by Big Flowers
51. Ralph Gilligan – Berto Gilligan
In a very underspoken way, Ralph Gilligan made an avalanche of a debut with two albums at the top of December. While his collaboration with Wrenny is polished, nuanced and layered, Berto Gilligan is so endearingly home-fi. The mixes are just raw enough for you to see the songs as they are: jovial stutters of impromptu feels and grooves delivered cheek to cheek. The beats are amalgamated from across the landscape of influence, and Ralph is unrelentingly confident and happy.
Track Pick: Let Me Down
50. MyCousinCharles (fka brwnsounds) – WITH LOVE.
A young polymath who’s developing into something iconic, Charles is already becoming aware of his own style and refining it into something precious. Released on his 18th birthday, WITH LOVE is celebratory, nostalgic in convincing ways, and very transparent. While some reach for crypticism, My Cousin Charles is mastering how to present himself bare, stitching his flaws, doubts and insecurities into the instrumentals he constructed himself in line with the namesake of the project, WITH LOVE.
Track Pick: SAROS (ft. errbody)
49. Nakama. – human_error
There’s something so infinitely monochromatic about this album, every single shade of greyness all compartmentalized and documented. That’s not to say that there’s not variety, instead a comparison could be akin to chef Jon Chicon’s multi-course tasting menus (including dessert) where each meal centered around one ingredient, notably asparagus. It gives perspective to something pre-conceptual, like grey, which just kind of exists, and then we paint connotation on, in a litany of ways. Nakama’s delivery and lyricism is becoming sharper, more concrete and amplifyingly heard throughout the synergetic production throughout. The fluidity between melody and complex rhythm is just as infinite as the grey.
Track Pick: periscope_
48. Big Yaya – Calvin
In a distorted echo of a different side of the city, some of the characteristic New York drill trailblaze is now mutated and bouncing around like plasma between the combined efforts of Big Yaya and Shawny BinLaden both. Calvin is the first album I’ve heard from either of the two that really reads like a project that has a cohesive trajectory beyond a semi-organized tape (which they showed proficiency in curating prior to this). With pulsing instrumentation that gives Yaya enough space to give ridiculous flow and wordplay, this project floats while its contemporaries’ walk. He started a verse with bennigan as the anchor for the rhymescheme and I think that’s remarkable.
`Track Pick: Opp Runtz
47. I Self Devine – Rituals of Resilience
In many ways this is a compilation of sonic hieroglyphics, coherently projecting a display of black force and maturity. There is an ancient sort of presence between the lines on Rituals of Resilience, something so pre-religious that looms and then bubbles in the more silent moments. ISD is well along a timeline, still twisting and forging the plot to maintain a cutting edge. The tenderness that’s under the rough exterior that surrounds some of ISD’s work is most present within the innards of this project, and fermentation has allowed that same tenderness to represent a community, not just self: flavorful and resilient. As long as it is layered, RoR creates an infrastructure for itself to navigate, leaving more than a world of perspective and potential in the negative space.
Track Pick: Let’s Begin
46. Diani — Dopamine
Following up Eshe with much more depth and surface-level truth, Diani brings vulnerability and viscerality to the chemically structured track list, evoking everything that makes you feel. Ranging from the loss to abundance of such, Dopamine is a testament to the trials that build to a sense of happiness in the modern world. Pondering sex, drugs, love, community, black womanhood and an entire spectrum of self, this project gives confetti to the colder side of life, embracing the pain and struggle as a pavement towards the light.
Track Pick: Cocaine
45. Mach Hommy — Balens Cho
With the same cryptic comfort that’s been accustomed with his trade, Balens Cho just appeared overnight. Arriving late in the year, this album follows the relative blowout of a release in the balanced, flag waving, crystalline sonic castle that is Pray for Haiti. Where PFH is structured and flows coherently between the several shades of Mach, Balens Cho embraces minimalism and paints a dimly lit room that both Mach and the listener can occupy simultaneously. Micro-melody is more at the forefront than I’ve heard from Mach in a while, and overall this release vaults itself into the candlelight with its priority for sentiment. Following in a consistent trend of excellence, Balens Cho is a fragile, but integral part, a glass staple, of his already ornate discography.
Track Pick: LAJAN SAL
44. Rxk Nephew – Make Drunk Driving Cool Again
Simply and shortly, this album is fun. Rxk Nephew is moving on with his career, releasing 5 projects that I’m aware of this year along with twitter freestyles over beat placements he was shitting on, unreleased tracks surfacing as YouTube videos and plenty of stuff I’ll probably find in years to come. Oscillating between club-house rumblings and destructive disco before balding into a Latin parade and finally an upstate hardcore brawlpit, MDDCA is a breastplate for Neph to champion his brazen personality. Dancing through inner city Rochester, Rxk Nephew has not a care in the world and it’s intoxicating to take this very dangerous ride with him.
Track Pick: Too Tuff Tone Tarantino
43. Curly Castro — Little Robert Hutton
A black volcano of politick, production and prose, Little Robert Hutton dismantles the moment and raises fist with steady intent, clutching microphone. Immaculately detailed instrumentally, the album gives all the chaotically organized space in the universe for Castro to treat as crucible, beating cultural chest, aiming for the heart. Armoring ballistic-caliber soul, LRH jettisons you into an afrofuturistic auditorium, one organically aware of algorithmic presence. This is one of those wormhole albums that takes an uninterrupted listen, nothing for the background, a hallmark of the perennially blossoming Backwoodz discography which has been known to warp listeners worldwide.
Track Pick: Free HueyFitteds
42. Rahiem Supreme & Ohbliv — Black Keys Wit Melodies
Superlative for most likely to slide smoother on the beat is Rahiem Supreme. In a call to a lot of contemporary super-rap, there’s not much room to digest the infinity of lyrics that bounce in non sequitur and arrhythmia. That vacuum of attention is what gives gravity to a project this fast but this slick. There’s a Godfather’s worth of replay between the bookends, and the inclusion of instrumentals is always a welcome invitation to enter the studio’s eye view of Ohbliv and what inspired Supreme’s pluronic delivery, dissolving the membrane between listener and speaker, word to the black keys.
Track Pick: Like ‘84
41. Sleep Sinatra — DIVINENATION
Swinging out of the cut from the jump, handle on the clutch, Sleep Sinatra drives you through his worldview. It’s a chaotic, blurry, and sometimes serene trip back from a painful stroll down memory lane. Sinatra gives detail on his ascension to finding the divinity that guides him, channeling his prior life along with his experience regarding fatherhood into woe-woven, blissfully characteristic and anthemic instrumentals, all home grown. When you’re left with the exhaust fumes of a year that puts this album in rearview, DIVINENATION is yearning for the now, stamping regional with flair and finesse.
Track Pick: Legal Feez
40. Lungs — Birth of Lonesword
Utilizing a significant fraction of the collective modern English lexicon, Lungs erupts into a breath of sharpened rhinestone air with the Birth of Lonesword. Fractally dissecting vernacular, mantle-level emotion and crust-level plots as he sees them, the NY emcee/producer plants his foot in the clay of what hip-hop in the new decade sounds like. There’s kaioken tactic in how he keeps belligerently bulleting the lackadaisically lavish loops, arriving to no end, just an imminent beat switch, swinging the trajectory righteous with each grip.
Track Pick: Planet Fear
39. SeFu — Stars are Born in Pairs
A freshman in college, studying for more than himself, SeFu opens up a slice of insight as to just how groundbreaking his career is looking to be. Self produced and engineered, SaBiP is devastatingly intimate and beautifully raw, traversing the corners of maturity that usually takes a lifetime to ferment. Down to every last morsel, this project is hand-tailored by SeFu himself, under his own label and moniker, which imbues enough of his identity and presence into the music to radiate in supernova fashion. The pressure he’s faced has only refined him and we’ve only just broke starbirth. I can not wait to see the gravity that follows.
Track Pick: STAR FORM
38. Pink Navel — EPIC
The only live album on this list, EPIC stands as a monolith of bedroom empires. In a spectral way, like the moon blowing an 8-bit rainbow into a sega cartridge, Dev, or Pink Navel lifts you from your transit or location, and plants you directly in his studio. Simultaneously spitting bars, which wax nostalgia and novel nuance all the same, and performing the beats on an SP, this project is the most extreme form of minimalism by design. There are gutter punk melodies dancing over chiptune-inspired compositions, truly gravely moments of five-o’clock-shadowed femininity, with a contagion of confidence, borderline braggadocio. Capitalized for good reason, EPIC is a wondrous example of how much can be done with so little when you have the sauce.
Track Pick: DIY TWITTER
37. Old Grape God — Da Fence Less
It’s hard to review just one OGG release due to just how hypersaturate his market continues to be. With each endeavor bleeding into the fermented product he semi-annually offers on a consistent basis, Tron is something of a mythologically refreshing grape vine, wine being made from the most distal fruit, the most ripe ones blossoming from his current experience. Da Fence Less is a more concentrated effort, speaking on a consistent theme of vulnerability and the things you have no defense from, as a contrast to some of his more esoteric work. If you’ve never heard a tape from him, DFL is an outstanding introduction into his abundant (we’re talking 33 tapes by age 31) discography.
Track Pick: TEMPORARY:FENCE
36. Yungmorpheus & Eyedress — Affable With Pointed Teeth
A brilliant example of worldbuilding, Affable With Pointed Teeth is Yungmorpheus’ acrylic descent into the nihilistic corners of the frame. Painted in the darker shades, eyedress empties out hallways of memory and incantation that open up for the lyricist to stroll through, ambulating existential and unbothered. Each stroke masterful, each phrase intentionally compact and transparent, this project is a gallery of oil-tube-and-gesso-mixed subject & character which deviates far from the arena that both collaborators are accustomed to occupying. It leaves you staring.
Track Pick: Nkisi Nkondi
35. UDABABY — S/T
One of many representations of the prismatic Chicago, UDABABY is blistering with a sunlit emphasis that could crack the chilled pavement with each step. At times, the tracks dip dreary and industrial, overhead. When it’s just out of reach, like the transition from Baldwin Baby into Coinstar Blues, it metro-warps right back onto the horizon line, directing gaze back to the beauty of things the way they are, embracing the change to where they’re growing. A technicolor burst into a greyscale, the self titled LP expands on the endearingly wholesome home cooked collaboration between Virtue and Davis.
Track Pick: 2004 World Series of Dice
34. Brainorchestra — E. Town General
Statuesque and cement-stanced, Brainorchestra stands, facing the world, for his corner of New Jersey. A sentimentally localist package of beats and raps, the young polymath delivers his home to your speakers in guerilla fashion. Intensely motivating, E. Town General brings you to the grindstone and gives you the blade, teaches you everything about working your ass off and how it looks on the other side of being your own empire. But it won’t execute for you. This project is a toolbox for the musician in terms of technique and philosophy, while having the depth and duality to act as a field map for his hometown. I own both editions of the cassette and the hoodie, the rollout was so incredibly done, and this is among a year that saw Brain release SEVERAL projects. Great year, great dude, great creations.
Track Pick: Mic Doctor
33. Nappy Nina & Jwords — Double Down
I remember having a conversation with Jwords earlier this year after she just moved to New York (a place where she’s been an influential and consistent collaborator) off of the success she’d seen with her music, an accomplishment to say the least in a male-dominant industry. She said something to the tune of not sending beats out to men anymore because she simply doesn’t feel like she needs to. That is so fucking powerful. She got to where she is working with the women that surround her (ex. maassai, Salimata), and it’s not time to change now. Double Down is another hallmark entry in her divergent dissingular discography. Nappy Nina takes centerstage over the matrix of syncopation that’s emblematic of Jwords’ work, dipping through the digital world in a very analog and human way. From the buxom of everything that feels like home, Nina is amplifying another hue of finesse that is intricate, intimate, and intensely true-to-self. In every way, this album doubles down on what it commits to delivering, and that is the cutting edge. This does not follow in the footsteps of man. It continues to trailblaze an androgynous understanding of modern hip-hop.
Track Pick: Thin Ice
32. Zulu — My People…Hold On/Our Time Will Come
Re-entering the powerviolence arena with love at the forefront of the spear, Zulu releases a compiled version of their two previous projects, equipped with soul sample, interrogative racial reminders, distorted black pride over jazz rendition of American national tropes. Though it’s a re-release, this was the first collection I’ve heard from the group, and it viscerally opens so much uncharted soundscape for the genre. The most remarkable thing about this band, being entirely black and existing within a quasi-police-militarized state, is the understood resurgence of the vibrancy of punk within hardcore again. White hardcore bands, especially sweaty white suburban hardcore bands, have lost any edge that gave them the loosely accredited title of being the generators of punk, and most of what I hear marketed as punk, hardcore or anything similar is missing something crucial: true rebellion, angst, and reason for the two. Fueled by visions of a more accepting and brighter black tomorrow, Zulu is stageburning their way to reinforcement.
Track Pick: 52 Fatal Strikes
31. Nelson Bandela — God Dad Bod
God Dad Bod is a primary colored example of the way that being a parent can open up new perspectives along a lifetime career in music. Having released dozens on dozens of projects, Nelson is no stranger to compiling an aesthetic, but this one feels so sonically loose, comfortable, relaxed to the borderline of lackadaisia. It feels like a single shot that looks directly down a hallway that peers into the highly trafficked areas of his home, windowing to the passing actions in transit to life: each day recorded in some way, busily shuffling through home with family on each shoulder. Having his son eternally alongside him in studio, the adolescent perspective of music that ends up being (in?)voluntarily transitive between the two is evident as Nelson delivers one of his most playful, yet understanding projects to date. Hyperdynamic, extrapolative of all of his styles, and premonitive of several projects to come, God Dad Bod is Nelson Bandela’s invitation into his home, Polaroid-dated memory and all.
Track Pick: 006 Utopia
30. Rhys Langston — stalin bollywood
Duplicated in creased leather, Rhys Langston is a complete kaleidoscope of cultural presence as he approaches his newest project, stalin bollywood. Lyrically vagrant, but honest, belligerent, and debatably accurate, Langston grabs your tunnel vision with fingerless gloves and directs it down a swirling pool of affectionately remembered, churning, glam-rock orchestration. Jading the elastic, floor-kit backed, strobe light inducing compositions, Rhys orates his stance on the world from an extreme anti-capital, anti-oppressor vantage. Challenging every facet of political spheres, bureaucracy, diplomacy, social circle, religion, human relation, stalin bollywood is a flagrant screech in an influencer’s silence, amplifying the necessary, but sometimes all too deafened loud.
Track Pick: talkbox / polemics freestyle
29. Fatboi Sharif & Roper Williams — Ghandi Loves Children (Deluxe)
Underground-hip-hop pan’s labyrinth opens up in Rahway, with horror movie film grain overlaying the heartfully villainous, yet simultaneously ambivolent plot of Fatboi Sharif’s nu-doom-operatic lyricism, pulling from the deepest of influence, channeling such in something truly undone previously. Roper Williams collaborates to provide something that seems like a magnetic experiment in the energetic field of beatsmithing, diffracting loops, grating bass lines through speaker mesh, stripping everything down to its most skeletal phase. Together, the three come together with a force like Death Star 2 to disrupt the meta of hip-hop as it was, lasers blaring, shapeshifting through the infinite rolodex of style in Sharif’s back pocket. A great way to digest some of the standout moments in this album is with the live compilation called 400 Pound Porn Cyborg.
Track Pick: Smithsonian
28. BabyTron — Bin Reaper 2
Both a starlit gallery of nostalgia inducing samples and an open podium for Punch God to do what Punch God does best, Bin Reaper’s successor gives you just over an hour of everything captivating about the scammer turned Tik-Tok-trend-tracklister. Every song is structured similarly, peeling into some corner of mass relatability, looping it, programming early 2000’s west coast drum patterns, and then speeding it all up to at least 160bpm. This, however only goes to continue the high that Tron carries with him. With bars that start before the last ended, Bin Reaper is bursting with a brand of clever millennial wordplay that “stylebiters could never swagmunch.”
Track Pick: Green Lantern
27. PremRock — Load Bearing Crow’s Feet
Perched with Harlem’s view of the Hudson, PremRock opens up the blueprint of his nest with Load Bearing Crow’s Feet to show all of the trinket-shaped life experiences it takes to amalgamate into something worth standing on. Grown, greying and prominently fixated on transcending expectation, Prem spits some of the most goosebumping tales from the closest kept crypts of his side of the city. The accounts are so purely honest, indicative of a changed perspective and a learned assertion. Another ornamental and integral piece of Backwoodz’ calendar burn, LBCF is essential to understanding the fermentation of hip-hop in the modern day, spoken from those who have been there to witness its inception.
Track Pick: Apollo Kids Meal
26. Dumbo Gets Mad — Things Are Random And Time Is Speeding Up
Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say about this album. They’re a couple and they make really cute music together, which does a lot for me. I think this is even my least favorite project from them but I’m ten years deep into this sound they’ve been building and it just resonates with me. I can put this album on front to back in almost any mood and it slaps. 10/10.
Track Pick: Voodoo On Gold
PART 3 TO COME!