Joe Compayre, a.k.a. John Smith, is coming from an improbable location for a rapper: Churchill, on the Hudson Bay, a city renowned for being... the "Polar Bear Capital of the World". He settled in Winnipeg in 1993, starting to make a name for himself as a battle MC. It is later on, though, by 2000, in the heydays of Peanuts & Corn, that his – quite relative – fame crossed the border of the Manitoba province, first as a full member of the Park-Like Setting band and the Break Bread collective, and then with Blunderbus, his first album, and one of his label's finest.
A few years after we published it, and to celebrate the release in 2014 of our new book dedicated to the history of indie hip-hop, it was time to deliver an updated version of the selection we published first in 2009, listing 100 key albums related to this movement. Here starts our new countdown, extended now to 150 records.
We are close to the end. The last albums Fake For Real considers as the best from the independent hip-hop movement, will be revealed soon on our dedicated article, and we will publish soon, in May 2014, a full book dedicated to this matter (in French only, unfortunately). In the meanwhile, we are offering to YOU, our readers, the possibility to nominate your 10 indie rap favorite albums, as part of a poll whose results will be published in a few weeks or months.
By the early 2010's, Nocando was the last heir of the Project Blowed – and beyond it, of a large part of the West Coast indie rap scene. He had been the penultimate winner of the Scribble Jam, and a founding member of the Low End Theory parties. He was also at the very core of the Fresh Coast Movement, a fellowship of virtuoso rappers from the Pacific Coast. And he had created the Hellfyre Club, the last refuge for L.A.'s underground hip-hop scene. Last but not least, his own releases were far from negligible, especially Jimmy the Lock, his first official album.
Justify the Mean$, is not only a record from Luckiyam. It also belongs to the man to be called Gandalf, when talking about the beatmaking side of his artistry. In addition to rapping on it, Eligh, indeed, produced the integrality of the album, and this contribution was decisive. It transfigured the ingenuous but rather expected raps of Luckyiam. It saved his commonplace themes, by offering something more than the usual repetitive loops. Actually, rarely have Eligh's typical beats - a mix of cool jazz and synthetic sounds - fit so well with the lyrics of one of his companions.
The CunninLynguists have been, in many ways, an exception. The duo – later on, a trio - had represented more or less the backpack rap tradition in a place, the Dirty South, where it scarcely existed. Also, in an anachronistic way, they have been loyal to some 90's and Dungeon Family inspired kind of hip-hop, at a time when Atlanta had moved to other subgenres, like crunk, or trap music. And curiously, by the mid-00's, with their third album, A Piece of Strange, they started meeting some success, at least on the critics side, exactly when their kind of rap had seemed rejected to the dustbin of history. As a matter of fact, by the end of the decade, the group was fully part of the hip-hop landscape; it could mix with people coming from other worlds than indie rap, and be a full part of the game by 2009, when mixtapes reached an unequaled status, when they were all the rage.
So many years later, we still wonder where mcenroe found the time. Since his first recordings by 1994, the rapper and beatmaker had never been out of work. In addition to his own releases, or those of his group Park-Like Setting, or the many albums entirely produced by him, or his many featuring as an MC, the Canadian was managing one of the best and most regular indie rap labels ever, Peanuts & Corn. And that was not all: he also took care of the mastering and distribution of many other records, and he was working as both a publicist and a graphic artist.
So, they hadn't said it all. Responsible for some of the best indie rap releases in the mid 2000's - especially the brilliant The Harvest - the duo had made it again, ten years after. In 2013, Qwel, a member of the Typical Cats, who had originally perfected his rapping skills in Chicago's MC battles, and Maker, the finest producer in the Galapagos4 family, would add another great piece to their discography.
Originally a gang of Puerto Rican hustlers, the Lo-Life Founders never tried to record any masterpiece. Despite their excellence on the mic, rap has always been some hobby to them, more than something they really invested in. Though Thirstin Howl III, their figurehead, did feature on Soundbombing II, and collaborated with the likes of Eminem and Mos Def, he never delivered anything more than messy and practically unsalable records, available on obscure labels.
Unapologetic Art Rap; such is the name of Open Mike Eagle's 2010 album. In a year marked by the triumph of Waka Flocka's brutal and visceral rap, he released something opposite: a manifesto for the most sophisticated and intellectual kind of rap. The 30 year old rapper, actually, was the best person for this: close to Nocando and his Hellfyre Club, Michael Eagle is, like him, a Project Blowed heir; he released albums on some major indie labels - Mush, Fake Four, and more recently Mello Music; and before relocating to California, he was a key player on Chicago's underground scene, along with people like the Nacrobats and Pugslee Atomz.
Less than one year after their classic Tragic Epilogue, New York's trio Antipop Consortium would release an album aimed at the Japanese market, on an obscure label from there. If they had been a normal band, this would have been reserved to their most hardcore fans. APC, however, are notorious for being anything but a normal band. And though their first album would remain their major masterpiece – yes, we know, some people would prefer the IDM-oriented Arrhythmia, but they are wrong – Shopping Carts Crashing is not to be ashamed with the comparison.
Where is this classic album? Why aren't you listing such or such rapper? These are some of the questions asked to us, after we started publishing our top 150 indie rap albums list. The reasons why those are missing are obvious: we didn't have enough space to mention everything, we needed to make choices. However, to ensure that we are as complete as possible, this list will be completed by a second, mentioning records which do not qualify to the first, but deserve to be known. As for the other, this list will be completed, updated and enriched over time.
By this time, Alejandro Ocana, a.k.a. 2Mex, had not joined Key Kool and Rhettmatic's Visionaries yet. And Daniel Rodriguez, a.k.a. Xololanxinxo, wasn't a member of Toca. Both Chicano rappers, actually, were part of Of Mexican Descent, a duo affiliated to Afterlife. Exitos y Mas Exitos, a 7-track LP, released originally on wax only, is the best remnant of this age. It would be re-released in 1998 on cassettes and CD-Rs, inclusive of a few bonus tracks, but it is mainly on a digital format that most fans would get hold of it, until the mid-2000's, when Busdriver would decide to make it available again on Temporary Whatever, his own label.
It took time, before Ceschi was able to propose Broken Bone Ballads, his latest album, he recorded with the help of Factor - now Factor Chandelier - another key and tireless activist from the post-indie rap scene. Five years happened, more exactly, since the rapper and multi-instrumentalist from New Haven had released his penultimate record; five years dedicated to the development of his label, Fake Four, but also to a short stay in prison, due to questionable drug dealing charges.
According to the presentation of their 2000 joint album, Electric Third Rail, San Francisco's beatmakers Octavius (William Marshall) and 4AM (Jason Chavez) tried to translate in music the overall sounds, rhythm and ambiance of the city; not only their own city, but all. And actually, they roughly managed to reach their goal.
Later on, Thavius Beck, a.k.a. Adlib, would become a bit more famous. A previous member of the great Californian collective Global Phlowtations, the beatmaker would finally become a bit more visible, beyond the West Coast Underground hip-hop scene, thanks to his presence on Mush Records, and his collaboration with Subtitle as part of the Labwaste duo. Some of his best works, however, had been released much before this era, for example the albums he had produced by the late 90's / early 00's for Inoe One, also called Inoe Oner; among them, Master Realm, Millenium Conductor and, above all, the great Governments Greatest Hits.
Being both singers and rappers, and able to play several kinds of instruments, the Ramos brothers can record anything that suits them. All over their careers, Ceschi and David experimented all genres of music, one could possibly think about: post-Project Blowed indie rap, of course, but also folk, Beatles-like pop, crossover hip-hop with Toca, some indie rock with Anonymous Inc., and even a bit of crunk, with the parodic and much entertaining Knuck Feast project, they released by 2007.
By the end of the 90's, when time was come for underground hip-hop to be celebrated, Jurassic 5 was among those to get some praise from the music critics. It happened when they released their untitled EP in 1997, and at a larger scale the year after, when they changed it into a full album. Now signed on a major label, Interscope, performing at rock festivals as large as Lollapalooza, opening concerts for Fiona Apple, and particularly celebrated in England, they represented, for an audience not too deep into hip-hop, the Californian side of its underground.
Let's be honest. Even if it is the very basis of the Twin Cities rap scene, and a founding record for independent hip-hop - arguably on par with Funcrusher Plus - the first album from Atmosphere was far from perfect. Its CD version had fillers. Some of its tracks were a bit torpid and laborious. Apart from a few bolder ones, Ant's beats were most of the time absolutely trite. As for Spawn's raps and raspy voice, their main interest was to offer a fitting contrast to those of the other MC.
Angel Del Villar II, a.k.a. Homeboy Sandman, is originally from New-York, and more precisely the Queens. He studied law, but he preferred to start a career in rap music, where he was noticed for his verbal dexterity, while performing at the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café. His self-released Actual Factual Pterodactyl (2008) and The Good Sun (2010) have been praised by the critics, which earned him a contract with Stones Throw, the West Coast indie rap institution. There, he released two EPs, and then a much more publicized record, First of a Living Breed.
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