At UrbanSouth, we have mad love for hip-hop culture and its diverse offshoots and crossovers. Most mainstream hip-hop today, however, is void of any artistic expression; at best presenting a highly gloumorised version of those city streets. Rappers like lil' Wayne have tarnished a genre cultivated by the lyrical guises of Grandmaster Flash and poets of their era, 2 Pac and Biggie Smalls. These artists had something poignant and philosophical to say about the madness of the world, rather than the superficialties of today's movement.
UrbanSouth have handpicked 5 of the best underground hip hop albums including some hip-hop classics aswell as atmospheric tracks to cleanse the soul.
RJD2 - Deadringer
|Krohn mixing it up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania|
Parallels between the Shadow and RJD2 are clear to see but only in the way they use cut and paste sampling techniques. John Krohn, the face of RJD2 creates his own unique sound merging elements of soul, jazz, big band to create snippets of trip/hip-hop genius.
In fact, this album is so eclectic that it can't be categorised by one genre. Samples range from vocal slices from the Twilight Zone to theme clips from Scooby Doo. Songs may glide and fluctuate from one genre to another. From the hard hitting hip hop beats of Final Frontier to the more instrumental, chilled out vibes of Ghostwriter. Definitely worth a listen!
Del tha Funky Homosapien- Deltron 3030
Del, on the other hand, cultivated his own musicality favouring a more jazzy, experimental sound.
This sound was carved and shaped by the abstract turntablism of Kid Koala and the lo-fi atmospherics of Dan the Automator who both helped on the production and both feature as characters in the abstract narrative of Deltron 3030. A narrative that personifies the surreal but defiantly intellectual guises of Del tha Funky Homosapien.
The album itself represents the more arty side of hip-hop. Elaborate puns and encyclopaedic vocabulary merge with multiform instrumentals to form one of the best and underrated albums to come out of the new underground period. If you're listening to Del for the first time you may find his voice weirdly familiar, so to put you out of your misery before it starts, he has featured in several Gorrilaz tracks including the well-known Clint Eastwood.
Jurassic 5 - Self-Titled Album
|Living legends united|
At the time, the short old-school tracks were refreshing but can now be considered a masterstroke, guiding and shaping today's movement.
Aided by the production genius of industry giants Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark, the multi-layered instrumentals are submerged in history. References, allusions, resources- call them what you like- the often-obscure samples give the album an added dimension that sets it aside from the heavy lyricism of mainstream acts such as Public Enemy. One sample on the album is an instructional recording listing scientific terminology, another demonstrates the absurdity of playing Led Zeppelin next to Frank Sinatra. No doubt, the irony is intended here as the conflict is re-established later on, in the track "Lesson 6: The Lecture," where Sinatra is actually played over Zeppelin. Even more impressive is their incorporation of jazz fusion act Mahavishnu Orchestra and famous jazz trombonist Don Sebesky. The album really is a masterpiece. Injecting jazz-funk sensibilities into a edgy, raw turntablism sound, the album has the perfect balance between quality and experimentation. All in a slender 20 minutes of recording.
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
|Stoner Slug claims he smokes a pound of weed a year!|
With the dark urban story-telling delivered by Sean Daley (AKA, Slug) and the synthesizer-based production from DJ Anthony Davis, this album embodies the prevailing philosophies of the independent hip hop scene. Candid and honest, Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere are a far cry from those hip-hop superstars and their egomaniacal lyrics. They are the real deal -Combining dark and sometimes foreboding literary-infused vocals with sparse, chilled out beats, Atmosphere create a wholesome phonic experience without a single track worth skipping.
The album itself is cleverly thought out, split into three acts, it explores: us, me and you. A perplexing tune named, You kicks off the second act which is followed by my personal favourite track on the album, titled 'Yesterday.' No doubt a deeply reflective and sombre song, Slug shares his distant memories of a lost relative.
Hieroglyphics, also known as Hieroglyphics Crew or Hiero, are a hip hop collective based in Oakland California. Combining the art of rapping with jazz sensibilities , Hieroglyphics have gained a hefty cult following from a world wide audience. In fact, all members have enjoyed successful solo careers- founder and long-term members, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Casual and the Souls of Mischief; artists that are worthy of a top 5 place in their own right.
Hieroglyphics - Full Circle
Full circle is the critically acclaimed second album from Hieroglyphics that had a lot to live up to after the freewheeling prowess of 1998 debut album, 3rd eye vision.
Full circle surpasses all these expectations, offering a highly produced, jazzy imprint of different styles and genres.
Whether it's the eclectic sampling in Classic, the futuristic, psychedelic rap of Heatish or the soothing R and B aesthetic of 'Make Your Move,' Hieroglyphics move beyond a free-styling group to a eight-man-strong collective with a distinctive but coherent sound and image.
UrbanSouth have ultimate respect for those hip-hop bands that treat their work like an art, meticulously producing their beats and creating multi dimensional lyrics. There were a few difficult decisions, but we hope all those included in our Top 5 Underground Hip Hop Albums cleanse your soul and, of course, buff your buddha.