HipHopGoldenAge was founded to celebrate classic Hip Hop and the pioneers of the music and culture we all love, and also to provide a counter-weight to the emptyheaded bubblegum rap that took over the mainstream from the mid-nineties on. Our focus is not just on the eighties and early nineties though – we are also here to show that quality Hip Hop has always existed. If you only follow the mainstream you would not know it, but quality Hip Hop has always been there.
While we will always consider 1987 – 1996 the best ten-year period in Hip Hop ever, this past decade has been exceptional too. Hip Hop is the dominant cultural and musical force in the world now, and its dominance is reflected in its diversity. Listed here you will find the 150 Hip Hop albums WE consider the best of the 2010s decade, based on criteria such as cohesiveness, creativity, replay value, potential longevity, enjoyability, and overall quality, and to a lesser extent on criteria such as impact, influence, and popularity.
Not included are instrumental albums, compilations, mixtapes (otherwise classic mixtapes like Joey Bada$$’s 1999 (2012), Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo (2014), Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap (2013), Mick Jenkins’ The Waters (2014), Big K.R.I.T.’s K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010) and Return Of 4eva (2011), No Name’s Telefone (2016), and others would have made the cut), and EPs. This is our album list, and albums are LPs – Long Playing records – EPs by definition are a different category. Also eliminated for consideration were projects billed as albums that are actually EP-length like Pusha T’s Daytona (2018) and Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts (2018) – projects with a running time of barely 20 minutes, too short for inclusion on this list.
As this list will reflect, our MVPs of the decade include Run The Jewels, billy woods, Rapsody, CunninLynguists, Apollo Brown, Skyzoo, Danny Brown, and Kendrick Lamar. Some of the albums listed here have received general critical acclaim and have enjoyed commercial success, some were completely ignored and slept on by the media, critics and the general Hip Hop audience alike. So – can you find YOUR favorite 2010s albums here? Which albums are missing, which ones are ranked too low or too high? Do weigh in with your opinion, here or on Social Media!
1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
What can be said about this monument of an album that hasn’t been said a million times already? This album is special, in a once in a generation kind of way. To Pimp A Butterfly is like this generation’s version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (1971), or Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988).
With good kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar (2012) had already released a near-flawless project, but this follow-up turned out to be even bigger and better. To Pimp a Butterfly is a grandiose achievement: both a soul-bearing confessional and a compelling state of the nation address – this album’s cultural significance can not be overstated. There’s nothing easy or straightforward about the instrumentals either: TPAB features a potent blend of live instrumentation, neo-soul, stripped-down jazz fusion, occasional funk, and Hip Hop to give the album a vast historical musical appeal – it’s an amalgamation of 70 years of Black music. Kendrick Lamar’s narrative thread and the vast cast of guests appearing on the album only underline its expansive scope and ambitions.
This is not an easy, straight-forward listen, but it is an important one. To Pimp A Butterfly is a timeless genre-blending masterpiece that will forever reside in the highest echelons of the Hip Hop pantheon.
2. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
Wow – who would have thought El-P and Killer Mike could outdo their collaborative debut Run The Jewels (2013)? That record was epic and unstoppable enough, but this one is even better – more layered and even darker. The out-of-the-box combination of El-P and Killer Mike has proven to be unbeatable – this album is lyrically intelligent and hard-hitting as well as sonically brilliant, RTJ2 easily is one of the best and most important Hip Hop albums of this decade.
3. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (2011)
Black Up is the debut studio album by Shabazz Palaces, the duo consisting of Palaceer Lazaro (formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. This album is pretty much amazing, unlike anything you have ever heard before. Experimental Hip Hop, Progressive Hip Hop, Abstract Hip Hop – call it what you want, just know no label can do this project justice. And it doesn’t need a label either, other than ‘classic’. At ten songs, Black Up is a tight presentation, but not a second is wasted. Throughout the 10 songs, deep beats highlighted by electronic flourishes complement the idiosyncratic flows and intricate lyrics filled with abstract metaphors and intelligent observations – there’s a lot to unpack here.
Even though Shabazz Palaces’ follow up efforts were interesting enough – especially Lese Majesty (2014) is good – up to now they have never reached Black Up‘s level of outstanding excellence again, and it is hard to see how they could. This album is something special, unique like It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is unique, or like Madvillainy is.
To really do justice to this musical treasure you need to listen to it on a quality system or with really good headphones or earbuds – otherwise, you might miss the deepness of the bass and other sonic intricacies. Black Up certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those open for a challenging listen or just for something different from 13-in-a-dozen rap, this album really is pure gold. Black Up is one of the most (if not THE most) creative, innovative, and captivating Hip Hop albums of the decade.
4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (2014)
Typically we don’t much care for gangsta rap or coke rap or whatever label is attached to tough-guy crime rhymes, but the fruits of the out-of-the-box collaboration between Gary, Indiana-based gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs and the Oxnard, California native, left-field production-genius Madlib are a firm exception. As with Madlib’s collaboration with MF DOOM, which resulted in the best Hip Hop album of the 2000s, his partnership with Freddie Gibbs leads to a product that is bigger than the sum of its parts. On Piñata Gibbs’ coarse flow works perfectly with Madlib’s soulful and funky soundscapes – arguably Madlib’s best work since 2004’s Madvillainy. Guest spots by the likes of Scarface, Raekwon, Danny Brown, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt (among others) add extra flavor, which results in 2014’s second-best album (just after RTJ2). The album could have done without some of the skits, but all-in-all this powerhouse of an album truly is a masterpiece.
5. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 3 (2016)
The best record of 2016, Run The Jewels’ third album is another hard-hitting winner – it’s crazy to think how consistent their projects have been. El-P and Killer Mike’s chemistry remains as great as it has always been, on this album they once again do pretty much everything right. El-P’s production is amazing (of course), the lyrics are deep and thought-provoking, the flows are as good as ever, and the features all work. Even if RTJ2 is the best Run The Jewels album, RTJ3 is not far behind.
6. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Because he is such an
idiot excentric it’s not difficult to dislike Kanye West, but whether you like him or not it’s impossible to deny the excellence of this album. We have never been big fans of Kanye West, but we’re not haters either. We think his first three albums are all pretty great (even if they all have flaws), but we don’t care at all about his work after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (although The Life Of Pablo is growing on us). My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sits in the middle of Kanye West’s career as an artist, and it is his absolute best work if you ask us – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is bombastic, overblown, ridiculous, AND brilliant – just like Kanye himself.
7. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)
Arguably the biggest release of 2012, Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album – and major-label debut – deserves to be heralded as a modern classic. Billed as a “short film by Kendrick Lamar” on the album cover, GKMC is a concept album that follows the story of Lamar’s teenage experiences in the gang- and drug-infested streets of his native Compton.
GKMC is a total experience and not just a collection of songs. A perfect example of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not to say the individual songs on the album are lacking in anything – in fact, there are plenty of classic cuts on this one. The singles “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are easy favorites of course, but tracks like “Money Trees”, “m.a.a.d. City” (with MC Eith), “Compton” (with Dr. Dre) and the 12-minute epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” are awesome too – as is the production of the album from start to finish.
The album cover and the inside sleeve work in harmony with the narrative of the album, which is a great touch. GKMC is a balanced and cohesive piece of work, that needs multiple listens to fully appreciate its intricacies and Kendrick’s talent and skill.
8. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (2012)
We love it when everything we value in Hip Hop comes together in one project. Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (Rebellious African People Music) is such a project, one that fires on all cylinders. Hard-hitting, kick-ass beats for Killer Mike to spit his uncompromising and thought-provoking lyrics over, this is what Hip Hop is all about. R.A.P. Music was an instant classic, reminiscent of the fire and fury early Ice Cube and Public Enemy albums brought – this album has that same sense of intensity and urgency.
Killer Mike was already able to boast a strong discography before the release of R.A.P. Music, but this album is on another level. His synergy with DefJux head-honcho El-P is awesome – something they would continue to prove with the three excellent Run The Jewels albums that would follow this collaboration. Killer Mike’s lyrics are raw and unapologetic yet intelligent and socially conscious at the same time – and the ingenious soundscapes provided by El-P only serve to strengthen Killer Mike’s diverse lyrical content.
R.A.P. Music was too real to attract big-time mainstream media attention, but it is an important album and a modern classic.
9. Kno - Death Is Silent (2010)
On the four CunninLynguists albums preceding this project, Kno already amply proved that he can put a big stamp on an album in terms of production. In 2010 the CunninLynguists producer released Death Is Silent: a solo album on which he also accounts for a large part of the lyrics.
The production on this album is nothing short of spectacular, and the beats and the stories blend together like gears on a machine. “Loneliness”, “Rhythm Of The Rain”, “Spread Your Wings”, “Graveyard”, “I Wish I Was Dead”, “They Told Me” and “The New Day” are all highlights, but this album’s strength is its consistency. The whole album has the same feel, without ever sounding monotonous. This is an album to zone out on, to press play and let it run from start to finish – no need to skip anything, there are no fillers tracks and no stupid skits. Of course CunninLynguists colleagues Natti and Deacon The Villain make appearances, as do regular collaborators like Tonedeff and Substantial. But even if Kno will always be a producer before he is an emcee, he can carry an album on the microphone as well. He calls himself the Emo Premo on one of the tracks, providing lyrics that should shame most full-time rappers.
Death Is Silent is one of our favorite albums released in 2010, a true musical gem in a world full of fake thugging, bling-bling, dumb-ass b.s. From start to finish, this is a masterpiece of music (not just Hip Hop). Anyone with an interest in quality music with substance will like, if not love this melancholic masterpiece.
10. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
Danny Brown hit a home run with Atrocity Exhibition. This album feels like a feverish nightmare that gives us a glimpse of the insanity, depression, and hedonism of the Danny Brown psyche. This album is deep and dark and at times over the top, both sonically and lyrically. Production is superb though, and even those who gravitate towards more traditional styles will find a lot to like here. Danny Brown’s crazy flows range in style from hype and energetic to somber and reflective – but the content always is thought-provoking. You can call it experimental, or crazy, or weird – but be sure to call it a classic too: Atrocity Exhibition is Danny Brown’s best album.
11. Rapsody - Laila's Wisdom (2017)
On Laila’s Wisdom, Rapsody tackles a wide array of topics personal to her, over lush jazzy soundscapes mostly produced by Jamla-chief 9th wonder. Rapsody is a tier-A emcee with diverse delivery skills and she’s lyrically potent enough to carry an hour-long album with ease, even if there are some great guest appearances by heavyweights such as Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, and Busta Rhymes to spice things up some. The album does lose some steam toward the end of the playlist, but no matter: Laila’s Wisdom is an essential modern Hip Hop album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Kendrick Lamar’s good Kid M.A.A.D. City and To Pimp A Butterfly.
12. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels (2013)
El-P and Killer Mike exhibit a great deal of synergy and potential across this first release as Run The Jewels. Coming after their successful collaboration on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, forming a duo was nothing but a logical step. Although not even their strongest outing, Run The Jewels still is one of the better projects of the decade, laying the groundwork for even better things to come. Like RTJ2 and RTJ3, this project is aging very well, and with three straight near-perfect albums under their belts, there can be little discussion about the fact Run The Jewels is one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) duos in recent Hip Hop history.
13. Saba - Care For Me (2018)
After having made a big enough impression with two mixtapes and his excellent debut project Bucket List Project in 2016, 23-year-old Chicago rapper Saba dropped a modern classic with his sophomore album Care For Me. In February 2017, Saba’s cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member, Walter E. “John Walt” Long was stabbed to death in Chicago. In an interview, Saba spoke about the mental process and how writing the songs on the album were therapeutic saying:
“Care For Me is the first time I delve into talking about depression and anxiety, and then all of these factors as to why I am the way I am. A lot of it had to do with losing my best friend and older cousin, [John] Walt, which is throughout the album. I think why Care For Me is so important is because it talks about mental health in a lot of ways that are simple but I just haven’t heard it done in Hip Hop music that way.”
Care For Me is a subtle and intimate concept album dedicated to the memory of his cousin. The emotion involved can be felt throughout the 10 tracks on Care For Me, and this is one of those albums where the instrumentals and the lyrics compliment each other perfectly, the minimalist but tasteful soundscapes Saba cooked up himself serving only to enhance the poignant emotions reflected in his lyrics.
Besides his obvious musical talent, Saba’s biggest strenth on Care For Me is his ability to vividly tell his stories, all the while being completely open and honest, which really helps to make feel listeners right there with him. In that regard, Care For Me is very comparable to Kendrick Lamar’s monumental good kid, m.A.A.d city – and Care For Me deserves to mentioned in the same breath, it’s that good.
14. Ab-Soul - Control System (2012)
This is a fantastic album, and one of the best of 2012. Control System does everything well: it has style, versatility, great beat selection, and worthwhile lyrical content – if you can decipher Ab-Soul’s often dense and abstract wording. “Track Two”, “Bohemian Grove”, “Terrorist Threats”, “Pineal Gland”, “Double Standards”, “Mixed Emotions”, “Showin’ Love”, “Beautiful Death” – no shortage of great songs on Control System – but this album is worth the price of admission alone because of the absolute stand-out “The Book Of Soul” – one of the deepest and most emotional Hip Hop songs ever, and one of the best songs of the decade.
“The Book Of Soul” is as much beautiful spoken word poetry as a rap song, this heartbreaking track has to be among the most poignant, personal narratives ever recorded. Ab-Soul tells us about the rare virus (called Steven-Johnson Syndrome) he contracted as a child, which would hinder his vision and cause a skin condition that would render his lips very dark. He relates how this caused much teasing in his adolescent years, but how he found true love anyway – only to see this love ended tragically after a 7-year relationship. “Seven whole years, seven whole years / It was supposed to end with our grandkids / Luckily for me I’m used to being cut short / But I’m such a nice guy, why Lord? / Why Lori? Why’d you have to take her from me? / I guess He needed your angel face for all of heaven to see / Your picture’s still on my mirror, and it’s so scary / I swear, I still ain’t looked at your obituary…”
Control System is Ab-Soul’s best album to date and a modern classic.
15. CunninLynguists - Oneirology (2011)
Before dropping Oneirology in 2011, Deacon The Villain, Natti & Kno had already established their names with four straight dope albums: Will Rap for Food (2001), SouthernUnderground (2003), A Piece of Strange (2006) and Dirty Acres (2007).
Oneirology is the study of dreams – listen carefully to tracks like “Darkness (Dream On)” and “Shattered Dreams” and you’ll understand where the album’s title is coming from. The lyrics and flows on Oneirology are dope as hell and the soundscapes are even better – once again it’s Kno’s production that’s stealing the show. Oneirology is fantastic in every way – an exceptional follow-up to Kno’s Death is Silent and another jewel in the CunninLynguists crown.
16. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana (2019)
Bandana is 2019’s best album. The first full-length collaboration album of the Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, 2014‘s Pinata, is a modern classic. The question was if they could do it again – the answer is a resounding yes. Bandana is cut from the same cloth as its seminal predecessor and is just about as good. With Pinata they showed that their apparent differences only served to create a result that was bigger than the sum of the two parts; with Bandana they prove it was not a fluke.
17. Oddisee - Tangible Dream (2013)
Washington DC’s Oddisee really is something else. He is an incredible producer AND a great lyricist. He is responsible for two near-flawless albums as one-third of the Diamond District trio, and he has released a string of great solo-projects. Tangible Dream is his best solo-effort of this decade, along with The Good Fight (2015). This album is full of great tracks. “Tomorrow Today”, “Back Of My Mind”, “Killin’ Time”, “Be There” “Tangible Dream” – just a few of the stand-out tracks on this awesome project. Tangible Dream offers smooth and intelligent Hip Hop of the highest quality – this album should be a part of any serious Hip Hop collection.
18. Apollo Brown & O.C. - Trophies (2012)
Apollo Brown is one of the best producers in the game today. The number of top-quality projects he has put his stamp on in this decade is amazing. His best work of the 2010s include Gas Mask (with DJ Soko & Journalist 103 as The Left) and Brown Study (with Boog Brown) in 2010, Clouds and Daily Bread (with Hassaan Mackey) in 2011, Dice Game (with Guilty Simpson) in 2012, Ugly Heroes (with Red Pill & Verbal Kent as Ugly Heroes) in 2013, Blasphemy (with Ras Kass) in 2014, Words Paint Pictures (with Rapper Big Pooh) and Grandeur in 2015, Everything in Between (as Ugly Heroes) and The Easy Truth (with Skyzoo) in 2016, Anchovies (with Planet Asia) in 2017, No Question (with Locksmith) and Mona Lisa (with Joell Ortiz) in 2018, and Sincerely, Detroit in 2019.
With Sincerely, Detroit the best Apollo Brown project of the decade is Trophies, his 2012 collaboration with D.I.T.C. legend O.C. O.C. is one of the most slept-on emcees in Hip Hop ever: he had two near-perfect albums in the 1990s with Word… Life (1994) and Jewelz (1997) and he is still going strong as his latest projects Same Moon Same Sun (2017) and A New Dawn (2018) prove. Like on those two massively slept-on albums, on Trophies shows he is an emcee that can easily hold down an album by himself – he doesn’t need guests to add flavor or variety. Trophies is 16 tracks of straight to the point Hip Hop; no frills, no gimmicks. There are no guest emcee appearances, no hook singers, no skits, no wasted moments – and despite the album is about one hour long, it never gets boring. The album’s entire focus is on beats and rhymes, the result is one of the best neo-boom-bap albums of the decade.
19. Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid (2016)
The Impossible Kid is the seventh studio album by Aesop Rock. It’s hard to point out one album in Aesop Rock’s impressive catalog and label it his best, but The Impossible Kid has to be in that conversation, with Labor Days (2001) and None Shall Pass (2007). Aesop Rock is a master of intelligent, poetic lyricism and on this album his flow perfectly blends with the highly original beats he crafted himself. The Impossible Kid is lyrically profound and musically empowering, an album with endless replay value – and one of Aesop Rock’s most accessible too. 15 tracks, no skips needed – the mark of an excellent album.
20. billy woods - Known Unknowns (2017)
Known Unknowns is one of HHGA’s favorite albums of 2017 and one of the best Hip Hop albums of the decade, but it was totally overlooked by most Hip Hop fans and noticed only by those heads who dig deep or those who have always been following billy woods.
billy woods’ debut album Camouflage (2003) and the albums that followed in the 2000s were all fine enough, but it was the excellent History Will Absolve Me (2012) that started a new level of excellence in woods’ career. Dour Candy (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Hiding Places (2019) (with Kenny Segal) and Terror Management (2019) are all top quality Hip Hop albums. Together with the projects he dropped as Armand Hammer (a collaboration with rapper/producer ELUCID) – Race Music (2013), Rome (2017) and Paraffin (2018) – and Known Unknows, that’s nine straight very dope projects in the 2010s that should appeal to all Hip Hop fans who had enough of generic empty-headed mainstream rap.
Substance over fluff, creativity over genericness, intelligence over materialism – that’s what characterizes billy woods, and knowing that dumb sh** dominates the mainstream means little chance on mainstream exposure for woods’ music. Admittedly woods’ music may be an acquired taste and not be easy to get into for everybody, but it’s clear that he likes to make his music to have more meaning and substance than that of your typical Hip Hop artist. Known Unknowns is one of billy woods’ most easy-to-get-into albums, mainly because of Blockhead’s consistently dope and reasonably accessible production (with also a couple of beats from his longtime collaborator Aesop Rock).
Don’t sleep on billy woods.
21. Noname - Room 25 (2018)
Room 25 is the official debut studio album by Chicago poet and rapper Noname, dropping two years after her excellent mixtape Telefone and five years after her standout feature on Chance the Rapper’s classic Acid Rap mixtape. Room 25 is a self-released project chronicling the two years since the release of Telefone, most notably Noname’s move from Chicago to Los Angeles and an intense, short-lived romantic relationship. The album’s title is in reference to Noname’s lifestyle while in Los Angeles, living out of different hotel rooms, and that she was 25 years old at the time.
Room 25 is an understated poetic gem. Noname expertly mixes jazzy neo-soul vibes with her conversational rap style. The result is a mellow sounding journey – overseen by fellow Chicagoan and multi-instrumentalist producer Phoelix – where Noname guides the listener through her light and dark thoughts, being consistently compelling all the while.
22. Rashad & Confidence - The Element Of Surprise (2011)
Too quickly we label albums as ‘classic’ these days, but this album deserves it – everything about Rashad & Confidence’s The Element Of Surprise feels CLASSIC. The golden age-esque album cover, clearly inspired by Lord Finesse’s debut album Funky Technician (1990), serves as a perfect primer for what you can expect. This album is boom bap Hip Hop at is very best. In the era of ringtone bubblegum rap, Rashad & Confidence stayed true to Hip Hop’s roots and bring the heat. The Element Of Surprise is produced to perfection with that early 90’s feeling – echoing the best work of legends like DJ Premier and Pete Rock – and Rashad’s great rhyming skills and storytelling matches Confidence’s top-notch production.
As you may know, here at HHGA we hate it that mainstream rap gets labeled as Hip Hop. Artists like Drake, Migos, Travis Scott, Lil This-or-that and their like have very little to do with Hip Hop if you ask us. They do pop-rap or something and have found a very lucrative niche in the music biz – their sh** gets promoted by the media companies with the power and the kids eat it up. But Hip Hop it is NOT. The Element Of Surprise IS Hip Hop. Golden Age Hip Hop fans who turned away from Hip Hop around the turn of the millennium because all the mainstream offered up was watered-down dumbed-down rap music, should check out albums like The Element Of Surprise and have their faith in and enthusiasm about Hip Hop restored.
We said The Element Of Surprise is a true classic and we will stick to that claim, even though there is one aspect that doesn’t fit classic status: recognition and commercial success. It’s a crying shame that a beautiful album like this has never reached a large audience. Wack albums released in the same year from Lil Wayne (Tha Carter IV) and Drake (Take Care) went multiplatinum, while The Element Of Surprise – superior in every aspect but sales – sold next to nothing. If you like albums like Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother from the early 1990s or Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show and Ohmega Watts’ The Find from the early 2000s, you will also love The Element Of Surprise – one of the best albums of 2011, and even of the entire decade.
23. Rapsody - Eve (2019)
Rapsody’s third full-length is yet another step ahead for the North Carolina emcee. Both The Idea of Beautiful (2012) and Laila’s Wisdom (2017) were among the best albums of the years in which they were released, so it was hard to imagine how Rapsody could improve on the standard of quality she set for herself with her previous releases. With Eve she did just that though. The word (instant) classic gets thrown around much too much, and it remains to be seen how an album that seems to be something special upon its release holds up as the years pass – but it looks unlikely Eve is misjudged when the instant classic label is put on it – everything about Rapsody’s masterful ode to black women screams MASTERPIECE.
Class, confidence, style, intelligence, attitude, skill, power – Rapsody has it all and on Eve it all comes together to result in an album that easily ranks among the decade’s best. On Eve Rapsody continues her exploration of black empowerment and female strength, cleverly conceptualized by naming all 16 tracks after strong and inspiring black women. Rapsody’s lyrics are compelling throughout the whole album and the smooth and classy soundscapes (with some excellent sampling) are on point too. Holding momentum throughout a 16-track album is not a given, but Eve is sequenced perfectly – not a second is wasted and there is no filler. Outstanding and resonant – Eve is one of 2019’s best albums.
24. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure (2012)
El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, his third solo studio album is bold and powerful, filled with hard beats laced with gloomy synth and electronic elements. El-P has always been a class-A producer, an essential presence in underground Hip Hop in the late 90s, instrumental in keeping real Hip Hop alive when Puffy, Jay-Z and the mass-production rap factories from Cash Money and No Limit were flooding the market with generic rap fare. El-P has always been pushing creative boundaries and on Cancer 4 Cure its evident he keeps evolving. 2012 was an important year for El-P and Hip Hop: he was responsible for the production of Killer Mike’s modern classic R.A.P. Music, and of course for this gem – both albums would prove to be perfect stepping stones to the monumental projects he would go on to create with Killer Mike as Run The Jewels.
Cancer 4 Cure not only showcases El-P ever-evolving production chops but also his refined delivery – his emceeing sounds better than ever, with a good mix of fairly straightforward and denser lyrical content. A few well-placed guest spots from Killer Mike, Mr. Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire, Danny Brown (among others) help to round off this triumph. Quality headphones are mandatory for optimal enjoyment.
25. Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (2017)
Creating a double album that offers consistent quality throughout is a hard thing to pull off – just look at 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me or Biggie’s Life After Death, two famous double albums that are far from flawless because of their bloated tracklists. With 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time Big K.R.I.T. succeeded where a lot of others failed. This is without a doubt one of the best double albums in Hip Hop history. The key to its success is the smart decision to divide the album into two distinctly different parts. The first side is called “Big K.R.I.T.” and the second “Justin Scott”, and each side sounds different. The “Big K.R.I.T.” side offers trunk-rattling bangers in the best Southern tradition, the “Justin Scott” side is more introspective and personal with more understated instrumentals to fit the lyrical content.
Even if KRIT’s two previous albums – Live from the Underground (2012) and Cadillactica (2014) – were more than fine, they never quite reached the level of greatness earlier mixtapes like K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010) and Return Of 4 Eva (2011) did. With 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time KRIT created his best project date, proving he could still replicate the creativity and quality of his mixtape days. With this album, Big K.R.I.T. cemented his status as one of the most important artists of the 2010s (even if his 2019 effort K.R.I.T. Iz Here was kind of disappointing).
26. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
Energized by a one-off performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on November 13, 2015, the ATCQ group members decided to record a new album in secrecy – their first since 1998’s The Love Movement. Despite Phife’s untimely death, the album was completed, with Phife’s recorded bars flawlessly integrated into what turned out to be a near-perfect final album.
The album features all four of the group’s members (Jarobi makes a comeback and even spits some bars) plus a host of guests — André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Jack White, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, and Consequence and Busta Rhymes, two longtime Tribe collaborators.
The result is a phenomenal album with that classic Tribe vibe but set firmly in this era at the same time. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service certainly is one of the highlights of 2016 and a more than worthy addition to Tribe’s monumental catalog.
27. Nas - Life Is Good (2012)
Few discographies in Hip Hop are as polarizing as Nas’ is. No one will dispute the fact he has one of the biggest classics in the game ever on his name – Illmatic (1994) – and a couple more that come close to classic status, like It Was Written (1996) and Stillmatic (2001). All of his other albums have been talked down on to some extent. But looking at his catalog there have been only one or two real duds: Nastradamus (1999) and Nasir (2018). Albums like I Am (1999), Street’s Disciple (2004), Hip Hop Is Dead (2006), and even Untitled (2008) are much better than a lot of detractors would have you believe. The remaining two of his albums may not be considered classics, but usually receive universal acclaim: God’s Son (2002) and Life Is Good (2012).
Life Is Good is Nas’ eleventh studio album, and it’s a winner – we rank it fifth in Nas’ body of work. This a gem of an album, especially for those of us who grew up with Nas and now share his grown-up perspective of the world and life’s experiences. Life Is Good is a top-quality album by one of Hip Hop’s elite players.
28. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth (2015)
Lupe Fiasco’s catalog is kind of a mixed bag. A few true classics (Food & Liquor (2006) and The Cool (2007) deserve the classic label), but a few duds as well. After the terrible Lasers (2011) and the disappointing Food & Liquor 2 (2012), Lupe Fiasco came back strong in 2015 with Tetsuo & Youth – his best album of the decade, an album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as F&L and The Cool.
Tetsuo & Youth is another ambitious and daring effort by Lupe Fiasco, who is never afraid to take creative risks. So this is not an easy listen, but for those willing to invest attention and time in it, it is a totally rewarding experience. Like the cover of the album (which he painted himself), Lupe created a true work of art with the music on this album. And not to forget: with the 8-minute tour-de-force “Mural” Tetsuo & Youth contains a song-of-the-decade contender.
29. PRhyme - PRhyme (2014)
What can go wrong when one of the top-lyricists of the last two decades hooks up with one of the most important producers ever? Not much – as PRhyme, the epic first album from collaborative duo Royce Da 5’9″ and DJ Premier proves. DJ Premier’s beats and signature scratches sound as good as ever, and Royce brings his A-game too. Guest appearances from Killer Mike, Jay Electronica, Common, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Slaughterhouse, Mac Miller and soul singer Dwele add some extra flavor – resulting in a fantastic album. Only complaint: at 34 minutes PRhyme just is too short, barely over EP-length. It could have done with three or four more songs upon its original release (as the expanded Deluxe version would prove in 2015).
30. The Roots - Undun (2011)
Undun is a dark and poetic masterpiece, different but intriguing. Short but (bitter)sweet, it chronicles the life and death of Redford Stephens, a fictional character who makes some bad choices in his life and ends up paying the ultimate price for it, and it tells this story in reverse – it begins with his death and works it’s way back to the beginning of the story, which is the end of the album.
Few acts in Hip Hop can boast the same longevity and number of superior albums as The Roots can, and Undun certainly is up there with their best efforts – and that’s saying something.
31. ANKHLEJOHN & Big Ghost Ltd - Van Ghost (2018)
Following the neo-boom-bap/noir-rap aesthetic established by niche-leaders Roc Marciano and Griselda, with Van Ghost prolific emcee ANKHLEJOHN and producer Big Ghost have created an album that’s better than anything that ever came out of the Roc Marci and Griselda camps.
Van Ghost is a true work of art. Every track on Van Ghost is named after a Van Gogh painting, ANKLEJOHN’s lyrics touch upon some aspect of each particular painting, and the cover art created by Big Ghost is done in the artistic style of the famous Dutch painter. Similar to looking at a fine painting, there’s a lot of to unpack listening to Van Ghost, and every single listener may take away something different from the experience. ‘Atmospheric’ and ‘haunting’ are overused adjectives in describing albums like this one, but in the case of Van Ghost, they are as apt as can be. Big Ghost’ cinematic instrumentals and ANKLEJOHN’s grimy lyrics gell into a truly intense listening experience.
Van Ghost is tight and focused: 12 tracks, no useless interludes or other fillers, and guest artists on just 2 of the 12 tracks – Hus Kingpin makes an appearance on “Almond Blossoms”, Fly Anakin, Eto, and Crimeapple on “At Eternity’s Gate”. All in all, Van Ghost is a unique and intriguing piece of work, the benchmark against which all other albums in this rap-noir niche should be measured.
32. Roc Marciano - Reloaded (2012)
Reloaded is the second studio album from former U.N. and Flipmode Squad member Roc Marciano. Marciano produced most of the album himself and was assisted on a couple of tracks by The Alchemist, Ray West, Q-Tip, and The Arch Druids. The album features guest contributions by rappers KA and Knowledge Pirate. In addition Reloaded, Roc Marciano has released an impressively consistent set of albums this decade – Marcberg (2010), Marci Beaucou (2013), Rosebudd’s Revenge (2017), RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018), Behold A Dark Horse (2018), Kaos (with DJ Muggs, 2018), and Marcielago (2019) – all great, but Reloaded is the best of them all.
Reloaded is this decades’ epitome of the mafioso sun-genre pioneered in the mid-90s by legends such as Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, AZ, and Nas. Ever since the advent of gangsta rap, there have been tons of Hip Hop albums filled with crime talk, but Roc Marciano rises far above all the genericness. Immersive, cinematic storytelling, complemented by atmospheric boom-bap instrumentals – Reloaded is a staple of the subgenre.
33. Apollo Brown - Sincerely, Detroit (2019)
The most complete portrait of the Detroit Hip Hop scene ever? With 56 featured Detroit artists (with Eminem being the most notable absentee), it will be hard to argue against that claim. Sincerely, Detroit is Apollo Brown’s tribute to his hometown and a love letter to the culture. From different eras and different walks of life, veterans and newcomers alike lend their styles and deliveries to this 21 track album. Featuring artists like Royce Da 5’9”, Black Milk, Trick Trick, Elzhi, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, One Be Lo, Bronze Nazareth, Kuniva, Clear Soul Forces, Boog Brown and many, many more, Sincerely, Detroit is a nearly comprehensive look at the styles and flavors of Detroit.
In this day and age of short hype-circles and short attention spans Sincerely, Detroit is a project with extraordinary substance – and not just because it runs for 78 minutes. Where lots of artists are content with dropping a bunch of 25-minute projects each year to stay in the public for as much time as possible, Apollo Brown goes the other way: taking the time to craft a work of quality that really resonates and that will undoubtedly prove to have longevity.
Sincerely, Detroit has 21 tracks – 20 full songs and an intro – and each and every track is beautifully put together, showing and proving that Apollo Brown is a master at his craft. His ear for detail is evident, and you can sense the passion and love that went into the creation of this album. In the same week Kanye West dropped a 27-minute project (Jesus Is King) that fails on all fronts (with botched vocals and with instrumentals sounding rushed, and badly mixed and mastered), Apollo Brown shows how it’s done. 78 minutes is not too long if every single song is exquisitely executed. Apollo Brown’s smooth boom-bap is the common thread that holds this album together and from the host of featured artists nobody disappoints – who shines most will likely be dependent on the personal preference of the listener. Among our favorite tracks are “God Help Me”, “Dominance” and “Can’t Lose” – not coincidently tracks on which DJ Los adds extra flavor with some dope turntable work – but there are no filler tracks.
Apollo Brown has been one of Hip Hop’s most consistent producers for over a decade now and with this album he firmly solidifies his status as one of the game’s top dogs. Sincerely, Detroit is one of 2019’s best albums and it deserves its high ranking among the decade’s best too.
34. CunninLynguists - Rose Azura Njano (2017)
Arguably not as ambitious and memorable as their earlier conceptual efforts A Piece of Strange (2006) and Oneirology (2011), Rose Azura Njano is an excellent album in its right – Hip Hop for grown folk. The album tells the story of a character named Rose, who is afflicted by chromesthesia and personifies “Black music in America and its history in pain, loss, hardships, and socio-political movements.” Kno is in a league of his own as far as production goes, and the lyrics from Deacon The Villian and Natti are on point as usual. CunninLynguists have one of the strongest bodies of work in Hip Hop, present and past, and Rose Azura Njano is an important piece of their discography.
35. Nas & Damian Marley - Distant Relatives (2010)
Distant Relatives is a collaborative studio album by Nas and Jamaican Reggae vocalist Damian Marley, the legendary Bob Marley’s youngest son. Distant Relatives is a seamless fusion of Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall, and African musical elements, with uplifting afro-centric vocals about freedom, family, spirituality, and ancestry.
At 65 minutes, Distant Relatives offers both quantity and quality – all killer, no filler. Distant Relatives is aging really well and sounds as timely and timeless today as it did the day it was released. Maybe because this is a collaboration or because it’s a fusion of musical styles and not 100% Hip Hop, this genre-blending gem is often forgotten when Nas’ work is discussed. Unfortunate, because Distant Relatives is much too good to be ignored. The chemistry between Nas and Damian Marley is palpable, and they complement each other perfectly. Lots of stand-outs on Distant Relatives, but cuts like “Patience”, “Tribes At War”, and “Africa Must Wake Up” – the last two featuring the always great Somalian Canadian K’Naan – are prime examples of the overall quality of the project.
More than a Hip Hop album – all fans of music in general need to have this one in their collections.
“Distant Relatives / We’re all distant relatives / No matter where you from, where you live / How near or far / Africa, China, Japan, Afghanistan, Israel / We’re all fam, we’re all distant relatives / So that’s why we came together / One of the reasons why myself and Damian came together / ‘Cause we all come from one place, and that’s Africa / That’s right, you too / And you / The whole world! / We’re all family, we’re just spread out all over the place / So to all my distant relatives, let’s take it back home!’
36. Add-2 - Prey For The Poor (2015)
Prey For The Poor is Chicago emcee Add-2’s debut solo LP since signing to 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records. It’s his official debut album after a string of excellent mixtapes – an album that went sadly unnoticed upon its release in 2015. Make no mistake though – this is one of the best Hip Hop releases of 2015. Add-2 is a spectacular lyricist, who combines supreme technical skill as an emcee with the ability to write intelligent, socially conscious lyrics. The smooth jazzy beats are produced by the likes of Nottz, AMP, 9th Wonder and mainly Khrysis, and the album’s guest features include A-listers like Rapsody, Jamila Woods, Sam Trump, and Raheem DeVaughn. Add-2 touches on a myriad of important societal issues in a thought-provoking manner, this is an important album more people should have picked up on. Don’t sleep on Add-2.
37. Little Brother - May The Lord Watch (2019)
The North Carolina rap duo of Big Pooh and Phonte make a triumphant comeback with May The Lord Watch – their first project together since 2010’s Leftback and their subsequent split. May the Lord Watch doesn’t have any production by original Little Brother member 9th Wonder but it has the great lyrical synergy of Big Pooh and Phonte we know from previous Little Brother albums. Truthfully, 9th Wonder’s input isn’t really missed, as the album sonically sounds exactly as we would have wished: soulful boom-bap from beginning to end, with most soundscapes provided by longtime collaborator Khrysis.
While Big Pooh and (especially) Phonte both dropped a bunch of dope projects individually in the last decade and a half, it’s clear they bring out the best in each other collaborating. Lyrically confident and astute, this album shows what experience and maturity can do for an album in terms of quality and execution.
Little Brother’s first two albums – The Listening (2003) and The Minstrel Show (2005) – are almost universally recognized as being among the best Hip Hop albums of the 2000’s decade, or even ever. May The Lord Watch, deserves to mentioned in the same breath, it’s that good. The only quibble might be the album is too short at ten songs: 5 of the 15 tracks are skits. Skits are usually nothing but useless filler and an annoyance, but on this album, the skits even serve a purpose (referring back to the UBN theme of The Minstrel Show). With some more tracks of the same quality and some fewer skits, May The Lord Watch could have been even better – as it is this is one of the best albums of 2019 anyway.
38. Rapsody - The Idea Of Beautiful (2012)
The Idea Of Beautiful is the debut studio album by North Carolina’s Rapsody. The album was released after the critical acclaim of her mixtapes such as Return of the B-Girl (2010), Thank H.E.R. Now (2011) and For Everything (2011); as well as her The Black Mamba EP (2012). The Idea Of Beautiful album includes the production by the members of The Soul Council (9th Wonder, Khrysis, E. Jones, AMP, Eric G., and Ka$h). The album features guest appearances from Big Rube, Raheem DeVaughn, Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, The Cool Kids, Buckshot, Childish Gambino, GQ, Big Remo, Heather Victoria, Rocki Evans, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Nomsa Mazwai.
Rapsody is one of the MVPs of the 2010s – with three near-classic albums and a couple of top-quality EPs on her name. The Idea Of Beautiful sonically continues in the vein of her mixtapes, with the Soul Councils smooth instrumentals gelling perfectly with Rapsody’s clever lyrics. As always, Rapsody puts her mind, heart, and soul into her music – and it makes for a timeless gem of an album.
39. billy woods & Kenny Segal - Hiding Places (2019)
Always consistent in creating his own brand of Hip Hop, New York (by way of Washington DC and Zimbabwe) emcee billy woods once again does not disappoint. Pretty much everything he has dropped this decade has been stellar, be it solo or as part of Armand Hammer (with ELUCID). Hiding Places has him collaborating with producer L.A.-based producer Kenny Segal – a partnership that results in another typical billy woods release. Deep, dark and weighty lyrics, sometimes bordering on surrealism but always intelligent and with substance – this is Hip Hop for grown-ups at its finest.
40. Lupe Fiasco - DROGAS Wave (2018)
Coming off the distinctly underwhelming Drogas Light (2017), Drogas Waves is another one of those Lupe Fiasco projects that show insane scope and ambition. A 100-minute concept album dealing with the overall theme resurrection, this could have been a bloated mess – but fortunately, it isn’t. In fact, this is a brilliant album. The thing is that it probably is too clever, it needs to be ‘studied’ in order to be able to appreciate its deepness. With just casual listens, the whole thing will go over your head. It’s like with a serious 100-minute movie – you just don’t watch a couple of few-minute snippets at a time – you watch the whole thing from beginning to end, paying attention all the time. Drogas Wave has to be approached in the same way.
In a 2018 Billboard interview, Fiasco revealed the main idea of the project:
“It’s about a group of slaves on a slave ship on their way to Africa to the West Indies and they are thrown off the boat. But they didn’t die. They stayed alive and they lived under the sea. And they dedicated their lives to sinking slave ships — so they became this super, underwater force against slavery. It’s like a super-deep story that I am building on different fronts. But that’s the main idea and the source material for the album.”
Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth (2015) is a near-classic and Lupe’s best album of the decade, Drogas Wave comes close though.
41. Apollo Brown & Boog Brown - Brown Study (2010)
Boog Brown is a female emcee from Atlanta by way of Detroit, and she’s one of the most slept-on artists of this decade. For Brown Study, she hooked up with Detroit’s then-upcoming beatsmith Apollo Brown. Boog Brown ‘s laidback street poetry and Appolo Brown’s soulful boom-bap beats prove to be a potent combination. Boog Brown shows she’s an in-depth writer, with a sick flow and great voice. Apollo Brown does what he would be doing for the rest of the decade: creating lush bass-heavy beats for his collaborative artists to shine on. No weak tracks on Brown Study, if you slept on this gem for some reason go check out tracks like “Masterplan”, “Carpe Diem” or “Understanding”- and you’ll find yourself adding this one to your library real quick.
42. Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy
Open Mike Eagle is a Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based artist who dropped some of the most interesting albums in abstract underground Hip Hop in the 2010s – with his soft spoken-word style, poetic lyrics, and experimental production. Dark Comedy is Open Mike Eagle’s fourth solo album and arguably his best album to date. Belying the at times breezy production, Open Mike Eagle’s subject matter never is lightweight. He approaches a variety of serious topics with dark and deliciously sarcastic humor – hence the title of the album. Open Mike Eagle’s lyrical performance on Dark Comedy is as good as we’ve heard from him, and the ambient production is fantastic throughout. The lyrical and instrumental intricacies give Dark Comedy more layers than anything else out this year, as always with an Open Mike Eagle release there’s a lot to unpack – Dark Comedy is an album with endless replay value.
43. Brother Ali - All The Beauty In This Whole Life (2017)
Brother Ali had some of the best Hip Hop albums in the 2000s with Us (2009), The Undisputed Truth (2007) and especially his masterpiece Shadows On the Sun (2003). After Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color (2012), he dropped another near-flawless album in 2017 with All The Beauty In This Whole Life.
It’s Brother Ali so you know what you will get – lyrical precision, honest emotion, social commentaries, and intelligent insights. Atmosphere’s Ant provided Ali with perfect lush boom-bap soundscapes to accompany his soulful collection of personal stories about the ups and downs of life. All The Beauty In This Whole Life is another amazing album by Brother Ali – powerful and meaningful grown-up music, a breath of fresh air in a rap-world filled with dumb-ass face-tatted mumblers.
44. Armand Hammer - Paraffin (2018)
Paraffin may not an easy album to get into, it’s sonically and lyrically as dense as you might expect from ELUCID and billy woods. The way especially billy woods paints lyrical pictures is neither straightforward nor easy to decipher. But it doesn’t have to be easy – this is Hip Hop for thinking people. Both men’s cerebral lyrics are dark and heavy, but humorous here and there at the same time. Paraffin is amazingly produced and lyrically incredibly layered – Armand Hammer has something substantial to say for those motivated and intellectually equipped to really listen. Not for everybody, but for those who appreciate abstract, experimental Hip Hop Paraffin is a must-have.
45. Oddisee - The Good Fight (2015)
The Good Fight is Oddisee’s tenth studio album (also counting the two excellent albums he did as Diamond District with yU and Uptown XO), and it showcases his continuing growth as a producer and as an emcee. Soulful and eclectic, this album almost transcends genre boundaries in its musicality. Lyrics-wise The Good Fight is more than a worthwhile listen as well – with Oddisee telling us about his experiences as an artist in the music business and life in general. The Good Fight is put together meticulously from start to finish resulting in a remarkable blend of lyrical depth, complexity, beauty, and soul. “Counter-Clockwise”, “First Choice”, “Contradiction’s Maze”, “Want Something Done” and “Book Covers” are a few of the stand-out tracks, but this album has no filler tracks at all. The Good Fight is one of those albums that gets better with each spin.
46. Danny Brown - X X X (2011)
Danny Brown’s second studio album X X X is another intriguing album from one of Detroit’s most fascinating artists of the past decade, reminiscent of someone like ODB with his out of this world personality, his energy, and his off-the-wall craziness level. X X X is experimental and dark, but funny and lighthearted at the same time, with Danny Brown’s unique sound and some of the craziest but also some of the funniest lines ever.
Drugs and the role it plays in Danny Brown’s life is the main theme of the album. During the first half of the album, Danny Brown is on an incredible high talking about the most outlandish things, on the second half the album transitions into a less intense and more serious tone, telling more serious stories about Danny Brown’s life experiences where drugs and violence take over his world. X X X is a great album that solidifies Danny Brown’s status as one of the Hip Hop game’s most exciting newcomers this decade.
47. Common - Black America Again (2016)
Common has dropped quite a few excellent albums in his long career, and this one is up there with the best of them. Meaningful, profound, captivating, intelligent, soulful and lyrical – Black America Again has everything a Hip Hop album needs to have. Truly great from start to finish, there are no skippable tracks. Production is excellent throughout and Common’s flow and lyrics are as good as they ever were.
48. Damani Nkosi - Thoughtful King (2014)
Damani Nkosi has worked with well-known artists including Dr. Dre, Swizz Beatz, Snoop Dogg, Pusha T and Malice of Clipse. Nkosi was born in Inglewood, California. His father chose an African name for him. “Damani” means “Thoughtful” and “Nkosi” means “chief, ruler or king”. He became part of Los Angeles’ Hip Hop underground, recording his first track in 1999.
Thoughtful King is an aptly chosen title for this album – not only because it is a literal translation of his name, but also because of the deep lyrics Damani spits. Production is flawless, Hip Hop to its core but with (neo)soul sensibilities as well and giving off vibes of a classic jazz album at the same time – even the album cover is reminiscent of a vintage jazz vinyl. Guests such as Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Badd Lucc, BJ The Chicago Kid, Thurz, Ill Camille, Rick Rude, and PJ Morton help make Thoughtful King a well-rounded musical gem – thematically and sonically as consistent as you could wish for. Slept on by most in 2014, but one of our favorite albums of that year. If you missed out on Thoughtful King for some reason, go check it out now and thank us later.
49. Skyzoo & Pete Rock - Retropolitan (2019)
One of the most anticipated albums of 2019 delivered on all accounts. This is what happens when an elite lyricist teams up with an elite beatsmith and when everything clicks: 11 songs, all of them strong. The sequencing of the album is perfect too – “Glorious” is a confident opening track and it just gets better and better after that, with the last two songs arguably being the absolute best of the album. “Eastern Conference All-Stars”, is a dope a.f. posse cut featuring Detroit’s elite emcee Elzhi and Griselda heavy’s Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine and Westside Gunn, and “Audacity Of Dope” is a blueprint of how Hip Hop should sound.
Retropolitan solidifies Skyzoo’s status as one of the most pre-eminent emcees of his generation. The Salvation (2009), Live From The Tape Deck (with Illmind, 2010), A Dream Defered (2012), Music For My Friends (2015), The Easy Truth (with Apollo Brown, 2016) and In Celebration Of Us (2018) are all great albums, but Retropolitan may just be Skyzoo’s very best yet – with Pete Rock behind the boards bringing out the best of him. Pete Rock has nothing left to prove but just adds to his legendary status with this album. Beats and bars both of the highest quality and endless replay value mean Hip Hop at its finest.
50. Westside Gunn - FLYGOD (2016)
FLYGOD is Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn’s debut studio album. Production by the likes of Daringer, The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Camouflage Monk, Tha God Fahim, Statik Selektah on this project is simply awesome. The gritty stripped-down 90s throwback aesthetic that would become Griselda’s forte, is done to perfection on FLYGOD. This is the project that started getting Griselda its proper buzz, FLYGOD is the epitome of what the label is about. A hard as nails release filled with uncompromising rhymes and a street essence, arguably re-pioneered by Roc Marciano with albums like Marcberg (2010) and Reloaded (2012).
Westside Gunn is an emcee who you either like or you don’t like – his high-pitched voice is an acquired taste. Fortunately, on FLYGOD he doesn’t go crazy yet with his gimmicky gun-sounds adlibs (on later WSG releases these adlibs start to get really irritating), and the guest rappers on this project make sure there’s enough variation. His fellow Griseldians Conway The Machine (WSG’s brother) and Benny The Butcher (their cousin) make appearances, along with the likes of Keisha Plum, Your Old Droog, Meyhem Lauren, Danny Brown, Mach Hommy, Skyzoo, and Action Bronson. FLYGOD is an important and hugely influential release, and one of 2016’s best.
51. Add-2 - Jim Crow The Musical (2019)
Jim Crow: The Musical is Chicago emcee Add-2’s first full-length project since Prey For The Poor – one of HHGA’s favorite albums of 2015, second only after To Pimp A Butterfly. Jim Crow: The Musical is 19 tracks (14 songs, 5 skits) deep and comes equipped with contributions from Phonte, Brittney Carter, Oliv Blu, Neak, and others. Featuring narration by Kadeem Hardison (from A Different World fame), Jim Crow: The Musical is a poignant and powerful project about living life as a black man in America. This is an important album – like Prey For The Poor Hip Hop for thinking people.
52. Jay-Z - 4:44 (2017)
4:44 was a pleasant surprise. By 2017 Jay-Z the Hip Hop artist had long since taken a back-seat to Jay-Z the billionaire businessman celebrity. In Jay-Z’s catalog, 4:44 easily is one of the best albums – coming in only after the classics The Blueprint (2001) and Reasonable Doubt (1996), and pretty much on par with The Black Album (2003) and American Gangster (2007). After the duds Kingdome Come (2006), The Blueprint 3 (2009) and Magna Carta…Holy Grail (2013), it was good to see Jay-Z still has it in him to drop an album worthy of his name.
4:44 possibly is Jay-Z’s most introspective, vulnerable and honest project to date – something like a combination of apology and a love letter, clearly meant to serve as the flip side to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. This is grown folk Hip Hop done well.
53. Celph Titled & Buckwild - Nineteen Ninety Now (2010)
Legendary D.I.T.C. crate digger Buckwild came through with a sh*tload of vintage 90s beats for New York’s Celph Titled’s official solo-debut full-length (coming after the 2006 compilation The Gatalog: A Collection of Chaos). This album is simply excellent – it offers a dose of Hip Hop in its purest form: 16 tracks with nothing but dope beats, scratches, and rhymes. Well-placed guest spots from fellow Demi Godz and Army Of The Pharaohs members Vinnie Paz, Esoteric and Apathy, as well as features from seasoned emcees as R.A. The Rugged Man, Sadat X, Grand Puba, A.G. Diamond D, O.C., Chino XL, and Treach, combined with Buckwild’s stellar production make this album one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2010.
54. Benny The Butcher - Tana Talk 3 (2018)
Tana Talk 3 can be seen as Benny The Butcher’s official debut album. Benny The Butcher is Griselda’s best emcee, and this is his best project yet. Hard-hitting and grimy a.f street Hip Hop; completely true to the Griselda formula – with just straight bars and eerie boom-bap beats on each track. Stand-out cuts include “Broken Bottles” and “Rubber Bands & Weight”; both produced by The Alchemist, but the whole album is fire.
55. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To Die (2013)
Twelve Reasons To Die is a concept album with the following central theme/narrative: the album serves as the score to a fictive vintage Italian horror film. The album’s story is set in 1960s Italy featuring an alter ego character of Ghostface Killah, Tony Starks. He is an enforcer for the DeLuca crime family, who is murdered by his former employers after striking out on his own and falling in love with the kingpin’s daughter. His remains are melted in vinyl and pressed into a dozen LPs that, when played, resurrect him as the Ghostface Killah, a force for revenge incarnate.
Sounds crazy right? But it works – producer Adrain Younge goes all out here, integrating a wall of different soundscapes as the musical backdrop, merging iconic spaghetti Western film music from the likes of Ennio Morricone with haunting opera singing and 70’s soul & blaxploitation vibes featuring thick bass lines and organs. Thanks to the narrative thread, the album flows with great cohesion. Cuts like “I Declare War”, “The Catastrophe” and “Beware of the Stare” are exemplary of the dopeness of this album, Appearances from the likes of Cappadonna, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, and U-God on tracks like “Blood On The Cobblestones”, “Revenge Is Sweet”, “Murder Spree”, and “The Center Of Attraction” help make this album one of 2013’s best.
Twelve Reasons To Die is different and weird, but interesting and ultimately satisfying, up there with Ghostface Killah’s best work, on par with Fishscale (2006) and in his catalog third only after Ironman (1996) and Supreme Clientele (2000).
56. Vince Staples - Summertime '06 (2015)
After winning acclaim with a series of mixtapes and his Hell Can Wait EP (2014), and gaining some notoriety by being dismissive about 90s Hip Hop in a high profile interview, Compton rapper Vince Staples made a big splash with Summertime 06, his official full-length debut. Summertime 06 is one of the most impressive debuts of the decade, the kind of album that needs a few playthroughs to fully appreciate. The production (mostly by Chicago’s No ID) is brilliant, and every track is original – a great feat on an hour-long, 20-track album. Summertime 06 was a big step ahead for Vince Staples since his mixtape days, and it remains his best project to date.
57. Sean Price - Mic Tyson (2012)
Mic Tyson is the third studio album from Brooklyn-native Sean Price, it was the last album to be released in Price’s lifetime before his death on August 8, 2015. Mic Tyson is on par with Sean Price’s best releases Monkey Barz (2005) and Jesus Price Superstar (2007), featuring his signature brand of hard-as-nails in-your-face rhymes over production provided by renown boom-bap crafters such as Stu Bangas, The Alchemist, Evidence and 9th Wonder. This album is straight gutter, street bully rap – few have ever done this better than Sean Price did.
58. Armand Hammer - Rome (2017)
billy woods is one of the MVPs of the decade, and certainly of 2017. His solo album Known Unknowns is a top 3 album of 2017, and Rome comes close. Rome is the second album by Armand Hammer, billy woods’ collaboration with NYC producer/emcee ELUCID. If you’re familiar with the respective artist’s other work, you know what to expect: raw, cryptic lyrics and dark, grimy, off-kilter beats.
Despite work on the boards from a host of different producers – Messiah Musik, August Fanon, Fresh Kills, High Priest, Kenny Segal, and JPEGMafia – Rome sounds entirely cohesive, also thanks to the as per usual intriguing lyrical performances of ELUCID and billy woods. Cerebal, stream-of-consciousness rhymes and stinging observations (“skimmed through your music, found no reason not to approve it/it was all relatively toothless, you’re just a guy”) – this is one of those albums with endless replay value, on which you can discover something new with each spin. Rome may be a dark and challenging listen, but it’s a hypnotically beautiful experience if you allow yourself to be grabbed by it.
59. Phonte - Charity Starts at Home (2011)
As one-third of Little Brother (along with Rapper Big Pooh and 9th Wonder), Phonte was responsible for two of the best albums of the 2000s – The Listening (2003), and The Minstrel Show (2005). In 2004 he dropped Connected, one the 2000s sleeper classics as half of Foreign Exchange. After these three near-flawless albums in the 2000s, in 2011 he released Charity Starts At Home, his long-awaited solo debut. Charity Starts At Home has none of that fake hustler rap about money, guns, and b*tches we heard too much from the face-tatted circus clowns this past decade, but if offers grown man Hip Hop at its finest – smooth instrumentals and intelligent lyrics by one of the finest emcees in the game.
60. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is the debut solo album by OutKast’ Big Boi (if you don’t count his half of OutKast’ Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) as a solo album). Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was much-delayed due to label-woes, and finally saw its release in 2010. Rooted in Southern Hip Hop, the album contains a bass-heavy sound with dense TR 808-driven basslines, live instrumentation, incorporating genres such as funk, soul, rock, dubstep, and electro music. and employing vocalists backing Big Boi’s playful and clever wordplay. Nothing new or revolutionary about the album’s lyrical content, but it doesn’t need to be. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is a musical extravaganza, and at just over an hour not a minute too long thanks to the pure energy and swag that the album carries.
The opening song “Daddy Fat Sax” is one of the album’s finest tracks, but the rest of the album is great too. Even if there are some moments where the album’s pop-sensibilities seem blatantly intended for mainstream appeal, it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the album. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is Big Boi’s best solo work to date, and one of 2010 best albums.
61. billy woods - History Will Absolve Me (2012)
What do you know about billy woods? billy woods was born in Washington, D.C., to a Jamaican mother and a father from Zimbabwe. In 1981, the family moved to Africa, to return to the States after the death of woods’ father in 1995. woods’ African perspective is evident in his music – giving his music a special edge, sonically and content-wise. The cover of this album has a close-up picture of controversial former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe paired with one of Cuba’s Fidel Castro’s most infamous quotes – an album cover that clearly indicates this is not a bubblegum rap album.
History Will Absolve Me is billy woods’ 3rd full-length solo album, and one of his best. Musically this album could have been part of the Def Jux realm with its dusty and experimental sounding musical backdrops. The beats set the perfect stage for woods’ staccato flow and thought-provoking lyrics; with his views on subjects as politics, race, sex, and class. History Will Absolve Me is a challenging and intense listening experience, but ultimately extremely rewarding. One of the best albums in 2012, which was sadly ignored upon its release. It is standing the test of time though, so it is never too late to check it out.
62. Awon & Phoniks - Return To The Golden Era (2013)
Awon & Phoniks’ Return To The Golden Era is pure gold. Dope beats, scratches, lyricism, storytelling – all you could want in a mature Hip Hop album is present here. Portland, Maine producer Phoniks hooking up with Brooklyn-born Virginia-resident Awon has brought the world a bunch of great Hip Hop – their collaborative debut album Return To The Golden Era arguably is the epitome of their chemistry. This album will satisfy the cravings of all those who dig smooth, jazzy and confident Hip Hop music. No skippable tracks on here, but a special mention goes out to “Forever Ill”, which features Awon’s wife Tiff The Gift – one of the best and most slept-on female emcees of this decade. Return To The Golden Era: grade-A Hip Hop for adults.
63. Roc Marciano - Marcberg (2010)
Roc Marciano has been one of the most consistent artists of the 2010s, with a string of great albums. We think 2012’s Reloaded is the best of them, but his debut Marcberg is not far behind. Roc Marciano has been the main player responsible for revitalizing the mafioso subgenre, and this album is the one that (re)started it all. Roc Marciano is not a copy cat though – with his unorthodox minimalist flow and the atmospheric, gritty lo-fi beats he rhymes over he can be seen as a trend-setter for lots of newcomers who would go and build on this style (think Griselda and all their affiliates). This is raw, hard-hitting, unadulterated NYC street Hip Hop of the highest quality.
64. Oddisee - The Iceberg (2017)
Washington DC-based producer/emcee Oddisee had two possible future classics this decade with Tangible Dream (2013) and The Good Fight (2015). The Iceberg is even more eclectic in its musicality than the two albums mentioned – with live-band instrumentals and non-Hip Hop influences, which makes this album more of an acquired taste than previous Oddisee efforts are. Thought-provoking lyrics about contemporary socio-political issues, and well-rounded musical backdrops – The Iceberg offers 45 minutes of grown man Hip Hop of the best kind, that sadly went well over the heads of most of 2017’s rap music consumers.
65. Hail Mary Mallon - Bestiary (2014)
Bestiary is the second studio album Hail Mary Mallon, a duo consisting of s Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. These two knew each other from the days they were label mates on El-P’s legendary DefJux label and this album sounds like it comes right out of the DefJux kitchen – even if it was released on Rhymesayers Entertainment, like DefJux one of those labels instrumental in keeping real Hip Hop alive.
Aesop Rock is on top of his production game, Bestiary has deep knocking beats layered with Aesop’s quirky sound-effects throughout and it has DJ Big Wiz adding extra flavor with dope scratches on most tracks. As can be expected from Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic, the lyrics on Bestiary are clever and witty, and off-kilter enough to give it that Aesop Rock/Rob Sonic signature. Great album.
66. Awon & Phoniks - Knowledge Of Self (2015)
Two years after the brilliant Return To The Golden Era (2013), Awon & Phoniks’ return with Knowledge Of Self. Just like its predecessor, this album is a near-flawless presentation of authentic Hip Hop – with close to an hour of dope beats, scratches, lyricism, and storytelling. Knowledge Of Self: smooth, jazzy boom-bap at its finest.
67. Ryu - Tanks For The Memories (2016)
Tanks For The Memories is the most slept-on album of 2016. You may know Ryu as one-quarter of Styles Of Beyond, a Los Angeles crew who dropped an underground classic in 1998 with their debut album 2000 Fold. Almost 20 years later Ryu surprises with Tanks For The Memories. With work on the boards from West Coast legend Divine Styler, Ryu dropped this gem of an album to little or no fanfare. That’s a shame because Tanks For Memories is awesome. Ryu brings the boom-bap back – the album is a near-perfect modern interpretation of 90s Hip Hop, using the beat-structures of Hip Hop classics from Gangstarr and Big Daddy Kane on two of the stand-out tracks, sampling Public Enemy on another, and bringing back the Funky Drummer break too – especially people who know their classics will enjoy this album. Ryu is a great lyricist too, with dope flows and clever wordplay. Tanks For The Memories is a throwback and homage to Golden Age Hip Hop, one that belongs in your collection if you’re into that vintage boom-bap sound.
68. O.C. - Same Moon Same Sun (2017)
Ever since he released his classic but underappreciated debut album Word… Life in 1994, O.C. has put together a very strong discography – with some of his best efforts released in the 2010s. His collabo with Apollo Brown – Trophies (2012) – was one of the best albums of that year and in both 2017 and 2018, O.C. had very dope projects as well. Same Moon Same Sun, which was billed as the “first phase” of a three-album series and is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2017. Clever, next-level lyricism and dope beats all the way through – Same Moon Same Sun is on par with O.C.’s early classics Word… Life and Jewelz (1997). High praise, but true enough nevertheless – Same Moon Same Sun is that good. Why did everybody sleep on this near-flawless album?
69. Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015)
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is one of the darkest albums released in 2015. Following on Doris, his excellent debut album, this depressing and highly introspective album serves as Earl’s coming of age album – giving us listeners an insight into the issues he has been dealing with, such as depression, substance abuse, and the death of his grandmother. Besides the emotion on display, the strength of this project is that Earl’s narrative is driven by excellent production that emphasizes the intensity in the darkness of the lyrics. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is Earl Sweatshirt’s most personal and best album, even if at barely 30 minutes it is too short to be considered a proper LP.
70. Royce da 5'9'' - Book Of Ryan (2018)
When the best emcees since the turn of the century are discussed, the name of Royce Da 5’9″ doesn’t come up nearly enough. Book Of Ryan is Royce’s seventh solo studio album, and arguably his best yet. Production duties were taken care of by a wide array of producers, including Mr. Porter, S1, Boi-1da, Cool & Dre, DJ Khalil, and Frank Dukes, among others – and the beats are dope across the board, serving as the perfect backdrop for Royce’s lyrics. On Book Of Ryan, Royce is at his most introspective – but there’s plenty of lyrical variety, ranging from deeply personal to straight dope wordplay by one of the greatest emcees of this age.
71. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris (2013)
Doris is the excellent debut album from one of the biggest talents out of the Odd Future camp. Doris is part confessional, part coming of age, and it reaffirmed Earl’s prodigious talent after disappearing from the scene for a while (a forced stay in a Samoan boarding school for troubled youths) after the release of debut mixtape, Earl in 2010. Doris showcases Earl’s talent as a lyricist, with his complex rhyme schemes and his poetic flow. Doris is an impressive debut and the perfect stepping stone to Earl’s even more cathartic sophomore album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015), his best project to date.
72. Dilated Peoples - Directors Of Photography (2014)
Directors of Photography is the fifth studio album by Los Angeles trio Dilated Peoples, and their best. Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience, and DJ Babu all brought their A-game, as did the production team consisting of 9th Wonder, The Alchemist, Bravo, Diamond D, DJ Premier, Jake One, Oh No, and Twiz The Beat Pro along with DJ Babu and Evidence themselves. The album runs for 55 minutes, which is long enough to keep the guest rappers – Vince Staples, Aloe Blacc, Catero, Gangrene, Sick Jacken, Krondon, Fashawn, Rapsody, Domo Genesis, Vinnie Paz, and Action Bronson – from overcrowding proceedings. Directors of Photography is executed flawlessly – this is matured underground boom-bap at its finest.
73. The Roots - How I Got Over (2010)
The legendary Roots crew can boast one of the most consistent and most impressive catalogs in Hip Hop, ever. Their only disappointing effort is their eleventh album And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (2014), their previous ten albums are all simply excellent. At least five of their albums are near-flawless – Illadelph Halflife (1996), Things Fall Apart (1999), Game Theory (2006), Rising Down (2008) and Undun (2011) – and How I Got Over definitely belongs up there with the Roots’ best as well. Black Thought is good as ever, bringing out his deepest thoughts and observations. The featured artists deliver to – it’s especially nice to hear the likes of Blu and Phonte on a Roots album, also good to see an appearance by Dice Raw. Standout tracks include “Now or Never” (featuring Phonte and Dice Raw), “Dear God 2.0” (featuring Monsters of Folk), the title track “How I Got Over” (featuring Dice Raw). Eclectically musical as always, How I Got Over is another Roots winner.
74. R.A. The Rugged Man- Legends Never Die (2013)
R.A. The Rugged Man is an exceptional emcee – better than your favorite rapper. Few, if any emcees can go bar-for-bar with R.A. The Rugged Man. His technical skill, his incredible flow, his breath control, and his bar-building skills are second to none. Due to all kinds of label woes and a strong-minded personality with an unwillingness to compromise, he only released two albums in the more than two decades he’s been active in the game – but on those two albums, and on numerous guest appearances on other people’s songs (where he usually bodies everybody else involved), R.A. has consistently shown an unbeatable lyrical ability.
Legends Never Die is R.A.’s second album, displaying his superior flow and wordplay, with lyrics that are clever, humorous, braggadocious, self-depreciative, personal, and provocative – this guy really is something else. The beats on this album are dope too, Legends Never Die is one of the most entertaining albums of 2013.
75. Awon & Phoniks - The Actual Proof (2018)
Awon & Phoniks for the threepeat. The Actual Proof is their third album together, following Return To The Golden Age (2013) and Knowledge Of Self (2015), and their third excellent presentation of organic, jazzy boom-bap. Awon’s wife Tiff The Gift makes a couple of strong appearances, as does Don’t Sleep Records label mate Anti-Lilly, along with the likes of Skyzoo, Ill Conscious, Hex One, and DJ Felbaum. The Actual Proof is Hip Hop for grown-ups – it doesn’t get much better than this.
76. Gang Starr - One Of The Best Yet (2019)
When One Of The Best Yet dropped, it had been sixteen years since Gang Starr’s last release (The Ownerz) and almost 10 years since Guru sadly passed away. Out of Gang Starr’s six albums, four can be labeled as undisputable Hip Hop classics: Step In The Arena (1991), Daily Operation (1992), Hard To Earn (1994) and Moment Of Truth (1998), while their debut No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989) and their last The Ownerz (2003) were more than solid albums too. With such an impeccable catalog, one could question if the risk should be taken releasing a semi-posthumous project which could potentially tarnish the near-perfect legacy. Most post-humous releases out there are little more than sad cash-grabs and do little justice to the artists’ legacies. One Of The Best Yet is not a 100% posthumous release of course, because even if Guru was not here to offer fresh input, DJ Premier was and if someone can be trusted to deliver a Gang Starr project of the highest possible quality it is one of the best and most influential producers in Hip Hop history.
One Of The Best Yet features appearances from J. Cole, Q-Tip, Royce Da 5’9”, Talib Kweli, Ne-Yo, M.O.P., Jeru The Damaja, Freddie Foxxx, Big Shug, Group Home & Nitty Scott- that’s a lot of guests, but they nowhere overcrowd Guru’s presence – this is very much a Gang Starr album and it doesn’t feel like a compilation at all. DJ Premier really does justice to the Guru material he was left to work with, One Of The Best Yet feels totally organic – almost as if they were in the studio together during the recording process. One Of The Best Yet offers Gang Starr’s typical brand of boom-bap: Guru’s voice still is a unique fixture in Hip Hop, and his powerful presence combined with Premier’s filtered bass lines, gritty samples, and signature cuts and scratches make One Of The Best Yet more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane – Premier admiringly succeeds in keeping the old Gang Starr feel intact.
One Of The Best Yet clocks in a little under 40 minutes, and we wished it could have been a bit longer – but even so: this album serves as a great exclamation point to Gang Starr’s illustrious career.
77. Pharoahe Monch - PTSD (2014)
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is Pharoahe Monch’s fourth studio album. The album features guest appearances from Black Thought (his feature on the “Rapid Eye Movement” is ridiculous), Talib Kweli, Denaun, The Stepkids, and Vernon Reid, and has production from Lee Stone, Marco Polo, Jesse West and Quelle Chris amongst others. PTSD is an impressive and timely concept piece – dealing with topics such as stress, depression, mental health issues, and the American illusion. As usual, Pharoahe Monch lyrics are razor-sharp, intricate, complex, and his flow is superior. PTSD has true substance, unlike most of the projects put out by lesser emcees in this era. The beats could have been better here and there, but as always a Pharoahe Monch album is all about the lyrical content. Few lyricists out there better than the unsung Pharoahe Monch.
78. Aesop Rock - Skelethon (2012)
Skelethon is Aesop Rock’s sixth solo album, and it’s another winner. The album is entirely produced by Aesop Rock himself and features guest appearances by Allyson Baker, Hanni El Khatib, Rob Sonic, Kimya Dawson, Murs, and Blueprint. Skelethon is lyrically and instrumentally dense as befits an Aesop Rock album – “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Leisureforce”, “Homemade Mummy”, “Gopher Guts” are some of the stand-out cuts, bit the whole album bangs. Skelethon is a more than worthy follow-up to the awesome None Shall Pass (2007) and a great lead-up to the even better The Impossible Kid (2016).
79. Masta Ace & Marco Polo - A Breukelen Story (2018)
A Breukelen Story is a love letter to the NYC borough of Brooklyn. Weaving together the personal story of producer Marco Polo and the reality of life in Brooklyn, Masta Ace‘s lyricism is as full-bodied as always and Marco Polo kills it on the production – the beats are amazing. This is a smooth album, filled with Marco Polo’s atmospheric grooves and classic boom-bap beats. Masta Ace’s pen game is as strong as it ever was, and guests like Pharoahe Monch, Styles P, Smif-n-Wessun, and Elzhi bring their A-game too. The skits are a bit corny but still work in the narrative.
80. Doomtree - No Kings (2011)
Always pushing genre boundaries, Doomtree is known for incorporating a wide range of musical influences into their work with lyrical complexity and wordplay – both on their group albums and their solo efforts. No Kings arguably is Doomtree’s most impressive effort – showcasing what 10 years of experience in the game can lead to. Their solo-efforts proof what the Doomtree members can do in their own distinctly different styles. Their group-efforts proof they can blend their different styles into a perfect mix.
It’s not a given that the very different lyrical styles of artists like P.O.S, Dessa, Cecil Otter, Sims, and Mike Mictlan can be turned into a cohesive whole – in fact, it could easily turn into a disaster. What has always worked for Doomtree though – and what is perfected on No Kings – is that the crew admiringly succeeds in being complementary. “Team The Best Team” is just one of the tracks on this album that exemplify their strength as a unit. Other highlights are cuts like “Own Yours”, “Punch Out”, “Bolt Cutter”, “The Grand Experiment” and the bombastic “Bangarang”.
It helps that the soundscapes provided by Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger are eminently musical, the layered beats and sounds really add to the dense but clever verbiage and the collective fiery energy the Doomtree vocalists bring to the table. No Kings is a triumph. If you somehow missed out on Doomtree up to now, start here and you will be stocking up their collective and individual catalogs in no time.
81. Qwel and Maker - Beautiful Raw (2013)
You may know Chicago emcee Qwel as part of the Typical Cats crew, who had three pretty good albums with Typical Cats (2001), Civil Service (2004), and 3 (2012). In addition to his work as a solo artist, Qwel has been releasing projects ever since 2004 with producer Maker. Beautiful Raw is their fourth collaborative album and their best. Maker’s instrumentals serve as the perfect backdrop for Qwel’s rhymes – which were some of the best recorded in 2013. Qwel is an excellent rapper, one of the best most of you probably have never listened to. For those who are up to speed with Qwel’s work will know it to be true, for those who have slept on Qwel up to now are in for a treat – before you go check out his back-catalog, begin with this album, enjoy Maker’s beats and really listen to Qwel’s lyrics to appreciate his skill and intricate wordplay.
82. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80 (2011)
Section.80 is the official debut album from Kendrick Lamar, released after he already made a name for himself with a string of mixtapes. At 16 songs and an hour of playing time, this is a project with substance. Although it would take another year before Kendrick would really blow up with good Kid M.A.A.D. City, Section.80 is a really strong album in its own right. Sonically more straightforwardly Hip Hop than his more eclectic later albums, on Section.80 Kendrick’s talent as an intelligent lyricist is already on full display. The production style on Section.80 nicely complements Lamar’s laid-back flow and his contemplative storytelling, and together with Kendrick’s rhymes, the musical backdrops ensure an entertaining (if at times depressing) listen all the way through.
Section.80 may have a couple of weaker songs (like “Blow My High”), but it also contains a bunch of classics such as “Keisha’s Song”, “Ronald Regan Era”, “Poe Man’s Dreams (His Vice”, and “Hol Up”. This is Kendrick Lamar’s third-best album of the decade, after TPAB and GKMC.
83. Diamond District - March On Washington
Diamond District is a trio consisting of producer/emcee Oddisee and emcees yU and Uptown XO. Their collaborative debut was the excellent but slept-on In The Ruff (2009). March On Washington is their second album together, and it is another winner. Each of the three Diamond District members has proven himself singly with other projects (especially Oddisee), but their group efforts really are something special. Although March On Washington doesn’t explicitly make race an issue, the LP clearly was inspired by the legendary event during which Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I Have A Dream speech. The album is smart and fun at the same time, the intricate lyrics backed by Oddisee’s soulful bass-heavy instrumentals. With March On Washington, Diamond District dropped a sleeper classic. 14 songs deep, none of them skippable.
84. Scarface - Deeply Rooted (2015)
Seven years after Emeritus (2008), which was supposed to be his retirement album, Scarface comes back strong with Deeply Rooted. Where he arguably lost some of his hunger and power on Emeritus, on Deeply Rooted Scarface is as good as he ever was. More mature, reflective and spiritual this time around, Deeply Rooted turned out to be the album that perfectly matched Scarface’s status as one of the game’s top dogs. “Steer”, “God”, “All Bad” – no shortage of top-quality cuts on this one. If this is his last album, he definitely ended his recording career on a high note, and in a better and more befitting way than if Emeritus would have been his last album. Deeply Rooted is one of 2015’s best releases and an album that is part of the better half of Scarface’s catalog.
85. Demigodz - KILLmatic (2013)
KILLmatic is a 2013 album from supergroup Demigodz. Demigodz is a Hip Hop collective whose line-up has changed several times over the years – as of 2012, the group consists of Apathy, Celph Titled, Ryu, Esoteric, Motive, & Blacastan. With production from Apathy (who also serves as executive producer for the album), DJ Premier, Teddy Roxpin, Chumzilla, Snowgoons, Skammadix, Will C, and Marco Polo, and guest appearances from renowned rhyme spitters as R.A. The Rugged Man, Planetary, and Termanology KILLmatic is an hour of HEAT. 100% pure uncut Hip Hop: hard rhymes, booming beats, dope scratches, and nostalgia-inducing samples – just listen to “Dead In The Middle“, which uses the epic Big Pun verse ‘dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know that we riddled some middlemen who didn’t do diddly’ as the hook. KILLmatic: non-stop blood pumping beats and lyrics from beginning to end.
86. Death Grips – The Money Store (2012)
Death Grips is a trio from Sacramento, California, that has created a whole separate niche for itself by pushing the boundaries of Hip Hop – their music may be rooted in Hip Hop, but it is blended with noise, industrial, electro, punk rock, and other alternative elements. The Money Store is Death Grips’ 2012 debut studio album, and arguably their best (even if their whole catalog is consistently strong).
The Money Store is in-your-face, visceral, abrasing, and alienating, but layered and thought-provoking at the same time – this is an awe-inspiring ride of exquisitely produced experimentation and raw energy. The wall of noise and the gory, horrific lyrical imagery The Money Store unleashes on the listener will not be for everyone – no doubt Death Grips is an acquired taste, but when you allow yourself to be ‘gripped’ by them their music is amazing.
87. Ab-Soul - Do What Thou Wilt (2016)
After a slightly disappointing album in 2014 with These Days…, TDE’s Ab-Soul came back strong in 2016 with this sprawling project. At over 75 minutes of playing time with some serious subject matter – from feminism to religion to drugs to modern societal woes – reflecting Ad-Soul’s deep and conflicted thoughts and feelings, this is not a breezy listen. Do What Thou Wilt was met with mixed acclaim upon its release, but is just about as good as Control System (2012), Ab-Soul’s best and most lauded album. Although it’s true that it can be difficult at times to decipher what Ab-Soul is exactly meaning to say, this album gives a fascinating insight into his mind. The atmospheric production adds to Soulo’s intriguing lyricism, making Do What Thou Wilt a project that deserves admiration, whether you can get with everything he’s saying or not.
88. Sage Francis - Copper Gone (2014)
Providence, Rhode Island native Sage Francis has put together a pretty impressive set of albums since his official debut album Personal Journals in 2002. Copper Gone is his fifth solo album, and one of his best. Inspired by some traumatic events in his life, Copper Gone is noticeably darker and more personal than Li(f)e (2010), the album preceding Copper Gone. Events Sage Francis talks about, like the death of a parent (“Thank You”), a failed relationship (“Grace”) and self-imposed years-long seclusion (Make Em Purr”), prove that emotion often spurs artists to create their best, most resonant work.
89. Pharoahe Monch - W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (2011)
W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) is the third studio album from Pharoahe Monch. Producers include Lion’s Share Music Group, Exile, Marco Polo, M-Phazes, Mike Loe, Fatin “10” Horton, Diamond D, Samiyam, and Fyre Dept.’s Adam Deitch and Eric Krasno, while vocal features are contributed by Idris Elba, Immortal Technique, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Showtyme, Styles P of The LOX, Phonte, Mela Machinko, Mr. Porter, Jean Grae, Royce da 5’9″, Citizen Cope and Jill Scott. Scratches are provided by DJ Boogie Blind of The X-Ecutioners.
Pharoahe Monch has always been an intelligent lyricist and as he grows older, his maturation shows in his choice of subject matter and production. The fact that an emcee like Pharoahe Monch is only heralded by a select group of Hip Hop listeners just goes to show that intelligence and true lyrical skill go far over the heads of most not-thinking Hip Hop consumers – this kind of Hip Hop is just too complicated, too advanced for some to digest. Those who do have an ear for quality Hip Hop will have this one in their collection though.
90. ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron (2014)
Los Angeles native ScHoolboy Q released five albums in the 2010s. Setbacks (2011) was a solid debut, but it’s the middle three that are his best. It’s hard to pick the stand-out from Habits & Contradictions (2012), Oxymoron (2014) and Blank Face LP (2016) – they all are excellent albums (best not to talk about the disappointing Crash Talk (2019)).
Oxymoron arguably is ScHoolboy Q’s very best. It was his major-label debut, and according to himself his most personal up till then. – an album on which he didn’t need to compromise. The beats on Oxymoron are universally dope and different enough from the standard fare to remain interesting and guarantee replay value, but it’s Q’s lyrics that elevate Oxymoron to modern classic status. Just listen to a track like “Hoover Street” to learn where Q is coming from. ScHoolboy Q shows his versatility by switching between different topics and styles. Guests like labelmates Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, as well as heavy-hitters such as Tyler The Creator, Kurupt, and Raekwon, complete a well-rounded project.
91. Apollo Brown & Skyzoo - The Easy Truth (2016)
What happens when one of the most consistent producers of the 2010s hooks up with one of the best true school emcees of the decade? You get an amalgamation of the best of what Detroit and New York City Hip Hop has to offer: a smooth, soulful, classic-feeling treasure of an album. Apollo Brown’s dope neo-boom-bap beats and Skyzoo’s tight rhymes are both of the highest quality – this is one of the best albums of 2016 – authentic Hip Hop for true Hip Hop fans.
92. Common - The Dreamer / The Believer (2011)
After the misstep that was Universal Mind Control (2008) and in the midst of his beef with Drake, Common comes back strong with The Dreamer / The Believer. Gems like the Nas-assisted “Ghetto Dreams”, the Maya Angelou featured “The Dreamer”, the subliminal Drake-dis “Sweet”, and the reflective “Lovin’ I Lost”, (about the end of his relationship with Serena Williams), are some of the stand-outs, but there are no weak tracks on The Dreamer / The Believer. Not a classic like his magnum opus Be (2005), or like Resurrection (1994) and Like Water For Chocolate (2000), but close enough.
93. KA - Honor Killed The Samurai (2016)
A chilling barrage of aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes from KA – Hip Hop’s Shakespeare from Brownsville, NYC. Like its equally excellent predecessor The Nights Gambit (2013), the conceptual Honor Killed The Samurai is another beautiful project consisting of minimalistic, understated instrumentals that serve to give room to KA’s narrative and subtle wordplay.
94. Pusha T - King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
A step up from the merely OK My Name Is My Name (2013). This short and tight 10-track album fires on all cylinders. Pusha T is a great rapper, but it’s the beats that steal the show on this album. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude manages to sound entirely cohesive, even if there was a busload of different producers involved, some big names too: Puff Daddy, Steven Victor, Baauer, Deafh Beats, Boi-1da, Donald Davidson, Frank Dukes, G Koop, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Hudson Mohawke, J. Cole, Kanye West, Mario Winans, Metro Boomin, Milli Beatz, Nashiem Myrick, Q-Tip, Sean C & LV, The-Dream, Timbaland, Yung Dev, and Pusha T himself.
This album served as kind of a prelude for Pusha’s third solo album, Daytona (originally titled King Push), which was released in 2018, but it is much more than just a ‘prelude’. The production is stellar, and lyrically Pusha T is on point. The only disappointment would be the fact that it is too short at 33 minutes (Daytona was even shorter – barely 20 minutes: that’s not an album but an EP, and not included on this list for that reason). But short as King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude may be: all 10 tracks hit – this is one of the best Hip Hop releases of 2015.
95. Bobby J From Rockaway - Summer Classics (2019)
Summer Classics is the debut album from Queens, NYC native Bobby J From Rockaway. Boasting production from Hip Hop veterans like Kwame, Statik Selektah, Sway in the Morning’s DJ Wonder, and Jake One and features from lyrical heavyweights like Lil’ Fame and Killah Priest, the album is not only an homage to his hometown of Rockaway Beach but also to classic Hip Hop.
The title is inspired by the “Summer Classic” basketball league that has been a staple of his community for generations. In his own words, Bobby states: “I feel like every rapper wants that one song that dominates the summertime. My goal was to make a project full of those kinds of records. Something you can play from top to bottom while driving with the top down – Summer Classics.”
This is a GREAT album people, one of the best of 2019. Summer Classics has been a long time coming and the time that went into crafting the album shows. 16 tracks, all flawlessly produced, sequenced just right and most importantly filled with lyrics worth listening to. Bobby has something to say and he possesses the pen-game and mic skills to carry an album by himself too. The guest verses Kwame, Lil’ Fame, Killah Priest, and Michael Fiya drop just add a bit of extra flavor – but four guest spots on 16 tracks mean Bobby J isn’t overcrowded on his own record like so many other artists are when they have a guest feature on almost every song on their albums.
Not a weak song on Summer Classics, but “The Collector” with Killah Priest, “Hook Drop”, a M.O.P. anthem with Lil’ Fame, “The Return”, which has Bobby and unsung icon Kwame trading well-crafted bars (“Its the return of the boom-bap black hoodie sh** / Back with the back and forth, back on our bully sh**”), “On My Own”, with its booming beat and echoes of Eminem, and the single “Hometown” are some of the definitive highlights.
“Does anybody make real sh** anymore?” Bobby J asks in the first lines of the opening song “Bobby J For President”. The answer is yes: Bobby J From Rockaway does. Don’t let the somewhat a-typical album cover art fool you – this is real Hip Hop, an album with great replay value and a must-have for anyone who likes authentic, quality Hip Hop with perfectly executed Golden Age Hip Hop vibes, without sounding dated at all.
96. Sean Price - Imperius Rex (2017)
Sean Price passed away much too young at 43 in 2015, this is his first posthumous album (after the excellent Songs In The Key Of Price mixtape). Where posthumous releases often are incohesive disappointments or even nothing more than blatant cash-grabs, Imperious Rex is a clear exception. From the opening with his daughter to the hook on “Dead Or Alive” expertly done by his wife Bernadette, this clearly is a labor of love honoring Sean Price and his skills, which is hard to ignore. Sean Price always dropped cohesive albums and Bernadette together with the people from Duck Down Music did a great job of putting this project together – it feels it is done in the same spirit Sean Price himself would have done it if he was still alive. If this is the last full-length with Sean Price songs the world will ever see, we can all be happy this is a document worthy of the P’s memory and legacy.
97. Brother Ali - Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color (2012)
Brother Ali is one of the stalwarts of the lost art of conscious Hip Hop. He has never released a sub-par album, his discography is one of the strongest and most consistent in Hip Hop, and Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color is another jewel in his crown. Although Ali did a lot of his very best work with Atmosphere’s Ant on the boards, Jake One is a more than competent producer as well, providing subdued soundscapes here for Ali’s lyrics too shine. Ali comes with the same politically and spiritually conscious fire that he’s known for. Lots of standouts, cuts like the heartfelt ” All You Need” and My Beloved” are classic Ali, and there are plenty more lyrical gems to enjoy on Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color.
98. Evidence - Cats & Dogs (2011)
Cats & Dogs is the second solo album from Dilated Peoples’ Evidence. Production on Cats & Dogs by the likes of The Alchemist, DJ Babu, DJ Premier (and others) is fire, and Evidence’s lyrical work is on point too. Guests like Raekwon, Ras Kass, Roc Marciano, Aesop Rock, Prodigy and Slug help make Cats & Dogs an album that offers an hour of great, pure unadulterated Hip Hop.
99. CZARFACE - Every Hero Needs A Villain (2015)
Every Hero Needs a Villain is a more than worthy predecessor to Czarface’s first album, their self-titled debut was great and this one is even better. 7L’s production is not pushing any boundaries but it doesn’t have to: the beats are tight as hell and the chemistry between Esoteric and Inspectah Deck is as strong as ever, with witty lyricism and dope punchlines. Czarface is one of the most consistent acts of the 2010s, and they are unperturbed in dropping vintage-sounding East Coast Hip Hop. Every project they did is strong, Every Hero Needs a Villain is the best of them all.
100. Armand Hammer - Race Music (2013)
Race Music is one of the three excellent albums released by Armand Hammer this decade. It requires multiple listens to unpack all subtleties and to begin to see through the intricacies of the project, as is always the case with releases from billy woods and ELUCID, be it solo or as Armand Hammer. Race Music is another signature dense experience, filled with the duo’s vivid and disjointed imagery. The soundscapes are crafted to fit the lyrics – heavy, slow beats laced with off-kilter electronics and synths. Probably not for the uninitiated, but for those who are into this particular brand of Hip Hop, this is pure gold.
101. People Under the Stairs - 12 Step Program (2014)
People Under The Stairs – Thes One and Double K – is one the most underrated duo’s in the history of Hip Hop. 12 Step Program is the Los Angeles based duo’s ninth full-length studio album, and one of the best in their all-around excellent catalog. Nothing mysterious about PUTS modus operandi – on 12 Step Program they come with another selection of meticulously produced smooth, neo-boom-bap instrumentals to back up their dope vintage flows. Every PUTS release is a celebration of the true essence of Hip Hop, and 12 Step Program is no exception.
102. Danny Brown - Old (2013)
Old is Danny Brown’s third studio album, and it’s another intriguing presentation – a great lead-up to what would turn out to be Danny Brown’s masterpiece: Athrocity Exhibtion (2016). But Old is more than just a stepping stone, it proves once again Danny Brown is one the most unique personalities in 2010s Hip Hop. Old is an album with very different sides, it’s like it is two albums in one. The first half one of the 19 tracks shows us an introspective and more serious Danny Brown who touches upon all kinds of his craziness and personal turmoil, the second half is not much less crazy in subject matter but is a little more lighthearted, consisting more of club bangers. Both sides work – Old manages to stay cohesive despite the diversity presented, and overall it’s a good showcase of the different sides and the crazy, messy life of Danny Brown. Old will not be for everyone, but all those who allow themselves to be captured by Danny Brown’s wild personality, unique lyrical style, and left-field production choices will consider Old a treasure.
103. A$AP Rocky - At.Long.Last.A$AP (2015)
This is another strong effort from A$AP Rocky. Lyrically it is more varied and stronger than his LONG.LIVE.A$AP breakthrough album, which was great too but lacked a bit of the overall authenticness and cohesive focus this one has. Sonically AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP has that grimy feel from Rocky’s earlier mixtapes to it but blended with the major label gloss from LONG.LIVE.A$AP. This is a refreshing album that proves that not all ‘new-age’ rap with mainstream appeal has to suck.
104. Epic Beard Men- This Was Supposed to Be Fun (2019)
This Was Supposed To Be Fun, the debut LP from Epic Beard Men, is an indie-rap tour de force by two of the underground’s ﬁnest; Sage Francis and B. Dolan. Fun and clever lyrics and sonically knocking all the way through, This Was Supposed To Be Fun is a must-listen – one of the most entertaining Hip Hop albums released in 2019.
105. Jonwayne - Rap Album Two (2017)
La Habra, CA rapper/producer Jonwayne released one of 2017’s hidden gems with Rap Album Two – his fifth studio album, following a short hiatus from the music industry to battle alcohol addiction. With Rap Album Two Jonwayne drops a poignant mix of thoughtful deeply personal rhymes – happy and sad – over gentle-sounding lo-fi beats crafted by himself. Rap Album Two is a super smooth listen, a future cult classic without a doubt.
106. Evidence - Weather Or Not (2018)
Dilated Peoples’ Evidence drops one of the purest Hip Hop albums of 2018 with Weather Or Not. Uncomplicated but hard-hitting bars by a veteran emcee backed up by beats supplied by the likes of Alchemist, DJ Premier and Evidence himself – what more does a Hip Hop head want? Uncut Hip Hop for Hip Hop purists.
107. Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$ (2015)
Not quite as good as his outstanding debut mixtape 1999, but Joey Bada$$ did a great job with this official debut studio album. Good flow and good beats throughout. The best thing about the album is that it didn’t pander to some of the mid-decade trends, while at the same time it’s more than just an attempt at making another throw-back project like 1999. B4.DA.$$ combines 90s Hip Hop vibes with some modern rap sensibilities, and it firmly confirmed Joey Bada$$’s status as one of the most exciting new talents of the 2010s.
108. Big K.R.I.T. - Cadillactica (2014)
Cadillactica is the second studio album by Big K.R.I.T. By 2014, Big K.R.I.T. had already firmly established his name with his series of mostly excellent mixtapes and a solid official debut album with Live From The Underground (2012).
With Cadillactica he arrived in Hip Hop’s Major League for real. Big K.R.I.T. has always been on point with his beats and on this album, he even steps up his production game, with help on the boards from the likes of Raphael Saadiq, DJ Dahi, Jim Johnson, Rico Love, DJ Toomp, Terrace Martin, and others. The album features guest appearances from Raphael Saadiq, E-40, Wiz Khalifa, Kenneth Whalum III, Mara Hruby, Rico Love, Bun B, Devin the Dude, Big Sant, Jamie N Commons, Lupe Fiasco and ASAP Ferg.
Cadillactica is an excellent album, one of the best to come out of the South in the first half of the decade. It was a step ahead from Live From The Underground, and would prove to be the perfect stepping stone to KRIT’s magnum opus 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (2017).
109. Tone Spliff - Ardore Melodico (2019)
Los Angeles based DJ and Producer Tone Spliff (who originally is from Utica, NY) dropped a true gem with this crowdfunded project. Ardore Melodico (Italian for something like ‘fierce melody’) is one the best examples of the boom-bap renaissance that is going on right now. Tone Spliff is a producer and a DJ – this album is not just produced flawlessly, just about every song has Tone Spliff scratching in carefully selected vocal samples – this emphasis on the DJ gives the whole album even more of that Golden Age vibe we obviously love.
Tone Spliff recruited a host of talented emcees to do his beats justice – Kool G Rap, Big Shug, Sadat X, Ed OG, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Illa Ghee, Ruste Juxx, Pacewon, C Rayz Walz, Tha God Fahim, Daniel Son, Ren Thomas, Young Lo, Solomon Childs, Realio Sparkzwell, Ill Conscious, Recognize Ali, Supreme Cerebral, Zagnif Nori, Kool Taj Tha Gr8, Localblac, Suezar, and Born Talent. “Recreational Rec” with Recognize Ali is one of our favorite songs of 2019, and it has one of the best visuals too. Adding Ardore Melodico to your music library should be a no-brainer if you’re a boom-bap head.
110. Murs - Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation (2011)
Love & Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation is a smooth and solid playthrough from start to finish: dope beats provided by Ski Beatz and with Murs’ trademark clever lyrics. Murs is great at letting emotion show – just check the single “Remember 2 Forget”, about ex-girlfriend woes or the poignant album closer “Animal Style”, a tale of a closeted high school homosexual that ends tragically – and at storytelling too: the tragic-comic story of a trip gone wrong in Tuscon, Arizona on “67 Cutlass” is a great example. Other highlights are his tribute to the legacy of West Coast Hip Hop on “Eazy E”, the Ab-Soul and D.I.T.C. rapper O.C. assisted “Life & Time”, and his criticism on the music industry on “316 Ways”. Overall, Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation is another fine album in Murs’ extensive body of work.
111. O.C. - A New Dawn (2018)
This low profile release by Hip Hop veteran O.C. is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2018. A New Dawn serves as the follow-up to 2017’s Same Moon, Same Sun, which was billed as the “first phase” of the three-album series. Production on A New Dawn is handled by Showbiz, Motif Alumni, Dark Keys, and Gwop Sullivan – and the beats they lay down serve O.C.’s lyrics well.
A New Dawn is a straight solo album, with no guest appearances at all. Not a problem for O.C., who as the confident veteran he is can easily carry a full-length album by himself. Dope beats, clever, next-level lyricism – it’s O.C., you should know what to expect.
112. Royce Da 5'9'' - Layers (2016)
No one will dispute the claim that Royce Da 5’9″ is one of the most complete emcees in the game. For some reason though, he has never been able to translate his skills into the creation of an album befitting to his stature as a lethal emcee. His albums up till this one have been decent to good – but never classic. While Layers is not quite the classic Royce surely has in him either, it is a really good album, his best up to that point in time. One of the reasons is that production on this project is better than on most of his previous albums, making for a more cohesive effort. Of course, Royce has bars for days and he has something to say too. Dope rhymes and wordplay all the way through – a good mix of introspective self-reflection and straight-up sh*t-talking. Layers is one of Royce’s best albums, second only to Book Of Ryan (2018).
113. August Greene - August Greene (2018)
Smooth and laid-back – Common and company bring that Hip Hop for grown-ups with this dope as f August Greene project.
114. Isaiah Rashad - The Sun's Tirade (2016)
In 2016 TDE was on fire with great albums from Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Isaiah Rashad. Like the projects of his labelmates, Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade had opinions divided. Detractors said it’s a snoozefest because of supposed lack in sonic variety, fans applaud the album’s cohesiveness. The Sun’s Tirade may not be the classic that everybody expected after Rashad’s awesome debut EP/mixtape Cilvia Demo (2014), but it is a damn fine Hip Hop album. Mellow lyrical and sonic vibes, albeit with a dark edge – this is an album that needs multiple listens to be fully appreciated.
115. Phonte - No News Is Good News (2018)
As usual, Phonte delivers. His work has always been of a consistent quality, be it as part of Little Brother or The Foreign Exchange, or as a solo artist. His solo debut Charity Starts At Home was one of the best albums of 2011, and No News Is Good News is up there with 2018’s best. Clearly a very cathartic release for Phonte, this album is filled with lyrical gold that will resonate with all that share some of Phonte’s life experiences. Production by the likes of Zo!, Nottz, Tall Black Guy, and DJ Harrison, is the kind of soulful boom-bap that perfectly fits the moods Phonte’s lyrics reflect. No News Is Good News is a dose of Hip Hop for grown-ups, by one of the most underrated emcees in the game.
116. ScHoolboy Q - Blank Face LP (2016)
After Oxymoron, his excellent and highly successful third album, expectations were high – and with The Blank Face LP ScHoolboy Q did not disappoint. With this album, ScHoolboy Q solidified his prominent spot amongst the new breed of rappers from the West Coast, along with TDE label mates such as Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Isaiah Rashad. ScHoolboy Q’s charismatic flow shines on this project with a nice assortment of varied production resulting in well over an hour of psychedelic gangsterism that perfectly fits into that new wave of Los Angeles street rap with tons of mainstream appeal.
117. Ugly Heroes - Ugly Heroes (2013)
Ugly Heroes is a trio consisting of MCs Verbal Kent and Red Pill, along with producer Apollo Brown, and Ugly Heroes is their self-titled collaborative debut album. As always Apollo Brown’s sound is straight from the nineties, polished bass-heavy beats, complimented by atmospheric strings and piano chords. This is blue-collar Hip Hop, Ugly Heroes focuses on the struggles of Verbal Kent and Red Pil, who present themselves as working-class MCs from Chicago and Detroit, describing the struggles of the working-class life. Filled with serious subject matter and unflinching lyrics, backed up by deep and slow head-bobbing beats – this is another gem by Apollo Brown, an excellent album that deserves a lot more attention than it got.
118. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. (2017)
For HHGA, this album is a definite downturn for Kendrick Lamar after two straight classics, we feel DAMN. is generally overrated. Thing is, Kendrick Lamar is like the 2010s version of 2Pac and Biggie as in that it seems forbidden to criticize him or not unreservedly like anything he does or releases – not 100% praising Kendrick will activate a stan-army to set any doubter straight (similar to what happens if you dare to opinion not everything 2Pac or Biggie have done is of the utmost brilliance). Upon DAMN.‘s release, fans and critics alike were immediately screaming ‘instant classic’, ‘masterpiece’ and all that – like a Pavlov reaction because it’s Kendrick and so it has to be the best ever you know. But DAMN. isn’t the best ever, it’s just OK.
Where TPAB was a conscious masterpiece focusing on political and social issues over an amalgamation of 70 years of black music history, and GKMC was a brilliant coming-of-age concept album, the common thematical thread DAMN. is less clear. In fact, some songs on here just don’t seem to mesh together. Also, Kendrick takes some unfortunate steps on the mumble-trap-singing path (like on “LOVE”). But there are flashes of the customary Kendrick brilliance and some emotionally resonant lyrical nuggets to be found, and the production is outstanding in places (“DUCKWORTH” is all-around excellent, as is the banging “DNA”).
Now, all this may sound a tad more negative than it should – it is just meant to serve as a little counterweight to the blind Kenrick praise that seems obligatory these days. Even the Pulitzer people jumped on the ‘Kendrick is King’ bandwagon, showcasing their Hip Hop ignorance – there are a hundred Hip Hop albums that could or should have won a Pulitzer over this one, obviously they missed the significance of TPAB upon its release and decided to retroactively honor it by awarding Kendrick’s follow-up.
Because of its reduced scope and shaky sonic, lyrical, and thematic cohesiveness, DAMN. can not stand side to side to his two previous masterpieces. It’s not a bad album at all, but it’s not a flawless classic either. Kendrick stans may want to throw a tantrum after reading this opinion, and that’s fine – we just think DAMN. is far from Kendricks’s best work and not even a top 10 album released in 2017. DAMN. is a fine album, nothing more, nothing less.
119. Quelle Chris - Guns (2019)
Quelle Chris’ latest full-length solo release is not for everyone, which is par for the course with his music. On Guns Quelle Chris comes with his usual off-kilter drum patterns and heady wordplay, this time with a unifying theme: the impact of gun violence on American society in particular and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general. Neither an easy nor an accessible listen, a few years down the road this album may turn out to be a modern classic anyway.
120. Blacastan & Stu Bangas - The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes (2017)
Blacastan & Stu Bangas second collaborative album The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes is another excellent but sadly slept-on album. Along with Hex One’s Words Worth A Thousand Pictures which dropped in the same year, this is one of 2017’s hidden treasures. Blacastan (from Hartford, CT and known as part of Army Of The Pharaohs & Demigodz) is a dope emcee with a 90s style flow, Stu Bangas (from Boston, MA) is an underrated producer crafting hard-hitting neo-boom-bap Hip Hop. With features from the likes of Apathy, Ill Bill, Esoteric, and Tragedy Khadaffi you know what to expect: hard rhymes over hard beats, complemented with dope sampling and some good old fashioned turntable work. Don’t sleep on The Uncanny Adventures Of Watson & Holmes.
121. Apollo Brown - Grandeur (2015)
Grandeur is another great release from the most consistent producer from the 2010s. 19 tracks of the smooth boom-bap Apollo Brown brand, with vocals by the likes of Skyzoo, Torae, Oddisee, MOP, Chino XL, Evidence, Rapper Big Pooh, Ras Kass, Vinnie Paz, Blacastan, Your Old Droog, Masta Ace, Wordsworth, Freddie Gibbs, O.C., Westside Gunn, Planet Asia, Sean Price, Reks, and Ugly Heroes, among others. Beats by one of the best beatsmiths in the game, and rhymes by a roster of the greatest emcees of this era – quality Hip Hop guaranteed.
122. KA - The Night's Gambit (2013)
On the heels of the greatness that was Grief Pedigree (2012), KA’s The Night’s Gambit proves to be another creative step ahead for the Brownsville, NYC native. KA shows and proves he is an extremely gifted emcee, with next-level poetical lyrics, clever metaphors, and subtle wordplay – with the album’s narrative centered around chess. Musically more stripped down and minimalistic than Chief Pedigree was, The Night’s Gambit is an atmospheric delight that may not be for everybody, but that will be appreciated by Hip Hop connoisseurs.
123. Skyzoo & Torae - Barrel Brothers (2014)
Skyzoo and Torae knocked it out the park with this long-awaited collaboration. The album features guest appearances from Blu, Sean Price, Sha Stimuli, Livin Proof, and Guilty Simpson. Raw, NY boom-bap production was provided by DJ Premier, Illmind, Black Milk, Jahlil Beats, Oh No, and AntMan Wonder amongst others. Both Skyzoo and Torae brought their A-game to the table, as is evident in the quality of bars and hooks. Great beats, great lyrics, and great chemistry make Barrel Brothers a great album.
124. Elzhi - Lead Poison (2016)
Detroit emcee Elzhi dropped another top-quality project with Lead Poison. Known from being part of Slum Village on Trinity: Past, Present, And Future (2002), Detroit Deli: A Taste Of Detroit (2004) and Slum Village (2005), he surprised the Hip Hop world with his solo-debut The Preface in 2008 – one of the best albums of that year. In 2011 he cemented his reputation as a top-class emcee with the Elmatic mixtape, his re-working of Nas’ Illmatic. In 2016 he continued he streak of excellent releases with Lead Poison, his most personal album to date. On Lead Poison, Elzhi shares his life experiences of a dark period he went through, making for a poignant listen. The understated production serves to add the right weight to Elzhi vividly painted lyrical pictures. Lead Poison is not a casual listen, but it is a good one.
125. J-Zone - Peter Pan Syndrome (2013)
Peter Pan Syndrome, J-Zone’s sixth solo album and first in nine years. In his 9-year hiatus, J-Zone did a bunch of other stuff – writing a book and learning who to drum the two of the most relevant for this musical comeback. Peter Pan Syndrome is clever, funny, and insightful with J-Zone’s jaded view on life and the expectations coming with growing up / growing into middle age and what it means for his position in society and in the rap industry.
Oh sh**! Real life snuck up on me
I’m a new eye-glass prescription from being 40
Spent my twenties rocking shows Melbourne to Copenhagen
While my peers stood single file for assimilation
And it all just stopped…
Now here I am 36 still living like I’m 22 and loving it
The real world is knocking at the door
In my thirties treat it like a Jehovah Witness and don’t answer
(Man f**k that sh**)
Rap career dead, can’t hide, time to get a job
No experience at all in a 9-to-5, employers talking ‘bout
What I been up to since I was 22?
Making rap records, n****s, trying to stay alive!
Now an artist pushing 40, living check to check
But each year my peers relate to me less and less
And then the world keeps spinning, ain’t nobody trying to wait for me
Hold up a call from an employment agency…
J-Zone comes with a collection of unique instrumentals (with lots of live drumming and quirky beats, loops, and breaks) to support his humorous and thought-provoking rhymes – this is grown man rap at its finest, and while not intended as a tie-in, a perfect companion to piece to his must-read Root For The Villain: Rap, Bull$hit, and a Celebration of Failure (2011) book.
126. Thurz - L.A. Riot (2011)
Thurz’s L.A. Riot was massively slept on when it was released in 2011. L.A. Riot‘s central theme is the Los Angeles riots in 1992, sparked by general discontent and the dissatisfactory outcome of the trial of the four police officers responsible for the Rodney King beating (on March 3, 1991).
The album starts out strong with “Molotov Cocktail”, but it’s the second track that is the absolute highlight of the album: “Rodney King” is a 5-minute tour-de-force, re-enacting the assault from the point of view of Rodney King. The musical backdrop is incredibly impressive and the lyrics hit hard. One of the best Hip Hop songs of the 2010s, if not of the best Hip Hop songs ever. Yes, it’s that good. The next two tracks – “F*** The Police” and “Colors” are evident nods to the West Coast Hip Hop classics by N.W.A. and Ice-T, and Thurz doesn’t let up after that. A special mention goes out to another stand-out track, “Riot”, which has Black Thought as guest emcee. L.A. Riot is one of the best albums of 2011 and one that deserves far more shine than it got.
127. Kool Keith - Feature Magnetic (2016)
Quality control has never been a priority for Kool Keith. He has released something like 60 projects since his debut with Ultramagnetic MCs in 1988, and not all of these releases are must-haves, exactly. Because of the large number of Kool Keith releases over the years, people tend to dismiss all of them as trash. That’s not correct, though – there’s plenty of gems in his catalog. Dr. Octagon (1996), Sex Style (1997) and First Come, First Served (1999) are his obvious classics, but titles like Big Time (1996), Masters Of Illusion (2000), Diesel Truckers (2004), Project Polaroid (2006), Sex Style: The Unreleased Archives (2007) and Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (2018) all are excellent albums.
Feature Magnetic is another one of those projects that is much better than most people seem to think. Like most Kool Keith releases, this one was dismissed out of hand upon its release, just because it was yet another Kool Keith release. But the reality is that Feature Magnetic is really really good. Raw beats (mostly produced by Kool Keith himself) and fun rhymes all the way through. Kool Keith is in top form with his typical cadences and bizarre stream-of-consciousness lyrical imagery. Another strength of this album is the features: there is a guest rapper on almost every track and all of them gel really well with Kool Keith. You can’t go wrong with names like MF DOOM, Godfather Don, Craig G, Bumpy Knuckles, Slug, Edo G, Sadat X, and Ras Kass, of course. Feature Magnetic is Kool Keith at his finest, and his best release of this decade.
128. A$AP Rocky - Long.Live.A$AP (2013)
A$AP Rocky did not disappoint with his long-awaited and highly anticipated official debut album. Rocky may not be the best emcee ever, but it doesn’t matter – he possesses the personality to compensate possible shortcomings on the mic and the production that supports his rhymes is mostly excellent throughout the whole album. A whole bunch of guests (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and more) help out to add variety, especially the posse cut “1Train” is a highlight. Long. Live.A$AP is one of those ‘new-age’ rap albums that old heads can enjoy too.
129. Jeremiah Jae & L'Orange - Complicate Your Life With Violence (2019)
North Carolinian L’Orange is one of the most underappreciated producers active in the Hip Hop game in the past decade. He was responsible for excellent projects like The City Under The City (with Stik Figa, 2013), Time? Astonishing! (with Kool Keith, 2015), The Life & Death Of Scenery (with Mr. Lif, 2016) and of course the first project he did together with Chicago emcee Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us In Like Family (2015).
Like The Night Took Us In Like Family, Complicate Your Life With Violence is a concept album, examing the (insane) nature of war and violence by asking and answering some difficult questions on the subject. Guests like Chester Watson, billy woods, Zeroh, and Loji add their perspectives – resulting in a poignant project meant for thinking people. Even with Jeremiah Jae’s lyrical content being meaningful and outstanding, it’s L’Orange’s production that steals the show. Those familiar with his work will have an idea of what to expect: unique sampling choices, dirty drums, and atmospheric vibes throughout – it all leads to one of the most intriguing albums of 2019.
130. Skyzoo - Music For My Friends (2015)
Skyzoo is one the most consistent emcees of the decade and this 2015 release just is another piece of evidence to prove this point. On Music For My Friends, Skyzoo rhymes about his life growing up and experiences he went through, giving a very nostalgic and personal feel to the whole project. The production is reminiscent of earlier East Coast Hip-Hop, with the smooth beats crafted by the liked of Antman Wonder, MarcNfinit, Jahlil Beats, Thelonious Martin, Illmind, The Rvlt., Black Metaphor, Apollo Brown, Seige Monstracity, and Skyzoo himself. With features from Black Thought, Westside Gunn, Jadakiss, Saba, and others, Music For My Friends is a well-rounded effort and another star in Skyzoo’s crown.
131. De La Soul - And The Anonymous Nobody... (2016)
Twelve years after the excellent The Grind Date (2004), and the Anonymous Nobody… continues what De La Soul has always done: putting out quality music, this time pushing boundaries with genre-bending compositions and some very surprising guests. If there’s a drawback it may be that there are a little too many guests on the album, and consequently not enough De La Soul. But that’s a minor quibble, as the guests mostly bring the goods to complement De La’s vibe, resulting in some unexpected and intriguing tracks. Because of its eclectic nature, it may be a slow burn and probably not for everybody, but and the Anonymous Nobody… nevertheless is a solid piece of music and a worthy addition to De La Soul’s epic catalog.
132. billy woods - Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015)
Where most of billy woods’ other albums are lengthy explorations of consistent themes, Today I Wrote Nothing is comprised of short stories and vignettes that thematically leap back and forth, on songs that are mostly short: 2 minutes on average. Taking influences from sources like HBO’s “The Wire” and Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”, woods lets go his typical brand of stream-of-consciousness type lyrics. The brevity of the songs and the broadness of themes, and woods’ fleeting but vivid imagery can make this album feel incohesive, but the common thread binding the 24 tracks on Today I Wrote Nothing is woods’ conversational rapping style and scalding wit. Like all other billy woods projects, Today I Wrote Nothing has an incredible amount of depth and requires multiple listens to unravel just what exactly woods is meaning to say. That said, the experience is ultimately rewarding – and even if this is not even the best album billy woods has released in the 2010s, it is an essential part of his catalog and it helps cements his status as one of the decades MVPs.
133. Black Milk - No Poison No Paradise (2013)
The concept-driven No Poison No Paradise is Black Milk’s fifth and best album. No Poison No Paradise is centered around a young man’s survival on the streets of Detroit, the narrative making this Black Milk’s most emotionally charged and deepest album to date. Black Milk expertly meshes synthesizer production with dusty soul/jazz/rock samples, with a bit of a darker and rougher edge to the beats than on some of his earlier projects. No Poison No Paradise is a great album from an underrated producer and rapper.
134. Big K.R.I.T. - Live From The Underground (2012)
Big K.R.I.T.’s official debut album Live From The Underground was highly anticipated release after his mixtapes had created a big buzz surrounding his name. It can be argued that some of his mixtapes were better than this album, and K.R.I.T.’s next two albums would improve on Live From The Underground (let’s forget about 2019’s disappointing K.R.I.T. Iz Here) – but Live… is a more than a solid album. K.R.I.T. stayed true to the sound of his mixtape days and didn’t overly pander to the mainstream. Big K.R.I.T. is one of this generation’s heavy hitters, and this album marked the start of an epic three-album run for Big K.R.I.T. and Southern Hip Hop.
135. Marlowe - Marlowe (2018)
Seattle-based producer L’Orange teamed up with North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham under the name Marlowe to create the self-titled Marlowe. L’Orange is a master of obscure sampling and of creating his own brand of psychedelic, dusty, lo-fi, boom-bap – and his synergy with Solemn Brigham is evident. Solemn Brigham has an effortless but impeccable flow that gels perfectly with L’Orange’s extraordinary instrumentals, and he comes with tight bars and complex rhyme schemes to complement his flow and delivery.
Marlowe: 38 minutes, 17 tracks, zero filler – this is one of the most underappreciated albums of 2018.
136. Dag Savage - E&J (2014)
Dag Savage is a duo consisting of famed Los Angeles producer Exile and San Diego emcee Johaz. E&J (“Exile & Johaz” you see) is their collaborative debut full-length which offers a potent dose of traditional-vibed Hip Hop but completely in touch with this day and age. Exile’s signature melodic loops and hard drums serve a complimentary backdrop for Johaz’s raw, deeply felt lyrics. Also, Dag Savage enlisted the help of a host of affiliate artists to cover some features on E&J – Blu drops a dope verse on “Don’t Stop” for instance – to add some variation to the album. All in all, this is a more than fine project, in line with more celebrated Exile collabos like Below The Heavens (2007, with Blu) and Boy Meets World (2009, with Fashawn).
137. The Left - Gas Mask (2010)
The Left is a 3-man collaboration consisting of rapper Journalist 103, turntablist DJ Soko and producer Apollo Brown. Apollo Brown is the star of the show here, as it is his production-work that steals the show. Journalist 103 is a competent emcee and DJ Soko adds extra flavor with his cuts and scratches – the first track “Change” sets the tone nicely by showcasing the trio’s synergy. At 19 tracks Gas Mask is not a short album but the same level of quality is maintained throughout – this album is a perfect representation of the strength of Detroit’s underground Hip Hop scene. Booming beats and fine lyricism – Gas Mask is a must-have.
138. Hex One - Words Worth A Thousand Pictures (2017)
Hex One’s Words Worth A Thousand Pictures is one of the most slept on Hip Hop albums of 2017. While the mainstream was dominated by mumblers and quasi-crooners, a skilled rapper like Hex One gets no shine, which is ridiculous if you think about it. Hex One is an emcee from Queens, NYC (with Columbian origins), half of the renowned underground rap duo Epidemic. Hex One is a true emcee, who possesses extreme technical prowess and lyrical dexterity. Words Worth A Thousand Pictures is a treasure for all those who love the sounds of the Golden Age Hip Hop of the 90s. Sick beats plus sick rhymes with razor-sharp wordplay – 100% pure uncut Hip Hop.
139. Oddisee – People Hear What They Wanna Hear (2012)
This is another great album by one of Hip Hop’s MVP’s of the 2010s. Even if he would go on to create even better albums than this one with Tangible Dream (2013) and The Good Fight (2015), his full-length solo-debut (after a string of EPs and the excellent In The Ruff (2009) as part of Diamond District), People Hear What They See is top-quality as well. Oddisee always produces the kind of soulful beats you FEEL, and his lyrics and flow are on par.
140. The Game - The Documentary 2/2.5 (2015)
Coming off a bunch of mediocre albums, The Documentary 2/2.5 is a definite return to form for The Game. The first The Documentary (2005) was one of the biggest (if not best) rap albums of the 2000s, and an undisputed West Coast classic. The Documentary 2 (and its companion album The Documentary 2.5) doesn’t quite reach the level of the classic namesake, but it is great enough. Musically the album is excellent, one of the best-produced albums in what arguably was the best year for Hip Hop in the decade. Lyrics-wise there’s nothing new here, but Game and guests like Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Ab-Soul, and Q-Tip bring what can be expected to the table. Overall, this is not a classic (a bit too long at 75 minutes, with some inevitable filler tracks), but it is a banger and The Game’s best effort since his debut.
141. billy woods - Dour Candy (2013)
Not as heavy and impactful as billy woods’ previous album History Will Absolve Me (2012), Dour Candy is still better than most other Hip Hop released in the first half of the decade. In comparison to billy woods’ other releases in the 2010s, Dour Candy falls a bit short – mainly because the smooth instrumentals are just there, less effective in enhancing billy woods’ complex imagery compared to the outstanding soundscapes on History Will Absolve Me, Known Unknows (2017) and Hiding Places (2019). Make no mistake: Blockhead’s production is more than solid though, and as always Dour Candy first and foremost is all about billy woods’ perspective and personality, but the sum of the parts here is not as big as on some of billy woods’ other releases this decade. Dour Candy is solid billy woods though, and even a mediocre billy woods release is better than most rapper’s best.
142. J-Zone - Fish-n-Grits (2016)
J-Zone’s tenth album Fish-n-Grits is on par with the excellent Peter Pan Syndrome (2013) and is refreshingly authentic as all his work is. J-Zone has a dope flow and delivery, and he has something to say too. The “Shut up, Make Music (Swagboi vs. Purist)” intro of the album sets the tone for Fish-n-Grits: on J-Zone intends to show he has no patience for the new generation of quality-lacking rappers with their questionable content and intent (“Go Back To Selling Weed”), nor does he have sympathy for old heads who can do nothing but complain about how everything was better back in the day. As a relative industry outsider, J-Zone has some fun showing how ridiculous everyone is – the young generation is slammed for their lack of respect for and knowledge about Hip Hop’s roots, the old generation is criticized for their useless constant high-horsed bitching about it.
J-Zone’s musicality (and skills on the drums) is on full display, as is his sense of humor and no-holds-barred views of the Hip Hop industry. Song titles like “Sick Of Rap”, and ‘Rap Is A Circus And We Hope The Elephants Trample Everybody” should tell you something about where J-Zone is coming from and what he intends to do here. J-Zone tells it like it is – he is one of the realest and smartest artists out there. The instrumentals are intricate, the content is profound – this is a great album people.
143. Lil Ugly Mane – Mista Thug Isolation (2012)
Lil Ugly Mane is one of the many aliases of Richmond, Virginia’s producer/rapper Travis Miller. Not familiar with Lil Ugly Mane? Then it is perfectly understandable if you would dismiss this album out right – rappers with ‘Lil’ in their names usually suck, the album’s title promises generic dumbness, and the cover art for Mista Thug Isolation is awful (there are different versions around – all bad).
The surface has to be scratched to see what’s going on and what Travis Miller set out to do. The cover art obviously is a play on the terrible aesthetics used to market the bland rap drivel that used to come out of the No Limit and Cash Money rap factories, as is the album’s title. The Lil Ugly Mane stage name can be seen as a stab at all the other ‘Lil’ rappers and other gangsta rap/trap artists – who all drop the same kind of generic dumbass projects, talking about the exact same things time and time again: bitches, hoes, money, cars, drugs, guns, murder, etc. Lil Ugly Mane does the same here, but he makes a caricature of it – so to think Lil Ugly Mane is just one of the many trap clones definitely would be wrong, even if first glances would suggest him to be exactly that.
What Lil Ugly Mane does is taking the gangsta rap and trap-trappings and turn them on their head. There is a thin line between silliness and dark comedy, but Lil Ugly Mane nails staying on the right side of that line throughout this album. Through Lil Ugly Mane’s over-the-top lyrical imagery it’s clear he doesn’t take himself all too seriously, cleverly making fun all those empty boastful rappers who do and who start to believe they are the persona they invented.
Mista Thug Isolation is produced by Shawn Kemp, another Travis Miller alias, and the instrumentals he crafted are great – a flawlessly executed blend of fat 90s-centric Memphis beats, horror-core eeriness, and psychedelic and jazzy vibes. The beats serve as the perfect backdrop for Lil Ugly Mane’s lyrical tongue-in-cheek humor and biting irony. Mista Thug Isolation is a defining underground cult-classic, an album that proved to be prophetic too – as in the years after the release of this album more and more ‘Lil’ rappers would appear who all operate exactly like the stereotype Lil Ugly Mane is so effectively mocking here.
144. Natti - Still Motion (2013)
Still Motion is the first solo album Natti, best-known for being a part of the unsung CunninLynguists. CunninLynguists is one of the most underappreciated crews in Hip Hop, with a couple of sleeper classics on their name – especially A Piece Of Strange (2006) and Oneirology (2011) are masterpieces. In 2010, CunninLynguists producer dropped his own solo-album Death Is Silent, which is among this decades best. In 2014 it was Natti’s turn to try his hand at a solo project.
Guest appearances on Still Motion include Deacon the Villain, Freddie Gibbs, Sha Stimuli and Substantial, among others, and the album is produced mostly by CunninLynguist buddies Deacon the Villain and Kno. This means this is a project which has that CunninLynguist mark of quality all over it. While not quite as brilliant the other CunninLynguist projects mentioned, Still Motion is a top-quality project anyway. Supersmooth Hip Hop, sonically true to Natti’s Southern roots and with lyrics worth listening to. You just can’t go wrong with a CunninLynguist release.
145. J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
J. Cole is a polarizing figure. He is one of the big names in modern-day Hip Hop, with a large army of fans/stans. There’s also a lot of people out there who consider him average and overrated. After a few pretty good mixtapes and two just OK albums, in 2014 he dropped 2014 Forest Hills Drive – which turned out to be his best album to date, better than his previous projects and better than what he would release after 2014. J. Cole himself declared this album a classic, and there’s some merit to that claim – 2014 Forest Hills Drive performed really well commercially and it established J. Cole as of the game’s top-dogs. The album is not flawless, but it is mostly enjoyable, with a bunch of really strong songs such as “Fire Squad”, “Apparently’, “No Role Modelz”, “03′ Adolescence” and “Love Yourz”. There are also throw-away tracks like “G.O.M.D.” and the useless “Note To Self” that detract from the overall quality of the album. All in all: good, but not quite the classic a lot of people say it is.
146. Apollo Brown & Ras Kass - Blasphemy (2014)
Apollo Brown has been on an incredible roll in the 2010s, to name him the MVP producer of the decade is an easily defendable claim. Apollo Brown dropped a lot of dope collaborative projects in the 2010s, this is just one of them. Ras Kass is one of the best lyricists the game has ever seen, and Apollo Brown’s signature brand of polished, bass-heavy boom-bap beats serves Ras Kass’ lyrics well. A few great features from the likes of Pharoahe Monch, Sean Price, Royce Da 5’9″, and Xzibit (among others) help make Blasphemy a well-rounded, solid album.
147. P.O.S - Chill, Dummy (2017)
P.O.S, from Minneapolis, Minnesota is a founding member of the indie Hip Hop collective Doomtree, and responsible for a whole bunch of dope albums over the years. Not counting the excellent work he has been responsible for as a member of Doomtree (and other collectives he’s part of), he has released 5 albums as a solo artist: Ipecac Neat (2004), Audition (2006), Never Better (2009), We Don’t Even Live Here (2012), and Chill, Dummy (2017).
Chill, Dummy is P.O.S’s first album since 2012 when health problems, eventually necessitating kidney transplantation, caused him to break off his first national tour. P.O.S’s newfound health also brought back the beautiful cynical anger that made listening to his first albums so intriguing. On Chill, Dummy P.O.S reveals an element of self-reflection that was less in evidence on most of his earlier albums. Also, P.O.S’s love for punk-rock is less evident here than on some of his earlier releases, which can make this effort more accessible to P.O.S noobs than some of his other albums. That’s not to say this is a run-of-the-mill sounding album – it is evident Aesop Rock is one of his biggest inspirators. Chill, Dummy is sonically adventurous and ultimately a consistent and cohesive listening experience.
148. Semi Hendrix - Breakfast At Banksy’s (2015)
Semi Hendrix is a collaboration between Grammy-winning producer Jack Splash and legendary lyricist Ras Kass – they joined forces in 2015 to make Breakfast at Banksy’s. This album is excellent, totally overlooked by almost everybody, unfortunately. Jack Splash manages to come up with different sounds for every track, maintaining a high energy level from start to finish. The beats are exactly what Ras Kass needs to match his intensity. Ras Kass, as always, comes with clever, humorous, and hard-hitting lyrics, while Jack Splash manages to hold his own on the mic as well. This is one of 2015’s hidden treasures.
149. Joey Bada$$ - All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ (2017)
Joey Bada$$’s second studio album All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ is a stylistic departure from the more authentic Hip Hop sounds from his debut album B4.Da.$$ (2015) and especially from his classic mixtapes 1999 (2012), and Summer Knights (2013). On All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ the Pro Era frontman opts for a more soulful approach, with less traditional boom-bap vibes and more modern-day rap aesthetics evident – he even sings on some of the tracks here. Somehow, it works though – there’s enough boom-bap left in the beats, and his evolving vocal styles suit the intent of the album.
All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ is Joey Bada$$ most socially aware and most conscious album to date, addressing ongoing contemporary societal issues like politics, institutional racism, and injustice head-on. The social and political themes are refreshing among today’s mumble and auto-tune rap, All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ is an important and necessary album by one of this generation’s most interesting artists.
150. Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo (2016)
This is Kanye West’s best album since his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), and along with Yeezus (2013) his most polarizing one. His projects since MBDTF have been messy and more miss than hit, and The Life Of Pablo is a mess too, but it’s a beautiful mess.
Kanye West is a genius and an idiot in equal measures, and this album is the epitome of his absurdity. Similar to more of his other recent projects, TLOP sounds rushed and unfinished on the one hand, but over-produced on the other – it really is all over the place. Kanye West has never been a very good emcee but he used to be competent enough, on this album his skills as a rapper are worse than ever. But still… he does manage to captivate and intrigue, especially because of the energy he puts in the production.
The Life Of Pablo will likely go down in history as Kanye West’s most confusing and polarizing album. Hate it or love it, its vintage Kanye though. And there is plenty of quality on display: “30 Hours”, “No More Partying In LA”, and “Ultralight Beams” – are just a few of the classic Kanye tracks on TLOP. Forget about the head-scratching moments and recognize TLOP as a fine, if not classic, part of Kanye West’s catalog.