17 independent hip hop releases of 2020 we recommend buying on Bandcamp today
Bandcamp is doing one of its first Fridays fundraisers today (6/5), for which Bandcamp waives its cut of sales for 24 hours and all profits go to artists and labels. This originally started as a way to help artists impacted by COVID-19, but in the midst of the nationwide protests against police brutality, many artists and labels are donating their profits to racial justice causes today. Like the past two Bandcamp Days, there are several special/exclusive releases out in time for today's fundraiser, on top of all the great music that was already available on Bandcamp. If you're looking for some ideas of what to pick up on Bandcamp today, we've put together a list of 17 independent (unsigned or signed to indie labels) hip hop artists with great 2020 releases available on the platform. Here they are, in no particular order:
Armand Hammer - Shrines
Shrines immediately resonates as top-tier work from Armand Hammer (Billy Woods and Elucid), and from the album's many impressive guests: Earl Sweatshirt, R.A.P. Ferreira, Moor Mother, Pink Siifu, Quelle Chris, Akai Solo, Fielded, and others. With psychedelic, experimental production coming from Earl, Navy Blue, Kenny Segal, and others, Shrines partially falls under "abstract rap," and sometimes Billy and Elucid's metaphors and tongue-twisters contribute to that too, but usually they contrast the trippiness with a loud, clear delivery and lyrics that are full of venom. Even with the avant-rap niche that Billy, Elucid, and their usual collaborators have carved out for themselves, Armand Hammer remain in a lane of their own. Read more here.
ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel
If you're digging the new Armand Hammer, you might wanna pick up the recent LP from their Backwoodz labelmates ShrapKnel too. Elucid produced almost this whole record, Billy Woods guests on it, and ShrapKnel's Curly Castro guests on Shrines. This is another of the year's finest underground rap records, but compared to the sometimes-hazy Armand Hammer album, this one is pure darkness.
R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages
Purple Moonlight Pages is a substantial, immersive album that lends itself to repeated listens and reveals more each time, and it already feels on par with Rory’s best work. Production wise, it varies between far-out psychedelia, real-deal jazz, and eerie atmospheric instrumentals (provided by the Jefferson Park Boys, aka Kenny Segal, Mike Parvizi, and Mr. Carmack), and Rory’s raps vary between the unconventional flow and tongue-twisting lyricism that has been part of underground hip hop since the early ’90s, spoken word, slam poetry, and flashes of the more conventional, accessible style of the boom bap era. Read more here.
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - >Innocent Country 2
Mello Music Group
Almost every guest from the first Innocent Country is on this new one too (Cavalier, Denmark Vessey, Big Sen, Fresh Daily), but this time the duo also roped in some exciting bigger names like Earl Sweatshirt, Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus, and Homeboy Sandman, as well as some other underground rap figures who are having a moment right now like Pink Siifu and Billy Woods. The new album also sounds bigger and brighter than the first one. Chris Keys' warm, jazz-inspired production sounds as lively as walking into a jazz club, and that's at least partially because Chris played and recorded the instruments himself. And Quelle Chris is an increasingly commanding rapper, who sounds even more effortlessly great than he did five years ago. Read more here.
Pink Siifu - NEGRO
We said: It's one big, dense sound collage that brings free jazz, noisy punk, spoken word, and rap music together, and Siifu tells DJ Booth that working with producer Slauson Malone was part of the influence for that. "When we wanna go in on a DJ mix, that’s how Slauson’s albums be sounding," he says. It does sound as much like a DJ mix as an album, and Siifu stuffs in as many ideas lyrically as he does musically.
Today, 50% of proceeds from cassette purchases of NEGRO go to "causes and organizations fighting tha fight on different levels in Los Angeles Oakland and New York City."
Shabazz Palaces - The Don of Diamond Dreams
It's Shabazz Palaces so it still sounds like an outer space acid trip compared to most rap music, but it's the most compact and fat-trimmed thing Shabazz have released since Black Up. As much as I appreciate the sprawling epics, Shabazz are at their best when they channel all their ambition into a more tightly-packed album like this one. Read more here.
Navy Blue - Àdá Irin
The production is full of soul samples that melt into each other and sound like they're literally being played on warped vinyl, and Navy Blue's delivery is meandering and stream-of-consciousness, with the words just rolling off his tongue with no clear end in sight. The amount of albums in this style seems to be increasing every year, but Navy Blue is clearly very good at what he does, so if you're craving more of this kinda thing, don't sleep on this one. Read more here.
Tha God Fahim - Lost Kingz
Tha God Fahim hails from Atlanta, but his music has more in common with the underground rap scene that's happening in NYC and that Earl Sweatshirt (who has collaborated with Fahim) has been a big proponent of. Fellow Earl collaborator Mach-Hommy is on this album, and he's the only guest besides underground vet Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks. And if you gravitate towards that kind of left-of-the-dial rap, you're probably gonna wanna hear Lost Kingz. Read more here.
Preservation - Eastern Medicine, Western Illness
Preservation recorded this album in Hong Kong and dedicated it to the people of Hong Kong, and he also featured some local artists on it: rapper Young Queenz, opera singer Michelle Siu, and guzheng player Chin King. He also is clearly tapped in to the current underground rap scene and featured a handful of artists who are either new and rising or who have been around but are having more of a moment now than ever, including Navy Blue, Mach-Hommy, Your Old Droog, Billy Woods, Quelle Chris, and more. All of those artists are different, but they all share a love of both golden age rap tradition and experimental futurism, which makes them perfect for a Preservation record. Preservation also really knows how to tie it all together and make Eastern Medicine, Western Illness sound like one cohesive record even though there's a different rapper on every track. Read more here.
Medhane - Cold Water
This is Medhane's second full-length of 2020, following Full Circle, and his third in the past six months, including last fall's Own Pace -- and for some artists that would be over-saturation, but Medhane just keeps getting better. The production on Cold Water is some of the most stunning in Medhane's discography yet, and his rapping is louder and clearer and more purposeful than ever. Read more here.
ovrkast. - Try Again
You might remember Oakland artist ovrkast. was on Earl Sweatshirt's great 2019 project Feet of Clay alongside Mavi, and Mavi's also on Try Again, as is Navy Blue, Demahjiae and Pink Siifu. Going by the sounds of Try Again, it's no surprise that Earl is a fan. overkast's jazzy production sucks you right in, and his subtle rapping style suits the beats perfectly.
Akai Solo - Ride Alone, Fly Together
Break All Records
Brooklyn's Akai Solo runs in the same circles as a lot of the rappers mentioned above (this album features Pink Siifu, who Akai Solo released a collaborative album with last year, it was almost entirely produced by iblss who worked on the latest Medhane LP, and Akai is also on the new Armand Hammer), but he's a force of his own, never overshadowed by his peers. This LP finds him rapping over smoky, psychedelic production, and the way the words just fall out of his mouth suits these beats perfectly.
Conway the Machine & Big Ghost Ltd - No One Mourns The Wicked
Conway's second EP of 2020 (following the Alchemist-produced LULU) is the Big Ghost Ltd-produced No One Mourns The Wicked. The EP is bookended by two heavier tracks -- the rap/doom metal hybrid "Dead Flowers" and the almost horrorcore sounding "Sicarios" -- but mostly it's what you expect from Conway: hazy, psychedelic production matched in intensity by Conway's gritty bars. The only two guests are Griselda associates El Camino and Flee Lord, but Conway has no trouble carrying the bulk of this EP on his own. He still finds ways to make familiar music sound fresh, he loads this EP with memorable punchlines, and really it's worth listening just to hear him rhyme "paraphernalia" with "Arabic tailor." Read more here.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED
When UNLOCKED first arrived, I said its brevity, surprise release, carefree attitude, and the fact that it was recorded in three days shouldn't make it seem any less essential than the landmark albums Denzel Curry recently released, and that already feels like an understatement. Now that it's had time to settle in, it just feels like Denzel Curry has yet again made some of the best new rap music around. UNLOCKED pays obvious homage to a lot of turn-of-the-millennium rap music, from its Matt Doo-like artwork to the MF DOOM style production to the DMX style cadences, but Denzel and Kenny make it all their own. "I came through like a bastard - nobody father my style," Denzel raps, and even on an album that reads like a love letter to Denzel's faves, you still believe him.
The Professionals - The Professionals
As expected given Madlib's recent hot streak, this long-awaited album is really good. Madlib's production is as warped and psychedelic as ever, and Oh No keeps everything grounded with cold, forceful rhymes that act as a well-matched foil to Madlib's trippier production. Oh No handles almost all of the rapping himself, and for the few times he does bring in guests, it's other long-running underdogs like Chino XL and former Slum Village member Elzhi, both of whom show up in fine form on standout track (and recent single) "Superhumans." Read more here.
lojii - lo&behold
Philly rapper lojii made most of this album alone in his bedroom following the deaths of a few people who were very close to him, and you can feel all of that resonating in this haunted, somber rap album. "I was making loops as therapy," he told Bandcamp. "Some of them just inspired me to lay verses over them and get some of these thoughts and feelings out. I didn’t get too explicit, but all of the songs are journal entries. It was personal to me, even though I tried to write it in a way that people could connect to it." Guests include Pink Siifu, Akeema-Zane, and Nikko Gray.
Maassai - Unsounded Points of View
Maassai has been one of my favorite new rappers in NYC's rap underground lately. She kills it on Medhane's "I Was Just In The Mara" and Mavi's "Fire Alarm," and today she dropped this new three-song EP that's more proof of how hard she is. I kinda get some Digable Planets vibes, but colder and darker and firmly planted in today's world.