This article is a work in progress and it will be updated regularly until we reach the end of the year – where it will result in our list with 2020’s best Hip Hop releases. 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. (Last updated July 1, 2020)
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.
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.
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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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Download Walking With Lions
ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel
Curly Castro and PremRock are ShrapKnel, the formal pairing of two longtime friends and artistic collaborators. It was a shared affinity for emcee/producer ELUCID’s beats that sparked the ShrapKnel project. Curly Castro and PremRock debuted as a duo with Cobalt, their 2019 debut EP. Just like on Cobalt, the chemistry between Curly Castro and PremRock is evident and the instrumentals here are awesome – all beats were crafted by ELUCID, in conjunction with Backwoodz-affiliated producer Willie Green. ShrapKnel is more accessible than most of his ELUCID’s projects are, but the beats are still unorthodox enough to set this project apart from most other Hip Hop releases.
ShrapKnel features guest appearances from Castle, Zilla Rocca, Googie, Henry Canyons, and billy woods, adding to the lyrical variety brought on by PremRock’s smooth delivery and Castro’s more aggressive growl. The way they trade rhymes is dope as f, the boom-bap rhythms and deliveries fit with ELUCID’s more industrial/experimental touches. ShrapKnel‘s all-around vibe is reminiscent of the best releases in the heyday of DefJux around the turn of the millennium, a great recommendation of course. The album starts off strong with the brilliantly titled “Ghostface Targaryean” and doesn’t let up. Don’t sleep on ShrapKnel – another gem out of Backwoodz Studioz, one of the most interesting record labels out there today.
Boldy James & The Alchemist - The Price Of Tea In China
Following their supremely underrated debut collaboration My 1st Chemistry Set (2013), Detroit emcee Boldy James and top-tier producer The Alchemist team up again for the long-awaited The Price Of Tea In China, their second collaborative full-length project. Like My 1st Chemistry Set, The Price Of Tea In China delivers on all fronts. Their Boldface EP from late 2019 proved to be a great appetizer for this project – we get powerful Detroit style lyrics from Boldy James and elegantly understated boom-bap beats from The Alchemist, and the synergy between the two is as tangible as ever.
The work and attention that went into the making of The Price Of Tea In China is evident. The album holds 12 tracks, all masterfully produced and expertly sequenced, with just the right amount of features. Lots of artists today tend to clutter their projects with guests, on The Price Of Tea In China Boldy James avoided that trap and went the exact right route. Only 4 of the 12 tracks feature guest appearances, and the guests Boldy James recruited – Freddie Gibbs, Benny The Butcher, Vince Staples, and Evidence – all are A-listers who add their own distinct flavor to the album. Boldy James’ pen game remains razor-sharp, and The Alchemist’s excellent soundscapes are perfectly suited for Boldy’s lyrical finesse. In this day and age of short hype circles, The Price Of Tea In China is one of the exceptions – an album that will prove to have staying power.
Download The Price Of Tea In China
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
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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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
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
Odd Squad Family - The Flamingo Complex
Odd Squad Family (not to be confused by the 90s Rap-A-Lot Odd Squad crew led by Devin The Dude) is an independent Hip Hop trio from Phoenix, Arizona. In 2016 founding member Frosty passed away, Odd Squad Family is now made up of Nubs, Snowman, and A-Factor (who joined the crew later).
The Flamingo Complex is Odd Squad Family’s second full-length studio album. With 15 tracks and a full hour of playing time, this is a project that demands a substantial investment of time and attention, but it’s worth it. Similar to their earlier output, the music on The Flamingo Complex is an inspiring blend of positive vibes and classic Hip Hop influences intertwined with a fresh, modern delivery. These guys have skills, and with this album, they deserve a break to wider recognition, outside their current following.
This album has little to no weaknesses, but the single “Smoke My Pain” deserves a special mention, such a powerful track that will resonate with anybody using weed to cope with loss, physical imperfections, or whatever kind of issue. The lyrical content on this album is REAL (no crime story fronting here), the personal adversities the Odd Squad Family guys have to live with every day make them all the more relatable and inspirational.
The Flamingo Complex is an easy-listening, musically well-rounded, lyrically deep, all-around great album (with gorgeous cover art too). Don’t sleep on Odd Squad Family and The Flamingo Complex.
Download The Flamingo Complex
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.
Download Purple Moonlight Pages
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.
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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).
Download Innocent Country 2
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.
Download Black Habits
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.
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.
Download Guerilla Dynasty
D-Cypha - The Special Ingredient
D-Cypha’s first official album The Special Ingredient is one of the best producer-albums of the year. D-Cypha has a great ear for atmospheric boom-bap beats, and some good old fashioned turntablism adds extra flavor to the instrumentals. 13 dope tracks, without interludes, skits, or other useless filler.
With contributions from Busta Rhymes, Kool G Rap, Jadakiss, Cella Dwellas, Tragedy Khadafi, Sean Price, Rockness Monsta, Ruste Juxx, Blaq Poet, El Da Sensei, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, Bronze Nazareth, Cappadonna, Craig G, Sadat X, and others, The Special Ingredient is an excellent collection of beats and bars.
Eleven & Jason D - Strike Back
Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, Hip Hop veterans Eleven & Jason D bring back that traditional boom-bap sound to the 2020s with Strike Back, their third collaborative project. An album that kicks off with the opening part of the classic “Stoop Rap” from Wild Style sets itself up to be a winner. And no mistake, Eleven & Jason D’s Strike Back is dope as hell. To get the only complaint out the way first: at 9 tracks and just over 30 minutes of playing time Strike Back is way too short – this album should have contained 4 or 5 extra cuts to give it the substance a true full-length project needs.
But even if Strike Back is not long enough, the 9 songs we get are FIRE. Eleven (born and raised in San Diego, California) is the emcee, consistently coming with smart and focused lyrics, and with a great throwback flow too. DJ Jason D got his start in the Bay Area of California, learning the DJ craft from Pam the Funkstress, the late great Bay Area DJ from The Coup. True to his start in Hip Hop in the late 80s his music has that raw throwback sound, perfectly suited for Eleven’s flow and delivery. Through Eleven’s bars and the cuts and samples Jason D worked in his booming beats, it’s evident these guys know, love, and respect Hip Hop from the 80s and early 90s. One of the stand-out cuts that perfectly illustrates this point is the posse cut “It’s So & So“, which interpolates KRS-One’s “My Philosophy” to great effect.
In recent years Hip Hop has experienced a resurgence of boom-bap Hip Hop, roughly separable in neo-boom-bap and a more traditional form. Strike Back is an exponent of the latter – this is boom-bap Hip Hop as authentic as it gets. If you can’t get enough of 80s Hip Hop, copping Strike Back is a no-brainer.
Wisecrvcker & Kyo Itachi - The Nth Degree (Supreme Paradigm Act II)
The Nth Degree (Supreme Paradigm Act II) is the follow up to Arizona emcee Wisecrvcker’s excellent (but sadly slept on) 2018 album Supreme Paradigm: The Grand Scheme. That album was completely produced by Moka Only, The Nth Degree is a collaboration with French producer Kyo Itachi.
Just like on Supreme Paradigm: The Grand Scheme Wisecrvcker recruited an impressive roster of emcees to appear on The Nth Degree – Conway the Machine, Ruste Juxx, Rockness Monsta, Diabolic, Tragedy Khadafi, Guilty Simpson, Madchild, Killah Priest, Cappadonna, Planet Asia, Andre Nickatina, Nems, Moka Only, Myka 9, and Sadat X (among others) all contribute bars.
At 19 tracks and over an hour of playing time, there’s a lot of substance to The Nth Degree, but little to no fat. Sure, some of the tracks are better than others, and some guests shine more than others, but overall this is a totally consistent presentation – a must-listen if hard-bodied 90s-centric underground Hip Hop is your thing.
Download The Nth Degree
4-IZE - Look Into My IZE
This is a solid Hip Hop album. Beats and bars, that’s what it’s all about, right? Look Into My IZE delivers on both fronts, with features from Ludacris, the late Sean Price, Talib Kweli, J-Live, Planet Asia, Punchline, Rapper Big Pooh, and señor KAOS (among others) and production from Justice League, 9th Wonder, and Swizz Beatz (among others).
4-IZE is one-half of emcee duo Ultra Beast (with señor KAOS), two Hip Hop veterans from the Atlanta region in Georgia. Look Into My IZE has a Southern vibe to it, but it’s musically too diverse to call it a typical product of the South – not so strange seeing the emcee and producer roster with people from all over the place. Despite all this different input, Look Into My IZE is an entirely cohesive album though. Recommended.
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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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Supreme Cerebral & D.Mar - Soul Trained
Soul Trained has been a long time coming. The single “Prophetic Jewels” featuring Cali Agents legend Planet Asia dropped in 2016. It was followed by “Writings On The Wall” featuring Definite Mass, “Underground Kings” featuring SmooVth & Eloh Kush, and “On The Corner” featuring Recognize Ali & Ill Conscious. With all this scattered throughout the 4 years since 2016, Los Angeles emcee Supreme Cerebral has dropped a bunch of dope projects but the waiting was for this Soul Trained album. Now it is here – this 14 song LP is beautifully put together, with features also including the likes of Tristate, Hus Kingpin, Ralphiie Reese & Banish Habitual.
This is how it should be done. Soul Trained is produced entirely by D. Mar, ensuring a totally cohesive sound from start to finish. A lot of tracks on Soul Trained have old soul classics worked in the boom-bap instrumentals, in keeping with the theme set by the album’s title and cover art. Soul Trained offers dope beats and turntablism from beginning to end, and above all real lyricism by Supreme Cerebral and his guests. Soul Trained: 90-centric Hip Hop of the highest quality.
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C. Ray - Rhodes
Charles Rhodes II, better known as C. Ray, is a producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and audio engineer from Pasco, Washington. C. Ray is part of Boostwell Music, Rebellion 9 as well as Twisted Insane’s label Brainsick Muzik. Rhodes is C. Ray’s first full-length project in the 2020s, one that deserves attention. There’s nothing wrong with C. Ray’s instrumentals, but it’s the vocals that make Rhodes an interesting album. C. Ray is a versatile vocalist – he changes styles continuously, from a fast, choppy, off-beat flow to a more ‘traditional’ delivery, with some singing thrown in the mix as well. His style takes some getting used to, and it will not be for everybody, but it is different enough to stay captivating – plus he comes with lyrics worth listening to. Rhodes runs for a full hour but doesn’t feel a minute too long – that says all about the quality and the entertainment value of this project.
In this oversaturated market where artists need to do what they can to capture the music consumer’s attention, too many artists place themselves at a disadvantage by slapping ugly cover art on their projects. A bad cover gives the impression the content will suck too. C. Ray does it right here – the cover art of Rhodes looks fresh and inspires curiosity, which gives the album a headstart.
Rhodes is one of the many projects released this year that will be (unwittingly) ignored by most Hip Hop listeners due to lack of exposure and reach, but it’s much better than new projects by overhyped mainstream rappers like Lil Baby and Lil Uzi Vert that dropped in the same week as Rhodes did and which got all the attention. It’s all about marketing and hype these days – replace C. Ray’s name with Kendrick Lamar’s and people would be tripping over each other to put the Album Of The Year label on Rhodes. You could do worse than check out this album – it just might be for you.
Cas Metah & Blast Mega - Pow Bundy
Ohio-based duo Cas Metah and Blast Mega are Pow Bundy. This is another one of those albums that will not turn up in any other major Hip Hop outlet’s best-of-the-year lists, because most of those outlets don’t curate anymore – they only pay attention to what they are fed by major labels, so they all act like that generic mainstream trap is all there is. Real Hip Hop heads know better though, they will pay attention to quality and they will know where to find it.
Pow Bundy is an example of a project that deserves more attention than it will get. If you like your Hip Hop to have substance, this self-proclaimed ‘blue-collar Hip Hop’ project is for you. Thought-provoking lyrics, skillful wordplay, dope beats, nice throwback vibe – everything we like in Hip Hop comes together on Pow Bundy. Just look past that Married With Children album cover (even if there are thematic links to that TV-series in the album title and album’s content), and give this project an attentive listen – no doubt you’ll quickly add Pow Bundy to your library.
Download Pow Bundy
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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Wrecking Crew - Raheem's Lament
Wrecking Crew is a collaboration of Philadelphia artists Curly Castro and PremRock (the duo that dropped the excellent ShrapKnel album earlier this year) with Career Crooks’ Zilla Rocca and Small Professor. As the name Wrecking Crew, along with the album cover and title (referring to Juice – 1992’s cult movie hit) suggests, Raheem’s Lament has some definite throwback vibes.
This is not an album that can be lumped together with all the other (kind of generic) retro boom-bap albums that drop these days, though. There is a contemporary, even experimental vibe to Raheem’s Lament – Wrecking Crew pretty much nails creating a sound that should please fans of 90s-centric boom-bap, as well as those who had enough of the genericness of that sound – Raheem’s Lament has something distinctly unique going on in its sound. Appearances by Wrecking Crew affiliates BLUU Edwards and FreshKils as well as from Hubbs and Backwood Studioz heavy-hitters Armand Hammer add extra flavor to the tracklist.
At 31 minutes Raheem’s Lament feels kind of lightweight due to its brevity, but what’s there is GREAT: dope beats and bars, what more do you want?
Pruven - Clandestine Rituals
Thought-provoking, conscious lyrics by Bronx-by-way-of-Connecticut emcee Pruven over a selection of fire beats crafted by producer Jak Progresso. Pruven is one of those independent artists who has been grinding for a while, with a bunch of dope projects on his name – go check out his other full-lengths 1st Words: Earn Everything (2010), Designed Growth Destiny (2013) and Reach Surroudings (2017) too if you like this one.
Pruven’s lyrical style is like of blend of Killah Priest and billy woods, fans of either one of those two will no doubt love this album. Clandestine Rituals arguably is Pruven’s best yet . This is a deep, layered, and well-rounded album – Hip Hop for thinking people.
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.)
Download Pray For Paris
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.
Download A Written Testimony
MH The Verb - Space Ninja
Space Ninja is the third installment in the Afronout series by emcee/DJ/producer/activist MH The Verb, and his ArtHouse95 collective. Space Ninja intends to connect the different generations through Hip Hop: Ninja is a play on the N-word, so over-used in Hip Hop lyrics, which according to MH The Verb causes a disconnect with many members of the older generation(s), who have a hard time to see the message some artists try to convey through their often overly offensive or profane language. With this album, and as an Afronout, MH The Verb wants to move the culture forward by honoring and respecting the past.
The album features all live instrumentation, blending jazzy East Coast boom-bap with futuristic West Coast funk. The album draws inspiration from the West Coast funk from the likes of The Coup, Dr. Dre, and DJ Quik, as well as from Parliament, Funkadelic and Tower of Power, and also from jazz-infused vibes from East Coast giants like A Tribe Called Quest and especially The Roots – capturing the essence of the live Philadelphia Hip Hop sound. The vocal interludes on Space Ninja serve as an homage to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders.
Space Ninja offers a beautiful organic fusion of Hip Hop, jazz, and funk. It’s musically assured and lyrical astute – enchanting and eclectic, exuding positivity and intelligence. Keep an eye on MH The Verb, while he takes his music and activism from the underground to the spotlight.
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Vinnie Paz - As Above So Below
As Above So Below is Jedi Mind Tricks and Army Of The Pharaohs frontman Vinnie Paz’s fifth solo album and his twenty-second (!) studio album in total – in addition to five the solo albums, he has released nine albums with Jedi Mind Tricks, five with Army Of The Pharaohs, two with Ill Bill as Heavy Metal Kings, and one with Tragedy Khadafi, plus a bunch of mixtapes and EP’s. In Vinnie Paz’s catalog of solo albums, As Above So Below follows Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016) and The Pain Collector (2018). If there’s one word that would best typify VP’s body of work – solo and group efforts – it is CONSISTENCY.
With instrumentals from renowned boom-bap beat crafters such as Giallo Point, Stu Bangas, Vic Grimes, and Bronze Nazareth and guest appearances from Block Mccloud, Nowaah The Flood, Eamon, Vast Aire, Recognize Ali and others, As Above So Below fits right in with the rest of Vinnie Paz’s discography. Gritty, hard-edged lyrics and boom-bap beats are what we have come to expect from Vinnie Paz, and gritty, hard-edged lyrics and boom-bap beats are what we get. Stand-out cuts include the rock-infused first single “I Am The Chaos“, the hardbody boom-bap gem “Silician Bull”, and the emotional tribute to his father “Spilled Milk”, but there are a lot more dope tracks on offer. A couple of the hooks and some of the features could’ve been better, but at 18 tracks and almost an hour of playing time a few weaker moments are to be expected.
As Above So Below is a more than solid addition to Vinnie Paz’s catalog, and if you enjoyed his earlier work you will also enjoy this one.
Download As Above So Below
Bowery Bruisers - Bowery Bruisers
Cliff Clavin, Hi-Q & Elz Sinatra are Bowery Bruisers. This self-titled full-length LP was created from scraps of other projects that were given new life once the group compiled unfinished songs and concepts. It is also the debut of the production team The DreadKnocks comprised of Cliff Clavin and Hi-Q. All cuts on this album were done by the indelible DJ TMB.
This is another one of those albums that will fall through the cracks and will remain unnoticed by most in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop landscape. A shame, because Bowery Bruisers is dope as f. Hard rhymes, hard beats, hard scratches – this is real Hip Hop folks.
Download Bowery Bruisers
Shabaam Sahdeeq & J57 - Precious Stones
On the same February day mainstreamers like Lil Baby and G Herbo dropped totally bland trap albums, Shabaam Sahdeeq & J57 came out with Precious Stones, to show and prove Hip Hop is still alive and well. Brooklynite Shabaam Sahdeeq has been a mainstay for NYC underground Hip Hop for decades and is internationally recognized for his work on the classic Soundbombing & Lyricist Lounge series on Rawkus Records, and for having been featured alongside Hip Hop icons such as Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Red Man, Method Man, Kool G Rap, Common, Talib Kwali and others.
For Precious Stones, Shabaam Sahdeeq teamed up with renowned producer J57. With feature appearances from the likes of Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Nems, Casual, and others, Precious Stones is straight boom-bap, with bangers from start to finish. Listen to tracks like “Razor Sharp Vernacular” (feat. Born Unique & Tri State), “Put You Up On Game” (feat. Planet Asia & Casual), “Smoke Screens” (feat. Rim Da Villin & Nems), “Bar Etiquette” (feat. Ras Kass & El Gant), and the title track “Precious Stones” to be reminded about what Hip Hop is all about. Precious Stones would have been even better if a couple of weaker tracks with corny hooks (“Can I Talk To You”, “Feel So Good”) had been left off, but the album is long enough to allow a few duds. This is our kind of Hip Hop.
Sons Of Yusuf - Shaykh The World
Born in Kuwait City and raised in Los Angeles, brothers Ya’koob & Humble Abdul are Sons of Yusuf, and Shaykh The World is their official debut album. Even though the raps on Shaykh The World are mostly in English, there are enough Arabic flourishes in the lyrics as well as in the music to give this project a distinctive authentic vibe. In this day and age of so many generic and totally interchangeable Hip Hop releases, an album like Shaykh The World truly is a breath of fresh air.
The production is on point, the lyrics have substance, and guest spots from Jay Electronica, Talib Kweli, and CyHi the Prince give Shaykh The World even more allure. The time and attention that went into the creation of this album is evident even in the gorgeous cover art – Shaykh The World is a project worthy of your attention.
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Charlie Smarts - We Had A Good Thing Going
Charlie Smarts is one of the two emcees from North Carolina’s 5-man crew Kooley High. Hailing from North Carolina’s rich tradition of smooth boom-bap Hip Hop, Kooley High’s music is perfect for fans that enjoy Little Brother, 9th Wonder, and Rapsody. This solo-outing by Charlie Smarts is another excellent addition to North Carolina’s Hip Hop legacy. On We Had A Good Thing Going Charlie Smarts brings stories of love and loss over a collection of butter-smooth bass-heavy beats laid down by producer T-Mos. This is one of those albums that has no excess fat: no intro, outro, useless skits or interludes – no filler at all, just 40 minutes of delicious music you can put on repeat and listen to over and over again without getting tired of it. We Had A Good Thing Going dropped in January, but no doubt this is an album that has the power and quality to escape today’s ever-shortening hype circles and attention spans and stay in rotation for a good while – if only enough people pick up on it. Don’t sleep on Charlie Smarts and go check out We Had A Good Thing Going if you haven’t done so yet.
Download We Had A Good Thing Going
Sy Ari Da Kid - It Was Unwritten
It Was Unwritten by Sy Ari Da Kid (from Atlanta by way of The Bronx, NYC) is an excellent departure from the kind of rap/trap music he has been making ever since his debut mixtape (The Ultrasound) in 2011. On the day of the release of It Was Unwritten Sy Ari tweeted: “This It Was Unwritten album is not for clout/radio. I did this 1 not only for myself and the people but for those who truly appreciate & miss that true 90s hip hop music. When a story was told from the soul of an artist to as soon as you hear it you feel their pain”. This artistic change turned out to be a great decision – It Was Unwritten (the title an obvious play on Nas’ 1996 classic It Was Written) easily is Sy Ari Da Kid’s best project in his quite extensive catalog.
With a playlist consisting of 14 tracks, It Was Unwritten offers great variation with a bunch of bangers like “A Dream A Plan” (with Big K.R.I.T.), “Reap What You Sow”, “Chain Reaction”, “Pioneer/Peace”, and “The Lost & Found Files Pt 1”, and some mellower tracks like “Aria” and “Temporary Love” – all with dope instrumentals and strong lyricism. At just over an hour It Was Unwritten is a long album, but there are almost no weak spots (only “Under & Over The Influence” is a dissonant because of a kind of wack trappy flow and chorus). It’s good to see an artist as Sy Ari Da Kid possesses the versatility and the inclination to create a ‘real’ Hip Hop album – hopefully, it’s not a one-off and he continues down this path.
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.
Download Rocket To Nebula
Jungle Brothers - Keep It Jungle
While their Native Tongues brethren De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest are still (and rightfully) universally praised these days, too often Jungle Brothers are overlooked. People sometimes forget that before De La Soul dropped 3 Feet High & Rising in 1989 and ATCQ debuted with People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990, it was Jungle Brothers who started that Native Tongues movement sound with the low-key classic Straight Out The Jungle in 1988, quickly followed by the still underrated Done by the Forces of Nature (1989).
Their output since these two classics has been hit and miss, and we haven’t seen an album since 2006. In 2020 the JB’s are back with Keep It Jungle. This is definitely a return to form, and their best release since Raw Deluxe in 1997. The album has a light feel to it, nothing complicated or revolutionary – just 10 dope traditional boom-bap tracks in the best catchy, upbeat Jungle Brothers tradition. If you loved the first Jungle Brother albums, you will like this one too.
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Bishop Nehru - Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
Bishop Nehru is grown up. His most notable releases all dropped when he was still in his teens – like Nehruvia (2013) and his famed collaboration with MF DOOM NehruvianDoom (2014). Now, at 23, it seems he’s ready for the next stage of his career – Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts can be seen as his coming-of-age album. Cuts like “All Of My Years”, “Me & My Thoughts”, “Colder”, the DJ Premier-produced “Too Lost”, and the trappy “My Zone” all showcase Bishop Nehru’s growth as a human being (and as an artist).
With the backing from industry heavies like DJ Premier, Madlib, and MF DOOM early on in his career, expectations were always going to be high. In 2020, it’s clear Bishop Nehru has become his own man. The work of MF DOOM, Madlib, and DJ Premier on this album no longer feels like the help of mentors, these are regular collaborations now.
Stylistically Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts is kind of a strange beast, with its blend of styles ranging from boom-bap to trap to experimental – even drawing influences from pop, rock, emo, and jazz. A risk, because it could have easily resulted in being an incohesive mixed bag – but Bishop Nehru gets away with it. He is a strong songwriter and a good emcee, and the diversity in musical backdrops gives him the chance to show off his versatility. Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts is a strong album, and Bishop Nehru’s best yet.
Best tracks: “Too Lost”, “3:50 In L.A.”, “Little Suzy (Be Okay)”, “OurEnergyIsAstral”, “MEATHEAD” (with MF DOOM), “Never Slow”.
Download Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts
Skanks - New World Order
Self-proclaimed Hip Hop extremist Skanks The Rap Martyr drops a great throwback banger with New World Order. Skanks (co-founding member of the supergroup Bankai Fam) is an emcee’s emcee out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn – a Hip Hop purist who has little patience with today’s crop of wack mainstream rappers, and who is not concerned with being innovative or commercially appealing.
New World Order features other renowned underground names such as Ruste Juxx, P General, StaHHr, Napoleon Da Legend, Stephen James, Uncle Nick, Tah Murdoc, G-Stats, Buck Oner, Venom, Shatike, Pheno, Tre Eiht, Chez Rocka, Ill Conscious, Forever Chosen, Bobby Stone, and DJ Fastcut – and is unapologetically throwback in everything. Skanks’ is a dope emcee whose flow and delivery sound like it’s lifted straight from the 90s, and the beats and scratches on New Wolrd Order only add to the Golden Age vibe. Just listen to the last cut “The DJ”, and it’s easy to understand where Skanks is coming from. Some people knock albums like this one for their lack of originality, but that’s BS. No originality is needed when the execution is done as well as it is done on New World Order.
Dueling Experts (Verbal Kent & Recognize Ali) - Dueling Experts
Chicago’s Verbal Kent (of Ugly Heroes) joins forces with Ghana emcee Recognize Ali for Dueling Experts, their collaborative self-titled debut album produced by Lord Beatjitzu. This is what Verbal Kent and Recognize Ali themselves have to say about Dueling Experts:
“I had a treasure trove of beats from legendary Lo-Fi beat maker Lord Beatjitzu that I needed to put to use…and sonically me and Ali were right there. The beats sound like they were dropped on the floor, almost beta-like quality while at the same time exemplifying that 90’s RZA peak.” – Verbal Kent
“Dueling Experts is that raw unadulterated hardcore boom-bap” – Recognize Ali
So that’s what to expect – gritty boom-bap beats, and dope rhymes by two real emcees.
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Kool Keith & Thetan - Space Goretex
Space Goretex is a strange beast, weird even by Kool Keith’s standards. Because Kool Keith’s output has been so prodigious over the decades, and because quality control has never been one of his main concerns, people sometimes forget he has a bunch of classics and near-classics on his name. Critical Beatdown (1988, with Ultramagnetic MCs) and Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996) are absolute classics, First Come First Served (1999), The Original SoundTrack Album of Project Polaroid (2006, with TomC3 as Project Polaroid) (2006), Sex Style: The Un-Released Archives (2007) and the vastly underrated Feature Magnetic (2016) come close enough.
Space Goretex may not be quite on that level, but it is better than the projects he dropped last year, and it is his best since the excellent Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (2018). Kool Keith has always been at his best when working with one producer (like Kutmaster Kurt or Dan The Automator), and for Space Goretex Kool Keith successfully teamed up with Nashville power-violence duo THETAN (Chad L’Plattenier and Dan Emery). Their dark and unnerving instrumentation is primarily comprised of bass, drums, theremin, and synths – and it gels well with Kool Keith’s trademark bizarre lyrics. On Space Goretex Kool Keith for the first time combines the experiences of some of his primary personas – Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom, and Black Elvis – which makes for some interesting lyrics (“Complicated Trip” is is a good case in point.)
Space Goretex also features input from Casey Orr of the heavy metal band GWAR and the punk band X-Cops, Gangsta Boo of the pioneering trap group Three 6 Mafia, Blag Dahlia of the punk band Dwarves, Ashley Mae of the dark country outfit Lost Dog Street Band and DJ Black Cat Sylvester. Especially notable is the feature by veteran rapper Blowfly (known for being an early pioneer of explicit sexual rap) who makes an appearance as his character “Uncle Tom Bowker.”
As is always the case with Kool Keith’s work, appreciation for this project will depend on the listeners’ familiarity with and tolerance for Kool Keith. If you can’t get with Kool Keith you may hate Space Goretex, but HHGA loves Kool Keith, and we like this album – which we think is definitely part of the better half of his vast discography.
Download Space Goretex
Enemy Radio - Loud Is Not Enough
So the ‘firing’ of Flavor Flav from Public Enemy in February turned out to be a hoax (“a hoax that ain’t no joke”) cooked up by Chuck D to show and prove that only negativity gets publicity in the poisonous mass media landscape. He has a point: 33 years of Public Enemy and rarely any mainstream media attention for all the good P.E. has done, but headlines worldwide at the first apparent major negativity surrounding the group. The media attention coming with the revelation that the Flavor Flav controversy was a manufactured conflict was also meant to promote this project. Even if Flavor Flav is saying he wasn’t part of any hoax after Chuck D’s revelation, it’s obvious Public Enemy will keep on going strong, with a new album – with Flavor Flav – expected to drop in June.
Enemy Radio is in effect Public Enemy, minus Flavor Flav, plus Jahi. Oakland-based emcee Jahi is having a strong year, besides this project he released Future Forward, an excellent collaborative album with UK-based producer Configa. Jahi is an excellent emcee, and his voice is a welcome alternative for Chuck D’s booming baritone. Loud Is Not Enough is a short project at 32 minutes, but it packs enough of a punch. The highest-profile song here is the single “Food Is A Machine Gun”, with an appearance of Flavor Flav who assists on the hook. Loud Is Not Enough is a solid presentation all the way through, even if there are no real stand-outs. What we get is exactly what we can expect from a Chuck D project – intelligent, meaningful, and thought-provoking lyrics, over some nice throwback instrumentals.
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Pro The Leader - Aspirational Regret
Topnotch lyricism and intricate wordplay – that’s what you can expect from American Poets 2099 and Armor Of Gods emcee Pro The Leader. Aspirational Regret features appearances by other veteran emcees such as Casual of Hieroglyphics, Ras Kass, Planet Asia, Killah Priest & others, and is produced entirely by the renowned Skarekrow. Packed full of clever rhymes and solid boom-bap production, Aspirational Regret is an album perfectly suited for those who value authentic Hip Hop music – 15 tracks of dope beats and rhymes, what more do you want?
Download Aspirational Regret
HDBeenDope - BrokeN Dreams
Brooklyn’s HDBeenDope is an atypical ‘modern’ Hip Hop artist as he doesn’t seem to feel the need to drop a mini-project every three months to stay in the public’s eye – BrokeN Dreams is his latest full-length album (running close to an hour), coming over 3 years after his previous release PHeace Be The Journey. The album’s title represents HDBeenDope’s feelings after living his dreams touring and performing, but then realizing that he was still broke afterward. BrokeN Dreams‘ overall message is one of positivity – telling listeners to keep striving and you’re going to get yours eventually.
Today’s Hip Hop world is a game of marketing and hype, more than it’s about talent and ability. BrokeN Dreams has commercial appeal and modern aesthetics, but since HDBeenDope doesn’t have major cooperation backing, this album will probably fly under most people’s radars. They’re all missing out because BrokeN Dreams has everything appeal to a wide Hip Hop audience. HDBeenDope is a skilled writer and versatile rapper, who has bars worth listening to and who showcases a variety of flows. The instrumentals are mostly great too, despite the variety in styles BrokeN Dreams is entirely cohesive and consistent.
Standout tracks: “Hollywood”, “0200 FDR Drive”, “Superheroes” (inspired by Eminem’s “Stan”), and the 7-minute opus “Broken Dream”, a tale of HDBeenDope’s career thus far.
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Ardamus & Height Keech - Astro Blocks
Baltimore producer/rapper/podcaster Height Keech teamed up with Washington, DC emcee Ardamus for Astro Blocks, their first full-length collaborative project. The two show they have excellent chemistry, Height Keech’s futuristic meets old-school instrumentals gell seamlessly with Ardamus’ rhymes and throwback flow. Two or three weaker tracks stand in the way of a higher ranking, but Astro Blocks is a great album anyway. Stand out tracks: “Astro Blocks”, “Groupies”, “Greasing Palms”, “Tunnel Light”, and the posse cut “Rock Salt”.
IAlive - I'll Wait Forever
On I’ll Wait Forever, Philadelphia producer/emcee IAlive focuses solely on his eclectic work behind the boards, leaving mic-duties to a host of underground rappers from across the US. To take care of the vocals, IAlive recruited fellow Philadelphians Yikes the Zero, Curly Castro, and Andrew, as well as others such as Zilla Rocca, Uncommon NASA, Googie, Goldzilla, Mister, Ray Strife, DayTripper (and others). Despite the diversity of styles and backgrounds in the roster of the emcees, I’ll Wait Forever turned out to be an entirely cohesive and consistent project. IAlive’s intricate instrumentals form the common thread that ties the 17 tracks on I’ll Wait Forever together, making for a pretty good album that deserves attention.
Leaf Dog - Live From The Balrog Chamber
People familiar with the UK Hip Hop scene will know who Leaf Dog is. He is a producer/emcee who has been releasing music since 2005 and who is currently part of Brother Of Stone and The Four Owls (their 2015 album Natural Order was excellent). Live From The Balrog Chamber is Leaf Dog’s third solo full-length, after From A Scarecrow’s Perspective (2011) and Dyslexic Disciple (2017).
Live From The Balrog Chamber is an 18 track album that features Havoc (Mobb Deep), Grand Puba, Edo G, Cella Dwellas, BVA, Smellington Piff, Thirstin Howl III & The Last Emperor. The album is produced entirely by Leaf Dog himself (except one track which is produced by Fel Sweetenberg). Live From The Balrog Chamber is a great album, with a nice boom-bap throwback vibe all over it, and with enough distinctiveness in the production to separate it from the bunch and to keep it in rotation. Appearances by a bunch of Golden Age legends help of course – the Grand Puba assisted “What You Don’t Know”, “Legend” with Havoc, “Tryna Keep” with Edo G, and especially “Rhyme Chemist” with Cella Dwellas are obvious highlights. But Leaf Dog can hold his own on the mic too, and most tracks here are fire. If you have never checked out Leaf Dog before now Live From The Balrog Chamber is a great place to start, no doubt you will be checking for his back catalog in no time too.
MC Eiht - Official
Official is legendary Compton Most Wanted rapper MC Eiht’s 12th solo album. The project offers more of his typical brand of no-nonsense West Coast gangsta rap, on no less than 27 tracks. His last solo effort – Which Way Iz West (2017) – was surprisingly good, mainly because it was produced by DJ Premier, an out-of-the-box collaboration that paid off.
The production on Official is more generic, but it suits Eiht’s lyrics. Official is not as good as Which Way Iz West is, but it’s better than Gangsta Bizness, Compton Most Wanted’s first album in 13 years that was released last year. Official maintains a chilled-out vibe throughout, with smooth instrumentals and decent enough lyrics. Major complaint: we all know Eiht’s trademark ‘gyeah’ interjection – he is overusing it on this record, almost to the point of caricature.
It is unlikely Official will win MC Eiht (m)any new fans, but old heads who know and love his earliest Compton Most Wanted and solo albums will find enough to enjoy here.
Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By
These days there seem to be a lot of people suffering from ‘Eminem Derangement Syndrome’ – lots of folks are ready to sh*t on everything Eminem does, no matter what (just like they will auto-praise anything media darlings like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler The Creator drop, no matter what). Music To Be Murdered By has its flaws, but it’s not the trainwreck some make it out to be – it’s not anywhere near as bad as Revival (2017) was. It’s more on par with Kamikaze (2018) – a mixed bag, with highs and lows.
The bad: at 17 full tracks, the album is too long with too many weak songs (especially “Those Kinda Nights” with Ed Sheeran is terrible). The features and hooks on songs like “Unaccomodating”, “Leaving Heaven”, and “No Regrets” kind of suck, with guests like Young MA, Skylar Grey and Don Toliver (and Ed Sheeran) obviously on this album for no other reason than for marketing purposes – but their presence doesn’t do the quality of the album any good. Then there are some weak trap beats here and there and a few cringe-worthy lyrics (a reference to the terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert where 22 (mostly) kids were killed being in especially bad taste).
The good: tracks like “Godzilla” (despite a meh posthumous appearance by Juice WRLD)”, “Yah Yah” (featuring Royce Da 5’9″, Black Thought, and Q-Tip), “I Will” (featuring KXNG Crooked, Royce da 5’9″ and Joell Ortiz), “Darkness” (honing in on mental health issues and gun violence and drawing a parallel between the two) and “Premonition” (with killer bars like “Instead of us being credited for longevity / And being able to keep it up for this long at this level, we get told we’ll never be what we were / Bitch if I was as half as good as I was / I’m still twice as good as you’ll ever be / Only way that you’re ahead of me’s alphabetically”) are vintage Eminem. Also, Eminem shows and proves he still has the lyrical skill to blow most other rappers out of the water.
Eminem should have left 6 or 7 tracks on the cutting room floor, then Music To Be Murdered By would have been great. As it is, the album has its moments and is not all bad – it’s just too cluttered with weak beats and corny hooks to be rated much above average.
- 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
- MIKE – weight of the world
- Hus Kingpin – Gunpowder
- Eclyse – Royal Essence
- People Without Shoes & Inkswel – Plasma Platter
- The Professionals – The Professionals
- Killarmy – Full Metal Jackets
- 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
- Pounds448 – Trafficante
- Pilot Perc – Pip
- Dawhud & Da Beatminerz – Crown Jewels
- Blak Prophet – Make East Coast Boom Bap Great Again
- Dialect & YuckNasty – Will Be Done
- Stylz & Wells – Vibes
- Raze The Ratchet – Regal
- Sidewalk Tha Villain – Tha Villain Is Back
- Flash (N.B.S.) & Lightfoot – Flashlight
- Esham – She Loves Me
- Esham – She Loves Me Not
- Fly Anakin – At The End Of The Day
- Dirt Platoon – Get Ya Handz Dirty
- Uptown X.O. – Culture Over Corporate
- Mayhem Of EMS & Reckonize Real – Audio Murals
- Kay The Aquanaut & Maki – The Nautical Blue
- Sir Michael Rocks – Broken Window Of Opportunity
- Thomas Who? – Splash
- C.I.A. (Shogun Assason & Kinetic) – Criminals In The Army
- Jaz-O – The Warm Up
- Rebel Rodomez – Boston Ave
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2019
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