10. Injury Reserve – By the Time I Get to Phoenix [Self-Released]
One of the most “out there” rap albums released in 2021, Injury Reserve’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix, was bold and visionary enough to have some writers bandying around the term ‘post-rap’ to describe its deconstructive strangeness. While there are plenty of albums in hip-hop history that also could lay claim to this title, By the Time I Get to Phoenix’s avant-garde soundscapes do indeed stretch the genre beyond its limits, rupturing and splintering its traditional rhythms and textures until they mirror the world today: fractured, confused and full of possibilities.
9. Dave – We’re All Alone in This Together [Neighbourhood]
Twenty-three-year-old Dave has made a hell of a start to his music career. His 2019 debut Psychodrama is one of the most well-loved UK hip-hop albums in recent memory, and its 2021 sequel We’re All Alone in the Together is an even more ambitious and vital prospect. A devastating state of the nation address, the forlornly-toned album addresses mental health, institutional racism, and systemic poverty with piercing and clear insight. It all climaxes with “Heart Attack”, one of the most jaw-dropping pieces of spoken word you’ll hear all year.
8. Damu the Fudgemunk – Conversation Peace [Def Pressé]
Conversation Peace sees Damu the Fudgemunk dig through the KPM Originals Library to craft one of the year’s most colorful and psychedelic hip-hop fantasias. The endless layers of samples are rich and engrossing, infused with a timeless artistry that recalls the finest purveyors of sampledelica. The four-part album closer “Four Better or Worse” is an immensely rewarding listen and sums up everything that Conversation Peace is about – vibrant, soulful, and meticulously crafted.Conversation Peace by Damu The Fudgemunk
7. Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3 [4AD]
One of those releases that make you think “this artist deserves to conquer the world”, Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3, is a complete package, showcasing Tkay Maidza’s astonishing range and capabilities. From the club-ready “Syrup” to the soulful “So Cold” to the emotional “Cashmere”, the album genuinely offers something for all tastes. Now that Tkay Maidza’s Last Year Was Weird trilogy is complete, it more than proves she’s ready to take the next step and become the next great rap/pop/neo-soul superstar.
6. MIKE – Disco! [10K]
We’re living through a golden age of lo-fi, experimental hip-hop. MIKE’s Disco! is among the year’s most captivating demonstrations of what this branch of off-kilter rap is currently capable of. Rife with dreamy rhythms, looped samples, and MIKE’s lethargic vocals, Disco! is a bold and original work packed with differing moods, tones, and textures. One minute it’s warm and reflective, the next anxious and jittery. It’s hip-hop of the present moment, deeply indebted to the relentless multiplicity of internet culture. An essential listen for those seeking to understand underground hip-hop in 2021.