The realm of underground hip hop is expansive and huge, and there are many talented artists worth listening to. However, if you’re a big music fanatic, these are the five you absolutely cannot go without listening to.
Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)
This is the big one. The collab between legendary producer Madlib and the masked mc MF DOOM, remains unmatched in both its sound and style. From the iconic “All Caps” to the goofier “Curls,” the album’s quoatability and influence remains felt to this day.
Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst
Kool Keith, also known by the alter-ego Dr. Octagon is a fascinating character. His lyrics are usually a comglomeration of words rather than a narrative, but that is what makes him and this album one of the most unique out there.
Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus (1997)
Rapper/producer El-P may be widely known for being one half of the rap duo Run the Jewels nowadays, but back in the ’90s his rap group Company Flow alongside Bigg Jus and Mr. Len pushed the boundaries. El-P’s production then and to this day, is light-years ahead of its time.
Aesop Rock – Labor Days
There are no rappers out there that match the sheer wordplay of Aesop Rock. Apart from being a darkly produced wonder, Aesop dense and varied wordplay simply cannot be matched. His latest album “The Iimpossible Kid” released last year, and proves that he 100% still has it.
J Dilla – Donuts
J Dilla was one of the most creative producers of all time, and “Donuts” is his masterpiece. Made mainly on his deathbed while dying from a rare, terminal disease at a tragically young age, “Donuts” is full of heart and soul, and embodies the highest potential of instrumental hip hop.
With the release of Phil Elvrum’s new Mount Eerie project A Crow Looked at Me officially releasing this week, I’m taking a look back at one of the projects of his original band, The Microphones. Released back in 2001, The Glow Pt. 2 is regarded as one of the best indie albums of the 2000s and one of the most beloved of its kind. To this day, the record’s brand of lo-fi noise folk remains both cutting and gorgeous.
The Glow Pt. 2 is a dense album, and is a piece of work that will disorient and potentially off-put casual listeners. Elvrum’s lyrics are often cryptic and forlorn, hidden amidst a sea of fuzz and noisy guitar. But these areas are where the album shines. Beauty through the grimness. The opener “I Want Wind to Blow” evokes the ethereal essence of the cascades on a dark and cloudy evening. The music is delicately composed. While lo-fi may seem easy or ugly to some, the way The Glow Pt. transitions between moods, emotions, and sounds, is nothing short of brilliant. In the realm of indie folk, you’re hard-pressed to find a more delicate, unique, somber and lovely album.
Ambient as a musical genre is difficult to classify and delve into, and even more difficult to critique. What is not difficult, however, is deriving enjoyment out of it. Ambient, in all its avant-garde, and ethereal glory, can bring one to a state of relaxation or intense discomfort, depending on what exactly you’re listening to. The genre is stacked with records in this day and age, and it can be a little difficult hopping in, but if you’re interested, here are the three records you should check out first.
Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music for Airports
British musician (and genius) Brian Eno is attributed with coining the genre “ambient” as we know it today. After a series of art rock albums throughout the ’70s, Eno composed Ambient 1: Music for Airports in 1978, kicking off a series of ambient records that are still legendary to this day. It was difficult having to choose from just one of them (Apollo should be one you check out as well), but, as this one was first, I think it deserves recognition. The piano and vocalization mixes on this record are stunning, and I think would make a good starting point for anyone wanting to try ambient. There are tons more from Eno as well, the most recent being Reflection released this January.
William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops
This is where things get a little strange (that didn’t take long, did it?) William Basinski is probably the second most prolific ambient composer behind Eno, and The Disintegration Loops is his defining work, though he has more famous ones (92982 is worth a listen as well). A set of four records made from deteriorated music from old magnetic tapes, The disintegration Loops also include sounds recorded from Basinski’s rooftop the day of 9/11. Stills from that recording are featured on the covers. The story and creation behind this project simply isn’t matched. It’s a haunting work.
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
Released in 1998, the debut record from Scottish duo Boards of Canada was light-years ahead of its time. It’s not exclusively ambient, music of this album can be considered electronic dance, but upbeat it is not. Music Has the Right to Children is a deeply unsettling and atmospheric experience even to this day, let alone 20 years ago. If you’d rather be unnerved than soothed, and want to experience what set the course for experimental music in the upcoming century, this is a must-listen.