24 independent hip hop releases of 2020 we recommend buying on Bandcamp today

Bandcamp is doing one of its first Fridays fundraisers today (6/5), for which Bandcamp waives its cut of sales for 24 hours and all profits go to artists and labels. This originally started as a way to help artists impacted by COVID-19, but in the midst of the nationwide protests against police brutality, many artists and labels are donating their profits to racial justice causes today. Like the past two Bandcamp Days, there are several special/exclusive releases out in time for today's fundraiser, on top of all the great music that was already available on Bandcamp. If you're looking for some ideas of what to pick up on Bandcamp today, we've put together a list of 17 independent (unsigned or signed to indie labels) hip hop artists with great 2020 releases available on the platform. Here they are, in no particular order:

Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger on McNichols
Sector 7-G Recordings

Boldy James is already on a roll this year with his excellent Alchemist-produced album The Price of Tea In China and standout verses on both Westside Gunn albums, and he recently revealed that he signed to Griselda Records and will have Westside Gunn executive producing his next project. But before that, Boldy and producer/composer Sterling Toles finally released their long-in-the-works collaborative album Manger on McNichols. Boldy recorded the bulk of his vocals between 2007 and 2010, and at the time Sterling Toles' production was "pretty much chopped samples and drums." Over the years, Sterling fleshed the recordings out with a live jazz band, and he added guest vocals to the song "Welcome to 76" by a then-little-known artist named Deja, who you now know as DeJ Loaf.

In 2018, Boldy helped Sterling finish the album, and now it's finally here. It's jazz-rap that's one part real-deal jazz and one part real-deal rap, not just beats sourced from jazz records. The music is alive and improvisational, and Boldy's raps fall right into the pocket. It's a whole different beast than The Price of Tea In China, and great in its own way.

Liv.e - Couldn't Wait To Tell You...
In Real Life

LA-via-Dallas psychedelic neo-soul artist Liv.e has collaborated with Earl Sweatshirt, Pink Siifu, Maxo, Black Noi$e, and others, but perhaps the most important musician relationship Liv.e has is with Erykah Badu, who considers the 22-year-old Liv.e her protége and who threw a virtual listening party for Couldn't Wait To Tell You. "What better artist to highlight as an extension of what I am creating?" asks Badu. "I’ve known Liv as family since forever. She was this young shy, creative girl who found her way into my heart. We graduated from the same arts high school years apart. Liv is of the same tribe. I can’t wait to see her do her thang."

Liv.e's new album -- her first full-length following a series of EPs -- does indeed sound indebted to Erykah Badu's music, but Liv.e puts her own spin on it. Like Badu, Liv.e makes genre-defying psychedelic soul, but she also sorta fuses it with the warped, collage-like sounds of the last two albums by her collaborator Earl Sweatshirt (one of which she appears on). She incorporates jazz, spoken word, funk rhythms, hip hop beats, meditative ambience, and more. She fuses the electronic with the acoustic, and she makes all these ingredients feel part of the same retro-futuristic world. Couldn't Wait To Tell You also pairs well with one of this year's most acclaimed debut albums, KeiyaA's Forever, Ya Girl. Like that album, it seems small and lo-fi on the surface, but the more you dig in, the more you hear how fleshed-out and ambitious it is. Like that album, Couldn't Wait To Tell You uses very old, very familiar sounds, but in a way that feels new and exciting. Liv.e may sound clearly influenced by Erykah Badu, but Erykah Badu sounded clearly influenced by Minnie Ripperton and Billie Holiday. Erykah made it her own, and now Liv.e is doing the same.

Blu & Exile - Miles
Dirty Science Records

Below the Heavens, the 2007 debut collaboration from West Coast rapper Blu and producer Exile, remains one of the most beloved underground rap albums of the past 15 years, and while Blu and Exile have separately remained prolific over the years, it's always even more of a treat when they come together. They've done just that on their new 20-song double album Miles, their third album together and first in eight years, following Give Me My Flowers While I Can Smell Them. The album features some of the same guests as Below the Heavens (Miguel, who's a lot more famous now, and Aloe Blacc), some of the same as Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (Fashawn, Jimetta Rose, Johaz of Dag Savage, ADAD), and some new ones (The Last Artful Dodgr, Cashus King, Iman Omari, West Coast legend and Freestyle Fellowship member Aceyalone, and more), and it (obviously) gets its title from Miles Davis, who's a clear influence on here. Exile provided jazzy beats on his last two albums with Blu too, but the production here has an especially live-band jazz feel, and the album is full of long songs that stretch out more like jazz songs than like traditional rap songs. Contrasting the more freeform music is Blu's extremely focused rapping, which -- as usual -- pays homage to '90s rap greats without sounding like blatant revivalism. There's a lot packed into this album, but it doesn't drag or feel overstuffed. It requires some patience, but it's worth it.

Apollo Brown & Che Noir - As God Intended
Mello Music Group

There must be something in the water in Buffalo right now. Not only is it home to the unstoppable Griselda, it's also home to Che Noir, a rapper who's been on the rise since fellow Upstate NY rapper 38 Spesh (of Rochester) helped put her on the map with a handful of collaborations in 2018 and 2019. Now she linked with the great Detroit producer Apollo Brown -- whose psychedelic, jazz-inflected style has made him one of the most consistently great underground rap producers of the past decade -- for her second project of 2020 (following February's 38 Spesh-produced Juno), and armed with Apollo Brown's beats, her raps sound tighter than ever. The album boasts guest verses from Skyzoo, Planet Asia, Ty Farris, and the legendary Black Thought, and still, Che -- who was born the same year Black Thought was recording The Roots' breakthrough album Do You Want More?!!!??! -- is never overshadowed. Her rhymes fall perfectly in the pockets of Apollo Brown's production, and her lyricism is compelling song after song after song. She'd been a promising artist for a while, but with As God Intended, she makes that leap from "promising" to one of the most commanding new voices in modern '90s-style rap.

MIKE - Weight of the World

MIKE continues to be one of the leading voices in the current New York rap underground, and he also remains highly prolific. He doesn't change his sound up much -- Weight of the World still finds him delivering plainspoken raps over what sounds like old jazz and soul samples played on warped, melting wax -- but he remains consistently good at it and every project he's put out over the last few years has been worth hearing. This one is no exception. MIKE's as good a producer as he is a rapper (he produced most of this album himself under his DJ Blackpower guise), and he continues to have a strong artistic vision. His albums are almost never about individual songs, many of which are very short; they're about the whole psychedelic experience achieved when you listen start to finish. Weight of the World does have one clear standout moment though -- the Earl Sweatshirt guest verse on closing track "Allstar" -- and it makes sense that MIKE makes you wait 'til the end for it. Earl may attract some new fans to this album, but MIKE would've created a cohesive, masterful work with or without him.

Iron Wigs - Your Birthday's Cancelled
Mello Music Group

Iron Wigs is a new rap group made up of three familiar faces: Vic Spencer of Chicago's SaveMoney collective, veteran Chicago rapper Verbal Kent, and UK rapper/producer SonnyJim. Vic Spencer and SonnyJim already have two collaborative albums together, the first of which has a song featuring Verbal Kent, and Iron Wigs use those albums as a launching point but this project covers ground that the Spencer For Higher albums only hinted at. Those albums both flirted with jazz-rap, but the production on Your Birthday's Cancelled makes you feel like you're dropped right into a smoky jazz club; there's as much an emphasis on mesmerizing horn solos as there is on rapping. And as hazy as the production often is, it's contrasted by the bold, forceful aggression of the rhymes. These three all come from different eras and walks of life, but they've got a real chemistry and the excellent cast of guests -- CRIMEAPPLE, Quelle Chris, and Roc Marciano -- all fit right into the mix too.

Kemba - The World Is Watching EP

Bronx rapper Kemba has been putting out a string of great singles this year, and this week he followed them with the new EP The World Is Watching. It's exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds long in honor of George Floyd, and all four songs directly take on police brutality and killings, the systemic racism that enables them, the nationwide protests, the news' portrayal of these incidents, and more, and Kemba does this in a way that's genuinely powerful. You can read more about the EP here.

KeiyaA - Forever, Ya Girl
Forever Recordings

What do Armand Hammer's Shrines, Medhane's Cold Water, and MIKE's Weight of the World all have in common, besides being three of the best underground rap records of the year? They all feature contributions from R&B singer/producer/instrumentalist KeiyaA, whose own 2020 album Forever, Ya Girl is a quiet triumph. Written, performed, and produced almost entirely by KeiyaA alone (with co-production on a few songs by MIKE under his DJ Blackpower guise, and one song produced by DJ Cowriiie), Forever, Ya Girl came together over the course of six years and it sounds like if Solange's last album was re-created as lo-fi bedroom pop, but even that description doesn't do justice to how defiantly unique this album is.

As KeiyA explained in an interview with DJ Booth, she's originally from Chicago and she got her start playing saxophone with Mick Jenkins, Chance The Rapper, Noname, and Vic Mensa early on, before moving to NYC and linking up with MIKE and others in the city's current rap underground. You can hear the influence of both of those worlds on Forever, Ya Girl, which fuses together murky loops, jazzy instrumentation, and KeiyaA's subtly powerful voice. This album came out in late March, and was presumably finished before the pandemic escalated, but as an album that was created almost entirely in isolation, it feels like it captures these crazy times. Its ingredients -- R&B, funk, jazz, psychedelia -- are styles of music often associated with groups of musicians who harmonize and improvise with each other, but you can really feel how Forever, Ya Girl is an album by a sole individual who was in her own head while making it. In these times where a lot of us are spending more time in our own heads than ever, this music resonates.

Armand Hammer - Shrines
Backwoodz Studios

Shrines immediately resonates as top-tier work from Armand Hammer (Billy Woods and Elucid), and from the album's many impressive guests: Earl Sweatshirt, R.A.P. Ferreira, Moor Mother, Pink Siifu, Quelle Chris, Akai Solo, Fielded, and others. With psychedelic, experimental production coming from Earl, Navy Blue, Kenny Segal, and others, Shrines partially falls under "abstract rap," and sometimes Billy and Elucid's metaphors and tongue-twisters contribute to that too, but usually they contrast the trippiness with a loud, clear delivery and lyrics that are full of venom. Even with the avant-rap niche that Billy, Elucid, and their usual collaborators have carved out for themselves, Armand Hammer remain in a lane of their own. Read more here.

ShrapKnel - ShrapKnel
Backwoodz Studios

If you're digging the new Armand Hammer, you might wanna pick up the recent LP from their Backwoodz labelmates ShrapKnel too. Elucid produced almost this whole record, Billy Woods guests on it, and ShrapKnel's Curly Castro guests on Shrines. This is another of the year's finest underground rap records, but compared to the sometimes-hazy Armand Hammer album, this one is pure darkness.

R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages
Ruby Yacht

Purple Moonlight Pages is a substantial, immersive album that lends itself to repeated listens and reveals more each time, and it already feels on par with Rory’s best work. Production wise, it varies between far-out psychedelia, real-deal jazz, and eerie atmospheric instrumentals (provided by the Jefferson Park Boys, aka Kenny Segal, Mike Parvizi, and Mr. Carmack), and Rory’s raps vary between the unconventional flow and tongue-twisting lyricism that has been part of underground hip hop since the early ’90s, spoken word, slam poetry, and flashes of the more conventional, accessible style of the boom bap era. Read more here.

Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
Mello Music Group

Almost every guest from the first Innocent Country is on this new one too (Cavalier, Denmark Vessey, Big Sen, Fresh Daily), but this time the duo also roped in some exciting bigger names like Earl Sweatshirt, Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus, and Homeboy Sandman, as well as some other underground rap figures who are having a moment right now like Pink Siifu and Billy Woods. The new album also sounds bigger and brighter than the first one. Chris Keys' warm, jazz-inspired production sounds as lively as walking into a jazz club, and that's at least partially because Chris played and recorded the instruments himself. And Quelle Chris is an increasingly commanding rapper, who sounds even more effortlessly great than he did five years ago. Read more here.

Pink Siifu - NEGRO

We said: It's one big, dense sound collage that brings free jazz, noisy punk, spoken word, and rap music together, and Siifu tells DJ Booth that working with producer Slauson Malone was part of the influence for that. "When we wanna go in on a DJ mix, that’s how Slauson’s albums be sounding," he says. It does sound as much like a DJ mix as an album, and Siifu stuffs in as many ideas lyrically as he does musically.

Today, 50% of proceeds from cassette purchases of NEGRO go to "causes and organizations fighting tha fight on different levels in Los Angeles Oakland and New York City."

Shabazz Palaces - The Don of Diamond Dreams
Sub Pop

It's Shabazz Palaces so it still sounds like an outer space acid trip compared to most rap music, but it's the most compact and fat-trimmed thing Shabazz have released since Black Up. As much as I appreciate the sprawling epics, Shabazz are at their best when they channel all their ambition into a more tightly-packed album like this one. Read more here.

Navy Blue - Àdá Irin

The production is full of soul samples that melt into each other and sound like they're literally being played on warped vinyl, and Navy Blue's delivery is meandering and stream-of-consciousness, with the words just rolling off his tongue with no clear end in sight. The amount of albums in this style seems to be increasing every year, but Navy Blue is clearly very good at what he does, so if you're craving more of this kinda thing, don't sleep on this one. Read more here.

Tha God Fahim - Lost Kingz
Nature Sounds

Tha God Fahim hails from Atlanta, but his music has more in common with the underground rap scene that's happening in NYC and that Earl Sweatshirt (who has collaborated with Fahim) has been a big proponent of. Fellow Earl collaborator Mach-Hommy is on this album, and he's the only guest besides underground vet Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks. And if you gravitate towards that kind of left-of-the-dial rap, you're probably gonna wanna hear Lost Kingz. Read more here.

Preservation - Eastern Medicine, Western Illness
Nature Sounds

Preservation recorded this album in Hong Kong and dedicated it to the people of Hong Kong, and he also featured some local artists on it: rapper Young Queenz, opera singer Michelle Siu, and guzheng player Chin King. He also is clearly tapped in to the current underground rap scene and featured a handful of artists who are either new and rising or who have been around but are having more of a moment now than ever, including Navy Blue, Mach-Hommy, Your Old Droog, Billy Woods, Quelle Chris, and more. All of those artists are different, but they all share a love of both golden age rap tradition and experimental futurism, which makes them perfect for a Preservation record. Preservation also really knows how to tie it all together and make Eastern Medicine, Western Illness sound like one cohesive record even though there's a different rapper on every track. Read more here.

ovrkast. - Try Again

You might remember Oakland artist ovrkast. was on Earl Sweatshirt's great 2019 project Feet of Clay alongside Mavi, and Mavi's also on Try Again, as is Navy Blue, Demahjiae and Pink Siifu. Going by the sounds of Try Again, it's no surprise that Earl is a fan. overkast's jazzy production sucks you right in, and his subtle rapping style suits the beats perfectly.

Akai Solo - Ride Alone, Fly Together
Break All Records

Brooklyn's Akai Solo runs in the same circles as a lot of the rappers mentioned above (this album features Pink Siifu, who Akai Solo released a collaborative album with last year, it was almost entirely produced by iblss who worked on the latest Medhane LP, and Akai is also on the new Armand Hammer), but he's a force of his own, never overshadowed by his peers. This LP finds him rapping over smoky, psychedelic production, and the way the words just fall out of his mouth suits these beats perfectly.

Conway the Machine & Big Ghost Ltd - No One Mourns The Wicked

Conway's second EP of 2020 (following the Alchemist-produced LULU) is the Big Ghost Ltd-produced No One Mourns The Wicked. The EP is bookended by two heavier tracks -- the rap/doom metal hybrid "Dead Flowers" and the almost horrorcore sounding "Sicarios" -- but mostly it's what you expect from Conway: hazy, psychedelic production matched in intensity by Conway's gritty bars. The only two guests are Griselda associates El Camino and Flee Lord, but Conway has no trouble carrying the bulk of this EP on his own. He still finds ways to make familiar music sound fresh, he loads this EP with memorable punchlines, and really it's worth listening just to hear him rhyme "paraphernalia" with "Arabic tailor." Read more here.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED
Loma Vista

When UNLOCKED first arrived, I said its brevity, surprise release, carefree attitude, and the fact that it was recorded in three days shouldn't make it seem any less essential than the landmark albums Denzel Curry recently released, and that already feels like an understatement. Now that it's had time to settle in, it just feels like Denzel Curry has yet again made some of the best new rap music around. UNLOCKED pays obvious homage to a lot of turn-of-the-millennium rap music, from its Matt Doo-like artwork to the MF DOOM style production to the DMX style cadences, but Denzel and Kenny make it all their own. "I came through like a bastard - nobody father my style," Denzel raps, and even on an album that reads like a love letter to Denzel's faves, you still believe him.

The Professionals - The Professionals
Madlib Invazion

As expected given Madlib's recent hot streak, this long-awaited album is really good. Madlib's production is as warped and psychedelic as ever, and Oh No keeps everything grounded with cold, forceful rhymes that act as a well-matched foil to Madlib's trippier production. Oh No handles almost all of the rapping himself, and for the few times he does bring in guests, it's other long-running underdogs like Chino XL and former Slum Village member Elzhi, both of whom show up in fine form on standout track (and recent single) "Superhumans." Read more here.

lojii - lo&behold

Philly rapper lojii made most of this album alone in his bedroom following the deaths of a few people who were very close to him, and you can feel all of that resonating in this haunted, somber rap album. "I was making loops as therapy," he told Bandcamp. "Some of them just inspired me to lay verses over them and get some of these thoughts and feelings out. I didn’t get too explicit, but all of the songs are journal entries. It was personal to me, even though I tried to write it in a way that people could connect to it." Guests include Pink Siifu, Akeema-Zane, and Nikko Gray.

Maassai - Unsounded Points of View

Maassai has been one of my favorite new rappers in NYC's rap underground lately. She kills it on Medhane's "I Was Just In The Mara" and Mavi's "Fire Alarm," and today she dropped this new three-song EP that's more proof of how hard she is. I kinda get some Digable Planets vibes, but colder and darker and firmly planted in today's world.


Also see: 70+ special/exclusive releases for today's Bandcamp fundraiser, 70+ artists & labels donating Bandcamp Day profits to anti-police brutality causes, more new albums, and more hip hop news.