The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2021: 2020 was a terrible year in general, but a great year for Hip Hop. Hip Hop has never been as diverse as it is now – and there’s no reason to expect 2021 to be less in any way than 2020 was when it comes to quality Hip Hop releases. 2021 started off kind of slow, but with new projects expected from artists like Redman (Muddy Waters Too), Raekwon (OBFCL3), Phife Dawg, Madlib, Isaiah Rashad, Che Noir, Freddie Gibbs, and J. Cole, plus rumored releases from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, De La Soul, Q-Tip, Black Star, Nas, Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Pusha T, AZ, Stetsasonic, LL Cool J, and EPMD, there’s a lot to look forward to.
As always on our best of the year lists, not included are instrumental albums, compilations, and EP’s. Some artists bill barely 30-minute-long projects as albums – HHGA categorizes projects that clock in at under 30 minutes as EP’s however, and we do not rank them on our album list: an album = an LP. But having said that, lots of dope EP’s drop each and every year, so we will not ignore them – scroll down for a section with some of the best EP’s released in 2021, as well as a listing of 2021’s best instrumental and best Hip Hop adjacent projects.
This is a work in progress. The only way to compile an authoritative list like this one is to keep track of new releases week-by-week, day-by-day even. This is a top 60, albums that don’t make the best 60 of the year but which are worth listening to anyway are mentioned in the honorable mentions. This list will be updated regularly until the end of the year, where it will result in our best-of-the-year list. Let’s get into it, check out what we think are the best Hip Hop albums of 2021 so far.
Last updated: May 10. New entries: #1 McKinley Dixon – For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her; #15 L’Orange & Namir Blade – Imaginary Everything; #26 Noyz82 – Blade Runner Basquiat; #34 K.A.A.N. – KAIZEN
McKinley Dixon - For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her
From Richmond, Virginia-based rapper McKinley Dixon‘s Bandcamp page: [For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her, McKinley Dixon’s debut album on Spacebomb, is the culmination of a journey where heartbreak and introspection challenged him to adopt new ways of communicating physically and mentally, as well as across time and space.
The album challenges Black people to revisit more than one timeline and question everything they’ve been taught about processing grief in order to rebuild their present and future selves. There’s no definitive end to the darkness and trauma of the past, but this album is a stepping stone in Dixon’s pursuit of moving forward, and being a voice for Black people still learning how to advocate for themselves.
“The best way to sum up this album is: I was sad, I was mad, and now I’m alive,” Dixon explains. “These things I talk about on the record have had harmful and brilliant effects on my timeline, and have forced me to be cognizant of the fact that living is complex. Rap has allowed me the language to communicate and be someone who can communicate with people from all over. Knowing how far I’ve come, I think people will find trust in the message I’m sending.”]
For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her is the final installment in a trilogy, building on the foundations set by the self-released Who Taught You To Hate Yourself? (2016) and The Importance of Self Belief (2018) – a series of albums that allowed Dixon to process his own and others’ lives as a part of the greater Black experience. For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her is an emotional tour de force – composed of poetic storytelling and poignant insights.
From the impassioned album opener “Chain Sooo Heavy” with its frenetic free-jazz instrumentation to the beautiful pensiveness of the last song “Twist My Hair”: For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her is a stunning album, with great lyrical depth and superb musical virtuosity. Lots of Kendrickisms on this genre-bender, echoes of prime Lupe Fiasco too – but McKinley Dixon doesn’t need to be compared to any other artists, really. With For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her he released a career-defining project – an album that deserves to escape this day and age’s short hype-cycles and that should be talked about for years to come, in the same breath with monumental albums such as Kenrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly (2015) and Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom (2017).
Release date: May 7, 2021.
Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram
Armand Hammer is a duo consisting of experimental Hip Hop titans billy woods and ELUCID. billy woods is one of the most consistent artists in contemporary Hip Hop. He has five solo albums on our top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2010s list – History Will Absolve Me (2012), Dour Candy (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Known Unknowns (2017), and Hiding Places (2019), along with three Armand Hammer albums – Race Music (2013), Rome (2017), and Paraffin (2018) – making billy woods our MVP of the 2010s. The 2020s started off strong for him too – with Armand Hammer’s 2020 album Shrines, and BRASS, billy woods’ collaboration with experimental musician and poet Moor Mother. Both Shrines and BRASS rank high on our best of 2020 list. ELUCID had a strong year as well, with the excellent Don’t Play It Straight, an experimental collaborative project with The Lasso.
And now we have Haram – for which Armand Hammer hooked up with producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. This is what the blurb says about the album: “Haram is a mercurial collaboration between incendiary rap duo Armand Hammer, and living legend The Alchemist. For the first time ELUCID and billy woods have crafted an album with a single producer and the result is extraordinary. With their unmatched penchant for stirring imagery and incisive storytelling, the two rappers dive into an ocean of Alchemist’s creation: warmly inviting on the surface, black and bone-crushingly cold at depth. Haram is a collection of the profane and the pure; a reminder that that which is forbidden is also sacrosanct.
The artists are joined by their friends and fellow travelers on this journey. KAYANA’s golden voice ups the wattage on “Black Sunlight,” while Fielded’s sultry alto gets chopped and screwed on “Aubergine”. Earl Sweatshirt makes a sun-soaked appearance, while Curly Castro and Amani mix like ice and salt on Brooklyn sidewalks, and Quelle Chris, as always, finds a pocket all his own. Still, there is a natural rapport that belies the New York-to-Los Angeles-and-back nature of the project, allowing Haram to be more than the sum of its parts, however impressive those parts may be. This isn’t just the genre’s most insistent contemporary voices paired with arguably its best producer. This is when you buy a beautiful house only to discover, hidden behind a heavy bookcase, a stairway twisting up and away into the darkness.”
Now, the question is: is Haram on par with billy woods’ and Armand Hammer’s earlier releases? The answer is: yes, Haram 100% met expectations – it may even one-up the stellar Paraffin as Armand Hammer’s best work yet. On Haram, the Islamic term meaning “forbidden”, billy woods and ELUCID explore all kinds of taboos – in their own cryptic ways. As always, it takes some effort on the part of the listener to penetrate the dense poetics penned by billy woods and ELUCID – there’s is so much to unpack and to think about here, it gives Haram endless replay value.
The Alchemist’s work on the boards arguably makes Haram a little more accessible than the four previous Armand Hammer albums are, but his atmospheric instrumentals are left-field enough to suit billy woods and ELUCID avant-garde rhyming. This is The Alchemist’s finest music in a while, even better than his much-lauded work on Freddie Gibb’s Alfredo of last year – in fact, we will go as far as to say The Alchemist crafted a masterpiece here.
Stand-outs include “Falling Out The Sky”, with some incredible lyrical imagery also from guest rapper Earl Sweatshirt, “Wishing Bad”, “Chicharonnes”, with a bone-chilling instrumental over which billy woods and Quelle Chris tackle police violence and BLM, likening the whole culture to pigs on a spit roast, and “Stonefruit”, with a jaw-dropping last verse from billy woods to close the album out on a high note. Besides these 4 stand-outs, there are no weak tracks on Haram – everything on the album is well-thought-out and perfectly executed – even the gruesome album cover which serves to enhance the mood of the music, in an in-your-face kind of way, with no hint of artificial coolness. Haram is a confirmation of Armand Hammer’s status as one of the most intriguing and most consistent duos in contemporary Hip Hop, and it is the first AOTY-contender released in 2021.
Release date: March 26, 2021.
Awon & Phoniks - Nothing Less
Phoniks (from Portland, Maine) and Brooklyn-born Virginia-based rapper Awon have given us a series of superb Hip Hop projects in the 2010s, individually and collaboratively – their collaborative debut album Return To The Golden Era (2013) is a masterpiece, Knowledge Of Self (2015) and The Actual Proof (2018) are not far behind. With Nothing Less, Awon and Phoniks continue their streak of excellence.
The album is laced with Phoniks signature jazz-infused, boom-bap production style and Awon’s raw, honest lyricism. Produced on vintage samplers like the gritty Emu SP-1200 and Akai MPC 2000xl the music evokes memories of classic east coast “golden era” Hip Hop. Features include Don’t Sleep Records label mates Dephlow, Anti-Lilly, and Tiff The Gift, as well as Masta Ace, Blu, Ill Conscious, Kid Abstrakt, and more.
For HHGA, it doesn’t get much better than this. At 33 minutes, Nothing Less is not long enough for our tastes but its short duration is the biggest knock against the album. “Everlasting Game” (with Masta Ace and DJ Ill Digitz) is a highlight, along with tracks such as “Sunshine” (with Blu), “The Cool Out” (with Kid Abstrakt), and “Fatherhood” – a song that will especially resonate with parents of (pre)teens.
Release date: March 22, 2021.
Beneficence & Confidence - Stellar Mind
More than four years in the making, Stellar Mind takes a deep journey and boom-bap ride with flawless production courtesy of Confidence, the man with the Golden Age sound. The Element Of Surprise, his collaborative album with Rashad is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2011 – Stellar Mind is on par with that release. Beneficence is a real lyricist who made his recording debut in 2004, he has dropped a bunch of solid projects since then – his last one, Basement Chemistry, in 2016.
16 tracks strong, Stellar Mind features guest appearances by Masta Ace, El da Sensei (of Artifacts), Phantasm (of Cella Dwellas), Craig G, Lord Tariq, Keith Murray, Ras Kass, A.G. (of D.I.T.C.), Chubb Rock, Wordsworth, Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Queen Herawin (of Juggaknots), among others. Confidence’s production echoes that of icons like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Diamond D – and Beneficence and his guests do the beats justice. Stellar Mind is a well-rounded and flawlessly executed piece of music that perfectly captures the vibes of 1990s Hip Hop, without sounding dated – this is a GREAT album.
Release date: April 23, 2021.
Krum - Black Lung
Harry Krum is a producer/emcee based in Dallas, Texas. Krum’s work on the boards is outstanding, the instrumentals on Black Lung are FIRE – some of the best you’ll hear this year. Krum cooked up a heady blend of psychedelic vibes and dusty but crisp boom-bap beats laced with some exquisite sampling – reminiscent even of the best work from icons like Madlib and MF DOOM.
The strength of Black Lung is its consistency as well as its thematic and musical cohesiveness – which is bolstered even further by the quality of the vocalists Krum recruited. Black Lung features contributions from Tanya Morgan, Theory Hazit, Propaganda, Derek Minor, JGivens, Ozay Moore, Sivion, Solemn Brigham, Manchild, Sareem Poems, Stik Figa, Heath McNease, Copywrite, Pigeon John, Jabee, Headkrack, Sintax the Terrific, and Freddie Bruno – a selection of excellent emcees whose vocals prove perfectly suited to go with Krum’s organic production.
“Ultra Mag” with Solemn Brigham is one of the highlights on Black Lung, his voice is one of the most unique ones in contemporary Hip Hop. In fact, the whole Black Lung album feels similar in many ways to Marlowe 2 – the excellent album (#3 on our best of 2020 list) Solemn Brigham did last year with producer L’Orange – likening Black Lung to Marlowe 2 is a strong recommendation, of course. Other stand-outs on Black Lung include “Danger Bag” with Theory Hazit, “Uptown Eyes Wide” with Sareem Poems, “Not One Thing” with Tanya Morgan, “Riddle Me This” with JGivens, and “Trials & Tribs” with Heath McNease – but there isn’t a single bad song on here.
Don’t sleep on this album – Black Lung is one of the best Hip Hop albums of the year so far.
Release date: April 2, 2021.
Killah Priest - Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1
Heavy Mental (1998), Elizabeth (2009), The Psychic World of Walter Reed (2013), and Planet Of The Gods (2015) are the standouts in Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and Sunz Of Man member Killah Priest’s vast catalog – along with the two LPs he released in 2020. Rocket To Nebula (#15 on our top 60 Hip Hop albums of 2020 list) is a left-field masterpiece, and The Third Eye In Technicolor (#18) is not far behind.
Exactly 23 years after the release of his debut solo album Heavy Mental, Killah Priest comes with Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1. Similar to Rocket To Nebula, the instrumentals on Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 are ethereal and often drumless – and even more experimental at times. Killah Priest’s dense stream-of-consciousness bars about religion, history, mythology, spiritualism, science, philosophy, esotericism, extraterrestrialism, and other such topics, are delivered in a powerful spoken-word type delivery. Killah Priest’s music has always been an acquired taste, and this project certainly is – but those with the patience and capacity to surrender to his lyrical style, open themselves to his content, and adapt to the instrumentals, will find a lot enjoy on Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1.
With this album, Killah Priest continues his winning streak. Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 is another absorbing Killah Priest listen that further cements his status as one of Hip Hop’s best – albeit unsung – writers.
Release date: March 10, 2021.
DJ Muggs & Rome Streetz - Death & The Magician
In DJ Muggs’ own words: “Death And The Magician is a sonic and lyrical onslaught on a dark rainy night in NYC, and is based on the Major Arcana cards in the tarot deck. The Death card signals that one major phase in your life is ending, and a new one is going to start. You just need to close one door so the new one will open. The past needs to be placed behind you, so you can focus your energy on what lies ahead. When the Magician appears it points to the talents, capabilities, and resources at the querent’s disposal to succeed. The message is to tap into one’s full potential rather than holding back, especially when there is a need to transform something.”
Legendary DJ Muggs has been a master-producer of dark, sinister instrumentals ever since his Cypress Hill days in the early 1990s, and on Death And The Magician Muggs’ elite production brings out the best in New York underground rapper Rome Streetz. Rome Streetz has been one of the most interesting and one of the most prolific voices in the Griselda-type street rap niche ever since his recording debut in 2016, this collab with one of the best producers in the game will take him to the next level. There are no weak tracks on Death And The Magician. Muggs’ beats are hard-hitting and gritty as are Rome Streetz’s bars, who solidifies his status as one of the most complete lyricists in the game today with this project – delivery, flow, rhyme schemes, wordplay: everything about his performance on Death And The Magician is top-tier. Death And The Magician is the best Hip Hop project released in February.
Release date: February 26, 2021.
Propo'88 & Wildelux - Certified Craftsmen
Under the moniker of Certified Craftsmen, DJ/producer Propo’88 and rapper Wildelux crafted an excellent no-bullsh*t boom-bap record with their Certified Craftsmen LP. Propo’88 hails from Utrecht in The Netherlands, and Wildelux is a Bronx-born emcee who is currently based in Kyoto, Japan. Their collaboration is one of the many examples we can see these days of the global village that Hip Hop world has become – with artists from all over the world joining forces, and with producers from Europe leading the way in keeping that original boom-bap sound alive.
From Propo’88’s fresh beats, samples, and Preemo-like scratch hooks, to Wildelux’s smooth flow and outspoken rhymes – this is throwback Hip Hop done RIGHT. Certified Craftsmen: close to 45 minutes of top-quality funky boom-bap Hip Hop.
Release date: March 26, 2021.
Vinnie Paz - Burn Everything That Bares Your Name
Burn Everything That Bares Your Name is Jedi Mind Tricks and AOTP frontman Vinnie Paz’s sixth solo album and his twenty-third (!) studio album in total – in addition to his 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, Burn Everything That Bares Your Name follows Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016), The Pain Collector (2018), and As Above So Below (2020). If there’s one word that would best typify Vinnie Paz’s body of work – solo and group efforts – it is CONSISTENCY.
Everything That Bares Your Name is another 70-minute monster; Vinnie Paz is not one to follow trends and mess around with 30-minute quickies like so many artists do these days; no catering to the short attention span crowd here. The album features an impressive line-up of guest appearances that includes Billy Danze of M.O.P., Ill Bill, Lord Goat, Chino XL, Jay Royale, CRIMEAPPLE, Eamon, Eto, and M.A.V. Production credits are shared by Esoteric, Giallo Point, Hobgoblin, Illinformed, Oh No, Stu Bangas, and Vic Grimes – among others.
The cinematic lead single “Papi Wardrobe” is an obvious stand-out, but as consistency is Vinnie Paz’s middle name, the whole album bangs – cuts like “Machine Gun Etiquette”, “Witches Teeth”, “Danger Is My Business”, “Latka Gravas”, “Don Eladio”, “Warhead”, “Torchbearer”, and “Tell Gold To Hold The Boneyard” are all fire. Hard-as-nails bars and booming boom-bap beats – it’s Vinnie Paz, at this point you should know what to expect. Burn Everything That Bares Your Name is a strong addition to the Vinnie Paz/JMT legacy.
Release date: April 23, 2021.
Bruiser Wolf - Dope Game Stupid
Detroit-based Bruiser Wolf’s debut LP Dope Game Stupid on Danny Brown’s freshly minted Bruiser Brigade Records label is something else. Bruiser Wolf’s voice is unique without sounding gimmicky (“Nobody sound like this, I’ve got my own sound, I’m an instrument”), his flow and delivery are like a blend of the quirky styles of Bay Area legend E-40 and Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo Green, only turned up to eleven. Bruiser Wolf’s weird style will no doubt be an immediate turn-off for some, but those who can get with his oddities will consider Dope Game Stupid a keeper.
Dope Game Stupid is incredibly well-written, with a constant barrage of introspective as well as humorous metaphors and similes detailing Bruiser Wolf’s life in Detroit, all of it backed by excellent production from front to back. Label boss Danny Brown jumps on “I’m An Instrument” with a classic performance for which is one of the stand-out tracks. Other memorable songs include “Dope Game Stupid”, “Use Me (I’m Dope)”, “Whip Test”, “Syndicate”, and the personal and poignant “Momma Was A Dopefiend”.
The idiosyncratic Dope Game Stupid is off-the-wall and unpredictable but totally engaging – a project that has us excited to see where Bruiser Wolf will go next.
Release date: March 29, 2021.
Amari Mar - Grand Rising
Amari Mar is an independent Hip Hop artist from Brooklyn, NY. He has previously released two projects – Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth Mixtape hosted by Kool G Rap (2012) and Da God Must B Krazy (2013). Now, eight years later, Amari Mar reemerged with Grand Rising.
Grand Rising is a great album. Amari Mar took 8 years to work on and perfect this album, and it shows. Grand Rising is one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. Songs like “Grand Rising”, “Nothing To Prove”, “Above The Rim”, “Live Your Life”, “Black Business”, “Beyond The Surface”, ‘The Gift” “A Beautiful Soul”, “The Chosen One”, and “Rise N Shine” all are gems, not taking away anything from the other songs on the album by the way – for a 17-track project, Grand Rising is super consistent.
Production duties are taken care of by a bunch of different producers, which surprisingly does not hurt the cohesiveness of the album at all. The instrumentals on Grand Rising are tight, but it’s Amari Mar’s content that makes this album shine – his flow is dope and his bars are intelligent and meaningful. For an indie release, Grand Rising sounds exceptionally polished and well-rounded – Amari Mar is an artist who deserves a bigger stage, support the artist and go cop this album, you will not regret it.
Release date: March 26, 2021.
Blak Madeen - Let The Good Get Even
Blak Madeen is a Boston-based duo consisting of lyricists Al-J and Yusuf. With Let The Good Get Even they give us 11 excellent tracks, composed of clever rhymes over dope boom-bap beats laced with vintage cuts & scratches. Produced by C-Doc (known from his work with Public Enemy), the album features guest appearances by Hip Hop icons like Chuck D, Sadat X, Tragedy Khadafi, Daddy-O, and others. Let The Good Get Even is a delectable presentation of intelligent grown-man Hip Hop, capturing a perfect throwback vibe without sounding dated. This is a must-have, no self-respecting Hip Hop fan should miss out on it.
Release date: March 5, 2021.
Hus Kingpin - Portishus
Long Island native Hus Kingpin continues his run of quality releases with Portishus – a project inspired by the music of legendary British band Portishead. Portishead’s debut album Dummy (1994) is a trip-hop monument, and while Portishus is not trip-hop at all, it shares the dark and moody atmosphere of the Portishead classic.
Hus Kingpin’s wordplay is solid enough, just like that of guest rappers like Vinnie Paz, SmooVth, Nems, The Musalini, Ransom, and Ty Farris (and many others), but it’s the gloomy instrumentals that make this project a keeper. Portishead fans will recognize a lot of the samples on Portishus, but this project is just as enjoyable without intimate Portishead knowledge. With Portishus Hus Kingpin started the year off in a strong way.
Release date: January 21, 2021.
PIRATA - PIRATA
Atoms Family members Cryptic One and Jestoneart are PIRATA. Cryptic One and Jestoneart are longtime collaborators, most notably on Cryptic One’s masterpiece The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory (2004). PIRATA is not as progressive, but it is left-field enough to be a worthy part of the Atoms Family legacy. Jestoneart atmospheric instrumentals are dope, full of delicious drum breaks, bluesy loops, and obscure samples, plus Cryptic One’s potent rhymes are entertaining. PIRATA is an accessible and smooth listen, almost hypnotic and totally immersive – this is a beautiful piece of music.
Release date: April 2, 2021.
Jazz Spastiks - Camera Of Sound
Jazz Spastiks never disappoint. This collective of producers and DJs from the UK has been responsible for plenty of dope music over the years, and Camera Of Sound is yet another excellent addition to their body of work. For Camera Of Sound, Jazz Spastiks recruited Artifacts, Count Bass D, DJ Pocket, C-Rayz-Walz, Kool Keith, Craig G, Phill Most Chill (who had one of our favorite throwback projects last year), The Procussions, Soundsci, and Wee Bee Foolish (Yeshua DaPoEd and Ken Boogaloo) – all artists perfectly in tune with Jazz Spastiks’ characteristic upbeat throwback sound.
Most likely Camera Of Sound will not turn up in any other Hip Hop outlet’s best-of-2021 lists (most of them will end up lazily listing the highest-profile releases as the year’s best, as they always do), but for HHGA albums like this one represent Hip Hop in its truest form, and we applaud and celebrate Jazz Spastiks for it.
Across 18 tracks, Camera Of Sound offers close to 45 minutes of buoyant jazz-flavored boom-bap beats, complemented by artisanal cuts & scratches and dope wordplay by masters of the craft. When it comes to fresh throwback Hip Hop, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Release date: February 22, 2021.
L'Orange & Namir Blade - Imaginary Everything
Seattle-based producer L’Orange and Nashville rapper Namir Blade teamed up for Imaginary Everything, their first album together. The album comes on the heels of Blade’s breakthrough 2020 album, Aphelion’s Traveling Circus, and L’Orange’s Marlowe 2, his second collaborative album with Solemn Brigham – one of our favorite albums of 2020.
Much like Solemn Brigham, Namir Blade has a unique voice, with a quirky and erratic sing-song type flow – and L’Orange’s psychedelic and dusty boom-bap beats bring out the best in Namir Blade (just as his production worked perfectly for Solemn Brigham on the two Marlowe albums). Imaginary Everything contains some of Blade’s most interesting writing yet, and L’Oranges instrumentals are the best he got to work with up to now. Appearances from Quelle Chris, Marlowe, Fly Anakin, and Jordan Webb help round out what is another quite excellent L’Orange project – hopefully, the first in a series of collaborations with Namir Blade.
Release date: May 7, 2021.
Configa & DJ Views - The Year After
British producer Configa knows what he is doing. He was responsible for the beats on two of 2020’s best Hip Hop albums – Arrested Development’s Don’t Fight Your Demons and his Forward Future collaboration with Jahi – and in 2021 he continues his winning streak with The Year After.
For The Year After Configa teamed up with DJ Views (each producing 6 of the 12 tracks on the album), and they recruited a busload of top-calibre emcees to take care of the vocals on what is one of the best 90s-centric boom-bap projects of the year. Ras Kass, Speech (of Arrested Development), Chino XL, Craig G, Pacewon, Akrobatik, Ruste Juxx, Planet Asia, Nine, El Da Sensei, Termanology, and Solemn Brigham make appearances – among others. “Mic Domination”, “Galactic Rap”, “Funeral March” (with epic bars from the unbeatable Chino XL), “Different Timezones”, and “Word Science” are highlights, but The Year After is an entirely consistent presentation. Banging boom-bap beats, sharp cuts & scratches, and lyrical fire – with The Year After Configa and DJ Views knocked it out the park.
Release date: April 30, 2021.
Dark Time Sunshine - LORE
Seattle-based alternative Hip Hop duo Dark Time Sunshine – rapper Onry Ozzborn and producer Zavala – return after a 9-year hiatus with LORE, their third full-length studio album together. Their last collaborative album Anx ranks on our top 40 Hip Hop albums of 2012 list, and despite such a long time between DTS projects, there’s been no drop-off in the level of quality. Like Anx, LORE is an excellent album. Arguably slightly more accessible than Anx was, LORE still is left-field enough to stand apart from today’s crowd of generic rap and Hip Hop releases.
Zavala’s lush instrumentals perfectly synergize with Onry Ozzborn’s clever wordplay, and a well-chosen roster of featured artists – Ceschi, R.A.P. Ferreira (fka Milo), Homeboy Sandman, and Hail Mary Mallon (Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz) – round out LORE, offering some welcome variation to Onry Ozzborn’s brooding conversational-rap style. LORE offers 46 minutes of intelligent alt-Hip Hop, a great project well-suited for the surreal times we are currently living in.
Release date: February 3, 2021.
Gotham (Talib Kweli & Diamond D) - Gotham
Gotham is the name of a new collaboration between two celebrated Hip Hop icons: Talib Kweli and Diamond D. Talib Kweli has been one of the most lyrically gifted and socially conscious artists for over two decades, but admittedly his musical output has been hit-or-miss especially in the past decade. With Diamond D providing the musical backdrops, Talib Kweli comes with one of his best projects in a good while. Diamond D is a certifiable legend, producing for the likes Big L, Lord Finesse, O.C., Fat Joe, The Fugees, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Raekwon, Rapsody, Pharoahe Monch, and many others, not to mention his own classic debut, Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop (1992).
Gotham – a dedication to New York – is a great little project. It’s too short at 35 minutes, but most of the ten tracks on Gotham are pretty strong. “In Due Time” with Niré Alldai is a highlight, along with great songs like “Sons of Gotham”, “The Quiet One”, “Attention Span”, “Chillin While Black” and “The Fold”. Diamond D’s smooth boom-bap instrumentals are dope, and Talib Kweli shows why he considered an elite lyricist. Gotham = mature Hip Hop by two of the game’s best.
Release date: April 16, 2021.
SmooVth & Giallo Point - Amongst Wolves
Hempstead, New York rapper SmooVth got back together with British producer Giallo Point for Amongst Wolves, their fifth full-length collaborative album. Amongst Wolves is one of the strongest of the five, on par with the first two: Medellin (2017) and Medellin II: Don Fabio (2018). Giallo Point rarely misses, and he doesn’t miss here. The cinematic instrumentals on Amongst Wolves are deliciously dark and moody, perfect for SmooVth’s lyrical content. SmooVth brings his A-game with a laidback delivery but with razor-sharp bars, and he keeps the features to a minimum: only Asun Eastwood, Rigz, Eddie Kaine, Rim, Big Twins, and SmooVth’s Tha Connection partner Hus Kingpin make appearances, on no more than 5 of the 17 tracks. That makes 12 tracks on which SmooVth’s synergy with Giallo Point is on full display and Amongst Wolves is better for it – lots of projects these days have so many features they feel like compilation albums, but not this one: Amongst Wolves strikes the exact right balance. This is a superb piece of music.
Release date: February 22, 2021.
Onyx - ONYX 4 Life
Onyx – these days a duo consisting of Sticky Fingaz and Fredro Star – dropped a strong album with ONYX 4 Life. Not all Onyx albums are keepers, but their first three – Bacdafucup (1993), All We Got Iz Us (1995), and Shut ‘Em Down (1998) – are all great albums: Bacdafucup is an iconic classic, the underrated All We Got Iz Us arguably is their best album. With ONYX 4 Life Sticky Fingaz and Fredro Star did not reinvent the wheel nor should they have – by sticking to their formula they show that after 30 years in the game they still have the chemistry and the energy that brought them platinum success in the early 1990s. ONYX 4 Life offers exactly what you’d expect: guttural, grimy raps over hard-ass beats – this is one of Onyx’s best efforts since the 1990s.
Release date: March 3, 2021.
Codenine - LVNDR
Codenine of Massachusetts super-crew Tragic Allies started 2021 off strong with LVNDR. Codenine’s debut (with fellow Tragic Allies member Purpose) Below Sumerian Skies ranks on our top 40 Hip Hop albums of 2016 list, and all Codenine projects following that debut were pretty good too. With LVNDR Codenine continues his streak of excellence. Production is tight on LVNDR, darkly atmosphere with dope sampling throughout, and Codenine has bars for days. Like mostly everything that comes out of the Tragic Allies camp, LVNDR strikes a great balance between Hip Hop with a 90s-centric feel and a more contemporary boom-bap sound. Tragic Allies colleague Estee Nack makes an appearance, along with the likes of Crucial the Guillotine, Bub Rock, and Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon – helping round out what is one the finest projects of its sort this year.
Release date: February 8, 2021.
M.A.V. & Hobgoblin - Angelz & Demonz 3
M.A.V. is an emcee from Rochester, New York, and Hobgoblin is a producer from Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Together they are responsible for the excellent Angelz and Demonz series, of which this is the final installment. Dusty boom-bap instrumentals laced with ominous samples, crafted by Hobgoblin – one of the most interesting underground producers active today – and hard-as-nails lyrics from M.A.V. and guests like Vinnie Paz and Ty Farris (among others): this is a well-rounded project that will appeal to fans of the sounds pioneered by the likes of Roc Marciano and Griselda. That cover art is pretty awesome too.
Release date: February 11, 2021.
Big O & P-Rawb - The Complexity
Four years in the making, The Complexity is a collaborative album from New Jersey/Philadelphia-based artist P-Rawb and London-based (but American) producer Big O. The Complexity is an album for connoisseurs, tasteful and classy – with beautifully crafted laid-back instrumentals and compelling lyricism from start to finish. Go check out The Complexity now, and come back to thank us later for pointing you in the right direction.
Release date: February 12, 2021.
Mikal Amin, Sir Tumes, Long Division, & Professor Brian Oblivion - Moses Herman Jacobs
Seasoned New York City emcees Sir Tumes, Mikal Amin, and Long Division, led by the production of San Francisco-based DJ and producer Professor Brian Oblivion, navigate the listener through an existential journey on Moses Herman Jacobs, which is named after some of the central figures who helped shape NYC and San Francisco into what the cities are today. Professor Brian Oblivion’s beats are dope as f, and the rhymes and flows on Moses Herman Jacobs are great too – this is one of the best albums released in April.
Release date: April 2, 2021.
Bronze Nazareth & Recognize Ali - Season Of The Seven
In recent years Recognize Ali has been one of the most prolific emcees in underground Hip Hop, with a series of dope solo and collaborative projects, and countless appearances on other people’s songs. Honorary affiliate of the Wu-Tang family Bronze Nazareth is a great producer, and this high-profile Mello Music Group release shows they have chemistry – Season Of The Seven is among the best work both have dropped in a while. Dirty boom-bap beats laced with dope samples provide a fitting background for Recognize Ali’s raw bars, and a little extra flavor is added by guest emcees such as Napoleon Da Legend, Verbal Kent, King Magnetic, Dom Pachino, Willie the Kid, and TriState.
Release date: April 16, 2021.
Noyz82 - Blade Runner Basquiat
Blade Runner Basquiat is a great project that will pass way under most people’s radars, unfortunately. This is one of today’s many independently released projects that are suffering from a total lack of marketing and promotion – even the artists themselves sometimes don’t seem to be making much of an effort to get their music noticed. You will not find projects like this one if you’re not willing to dig deep. NYC-based rapper/producer Noyz82 almost doesn’t have much of an online presence, so it’s up to people to stumble upon his Bandcamp page. Often it’s not a bad thing music is hard to find, but in this case, it’s a shame – Blade Runner Basquiat is way too good to stay unnoticed.
Blade Runner Basquiat is Noyz82’s first full-length presentation, about which he stated: “10 songs dealing with exposing my demons, flaws, lamenting on my successes and failures as a human…all while being a narcissistic pompous a**hole talking the biggest sh*t in the only way I know how.” Noyz82’s bars and flows are dope enough, but it’s his beats that steal the show here – the production on Blade Runner Basquiat is superb. Deliciously dark and atmospheric, with bass-heavy beats and slightly experimental vibes – Noyz82 comes with a unique own sound you shouldn’t sleep on.
Release date: May 7, 2021.
Eric Bobo & Stu Bangas - Empires
Empires is a collaboration between Cypress Hill percussionist Eric Bobo from Los Angeles and underground producer Stu Bangas from Boston – with an incredible list of feature artists: Mr. Lif, DJ Rhettmatic, Vinnie Paz, RJ Payne, Xzibit, B-Real, Pharoahe Monch, Psycho Les, DJ Ethos, Khujo Goodie, Lonnie Lyle, The Wordsmith, Rob Markman, Blacastan, Nowaah The Flood, Demrick Brevi, Reverie, Lord Goat, Krazy Race, Rakaa Iriscience, Blu, Apathy, Celph Titled, Ill Bill, OC, Sick Jacken, Huero Diablo, and Mercy Collazo all make appearances.
Stu Bangas is renowned for his raw, bass-heavy boom-bap beats, while Eric Bobo’s signature sound is Latin-flavored percussions – this East Coast/West Coast mix of styles comes off beautifully here. The album starts off with a bang with the title track “Empires” (with Mr. Lif & DJ Rhettmatic) and doesn’t let up. “Chemtrails” (with Vinnie Paz, RJ Payne & Xzibit) is a dope track, arguably the album’s best example for the seamless fit of Stu Bangas’ East Coast boom-bap and Eric Bobo’s West Coast percussions. “Total Kaos” (with Psycho Les and DJ Ethos), “No Survivors” (with Blacastan & Nowaah The Flood), “Another One For The Books” (with Celph Titled and Apathy), and “Street Smarts” (with Ill Bill and OC) are other stand-outs. Despite a couple of less memorable tracks in the middle of the tracklist, Empires is a dope collaboration between two producers who admirably managed to blend their own musical aesthetics into a cohesive new sound.
Release date: April 20, 2021.
th1rt3en - A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism
th1rt3en is a trio led by Pharoahe Monch, with Marcus Machado on guitar, and Daru Jones on drums. A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism is Pharoahe Monch’s first full-length project since his last solo album PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, released in 2014.
Pharoahe Monch has never been very prolific, with no more than seven albums on his name since his recording debut 30 years ago: Organized Konfusion (1991), Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994), and The Equinox (1997) as part of Organized Konfusion (with Prince Po); and Internal Affairs (1999), Desire (2007), W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (2011), and PTSD (2014) as a soloist. Quality over quantity – all these albums are excellent displays of intelligent, complex, top-tier lyricism.
Now, is A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism the return longtime Pharoahe Monch fans were hoping for? Maybe not. It is possible some listeners will be disappointed, as A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism is almost as much rock music as it is Hip Hop, and pulling off a cohesive rap-rock fusion is not an easy thing to do. For HHGA, th1rt3en succeeded admirably though.
Pharoahe Monch still is one of the best and most versatile lyricists in the game. At 48 he is as sharp as he ever was, and even if his flow and delivery have changed some over the decades his sound still is second to none (the few attempts at singing he does on the album can be forgiven). On A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism, Pharoahe Monch addresses timely topics such as racism, consumerism, police brutality and corruption, and others – his lyrics here are deep and thought-provoking as always. This is an album for the times we live in.
Musically A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism is kind of heavy on the rock side here and there mainly owing to Marcus Machado’s searing guitar work, but Pharoahe Monch’s rapping and the beats and drums on the album conjure enough of a Hip Hop vibe to make the album appeal even to the most entrenched Hip Hop purists.
A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism is sure to polarize opinions, but everybody who is able to go into it with an open mind will find much to enjoy and admire.
Release date: January 22, 2021.
Passalacqua - Passalacqua LP
Passalacqua is a Detroit indie alt-rap duo consisting of emcees Blaksmith and Mister. Passalacqua LP is the culmination of a ten-year partnership – ten years during which the duo dropped a number of great projects, but arguably none as good as this one. The genre-boundaries pushing Passalacqua LP is unlike any other Hip Hop album you will come across this year. Produced in its entirety by fellow Detroitian Zach Shipps, this album is deeply layered musically as well as lyrically – there’s nothing generic about this project. Not for everybody, but listeners with an appreciation for beautifully crafted left-field Hip Hop will find a keeper in Passalacqua LP.
Release date: January 11, 2021.
Khrysis - The Hour Of Khrysis
Khrysis is a producer/emcee from Durham, North Carolina who is signed to Grammy Award-winning super producer 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records, and one of seven producers on the labels production team The Soul Council. The Hour Of Khrysis is very much a producer’s album, but it has rhymes from Khrysis himself too – along with an impressive roster of guest emcees: De La Soul, Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Del The Funky Homosapien, Rapsody, Sa-Roc, Evidence, Camp Lo’s Geechi Suede, and Chi Ali (remember him?) all make appearances, among others.
Over the years Khrysis has built a strong body of work with his production work for other artists, and he has a solid catalog with solo work too. His 2018 collaboration with Detroit’s Elzhi (Jericho Jackson) still is our favorite Khrysis project, The Hour Of Khrysis comes close though. “Mr. Big Mouf Pt II” with De La Soul, “Negro Spiritual” with Busta Rhymes & Pharoahe Monch, “The Disrespect” with Rapsody & Sa-Roc, and “Keep Walking On” with Del are the stand-outs, but this is a solid album from start to finish – with dope vocals for the most part and a varied array of soulful boom-bap beats.
Release date: April 19, 2021.
Vic Spencer - Psychological Cheat Sheet 2
When will Vic Spencer get the widespread recognition he deserves? The Chicago emcee has been dropping heat for years now, with three dope projects in 2020 alone – Psychological Cheat Sheet, Spencer For Higher 3 (with Sonnyjim), and Rather Be A Real One all are must-listens. Psychological Cheat Sheet 2 is just as good, if not better. Like the first Psychological Cheat Sheet, this one is produced entirely by the underappreciated August Fanon – who always manages to put his own authentic stamp on anything he produces. His ethereal instrumentals here are flawless and tailormade for Vic Spencer’s distinct baritone, his off-beat flow, and his stream-of-consciousness rhyming.
Release date: March 26, 2021.
Marlon Craft - How We Intended
Marlon Craft’s is an emcee from Hell’s Kitchen, New York whose name had been buzzing around the internet for a couple of years before he dropped his official debut album Funhouse Mirror in 2019. Funhouse Mirror turned out to be a thoroughly solid listen, with excellent jazzy instrumentals and great bars with a lot of substance and depth. How We Intended is Marlon Craft’s sophomore album, and it is a confirmation. Marlon Craft shows and proves he understands how it’s done, taking the strengths of his debut and building on them.
How We Intended is a well-rounded project, consisting of 17 well-sequenced tracks in total. The opening track “2020 Intro” is a perfect example of how an album should be opened – a first track needs to be strong to pull the listener in, and this one does. Marlon Craft has a great voice and a dope flow, and his content is relatable with consistent lyrical sharpness, regardless of the topic. The record features tasteful production from Plain Pat, 6ix, and IllMind amongst others, and Marlon Craft is joined on the album by guests Radamiz, Bobby Feeno, Chris Rivers, Oswin Benjamin, Katori Walker, and Malz Monday.
How We Intended is one of those rare albums with the potential for widespread appeal – boom-bap traditionalists, as well as people from the pop-rap crowd (and everyone in between), can find plenty to enjoy here without being turned off by influences that may not appeal directly to personal tastes. There are enough banging beats, but there’s lots of more subtle musicality to be found on How We Intended too – beats-wise there even are some forays into trap-like territory that surprisingly do not hurt the cohesiveness of the album in any way (although a track like “Roadtrippin” is one of the weaker songs on the album for us). For HHGA, the album would have been better with less of the sing-songy hooks, but that’s just a minor complaint – they might not bother you.
In today’s music game where lots of artists release one placeholder project after the other – everything to stay in the public’s eye continuously – Marlon Craft’s How We Intended clearly is the opposite of a slapped-together quickie. This is a serious release, undoubtedly an album that will prove to have staying power.
Release date: February 10, 2021.
The Musalini & O Finess - No Squares In My Circle
It’s hard to keep up with the releases from artists who have adopted the rap-noir sounds of Roc Marci and Griselda, all with the same kind of minimalistic atmospheric beats and the same kind of tough-guy coke & pimp rhymes. Bronx, New York-native The Musalini is one of the top-dogs in this subgenre of Hip Hop though, his work definitely is a cut or two above the music of most of the competition.
No Squares In My Circle is a strong follow-up to The Musalini’s 2020 LP Return Of The Oro. And even if No Squares In My Circle is a collaboration with Denver’s O Finess, it kind of feels like a sequel to Return Of The Oro in many ways – not in the least because of the similar (and awesome) cover art. No Squares In My Circle offers nothing you haven’t heard before, but this is a great project anyway.
Release date: January 29, 2021.
K.A.A.N. - KAIZEN
Maryland rapper K.A.A.N.’s umpteenth release in this last couple of years is one of his best, with positively themed concepts and meaningful lyrics, and with extra flavor added by guests like R.A. The Rugged Man, A-F-R-O, Locksmith, Blu, and Deca. KAIZEN is too short a just over 30-minutes, but most tracks on this project are strong: “Right Now”, “Rerun” (with R.A. The Rugged Man), “Resonate”, “D.I.Y.”. “Interstellar” (with Deca), and “The Great Illusion” all are memorable K.A.A.N. songs.
Release date: May 7, 2021.
Kota The Friend & Statik Selektah - To Kill A Sunrise
Kota The Friend and Statik Selektah’s To Kill A Sunrise is an uncomplicated but a fun listen, with chill-out jazzy boom-bap beats crafted by Statik Selektah and thoughtful lyrics from Kota The Friend. It may not be the best work either artist has ever released, but To Kill A Sunrise is plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Props to the cover art designer too – To Kill A Sunrise sounds exactly like the cover suggests.
Release date: March 19, 2021.
Conway The Machine & Big Ghost Ltd - If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed
Conway continues to show growth as an artist on If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed. This project is a great follow-up to the equally strong No One Mourns The Wicked – Conway and Big Ghost Ltd’s cooperative project released in 2020. Conway’s bars hit hard as always, but it’s Big Ghost Ltd’s instrumentals that elevate If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed to a higher level.
At 30 minutes If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed is much too short to be considered a proper full-length of course, and on such a short project everything has to be perfect. Not everything is perfect here – there are a couple of forgettable tracks on It Bleeds It Can Be Killed (like “Highly Praised”) – but fortunately, there are more bangers – like “Toast”, “Red Beams”, and especially the absolute stand out “Kill All Rats” (with Ransom & Rome Streetz). Due to its brevity If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed is more like doesn’t rank higher on this list, but this is a dope project nonetheless.
Release date: February 5, 2021.
Pseudo Intellectuals - Only Built For Food And Drinks
Pseudo Intellectuals is a trio from Buffalo, New York. They debuted in 2008 with the excellent but sadly slept on Resourceful Illery. Since 2008 they’ve dropped a number of dope projects, Only Built For Food And Drinks is another fine addition to their catalog. Only Built For Food And Drinks is a must-listen for fans of traditional sounding Hip Hop – melodic boom-bap beats, lots of throwback style scratching, and clever wordplay: this album is a fun listen.
Release date: January 30, 2021.
New Jersey-based and Colombia-born emcee CRIMEAPPLE is one of a new generation of Hip Hop artists releasing projects at a steady rate, and he has become one of the underground’s frontrunners of the Griselda style kind of street rap. CRIMEAPPLE is better than most of his contemporaries, and his style is different enough to set him apart from most others too – his use of ‘Spanglish’ is refreshing, and his sense of humor makes his bars fun to listen to. YDFWC? is not even his best release (that would be Aguardiente, his 2018 collaboration with Big Ghost Ltd.), but this is a strong project nonetheless.
Release date: March 26, 2021.
Sankofa - The Most Delicious Gold
Sankofa is an emcee hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has dropped a bunch of great projects in the past decade – with three excellent full-length projects and a couple of dope EPs in the last two years alone. Similar to last year’s Glyde Drexler the music on The Most Delicious Gold is soulful and smooth, and Sankofa’s relatable lyrics are a pleasure to listen to. Don’t sleep on Sankofa – check out The Most Delicious Gold, and no doubt you’ll soon be digging for his back catalog too.
Release date: March 15, 2021.
Cee Knowledge - The Calidelphian
Cee Knowledge (Craig Irvin) is a Fresno-based artist also known under the moniker Doodlebug as one-third of the legendary Digable Planets trio (together with Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, and Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Vieira). With Digable Planets, he was responsible for two timeless jazz-rap classics: Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993) and Blowout Comb (1994). Of the three Digable Planets members, it arguably is Ishmael Butler who has the most celebrated post-Digable Planets career as half of Shabazz Palaces (the monumental Black Up (2011) is one of HHGA’s favorite albums of the 2010s).
The Calidelphian is Cee Knowledge’s first proper solo full-length, the title of the album is a play on where Cee Knowledge is currently based geographically (Fresno, California) and on where he is from originally (Philadelphia). The album combines the best of both worlds: The Calidelphian offers 13 full tracks of head-nodding boom-bap beats combined with smooth melodic vibes, topped off with solid wordplay. Fans of 90s-centric Hip Hop will not regret checking out The Calidelphian.
Release date: February 5, 2021.
Ca$ablanca & Cap Chino - Korea-Town
Dallas-based artists Ca$ablanca and Cap Chino are regular collaborators, the last time just a couple of months ago on Gold Front Fang$. Ca$ablanca is one of those extremely prolific artists, dropping multiple projects each year, Korea-Town is his first release in 2021. Ca$ablanca’s content is solid, as are the contributions of guests Nowaah The Flood and Meph Luciano, D.R.E Colombian Raw, and Y.N.X.716, but this album is special because of the instrumentals. Korea-Town is packed with intriguing beats crafted by Cap Chino, all slightly experimental and off-kilter – this is not a straightforward or easy listen. Korea-Town is not an album for a skim-listen, but one to give some real attention – a slow-burner that will (need to) grow on you.
Release date: February 26, 2021.
Big Stacks & Nite Tyme - The Vibe Out
The Vibe Out is a collaborative album by Philadelphia producer/emcee Big Stacks and Milwaukee emcee Nite Tyme, a follow-up to their 2017 The Balance of Power album. Big Stacks’ slick melodic boom-bap instrumentals are superb from start to finish, perfect for Nite Tyme’s dope flows and potent wordplay. Composed of 15 tracks and with a running time of one hour, consistency is the strength of The Vibe Out – there’s no filler material on this album. The nostalgia-inducing The Vibe Out is a must for rap traditionalists, and for anyone else up for top-quality Hip Hop for grown-ups.
Release date: February 11, 2021.
Observe Since 98 - Le Dernier Royaume
While the likes of Roc Marciano and the Griselda family still reign supreme in the rap-noir/street-rap subgenre of Hip Hop, there are plenty of others who consistently come with fire. Loretta Records founder Observe Since 98 is such an artist. Le Denier Royaume follows Observe Since 98’s “Savage” trilogy (which started with Portrait of A Savage (2018), followed by the sequels Return Of The Savage and Royaume Du Sauvage in 2019 and 2020 respectively).
Le Denier Royaume is Observe Since 98’s best project yet. He has his own unique sound, with dark atmospheric beats and loops laced with obscure samples taken from vintage French recordings. Le Denier Royaume very much is a producer’s album – this project is much more about the instrumentals than it is about the lyrics, even if there’s nothing wrong with the vocal contributions of guests like Jay NiCE, Knowledge the Pirate, Chris Skillz, Ankhlejohn, Planet Asia, All Hail YT, Monday Night, M.A.V., Pounds, Napoleon Da Legend, (and others).
Le Denier Royaume was released on January 1st of 2021, signifying a great start of the Hip Hop year.
Release date: January 1, 2021.
Sage Poet - Parable Of The Chariot
Sage Poet is a socially conscious emcee and producer from Malawi, Africa. He has been active in the Hip Hop game since 2004 – Parable Of The Chariot is his latest project, one that should get him some international spotlight. With his dense lyrics touching on subjects such as African history, colonialism, spirituality, religion, love, and more, Sage Poet is reminiscent in a way of Killah Priest – high praise of course. Musically, Parable Of The Chariot is more accessible than Killah Priest’s music usually is though – the production on this album is tight, with some African vibes here and there to add some extra character. Hip Hop listeners willing to look further than what’s on offer in America and the UK will find a lot to enjoy in Sage Poet’s Parable Of The Chariot.
Release date: March 6, 2021.
I Self Devine - Rituals Of Resilience
Rituals of Resilience is Micranots’ frontman I Self Devine’s third full-length solo album, following the slept-on Rhymesayers releases Self Destruction (2005) and The Sound Of Low Class Amerika (2012).
Like the first two albums of the Twin Cities-based emcee, Rituals of Resilience is an album with substance. In I Self Devine’s own words: “Rituals of Resilience is about the act of survival under intense pressure and heat. A place to hide when being in your body isn’t safe. A reimagining of new worlds and possibilities. The creative culture of Indigenous and diasporic ethnic groups of African descent surviving and dismantling 400 hundred years of white supremacy …through a visceral fabric of repetitious intentional movements, vibrations, gatherings, acts, symbols, and codes.”
The instrumentals on Rituals of Resilience are not easy to get into, and musically the album tends to meander at times, but I Self Devine’s content is strong – and important. This project is a slow-burner that will grow on you – support the artist and the experience, and go get Rituals of Resilience.
Release date: March 18, 2021.
Zcience Division & Mike Titan - Applied Precision
Most of the best 90s-centric boom-bap production these days is done by non-US artists, Applied Precision is one of the many examples to prove that point. Zcience Division (DJ Zino and Roley Omega) is a duo from London England, and for Applied Precision they crafted 14 tracks composed of dope beats, creative sampling, and fresh cuts & scratches. For Applied Precision DJ Zino and Roley Omega joined forces with Bronx emcee Mike Titan, whose smooth flow adds to the throwback flavor this project exudes. Go listen to Applied Precision if that Golden Age sound is your thing.
Release date: March 18, 2021
Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim - Tha YOD Fahim
Even if both artists had better projects in the past individually, Tha YOD Fahim still is plenty good. Their January release Tha Wolf On Wall St was a great appetizer, on this full-length Droog and Fahim deliver on the promise made by that EP, once again showcasing undeniable chemistry. The Nottz-produced “Slam Dunk Contest” with a verse from the incomparable Pharoahe Monch is a highlight, as are tracks like “Charles Barkley”, “Reign Man”, “Lost Smile”, and “Questions”. Production on Tha YOD Fahim is kind of hit-or-miss, but the positives easily outweigh the negatives – at the very least there’s enough uniqueness to most beats to make this project stand out from the crowd.
Release date: February 19, 2021.
Conway The Machine - La Maquina
La Maquina is Conway The Machine’s second full-length of the year, following If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed, a collaboration with Big Ghost Ltd. Guests on La Maquina include Conway’s Drumwork signees Jae Skeese and 7xvethegenius, his Griselda labelmates Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher, as well as 2 Chainz, J.I.D., and Ludacris – the last two appearing on the album’s lead single “Scatter Brain”. La Maquina features production from Don Cannon, The Alchemist, Murda Beatz, frequent collaborator Daringer, and others.
Westside Gunn is the business-brain of the Griselda family unit, and Benny The Butcher the best emcee – but Conway is the most consistent of the three: La Maquina is yet another solid outing from Conway, even if it has some meh trap-flavored tracks on it. While Conway’s last project with Big Ghost Ltd. had him going over the typical dusty Griselda type of production, on La Maquina Conway opted for going for a more commercial sound, building on the versatility showcased on last year’s From King to A GOD.
Considering Conway standards, La Maquina has some trendier-as-usual production on a couple of songs – borderline trap tracks like “KD” and “Scatter Brain” are cases in point, those two are among the weaker songs on the album, along with a meandering quasi pop-tune like “Had To Hustle”. Plenty of strong tracks too though: stand-outs include “Bruiser Body”, “Blood Roses”, “200 Pies”, and especially “Sister Abigail” – the absolute highlight of this album.
Overall, while this isn’t the best Griselda project, there’s enough to enjoy on La Maquina. Whether you love it or not will most likely depend on your tolerance level for the 4 or 5 commercial-sounding tracks on the album – for us, these songs are must-skips that bring the album a couple of notches, unfortunately.
Release date: April 16, 2021
The Hill - Receiving
The Hill is a duo from New England, consisting of Pine Hill and Winter Hill. Receiving is their debut project, and it’s unlike anything you will hear this year – no mean feat in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop market. Receiving is a concept album, following two convicts from an alien world who stage a prison break – snatching a perpetually transmitting radio communicator on their way out – seeking refuge on an obscure habitable planet far beyond the legal reach of their captors. Receiving is their transmission (the first third of a three-album-long plot).
You may have heard better beats and better emcees, but what Pine Hill and Winter Hill do here truly is something special. Receiving is an immersive experience, an album that should be taken in in a single sitting, in the same you’d experience a movie. From start to finish Receiving offers cinematic instrumentals full of atmosphere and lots of dope in-song beat-switches, complemented by compelling quasi-abstract story-telling – reminiscent in a way of Deltron’s classic Deltron 3030 album. Hip Hop listeners who get tired of all the thirteen-a-dozen albums out these days would do well to go and check this project out.
Release date: February 13, 2021.
Myka 9 & Profound - Nine Clouds
Myka 9 is a veteran rapper and producer from Los Angeles, a prominent member of the Project Blowed collective. He is also a founding member of Freestyle Fellowship, Haiku D’Etat, and Magic Heart Genies, and he’s dropped countless other collaborative and solo projects over the years. On Nine Clouds, Myka 9 raps over beats crafted by the recently deceased UK producer Profound, whose melodic soul and sample-infused backdrops enable Myka 9 to embrace his boom-bap roots. Nine Clouds is more accessible than some of Myka 9’s more experimental works, and one of his best projects in recent years. Features from the likes of Blu, Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, Eligh, The Grouch, Blueprint, Joaquin Daniels, Lily Fangz, and DJ Essential help round out this short but dope project.
Release date: February 12, 2021.
Substance810 - Making Waves
Substance810 is an emcee/producer from Port Huron, Michigan, Making Waves is his seventh album (he started out as Tekneek, and debuted under that name with The Definition in 2006). Making Waves offers 40 minutes of way above-average underground boom-bap, Substance810’s beats hit hard and his pen game is a sharp as his production is. DJ Grazzhopppa adds a nice throwback vibe with his scratching on several tracks, and there’s a bunch of guest emcees like Estee Nack, Ty Farris, Killy Shoot, Chuck Chan, (and others) to add some extra lyrical flavor. This is an album that will appeal to fans of traditional boom-bap as well as to fans of atmospheric rap-noir in the vein of Griselda and such artists.
Release date: January 29, 2021.
Ol' Burger Beats & Vuyo - Dialogue
Ol’ Burger Beats is a producer from Oslo, Norway, for Dialogue he teamed up with South-African/Norwegian emcee Vuyo. According to their Bandcamp page Dialogue is inspired by spiritual and revolutionary jazz records, sweet soul music, and classic New York Hip Hop – people up for a dose of chilled-out jazz-rap with a left-field twist should definitely check out Dialogue.
Release date: February 19, 2021.
General Steele & Es-K - AmeriKKKa's Nightmare III: City Under Siege
Smif-N-Wessun emcee General Steele links up again with producer Es-K, this time for AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare III: City Under Siege – a timely and much-needed album suited for the troubled times we live in. AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare III: City Under Siege is politically-charged and thought-provoking in the best tradition of acts like Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and dead prez. The album drags a bit in the middle of the tracklist, but starts and ends strong with tracks like “What AmeriKKKa’s Fears”, “AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare”, “AmeriKKKan Made, “No Piece, No Justice” (with a powerful verse from guest rapper Ruste Juxx), “Border Wars”, and “Propaganda”. AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare III: City Under Siege is a must-listen.
Release date: February 5, 2021.
The Ruler Gods - The Ruler Gods
Rawmatik, Raf Almighty, & G Stats are The Ruler Gods, and this self-titled album is their first collaborative project.
From their Bandcamp page: “Hip Hop is a universal language that millions have learned to speak in the nearly five decades since its birth, from New York to Berlin to Tokyo. That is why Budapest’s beatmaker Rawmatik (who previously worked with rap-heavyweights like Edo G., Termanology, and Rasco), New York’s underground veteran G Stats and lyricist Raf Almighty from Baltimore could understand each other immediately with the methods of the “golden era”. The trio of the two American linguists and the Hungarian beatsmith named themselves The Ruler Gods, and with months of joint, hard work across continents, they created a full record of material out of rhymes reflecting real life, all based on heavy boom-bap beats. Ruste Juxx and Ras Kass jumped in with their own verses and made the album complete.”
A couple of forgettable tracks stand in the way of a higher ranking, but there are some real bangers on here – listen to this whole project and you’ll be sure to add stand-out tracks like “The Ruler Gods” and “Chase The Dragon” to your ‘best of 2021‘ playlist.
Release date: February 18, 2021.
Tesla's Ghost - Amahl Farouk
Tesla’s Ghost is an emcee from London, UK. He has adopted the sound and style of grimy underground NYC street rap in the vein of Griselda and Roc Marci, and he does it well. Dusty beats and samples set the scene, serving as a fitting backdrop for Tesla’s Ghost’s well-written rhymes. “Opioid” ft. Lord Juco, Ray Vendetta, and Falcon Outlaw is the standout song, but Amahl Farouk is a consistent effort with no weak spots – don’t sleep on this project if that Griselda sound is your thing.
Release date: March 2, 2021.
Breeze Brewin & Juggaknots - Hindsight
The Juggaknots is a trio from The Bronx, New York, consisting of siblings Breeze Brewin, Queen Herawin, and Buddy Slim. They have been at it for a while – real heads will know of their debut studio album, Clear Blue Skies (1996), an indie release (re-issued as Re:Release with 11 bonus tracks in 2003) that is now considered an underground classic.
Hindsight is billed as the debut solo album from Breeze Brewin, with production from the likes of Marco Polo, Black Milk, De La Soul’s DJ Maseo, DJ Spinna, Sebb Bash, and others. With Hindsight Breeze Brewin gives us 13 dope songs, with socio-political insights (“Devil’s Advocate”, which has Breeze criticizing former President Donald Trump), his view on the music industry (“The Application”), and some deeply personal bars about friendships (“The Uninvited”) and about being a teacher as a person of color (“Taking Notes”). Hindsight is a slice of grown man Hip Hop at its finest.
Release date: January 22, 2021.
The Bad Seed, Honey Dinero & Stuck B - Kill Switch 2: The Devil's Rejects
The Bad Seed is a veteran underground emcee from Brooklyn NYC, whose career began in 1998 with his group O.B.S. (Original Blunted Soldiers), which included artists such as Jean Grae, Pumpkinhead, Krisis, and others. Kill Switch 2: The Devil’s Rejects is a follow-up to last year’s KILL SWITCH, a concept album that follows 10-year-old Malik, a good innocent kid with a deep curiosity for street life and hood culture who finds a comic book called “KILL SWITCH” which chronicles life in hell, exposing a world of violence, robbery, extortion, etc. As he reads, Malik begins to find himself immersed in the world, heading for an inevitable conclusion.
Kill Switch 2: The Devil’s Rejects is another concept album for which The Bad Seed teamed up with Honey Dinero and Stuck B. This album plays like an ‘audio film’, emulating the 2005 Rob Zombie movie The Devils Rejects with The Bad Seed starring as ‘Otis’, Honey Dinero starring as ‘Baby’ and Stuck B delivering the role of ‘Captain Spaulding’. Just like KILL SWITCH, Kill Switch 2: The Devil’s Rejects is a strong project, with dope beats crafted by Team Demo, and entertaining rhymes by The Bad Seed, Honey Dinero, and Stuck B. Don’t sleep on Kill Switch 2: The Devil’s Rejects.
Release date: February 16, 2021.
Nef- Tabula Rasa
Tabula Rasa is a solid album from NYC-based producer Nef. To take care of the vocals he recruited an impressive host of talent with Termanology, Skrewtape, Ras Kass, Ghetto MC, Rome Streetz, Tek, Wais P, Nems, Lil Fame, G4 Jag, Fla$h, Dirty Sanchez 47, Raw Wattage, Mooch, Rigz, UFO Fev, Ea$y Money, Ren Thomas, Bobby J From Rockaway, Madhattan, FastLife, Fabeyon, Mia Jae, Bugout, ISO Indies, Azure Lauryn, Sincere, Mr. Bristal, and Michael Fiya. Nothing really memorable about Tabula Rasa maybe, but Nef’s instrumentals are pretty dope throughout and the emcees come with entertaining bars for the most part. Another plus is that Tabula Rasa offers value for money with 50 minutes of music, bucking the trend that has artists drop and bill barely 30-minute quickies as full-length albums. Adding Tabula Rasa to your library is a no-brainer if 90s-centric underground NYC Hip Hop is your thing.
Release date: April 2, 2021
TEK - Pricele$$
Representing Bed Stuy Brooklyn, Tekomin “TEK” Williams burst onto the Hip Hop scene in 1993 with a couple of appearances on Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage album. As one-half of the groundbreaking duo Smif-N-Wessun, and as an integral part of super collective Boot Camp Clik, TEK has cemented himself as a Hip Hop icon. His last album with Steele as Smif-N-Wessun, 2019’s The All, was dope as f, but his last solo effort – last year’s PANDEMIC was a disappointment. Thankfully, Pricele$$ is a return to form.
A host of high-profile guest rappers – like Buckshot, General Steele, Sheek Louch, Rome Streetz, Roc Marciano, AZ, Conway the Machine, Dark Lo, and Lil Fame – add value with their appearances, as does Sean Price with a posthumous verse. Where TEK’s Smif-N-Wessun partner Steele dropped a strong socio-politically-charged album with his AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare III: City Under Siege earlier this year, TEK’s Pricele$$ is more straightforward in its lyrical content – what we get here is a lot of that good old-fashioned sh*ttalking and street rap wordplay. Nothing incredible or especially memorable about Pricele$$, but both the beats and the rhymes are solid enough to add this TEK album to your library.
Release date: March 5, 2021.
Special Mention: Blu - God Is Good
Typically, we don’t include mixtapes or re-releases on our ‘best albums of the year’ lists, but this one is too good to ignore so it deserves a special mention. God is Good is unmixed and unmastered, but this ‘old’ Blu project is dope as f anyway. Originally titled TheGodLeeBarnesLP, the project was slated for a 2010 release, intended to be Blu’s highly anticipated sophomore solo album – but unfortunately, it ended up being one of the biggest ‘what could have beens’ of the decade when Blu lost his master files due to a hard drive crash.
So even if it will always be sad this album never got a proper release, we can be thankful for Blu electing to (re)release the raw version of TheGodLeeBarnesLP as God Is Good via his Bandcamp page – it definitely deserves attention even as unpolished as it is. The rough-around-the-edges low-quality sound gives off basement/demo tapes vibes, no doubt it will make old heads nostalgic for how Hip Hop was experienced in the good ol’ days.
At 70 minutes God Is Good is a long listen and here and there it meanders, but that’s OK – this is pure uncut raw lo-fi underground boom-bap that should please more Hip Hop listeners than just Blu fans.
Release date: January 1, 2021.
- DRE Colombian Raw – PLOMO
- Words Of Phrase – Humbly Worded
- ALLBLACK – TY4FWM
- Slik Jack & Sqreeb – The Kingpin Project
- Young Deuces – All I Ever Wanted Was An Opportunity
- Mephux, SoundLord, Zaza God & LordMobb – The Most High
- Mike Rovone – I Smoke Herb. I Make Music.
- DøøF & Graymatter – Radioactive Spinach
- Mimz & Dunn – Infinite Lawn
- Sharkula & Mukqs – Take Caution On The Beach
- Ilajide – Code 200
- Krayzie Bone – Leaves Of Legends
- Snoop Dogg – From Tha Streets 2 Tha Suites
- DA Donnieboy – Dreaming Azure
- Philmore Greene – Knowledge & Power
- Devine Carama – Kingtucky 3
- P-Ro & CLOAQxDAGGER – Broken Swagger
- Asun Eastwood, M.A.V. & Sibbs Roc – 98 Miles
- Alan Doyle – Fourtitude
- Cappadonna – Black Tarrzann
- Big Flowers – Big Smile
- The Bad Seed – #GETHOMESAFE
- Meph Luciano – Vercetti
- Lync Lone – The Plot Thickens
- Tom Caruana – Brewing Up
- The Palmer Squares – Out With The Old
- Zig-Lah – Ballads Bullets & Bibles
- Rahiem Supreme – The 9 Diagrams
- Skypp – King Of Indiana
- 101 – Whatever Happens Happens
- Fiend – Thank God Its Fiend
- MF Grimm – The Hunt For The Gingerbread Man 2: Get The Dough
- Bang Belushi – Rudy
- Sage Poet – Parable Of The Chariot
- G4 Jag & Mephux – Regressions
- Ea$y Money & Fabeyon – Beyond EA$Y
- Kaimbr & Sean Born – Nino Green
- Cosm & Micall Parknsun – Aspetta
- Sole – MBFX
- Sleep Sinatra & Ed Glorious – Sleep Gloriously
- Mike Fish – Train Tracks
- Styliztik Jones & DirtyDiggs – Everybody Eat
- Termanology & Shortfyuz – GOYA 3
- Bugsy Da God – Diary Of An Underground Villian
- Eclyse & Skinny Bonez Tha Godfatha – Prime Expertise
- Frac & Tone – Sweet Chin Music
- Asun Eastwood & The Twinning – Prophecy Is My Present
- Jay NiCE & Machacha – A Stream Of Consciousness
- Malus & Lyrical Waterside – Connectivity
- Jim Jones & Harry Fraud – The Fraud Department
- Erratic – Apocalyption
- Curtis Dro – P.O.T.P.
- Wais P – SUNOVA
- slowthai – TYRON
- Lync Lone & Iceberg Theory – Acid Jazz
- Slaine – The Things We Can’t Forgive
- Roc$tedy – Flying Colors
- Chris Crack – Might Delete Later
- Hobgoblin – The Awakening
- Paul Willis – Wonderland
- Jon Connery – Nah
- Shamon Cassette & Jaz Infinite – Blades Of Steel
- Ty Farris – Practice Raps
- Frank Knight & Chuck Lawayne – Slim & Mickens
- jaH-Monte – Seventy-Fifth & Amsterdam Side B: Lost In NYC
- Rick Fury – Return Of The King
- Paavo – Crumble A Paper Man
- Brian Bars Burns & Ollie Dodge – Dynamic Duo
- Kev Brown & J Scienide – Stray From The Pack
- Antahlyzah – The Ceremonial Gifted
- Illa Styles – Mind Your Reality
- Son Of Tony – Son On A Sunday
- 2nd Generation Wu – Hereditary
- Nyck Caution – Anywhere But Here
- 7 Oddz & DJ-M1 – Seven vs One
- Reasun- Resolve (The Mixtape)
- YUNGMORPHEUS – States Of Precarity
- Lukah – When The Black Hand Touches You
- Meph Luciano – Annihilation
- DJ Cosm – Natural Within
- ethemadassassin – Bear Handz 5: Gram Newton
- Taiyamo Denku & John Doe – Bars Bury Them
- The Primeridian & Rashid Hadee – Prime Diesel
- R.A.P. Ferreira – Bob’s Son (R.A.P. Ferreira In The Garden Level Cafe Of The Scallops Hotel)
Best EPs Of 2021
- CZARFACE & MF DOOM – Super What?
- Edo G & Insight Innovates – Edo G & Insight Innovates
- Nowaah The Flood & Giallo Point – Right Over Left
- Hus Kingpin – Threesome 2: The Art of Sex
- DJ Muggs & Flee Lord – Rammellzee
- John Jigg$ & BP – The Madness
- Benny The Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2
- Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – $mokebrea
- Super Helpful Kwame – The Swedish Fish And Weed Diet
- Planet Asia & DirtyDiggs – Block Shaman
- Ill Conscious – Import Export
- Jayy Grams – G.R.A.M.S.
- Supreme Cerebral & Reckonize Real – Gold Chain Warrior
- Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED 1.5
- Jihad The Roughneck MC -The Little Assassination Handbook
- YUNGMORPHEUS & ewonee – Thumbing Thru Foliage
- The Good People & MiLKCRATE – Frost Writtens
- Curren$y – Collection Agency
- Qwazaar & Batsauce – Stoned Giant
- Ol’ Dayz – The Good Old Days
- Bobby J From Rockaway & Daru Jones – One Mic & Drum
- Tha God Fahim & Your Old Droog – Tha Wolf On Wall St
- Kota The Friend – Lyrics To Go Vol. 2
- Bun B & LE$ – Distant
Best Instrumental Hip Hip Albums Of 2021
- DJ Muggs The Black Goat – Dies Occidendum
- DJ Wigs – 30 Days
- Beatgist – Abstract Flavors
- Madlib – Sound Ancestors
- Moar – Remix Herbs (A Tribute To MF DOOM)
- Juicy The Emissary, Boombaptist, & Elaquent – Komfort Food
- Scott thrILL – thrILLmatic
- C-Lance – The Demon Of Hiroshima
- Wax Tailor – The Shadow of Their Suns
- Marco Polo – MP On The MP: The Beat Tape Vol. 1
Best Hip Hip Compilation Albums Of 2021
- Mello Music Group – Bushido
- The Notorious B.I.G. – Music Inspired By Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell
- Lord Mobb – Lord Mobb Compilation Vol.1
- llect Recordings: Mind The Rap Vol. 5
- Configa – Configa Presents The ConfigHas Crates
- Griselda & BSF – Conflicted (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Best Hip Hop Adjacent Albums Of 2021
- Tony Allen – There Is No End
- ¡Mayday! – Minute to Midnight
- The Egyptian Lover – 1986
- Man Made Mountain – Average Man
- The Lasso – 2121
- A.I. The Anomaly – Soul’s Acrylic
Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2020
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