Music

The Best Underground Rap Albums You Should Be Listening To

It’s a shame that more people don’t realize that musically speaking, hip-hop is as healthy as its ever been. The mainstream side of things may not be as diverse as some purists would desire, but that doesn’t mean that the sound you’re seeking doesn’t exist. All it takes is a little digging to find a rewarding rabbit hole of bold, gifted artists making music with no regards to streaming numbers or Billboard charts. Start with the artists on this list (who dropped music from August on) and work your way around from there:

Homeboy Sandman — Dusty

For his Mello Music debut album, Queens MC Homeboy Sandman decided to do some artistic rekindling with Mono En Stereo, who previously laced him for the entirety of his Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent album. His latest album Dusty could be considered another homage to a classic hip-hop sound, as Mono En Stereo provided Homeboy a canvas of head-nodding beats sourced from a diverse suite of jazz, soul and funk samples. Sandman knocked it out of the park with his assonant bars and feel-good, philosophical lyricism such as “Name” and “Live & Breathe.”

Cambatta & Black Magik, — Holy Ghost 2

New Haven, CT rapper Cambatta and producer Black Magik returned to the well on Holy Ghost 2, the secure to their previous project. The first project was six songs, but the duo decided to literally double down on their considerable chemistry with a full-length 12-track album. Cambatta picks up where he left off on the previous album, showcasing his spiritual curiosity and wisdom-packed bars over atmospheric beats that serve his mystical mic presence.

Michael Christmas — Baggy Eyes 2

Boston’s Michael Christmas shows off his versatile mic presence throughout Baggy Eyes 2. The intro showcases him rhyming earnestly over a jazzy, knocking production, exemplifying his lyrical ability. But that’s not the whole of who Christmas is. His knack for melody and tongue-twisting flows shine throughout the rest of the project, especially on tracks like “Worth” and “Who Am I,” where he gets introspective and examines his eternal duality. “Who is he?” he asks. My answer: a damn-good MC.

Azealia Banks — Yung Rapunxel: Pt. II

We may hear a lot about Azealia Banks’ comments and antics, but the reality is if she wasn’t talented people wouldn’t be giving her chance after chance. Yung Rapunxel: Pt. II is her first full-length project since the hilariously titled SLAY-Z. The album was uploaded as one track on SoundCloud, and it’s indeed best to take in the 30-minute project as a singular ride. One gnashing production bleeds into the next, and Banks is a worthy host with a mic presence that alternates between rhyming, singing, and other times straight up railing against the ruckus over the electronic and techno production.

Bishop Nehru & Brady Watt — The Real Book, Vol. 1

Bishop Nehru is still prepping his Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts album, but he dropped a collaborative EP with producer Brady Watt in the meantime. Nehru told Complex that Brady was simply sending him beats, but he was so “drawn to” Watt’s soulful, jazzy production that they turned their artistic kinship into an entire album. Nehru sounds engaged and locked in over the five-track project, especially on “Enjoy The Ride” with Jon B (yes, that Jon B).

Mike G — Exile

Odd Future didn’t quite take over the rap game like music media prognosticators predicted at the turn of the decade, but members of the talented collective such as Mike G are still around and doing their thing. In August, he dropped Exile, a nine-track project. On the title track “Exile,” Mike G gets an immersive beat from The Internet’s Syd and digs deep, imploring listeners that “you can be who you want to be on your journey.” Mike G spends the bulk of the project interspersing jewels into the nihilism on tracks such as “Burton” and “Across The Hall (Get Off Me).”

Matt Muse — Love & Nappyness

Matt Muse’s Love & Nappyness is an unabashed ode to Black love. But Muse also uses the 6-song EP to explore his evolution from “me at 16 swearin’ I’m gon be a preacher to 21 writin’ raps and ignorin’ teachers, now me at 26, ten years from you.” The lush album is dominated by sultry, minimalist production which places his musings front and center. From “Love Wrong” to “Myself,” Muse explores the wide-ranging emotions tied into relationships in a fashion relatable to lovers young and old.

Von Pea — City For Sale

Von Pea described City For Sale as a breakup album. But the fracture he’s mourning isn’t romantic, it’s capitalistic. Gentrification is a scourge of most metropolitan cities, especially Pea’s native Brooklyn. On City For Sale, Von Pea uses various Brooklyn cross-streets as prompts to reflections of his past on tracks like “Round The Way” and “The Norm,” where he delivers an ode to the “block that they ain’t gentrify” over a jazzy soundscape.
He fully produced the project, proving it a deeply cathartic time capsule of a changing metropolis.

Rass Kass — Soul On Ice 2

Legendary rapper Rass Kass is one of the most unheralded lyricists of his era. His Soul On Ice album is one of rap’s hidden gems, and he decided to bring new light to the album with a sequel. The followup to his opus is another example of a rapper staying sharp into his middle age. Rass explores the social construct of race on tracks like “Midnight Sun” with Ceelo Green and “White Power” with Immortal Technique, then goes toe to toe with hip-hop vets like Snoop Dogg, Styles P and Lil Fame on “LL Cool J” and “Guns N Roses” respectively. While the original Soul On Ice is a hard act to top, Rass Kass offered up a strong project nonetheless.

Chris Rivers — G.I.T.U.

“You don’t know Chris you just know what I’m showing you.” Chris Rivers proclaims on G.I.T.U. The album title’s acronym stands for “Greatest In The Universe,” a lofty goal and worldview he exhibits throughout the 16-track album. G.I.T.U. is a confessional album in which Rivers explores his traumas, highs and lows with heartfelt candor and lyrical precision on songs like “G.O.D.” and “Wolf Mode,” where he affirms that his “skin is tough as hell” through his various trials.

Billy Woods — Terror Management

Billy Woods’ Terror Management album is an honest, caustic indictment of western society. From “Western Education Is Forbidden” to “Birdsong,” Woods’ disdain for white supremacy is on full display. His free-wheeling, spoken-word style rhymes imbue the 18-track project with a controlled fury that perfectly parallels the feelings of so many oppressed Americans.

ScienZe — ScienZe Was Here

Brooklyn’s ScienZe has been an underground stalwart for years. ScienZe Was Here is a refreshing return to form for the talented lyricist. As he noted on his Bandcamp page, the 11-track album is the first project “since 2016 that isn’t a love story.” The focus is on him, and he’s a candid storyteller throughout the project, from “Weeksville” to “ThunderCats,” where he celebrates being “just another day up on this mountain doing artist sh*t.”

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