20. Wara from the NBHD – Kidnapped
“Making good use of the tools in his hip-hop toolbox, Wara leaves nothing on the table over the course of Kidnapped. His storytelling, which remains compelling from beginning to end, is woven expertly with engaging arrangement and production that demonstrates an attentive ear to musicianship. Someone get this man a band and put him on stages across the country; only a concert hall could do Kidnapped‘s vibrant piano strokes and swelling synths’ justice.” —Daniel Kisslinger
19. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
“While many contemporary rappers are trying to sound old, these older cats aspire to create something new, something born of their own unique imagination. Lese Majesty does not have much for fans hoping for more of Black Up or a retread of the golden era of hip-hop that Butler helped define with Digable Planets. But for those looking towards the future, there is a new hope and a new beat.” —Raurri Jennings
Buy Lese Majesty here.
18. Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D.
“P.T.S.D. tightens toward the personal as Monch’s focus shifts from W.A.R. Rather than attempt to create a novel world, Monch’s new album tries to share the different shades of one figure – the tortured, exhausted soul embodied in both a sci-fi scenario and all-too-real tales of Monch’s biography as a Black hip-hop artist from New York. He brings his same lyrical intensity and innovation to the this approach, proving why he deserves to be seriously considered in the conversation for ‘Best Rapper Alive.’” –Daniel Kisslinger
Buy P.T.S.D. here.
17. YG – My Krazy Life
“YG’s critical success has surprised no one more than it has surprised us, yet here we are welcoming him into our Top 20 with open arms. In fact, if you asked any of us how we felt about the Californian just last Fall, we’d probably offer some mixture of shrugs and snickers. But respect is owed where respect is due; My Krazy Life is one fantastically disrespectful album, and a brutally honest one at that. YG isn’t here to show off a double-time flow, nor pen a series of verses with a story arch that might impress the late, great Hemingway. No, YG is here to look outside his front door in Compton, take a quick glance, then lead you inside as he tells believable tales to the mic. Love him or hate him, YG is delivering an important, autobiographical body of work that speaks for countless individuals living a similarly crazy life.” –Alex Siber
Buy My Krazy Life here.
16. RatKing – So It Goes
“So It Goes is an album of innovation, a representation of how Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life are able to both embrace New York hip-hop for what it has been and what it’s becoming. If Ratking is the future of hip-hop — our glimpse into the neo-golden age — then it’s safe to say we’re in good hands. Like Wiki says in ‘Protein,’ ‘this ain’t ’90s revival.’” –Tara Mahadevan
Buy So It Goes here.
15. milo – a toothpaste suburb
“Poets, philosophers and writers like Schopenhauer, Jean Genet, and Walt Whitman are all name-checked on a toothpaste suburb. Again, the book smarts are strong with this one. As Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend squeezes heady references to Oxford commas and horchata into pop tunes, so do milo and Open Mike Eagle in their collaboration, ‘objectifying rabbits.’ milo drawls words like ‘echololalia’ and ‘listomania’ and then undercuts them with a candidate for opening line of the year: ‘I played my ukulele on the way to Le Grange, bruh.’ His wordplay lets the audience know he’s not totally preoccupied with the lofty ambition of elevating raps to the post-doctorate level, because he also enjoys making ‘something with his words’ while reveling in the absurd.” —Raurri Jennings
Buy and stream a toothpaste suburb here.
14. Blackbird Blackbird – Tangerine Sky
“The guitars and drums end up being some of my favorite parts of the songs on this release, though the vocal work is also worth noting. Maramag’s songwriting approach typically leads to infectious numbers that you’ll especially love this summer, when the temperatures are out of control and you need something more laid-back and bright to complement your afternoon laziness.” –Andrew Martin
Buy and stream Tangerine Sky here.
13. Caribou – Our Love
“Canadian producer Dan Snaith’s latest album Our Love might be the most dance-friendly album in the Caribou catalog. Our Love feels far more intimate than his previous works. There’s a range of themes — love, loneliness and heartbreak — explored here. Slight influences of pop/R&B fuse with electronic wandering on ‘Second Chances’ with singer Jessy Lanza. The title track is a standout, as are the two club-friendly jams, ‘Can’t Do Without You’ and ‘Julia Brightly’. Electronic music can sometimes feel sterile. Snaith’s managed to create a perfect marriage of the groove and personal emotion on Our Love. This is the first Caribou album in four years, and arguably his best work to date.” —Gedi Dabakaeri
Buy Our Love on Amazon.
12. kidkanevil – My Little Ghost
“Earlier in May, kidkanevil – one of our favorite producers dating back to 2010 – pulled back his veiling curtains to reveal a body of work unmatched in its layering, patterning and surreality; My Little Ghost stays true to its title, transpiring with an incessant, shadowy effervescence. Such reverberated melancholy paints a lonely picture, sure, but a loneliness shared with another: a little ghost, omnipresent and forever awoken.” –Alex Siber
Buy and stream My Little Ghost here.
11. D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah
“The best gift we all got for Christmas this year is a new D’Angelo album. After a 14-year hiatus since Voodoo, and constant updates from Questlove, I think most of us thought we’d never get it. But even without all the hyperbole, Black Messiah is really something special. Sonically D’Angelo pulls many influences from his musical Rolodex. There’s a little bit from Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Prince, Funkadelic to The Stylistics feel off ‘Another Life.’ And then couple that with his commentary; from systemic racism on ‘The Charade,’ to self-love on ‘Betray My Heart,’ to wishing for better times on ‘Back To The Future Pt. 1.’ Black Messiah is rich in soul and musicality. And given everything that’s happened this year from Ferguson to ongoing police brutality, the album’s as timely as they come.” —Gedi Dabakaeri
Buy Black Messiah here.