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list Jan 3 2024 Written by

Top 150 Hip Hop Albums Of The 2020s

HipHopGoldenAge was established to honor the classic era of Hip Hop and the influential figures who shaped the music and culture we all cherish. Additionally, our aim is to counterbalance the rise of shallow, commercialized rap that has dominated the mainstream since the mid-nineties. While we hold the eighties and early nineties in high regard, our focus extends beyond that period to emphasize the ongoing existence of high-quality Hip Hop. Despite the mainstream narrative, quality Hip Hop has always thrived.

Although we consider 1987 to 1996 as the pinnacle of Hip Hop, the past decades have also seen a wealth of exceptional releases. As Hip Hop continues to assert its dominance in the world, its diversity is reflected in the myriad of musical expressions it encompasses. Within this elite collection, we present what WE deem the top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2020s thus far. Our selection is based on various criteria, including cohesiveness, creativity, replay value, potential longevity, enjoyability, and overall quality, and to lesser extent, impact, influence, and popularity.

Our list excludes instrumental albums, compilations, and EPs, as we are focused solely on LPs (Long Playing records). Moreover, we have omitted projects labeled as albums that fall short of the typical LP length (i.e., anything shorter than 30 minutes). Now, let’s dive into our top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2020s list. Do you spot your favorite albums from this era? Feel free to share your thoughts and help us identify any omissions, as well as albums that may be ranked too low or too high. We welcome your input here or on social media!

Last updated: January 2024. Next update: January 2025. 

1. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021)

Little Simz: NPR Music Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

British-Nigerian emcee Little Simz had one of our favorite albums released in 2019 with the punchy GREY AREA – her third LP and international breakthrough project. In 2021 she followed it up with her fourth full-length studio album: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an astounding album, absolutely Little Simz’s magnum opus. It’s an album to listen to over and over again, an album that will easily survive today’s short hype circles, an album people will have on rotation for years and years to come. With a runtime of 65 minutes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is not a second too long – Little Simz effortlessly manages to captivate from start to finish with her superior flow and personable lyricism, dealing with topics such as race, womanhood, self-esteem, and family.

The album’s 19 tracks are sequenced perfectly – picking “Introvert” as the album opener was cleverly done, as it sets the whole thematic and philosophical scene of what Little Simz set out to do with this record. Production on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is virtually flawless – straddling numerous genres from hard-hitting Hip Hop to R&B-and neo-soul, to Afro-beat and even synth-funk, going from orchestral and bombastic to smooth and laid-back seamlessly. So many different influences crammed into one record resulting in an entirely cohesive package: this is an album unlike any other.

“Introvert”, “Woman”, “Little Q, Pt 2”, “Two Worlds Apart”, “Speed”, “Standing Ovation”, “I See You”, “Rollin Stone”, “Point and Kill”, “How Did You Get Here”, “Miss Understood”, and especially the symphonic “I Love You I Hate You” – nothing but stand-outs on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Even the interludes work and add value to the album, which is unusual.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert echoes Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998) in ambition, scope, musicality, and timelessness – there can be no higher praise. This is a phenomenal album, the kind of album you will want to replay the moment you finish it. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of the better Hip Hop albums released in the last five years, a future classic without a doubt.

2. Run The Jewels - RTJ4 (2020)

rtj4 review

In 2012 El-P produced Killer Mike’s album, R.A.P. Music – one of our favorite albums of 2012  which was soon followed by Killer Mike’s appearance on the track “Tougher Colder Killer” from El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure. When R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure were released within weeks of each other, the two decided to tour together. The success of the tour eventually led to the decision to form Run The Jewels.

Run The Jewels (2013), Run The Jewels 2 (2014), and Run The Jewels 3 (2016) all are among the best Hip Hop albums of the 2010s, three important albums for Hip Hop as a genre. Because of its predecessors, Run The Jewels 4 was one of the most-anticipated albums of the year – and it delivered on all fronts.

As El-P promised: RTJ4 is a punch in the face – and in a good way. This is an album the world needs right now. RTJ4 is a near-perfect presentation of fresh, exciting, banging beats and politically potent lyrics. Given their track record with the first three RTJ albums it was hard to imagine Killer Mike and El-P disappointing – but even equalling the level of quality of especially RTJ2 and RTJ3 was ever going to be a tall order. RTJ4 is on par with its predecessors though.

Killer Mike and El-P sound as powerful and as hungry as ever before, and with this album, they prove that Hip Hop can still be entertaining as well as meaningful. There can be no higher praise than comparing an album to Public Enemy’s monumental 1988 classic It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but in this case, the comparison is totally justified. El-P’s top-notch production is like a perfect evolution of the famed Bomb Squad sound and the politically charged lyrical content is intelligent, hard-hitting and thought-provoking in the best Public Enemy tradition.

RTJ4 is a confirmation – at this point, we can start calling Run The Jewels one of the best duos in Hip Hop history. Four phenomenal albums in a row, it’s undeniable. Throw in Killer Mike and El-P’s respective solo work and they’re all-timers.

Timely and timeless – RTJ4 goes HARD.

3. Danger Mouse & Black Thought - Cheat Codes (2022)

Danger Mouse & Black Thought - Cheat Codes

So this is what happens when one of the most skilled producers in the music biz joins forces with one of the most talented emcees of all time. The long-awaited Cheat Codes is a Hip Hop masterclass, delivering on its promise to the fullest. Danger Mouse’s soulful boom-bap production is elegant and hard-hitting at the same time, and Black Thought effortlessly proves for the hundredth time he is one of the best to ever do it – his flow, his delivery, his vernacular: even in his fourth decade in the game as a recording artist there are few (if any) rappers who come close to the level of skill he has been consistently displaying.

At 38 minutes, Cheat Codes is a concise affair, and the momentum doesn’t falter for a single second. The album manages to maintain attention throughout its whole runtime with ease, not only because of the quality of the music and the vocals but also because pretty much every song has something unique to offer. Black Thought kills it throughout the whole tracklist and the stacked feature list is top-notch: Raekwon, Joey Bada$$, Run The Jewels, A$AP Rocky, and Conway The Machine (among others) all add value with their contributions, and MF DOOM steals the show with a bittersweet but outstanding posthumous verse on “Belize”. There’s not a moment wasted on skits or other such nonsense, and all 12 tracks are equally strong with nothing but top-tier production and lyricism. 2022’s AOTY.

4. Armand Hammer - We Buy Diabetic Test Strips (2023)

Armand Hammer - We Buy Diabetic Test Strips | Review

Armand Hammer, the New York duo composed of ELUCID and billy woods, has released the best Hip Hop album of the year with their latest, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips – released under Backwoodz Studioz, the label almost singlehandedly responsible for rescuing the Hip Hop year 2023 from mediocrity. This album is a vibe, giving you a taste of the duo’s lyrical genius, taste for experimental beats, and a sound that’s pure Armand Hammer.

The producers on this joint are a wild mix—JPEGMAFIA, Child Actor, Pudge, Preservation, DJ Haram, August Fanon, El-P, Steel Tipped Dove, Messiah Musik, Kenny Segal, Willie Green, Black Noi$e, Jeff Markey, Elucid, and Sebb Bash contribute beats. It could’ve been a mess, but no, these beats come together in a mix that’s both cohesive and out there, showcasing Armand Hammer’s knack for riding different vibes. The album’s got an impressive array of guests too, including Moor Mother and Pink Siifu.

We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is one of Armand Hammer’s best, and that’s saying a lot with Paraffin (2018) and Haram (2021) in the conversation. No skips on the tracklist here. Check the opening track, “Landlines”, setting the mood with its eerie atmosphere. ELUCID and woods drop cryptic and introspective rhymes, diving into memory, nostalgia, and the ticking clock. Then hit up “Switchboard”,  a more upbeat joint with a bouncy beat and catchy hook. The lyrics stay deep, though, as the duo breaks down tech’s role in our lives.

Standout tracks include “Trauma Mic” (featuring Pink Siifu and produced by DJ Haram), a sonic assault with a banging beat and distorted guitars. ELUCID and woods spit raw and visceral bars, facing their personal demons and the world’s injustices, and “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (produced by El-P), a chaotic and unpredictable ride, with El-P’s signature production providing the perfect backdrop for the duo’s mind-bending lyrics.

Armand Hammer keeps it real throughout the album with their trademark bars, unorthodox flows, and thought-provoking lyrics. They cover everything from age and history to politics, hitting you with refreshing and challenging perspectives. The beats match the gritty tales of modern living, swinging between harsh industrial beats and dreamy interludes. Armand Hammer’s been doing their thing for a decade, and We Buy Diabetic Test Strips only solidifies their spot in the underground Hip Hop scene. It’s a bold and commanding LP that captures Armand Hammer’s journey while pushing boundaries. With a rich tapestry of lyrics and a diverse sound palette, Armand Hammer keeps owning the game in the underground Hip Hop world.

5. JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown - SCARING THE HOES (2023)

JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown, two of the most forward-thinking artists in Hip Hop, have consistently delivered groundbreaking albums that have captivated listeners. Danny Brown’s X X X (2011), Old (2013), and Atrocity Exhibition (2016) are regarded as exceptional works of art, while JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran (2018), All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019), and LP! (2021) have pushed the boundaries of the genre. With the release of their collaboration album, it comes as no surprise that the project is an exciting endeavor that showcases the dynamic range and creative audacity of both artists.

The combination of Peggy’s abrasive soundscapes and Danny Brown’s erratic flows and lyrical intensity generates frantic energy throughout SCARING THE HOES. While the production occasionally overwhelms their vocals, the rawness of the mixing actually contributes to the feeling of daring experimentation that forms the foundation of the album. The rough mixing appears deliberate, a stylistic choice rather than being perceived as a flaw.

Due to the intense lyrical performances and the distorted noise in some of the instrumentals, deciphering the lyrics can require effort. However, each track is packed with clever wordplay that ranges from funny to thought-provoking to disturbing. Although some moments may be unintelligible, they remain entertaining. As Peggy asks on the opening track, “What kind of rapping is this?!” The answer to that question may take time to fully grasp, but in the future, SCARING THE HOES will surely be acknowledged as a landmark album.

The wild and weird SCARING THE HOES is as a triumph of originality and creativity. It showcases the impressive collaboration between two of Hip Hop’s most intriguing left-field artists and has the potential to become a future classic in the genre.

6. Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide (2020)

Aesop Rock - Spirit World Field Guide | Review

Owing to the lyrical and sonic intricacies in his music, Aesop Rock has always been a hate-him or love-him kind of artist. Like him or not, there’s no denying he has a couple of classic projects on his name – especially his third album and Definite Jux debut Labor Days (2001) is a monumental album, followed by the equally excellent Bazooka Tooth (2003) and None Shall Pass (2007).

After the folding of Def Jux, Aesop Rock signed with Rhymesayers EntertainmentSpirit World Field Guide is Aesop Rock’s eighth full-length solo album and his third one released on Rhymesayers, following the great Skelethon (2012) and The Impossible Kid (2016), one of the best albums released that year.

Spirit World Field Guide arguably is even less easily accessible than some of the other Aesop Rock albums because of its concept: the album acts as a “guide” to a fictional world, following a narrator through an alternate world.

“Be not afraid! Whether you’re simply sightseeing, enjoying temporary flights of fancy, or considering a more permanent relocation, the all-new Spirit World Field Guide offers twenty-one insightful chapters of firsthand know-how into the terrain, wildlife, and social customs of our parallel universe. The narrator’s vast expertise of multiple global entry points and various modes of inter-dimensional transport informs a rich tapestry of tips, tricks, and tools to unfailingly aid in your ultimate survival. If you are among the countless individuals who find themselves feeling both dead and alive at the same time, the information contained within may serve as an invaluable asset to your journey. Godspeed and good luck.”

Those are the words of the album’s narrator — an attempt to prepare listeners, both old and new, for a safe entry into the Spirit World.”

Enough has been said about the extensiveness of Aesop Rock’s vocabulary, but having an extensive vocabulary means nothing if you can’t write. Aesop Rock is an incredible writer though – the quality levels of Aesop Rock’s lyrics, bar structures, rhyme patterns, and flows are essentially a given at this point. His production skills can not be in doubt either. Both on lyrical and musical levels Spirit World Field Guide is top-tier work, even by Aesop Rock standards. The beats here are unbelievably dynamic and immersive – giving a kind of unsettling vibe and setting the perfect mood as the record progresses. The lyrics are there to dissect and study, but this album can be enjoyed just as easily without diving in that deep – the beats and flows alone are enough to lose yourself in Spirit World Field Guide, the lyrical depth just adds an extra dimension.

Spirit World Field Guide is Aesop Rock STILL at the peak of his game, an incredible feat after 25 years in the game. This album proves it is still possible to create a one-hour album, without features, that manages to captivate from start to finish AND that has lots of replay value. For the short attention span crowd it may all be too much, but those who can deal with lengthy immersive listening experiences will LOVE Spirit World Field Guide.

7. billy woods & Kenny Segal - Maps (2023)

billy woods & Kenny Segal - Maps | Review

Maps is the new album from NYC rapper billy woods and LA producer Kenny Segal, their first full collaboration since 2019’s Hiding Places. Four years after that landmark record, the duo has reunited with a vengeance. Maps is a story of the road, or roads, taken and untaken; of living the dream and dreaming of another life. It is an album about trying to find your way home, after making your home wherever you lay your head.

“Kenny and I made more songs together before Hiding Places than we did after,” woods says. “I think we only collaborated once over the last four years and although we didn’t talk about it, I think we wanted to let that energy build again. Neither of us wanted to make Hiding Places 2. We needed to go on other journeys, artistic and otherwise, to come back and do something fresh.”

Produced in full by Kenny Segal, Maps features Danny Brown, ELUCID (Armand Hammer), Shabaka Hutchins, Sam Herring (Future Islands), Quelle Chris, Aesop Rock, Benjamin Booker, and ShrapKnel. Segal moves effortlessly through styles but everything is underpinned with deep basslines and mean drums laid down like railroad tracks. Weaving between poignant memoirs, deadpan humor, and incandescent bursts of surrealism, Maps cements both artists’ place amongst the best of their time.”

billy woods’ Armand Hammer partner, ELUCID, posed an interesting question upon the release of Maps: “Why is every billy woods album his best one?” This question is pertinent because it speaks to the consistency and quality of woods’ music – since the reboot of his career with the release of his monumental History Will Absolve Me album in 2012, woods has continued to impress with a string of exceptional solo and Armand Hammer releases.

On Maps, billy woods takes listeners on a road trip that depicts the ups and downs of touring, from the people and places to the food and the smells to the weariness of constant travel and performing. Meanwhile, Kenny Segal uses his often chaotic and dark atmosphere of boom-bap and jazz fusion to provide an immaculate supportive vision, creating a framework that allows woods’ complex wordplay to shine to the max. Expectations were high after Hiding Places, and expectations were met, and then some – the duo achieved a remarkable feat by producing something that is precisely what you might have anticipated and entirely novel simultaneously. With Maps, billy woods continues to redefine the possibilities of experimental underground Hip Hop – Maps is just another triumph for one of Hip Hop’s most innovative artists.

8. Marlowe – Marlowe 2 (2020)

Best Left-Field Hip Hop Albums Of 2020

Seattle-based producer L’Orange and North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham reunite as Marlowe for a second album, straightforwardly titled Marlowe 2. The first Marlowe album was one of the best (and most underappreciated) albums of 2018Marlowe 2 is just as good, maybe even better.

L’Orange’s trademark psychedelic, dusty, lo-fi, boom-bap instrumentals laced with obscure samples are as strong as ever, and Solemn Brigham has something distinctive that sets him apart from other emcees – an erratic one-of-a-kind type flow that perfectly matches the strange atmosphere set by L’Orange’s production. There was nothing wrong with Brigham’s performance on Marlowe 1, but he managed to step up his lyrical game for this one, once again coming with tight bars and complex rhyme patterns to go with his unique flow and delivery.

Even more than the first album, Marlowe 2 isn’t easy or straightforward. It may take a few spins to truly appreciate, but those willing and able to give this album the attention it deserves will find that Marlowe 2 is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2020.

9. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram (2021)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

For Haram Armand Hammer hooked up with producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. This is what the blurb says about the album:  “Haram is a mercurial collaboration between incendiary rap duo Armand Hammer, and living legend The Alchemist. For the first time ELUCID and billy woods have crafted an album with a single producer and the result is extraordinary. With their unmatched penchant for stirring imagery and incisive storytelling, the two rappers dive into an ocean of Alchemist’s creation: warmly inviting on the surface, black and bone-crushingly cold at depth. Haram is a collection of the profane and the pure; a reminder that that which is forbidden is also sacrosanct.

The artists are joined by their friends and fellow travelers on this journey. KAYANA’s golden voice ups the wattage on “Black Sunlight,” while Fielded’s sultry alto gets chopped and screwed on “Aubergine”. Earl Sweatshirt makes a sun-soaked appearance, while Curly Castro and Amani mix like ice and salt on Brooklyn sidewalks, and Quelle Chris, as always, finds a pocket all his own. Still, there is a natural rapport that belies the New York-to-Los Angeles-and-back nature of the project, allowing Haram to be more than the sum of its parts, however impressive those parts may be. This isn’t just the genre’s most insistent contemporary voices paired with arguably its best producer. This is when you buy a beautiful house only to discover, hidden behind a heavy bookcase, a stairway twisting up and away into the darkness.”

Now, the question is: is Haram on par with billy woods’ and Armand Hammer’s earlier releases? The answer is: yes, Haram 100% met expectations – it may even one-up the stellar Paraffin as Armand Hammer’s best work yet. On Haram, the Islamic term meaning “forbidden”, billy woods and ELUCID explore all kinds of taboos – in their own cryptic ways. As always, it takes some effort on the part of the listener to penetrate the dense poetics penned by billy woods and ELUCID – there’s is so much to unpack and to think about here, it gives Haram endless replay value.

The Alchemist’s work on the boards arguably makes Haram a little more accessible than the four previous Armand Hammer albums are, but his atmospheric instrumentals are left-field enough to suit billy woods and ELUCID avant-garde rhyming. This is The Alchemist’s finest music in a while, even better than his much-lauded work on Freddie Gibb’s Alfredo released the year previous – in fact, we will go as far as to say The Alchemist crafted a masterpiece here.

Stand-outs include  “Falling Out The Sky”, with some incredible lyrical imagery also from guest rapper Earl Sweatshirt, “Wishing Bad”, “Chicharonnes”, with a bone-chilling instrumental over which billy woods and Quelle Chris tackle police violence and BLM, likening the whole culture to pigs on a spit roast, and “Stonefruit”, with a jaw-dropping last verse from billy woods to close the album out on a high note. Besides these 4 stand-outs, there are no weak tracks on Haram – everything on the album is well-thought-out and perfectly executed – even the gruesome album cover which serves to enhance the mood of the music, in an in-your-face kind of way, with no hint of artificial coolness. Haram was a confirmation of Armand Hammer’s status as one of the most intriguing and most consistent duos in contemporary Hip Hop.

10. Aesop Rock - Integrated Tech Solutions (2023)

Aesop Rock - Integrated Tech Solutions | Review

Integrated Tech Solutions is Aesop Rock’s tenth album, where he skillfully utilizes corporate jargon to dissect a parasitic worldview. The album’s ingenious, abstract, and esoteric weirdness breaks conventional norms, showcasing Aesop’s mastery of the craft. Departing from his previous loner-centric themes, Integrated Tech Solutions explores new aesthetic realms, focusing on technology and everyday life experiences.

The storytelling tracks infused with humor and non-sequiturs contribute to an album that feels like a genuine extension of Aesop’s interests. Integrated Tech Solutions presents Aesop Rock at his funniest, weaving absurd anecdotes and remarkable production into a cohesive whole. The album’s robotic and industrial instrumentals, while accessible, add a fresh dimension to Aesop’s impeccable flow, with him navigating away from the excessive wordplay that characterized some of his earlier work. The album’s synthesis of Aesop’s beats and live instrumentation pays homage to his Def Jux and Labor Days (2001) roots without mere imitation.

Throughout the album, Aesop showcases his storytelling prowess, reaching new heights with tracks like the standout “Aggressive Steven.” While some beats resemble his previous work, the wacky production and open lyricism, as seen in “Vititus,” elevate the listening experience. Notable tracks such as “Living Curfew,” “Kyanite Toothpick,” and “Black Snow” stand out with exceptional features from the likes of billy woods, Hanni El Khatib, Lealani, Rob Sonic, and Nikki Jean.

The synthesis of Aesop’s near-perfect flow with some of his best beats results in a sonic masterwork. Aesop Rock adds another feather to his cap with this exceptional release.

11. Blockhead - The Aux (2023)

Blockhead - The Aux | Review

Blockhead’s The Aux serves as a giant exclamation point on an already momentous year for Backwoodz Studioz. It also marks Blockhead’s first rap album since his successful collaboration with Aesop Rock on Garbology in 2021. With The Aux the veteran producer showcases his talent for matchmaking, bringing together some of his favorite artists from different eras and scenes within the tracklist and creating an indie Hip Hop All-Star game of an album. The result is a collection of tracks that display highlight reel dunks, alley-oops, and deep threes, all happening so rapidly it’s hard to keep count.

The opening track, “AAU Tournaments” featuring billy woods and Navy Blue, sets the tone with its jazz rap production, allowing Blockhead’s distinctive sound to shine alongside the unique style of each emcee. “The Cella Dwellers Knew” with Quelle Chris offers a groovy, whistle-infused beat and dope bars. Aesop Rock stands out on “Mississippi” with his straightforward approach, as the production blends drums, brass, and occasional vocal and flute samples. “Mastering How To Land” featuring The Koreatown Oddity and Open Mike Eagle introduces a grimy guitar and organ sample, showcasing Blockhead’s impressive production versatility. “Lighthouse” featuring Ugly Frank brings a traditional boom-bap vibe with an ethereal piano melody, off-key whistle samples, and solid grounding drums.

“Hater P*rn” introduces Casual and Breezly Brewin with a minimalistic organ sound that evolves into a jazzy alternative rap song. Both rappers deliver strong verses, enhancing the track’s appeal. “Give Thanks” sees ELUCID taking center stage over one of the album’s simplest yet complex beats with the transition to billy woods’s low-key verse adding depth to the track. “Papi Seeds” featuring Bruiser Wolf introduces a unique vocal delivery over a complex production, blending synth and vocal samples masterfully. “God Is Busy” featuring AKAI SOLO continues the sonic journey with a unique drum pattern and a heavenly piano sample, complementing AKAI’s relentless bars.

“Ponzu Sauce” featuring Breezly Brewin and Aesop Rock exudes a grimy aesthetic reminiscent of early Griselda records, with Breezly Brewin’s vocal style and Aesop Rock’s intricate lyrics adding depth to the track. “Sad Vampire” featuring Brian Ennals impresses with its captivating instrumental and hard-hitting lyrics, while “Gargamel” featuring DefCee and ShrapKnel stands out as one of the more abstract songs with ominous beats and relentless lyrics creating an intense listening experience.

“Pink Lemonade” features RXK Nephew who surprises with this collaboration, showcasing RXK Nephew’s ability to flow effortlessly over a spacey piano beat. The mix of Detroit Scam Rap elements and a different instrumental style works surprisingly well. “1970’s Post Apocalyptic Skin Flick” featuring Creaturenomics and Fatboi Sharif brings a distorted delivery from Fatboi Sharif, perfectly complementing the abstract and distorted instrumental, with Creaturenomics adding an entertaining element to the track. The album concludes with “Now That’s What I Call a Posse Cut Vol. 56” featuring Bruiser Wolf, Danny Brown, billy woods, and Despot. Sampling an Alchemist song, the track features a laid-back and tropical-sounding instrumental with each rapper delivering satisfying verses.

Blockhead’s The Aux is a standout producer album that captivates with its collaborative efforts and diverse range of guest artists. The album’s versatility and the tight performances of the guest emcees contribute to a superb listening experience, making it the best producer’s album of 2023 and arguably Blockhead’s best work yet.

12. billy woods - Aethiopes (2022)

Aethiopes is fully produced by Preservation, who delivered a suite of tracks on Terror Management and the two collaborated again on Preservation’s 2020’s LP Eastern Medicine, Western Illness. Preservation’s dense and eerie production on Aethiopes is phenomenal, and billy woods’ pen game feels like it’s hit another peak. As always, it will take multiple listen to digest and be able to fathom his deep semi-abstract bars – but by now it’s undeniable: woods is one of Hip Hop’s greatest poets, along with Brownville’s Ka, to name one of the few who can play in billy woods’ league. Elucid, Boldy James, Quelle Chris, Denmark Vessey, Breeze Brewin, and El-P (among others) make appearances to add some extra flavor, but Aethiopes very much is billy woods’ own show. He’s as good here as he ever was, and his forward-thinking content is amplified extra by Preservation’s unique and flawless instrumentals. To top it off, sequencing and transitioning on Aethiopes is perfectly done too. Thirteen tracks, and not a weak one among them.

13. Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir – As God Intended (2020)

Top 10 Albums Produced By Apollo Brown

Apollo Brown’s signature style of soulful, boom-bap production became a staple in the 2010s. The number of top-quality projects he has put his stamp on in that decade is amazing. His best work of the 2010s includes (but is not limited to) Gas Mask (with DJ Soko & Journalist 103 as The Left) and Brown Study (with Boog Brown) in 2010Trophies (with O.C.) in 2012Ugly Heroes (with Red Pill & Verbal Kent as Ugly Heroes) in 2013Blasphemy (with Ras Kass) in 2014Grandeur in 2015The Easy Truth (with Skyzoo) in 2016Mona Lisa (with Joell Ortiz) in 2018, and of course what is arguably his best work of the 2010sSincerely, Detroit in 2019.

As God Intended is Apollo Brown’s first major project of the 2020s, for which he teamed up with Che’ Noir. 26-year old Buffalo emcee Che’ Noir has been making a name for herself in recent years, having worked alongside the likes of Benny The Butcher, 38 Spesh, Kool G Rap, and Fred The Godson – she has emerged as one of the most extraordinary and exciting New York talents heard in a while. Following a couple of dope EP’s and collaborations, As God Intended is her full-length debut album.

Apollo Brown really never misses, but what raises some of his albums to the next level is when there is palpable chemistry between himself and the artist he collaborates with. Trophies with O.C. is the best example, another winning combo was Brown Study with Boog Brown.

And now we have As God Intended.

The synergy between Apollo Brown’s majestic boom-bap instrumentals and Che’ Noir’s engaging flow and lyrics make As God Intended a total winner – on par even with Trophies. Che’ Noir is incredible. Her voice, her diction, her flow, her personality – she really is an emcee’s emcee, who has the skill to seemingly effortlessly carry an album, and who has something to say too. Che’ Noir’s views on topical societal issues and her personal stories are unfiltered and no-holds-barred – her pen game is as powerful as her delivery.

As God Intended comes equipped with14 tracks, with no interludes or other filler. As God Intended features collaborations with Black Thought, Skyzoo, Planet Asia, Ty Farris, and Blakk Soul – definite proof of Che’ Noir’s power is that their presence is hardly noticeable (even if especially Black Thought shines with a killer verse on “Hustle Don’t Give). There are no weak tracks on this album, but a couple of standouts nevertheless – including “Daddy’s Girl” (a poignant account about growing up without a stable father figure), “’94” (a trip down memory lane about Che’ Noir’s Hip Hop influences), the Skyzoo-assisted “Follow The Money” (check what Apollo Brown does with Scarface’s “My Block” on the hook), and “Money Orientated” (which brilliantly incorporates part of AZ’s classic verse on Nas’ “Life’s A B****”).

As God Intended is another jewel in Apollo Brown’s crown and the official arrival of Che’ Noir to the Hip Hop Majors. In this day and age of forgettable bubble-gum rap, As God Intended is the clear exception – no doubt this is an album people will keep in rotation for years to come.

14. Ka - A Martyr's Reward (2021)

A Martyr’s Reward is Brownsville, NYC emcee/producer Ka’s 8th studio album (the 6th as Ka), following on the heels of 2020’s Descendants Of CainDescendants Of Cain is a top-5 album of 2020, and his other masterpieces The Night’s Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) are among the best Hip Hop albums released in the 2010s.

Ka’s pen game is among the most refined in the game, he always comes with beautifully crafted poetic lyrics, aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes. A Martyr’s Reward is no different: this is another amazing Ka project, built on his signature minimalistic instrumentals that serve to give room to his hushed hoarse flow and his intricate wordplay. The narrative this time is centered around his own life, making this one his most personal album to date. Just like on his previous efforts, on A Martyr’s Reward there’s a strong focus on ambiance and sound, and it may take many listens to really pick up on all Ka’s lyrical subtleties and hidden meanings – as always there’s a lot to unpack in his content. Ka’s music is an acquired taste, those with an ear for atmospheric instrumentals and true lyricism will own this one though.

15. Boldy James & The Alchemist - Bo Jackson (2021)

Following their underrated debut collaboration My 1st Chemistry Set (2013), Detroit emcee Boldy James and top-tier producer The Alchemist teamed up again in 2020 for the long-awaited The Price Of Tea In China, one of the best Hip Hop albums of the year. On the heels of TPOTIC, Boldy James and The Alchemist surprise with Bo Jackson, their third collaborative full-length project. Like My 1st Chemistry Set and The Price Of Tea In ChinaBo Jackson delivers on all fronts. In fact, Bo Jackson is the best of the three.

The Alchemist already crafted an excellent set of beats for Armand Hammer’s Haram earlier this year, and he brought his A-game for Bo Jackson too. Boldy James entertains with his cold flow and his street narratives, and the featured artists all are perfect fits: Benny The Butcher, Roc Marciano, Earl Sweatshirt, Stove God Cooks, Curren$y, and Freddie Gibbs show up to add extra flavor to Alchemist’s atmospheric instrumentals. “Double Hockey Sticks” with its haunting boom-bap instrumental signifies an excellent start of the album, and the rest of the tracklist is just as good. “Brickmille To Montana”, “E.P.M.D.”, “Photographic Memories”, “First 48 Freestyle”, “Illegal Search & Seizure”, “Fake Flowers”, and “3rd Person” all are highlights, but the strength of Bo Jackson is its consistency – there really aren’t any weak tracks on this LP.

Boldy James is one of our MVPs of 2020, with two albums (The Price Of Tea In China and the magnificent Manger on McNichols) in our 2020 top 25 and The Alchemist is another 2020 MVP because of his work on TPOTIC and Freddie Gibbs’ Alfredo. With Bo Jackson, both Boldy James and The Alchemist continue their winning streaks.

16. Marlowe - Marlowe 3 (2022)

The first Marlowe album was one of the best (and most underappreciated) albums of 2018, Marlowe 2 was a top 3 album in 2020, and Marlowe 3 continues L’Orange and Solemn Brigham’s streak of excellence. L’Orange’s trademark psychedelic and dusty boom-bap instrumentals laced with obscure samples are as strong as ever, and Solemn Brigham has something distinctive that sets him apart from other emcees – an erratic one-of-a-kind type flow that perfectly matches the unique atmosphere set by L’Orange’s production. There’s Run The Jewels, and there’s Marlowe – these two acts are responsible for the best series of albums released in the past five to ten years.

17. Roc Marciano & The Alchemist - The Elephant Man's Bones (2022)

The Elephant Man’s Bones is the long-awaited collaborative album from Roc Marciano & The Alchemist, fully produced by The Alchemist, featuring Action Bronson, Boldy James, Ice-T, & Knowledge The Pirate.

Roc Marciano is one of the indisputable Hip Hop MVPs of the past decade. After being part of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and a quarter of underground crew The U.N. around the turn of the millennium, he later reinvented himself to become the main player responsible for revitalizing the mafioso subgenre (pioneered in the 1990s by icons like Kool G Rap, Raekwon, and Nas). He also is the originator of atmospheric, gritty lo-fi beats as a backdrop for his rhymes – setting the trend for lots of newcomers who would go and build on this sound (think Griselda and all their affiliates and copy-cats).

Marcberg (2010), Reloaded (2012), Marci Beaucou (2013), Rosebudd’s Revenge (2017), RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018), Behold A Dark Horse (2018), Kaos (with DJ Muggs, 2018), Marcielogo (2019), and Mt Marci (2020) are all excellent projects, and at least the first two are subgenre classics. The Elephant Man’s Bones is Roc Marci’s ninth solo album and one of his best.

It’s the majestic work of The Alchemist on the boards that elevates this project to another level. There’s a perfect balance of drumless and hard drum instrumentals on The Elephant Man’s Bones, and it cements The Alchemist’s status as one of the foremost producers in the game ever. From his work with Mobb Deep just before the turn of the millennium to the albums he produced for Freddie Gibbs, Boldy James, and Armand Hammer in recent years – his legacy is indestructible at this point. The Elephant Man’s Bones is another gem in his crown – the silky smooth instrumentals on this album are spectacular, addicting even. The guest vocalists kill it too, best contributions here are from Knowledge The Pirate and Boldy James. The iconic Ice-T shows up too, he doesn’t have an actual verse but his short storytelling bits on “The Horns Of Abraxas” still add flavor and attitude to the album.

The Elephant Man’s Bones is an amazing record. Alchemist’s flawless production and Roc Marci’s illustrious wordplay combine into a hypnotizing cinematic experience, in the form of a 14-track album that will soon be considered a modern classic.

18. Apollo Brown & Planet Asia - Sardines (2023)

Underground Hip Hop stalwarts Apollo Brown and Planet Asia, reuniting after their critically acclaimed Anchovies album in 2017, elevated their collaborative efforts with SardinesSardines is as a masterclass in minimalist Hip Hop, marked by meticulous production and dope lyrical verses.

Apollo Brown’s soulful basslines provide the ideal canvas for Planet Asia’s razor-sharp lyricism. While by now we know what to expect from both artists and Sardines draws inspiration from classic Hip Hop elements, it successfully avoids the pitfall of stagnation or cliché. Instead, Brown and Asia breathe fresh life into the genre, putting their distinct approaches on full display. This album exemplifies the art of crafting a full-length LP, a form regrettably fading into obscurity as many artists these days opt for releasing a series of quick, 25-minute projects merely to maintain constant visibility on streaming platforms. Sardines stands as a fully realized and well-rounded project, clocking in at just over 45 minutes with a fluidity that immerses the listener in an experience that captivates from start to finish.

Sardines boasts numerous standout tracks, including notable highlights like “Get the Dough,” “Wide Awake,” and “Peas and Onions”. Planet Asia’s rhymes are infused with humor, taunts, and vivid narratives, complemented by Apollo Brown’s soulful beats. The album also welcomes guest appearances from underground heavyweights like Sick Jacken, TriState, Marv Won, and Ty Farris, who all add their own vibe to the album.

If Planet Asia and Apollo Brown aimed to surpass their prior work with Sardines, it’s safe to say they’ve achieved that goal. The production builds upon the minimalistic soul sounds of its predecessor, infusing hints of jazzier undertones this time around. The lyricism, from Planet Asia and the four featured artists, is fire from start to finish. Sardines is a must-listen for anyone seeking authentic and mature Hip Hop at its finest.

19. Larry June & The Alchemist - The Great Escape (2023)

The Great Escape is the first collaboration album between top-tier producer The Alchemist and San Francisco rapper Larry June. Larry June has been a dope act in the underground for a good while with a bunch of strong releases on his name, but this collab with The Alchemist is his best work to date, some next-level sh. Uncle Al’s elite touch is unmistakable, his authentic-sounding drums, vibrant basslines, and appealing soul sampling accumulating in beautifully smooth instrumentals that are tailor-made for Larry June’s lazy flow and down-to-earth rapping style. 45 minutes of music, 15 full tracks, expert sequencing, no time wasted on useless interludes or skits, and great cover art that matches the vibe of the content – this is a blueprint of how to make an LP. The inclusion of A-list features such as Action Bronson, Big Sean, Ty Dolla $ign, Slum Village, Boldy James, Evidence, Wiz Khalifa, Jay Worthy, Joey Bada$$, and Curren$y further enhances the project, making it one of the standout releases in March 2023, a month that was filled with high-quality albums.

20. Danny Brown - Quaranta (2023)

Danny Brown - Quaranta | Review

Danny Brown, known for pushing the boundaries of experimental Hip Hop, has garnered a diverse fanbase with his unfiltered and unorthodox expression of emotions. With each new album release, anticipation runs high among fans eager to hear his unique style. Quaranta was particularly anticipated, especially with Danny proclaiming it as a sequel to his breakthrough album X X X (2011). However, listeners will quickly realize that Quaranta is different from what they expected. Contrary to the anticipation of a high-energy and unhinged album, Quaranta showcases Danny’s most lowkey endeavor yet, demonstrating his maturity, introspection, and wisdom as he fearlessly confronts his demons and navigates the conflict between his two personas.

The album’s production, while toning down the lyrical and thematic intensity, maintains Danny’s mind-bending style. Although the beats may not reach the off-the-wall nature of his previous works like X X XOld (2013), and Atrocity Exhibition (2016), they remain diverse, unhinged, lush, and, most importantly, unpredictable. The tracklist offers a broad spectrum of instrumentals and moods, ranging from the raw guitar solo on “Quaranta,” to the overwhelming sinister synths on “Dark Sword Angel,” and the soothing keys of “Celibate.” This versatility keeps listeners on their toes throughout the album.

Quaranta caters to every fan of Danny’s music, striking a balance between tracks like “Dark Sword Angel,” “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation,” and “Tantor” for those who loved his more chaotic days, and introspective tracks like “Down Wit It,” “Hanami,” and “Quaranta” for those who appreciate his lowkey conscious side. The album feels like a culmination of Danny’s past, a reflection that stays true to himself.

Danny’s performances on Quaranta are impeccable, evidencing a battle between his druggy ego and his more grounded self. While he maintains his iconic yelp on some songs, his normal voice dominates, possibly symbolizing a new era for him. The passion and dynamism in his performances, from the insane rapping on “Dark Sword Angel” to the vulnerability on “Down Wit It,” highlight his artistic range.

Thematically, Quaranta is Danny’s most introspective album, delving into past addictions, mental health struggles, challenging adolescence and adulthood, traumas, and even love. While the second half of the album may not match the intensity of the first, with some forgettable moments, the overall experience remains strong. Danny’s maturity shines through as he enters middle age, offering engaging lyrics and head-nodding beats, further solidifying his position as one of modern rap’s finest.

Those expecting a return to the intensity of his Atrocity Exhibition magnum opus may be disappointed. However, they should be able to appreciate the transparent chill, and emotional nature of the album, acknowledging Danny’s ability to adapt and rap over diverse beats. In essence, Quaranta is a great project from one of the most uncompromising, creatively brilliant, and unique rappers of his generation. It represents Danny’s humanity at its core, marking a significant point in his discography.

21. Nas - King's Disease III (2022)

King’s Disease III is the fifteenth studio album by Hip Hop icon Nas. It serves as the third part of his King’s Disease series of albums, once again produced by Hit-Boy. We’re not the biggest fans of the polished sounds Hit-Boy usually crafts, his sound is sometimes too pop-oriented as far as we are concerned. The uneven KD1 was let down a bit because of this pop orientation, with misplaced features from the likes of Don Toliver, Lil Durk, and Big Sean. KD2 was better rounded but also suffered from some weak and unnecessary features. King’s Disease III has no features at all, and the album is better for it – this is easily the best album of the trilogy, and Nas’s best full-length since Life Is Good (2012). We get just Nas and his virtually unparalleled pen game here, and Hit-Boy’s instrumentals are better than on the previous two KD albums too (there’s only one little misstep with “Hood2Hood”). While the album retains the polished sound palette of its predecessors, there’s more boom-bap grit to it at the same time – Nas gels really well with the beats here. What Nas proves with his Hit-Boy collaborations is that he firmly has his finger on the current pulse of the culture, that he is still hungry and relevant, and that he is able to appeal to old as well as to new audiences. In his fourth decade in the game, Nas still is a force to be reckoned with.

22. McKinley Dixon - For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her (2021)

From Richmond, Virginia-based rapper McKinley Dixon‘s Bandcamp page: [For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her, McKinley Dixon’s debut album on Spacebomb, is the culmination of a journey where heartbreak and introspection challenged him to adopt new ways of communicating physically and mentally, as well as across time and space.

The album challenges Black people to revisit more than one timeline and question everything they’ve been taught about processing grief in order to rebuild their present and future selves. There’s no definitive end to the darkness and trauma of the past, but this album is a stepping stone in Dixon’s pursuit of moving forward, and being a voice for Black people still learning how to advocate for themselves.

“The best way to sum up this album is: I was sad, I was mad, and now I’m alive,” Dixon explains. “These things I talk about on the record have had harmful and brilliant effects on my timeline, and have forced me to be cognizant of the fact that living is complex. Rap has allowed me the language to communicate and be someone who can communicate with people from all over. Knowing how far I’ve come, I think people will find trust in the message I’m sending.”]

For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her is the final installment in a trilogy, building on the foundations set by the self-released Who Taught You To Hate Yourself? (2016) and The Importance of Self Belief (2018) – a series of albums that allowed Dixon to process his own and others’ lives as a part of the greater Black experience. For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her is an emotional tour de force – composed of poetic storytelling and poignant insights.

From the impassioned album opener “Chain Sooo Heavy” with its frenetic free-jazz instrumentation to the beautiful pensiveness of the last song “Twist My Hair”: For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her is a stunning album, with great lyrical depth and superb musical virtuosity. Lots of Kendrickisms on this genre-bender, echoes of prime Lupe Fiasco too – but McKinley Dixon doesn’t need to be compared to any other artists, really. With For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her he released a career-defining project – an album that deserves to be talked about in the same breath with monumental albums such as Kenrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly (2015) and Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom (2017).

23. Apollo Brown & Philmore Greene - Cost Of Living (2022)

“What are the consequences of living in this f***ed up world? Within the first few seconds of their collaborative album Cost Of Living, rapper Philmore Greene and producer Apollo Brown articulate this question with unequivocal clarity. It’s an inquiry that looms at the core of their elegiac and existential soundtrack to modern inner-city life. How can one escape the systemic traps that have ensnared generations since time immemorial? What does it mean to make the right choices? And if you emerge from the chaos to live a beautiful life, how do you overcome the survivor’s guilt and lingering trauma?

Cost Of Living is an album full of authenticity that can’t be faked. These are songs that betray the scar tissue. Contemplative fire. Verité films of the west side of Chicago. It’s this noirish part of town that nourished Greene and gave him nightmares. The place where he saw his first dead body in his early teens, where he lost his brother to street violence only a few years later, and where he turned to the pad, pen, and microphone as a refuge and way to share his hard-fought wisdom.

Behind the boards, Apollo Brown creates a cinematic backdrop of tense, moody strings and hand-of-god drums. Philmore Greene is an ideal match for Brown’s sumptuous canvasses. On the Evidence-assisted lead single “Paradise,” Green unspools his gift for classic rap storytelling, comparing Chicago to Pakistan, noting the sex workers, church bells, and constant paranoia. He cites the hypocrisy of a world where you can get 40 years for drug trafficking and be out in three for murder. The centerpiece might be “This is Me,” where Greene details his own personal struggles and psychological turmoil.

The cost of living may be high, but Greene and Brown allow you to understand that it is not insurmountable. There are too many losses and not enough gains, but as long as there remains a belief in something deeper and the possibility of something better, hope remains alive. This is soul music in the deepest sense, not as an aesthetic but as a physical place, where heart, philosophy, and the spirit reside. This is something for the ages, a work of tragic timelessness. After all, these issues have been here before us, and they’ll be here long after us.”

Philmore Greene has plenty of great music on his name already (his Chicago: A Third World City (2018) is on our best of 2018 list) but it is Cost Of Living that should bring Philmore Greene into the consciousness of wider Hip Hop audiences. His flow is flawless, and his mature street poetry is poignant and relatable – this is some REAL sh. The album will also rightfully cement Apollo Brown’s status as one of the top-tier producers in the game. The impeccably produced Cost Of Living is on par with recent masterpieces like Sincerely, Detroit (2019) and As God Intended (2020, with Che Noir), two of his career-best projects. No doubt about it: Cost Of Living is one of 2022’s best Hip Hop albums.

24. Ka - Descendants Of Cain (2020)

Best Left-Field Hip Hop Albums Of 2020

Descendants Of Cain is Brownsville, NYC emcee/producer Ka’s seventh studio album, following 2018’s Orpheus vs. The Sirens, which he made with producer Animoss. Descendants Of Cain is his first album under the name Ka since 2016’s Honor Killed The Samurai. He has been responsible for a couple of the best Hip Hop albums released in the 2010s, especially his last two albums as Ka are low-key classics that have gained him a host of loyal fans.

Following the solid Grief Pedigree (2012), Ka’s The Night’s Gambit (2013) proved to be a creative step ahead for Ka, evidencing his abilities as a gifted rapper, with beautifully crafted poetic lyrics and clever metaphors – and with the album’s narrative centered around chess. Musically more stripped down and minimalistic than Chief Pedigree was, The Night’s Gambit was an atmospheric delight that may not have been for everybody, but that was rightfully recognized and appreciated by Hip Hop connoisseurs. The Night’s Gambit‘s follow-up Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) was another chilling barrage of aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes. Like its predecessor, the conceptual Honor Killed The Samurai was another beautiful project consisting of minimalistic, understated instrumentals that served to give room to Ka’s narrative and intricate wordplay.

In 2020 Ka returns with Descendants Of Cain, going for a biblical theme this time around, as is evidenced by the album’s title and cover art, and by most of the song titles. Just like on his previous efforts, on Descendants Of Cain there’s a strong focus on ambiance and sound, and it may take many listens to really pick up on all Ka’s lyrical subtleties and hidden meanings – there’s a lot to unpack here. Descendants Of Cain is a delightful hypnotic Hip Hop meditation, with Ka excelling in his own brand of poetical lyricism – his hushed and hoarse tone gelling perfectly with the atmospheric instrumentals (produced by Preservation, Animoss, Roc Marciano, and Ka himself).

Ka is one of those artists who clearly REALLY knows what he’s doing, with a perfectly-tuned awareness of how his music works from every angle. Descendants Of Cain is put together and sequenced just RIGHT, and the cover art is gorgeous too. Ka’s style is of the take-it-or-leave-it kind, an acquired taste to be sure – but for those with an appreciation of not-run-off-the-mill kind of Hip Hop, Descendants Of Cain is a treasure.

25. Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter (2020)

Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter | Review

The Sharecropper’s Daughter is Sa-Roc’s long-awaited debut album for Rhymesayers since signing with the label in 2015. Washington DC-born and Atlanta-based Sa-Roc has been of the most interesting artists out in the past decade, with a bunch of great but underappreciated projects on her name before signing with Rhymesayers (especially Nebuchadnezzar (2014) is an awesome album). The Sharecropper’s Daughter was led by the singles “Deliverance”, the self-love anthem “Forever”, and “Goddess Gang” – enough to raise anticipation levels to the max. Does the album live up to expectations? The answer is an unreserved yes. No doubt this is Sa-Roc’s highest-profile project yet and the album that should be her real breakthrough to wider audiences.

From Sa-Roc’s Bandcamp page: “Speaking on the meaning of the album’s title and inspiration, Sa-Roc shares, “The Sharecropper’s Daughter speaks to my father’s actual beginnings on a Virginia tobacco farm where his family sharecropped. The title is meant to signify that both my father’s and my upbringing, though so different, are linked by a shared history that informs the way I move through the world. Although his formative years were spent in the Jim Crow era of the south, where he suffered through poverty and racial oppression, and mine were shaped in the heart of DC, amidst the war on drugs and the effects of its fallout, the album finds points of connection in two very different yet tragically familiar stories of Blackness in America. It’s a sonic reflection of the things we inherit. About the emotional weight that we unknowingly bestow upon the next generation; the genetic transfer of both trauma and triumph that we, both donors and beneficiaries, are tasked with reshaping into a future of our own.”

The Sharecropper’s Daughter album is entirely produced by a veteran renaissance man from the Atlanta Hip Hop scene, Sol Messiah, with the exception of “Deliverance” produced by Evidence and co-produced by Al B Smoov. And, while Sa-Roc’s crafty wordplay, razor-sharp delivery, and exceptional writing are the prominent highlight, this undeniable quality is only further enhanced by stellar guest performances from a small, but formidable, all-star cast of guests, including Saul Williams, Styles P, Ledisi, Chronixx, and Black Thought.”

The Sharecropper’s Daughter is an excellent album, one of the best of the year. Refined production, with soulful and musical boom-bap beats, serves as the perfect backdrop for Sa-Roc’s powerful vocals – she once again proves she’s an elite emcee and a great singer as well. Her lyrics are intelligent and thought-provoking – The Sharecropper’s Daughter is just one of the 2020 albums that mark the return of consciousness to the forefront of Hip Hop – fitting right in with the latest projects from Arrested DevelopmentPublic EnemyParisRun The Jewels, and others.

15 tracks and 50 minutes of music on The Sharecropper’s Daughter and not a moment is wasted. No weak tracks on this album, but a special mention goes out to the timely “The Black Renaissance” which is a SOTY contender – Sa-Roc and Black Thought both kill it, and their back and forth on the last verse is great. The Sharecropper’s Daughter is grown-people Hip Hop of the highest order – it doesn’t get much better than this.

26. Skyzoo - All The Brilliant Things (2021)

Skyzoo never misses. All The Brilliant Things is another great LP from the Brooklyn emcee. The Salvation (2009), Live From The Tape Deck (with Illmind, 2011), A Dream Deferred (2012), Music For My Friends (2015), The Easy Truth (with Apollo Brown, 2016), In Celebration Of Us (2018), and Retropolitian (with Pete Rock, 2019) all are quality Hip Hop albums – All The Brilliant Things is as good as any of them, maybe even better.

Elegant boom-bap production with a jazzy touch, plus elite lyricism from one of the best emcees in the game: All The Brilliant Things is about as good as it gets. Guest appearances from Aaria, Ill Al Skratch, BJ The Chicago Kid, Raheem Devaughn, Stlndrms, Karriem Riggins, MonicaBlaire, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Xiolynn, and Blakk Soul help round out what is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2021.

27. Kool Keith & Real Bad Man - Serpent (2023)

Kool Keith & Real Bad Man - Serpent | Review

Kool Keith has been an enigma ever since he appeared on the Hip Hop scene as part of the Ultramagnetic MCs crew more than 35 years ago, debuting in 1988 with the innovative classic Critical Beatdown. Always out of the mainstream spotlight, his signature style is a stream-of-consciousness lyrical flow with complex vocals usually peppered with bizarre, disjointed, even delusional or disassociated themes, concepts, and references – skills that earn him a perennial nod from the underground Hip Hop community. Quality control has never been his main concern, but among his almost endless stream of albums, EPs, bootlegs, mixtapes, and collaborations there are enough classics to consider Kool Keith a bonafide Hip Hop icon, one who gives meaning to the word longevity.

Serpent is one of the better Kool Keith albums in recent years – arguably his best since the underappreciated Feature Magnetic (2016). Kool Keith has always needed a producer he could vibe with to bring out the best in him, and as the likes of Ced Gee, Dan The Automator, and Kutmaster Kurt did for him in the past, Real Bad Man hits the right notes with his production on Serpent. Real Bad Man’s profile has been rising since his recent work for the likes of Pink Siifu and especially Boldy James, and the sinister beats he crafted for Kool Keith here once more prove he is a producer to watch. So – the instrumentals are dope throughout and Kool Keith sounds inspired and is having fun – plus there are features from Atmosphere’s Slug, Ice-T (with appearances on two tracks, but not with an actual verse), ZelooperZ, Cool Calm Pete, and Edan to add some extra spice to an album that comfortably fits in the top quarter of Kool Keith’s vast catalog.

28. JID - The Forever Story (2022)

Atlanta native JID is the most interesting artist to come out of J. Cole’s Dreamville camp. The Never Story (2017) was an impressive debut album, and DiCaprio 2 (2018) was a solid follow-up. The Forever Story came highly anticipated after a four-year wait and with his third solo full-length JID does not disappoint – in fact, The Forever Story is his best album yet.

Conceptually, The Forever Story is a sequel to The Never Story. The title is a direct reference to the 2017 album’s title, and the artwork alludes to the 2017 album’s artwork. With his flow and musical choices, JID has all the characteristics to appeal to fans of mainstream rap but unlike most mainstream rappers he doesn’t sound generic and he actually has bars worth listening to – so fans of more traditional Hip Hop should be able to get into The Forever Story too despite its pop-appeal. JID succeeds where lots of his contemporaries fail: on the hour-long The Forever Story he manages to perfectly balance banging trap-flavored cuts, smooth neo-soul-tinged songs, and punchy boom-bap tracks into a dynamic but coherent whole (despite a host of different producers being involved). JID’s flows are on point, his pen game is strong, the hooks on this album are enjoyable, and the features (EARTHGANG, 21 Savage, Ari Lennox, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Lil Wayne, among others) all come through. The Forever Story is an excellent album, one that met – or even exceeded – the high expectations preceding it.

29. Blu & Exile - Miles (2020)

100 Essential Jazz Rap Albums

2020 marks eight years since Blu & Exile’s last full-length album Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, and 13 years since their classic collaborative debut Below The Heavens, one of the best albums released in 2007. Now the duo is back with double album Miles: From An Interlude Called Life (Miles for short), Blu & Exile third full-length collaboration. The title references jazz-legend Miles Davis, who gets multiple mentions/shout-outs throughout the album, as do lots of other jazz and other music legends. It’s clear Blu and Exile know and appreciate their musical history – this album is their tribute to that history and its legends, and a study of Blu’s origins, his influences, and his personal life experiences.

When Blu is in top form, there are not a lot of artists out there better than him. Unfortunately, with a series of decent-at-best projects he hasn’t been in top form for large parts of his career. Most of his projects have been underwhelming, excepting of course Below The Heavens, and albums like Johnson&Jonson (2008, with Mainframe as Johnson&Jonson) which was pretty great, as were Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (2012) and last year‘s Oh No-produced A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night. 

Where Blu has never been able to approach the level of awesomeness he reached with his monumental debut Below the HeavensBTH arguably is Exile’s best production work too – even if he is responsible for a couple of more (near)classics, Boy Meets World (2009) with Fashawn and the underappreciated E&J (2014) with Johaz as Dag Savage most notable among them.

So, what bout MilesMiles may not be quite as good as Below The Heavens is, but it’s definitely better than Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them. At 95 minutes the album is very long, but unlike most artists who try their luck on lengthy projects such as this one, Blu & Exile succeed in keeping things mostly fresh from start to finish – there’s little filler (some songs go on for a bit too long, maybe) to be found on Miles, which is kind of unique for a double album. Standout tracks include “When The Gods Meet”, “True & Livin’”, “Miles Davis”. “To The Fall, But Not Forgotten”, “Spread Sunshine”, and “The End”.

Aloe Blacc, Fashawn, Miguel, Dag Savage, Cashus King, Ishe, Jacinto Rhines, Choosey, Jimetta Rose, Aceyalone, Iman Omari, C.S. Armstrong, Gappy Ranks, Jacinto Rhines, The Last Artful, Dodgr, and Adad make appearances to provide some welcome vocal variation – but Blu easily carries this album with his intelligent and conscious lyricism, helped by Exile’s elegant instrumentals.

Despite its length and laidback vibes Miles is a powerful album and another testament to Blu & Exile’s undeniable chemistry.

30. Lewis Parker - Frequency Of Perception (2021)

Best 25 Traditional Boom Bap Albums Of 2021

Lewis Parker is a London-born veteran producer/emcee – a self-proclaimed Hip Hop craftsman, and ‘the deadliest man with an SP’. Those familiar with Lewis Parker’s work will know this to be true – all his music oozes pure dedication to Hip Hop. Frequency Of Perception is one of his best projects yet, a fully realized album with over an hour of excellent music – with beats AND rhymes from Lewis Parker himself (and with contributions from artists Eloh Kush, John Robinson, Planet Asia, Lil Dap, Eastkoast, Enny Integrity, Killa Sha, Zu, Ric Branson, and T.R.A.C.).

Frequency Of Perception is a presentation of stylistic 90s-centric Hip Hop, with tasteful boom-bap beats and relatable rhymes. Musical and classy – Frequency Of Perception is grown-up Hip Hop of the highest order, one of the finest albums released in 2021.

31. Ka - Languish Arts / Woeful Studies (2022)

The mostly self-produced Languish Arts and Woeful Studies are Ka’s ninth and tenth albums – we will consider the two a total package like a double album. The last track on Languish Arts ends with an instrumental with a flute very similar to the one on the first song on Woeful Studies, connecting the two albums seamlessly. Individually both projects are just under 30 minutes which would make them EPs in our book, but put together this double header offers close to an hour of top-quality music.

Fans of Killah Priest’s recent output should know by now not to sleep on Ka, also fans of Roc Marciano’s sound will find much to enjoy. Ka is the superior writer though, his pen game is deep and his poetic flourishes are second to none. Ka’s lyricism is unparalleled – as always it will require time and attention to really listen in-depth and dissect all of the layers in his bars here. Ka’s music can be enjoyed on a more superficial level too, the mostly drumless instrumentals and his spoken word flow are hypnotic and soothing – this is music to keep returning to, whatever you are looking to get out of it. With Languish Arts and Woeful Studies, Ka adds two more gems to an already monumental catalog.

32. JPEGMAFIA - LP! (2021)

Because of JPEGMAFIA’s futuristic, singular and experimental vision of what Hip Hop is, his music is an acquired taste. We liked Black Ben Carson (2016) and loved the brutal Veteran (2018), but we didn’t care for All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019) – which was edgy strictly for edginess sake as far as we are concerned. For us, AMHAC was little more than a bunch of badly mastered sounds seemingly thrown together randomly, a messy wall of noise with so-so rapping and worse singing.

LP! is way better, more like Veteran: still experimental and edgy, but a rap album at its core – and an intriguing one too. Peggy’s personality and attitude, and his willingness to push the envelope come off as always, and on LP! he has reached a new stage of maturity. The synth- and bass-heavy production on LP! is masterful and Peggy shines with his vocal performances this time around.

Two different versions were released: the Online Version and the Offline Version. The online version is the one on streaming services and can be seen as the record label’s ‘theatrical release’ (with all samples cleared), while the offline version is like Peggy’s own ‘director’s cut’, the album as he intended it to be but wasn’t allowed to release commercially because of a bunch of uncleared samples. Both versions are great, but the Offline Version is the superior project. The Online Version feels more like a compilation (with a couple of tracks carried over from Peggy’s last two EP’s), the Offline Version has the original tracks and no recycled ones – the Offline Version should have been the commercial release. Anyway: of the two, the Offline Version is the one that has the feel of a future classic.

The offline version of LP! is by far the best JPEGMAFIA project to date. It’s much more fleshed out than Black Ben CarsonVeteran, and AMHAC are, more accessible and less abrasive too – while managing to retain the aspects that made these works so edgy and fun. After a suitable period of marinating, LP! (The Offline Version) will undoubtedly be considered one of the best experimental Hip Hop albums ever made.

33. Mach-Hommy - Pray For Haiti (2021)

Mach-Hommy - Pray For Haiti | Review

Enigmatic NYC-Haitian rapper Mach-Hommy reconnected with Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn for this album, marking their first collaboration after Mach-Hommy broke with the Griselda camp in the mid-2010s due to creative differences. Westside Gunn executive produced Mach-Hommy’s Pray For Haiti, and he appears on four songs. WSG the businessman is a brilliant visionary, and his fingerprints are all over this album – he has a GREAT ear for beats and a flair for aesthetics. WSG the rapper is an acquired taste though, you either love his kiddy voice and his adlibs, or you hate them. We have little tolerance for WSG’s screechy pitch and constant “brrrrrrrt doot doot doot boom boom boom” antics, but because his vocal presence here is limited to just four of the fourteen songs, his contributions are scarce enough not to ruin the album, fortunately.

In addition to the WSG features, frequent Mach-Hommy collaborator Tha God Fahim appears on one track, as does Griselda artist Keshia Plum – but Pray For Haiti is very much Mach-Hommy’s show, his varied flows are better than ever and his verses carry power. While Mach-Hommy’s bars are dope, it’s the daring production that takes Pray For Haiti to that other level. The murky jazz-flavored beats crafted by the likes of Denny Laflare, Camoflauge Monk, Cee Gee, Sadhugold, Messiah Musik, DJ Green Lantern, and Conductor Williams are f***king amazing. The first single “The Stellar Ray Theory” is an obvious highlight, but tracks such as “The 26th Letter”, “Folie A Deux”, “Marie”, “Magnum Band” (with a Capital Steeze reference that will make you frown), “Blockchain”, and “Ten Boxes – Sin Eater” are just as awesome.

Pray For Haiti certainly is one of the best releases on Griselda ever. Years from now, we will still be talking about the two best Griselda albums – Westside Gunn’s FLYGOD (2016) and Benny The Butcher’s Tana Talk 3 (2018) – and Pray For Haiti is in that league.

34. Beneficence & Jazz Spastiks - Summer Night Sessions (2023)

Beneficence, a prominent figure in Brick City Hip Hop, has teamed up with the UK-based producer duo Jazz Spastiks for their collaborative album, Summer Night Sessions.

Summer Night Sessions invites listeners into a vibrant blend of jazzy street vibes, complemented by smoothly written, soothing, and thought-provoking lyrics. The collaboration between Beneficence and Jazz Spastiks creates an atmosphere that pays tribute to the classic era of Hip Hop. Noteworthy guest appearances from artists like Saukrates, Awon, Doodlebug (of Digable Planets), Skyzoo, Rakaa Iriscience, J-Live, El Da Sensei, Kid Abstrakt, Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Anthony David enrich the album’s overall experience.

The album resonates with a crystal-clear 1990s Hip Hop essence, characterized by meticulous attention to detail and Beneficence’s lyrical finesse. Summer Night Sessions feels like a zenith of throwback Hip Hop, serving as a sonic time capsule that transports listeners through nostalgic journeys with jazzy boom-bap beats and sharp cuts & scratches. While it may not offer anything you haven’t heard before, the album is a dope addition to any Hip Hop playlist.

35. Elzhi – Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (2020)

Elzhi - Seven Times Down Eight Times Up | Review

With over 20 years in the game, Detroit’s ‘syllable sensei’ Elzhi can rightfully be called a veteran at this point. He joined Slum Village shortly after J Dilla’s departure, and the projects he has done with Slum Village starting with 2002’s Trinity: Past, Present And Future are all solid enough. But it is his solo catalog that is truly exceptional.

His solo debut The Preface is a top 5 album of 2008 Hip Hop. In 2011 he cemented his reputation as a top-class emcee with the Elmatic mixtape, his brilliant re-working of Nas’ Illmatic. In 2016 he continued he run of excellent releases with Lead Poison, the most personal album he has released to date. Two years later he teamed up with Khrysis to form Jericho Jackson, under that name they released a critically acclaimed self-titled banger, one of the best albums released in 2018. In 2020 Elzhi returns with his third full-length studio album: Seven Times Down Eight Times Up.

Seven Times Down Eight Times Up continues Elzhi’s streak of excellence. Up-and-coming producer and Griselda affiliate JR Swiftz kills it on the production side of things, sonically this is one of the most cohesive albums of 2020 – cohesive without sounding repetitive. Detroit comedian and “Real Hip Hop Advocate” Foolish provides commentary throughout the album, providing sort of a common thread. But it’s Elzhi’s lyricism that elevates this album above most others released this year.

Elzhi is one of the best lyricists of the past two decades, and this album is yet another confirmation. Elzhi is sharp as always, his flows are smooth, and his rhyme schemes are on another level. Seven Times Down Eight Times Up is filled with meaningful concepts and vivid imagery – Elzhi is one of those emcees whose bars demand full attention and reward repeated listens. Seven Times Down Eight Times Up gets better with each and every spin and offers 45 minutes of grown-man rap of the highest quality – this is one of the best Hip Hop albums released this year.

36. Rome Streetz & Big Ghost Ltd - Wasn't Built In A Day (2023)

Wasn’t Built In A Day is a collaboration between Rome Streetz and producer Big Ghost Ltd, a 12-track offering with guest appearances by Griselda emcee Conway The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan legend Method Man, Plex Diamonds, Lukey Cage, Swab, and Chyna Streetz. The elusive Big Ghost Ltd’s work in recent years is nothing short of impressive, and with this album, he adds another jewel to his crown. Wasn’t Built In A Day is one the best Big Ghost-produced albums to date – Van Ghost (2018) with ANKHLEJOHN remains our absolute favorite, but this project comes close enough. All the ingredients to elevate an album to that next level are here: the basement boom-bap beats are top-notch, Rome Streetz is one of the best emcees of his generation, and the guests deliver the goods too (that Method Man verse is FIRE). There is lots of music constantly dropping in the grimy street rap subgenre, but this was the benchmark against which similar albums were held in 2023.

37. billy woods - Church (2022)

billy woods never misses. He truly is a generational lyricist, one of the best rappers active today (and not just in the experimental/abstract subgenre). His writing still seems to get better somehow, and he has really mastered his delivery – his spoken-word style is straightforward but totally commanding at the same time. Not even half a year after the outstanding Aethiopes, billy woods comes with a second project that deserves to be counted among the year’s best. Church is different from Aethiopes but almost as good. Whereas Aethiopes is heavier on the experimental side and arguably less accessible, Church – while still firmly left-field – is a more straightforward beats and bars affair, this time with production from Messiah Musik whose instrumentals are more in line with the sounds of Blockhead and Kenny Segal on earlier billy woods projects.

Church is a compelling piece of music, a near-flawless front-to-end listen. “Fever Grass”, “Classical Music” (with AKAI SOLO and FIELDED), “Cossack Wedding”, “Pollo Rico”, and “All Jokes Aside” are standouts – but as per usual on a billy woods project, there are no real weak spots to be found on Church. Production is dark and sometimes chaotic, but accessible and relaxing at the same time, and billy woods consistently kills it with his bars and flows. At this point there is no getting around it: billy woods is untouchable, and he was definitely stealing the show in 2022.

38. Oddisee - To What End (2023)

Talented producer/emcee Oddisee has long established his name based on the strength of his previous works. Collaborations such as In The Ruff (with YU and Uptown XO, as Diamond District, 2009), Tangible Dream (2013), and The Good Fight (2015) stand out as our favorite Oddisee projects in an impressive catalog of albums, EPs, and mixtapes. To What End is an exceptional album too, showcasing Oddisee’s rare combination of skill both on the microphone and behind the boards, a quality that sets him apart from many other Hip Hop artists. On To What End, Oddisee’s genre-crossing musicality and his ability to craft captivating melodic hooks are fully displayed, complemented by his introspective and thought-provoking lyrics. The album is a compelling and artistically grand offering, representing the finest essence of Hip Hop soul.

39. El Michels Affair & Black Thought - Glorious Game (2023)

Parthian Shots is AJ Suede and Televangel’s second collaborative album, following last year’s Metatron’s Cube. Metatron’s Cube ended up in the top 40 of our best of 2022 list, and Parthian Shots is just as good as its predecessor. Televangel can always be relied upon to deliver a robust set of immaculately produced moody instrumentals – on this album a little less edgy than on Metatron’s Cube, but once again a perfect fit for AJ Suede’s smooth stream-of-consciousness flows. Parthian Shots has appearances from Onry Ozzborn, Rich Jones, Old Grape God, Milc, Nacho Picasso, Mr. Muthaf*ckin Exquire (“PBS Kids” is one of the album’s highlights), and Bruiser Wolf to help round out what is an abstract Hip Hop tour-de-force and another AJ Suede must-listen.

40. Arrested Development - For The FKN Love (2021)

Legendary Grammy award-winning Atlanta Hip Hop collective close out their career in great style with their presumed last album, titled For The FKN Love – a 17 track tour-de-force that features Masta Ace, Big Daddy Kane, Freddie Foxxx, Monie Love, The Sugarhill Gang, and many more.

Arrested Development debuted in 1992 with the now-classic 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life Of… (4x times platinum!) – a masterpiece of conscious Hip Hop, and because of its positive thinking and positive imaging a breath of fresh air in the era dominated by gangsta rap: an album celebrating life instead of death. Ever since that monumental debut (except for a 4-year break between 1996 and 2000), Arrested Development has continued to create quality music in ever-changing line-ups (frontman Speech is the only AD-member who has always been in the group since its inception in 1988).

Arrested Development had a top 25 album last year with Don’t Fight Your Demons and For The FKN Love is just as good. Like on Don’t Fight Your Demons, it’s the masterful 90s-centric boom-bap production of British producer Configa (with some assistance from Cris Acosta, Clint Taylor, and Speech himself ) that provides the perfect melodic base for Speech’s lyrical imagery – which is as uplifting and thought-provoking as ever.  At almost 70 minutes, For The FKN Love is a long listen but the album never really flags. For The FKN Love is an entirely coherent presentation, with an air of positivity much needed in the troubled times we are living in.

If this is indeed Arrested Development’s last record, it ends a memorable three-decade recording career on a high note. For The FKN Love is a killer AD album.

41. Stik Figa & The Expert - Ritual (2023)

“Producer The Expert fuses elements from jazz and 60s-era psychedelic music on Ritual, which sets the backdrop for emcee Stik Figa at his most honest and personal. People who have heard psychedelic Hip Hop opus The Overview Effect by The Expert together with emcee Jermiside, already know they’re in for a trip. A glimpse at the tracklist also sets the tone for what to expect with guest spots by Blu, Solemn Brigham (of Marlowe), Defcee, Sleep Sinatra, and Tanya Morgan. But the true beauty of this record lies in the contrast: the way jazz influences collide with psychedelic production pushes both the Dublin, Ireland-based producer and the Topeka, Kansas native into new Hip Hop territory.

Stik Figa has a great ear for beats—he’s got a back catalog of thirteen years deep to show it. His releases include early work with Oddisee, the collaborative album The City Under The City with L’Orange, last year’s Valley of Dry Bones with Conductor Williams, and releases on Mello Music Group with production work by Apollo Brown, Black Milk, and Exile, among others.

Now, with The Expert, he finds himself in a sonic pastiche of psychedelic effects, banging drums, clear touches of jazz, and deep basslines. The Expert freely bends what he digs up from his crates: layers upon layers of Mellotron chords, vibraphone melodies, guitar stabs, and swirling strings tumble over each other. All for hard-hitting beats that defy the golden-era boom-bap rulebook. Case in point: when was the last time you heard a solo piano piece between tracks with reversed drum samples and 808 kick drums? Irish pianist Daniel Luke delivers just that on “Rob Peter, Pay Pallbearer.”

Stik Figa moves with ease from dead honest observations to showing lyrical dexterity and skill, to expressing inner struggles. Ritual is without a doubt his most personal body of work to date. It’s just as he raps on “Uknowhut?” featuring Blu: “Self-fulfillment remains the greatest metric of wealth.” Besides Stik Figa openly sharing his inner musings on the album towards that goal, the same goes for The Expert: he shares his own deepening and further self-cultivation—a head-nodding, mind-blowing continuation of his psychedelic-tinged beat-making antics.”

The Overview Effect was one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2022Ritual is among 2023’s best. At 35 minutes the album is on the short side, but that’s a minor complaint. Ritual is a tasteful and stylish piece of Hip Hop, an album you can’t afford to miss out on.

42. Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill - Jorun PMC (2020)

the best hip hop albums of 2020

There have been a lot of great albums released in the wave of Golden Age revivalist boom-bap we’ve been experiencing in the recent decade, but NONE as good as Jorun PMC.

The whole album is packed with nods to classic songs and styles from acts like Run DMC, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, UTFO, LL Cool J, Roxanne Shante, Mantronix, Cold Crush Brothers, Melle Mel, and many more of the 1980s legends – from the title of the album to the cover art, to the beats, to the samples, to the turntablism, to the lyrics – this project is the best kind of trip down memory lane any old-school Hip Hop fan could wish for. Jorun Bombay’s 80s-centric beats and scratches are crisp and fresh, and Phill Most Chill’s raps are dope as f. His flow, his delivery, his cadences, his lyrics – what he did here is simply brilliant.

This is not Phill Most Chill’s first excellent throwback project, but it is his very best to date. The self-proclaimed torchbearer of traditional Hip Hop really outdid himself on this one, and his match-up with Jorun Bombay proves to be golden – Jorun PMC is a Hip Hop traditionalist dream. It will most likely go way over the head of this generation’s trap-crowd, but those who grew up with 80s Hip Hop and younger Hip Hop listeners who know their classics will LOVE this one.

43. CZARFACE - Czartificial Intelligence (2023)

Comprising New York emcee Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang Clan and Boston emcee/producer duo 7L & Esoteric of the Army of the Pharaohs, CZARFACE consistently delivers creative and engaging efforts. Czartificial Intelligence doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it maintains the enjoyable vibe of previous Czarface albums. True to form, it’s a virtuoso collection featuring catchy tunes, superb sampling, scratching, and brilliant rhyming. The album shifts gears by focusing on more relatable content, moving away from ambitious storytelling and concept-heavy tracks. Instead of grandiose superhero perspectives, it offers a glimpse into the world of aging emcees who appreciate comics and embrace their mortal and humble sides.

7L’s beats on Czartificial Intelligence continue to channel the golden age of boom-bap, with quirky eccentricities and satisfying scratches. Inspectah Deck and Esoteric seamlessly flow over the production, delivering sticky hooks, nerdy references, sports similes, and other pop culture nods. Standout tracks like “All That For A Drop of Blood” and “You Know My Style” showcase their cold bars, while “Mama’s Basement” (a nod to the ATCQ classic “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”) delves into humorous lyricism, revealing the group’s deep connection to the subject matter. Features from the likes of Godfather Don and Kool Keith (among others) add additional layers to the album.

While Every Hero Needs A Villain (2015) remains their standout album, Czartificial Intelligence signifies another dope entry to their impressive discography—a testament to their fun samples and great flows from start to finish.

44. Little Simz - NO THANK YOU (2022)

Little Simz - NO THANK YOU | Review

NO THANK YOU is the fifth full-length album from London-based artist Little Simz. She has built a strong body of work over the past decade with four mixtapes and nine EPs alongside her studio albums. Her first two albums, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (2015) and Stillness in Wonderland (2016), are pretty great – still, it is especially her recent run, with GREY Area (2019), Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (our 2021 AOTY) and now NO THANK YOU, that is truly outstanding.

Where GREY Area was short and punchy and Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sprawling and grandiose, NO THANK YOU has Little Simz finding some kind of middle ground between the sounds of its predecessors. Without the orchestral grandiosity of Sometimes I Might Be IntrovertNO THANK YOU is a calm and mellow affair, with Inflo’s subtle production going in a neo-soul direction in places. The orchestral sounds of Introvert are still present but more subdued and in the background here, providing a relaxing atmosphere and great backdrops for Little Simz’s meaningful bars and charismatic flows.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a generational masterpiece (the best album of the decade so far), so it was always going to be impossible to equal it, but NO THANK YOU is an exceptional album in its own right. The album does lose some steam towards the end (“Sideways” and “Who Even Cares” are the album’s weakest tracks for us), but the rest of the album’s content is strong. “Angel” is a subtle album opener, and the second track “Gorilla” is one of the absolute highlights (using the bassline of J5’s “Concrete Schoolyard to great effect). NO THANK YOU stays on course from there, leading up to the album’s centerpiece: the seven-and-a-half epic “Broken” – one of the best songs you’ll hear this year. So, although NO THANK YOU isn’t the instant classic that Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was, it makes for a more than worthy successor. NO THANK YOU is a confirmation: Little Simz is one of the leading Hip Hop artists of her generation.

45. Fatboi Sharif & Steel Tipped Dove - Decay (2023)

Backwoodz Studioz has been at the forefront of experimental, left-field Hip Hop since the 2010s, with the elusive billy woods as the figurehead. This collaboration between Fatboi Sharif and Steel Tipped Dove is another Backwoodz hit, the third released in 2023, after billy woods and Kenny Segal’s Maps and SKECH185 and Jeff Markey’s He Left Nothing For The Swim Back.

Over the past few years, the New Jersey rapper Fatboi Sharif has made a name for himself with a vivid, disorienting, utterly unique sound. On his new album Decay, he joins forces with Steel Tipped Dove, a veteran New York producer known for his work with Armanda Hammer and R.A.P. Ferreira, among others. The haunting soundscapes Steel Tipped Dove produced for Decay are among the best he ever did, providing the perfect backdrops for Fatboi Sharif’s unsettling vocal performances.

Fatboi Sharif’s abstract mutterings will take some deciphering, but the feeling of disquiet that permeates the album is awesome. His mordant lyrics are delivered in a stretched-out, theatrical mutter that favors eerie, experimental, minor-key productions. Sharif is playful and charismatic, but he’s also driven to make music that makes you feel weird.

The left-field Decay offers a delicious slice of psychedelic horrorcore, surreal but thoroughly captivating. There are no guest-rappers on the album; the whole record is nothing but Fatboi Sharif rapping in jagged, unpredictable cadences over Steel Tipped Dove’s flickering, evocative tracks. This is one of many excellent projects Steel Tipped Dove’s name is attached to this year, and it elevates Fatboi Sharif to the next level.

46. Solemn Brigham - South Sinner Street (2021)

Solemn Brigham is an up-and-coming rapper from North Carolina, whose work with fellow North Carolinian L’Orange as the duo Marlowe has been critically acclaimed all around. Both Marlowe (2018) and Marlowe 2 (2020) are excellent presentations of edgy Hip Hop, with captivating experimental soundscapes crafted by L ‘Orange that served to bring out the best of Solemn Brigham.

Solemn Brigham is one of the most vocally acrobatic emcees working today, a technical virtuoso who’s able to contort himself into a dizzying array of different flows and inflections. Across the 14 songs on his debut solo album South Sinner Street, Solemn Brigham examines the decay of American society by virtually any metric – economic or medical, or ones more abstract and spiritual – through the prism of his hometown Albemarle, North Carolina. This feeling of decay permeates daily life in innumerable ways, giving the present a gnawing, ambient dread – and this dread is reflected by the music and lyrical content on South Sinner Street. 

Musically South Sinner Street lacks some of the punch and the consistency that made two Marlowe albums so strong, but overall the production from Supa K, L’Orange, The Lasso, Krum, Scud One, Kuartz, and Frank Drake is solid enough. The album is all about Solemn Brigham songwriting and lyrical virtuosity anyway – the two Marlowe albums served to establish his name as a one-of-a-kind vocalist, and South Sinner Street is a confirmation: Solemn Brigham is one of the most exciting new voices in Hip Hop.

47. Skyzoo & The Other Guys - The Mind Of A Saint (2023)

Skyzoo’s eleventh studio album The Mind Of A Saint – produced entirely by The Other Guys – delves into the innermost thoughts of one Franklin Saint, the lead character in the hit FX show, Snowfall, which follows the early stages of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

Intimate knowledge of the Snowfall show, or of the situation in 1980s Los Angeles, is not necessary to enjoy The Mind Of A Saint – the elegant jazz- and soul-flavored boom-bap production make for an enjoyable listening experience regardless of familiarity with the source material that served as inspiration for the album. That said, Skyzoo’s writing masterfully captures Franklin Saint’s experiences and thoughts about the world he lives in – Skyzoo makes the concept work. His pen game and his flows are as strong as ever, and the layered narrative captivates from start to finish. The Mind Of A Saint is another Skyzoo winner.

48. Benny The Butcher - Tana Talk 4 (2022)

Benny The Butcher’s official debut album Tana Talk 3 is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2018 and one of the best three albums to ever come out of the Griselda camp, arguably even the absolute best. Tana Talk 3 was followed in 2020 by Burden Of Proof – an OK album, but not nearly as good as its predecessor. By naming his third album Tana Talk 4, Benny The Butcher set the bar high – it implies a return to the gritty sounds of Tana Talk 3, and a departure from the more polished, mainstream-friendly beats on Burden Of Proof. Whether or not Tana Talk 4 will eventually be considered to be on par with Tana Talk 3 remains to be seen, but it is a great album – way better than Burden Of Proof in any case.

Burden Of Proof was produced by Hit-Boy, and his sound is too clean and polished for Benny The Butcher as far as we are concerned. Thankfully, Tana Talk 4 is mostly produced by Daringer and The Alchemist – which means a glorious return to the murk and grit of Tana Talk 3. Benny also sounds great on here – his lyricism, delivery, and flow are on point as always. Regular collaborators like Conway The Machine, Westside Gunn, 38 Spesh, Stove God Cooks, and Boldy James show up, as does the kind of unexpected J Cole – who kills it on “Johnny P’s Caddy” with the best feature on the album. There are twelve tracks on Tana Talk 4, and all of them are strong – nothing but hard bars and killer beats here. Tana Talk 3 remains our favorite Benny project, but Tana Talk 4 is a very close second.

49. Elzhi & Oh No - Heavy Vibrato (2023)

In 2023 Elzhi and Oh No came together for Heavy Vibrato, a collaboration that highlights Elzhi’s consistent high-quality output. With over two decades in the game, Elzhi continues to deliver under-appreciated gems in the modern underground scene. Oh No provides a cohesive backdrop marked by laid-back vibraphone patterns, light drums, and deep bass lines throughout the album. The subdued, nocturnal atmosphere is a recurring theme in Oh No’s recent work, creating an intriguing backdrop for Elzhi’s performance.

The album’s seamless transitions between tracks contribute to its cohesive feel, maintaining a subdued, nocturnal vibe throughout. Overall, Heavy Vibrato offers a very laid-back yet ear-catching listening experience, showcasing the enduring talent of Elzhi and the production finesse of Oh No.

As one of Detroit’s greatest emcees, Elzhi rose to prominence with Slum Village and later achieved solo success with the classic The Preface in 2008. Heavy Vibrato stands alongside Elzhi’s other notable works like Lead Poison (2016) and 7 Times Down, 8 Times Up (2020), solidifying his consistent quality output over the past 25 years.

50. Moor Mother & billy woods - BRASS (2020)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

BRASS is a collaborative album from experimental musician and poet Moor Mother and the rapper billy woods (½ of Armand Hammer). After working together on Armand Hammer’s critically acclaimed 2020 LP Shrines, Moor Mother and woods released the song “Furies” for the Adult Swim single series in July. A whirl of interweaving allegories spun over producer Willie Green’s hypnotic flip of a Sons of Kmet sample, “Furies” was the burning arrow that both artists followed, the first crack of thunder in a blackening sky.

BRASS sees both artists joined by an eclectic array of friends, family, and legends- in some cases all three. John Forte, ELUCID, Amirtha Kidambi, Franklin James Fisher (Algiers), Mach Hommy, Imani Robinson, Wolf Weston (Saint Mela), Navy Blue, and Fielded all lend their voices to the project. Production by The Alchemist, Preservation, Moor Mother, Olof Melander, Child Actor, Navy Blue, Messiah Muzik, Steel Tipped Dove, and Willie Green.

BRASS is a moment where two great artists in their own right tap into a new frequency together. Even for those familiar with both it’s an unexpected sound that, once heard, could never have been otherwise. It is both ethereal and utilitarian, timeless and timeworn. A cast-iron pot propped over a fire in the dark. A tropical beach shimmering with broken glass.”

This Bandcamp blurb tells the story of this project. BRASS is one of the most unique and intriguing listens of the year, a great feat in a year with A LOT of excellent ‘left-field’ Hip Hop albums. Moor Mother and billy woods have great chemistry together, and they recruited exactly the right artists for the guest spots on this project.

For people who like their Hip Hop experimental, dense, and challenging, the genre-boundaries pushing BRASS will be a quick favorite. For others, BRASS may be somewhat of a slow-burner, a project though that will reward multiple listenings. BRASS is a great album.

51. R.A. The Rugged Man - All My Heroes Are Dead (2020)

Review RA The Rugged Man 2020 All My Heroes Are Dead

R.A. The Rugged Man is one of our favorite personalities in the Hip Hop game: he is totally authentic and says what he thinks, no matter what other people think about his opinions. But R.A. is not just one of our favorite personalities, he is one of our favorite emcees as well. Few, if any emcees can go bar-for-bar with R.A. The Rugged Man. His technical skill, his incredible flow, his breath control, and his bar-building skills are second to none. Due to all kinds of label woes and a strong-minded personality with an unwillingness to compromise, he only released two albums in the close to three decades he’s been active in the game – but on those two albums, and on numerous guest appearances on other people’s songs (where he usually bodies everybody else involved), R.A. has consistently shown an unbeatable lyrical ability. Anyone who saw him performing live knows he can rock a crowd too – as a real emcee should be able to.

So now here we have his third album, All My Heroes Are Dead. Is it on par with his previous work? Well, yes it is. All My Heroes Are Dead is a LONG album, at 22 tracks and 1 hour and 16 minutes, but there’s a lot more killer more than filler. For those unfamiliar with R.A. The Rugged Man, the album may seem a bit schizophrenic. Some songs are personal or emotional, about family and fatherhood and such, other songs have some conscious and political tendencies, some are about Hip Hop (history) and some songs have that typical R.A. vulgarity (always with plenty of tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating humor).

What all songs have in common though is R.A. The Rugged Man’s unparalleled wordplay and lyrical skill. All My Heroes Are Dead has a host of guest artists, and unlike a lot of other rappers R.A. The Rugged Man really doesn’t need any features to help carry his albums, but the feature list here is CRAZY.

Ice T. Chuck D. Kool G Rap. DJ jazzy Jeff. Brand Nubian. Ghostface Killah. Inspectah Deck. Masta Killa. Chino XL. M.O.P. Onyx. Immortal Technique. Vinnie Paz. Atmosphere. A-F-R-O. And others besides – this has to be one of the most impressive guest lists ever. Despite all these guests, this is very much a Rugged Man album, though – he is never outshined and nowhere overcrowded.

Legends Never Die was one of our favorite albums of 2013, this is one of 2020’s best. Awesome rhyming, amazing features, and fire production too. Fans of mainstream pop-rap will likely not like this album, older heads and those in tune with Hip Hop history will. This is a perfect album for the HHGA demographic.

Some say I’m a troll and a grumpy old a-hole / ‘Cause I prefer Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel over J. Cole“. Ha!

Stand-out tracks: “Gotta Be Dope”, with incredible rhyming by R.A. and his protege A-F-R-O, and with cuts by the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff, “The Slayers Club”, the best posse cut you will hear this year (featuring Ice T, M.O.P., Onyx, Brand Nubian, Vinnie Paz, Chris Rivers, and Chino XL), “Dragon Fire”, the other posse cut (with Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, and Kool G Rap) that’s almost as dope, “Golden Oldies” (with Atmosphere and Eamon) with all its nods to classic Hip Hop, “Who Do We Trust” featuring Immortal Technique, with its eery beat and thought-provoking lyrics, and the deep and emotional single “Wondering”.

52. Logic - Vinyl Days (2022)

Logic is one of those artists who always have opinions firmly divided – there are plenty of Logic fans, but more haters it seems sometimes. His inconsistent output no doubt is a part of the ‘problem’ a lot of people have with the Maryland native. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2019) was an especially terrible album, and there are other duds in his catalog that are best forgotten. His supposed retirement album No Pressure (2020) was not at all bad though, and with Vinyl Days – his seventh (and first post-retirement) studio album he delivered a winner – absolutely his best project yet.

Vinyl Days is a monster of an album – just over 70 minutes in length. Too much for the ADD crowd probably, but perfect for listeners who still appreciate the art of creating LPs. The lyrical content on this album may not be deep or profound, and guests like Action Bronson, Curren$y, Royce Da 5’9″, RZA, Blu, AZ, and The Game (among others) outshine Logic on occasion, but it doesn’t matter. This album FLOWS and despite its runtime, the momentum never falters – 30 tracks (including skits that uncharacteristically do not break the flow of the album), but the album doesn’t feel bloated at all. No real weak spots on the tracklist, and plenty of highlights – including tracks such as “Tetris”, “BLACKWHITEBOY”, “Quasi”, “Bleed It”, “Clouds”, “Therapy Music”, “Kickstyle”, “Ten Years”, “Porta One”, and “Vinyl Days” (with DJ Premier).

Vinyl Days lives up to its name – it serves as a warm love letter to the golden age of Hip Hop, with diverse and appealing sample-based boom-bap production from start to finish. Slick, refreshing, and fun – Vinyl Days was one of the biggest positive surprises of the year. Logic dropped a better Hip Hop album than Kendrick Lamar in 2022 – who would have thought?

53. Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger On McNichols (2020)

Best Left-Field Hip Hop Albums Of 2020

With Manger On McNichols, Detroit emcee Boldy James continued his 2020 winning streak. Only a few months after his collaborative album with top-producer The Alchemist, the excellent The Price Of Tea In China, Boldy James dropped this completely different but equally captivating project.

Manger On McNichols is a release that has been a long time coming, a result of a collaboration with fellow Detroiter and veteran producer Sterling Toles that started over 10 years ago. Much of the lyrics on Manger On McNichols were recorded between 2007 and 2010, with some new lyrics added to a couple of tracks to finish the album for its 2020 release. Sterling Toles provides Boldy James vocals with a selection of experimental jazz instrumentals that make this album much more left-field in sound than James’ albums with The Alchemist. Because of its experimental vibe, Manger On McNichols probably is more of an acquired taste and less likely to appeal to wider audiences than TPOTIC and other Boldy James projects do, but it is an intriguing listening experience that deserves attention.

54. Neak - Die Wurzel (2023)

“Everything can be traced back to its roots. Sometimes, those roots are ignored, overlooked, unattended to, and uncared for. At the heart of American culture, the roots of African-American became nurtured through the historical beauty and ugliness of American society, and those cataclysmic experiences still resonate within our culture, mindset, and way of life. Die Wurzel explores black life post-1619 to the present day. It is designed to make you pause, think, and reflect on the black experience in America with a level of compassion and sensitivity that has made way for perceived cultural black norms deriving from African-American trials and tribulations. Jammed with black musical roots: gospel, soul, jazz, funk, and rap, Die Wurzel is an intellectual, witty, and soul-driven musical journey that will hold a dear place in the heart of black urban society.”

Chicago-based multi-talent Neak is an artist who has been on our radar for a while now – his Kwesbaar album was one of our favorite releases of 2019, and in recent years he’s been involved in plenty more quality projects besides that one too. Die Wurzel is his most ambitious and arguably his most important record yet, packed with thoughtful lyrics, complemented by lush musical backdrops mostly produced by Neak himself (with additional production by regular collaborator Rashid Hadee). Sequencing, interludes, transitions – everything is done to perfection here, this record is a keeper without a doubt. Fans of mature, intelligent Hip Hop, and those who like music from artists like Common, Odissee, and even Kendrick Lamar, definitely have to check out Die Wurzel.

55. ShrapKnel - Metal Lung (2022)

Backwoodz Studioz‘s ShrapKnel pairs two long-time friends and frequent collaborators Curly Castro and PremRock. Although the two rappers have long been part of Philly’s Wrecking Crew, ShrapKnel is a pared-down affair; sharp knives in tight spaces. While Curly Castro’s and PremRock’s most recent solo albums are pretty strong (Castro’s incendiary Little Robert Hutton is one of our favorite albums of 2021), their work as a duo is on a whole other level. Their eponymous debut full-length album (2020) was an excellent presentation of left-field boom-bap Hip Hop, and their sophomore effort Metal Lung is even better.

The bulk of the production on Metal Lung is provided by Steel Tipped Dove (who has worked with billy woods and R.A.P. Ferreira), additional production comes from Child Actor (ELUCID, Serengeti, Armand Hammer), and Olof Melander (Moor Mother, Project Mooncircle). Just like on ShrapKnel, the production and flows on Metal Lung are slightly off-the-wall, making for an unbalancing but fully engaging listening experience from start to finish. The mainstream rap music media are collectively overhyping the mostly so-so albums of the big industry names who all dropped new music in 2022, but in the shadow of all that mediocrity 2022 is turned out to be a top year for left-field Hip Hop. Metal Lung is the best the subgenre has to offer, better Hip Hop in any case than most of what the high-profile media darlings released this year.

56. Aesop Rock & Blockhead - Garbology (2021)

“After over 20 years of collaboration, which also birthed Aesop’s two most popular songs to date (“Daylight” and “None Shall Pass”), Garbology is the first Aesop Rock album fully produced by Blockhead. Garbology came together over the course of the pandemic, as well as in the midst of Aesop processing the loss of a close friend in January of 2020, resulting in a period of time of feeling uncreative. Looking back, Aesop recalls, “The world got real weird during those months. I knew at some point I had to get back to making something. Make a beat. Draw a picture. Write. Just go. But the idea of making a beat felt like math homework, and drawing is just so hard. Writing is hard too, but at some point I had to pick one.” With writing as the chosen path, Aesop hit up Blockhead to send over some beats. At the beginning there wasn’t a plan for an album, or any particular plan beyond creating some songs. However, it didn’t take long for one song to become a few, then a handful, until finally an album was born.”

Aesop Rock is one of our favorite artists, with a bunch of essential underground classics on his name. Garbology dropped almost exactly one year after Aesop Rock’s latest opus Spirit World Field Guide – one of our favorite Hip Hop albums released in 2020Garbology is completely different from that more conceptually driven album, but it is just as good. Blockhead’s experimental but accessible beats go well with Aesop Rock’s lyrical genius – it really was high time these two did a full album together. Garbology is not as deep or complex as Spirit World Field Guide is, but it is still plenty challenging AND rewarding. Aesop Rock doesn’t miss. Even if Garbology is not his best project, it is still way better than most other rappers’ best albums – it’s one of our favorites released in 2021, in any case.

57. Avantdale Bowling Club - TREES (2022)

Avantdale Bowling Club is the name under which New Zealand-based artist Tom Scott released a self-titled jazz-rap essential in 2018, one of the best albums released that yearAvantdale Bowling Club presented an effortless fusion of neo-jazz and Hip Hop, a must-have for Hip Hop listeners with an appreciation for music from acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Guru, Freestyle Fellowship/Aceyalone, The Pharcyde, The Roots, and even Kendrick Lamar. Avantdale Bowling Club is a timeless piece of music, and this follow-up has that same kind of feel. TREES is more subtle and humble than Avantdale Bowling Club’s eponymous masterpiece debut but almost as beautiful. While the first album was more jazz-centered, this one leans more in a Hip Hop direction – stoner jazz rap would be a fitting description – offering one of the best mixes of jazz and Hip Hop since TPAB. Don’t sleep on TREES – this is one of the best albums of 2022.

58. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo (2020)

Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo review

Gary, Indiana phenomenon Freddie Gibbs is like a modern-day Ice-T in a way: maybe not the best rapper ever, but the leader of the pack anyway. Similar to Ice-T, it’s Freddie Gibbs’ charisma and power of personality that sets him apart from most others – that and his ability to develop synergetic collaborations with Hip Hop’s top producers that results in projects that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Freddie Gibbs has had enough solid releases in the past decade, but his stand-outs are the two albums he did with Madlib – Pinata (2014) and Bandana (2019) both are modern classics. If Alfredo will eventually be considered to be on that Pinata and Bandana level remains to be seen, but most ingredients are there. Most, because Alfredo feels more ‘light-weight’ due to its length – where Pinata runs for little over an hour and Bandana for a solid 45 minutes, Alfredo is barely over EP-length at 35 minutes. On such a short project EVERYTHING has to hit, no misses can be afforded.

Fortunately, there are not a lot of misses, if any. Freddie Gibbs is on top of his game here. His recognizable voice, flow, delivery, and cadences sound as good as ever, and his connection with The Alchemist is as strong as it is with Madlib. The Alchemist already had one of the best albums of 2020 on his name with his Boldy James collabo The Price Of Tea In ChinaAlfredo tops even that one. Luckily Alfredo is not cluttered with guests and features are limited to appearances by Rick Ross, Benny the Butcher, Tyler The Creator, and Conway the Machine – who all come through with great verses. The album is very much Freddie Gibbs’s show though. Normally someone like Benny outshines anybody else with his features, on Alfredo the guests very much are guests – it’s Freddie Gibbs who rules here.

Freddie Gibbs comes with organic and vivid lyricism from beginning to end, supported by The Alchemist’s flawless instrumentals. Alfredo is paced and sequenced perfectly, and is over before you know it – which leads to the only complaint and the only reason it is not ranked even higher here: Alfredo is just too short. Other than that: Alfredo is a continuation of Freddie Gibbs’ winning streak and another rap-noir masterpiece, a project that deserves to mentioned in the same breath as Pinata and Bandana.

Alfredo is short, sharp, and punchy, with top-tier lyricism and songwriting from Freddie Gibbs, and a perfect collection of instrumentals from The Alchemist – 10 tracks, no filler, all killer. Alfredo is a keeper.

59. JustVibez & Negro Justice - Art Of The Craft (2023)

Based out of Nashville, Negro Justice is a skilled emcee who teamed up with producer JustVibez – also from Nashville – to create a collaborative project titled Art Of The Craft. JustVibez produced the entirety of tracks on Art Of The Craft, bringing a cohesive vibe to the album that draws inspiration from artists such as Outkast and UGK, without sounding derivative in any way. His beats are laid-back yet edgy, perfectly complementing Negro Justice’s versatile flow. With his Southern drawl, Negro Justice’s warm voice adds a soulful touch to the album as it takes the listener on a poignant and compelling musical journey, tackling personal and socio-political issues with equal ease. Art Of The Craft is a GREAT Hip Hop album, one that deserves your attention.

60. Canibus - Kaiju (2021)

Bronx emcee Canibus’ Kaiju is a collaboration with Oxnard, California producer BodyBagBen. It is the third project from Canibus this year after the release of the excellent The Last Ride with Killah Priest, Kurupt & Ras Kass as HRSMN, and the disappointing Microphone Land with Jaximus. Canibus’ problem has always been his bad ear for beats, more than half of his albums are let down by weak beats. The exceptions are when he got guidance from a single producer responsible for quality control – Canibus’ best album still is Rip The Jacker (2003), for which album all the beats were done by JMT-producer Stoupe. Kaiju is one of Canibus’ best albums for the same reason – BodyBagBen’s haunting beats are dope as f and a perfect fit for Canibus’ hardcore bars. Kaiju features some heavy-hitting features too, including the late Hip Hop legends DMX and MF DOOM (along with Kool Keith, Hus Kingpin, Born Sun, and Justin Tyme) and has Canibus spitting aggressive raps at the top of his game as if he never left. Kaiju is a great Canibus album.

61. Sadistik & Kno - Bring Me Back When The World Is Cured (2022)

We’ve never really connected with Sadistik’s ’emo raps’ before, but this album is something else. On Bring Me Back When The World Is Cured Sadistik paints dark and beautiful pictures with his rhymes – his moody words and flows are truly touching here and more than on any of his earlier albums the emotional impact of his content is amplified by the strength of the production. Kno is one of the best producers out there and has been for well over a decade – his work as one-third of CunninLynguists (especially on A Piece Of  Strange (2006), Oneirology (2011), and Rose Azura Njano (2017) is superb, and the instrumentals he crafted for his solo masterpiece Death Is Silent (2010) are next-level too. He is a true master of creating atmospheric soundscapes – music you FEEL – and the hauntingly beautiful beats he crafted to bring the best out of Sadistik on Bring Me Back When The World Is Cured are simply gorgeous. Powerful stuff – not for everybody probably but one of our favorite albums of 2022 anyway.

62. Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix (2021)

Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix | Review

Injury Reserve is a trio formed in 2013 in Tempe, Arizona by rappers Stepa J. Groggs (Jordan Groggs), Ritchie With a T (Nathaniel Ritchie), and producer Parker Corey. After two well-received mixtapes (Live from The Dentist Office (2015) and Floss (2016)) and an equally acclaimed EP (Drive It Like It’s Stolen (2017)), the trio released their eponymous full-length debut album in 2019. Injury Reserve turned out to be an excellent culmination of what Injury Reserve has been all about from the beginning: making forward-thinking, genre boundary-pushing Hip Hop music. The music on Injury Reserve hit hard and was kind of pop-friendly at the same time: like a weird blend of the sounds of acts like Run The Jewels, JPEG Mafia, Dälek, and clipping – a superb left-field Hip Hop album that contained a ton of promise for future Injury Reserve projects.

A year after the release of Injury Reserve, tragedy hit with the untimely death of Groggs – who passed away on June 29, 2020, at age 32. It’s almost as if you can hear the remaining members’ physical reaction to Groggs’ death through the music on the second Injury Reserve full-length. By The Time I Get To Phoenix is a touching, heartfelt salute to a bandmate and friend, framed by a lot of the jarring boldness that made Injury Reserve such a gripping listen on their debut. Given Groggs’ integrality to the Injury Reserve sound and what losing him signified, it was not hard to predict that By the Time I Get to Phoenix would be unlike anything the group had released prior, and it is – even if the album was partly conceived while Groggs was still alive and he appears posthumously throughout. Groggs’ bars on “Knees” dealing with his alcoholism and the nature of addiction are particularly poignant.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix is even more experimental than the previous Injury Reserve album was, way darker, brasher, denser, and way more inaccessible too. With its blend of shoegaze-esque synths, post-punk, glitch-hop, industrial noise, and dissonant sounds, it’s impossible to fit this project in a genre box. Post-rap may do, but all in all, this is one of those albums that defy genre conventions with their uniqueness – reminiscent that way to Death Grips’ classic The Money Store (2012), another once-in-a-decade kind of album.

Parker Corey’s soundscapes on By The Time I Get To Phoenix are dystopian and anxiety-inducing, making for an incredibly immersive and affecting canvas of loss and grief. Ritchie delivers emotionally raw, cathartic verses throughout the whole album – especially his poetry on the stand-out “Top Picks For You” is heartbreaking. The perfect synthesis of the emotive beats and bars on By The Time I Get To Phoenix results in a dark and raw album, a harrowing and intensely moving tribute to a friend gone way too soon. R.I.P. Stepa J. Groggs.

63. Nerves Baddington - Micro/Macro (2022)

Nerves Baddington is a trio from Birmingham, Alabama, consisting of Kilgore Doubt, inkline, and Cam the Invisible Man. Their Micro and Macro albums are two fantastic projects we will consider a double-LP because the two are inextricably connected. In this era of music streaming, we see a lot of artists dropping short EP-length projects, presenting them as full-length albums. Nerves Baddington bucked this trend by dropping two ambitious 45-minute projects that combine into one near-flawless album that’s not a second too long. Micro/Macro offers an hour and a half of top-tier experimental but accessible Hip Hop – this is one of those rare projects that might appeal to casual rap fans and to more discerning Hip Hop listeners alike. 

Micro/Macro features production by all three Nerves Baddington members (mostly from Kilgore Doubt), with some assistance from outside collaborator The Phasing Octopus. Nerves Baddington emcee inkline is joined on the microphone by a host of other Birmingham rappers, like MC Kano, Black Plastique, Shaun Judah, Nick Dire, Mane Rok, Fleetwood Deville, Akil Pratt, K1NG ELJAY, and others.

Micro/Macro is a project with power and purpose. The soundscapes are meticulously crafted, the rhymes offer a perfect blend of the thoughtful and the abstract, and the flows of inkline and guests are tight. Micro and Macro are excellent listening experiences separately – and because of subtle sonic and lyrical cross-reference points, they are even stronger combined. Micro/Macro is an ambitious and totally captivating piece of music.

64. Four Elements & Beyond - Clock The Chemistry (2023)

Four Elements & Beyond is a crew from New York, and their Clock The Chemistry is one of the best 90s-centric Hip Hop albums of the year. Warm boom-bap soundscapes crafted by producer Freak Tha Monsta serve as banging backdrops for entertaining bars and dope flows from rappers Miggs Son Daddy and WRD Life. Shy The BeatYoda’s scratched-in samples here and there give the album more of that 90s feel, and at 45 minutes the album has a normal runtime too. This is how throwback Hip Hop should be done.

65. Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers (2022)

Kendrick Lamar’s fifth studio album was one of the most anticipated releases in years, coming five years after the Pulitzer prize-winning DAMN. For us, that album was generally overhyped and overrated, not on par with Kendrick Lamar’s masterpieces good kid m.A.A.d. city (2012) and To Pimp A Butterfly (2015) anyway. And while it remains to be seen if Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers will eventually be able to stand side to side with GKMC and TPAB, it definitely is a sight better than DAMN, reconfirming Kendrick Lamar’s status as one of the leading and most important Hip Hop artists of his generation.

Kendrick Lamar always offers new sounds, new flows, and new perspectives with every project he releases, and Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is no exception. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is an intimate album full of musical precision, with a sharp focus on Lamar’s personal traumas, doubts, and contradictions. Where GKMC explored Kendrick’s origins in Compton, and TPAB scaled up to the collective and intergenerational trauma of the entire black community, this album succeeds in finding the middle ground. Kendrick gives us a status update, a state of affairs, good and bad, still taking a confrontational look at himself. A large part of the bad influences that shaped his youth are behind him, but that past itself doesn’t just leave you behind. With his relatable and self-reflective content on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers Kendrick Lamar shows us sensitivity, and how this sensitivity can be converted into anger, fear, uncertainty, and bitterness on the turn of a dime. The mental and emotional volatility that characterizes Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is one of the album’s biggest strengths – even if some of the themes presented can seem contradictory (reflecting the ‘mirror’ concept of this double album).

There’s a lot to unpack on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – this is an album that will have to marinate a good while before making any determination where it ranks even in Lamar’s own catalog is possible. That said, there’s nobody quite like Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is just another affirmation of his top-dog status.

66. Arrested Development – Don’t Fight Your Demons (2020)

Arrested Development - Don't Fight Your Demons | Review

Arrested Development debuted in 1992 with the now-classic 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life Of... (4x times platinum!) – a masterpiece of conscious Hip Hop, and because of its positive thinking and positive imagery a breath of fresh air in the era dominated by gangsta rap – celebrating life instead of death.

Ever since that monumental debut (except for a 4-year break between 1996 and 2000), Arrested Development has continued to create quality music in ever-changing line-ups (frontman Speech is the only AD-member who has always in the group since its inception in 1988). Despite Arrested Development’s long history, Don’t Fight Your Demons arguably is the group’s best album since 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life Of...

Don’t Fight Your Demons really is a GREAT album. Speech’s lyrical imagery is as sharp and thought-provoking as ever, and extremely topical in a year of unreal political and societal turmoil. The album is as musical as you’d expect an Arrested Development record to be – but the work on the boards from British producer Configa gives this album an authentic Hip Hop vibe at the same time. Only the poppy “Journey On” could have been left off, but on a 14-song tracklist one small misstep can be forgiven (there are 16 tracks actually, but two are remixes of the anthemic “Amazing” – which IS an amazing track by the way).

Next to “Amazing”, standouts include “Back Down”, “Moses”, “The Same People”, “Play With Fire”, the soulful single “Becoming”, and the awesome “Sunset In Ghana” – besides the one mentioned there are no weaker tracks on Don’t Fight Your Demons really.

With Public Enemy, Paris, and Arrested Development all dropping new quality albums, September 25 2020 truly proved to be a memorable day for conscious Hip Hop, showing that Hip Hop as an art form still is perfectly suited to bring a meaningful message the people. Both Public Enemy and Paris dropped albums that are among their best since their work in the 1990s, and the same can be said unreservedly about this Arrested Development project.

67. Guilty Simpson & Gensu Dean - EGO (2021)

This Mello Music Group release is one of our favorite releases of 2021. Detroit-based emcee Guilty Simpson has a characteristic flow that’s not for everybody, but those who’ve been following and digging him since his excellent Stones Throw solo debut Ode To The Ghetto (2008), will no doubt quickly count EGO a favorite too.

Texas-based producer Gensu Dean’s stripped-down boom-bap production proves to be a perfect fit for Guilty Simpson’s baritone and for the contributions of guest vocalists Marv Won, Black Milk, Skyzoo, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Yarbrough. Flawless beats and sharp bars – EGO is a top 20 Hip Hop album released in 2021.

68. Evidence - Unlearning, Vol. 1 (2021)

Evidence is an emcee/producer from Los Angeles, known for being a member of the group Dilated Peoples and from being one-half of Step Brothers with The Alchemist. He has also built a strong solo catalog, with The Weatherman LP (2007), Cats & Dogs (2011), and Weather or Not (2018) – all three albums rank high on our best-of-lists for the years they were released in.

Unlearning, Vol. 1 is Evidence’s fourth solo album, like his last two albums released on the renowned Minneapolis powerhouse Rhymesayers Entertainment. The album features excellent production from Evidence himself and from The Alchemist, Nottz, Sebb Bash, Animoss, Mr. Green, V Don, Khrysis, Daringer, and EARDRUM (QThree). It also features guest vocals from Boldy James, Murkage Dave, Conway the Machine, Navy Blue, and Fly Anakin.

Unlearning, Vol. 1 is just as good as his other solo releases, but different too – basically a reinvention of himself after Weather or Not ended his Weatherman trilogy. Unlearning, Vol. 1 is more subtle musically, with buttery toned-down boom-bap beats to give more room for Ev’s authentic and relatable rhymes. “Better You”, “Pardon Me”, “Moving On Up”, and “Taylor Made Suit” are stand-outs, but there are no weaknesses – overall this is another thoroughly consistent project from Mr. Slow Flow.

69. Nord1kone & DJ MROK - Tower Of Babylon (2022)

Following their underground hit LP Escape The Yard, emcee Nord1kone and DJ MROK re-team to bring more boom bap to the masses. This time they brought along an all-star lineup including Kool G Rap, Chuck D, Gift Of Gab, Masta Ace, Craig G, Chip-Fu, Donald D, Chill Rob G, El Da Sensei, Phill Most Chill, and more to construct a rap odyssey strictly for the heads. Hard beats, razor-sharp lyrics, scratches & cuts. Tower Of Babylon is our kind of Hip Hop.

70. Armand Hammer - Shrines (2020)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Between RTJ4 and Shrines, the 1st week of June 2020 was a great week for political rap and forward-thinking music. Where RTJ4 is hard-hitting and in-your-face, Shrines is more subtle and layered – but no less intelligent and thought-provoking.

Masterfully produced left-field instrumentals serve as claustrophobic backdrops for a barrage of dense and dizzying lyrics. By now we know what to expect from Armand Hammer. There’s never anything straightforward in the messages ELUCID and billy woods come with, and on Shrines, their lyrics are as fogged in metaphors and hidden meanings as always – it’s going to take a while to dissect these bars.

Shrines has vocal contributions from Quelle Chris, Earl Sweatshirt, Akai Solo, Curly Castro, Pink Siifu, and R.A.P. Ferreira – among others. A stacked features list, but a carefully curated one – none of these artists feel out of place here. They were invited because they are all perfectly in tune with the Armand Hammer aesthetic, and not for marketing purposes as we so often see in more mainstream rap releases (think Wale showing up on a Westside Gunn album, or Ed Sheeran appearing on Eminem’s latest).

Shrines is singularly attuned to the grim political and societal realities of 2020. The cover art of the album (which is a real news photo of the subduing of a 425-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger reared and living in a Harlem apartment) is like a micro snapshot of the crazy world we live in, and the image reflects the album’s content. This is not a casual listen by any means, but an album that demands – and rewards – close attention and engagement. Shrines is another Armand Hammer master class in left-field Hip Hop, and a superlative continuation of their hot streak.

71. Killah Priest - Rocket To Nebula (2020)

Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and Sunz Of Man member Killah Priest is one of the most prolific artists in Hip Hop. Artists like Kool Keith, Tech N9Ne, and K-Rino may have more releases on their names, but it’s not easy to keep up with Killah Priest’s release schedule either, taking into account all his solo projects, group and collaboration efforts, and his endless list of feature appearances.

Heavy Mental (1998), Elizabeth (2009), The Psychic World of Walter Reed (2013), and Planet Of The Gods (2015) are the standouts in Killah Priest’s catalog, and Rocket To Nebula rivals these titles in terms of quality – even if it’s even more of an acquired taste than most of his other releases, a perfect example of a hate it or love it kind of project.

On Rocket To Nebula we get the same kind of stream-of-consciousness type lyricism we know from Killah Priest, filled with his characteristic abstract metaphysical musings and slick subliminals. Musically, this album is totally different from his best works though – there are no bass-heavy beats to be found here, in fact, the whole album is practically drumless. The instrumentals on Rocket To Nebula are very low-key, offering dream-like backdrops to Killah Priest’s lyrics and his conversational-style delivery, which makes listening to this album something akin to a meditative experience.

This may not be an easy album to get into, and it certainly demands real attention – but if you’re willing to take an hour and 15 minutes to tune out everything else going on around you Rocket To Nebula will be sure to satisfy.

72. Recognize Ali - Back To Mecca II (2023)

After having had a quiet 2022 elite underground emcee Recognize Ali returned in 2023 with Back To Mecca II – a sequel to his 90s-inspired Back To Mecca (2017) with producer Giallo Point. Recognize Ali is taking the listeners back to like 1993 on this album, once again with production from Giallo Point, with additional beats provided by Anu EL, Sibbs Roc, and Hobgoblin. Back To Mecca II offers some of the hardest beats and overall raw gutter production you will hear this year. Recognize Ali is a lyrical emcee who’s got bars for days, and his raspy flow is made for the rough and rugged beats he gets to work with here. Recognize Ali has released plenty of dope projects in recent years, and Back To Mecca II is one of his best.

73. Open Mike Eagle - Component System With The Auto Reverse (2022)

Component System With The Auto Reverse is FIRE – peak Open Mike Eagle in terms of clever bars full of relatability, charm, humor, and emotion. Where his last album Anime, Trauma, and Divorce (2020) was intensely personal, this one has more of an outward focus – looking back on the days when OME first got into Hip Hop. The album’s focus comes back in the sound of the album too, through a ‘mixtapey’ messy feel at times. Appearances by Aesop Rock, Diamond D, Armand Hammer, R.A.P. Ferreira, and Serengeti, plus production from Diamond D, Madlib, and Quelle Chris (among others) add extra value to what is an awesome project, one of Open Mike Eagle’s most enjoyable efforts. Dark Comedy (Mello Music Group, 2014) and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music Group, 2017) remain our favorite OME albums, but Component System With The Auto Reverse comes close.

74. Navy Blue & Budgie - Ways Of Knowing (2023)

Ways Of Knowing is Navy Blue’s major label debut and his best project to date. Budgie’s soulful production is simply gorgeous, a perfect fit for Navy Blue – whose continuing growth as an artist and a human being are evident through his relatable content here. The introspection we know from his previous works remains, but his outlook is somewhat sunnier and more mature. Ways Of Knowing is a beautiful piece of music, with no weak spots at all. A couple of highlights though – most notably the superb “Windows To The Soul” (with an awesome feature from Kelly Moonstone).

75. Awon & Phoniks - Nothing Less (2021)

Best 25 Traditional Boom Bap Albums Of 2021

Phoniks (from Portland, Maine) and Brooklyn-born Virginia-based rapper Awon have given us a series of superb Hip Hop projects in the 2010s, individually and collaboratively – their collaborative debut album Return To The Golden Era (2013) is a masterpiece, Knowledge Of Self (2015) and The Actual Proof (2018) are not far behind. With Nothing Less, Awon and Phoniks continue their streak of excellence.

The album is laced with Phoniks signature jazz-infused, boom-bap production style and Awon’s raw, honest lyricism. Produced on vintage samplers like the gritty Emu SP-1200 and Akai MPC 2000xl the music evokes memories of classic east coast “golden era” Hip Hop. Features include Don’t Sleep Records label mates Dephlow, Anti-Lilly, and Tiff The Gift, as well as Masta Ace, Blu, Ill Conscious, Kid Abstrakt, and more.

For HHGA, it doesn’t get much better than this. At 33 minutes, Nothing Less is not long enough for our tastes but its short duration is the biggest knock against the album. “Everlasting Game” (with Masta Ace and DJ Ill Digitz) is a highlight, along with tracks such as “Sunshine” (with Blu), “The Cool Out” (with Kid Abstrakt), and “Fatherhood” – a song that will especially resonate with parents of (pre)teens.

Don’t sleep on Awon and Phoniks and go cop Nothing Less, and also check their earlier music if you missed out on it up to now for some reason.

76. Roc Marciano - Mt. Marci (2020)

Roc Marciano - Mt. Marci | Review

In the neo-mafioso subgenre of Hip Hop, there’s NO ONE who can touch Roc Marciano (with the possible exception of Freddie Gibbs that is, these two really should do a full-length project together). Roc Marciano is one of the indisputable Hip Hop MVPs of the past decade. After being part of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and a quarter of underground crew The U.N. around the turn of the millennium, he reinvented himself to become the main player responsible for revitalizing the mafioso subgenre, and the originator of the atmospheric, gritty lo-fi beats he rhymes over – setting the trend for lots of newcomers who would go and build on this style (think Griselda and all their affiliates and copy-cats).

Marcberg (2010), Reloaded (2012), Marci Beaucou (2013), Rosebudd’s Revenge (2017), RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018), Behold A Dark Horse (2018), Kaos (with DJ Muggs, 2018), and Marcielogo (2019) are all excellent projects, and at least the first two or three are subgenre classics.

Mt. Marci is Roc Marciano’s eighth full-length studio album, and it offers another dose of that raw but soulful NYC street Hip Hop – building on the sound and style of last year’s Marcielogo, with a continuation of that album’s aesthetic and production. Mt. Marci is expertly put together, sequenced just right, with well-placed guest appearances from ScHoolboy Q, Action Bronson, Stove God Cook$, Kool Keith, and Trent Truce, and with production from Roc Marciano himself (with some input from Chuck Strangers and Jake One).

Highlights on Mt. Marci include the album opener “Downtown 81”, “Spirit Cookin” (with Action Bronson), “Butterfly Effect”, SOTY-contender “Broadway Billy”, with a terrifying musical backdrop and a dope feature by the legendary Kool Keith, “Trenchcoat Wars” with its sinister beat, and “The Eye Of Whorus” with some show-stealing bars from Stove God Cook$ – but there are no real weak spots, which is pretty impressive considering the album runs for close to an hour.

LOTS of albums similar to Mt. Marci out in 2020, but NONE like Mt. Marci. The atmospheric instrumentals on this one are really something else, unlike anything you’ve heard this year – more experimental and left-field than what is generally on offer in this niche, and incredibly dark and eerie. Add pristine lyricism to the pristine production and what you get is another Roc Marci winner, and one of the top albums of the year.

77. Boldy James & The Alchemist - The Price Of Tea In China (2020)

best hip hop albums 2020

Following their supremely underrated debut collaboration My 1st Chemistry Set (2013), Detroit emcee Boldy James and top-tier producer The Alchemist team up again for the long-awaited The Price Of Tea In China, their second collaborative full-length project. Like My 1st Chemistry SetThe Price Of Tea In China delivers on all fronts. Their Boldface EP from late 2019 proved to be a great appetizer for this project – we get powerful lyrics from Boldy James and elegantly understated boom-bap beats from The Alchemist, and the synergy between the two is as tangible as ever.

The album holds 12 tracks, all masterfully produced and expertly sequenced, with just the right amount of features. Lots of artists today tend to clutter their projects with guests, on The Price Of Tea In China Boldy James avoided that trap and went the exact right route. Only 4 of the 12 tracks feature guest appearances, and the guests Boldy James recruited – Freddie Gibbs, Benny The Butcher, Vince Staples, and Evidence – all are A-listers who add their own distinct flavor to the album. Boldy James’ pen game remains razor-sharp, and The Alchemist’s excellent soundscapes are perfectly suited for Boldy’s lyrical finesse.

78. Conway The Machine - God Don't Make Mistakes (2022)

Conway The Machine’s God Don’t Make Mistakes is his best album yet. On his Shady Records debut and second solo studio LP – following From King to a God (2020) and a long string of collaborative projects, mixtapes, and EPs – the Buffalo-based Griselda rapper gets more introspective and personal than ever before, evidenced by standout tracks such as “Guilty”, “Stress”, “So Much More”, and “God Don’t Make Mistakes”. Other strong songs include “Tear Gas” (with a surprisingly good guest verse from Lil Wayne), “Piano Love”, “John Woo Flick”, with Griselda family Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher, and “Chanel Pearls”, with a rapping Jill Scott. Production from Daringer and The Alchemist stands outs, of course, but all producers involved deliver – managing to keep the overall sound of the album reasonably cohesive, even if the differences in gritty vs polished production styles of the individual producers involved can easily be recognized.

A couple of small issues stand in the way from God Don’t Make Mistakes being an AOTY contender – some of the hooks and features are kind of weak, and we could have done without “Wild Chapters” in its entirety, the only song on the album that should have been left on the cutting room floor. That said: God Don’t Make Mistakes is a great album overall, another one in a long series of dope Griselda family projects that are instrumental in bridging the gap between the underground and the mainstream.

79. Napoleon Da Legend & Clypto – Maison De Medici (2022)

Maison De Medici is a collaboration between prolific Comoros-born Brooklyn-based emcee Napoleon Da Legend and West Coast producer Clypto. It’s hard to keep up with Napoleon Da Legend’s release schedule: he had a couple of strong projects in 2021, and Maison De Medici is his second full-length of 2022, coming hot on the heels of the solid as f Modus Operandi – a collaboration with French Marseille-based production duo Just Music Beats. Where Modus Operandi‘s sound is straight (but melodic) boom-bap with a focus on hard bars, Maison De Medici is a more toned-down affair, with stylish instrumentals crafted by Clypto and clever content from NDL and guests such as Supreme Cerebral and Nejma Nefertiti (among others). NDL’s cadence and flow are great, he is one of those natural emcees who makes riding a beat sound effortless. Maison De Medici is a mature and tasteful Hip Hop album, one of Napoleon Da Legend’s best yet, and a must-listen.

80. SKECH185 & Jeff Markey - He Left Nothing For The Swim Back (2023)

We love forward-thinking artists who dare to color outside the lines, making music different from what most others are coming up with. He Left Nothing For The Swim Back is such an envelope-pushing piece of music exactly to our liking. It is a collaborative album from rapper SKECH185 and producer Jeff Markey, and it is released on the Backwoodz Studioz – the indie label that has been at the forefront of progressive left-field Hip Hop for two decades now, in many ways taking up the mantle left by Def Jux. billy woods and Armand Hammer are Backwoodz Studioz’s flagship acts of course, but mostly everything that comes out of Backwoodz is excellent. He Left Nothing For The Swim Back is no exception. Jeff Markey’s instrumentals are chaotic and intense and slightly unsettling, perfect companions for SKECH185’s wild and haunting vocals. A bunch of strong features provide the icing on the cake, most notably from Backwoodz VIPs PremRock and billy woodsHe Left Nothing For The Swim Back is not an album for the mainstream crowd, but it sure is one for listeners who dig other experimental Hip Hop projects that emerged out of the Backwoodz Studioz recently, or from labels like Def Jux and Anticon further in the past.

81. Nas - King’s Disease II (2021)

Queensbridge legend Nas is one of the GOATs, responsible for one of the best rap albums of all time, plus plenty more classic Hip Hop besides. His last truly great album was 2012’s Life Is Good, his output since that one has been hit-and-miss. Last year’s King’s Disease was good, but not greatKing’s Disease II is not perfect either, but it is definitely better than its predecessor – more substantial and more consistent. The first King’s Disease had a shorter tracklist and tried too hard to awkwardly balance soul sample-based east coast Hip Hop and modern trap, which made it kind of a mixed bag with lows and highs in almost equal measure. Furthermore, King’s Disease could have benefitted from a more careful selection of features, which is also the case with King’s Disease II – but to a lesser extent, fortunately. King’s Disease II really has only one throwaway song – “YKTV” featuring YG and a limp performance from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – an artist who has no business being on a Nas album, as far as we are concerned. Most of the other features are OK – even if we’re not crazy about Eminem’s phoned-in verse on the otherwise strong “EPMD2” track.

Other stand-outs include “Rare”, “Death Row East”, “Count Me In”, “Store Run”, “Nas Is Good”, “Moments”, and “Nobody” (with a terrific Lauryn Hill) – Nas’ pen game is top-level and his rapping is as strong as ever, plus Hit-Boy’s production once again proves to be a good fit for Nas’ bars. Hit-Boy’s production on King’s Disease II continues to modernize Nas’ sound, staying in tune with the polished sound palette of its predecessor. Even those who don’t really care for everything Hit-Boy did on this album production-wise will have to admit that the modern blends are done in a tasteful way and Nas gels well with them.

It looks like Nas is finally ready to comfortably fulfill the role of an elder Hip Hop statesman, which is his due after 30 years on top of the game. King’s Disease II might go down as a late-career classic, and even it is not in the same league as Nas classics such as Illmatic (1994), It Was Written (1996), Stillmatic (2001), The Lost Tapes (2002), God’s Son (2002), Distant Relatives (with Damian Marley, 2010), and Life Is Good (2012), it is a damn good Nas project.

82. Killah Priest & Jordan River Banks - The Third Eye In Technicolor (2020)

Ranking Killah Priest’s Albums

Killah Priest had a great year in 2020. Rocket To Nebula is a left-field masterpiece, and The Third Eye In Technicolor is not far behind. Like Rocket To NebulaThe Third Eye In Technicolor feels a bit dreamy and spacey – but to a lesser extent. There are more drums here, masterfully crafted by Dutch producer Jordan River Banks – the instrumentals on this album are amazing, perfectly suited for Killah Priest’s style and lyrical content which is as complex and abstract as ever. Killah Priest is an acquired taste, but those with the patience and capacity to surrender to his stream-of-consciousness philosophizing will find a lot to unpack and enjoy here.

83. MIKE - Burning Desire (2023)

MIKE - Burning Desire | Review

MIKE’s Hip Hop roots can be traced back to the dynamic streets of New York City’s underground scene where he became a crucial member of the sLUms collective in 2015. He learned from his peers while developing his own style, combining his reflective lyrics with the vibrant energy of the city. MIKE’s laid-back delivery and thought-provoking questions dive into topics such as grief, family, and identity, all while riding smooth, soulful beats that carve out his unique sound. Although MIKE has been consistent with his half-asleep flow, he also explores different beats and tempos, producing a diverse and dynamic sound.

The self-produced Burning Desire showcases his growth and maturity as both an artist and an individual, standing out against the flashy and loud personas often found in Hip Hop. This album is an intimate affair, with Mike’s verses whispering from the soul as he tackles universal themes with his signature flair.

Burning Desire is MIKE’s most cohesive album to date, with standout tracks such as “plz don’t cut my wings”, “Burning Desire”, “Let’s Have a Ball”, “Golden Hour”, and “African Sex Freak Fantasy” which highlights MIKE’s experimentation with a more aggressive beat and flow. Overall, if you are searching for a Hip Hop album that is authentic, soulful, and powerful, look no further than Burning Desire. This album deserves your attention and appreciation.

84. ELUCID - I Told Bessie (2022)

“I Told Bessie is the third solo album from New York City rapper/producer Chaz Hall aka ELUCID. The title is a reference to his paternal grandmother, Bessie Hall, a powerful presence in his life until she passed away in 2017. From childhood afternoons running around her apartment in the Red Hook projects to living under the same roof in Crown Heights when he was a young man, Bessie was an axis on which Hall’s family turned.

While best known as one-half of the critically acclaimed duo Armand Hammer, ELUCID has also built an impressive resume of other collaborations and side projects over the past decade. His debut LP Save Yourself dropped in 2016 on Backwoodz Studioz and still holds up as one of the best releases in the label’s catalog. It’s fitting that ELUCID returns to fertile ground for I Told Bessie, a record of such confidence and power that it feels like a culmination.

I Told Bessie features guests Pink Siifu, Quelle Chris, and billy woods. The album’s production is handled by Child Actor, The Alchemist, P.U.D.G.E., Sebb Bash, The Lasso, Kenny Segal, August Fanon, and Messiah Musik. It’s an impressive roster of producers, all of whom add something to the hard-hitting funk of this record’s ever-warping sonics. Add to that the talents of engineer Willie Green, who helped build this from the ground up. Executive produced by billy woods and ELUCID, I Told Bessie is dedicated to its eponymous matriarch.”

2022 was another strong year for both halves of Armand Hammer. ELUCID’s unorthodox delivery and lyricism make for intriguing listening and the eerie, dusty beats help pull you in even deeper. With I Told Bessie ELUCID put together an abstract Hip Hop album that is coherent and consistent, challenging and accessible at the same time. I Told Bessie is a captivating album, ELUCID’s best solo project yet.

85. Wiki - Half God (2021)

Wiki is an emcee from NYC and Half God is his fourth full-length LP, entirely produced by Navy Blue. Wiki’s previous releases all were strong projects, but Half God is his best work yet, a fully realized work containing 16 full songs and an hour of music. Navy Blue’s stripped-down but hypnotizing instrumentals have heart and soul and they bring out the best in Wiki, whose pen game is better than ever before – it’s good to see a young artist demonstrating artistic growth and increasing maturity like Wiki does here.

Similar to the album cover, Wiki’s content is a jumble of ideas and thoughts, but his relatable lyrics are thought-provoking and/or entertaining and Half God manages to captivate from start to finish. Features from Earl Sweatshirt (on the fantastic “All I Need “), MIKE, and others add extra flavor. “Not Today”, “Roof”, “Never Fall Off”, “Drug Supplier”, “The Business”, “All I Need”, “Gas Face”, “Promised”, “Still Here”, “New Truths”, “Grape Soda” – lots of stand-outs and no real weaknesses on Half God. Navy Blue’s Dilla-Esque production is heavenly and Wiki’s simultaneously nostalgic and forward-looking bars match the quality of the beats. Half God is a slow-burner and not suitable for skim-listens – this is an album to sit with and to be immersed in, bucking the trend that sees artists releasing EP-length ‘albums’ to cater to the needs of the short attention span crowd and to the song-streaming music consumption reality. Half God is a REAL album and a memorable one at that – one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2021.

86. Tyler, The Creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST (2021)

Ranking Tyler The Creator's Albums

Flower Boy (2017) is our favorite Tyler album. His output prior to Flower Boy was hit-and-miss, and IGOR (2019) was overhyped and overrated in our opinion. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is on par with Flower Boy, and it is way better than the edgy-for-edginess-sake IGOR is. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST feels like Tyler put all of his previous albums in a blender, and kept the best aspects to fuse them into this project. He took some of the abrasive Hip Hop sounds from his older albums like Goblin and Wolf and combined them with the neo-soul synth-funk sounds of Flower Boy and IGOR to great effect.

This definitely isn’t the most conceptual or innovative album Tyler has ever released, but that doesn’t matter. The production on this album is immaculate, impressively done by Tyler alone (except for “JUGGERNAUT”, which was co-produced with Pharrell). Sure, overall production on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is less ‘grandiose’ and more understated than it was on his last few projects, but the album is better for it. There’s lots of variety, we get a couple of Hip Hop bangers alternated with smooth neo-soul/R&B flavored songs – which could have resulted in a messy presentation, but Tyler makes it work here.

Also, Tyler is rapping again (his so-so singing is something that brought down IGOR), which is a plus of course. Tyler is still maturing in his songwriting, and even if this album lacks a cohesive narrative structure, Tyler’s observations, introspective thoughts, and storytelling (especially on the epic “WILSHIRE”) are some of the best he ever penned – as evidenced by cuts like “CORSO”, “WUSYANAME”, “HOT WIND BLOWS”, “RUNITUP”, “MANIFESTO”, “MASSA”, and the aforementioned “JUGGERNAUT” and “WILSHIRE”, which all are top-tier Tyler tracks. And then there are the features, that more often than not, reinforce the tracks rather than take away from them – even the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla $ign, 42 Dugg, and YoungBoy NBA manage not to irritate but to actually add value.

Not everything’s perfect though. At times the album meanders when R&B vibes take to the forefront, and it could have done without some of the skits. And who remembers DJ Drama, who made a career of ruining mixtapes with his ‘energetic’ ad-libbing? Well, unfortunately, he is doing his annoying screaming/talking routines on this record a couple of times too often too – every single track here with DJ Drama would have been significantly better without him. You can use his antics on an intro or an outro, but that should be it. This is a minor complaint though – overall CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is a great album, one that can rival Flower Boy for the title of Tyler’s best album.

87. clipping. – Visions Of Bodies Being Burned (2020)

Best Left-Field Hip Hop Albums Of 2020

Visions Of Bodies Being Burned is a sequel of sorts to Los Angeles trio clipping.’s horrorcore-inspired 2019 album There Existed an Addiction to Blood. Unlike most horror-movie sequels, the second part of this clipping diptych is even better than (the already formidable) first part. More immersive, more intense, more bloodcurdling. The intro Visions of Bodies Being Burned opens with heavy drums and eerie background noises – perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the album: it’s clear from the jump this is going to be some heavy sh*t. Even more than Hamilton -star Daveed Diggs’ abstract lyrical imagery, it’s the haunting soundscapes created by Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson that turn Visions of Bodies Being Burned into the unsettling experience it is.

Like There Existed an Addiction to BloodVisions of Bodies Being Burned is far from a casual listen, with its genre-bending and its boundary-pushing blend of ambient, industrial, techno, noise, and Hip Hop – the horror theme adding to the uncanny and hallucinatory vibe that is consistently maintained from start to finish. It’s an album to immerse yourself in – the dark and ominous atmosphere is intense to the point it’s truly chilling. Listen to this album on good headphones, in the dark, and you’ll be in for a disturbing and resonating meditative experience – Visions of Bodies Being Burned will make you feel anxious and uncomfortable but excited and delighted at the same time.

88. Ardamus - Psychedelic City Cowboy $h!t (2022)

Ardamus is a prolific Washington DC-based emcee/producer, and his Psychedelic City Cowboy $h!t is one of 2022’s hidden gems – arguably a career-best for Ardamus even. Psychedelic City Cowboy $h!t is an album about living in a city for so long that you develop a relationship with it, and about the effects of such a relationship. Ardamus shares production duties with Height Keech (the two worked together earlier on their 2020 album Astro Blocks) over the 16 tracks on this album – all songs composed of booming drums, creative sampling, dope throwback flows, and listen-worthy bars. Psychedelic City Cowboy $h!t offers close to 50 minutes of mature and relatable Hip Hop, you will not regret giving this album a listen.

89. Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals - King Cobra (2022)

Experimental and political – Baltimore-based duo Brian Ennals and Infinity Knives’ King Cobra is a must-listen for anybody who appreciates forward-thinking and thought-provoking Hip Hop. Like fellow Baltimore experimentalist JPEGMAFIA, these two pull no punches. Brian Ennals has a straightforward old-school flow, his socio-political bars hit hard, and Infinity Knives’ unsettling soundscapes amplify his content – the production on King Cobra is genuinely great. On the album, their sound is described as ‘post-apocalyptic Run-DMC’, and that sounds about right: the instrumentals and flows on King Cobra are abrasive and innovative at times but rooted in traditional 80s Hip Hop at the same time (listen to “Premium Malt Freestyle” for instance – old heads will recognize the Schoolly D and Sir Mix-a-Lot inspiration there). King Cobra is a special album, unlike anything else released in 2022.

90. Danger Mouse & Jemini - Born Again (2023)

Producer Danger Mouse and Brooklyn emcee Jemini first joined forces in 2003 for the often overlooked but excellent Ghetto Pop Life. After being shelved since 2004, the sophomre album we never knew we missed has finally arrived.

Danger Mouse, who played a pivotal role in 2022’s best Hip Hop album with Cheat Codes, his collaboration with Black Thought, brings his signature production prowess to the table. Born Again bursts to life with “All I,” immediately reminding us of the magic these two can conjure together. Danger Mouse’s psychedelic underground beats set the stage for Jemini’s charismatic storytelling and vulnerability.

Born Again is a sonic journey that blends body-moving rhythms, crate-digger samples, and old-school soul. Danger Mouse’s sophisticated musicianship, with its layers and intricacies, keeps the listener engaged. It’s a rare gem that’s both an instant banger and a piece of art to dissect. Jemini’s lyrical prowess is evident, especially on tracks like “Dear Poppa,” where he navigates complex feelings about his father. But he can also bring the classic Hip Hop swagger, as showcased on the gritty and funky “Knuckle Sandwich II.”

With a compact ten-track lineup, “Born Again” doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tracks like “Locked Up” and “Brooklyn Basquiat” capture Jemini’s blend of pain and playfulness, offering a balanced listening experience. Born Again is a top-notch collaboration that was delayed since 2004 but now finally sees the light of day. Do we have a long-lost classic here? It sure feels like it.

91. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2 (2020)

100 Essential Midwest Hip Hop Albums

If there’s one constant in Quelle Chris’ body of work it’s that he never does the same thing twice. Unlike many other artists who make the same album over and over again, this eclectic Detroit rapper never takes the easy way out, instead, he is always looking for new directions. Innocent Country 2 is sort of a sequel to 2015’s Innocent Country. A sequel, but a direct opposite as well – where the initial Innocent Country focused on isolation, pessimism, and the notion of finding peace within pain, this one offers soothing light in a bleak timeline: a hopeful record in a hopeless moment, precisely when it’s needed most.

Innocent Country 2 is a jazzy and warm listening experience with smooth synth loops over dusty drums crafted by Chris Keys, but it’s not breezy – there’s always depth to Quelle Chris’s lyrical musings. And although this album is not as deep or important as last year’s Guns (on which Quelle Chris addressed the impact of gun violence on American society in particular and the uncertainties of living in modern America in general), Innocent Country 2 is an album with substance as well.

Standout tracks include “Living Happy”, “Graphic Bleeds Out”, “Black Twitter”, “Grease From The Elbows” (featuring billy woods and Pink Siifu), “Sacred Safe”, with a show-stealing verse from Homeboy Sandman – but Innocent Country 2‘s strength is its consistency, it’s a perfect album to keep on rotation in the summertime (and in other seasons too, for that matter).

92. Curse Ov Dialect - Dark Days Bright Nights (2021)

“Formed in 1994, Australian surrealist multicultural rap group Curse Ov dialect has been an anomaly in the music scene. Curse Ov Dialect has revolutionized the language of Hip Hop throughout decades of music-making. Across eight album releases and 25 years of performances, they have defined and pioneered a new golden age of rap — playful, poetic, enlightened, and essential.

Curse Ov Dialect is internationally renowned for its intense live performances involving elaborate symbolic costumes, audience participation, and Dadaist stage theatrics. Cultures are bridged, traditions are taught, stereotypes and rules are broken. The heaviest beats are matched with unexpected samples from every era of music and every corner of the globe. Each emcee brings a powerful voice against ignorance.

Dark Days Bright Nights is their stunning new album. Bursting with revolutionary energy, sociopolitical fervor, and a laser focus on the hypocrisies of Australian culture, this watershed double album powers past the medio-core masses to enshrine Curse Ov Dialect at the forefront of intelligent, original, musically astute Hip Hop worldwide.”

Dark Days Bright Nights is a unique album, laden with eclectic instrumentals, idiosyncratic flows, and thought-provoking content. This is not a casual or straightforward listen, but musically adventurous Hip Hop fans up for a challenge will be amply rewarded.

93. AKAI SOLO - Spirit Roaming (2022)

Spirit Roaming is AKAI SOLO’s first full-length collaboration with Backwoodz Studioz. Spirit Roaming arrived on the heels of his Body Feeling EP, building on its material and existential themes. Here, AKAI’s unique palette is applied to a bigger canvas, without losing the intimacy and the sardonic self-awareness that helps define him as an artist—alongside a delivery and cadence all his own.

Spirit Roaming features an eclectic group of producers, from vets like Preservation, Animoss, Messiah Musik, and August Fanon, to emerging talents Theravada, ibliss, WifiGawd, Roper Williams, and JUNIE. AKAI lends bits and pieces of his own production to the mix, but goes mostly dolo on the mic, with Armand Hammer as the lone feature arriving just in time for the curtain call.

Working amidst a renaissance in NYC indie rap, AKAI is both part of that wave and a man apart. The 27-year-old Brooklyn native has collaborated extensively with many of the scene’s stalwarts (including Pink Siifu, Armand Hammer, and Navy Blue), but, true to his name, has always navigated his own course.”

AKAI SOLO and Backwoodz Studioz are a perfect fit. His music is for a niche audience, as is most of what comes out of Backwoodz Studioz. Still, the move to Backwoodz is likely to raise AKAI SOLO’s profile – also because this easily is his best-rounded and best-produced album. Not an easy listen, but accessible enough to gain him more exposure and take him to a next level.

94. Nas - Magic 3 (2023)

Nas and Hit-Boy’s sixth collab, Magic 3, marks a solid finale to their journey that kicked off in 2021. It’s a noteworthy entry in their collaborative journey, clocking in at 45 minutes, making it a proper full-length. A fitting wrap to an impressive run.

Now, we’ve voiced some reservations in the past about Hit-Boy’s overly polished beats, but on Magic 3, the production feels more on point especially when compared to the first King’s Disease album for instance. Nas, as usual, brings the lyrical heat and, considering this release celebrates his 50th birthday, he proves he’s still reigning in the Hip Hop realm.

Magic 3 boasts plenty of standout tracks, notably “Sitting With My Thoughts,” characterized by its captivating melody and personal lyrics. Other tracks like “Jodeci Member”, “I Love This Feeling”, “Based On True Events”, “Based on True Events Pt. 2”, “Speechless Pt. 2”, and “Japanese Soul Bar” also showcase Nas’s lyrical power.

Despite our reservations about the production styles Hit-Boy employs, it’s safe to say Nas and Hit-Boy consistently deliver as a duo, and Magic 3 keeps their collaborative magic alive. King’s Disease 3 is the best project they did together, but this album stands as a commendable addition to their joint efforts, reaffirming Nas’s enduring talent. Props to the Hip Hop OG for continuing to hold it down in the 2020s.

95. Killer Mike - MICHAEL (2023)

Killer Mike - Michael | Review

Killer Mike’s long-awaited return to the solo scene comes in the form of MICHAEL, a record that solidifies his status as a Hip Hop heavyweight. After an 11-year hiatus, the Atlanta native unveils a musical autobiography that is both touchingly introspective and unapologetically raw.

MICHAEL serves as a testament to Killer Mike’s unwavering dedication to his craft. This album is not about chasing chart-topping hits or conforming to the trends of the industry. Instead, it is a bold step back from the spotlight, allowing Killer Mike to bare his soul and share his truth. The album cover alone, featuring a nine-year-old Killer Mike adorned with a halo and devil horns, captures the dichotomy within—an artist who navigates the light and darkness, exploring the complexities of his identity.

Departing from the well-trodden politically fueled path of his collaborative work with El-P as Run the Jewels, Michael dives deep into Killer Mike’s roots, paying homage to the vibrant Southern rap scene that shaped him. The influence of gospel, blues, and the spirit of Atlanta reverberates throughout the album, creating a sonic tapestry that is both familiar and refreshing, paying homage to the evocative sounds of ’90s Hip Hop and the transformative soul of the ’70s that shaped its foundations.

MICHAEL transcends mere nostalgia though. It provides a vantage point that only Killer Mike’s present existence can offer, channeling his lived experiences, social consciousness, and unfiltered authenticity. The album boldly merges nostalgia with innovation, capturing the essence of contemporary Atlanta sound with its infectious beats and diverse production, leaning towards the soulful side while seamlessly incorporating elements of boom-bap, trap, and soul. The careful orchestration of choirs, pianos, and organs adds a layer of richness to the album, while Killer Mike’s commanding presence on the mic ensures that every word hits with impact.

While MICHAEL may not match the same level of overall quality or the rage and intensity found in Killer Mike’s previous solo masterpiece, R.A.P. Music (2012), it remains a powerful testament to his artistry. His rhymes are as sharp as ever, delivering thought-provoking and personal narratives that resonate deeply. The album’s many features are well-placed, effectively blending into the fabric of the project and adding depth to the overall experience, even if the album could have done with a few fewer guests – Young Thug we could have done without for instance. Others shine –  Andre 3000 has the most memorable appearance, of course.

Overall, MICHAEL is a testament to Killer Mike’s artistic growth and unwavering authenticity. Whether you’re a fan of the Run the Jewels albums or Killer Mike’s previous solo projects, this album is sure to captivate you. It is a triumphantly reflective and gospel-infused victory lap, that solidifies Killer Mike’s place among the Hip Hop greats, reminding us once again why he is one of the best in the game. The album’s profound themes, captivating lyricism, and engaging production make it a standout release of 2023.

96. One Be Lo - Baby (Being A Black Youth) (2020)

the best hip hop albums of 2020

BABY (Being a Black Youth) is One Be Lo’s best project since his magnum opus S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (2005). One Be Lo has always been a fan of acronyms, evident here not just in the album’s title but in the tracklist as well: all song titles are composed of the four letters in BABY too.

BABY packs 16 tracks and runs for close to an hour, but it’s not a minute too long. All 16 tracks were produced by Seattle-based producer Eric G (together with One Be Lo himself), and all tracks have scratches by DJ Abilities – this synergistic cooperation ensures an entirely cohesive sound throughout. One Be Lo recruited a bunch of interesting guests to add some extra flavor – the likes of Freeway, Guilty Simpson, Black Milk, Royce Da 5’9″, Jean Grae, and Phonte make appearances, among others. BABY is a beautiful Hip Hop album filled with soulful boom-bap beats and meaningful lyrics. Don’t sleep on One Be Lo and BABY.

97. Dave - We're All Alone In This Together (2021)

We’re All Alone In This Together is British rapper Dave’s sophomore effort, the follow-up to the excellent PSYCHODRAMA (2019). Like he did on PSYCHODRAMA, on this new album Dave eloquently explores issues like relationships, identity, immigration, racial injustices, and life in general. The centerpiece on PSYCHODRAMA was “Lesley” (a gripping 11-minute tour-de-force that depicts an abusive relationship and its shattering fallout in harrowing detail), the stand-out on We’re All Alone In This Together is “Heart Attack” – another 10-minute masterpiece in which Dave gets raw and deep in a way few are able to.

“We’re All Alone”, “Both Sides Of A Smile” (with great guest vocals from James Blake), “Verdansk”, “Three Rivers”, “In The Fire”, and “Survivor’s Guilt” are other highlights – somber-sounding piano-laced songs that showcase Dave’s songwriting talent and his ability to deliver unsparing social commentary with vivid imagery. Even a couple of more radio-friendly Afrobeat cuts like “System”, “Lazarus”, and “Law Of Attraction” work in the context of the album – these tracks (and a couple of others more lighthearted ones) do not distract, but rather provide some necessary levity from the deeper tracks on an hour-long tracklist.

Following up on a debut as iconic as PSYCHODRAMA is hard to do, but with We’re All Alone In This Together Dave nailed it. Because Dave’s bars are kind of heavy on life in the UK (so they may go over the heads of some non-British listeners) it remains to be seen if Dave will earn much international recognition with this album. He deserves it though – where PSYCHODRAMA tentatively established his name outside of the UK, We’re All Alone In This Together is a confirmation that cemented Dave as a bonafide generational talent.

98. Dälek - Precipice (2022)

“Forged in the fires of the East Coast underground music scene in the 90s, experimental Hip Hop pioneers, Union City, NJ-based duo Dälek has spent decades carving out a unique niche fusing hardcore Hip Hop, noise, and a radical approach to sound. Their brutal sonic temperament pushes rap music’s capacity for noise and protest to some exhilarating conclusions. For their latest and eighth album, Precipice, Dälek unleashes a work that is practically bristling with fury and power. Predominantly the work of the core duo, Will Brooks, aka MC Dälek and Mike Manteca (Mike Mare), Precipice features a guest appearance of Adam Jones of Tool.”

From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots (2002) and the masterful Absence (2005) are Dälek’s best albums, iconic records in the industrial Hip Hop subgenre. Precipe is not as memorable as these two classics are, but it is a strong album nonetheless. Boom-bap-driven beats backed up by an unsettling ambient droning create an overall dark and dreary atmosphere, further exacerbated by MC Dälek’s thought-provoking semi-abstract lyrics. Precipe is a slow-burner of an album, a fitting document for the chaotic and uncertain times the album was released in.

99. Third Root – Passion Of The Poets (2020)

best hiphop 2020

Third Root is a trio that consists of Charles Peters (Easy Lee), Marco Cervantes (Mexican StepGrandfather), and DJ Chicken George (DJCG). Peters is an accomplished poet/author/MC & educator, Cervantes is a producer/MC/Ph.D. who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and DJCG is a world-renowned DJ, musicologist, designer, and Jazztronica! Peddler. Passion Of The Poets is their fourth full-length album. The album is produced by Grammy-winner Adrian Quesada, nu-cumbia legend El Dusty, and veteran beatsmith Illfudge, and has features from Black Pumas, Kam Franklin, Grupo Fantasma, Bavu Blakes, and Mad1ne.

Passion Of The Poets is a soundtrack to the time we live in now, with clever and thought-provoking lyrics from Easy Lee and MexStep. Both are educators and their backgrounds show in their lyrical content. Without becoming preachy anywhere, they succeed in being educational and entertaining at the same time, perfectly balancing sh*ttalking with insightful socio-political commentaries.

Musically, Passion Of The Poets offers a potent blend of 90s-centric boom-bap, Southern Hip Hop, and Latin sounds. The album’s 12 tracks are perfectly sequenced, and every song hits, no skips are necessary. Even the cover art is done exactly right. Passion Of The Poets will probably fly way below most people’s radars, but those who take note will discover one of 2020’s best projects.

100. Jesse The Tree - Pigeon Man (2022)

Pigeon Man is Rhode Island-based emcee Jesse the Pigeon’s debut album on Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records. With Mopes on the boards and Buddy Peace providing the cuts & scratches as the backdrop for Jesse the Tree’s laidback flow and his clever and relatable rhymes, this album is a delight from start to finish.

101. Killah Priest - Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 (2021)

the best hip hop albums of 2021 March

Exactly 23 years after the release of his debut solo album Heavy Mental, Killah Priest comes with Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1. Similar to Rocket To Nebula, the instrumentals on Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 are ethereal and often drumless – and even more experimental at times. Killah Priest’s dense stream-of-consciousness bars about religion, history, mythology, spiritualism, science, philosophy, esotericism, extraterrestrialism, and other such topics, are delivered in a powerful spoken-word type delivery. Killah Priest’s music has always been an acquired taste, and this project certainly is – but those with the patience and capacity to surrender to his lyrical style, open themselves to his content, and adapt to the instrumentals, will find a lot enjoy on Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1.

With this album, Killah Priest continues his winning streak. Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 is another absorbing Killah Priest listen that further cemented his status as one of Hip Hop’s best – albeit unsung – writers.

102. Lupe Fiasco - Drill Music In Zion (2022)

Lupe Fiasco’s eighth studio album Drill Music In Zion is not his best effort, but it’s a strong album nonetheless. As a spiritual successor to Tetsuo & Youth (2015), the compact and uncomplicated Drill Music In Zion offers 40 minutes of heartfelt and meaningful bars over jazzy and sometimes trap-esque production – an unorthodox blend of musical styles that works surprisingly well. All instrumentals are intimate and accessible, and Lupe’s bars are clever and captivating. The incredible “Ms. Mural” – one of the best songs of the year – is the centerpiece of this album, but the whole project is super solid. Lupe Fiasco is one of the best post-2000 lyricists, and Drill Music In Zion is a worthy addition to his catalog.

103. Ja’king The Divine - 手​术​: BLACK SUN TZU (2022)

It is more than just the cover art that will remind you of MF DOOM’s. Brooklyn-based artist Ja’king The Divine’s 手​术​: BLACK SUN TZU is a wonderfully quirky album, composed of nothing but deep lyricism, excellent production, and exquisite sampling – exactly like the best MF DOOM albums. Also like MF DOOM was wont to do, Ja’king The Divine overdoes it with his skits here and there, but that’s just a minor flaw: 手​术​: BLACK SUN TZU is an awesome album, a project that heralded Ja’king The Divine as one of the future greats of the experimental underground Hip Hop subgenre.

104. Conway The Machine – From King To A GOD (2020)

Conway The Machine has already put his mark on 2020 with two collaborative EP’s – one with Alchemist (LULU), the other with Big Ghost Ltd (No One Mourns The Wicked). From King To A GOD is Conway’s third release of the year, and his first proper full-length.

From King To A GOD‘s cover strikes a resemblance to Reject 2 (2015), Conway’s debut mixtape on Griselda. On the Reject 2 cover, Conway is facing fully away from the camera with his naked torso showcasing his bullet wounds, one on the back of his head and one on his shoulder. On FKTG, he’s adopted more or less the same pose, but this time with a shirt on, plus expensive glasses, a gold chain, and a shining crown made of the letters in the album’s title. With the bullet wounds hidden, this cover (along with the album’s title) represents how far he has come.

From King To A GOD is Conway’s most diverse project to date and it includes the previously released tracks “Fear of God” featuring Dej Loaf, “Front Lines, “Seen Everything But Jesus” with Freddie Gibbs, and the Method Man-assisted “Lemon.” Conway’s fellow Griselda members Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn also make an appearance, along with Lloyd Banks, El Camino, Armani Caesar, Flee Lord, and Mobb Deep’s Havoc, and the album features production from The Alchemist, Beat Butcha, Daringer, DJ Premier, Erick Sermon, Havoc, Hit-Boy, Khrysis, and others.

Westside Gunn may be the most flamboyant personality from the Griselda camp, and Benny The Butcher the best emcee when it strictly comes to bars and storytelling and such, but Conway is the one with the ATTITUDE. He is one the hardest rappers out, but on this album he comes off vulnerable at times too, making FKTG one of his best-rounded projects yet – his growth as an artist and as a person throughout the years evident. From King To A GOD is a GREAT Conway project – the best to come out of the Griselda camp in 2020.

105. Chino XL & Stu Bangas - God's Carpenter (2023)

God’s Carpenter is a collaborative album by iconic lyricist Chino XL and producer Stu Bangas that delivers banging boom-bap beats and complex rhyme flows. Chino XL’s lyricism is intellectual, vivid, and intricate, while Stu Bangas’ production is polished yet hard-hitting. The two Hip Hop heavyweights work brilliantly together, with Chino’s big bars needing the robust underscore of Stu Bangas.

God’s Carpenter is a super bar-heavy offering, with Chino crafting incredibly complex and intricate wordplay and delivering it in his unique and iconic way. The dark boom-bap production that Stu Bangas has perfected perfectly complements Chino’s unstoppable flows. The album takes listeners on a journey through Chino XL’s mind, tackling issues from politics to personal demons. The opening track “God’s Carpenter” sets the tone for the album, with Chino XL’s verbose bars needing the robust underscore of Stu Bangas’ production. Other standout tracks include “AMBImonsterous,” “Murder Rhyme Kill,” and “Scribbled Sorcery.”

Chino XL’s lyricism has always been next level, but his first four albums were let down in places by subpar beats. Teaming up with Stu Bangas was a masterstroke, making God’s Carpenter probably Chino XL’s best album beats-wise. God’s Carpenter is a must-listen for any fan of underground Hip Hop, especially for fans of Chino XL who had been waiting eleven years for a new project from the lyrical powerhouse.

106. Bloodmoney Perez & Messiah Musik - Second Hand Accounts (2022)

Alaska-based Puerto Rican Bloodmoney Perez teamed up with Baltimore producer Messiah Musik for Second Hand Accounts – an intriguing presentation of top-notch left-field Hip Hop. Messiah Musik’s experimental instrumentals are captivating, as are Bloodmoney Perez’s bars – his baritone is powerful, and both his flow and semi-abstract rhymes are reminiscent of billy woods, a big compliment in our book. Second Hand Accounts is the best Hip Hop album released in January of 2022 – don’t sleep.

107. HRSMN (Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest & Ras Kass) - The Last Ride (2021)

HRSMN (Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest & Ras Kass) - The Last Ride | Review

20 years ago, the four HRSMN (Ras Kass, Kurupt, Killah Priest & Canibus) were all at the height of their major label careers when their intended debut album, The Horsemen Project, was leaked online and massively bootlegged.  The leak consisted of nine unmixed and unmastered songs that would go on to sell over 100K units; and not a dime in revenue for the group. There have been intermittent starts and stops along the journey for HRSMN, with a few singles and various collaborative appearances, and a full reunion track on Canibus’ Fait Accompli album; which once again began to build momentum with fans that the super-group would reunite and finally release a true official debut album.

As HRSMN, Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest, and Ras Kass have finally reunited to bring the world The Last Ride (a.k.a. The Debut Final Album), which features guest appearances and production from Planet Asia, Hus Kingpin, Chino XL, Wais P, RBX, Phil da Agony, El Gant, Tragedy Khadafi, Bronze Nazareth, and Anno Domini. The Last Ride displays the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a truly biblical fashion. Kurupt (Famine), Ras Kass (Pestilence), Canibus (War), and Killah Priest (Death), all coming together to bring light to the ills of the world; and reclaim their rightful throne as one of the most dominant lyrical forces Hip Hop has ever witnessed.

Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest, and Ras Kass have always been four of HHGA’s favorite emcees, so we were pre-inclined to love this album. The only apprehension we had was about the quality of the production – Kurupt, Ras Kass, and especially Canibus have proven in the past not to always have the best ear for beats. Fortunately, the instrumentals on The Last Ride do the job. Most of these beats are not super memorable maybe, but they do not bring the album down at all – and this project is all about BARS anyway. All four HRSMN are elite lyricists – they bring their A-game to The Last Ride, and they play well off each other. Close to an hour of music, and only one or two little missteps (the so-so ballad-like “Love N War” most prominently) – but there’s plenty of bangers to offset any weaknesses:  “Centaurs”, “This Sh Right Here”, “Morticians”, “Believer”, “Apocalips Now”, “Burger King”, “Last Ride”, and the immediate stand-out “Impossible” are all dope as f.

108. Cambatta - LSD: Lunar Solar Duality (2020)

From the album’s Bandcamp blurb:

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), is a hallucinogenic chemical compound, first synthesized in 1938. Upon its introduction into popular culture in the 1960’s it quickly shifted not only the mind of the artist but also the person experiencing the art.
Hip Hop artist Cambatta is known for his thought-provoking and psychedelic-inspired rhyme techniques. His newest album entitled, “LSD”, is just as the title insinuates- mind-bending and consciousness-shifting. This album was created throughout four years of psychedelic usage and reality-based life-changing events. This process has made the album a duality of both real and surreal interpretations. The album’s title is also an acronym for “Lunar Solar Duality,” alluding to the album’s dichotomy of light and dark conceptualizations and countless other polarizing and multi-entendre-latent compositions. Whether you have ever experienced LSD or not, this album is sure to impact anyone receptive and perceptive enough to take a dose.

The album sure is a trip, a total mindf*ck. LSD offers well over an hour of dense lyricism, full of Cambata’s musings on subjects like life, history, science, religion, spirituality, mythology, existentialism, culture, and drug(ab)use. The beats on LSD are fine, and Cambatta’s voice and flow are a pleasure to listen to – but what makes this album something truly special are Cambatta’s deep lyrics. His varied lyrical approaches and themes are fascinating – this album can’t really be compared with anything you have heard before. In sound, style, and content Cambatta is like an amalgamation of Killah Priest, Kool Keith, Canibus, Cage, and Immortal Technique – making Lunar Solar Duality a truly unique experience, an album that invites multiple listenings to really try to appreciate what’s going on.

109. Awon & SOUL.DOPE.95- Infinite Wisdom (2022)

Brooklyn, NYC-born, Newport News, Virginia-based rapper Awon founded Don’t Sleep Records in 2014 along with frequent collaborator Phoniks. Don’t Sleep Records has been one of our favorite record labels since then – both the DSR roster and their combined catalogs are top-notch. The first three Awon & Phoniks collaborations are among our favorite Hip Hop albums of the 2010s, and in the 2020s Awon and company are not letting up – this collaboration with SOUL.DOPE.95 is another Don’t Sleep sure shot. Awon’s wife Tiff The Gift makes an appearance, as do other label mates Anti Lill y and Dephlow, along with Napoleon Da Legend and others. Soulful and jazzy instrumentals serve as a tasteful backdrop for mature and meaningful bars – Infinite Wisdom is a great piece of music.

110. Magna Carda - To The Good People (2021)

25 Best Hip Hop Albums For Grown-Ups

Magna Carda is a duo from Austin Texas, consisting of vocalist Megz Kelli and producer Dougie Do. They are responsible for a number of strong projects in the past decade, and with To The Good People, they continue their streak of quality – this arguably is their best album yet. This album is a tasteful and stylish affair – a near-flawless combination of pure musicianship from Dougie Do and strong vocal performances from Megz Kelli. Her understated conversational-style flow and her thoughtful lyrics are a joy to listen to, and the soulful instrumentals crafted by Dougie Do are perfect for her voice. Guest spots from Cara Bishop, Ava Raiin, Demetruest, IAN, and Juju Bae add extra flavor to help round out this stylish Hip Hop album.

111. Mopes - Unwound (2022)

Mopes is a veteran emcee/producer from Rhode Island, formerly known as PROLYPHIC. His The Ugly Truth album (with Reanimator) is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 2008, and one of the best albums ever released on Sage Francis’s unsung Strange Famous Records label. Unwound is not quite as good as The Ugly Truth is, but it is an excellent album nonetheless. Personal and introspective bars, supported by self-produced melodic boom-bap instrumentals – Unwound is a mature album that gets better with each spin.

112. AJ Suede & Televangel - Metatron's Cube (2022)

Seattle,-based AJ Suede teamed up with Televangel (half of the unsung production duo Blue Sky Black Death) for Metatron’s Cube, an album of psychedelic, biting rhymes with smooth flows over brooding, nostalgic beats with a touch of noir that will hit you hard and envelop you in their world. Metatron’s Cube is AJ Suede’s best project yet, a presentation of underground Hip Hop at its finest, dark and abstract but inviting and accessible at the same time – this is a stylish and well-rounded album that will prove to have staying power.

113. Day Tripper - What A Time To Be DEAD (2023)

Day Tripper is an artist from Atlanta, active as a solo artist and as half of the alt-Hip Hop duo The Difference Machine. The Difference Machine released a strong project – Unmasking The Spirit Fakers – last year, one of the best left-field Hip Hop albums of 2022, and part of our best-of-the-year list too. What A Time To Be DEAD is a Day Tripper solo project, and it’s just as good as last year’s The Difference Machine album. It’s not as dense and hard-edged as Unmasking The Spirit Fakers, but the album’s psychedelic instrumentals are equally engaging. Day Tripper’s bars and flows are great too, his stream-of-consciousness rhymes perfectly gel with the appealing musical backdrops. What A Time To Be DEAD is a layered piece of music, an album that gets better with each and every listen.

114. Curly Castro - Little Robert Hutton (2021)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

“Curly Castro’s new album Little Robert Hutton is a pæn to the radical imagination. Over the course of fourteen songs, the Bajan-American artist fuses his vivid wordplay with a historical continuum of black revolutionary thought and the result is an AfroFuturist vision in 3-D IMAX. This is Castro’s rawest and most uncompromising work, the heat from a thousand ghetto uprisings smoldering in every bar. Lyrical gymnastics take a backseat to the power of the word and the concussive energy of the beats. Little Robert Hutton is hard in every sense of the word, speaker rattling banger after banger. That production is handled by Quelle Chris, Messiah Musik, Blueprint, August Fanon, Locust, DOS4GW, and Jason Griff. The album also features guest appearances from Breezly Brewin, Mr. Lif, PremRock, billy woods, Zilla Rocca, Marcus Pinn, ALASKA, SKECH185, Candice Murray, and Margel the Sophant.”

Curly Castro has been on our radar for a good while now. His ShrapKnel album (with PremRock) is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2020. His solo debut FIDEL (2013) was our favorite Curly Castro LP up to now, but Little Robert Hutton is even better. Lyrically profound and fun in equal measures, and musically adventurous with captivating soundscapes from start to finish – Little Robert Hutton is an intense album you shouldn’t sleep on. This is another winner out of Backwoodz Studioz.

115. Quelle Chris - DEATHFAME (2022)

DEATHFAME is another excellent album from left-field Hip Hop icon Quelle Chris, one of the most authentic artists in Hip Hop. Quelle Chris’s music is never easy or straightforward – and arguably DEATHFAME arguably is one of his most inaccessible albums. The superb production is murky, nihilistic, and sinister – perfect backdrops for the moody bars and wonky flows from Quelle Chris, and those of guests such as Navy Blue, Denmark Vessey, and Pink Siifu. DEATHFAME is Quelle Chris’s most trippy and disjointed record since Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (2017) – and because Being You Is Great is our favorite Quelle Chris album to date, it will be no surprise that we love this 2022 album too. The single “Alive Ain’t Always Livin’” is an obvious highlight, but the rest of DEATHFAME is strong as well: challenging, dark, vulnerable, and mature – one of the best left-field Hip Hop albums of the year.

116. Rome Streetz - Kiss The Ring (2022)

Rome Streetz’s Griselda debut full-length Kiss The Ring is one of the best albums released on Westside Gunn’s label this year. Kiss The Ring offers 50 minutes of straight gangsta bars by Rome Streetz and guests Conway the Machine, Stove God Cooks, Benny the Butcher, Armani Caesar, Westside Gunn, and Boldy James), and immaculate production by the likes of Conductor Williams, Camoflauge Monk, and Denny Laflare, with single tracks done by Daringer, DJ Green Lantern, and The Alchemist. Along with last year’s DJ Muggs-produced Death & the MagicianKiss The Ring is Rome Streetz’s best work to date.

117. Madlib, Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs - Champagne For Breakfast (2023)

Queens-based rapper Meyhem Lauren keeps his momentum going with Champagne For Breakfast, arguably his best work to date – improving even on Black Vladimir, which was one of the best underground Hip Hop releases of 2022Black Vladimir was a great project largely thanks to the menacing production by Daringer, Daringer’s beats proved to be a perfect fit for Meyhem Lauren’s booming baritone and his gritty street raps.

For Champagne For Breakfast Meyhem Lauren reconnected with DJ Muggs – they previously collaborated on the dope Gems From The Equinox (2017) – and brought in Madlib to share production duties with Muggs. Like having Daringer on the boards for Black Vladimir, bringing in Muggs and Madlib to take care of the production for Champagne For Breakfast proved to be another Meyhem Lauren masterstroke – elite producers like these simply add value to any project they put their stamp on. On Champagne For Breakfast it’s Muggs signature ominous soundscapes that are on the musical forefront, but there’s enough of Madlib’s touch to add some unique kind of twists to the hard and dark beats. Nothing innovative about this album, but its straightforwardness is a strength really – the beats are dope as f, and Meyhem Lauren comes with some great bars and flows all the way through. Champagne For Breakfast is one of the best underground releases of 2023.

118. Royce Da 5'9'' - The Allegory (2020)

the best hip hop albums of 2020

The Allegory is another great Royce Da 5’9″ album. Royce is one of the rare emcees that gets better with age. Nobody will dispute the fact that Royce is one of the most complete emcees in the game, and has been ever since he debuted on Eminem’s Slim Shady LP in 1999. But even though he dropped decent solo albums with Rock City (2002), Death Is Certain (2004), Independent’s Day (2005), Street Hop (2009), and Success Is Certain (2011), as well as solid albums as part of Slaughterhouse and with Eminem as Bad Meets Evil, he was never really able to parlay his reputation as a deadly emcee into a classic album befitting his status.

That changed in 2014 when he released PRhyme, an excellent collaborative record with DJ Premier, and later with his next two solo’s Layers (2016) and Book of Ryan (2018) – which can both be counted among the best albums of the 2010s decade. So in 2020 Royce Da 5’9″ returns with The Allegory. Does it continue the upward trajectory in terms of quality and substance? Is it on par with Layers and Book of Ryan? The answer is YES. At a sprawling 22 tracks and 1 hour and 8 minutes of playing time, The Allegory is a LONG album, but there’s little filler here.

The Allegory offers fire production mostly done by Royce himself, grade A wordplay, thought-provoking content, well-placed guest spots (from Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, Vince Staples, KXNG Crooked, DJ Premier, and others), and expert sequencing – this album was put together JUST RIGHT. Some skits could have been left off, and some of the messages are questionable (the anti-vaccination sentiments are controversial, to say the least) – but these are minor niggles. Stand out tracks include “I Don’t Age”, “Tricked”, “FUBU”, “Thou Shall”, Upside Down”, “Pendulum”, “On The Block”, “Young World”, and “Hero” – but most of the album slaps.

Forget aging gracefully and fading out of Hip Hop slowly or simply staying semi-relevant by regularly releasing luke-warm placeholder albums – Royce Da 5’9″ has legitimately gotten better and better each and every year and with The Allegory, he cements his status as a top-tier emcee. After Layers and Book Of Ryan, The Allegory stands as one of Royce’s best albums.

119. Propo'88 & Wildelux - Certified Craftsmen (2021)

Best 25 Traditional Boom Bap Albums Of 2021

Under the moniker of Certified Craftsmen, DJ/producer Propo’88 and rapper Wildelux crafted an excellent no-bullsh*t boom-bap record with their Certified Craftsmen LP. Propo’88 hails from Utrecht in The Netherlands, and Wildelux is a Bronx-born emcee who is currently based in Kyoto, Japan. Their collaboration is one of the many examples we can see these days of the global village that Hip Hop world has become – with artists from all over the world joining forces, and with producers from Europe leading the way in keeping that original boom-bap sound alive.

From Propo’88’s fresh beats, samples, and Preemo-like scratch hooks, to Wildelux’s smooth flow and outspoken rhymes – this is throwback Hip Hop done RIGHT. Certified Craftsmen: close to 45 minutes of top-quality funky boom-bap Hip Hop.

120. Boldy James & Real Bad Man - Killing Nothing (2022)

Killing Nothing is a collaboration between producer Real Bad Man and Boldy James, one of our favorite emcees in the game right now. Real Bad Man and Boldy James collaborated on Real Bad Boldy (2020) and Killing Nothing builds on the standard set by that little project. At 42 minutes, Killing Nothing is a more fully realized album, one that, in terms of quality, fits right in with The Price Of Tea In China (with The Alchemist, 2020), Manger On McNichols (with Sterling Toles, 2020), and Bo Jackson (with The Alchemist, 2021) – all among the best albums of the years they were released in. Real Bad Man’s production might not be as experimental or boundary-pushing as The Alchemist and Sterling Toles’s work on Boldy’s recent albums is, but his dark and atmospheric beats work great anyway. While Killing Nothing doesn’t quite reach the greatness of Bo Jackson, it’s up there with Boldy’s other projects.

Boldy James is one of the most consistent artists in the game, his recent run of releases is incredible. His ‘lazy’ flow may be an acquired taste, but his murderous bars and attitude are second to none – few (if any) do this street rap sh better.

121. Jamo Gang - Walking With Lions (2020)

review Jamo Gang Walking With Lions

Jamo Gang consists of LA legend Ras Kass, NYC veteran emcee El Gant, and J57 on production. The album features DJ Premier, Slug from Atmosphere, Sid Wilson from Slipknot, Sick Jacken from Psycho Realm & Slaine from La Coka Nostra. Walking with Lions embodies head-nodder boom-bap infused with big sounding, lush soundscapes as Ras Kass & El Gant command the listener’s attention speaking on subject matter ranging from school shootings to what life would be like with a nuke arriving in 38 minutes.

Walking With Lions is a textbook example of how it should be done. In this era of unlimited music streaming and short hype circles, a lot of artists seem to more concerned with producing quantity instead of quality. Staying in the public’s eye with a new project every few months is being given higher priority than the actual quality of the music that is released. Ras Kass, El Gant, and J57 clearly went the other way. It’s evident a lot of time and attention went into the creation of Walking With Lions – resulting in a well-thought-out and well-executed album.

Everything is done right here – from the razor-sharp lyricism to the flawless production to the sequencing of the songs to the cover art – the total package is dope as f. Starting with the booming RTJ-flavored album opener “Belushi & Aykroyd” straight through to the last track “Lighters Up” – this album is FIRE. J57 produced the whole album except for “The 1st Time” which was produced by legendary DJ Premier. “The 1st Time” is one of the stand-outs, along with cuts like “Stephen”, “Francis Scott Key”, “Walking With Lions”, “38 Minutes”, and “Belushi & Aykroyd”

This is an excellent blend of traditional and avant-garde Hip Hop – hopefully Walking With Lions is not a one-off, if they can keep this up Jamo Gang will give Run The Jewels a run for their money.

122. Ab-Soul - Herbert (2022)

Ab-Soul’s fifth studio album is overlong and somewhat bloated at 66 minutes, but the good outweighs the bad as far as we are concerned. Ab-Soul magnum opus Control System (2012) is better, as is the sprawling Do What Thou Wilt (2016), but HERBERT is a worthy addition to Soulo’s catalog anyway. HERBERT starts out strong with “MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE” and ends with a bang with its best track – the DJ Premier-produced “GOTTA RAP” – and there are plenty of dope tracks in between (with some filler especially in the second half of the playlist). Lyrically the album is less complex, less weird, and more straightforward than his two best albums – reminiscent of his mixtape days and his TDE debut Longterm Mentality (2011), with personal and witty bars delivered with Soulo’s characteristic energy and charisma.

HERBERT is Ab-Soul’s easiest accessible album by far, in production and songwriting both – something that might turn off fans of Control System and Do What Thou Wilt. After a 6 year hiatus, we may have expected more of Ab-Soul – but while HERBERT is not the classic we hoped for, it is an album that has more highs than lows. If Ab-Soul had left five or six tracks on the cutting room floor (“GO OFF” and especially “POSITIVE VIBES ONLY” prime candidates for culling), he could have had another near-classic on his name – as it is, HERBERT is a welcome return from what we think is one of the most interesting artists of his generation.

123. Necessary People - These Are The Necessary People (2021)

Necessary People are a duo composed of Baltimore artist Height Keech and Philadelphia’s ialive – These Are The Necessary People is their first album together as a production team. For this project, they enlisted a host of like-minded underground artists for the guest vocals – emcees like PremRock, Curly Castro, Zilla Rocca, Uncommon Nasa, and Sleep Sinatra make appearances, among others.  Having guest rappers on every track is a risk – it can easily turn an album into an incohesive compilation-like mess – but on These Are The Necessary People it all works out beautifully. This is an uncomplicated, but FUN album. The lyrics are entertaining, the flows are tight, and the instrumentals are dope as f. Do not sleep on These Are The Necessary People.

124. DJ Muggs & Rome Streetz - Death & The Magician (2021)

the best hip hop albums of 2021

In DJ Muggs’ own words:  “Death And The Magician is a sonic and lyrical onslaught on a dark rainy night in NYC, and is based on the Major Arcana cards in the tarot deck. The Death card signals that one major phase in your life is ending, and a new one is going to start. You just need to close one door so the new one will open. The past needs to be placed behind you, so you can focus your energy on what lies ahead. When the Magician appears it points to the talents, capabilities, and resources at the querent’s disposal to succeed. The message is to tap into one’s full potential rather than holding back, especially when there is a need to transform something.”

Legendary DJ Muggs has been a master-producer of dark, sinister instrumentals ever since his Cypress Hill days in the early 1990s, and on Death And The Magician Muggs’ elite production brings out the best in New York underground rapper Rome Streetz. Rome Streetz has been one of the most interesting and one of the most prolific voices in the Griselda-type street rap niche ever since his recording debut in 2016, this collab with one of the best producers in the game will take him to the next level. There are no weak tracks on Death And The Magician. Muggs’ beats are hard-hitting and gritty as are Rome Streetz’s bars, who solidifies his status as one of the most complete lyricists in the game today with this project – delivery, flow, rhyme schemes, wordplay: everything about his performance on Death And The Magician is top-tier.

125. Jay Royale - Criminal Discourse (2023)

Baltimore-based artist Jay Royale takes listeners on a captivating journey with his latest album, Criminal Discourse. This third installment in an impressive trilogy (following 2018’s The Ivory Stoop and 2020’s The Baltimore Housing Project) showcases Jay’s growth as an artist while delving into the evolution of street communication. From the payphone era to wiretaps and everything in between, Jay explores the significance of the trap phone in this gritty and immersive release.

Drawing inspiration from his hometown, and also from its critically acclaimed series “The Wire,” Jay Royale expertly weaves a narrative that pays homage to the communication methods employed by the streets. Criminal Discourse features a talented lineup of collaborators, including AZ Havoc of Mobb Deep, Kool G Rap, Styles P from The Lox, Saigon, and Willie the Kid, each adding their own unique perspective to the project.

The album effortlessly captures the essence of 1990s Hip Hop, evoking a nostalgic ambiance with its atmospheric beats and sharp cuts & scratches. Jay Royale’s lyrics, reminiscent of the mafioso rap style popularized by icons like Nas, AZ, Raekwon, and Kool G Rap, further enhance the album’s authenticity and provide a refreshing throwback to classic Hip Hop.

Clocking in at just the right length with its 45 minutes, Criminal Discourse immerses listeners in Jay Royale’s storytelling abilities and masterful wordplay. The production complements Jay’s artistic vision and unwavering dedication to his craft. The album transcends its subject matter, appealing to fans of the genre’s golden era as well as those seeking a fresh perspective within the contemporary Hip Hop landscape.

With its captivating narrative, top-notch collaborations, and a clear nod to 1990s Hip Hop, Criminal Discourse undoubtedly deserves a spot among the year’s top releases.

126. KRS-One - I M A M C R U 1 2 (2022)

KRS-One - I M A M C R U 1 2 | Review

“I am an MC, are you one too?” 35 years in the game, and KRS One is still ready to challenge and beat any rapper out there. KRS-One is a REAL emcee, you see?

After KRS-One dropped a couple of singles in 1986 with the late Scott La Rock, the duo debuted as Boogie Down Productions with the now-classic LP Criminal Minded in 1987. The rest is history. By All Means Necessary (1988), The Blueprint (1989), Edutainment (1990), Sex & Violence (1992) are all classic Hip Hop albums too. Sex & Violence was the last BDP album, the iconic Return Of The Boom Bap (1993) started KRS-One’s solo career.

In 2022, KRS-One is still going strong. “The top 1 of the top 5, and that’s the end of it.” KRS tells us on the standout cut “Achieving The Levels”. And: “I’m 50, and 20-year-olds can’t match the energy / on stage, I’m in a rage – yeah, it’s like ten of me / disrespect the Teacha, you know the penalty / KRS-One: I’m from a whole different century / I’m Paid In Full, so you can ch-check out My Melody…”

Unlike most of his post-Millenium efforts, I M A M C R U 1 2 is totally solid and consistent: it’s one of KRS-One’s best albums in over 20 years. As always, KRS comes with socio-conscious rhymes mixed with braggadocio bars, delivering his bars with a hardcore, powerful, and energetic attitude. His flow and his articulation are as immaculate as ever – KRS-One might be 56 years old by now, but his vocal power and the strength of his pen game are undiminished. Production is super basic but functional (beats made for live performances it sounds like), but a KRS-One album is all about his BARS anyway. “The Beginning”, “Raw Hip Hop”, “Achieving The Levels”,  “I M A M C R U 1 2”, “Drop Another Break”, “Have To Wait”, and the Slick Rick-inspired “Knock Em Out” – lots of timeless KRS bangers on this LP.

Like his last album Between Da Protests (2020), which was quite good tooI M A M C R U 1 2 will suffer from underpromotion and disinterest (read disrespect) from mainstream Hip Hop outlets and uninformed younger Hip Hop listeners – but here at HHGA, we know what’s up and who is the GOAT. KRS-One is the top 1 of the top 5, and that’s the end of it. Fresh for ’22, you suckers…

127. Hus Kingpin - Portishus (2021)

Long Island native Hus Kingpin continues his run of quality releases with Portishus – a project inspired by the music of legendary British band Portishead. Portishead’s debut album Dummy (1994) is a trip-hop monument, and while Portishus is not trip-hop at all, it shares the dark and moody atmosphere of the Portishead classic.

Hus Kingpin’s wordplay is solid enough, just like that of guest rappers like Vinnie Paz, SmooVth, Nems, The Musalini, Ransom, and Ty Farris (and many others), but it’s the gloomy instrumentals that make this project a keeper. Portishead fans will recognize a lot of the samples on Portishus, but this project is just as enjoyable without intimate Portishead knowledge. With Portishus Hus Kingpin started 2021 off in a strong way.

128. KRS-One – Between Da Protests (2020)

KRS-One - Between Da Protests | Review

KRS-One is one of the Hip Hop GOATs, anybody willing to dispute that claim doesn’t know Hip Hop, it’s as simple as that. A new KRS-One album should be a big event in Hip Hop, but it hasn’t been for a long time. Why is that? It’s not just that Hip Hop has changed, and the focus of the public with it. It’s also that KRS-One has never been particularly good at marketing and promotion – and maybe the truth is he’s never been really concerned with it.

Between Da Protest is KRS-One’s 23rd album, and the release of it could hardly have been more underhyped. Dropping an album in the last two weeks of December (even KRS One has his own reasons for this specific release date) is not the best move to make from a marketing and promotion point of view. Considering the total lack of pre-hype and the timing of this release it’s almost like KRS-One is asking for not being noticed.

From KRS-One’s own website:

“By now it is clear, KRS-One is indeed THE GREATEST RAPPER/EMCEE OF ALL TIME! 22 dope albums over a 35-year period? No rapper/emcee has ever reached this legitimate level of excellence and skill. NO ONE! Already proclaimed “a classic”, KRS-One returns with his 23rd album project Between Da Protests which balances revolutionary themes with raw street-poetry over what KRS-One calls “boom-bap beats”. With songs like “Don’t Fall For It”, “Black Black Black”, “Free (The Book Song)” and “Boom Bye Bye”, KRS-One addresses the concerns of average people, working people, thinking people. And while the revolutionary-minded will find much in Between Da Protests to be excited about, it is songs like “Opening Remarks”, “Tight” and “Medu Neter” that remind us just how dope KRS-One actually is on the mic (in the studio or live). Between Da Protests—another authentic Hip Hop album project by KRS-One.”

Calling Between A Protests a classic is a bold statement – in truth this album is not on par with KRS’s best albums – all the albums he did with/as Boogie Down Productions in the 1980s and early 1990s, and albums like Return Of The Boom Bap (1993) and KRS One (1995). But even if Between The Protests will not be considered a KRS-One classic way down the line, it IS a thoroughly solid album.

As always, it’s all about KRS-One’s rhymes. His voice is unique and still as powerful as it has ever been. His eloquence and articulateness are unparalleled. His rhyme-structuring is one of a kind and his lyrical content is always relevant and thought-provoking. Lyrically, few have ever been able to touch KRS One. Just listen to tracks like “Murder We Just Saw” and “Don’t Fall For It” – classic KRS.

The beats on Between Da Protests could (and should) have been better, though. The fact that a KRS-One album is always more about the rhymes than it is about the beats, doesn’t mean a little more attention could not be given to the musical backdrops. Imagine KRS-One getting with DJ Premier, The Alchemist, or Apollo Brown for a full album, plus releasing it on a label that understands how to market and promote an album in a way befitting the status of an industry icon – that would be something.

For HHGA, KRS-One is one of the most prominent and most important figures in Hip Hop, ever. A top 3 emcee of all time too, anyone who has ever seen KRS-One perform live knows he’s the best to ever do it. A KRS-One album should automatically be in AOTY discussions, the fact that his work hasn’t been talked about in that way in a long time has everything to do with his unconcern for marketing and promotion, and his lack of focus on the beats that support his rhymes.

All that said, an understated KRS-One album like Between Da Protests is still better than most other artists’ work in 2020 (a strong pro-KRS-One bias freely admitted here). For HHGA, any KRS-One album IS a big event, even if it isn’t for KRS-One himself. Owing to the lack of hype and promotion most other Hip Hop listeners outside KRS-One fans will most likely sleep on Between Da Protest, unfortunately.

129. Krum – Dart (2021)

25 Best Hip Hop Albums For Grown-Ups

Dallas-based producer/emcee Harry Krum is in a lane of his own, his sound cannot be pigeonholed – some of his music can be labeled urban gospel, some of his other projects are closer to straight-up Hip Hop. His short-but-sweet Black Lung album is one of the best Hip Hop projects released last April, with some of the best production you’ll hear this year – lots of psychedelic vibes and dusty but crisp boom-bap beats laced with some exquisite sampling – reminiscent even of the best work from icons like Madlib and MF DOOM. At barely over half an hour Black Lung is too short to consider a ‘proper’ full-length, something that can’t be said about DART.

At 50 minutes, DART is a fully realized album – and one of the most idiosyncratic albums of the year. DART will certainly not be for everybody, Krum’s genre-boundaries stretching instrumentals have too much of an experimental edge, and his rapping is mixed with singing on this album. As it follows a narrative, this is an album you need to allow yourself to be immersed in to be able to fully appreciate it (there’s a book tie-in – “The Dirty Angels Ride Tonight” tells the story, each song on the DART album is the first-hand thoughts and emotions of the characters living the story). Not an easy listen, but DART is one of our favorite albums released in October of 2021 nonetheless.

130. Black Star & Madlib - No Fear Of Time (2022)

After 24 years, No Fear Of Time finally reunites one of the greatest Hip Hop duos of all time—yasiin bey (f.k.a. as Mos Def) and Talib Kweli are Black Star. Recorded guerrilla-style in hotel rooms and dressing rooms around the globe, the 9-track album has a future vibe with vintage soul, fitting for one of the most anticipated releases in decades.

Too bad attention for No Fear Of Time will suffer from its terrible roll-out – the album was exclusively released on the podcast platform Luminary, which will severely limit exposure to wider audiences. A shame because No Fear Of Time signifies a great return for Black Star. The album is entirely produced by the iconic Madlib, who brought a fantastic crop of trippy instrumentals – without intending to take away anything from yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli’s bars and flows (not to mention those of guest emcee Black Thought), but Madlib’s musical backdrops arguably are the strongest aspect of the album.

There’s no sense in comparing No Fear Of Time to the classic Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, with almost a quarter-century between them this tight little project is no follow-up or continuation of early Black Star in any way, nor should it be. What No Fear Of Time is, is an intriguing renewed collaboration of two Hip Hop greats, bolstered by the production of a third legendary name who also came up in the late 1990s. If No Fear Of Time will be mentioned in the same breath as Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star 25 years down the line is doubtful, but it doesn’t matter: this is a great piece of Hip Hop whichever way you look at it.

132. Jazz Spastiks - Camera Of Sound (2021)

Best 25 Traditional Boom Bap Albums Of 2021

Jazz Spastiks never disappoint. This collective of producers and DJs from the UK has been responsible for plenty of dope music over the years, and Camera Of Sound is yet another excellent addition to their body of work. For Camera Of Sound, Jazz Spastiks recruited Artifacts, Count Bass D, DJ Pocket, C-Rayz-Walz, Kool Keith, Craig G, Phill Most Chill (who had one of our favorite throwback projects last year), The Procussions, Soundsci, and Wee Bee Foolish (Yeshua DaPoEd and Ken Boogaloo) – all artists perfectly in tune with Jazz Spastiks’ characteristic upbeat throwback sound.

Most likely Camera Of Sound will not turn up in any other Hip Hop outlet’s best-of-2021 lists (most of them will end up lazily listing the highest-profile releases as the year’s best, as they always do), but for HHGA albums like this one represent Hip Hop in its truest form, and we applaud and celebrate Jazz Spastiks for it.

Across 18 tracks, Camera Of Sound offers close to 45 minutes of buoyant jazz-flavored boom-bap beats, complemented by artisanal cuts & scratches and dope wordplay by masters of the craft. When it comes to fresh throwback Hip Hop, it doesn’t get much better than this.

133. Ja'king The Divine - DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR (2021)

DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR is Brooklyn artist Ja’king The Divine’s third project, and his first proper full-length. There’s something unique about Ja’king The Divine’s music: this is a boom-bap-inspired, jazz-flavored album but with a special twist to its sound, courtesy of exquisite sampling and surprising musical flourishes. Ja’king The Divine mic presence is great too, as is his pen game. Don’t sleep on Ja’king The Divine and DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR.

134. Boldy James & RichGains - Indiana Jones (2023)

Boldy James is one of the most prolific, and one of the most consistent artists in the game, his recent run of releases is awe-inspiring. His ‘lazy’ flow is an acquired taste and not for everybody, but his deadly bars always are cinematic and powerful – at this point, Boldy James has to be considered one of the elites in the coke rap subgenre.  Of James’s prodigious output in recent years, The Price Of Tea In China (with The Alchemist, 2020), Manger On McNichols (with Sterling Toles, 2020), and Bo Jackson (with The Alchemist, 2021) are the best albums, in our opinion. Killing Nothing (a collaboration with producer Real Bad Man) was his best project released in 2022, and James’s consistent streak continues with Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones is produced entirely by RichGains, and his elegant instrumentals nicely match James’s ice-cold flows. Unlike many of his colleagues, Boldy James has an ear for beats and the ability to find producers with whose work his style of rapping comes out best. Even if Indiana Jones is not quite as good as Boldy James’s best three albums, it is a fine addition to his discog.

134. Ghais Guevara -There Will Be No Super-Slave (2022)

Following his short experimental BlackBoishevik album of last year, Philadelphia-based Ghais Guevara continues to show artistical growth on his best project to date: There Will Be No Super-Slave. Ghais Guevara’s lyrical abilities are amazing and his content is thought-provoking, his clever bars supported by energetic left-field production and creative sampling. There Will Be No Super-Slave is one of the most interesting experimental Hip Hop albums of the year, and Ghais Guevara is an artist to keep an eye on.

135. Talib Kweli & Madlib - Liberation 2 (2023)

Liberation 2 is the sequel – ten years in the making – to Talib Kweli and Madlib 2006’s Liberation album, sporting a 15-song tracklist and a bunch of guest appearances – from Talib Kweli’s children Diani and Amani, and from artists like Q-Tip, Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn, Pink Siifu, Roy Ayers, and the late Mac Miller (among many others). Liberation 2 was exclusively released on the Luminary Podcasts platform, suffering from the same terrible roll-out strategy that severely killed hype, attention, and potential exposure for last year’s Black Star album. Too bad, because Liberation 2 is a dope project – more fleshed-out and better-rounded than the first Liberation album.

The Biz Markie homage “One For Biz” (with Q-Tip and Wildchild) is an easy favorite, “Ad Vice” (with Diani & Pink Siifu), “Marathon Thru Babylon” (with Meshell Ndegeocello), “Something Special” (with Roy Ayers), and “Best Year Ever” are other standouts. Close to 50 minutes of music, stacked with intelligent, empowering, and entertaining bars complemented by lush Madlib production – Liberation 2 is a great record by two industry icons and a host of interesting guests, a project that deserves more spotlight than it will probably get.

136. Homeboy Sandman - Don't Feed The Monster (2020)

Best Left-Field Hip Hop Albums Of 2020

Don’t Feed The Monster is the tenth studio album by Queens, New York emcee Homeboy Sandman – his second one on the Mello Music Group label, following the short but sweet Dusty LP (2019). Homeboy Sandman is a well-respected underground emcee, who has been building an impressive body of work ever since he debuted with his Nourishment EP in 2007. His conversational style of rapping is an acquired taste – Homeboy Sandman firmly belongs to a left-field corner of Hip Hop, the same niche contemporaries like Open Mike Eagle and Quelle Chris occupy.

It’s Quelle Chris who is responsible for all the production on Don’t Feed The Monster, his quirky beats are the perfect foil for Homeboy Sandman’s intricate thoughts and observations. Don’t Feed The Monster offers close to an hour of music: 15 tracks, no useless skits, no filler, and only one guest appearance – by Quelle Chris, of course.

Lots of highlights on Don’t Feed The Monster – from the painful memories of the intensely open and personal opening track “Trauma” to the humorous (and for some of us very relatable) “Waiting For My Girl” to cuts like “Extinction”, “Stress”, “Don’t Look Down”, “Monument”, and “Alone Again” – with this album Homeboy Sandman opens a window to his world to offer a view on his state of being, showing a wide range of emotions and insights on what obviously is a cathartic album for him.

Don’t Feed The Monster is a confirmation, and one of Homeboy Sandman’s best albums to date.

137. Killah Priest & S.H.R.O.O.M - The Mantra (2021)

The Mantra is Killah Priest‘s most accessible and most ‘straight-forward’ project in years – this album (his third full-length of the year) is a return to his earlier deep-bass boom-bap days, forgoing on the drumless experimentation that characterized most of his recent projects. Straight-forward does not mean mediocre or bad though – The Mantra is an excellent album. S.H.R.O.O.M’s drums and beats are dope as f, and Killah Priest’s rhymes are interesting as always. Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck, and DJ Jazzy Jeff (among others) make appearances to add extra value. “Boss King” with cuts from the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff and additional vocals from Thea Van Seijen is our favorite track on The Mantra, but the whole album is strong. Killah Priest probably is an artist for a niche audience – we are definitely part of that crowd.

138. Spillage Village – Spilligion (2020)

Spillage Village - Spilligion | Review

Spilligion is the major-label (Dreamville/Interscope) debut album by Hip Hop collective Spillage Village. The collective consists of EarthGang, JID, Hollywood JB, Jurdan Bryant, Mereba, 6LACK & Benji. The album features guest appearances from Ant Clemons, Ari Lennox, Buddy, Chance the Rapper, Masego, Lucky Daye, and Big Rube.

Spilligion follows and builds on Spillage Village’s Bears Like This trilogy. Because of the hype surrounding Earthgang and especially JID in recent times, this project has the potential to be a mainstream success, even if it sounds different from most things these artists have done before, individually or together. Spilligion is more eclectic, more atmospheric, more mature. Spilligion‘s overall feel is contemplative and melancholic but somehow upbeat at the same time. It offers positive, uplifting vibes in a troubled world, with clever use of religious imagery in order to critique things like today’s America and organized religion. It really is a perfect album for the dark times we are living through right now.

For Hip Hop purists there probably is too much singing on Spilligion, but all the harmonic ensemble choruses and background vocals work out beautifully for the most part. Also, the sublime chilled-out instrumentation, with smooth soulful beats and some great guitar and bass work to add flavor, make the genre-defying Spilligion a totally enjoyable listening experience.

Spilligion is a beautiful album. Even Hip Hop traditionalists who usually avoid the artists involved would do well to go and check out this project.

139. ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel (2020)

Backwoodz Studioz Best Hip Hop Albums

Curly Castro and PremRock are ShrapKnel, the formal pairing of two longtime friends and artistic collaborators. It was a shared affinity for emcee/producer ELUCID’s beats that sparked the ShrapKnel project. Curly Castro and PremRock debuted as a duo with Cobalt, their 2019 debut EP. Just like on Cobalt, the chemistry between Curly Castro and PremRock is evident and the instrumentals here are awesome – all beats were crafted by ELUCID, in conjunction with Backwoodz-affiliated producer Willie Green. ShrapKnel is more accessible than most of his ELUCID’s projects are, but the beats are still unorthodox enough to set this project apart from most other Hip Hop releases.

ShrapKnel features guest appearances from Castle, Zilla Rocca, Googie, Henry Canyons, and billy woods, adding to the lyrical variety brought on by PremRock’s smooth delivery and Castro’s more aggressive growl. The way they trade rhymes is dope as f, the boom-bap rhythms and deliveries fit with ELUCID’s more industrial/experimental touches. ShrapKnel‘s all-around vibe is reminiscent of the best releases in the heyday of DefJux around the turn of the millennium, a great recommendation of course. The album starts off strong with the brilliantly titled “Ghostface Targaryean” and doesn’t let up.

140. Spectacular Diagnostics - RAW LESSONS (2023)

Chicago-based producer Spectacular Diagnostics’ RAW LESSONS is his best work yet. His elegant boom-bap beats have a throwback vibe here and there, but Spectacular Diagnostics adds layered sound elements that give his music a definite own unique feel. To add rhymes to his captivating instrumentals he recruited 18 vocalists –  from Wrecking Crew and Backwoodz affiliates Curly Castro and PremRock to the distinct signatures of Fatboi Sharif and Bruiser Wolf to UK representation with features by SonnyJim, King Kashmere, CLBRKS, Lee Scott, Bisk, and others. We are fans – RAW LESSONS is one of the best producer’s albums released in 2023.

141. Busta Rhymes - Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God (2020)

Busta Rhymes - Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God | Review

Eight years after his last album – the disappointing Year Of The Dragon – Busta Rhymes returns with the long-awaited Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God, his tenth solo album. The 22-track project includes features from acts like Pete Rock, Rakim, Rapsody, Q-Tip, Kendrick Lamar, M.O.P., Rick Ross, Anderson Paak, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Bell Biv Devoe, and others – there even is a posthumous appearance by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and vocal contributions from Chris Rock and Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Extinction Level Event 2 serves as the sequel to 1998’s E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front, That project, Busta’s third album, was certified Platinum and his last truly great release. Until this one that is. Extinction Level Event 2 signifies a return to form for Busta Rhymes, this easily is his best album since the 1990s – on par even with his classics The Coming (1996), When Disaster Strikes… (1997), and E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front (1998). On Extinction Level Event 2 Busta Rhymes manages to strike the exact right balance between raw underground power and smooth mainstream appeal – just like he did so successfully on his first three solo albums.

Extinction Level Event 2 runs for 77 minutes, but it doesn’t feel too long – a good sign. Busta Rhymes went all-in with his star-studded features roster, and on the production side, it’s no different. There’s a J Dilla/Pete Rock instrumental, one from DJ Premier, one from DJ Scratch, and one from 9th Wonder. Busta Rhymes produced some beats himself, and the likes of Rockwilder, Nottz, Hi-Tek, Terrace Martin, Swizz Beatz (and others) did work on the boards too. Despite the album’s length and the input of so many different artists and producers, Extinction Level Event 2 sounds entirely cohesive, and the album is sequenced just right too.

Standout tracks include “Czar” (with M.O.P.), “Don’t Go” (with Q-Tip), “Boomp!”, “True Indeed” (with a DJ Premier instrumental), “Deep Thought”, and “Look Over Your Shoulder” (with an (old) Kendrick Lamar verse, and dope Jackson 5 samples). There are no real duds on the tracklist though – the singles “YUUUU” (with Anderson .Paak) and “The Don & The Boss” ironically are the weakest tracks of the album.

Busta Rhymes is a Hip Hop icon with nothing left to prove, but with Extinction Level Event 2 he shows veterans like himself can still be relevant and come with fire anyway.

142. Atmosphere - WORD? (2021)

Rhymesayers flagship act Atmosphere has been one of our favorite duo’s in Hip Hop for a long time, even if their last couple of projects weren’t all that great to us. WORD? is a definite return to form as far as we are concerned.

“Steering back toward their signature sound, the album further highlights producer Ant’s undeniable talents as the project leans into the classic boom-bap aesthetic, bringing unique energy out of Slug’s wisdom, wit, and delivery. From the onset, WORD? proves to be every bit an exercise in refining and advancing their craft as it is a harkening to earlier work. That is, while their releases have grown more broodingly cinematic, and increasingly concerned with the human condition and mortality, WORD? manages to reintroduce moments of levity and lightheartedness throughout, an approach seldom heard on their albums of late.

From album opener “Fleetwood,” with its razor-sharp snares and warm fleshy bassline, to the resonant melody of “Clocked”, there are strong hints of Atmosphere’s nascent years within the sound. Meanwhile, songs like “Woes”, “Strung” and “Vanish” cheerfully make light of daily hardships, but they’re more likely to be remembered for making listeners want to bob their heads and sing along. With Slug and Ant directing the course, the album plays like a joyride through a range of experiences and emotions, with an extensive cast of special guests hopping in and out along the way, including Evidence, Muja Messiah, Musab, Nino Bless, Nikki Jean, Anwar HighSign, BlackLiq, Sa-Roc, Haphduzn, Lateef the Truthspeaker, Aesop Rock, and the late MF DOOM (RIP). The result is a project that feels like it came from the era or, perhaps more fittingly, the mindset that created albums like God Loves UglySeven’s Travels, or the popular Sad Clown series while sounding as polished and perfected as more recent albums like Mi Vida Local or Whenever.

Ultimately, WORD? pairs the breadth of Atmosphere’s talents with the beauty of their growth, all while showing they still have a lot of fun in the process and don’t mind letting the listener in on the fun as well.”

This blurb taken from the Rhymesayers site describes our feelings about the album perfectly. Because of the fact WORD? feels like kind of a throwback to Atmosphere’s glory days, it will probably end up cracking our top 5 Atmosphere albums after we sat on it for a while. You can’t go wrong with Slug and Ant – if you liked any of their earlier albums, WORD? is a must-have without a doubt.


Los Angeles native rapper ICECOLDBISHOP’s highly anticipated debut album GENERATIONAL CURSE delivers on every front. Epic Records stated upon the record’s release: “GENERATIONAL CURSE rails against the rigged system with unfiltered storytelling and some of the most undeniable and unbreakable rhymes you’ll hear all year.” Enough truth to this statement – The South Central-born ICECOLDBISHOP comes off like this generation’s Kendrick Lamar, with poignant and meaningful content from top to bottom. The concept behind the album is extremely well executed – on GENERATIONAL CURSE ICECOLDBISHOP addresses systemic trauma and modern society’s obsession with guns and violence, going into a lot of detail on how his generation is pretty much f***ed from the start at every level.

Production-wise, the 13-track record mixes and matches sounds of different eras and areas of Hip Hop to great effect – blending Southern Hip Hop and trap vibes with 90s-centric West Coast G-funk. An experimental edge to a lot of the instrumentals gives GENERATIONAL CURSE a definite own sound, which is added to by the idiosyncratic way ICECOLDBISHOP modulates the pitch of his voice and the way he switches up flows. GENERATIONAL CURSE is a special album, reminiscent in more than one way of Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC breakout album – it will be interesting to see where ICECOLDBISHOP goes from here.

144. Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (2020)

Public Enemy - What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? | Review

Public Enemy’s return to the legendary Def Jam label (their last Def Jam album was the He Got Game soundtrack in 1998) results in one of their best albums since the mid-90s. On What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? the urgency that characterized P.E.’s absolute classics It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988), Fear Of A Black Planet (1990), and Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) is back in full force – obviously fueled by today’s incendiary political climate.

It has to be said though that not all tracks on What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? are new, about half of the tracks on the album are recycled from their 2017 Nothing Is Quick In The Desert album. Even the cover art is more than a little bit similar. But OK – the tracks that were revamped from Nothing… are all pretty strong, so it does in no way hurt the cohesiveness of this (semi)new album.

Even if the songs lifted from Nothing…, all are good enough, the 2020 singles from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? are the strongest tracks. The powerful statement “State Of The Union (STFU)” with DJ Premier can be counted among the best tracks Public Enemy ever did, the same goes for the updated “Fight The Power”. “Fight The Power (2020 Remix)” is awesome and as vital as the first “Fight The Power” was back in 1989 – perhaps even more so in this year of almost unprecedented political idiocy and extreme societal unrest. Contributions from Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG, and Questlove complete this juggernaut of a track – one of the best and most important songs of the year.

Another standout new track is “Public Enemy Number Won”, which has Beastie Boys Adrock and Mike D doing a similar intro as Flavor Flav did on the original “Public Enemy No. 1” song from 1987, while Flavor Flav raps Chuck D’s original first verse and Run & DMC show up to leach do a verse too. Even if DMC’s voice is far from the powerful hardy baritone it once was, it’s good to hear Run and DMC on a track together with Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and the two remaining Beastie Boys in 2020. DJ Lord finished the song with a dope beat switch and good old-fashioned scratching.

Other icons that appear on the album include Ice-T, EPMD’s PMD, Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and of course the legendary George Clinton – the last two on “GRID”, another album highlight. The fact that What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? does not contain all new material is a bit of a disappointment, but the 45-minute record we have here is great nonetheless – this album shows and proves that after almost 35 years since their debut Public Enemy STILL is at the forefront of consciousness in Hip Hop. From start to finish, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down is a powerful record that can almost stand alongside Public Enemy’s strongest efforts.

145. Preservation - Eastern Medicine, Western Illness (2020)

best hip hop albums 2020

DJ Preservation’s Eastern Medicine, Western Illness was produced and arranged in Hong Kong, and you can sense the oriental influences in the music – because of Preservation’s s intricate sampling there’s definitely a Chinese vibe going on. Preservation recruited an impressive roster of emcees to do justice to his beats, most of whom he did production work for in the past – including Roc Marciano, Your Old Droog, Ka, A.G. (of D.I.T.C.), Mach-Hommy, Quelle Chris, Navy Blue, and billy woods – all names to get excited about of course.

“Dragon Town” the album’s first track with YoungQueenz turns out to be an unlucky choice for an album opener because it’s the weakest track by far (due to YoungQueenz’s ‘unconventional’ style) – after that one, it’s all pretty great, especially the second half of the tracklist is AWESOME. Standouts include “Children Of Never” with A.G., “Medicine Drawer” with Roc Marci, “Correspondence” with Your Old Droog and Mach-Hommy, “Lemon Rinds” with billy woods, and the superlative “A Cure For The Common” with Ka.

Eastern Medicine, Western Illness is a fantastic album (despite its shaky start), an album that deserves attention – and a must for people already familiar with Preservation’s production work or with the featured artists’ music.

146. The Difference Machine - Unmasking The Spirit Fakers (2022)

“Loosely based on an essay by the master magician himself, Harry Houdini, Unmasking The Spirit Fakers finds the Atlanta-based psychedelic Hip Hop outfit examining the motives and practices of those who attempt to provide cure-alls and treatments for spiritual ills. Are they gurus or snake oil salesmen? Though abstract in their approach, The Difference Machine attempts to pin down these answers for the listener via a vast backdrop rich with dense lyricism and mind-bending production. Songs like “Repeater” and “Flat Circles” place them in the role of shaman whereas songs like “Car Key” and “It Ain’t” venture to ask if they themselves are the spirit fakers in question.

Regardless of what role the ensemble assumes, the album was crafted with the human psyche in mind. Poignant guest appearances from Hip Hop heavyweights such as Sa-Roc, Quelle Chris, Homeboy Sandman, and Denmark Vessey (among others) add more colors to the canvas.”

The Different Machine – the duo composed of Day Tripper and Dr. Conspiracy – delivered a gem with this conceptual album, their third full-length album. The sound is experimental and dense, but the album is accessible enough to appeal to more Hip Hop listeners than just the left-field crowd. Unmasking The Spirit Fakers is a great project you will not regret checking out.

147. The Waxidermist - Tribe (2022)

Attracted by a mysterious force that prompts him to leave his studio den, the Waxidermist embarks on a mystical quest, a Hip Hop adventure on the screen of which funk and soul collide, sampling and live. Against the backdrop of an Asian fresco, he traces a musical journey that draws in its wake long-time friends and new crusaders along the way.” 

The Waxidermist is a producer and bass player from Paris, and his Tribe is a great record filled with gorgeous soundscapes built on an organic blend of boom-bap stylings and live instrumentation. Cello, guitar, percussion, keyboard, flute, and live bass sounds are incorporated seamlessly with sharp turntable work – making for a musically rich album that’s Hip Hop to the core at the same time. The Asian-themed concept doesn’t really come off, but it doesn’t matter – this album is an all-around fun and entertaining experience anyway. Relative unknowns Starrlight, RacecaR, DistantStarr, Elodie Rama, Ta-Ti, and Bibi Tanga take care of the vocals, all their performances synergetic and on par with Waxidermist’s instrumentals. Tribe‘s cover art is pretty awesome too to top it off – this project is the total package.

148. Jermiside & The Expert - The Overview Effect (2022)

The Overview Effect by emcee-producer duo Jermiside & The Expert is a vast musical collage of psychedelic soundscapes merged with Hip Hop’s golden age. A socially conscious psychedelic Hip Hop album inspired by Marvin Gaye’s narrative on What’s Going On mixed with tripped-out beats reminiscent of Edan’s Beauty & The Beat (2005).

The production on The Overview Effect takes on late-60s psychedelic folk/rock, viewed through a 90s b-boy mentality of heavy drums and dope breaks. Built with a keen ear for detail, The Expert densely layered his productions with tons of samples, seamlessly weaved together. Swirling strings, sitars, Moogs and crunchy guitars are all present, accompanied by trippy sound effects.

The Overview Effect is an album that never overstays its welcome and demands repeated listening. The carefully crafted collage on the album cover reflects war, greed, injustice, racism, and social ecology. Jermiside’s vivid imagery paints his own picture of a broken world yet one where the power is still in our hands to change it, with stand-out tracks including “I Love You, Still?” which has Jermiside questioning his love for his home country, “Black Tears” that sees Jermiside and Stik Figa trade experiences about racial challenges and inequalities, while “Bullet shock” deals with police and the use of authority. The album then ends on a positive note with “A Little Love”, stating that love conquers all.”

The Overview Effect is a GREAT piece of music, don’t sleep on this one.

149. Vinnie Paz - All Are Guests In The House Of God (2023)

All Are Guests In The House Of God is Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz’s eighth solo album. This 18-track LP follows his previous solo projects Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016), The Pain Collector (2018), As Above So Below (2020), Burn Everything That Bares Your Name (2021), and Tortured in the Name of God’s Unconditional Love (2022). Throughout his career, Vinnie Paz has consistently delivered quality Hip Hop, and this latest album is no exception.

Clocking in at close to an hour in length, All Are Guests In The House Of God showcases Vinnie Paz’s refusal to follow trends and compromise his artistic integrity for shorter, attention-grabbing quickie projects that are common in today’s Hip Hop landscape. This album stays true to his signature style and dedication to producing substantial bodies of work.

The album features a nice lineup of guest appearances including artists such as Freeway, Smif-N-Wessun, Ransom, Saigon, Timbo King, Lord Goat, Ill Bill, Tha God Fahim, and the late Blacastan. Additionally, production credits are shared by acclaimed underground producers Leaf Dog, Giallo Point, Wino Willy, C-Lance, Farmabeats, Vic Grimes, DJ Dister, Stu Bangas – among others.

Expect nothing less than hard-hitting bars and booming boom-bap beats from Vinnie Paz. For over two decades, Vinnie Paz has consistently solidified his position as one of the most successful independent Hip Hop artists in the underground scene. With this latest solo effort, he further cements his place among indie rap’s elite.

150. The Leonard Simpson Duo (Guilty Simpson & Leonard Charles) - LSD (2020)

The Leonard Simpson Duo (Guilty Simpson & Leonard Charles) LSD

Detroit emcee Guilty Simpson & New Zealand producer Leonard Charles team up as The Leonard Simpson Duo to provide a one of a kind 70’s inspired, psychedelic & acid influenced album. Guilty Simpson is one of the finest emcees ever to come out of Detroit (that’s saying something), and his distinctive and uncompromising lyrical style meshes really well with Leonard Simpson’s trippy boom-bap instrumentals, resulting in something truly unique. Guilty Simpson and Leonard Charles make a formidable duo and LSD is a formidable album.

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