBRDBTZ and the well-placed cuts by DJiRATE fit Choke’s’ lyrics to a T. This is a stylish and classy album that will be appreciated by 90s Hip Hop fans for sure, but that’s up-to-date enough to not just appeal to old heads – Nepotism is a project that will satisfy the tastebuds of all Hip Hop connoisseurs, and not just of the old heads.
Recognize Ali & Stu Bangas - Guerilla Dynasty
Guerilla Dynasty is a collaborative project by underground emcee Recognize Ali & prolific producer Stu Bangas. There’s A LOT of this kind of neo-boom-bap projects being released in recent times, and even if there’s little innovative or surprising to be found here, Guerilla Dynasty is one of the best albums of its kind out this year. More than the lyrics, it’s the beats that make this album an above average listen. As always Stu Bangas comes with his signature booming drums, this time around laced with menacing piano and sax loops, to serve as perfect backdrops for Recognize Ali’s rhymes.
Guerilla Dynasty features contributions from Ill Bill, Lord Goat (Goretex), Blacastan, Verbal Kent, SmooVth, Marvalyss, SageInfinite, DJ Tray, and DJ Eclipse, to make for a well-rounded and hard-hitting boom-bap album – one of the most potent collaborations of the year.
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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.
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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Moemaw Naedon - Dr. Deadhorse
Moemaw Naedon is a Pittsburgh based MC and producer. His production work is sample-heavy and dusty while his rhymes are poetic with a flair for the abstract. Dr. Deadhorse is about as underground as it gets. Who is going to pick up on this album? Popularity is all about marketing and hype these days, without a strong social media presence and/or major cooperation backing your music will not get much exposure. Gradually developing a loyal cult-following is a way to go, and Moemaw Naedon is an artist who deserves such a following. Dr. Deadhorse is an album deserving of more attention than it will get, anyway. The wordplay is solid and the beats are GREAT. Don’t sleep on Moemaw Naedon’s Dr. Deadhorse.
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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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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.
Download As Above So Below
Sareem Poems & Newselph - The Art Of Living
Following their 2019 collaboration 88 To Now, Michigan-native Sareem Poems and Newselph (from Alberta, Canada) teamed up again to drop this delightful little project. Smooth production by Newselph and thoughtful lyrics by Sareem Poems make The Art Of Living a slow-burner of an album, one that gets better with every listening. In these troubled times, it’s refreshing to get an album to has a positive vibe about it – Poems lyrics are generally uplifting and Newselph’s jazzy and soulful boom-bap beats help to set the stage for Poems’ poetics. The Art Of Living is on the short side at 34 minutes, but this is one to keep on rotation anyway.
Download The Art Of Living
Nas - King's Disease
Every new Nas album has to be greeted with a certain amount of reticence – Nas is one of those artists who has become notorious for his bad ear for beats (similar to other elite emcees like Eminem and Canibus, just to name two). On King’s Disease, there’s a synergy between Nas’ lyricism and the instrumentals that is missing on a lot of his other albums. King’s Disease is not perfect, but it definitely is Nas’ best effort since Life Is Good (2012), way superior to the disappointing Nasir (2018) and the mediocre-at-best The Lost Tapes 2 (2019). His pen game and lyrical performance on King’s Disease are as strong as ever and Hit Boy’s easy-listening beats, for the most part, do justice to Nas’ introspective rhymes.
Almost every Nas album since his classic debut Illmatic (1994) has been marred by inconsistency – usually because of weak beats, sometimes because of questionable songwriting. King’s Disease is no different, unfortunately. King’s Disease starts out really strong with the titular intro “King’s Disease” and “Blue Benz” – two short but dope cuts. The middle of tracklist has a few low points, though – the album definitely could have done without “Replace Me” which has some terrible autotune crooning by Don Tolliver, and it would also have been better without a feature of Lil Durk on the otherwise fine “Til The War Is Won” – apparently Nas decided to reach out to the new school crowd by including a couple of popular autotuning quasi-rappers.
The tracks with Don Tolliver (and pop rapper Big Sean), Lil Durk, and also the one with neo-soul king Anderson .Paak (“All Bad”) will most likely not appeal to fans who were there with Nas from the beginning, these songs are clearly meant to give Nas an in with new audiences. A big risk, especially because King’s Disease is such a short album – at a mere 38 minutes, there’s really no room for misses. So it has to be said that the inclusion of a bunch of poppy tracks results in King’s Disease being a bit of a mixed bag. Those who don’t think autotune is f*cking awful will be alright, others will have to skip a couple of tracks.
“King’s Disease”, “Blue Benz”, “27 Summers”, the smooth “Full Circle” (with AZ, Cormega, and Foxy Brown (and an uncredited appearance by Dr. Dre who does the outro), “The Definition” (with the intro and outro done by old-school legend Brucie B), and especially “10 Points” and “The Cure” are all excellent Nas tracks though – so there’s plenty to enjoy if you look past the rap-singing songs.
Nas is one of the biggest names in the Hip Hop game ever, and he has nothing left to prove – but with King’s Disease Nas shows he has his finger on the pulse on the culture, that he is still relevant and able to appeal old an new audiences both. King’s Disease represents somewhat of a return to form for the Queensbridge legend, even if it will eventually prove to be a little bit too lightweight and forgettable to be mentioned in the same breath as Nas’ best works such as Illmatic, It Was Written (1996), Stillmatic (2001), The Lost Tapes (2002), God’s Son (2002), Distant Relatives (with Damian Marley, 2010), and Life Is Good.
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Paris – Safe Space Invader
About Safe Space Invader from Paris’ own website:
“In this era of reckoning for American policing, increases of instances racism fostered by the most incompetent president in modern times, and a global pandemic that has affected all areas of life as we once knew it, voices of dissent in entertainment have become more relevant than ever. Enter Paris, arguably one of the most politically outspoken artists in Hip Hop history, with his latest album, Safe Space Invader. Entirely self-produced and without guest features, Safe Space Invader is a brutal commentary on Black life in 2020 America, touching on the topics of police brutality, racism, gentrification, economic inequality and cancel culture, among others.”
30 years after his classic debut The Devil Made Me Do It, it is a sad truth that activist rappers like Paris are still needed to address wrongs in the world we live in. Safe Space Invaders is a strong album and deserves to be mentioned alongside Paris’ best albums The Devil Made Me Do It (1990), Sleeping With The Enemy (1992), and Sonic Jihad (2003).
The lyrics on Safe Space Invaders are as vital and fiery as they are on all his other albums, arguably even more so. The beats on the album could have been better here and there, but Safe Space Invaders is all about Paris’ hard rhymes. In this year of extreme political discord and social unrest, the militant Safe Space Invaders is an incendiary but genuine statement. Whether you agree with the blistering condemnations made by Paris on Safe Space Invaders or not, there is no denying the power and urgency of this album.
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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 with an eccentric style of his own, even if he is 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 soulful loops and beats that steal the show though, it’s the instrumentals that elevate Reasonable Drought a few pegs above average.
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Saipher Soze, Futurewave & Finn - Eat What You Kill
Former Brown Bag Money collective member Saipher Soze’s third full-length solo project Eat What You Kill is one of the finest underground Hip Hop albums you will hear this year. For Eat What You Kill, The Toronto emcee teamed up with producers and fellow Torontonians Futurewave and Finn, who crafted a selection of excellent dark and gloomy neo-boom-bap beats to match Saipher Soze’s hard-as-nails bars.
Eat What You Kill is reminiscent in sound and vibe of what has steadily been coming out of the Griselda camp in recent times – on par with Conway’s last album, and better than anything Westside Gunn released this year. If the Griselda sound is your thing, copping Eat What You Kill is a must.
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Ray Swoope - Thou Shall Not Kill
A nice surprise, this one. Thou Shall Not Kill is the debut solo release from Chicago artist Ray Swoope. Ray Swoope has a dope syncopated flow and his lyrical content is worth listening to, offering an unfiltered look at life on the streets. The production on Thou Shall Not Kill is on par too, with a varied selection of instrumentals consisting of hard-hitting drum loops and interesting samples, with some good old-fashioned scratching here and there as well.
There’s a lot of genericness in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop market, but Thou Shall Not Kill definitely is not one of those thirteen a dozen releases. Ray Swoope is way better than the average emcee, and his musical backdrops have enough uniqueness about them to set this project apart from the crowd. Check out Thou Shall Not Kill, you will not regret it.
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Westside Gunn - Pray For Paris
Pray For Paris features WSG’s Griselda family Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher along with Grammy-winner Tyler, the Creator, Wale, Joey Bada$$, Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, Boldy James, Billie Essco, Joyce Wrice, Keisha Plum and Cartier A Williams. Pray For Paris also marks WSG’s first-time collaboration with DJ Premier (for “Shawn vs Flair”, arguably the best track on the album), with additional production-work from Tyler, the Creator, Alchemist, Daringer, DJ Muggs, Jay Versace, and others. Westside Gunn obviously knows he needs other voices on his album to keep his own presence from getting too tiresome, and you can’t go wrong with Conway and Benny (who has an epic verse on “George Bondo”), nor with Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, and Joey Bada$$. Wale and Tyler, The Creator are more ‘surprising’ guests but they also deliver – it’s not a stretch to say the features are the strongest part of the album (along with the stellar production).
What WSG lacks in emcee skill he makes up in personality and style – he’s charisma and flashy-ness are part of his success. His penchant for blending obscure fashion and wrestling references with the more standard coke raps is another part of the appeal. And even if WSG is still overdoing these annoying gun adlibs, thankfully they sound more muted here than on his previous projects, the blending of these adlibs into the background makes them a little bit easier to endure. As always on Griselda projects, it’s the instrumentals that make the album. The production and aesthetics here are top-notch. Pray For Paris offers some of the best soulful street boom-bap you’ll ever hear, the beats fit WSG’s style perfectly.
West Side Gunn is an acquired taste to be sure, but for those who can get past his voice, his delivery, and his gun adlibs schtick, Pray For Paris is gold. (Full review here.)
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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 is a bit too underwhelming to eventually be considered on par with those two classics, but it will prove to be an album that will stay in rotation for a good while – possibly even until the day Jay Elec may finally drop his actual solo debut.
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Sy Ari Da Kid - It Was Unwritten
It Was Unwritten by Sy Ari Da Kid (from Atlanta by way of The Bronx, NYC) is an excellent departure from the kind of rap/trap music he has been making ever since his debut mixtape (The Ultrasound) in 2011. On the day of the release of It Was Unwritten Sy Ari tweeted: “This It Was Unwritten album is not for clout/radio. I did this 1 not only for myself and the people but for those who truly appreciate & miss that true 90s hip hop music. When a story was told from the soul of an artist to as soon as you hear it you feel their pain”. This artistic change turned out to be a great decision – It Was Unwritten (the title an obvious play on Nas’ 1996 classic It Was Written) easily is Sy Ari Da Kid’s best project in his quite extensive catalog.
With a playlist consisting of 14 tracks, It Was Unwritten offers great variation with a bunch of bangers like “A Dream A Plan” (with Big K.R.I.T.), “Reap What You Sow”, “Chain Reaction”, “Pioneer/Peace”, and “The Lost & Found Files Pt 1”, and some mellower tracks like “Aria” and “Temporary Love” – all with dope instrumentals and strong lyricism. At just over an hour It Was Unwritten is a long album, but there are almost no weak spots (only “Under & Over The Influence” is a dissonant because of a kind of wack trappy flow and chorus). It’s good to see an artist as Sy Ari Da Kid possesses the versatility and the inclination to create a ‘real’ Hip Hop album – hopefully, it’s not a one-off and he continues down this path.
Killah Priest - Rocket To Nebula
Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and Sunz Of Man member Killah Priest is one of the most prolific artists in Hip Hop. Artists like Kool Keith, Tech N9Ne, and K-Rino may have more releases on their names, but it’s not easy to keep up with Killah Priest’s release schedule either, taking into account all his solo-projects, group and collaboration efforts, and his endless list of feature appearances.
Heavy Mental (1998), Elizabeth (2009), The Psychic World of Walter Reed (2013), and Planet Of The Gods (2015) are the standouts in Killah Priest’s catalog, and Rocket To Nebula rivals these titles in terms of quality – even if it’s even more of an acquired taste than most of his other releases.
On Rocket To Nebula we get the same kind of stream-of-consciousness type lyricism we know from Killah Priest, filled with his characteristic metaphysical musings and slick subliminals. Musically, this album differs from his best works though – there are no bass-heavy beats to be found here, in fact, the whole album is practically drumless. The instrumentals on Rocket To Nebula are very low-key, offering dream-like backdrops to Killah Priest lyrics, which makes listening to this album something akin to a meditative experience.
This may not be an easy album to get into, and it certainly demands real attention – but if you’re willing to take an hour and 15 minutes to tune out everything else going on around you Rocket To Nebula will be sure to satisfy.
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Logic - No Pressure
Logic’s retirement album No Pressure is one of the best in his catalog (which, admittedly, contains a couple of very crappy projects). Compared to the two wack releases he dropped in 2019, No Pressure is excellent. Logic sounds more focused and less irritating here than he did on a lot of his earlier projects, and his lyrical performance is helped in great measure by elite producer No I.D.’s work on the boards – like he was on his 2014 debut Under Pressure. No I.D.’s beats are smooth as f. and consistently great from start to finish. Logic’s decision to hook up with No I.D. again definitely was a good one – closing the circle for him.
Logic is easy to hate apparently, and he gets sh*t one disproportionately. This last project will not redeem him in the eyes of his haters, but those able to judge him objectively should like this straightforward, easy-listening album, with dope beats throughout and for the most part strong lyrics too. Logic’s catalog is more miss than hit, but if this really is his last album, he goes out on a high note with what probably is his best album.
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MC Eiht - Official
Official is legendary Compton Most Wanted rapper MC Eiht’s 12th solo album. The project offers more of his typical brand of no-nonsense West Coast gangsta rap, on no less than 27 tracks. His last solo effort – Which Way Iz West (2017) – was surprisingly good, mainly because it was 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.
- Westside Gunn – Who Made The Sunshine
- 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II
- Cyrus Malachi – The Blind Watchmaker
- Nappy Roots – 40RTY
- Murs & Dee-1 – He’s The Christian I’m The Rapper
- Reks – T.H.I.N.G.S.
- MC Eiht – Lessons
- Andy Cooper – L.I.S.T.E.N
- bRavenous – Between The Lines
- Unstable Components – Subjective Illness
- Googie & Henry Canyons – Hijinx
- Dray Yard – Rugged Gems Made By Rusty Razors
- Action Bronson – Only For Dolphins
- Bub Rock – The Rock Period
- Bub Rock – A Piece Of Mine
- Agallah & Sadat X – The Gods Have Arrived
- Giant Gorilla Dog Thing – Baths With Geese
- Melvin Gully – Gully Seazon 2020
- JL – The Devil Hates Sundays
- Krizz Kaliko – Legend
- J. Sands – VFBOYAB
- DRE Colombian Raw – Dre’s Corner 2
- Siul Hughes – HUEMAN
- Lex Amor – Government Tropicana
- Berner – Russ Bufalino: The Quiet Don
- Artisin (ST. Da Squad) – Sinamatik
- Playwright Performer – Playwright’s Den
- Marvalyss – Where The Sidewalk Ends
- The Xav – Black Duke
- LuGhz & Kheyzine – High Pressure Tactics
- Mistah F.A.B. & The Mekanix – Amerikkka Dont Love Us
- Grafh – Good Energy
- BoFaatBeatz – The BoFaat Way
- Flee Lord & Mephux – Pray For The Evil 2
- Pounds448 – There Is No Mafia
- Realio Sparkzwell – Bloody Luciano
- Corareef – Random Thoughts Of One Mind
- Sekkond Hand – Final Sekkonds
- Touch & DJ Matto – Electric Sheep
- Drunken Arseholes – Strength
- OC From NC & D.R.U.G.S. Beats – Crown Royal
- Big Sean – Detroit 2
- The LOX – Living Off Xperience
- Fred The Godson – GodSon
- UnLearn The World – Light Years
- The Musalini – Return Of The Oro
- Vic Spencer & SonnyJim – Spencer For Higher 3
- MAD1ONE – King Leo Green
- Buckwild – Music Is My Religion
- Barbaydose – Future Reminiscent
- Bossolo – No Mercy
- Jay Royale – The Baltimore Housing Project
- UnLearn The World – Light Years
- Gawds – The Other Side
- Heron & Serum – Heron & Serum
- Napoleon Da Legend & Giallo Point – Street Universe
- D-Cypha – The Special Ingredient
- MC Shinobi – The Revenge Of Shinobi
- K.A.A.N. & Big Ghost Ltd – All Praise Is Due
- One Be Lo – C Section
- Tahmell – Home
- Kid Abstrakt & Emapea – Jazzy Vibes
- Daddy-O – G.O.A.T. Antidote
- Grand Daddy I.U. – The Essence
- Bishop Nehru – Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
- Kool Keith & Thetan – Space Goretex
- Pruven – Asiatic African Arts
- Pruven – Clandestine Rituals
- Enemy Radio – Loud Is Not Enough
- Sons Of Yusuf – Shaykh The World
- Shabaam Sahdeeq & J57 – Precious Stones
- Taiyamo Denku & Bofaatbeatz – Den-Bo-Wu
- M.A.V. & Rob Gates – The Dark Side Of Nature
- An Illustrated Mess – One More for Safety
- Young Noble & Deuce Deuce – Watch The Signs
- Nohokai – Mixed Emotions
- Stoney Kev- The New World
- Sir Veterano – The Gathering
- Jungle Brothers – Keep It Jungle
- MH The Verb – Space Ninja
- Leaf Dog – Live From The Balrog Chamber
- Senseless – Franklin Park
- Struggle Mike – Da Wall
- Bowery Bruisers – Bowery Bruisers
- Odd Squad Family – The Flamingo Complex
- Supreme Cerebral & D.Mar – Soul Trained
- Wisecrvcker & Kyo Itachi – The Nth Degree (Supreme Paradigm Act II)
- HDBeenDope – BrokeN Dreams
- GunDei – The Place Of The Skull
- Wrecking Crew – Raheem’s Lament
- Curly Castro & Small Professor – BLUu Edwards
- Westside Gunn – Flygod Is An Awesome God 2
- George Fields – Tomorrow’s Sun
- Rome Streetz – Noise Kandy 4
- Blame One & Preed One – Sacred Ground Sound
- Treazon – I Shouldn’t Be Alive
- MC Therapist – Socialized Anxiety
- C-Nature – Back From Nowhere
- MIKE – weight of the world
- Hus Kingpin – Gunpowder
- Eclyse – Royal Essence
- IAlive – I’ll Wait Forever
- Ardamus & Height Keech – Astro Blocks
- People Without Shoes & Inkswel – Plasma Platter
- The Professionals – The Professionals
- Pro The Leader – Aspirational Regret
- Skanks – New World Order
- Killarmy – Full Metal Jackets
- Dueling Experts (Verbal Kent & Recognize Ali) – Dueling Experts
- Medhane – Cold Water
- Kota The Friend – EVERYTHING
- John Jigg$ – Jigganometry
- MOAR – Boom Bap Mentality
- RoyKinsey – KINSEY: A Memoir
- Jon Connor – SOS
- Styles P – Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm
- Ill Bill & Nems – Gorilla Twins
- E-Fluent & Reckonize – Real Broken Kings
- Sky 7th – 7th, Book 1: The One
- FLVR – Nasty North
- P Wise – M.A.D
- Shaad! – Rappin’ Ass Shaad!
- Gillateen & Frank Grizzly – CANY
- Markis Precise – No Wings Without Scars
- Burgundy Blood – The Fall Of Man
- The Absouljah – Thoro N.Y.
- The Bad Seed & Team Demo – Kill Switch
- Elaquent – Forever Is A Pretty Long Time
- Pugs Atomz & Inkswell – The Moon
- Willie Waze – F.R.E.E. Willy
- Roccwell – Still Lovin’ Boombap
- Taiyamo Denku – The Darker Side Of Light
- Awful P & Conflikt – The BoomBaptism
- Protektahz – Protektahz Of Da Lost Art
- Iceberg Theory & August Fanon – Rinpoche
- Serengeti & Kenny Segal – Ajai
- Estee Nack & Superior – BALADAS
- Casual – Big Head Science
- Shabazz Palaces – The Don Of Diamond Dreams
- Dug & Happy Tooth – The Signal Glittering Inside The Storm
- Tha God Fahim – After Every Day Day Comes Sunshine
- Slik Jack & Statik Selektah – Dicey Business
- Khan – Code Switching
- Tony Hustle – Here’s Not Here
- Marlon D – The Resume Pt. 2
- Time – These Songs Kill Fascists
- Tech N9ne – ENTERFEAR
- Jadakiss – Ignatius
- Tahir Jahi – the loST ART
- Blaq Poet – Simon Phoenix
- DJ M-1 – Habit Of A Lifetime
- Spoda – Full Court Press
- Pink Siifu – NEGRO
- Taiyamo Denku & Bo Faat – Kollab Kong
- DJ Beanz – Deadly Venoms
- Illah Dayz – Coby
- Sean Doe The Sucio Gringo – Sean Doe Da Bastard Sun
- Monday Night & Henny L.O. – Battle Scar Decorated
- Ty Farris – No Cosign Just Cocaine 3
- All Hail Y.T. & GeneralBackPain – Classic Villains
- Blaksmif – Platforms x Trophies
- Factor Chandelier – First Storm
- Dedicated Servers – Freshmen 15
- Isaac Castor – The Rabbit Hole
- Hakim Green – Mad Izm | Who Want This Smoke
- Khujo Goodie – Echoes Of A Legend
- JB Nimble & Deacon LF – BUNNY
- Grizzy Hendrx – Controversy 4
- Killarmy – Full Metal Jackets
- Donte Thomas – Colors
- Josh Alias – Duality
- See’J Foster – HiSonGreWings
- Kungg Fuu – Enigma Roots
- Con$piracy – The Book of Gz: Rugby Ramirez 2
- Mr. Grey – Vicious Vendetta
- Distrik 22 – Access Denied
- Squeegie O – F.N.T.G (From N*****z To Godz)
- Rhys Langston – Language Arts Unit
- Stevie Crooks – Street Elegance
- Tha God Fahim, Jay Nice & Left Lane Didon – Dump Life
- Damu The Fudgemunk & Raw Poetic – Moment Of Change
- Chuck Chan & Pad Scientist – Polly By The Powder Keg
- Big Ghost Ltd – Carpe Noctem
- June Marx – Sophisticated Weaponry
- Observe Since 98 – Royaume Du Sauvage
- Jahn Dough – Obsidian
- K.A.A.N. – Twenty Nine
- TooBusy – Red Tape
- Extra Prolific – Like It’s Supposed To Be
- Chuuwee & Trizz – 3.5 (Eighth)
- 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
- 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
- Cage – Death Miracles
- Clbrks & Morriarchi – Microwave Cooking 2000
- Asun Eastwood & Vago – Sewer Science
- Insideus – Black Mesa
- BadFX & SonoTWS – Together
- J Hus – Big Conspiracy
- Onoe Caponoe – Invisible War
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.
- White Horse – White Horse
- Myka 9 & Factor Chandelier – People Into Making Progress
- Southpaw Chop – Far East Quality
- RJ Payne – Beautiful Payne
- Flee Lord – Lord Talk Trilogy
- Lord Goat & Stu Bangas – Final Expenses
- Larry June & Harry Fraud – Keep Going
- Big Kahuna OG & Foisey – Flee Tape
- Hus Kingpin & Roc C – The Hidden Painting
- J-Live – Drawn Up
- Ransom – Directors Cut Scene 3
- Wise Intelligent & Snowgoons – Omnicide
- GQ & 9th Wonder – A Midsummer’s Nightmare
- Tom G – The Grand Architect
- Cut Beetlez vs Nice Guys – CBNG
- Kamaiyah & Capolow – Oakland Nights
- Cookin Soul & Larry June – Orange Season
- Craig G – Fragile Ego
- Phro – Ambition
- Crimeapple – If I Don’t See You In Paradise
- Lord Apex & V Don – Supply & Demand
- Saigon – 777: The Resurrection
- Ghost Of The Machine & Weapon E.S.P – Juice Headz
- Uptown X.O. – Culture over Corporate Vol. 2
- Napoleon Da Legend – The Stuff of Legend
- Stik Figa & Conductor Williams – Tomorrow Is Forgotten
- Boldy James – The Versace Tape
- Sg603 – Glitching The Matrix
- Mach-Hommy – Mach’s Hard Lemonade
- Benny The Butcher & DJ Drama – The Respected Sopranos
- M.A.V. & Giallo Point – Hoodlum
- Wu-Syndicate – Underworld Kings
- V Don, Sauce Heist, Ankhlejohn & Da$H – Too Late 4 Tears
- A-Plus & The Architect – Chamber Games
- Ruste Juxx & Amadeus 360 The Beat King – James Brown Of Tha Underground
- UFO Fev & Termanology – From El Barrio, With Love
- DJ Lord Jazz & Tru Trilla – Lord Trilla
- Oddisee – Odd Cure
- Eto – Eto Brigante
- Buckwild – Fully Loaded
- Skyzoo – Milestones
- Flee Lord – Alter Ego Fleeigo Delgado
- Sankofa – Weird Summer
- Napoleon Da Legend – Chikara
- Ankhlejohn – The New Militia
- Black Geez & Eto – Flour City Street Bible Chapter 2
- Marlon Craft – Work From Home
- Joell Ortiz & KXNG Crooked – H.A.R.D.
- Flee Lord & Buckwild – Hand Me My Flowers
- Conway The Machine – No One Mourns The Wicked
- Bobby J From Rockaway – Endless Summer
- RIM & Vinyl Villain – Poetic Substance
- Skyzoo & Dumbo Station – The Bluest Note EP
- Dope Knife – Breakbeats N’ Vandalism
- Cormega – Mega
- Tanya Morgan – Be Right Back
- Count Bass D – CBD
- Conway The Machine & Alchemist – LULU
- Weapon E.S.P – Savageland
- 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
- Mix Master Mike & Steve Jordan – Beat Odyssey 2020
- Mac McRaw – 60 Raw Ones
- Shrimpnose – Before Its Too Late
- Dirty Art Club – Gardens
- Smoke DZA x Pete Rock – Don’t Smoke Rock Instrumentals
- Buckwild – Essential Beats
- Roc Marciano – Pimpstrumentals
- RJD2 – The Fun Ones
- Knxwledge – 1988
- Phoniks – Time Goes By
- C-Lance – The Ghosts of Mount Fuji
- EPMD – The Instrumentals
Best Hip Hop Adjacent Albums Of 2020
- The Allergies – Say The Word
- B. Squid – Movie Night
- Damu the Fudgemunk, Archie Shepp & Raw Poetic – Ocean Bridges
- Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle
- Esh & The Isolations – Idiot Fingerz
- TOBi – STILL
- The Weeknd – After Hours
- Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
- Mac Miller – Circles
070 Shake – Modus Vivendi
- Afu-Ra – Urban Chemistry
- Watsky – PLACEMENT
- LEX the Lexicon Artist – Alter Ego
The Worst Rap Albums Of 2020
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Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2019
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