So much rap music comes out all the time, and especially with frequent surprise releases, it can be hard to keep track of it all. So, as a way to help keep up with all of it, here’s a roundup of the 9 rap albums from March 2021 that stood out to us most. We also probably still missed or haven’t spent enough time with some great March rap albums that aren’t on this list. What were some of your favorites of last month? Let us know in the comments, and read on for the list (unranked, in no particular order)…
Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram
Armand Hammer and The Alchemist is a match made in underground rap heaven. Armand Hammer (the duo of ELUCID and billy woods) have released some of the most beloved records in this genre of the past few years (including last year’s Shrines, one of our favorite albums of 2020) and the individual members have done so separately as well, and The Alchemist is constantly behind so much of the best left-of-the-dial rap music, including last year’s Freddie Gibbs and Boldy James albums, both of which he entirely produced and both of which also cracked our year-end list. Sometimes dream pairings like these sound better on paper than they do in execution, but not in this case. Haram is exactly what you’d hope an Alchemist-produced Armand Hammer album would be.
The Alchemist creates a gorgeous soundscape that sounds like it pulls from warped jazz and soul samples, psych-rock guitar, trippy film scores, and more. It feels vintage, but it’s too abstract to qualify as boom bap or any other subgenre that actually existed during rap’s golden age. It sounds like The Alchemist catering to Armand Hammer’s usual sound, but still putting his own spin on it. And his own spin is just a little brighter, livelier, and more direct than the production on Shrines, and it seems like woods and ELUCID have responded to that by rapping in a way that’s just a little harder and more direct than their verses on Shrines. Some of the Shrines guests reprise their roles on this one (Earl Sweatshirt, Quelle Chris, Curly Castro, and Fielded), and KAYANA and Amani joined the party this time too. It should come as no surprise that those guests all fit perfectly within Haram‘s world (especially Earl, who is not only a recurring guest for Armand Hammer but also a frequent Alchemist collaborator), and as on Shrines, woods and ELUCID share the spotlight with their talented friends in ways that benefit the album as a whole. Haram isn’t just a well-executed Armand Hammer/Alchemist collaboration; it’s a showcase for the greater world of underground rap.
DJ Muggs & Flee Lord – Rammellzee
Last year, Flee Lord released one album each month. Meanwhile, DJ Muggs’ 2021 has been off to a similarly prolific start. He already released an entire album with Rome Streetz, as well as the solo album Dies Occidendum, and now the Cypress Hill producer has helmed an entire new Flee Lord album, his first of 2021, Rammellzee. Like Rome Streetz, Flee is an up and coming New York rapper who’s a devotee of his home city’s mid ’90s boom bap (he was initially a protégé of the late Prodigy), and as Muggs recently said, “I’ma continue to [work with the next generation of rappers], and educate along the way with who wants to listen, and show them how to stake what they have and expand it.”
As he did on the Rome Streetz album, Muggs provides Flee with a hypnotic backdrop that feels equal parts vintage and fresh. Flee knows exactly what to do with it, and guest appearances from Ghostface Killah, Roc Marciano, Meyhem Lauren, CRIMEAPPLE, and T.F. fit perfectly within this sonic universe.
YUNGMORPHEUS & ewonee – Thumbing Thru Foliage
LA rapper YUNGMORPHEUS has been building up a reputation as a reliable staple of the rap underground, and a very prolific one too. He already released the very good LP States of Precarity in January, and he released another full-length album, Thumbing Thru Foliage, on March 5 via Bad Taste. States of Precarity was self-produced but this one’s a collaboration with producer ewonee, and ewonee brings a much different vibe to the table, favoring big, clear arrangements compared to States of Precarity‘s hazy psychedelia.
“I consider this album a call to action of sorts,” YUNGMORPHEUS said. “The world is rife with distractions and oppressive tactics but niggas move through it nonetheless ! Respect to ewonee for providing a beautiful backdrop for me to get some much needed shit off my chest. Maneuver through the foliage yall…Power to all black people ! Salute to those who listen.”
Nappy Nina & JWords – Double Down
Oakland rapper Nappy Nina and NJ producer JWords teamed up for a new album, Double Down, which pairs skittering, psychedelic production from JWords with dizzying, abstract poetry from Nina. “Real Tea” features Stas THEE Boss of the much-missed duo THEESatisfaction (who also sequenced the album), and “Thin Ice” features JWords’ H31R partner Maassai with co-production from KeiyaA.
KOTA The Friend & Statik Selektah – To Kill A Sunrise
Brooklyn rapper KOTA The Friend has been on the rise for the past few years and he’s also been highly prolific. It’s not easy to keep up with his output, but don’t miss out on To Kill A Sunrise, which was entirely helmed by the great Statik Selektah. Statik delivers a batch of his finest ’90s-style boom bap, and KOTA effortlessly rises to the occasion.
Benny the Butcher – The Plugs I Met 2
Black Soprano Family
At this point, Griselda is a gigantic force within both mainstream and underground rap, and the growing collective remains almost too prolific. There’s a lot of good stuff that’s come out of the Griselda camp in the past few years, and one of the very best releases is Benny the Butcher’s 2019 project The Plugs I Met. It perfectly captures Benny and his pals’ abilities to tap into gritty ’90s New York boom bap in a way that rivals their forebears and feels vintage and modern at the same time. Benny went in a smoother, more polished direction on last year’s Burden of Proof — an album that’s excellent in a totally different way — and we now know that at the same time he recorded that album, he recorded a sequel to The Plugs I Met. Burden of Proof was recorded entirely with producer Hit-Boy in California, while Plugs 2 was done in Brooklyn with Harry Fraud, and as Benny says, “you can hear that influence.” Plugs 2 has a different cast of collaborators than Plugs 1 (which was produced by Alchemist, Daringer, Beat Butcha, and the late DJ Shay and featured Black Thought, Jadakiss, Pusha T, and more), but it captures that same grimy feel of pre-Jiggy Era New York. Harry Fraud taps into that sound perfectly, and guests like New York vets Fat Joe and Jim Jones, as well as the versatile 2 Chainz, fit right in. Like on all of his projects, though, the star is always Benny himself. He has a seemingly endless arsenal of knockout punchlines, and he brings plenty of them to this new record.
By the way, Burden of Proof is now available on vinyl and you can get it in our store.
2 Eleven – Mastermind
West Coast rapper 2 Eleven followed up 2020’s Success Is The Best Revenge with a new project, Mastermind, and six of its eight songs feature Freddie Gibbs. It’s not technically billed as a collaborative album with Gibbs, but it may as well be, and it continues the hot streak that Gibbs has been on since the back-to-back successes of Bandana (with Madlib) and Alfredo (with The Alchemist). Gibbs may be the more popular rapper at the moment, but 2 Eleven sounds pretty fired-up on these songs too. Other guests include Cassie, Quincey White, and Rucci.
Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – $mokebreak
One of last year’s best rap albums was the collaborative LP from Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin, Fly Siifu’s. It’s a psychedelic, jazzy, post-boom bap album that shows off tons of chemistry between Siifu and Anakin and reminds you why these two are some of the most prominent names in rap’s thriving underground. Turns out, they’ve got more where that 22-song album came from: a new 9-song EP, $mokebreak, which is every bit as good as the full-length (and is also being paired with the full-length on a new deluxe edition). The EP has some of the same producers as the full-length (iiye, Ohbliv, Graymatter, Ahwlee) and guests (Fousheé, B. Cool-Aid), but it also has an impressive cast of new collaborators, with verses from Chuck Strangers, YUNGMORPHEUS, MAVI, Zeeloperz, Koncept Jack$on and production from Ewonee and Black Noi$e — all artists who are defining this current moment in underground rap as much as Siifu and Anakin themselves. If you heard the full-length, you pretty much know what to expect from the overall vibe of the EP. The production is hazy and hypnotic, and there’s a smoky, laid-back vibe to the rapping too, but in a way that still feels forceful and bulletproof. Fly Siifu’s was a great show, and every great show deserves its equally great encore.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – UNLOCKED 1.5
Last year, the great Florida rapper Denzel Curry teamed with the great punk-inspired rap producer Kenny Beats for the collaborative mini-album UNLOCKED, which led to us including Denzel on a best-of-the-year list for the third year in a row. Now, he and Kenny have followed it with a semi-sequel, UNLOCKED 1.5. It’s technically a remix album, but it’s not your average remix album. Almost every track was given a pretty drastic makeover by an extremely impressive cast of musicians/producers — including Robert Glasper, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Charlie Heat, Sango, and Jay Versace — and genuinely great new verses were added by Joey Bada$$, Benny the Butcher, Smino, Arlo Parks, and Kenny Mason. The songs are still recognizable as the UNLOCKED songs, but this shows them in a totally different light. It’s a worthy companion to an already-great album, and truly adds something new.
YBN Nahmir – Visionland
Young Dolph & Key Glock – Dum and Dummer 2
Rod Wave – SoulFly
JAHMED – ARMANI
CRIMEAPPLE – YDFWC?
Bruiser Wolf – Dope Game Stupid
For more new rap, listen below or subscribe to a playlist of 39 rap songs we like from March 2021.
Past monthly rap album roundups here. For more hip hop, stay up to date with our weekly rap and R&B song roundups, and read our daily hip hop coverage here.