Last year, we posted a list of independent hip hop releases of 2020 that we recommend buying on Bandcamp, and if you’re missing any of those, we still recommend them. But as it’s a new year, here’s a list of independent hip hop releases from 2021 that we recommend buying on Bandcamp.
On the first Friday of every month, Bandcamp waives its cut of sales for 24 hours and all profits go to artists and labels, so we recommend buying these on one of Bandcamp’s fundraiser days. But they’re also just great albums that we recommend any day of the year.
Here they are, in no particular order…
Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram
Armand Hammer and The Alchemist is a match made in underground rap heaven. 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. Read more here.
Various Artists (Mello Music Group) – Bushido
If you follow underground rap, Mello Music Group needs no introduction. It’s one of the best — if not the best — current labels in the entire genre. They take influence from veteran indies like Loud, Stones Throw, Rhymesayers, and Def Jux, and they’re as crucial today as those labels all were in their primes. I can say, without any exaggeration, that every single album MMG has released in the past who-knows-how-many years is worth checking out. They also sometimes apply their curatorial skills to compilations, like the new Bushido, which is just as essential as the label’s albums by a single artist.
Bushido isn’t a “label sampler”; all of the songs are exclusive to this disc, and it’s full of exciting collaborations that you won’t find anywhere else, with a mix of staples from MMG’s roster and underground legends like Kool Keith and B-Real. Production comes from The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Georgia Anne Muldrow, The Lasso, Oddisee, L’Orange, Quelle Chris, !llmind, Nottz, and more, and verses come from Open Mike Eagle, Homeboy Sandman, Oddisee, Quelle Chris, Namir Blade, Skyzoo, Joell Ortiz, Cambatta, Murs, Solemn Brigham, and more, and the result is song after song of captivating left-of-the-dial rap music. It’s still a compilation, but it’s sequenced well and there’s a good flow to it; it’s not the kind of comp that makes you wanna skip around. It functions as a showcase for so much of the great rap music happening outside of the mainstream right now, and it also just functions as a great album in its own right.
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.
Observe Since ’98 – Le Dernier Royaume
Observe Since ’98 hails from Wisconsin but he channels the same kind of gritty, noir-ish, New York boom bap that guys like Roc Marciano and Griselda do. His excellent new album is made up of beats sourced from obscure French records, and it features Jay NiCE, Knowledge the Pirate, MAV, and others.
Lukah – When The Black Hand Touches You
Memphis rapper/producer Lukah’s new album When The Black Hand Touches You favors psychedelic, futuristic production (by Cities Aviv, Hollow Sol, Livin, and Lukah himself), but the rapping is as focused and clear-eyed as can be, and it’s largely a protest album that takes on all kinds of societal injustices. Lukah gave a very in-depth interview to Cvlt Nation which provides a ton of worthy background info on this LP.
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.”
MAVI – End of the Earth EP
MAVI’s breakthrough moment came in 2019, when he appeared on Earl Sweatshirt’s Feet of Clay and released his debut project Let The Sun Talk, which featured contributions from Earl and MIKE. His hazy, abstract rap was frequently compared to theirs, but Let The Sun Talk had something unique about it, and MAVI continued to carve out a path of his own on the string of singles he put out in 2020. Now he finally put out his first new project since Let the Sun Talk, the five-song End of the Earth EP, and it finds him continuing down the appealing path he’s been on for the last few years. It’s brief, and like Let The Sun Talk, it gradually draws you in rather than ever jumping out at you, but repeated listens prove to be rewarding and this EP continues to reveal more and more about itself. The production is formless yet focused, pulling from glistening jazz keys and psychedelic atmosphere, but MAVI’s lyrics read like in-depth poetry. (It makes sense that the artwork references Shel Silverstein and that the full name of this EP is “End of the Earth, the poems and compositions of Mavi.”) MAVI’s overall sound will probably still get compared to Earl and Mike, but boiling these songs down to comparisons minimizes how carefully thought-out they are.
Maassai – With The Shifts
Maassai has been establishing herself as one of the most promising and prolific new voices in underground New York rap, with a handful of quality 2020 releases and a slew of notable guest appearances dating back to 2018, and she kicked off 2021 with With The Shifts, which — at nine tracks — is her lengthiest project yet, and one of her strongest. The production (which comes from Laron, Contour, and Nelson Bandela) pulls from freeform jazz and psychedelia, and as an MC, Maassai is equally indebted to stream-of-consciousness poetry and hard-hitting rap. It orbits somewhere between classic Digable Planets and latter-day Earl Sweatshirt, and Maassai’s commanding voice and sharp lyricism makes it stand out from other albums in this realm. When Maassai follows a standout verse from Akai Solo (who tapped Maassai for the intro to his 2019 album with Pink Siifu, Black Sand) on “The Shifts,” her power becomes even clearer.
R.A.P. Ferreira – Bob’s Son
R.A.P. Ferreira released one of our favorite rap albums of 2020 with Purple Moonlight Pages, and he followed it on New Year’s Day with the new album Bob’s Son, which he produced himself under his scallops hotel moniker. (The album’s full title is bob’s son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the garden level cafe of the scallops hotel.) The album’s an ode to beat poet Bob Kaufman, and it ends with a reading of Kaufman’s poem “Abomunist Manifesto,” and Ferreira’s own lyrics prove to be as surreal and tongue-twisting as when he’s quoting Kaufman. The album varies from experimental spoken word stuff to straight-up rap songs, and the scallops hotel production makes for a hazy, psychedelic contrast to the warmer, jazzier sounds of Purple Moonlight Pages. That album felt like a milestone in Ferreira’s already-great discography, and this one proves he’s still got plenty more to say.
Tha God Fahim & Your Old Droog – Tha Wolf On Wall St
In December, Your Old Droog released his new album Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition, which was produced/mixed by Tha God Fahim and executive produced by Mach-Hommy, and now Droog and Fahim have dropped a new collaborative album, Tha Wolf On Wall St, with guest appearances by Mach-Hommy on two songs. Fahim handled all of the warm, jazzy production, and the way he and Droog trade verses hearkens right back to the classic boom bap era. Droog and Fahim are both obvious students of that era, but Tha Wolf On Wall St feels a little more intentionally vintage than the rappers’ own recent projects, and it’s fun to hear them tap directly into this stuff. The album feels like a lost mid ’90s gem, and its tight eight-song tracklist leaves you wanting more every time.
Your Old Droog & Tha God Fahim – Tha YOD Fahim
Just three weeks after releasing Tha Wolf On Wall St, Tha God Fahim and Your Old Droog returned with another collaborative LP. The two rappers are still taking cues from the same era on this one, and it’s still largely produced by Tha God Fahim, who handled all of Tha Wolf On Wall St‘s beats (plus it has some production by Quelle Chris, Preservation, Nottz, and more), but it’s a noticeably different album. Its predecessor was dark, somber, and deadly; in comparison, this one feels brighter, louder, and more lively. It makes sense that this album has artwork and song titles that are full of basketball references, and its predecessor was named after a Scorcese film full of crime, corruption, hard drugs, and extravagance. These new songs have the same energy as a buzzer shot.
lojii – taurus_EP
Philly rapper lojii follows up last year’s very good lo&behold with a new EP, taurus_EP. It was entirely produced by lo&behold contributor absentavery, who keeps things warm and jazzy which is a perfect fit for lojii’s pensive style. The EP is dedicated to his cat Taurus, who he’s painted with (by LukeMade) on the artwork. “thank u everybody who helped $ave my lil familiar,” lojii writes. “this project is named after her. she made a full recovery. pls accept these loosies as a show of gratitude.
Conway The Machine & Big Ghost Ltd – If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed
Conway The Machine (who seemed to recently shut down rumors that he was leaving Griselda) is gearing up to release his Shady debut God Don’t Make Mistakes this year, but first he reunited with producer Big Ghost Ltd (who helmed last year’s No One Mourns The Wicked EP) for a new 10-song project, If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed. As on their last collab, Big Ghost Ltd blesses Conway with some of the most ominous production he’s ever rapped over, while also finding plenty of time for the kinds of warm, soul sample-fueled beats that exist right at the center of Conway’s comfort zone. Ghost knows exactly how to deliver in both cases, and Conway remains an A+ spitter who still has plenty of detailed stories to tell.
J.U.S – GOD GOKU JAY-Z
If you’re unfamiliar with J.U.S, the big selling point of this album is that it heavily features Danny Brown, but once you dive into it, J.U.S (who’s part of Danny’s Bruiser Brigade crew) proves to be a force of his own. Black Noi$e, Skywlkr, Raphy, and a few other producers provide J.U.S with blurry, psychedelic production, and J.U.S’ abstract tongue-twisters make the whole thing even more dizzying. GOD GOKU JAY-Z moves more like a series of vignettes than an album of rap songs, and the tracks all flow right into each other, making for a record that’s best consumed as one whole piece. (And it’s a quick listen.) Danny’s guest appearances spice things up, but you’ll leave this album feeling like Danny isn’t the only good thing about Bruiser Brigade.
Fat Ray – Santa Barbara
Fat Ray has been a staple of underground Detroit rap since his mid 2000s days as a frequent collaborator of Black Milk, but for such a long-running rapper, he doesn’t have a very vast discography to show for it — he’s done tons of guest verses over the years, but only put out a few of his own projects. Now, as part of Danny Brown’s label Bruiser Brigade’s 2021 takeover (which began in January with J.U.S’ album), he’s returned with Santa Barbara, and it hits as hard as the stuff he was doing over a decade ago. Danny and Black Milk both show up on “Dopeman Heaven” (the former raps on it, the latter produced it), so that song quickly emerged as a standout, but the bulk of the album was produced by Bruiser Brigade affiliate Raphy, who suits Ray’s bold, bassy rhymes as well as Black Milk did when Ray was breaking through.
Bruiser Wolf – Dope Game Stupid
Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade label continue their onslaught of 2021 releases with their third project of the year, Bruiser Wolf’s Dope Game. J.U.S. and Fat Ray, who each previously released an album on Briuser Brigade this year, appear on the album, and almost the whole thing was produced by Raphy (except the last song, produced by Knxwledge). Like the previous albums, Danny executive produced and he makes sure to appear on a track, “I’m A Instrument.” Danny brings star power to the track, but it’s hard to keep your ears off Bruiser Wolf. “Nobody sounds like this, I got my sound, I’m a instrument,” he raps. And, yeah, it’s very true.
Dark Time Sunshine – LORE
Underground rap duo Dark Time Sunshine (Seattle rapper Onry Ozzborn and Chicago producer Zavala) are back with their first album in nine years, and it features R.A.P. Ferreira, Homeboy Sandman, Hail Mary Mallon (aka Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, and DJ Big Wiz) and Ceschi. The long gap between albums has left the duo sounding totally refreshed, and if you’re unfamiliar with DTS, the cast of guests on this album should give you a good idea of what to expect. LORE connects the dots between Aesop Rock’s early 2000s alt-rap classics and R.A.P. Ferreira’s current version of left-of-the-dial rap music, and it’s no surprise that both of those greats fit in perfectly here. Read more about the album here.
Bbymutha – Muthaleficent 2
Underground rapper Bbymutha said her 2020 album Muthaland would mark the end of her career, but she has stayed prolific with other EPs and singles since then, and she returned today once again with this new seven-song EP. Zeelooperz and Fly Anakin appear on it, and it’s another very good offering of left-of-the-dial rap.
G4 JAG x MEPHUX – Regressions
New York rapper G4 JAG’s new project Regressions features Flee Lord, Eto, and others, and like those rappers, it’s in the vein of Griselda/Roc Marciano-style noir-ish boom bap, but G4 JAG stands out from the fast-growing pack with a delivery that’s low, booming, and quietly deadly.
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.
Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – $mokebreak EP
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$e — all artists who are defining this current moment in underground rap as much as Siifu and Anakin themselves. If you heard the full-length, you pretty much know what to expect from the overall vibe of the EP. The production is hazy and hypnotic, and there’s a smoky, laid-back vibe to the rapping too, but in a way that still feels forceful and bulletproof. Fly Siifu’s was a great show, and every great show deserves its equally great encore.
Though this one’s not out for a few weeks, you can pre-order it on Bandcamp now.
Koncept Jack$on & Ohbliv – JET MagaZINE ’21 Reissue
Ohbliv blesses this album with rich, psychedelic, funk/soul-inspired instrumentals that would make for a great album even without vocals, but Knocept Jack$on’s dizzying rhyme schemes make it even better.
Chris Crack – Might Delete Later
Chris Crack remains ridiculously prolific, and he continues to churn out worthwhile left-of-the-dial rap music. This 15-song project — his Fool’s Gold debut — features Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, Nickelus F, Lil Keisha, and others.
Amani – A CONSTANT CONDENSATION
Brooklyn rapper/producer Amani is back with the 12-song project A CONSTANT CONDENSATION. He produced the whole thing himself and there are no guests, and it’s full of warped, psychedelic production and equally dizzying poetry.