5. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert [Age 101 Music]
One of 2021’s indisputable hip-hop highlights, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, captures an artist operating at the peak of her powers. The album’s architecture is a thing to behold – 19 tracks of consistent brilliance that offer something different yet are wholly of a piece with one another. There’s an organic, tangible feel to the lush orchestration of “I Love You, I Hate” and the Afrobeats “Point and Kill” that gives Sometimes I Might Be Introvert a truly soulful quality, an ornate grandeur that’s all the more impressive given just how effortless it all feels.
4. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram [Backwoodz Studioz]
Armand Hammer (comprised of duo Billy Woods and ELUCID) working with the Alchemist is as fine a collaboration as you’ll find in all of contemporary underground hip-hop. The Alchemist’s production on Haram is minimal yet exquisitely crafted, best exemplified by the unsettling “Scaffolds” and the spacious “Indian Summer”. Billy Woods and ELUCID craft equally bold and enigmatic lyrics that blend existentialism with philosophical commentary via complex, layered rhymes. It’s an oppressive listen, but one that contains extraordinary incisive power.
3. Moor Mother – Black Encyclopedia of the Air [Anti-]
The work of Chicago multidisciplinary artist Moor Mother is not easy to summarize. Her music veers between hip-hop, noise, and free jazz, often in an abrasive and exhilaratingly confrontational manner. Her latest full-length Black Encyclopedia of the Air is a work of visionary brilliance that shifts her usual tone towards one that’s marginally more accessible yet no less intelligent or incendiary. Lyrical concerns about confronting the past (condensing both the personal and political) abound and are matched with production work that is similarly layered and sensory. Simply put – this is a significant work by a major artist.
2. Rejjie Snow – Baw Baw Black Sheep [Honeymoon / +1 Records]
On the other side of the coin is Rejjie Snow’s playful, light-on-its-feet Baw Baw Black Sheep. A delicate, gentle, and poignant stroke of genius, Snow imagined the album as a companion piece to his favorite childhood film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. These 14 tracks adroitly mirror the wonder, imagination, and pathos present within that film, utilizing soft beats, warm synth tones, and a kaleidoscopic approach to composition. Based on childhood recollections, Snow’s lyrics are well-observed and evocative and make the trip through his memory one that you’ll want to take again and again.
1. Boldy James & The Alchemist – Bo Jackson [ALC Records]
The Price of Tea in China was the best hip-hop album of 2020, and its creators Boldy James and the Alchemist have gone and done it again in 2021. Bo Jackson showcases everything that modern hip-hop is capable of, from the Alchemist’s inventive, nuanced production to James’ charismatic rhymes that elegantly blend introspection and world-building. Note-perfect guest spots (including an especially great verse from Curren$y) are the cherry on top of this endlessly brilliant album. Even its artwork is magnificent, mirroring a likewise colorful, creative, and wholly singular album.