BEST HIP-HOP The Best Hip-Hop Albums on Bandcamp, October 2023 By Phillip Mlynar · November 01, 2023

October’s spotlight on the 10 best hip-hop releases to hit Bandcamp includes a soccer-themed project that honors legendary captains of the game, a turntablist’s frenzied rehearsal routine, and an apocalyptic sureshot from a couple of cross-generational underground firestarters. We also check out the fruits of a two day multi-artist open door New York City studio session.

AJ Suede & steel tipped dove
Reoccurring Characters

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Reoccuring Characters furthers Brooklyn-based producer steel tipped dove‘s banner year. Following July’s essential, goth-tinged Decay, alongside New Jersey MC Fatboi Sharif, dove has been enlisted to craft the sonics for Seattle MC AJ Suede’s latest full-length. Weighty and pensive, dove’s work is powered by crunching drum patterns that often drift into a slower tempo, while muted layers of horns and keys provide a backdrop for Suede’s erudite verbals: “Used to make the music for the mosh pits/ I still rap about the same topics/ Rock the same outfits/ Buying new versions of my old shit,” raps the MC on “Dreads At The Monastery”; from there, he weaves his way into a commentary on state surveillance, the Patriot Act, and misinformation campaigns. Adding support on this release: Duncecap passes through the dramatic “Excessive Celebration,” Curly Casto appears on “Cold Hue,” and PremRock teams with Sharif on “One Way Ticket,” as the trio of MCs coast over a lurching, piano-laden backdrop that summons horror-movie terror.

Best Case Scenario Music Group
12 Hour Shift

Released under the ambit of Charles Lamour’s Best Case Scenario Music group, the idea behind 12 Hour Shift was to create something similar to a recording camp at a Soho-based studio in New York City, inviting a roster of musicians to pass through and follow their creative instincts wherever they led. “The best case scenario, a bunch of artists get along/ Mezcal from my man ‘Swell, it got a funny smell,” raps Jamii Bass on the luxuriant, string-laden introductory cut “South Beach,” outlining the project’s aims. Later, TANSU and Ls Roman joining forces on bittersweet relationship snapshot “All Mine,” and DESTA, Niachene, and ScienZe bless the subtly upbeat “Feeling Fantastic.” Album closer “Strange People” is structured around singers and MCs taking turns on the mic over craggy drums and cushion-y keys, with Rapswell from the Penpals crew coining a couplet that captures the spirit of the experiment: “Forget tomorrow, you ain’t promised today/ So I’m mobbin’ with my hombres, NY to Bombay.”

[bryson the alien]

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“Had to upgrade the mind and the speech/ To excel from a town full of crime and misery,” confesses [bryson the alien] on “WHTCHU SAY?,” the opening track on the Portland MC’s latest project. The notion of locating the present by glancing backward and looking forward recurs across the album, bryson rapping in a grainy hush over dusky lo-fi backdrops provided by Texas’s GHOWSTE. The first section of mid-project highlight “RITUALS / BROTHERHOOD” lumbers along with a mix of sludgy, humming bass and whispering keys; “BIRDIE” strips the sonics down to just a plaintive acoustic guitar that sinks into a layer of fuzz; and “PINTO” comes off like a warped Spaghetti Western soundtrack, over which the MC ponders the parameters of time, noting: “If this was ’95, I would have signed to Jive.” Fatboi Sharif graces the closing chapter of “SHEPHERD,” as the duo flow over a trembling psych-influenced GHOWSTE production.

Death At The Derby

Recording as Death At The Derby, the duo of Lord Juco and Cousin Feo have been dropping a steady series of soccer-themed songs that originally celebrated some of the most infamous derby matches between rival clubs across the world. Capitano expands on that idea by spotlighting the talents of 11 notable club captains through the ages. Drawing on a stash of beats from Toronto producer Finn, the backdrops drum up the same mood of impending violence as vintage mid-’90s thug rap, while sampled commentary from key games help profile each song’s subject. The roster of honorees includes graceful Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand; flamboyant Paraguayan showstopper José Luis Chilavert; and temperamental Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoichkov, who’s honored during the album’s closing run of tracks. “Golden boot in the ’90s, you know where to find me/ Dream Team, Barca, same tempo,” raps Juco. “Make it hard for defenders, La Liga four times, I remember/ As consecutive, Romario to my right/ Can’t miss next to him/ I expect to win.” A smart, on-topic project from a couple of clear students of the game.

Fatboi Sharif & Bigg Jus,
Insomniac Missile Launcher

Led by the twin talents of swiftly rising underground trailblazer Fatboi Sharif and legendary Company Flow lyricist Big Jus, Insomniac Missile Launcher is a hyper-intense four-track sonic treatise that layers apocalyptic rap over beautifully corrosive industrial production handled by Juss under the Justoleum Kingspitter handle. (The project is also mastered by Backwoodz regular Willie Green.) On the opening track, the duo trade off dystopian sentiments that build on the idea of a cyber-terrorist plot while Jus slyly manages to work in a reference to the cult zine In Search Of Divine Styler. “Grimy Squadron Grow A Garden” investigates the dynamics of consumer-accepted technological surveillance; on “Ghost Story” the duo free associate over rumbling waves of demonic bass and ambient distortion; and closer “God” weighs up the ways that positive and negative ripple through life. “The wicked pecking order all guilty/ Kingdom infiltrated, they’ve come to kill me,” proclaims Sharif over a hauntingly dystopian fanfare, perfectly capturing the thrust of the Insomniac Missile Launcher manifesto.

Guilty Simpson

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Escalation pits the weighty presence of Detroit MC Guilty Simpson over production from Uncommon Records head honcho Uncommon NASA. “The inner working of a pen with a purpose/ Veteran but still scratching the surface,” raps Simpson with a humble pride on early album highlight “Fast Talk Maturity,” before proceeding to set himself apart from large swaths of the rap scene over a kooky slab of horn-infused funk: “I don’t wanna work with you/ Need a verse from you/ I’m an earner too so that money doesn’t impress me/ Especially when you weirdos just met me/ They play me like I’m threatening but won’t check me/ That’s real power/ Knowing they mad and how they feel about you/ On the edge ’cause they don’t know how to be around you.” Guillotine Crowns provides forceful lyrical assistance across the brawny, 12-track outing, particularly on the raucous guitar-spiked “The Era That Doesn’t Know.” Quelle Chris slides through “Stakeouts,” and Shortrock provides expert turntable embellishments throughout the session.

Mary Sue & psychedelic ensemble

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The loftily-titled CACOPHONOUS DIGRESSIONS, A RECORD OF A MOMENT IN TIME brings together the talents of Singapore MC Mary Sue and London beatmaker psychedelic ensemble on a 15-track project that explores the idea of searching for a calm place to settle when surrounded by tumultuous forces. Broadly structured like a three-act play, psychedelic ensemble’s beat work is inspired by a series of short films from directors including Toshio Matsumoto and Norman McLaren, and fuses glitchy drum patterns with pillowy synths, underscoring both with fluid bass tones. “I gotta get my feet on the ground/ Lately I’ve been falling too deep in my sounds/ Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m tied to my doubt,” confesses Sue on “Chaos Is Merely Order Waiting To Be Deciphered,” sounding an introspective note that captures the soul-searching that takes place throughout the project. On closer “Dream Pop On Steroids,” Sue finally finds that serene space, rapping over a dreamy backdrop infused with live keys from Daniel Alex Chia: “I don’t take it as a competition/ Just a group of human beings sharing truths and inspirations/ Spoken meditations/ We spread the healing through the longitudes and latitudes.”

Burning Desire

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

On MIKE‘s ninth studio album, the New York wordsmith calls on an expansive roster of guests to complement his typically pensive bars. Earl Sweatshirt closes out “plz don’t cut my wings” with slurry, self-reflective thoughts over production built around vintage orchestral strings; Liv.e and Venna combine to imbue “U think Maybe?” with rich, ’80s soul vibes; and San Francisco spitter Larry June brings slick patter and audacious one-upmanship to the sleazy jazz-funk of “Golden Hour.” For MIKE’s own part, the MC assumes something like a leadership role, setting the tone and agenda of tracks and flowing in what’s become his characteristically introverted style. Bolstering the album’s family affair atmosphere, Burning Desire also includes a ream of good old-fashioned hip-hop shout-out notes, complete with thanks to tour drivers, and engineers.

Mr. Dibbs

Earlier this year, Cincinnati deck-wrecker Mr. Dibbs was invited to perform at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, on a bill that also included Danny Brown, Souls Of Mischief, and Atmosphere. Technically, LIVE AT RED ROCKS presents the turntablist’s rehearsal routine from the day before the show, complete with a wry comment in the liner notes: “There are a limited number of mistakes ’cause you weren’t staring at me the whole time.” Early on, a snippet of Omar Little from The Wire—”You come at the king, you best not miss!”—leads into a brassy blast of The Notorious B.I.G., setting the template for the quick-witted cut-and-paste tactics that Mr. Dibbs calls on through the 200-minute set. Key peaks across the frenzied session include a hollering Busta Rhymes layered over Mobb Deep’s “The Learning,” a svelte segment from a live rendition of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It,” and a furious funk breakbeat mid-section. Successfully enhancing the EP’s “tour diary,” voice messages from JBIRD and Slug bookend the performance.

Ty Farris & Graymatter
Sounds That Never Left My Soul

There’s a relentless sense of conviction in Detroit spitter Ty Farris‘s bars on this full-length collaboration with Mutant Academy collective producer Graymatter. “I hustled under black clouds, learned to make it hail/ Police trackers, but me and my dogs know how to shake a tail/ I’m not a felon, dodged the judge several times/ Just jog through my memory bank, that’s how I prepare my rhymes,” Farris raps on “Box Of Bullets” over a mesmerizing bed of percussion crafted from shuffling hi-hats and clipped snares, and spiked with rattling congas. Next comes a strike at his foes: “Fake smiles and jealousy, a snake’s favorite weaponry/ Underground mayor, my constituents elected me.” Farris’s commitment to relaying hustling experience via hip-hop one-upmanship runs throughout the 11-track album. Over a flickering flute on “Samples Of My Soul,” Farris drops a reference to the cash-centric mentality of the Righteous Gemstones clan, and casts himself traveling “the darkest road alone, I still chase my goals/ Hard work with these poems and now I stay draped in gold.” Bolstering the devotional subplot of the album, the Dungeon Family’s in-house elder Big Rube is granted the space to bless “Splashes Of Tragedy” with typically philosophical thoughts on navigating “the shores of your ultimate fate.”

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