Check the latest playlist to hear my favorite tracks from one of the most unique emcees over the past 12 years.
Open Mike Eagle has built a successful career on making unconventional rap music. Nobody raps like OME. His authentic personality shines through his music, highlighting both his dry sense of humor and clever takes on social observations. Much of his writing feels like unfiltered but deeply considered journaling that’s often decorated with irony and satire.
Open Mike Eagle has had a highly productive career to date, releasing solo projects on a yearly basis since 2010. Early in his career he coined the fitting phrase/sub-genre of “Art Rap” in reference to his work. His full body of work illustrates not only his growth as a musician but as a person, in a way that is more revealing than most. His lyrical content isn’t the only part of his music that is unique. OME continues to sound different. He delivers most of his verses in a smooth mellow tone that comes off conversational or contemplative, at times singing through portions of songs.
To refer to OME as strictly a rapper would be incredibly shortsighted. Open Mike Eagle has developed into not only a versatile musician, but also a prolific entertainer. He does a great deal of podcasting, comedy, and even performs as a wrestler. He recently acquired his own show on BET & Comedy Central titled The New Negroes, in which he and Baron Vaughn host a series of black comedians, capped with music videos of some truly iconic Open Mike Eagle collaborations, including DOOM, Danny Brown, Method Man and more.
Open Mike Eagle has been in my top 5 for 10 years, and none of his releases have disappointed. He doesn’t show any signs of decline in his work, and I continue to look forward to his next projects.
Notable OME Music Videos
Celebrity Reduction Prayer
The Latest Playlist: Open Mike Eagle
Open Mike Eagle – I Rock
Open Mike Eagle – Last Night
Open Mike Eagle – One Day
Open Mike Eagle feat. Gold Panda – Ziggy Starfish (Anxiety Raps)
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)
Open Mike Eagle & Jeremiah Jae – A History of Modern Dance
Open Mike Eagle feat. Sammus – Hymnal
Open Mike Eagle – Microfiche
Open Mike Eagle – Wtf is Self Care
Open Mike Eagle – The Financial Crisis That Wouldn’t Go Away
Open Mike Eagle feat. P.O.S. – Why Pianos Break
Open Mike Eagle – Qualifiers
Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy Late Show
Open Mike Eagle – Apologies
Open Mike Eagle – Rent Party Revolution (Taco Neck Remix)
Check the latest playlist to hear my favorite tracks from one of the most important artists in independent hip-hop over the past 20 years.
Murs has dropped new music every year since 1997 through solo and collaborative projects (Living Legends, Felt, Murs & 9th Wonder, etc.). As an emcee he’s an exceptional storyteller that consistently promotes peace, love, and LA pride, and has provided fans with countless classics.
His contribution to hip-hop goes far beyond his music. As an advocate of independent hip-hop, he’s worked tirelessly on a wide range of projects and collaborations aimed at promoting other independent hip-hop artists, most notably his annual “Paid Dues” festival that he organized from 2006-2013, in which he showcased most of the significant independent artists of that time.
I’ve been a fan for many years and have been exposed to a lot of great hip-hop music either by or through Murs. He doesn’t get near the amount of credit he deserves, but independent hip-hop wouldn’t be what it is today without him.
Below are some of my favorite hip-hop highlights of 2020. Check the following playlists, albums, and videos for my personal recap of the year.
The Latest Playlist: 2020
*Track listing at bottom of post
For hip-hop in 2020, the crown belongs to Griselda Records. Label founder Westside Gunn, brother Conway the Machine, and cousin Benny the Butcher have been creating plenty of buzz over the last few years, but in 2020 they made a statement. With 5 albums between the 3 of them, a debut album by their female counterpart Armani Cesar, and a Griselda-released mixtape from the tremendously productive Boldy James, 2020 has been Griselda’s most productive year to date.
Despite making a sudden splash on the scene, these emcees have been rapping for a long time. While the way they rap is characteristically unique in it’s graphic descriptions and hard-hitting punch lines, their music has a foundation in a classic style of hip-hop, garnering them no shortage of praise from hip-hop legends across the map.
Through expert storytelling, Griselda artists include explicit details of criminal activities, and while they don’t necessarily glorify the lifestyle, they are not in the least bit apologetic. They don’t shy away from rapping about the details of their lives before rap fame, the struggle they endured to get here today, or boasting on their success that could only have come from unwavering perseverance.
One of the most compelling stylistic features of Griselda artists is their footing in a Mafioso aesthetic. This theme runs through all label members, and is one of the notable characteristics that unify them as a collective. It is not surprising that Griselda has been referred to as “the next Wu-Tang Clan”, which has been recognized even by members of the Wu-Tang Clan themselves. This claim is not just an acknowledgement of success in 2020, but an understanding that Griselda is set to be an iconic generational influence on the culture.
Lo-Fi Lethargic Raps
Over the past 5-7 years there has been a growing sub-genre of hip-hop characterized by low-energy rapping over lo-fi, sample-central beats. Counter to stereotypical rap braggadocio, artists in this style write more genuinely introspective. Despite their lethargic leaning tone, they write in a way that is both deeply expressive and seemingly therapeutic. The consistent themes are self-reflection and social observation from an introverted perspective.
The beats can be easily digestible, or in many cases can break rhythmic norms, providing an embrace of dystopian aesthetic. This approach gives the artists flexibility to maintain a refreshing level of unpredictability. It may not be a coincidence that 2020 was such prolific year for this style of hip-hop, being a year defined by isolation, depression, and dystopia.
I often refer to this style of hip-hop as “the other mumble rap”. While this sounds nothing like the commonly referred to sub-genre of mumble rap, these artists undeniably rap in a way that could be described as mumbling, but are nonetheless far more articulate as lyricists. There have been about a dozen or more notable artists operating successfully within this style, and while there is a common thread connecting them all, each has their own unique stylistic contribution. Above are 6 projects within this style from 2020 that I recommend from Medhane, MIKE, Redveil, Demahjiae, Chester Watson,and Navy Blue.
Boldy James Banner Year
I’ve declined to explicitly choose an album of the year for 2020, but if any artist should be recognized for their productivity it would have to be Boldy James. This year James dropped 3 collaborative projects with The Alchemist, Sterling Toles, and Real Bad Man, as well as a mixtape released by none other than Griselda Records (The Versace Tape).
Boldy James has been on the scene for over a decade, but his presence has never been more prolific than it was in 2020. Between the 4 projects, Boldy generously delivered 47 tracks (not including features), easily making 2020 his banner year. Despite the abundance of production, he didn’t cut corners. There are almost no intros or skits, and The Price of Tea in China & Real Bad Boldy are legitimate contenders for album of the year.
Like other Griselda artists, Boldy is a great storyteller, and his laid back flow guides the listener through a mesmerizing tour of illicit struggle raps. Each project has a different producer and corresponding sound, demonstrating James’ versatility and ability to adapt without compromising his own style.
Below are some of my favorite hip-hop highlights of 2019. Check the following playlists, albums, and videos for my personal run-down of the year.
The Latest Playlist: 2019
*Track listing at bottom of post
Notable Albums of 2019
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
The most universally accepted rap album of 2019 was Bandana from Freddie Gibbs & Madlib. Legendary producer Madlib brings some of his finest work to this highly active Bandana instrumental. The samples are chosen brilliantly and blended masterfully, contributing layers of drama and grandeur to Freddie Gibbs’ tales of criminal lifestyle. Gibbs raps about life struggles through the lens of his experiences in illicit activities, primarily drug dealing. He provides generously detailed stories and references of past experiences with criminal activity, women, and law enforcement. Though he raps with the demeanor of an experienced member of organized crime, Gibbs doesn’t shy away from expressing his emotional state as he describes struggles he experiences as a result of his lifestyle. It is not at all lost in his message that his involvement in criminal activity is born out of a struggle to survive in an environment that doesn’t care if he succeeds, fails, lives, or dies. With outstanding production and heavy descriptive lyrics, Bandana is already considered a classic.
Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places
For years Billy Woods has been one of the most prolific emcees in the subgenre of abstract hip hop; 2019 was his banner year. Hiding Places represents a thoroughly developed and sophisticated Woods on the dark beats and crushing drums of his perfect producer counterpart: Kenny Segal. Hiding Places from Billy Woods & Kenny Segal is not an album for passive listening. Over the course of this project, Woods weaves in and out of fragmented thoughts, metaphor, memories and tangents. This is a deeply personal and emotional Woods, as he speaks passionately in heavy reflection of his childhood and life experiences. There is a fine line between rapping and spoken word, and Woods is constantly playing with that line. The overall aesthetic of this collaboration is dark, ominous, aggressive, and a bit uncomfortable. Hiding Places can be off-putting at first, but listening to this project in its entirety is a truly captivating experience. I also recommend checking out Billy Woods’ other 2019 release: Terror Management.
Kota the Friend – Foto
The album I listened to the most in 2019 was Foto from Kota the Friend. Kota the Friend has to be the most genuinely humble emcee out. Foto is not a complex album musically, conceptually, or otherwise, but it is a true gem for fans of boom bap conscious rap. Through mellow melodic delivery Kota speaks frankly about his life, relationships, and the importance of family. Kota is nearly void of rap braggadocio. The occasional boasting is done with a subtlety that points more towards a comfort in himself rather than any self-righteous arrogance. Foto is highly optimistic from front to back, and Kota speaks from a place of content and joy, consciously leaving hardships in his past. The beats are simple but solid. People looking for more innovative styles and sounds might find the album a bit repetitive, but I personally cant get enough of it.
Below are some of my favorite hip-hop highlights of 2018. Check the following playlists, albums, music videos, cyphers, and rap battles for my personal run-down of the year.
The Latest Playlist: 2018
*Track listing at bottom of post
Notable Albums of 2018
Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club
New Zealand based rapper Tom Scott is backed by a full live band for this collaborative hip-hop jazz-fusion project. The sound is raw, high-energy, and feels completely improvisational. The tracks are very long and have multiple jazzy instrumental sections that transition from one sound to the next, making 8 tracks sound like at least a dozen songs. Scott’s ability to keep up with the band while maintaining clear vocal projection is one of his most impressive qualities. With each musical transition, Scott manages to adapt the style of his flow to the band. His lyrics are not especially complex, but they come off as commendably honest and personal. Scott raps primarily about his own personal experiences and memories, which are often accompanied by vivid descriptions. He also raps about friends, relationships, and other aspects of his life, at times progressing into unorganized contemplative tangents.
Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2
In his first major solo project, 47-year-old veteran MC and The Roots front man, Black Thought blessed 2018 with a 2-part project that made clear he is still in his prime. Thought plays the role of an elder instructor with every bit of vigor from his youth. Commanding attention with his powerful cadence, every line is delivered like it’s for a packed stadium. Vol. 1 was a June release primarily produced by 9th Wonder that served as an explosive re-introduction of who Black Thought is and what he’s about. Black Thought is uncompromisingly conscious and ultra-political, frequently referencing history, spirituality, and current events from local to global levels. Vol. 2 was a late November release produced by Salaam Remi, and debatably album of the year. With the same energy and intentions in Vol. 1, Vol. 2 was a platform for Thought to get into more specific issues, such as the pharmaceutical industry, industrial prison complex, school shootings, and gang violence to name a few. This is classic hip-hop with clean production. For any old heads in 2018, Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2 are true gems.
Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Only 3 years after his last release, Earl Sweatshirt sounds like he has aged a decade. Despite the album title, this is Earl’s most stylistically and conceptually cohesive project to date. The entire album carries a lethargic dystopian energy as Earl raps with a low muffled tone over mostly uplifting, dusty lo-fi samples. Over 15 very short songs, Earl offers admirably genuine pictures of his life and psychological condition. Despite the undertones of depression, he presents himself as sarcastically optimistic or at least apathetic. Most of his expressive content is not direct, but layered in metaphor and wordplay.
Jericho Jackson – Khrysis & Elzhi are Jericho Jackson
This project is another gem for classic heads. Renowned independent rapper Elzhi flexes clever east cost lyricism over headnodic beats that feel like the cold winter streets of New York City. Throughout the project Elzhi delivers an onslaught of continuous wordplay, creative punch lines and metaphors. Despite the lyrical density, his message is crystal clear, which is in a word, ‘struggle’. He makes clear that his life has been dangerous and difficult, that he has little trust for anyone, that he is “Self Made” and as an underground veteran, has worked for everything he’s earned. Elzhi is often known for his proudly Nas-influenced style, which is expectedly evident in this project. In a way Jericho Jackson feels a bit like a classic Nas album.