by Big Flowers
25. Koncept Jackson & Ohbliv — JET Magazine ‘21 Reissue
It’s an obstacle to even begin to describe Koncept Jackson without just having you listen. Battering-ram-blooded and electric with self-reciprocity, Jackson sprints into JET Magazine ‘21 Reissue, continues to sprint an entire marathon, smokes down something smooth and charms your romantic interest all in the same breath. I’m actually surprised this dude even takes breaths the way he raps. Ohbliv deconstructs hypnotic disco-soul and arranges it to stutter eternal and carbonated under the chugging, percussive, motormouth methodologies coming from Richmond’s finest. There’s a spliced sense of libido consistent through the album, almost like that vial of Austin Powers’ mojo got spilled on the mix chain. JET feels like dancing in a hurricane, getting rained on and laughing about it, getting head when you really really wanted head, and for the sake of the visualization, it’s also while you’re dancing in a hurricane.
Track Pick: Turning You On
24. Babyface Ray — Unfuckwittable (Deluxe Edition)
The clandestine, velvet draped, VV-dripped aficionado of the Detroit family of finesse, Babyface fleshes out the experiential encyclopedia of a life kept player that he began with Unfuckwittable. Championing a double-plus tracklist, Ray unloads more and more unfiltered sophistication in a side street arena which is steadily being raised into an empire. Headstrong, Babyface shows you, doesn’t tell you why he knows, not thinks, he’s making it to the promised land first, whatever that may be. Uncompromised at every new track, Unfuckwittable’s scandal-driven depths deserved the deluxe treatment.
Track Pick: Like Daisy Lane
23. The Lasso, Jordan Hamilton & The Saxsquatch — Tri Magi
Waning gaze to eastern sensibilities, while responsibly utilizing western technique and technology, Tri Magi is a meditative dive into a globally informed jazz in the digital age. Organized and conducted primarily by the pathologically delicate and complex cauldron of musicianship that is The Lasso, along with Hamilton and Saxsquatch, Tri Magi refracts around every convention, yet lounges right within your ear canals, supple and full-bodied, enveloping the moment with a spectrum of sound from shrill to verdant, back to chaos and ambience again. Marginally spoken over, the album is functionally instrumental, but the attention paid to sonic design carves out a characteristic personification of the trio within the mix, a figure to attribute the magic to, omniscient to the individuals.
Track Pick: City of Grass
22. s!lence & Wavy Bagels — Mutatis Mutandis
A torrent of gum and broke-chains-off-the-lockjaw flooding out of the interface, s!lence tiptoes with linebacker intent over the polished-in-the-shadows pearl of production that Wavy Bagels brings to shell level surface with Mutatis Mutandis. With instrumentals that glimmer rare like opal, s!lence barricades himself inside the gemstone lattice to be transmuted among the incalculable geometry of the angles with which he is protruding his poetics. Taking rhymescheme into the blender with him, tamed on the other side of the process by Wavy, the lyricist steps heavy along the antithesis of his name. Deep within the bag-sized pockets in native New York cargos, mutatis mutandis isn’t afraid to make a change, be it in the spotlight or behind the scenes.
Track Pick: I lied and said i’m fine
21. YL — It Never Entered My Mind
Laughing himself clean, every YL project is a testimonial of growth, percentages cut in and moves made on his way to a more luxurious name for himself. Foggied by clouds of the finest za, wrapped in honey papers, It Never Entered My Mind is a humidified slice of life from YL’s day-in-day-out. Joined with several familiar faces, of the several projects I’ve seen from him recently, none have been as wildly plot-twisting as It Never Entered My Mind. Through the pristine curation on the tracklist, heralding the excellence within, YL develops a Safde-cinematic peer into the processes fueling his feverish pitch to greatness. Blissfully bitten by New York winds, INEMM is precious cargo under bubble jacket and hoodie, carried by YL’s still-hungry-for-more hands, which can handle its weight.
Track Pick: Joe Dirt
20. Mimz & Dunn — Infinite Lawn
Sandpaper raw, glitter on the wounds, Mimz & Dunn let the journey they took to awakening collectively be fertilizer for a property of wealthy, healthy bars. Scuffing heels over the sidewalks, the two young and uniquely individual rappers course together through the drought network of Brooklyn neighborhoods slowly gentrifying around them. Watering pail in one hand and a mother-scribed textbook on home improvement in the other, Mimz and Dunn plant Infinite Lawn at the foot of their ideological estate, expansively staking their claim of an inclusive and indigenously representative New York. Amorous and bountiful, this project is a dreamscape that can be traced onto the construction that hallways their trek back home, flowers budding in the indent of every footstep.
Track Pick: AFRIKANSWORDSWINGING
19. maassai — With The Shifts
An heiress to her own prophecies, maassai is eternally demonstrating just how powerful she is. Rubberbanding back from her collaborative endeavor with h31r, With The Shifts packs a clothesline in a parcel-sized package of worldview, manifestation and change-for-the-better. Organically juxtaposing what she knows the world wants to see her as, maassai’s ancestrally informed, consistently sharpened urban incantations allow her to define herself in solidarity with what she knows she’s capable of. With every release, she shows how deserving she is of all of the flowers she’s seen lately. Brutally and independently opposing any patriarchal clutch the industry tries to impose on her, maassai is a shamanic icon of the strength in womanhood, and the clarity found with self-attention, embracing every change.
Track Pick: The Shifts
18. Bilal Silam — Swordlord Series
I am not going to attempt to be poetic or whatever about whatever Swordlord is. It’s so different it almost deserves its own classification. Seven albums about golf over renaissance fair type beats. If that sounds awesome to you, say less, press play! I don’t know how else to possibly make that sound enticing, if that didn’t pique your interest, nothing I have to say about seven albums about golf over renaissance fair type beats will change your mind about that. But you should still check it out. Because wow. Sprawling verdant green. Hole in one.
Track Pick: Swordz of Al Bayt
https://bilalsalaam.bandcamp.com/track/swordz-of-al-bayt (full albums are on streaming)
17. NCL- DøøFUS — SWAMP PHONK
Gutter-brain meets goofball meets genuine guy meets billiards prodigy meets god-tier lyricist DooF joins trade once again with London’s NCL-TM to bring a sequel to the neo-shot-calling-classic in Hoodrat Noir. Where brevity, eclectic slapping of pop culture, jackal-cackle laughing in the face of the opposition guides the alley-path amble of HRN, SWAMP PHONK is amoebous and amorphous, stretching to every extreme that the underground has begun to sculpt from. Momentously personalized and shying from the surface, at other times thunderously industrial and shredding ripples, NCL-DooFUS 2 is an environment to cultivate a more traveled plotline, still an observational summary of DooF’s stammer sideways through his experiences as a perceived oddity. This time around, the most powerful thing to witness is the transparency that seemed veiled on HRN, now allowing X-ray-precision scope into how DooF perceives the Swamp. With the Atlantic in-between, NCL-TM and DooF both took hand in carving out a veritable landmark album in the evolution of the genre.
Track Pick: Tim Croce
16. AKAI SOLO & Navy Blue — True Sky
Each time I visit New York City there’s a new landmark on the skyline, assisting in the horizonscape that hues itself into night over an insomniating city: some new collection of lights adorning old buildings, some questionably-necessary renovation diverting traffic, a certain hum that’s just a few cents shy of what I knew the last time there. This idea of an ever-dynamic gridlock of skyscraper and culture to continuously shimmy itself out of place invites the definition of a true sky. If it’s always changing, then the true sky is never static. I say this all to say that the work AKAI continues to do vocally, and the strides Navy has taken with his production is perfectly metaphored in the idea of that never-still skyline. Sporting some of the most nook and crannied production I’ve heard in years, Navy is unafraid to blaze the path less traveled, see Deadass. In honest and consistent fashion, AKAI warps and blurs the constructs between community, identity and the space between, filling the lines with referential cultural icons to metaphor the novel philosophies and sentiments he’s exposing within his life and that of those around him. Without assimilating, and along with several other albums on this list, AKAI SOLO and Navy Blue are continuing to polish the forming understanding of what contemporary New York hip-hop sounds like.
Track Pick: Deadass
15. R.A.P. Ferreira — the Light Emitting Diamond Cutting Scriptures
Always ornate with lavish, loquacious rhetoric, artisanal exuberance and neo-existential philosophies, R.A.P. Ferreira delivers one of his most succinct and centric, humbly neutral projects that I’ve heard. Genuine, among the crew of Ruby Yacht, Ferreira is helm-bound. With viscerality at the breakers, this project seems like a transcendent transcription of a story told about what being at the edge of the fractals would feel like. Mentally elastic, lyrically dense but transparent all the same, referential and informed, Diamond Cutting Scriptures is opulent in an opulent hand, being shown off as a more contemporary exhibit of Ferreira’s penchants and progresses. As opposed to the 2019 written and recorded Bob’s Son which also dropped in ‘21, this album mirrors the sentiments you see start to leak out during the artist’s social media jabbings: joking, virulent but infectiously pure and honest. tLEDCS is an average of the spectrum that started with Milo & Scallops, median in the moment.
Track Pick: humboldt park jibaritos
14. Deem Spencer — Deem’s Tape
From through the curtains, Deem peeks out the second story after his prior project, Pretty Face, and realizes his aspirations are at least another level higher. And that’s where he took Deem’s Tape. Skyrocketing to new moons, different sources of light, and echelons of self-awareness and intent that was previously on an event horizon somewhere in the recesses of potential. Refined to the point of glimmer, Deem’s polished dust comes back in full, while delivering novel accounts of unique experiences. Somewhere drowning in all of the found pride, network and vast amounts of love is still the core of the sentimental, intimate rapper I came to be a fan of with We Think We Alone is still sitting cross-legged, eyes on the ground, but today’s Deem is constructing a duct-tape dynamism surrounding his past, allowing it to be channeled through his ever-present with adherence to who he was, and who he continues to strive to be. With minute visuals accompanying each track, Deem’s Tape is the closest we’ve been allowed to focus in on Deem’s internal functions, all gearing and churning from a place of amorous yield.
Track Pick: Prayed for More
13. Regional Justice Center — Crime & Punishment
Engined by razorblade, rope, torch, a sense of weaponized utility, RJC is the lucidity within chaos that hurricanes through a stale topography of modern metal music. Powerviolence has always been an extreme on the spectrum of rock derivative music, but within its own vacuum, tropism and dilapidation have dulled the edge which a lot of core genres have been connotated with. What Crime & Punishment returns to is anger not from concentrate, a pulped and scabbing nectar of nihilism. While I age, I grow farther and farther from the dark place that originally led me to embracing music that sonically reminds me of this, but I still understand rage. I still understand the serrated, bite-force of suicidal tendency, and for the moments I undulate back to my cavernous lows, I look to metal and its children. Where a lot of the superficiality and self-imposed typecasting of many in the genre has diluted the purity of the angst, RJC starks its juxtaposition and fluidity. Relaying from the guttermouthed, percussed depths of d-beat aggression, Crime & Punishment is the quintessence of metal with meaning: braces.
Track Pick: INHUMAN JOY
12. Pink Siifu — NEGRO DELUXE
Even if you were to sever the original, undeluxed tracklist from this release, Pink Siifu’s dedication to cartographing every sonic nook and cranny of his expansive capability would still culminate into the pearl of perception that lies within NEGRO. Doubling in its abundance, verdance and virulence the same, NEGRO DELUXE assimilates nothing into its lacerating, self-aware and universally informed antithesis to modern music. Based in the ideals of unity and community, ND elaborates on the original sentiments and drags the corners of its influence farther to the edges of his map. Siifu doesn’t search for gold though, he’s already made of it. What ND proves is that Siifu isn’t here for the gilded. He does not give a fuck if you heard NEGRO on its inception and disregarded it because it wasn’t Ensley 2 (even though wisdom cypher definitely delivers all of the sentimental slice of a sequel that you could hope for as a fan), Siifu is TELLING YOU this album is the most important one yet. Ensley didn’t get a deluxe, and I would assume (if I’m allowed that liability) that the reason for that lies somewhere within the integrity and fundamental code found within ND and its predecessor. Investing fully into figuring out what’s on the other side of every black hole, Pink Siifu is galactically himself, and stands for an onyx infinity beyond his own body.
Track Pick: NATION TYME PSA
11. MIKE — “Disco!”
Glitzed, glamoured and enveloped in past tragedies, “Disco!” is MIKE’s phoenix-rising from his annual accounts of healing from loss. Since MGBYH to WotW, there has been a graveled and graphite-imprinted depression oozing through even the brightest moment of his works. As a depressor at times myself, this has always been something I’ve found comfort in listening to a MIKE album; there are people out there who have felt pain more than you’ve ever known and they’ve still found meaning and resolve to carry on and be progressive. Something shifted though. “Disco!” is one of the happiest albums I heard last year. Any self-loathing or guilt has effectively dissipated, leaving a chiseled obelisk of recovery in wake of the evaporation. Seeing him perform every song from the album with a beaming smile, reflecting the disco ball and vice versa, it feels like MIKE finally dances with what used to cripple him. Deciding to see the light, and consequentially reflecting and refracting such throughout his metaphorical room, “Disco!” landmarks itself as a new neutral, accepting of the severance required to age, amicably ambling through chaos with shimmering, sparkling, bedazzled serendipity as a shield.
Track Pick: Zaza
10. Zelooperz — Van Gogh’s Left Ear
Oraculous, miraculous, the definition of sonic fantasy, VGLE is a dagger to the heart of expectation. Even what people already loved about Zelooperz was in ways forsaken to create something remarkably momentous among a seemingly slipshod discography prior. After a tour-de-force of EP’s and shorter releases, Ze rolls up his sleeves and enters the ring for an entire project. While some albums from genres that Ze has been connotated with abandon brevity for ambiguous reason, VGLE exists at its length because it needs to. Ze is amalgamating something, representing every influence he’s ever known and all of the potential he’s cultivated and accrued alongside his rising name. Like sourdough that’s been started in ancient Egypt, Ze’s erratic and extra-celestial approach to music is something abrasive to a white-bread palate, yet it’s nutritious, enriching and encapsulating of a connective thread within the pockets of emptiness generated from a fermentation like his. Not a single sound is visited twice the same, and the vernacular contortionism that Ze ballets over beat with will guide me forever to a contemporary understanding of what music can be.
Track Pick: Dedicated My Life
9. Pharoah Sanders & Floating Points — Promises
I will not shortcut this experience for you. A symphony only Sanders could transcribe, Promises is pre-linguistically humanoid. Though this isn’t my list topper, this is the album I’d urge you to listen to the most if you haven’t heard it yet.
Track Pick: Movement 8
8. Semiratruth — I GOT BANDZ FOR THE MOONLANDIN’
Unidentifiably beautiful, bountifully producing, collaborating and careening her way to a communal promised land, oasis, not mirage, Semiratruth stands purely and humbly with all of her six degrees of separation and builds a new world for everyone she’s ever loved. The moon landin’ (in my reception) being emblematic of a better tomorrow, Semira has invested in the community surrounding her, the life she’s lived and made for herself, and the value has compounded into capital bands. Elasticked around the wrist, Semira’s space-age selflessness and sentiment help her double clutch the mic, maskless and honestly ever-present, orating from the heart of the cards drawn. Persistently carving out infinite wealth from the horizon, Semira is young, but understands in an omniscient, timeless way, that this is more than her, and delivers a universe to your ear-step. Sprawling and expanding between pockets, IGBFTM meteor belts the astronomically radiant potentiality found at T-0 (and every second prior and further) of Semiratruth’s fueled and monumental liftoff.
Track Pick: Djembe/Shooting Star
7. Armand Hammer — HARAM
Dissingular, representing the quantum probability of these moralities and sentiments existing at every point in timespace, HARAM is harbinger of unrelenting wisdom and unabated presence. billy woods and E L U C I D join with The Alchemist to megaphone the musings of anti-capital black corporation (exhibit: Backwoodz), fraternity found among systemic oppression (exhibit: Backwoodz) and the subsequent, stoic, unitary resistance to the aforementioned oppression (exhibit: Backwoodz). How you digest this album morphs to the mold that you are, allowing for your biases and prejudice to color-grade the metaphorical picture of the shoe-that-fits illustrated with HARAM. The safe and wisdom folded into the wrinkles of this album will eventually unfold to its eventual receiver, but this is year one of a timeless album. This is year one of something that can teach anyone something, and with Godfather levels of complexity and nuance, this album is still so endearingly and simply a hip-hop record.
Track Pick: Peppertree
6. Ka — A Martyr’s Reward
Softly treads the foot of Brownsville’s Ka, salt-and-peppering his way to a spiced, yet symbiotic relationship between the occult and transparency. As with fermented product, Ka is aging in an undisturbed way, staving off celebrity-soul-death with releases that exist on their own, maybe an announcement tweet and a video to accompany release day, ultimately buoying the time between themselves, little being said by Ka himself publicly. What this allows for is a pure listening experience. The only contextualization for some sort of deeper fan culture is the slight glimpse into his lens of life through cinematic visuals that often open more questions than they do answer about the greying sidewalk scholar. Being self-produced, bar a few tracks, A Martyr’s Reward can either be the most cryptic or opaque offering Ka has delivered so far, depending on the way you approach it. Layered with intimate moments and truly mind-boggling wordsmithing, Ka is a journalist for all those slow-but-steady, shunning the public appeal but winning their own race. The definition of a rapper’s rapper, Ka pulls down the hood for A Martyr’s Reward to reveal the true scope of how time takes its toll, benevolent as it may.
Track Pick: I Noticed
5. amani — A Constant Condensation
This to me, is the pinnacle of pandemic fruit. Bitter, yet juicable, acrid, yet nourishing, A Constant Condensation coils all of the isolation, stress, dissent to powers-that-be, pacing impatience and fleetless twenty-fours into a spring-loaded self-discovery experience. Pronged with a pure look in the mirror, amani relinquishes collaborative approach like that found on his debut in lieu of an unpolished, scratched-surface gaze into the depths philosophical which wake and crash among the young poet. Etched into his presence at a molecular level, self-awareness and existential magnification both are tools amani utilizes to acquiesce his own spot on an expanding stage. Deterred by any imposition COVID arrived with, amani pivoted the pandemic to allow him to bring a scope to what he and most of the world was experiencing among the abrupt, isolate, richter-magnitude social quake along the timeline. Producing every track, editing and shooting some of the visuals involved, undertaking art direction, and writing/performing some of the most captivating lyricism I’ve ever heard, amani takes another ladder-rung along his ascent to a higher vantage.
Track Pick: Eons
4. J’Von — King Cheetah
Simply and subtly incredible, King Cheetah is a conscious traipse through the nu-wild. In a time where jungles are often found metaphorical in places like Seattle, where J’Von is located, the animal-kingdom conflicts are often undulled in their prominence. Concrete instead of foliaged, J’Von mach sprints over the nature the same. With warping memories erratically slipping under his every breath, J’Von sheds a seasonal coat, with old doubts and anxieties making way for a sleeker and refined stance, camouflaging among the spectrum of human experience and emotion. Neither predatorial or prey-bound, King Cheetah is contemporarily primal, raw, yet technologically informed, circumventing no aspect of organic preference. Like oceanside clay, the listening experience is amorphous, evolving. From front to finish there is never a moment when J’Von shys from his platform, delivering an unobstructed account of his life experience since his last album. Like breadcrumbs to the great beyond, J’Von is guiding us to a humble tomorrow.
Track Pick: BRICK
3. Defcee & Messiah Musik — Trapdoor
There are crude gemstones, and then there are lattice cut anomalies of nature. Defcee’s career and discography are the latter. Not being his only release this past year, Trapdoor pedestals itself as the most complete, and arguably most important album of the rapper’s career. Side-carred by Messiah Musik, levitated by Backwoodz Studios, the supercollider of sound, human emotion, integrity, loss, brilliance, despair, radicalia and moderation among an unending list of literary dichotomy, Defcee particle-rushes the most well-rounded and centric hip-hop album I’ve heard this past year. Never playing into convention, but understanding comfort, Trapdoor fleshes out the blueprint of an excellent hip-hop record and delocalizes each facet until they are unrecognizable to their original intent. Mutated, then stitched back together in a nu-beautiful diffraction of a specialized brand of Chicagoan heart-and-soul, Trapdoor endlessly drops you farther and farther down the proverbial rabbit hole, pointing out every fallacy in wonderland.
Track Pick: Snares
2. Cities Aviv — The Crashing Sound of How it Goes
Gauze over the wound existential, intangible to modern corporate medicine, The Crashing Sound of How it Goes is sober-psychedelic healing. No pharmaceutical could imbue a still-calm mental silence the way good music always can. This album has been therapy since I heard it. Audibly torrential and abrasive, distorted and looped invertedly, undulating to its elasticity and snapping back to neutral, the album knows no sense of brevity or succinctness at first glance. To me, this seems like a deathbed testimonial. A self-obituary. Something professed at the point of losing it all. But, Cities Aviv is effectively rolling out another epic as I type this, and likely as most of you read this. I don’t know what brought the artist to that infinite mirror connotated with that life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment, but this album feels like everything. An eternity, an existence, an alpha and omega holding hands in the purgatorious skyscape we once predicted the afterlife to reside upon. Somewhere, you can hear the waves crash, but this is not your ocean. Therefore, you can’t drown in the depths of how it goes. This is a Sea Aviv, one we won’t likely receive again for another ego-death. Could be next week, could be eternal. Either way, this is one of those albums that can stand upon itself for a lifetime. An endless loop of how it went, and how it will continue to unfold. Fuck, this album is amazing. And it’s so long. Not in a bad way. I hate devolving to colloquial/conversational speak in my writing but this album genuinely just brings out the human in you. It peels back every dermal layer. It rips to the core of you, if there’s one there to find. A strobe light in the farthest reaches of the space between, TCSoHiG is Cities Aviv’s message from the redshift, a beacon of safety and self-recovery.
Track Pick: A Piece of Me
1. Moor Mother — Black Encyclopedia of the Air
Indescribably and ubiquitously beyond a value statement, this album is perfect to me. I literally can not say enough about it, and I’m left at my wit’s end on how to wrap it up. I’ve written an article about this album, another page in another article about this album, and I wrote another page and a half, then deleted it about this album for the article you’re currently reading. No album has opened up conversations for me personally the way this did since Red Burns. I say all that to say, I am not going to try and describe what I love about this album. Call it a cop-out but I truly find this album to transcend my skills as a journalist. This shit bangs in a way language does not have the capacity to conjure. Camae is brilliant, and everything released under the name Moor Mother, or through Black Quantum Futurism has culminated here. Perfect. Perfect. PERFECT. I feel superficial even trying to qualify this, but it is undoubtedly my favorite album of the past year, the new decade, and one of those that makes its way into an all-time conversation. FUCK all these fancy adjectives and pretty rhetoric, I just want to scream from the soul and clip that recording into a hyperlink below, because this is pre-spoken word levels of biologically symbiotic music. I feel held at the core of me when I put it on, and I always find something new to learn within its pages. Black Encyclopedia of the Air. BLACK ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AIR.
Track Pick: Made A Circle