HipHopGoldenAge was founded to celebrate classic Hip Hop and the pioneers of the music and culture we all love, and also to provide a counter-weight to the emptyheaded bubblegum rap that took over the mainstream from the mid-nineties on. Our focus is not just on the eighties and early nineties though – we are also here to show that quality Hip Hop has always existed. If you only follow the mainstream you would not know it, but quality Hip Hop has always been there. While we will always consider 1987 – 1996 the best ten-year period in Hip Hop ever, the past decade has seen plenty of exceptional Hip Hop too. Hip Hop is the dominant cultural and musical force in the world now, and its dominance is reflected in its diversity.
Listed here you will find what WE consider the top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2020s decade so far, based on criteria such as cohesiveness, creativity, replay value, potential longevity, enjoyability, and overall quality, and to a lesser extent on criteria such as impact, influence, and popularity. Not included are instrumental albums, compilations, and EPs. This is our album list, and albums are LPs – Long Playing records – EPs by definition are a different category. Also eliminated for consideration were projects billed as albums that are actually EP-length (that means any projects shorter than 30 minutes).
So – let’s get into our top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2020s list – can you find YOUR favorite 2020s albums here? Which albums are missing, which ones are ranked too low or too high? Weigh in with your opinion, here or on Social Media!
Last updated: January 2022. Next update: January 2023.
For the best Hip Hop albums released in 2022 check: The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2022.
1. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021)
British-Nigerian emcee Little Simz had one of our favorite albums released in 2019 with the punchy GREY AREA – her third LP and international breakthrough project. Now she’s back with her fourth full-length studio album: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an astounding album, absolutely Little Simz’s magnum opus. It’s an album to listen to over and over again, an album that will easily survive today’s short hype circles, an album people will have on rotation for years and years to come. With a runtime of 65 minutes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is not a second too long – Little Simz effortlessly manages to captivate from start to finish with her superior flow and personable lyricism, dealing with topics such as race, womanhood, self-esteem, and family.
The album’s 19 tracks are sequenced perfectly – picking “Introvert” as the album opener was cleverly done, as it sets the whole thematic and philosophical scene of what Little Simz set out to do with this record. Production on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is virtually flawless – straddling numerous genres from hard-hitting Hip Hop to R&B-and neo-soul, to Afro-beat and even synth-funk, going from orchestral and bombastic to smooth and laid-back seamlessly. So many different influences crammed into one record resulting in an entirely cohesive package: this is an album unlike any other.
“Introvert”, “Woman”, “Little Q, Pt 2”, “Two Worlds Apart”, “Speed”, “Standing Ovation”, “I See You”, “Rollin Stone”, “Point and Kill”, “How Did You Get Here”, “Miss Understood”, and especially the symphonic “I Love You I Hate You” – nothing but stand-outs on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Even the interludes work and add value to the album, which is unusual.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert echoes Lauryn Hill’s masterpiece The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998) in ambition, scope, musicality, and timelessness – there can be no higher praise. This is a phenomenal album, the kind of album you will want to replay the moment you finish it. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of the better Hip Hop albums released in the last five years, a future classic without a doubt.
2. Run The Jewels - RTJ4 (2020)
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. Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide (2020)
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 Entertainment. Spirit 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.
4. Marlowe – Marlowe 2 (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 2018, Marlowe 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.
5. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram (2021)
Armand Hammer is a duo consisting of experimental Hip Hop titans billy woods and ELUCID. billy woods is one of the most consistent artists in contemporary Hip Hop. He has five solo albums on our top 150 Hip Hop albums of the 2010s list – History Will Absolve Me (2012), Dour Candy (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Known Unknowns (2017), and Hiding Places (2019), along with three Armand Hammer albums – Race Music (2013), Rome (2017), and Paraffin (2018) – making billy woods our MVP of the 2010s. The 2020s started off strong for him too – with Armand Hammer’s 2020 album Shrines, and BRASS, billy woods’ collaboration with experimental musician and poet Moor Mother. Both Shrines and BRASS rank high on our best of 2020 list. ELUCID had a good year as well, with the excellent Don’t Play It Straight, an experimental collaborative project with The Lasso.
And now we have Haram – for which Armand Hammer hooked up with producer extraordinaire The Alchemist. This is what the blurb says about the album: “Haram is a mercurial collaboration between incendiary rap duo Armand Hammer, and living legend The Alchemist. For the first time ELUCID and billy woods have crafted an album with a single producer and the result is extraordinary. With their unmatched penchant for stirring imagery and incisive storytelling, the two rappers dive into an ocean of Alchemist’s creation: warmly inviting on the surface, black and bone-crushingly cold at depth. Haram is a collection of the profane and the pure; a reminder that that which is forbidden is also sacrosanct.
The artists are joined by their friends and fellow travelers on this journey. KAYANA’s golden voice ups the wattage on “Black Sunlight,” while Fielded’s sultry alto gets chopped and screwed on “Aubergine”. Earl Sweatshirt makes a sun-soaked appearance, while Curly Castro and Amani mix like ice and salt on Brooklyn sidewalks, and Quelle Chris, as always, finds a pocket all his own. Still, there is a natural rapport that belies the New York-to-Los Angeles-and-back nature of the project, allowing Haram to be more than the sum of its parts, however impressive those parts may be. This isn’t just the genre’s most insistent contemporary voices paired with arguably its best producer. This is when you buy a beautiful house only to discover, hidden behind a heavy bookcase, a stairway twisting up and away into the darkness.”
Now, the question is: is Haram on par with billy woods’ and Armand Hammer’s earlier releases? The answer is: yes, Haram 100% met expectations – it may even one-up the stellar Paraffin as Armand Hammer’s best work yet. On Haram, the Islamic term meaning “forbidden”, billy woods and ELUCID explore all kinds of taboos – in their own cryptic ways. As always, it takes some effort on the part of the listener to penetrate the dense poetics penned by billy woods and ELUCID – there’s is so much to unpack and to think about here, it gives Haram endless replay value.
The Alchemist’s work on the boards arguably makes Haram a little more accessible than the four previous Armand Hammer albums are, but his atmospheric instrumentals are left-field enough to suit billy woods and ELUCID avant-garde rhyming. This is The Alchemist’s finest music in a while, even better than his much-lauded work on Freddie Gibb’s Alfredo 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.
6. Apollo Brown & Che’ Noir – As God Intended (2020)
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 2010, Trophies (with O.C.) in 2012, Ugly Heroes (with Red Pill & Verbal Kent as Ugly Heroes) in 2013, Blasphemy (with Ras Kass) in 2014, Grandeur in 2015, The Easy Truth (with Skyzoo) in 2016, Mona Lisa (with Joell Ortiz) in 2018, and of course what is arguably his best work of the 2010s: Sincerely, 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.
7. 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 Cain. Descendants Of Cain is a top-5 album of 2020, and his other masterpieces The Night’s Gambit (2013) and Honor Killed The Samurai (2016) are among the best Hip Hop albums released in the 2010s.
Ka’s pen game is among the most refined in the game, he always comes with beautifully crafted poetic lyrics, aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery, and incredible rhyme schemes. A Martyr’s Reward is no different: this is another amazing Ka project, built on his signature minimalistic instrumentals that serve to give room to his hushed hoarse flow and his intricate wordplay. The narrative this time is centered around his own life, making this one his most personal album to date. Just like on his previous efforts, on A Martyr’s Reward there’s a strong focus on ambiance and sound, and it may take many listens to really pick up on all Ka’s lyrical subtleties and hidden meanings – as always there’s a lot to unpack in his content. Ka’s music is an acquired taste, those with an ear for atmospheric instrumentals and true lyricism will own this one though.
8. 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 China, Bo Jackson delivers on all fronts. In fact, Bo Jackson is the best of the three.
The Alchemist already crafted an excellent set of beats for Armand Hammer’s Haram earlier this year, and he brought his A-game for Bo Jackson too. Boldy James entertains with his cold flow and his street narratives, and the featured artists all are perfect fits: Benny The Butcher, Roc Marciano, Earl Sweatshirt, Stove God Cooks, Curren$y, and Freddie Gibbs show up to add extra flavor to Alchemist’s atmospheric instrumentals. “Double Hockey Sticks” with its haunting boom-bap instrumental signifies an excellent start of the album, and the rest of the tracklist is just as good. “Brickmille To Montana”, “E.P.M.D.”, “Photographic Memories”, “First 48 Freestyle”, “Illegal Search & Seizure”, “Fake Flowers”, and “3rd Person” all are highlights, but the strength of Bo Jackson is its consistency – there really aren’t any weak tracks on this LP.
Boldy James is one of our MVPs of 2020, with two albums (The Price Of Tea In China and the magnificent Manger on McNichols) in our 2020 top 25 and The Alchemist is another 2020 MVP because of his work on TPOTIC and Freddie Gibbs’ Alfredo. With Bo Jackson, both Boldy James and The Alchemist continue their winning streaks.
9. 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).
10. Ka - Descendants Of Cain (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.
11. Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter (2020)
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 Development, Public Enemy, Paris, Run 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.
12. 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.
13. Blu & Exile - Miles (2020)
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 Heavens, BTH 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 Miles? Miles 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.
14. Lewis Parker - Frequency Of Perception (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.
15. 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 Carson, Veteran, 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.
16. Elzhi – Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (2020)
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.
17. Mach-Hommy - Pray For Haiti (2021)
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.
18. 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.
19. Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill - Jorun PMC (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.
20. 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.
21. Moor Mother & billy woods - BRASS (2020)
“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.
22. R.A. The Rugged Man - All My Heroes Are Dead (2020)
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”.
23. 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 2020. Garbology 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.
24. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist - Alfredo (2020)
Gary, Indiana phenomenon Freddie Gibbs is like a modern-day Ice-T in a way: maybe not the best rapper ever, but the leader of the pack anyway. Similar to Ice-T, it’s Freddie Gibbs’ charisma and power of personality that sets him apart from most others – that and his ability to develop synergetic collaborations with Hip Hop’s top producers that results in projects that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Freddie Gibbs has had enough solid releases in the past decade, but his stand-outs are the two albums he did with Madlib – Pinata (2014) and Bandana (2019) both are modern classics. If Alfredo will eventually be considered to be on that Pinata and Bandana level remains to be seen, but most ingredients are there. Most, because Alfredo feels more ‘light-weight’ due to its length – where Pinata runs for little over an hour and Bandana for a solid 45 minutes, Alfredo is barely over EP-length at 35 minutes. On such a short project EVERYTHING has to hit, no misses can be afforded.
Fortunately, there are not a lot of misses, if any. Freddie Gibbs is on top of his game here. His recognizable voice, flow, delivery, and cadences sound as good as ever, and his connection with The Alchemist is as strong as it is with Madlib. The Alchemist already had one of the best albums of 2020 on his name with his Boldy James collabo The Price Of Tea In China, Alfredo tops even that one. Luckily Alfredo is not cluttered with guests and features are limited to appearances by Rick Ross, Benny the Butcher, Tyler The Creator, and Conway the Machine – who all come through with great verses. The album is very much Freddie Gibbs’s show though. Normally someone like Benny outshines anybody else with his features, on Alfredo the guests very much are guests – it’s Freddie Gibbs who rules here.
Freddie Gibbs comes with organic and vivid lyricism from beginning to end, supported by The Alchemist’s flawless instrumentals. Alfredo is paced and sequenced perfectly, and is over before you know it – which leads to the only complaint 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.
25. 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.
26. Injury Reserve - By The Time I Get To Phoenix (2021)
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.
27. Arrested Development – Don’t Fight Your Demons (2020)
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.
28. 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.
29. 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.
30. Armand Hammer - Shrines (2020)
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.
31. 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.
32. Awon & Phoniks - Nothing Less (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.
33. Roc Marciano - Mt. Marci (2020)
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.
34. Boldy James & The Alchemist - The Price Of Tea In China (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 Set, The Price Of Tea In China delivers on all fronts. Their Boldface EP from late 2019 proved to be a great appetizer for this project – we get powerful 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.
35. 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 great. King’s Disease II is not perfect either, but it is definitely better than its predecessor – more substantial and more consistent. The first King’s Disease had a shorter tracklist and tried too hard to awkwardly balance soul sample-based east coast Hip Hop and modern trap, which made it kind of a mixed bag with lows and highs in almost equal measure. Furthermore, King’s Disease could have benefitted from a more careful selection of features, which is also the case with King’s Disease II – but to a lesser extent, fortunately. King’s Disease II really has only one throwaway song – “YKTV” featuring YG and a limp performance from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – an artist who has no business being on a Nas album, as far as we are concerned. Most of the other features are OK – even if we’re not crazy about Eminem’s phoned-in verse on 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.
36. Killah Priest & Jordan River Banks - The Third Eye In Technicolor (2020)
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 Nebula, The 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.
37. 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.
38. Tyler, The Creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST (2021)
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.
39. clipping. – Visions Of Bodies Being Burned (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 Blood, Visions 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.
40. Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2 (2020)
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).
41. 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.
42. One Be Lo - Baby (Being A Black Youth) (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.
43. 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.
44. Third Root – Passion Of The Poets (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.
45. Killah Priest - Lord Sun Heavy Mental 1.1 (2021)
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.
46. 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.
47. Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger On McNichols (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.
48. HRSMN (Canibus, Kurupt, Killah Priest & Ras Kass) - The Last Ride (2021)
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.
49. 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.
50. Magna Carda - To The Good People (2021)
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.
51. Curly Castro - Little Robert Hutton (2021)
“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.
52. Royce Da 5'9'' - The Allegory (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.
53. Propo'88 & Wildelux - Certified Craftsmen (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.
54. Jamo Gang - Walking With Lions (2020)
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.
55. 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.
56. DJ Muggs & Rome Streetz - Death & The Magician (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.
57. 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.
58. KRS-One – Between Da Protests (2020)
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.
59. Krum – Dart (2021)
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.
60. Jazz Spastiks - Camera Of Sound (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.
61. Serengeti - With Greg From Deerhoof (2020)
Bandcamp blurb: “Two of rap and indie-rock’s most bountiful imaginations team up: Serengeti (AKA David Cohn) and Greg Saunier first met when Serengeti opened for Deerhoof at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge in May 2009. That September, Deerhoof brought WHY? and Serengeti on an east coast tour. In the summer of 2018, Cohn and Saunier were surprised to see each other at the PEOPLE residency in Berlin. One day they coincidentally signed up for the same slot in one of the recording studios facilitated by PEOPLE organizers. Despite having no practice or prearranged plans for the session, they performed the 17-minute “I Got Your Password” to an audience of recording engineer Jonas Verwijnen and a few other PEOPLE musicians sitting in the control room.
In April 2020, Greg asked Jonas for the audio from the session. When Greg sent Serengeti the completed track a few weeks later, they liked it and decided to make a full-length album. While Serengeti wrote lyrics, Greg produced some classical-and-Broadway-inspired tracks. Each time Serengeti received a new track in his inbox, instead of listening to it first, he would immediately press record and record his verses. All the lead vocals for the tracks on this album were done this way.”
With Greg From Deerhoof definitely is a piece of music unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. It’s pretty awesome, though. Not for everybody maybe, but those with an appreciation for live drums, funky and jazzy vibes, and stream-of-consciousness type flows are in for a treat. While the 17-minute improvisation “I Got Your Password” is the inspiration and obvious centerpiece, the compositions Serengeti and Greg Saunier created to turn their synergistic improv piece into a full-length project are all great.
62. Homeboy Sandman - Don't Feed The Monster (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.
63. 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.
64. Spillage Village – Spilligion (2020)
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.
65. ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel (2020)
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.
66. Busta Rhymes - Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God (2020)
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.
67. 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 Ugly, Seven’s Travels, or the popular Sad Clown series while sounding as polished and perfected as more recent albums like Mi Vida Local or Whenever.
Ultimately, WORD? pairs the breadth of Atmosphere’s talents with the beauty of their growth, all while showing they still have a lot of fun in the process and don’t mind letting the listener in on the fun as well.”
This blurb taken from the Rhymesayers site describes our feelings about the album perfectly. Because of the fact WORD? feels like kind of a throwback to Atmosphere’s glory days, it will probably end up cracking our top 5 Atmosphere albums after we sat on it for a while. You can’t go wrong with Slug and Ant – if you liked any of their earlier albums, WORD? is a must-have without a doubt.
68. Public Enemy – What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (2020)
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.
69. Cut Beetlez - What Beetlez? (2020)
Cut Beetlez is a DJ/producer duo from Finland, consisting of HP Lovescratch and J-MAN. In recent years they dropped a couple of dope EP’s for which they teamed up with Hip Hop traditionalists like The Good People and Nice Guys. What Beetlez? is a real full-length at 44 minutes, and it arguably is Cut Beetlez’s best project yet. For this album, the duo recruited a bunch of great emcees like Guilty Simpson, Rah Digga, El da Sensei, J-Live, Reks, and The Good People (among others) to take care of the vocals.
What we get here is a selection of dope boom-bap beats, a lot of good old-fashioned turntablism, and nostalgia-inducing sampling – Cut Beetlez is one more example of the fact it is European producers who are carrying the torch for traditional-sounding Hip Hop right now. Due to its 100% throwback vibe What Beetlez? may not be for everybody – but for Hip Hop purists stuck in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this album is GOLD.
70. Career Crooks - Never At Peace (2021)
“Following up their album Good Luck With That (2017), Career Crooks (Small Professor & Zilla Rocca) are back with their sophomore release Never At Peace. In the four years in between albums, Small Professor has carved his name into stone among the elite of Hip Hop producers while Zilla Rocca has become an in-demand podcaster, rapper, and producer, both working with legends, peers, and up and coming artists.
Never At Peace examines the life of indie artists with a sh*tload on their plates: fatherhood, creativity, surviving the Trump era, becoming more empowered as small business owners, hustling the craft to pay more bills, staying on peoples’ minds, failing to clear your own mind, the Sixers, the algorithms, Philly’s relentless growth in crime rates and new residents.
Small Professor evokes classic east coast boom bap with something bleaker (“Never Answer When It’s Private”), more grandiose and bombastic (“Do What You Been Doing”), more layered and thrilling (“SP Situations”, “SP Bumper Cars”), and more to the point (“I Know a Guy”). Zilla Rocca touches on the danger of nativism, the powers of The Native Tongues, the long journey to stay a rapper while everyone hangs it up with age, and why the dirt, the filth, the scum, and the sh*t littered all over his native South Philly makes the best grim fairytales for working-class humps looking to keep you out.
The legendary Blueprint lusts for f*ck-you-money on “Dame Dash Taught Me”. Curly Castro and PremRock emerge as ShrapKnel to remind y’all why Wrecking Crew ain’t to be f*cked with on “Crew Nautilus” and “Spiral Book”. And iAlive steals the show on the David Bowie credo “You Can’t Steal From a Thief” while summoning psych-rock gods of yore as Donovan Days on “Sleeping Heads”. Never At Peace is the sound of local always over national.”
Wrecking Crew members, solo or in different pairings, always deliver. Curly Castro (Little Robert Hutton) and PremRock (Load Bearing Crow’s Feet) both had excellent solo projects this year, and their ShrapKnel album is one of our favorite projects released in 2020. Zilla Rocca’s 2021 solo effort Vegas Vic was dope as f too, and this Zilla Rocca/Small Professor collaboration is even better. Don’t sleep on Never At Peace.
71. Beneficence & Confidence - Stellar Mind (2021)
More than four years in the making, Stellar Mind takes a deep journey and boom-bap ride with flawless production courtesy of Confidence, the man with the Golden Age sound. The Element Of Surprise, his collaborative album with Rashad is one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 2011 – Stellar Mind is on par with that release. Beneficence is a real lyricist who made his recording debut in 2004, he has dropped a bunch of solid projects since then – his last one, Basement Chemistry, in 2016.
16 tracks strong, Stellar Mind features guest appearances by Masta Ace, El da Sensei (of Artifacts), Phantasm (of Cella Dwellas), Craig G, Lord Tariq, Keith Murray, Ras Kass, A.G. (of D.I.T.C.), Chubb Rock, Wordsworth, Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Queen Herawin (of Juggaknots), among others. Confidence’s production echoes that of icons like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Diamond D – and Beneficence and his guests do the beats justice. Stellar Mind is a well-rounded and flawlessly executed piece of music that perfectly captures the vibes of 1990s Hip Hop, without sounding dated – this is a GREAT album.
72. Preservation - Eastern Medicine, Western Illness (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.
73. Recognize Ali - Recognition (2020)
Recognize Ali is one of the most prolific emcees in the game these days. He is on everybody’s album as a featured artist, and Recognition is his third full-length release of the year – following the solid Duelling Experts project (as Duelling Experts, with Verbal Kent), and the boom-bap banger Guerilla Dynasty, a collaborative project with producer Stu Bangas.
Recognition arguably is the best of the three, better than the decent but kind of one-note Duelling Experts album, and musically and lyrically deeper and more interesting than the excellent but more straightforwardly boom-bap content of Guerilla Dynasty. At 55 minutes Recognition is also Recognize Ali’s longest album of the year so far, refreshing in an era where a lot of artists are happy to release a string of barely 30-minute long projects and call them albums.
Recognition has production from the likes of Brisk Fingaz, C-Lance, B-Sun, Sultan Mir, Karnate, Hobgoblin Beats, Brian Burns, Crystal Camino, Vago, Bar Code, JBL The Titan, K. Sluggah, and Tone Spliff – but despite the number of different people crafting the beats, the album manages to sound entirely cohesive. Recognize Ali holds down about half of the songs on the tracklist by himself, for the rest he recruited a who’s who of underground rap – Vinnie Paz, Verbal Kent, Planet Asia, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Ill Bill, Tragedy Khadafi, Ruste Juxx, Reef The Lost Cauze, King Magnetic, Bronze Nazareth, Napoleon Da Legend, and others, make appearances to give some extra weight to this album.
Recognize Ali is an excellent emcee who’s got bars for days, and with this album, he solidifies his status as one of the MVPs in today’s underground Hip Hop scene. Recognition is one of the best underground Hip Hop albums of the year.
74. Moor Mother - Black Encyclopedia Of The Air (2021)
Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is Philadelphia-based experimental musician, poet, and activist Camae Ayewa’s seventh studio album as Moor Mother. BRASS, Moor Mother’s collaborative album with billy woods was one of our favorite albums released in 2020. Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is not as experimental and abrasive as BRASS is or as most of her other previous projects are, but that’s not to say there is no edge to this project. A Moor Mother album is never easy or straightforward and this one is a challenging listen too. The instrumentals are smooth and meditative with mellow jazz rhythms and soothing ambient vibes, giving room for Moor Mother’s spoken word flow and to her dense, meaningful lyrics – “Made A Circle” is the highlight, along with tracks such as “Mangrove” and “Shekere”. Black Encyclopedia Of The Air is a slice of avant-garde Hip Hop at its finest, accessible enough to also appeal to listeners who normally steer clear from this corner of Hip Hop.
75. R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages (2020)
Purple Moonlight Pages is the first album by R.A.P. Ferreira, the new moniker of the artist formerly known as Milo. Little over a year ago Milo officially retired that stage name to continue as R.A.P. Ferreira – which is a play on his real-life name: Rory Allen Phillip Ferreira (and on Rhythm And Poetry Ferreira). The name-change also seems to come with a bit of an artistic change, and whether that change works for you or not is – as always – a matter of taste.
Purple Moonlight Pages offers a slice of delicious poetic jazz-rap, produced and expertly engineered by The Jefferson Park Boys (the production team consisting of beatmaker Kenny Segal, and musicians Mike Parvizi and Aaron Carmack). The album feels more accessible than R.A.P. Ferreira’s work when he was still operating as Milo. Milo’s best work who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, was sonically denser and more abstract – but that’s not to say Purple Moonlight Pages is a straightforward or an easy listen.
Just like R.A.P. Ferreira’s earlier work Purple Moonlight Pages definitely is different than the general rap fare – R.A.P. Ferreira’s slam-poetry/spoken-word type flow and stream-of-consciousness type lyrics demand full attention. Musically Purple Moonlight Pages is a delight – with songs full of live instrumentation, obviously heavily jazz-inspired. Involvement of Kenny Segal is a mark of quality, everything he has touched recently has turned to proverbial gold – most notably (but not limited to) his collaboration with NYC underground giant billy woods on Hiding Places, one of the best albums of 2019.
With the assistance of The Jefferson Park Boys, R.A.P. Ferreira reinvented his sound and turned it into a new type of excellence. Purple Moonlight Pages is a rich and rewarding listening experience, at the least for those willing to invest the time and attention this great album deserves.
76. Apathy - Where The River Meets The Sea (2021)
“The trials and tribulations of real-life tend to bring out the best in artists. Hearing the maturation of emcees in real-time brings us closer to their experience, and reminds us of ours. Apathy is no exception to this rule. After losing his father to cancer, becoming a father of two, and dealing with life’s ills, he proves to be a skilled navigator on the river of life. Apathy’s 7th studio album, Where The River Meets The Sea, is not only a geographical nod to his origins, but also a metaphor for the long winding journey through life that ultimately leads to the cosmic sea of eternity. No stranger to Hip Hop aesthetics however, Ap can’t resist flexing his lyrical ability on braggadocio-laden tracks, ensuring he delivers an album for his fans across the board.”
Where the River Meets The Sea is Connecticut rapper and prominent Army Of The Pharaohs member Apathy’s seventh solo studio album, and one of his best projects yet. Eastern Philosophy (2006), Wanna Snuggle? (2009), Honkey Kong (2011), Connecticut Casual (2014), Handshakes With Snakes (2016), and The Widow’s Son (2018) all are great albums, and Where The River Meets The Sea continues Apathy’s consistent run.
Melodic boom-bap beats crafted by Apathy himself and regular collaborator Stu Bangas, and thoughtful bars from Apathy and guests like Styles P, Lil Fame, and Souls Of Mischief’s Pep Love and Tajai (among others), make for a strong addition to a strong catalog.
77. Vinnie Paz - Burn Everything That Bears Your Name (2021)
Burn Everything That Bears Your Name is Jedi Mind Tricks and AOTP frontman Vinnie Paz’s sixth solo album and his twenty-third (!) studio album in total – in addition to his solo albums, he has released nine albums with Jedi Mind Tricks, five with Army Of The Pharaohs, two with Ill Bill as Heavy Metal Kings, and one with Tragedy Khadafi, plus a bunch of mixtapes and EP’s. In Vinnie Paz’s catalog of solo albums, Burn Everything That Bears Your Name follows Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016), The Pain Collector (2018), and As Above So Below (2020). If there’s one word that would best typify Vinnie Paz’s body of work – solo and group efforts – it is CONSISTENCY.
Everything That Bears Your Name is another 70-minute monster; Vinnie Paz is not one to follow trends and mess around with 30-minute quickies like so many artists do these days; no catering to the short attention span crowd here. The album features an impressive line-up of guest appearances that includes Billy Danze of M.O.P., Ill Bill, Lord Goat, Chino XL, Jay Royale, CRIMEAPPLE, Eamon, Eto, and M.A.V. Production credits are shared by Esoteric, Giallo Point, Hobgoblin, Illinformed, Oh No, Stu Bangas, and Vic Grimes – among others.
The cinematic lead single “Papi Wardrobe” is an obvious stand-out, but as consistency is Vinnie Paz’s middle name, the whole album bangs – cuts like “Machine Gun Etiquette”, “Witches Teeth”, “Danger Is My Business”, “Latka Gravas”, “Don Eladio”, “Warhead”, “Torchbearer”, and “Tell Gold To Hold The Boneyard” are all fire. Hard-as-nails bars and booming boom-bap beats – it’s Vinnie Paz, at this point you should know what to expect. Burn Everything That Bears Your Name is a strong addition to the Vinnie Paz/JMT legacy.
78. Apollo Brown & Stalley - Blacklight (2021)
First of all: Apollo Brown’s production on Blacklight is top-notch – he never misses. The Detroit producer’s signature smooth and deep boom-bap beats are as delicious as always and they provide excellent backdrops for Stalley to rhyme over. Prolific Ohio rapper Stalley has released a whole bunch of projects since his mixtape debut in 2008, and for many listeners, it will still not be clear what his style is. He has lots of mainstream-friendly music, some trap-tinged projects, and now under Apollo Brown’s guidance, he comes with a boom-bap project. There’s nothing against artists changing their styles of course, and for us, this is Stalley’s best work by far. With his content on Blacklight, he ticks all the boxes – and even if Stalley is not our favorite lyricist in the world, Blacklight is a nice-sounding and easy-listening boom-bap album that should at least please the fans of Appolo Brown’s sound.
79. Felt - Felt 4 U (2020)
18 years after A Tribute to Christina Ricci and 11 years after the third and last Felt album Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez, Slug and Murs are back with Felt 4 U, this time around with production from Slug’s Atmosphere partner Ant. Ant’s production for Felt 4 U is excellent, it’s among the best work best he has ever done.
“Hologram” with The Grouch and Aesop Rock is an obvious highlight, but there are few if any weak spots on this album. It’s Ant’s smooth instrumentals that steal the show, but Slug and Murs both deliver too with confident displays of mature lyricism. These two are veterans by now, both with more than a few top-quality albums on their respective names, and Felt 4 U is a new jewel in both artist’s crowns.
80. ANKHLEJOHN - The Face Of Jason (2020)
ANKHLEJOHN has been very prolific with a slew of LP and EP releases since his debut in 2017, some better than others of course, but overall his output has been pretty consistent. Even so, The Face Of Jason is one of his better projects – second only to Van Ghost (2018), his best work up to now.
So, in 2020 we have two distinctly different brands of boom-bap flooding the market: the more traditional, 90s-centric kind, and The Face Of Jason kind of neo-boom-bap with dark, dirty, and dusty instrumentals. There are A LOT of albums similar to The Face Of Jason out right now, but few as good (only Boldy James’ The Price Of Tea in China is in the same league). The Face Of Jason is much better than West Side Gunn’s Pray For Paris for instance, the album that can be kind of considered 2020’s standard for this niche.
ANKHLEJOHN’s lyrics are fun and interesting, with clever and crazy punchlines all the way through. And even if he sometimes does the same kind of gun adlibs most of these neo-boom-bap guys are using now, ANKHLEJOHN is much more subtle about it than WSG and most of his copycats are – this album has everything we love about Griselda without everything we don’t. Lots of replay value here, The Face Of Jason is a keeper.
81. Crimeapple & DJ Muggs - CARTAGENA (2021)
Crimeapple is a prolific New Jersey-based emcee whose output can be hit-or-miss – it usually depends on who he gets to collaborate with on the production side of things. His full-length debut Aguardiente (2018) which was produced by Big Ghost Ltd was quite excellent and the DJ Skizz-produced Wet Dirt and the DJ Muggs produced Medallo – both released in 2019 – were great too. His output since then has been less remarkable – until this release, that is.
A renewed partnership with producer extraordinary DJ Muggs proved to be just what Crimeapple needed. CARTAGENA is as atmospheric as you might expect from a DJ Muggs produced album – a little less dark sounding than some of his other recent work maybe. With Medallo and now CARTAGENA Crimeapple and DJ Muggs are two for two – this is Crimeapple’s best release of 2021.
82. The Koreatown Oddity - Little Dominiques Nosebleed (2020)
The Koreatown Oddity (Los Angeles-based producer/emcee Dominique Purdy) dropped one of the most idiosyncratic albums of the year with Little Dominiques Nosebleed– where there is a lot of genericness in Hip Hop, there’s really no album like this one. Little Dominiques Nosebleed is a captivating autobiography that vividly portrays Dominique Purdy growing up in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles. It relates how two car accidents he experienced as a youth causes him to have constant nosebleeds, and how it shaped his life – it’s (dealing with) trauma that is this album’s common thread.
While The Koreatown Oddity’s sharp, sometimes surreal, and often humorous content, together with his quirky lyrical style, are enough of an attraction (echoes of emcees like MF DOOM, Quelle Chris, Homeboy Sandman, and even Kool Keith in his style), it’s the unconventional production on Little Dominiques Nosebleed that makes this album such a unique experience. With a crazy amount of samples and sound effects, The Koreatown Oddity’s creative brilliance is evidenced even more through the instrumentals he crafted to back up his vocals, than the vocals themselves – good as they are.
Little Dominiques Nosebleed brims with personality and charm and is one of 2020’s hidden gems.
83. Lloyd Banks - The Course Of The Inevitable (2021)
Well, what do you know? In 2021 G-Unit’s prodigal son Lloyd Banks made his long-awaited return with The Course Of The Inevitable – his fourth studio album and his best album to date. The album is Lloyd Banks’ first project since 2016’s Halloween Havoc 3: Four Days of Fury mixtape and his first official studio album since H.F.M. 2 (The Hunger for More 2) dropped in 2010. The Course Of The Inevitable is on par with some of his best mixtapes, and better than the three studio albums he has released prior to this one.
The Course of the Inevitable boasts appearances from well-respected artists like Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, Benny the Butcher, Styles P, and Ransom (among others) – their features spread across 18 tracks. Props to Lloyd Banks for not catering to the needs of the short attention span generation and going for a 68-minute presentation, with the 18 full songs averaging 4 minutes in length. The dark and moody boom-bap beats do the job, and lyrically Lloyd Banks is on the top of his game. The Course Of The Inevitable is one the biggest – positive – surprises of the year.
84. Benny The Butcher - Burden Of Proof (2020)
The Griselda work ethic is incredible. But oversaturation is a thing, and Griselda was oversaturating the market in the early 2020’s – risking Griselda-fatigue with what feels like a new album, EP, mixtape, or prominent feature appearance every single week. That said: Benny The Butcher is Griselda’s least prolific member, so a new Benny project still is an event. Where Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn has the flair and Conway has the attitude, Benny The Butcher is the crew’s best writer and best all-around emcee – so anticipation for a new Benny The Butcher album will always be high.
Burden Of Proof is kind of a surprise sonically – gone are the gritty neo-boom-bap beats and dirty piano-loops we’ve come to know from Griselda, and in are smooth soulful instrumentals. Hit-Boy takes care of production duties, and like on Nas’ Kings Disease he leaves his mark. The polished sounds are definitely unlike anything we have heard on a Benny project before this one, and surprisingly, it works. Benny proves he can flow to any kind of beat, and even if not all of Hit-Boy’s beats on this album are equally memorable (they do sound mid-2000s kind of dated here and there), overall Burden Of Proof‘s musical backdrops gel well with Benny’s lyrics.
“One Way Flight” with Freddie Gibbs is the absolute standout song of the album – these two should do a whole album together: when it comes to coke/street raps, Benny The Butcher and Freddie Gibbs are the two top-dogs of this subgenre, and they have the right chemistry. Involve Roc Marciano too, and all the ingredients for a classic are there.
Even if it’s not on par with Tana Talk 3 (2018) and The Plugs I Met (2019), Burden Of Proof is the best Griselda release of 2020, along with Conway’s From King To A God.
85. The Leonard Simpson Duo (Guilty Simpson & Leonard Charles) - LSD (2020)
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.
86. Bruiser Wolf - Dope Game Stupid (2021)
Detroit-based Bruiser Wolf’s debut LP Dope Game Stupid on Danny Brown’s freshly minted Bruiser Brigade Records label is something else. Bruiser Wolf’s voice is unique without sounding gimmicky (“Nobody sound like this, I’ve got my own sound, I’m an instrument”), his flow and delivery are like a blend of the quirky styles of Bay Area legend E-40 and Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo Green, only turned up to eleven. Bruiser Wolf’s weird style will no doubt be an immediate turn-off for some, but those who can get with his oddities will consider Dope Game Stupid a keeper.
Dope Game Stupid is incredibly well-written, with a constant barrage of introspective as well as humorous metaphors and similes detailing Bruiser Wolf’s life in Detroit, all of it backed by excellent production from front to back. Label boss Danny Brown jumps on “I’m An Instrument” with a killer performance for which is one of the stand-out tracks. Other memorable songs include “Dope Game Stupid”, “Use Me (I’m Dope)”, “Whip Test”, “Syndicate”, and the personal and poignant “Momma Was A Dopefiend”.
The idiosyncratic Dope Game Stupid is off-the-wall and unpredictable but totally engaging – a project that has us excited to see where Bruiser Wolf will go next.
87. Quakers II - The Next Wave (2020)
Quakers is a collective consisting of three veteran producers: UK-based Fuzzface (Geoff Barrow), and 7-Stu-7, with Australian Katalyst. Eight years after their self-titled debut on Stones Throw, Quakers are back with Quakers II: The Next Wave. 50 minutes, 33 tracks, 31 rappers, 3 producers, one album. Among the host of emcees appearing on the album are the likes of Guilty Simpson, Jeremiah Jae, Sampa the Great, Denmark Vessey, Jeru the Damaja, Jonwayne, Nolan the Ninja, Boog Brown, The Koreatown Oddity, and Phat Kat – definitely some interesting names in the roster.
The length of the 33 tracks on this project is less than 2 minutes on average, so The Next Wave is more like a collection of punchy vignettes than an album composed of ‘traditional’ songs – but it works beautifully here. The instrumentals on The Next Wave are simple and complex at the same time – it’s clear this is a producer’s album, where the lyrics take a backseat to the music. That’s not to say the vocals on this album are forgettable, there’s lots of talent and lyrical depth on display. This time around a lot of the lyrics are socio-politically focussed, making this album a product of the times – 2020 was a crazy year, and this album aims to reflect that craziness.
88. Stove God Cook$ & Roc Marciano - Reasonable Drought (2020)
Syracuse rapper Stove God Crooks’ debut LP Reasonable Drought is produced entirely by Roc Marciano – whose name is featured prominently here of course, as it’s a mark of quality that will draw listeners to Stove God Cooks he might have not had without Roc Marci’s involvement. Roc Marci re-pioneered and rejuvenated the ‘mafioso’ subgenre: tough-guy coke-rap street rhymes over dirty minimalistic beats. Griselda helped make this sound a whole new subgenre of itself, so now we get a whole bunch of the same kind of projects by different artists. Stove God Cooks is a fine emcee with an eccentric style of his own, even if he is copycatting Westside Gunn’s whiny delivery and adlibs here and there (but thankfully not overmuch). The subject matter here fits the genre mold exactly: tough-guy coke-rap street rhymes is what’s to be expected and tough-guy coke-rap street rhymes is what we get. It’s Roc Marci’s soulful loops and beats that steal the show though, it’s the instrumentals that elevate Reasonable Drought a few pegs above average.
89. Amari Mar - Grand Rising (2021)
Amari Mar is an independent Hip Hop artist from Brooklyn, NY. He has previously released two projects – Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth Mixtape hosted by Kool G Rap (2012) and Da God Must B Krazy (2013). Now, eight years later, Amari Mar reemerged with Grand Rising.
Grand Rising is a great album. Amari Mar took 8 years to work on and perfect this album, and it shows. Grand Rising is one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. Songs like “Grand Rising”, “Nothing To Prove”, “Above The Rim”, “Live Your Life”, “Black Business”, “Beyond The Surface”, ‘The Gift” “A Beautiful Soul”, “The Chosen One”, and “Rise N Shine” all are gems, not taking away anything from the other songs on the album by the way – for a 17-track project, Grand Rising is super consistent.
Production duties are taken care of by a bunch of different producers, which surprisingly does not hurt the cohesiveness of the album at all. The instrumentals on Grand Rising are tight, but it’s Amari Mar’s content that makes this album shine – his flow is dope and his bars are intelligent and meaningful. For an indie release, Grand Rising sounds exceptionally polished and well-rounded – Amari Mar is an artist who deserves a bigger stage, support the artist and go cop this album, you will not regret it.
90. L'Orange & Namir Blade - Imaginary Everything (2021)
Seattle-based producer L’Orange and Nashville rapper Namir Blade teamed up for Imaginary Everything, their first album together. The album comes on the heels of Blade’s breakthrough 2020 album, Aphelion’s Traveling Circus, and L’Orange’s Marlowe 2, his second collaborative album with Solemn Brigham – one of our favorite albums of 2020.
Much like Solemn Brigham, Namir Blade has a unique voice, with a quirky and erratic sing-song type flow – and L’Orange’s psychedelic and dusty boom-bap beats bring out the best in Namir Blade (just as his production worked perfectly for Solemn Brigham on the two Marlowe albums). Imaginary Everything contains some of Blade’s most interesting writing yet, and L’Oranges instrumentals are the best he got to work with up to now. Appearances from Quelle Chris, Marlowe, Fly Anakin, and Jordan Webb help round out what is another quite excellent L’Orange project – hopefully, the first in a series of collaborations with Namir Blade.
91. Jahi & Configa - Forward Future (2020)
Jahi (aka Public Enemy 2.0) is a member of Enemy Radio (along with Chuck D, DJ Lord and the S1W’s). For Forward Future Jahi has teamed up with Configa, a producer hailing from the UK who you may know from his album Configaration Volume 1 which was released via Chuck D’s SLAMjamz Records.
Forward Future is unique in today’s Hip Hop landscape in that it has no outside features or production – simply put: all rhymes are done by Jahi, all beats are supplied by Configa. “Collaborating with one producer allowed us both to focus, concentrate and build a full narrative of boom-bap, consciousness, and creative expression,” Jahi states in the YouTube video description of the “Future Forward” single.
Configa’s lush boom-bap tapestries combined with Jahi’s throwback flow and delivery make Forward Future a blueprint for how to execute Golden Age flavored Hip Hop for the 2020s – no surprise that a project like this is an easy HHGA favorite.
92. Blak Madeen - Let The Good Get Even (2021)
Blak Madeen is a Boston-based duo consisting of lyricists Al-J and Yusuf. With Let The Good Get Even they give us 11 excellent tracks, composed of clever rhymes over dope boom-bap beats laced with vintage cuts & scratches. Produced by C-Doc (known from his work with Public Enemy), the album features guest appearances by Hip Hop icons like Chuck D, Sadat X, Tragedy Khadafi, Daddy-O, and others. Let The Good Get Even is a delectable presentation of intelligent grown-man Hip Hop, capturing a perfect throwback vibe without sounding dated. This is a must-have, no self-respecting Hip Hop fan should miss out on it.
93. The Four Owls - Nocturnal Instinct (2020)
The Four Owls is a supergroup consisting of 4 of the UK’s finest Hip Hop artists, who can all boast strong solo careers: Fliptrix, Leaf Dog, BVA & Verb T. Nocturnal Instinct is not their first excellent album together (especially Natural Order (2015) is a must-listen), but this 2020 album may be their best yet. Smart thing they did is recruiting a couple of heavy hitters from the US to get that cross-the-Atlantic appeal – appearances by Kool G Rap, Roc Marciano, R.A. The Rugged Man, and Masta Killa help to give Nocturnal Instinct extra allure. Also, DJ Premier shows up, supplying his signature scratches for one of the stand-out tracks, “100%”. But there are no weak tracks here. Nocturnal Instinct consists of 14 songs, all strong, with no interludes or other useless filler. Nocturnal Instinct is a masterclass in pure Hip Hop.
94. Kid Abstrakt & Emapea - Jazzy Vibes (2020)
Jazzy Vibes is a 10-track project by Polish beatmaker Emapea and Kid Abstrakt, a member of the group Revolutionary Rhythm from Los Angeles, CA with Predominance & DJ Million Faces. This album is a throwback to ’90s Golden Age Hip Hop with a 2020 spin, with mellow, jazz-infused production and boom-bap style beats, rhymes, and cuts & scratches. At 32 minutes, Jazzy Vibes is as breezy and lightweight as the title suggests, but the ten tracks we get here all are pretty dope. If jazzy Hip Hop or 90s-centric boom-bap is your thing, Jazzy Vibes is a must-listen.
95. Blu - The Color Blu(e) (2021)
Blu was on a roll around the turn of the decennium – A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night was among our favorite albums released in 2019, while Miles, his third full-length collaborative album with producer Exile, ended up in our top 10 for 2020. His cult classic Below The Heavens (2007) and the slept-on Johnson&Jonson (2008, with Mainframe as Johnson&Jonson) are our other, earlier, absolute Blu favorites.
Now how does The Color Blu(e) hold up? It’s kind of a slow-burner, an album that demands multiple listens to appreciate its intricacies. “People Call Me Blu(e)” is a stand-out, as are songs such as “I Am Blu(e)”, “Because The Sky Is Blu(e)” and the fantastic last song “Blu(e) World”. All in all, The Color Blu(e) will not replace Below The Heavens as our favorite Blu project, nor is it as good as Miles is – but it is on par with anything else Blu released over the years. Creative production, exceptional sampling, intricate wordplay, and inspiring content: The Color Blu(e) is a great and engaging album from a master of the craft.
96. Small Bills - Don't Play It Straight (2020)
Don’t Play It Straight is the debut LP from Small Bills, a collaboration between NY rapper ELUCID and Michigan producer/multi-instrumentalist The Lasso. Created over the course of a year between Detroit and NY, the duo creates a singular fusion of art rap and punk-funk. Don’t Play It Straight features contributions from ELUCID’s Armand Hammer partner billy woods, as well as from Koncept Jack$on, Moor Mother, Fielded, .k, and Nosaj.
Those familiar with ELUCID’s other work will know there’s never anything standard or run-off-the-mill about his approach to Hip Hop, the involvement of The Lasso pretty much ensures Don’t Play It Straight is a project for a niche audience. Bold and daring in its musicality, Don’t Play It Straight may bear some similarities in its experimentalism with what ELUCID’s been doing with billy woods as Armand Hammer, but ultimately it’s very much its own beast. The Lasso’s instrumentals create an even more psychedelic vibe than what we are used to with ELUCID’s other works, the sounds are more disordered too – but it works.
Not a typical release for the label, Don’t Play It Straight is another Mello Music Group winner nonetheless. It also is the second winner for ELUCID in 2020, on par with the Armand Hammer Shrines album. Let’s hope this collaborative project is not a one-off, and that we will see more Small Bills music in the future.
97. Backxwash - I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES (2021)
Zambian Canadian trans artist Backxwash’s bold and forward-thinking I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES serves harrowing raps over industrial horrorcore beats. This powerful and energetic audio-visual landscape of pain and despair features Backxwash as an empress of chaos on a path of self-destruction. The deeply atmospheric and immersive I LIE HERE is Backxwash’s best project yet – taking nothing away from her previous releases which are strong too, especially the short but hard-hitting God Has Nothing to Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (2020). I LIE HERE expands directly upon the foundation she built with that project.
The sinister and dark style on I LIE HERE serves to make Backxwash sound even more focused than she did on God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, with an even greater sense of catharsis present. Touching on topics such as gender identity, mental illness, racism, and substance abuse Backxwash’s visceral vocals hit like hammers – the unapologetic lyrical content backed by ominous beats that assault the listener’s eardrums relentlessly. Not for everybody, but those up for an abrasive listen with a strong LGBTQ+ message will find this to be an impressive album. Fans of acts like Dälek and clipping should definitely pick up I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES.
98. Nas - King's Disease (2020)
Every new Nas album has to be greeted with a certain amount of reticence – Nas is one of those artists who has become notorious for his bad ear for beats (similar to other elite emcees like Eminem and Canibus, just to name two). On King’s Disease, there’s a synergy between Nas’ lyricism and the instrumentals that is missing on a lot of his other albums. King’s Disease is not perfect, but it definitely is Nas’ best effort since Life Is Good (2012), way superior to the disappointing Nasir (2018) and the mediocre-at-best The Lost Tapes 2 (2019). His pen game and lyrical performance on King’s Disease are as strong as ever and Hit Boy’s easy-listening beats, for the most part, do justice to Nas’s introspective rhymes.
Almost every Nas album since his classic debut Illmatic (1994) has been marred by inconsistency – usually because of weak beats, sometimes because of questionable songwriting. King’s Disease is no different, unfortunately. King’s Disease starts out really strong with the titular intro “King’s Disease” and “Blue Benz” – two short but dope cuts. The middle of the tracklist has a few low points, though – the album definitely could have done without “Replace Me” which has some terrible autotune crooning by Don Tolliver, and it would also have been better without a feature of Lil Durk on the otherwise fine “Til The War Is Won” – apparently Nas decided to reach out to the new school crowd by including a couple of popular autotuning quasi-rappers.
The tracks with Don Tolliver (and pop rapper Big Sean), Lil Durk, and also the one with neo-soul king Anderson .Paak (“All Bad”) will most likely not appeal to fans who were there with Nas from the beginning, these songs are clearly meant to give Nas an in with new audiences. A big risk, especially because King’s Disease is such a short album – at a mere 38 minutes, there’s really no room for misses. So it has to be said that the inclusion of a bunch of poppy tracks results in King’s Disease being a bit of a mixed bag. Those who don’t think autotune is f*cking awful will be alright, others will have to skip a couple of tracks.
“King’s Disease”, “Blue Benz”, “27 Summers”, the smooth “Full Circle” (with AZ, Cormega, and Foxy Brown (and an uncredited appearance by Dr. Dre who does the outro), “The Definition” (with the intro and outro done by old-school legend Brucie B), and especially “10 Points” and “The Cure” are all excellent Nas tracks though – so there’s plenty to enjoy if you look past the rap-singing songs.
Nas is one of the biggest names in the Hip Hop game ever, and he has nothing left to prove – but with King’s Disease Nas shows he has his finger on the pulse on the culture, that he is still relevant and able to appeal to old an new audiences both. King’s Disease represents somewhat of a return to form for the Queensbridge legend, even if it will eventually prove to be a little bit too lightweight and forgettable to be mentioned in the same breath as Nas’ best works such as Illmatic, It Was Written (1996), Stillmatic (2001), The Lost Tapes (2002), God’s Son (2002), Distant Relatives (with Damian Marley, 2010), and Life Is Good.
99. AZ - Doe Or Die II (2021)
Over the years, Brooklyn-based rapper AZ has been labeled ‘the most underrated emcee of all time‘ so many times, it’s safe to say that as a rapper AZ is not underrated at all. In fact, it will be hard to find any real Hip Hop fan who doesn’t recognize AZ’s superior skill as a lyricist. The reason AZ never became a household name has nothing to do with people not recognizing his skill set as an emcee, but more with the fact that none of his albums – except his 1995 debut Doe Or Die – are real classics. Most of the AZ albums following Doe Or Die are solid enough, but they are all kind of forgettable too, often let down by inconsistent or bland production and sometimes by repetitive subject matter.
AZ’s longtime and frequent music partner Nas is universally seen as one of the best rappers ever, and Nas’s Illmatic is one of the most celebrated albums in Hip Hop history. The only guest appearance on Illmatic was AZ on “Life’s A Bitch”, and AZ bodied Nas on his own album, with one of the most epic guest verses in Hip Hop history. It proved impossible for AZ to live up to this iconic first impression. Do Or Die was an excellent debut, but it never gained anything close to Illmatic-like acclaim – also because 1995 was so stacked with classic similar-minded albums (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, and The Infamous most notably) that Do Or Die kind of got lost in the shuffle, even if over a million units were sold eventually.
26 years after Do Or Die, and 12 years after his eighth album Legendary, AZ returns with his long-awaited ninth studio album Do Or Die II. Now, is Do Or Die II on par with its 1995 predecessor? Not really, unfortunately. Don’t get it wrong: Do Or Die II is an OK and entertaining album – but it fails to live up to the legacy of its predecessor or even to the build-up anticipation of a new AZ album after a 12-year hiatus. The main problem with Do Or Die II is the same one that prevented all other AZ albums (except Do Or Die) from being classics: musically it seems to lack a bit of direction, focus, and a sense of urgency. In places, it feels like the beats were mailed in by random producers, and even if some top-tier names were involved the album could have benefited from less input. Imagine The Alchemist or Pete Rock taking care of all the beats and the general oversight – that’s what would have led to an album with more punch without a doubt.
Also, the feature list is all over the place. Nas would have been the best possible guest, of course, maybe Kool G Rap or Raekwon as AZ’s erstwhile spiritual contemporaries – this is billed as the successor to Do Or Die after all. But Nas, Kool G Rap, and Raekwon are not here – instead, we get Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and autotune has-been T-Pain: The tacked on “What’s Good” is the worst (and only really bad) track of the album, thanks to T-Pain’s terrible input. Conway The Machine and maybe Dave East are the only two artists that ‘feel right’ appearing on an AZ album.
Al that said: AZ’s pen game is still tight and his lyrical virtuosity is undiminished, which means there’s plenty to enjoy on Do Or Die II. “Keep It Real”, “Different”, “Ritual”, “Blow That S#%t”, “Bullet Proof”, “Check Me Out”, “Time To Answer”, and “Found My Niche” all are pretty strong songs. 25 years from now nobody will be talking about this project the way we are talking about the first Do Or Die today, but without comparing it to its iconic predecessor Do Or Die II is a solid enough album – just not the modern classic we were hoping for.
100. Eto - The Beauty Of It (2020)
Eto has been extremely prolific in recent years, dropping EP after mini-project after mixtape – most of them with a playing time of 30 minutes or less – keeping up with the trend that has artists release short projects as frequently as possible to stay in the public’s eye continuously. The Beauty Of It, at 40 minutes, can be considered his first proper full-length in a long time, and it’s his best project since 2018’s Hells Roof (with DJ Muggs).
With features from Willie the Kid, Rome Streetz, Vinnie Paz, Goretex, Ill Bill, Sha Hef, Flee Lord, Grafh, Jai Black, Watts, Nyticka Hemingway, and production from The Alchemist, Daringer, DJ Green Lantern, Large Professor, Marco Polo, V-Don, and Statik Selektah (among others), The Beauty Of It is a well-rounded project in the best Griselda tradition. Despite the fact that every track was produced by a different producer, the album sounds entirely cohesive. The Beauty Of It is one of 2020’s best albums in the neo-boom-bap / noir niche, together with Boldy James’ The Price Of Tea In China and ANKHLEJOHN’s The Face Of Jason.
101. Dark Time Sunshine - LORE (2021)
Seattle-based alternative Hip Hop duo Dark Time Sunshine – rapper Onry Ozzborn and producer Zavala – return after a 9-year hiatus with LORE, their third full-length studio album together. Their last collaborative album Anx ranks on our top 40 Hip Hop albums of 2012 list, and despite such a long time between DTS projects, there’s been no drop-off in the level of quality. Like Anx, LORE is an excellent album. Arguably slightly more accessible than Anx was, LORE still is left-field enough to stand apart from today’s crowd of generic rap and Hip Hop releases.
Zavala’s lush instrumentals perfectly synergize with Onry Ozzborn’s clever wordplay, and a well-chosen roster of featured artists – Ceschi, R.A.P. Ferreira (fka Milo), Homeboy Sandman, and Hail Mary Mallon (Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz) – round out LORE, offering some welcome variation to Onry Ozzborn’s brooding conversational-rap style. LORE offers 46 minutes of intelligent alt-Hip Hop, a great project well-suited for the surreal times it was released in.
102. Rome Streetz & Ransom - Coup De Grace (2021)
Both Rome Streetz and Ransom were on fire in 2021. Prior to Coup De Grace, Rome Streetz already had three excellent LPs out this year: Death & The Magician (with DJ Muggs in February), Genesis 1:27 (with ANKHLEJOHN in June), and Razor’s Edge (with Futurewave in July) – all among the best albums in the months they dropped. Ransom already had three strong EPs on his name this year before this release, with Crime Scenes, Se7en, and Heavy Is The Head (a collaboration with Big Ghost Ltd).
Coup De Grace boasts production from 38 Spesh & Coach Bombay 3000 (exec.), V Don, Nicholas Craven, Wavy Da Ghawd, Stack Moolah, I Man Militia, Streezy, Lord Sear, Animoss, and Mayor – a risk, because a lot of cooks in the kitchen can turn a project into a hot mess. Fortunately, that’s not the case here – the atmospheric boom-bap sound is cohesive enough throughout. We do like the beats on Death & The Magician, Razor’s Edge, and Heavy Is The Head better though – getting just one top-producer like Muggs or Big Ghost Ltd to take care of the whole album is always preferable. So even if the beats on Coup De Grace are less memorable than on some of both artists’ earlier 2021 projects, this is a super solid album with strong performances from Rome Streetz and Ransom, and from guests rappers such as Che Noir and The Game – especially Che Noir kills it (as she always does).
Coup De Grace means both Rome Streetz and Ransom are four-for-four this year, making the two of them 2021 MVPs for sure.
103. D Smoke - Black Habits (2020)
Black Habits is the second album from D Smoke (he debuted in 2006 with Producer of the Year), the winner of Netflix’s Hip Hop competition series Rhythm & Flow in 2019. The album is the follow-up to his Inglewood High EP, which was released in October of 2019. The Inglewood, Los Angeles emcee managed to recruit Snoop Dogg, Jill Scott, Ari Lennox, and his brother SiR (among others) for this project, which clocks in at 16 tracks and over an hour of playing time. A long album, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome at all, Black Habits stays entertaining for the whole duration.
D Smoke (real name Daniel Farris) is a UCLA graduate who worked as a Spanish and music theory teacher in Inglewood. His background is evident on the album – D Smoke’s incorporation of Spanish in lyrics gives Black Habits a unique kind of twist. The album is eminently musical too – the funky bass-heavy beats and smooth jazzy loops make for an easy listening experience. Kendrick fans should love this one, the GKMC/TPAB influence is palpable in the music and in D Smoke’s flow – but D Smoke has enough of an own sound to be sufficiently authentic and not merely a K-dot copycat. Black Habits is a real treat.
104. Big O & P-Rawb - The Complexity (2021)
Four years in the making, The Complexity is a collaborative album from New Jersey/Philadelphia-based artist P-Rawb and London-based (but American) producer Big O. The Complexity is an album for connoisseurs, tasteful and classy – with beautifully crafted laid-back instrumentals and compelling lyricism from start to finish. Go check out The Complexity now, and come back to thank us later for pointing you in the right direction.
105. CJ Fly - RUDEBWOY (2020)
Brooklyn emcee and Pro Era member CJ Fly’s official debut studio album RUDEBWOY offers a fantastic blend of contemporary rap and old-school boom-bap flavor. Elite beat smith Statik Selektah handles all of the production, guests include Griselda’s Conway The Machine and CJ Fly’s fellow members of Pro Era like Joey Bada$$, Kirk Knight, Chuck Strangers, Nyck Caution, and others.
Everything clicks on this album: Statik Selektah’s instrumentals are excellent throughout, all guests deliver, CJ Fly’s rhymes are masterful, and even the hooks work. The record’s title, as well as its content, nod to CJ Fly’s Caribbean heritage – RUDEBWOY is full of energy, summertime vibes, and good old fun. CJ Fly balances his Jamaican and NY influences perfectly, sounding entirely authentic. CJ Fly and Statik Selektah prove to be a perfect combination – giving us that classic Pro Era sound combined with modern vibes. RUDEBWOY is a winner – Hip Hop for the 2020s, an album that will stay in rotation without a doubt.
106. Jedi Mind Tricks - The Funeral And The Raven (2021)
The Funeral And The Raven is iconic Philadelphia-based crew Jedi Mind Tricks’ tenth studio album, released almost 25 years after their debut album The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness dropped in 1997. Jedi Mind Tricks – these days a trio consisting of JMT founders Vinnie Paz and Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind, and DJ Kwestion – are nothing if not consistent. Out of the ten albums they released as JMT, only one – Violence Begets Violence (2011) – was not on par with the rest (the only JMT album Stoupe wasn’t involved in). For us, Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell (2006) and Violent By Design (2000) are the absolute best JMT albums, but all the others expect Violence Begets Violence are pretty great too.
The Funeral And The Raven can be seen as the concluding album in a trilogy started in 2015 with The Thief And The Fallen and followed up by The Bridge And The Abyss in 2018. No real weak points on The Funeral And The Raven, but a couple of stand-outs – the thought-provoking “The Death Of 1 Man Is A Tragedy, The Death Of 10.000 Is A Statistic” is one, “Manufacturing Consent”, “Crematorium”, “Abdallah Azzam Brigade” (a banging bar fest featuring underground spitters Recognize Ali, Demoz, ILL BILL, and Chinaski Black), and the sobering “The Great Derangement” are a couple of others. The Funeral And The Raven is not Jedi Mind Tricks’ best album, but it is a worthy addition to the JMT catalog without a doubt.
JMT noobs should start with Violent By Design or Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell, JMT followers will not be disappointed by The Funeral And The Raven. At this point, it’s undeniable that Jedi Mind Tricks is one of the most significant underground Hip Hop acts ever.
107. Pink Siifu - GUMBO'! (2021)
Pink Siifu is one of the more interesting figures in early 2020’s underground Hip Hop scene, always pushing genre boundaries with experimentation and forward-thinking ideas. With GUMBO’! Siifu continues this dynamic vision, like always pulling from varied sources of musical and thematic inspiration to provide a collage of sounds, mixing ingredients like in a good bowl of gumbo. Pink Siifu brought on a host of guest vocalists and producers to add to his musical stew – Big Rube, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Maxo, The Alchemist, and DJ Harrison most notable among them. GUMBO’! is more chilled out than last year’s hard-nosed electronic punk-rap banger NEGRO, and more accessible because of it – despite the experimental vibes that permeate every aspect of the album. Strong jazz, neo-soul, and funk influences, combined with noise rock, ambient, and plunderphonics, all of it laced with Dungeon Family-inspired Southern Hip Hop sounds make for a unique record – another strong addition to Pink Siifu’s catalog.
108. Vinnie Paz - As Above So Below (2020)
As Above So Below is Jedi Mind Tricks and Army Of The Pharaohs frontman Vinnie Paz’s fifth solo album and his twenty-second (!) studio album in total – in addition to five the solo albums, he has released nine albums with Jedi Mind Tricks, five with Army Of The Pharaohs, two with Ill Bill as Heavy Metal Kings, and one with Tragedy Khadafi, plus a bunch of mixtapes and EP’s. In Vinnie Paz’s catalog of solo albums, As Above So Below follows Season Of The Assassin (2010), God Of The Serengeti (2012), The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store (2016) and The Pain Collector (2018). If there’s one word that would best typify VP’s body of work – solo and group efforts – it is CONSISTENCY.
With instrumentals from renowned boom-bap beat crafters such as Giallo Point, Stu Bangas, Vic Grimes, and Bronze Nazareth and guest appearances from Block Mccloud, Nowaah The Flood, Eamon, Vast Aire, Recognize Ali, and others, As Above So Below fits right in with the rest of Vinnie Paz’s discography. Gritty, hard-edged lyrics and boom-bap beats are what we have come to expect from Vinnie Paz, and gritty, hard-edged lyrics and boom-bap beats are what we get. Stand-out cuts include the rock-infused first single “I Am The Chaos“, the hardbody boom-bap gem “Silician Bull”, and the emotional tribute to his father “Spilled Milk”, but there are a lot more dope tracks on offer. A couple of the hooks and some of the features could’ve been better, but at 18 tracks and almost an hour of playing time a few weaker moments are to be expected.
As Above So Below is a more than solid addition to Vinnie Paz’s catalog, and if you enjoyed his other work you will also enjoy this one.
109. Isaiah Rashad - The House Is Burning (2021)
Isaiah Rashad is an artist from Chattanooga, Tennessee who emerged on the Hip Hop scene in 2013 after signing to Top Dawg Entertainment – quickly establishing himself as one the flagship acts of the label thanks to the universally acclaimed cilvia demo EP (2014) and his equally lauded full-length debut The Sun’s Tirade (2016).
The House Is Burning is Zay’s long-awaited follow-up to The Sun’s Tirade. This is his mellowest project, with Zay in another – better – place compared to where he was at the time when The Sun’s Tirade was recorded and released. The album’s title can be seen as sort of a metaphor for his life: as his struggles and addictions threatened to consume him, he needed to face and deal with them, or else his house would burn down. Five years after The Sun’s Tirade it turns out Zay has emerged stronger with an album that is confident and fragile at the same time – Isaiah Rashad at his emotional best.
In comparison to Zay’s previous projects, The House Is Burning takes heavier influences from Southern Hip-Hop, with plenty of nods to Memphis rap and trap – with jazz and neo-soul vibes thrown in the mix to great effect, for the most part. We could have done without the Lil Uzi Vert track – Zay can not keep up with his energy and it makes this song feel out of place. There are plenty of strong tracks to offset any misses though. “Darkseid”, “Headshots”, “THIB”, “Claymore”, “Don’t Shoot”, “True Story”, “Score”, and especially “HB2U” all are peak Isaiah Rashad. As the man has said several times himself: this is music for the vibers.
110. Ankhlejohn - As Above, So Below (2020)
As Above, So Below is Ankhlejohn’s fifth 2020 project, his second full-length after the excellent The Face Of Jason. Ankhlejohn released a benchmark album with VAN Ghost, his 2018 collaboration with unsung producer Big Ghost LTD – one of the best Hip Hop albums released that year. As Above, So Below is produced in its entirety by Odd Future affiliated rapper/producer Navy Blue. Like Big Ghost LTD’s beats did on VAN Ghost, Navy Blue’s instrumentals bring out Ankhlejohn’s best on As Above, So Below. In typical Odd Future fashion, Navy Blue’s mostly drumless instrumentals are dreamy and unhurried, filled with lo-fi samples and smooth piano & horn snippets, all of it backed by laid-back basslines (and drums on only a couple of tracks).
As Above, So Below once again proves that Ankhlejohn’s menacing, raspy-voiced delivery is suited to go with any production style. He is able to lean into the sound of the producer he is working with, without losing his own signature style. Vocal contributions from Da$h, Al.Divino, Fly Anakin, Wifi Gawd, Pink Siifu, Wiki, and from Navy Blue himself add extra spice – making As Above, So Below a well-rounded album with lots of replay value.
While VAN Ghost remains Ankhlejohn’s best album, his 2020 run is impressive too. The Face Of Jason is up there with the best albums of 2020, As Above, So Below is not far behind.
111. Paris – Safe Space Invader (2020)
About Safe Space Invader from Paris’ own website:
“In this era of reckoning for American policing, increases of instances racism fostered by the most incompetent president in modern times, and a global pandemic that has affected all areas of life as we once knew it, voices of dissent in entertainment have become more relevant than ever. Enter Paris, arguably one of the most politically outspoken artists in Hip Hop history, with his latest album, Safe Space Invader. Entirely self-produced and without guest features, Safe Space Invader is a brutal commentary on Black life in 2020 America, touching on the topics of police brutality, racism, gentrification, economic inequality and cancel culture, among others.”
30 years after his classic debut The Devil Made Me Do It, it is a sad truth that activist rappers like Paris are still needed to address wrongs in the world we live in. Safe Space Invaders is a strong album and deserves to be mentioned alongside Paris’ best albums The Devil Made Me Do It (1990), Sleeping With The Enemy (1992), and Sonic Jihad (2003).
The lyrics on Safe Space Invaders are as vital and fiery as they are on all his other albums, arguably even more so. The beats on the album could have been better here and there, but Safe Space Invaders is all about Paris’ hard rhymes. In this year of extreme political discord and social unrest, the militant Safe Space Invaders is an incendiary but genuine statement. Whether you agree with the blistering condemnations made by Paris on Safe Space Invaders or not, there is no denying the power and urgency of this album.
112. Gotham (Talib Kweli & Diamond D) - Gotham (2021)
Gotham is the name of a new collaboration between two celebrated Hip Hop icons: Talib Kweli and Diamond D. Talib Kweli has been one of the most lyrically gifted and socially conscious artists for over two decades, but admittedly his musical output has been hit-or-miss especially in the past decade. With Diamond D providing the musical backdrops, Talib Kweli comes with one of his best projects in a good while. Diamond D is a certifiable legend, producing for the likes Big L, Lord Finesse, O.C., Fat Joe, The Fugees, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Raekwon, Rapsody, Pharoahe Monch, and many others, not to mention his own classic debut, Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop (1992).
Gotham – a dedication to New York – is a great little project. It’s too short at 35 minutes, but most of the ten tracks on Gotham are pretty strong. “In Due Time” with Niré Alldai is a highlight, along with great songs like “Sons of Gotham”, “The Quiet One”, “Attention Span”, “Chillin While Black” and “The Fold”. Diamond D’s smooth boom-bap instrumentals are dope, and Talib Kweli shows why he is considered an elite lyricist. Gotham = mature Hip Hop by two of the game’s best.
113. Open Mike Eagle - Anime, Trauma & Divorce (2020)
“It’s October, and I’m tired.”
Anime, Trauma & Divorce is Los Angeles artist Open Mike Eagle’s most personal project to date. The album details what Open Mike Eagle referred to as the worst year of his life. The album tackles a range of Mike’s struggles in life such as divorcing his wife, and the discomfort and trauma he experienced while trying to deal with these upheavals in his life.
Anime, Trauma & Divorce is not on par with Open Mike Eagle’s best albums Dark Comedy (2014) and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017), but it’s an interesting album nonetheless. Enjoyability will largely depend on relatability, especially people who find themselves in similar states of being will feel this one, on others it may have less impact. Seeing as 2020 has been a rough year for humanity as a whole, Anime, Trauma & Divorce feels like an album for today, even if personal experiences of individual listeners may not correlate exactly with Open Mike Eagle’s struggles. One of Open Mike Eagle’s strengths has always been being introspective while simultaneously keeping the vibe light-hearted in a way – Anime, Trauma & Divorce is a typical Open Mike Eagle album in that regard, even if his usual sense of humor does not coat up the sadness of some of these lyrics so easily.
At 34 minutes the album is on the short side, somehow it feels like the dense subject matter warranted further exploration. Also, a couple of weaker songs (like “Headass” and “Fifteen Twenty Feet Ocean Nah”) bring down the album some, on a 34-minute record no duds are allowed. Lots of strong songs though to offset the weak spots – “Bucciarati”, “Asa’s Bop”, “The Edge Of New Clothes”, “The Black Mirror Episode”, “WTF Is Self Care” – all great.
Long-time Open Mike Eagle fans will no doubt love this project, but Anime, Trauma & Divorce will most likely not gain him many new followers – people new to Open Mike Eagle should probably start with Dark Comedy. Even if it is not his best, Anime, Trauma & Divorce is an entertaining record and a solid addition to Open Mike Eagle’s body of work.
114. Bronx Slang - Substance (2021)
Jerry Beeks and Miggs are Bronx Slang – their self-titled debut was one of our favorite albums released in 2019. Substance is their anticipated sophomore LP, and it’s another banger.
Produced top to bottom by prolific UK pair Jadell and Fake Blood, Substance once again channels that good old-fashioned Big Apple sound of the rap idealist and authenticator: the blasts of “You Already Know”, “Another Night In New York” and “Copy That” come through like a rhino stampede. Substance expands to funk and soul positions spending time in the crates on ‘This Ain’t No Love Song’, synth angles maximizing Bronx Slang’s authoritarianism on “Mic Check”, and pitching the pair to the edge of panic on “Clock’s Ticking”.
Beeks and Miggs read the world its rights, and last rites, without allowing themselves a moment’s relaxation: “Living With A Mask On” goes against simple COVID-related rhetoric, and “Excuse Me Again” shows that the “Excuse Me Officer” narrative from the first Bronx Slang album needs repeating. Their inner-city testimonies and fine-tuning of front-page news define the realistic rather than keeping it real: they remain observant, unfazed masters of keeping their heads, resistant to propaganda and managing the weight of modern life.
Meaningful content, masterful wordplay, and dope beats – the aptly titled Substance is a must-have.
115. Bronze Nazareth & Recognize Ali - Season Of The Seven (2021)
In recent years Recognize Ali has been one of the most prolific emcees in underground Hip Hop, with a series of dope solo and collaborative projects, and countless appearances on other people’s songs. Honorary affiliate of the Wu-Tang family Bronze Nazareth is a great producer, and this high-profile Mello Music Group release shows they have chemistry – Season Of The Seven is among the best work both have dropped in a while. Dirty boom-bap beats laced with dope samples provide a fitting background for Recognize Ali’s raw bars, and a little extra flavor is added by guest emcees such as Napoleon Da Legend, Verbal Kent, King Magnetic, Dom Pachino, Willie the Kid, and TriState.
116. Westside Gunn - Pray For Paris (2020)
Pray For Paris features WSG’s Griselda family Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher along with Grammy-winner Tyler, the Creator, Wale, Joey Bada$$, Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, Boldy James, Billie Essco, Joyce Wrice, Keisha Plum and Cartier A Williams. Pray For Paris also marks WSG’s first-time collaboration with DJ Premier (for “Shawn vs Flair”, arguably the best track on the album), with additional production work from Tyler, the Creator, Alchemist, Daringer, DJ Muggs, Jay Versace, and others. Westside Gunn obviously knows he needs other voices on his album to keep his own presence from getting too tiresome, and you can’t go wrong with Conway and Benny (who has an epic verse on “George Bondo”), nor with Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano, and Joey Bada$$. Wale and Tyler, The Creator are more ‘surprising’ guests but they also deliver – it’s not a stretch to say the features are the strongest part of the album (along with the stellar production).
What WSG lacks in emcee skill he makes up in personality and style – he’s charisma and flashy-ness are part of his success. His penchant for blending obscure fashion and wrestling references with the more standard coke raps is another part of the appeal. And even if WSG is still overdoing these annoying gun adlibs, thankfully they sound more muted here than on his previous projects, the blending of these adlibs into the background makes them a little bit easier to endure. As always on Griselda projects, it’s the instrumentals that make the album. The production and aesthetics here are top-notch. Pray For Paris offers some of the best soulful street boom-bap you’ll ever hear, the beats fit WSG’s style perfectly.
West Side Gunn is an acquired taste to be sure, for those who can get past his voice, his delivery, and his gun adlibs schtick, Pray For Paris will be gold. (Full review here.)
117. Joell Ortiz - Autograph (2021)
Joell Ortiz is 1/4 of the supergroup Slaughterhouse, along with Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9, and KXNG Crooked. His career started on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath and then lead to Eminem’s Shady Records, before joining the Mello Music Squad. Autograph features production from 9x Grammy Nominee Salaam Remi, the Grammy Winning Heatmakerz, Hesami, and Detroit legend Apollo Brown, along with features from Sheek Louch, Marc Scibilia, KXNG Crooked, Pastor LBS, and CyHi the Prynce.
Autograph is Joell Ortiz’s eighth solo album, building on 2019’s Monday‘s personal content. Joell Ortiz is a top-notch emcee, with great storytelling skills and creative rhyme schemes. The beats on Autograph are solid enough (if kind of unremarkable), but this album is all about Joell Ortiz’s lyricism anyway. Mona Lisa (2018) remains our favorite Joell Ortiz album, but Autograph is not far behind.
118. K-Rino - A Blessing And A Burden (2021)
Houston legend K-Rino doesn’t let up. K-Rino is one of the most lyrical rappers ever – his classic 1993 debut album Stories From The Black Book is a display of superior lyricism, and it signified the start of an incredibly impressive discog. A Blessing And A Burden is his 47th (!) studio album and like most of the others, it’s a super solid effort. It’s hard to think of ANY other artist in the history of Hip Hop who has managed to balance the same level of quality and quantity in their output – who else has around 50 albums that are all worth listening to? It’s impossible to overstate K-Rino’s significance in Southern Hip Hop – or Hip Hop in general – but for some reason, he never really got the wider recognition he deserves. A Blessing And A Burden will not get him there either, but his loyal fanbase will know what’s up – this album is another jewel in K-Rino’s crown. If you’re a K-Rino noob, go listen to this album, then go back to Stories From The Black Book – and you will soon find yourself digging for more of K-Rino’s music.
119. Common - A Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1) (2020)
A Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1) is a surprise release by Common. Common is one of Hip Hop’s elite, so a Common release always is an event. A Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1) is a fine project, but it feels a bit lightweight and breezy due to its brevity and its loungy vibes. Lyrically Common does what he’s been doing, coming with thoughtful socio-political insights that fit the times we live in. Black Thought shows up for a feature, and he kills it as he always does. The other guests Lenny Kravitz and singer PJ also go well with Common’s sound. A little more substance to the tracklist would have given this project a bit more weight needed to count it among the better half of Common’s catalog – but as far as mature, soulful Hip Hop goes few (if any) do it better than Common does.
120. Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony (2020)
Jay Electronica is one of the most intriguing – almost mythical – figures in post-millennium Hip Hop, building immense hype and expectation around himself after the release on MySpace of his debut mixtape Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) in 2007. That fantastic debut project was followed by several collaboration appearances and solo songs but never with a follow-up project – until the long-long-awaited A Written Testimony, Jay Electronica’s full-length solo debut album.
What has to be said though is that A Written Testimony really isn’t the Jay Electronic solo album the word has been waiting over 10 years for – the (uncredited) Jay-Z is featured on 8 of the 10 tracks (the two non-Jay-Z tracks are the intro and an interlude), making A Written Testimony effectively more of a Jay-E/Jay-Z collaborative album than a Jay Electronica solo joint. Having featured Jay-Z so heavily (and he kills most of his verses here), is like the student getting help from his favorite professor to get his project out – after all that anticipation and hype it does feel kind of anticlimactic and disappointing not to finally get that real Jay Electronica album. In fact, it’s safe to say Jay Electronica STILL doesn’t have a solo album.
But OK – let’s take A Written Testimony not for what it is billed like (a Jay Electronica album), but for what it is: a collaborative album from Jay Electronica and Jay-Z. So, now we know what A Written Testimony really is – is it any good? Well, it’s OK.
It’s 2020, and Jay-Z is a 50-year old billionaire who could be forgiven not to have the hunger or ambition anymore to lay down bars (especially on somebody else’s record), but he still has something to say and the skill to do it – addressing among other things the criticism directed at him for his NFL-deal on “Flux Capacitor” – one of the best tracks of the album. Even Travis Scott auto-tune crooning the bridge on “The Blinding”, does not bring down another one of the stand-outs. Most of the other tracks are fine too, from the first song “Ghost Of Soulja Slim”, an ode to fallen New Orleans legend Soulja Slim, to “Shiny Suit Theory” and “Ezekiel’s Wheel”, both with vocals from R&B singer The-Dream, to “Universal Soldier”, to “A.P.I.T.D.A”, a track with real emotional resonance – a Song Of The Year contender – the best song here that closes the album out on a perfect note.
Production, mostly done by Jay Electronica himself, on this album is abstract and creative – a good sound system is needed for optimal enjoyment though (or maybe it’s just the mixing and mastering that’s a little of here and there). The album is a mostly chill listening experience, with a conscious/religious side to it – lyrically Jay Electronica and Jay-Z bring their A-game, both of them dropping more lyrical nuggets and Quotables here than most modern-day rappers do in their whole career. At 8 real songs and 39 minutes of playing time, A Written Testimony is on the short side – but short albums like this one are not unusual these days.
A Written Testimony is a fine collaboration between two of the game’s most interesting lyricists – Hov complements Jay Electronica like Ghostface Killah complemented Raekwon on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx or Snoop Dogg did Dr. Dre on The Chronic. Ultimately though A Written Testimony is too underwhelming to be considered on par with those two classics.
121. Kanye West – Donda (2021)
Kanye West is a fascinating genius and an insufferable idiot in equal measures, and his tenth studio album Donda is the embodiment of his absurdity. At 27 tracks (20 not including intro, interludes, and 4 ‘part 2’ tracks) Donda is a daunting listen, at close to two hours longer than Kanye’s last 3 albums combined. All Kanye albums, especially everything he dropped since his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), are divisive – and Donda probably will turn out to be the most divisive of them all. The ridiculous and chaotic rollout, the annoying exercises in provocation, and the constant revisions and delays remind a lot of what happened before The Life Of Pablo (2017) was released, an album that collapsed under the weight of expectations but wasn’t half-bad when it was finally actually finished.
Let’s start with the positive: Donda is WAY better than Jesus Is King (2019), the thoroughly disappointing project preceding this one. Donda is a strong work on the nature of faith, healing, and loss – as personal and introspective as one would expect from an album dedicated to and named after Kanye West’s late mother. Yes, Donda is overlong and messy – but there’s an underlying cohesiveness here that turns the bloat into a beautiful sort of mess. Like on all Kanye West albums there are high highs and low lows – but fortunately, on Donda, the highs far outweigh the lows. “Tell A Vision” is the most notable throwaway track (an insult to Pop Smoke’s legacy), but with songs like “Jail”, “God Breathed”, “Off The Grid”, “Hurricane”, “Believe What I Say”, “Keep My Spirit Alive”, “Moon”, “Heaven And Hell”, “Jesus Lord”, “Lord I Need You”, Pure Souls”, and “Jesus Lord Pt 2”, there are way more winners.
Donda could have done with fewer guest vocalists – the 33(!) artists appearing here collectively get more time on the album than Kanye himself, almost turning the album into a compilation album. Almost, but with his thematic focus, Kanye manages to hold things together in the end. Kanye West has always been a mediocre lyricist at best, but there’s some of his most powerful lyricism in a decade on Donda – mixed with his intolerable self-preoccupation and the inevitable corny Kanye bar here and there of course. Of all the featured artists, Jay Electronica has the best verse (on the stand-out “Jesus Lord”).
Production-wise, Donda is Kanye’s most intricate and exciting project in a decade (even if it is unpolished in places), deftly balancing a healthy amount of gospel music with the bombastic styles of production Kanye is known for. A two-hour album could easily be an exhausting slog, but Donda is not. This is Kanye’s best album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it will be even better if it gets The Life of Pablo makeover treatment. Kanye stans will call Donda a masterpiece, Kanye haters will say it’s trash. We are not stans and we are not haters – so we can objectively say that while Donda is not a masterpiece like MBDTF is, it certainly is not trash either. Donda is a typical Kanye West album – a mixed bag, with more positives than negatives this time around.
122. Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon III: The Chosen (2020)
Man on the Moon III: The Chosen is the seventh studio album by Kid Cudi, coming 11 years after his debut Man on the Moon: The End of Day. MOTM3 is a smooth project, arguably his best since his debut (and the short but sweet Kids See Ghosts (with Kanye West) from 2018).
Thematically, the album’s concept has Kid Cudi fight against his evil alter ego, Mr. Rager, in hopes to win back his peace and happiness. As with the previous two installments, the album is split into four “acts”: Return 2 Madness; The Rager, The Menace; Heart of Rose Gold; and Powers.
Musically, MOTM3 crosses genre boundaries as Cudi’s music usually does, it is always hard to pigeonhole Kid Cudi’s music – it never is straight-up Hip Hop. This time around Cudi’s sound is something like soulful R&B-infused trap. Kid Cudi proves trap can be done in a tasteful, mature, and intelligent way in contrast with the genericness and dumbness of most trap music out there in 2020. This is the best trap-infused album the year, alongside the more in-your-face Savage Mode II from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin.
MOTM3 is musically rich, dark, and psychedelic, and it’s lyrically deep enough to hold interest – this 18-track album is well-produced and expertly put together. Good music.
123. Raashan Ahmad & Rita J - Black Koala (2020)
Black Koala is a collaborative album from former Crown City Rockers crew member Rashaan Ahmad and Chicago emcee Rita J. Smooth jazzy vibes from beginning to end make Black Koala an easy listen that will appeal to lots of people. Those in tune with Hip Hop history and its classics will find a lot to enjoy here – from the dope remake of A Tribe Called Quests “Buggin’ Out” to more hidden influences from acts like Gang Starr – this is one for real heads and for more casual listeners alike. Fans of the music from acts like ATCQ, Digable Planets, and The Roots can’t go wrong with Black Koala.
124. MexStep - Vivir (2021)
Vivir is grown-man Hip Hop at its finest. MexStep ((Mexican StepGrandfather; real name Marco Cervantes) is a Ph.D. who teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and who’s responsible for creating some fine Hip Hop too. As one-third of Third Root, he had a top 25 Hip Hop album of 2020 with Passion Of The Poets, and this solo project is a keeper as well – a great follow-up to his last solo album Resistir (2018). Vivir is produced by Adrian Quesada, and his inviting soulful boom-bap instrumentals are a joy to listen to, as are MexStep’s thoughtful bars.
125. Eastern Sunz - Fuel For A Fool’s Errand (2020)
Eastern Sunz is a duo from Portland, Oregon consisting of Courage and Travis T. On Fuel For A Fool’s Errand, Eastern Sunz comes with a potent blend of live instrumentation and traditional feeling boom-bap, with funky drums, jazzy basslines, and even some fresh guitar and piano work combined with well-dosed old school turntablism and sampling. Lyrically, Eastern Sunz covers a wide range of topical issues such as climate change, police brutality, corporate influence in politics, and misconceptions about social assistance – this is Hip Hop for thinking people, which can be enjoyed just as well by those who don’t care about lyrics but who listen to Hip Hop simply for smooth sounding instrumentals and dope flows.
Fuel For A Fool’s Errand is put together perfectly, there are no useless interludes or other fillers to be found here – just 12 equally strong tracks, with no weak spots at all. Some well-placed features (from Ras Kass among others) complete this eminently listenable album. Unfortunately, most people will sleep on Fuel For A Fool’s Errand – but those willing to look beyond the standard rap fare will be happy to discover one of 2020’s most pleasant surprises.
126. N.R.F.S. - N.R.F.S. (2021)
N.R.F.S. is a collaborative album performed by Neak, Rashid Hadee, F.A.B.L.E., and Since9ine6ix as N.R.F.S. – one of the finest Hip Hop albums to come out of Chicago this year. The beats on N.R.F.S. are tasteful and banging at the same time, and the rhymes are on point too. This is one of the many great Hip Hop albums that will fly under most people’s radars this year – but anyone up for some classy and mature Hip Hop would do well not to sleep on N.R.F.S.
127. Westside Gunn - Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf Side B (2021)
Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf Side B serves as the final tape to the Hitler Wears Hermes series. The companion piece to HWH8 Side A features collaborations with Tyler, The Creator, Jay Electronica, 2 Chainz, Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine, Mach-Hommy, Stove God Cooks, Larry June, AZ, Armani Caesar Rome Streetz, Jay Worthy, Madlib, The Alchemist, Daringer, Conductor Williams, Jay Versace, DJ Green Lantern, Camouflage Monk and more.
“Imagine adding twenty classic songs to an already classic album,” Westside Gunn said about this project. “This is ART on another level; and definitely will be one of the greatest projects ever. Only legends can make a double-album sound this good.”
Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn has never been a stranger to hyperbole, but this time there’s a little bit of truth to what he said. Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolf Side B is not a classic, but it can be counted among the better half of his work. It’s as good as any other entry in the Hitler Wears Hermes series, and it’s almost on par with FLYGOD and Supreme Blientele. It is better than Side A for sure, Side A was OK but not really special. Killer beats and killer features – Side B is Westside Gunn at his best.
128. Andy Cooper - L.I.S.T.E.N. (2020)
Andy Cooper has made a name for himself as one-third of Ugly Duckling (alongside Dizzy and Young Einstein) with a bunch of dope albums since the mid-90s. L.I.S.T.E.N. (Lyrical Innovation Supplying The Ear’s Need) is an essential listen for fans of traditional sounding Hip Hop in general and of course for Ugly Duckling fan in particular.
L.I.S.T.E.N. follows on his last solo release The Layered Effect (2018) and it is just as good. With its funky and fresh instrumentals and Cooper’s throwback rap flow, L.I.S.T.E.N. may be old school in spirit, but it never sounds dated or derivative. In fact, because of its creative instrumentation and Cooper’s infectious lyricism, L.I.S.T.E.N. has a distinctively unique vibe that has a place in 2020.
There are lots of dope traditionalist Hip Hop albums out this year and this one fits right in, on the upbeat/funky/musical boom-bap side of the throwback Hip Hop spectrum. L.I.S.T.E.N. is kind of breezy but at the same time great fun – a pleasure to listen to.
129. Eternia & Rel McCoy - FREE (2021)
“Eternia & Rel McCoy’s debut collaborative album, ‘FREE’ is a liberating ‘beauty from ashes’ sonic journey from two of Canada’s Hip Hop greats. The album represents a grand comeback for Eternia, who in 2010 released the Juno Award-nominated At Last with producer MoSS on Fat Beats Records. Transformative events changed her life since that release, including personal triumphs (starting a family) coinciding with personal struggles (mental/physical health) and artistic struggles (this project was rebooted), all while navigating a global pandemic and the isolation that ensues. FREE is born of these experiences as she partners with Rel McCoy, a Juno Award-winning producer she compliments heavily for providing the incredible soundscapes on the record, as well as contributing a few vocal appearances.”
FREE is a strong album with smooth boom-bap beats complemented by meaningful content, great flows, and tasteful hooks from Eternia and guests like Mr. Lif (her husband), Shad, and Wordsworth (among others).
130. Marvalyss - Where The Sidewalk Ends (2020)
Marvalyss of Hartford Connecticut is an emcee’s emcee, with a powerful voice, a dope 90s-centric flow, and listen-worthy bars. Where The Sidewalk Ends offers close to 40 minutes of atmospheric boom-bap beats crafted by Pittsburgh-based producer Alcapella, and great rhymes by Marvalyss and a couple of guests. The likes of Recognize Ali, A-F-R-O, and King Magnetic make appearances – especially “Neighborhood Bullies” with cuts by Chumzilla and rhymes by the incomparable A-F-R-O is a banger.
If smooth boom-bap beats combined with quality rhyming is your thing, checking out Where The Sidewalk Ends is a must.
131. Tanya Morgan - Don & Von (2021)
Tanya Morgan is a duo consisting of William Donald “Donwill” Freeman and Devon “Von Pea” Callender. Donwill is from Cincinnati, Ohio, while Von Pea is from Brooklyn, New York. Don & Von is their fifth full-length album. The 12-track album tackles a wide range of topics including their tenure in the game, police brutality, and being Black in America. Don & Von features guest vocals by Jack Davey, Kooley High, MoRuf, Nappy Nina & Rob Cave and boasts production by Von Pea and Donwill themselves (among others).
Moonlighting (2006), Brooklynati (2009), Rubber Souls (2013), and YGWY$4 (2017) all are strong albums, and with Don & Von the duo continues their streak of excellence. They each have been responsible for a string of dope EP’s and solo releases too – it really is a shame so many Hip Hop listeners are still sleeping on Tanya Morgan. Soulful and intelligent – this is quality Hip Hop.
132. Recognize Ali & Stu Bangas - Guerilla Dynasty (2020)
Guerilla Dynasty is a collaborative project by underground emcee Recognize Ali & prolific producer Stu Bangas. More than the lyrics, it’s the beats that make this album an above-average listen. As always Stu Bangas comes with his signature booming drums, this time around laced with menacing piano and sax loops, to serve as perfect backdrops for Recognize Ali’s rhymes. Guerilla Dynasty features contributions from Ill Bill, Lord Goat (Goretex), Blacastan, Verbal Kent, SmooVth, Marvalyss, SageInfinite, DJ Tray, and DJ Eclipse, to make for a well-rounded and hard-hitting boom-bap album – one of the most potent collaborations of 2020.
133. MIKE - Disco! (2021)
Bronx-based rapper MIKE has been flying under most people’s radars for a while now, maybe Disco! will be the project that gives him a little more of the deserved spotlight. Following strong albums such as 2020’s Weight Of The World and 2019’s Tears Of Joy, 2021’s Disco! is a confirmation of MIKE’s talent and a strengthening of his position as one of the leading artists in the lo-fi subgenre of Hip Hop.
MIKE’s experimental jazzy grooves (self-produced under his DJ Blackpower alias) and his monotone slow-flows on Disco! captivate, leaving the listener with something of an upbeat feeling despite the murkiness of the soundscapes and MIKE’s mournful tone. As always his music is an acquired taste, but Disco! is more accessible than some of his other works and feels like a pivotal work for MIKE – one that should open the door to wider recognition.
134. Iron Wigs - Your Birthday's Cancelled (2020)
Chicago emcees Vic Spencer and Verbal Kent joined forces with UK’s Sonnyjim (who also produced the entire album) to form Iron Wigs. A surprising collaboration taking into account the very different things the three have done in the past, but on Your Birthday’s Cancelled they showcase undeniable chemistry.
Your Birthday’s Cancelled offers a potent blend of smooth, jazzy vibes, and the noir neo-boom-bap sounds popularized by the likes of Griselda and Roc Marciano. Roc Marci actually shows up as a guest vocalist on this project, together with CRIMEAPPLE and Quelle Chris. “Bally Animals & Rugbys”, the track with Roc Marci, is one of the standouts, along with cuts like “A Lot Of Money”, “Purple Alien”, “Problematic” (with CRIMEAPPLE), “Unagi”, and “No Reservations” (with Quelle Chris).
Vic Spencer, Verbal Kent, and Sonnyjim play off each other well, the guests add extra flavor and Sonnyjim’s instrumentals are consistently good. Your Birthday’s Cancelled is a dope album.
135. Onyx - ONYX 4 Life (2021)
Onyx – these days a duo consisting of Sticky Fingaz and Fredro Star – dropped a strong album with ONYX 4 Life. Not all Onyx albums are keepers, but their first three – Bacdafucup (1993), All We Got Iz Us (1995), and Shut ‘Em Down (1998) – are all great albums: Bacdafucup is an iconic classic, the underrated All We Got Iz Us arguably is their best album. With ONYX 4 Life Sticky Fingaz and Fredro Star did not reinvent the wheel nor should they have – by sticking to their formula they show that after 30 years in the game they still have the chemistry and the energy that brought them platinum success in the early 1990s. ONYX 4 Life offers exactly what you’d expect: guttural, grimy raps over hard-ass beats – this is one of Onyx’s best efforts since the 1990s.
136. Sareem Poems & Newselph - The Art Of Living (2020)
Following their 2019 collaboration 88 To Now, Michigan-native Sareem Poems and Newselph (from Alberta, Canada) teamed up again to drop this delightful little project. Smooth production by Newselph and thoughtful lyrics by Sareem Poems make The Art Of Living a slow-burner of an album, one that gets better with every listening. In troubled times, it’s refreshing to get an album that has a positive vibe about it – Poems lyrics are generally uplifting and Newselph’s jazzy and soulful boom-bap beats help to set the stage for Poems’ poetics. The Art Of Living is on the short side at 34 minutes, but this is one to keep on rotation anyway.
137. Passalacqua - Passalacqua LP (2021)
Passalacqua is a Detroit indie alt-rap duo consisting of emcees Blaksmith and Mister. Passalacqua LP is the culmination of a ten-year partnership – ten years during which the duo dropped a number of great projects, but arguably none as good as this one. The genre-boundaries pushing Passalacqua LP is unlike any other Hip Hop album you will come across this year. Produced in its entirety by fellow Detroitian Zach Shipps, this album is deeply layered musically as well as lyrically – there’s nothing generic about this project. Not for everybody, but listeners with an appreciation for beautifully crafted left-field Hip Hop will find a keeper in Passalacqua LP.
138. Bowery Bruisers - Bowery Bruisers (2020)
Cliff Clavin, Hi-Q & Elz Sinatra are Bowery Bruisers. This self-titled full-length LP was created from scraps of other projects that were given new life once the group compiled unfinished songs and concepts. It is also the debut of the production team The DreadKnocks comprised of Cliff Clavin and Hi-Q. All cuts on this album were done by the indelible DJ TMB.
This is another one of those albums that will fall through the cracks and will remain unnoticed by most in today’s oversaturated Hip Hop landscape. A shame, because Bowery Bruisers is dope as f. Hard rhymes, hard beats, hard scratches – this is real Hip Hop folks.
139. Recognize Ali - Underground King II (2021)
Underground King II is Recognize Ali’s third full-length album of the year. Season Of The Seven (with Bronze Nazareth, released in April) is our favorite of the three, but Recognize Tha Light (released in July) and Underground King II both are strong albums too. With features from Vinnie Paz, Ill Bill, Esoteric, Lord Goat, Agallah, Jamal, Paranoize, Verbal Kent, Tone Spliff, Boob Bronx, Pro Dillinger, Juliette, Apocalypse, N.B.S., Swab, DJ Tray, and DJ Grazzhoppa this album is one for fans of uncompromising underground boom-bap.
140. The Musalini - Return Of The Oro (2020)
The Return of The Oro is Bronx emcee The Musalini’s third release of the year and his first proper full-length of 2020. The Return Of The Oro is a totally satisfying listen, one that should appeal to those who dig the music from the likes of Roc Marciano and Westside Gunn. There’s a lot of artists out there right now trying to ride the Roc Marci/Griselda style wave, resulting in a slew of generic neo-boom-bap coke-rap releases, with the same kind of minimalistic beats and the same kind of cliched tough-guy crime rhymes.
The Return Of The Oro fits the Roc Marci/Griselda mold but definitely stands out from the crowd. The Musalini has more flair than most others, and the beats on this project really fit his style. There are a lot of features (by relative unknows like Izzy Hott, O Finess, Putwork, Ransom, Emilio Craig, Risktaker P, G4 Jag, Q Stilla, and Rasheed Chappell) and a whole bunch of producers responsible for the instrumentals on The Return Of The Oro, but despite all the different people involved somehow this project sounds entirely cohesive. The Musalini’s lyrics will not go and win him a Pulitzer, but it’s all entertaining enough to hold attention for 45 minutes.
All in all, The Return Of The Oro is a fine addition to what’s on offer in this niche of Hip Hop. And that cover art is just GREAT.
141. SmooVth & Giallo Point - Amongst Wolves (2021)
Hempstead, New York rapper SmooVth got back together with British producer Giallo Point for Amongst Wolves, their fifth full-length collaborative album. Amongst Wolves is one of the strongest of the five, on par with the first two: Medellin (2017) and Medellin II: Don Fabio (2018). Giallo Point rarely misses, and he doesn’t miss here. The cinematic instrumentals on Amongst Wolves are deliciously dark and moody, perfect for SmooVth’s lyrical content. SmooVth brings his A-game with a laidback delivery but with razor-sharp bars, and he keeps the features to a minimum: only Asun Eastwood, Rigz, Eddie Kaine, Rim, Big Twins, and SmooVth’s Tha Connection partner Hus Kingpin make appearances, on no more than 5 of the 17 tracks. That makes 12 tracks on which SmooVth’s synergy with Giallo Point is on full display and Amongst Wolves is better for it – lots of projects these days have so many features they feel like compilation albums, but not this one: Amongst Wolves strikes the exact right balance. This is a superb piece of music.
142. Charlie Smarts - We Had A Good Thing Going (2020)
Charlie Smarts is one of the two emcees from North Carolina’s 5-man crew Kooley High. Hailing from North Carolina’s rich tradition of smooth boom-bap Hip Hop, Kooley High’s music is perfect for fans that enjoy Little Brother, 9th Wonder, and Rapsody. This solo-outing by Charlie Smarts is another excellent addition to North Carolina’s Hip Hop legacy. On We Had A Good Thing Going Charlie Smarts brings stories of love and loss over a collection of butter-smooth bass-heavy beats laid down by producer T-Mos. This is one of those albums that has no excess fat: no intro, outro, useless skits, or interludes – no filler at all, just 40 minutes of delicious music you can put on repeat and listen to over and over again without getting tired of it.
143. PIRATA - PIRATA (2021)
Atoms Family members Cryptic One and Jestoneart are PIRATA. Cryptic One and Jestoneart are longtime collaborators, most notably on Cryptic One’s masterpiece The Anti-Mobius Strip Theory (2004). PIRATA is not as progressive, but it is left-field enough to be a worthy part of the Atoms Family legacy. Jestoneart atmospheric instrumentals are dope, full of delicious drum breaks, bluesy loops, and obscure samples, plus Cryptic One’s potent rhymes are entertaining. PIRATA is an accessible and smooth listen, almost hypnotic and totally immersive – this is a beautiful piece of music.
144. Odd Squad Family - The Flamingo Complex (2020)
Odd Squad Family (not to be confused by the 90s Rap-A-Lot Odd Squad crew led by Devin The Dude) is an independent Hip Hop trio from Phoenix, Arizona. In 2016 founding member Frosty passed away, Odd Squad Family is now made up of Nubs, Snowman, and A-Factor (who joined the crew later).
The Flamingo Complex is Odd Squad Family’s second full-length studio album. With 15 tracks and a full hour of playing time, this is a project that demands a substantial investment of time and attention, but it’s worth it. Similar to their earlier output, the music on The Flamingo Complex is an inspiring blend of positive vibes and classic Hip Hop influences intertwined with a fresh, modern delivery. These guys have skills, and with this album, they deserve a break to wider recognition, outside their current following.
This album has little to no weaknesses, but the single “Smoke My Pain” deserves a special mention, such a powerful track that will resonate with anybody using weed to cope with loss, physical imperfections, or whatever kind of issue. The lyrical content on this album is REAL (no crime story fronting here), the personal adversities the Odd Squad Family guys have to live with every day make them all the more relatable and inspirational.
The Flamingo Complex is an easy-listening, musically well-rounded, lyrically deep, all-around great album (with gorgeous cover art too). Don’t sleep on Odd Squad Family and The Flamingo Complex.
145. Noyz82 - Blade Runner Basquiat (2021)
Blade Runner Basquiat is a great project that will pass way under most people’s radars, unfortunately. This is one of today’s many independently released projects that are suffering from a total lack of marketing and promotion – even the artists themselves sometimes don’t seem to be making much of an effort to get their music noticed. You will not find projects like this one if you’re not willing to dig deep. NYC-based rapper/producer Noyz82 almost doesn’t have much of an online presence, so it’s up to people to stumble upon his Bandcamp page. Often it’s not a bad thing music is hard to find, but in this case, it’s a shame – Blade Runner Basquiat is way too good to stay unnoticed.
Blade Runner Basquiat is Noyz82’s first full-length presentation, about which he stated: “10 songs dealing with exposing my demons, flaws, lamenting on my successes and failures as a human…all while being a narcissistic pompous a**hole talking the biggest sh*t in the only way I know how.” Noyz82’s bars and flows are dope enough, but it’s his beats that steal the show here – the production on Blade Runner Basquiat is superb. Deliciously dark and atmospheric, with bass-heavy beats and slightly experimental vibes – Noyz82 comes with a unique own sound you shouldn’t sleep on.
146. C. Ray - Rhodes (2020)
Charles Rhodes II, better known as C. Ray, is a producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and audio engineer from Pasco, Washington. C. Ray is part of Boostwell Music, Rebellion 9 as well as Twisted Insane’s label Brainsick Muzik. Rhodes is C. Ray’s first full-length project in the 2020s, one that deserves attention. There’s nothing wrong with C. Ray’s instrumentals, but it’s the vocals that make Rhodes an interesting album. C. Ray is a versatile vocalist – he changes styles continuously, from a fast, choppy, off-beat flow to a more ‘traditional’ delivery, with some singing thrown in the mix as well. His style takes some getting used to, and it will not be for everybody, but it is different enough to stay captivating – plus he comes with lyrics worth listening to. Rhodes runs for a full hour but doesn’t feel a minute too long – that says all about the quality and the entertainment value of this project.
In this oversaturated market where artists need to do what they can to capture the music consumer’s attention, too many artists place themselves at a disadvantage by slapping ugly cover art on their projects. A bad cover gives the impression the content will suck too. C. Ray does it right here – the cover art of Rhodes looks fresh and inspires curiosity, which gives the album a headstart.
Rhodes is one of the many projects released this year that will be (unwittingly) ignored by most Hip Hop listeners due to lack of exposure and reach, but it’s much better than new projects by overhyped mainstream rappers like Lil Baby and Lil Uzi Vert that dropped in the same week as Rhodes did and which got all the attention. It’s all about marketing and hype these days – replace C. Ray’s name with Kendrick Lamar’s and people would be tripping over each other to put the Album Of The Year label on Rhodes. You could do worse than check out this album – it just might be for you.
147. Eric Bobo & Stu Bangas - Empires (2021)
Empires is a collaboration between Cypress Hill percussionist Eric Bobo from Los Angeles and underground producer Stu Bangas from Boston – with an incredible list of feature artists: Mr. Lif, DJ Rhettmatic, Vinnie Paz, RJ Payne, Xzibit, B-Real, Pharoahe Monch, Psycho Les, DJ Ethos, Khujo Goodie, Lonnie Lyle, The Wordsmith, Rob Markman, Blacastan, Nowaah The Flood, Demrick Brevi, Reverie, Lord Goat, Krazy Race, Rakaa Iriscience, Blu, Apathy, Celph Titled, Ill Bill, OC, Sick Jacken, Huero Diablo, and Mercy Collazo all make appearances.
Stu Bangas is renowned for his raw, bass-heavy boom-bap beats, while Eric Bobo’s signature sound is Latin-flavored percussions – this East Coast/West Coast mix of styles comes off beautifully here. The album starts off with a bang with the title track “Empires” (with Mr. Lif & DJ Rhettmatic) and doesn’t let up. “Chemtrails” (with Vinnie Paz, RJ Payne & Xzibit) is a dope track, arguably the album’s best example for the seamless fit of Stu Bangas’ East Coast boom-bap and Eric Bobo’s West Coast percussions. “Total Kaos” (with Psycho Les and DJ Ethos), “No Survivors” (with Blacastan & Nowaah The Flood), “Another One For The Books” (with Celph Titled and Apathy), and “Street Smarts” (with Ill Bill and OC) are other stand-outs. Despite a couple of less memorable tracks in the middle of the tracklist, Empires is a dope collaboration between two producers who admirably managed to blend their own musical aesthetics into a cohesive new sound.
148. Rita J - The High Priestess (2021)
The High Priestess album hones in on the core of Chicago-based emcee/songwriter Rita J.’s humanity as she freely speaks on her personal trials and tribulations, offers her candid disposition on societal norms, highlights her newfound spiritual unfolding, and much more. Partnering with Chicago-based emcee/producer Neak, Rita J. develops a superbly soulful jazz-influenced record that exemplifies her modern growth and evolution as an artist. With Chicago-based emcee/producer Rashid Hadee serving as executive producer of The High Priestess, the overall musical landscape is sonically perfected to bring forth the progressive lyrical prowess of Rita J. and the polished retro/live Hip Hop production of Neak.
The High Priestess is a superb record. Rita J. has a great voice and an enjoyable flow, her introspective content is empowering, and Neak’s instrumentals are hard-hitting and super smooth at the same time. “Mad As Hell” and “Bussin’” are two bangers to start things off nicely, and with the exception of an unnecessary album-flow breaking 2-minute interlude in the middle of the tracklist, there are no skippable tracks – with stand-outs including “My King Is…”, “Reality”, “Ai Shadows”, and “Real Men Cry Too”.
149. Westside Gunn - Who Made The Sunshine (2020)
We have much respect for Westside Gunn the businessman, for his vision, and for his aesthetic flair. Nothing wrong with his ear for beats either. But admittedly we have never been a fan of Westside Gunn the rapper. We think his adlibs are intolerable (he thankfully toned them down some on this release), and we can’t stand his voice. There are plenty of other rappers with high-pitched voices, but the likes of B-Real, Sadat X, Ghostface Killah, and Danny Brown sound like grown men despite their high pitches – unlike WSG, who always comes off sounding like a child. If his voice and his adlibs don’t bother you, you’ll be able to enjoy his projects better.
Westside Gunn obviously knows about his shortcomings as an emcee, because like he did on Pray For Paris he stacked Who Made The Sunshine with features. Benny the Butcher, Black Thought, Boldy James, Busta Rhymes, Conway the Machine, Elcamino, Estee Nack, Flee Lord, Jadakiss, Keisha Plum, Slick Rick, Smoke DZA, Stove God Cook$, AA Rashid, and Armani Caesar – that’s an impressive list of names and the best feature list on a Griselda release so far, and there’s a roster of elite producers too to supply the musical backdrops.
Daringer, Beat Butcha, Conductor Williams, The Alchemist, and Just Blaze’s beats are mostly great – the typical dusty Griselda boom-bap sound is here. Benny the Butcher, Black Thought, and Jadakiss had killer verses, Conway always delivers, and Stove God Cook$ had the best verse on the 8-minute posse cut “Frank Murphy”.
“Frank Murphy” is the song on this album that will probably polarize opinions most, some will say the eerie and nightmarish instrumental is brilliant, others will say it sounds like a badly mixed recording of cats getting strangled. We like the track and will go as far as to say its artistic risk makes it one of the best cuts on the album.
The appearances of Busta Rhymes and especially Slick Rick are memorable too. They really don’t sound like they did in their prime anymore, but Busta’s energy is still there, and Slick Rick’s velvet-smooth flow is incomparable – it sure is good to see two Hip Hop icons appear on a Griselda album.
A couple of standout tracks on this album like “98 Sabers” with Benny, Conway, Armani Caesar, and an awesome Just Blaze beat), “The Butcher And The Blade” (with Benny and Conway), Ishkabibble’s (with Black Thought), “Ocean Prime” (with Busta Rhymes and Slick Rick), “Good Night” (with Slick Rick), and “Frank Murphy” (with Stove God Cook$, Elcamino, Estee Nack, Flee Lord, and Smoke DZA) – but a couple of throwaway tracks too, like “Liz Loves Luger” (with a smooth Armani Ceasar hook but some cringe-worthy WSG sex bars), the lackluster “Lessie” (with Keisha Plum), and “All Praises” (with dope verses from Boldy James and especially Jadakiss but terrible WSG singing on the hook).
The weaker tracks stand in the way of a higher rating, but all in all, this is another solid Griselda release. Westside Gunn takes a backseat to his guests, and he took it easy with his adlibs – both are good things. It’s better than the disappointing Flygod Is An Awesome God 2 tape and on par with the more polished Pray For Paris.
150. Goodie Mob - Survival Kit (2020)
Survival Kit is Goodie Mob’s sixth studio album, with all four original members – Big Gipp, Khujo, T-Mo, and Cee-Lo Green – present. Goodie Mob’s 1995 debut album Soul Food is an undisputed Hip Hop classic. The follow-up to Soul Food – Still Standing (1998)- is a top-tier Southern Hip Hop album too – both albums succeeded in striking a perfect balance between gritty gangsta-ism and socially conscious scope, not to mention both albums having groundbreaking production by Organized Noize production team Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown.
The three subsequent albums weren’t as good as the first two, even if they weren’t all bad. World Party (1999) was a bit of a disappointment disenfranchising some fans with its quasi-commercialism, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show (2004) may not have been great but it was a solid and underrated comeback (even without Cee-Lo who had left the group to pursue a solo pop career), and Age Against The Machine (2013) had its moments but was a mixed bag because of its messy musical eclectism, arguably too focused on the returned Cee-Lo.
So what about Survival Kit? Is it on par with Goodie Mob’s first two, or more in line with the last three? Survival Kit is a kind of Dungeon Family reunion – Organized Noize takes care of production duties, OutKast legends André 3000 and Big Boi show up for guest verses (though not on the same song), and Big Rube make appearances on the two interludes. Organized Noize can always be relied on to provide smooth musical backdrops, and lyrically Survival Kit is an album for the times with its socio-political commentaries – dealing with topics like police brutality, societal unrest, injustices, and such.
Public Enemy’s Chuck D takes care of the hook on the rock-flavored album opener “Are You Ready”, one of the strongest tracks on the album. Other stand-outs include “Frontline”, “No Cigar” (with André 3000), “Prey 4 Da Sheep” (with Big Boi), the empowering “4 My Ppl”, the feel-good anthem “off-Road”, the beat-switching “Calm B4 Da Storm”, and “Amazing Grays”. There are a couple of weaker tracks too (like “Try We”) but on a 14-song tracklist with a 54-minute runtime, a dud or two can be forgiven.
All in all, Survival Kit is a well-put-together comeback effort – Goodie Mob’s best album since Still Standing.