10 Hip Hop Gems you probably didn’t know exist

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar representing the new school of Hip Hop.

Like many great art forms, Hip Hop is a genre that runs on influence. For example. Hip Hop wasn’t popular until Wonder Mike of The Sugarhill Gang dropped those classic lyrics onto us in the 70s. You know what I mean, “I said a hip hop, the hippie the hippie to the hip hop and you don’t stop.”, and then boom: a musical revolution began. Over the years, more rappers and Hip Hop artists started to make names for themselves, from the underground to the foreground.

The Sugarhill Gang
The Sugarhill Gang representing old school.

But I’m not going to tell you the entire history of Hip Hop. You have Google for that. I’m just going to show you 10 underground albums and mixtapes that are products of some of the 21st century’s best. These are the projects that came from the underground, and no matter how successful these artists turned out to become, these gems forever remained underground.

The oldest album on this list is from the year 2000, which is the year about 70% of our readers were born. Listen to these gems of the last 15 years and compare them to the mainstream Hip Hop artists of today. Who did it better?


1. No Sleep Til NYC: Kendrick Lamar & Jay Rock

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Today known as one of the best rappers to hit the 21st century, previously known as a young kid from Compton trying to make a name for himself. K. Dot… I mean Kendrick Lamar, accompanied fellow Black Hippy member, Jay Rock, to create 2007 mixtape No Sleep Til NYC. Finding this mixtape could be similar to finding gold, as the sound is very reminiscent to 90s underground Hip Hop.


2. I’m Good: Kanye West


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Before he was the style or music icon we know him as today, Kanye West was also just a young man putting all his time into making a name out of himself. Independently released by the highly acclaimed artist in 2003, I’m Good was the second mixtape released by ‘Ye. A majority of the 31 tracks were produced by Kanye himself, as this mixtape has the classic style heard and made famous by his later release, Graduation. Many big names are featured on I’m Good, including Jay Z, Talib Kweli, and 50 Cent to name a few.


3. City of Syrup: Big Moe

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Consider this the OG of “Lean Music”. Before there was Future, ILOVEMAKONNEN, A$AP, or Young Thug; there was Big Moe. Released in 2000, this album was released through Wreckshop Records and was the Houston based rapper’s first release. At the time, the style of using rap and vocals was quite new to the music scene. Now, you hear it everywhere. City of Syrup included features from DJ Screw, Big Pokey, and many more of the Screwed up Click.


4. Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1: Vince Staples

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Recently inducted as an XXL Freshman, this was California native Vince Staples’ first mixtape. Being the most recently released project in this article, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 was released in 2011. Vince decided to make this tape after his fame grew after being featured on a number of Odd Future tracks.


5. Champion (EP): Brother Ali

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Known as one of the most lyrical artists of our time, Brother Ali continued to stay true to this title in his 2004 release, the Champion EP. Produced by Ant of Atmosphere, this project tells us of Ali’s struggles throughout his childhood with religion, race, and other issues.


6. Typical Cats: Typical Cats

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An overlooked group that came to life in the golden age of Hip Hop. In 2001, Typical Cats released their self-titled debut album which was driven by jazzy instrumentals and fast paced bars. It came off as very unique in the way that they blended aggressive rhymes to slow tempo beats. Typical Cats continues to bring lovers of old Hip Hop and new Hip Hop together.


7. Violent by Design: Jedi Mind Tricks

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A David and Goliath story of the music industry, Jedi Mind Tricks released Violent by Design in 2000 and sold 50,000 copies in its first week. The project was mixed and recorded in one of the member’s parent’s house, and was perfected in 9 months. The group shows off their very unique lyrical style and a sound reminiscent of the Hip Hop powerhouse N.W.A.


8. God Loves Ugly: Atmosphere

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Released in 2002, God Loves Ugly has sounds that most would interpret as being modern day rap, rather than old. In other words, if you listen Atmosphere’s older music, you will recognize how ahead of their time this musical group truly was. In their acclaimed God Loves Ugly, the group battles issues such as materialism, violence, and drug abuse in the youth. The whole album was produced by a member named Ant, who has continued to produce for other artists to this day.


9. The Cold Vein: Cannibal Ox

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Today, we can say that rap is the new rock’n roll. The Cold Vein, which released in 2001 from a duo known as Cannibal Ox, could be considered one of the first albums to prove this theory. The project contains music that has both soft and aggressive instrumentals, and when placed behind Cannibal Ox’s aggressive style of rap, everything is perfected.


10. Madvillainy: Madvillain

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It’s not an underground music article without Madvillain. If you’ve listened to the sounds of MF Doom and Madlib, then you know what I’m talking about. However, if you have no idea what I’m talking about — what are you waiting for? Produced by both Doom and Madlib, Madvillainy was released through Stones Throw Records in 2004, and was renowned by all who knew of it to be one of the best works in Hip Hop of all time.

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