BEST HIP-HOP The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp: September 2023 By Phillip Mlynar · October 06, 2023

September’s selection of the ten best new releases to grace Bandcamp includes a Philly-to-Chicago collaboration inspired by ’90s Queens rap, a celestial-gazing outing from the sibling of a Detroit hip-hop great, and a UK MC’s deep embrace of the concept of sonic duality. We also spotlight a previously unreleased gem from the vaults of the mighty Lex Records.

Armand Hammer
We Buy Diabetic Test Strips

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Bag, Cassette, T-Shirt/Shirt

Following the compactness of 2021’s Alchemist produced Haram, the latest installment in the sagely Armand Hammer saga sees the duo of billy woods and ELUCID calling on the creative support of an expansive array of personnel that includes Preservation, Black Noi$e and El-P to assist in shaping the 15 track We Buy Diabetic Test Strips. Released via Fat Possum, the project opens with the JPEGMAFIA crafted “Landlines,” a track whose backwards tape loops and sprinkles of glitchy flecks act as a compelling portal into a world that proceeds to add layers of live instrumentation into its fabric (reportedly as a result of a jam session headed up by jazz player Shabaka Hutchings that acted as a sonic palette for the album). “Mumbled through the brain fog/ Tinnitus like a chainsaw/ Cookies crumble/ I know that’s what you came for/ Fake humble with a head full of case law/ Marbled steak, put it back in the case so it can age more/ Patient carnivore,” raps woods on key cut “Woke Up And Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die,” deftly encapsulating the way themes of personal and worldly “fresh wounds and old scars” intertwine and recur across an album that radiates a lyrical and musical head-spinning panache.

Danger Mouse & Jemini
Born Again

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

Back in 2003, the London-based Lex Records released Ghetto Pop Life , a collaborative project that brought together the seemingly odd couple talents of a producer named Danger Mouse who was making waves as a savvy proponent of the mash-up trend and a cult ’90s hip-hop MC named Jemini The Gifted Child who made a little noise with the “Funk Soul Sensation” and “Brooklyn Kids” singles before seeming to disappear in a cloud of legal troubles. It turns out that off the back of Ghetto Pop Life, the duo also wrote an entire second album, Born Again, that’s been percolating in the vault until now. Capped at a punchy 10 tracks, Danger Mouse’s production is anchored by a series of engrossingly crust-sodden drum patterns topped by musically-expansive sample touches: “Knuckle Sandwich II” is all angular psyche-tinged scuzzy funk, “Brooklyn Bazquiat” is carried by a slinky wavering flute riff, and the title track drifts along with tropicalia melodics. “I feel like I’m living through the first part of my second blessing/ Being acknowledged for the gift of my lyrical expression,” relays Jemini in trademark effusive flow on the latter track, before signing off in grounded fashion:”Contrary to popular belief or what some say, the accolades got me humble.”

Illa J
No Traffic

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP

Detroit producer and MC Illa J sauntered onto the scene in 2008 under the understandably inescapable shadow of being the younger sibling of departed hip-hop great J Dilla. The expansive 19 track No Traffic successfully builds on a sense of stylistic familial heritage while continuing to assert Illa J’s own individual credentials. Cornerstone album cut “Star Struck” exemplifies this blend, with Illa J stitching together a backdrop of voluminous bass tones, celestial-gazing dabs of synths and feisty hi-hat patterns and dropping a mantra-like statement of musical intent: “We up in space, we about 30 minutes from Mars/ We feel in place, look at the world, it feel like it’s ours/ I give you the beats, I give you the melodies/ I give you the bars.” Tapping into the vibrant Detroit backbone of Illa J’s career, No Traffic includes key contributions from Dank on the ebullient introductory title track, Frank Nitt gracing the low end growling “Boom Bap,” and Amp Fiddler blessing the heaving sludge funk of “Get Down.”

Open Mike Eagle
another triumph of ghetto engineering

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Following last year’s essential Component System With The Auto Reverse, the Los Angeles-based Open Mike Eagle continues to establish himself as one of the most effortlessly erudite and emotional MCs of his generation on the nine song another triumph of ghetto engineering. Child Actor is entrusted with providing the bulk of the project’s production and imbues the album with a tuneful woozy quality that meshes with Mike’s frequently nostalgia-dripping lyrics. “NASA linked the whole network every December/ I met ELUCID when him and A.M. was making music/ The Juggaknots, Aesop Rock and the Logic of Louis,” recalls Mike on the swaying tropicalia-leaning “we should have made otherground a thing,” as the MC digs up formative underground dues paying memories, including recalling how P.E.A.C.E. from Freestyle Fellowship “was mad at me ’cause they wasn’t in my top eight on the Myspace thing.” Also entrusted behind the boards, Quelle Chris delivers the humming funk of opener “i bled on stage at first ave,” Kenny Segal serves up the lolling static-embossed “WFLD32,” and Illingsworth‘s production for “BET’s rap city” strikes a warm sepia-hued note that enhances the throwback rap-referential lyrics from Mike and Young Zee. “It’s outside Chi, I grew up percolating,” reminisces the host MC. “Doing footwork impersonations and got busy/ The TV was fuzzy—the channel was not Disney/ Snares trapped like a caught grizzly.” Simultaneously booksmart and emotive, another triumph of ghetto engineering ultimately relays a set of bittersweet memories while never losing grip of being curiously hopeful.

Suff Daddy
Hair Of The Dog

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Hair Of The Dog spotlights the way that electronic music influences are an inherent part of hip-hop’s grand DNA. Composed by Berlin beatsmith Suff Daddy—a producer whose savvy work has also been honored as part of Fat Beats’s revered Baker’s Dozen series alongside contemporaries including Daedelus, Elaquent and Exile—the 12 track release radiates a luminous hypnotic charm. Early album moment “Psycho Mantis” tops deep squelching bass splodges with infectious hand claps, subsequent song “Donte Slip” takes the form of a star-gazing hip-hop lullaby, and penultimate moment “Palazzo de Hachazo” employs coy dashes of syncopated percussion to imbue the track with an indisputable head-nodding bounce. Feline fanatics also take note: Despite its title, Hair Of The Dog is fronted up by an endearingly abstract cat-centric cover illustration.

Hand Painted Model Trains

Merch for this release:

The latest offering from the savvy Damn That Noise label presents the poetically-inclined lyrical stylings and ambient-textured beatscapes of West Virginia’s Unsung. Written as a homage to the MC and producer’s departed father, there’s a tender ruefulness that emanates from Unsung’s lyrics, with shards of sentiments frequently relaying thoughts on regret and mortality. “Waiting for my death to build dirt mounds near my town/ I hold it up, shut it down, I need to get these words out/ My mouth is echoing through my ears,” raps the MC on “Messages,” embracing a restrained musical backdrop of wistful synths and metronomic woodblocks. Crowning the charged 11 song album’s emotional impact, closer “Mirage” resonates like a frantic stream-of-consciousness eulogy, complete with a vulnerable-sounding Unsung questioning, “How am I supposed to store you in the common ground?”

Velvetian Sky

Merch for this release:

Released on the LA-based Fada Records, Velvetian Sky‘s Family EP is a collaboration-centric five track outing that strikes a musically relaxed note. Opener “Sunrise Rituals” tasks guest Brooklyn MC SALIMATA with blessing a blissful flute-infused groove that patches in short snatches of a jazz loop to add an extra layer of texture to the track, while the lonesome piano notes that drip through “Lemonade” prompt Philly’s lojii to slide into nostalgic mode and recall his days of “rapping over beats on bootleg tapes—I had some shit to say.” Completing the guest list, Ahwlee brings his granular brogue to the soul-helmed “Abundance” and takes a moment to give thanks for the humble things in life, Goya Gumbani brings hushed thoughts to the gently rolling “Numbers On The Board,” and Pink Siifu teams with returning guest SALIMATA to fortify the standout “Both Sides.” Consider Family a svelte gem of a release–and a rare persuasive example of using multiple guest voices to cohesive effect.

Whirlwind D

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Whirlwind D‘s fourth studio album (and rumored last ever long player) is shot through with a duality theme. The heavyweight 12 track release is fronted up by cover art depicting a brain split in two, and the sonics on the project are balanced between upbeat funk-fortified moments and moodier impactful cuts that rely on percussive heft and ominous shards of samples to convey a sense of political gravitas and lyrical conviction. Early on, the inclusive ode to hip-hop “When It’s Fast” positively bombs along with a frantic guitar riff and challenges the MC with a tempo that harks back to the Britcore era of UK rap, while “Everyday Hustle” swings with a melodic swagger as Whirlwind D balances the demands of the creative process with everyday nine-to-five and family commitments. Adding homegrown support to the MC’s verbals, Junior Disprol, Chrome and Specifik join forces for the apocalyptic posse cut “The Deep,” Farma G brings worldly smarts to the brooding “Flames,” and Lewis Parker interpolates classic BDP for the hook of the subtly forbidding “Lucky Number.”

Zilla Rocca & Jason Griff
Stacking Chips

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, T-Shirt/Shirt, Hat

A shared love of 1990s Queens hip-hop anchors the full-length Stacking Chips collaboration between wry Philly rhyme purveyor Zilla Rocca and Chicago beatmaster Jason Griff. Over the wormy bass tones that grind through early album moment “Belly,” Zilla blitzes together a smorgasbord of references that include KMD’s second album, the Re-Up Gang’s Sandman, Big Pun tongue-twisters and a hook that nods to Soul II Soul’s anthemic “Back To Life.” The rest of Stacking Chips takes a sonic nod from this early tone-setting statement, as Griff unleashes what seems to be a Pandora’s box of demonically possessed bass lines flanked by beautifully coarse rusty wire drums. Claiming the album’s conceptual crown, “Love Is DOOMed” is a fresh twist on a relationship rap that spotlights Zilla calling off a date in favor of devouring departed rap supervillain MF Doom‘s now legendary Red Bull Music Academy lecture.


Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →