Do all your favourite rappers sound the same these days? Tired of listening to trap? Grime starting to get you down? Well here’s a playlist that thinks outside the box. Alternative hip hop is a broad and experimental genre, often touching on many other styles of music. Consequently, alternative hip hop can end up being some of the best hip hop you could possibly stream. Give these 10 talented hip hop artists a listen and be the judge for yourself.
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CASISDEAD is a London-based rapper whose earlier music has largely been more conventional styles of hip hop such as grime and boom bap. However, recently CAS has become more experimental. Take his latest track, ‘Pat Earrings’ for example. It’s a creative and generally-chilled song that blends hip hop with a backing track and hook that sounds like 80s pop. This is a drastic change from some of CAS’ older, heavier and grime-styled tracks. However, it certainly works for CAS and makes his listeners intrigued to hear more.
American hip hop producer Blockhead has been releasing music since 2004 but his latest album, released in 2019, has shown he’s still doing what he does best. ‘Free Sweatpants’ is an album that contains a number of instrumental tracks as well as collaborative tracks with a number of rappers such as Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman. Blockhead’s quality hip hop production borrows elements of rock, psychedelia, jazz, funk and electronica and has an authentic orchestral sound.
If intelligent, thought-provoking hip hop is what you’re looking for, then look no further than spoken word artist Kate Tempest. An exceptionally gifted poet, Kate Tempest’s lyrics are intelligent and observational but delivered in brutally honest fashion. Listen to ‘Europe Is Lost’ below to see Kate’s poetic skills at their finest. In under five minutes, Kate Tempest tells you about a world with all of its chaos and excess flowing freely…For better or worse, that world is yours.
When a friend of mine first showed me a Jimothy Lacoste track, he asked me ‘what would you call this music?’. That is exactly the kind of question alternative hip hop should provoke out of someone. Jimothy displays an original style of sound that is true to himself and this is precisely why he is on this playlist. Fair play to Jimothy for just being Jimothy. Musically, he is a walking paradox: his lyrical content is very ordinary whilst his music is so extraordinary compared to mainstream hip hop. The lyrical content is about very ordinary topics and the musical structure even a bit basic at times but his music is still undeniably catchy at times too. Give this tune of Jimothy’s a listen and decide yourself what the answer to my friend’s question is. Also, one thing that you’ll learn from Jimothy’s music videos is that he likes stunts (probably not a good idea to copy those ones though).
Stand High Patrol
Originally a reggae/dub sound system, Stand High Patrol have recently began adopting much more hip hop in their music. The trio from Britanny, France have a range of influences besides hip hop on their latest album, The Shift, such as jazz and boom bap. Hip hop doesn’t always have to be so grimey or gangsta-centric, take Stand High Patrol’s feel good track ‘Dinner Time’ for example.
A Tribe Called Quest
Without a doubt, the most well-known out of these ten, this one is for the old school fans. A Tribe Called Quest were some of the pioneers of alternative hip hop. Whilst their local East Coast scene was dominated by hard-core hip hop and gangsta rap such as Nas, The Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest managed to still achieve critical acclaim through a hip hop that was often happier, conversational and laid back, incorporating such as jazz and casual but intelligent lyrical content. Tribe’s sound was a real shift from what at the time was considered successful, mainstream hip hop but their unique and personal sound still led to A Tribe Called Quest being recognised as one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time. Although Tribe might not be a new discovery for most people, it still a different, refreshing sound compared to even today’s mainstream hip hop.
People Under The Stairs
California duo People Under The Stairs are another classic alternative hip hop group from the old school. Their brilliant but D.I.Y. production, general perception of being an ‘underground’ group and lyrical content focused on chilling out and enjoying life contribute to their image as an alternative hip hop group. However, the duo would be the first to challenge the idea of them being ‘underground’ due to the praise they’ve received from other hip hop greats such as Chuck D of Public Enemy and Mac Miller, as well as having worked with a number of other major groups such as Jurassic 5 and Hieroglyphics. People Under The Stairs have their older, more classic tracks but also continue to release new music too.
Ghostpoet’s first album, ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ earned the spoken word artist from London a nomination for a Mercury Prize back in 2011. The album has an array of tracks that are worth a listen such as ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ and ‘Us Against Whatever’ . Listen to how Ghostpoet verbally paints you a picture of how he wants to life and ‘Survive It’.
Another Mercury Prize nominee, Loyle Carner is an alternative hip hop artist who is quickly building a more mainstream following for himself. What makes Loyle Carner alternative is his casual, confessional style and a production that often sounds more rock or pop than hip hop. Nonetheless, Loyle Carner is a growing success who has collaborated with a number of other high-profile hip hop stars including MF Doom, Joey Badass, Kate Tempest and even supported Nas live in 2016 at O2 Academy Bristol.