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 over a half year in and with new projects expected from artists like Redman (Muddy Waters Too), Raekwon (OBFCL3), Phife Dawg, Madlib, Che Noir, and Freddie Gibbs, 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 still 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 – January – June, and July – December. 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: October 8. Latest entries: #7 Curly Castro – Little Robert Hutton; #11 Guilty Simpson & Gensu Dean – EGO; #15 Wiki – Half God; #24 Atmosphere – WORD?
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
British-Nigerian emcee Little Simz had one of our favorite albums released in 2019 with the punchy GREY AREA – her third LP and international breakthrough project. Now she’s back with her fourth full-length studio album: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an astounding album, absolutely Little Simz’s magnum opus. It’s an album to listen to over and over again, an album that will easily survive today’s short hype circles, an album people will have on rotation for years and years to come. With a runtime of 65 minutes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is not a second too long – Little Simz effortlessly manages to captivate from start to finish with her superior flow and personable lyricism, dealing with topics such as race, womanhood, self-esteem, and family.
The album’s 19 tracks are sequenced perfectly – picking “Introvert” as the album opener was cleverly done, as it sets the whole thematic and philosophical scene of what Little Simz set out to do with this record. Production on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is virtually flawless – straddling numerous genres from hard-hitting Hip Hop to R&B-and neo-soul, to Afro-beat and even synth-funk, going from orchestral and bombastic to smooth and laid-back seamlessly. So many different influences crammed into one record resulting in an entirely cohesive package: this is an album unlike any other.
“Introvert”, “Woman”, “Little Q, Pt 2”, “Two Worlds Apart”, “Speed”, “Standing Ovation”, “I See You”, “Rollin Stone”, “Point and Kill”, “How Did You Get Here”, “Miss Understood”, and especially the symphonic “I Love You I Hate You” – nothing but stand-outs on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Even the interludes work and add value to the album, which is unusual.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert echoes Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998) in ambition, scope, musicality, and timelessness – there can be no higher praise. This is a phenomenal album, the kind of album you will want to replay the moment you finish it. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of the better Hip Hop albums released in the last five years, a future classic without a doubt.
Release date: September 3, 2021.
Skyzoo - All The Brilliant Things
Skyzoo never misses. All The Brilliant Things is another great LP from the Brooklyn emcee. The Salvation (2009), Live From The Tape Deck (with Illmind, 2011), A Dream Deferred (2012), Music For My Friends (2015), The Easy Truth (with Apollo Brown, 2016), In Celebration Of Us (2018), and Retropolitian (with Pete Rock, 2019) all are quality Hip Hop albums – All The Brilliant Things is as good as any of them, maybe even better.
Elegant boom-bap production with a jazzy touch, plus elite lyricism from one of the best emcees in the game today: All The Brilliant Things is about as good as it gets. Guest appearances from Aaria, Ill Al Skratch, BJ The Chicago Kid, Raheem Devaughn, Stlndrms, Karriem Riggins, MonicaBlaire, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Xiolynn, and Blakk Soul help round out what is one the finest Hip Hop albums of the year.
Release date: June 11, 2021.
Ka - A Martyr's Reward
A Martyr’s Reward is Brownsville, NYC emcee/producer Ka’s 8th studio album (the 6th as Ka), following on the heels of 2020’s Descendants Of Cain. Descendants Of Cain is a top-5 album of 2020, and his other masterpieces The Night’s Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) are among the best Hip Hop albums released in the 2010s.
Ka’s pen game is among the most refined in the game, he always comes with beautifully crafted poetic lyrics, aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes. A Martyr’s Reward is no different: this is another amazing Ka project, built on his signature minimalistic instrumentals that serve to give room to his hushed hoarse flow and his intricate wordplay. The narrative this time is centered around his own life, making this one his most personal album to date. Just like on his previous efforts, on A Martyr’s Reward 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 – as always there’s a lot to unpack in his content. Ka’s music is an acquired taste, those with an ear for atmospheric instrumentals and true lyricism will know to cop this one though.
Release date: August 13, 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.
Boldy James & The Alchemist - Bo Jackson
Following their underrated debut collaboration My 1st Chemistry Set (2013), Detroit emcee Boldy James and top-tier producer The Alchemist teamed up again in 2020 for the long-awaited The Price Of Tea In China, one of the best Hip Hop albums of the year. On the heels of TPOTIC, Boldy James and The Alchemist surprise with Bo Jackson, their third collaborative full-length project. Like My 1st Chemistry Set and The Price Of Tea In China, Bo Jackson delivers on all fronts. In fact, Bo Jackson is the best of the three.
The Alchemist already crafted an excellent set of beats for Armand Hammer’s Haram earlier this year, and he brought his A-game for Bo Jackson too. Boldy James entertains with his cold flow and his street narratives, and the featured artists all are perfect fits: Benny The Butcher, Roc Marciano, Earl Sweatshirt, Stove God Cooks, Curren$y, and Freddie Gibbs show up to add extra flavor to Alchemist’s atmospheric instrumentals. “Double Hockey Sticks” with its haunting boom-bap instrumental signifies an excellent start of the album, and the rest of the tracklist is just as good. “Brickmille To Montana”, “E.P.M.D.”, “Photographic Memories”, “First 48 Freestyle”, “Illegal Search & Seizure”, “Fake Flowers”, and “3rd Person” all are highlights, but the strength of Bo Jackson is its consistency – there really aren’t any weak tracks on this LP.
Boldy James is one of our MVPs of 2020, with two albums (The Price Of Tea In China and the magnificent Manger on McNichols) in our 2020 top 25 and The Alchemist is another 2020 MVP because of his work on TPOTIC and Freddie Gibbs’ Alfredo. With Bo Jackson, both Boldy James and The Alchemist continue their winning streaks. Bo Jackson is one of the best albums of 2021.
Release date: August 13, 2021.
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.
Curly Castro - Little Robert Hutton
“Curly Castro’s new album Little Robert Hutton is a pæn to the radical imagination. Over the course of fourteen songs, the Bajan-American artist fuses his vivid wordplay with a historical continuum of black revolutionary thought and the result is an AfroFuturist vision in 3-D IMAX. This is Castro’s rawest and most uncompromising work, the heat from a thousand ghetto uprisings smoldering in every bar. Lyrical gymnastics take a backseat to the power of the word and the concussive energy of the beats. Little Robert Hutton is hard in every sense of the word, speaker rattling banger after banger. That production is handled by Quelle Chris, Messiah Musik, Blueprint, August Fanon, Locust, DOS4GW, and Jason Griff. The album also features guest appearances from Breezly Brewin, Mr. Lif, PremRock, billy woods, Zilla Rocca, Marcus Pinn, ALASKA, SKECH185, Candice Murray, and Margel the Sophant.”
Curly Castro has been on our radar for a good while now. His ShrapKnel album (with PremRock) is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2020. His solo debut FIDEL (2013) was our favorite Curly Castro LP up to now, but Little Robert Hutton is even better. Lyrically profound and fun in equal measures, and musically adventurous with captivating soundscapes from start to finish – Little Robert Hutton is an intense album you shouldn’t sleep on. This is another winner out of Backwoodz Studioz, one of the most interesting record labels out there today.
Release date: October 1, 2021.
Mach-Hommy - Pray For Haiti
Enigmatic NYC-Haitian rapper Mach-Hommy reconnected with Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn for this album, marking their first collaboration after Mach-Hommy broke with the Griselda camp in the mid-2010s due to creative differences. Westside Gunn executive produced Mach-Hommy’s Pray For Haiti, and he appears on four songs. WSG the businessman is a brilliant visionary, and his fingerprints are all over this album – he has a GREAT ear for beats and a flair for aesthetics. WSG the rapper is an acquired taste though, you either love his kiddy voice and his adlibs, or you hate them. We have little tolerance for WSG’s screechy pitch and constant “brrrrrrrt doot doot doot boom boom boom” antics, but because his vocal presence here is limited to just four of the fourteen songs, his contributions are scarce enough not to ruin the album, fortunately.
In addition to the WSG features, frequent Mach-Hommy collaborator Tha God Fahim appears on one track, as does Griselda artist Keshia Plum – but Pray For Haiti is very much Mach-Hommy’s show, his varied flows are better than ever and his verses carry power. While Mach-Hommy’s bars are dope, it’s the daring production that takes Pray For Haiti to that other level. The murky jazz-flavored beats crafted by the likes of Denny Laflare, Camoflauge Monk, Cee Gee, Sadhugold, Messiah Musik, DJ Green Lantern, and Conductor Williams are f***king amazing. The first single “The Stellar Ray Theory” is an obvious highlight, but tracks such as “The 26th Letter”, “Folie A Deux”, “Marie”, “Magnum Band” (with a Capital Steeze reference that will make you frown), “Blockchain”, and “Ten Boxes – Sin Eater” are just as awesome.
Westside Gunn takes to Instagram a lot, calling most of his and other Griselda releases classics and masterpieces. That’s rarely true of course, but labeling Pray For Haiti with those overused honorifics may turn out to be apt. Pray For Haiti certainly is one of the best releases on Griselda in a while, or even ever. Years from now, we will still be talking about the two best Griselda albums – Westside Gunn’s FLYGOD (2016) and Benny The Butcher’s Tana Talk 3 (2018) – and Pray For Haiti is in that league.
Release date: May 21, 2021.
Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix
Injury Reserve is a trio formed in 2013 in Tempe, Arizona by rappers Stepa J. Groggs (Jordan Groggs), Ritchie With a T (Nathaniel Ritchie), and producer Parker Corey. After two well-received mixtapes (Live from The Dentist Office (2015) and Floss (2016)) and an equally acclaimed EP (Drive It Like It’s Stolen (2017)), the trio released their eponymous full-length debut album in 2019. Injury Reserve turned out to be an excellent culmination of what Injury Reserve has been all about from the beginning: making forward-thinking, genre boundary-pushing Hip Hop music. The music on Injury Reserve hit hard and was kind of pop-friendly at the same time: like a weird blend of the sounds of acts like Run The Jewels, JPEG Mafia, Dälek, and clipping – a superb left-field Hip Hop album that contained a ton of promise for future Injury Reserve projects.
A year after the release of Injury Reserve, tragedy hit with the untimely death of Groggs – who passed away on June 29, 2020, at age 32. It’s almost as if you can hear the remaining members’ physical reaction to Groggs’ death through the music on the second Injury Reserve full-length. By The Time I Get To Phoenix is a touching, heartfelt salute to a bandmate and friend, framed by a lot of the jarring boldness that made Injury Reserve such a gripping listen on their debut. Given Groggs’ integrality to the Injury Reserve sound and what losing him signified, it was not hard to predict that By the Time I Get to Phoenix would be unlike anything the group had released prior, and it is – even if the album was partly conceived while Groggs was still alive and he appears posthumously throughout. Groggs’ bars on “Knees” dealing with his alcoholism and the nature of addiction are particularly poignant.
By The Time I Get To Phoenix is even more experimental than the previous Injury Reserve album was, way darker, brasher, denser, and way more inaccessible too. With its blend of shoegaze-esque synths, post-punk, glitch-hop, industrial noise, and dissonant sounds, it’s impossible to fit this project in a genre box. Post-rap may do, but all in all, this is one of those albums that defy genre conventions with their uniqueness – reminiscent that way to Death Grips’ classic The Money Store (2012), another once-in-a-decade kind of album.
Parker Corey’s soundscapes on By The Time I Get To Phoenix are dystopian and anxiety-inducing, making for an incredibly immersive and affecting canvas of loss and grief. Ritchie delivers emotionally raw, cathartic verses throughout the whole album – especially his poetry on the stand-out “Top Picks For You” is heartbreaking. The perfect synthesis of the emotive beats and bars on By The Time I Get To Phoenix results in a dark and raw album, a harrowing and intensely moving tribute to a friend gone way too soon. R.I.P. Stepa J. Groggs.
Release date: September 17, 2021.
Solemn Brigham - South Sinner Street
Solemn Brigham is an up-and-coming rapper from North Carolina, whose work with fellow North Carolinian L’Orange as the duo Marlowe has been critically acclaimed all around. Both Marlowe (2018) and Marlowe 2 (2020) are excellent presentations of edgy Hip Hop, with captivating experimental soundscapes crafted by L ‘Orange that served to bring out the best of Solemn Brigham.
Solemn Brigham is one of the most vocally acrobatic emcees working today, a technical virtuoso who’s able to contort himself into a dizzying array of different flows and inflections. Across the 14 songs on his debut solo album South Sinner Street, Solemn Brigham examines the decay of American society by virtually any metric – economic or medical, or ones more abstract and spiritual – through the prism of his hometown Albemarle, North Carolina. This feeling of decay permeates daily life in innumerable ways, giving the present a gnawing, ambient dread – and this dread is reflected by the music and lyrical content on South Sinner Street.
Musically South Sinner Street lacks some of the punch and the consistency that made two Marlowe albums so strong, but overall the production from Supa K, L’Orange, The Lasso, Krum, Scud One, Kuartz, and Frank Drake is solid enough. The album is all about Solemn Brigham songwriting and lyrical virtuosity anyway – the two Marlowe albums served to establish his name as a one-of-a-kind vocalist, and South Sinner Street is a confirmation: Solemn Brigham is one of the most exciting new voices in Hip Hop.
Release date: September 24, 2021.
Guilty Simpson & Gensu Dean - EGO
This Mello Music Group release is one of our favorite releases of the year, an album we will keep returning to for a long time to come. Detroit-based emcee Guilty Simpson has a characteristic flow that’s not for everybody, but those who’ve been following and digging him since his excellent Stones Throw solo debut Ode To The Ghetto (2008), will no doubt quickly count EGO a favorite too.
Texas-based producer Gensu Dean’s stripped-down boom-bap production proves to be a perfect fit for Guilty Simpson’s baritone and for the contributions of guest vocalists Marv Won, Black Milk, Skyzoo, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Yarbrough. Flawless beats and sharp bars – EGO is a top 20 Hip Hop album released in 2021.
Release date: October 8, 2021.
Evidence - Unlearning, Vol. 1
Evidence is an emcee/producer from Los Angeles, known for being a member of the group Dilated Peoples and from being one-half of Step Brothers with The Alchemist. He has also built a strong solo catalog, with The Weatherman LP (2007), Cats & Dogs (2011), and Weather or Not (2018) – all three albums rank high on our best-of-lists for the years they were released in.
Unlearning, Vol. 1 is Evidence’s fourth solo album, like his last two albums released on the renowned Minneapolis powerhouse Rhymesayers Entertainment. The album features excellent production from Evidence himself and from The Alchemist, Nottz, Sebb Bash, Animoss, Mr. Green, V Don, Khrysis, Daringer, and EARDRUM (QThree). It also features guest vocals from Boldy James, Murkage Dave, Conway the Machine, Navy Blue, and Fly Anakin.
Unlearning, Vol. 1 is just as good as his other solo releases, but different too – basically a reinvention of himself after Weather or Not ended his Weatherman trilogy. Unlearning, Vol. 1 is more subtle musically, with buttery toned-down boom-bap beats to give more room for Ev’s authentic and relatable rhymes. “Better You”, “Pardon Me”, “Moving On Up”, and “Taylor Made Suit” are stand-outs, but there are no weaknesses – overall this is another thoroughly consistent project from Mr. Slow Flow.
Release date: June 25, 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.
Nas - King’s Disease II
Queensbridge legend Nas is one of the GOATs, responsible for one of the best rap albums of all time, plus plenty more classic Hip Hop besides. His last truly great album was 2012’s Life Is Good, his output since that one has been hit-and-miss. Last year’s King’s Disease was good, but not great. King’s Disease II is not perfect either, but it is definitely better than its predecessor – more substantial and more consistent. The first King’s Disease had a shorter tracklist and tried too hard to awkwardly balance soul sample-based east coast Hip Hop and modern trap, which made it kind of a mixed bag with lows and highs in almost equal measure. Furthermore, King’s Disease could have benefitted from a more careful selection of features, which is also the case with King’s Disease II – but to a lesser extent, fortunately. King’s Disease II really has only one throwaway song – “YKTV” featuring YG and a limp performance from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – an artist who has no business being on a Nas album, as far as we are concerned. Most of the other features are OK – even if we’re not crazy about Eminem’s phoned-in verse on “EPMD2” (which otherwise is a fine track, if only because it is good to hear Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith on a Nas record).
Other stand-outs include “Rare”, “Death Row East”, “Count Me In”, “Store Run”, “Nas Is Good”, “Moments”, and “Nobody” (with a terrific Lauryn Hill) – Nas’ pen game is top-level and his rapping is as strong as ever, plus Hit-Boy’s production once again proves to be a good fit for Nas’ bars. Hit-Boy’s production on King’s Disease II continues to modernize Nas’ sound, staying in tune with the polished sound palette of its predecessor. Even those who don’t really care for everything Hit-Boy did on this album production-wise will have to admit that the modern blends are done in a tasteful way and Nas gels well with them.
It looks like Nas is finally ready to comfortably fulfill the role of an elder Hip Hop statesman, which is his due after 30 years on top of the game. King’s Disease II might go down as a late-career classic, and even it is not in the same league as Nas classics such as Illmatic (1994), It Was Written (1996), Stillmatic (2001), The Lost Tapes (2002), God’s Son (2002), Distant Relatives (with Damian Marley, 2010), and Life Is Good (2012), it is a damn good Nas project.
Release date: August 6, 2021.
Wiki - Half God
Wiki is an emcee from NYC and Half God is his fourth full-length LP, entirely produced by Navy Blue. Wiki’s previous releases all were strong projects, but Half God is his best work yet, a fully realized work containing 16 full songs and an hour of music. Navy Blue’s stripped-down but hypnotizing instrumentals have heart and soul and they bring out the best in Wiki, whose pen game is better than ever before – it’s good to see a young artist demonstrating artistic growth and increasing maturity like Wiki does here.
Similar to the album cover, Wiki’s content is a jumble of ideas and thoughts, but his relatable lyrics are thought-provoking and/or entertaining and Half God manages to captivate from start to finish. Features from Earl Sweatshirt (on the fantastic “All I Need “), MIKE, and others add extra flavor. “Not Today”, “Roof”, “Never Fall Off”, “Drug Supplier”, “The Business”, “All I Need”, “Gas Face”, “Promised”, “Still Here”, “New Truths”, “Grape Soda” – lots of stand-outs and no real weaknesses on Half God. Navy Blue’s Dilla-Esque production is heavenly and Wiki’s simultaneously nostalgic and forward-looking bars match the quality of the beats. Half God is a slow-burner and not suitable for skim-listens – this is an album to sit with and to be immersed in, bucking the trend that sees artists releasing EP-length ‘albums’ to cater to the needs of the short attention span crowd and to the song-streaming music consumption reality. Half God is a REAL album and a memorable one at that – one of the best Hip Hop albums released in October.
Release date: October 1, 2021
Tyler, The Creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Flower Boy (2017) is our favorite Tyler album. His output prior to Flower Boy was hit-and-miss, and IGOR (2019) was overhyped and overrated in our opinion. Tyler is a mainstream media darling with a lot of stans who will love everything he does no matter what, so not blindly praising him is usually means catching a lot of flack. No doubt there’s a host of fans and media types who will declare this album their AOTY (at least until a new Kendrick album drops), but is CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST really any good?
Well, yes it is. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is on par with Flower Boy, and it is way better than the edgy-for-edginess-sake IGOR is. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST feels like Tyler put all of his previous albums in a blender, and kept the best aspects to fuse them into this project. He took some of the abrasive Hip Hop sounds from his older albums like Goblin and Wolf and combined them with the neo-soul synth-funk sounds of Flower Boy and IGOR to great effect.
This definitely isn’t the most conceptual or innovative album Tyler has ever released, but that doesn’t matter. The production on this album is immaculate, impressively done by Tyler alone (except for “JUGGERNAUT”, which was co-produced with Pharrell). Sure, overall production on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is less ‘grandiose’ and more understated than it was on his last few projects, but the album is better for it. There’s lots of variety, we get a couple of Hip Hop bangers alternated with smooth neo-soul/R&B flavored songs – which could have resulted in a messy presentation, but Tyler makes it work here.
Also, Tyler is rapping again (his so-so singing is something that brought down IGOR), which is a plus of course. Tyler is still maturing in his songwriting, and even if this album lacks a cohesive narrative structure, Tyler’s observations, introspective thoughts, and storytelling (especially on the epic “WILSHIRE”) are some of the best he ever penned – as evidenced by cuts like “CORSO”, “WUSYANAME”, “HOT WIND BLOWS”, “RUNITUP”, “MANIFESTO”, “MASSA”, and the aforementioned “JUGGERNAUT” and “WILSHIRE”, which all are top-tier Tyler tracks. And then there are the features, that more often than not, reinforce the tracks rather than take away from them – even the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla $ign, 42 Dugg, and YoungBoy NBA manage not to irritate but to actually add value.
Not everything’s perfect though. At times the album meanders when R&B vibes take to the forefront, and it could have done without some of the skits. And who remembers DJ Drama, who made a career of ruining mixtapes with his ‘energetic’ ad-libbing? Well, unfortunately, he is doing his annoying screaming/talking routines on this record a couple of times too often too – every single track here with DJ Drama would have been significantly better without him. You can use his antics on an intro or an outro, but that should be it. These are minor complaints though – overall CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is a great album, one that can rival Flower Boy for the title of Tyler’s best album yet.
Release date: June 25, 2021.
Dave - We're All Alone In This Together
We’re All Alone In This Together is British rapper Dave’s sophomore effort, the follow-up to the excellent PSYCHODRAMA (2019). Like he did on PSYCHODRAMA, on this new album Dave eloquently explores issues like relationships, identity, immigration, racial injustices, and life in general. The centerpiece on PSYCHODRAMA was “Lesley” (a gripping 11-minute tour-de-force that depicts an abusive relationship and its shattering fallout in harrowing detail), the stand-out on We’re All Alone In This Together is “Heart Attack” – another 10-minute masterpiece in which Dave gets raw and deep in a way few are able to.
“We’re All Alone”, “Both Sides Of A Smile” (with great guest vocals from James Blake), “Verdansk”, “Three Rivers”, “In The Fire”, and “Survivor’s Guilt” are other highlights – somber-sounding piano-laced songs that showcase Dave’s songwriting talent and his ability to deliver unsparing social commentary with vivid imagery. Even a couple of more radio-friendly Afrobeat cuts like “System”, “Lazarus”, and “Law Of Attraction” work in the context of the album – these tracks (and a couple of others more lighthearted ones) do not distract, but rather provide some necessary levity from the deeper tracks on an hour-long tracklist.
Following up on a debut as iconic as PSYCHODRAMA is hard to do, but with We’re All Alone In This Together Dave nailed it. Because Dave’s bars are kind of heavy on life in the UK (so they may go over the heads of some non-British listeners) it remains to be seen if Dave will earn much international recognition with this album. He deserves it though – where PSYCHODRAMA tentatively established his name outside of the UK, We’re All Alone In This Together is a confirmation that should further cement Dave as a bonafide generational talent.
Release date: July 23, 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.
HRSMN (Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest & Ras Kass) - The Last Ride
20 years ago, the four HRSMN (Ras Kass, Kurupt, Killah Priest & Canibus) were all at the height of their major label careers when their intended debut album, The Horsemen Project, was leaked online and massively bootlegged. The leak consisted of nine unmixed and unmastered songs that would go on to sell over 100K units; and not a dime in revenue for the group. There have been intermittent starts and stops along the journey for HRSMN, with a few singles and various collaborative appearances, and a full reunion track on Canibus’ Fait Accompli album; which once again began to build momentum with fans that the super-group would reunite and finally release a true official debut album.
As HRSMN, Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest, and Ras Kass have finally reunited to bring the world The Last Ride (a.k.a. The Debut Final Album), which features guest appearances and production from Planet Asia, Hus Kingpin, Chino XL, Wais P, RBX, Phil da Agony, El Gant, Tragedy Khadafi, Bronze Nazareth, and Anno Domini. The Last Ride displays the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a truly biblical fashion. Kurupt (Famine), Ras Kass (Pestilence), Canibus (War), and Killah Priest (Death), all coming together to bring light to the ills of the world; and reclaiming their rightful throne as one of the most dominant lyrical forces Hip Hop has ever witnessed.
Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest, and Ras Kass have always been four of HHGA’s favorite emcees, so we were pre-inclined to love this album. The only apprehension we had was about the quality of the production – Kurupt, Ras Kass, and especially Canibus have proven in the past not to always have the best ear for beats. Fortunately, the instrumentals on The Last Ride do the job. Most of these beats are not super memorable maybe, but they do not bring the album down at all – and this project is all about BARS anyway. All four HRSMN are elite lyricists – they bring their A-game to The Last Ride, and they play well off each other. Close to an hour of music, and only one or two little missteps (the so-so ballad-like “Love N War” most prominently) – but there’s plenty of bangers to offset any weaknesses: “Centaurs”, “This Sh Right Here”, “Morticians”, “Believer”, “Apocalips Now”, “Burger King”, “Last Ride”, and the immediate stand-out “Impossible” are all dope as f. The Last Ride is one of our favorite Hip Hop albums of the year.
Release date: June 18, 2021.
Magna Carda - To The Good People
Magna Carda is a duo from Austin Texas, consisting of vocalist Megz Kelli and producer Dougie Do. They are responsible for a number of strong projects in the past decade, and with To The Good People, they continue their streak of quality – this arguably is their best album yet. This album is a tasteful and stylish affair – a near-flawless combination of pure musicianship from Dougie Do and strong vocal performances from Megz Kelli. Her understated conversational-style flow and her thoughtful lyrics are a joy to listen to, and the soulful instrumentals crafted by Dougie Do are perfect for her voice. Guest spots from Cara Bishop, Ava Raiin, Demetruest, IAN, and Juju Bae add extra flavor to help round out what is one of the best albums you will hear this year.
Release date: June 15, 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.
Necessary People - These Are The Necessary People
Necessary People are a duo composed of Baltimore artist Height Keech and Philadelphia’s ialive – These Are The Necessary People is their first album together as a production team. For this project, they enlisted a host of like-minded underground artists for the guest vocals – emcees like PremRock, Curly Castro, Zilla Rocca, Uncommon Nasa, and Sleep Sinatra make appearances, among others. Having guest rappers on every track is a risk – it can easily turn an album into an incohesive compilation-like mess – but on These Are The Necessary People it all works out beautifully. This is an uncomplicated, but FUN album. The lyrics are entertaining, the flows are tight, and the instrumentals are dope as f. Do not sleep on These Are The Necessary People.
Release date: July 26, 2021.
Atmosphere - WORD?
Rhymesayers flagship act Atmosphere has been one of our favorite duo’s in Hip Hop for a long time, even if their last couple of projects weren’t all that great to us. WORD? is a definite return to form as far as we are concerned.
“Steering back toward their signature sound, the album further highlights producer Ant’s undeniable talents as the project leans into the classic boom-bap aesthetic, bringing unique energy out of Slug’s wisdom, wit, and delivery. From the onset, WORD? proves to be every bit an exercise in refining and advancing their craft as it is a harkening to earlier work. That is, while their releases have grown more broodingly cinematic, and increasingly concerned with the human condition and mortality, WORD? manages to reintroduce moments of levity and lightheartedness throughout, an approach seldom heard on their albums of late.
From album opener “Fleetwood,” with its razor-sharp snares and warm fleshy bassline, to the resonant melody of “Clocked”, there are strong hints of Atmosphere’s nascent years within the sound. Meanwhile, songs like “Woes”, “Strung” and “Vanish” cheerfully make light of daily hardships, but they’re more likely to be remembered for making listeners want to bob their heads and sing along. With Slug and Ant directing the course, the album plays like a joyride through a range of experiences and emotions, with an extensive cast of special guests hopping in and out along the way, including Evidence, Muja Messiah, Musab, Nino Bless, Nikki Jean, Anwar HighSign, BlackLiq, Sa-Roc, Haphduzn, Lateef the Truthspeaker, Aesop Rock, and the late MF DOOM (RIP). The result is a project that feels like it came from the era or, perhaps more fittingly, the mindset that created albums like God Loves Ugly, Seven’s Travels, or the popular Sad Clown series while sounding as polished and perfected as more recent albums like Mi Vida Local or Whenever.
Ultimately, WORD? pairs the breadth of Atmosphere’s talents with the beauty of their growth, all while showing they still have a lot of fun in the process and don’t mind letting the listener in on the fun as well.”
This blurb taken from the Rhymesayers site describes our feelings about the album perfectly. Because of the fact WORD? feels like kind of a throwback to Atmosphere’s glory days, it will probably end up cracking our top 5 Atmosphere albums after we sat on it for a while. You can’t go wrong with Slug and Ant – if you liked any of their earlier albums, WORD? is a must-have without a doubt.
Release date: October 8, 2021.
Let The Dirty Say Amen - God Hates Gucci
“Let The Dirt Say Amen is pure unfiltered rap. Established in 2019 as part of the rebranding and expansion of The Dirty Church, LTDS Amen represents a sound that reminds you of an era in rap music that was all about raw lyrics, dirty beats, and an emphasis on the 5 elements of Hip Hop culture! Without question, it is important for me as an MC and producer to remain true to the tradition. My art is created with the culture in mind and on behalf of the people in the streets. My brand is inspired by the boom-bap era and growing up in The District of Columbia during the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s. My music is a direct response to the glorification of murder, drugs, and sex within Hip Hop culture.”
After reading this Bandcamp blurb it is not hard to conclude this is a project for Hip Hop purists. The sample-based production on God Hates Gucci is excellent, and the bars are thought-provoking and entertaining – not just ‘old head complaining’ about mainstream rap, don’t let the blurb throw you off too much. This is a great project – one that is flying under everybody’s radar apparently, but one that deserves your attention.
Release date: August 13, 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.
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.
Killah Priest - Summer End Cafe
Summer End Cafe is the fourth full-length solo album Killah Priest released in less than two years, and it’s another ‘weird’ one. Killah Priest has always been one for a-typical lyrical content, but especially on his last four albums he clearly went for a different sound: experimenting with often drumless instrumentals while leaving behind the bass-heavy beats prevalent on his earlier projects. Summer End Cafe has something of everything we’ve come to know from Killah Priest. There are a couple of Wu-flavored bangers (like “95 Bodega” and “Vapor”), drumless tracks with oddball samples (“Lady Barbara” and “The Final Cup”, among others), wonderfully weird storytelling (especially “Wimbledon 1936”), and most songs laced with KP’s usual esoteric ramblings. There are a couple of headscratchers too (“Cafe Fling” most notably), but overall Summer End Cafe is another great Killah Priest project – not his best, but still better and way more interesting than the thirteen to a dozen albums most other artists are content to keep releasing. At this point, considering his longevity and his excellent catalog, it is safe to say Killah Priest is a Hip Hop monument – one of our favorite artists of all time in any case.
Release date: August 16, 2021.
Backxwash - I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES
Zambian Canadian trans artist Backxwash’s bold and forward-thinking I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES serves harrowing raps over industrial horrorcore beats. This powerful and energetic audio-visual landscape of pain and despair features Backxwash as an empress of chaos on a path of self-destruction. The deeply atmospheric and immersive I LIE HERE is Backxwash’s best project yet – taking nothing away from her previous releases which are strong too, especially the short but hard-hitting God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (2020). I LIE HERE expands directly upon the foundation she built with that project.
The sinister and dark style on I LIE HERE serves to make Backxwash sound even more focused than she did on God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, with an even greater sense of catharsis present. Touching on topics such as gender identity, mental illness, racism, and substance abuse Backxwash’s visceral vocals hit like hammers – the unapologetic lyrical content backed by ominous beats that assault the listener’s eardrums relentlessly. Not for everybody, but those up for an abrasive listen with a strong LGBTQ+ message will find this to be an impressive album. Fans of acts like Dälek and clipping should definitely pick up I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES.
Release date: June 20, 2021.
Grip - I Died For This!?
Snubnose (2019) and Porch (2017) were two excellent projects from underhyped Atlanta artist Grip. Underhyped until now, that is. With his varied and well-rounded Shady Records debut I Died For This? he is sure to take that step into the limelight. This is a career-defining album, one that can potentially turn Grip into one of the game’s top dogs.
Release date: August 29, 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.
Moor Mother - Black Encyclopedia Of The Air
Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is Philadelphia-based experimental musician, poet, and activist Camae Ayewa’s seventh studio album as Moor Mother. BRASS, Moor Mother’s collaborative album with billy woods was one of our favorite albums released in 2020. Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is not as experimental and abrasive as BRASS is or as most of her other previous projects are, but that’s not to say there is no edge to this project. A Moor Mother album is never easy or straightforward and this one is a challenging listen too. The instrumentals are smooth and meditative with mellow jazz rhythms and soothing ambient vibes, giving room for Moor Mother’s spoken word flow and to her dense, meaningful lyrics – “Made A Circle” is the highlight, along with tracks such as “Mangrove” and “Shekere”. Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is a slice of avant-garde Hip Hop at its finest, accessible enough to also appeal to listeners who normally steer clear from this corner of Hip Hop.
Release date: September 17, 2021.
Lloyd Banks - The Course Of The Inevitable
Well, what do you know? It’s 2021, and G-Unit’s prodigal son Lloyd Banks made his long-awaited return with The Course Of The Inevitable – his fourth studio album and his best album to date. The album is Lloyd Banks’ first project since 2016’s Halloween Havoc 3: Four Days of Fury mixtape and his first official studio album since H.F.M. 2 (The Hunger for More 2) dropped in 2010. The Course Of The Inevitable is on par with some of his best mixtapes, and better than the three studio albums he has released prior to this one.
The Course of the Inevitable boasts appearances from well-respected artists like Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, Benny the Butcher, Styles P, and Ransom (among others) – their features spread across 18 tracks. Props to Lloyd Banks for not catering to the needs of the short attention span generation and going for a 68-minute presentation, with the 18 full songs averaging 4 minutes in length. The dark and moody boom-bap beats do the job, and lyrically Lloyd Banks is on the top of his game. The Course Of The Inevitable is one the biggest – positive – surprises of the year.
Release date: June 4, 2021.
Crimeapple & DJ Muggs - CARTAGENA
Crimeapple is a prolific New Jersey-based emcee whose output can be hit-or-miss – it usually depends on who he gets to collaborate with on the production side of things. His full-length debut Aguardiente (2018) which was produced by Big Ghost Ltd was quite excellent and the DJ Skizz-produced Wet Dirt and the DJ Muggs produced Medallo – both released in 2019 – were great too. His output since then has been less remarkable – until this release, that is.
A renewed partnership with producer extraordinary DJ Muggs proved to be just what Crimeapple needed. CARTAGENA is as atmospheric as you might expect from a DJ Muggs produced album – a little less dark sounding than some of his other recent work maybe. With Medallo and now CARTAGENA Crimeapple and DJ Muggs are two for two – this is Crimeapple’s best release of the year.
Release date: September 24, 2021.
Apathy - Where The River Meets The Sea
“The trials and tribulations of real-life tend to bring out the best in artists. Hearing the maturation of emcees in real-time brings us closer to their experience, and reminds us of ours. Apathy is no exception to this rule. After losing his father to cancer, becoming a father of two, and dealing with life’s ills, he proves to be a skilled navigator on the river of life. Apathy’s 7th studio album, Where The River Meets The Sea, is not only a geographical nod to his origins, but also a metaphor for the long winding journey through life that ultimately leads to the cosmic sea of eternity. No stranger to Hip Hop aesthetics however, Ap can’t resist flexing his lyrical ability on braggadocio-laden tracks, ensuring he delivers an album for his fans across the board.”
Where the River Meets The Sea is Connecticut rapper and prominent Army Of The Pharaohs member Apathy’s seventh solo studio album, and one of his best projects yet. Eastern Philosophy (2006), Wanna Snuggle? (2009), Honkey Kong (2011), Connecticut Casual (2014), Handshakes With Snakes (2016), and The Widow’s Son (2018) all are great albums, and Where The River Meets The Sea continues Apathy’s consistent run.
Melodic boom-bap beats crafted by Apathy himself and regular collaborator Stu Bangas, and thoughtful bars from Apathy and guests like Styles P, Lil Fame, and Souls Of Mischief’s Pep Love and Tajai (among others), make for a strong addition to a strong catalog.
Release date: May 28, 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 Black Lung.
Release date: April 2, 2021.
Vinnie Paz - Burn Everything That Bears 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 killer 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.
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.
Blu - The Color Blu(e)
Blu has been on a roll of late – A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night was among our favorite albums released in 2019, while Miles, his third full-length collaborative album with producer Exile, ended up in our top 10 for 2020. His cult classic Below The Heavens (2007) and the slept-on Johnson&Jonson (2008, with Mainframe as Johnson&Jonson) are our other absolute Blu favorites.
Now how does The Color Blu(e) hold up? It’s kind of a slow-burner, an album that demands multiple listens to appreciate its intricacies. “People Call Me Blu(e)” is a stand-out, as are songs such as “I Am Blu(e)”, “Because The Sky Is Blu(e)” and the fantastic last song “Blu(e) World”. All in all, The Color Blu(e) will not replace Below The Heavens as our favorite Blu project, nor is it as good as Miles is – but it is on par with anything else Blu released over the years. Creative production, exceptional sampling, intricate wordplay, and inspiring content: The Color Blu(e) is a great and engaging album from a master of the craft.
Release date: September 24, 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.
Rome Streetz & Futurewave - Razor's Edge
Along with contemporaries like Daringer and Big Ghost Ltd, Canadian beatsmith Futurwave is one of the hottest producers out there today. And NYC-based Rome Streetz is one of the hottest emcees in the game right now – this is his third excellent full-length release of the year – so with these two teaming up, excellence is pretty much a guarantee. Hard bars and beats – Razor’s Edge is a presentation of top-level underground Hip Hop.
Release date: July 23, 2021.
AZ - Doe Or Die II
Over the years, Brooklyn-based rapper AZ has been labeled ‘the most underrated emcee of all time‘ so many times, it’s safe to say that as a rapper AZ is not underrated at all. In fact, it will be hard to find any real Hip Hop fan who doesn’t recognize AZ’s superior skill as a lyricist. The reason AZ never became a household name has nothing to do with people not recognizing his skill set as an emcee, but more with the fact that none of his albums – except his 1995 debut Doe Or Die – are real classics. Most of the AZ albums following Doe Or Die are solid enough, but they are all kind of forgettable too, often let down by inconsistent or bland production and sometimes by repetitive subject matter.
AZ’s longtime and frequent music partner Nas is universally seen as one of the best rappers ever, and Nas’s Illmatic is one of the most celebrated albums in Hip Hop history. The only guest appearance on Illmatic was AZ on “Life’s A Bitch”, and AZ bodied Nas on his own album, with one of the most epic guest verses in Hip Hop history. It proved impossible for AZ to live up to this iconic first impression. Do Or Die was an excellent debut, but it never gained anything close to Illmatic-like acclaim – also because 1995 was so stacked with classic similar-minded albums (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, and The Infamous most notably) that Do Or Die kind of got lost in the shuffle, even if over a million units were sold eventually.
26 years after Do Or Die, and 12 years after his eighth album Legendary, AZ returns with his long-awaited ninth studio album Do Or Die II. Now, is Do Or Die II on par with its 1995 predecessor? Not really, unfortunately. Don’t get it wrong: Do Or Die II is an OK and entertaining album – but it fails to live up to the legacy of its predecessor or even to the build-up anticipation of a new AZ album after a 12-year hiatus. The main problem with Do Or Die II is the same one that prevented all other AZ albums (except Do Or Die) from being classics: musically it seems to lack a bit of direction, focus, and a sense of urgency. In places, it feels like the beats were mailed in by random producers, and even if some top-tier names were involved the album could have benefited from less input. Imagine The Alchemist or Pete Rock taking care of all the beats and the general oversight – that’s what would have led to an album with more punch without a doubt.
Also, the feature list is all over the place. Nas would have been the best possible guest, of course, maybe Kool G Rap or Raekwon as AZ’s erstwhile spiritual contemporaries – this is billed as the successor to Do Or Die after all. But Nas, Kool G Rap, and Raekwon are not here – instead, we get Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and autotune has-been T-Pain: The tacked on “What’s Good” is the worst (and only really bad) track of the album, thanks to T-Pain’s terrible input. Conway The Machine and maybe Dave East are the only two artists that ‘feel right’ appearing on an AZ album.
Al that said: AZ’s pen game is still tight and his lyrical virtuosity is undiminished, which means there’s plenty to enjoy on Do Or Die II. “Keep It Real”, “Different”, “Ritual”, “Blow That S#%t”, “Bullet Proof”, “Check Me Out”, “Time To Answer”, and “Found My Niche” all are pretty strong songs. 25 years from now nobody will be talking about this project the way we are talking about the first Do Or Die today, but without comparing it to its iconic predecessor Do Or Die II is a solid enough album – just not the modern classic we were hoping for.
Release date: September 10, 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.
Pink Siifu - GUMBO'!
Pink Siifu is one of the more interesting figures in today’s underground Hip Hop, always pushing genre boundaries with experimentation and forward-thinking ideas. With GUMBO’! Siifu continues this dynamic vision, like always pulling from varied sources of musical and thematic inspiration to provide a collage of sounds, mixing ingredients like in a good bowl of gumbo. Pink Siifu brought on a host of guest vocalists and producers to add to his musical stew – Big Rube, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Maxo, The Alchemist, and DJ Harrison most notable among them. GUMBO’! is more chilled out than last year’s hard-nosed electronic punk-rap banger NEGRO, and more accessible because of it – despite the experimental vibes that permeate every aspect of the album. Strong jazz, neo-soul, and funk influences, combined with noise rock, ambient, and plunderphonics, all of it laced with Dungeon Family-inspired Southern Hip Hop sounds make for a unique record – another strong addition to Pink Siifu’s catalog.
Release date: August 3, 2021.
Isaiah Rashad - The House Is Burning
Isaiah Rashad is a 30-year-old artist from Chattanooga, Tennessee who emerged on the Hip Hop scene in 2013 after signing to Top Dawg Entertainment – quickly establishing himself as one the flagship acts of the label thanks to the universally acclaimed cilvia demo EP (2014) and his equally lauded full-length debut The Sun’s Tirade (2016).
The House Is Burning is Zay’s long-awaited follow-up to The Sun’s Tirade. This is his mellowest project, with Zay in another – better – place compared to where he was at the time when The Sun’s Tirade was recorded and released. The album’s title can be seen as sort of a metaphor for his life: as his struggles and addictions threatened to consume him, he needed to face and deal with them, or else his house would burn down. Five years after The Sun’s Tirade it turns out Zay has emerged stronger with an album that is confident and fragile at the same time – Isaiah Rashad at his emotional best.
In comparison to Zay’s previous projects, The House Is Burning takes heavier influences from Southern Hip-Hop, with plenty of nods to Memphis rap and trap – with jazz and neo-soul vibes thrown in the mix to great effect, for the most part. We could have done without the Lil Uzi Vert track – Zay can not keep up with his energy and it makes this song feel out of place. There are plenty of strong tracks to offset any misses though. “Darkseid”, “Headshots”, “THIB”, “Claymore”, “Don’t Shoot”, “True Story”, “Score”, and especially “HB2U” all are peak Isaiah Rashad. As the man has said several times himself: this is music for the vibers.
Release date: July 30, 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.
Bronx Slang - Substance
Jerry Beeks and Miggs are Bronx Slang – their self-titled debut was one of our favorite albums released in 2019. Substance is their anticipated sophomore LP, and it’s another banger.
Produced top to bottom by prolific UK pair Jadell and Fake Blood, Substance once again channels that good old-fashioned Big Apple sound of the rap idealist and authenticator: the blasts of “You Already Know”, “Another Night In New York” and “Copy That” come through like a rhino stampede. Substance expands to funk and soul positions spending time in the crates on ‘This Ain’t No Love Song’, synth angles maximizing Bronx Slang’s authoritarianism on “Mic Check”, and pitching the pair to the edge of panic on “Clock’s Ticking”.
Beeks and Miggs read the world its rights, and last rites, without allowing themselves a moment’s relaxation: “Living With A Mask On” goes against simple COVID-related rhetoric, and “Excuse Me Again” shows that the “Excuse Me Officer” narrative from the first Bronx Slang album needs repeating. Their inner-city testimonies and fine-tuning of front-page news define the realistic rather than keeping it real: they remain observant, unfazed masters of keeping their heads, resistant to propaganda and managing the weight of modern life.
Meaningful content, masterful wordplay, and dope beats – the aptly titled Substance is a must-have.
Release date: August 6, 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.
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.
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.
Rita J - The High Priestess
The High Priestess album hones in on the core of Chicago-based emcee/songwriter Rita J.’s humanity as she freely speaks on her personal trials and tribulations, offers her candid disposition on societal norms, highlights her newfound spiritual unfolding, and much more. Partnering with Chicago-based emcee/producer Neak, Rita J. develops a superbly soulful jazz-influenced record that exemplifies her modern growth and evolution as an artist. With Chicago-based emcee/producer Rashid Hadee serving as executive producer of The High Priestess, the overall musical landscape is sonically perfected to bring forth the progressive lyrical prowess of Rita J. and the polished retro/live Hip Hop production of Neak.
The High Priestess is a superb record. Rita J. has a great voice and an enjoyable flow, her introspective content is empowering, and Neak’s instrumentals are hard-hitting and super smooth at the same time. “Mad As Hell” and “Bussin’” are two bangers to start things off nicely, and with the exception of an unnecessary album-flow breaking 2-minute interlude in the middle of the tracklist, there are no skippable tracks – with stand-outs including “My King Is…”, “Reality”, “Ai Shadows”, and “Real Men Cry Too”.
Release date: September 10, 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.
Westside Gunn - Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf Side B
Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf Side B serves as the final tape to the Hitler Wears Hermes series. The companion piece to HWH8 Side A features collaborations with Tyler, The Creator, Jay Electronica, 2 Chainz, Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine, Mach-Hommy, Stove God Cooks, Larry June, AZ, Armani Caesar Rome Streetz, Jay Worthy, Madlib, The Alchemist, Daringer, Conductor Williams, Jay Versace, DJ Green Lantern, Camouflage Monk and more.
“Imagine adding twenty classic songs to an already classic album,” Westside Gunn said about this project. “This is ART on another level; and definitely will be one of the greatest projects ever. Only legends can make a double-album sound this good.”
Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn has never been a stranger to hyperbole, but this time there’s a little bit of truth to what he said. Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf Side B is not a classic, but it can be counted among the better half of his work. It’s as good as any other entry in the Hitler Wears Hermes series, and it’s almost on par with FLYGOD and Supreme Blientele. It is better than Side A for sure, Side A was OK but not really special.
Killer beats and killer features – Side B is Westside Gunn at his best, but it has to be said: most of his releases sound kind of the same, and because of his crazy release schedule we are suffering from Westside Gunn fatigue at this point.
Release date: September 24, 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.
K-Rino - A Blessing And A Burden
Houston legend K-Rino doesn’t let up. K-Rino is one of the most lyrical rappers ever – his classic 1993 debut album Stories From The Black Book is a display of superior lyricism, and it signified the start of an incredibly impressive discog. A Blessing And A Burden is his 47th studio album and like most of the others, it’s a super solid effort. It’s hard to think of ANY other artist in the history of Hip Hop who has managed to balance the same level of quality and quantity in their output – who else has around 50 albums that are all worth listening to? It’s impossible to overstate K-Rino’s significance in Southern Hip Hop – or Hip Hop in general – but for some reason, he never really got the wider recognition he deserves. A Blessing And A Burden will not get him there either, but his loyal fanbase will know what’s up – this album is another jewel in K-Rino’s crown. If you’re a K-Rino noob, go listen to this album, then go back to Stories From The Black Book – and you will soon find yourself digging for more of K-Rino’s music.
Release date: July 14, 2021.
Kanye West – Donda
Kanye West is a fascinating genius and an insufferable idiot in equal measures, and his tenth studio album Donda is the embodiment of his absurdity. At 27 tracks (20 not including intro, interludes, and 4 ‘part 2’ tracks) Donda is a daunting listen, at close to two hours longer than Kanye’s last 3 albums combined. All Kanye albums, especially everything he dropped since his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), are divisive – and Donda probably will turn out to be the most divisive of them all. The ridiculous and chaotic rollout, the annoying exercises in provocation, and the constant revisions and delays remind a lot of what happened before The Life Of Pablo (2017) was released, an album that collapsed under the weight of expectations but wasn’t half-bad when it was finally actually finished.
Let’s start with the positive: Donda is WAY better than Jesus Is King (2019), the thoroughly disappointing project preceding this one. Donda is a strong work on the nature of faith, healing, and loss – as personal and introspective as one would expect from an album dedicated to and named after Kanye West’s late mother. Yes, Donda is overlong and messy – but there’s an underlying cohesiveness here that turns the bloat into a beautiful sort of mess. Like on all Kanye West albums there are high highs and low lows – but fortunately, on Donda, the highs far outweigh the lows. “Tell A Vision” is the most notable throwaway track (an insult to Pop Smoke’s legacy), but with songs like “Jail”, “God Breathed”, “Off The Grid”, “Hurricane”, “Believe What I Say”, “Keep My Spirit Alive”, “Moon”, “Heaven And Hell”, “Jesus Lord”, “Lord I Need You”, Pure Souls”, and “Jesus Lord Pt 2”, there are way more winners.
Donda could have done with fewer guest vocalists – the 33(!) artists appearing here collectively get more time on the album than Kanye himself, almost turning the album into a compilation album. Almost, but with his thematic focus, Kanye manages to hold things together in the end. Kanye West has always been a mediocre lyricist at best, but there’s some of his most powerful lyricism in a decade on Donda – mixed with his intolerable self-preoccupation and the inevitable corny Kanye bar here and there of course. Of all the featured artists, Jay Electronica has the best verse (on the stand-out “Jesus Lord”).
Production-wise, Donda is Kanye’s most intricate and exciting project in a decade (even if it is unpolished in places), deftly balancing a healthy amount of gospel music with the bombastic styles of production Kanye is known for. A two-hour album could easily be an exhausting slog, but Donda is not. This is Kanye’s best album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it will be even better if it gets The Life of Pablo makeover treatment. Kanye stans will call Donda a masterpiece, Kanye haters will say it’s trash. We are not stans and we are not haters – so we can objectively say that while Donda is not a masterpiece like MBDTF is, it certainly is not trash either. Donda is a typical Kanye West album – a mixed bag, with more positives than negatives this time around.
Release date: August 29, 2021.
- D Smoke – War & Wonders
- Common – A Beautiful Revolution (Рt 2)
- Gift Of Gab – Finding Inspiration Somehow
- El Da Sensei & Jake Palumbo – Solving Cases
- Dark Lo & Havoc – Extreme Measures
- Hus Kingpin – The Firm
- Cymarshall Law- I Still Love H.E.R.
- ethemadassassin & Seven Da Pantha – Carter N Newton: The Field Report
- Lord Juco – Raised Right
- EvillDewer – ANOMIA
- Bizzy Bone – War Of Roses
- Stezo – The Last Dance
- The Bad Seed – Alpha
- Bread Of Kaliwild – A Breath Of Fresh Air
- Substance810 & Onaje Jordan – A Righteous Offering
- Wishmaster & Illinformed – Cold Harbour Tales
- Kinetic 9 & BoFaatBeatz – Roll Dolo
- Zaza God – OMNI POTENT
- Damu The Fudgemunk – Conversation Peace
- Wildelux & Macapella – Hard Knocks
- Sean Rose – The Bloomprint
- Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely, Adolf (Side A)
- Dead Monarchs & Tragedy Khadafi – Tabula Rasa
- Uncommon Nasa – Only Child
- Abstract Mindstate – Dreams Still Inspire
- ANKHLEJOHN – As A Man Thinketh
- Tanya Morgan – Don & Von
- M.A.V.& Swab – A Luxury You Can’t Afford
- Creatures Of Habit – Parasites Paradise
- Agallah – High Level Art
- Taiyamo Denku & BoFaatBeatz – Collabzilla
- Da Flyy Hooligan & Teslas Ghost – Flyyghost
- Termanology & Amadeus – 360
- Savage Messiah & IDE – Intelligent Design
- THE GRIM SL3EPER & Vagabond From Beyond – Doom Bap
- Ramson Badbonez – Lead By Example
- TekForce – Child Of The ’80s
- Recognize Ali – Recognize Tha Light
- Dizzy Dustin – Where Do I Go From Here?
- Vic Spencer & Mil Beats – Brainstem Factory
- ANKHLEJOHN, Da$H & LOOK DAMIEN! – Honey Sweeter Than Blood
- Zilla Rocca – Vegas Vic
- Rigz – Wake Ups
- 729 – 729
- Big Kahuna OG & Unlucky Bastards – Flameboy Advance
- DJ Muggs & Hologram – American Cheese
- Dave East & Harry Fraud – HOFFA
- Bash Brothers – Bloodsport Champions
- Lee Scott & Hyroglifics – Gate Clicks Shut
- Napoleon Da Legend & Nejma Nefertiti – Alter Ego
- King Magnetic – Everything’s A Gamble 4
- John Jigg$ & K-Sluggah – Twin Cannons 2
- Andy Cooper – Hot Off The Chopping Block
- Montener The Menace – Anyone Home?
- Taiyamo Denku & Bofaatbeatz – Hip Hop Or Death
- Rejjie Snow – Baw Baw Black Sheep
- Diamond Lung – Jeweler’s Loop
- Juga-Naut & Giallo Point – Smoke Filled Room
- Canibus & Jaximus – Microphone Land
- Styles P – Ghosting
- Irie-1 La Tumba Collective
- Whichcraft – Face The Mask
- MIKE – Disco!
- PremRock – Load Bearing Crow’s Feet
- bRavenous – Flaunting Imperfections
- Azariah – Phase II: The Return Of Sloppy Smooth
- RJ Payne – Leatherface 3: There Will Be Blood
- Larry June – Orange Print
- Bobby Sessions – Manifest
- Your Old Droog – Time
- Planet Asia – Holy Water
- Sankofa – BLKTCHP
- Kool Keith – Keith’s Salon
- Peter Rosenberg – Real Late
- The Good People – The Greater Good
- Skanks The Rap Martyr – M.O.S.T. (Minister Of Severe Torture)
- Rome Streetz & ANKHLEJOHN – Genesis 1:27
- DMX – Exodus
- Benny The Butcher & 38 Spesh – Trust The Sopranos
- J. Cole – The Off-Season
- Vic Spencer – Legend Laws Of Power
- Navy Blue – Navy’s Reprise
- Knowledge The Pirate – Hidden Treasures
- Akai Solo & Navy Blue – True Sky
- Gowe – Jazznight
- Noyz82 – Blade Runner Basquiat
- Asun Eastwood & Finn – The S.O.U.L.
- Fatt Father – Soccer Dad
- Sleep Sinatra – DIVINENATION
- DRE Colombian Raw – PLOMO
- K.A.A.N. – KAIZEN
- Words Of Phrase – Humbly Worded
- ALLBLACK – TY4F
- Configa & DJ Views – The Year After
- Slik Jack & Sqreeb – The Kingpin Project
- Young Deuces – All I Ever Wanted Was An Opportunity
- Mephux, SoundLord, Zaza God & LordMobb – The Most High
- Supreme Cerebral & Eloh Kush – Clark Connoisseurs 2
- Mike Rovone – I Smoke Herb. I Make Music.
- DøøF & Graymatter – Radioactive Spinach
- Mimz & Dunn – Infinite Lawn
- Eric Bobo & Stu Bangas – Empires
- Khrysis – The Hour Of Khrysis
- Conway The Machine – La Maquina
- 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
- Nef- Tabula Rasa
- Asun Eastwood, M.A.V. & Sibbs Roc – 98 Miles
- Mikal Amin, Sir Tumes, Long Division, & Professor Brian Oblivion – Moses Herman Jacobs
- Vic Spencer – Psychological Cheat Sheet 2
- CRIMEAPPLE- YDFWC?
- 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
- Kota The Friend & Statik Selektah – To Kill A Sunrise
- The Palmer Squares – Out With The Old
- Zig-Lah – Ballads Bullets & Bibles
- Rahiem Supreme – The 9 Diagrams
- Skypp – King Of Indiana
- Zcience Division & Mike Titan – Applied Precision
- 101 – Whatever Happens Happens
- Fiend – Thank God Its Fiend
- I Self Devine – Rituals Of Resilience
- MF Grimm – The Hunt For The Gingerbread Man 2: Get The Dough
- Bang Belushi – Rudy
- Sankofa – The Most Delicious Gold
- Sage Poet – Parable Of The Chariot
- G4 Jag & Mephux – Regressions
- Ea$y Money & Fabeyon – Beyond EA$Y
- Kaimbr & Sean Born – Nino Green
- Sage Poet – Parable Of The Chariot
- Cosm & Micall Parknsun – Aspetta
- Sole – MBFX
- Sleep Sinatra & Ed Glorious – Sleep Gloriously
- Mike Fish – Train Tracks
- Tesla’s Ghost – Amahl Farouk
- Styliztik Jones & DirtyDiggs – Everybody Eat
- Termanology & Shortfyuz – GOYA 3
- TEK – Pricele$$
- Bugsy Da God – Diary Of An Underground Villian
- Eclyse & Skinny Bonez Tha Godfatha – Prime Expertise
- Frac & Tone – Sweet Chin Music
- Ca$ablanca & Cap Chino – Korea-Town
- Asun Eastwood & The Twinning – Prophecy Is My Present
- Jay NiCE & Machacha – A Stream Of Consciousness
- Malus & Lyrical Waterside – Connectivity
- Jim Jones & Harry Fraud – The Fraud Department
- Ol’ Burger Beats & Vuyo – Dialogue
- The Ruler Gods – The Ruler Gods
- The Bad Seed, Honey Dinero & Stuck B – Kill Switch 2: The Devil’s Rejects
- The Hill – Receiving
- Erratic – Apocalyption
- Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim – Tha YOD Fahim
- Curtis Dro – P.O.T.P.
- Wais P – SUNOVA
- slowthai – TYRON
- Lync Lone & Iceberg Theory – Acid Jazz
- Slaine – The Things We Can’t Forgive
- Roc$tedy – Flying Colors
- Marlon Craft – How We Intended
- Big Stacks & Nite Tyme – The Vibe Out
- Myka 9 & Profound – Nine Clouds
- Chris Crack – Might Delete Later
- Codenine – LVNDR
- M.A.V. & Hobgoblin – Angelz & Demonz 3
- Hobgoblin – The Awakening
- Cee Knowledge – The Calidelphian
- Conway The Machine & Big Ghost Ltd – If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed
- General Steele & Es-K – AmeriKKKa’s Nightmare III: City Under Siege
- Pseudo Intellectuals – Only Built For Food And Drinks
- The Musalini & O Finess – No Squares In My Circle
- Substance810 – Making Waves
- 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
- Observe Since 98 – Le Dernier Royaume
- R.A.P. Ferreira – Bob’s Son (R.A.P. Ferreira In The Garden Level Cafe Of The Scallops Hotel)
Best EPs Of 2021
- Steel Tipped Dove – Call Me When You’re Outside
- The Musalini & 38 Spesh – In God We Trust
- DJ Swet & Milano Constantine – Block Work
- The Alchemist – This Thing Of Ours 2
- UFO Fev & Vanderslice – The Most High
- Mopes – Mopes
- AWOL One – Flying With Bats
- Rasheed Chappell & 38 Spesh – Checks & Balances
- Elucid & Von Pea – Dirtee Deacon (In T.S.O.Pea)
- Brother Ali – Brother Minutester Vol. 1
- Substantial & Funky DL – We Met In Tokyo
- Zion I – Ritual Mystik
- Boom Bap Project – Return Flight
- Blak Madeen – Takin You To School
- Homeboy Sandman & Aesop Rock – Anjelitu
- Ransom & Big Ghost LTD – Heavy Is The Head
- Vakill – God’s Gun
- UFO Fev & Vanderslice – Enigma of Dalí
- Atmosphere – WORD? – Side A
- Moemaw Naedon & Kalig Kontra – Cult Theatre
- K-Prez & Snowgoons – The Come Up
- Blu & Sirplus – For Sale
- Ransom – Se7en
- UFO Fev – Magnum Opus
- 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
- L’Orange – The World Is Still Chaos But I Feel Better
- Blockhead – Space Werewolves Will Be the End of Us All
- DJ JS-1- Substructurez
- 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
- Mumu Fresh – Queen Of Culture
- 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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