The Unheard Hip Hop


MOST HIP-HOP classics of the Eighties, from "Rapper's Delight" to Criminal Minded, were released on tiny labels unprepared to sell out their first pressings, much less change pop music forever. But "indie rap" as a self-conscious, underground phenomenon is relatively new, and most of its best moments have yet to be heard outside fanatic circles. So we asked Minneapolis MC Slug (of Atmosphere), along with critics Jon Dolan, Dave Tompkins, and Neil Drumming, to compile a beginner's shopping list. If you can't find the following records in stores, visit


Ultramagnetic MCs, Critical Beatdown, Next Plateau (1988)

Cryptic and hard, this Bronx crew debuted with offbeat flows from a young Kool Keith and the now constantly sampled "Substitution" break. (Tompkins)


Wu-Tang Clan, "Protect Ya Neck," self-released (1993)

Talk about underground: My brother bought a crudely labeled white cassette copy of this single out of the back of somebody's station wagon at the beach. GZA's most scathing verses--"Who's your A&R?/A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar"--were a response to major-label problems some of the Clan had already encountered. Ironically, the track led to all nine members eventually signing with majors. (Drumming)


The Roots, Organix, Remedy Recordings (1993)

Before these Philadelphians learned how to manipulate a studio, they were a tighter live band than Medeski, Martin & Wood. (Slug)


Latyrx, The Album, Solesides (1996)

Part of DJ Shadow's crew, this duo was probably under some pressure to deliver an album as successful as it was "different." Instead they made a left turn and dropped the rap equivalent of PJ Harvey's Rid of Me, a minimalist work now recognized as a masterpiece. (Slug)


Sensational, Loaded With Power, Wordsound (1997)

Imagine Flipper's "Sex Bomb" as absurdly dubbed out and distorted Brooklyn anti-hop, and you're about halfway to understanding what is easily the weirdest rap record ever made. Ex-Jungle Brother Sensational drowns in oceans of dope and vitriol, surfacing to mumble boasts like "I hit you in the head with drama/I puff a blunt with yo' mama." Inspired. (Dolan)


Company Flow, Funcrusher Plus, Rawkus (1997)

This Brooklyn bomb squad's debut was a lo-fi, anticorporate heat seeker that succeeded in inserting the term "independent as fuck" into the hip-hop lexicon with an intensity formerly reserved for terrorist acts and Steve Albini productions. (Dolan)


Sacred Hoop, Retired, Miasmatic (1997)

Palo Alto, California, MC Luke Sick is like an intelligent, pissed-off Beastie Boy. He makes head trips and insecurity fun again. (Slug)


various artists, Return of the D.J. Vol. 2, Bomb! Hip-Hop (1997)

Sporting cut chemists from Phoenix to Finland, this groundbreaking survey of turntablism's international bedroom underground remains the genre's premiere sampler. (Dolan)


The Coup, Steal This Album, Dogday Records (1998)

For heads missing Public Enemy's heyday, old-school N.W.A., or political hip hop in general, this Oakland lo-fi funk opus made up for the previous seven years. (Slug)


Buck 65, Vertex, self released (1998)

From Halifax, Nova Scotia, this is the peerlessly self-aware rapper that I've been searching for--one of the most personal hip-hop albums I've ever heard. (Slug)


The Grouch, Fuck the Dumb, Outhouse Records (1998)

There are some 50 albums from the seven or eight groups in the Bay Area's Living Legends association. But this one is sunny where most are dark, and the Grouch is a sincere, straightforward writer. (Slug)


Presage, The Outer Perimeter, Future Primitive Sound (1999)

A moody, conceptual DJ album from members of Cincinnati's 1200 Hobos clique, crafted from weird sound bites about the "New World Order." (Slug)

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