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.
Here is, for sure, one of the most bizarre and original records ever released in the hip-hop genre. Just think about it: this looks exactly like a very long two-hour posse cut, where a very big bunch of rappers, all weirder than the others, are declaiming a never-ending collection of ego-trips, schoolboy pranks, and delirious speeches about things like the dinosaurs, the Egyptian pyramids and the Martians.
In 2002, Sage Francis stopped being the underground's best kept secret, due to the release of his first album, Personal Journals. Thanks to some great tracks and beats – maybe, also, because of his rock music compatibility – and despite the record's heterogeneity, the rapper and spoken word artist from Providence suddenly extended his audience. However, per one of the universal laws of music, some fans were disappointed. They thought that his Sick of… mixtapes had been much more exciting, especially the first of the series, Sick of Waiting Tables...
Thanks to psychedelic rapper Noah23, Plague Language had become, by the early 2000's, one of the most representative labels of the artsy side of Canada's hip-hop scene. Thanks to the indie rap community, it had become a bit more visible to people from abroad. Also, as a matter fo fact, the label's managers had not limited themselves to their home country. One of their members at least, Penny Dahl, was not coming from the cold surroundings of Toronto, but from San Francisco.
For someone so closely related to a bygone era – the late 90's, the years of backpacker rap – Aesop Rock is aging rather well. At least, he is not giving up. Now part of the Rhymesyaers crew, he released in 2012 one of his finest albums, the self-produced Skelethon. And the year after, he launched The Uncluded, a duo with the Moldy Peaches's Kimya Dawson, somehow the counterpart of Aes for folk rock, its intellectual and bohemian side. Also, in 2014, he launched again a project he had initiated a few years earlier, Hail Mary Mallon, a trio with DJ Big Wiz, and another unsung hero of New-York's indie rap scene: Rob Sonic, of Sonic Sum.
There is some kind of game we enjoy practicing, sometimes: identifying, among the various phases hip-hop has come across throughout its history, what could have been their equivalent in rock music. As far as the Restiform Bodies are concerned, this comparison is easy: Telephone Jim Jesus, Bomarr Monk and Passage have been the Devos of rap; or, alternatively, its Butthole Surfers. They have been part of these few Dadaists, who seemed to have fun deconstructing their favorite kind of music. They diverted it, and they mixed it with other things, giving way to experiences where pure genius often bordered with buffoonery.
Originally, by the indie rap heyday, Lexicon had just been one act among many others, not too different from their underground peers. The only remarkable thing with these two guys from Los Angeles, was their proximity with people like Styles of Beyond, and also Subtitle. But then, by 2006, they released a significant EP, Rapstars, with a new kind of rock / rap crossover, in the Beastie Boys tradition.
Considering the Hieroglyphics background, and the critical success they encountered with records like I Wish my Brother George... (1991) or Fear Itself (1994), and of course 93 ‘til Infinity (1993), big magazines like Rolling Stone or The Source had no option but reviewing the first joint album from the Bay Area collective, made of the Souls of Mischief, Del tha Funky Homosapien, Casual, Domino and The Prose. Their feedback had not been too positive, though. And in France, where the record had been broadly distributed, it would become a favorite of discounters, who would sell it for almost nothing, just to get rid of their stocks.
The guys from Hidden Fortress may not be the most famous rappers on Earth. A few details, however, are providing us with some hints about the kind of hip-hop these guys from Vancouver are into: first, their 2010 album has been released by Hand'Solo Records, a label which may be one of the oldest on the indie rap scene – though not the most productive ever; and also, the featuring of some slightly more famous people, like the extravagant Japanese rapper Kaigen, the beatmaker Planit, a.k.a. The Dirty Sample, and Modulok, from the very dark Red Ants.