Worthsmiths’ Lair – Outtallectuals’ Top Hip-Hop Discoveries of 2020

January 15, 2021 - Audio

Worthsmiths’ Lair


Avant-garde hip-hop for spiritual warfare; global raps with innovative rhyme schemes, unique leftfield vocabulary, triple entendres, intellectual social commentary & soul-searching introspect. Street poets who might have you opening dictionaries & Wikipedia to decypher tunes. Here’s our top hip-hop discoveries in 2020.

Playlist cover photo is of the artist Sir Bishop.

Written by Baxtak, Rich Hobson, Chad MurrayArya Afshar

Alternatively you can find our playlist on YouTube.

RZA – Guided Explorations [Tazo Camp]

Taking a leftfield approach to start the year’s top hip-hop releases we heard, we visit the 36 Chambers to consult with the hip-hop shaolin that is Wu Tang Clan’s RZA. Released as a collaboration with the eco-friendly tea blend brand, TAZO, the RZA released a 6-track guided meditation EP that explores mindfulness while staying completely in-brand to the Wu’s story. The meditations provide mindfulness insight for battling distractions, harnessing inspiration and creativity in order and chaos, picking allies, building strength, and planning success. The RZA’s voice and insights is an unexpectedly pleasant addition to zen canon, and one to utilise for a quick inner-city bus-ride meditation power-up.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Dalai Lama if he was from Brooklyn


R.A.P. Ferreira – Purple Moonlight Pages [Ruby Yacht]

We’re super excited to come across R.A.P Ferreira, a.k.a Milo and also disappointed we hadn’t already. The “purple moonlight pages” album takes form in collaboration with The Jefferson Park Boys, and featuring instrumental and production and collaboration credits from the likes of Mr. Carmack, Tsuruda, Jason Wool, Open Mike Eagle, Mike Parvizi and Daddy Kev of Alpha Pup Records. “purple moonlight pages” is a dense release with an almost infinite replay value. It’s hepcat jazzband music, meets poetry in abstract notions about self-improvement and gratitude. R.A.P. Ferreira’s flow gives you Chance the Rapper meets Earl Sweatshirt over resurrected Miles Davis joints, as he seamlessly switches between the preacher flow of Pulp Fiction Samuel L Jackson and a friendly nonchalant poet laureate philosopher persona. The album is the sound of an everyday man talking about getting electrician training, instead of measuring success in terms of fame and material gain. It isn’t about the promise of riches and Lamborghinis, it’s about the common folk relating over the beauty of the intricate nuances of a life. “The self is defined by the struggling, found the pain quite humbling”, says R.A.P. Ferreira, while he effortlessly rhymes about doing laundry and making walking to the dumpster sound fun as fuck. You can catch the album on his own label, Ruby Yatch, named as an ode to the word “Rubaiyat”, a quatrain form of Persian poetry, most notably known via Omar Khayyam. Ah, how proud the ancient polymath would have been of this project.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Chance The Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Dizzy Wright

Cambatta – Lunar Solar Duality [Mello Music Group]

Cambatta’s follow-up to his legendary D.M.T album came out this year, in the form of Lunar solar Duality, a.k.a. L.S.D. Cambatta, a.k.a. Batta, a.k.a. The Shaman has been one of our favourite alien tier MCs for the past few years for his extremely clever and hauntingly psychedelic sound. Cambatta’s lyrical concepts, rhyme schemes, cadence are truly unique to himself and his evolution to a flow that’s instantly recognisable as only himself is something the hip-hop community is slowly picking up on, seen through his support from Mello Music Group on this project, as well as his next project with LOADEX LUX which was released on December 2020. Songs like “33”, take autobiographic story-telling to the next level and ‘Sun of Whorus’ is horrorcore at its most beastly, while songs like ‘NuMirrorcal’ & ‘24ours’ explore a new and more melodic side of Cambatta. “Mic El JahXsun” follows up Cambatta’s first person role-playing songs, similar to ‘Tupac Murder Confessions’ and ‘Battamedov’. There’s so much intricate detail to this album that’s impossible to write-up about it in a paragraph or two. We suggest you check out the video to LSD, listen to album and watch Cambatta’s many other projects and interviews for a view into the artist’s unique world.

Cambatta is self-proclaimed as “How God would rap if he was a black, psychedelic using, stoner from the 1980s crack epidemic in New Haven” and also apparently one of the only people who has taken DMT, LSD and Psilocybin at the same time, so if you think you’re into psychedelic culture and you ain’t paying respect to this artist, you ain’t doing it right.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Terrence McKenna, Ab-Soul, Flatbush Zombies

ShoutHouse – 2’s and 3’s

ShoutHouse crew is one of those instrumentally-advanced projects we need in hip-hop. Made up of 11 members, including performers of flute, clarinet, violins, viola, bss, guitar, synth, piano and drums. The group take cinematic and orchestral hip-hop to the next level, while MC Nuri Hazzard takes things back to fluid East Coast rhyming. This is a truly multi-national collaboration which perfectly signifies Brooklyn’s cultural melting pot, and eyond. The melodic harmonisation of the motifs performed by the crew are so tightly-nit, they sound like an Omega Prime of a one-person band. This is a crew who completes each other’s sentences with different instruments and more people need to hear their immaculate art.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Orchestral Hip-Hop

Sa-Roc – The Sharecropper’s Daughter [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

The Sharecropper’s Daughter sees Sa-Roc collaborate with an impressive list of collaborators including amongst others Saul Williams, Ledisi and Styles P but, firmly assures itself on the artist’s solo tracks. Sa-Roc’s flow across the release ranges from laid-back oozing chill to full-pelt Kalashnikov spitting bars at an effortlessly rapid pace. The balance of sang vocals and rapping on the album is also tremendously well-executed; it’s rare to see an MC that can sing and rap to such a high standard.The production track-to-track is quite reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar but, there are moments of more Brother Ali sounding uses of sampling and melody that fits with Sa-Roc’s status as a Rhymesayers artist.

– Written by Chad Murray

FFO: Brother Ali, Kendrick Lamar, Ledisi

KA – Descendants of Cain [Iron Works Records]

KA’s latest offering ‘Descendants of Cain’ is a lowkey contender for top 5 releases of the year. The sentiment of this release can be roughly summarised in the line: “Brothers killing brothers, descendants of Cain”. KA’s lyricism reflects the trauma of hood life and the project is a soundtrack to a cultural sense of regret in the United States with its brutal history of treatment of African Americans and wider oppressed communities. The album’s tone also signifies KA’s gratuitous and relatable approach to life; a factor that is also evidence in KA’s day job as a firefighter. This is evident in lines like “As long as I’m putting food on the table and I am able bodied.” Having said that, this is still a truly dark and sombre project, which comes with a mature dose of sobering social commentary.

Musically, the lo-fi and laid-back productions style is perfectly synchronous with the artist’s effortless flow and humble approach to lyricism. Atmospheric guitars horns and cinematic ambience of old films truly gives this release a vintage and classic feeling, somewhat similar in aesthetics to Madlib and Freddie Gibbs’s collaborative ‘Bandana’ album last year.

The collaboration with Roc Marciano is also for the OG hiphop-heads to enjoy.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Roc Marciano, Your Old Droog

Royce da 5′ 9″ – The Allegory [Heaven Studios, Inc.]

From forming a duo with Eminem in his first project, to signing with Tommy Boy, regretfully declining an offer from Dr.Dre, gradually building respect through the underground, forming Slaughterhouse with Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz, release on Shady Records, and collaborating with an army of hip-hop’s greatest producers, Royce da 5’ 9” has finally been getting his props in hip-hop. His previous album ‘Book of Ryan’ was critically received across the industry, however, it’s The Allegory which is arguably Royce’s greatest body of work, as also reflected in his Grammy nomination for this album. The album is filled to the brim with word play, stories of his growth as a sober man, a barrage of relevant socioeconomic commentary, and collaborations with all three Griselda members, CyHi The Prince and more. Royce da 5’ 9” is a grown man, and mirroring his regular role of being called onto IG Live to squash beefs, Royce’s rhyme work is mature, measured and masterfully-crafted to reflect the essence of hip-hop culture. He is one of those rappers who gets better as he ages, and it’s becoming more and more terrifying for rappers to imagine themselves rapping alongside him on a track.

FFO: Slaughterhouse, CyHi The Prince, Jon Connor

– Written by Baxtak

Common – A Beautiful Revolution (Pt. 1) [Loma Vista Recordings]

Common is the wise uncle you want in the room when there’s an argument. When the dust settles, Common can bring both sides together with an uplifting and artful message. This sentiment is evident in Common’s contribution to the 2020 BLM canon, with a catalogue that boasts heavy-hitting collaborations with Black Thought, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, and Chuck D, amongst others. Common tackles the common concepts of the black struggle, yet putting in context with an eloquent and uplifting tone; Common is Killer Mike during the Georgia protests, telling people not to burn their own house down and go home. He is a man that understands the value of revolution, but knows this should come through the prism of love and compassion, where cooler heads prevail and where the pen is mightier than the sword. The album is streamable as a continous listen via the video below on Common’s YouTube page.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Mos Def, Black Thought, Joey Bada$$

Lupe Fiasco x Kaelin Ellis – House ft. Virgil Abloh [1st and 15th]

Lupe Fiasco’s quarantine EP came about from thin air and turned into a true work of art. It all starts when Kaelin Ellis posted a beat on Twitter, and somehow his fans and Lupe’s fans connected and tagged the artists, suggesting this would be a great collaboration project. Not long after, the EP actually came about; a 5-track free-flowing project that utilises Lupe’s stream of consciousness style rhyming to a more jazz boombap direction, without the mega conceptual ideations he usualls goes for. Frankly, I think this beat-style fits his music even more and gives space to unpack his dense rhymes. The album features numerous interlude recordings from Virgil Abloh, the opener is all about ‘Dinosaurs’ (as you do), ‘SLEDOM’ about taking decisions towards a dream occupation and taking jabs at modelling, ‘Shoes’ paying tribute to Ahmad Arbery while also conceptualising shoe design ethos of Virgil and Lupe, and ‘LF95’ is probably one of the best Covid-19 themed songs that came out this year.

– Written by Baxtak

(Bonus) Blu – Roots of Blue [Dirty Science Records]

Run the Jewels – RTJ4 [Jewel Runners LLC]

On May 25th, 2020, the world was shocked to awaken to the news and footage of the police brutally murdering George Floyd, sparking global protests in the aftermath. A week later, out of nowhere, Run the Jewels released RTJ4. The revolution needed a soundtrack and Killer Mike & El-P delivered promptly! RTJ4 has that familiar RTJ sound: a modern twist on mostly sample-based production, with heavy arpeggiated synths, aggressive drum & bass lines and dub & industral-esque influences peppered in, but in many ways this is the darkest RTJ album ever. Rapping in double time against the mid-tempo El-P beats, RTJ4 features the duo and a roster of legendary rappers speaking truth to power. ‘JU$T’ features Zack de la Rocha and Pharell Williams, urging listeners to “look at all this slave masters posing on your dollar.” and another line by El-P that goes “Murderous chokehold cops still earning a living”. It’s not that they wrote the track in the week between George Floyd dying and the release. It’s a true testament to how long the police have been committing the same crimes and getting away with it. May RTJ4 be the soundtrack to your revolution.

– Written By Arya Afshar

Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide [Rhymesayers Entertainment]

It’s been almost a quarter of a century since Aesop Rock arrived as a leading voice within the alt hip-hop movement and even though his influence has seen a host of imitators and devotees, the master still remains at the top of the game. Familiarity with Rock’s prior material shows the usual paradoxical maxed-out Xanax bliss and panic-attack electric-buzz-as-the-world-burns-down vibes are still present and correct, the music never rising to the fore but casting its ethereal own shadow over the rapper’s sense of flow and delivery to make tangible the spiritual world this record is devoted to.

– Written By Rich Hobson

“You really need to listen to this back-to-back with a dictionary and lyrics book at 0.5 speed to get the full review”. – Baxtak

Lil Baby – The Bigger Picture [Quality Control Music]

This year’s political upheaval over the killing of black folk in the US obviously warranted huge response in the hip-hop community as expected. Voices from all generations spoke up and this one from Lil Baby genuinely helped me relate to the whole new generation’s sound. Lil Baby’s maturity came out clearly in his lyrics on this one and his approach to the sensitive topic. Following lines are a show of his unifying message on matters of race relations, and responding to the police matters: “Every colored person ain’t dumb and all whites not racist / I be judging by the mind and heart, I ain’t really into faces”, & “Corrupted police been the problem where I’m from / But I’d be lying if I said it was all of them”.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Southern Trap / meaningful not-so-mumbling mumble era rap

Finnoh – Focus [Greenlife Worldwide Music]

One of the downtempo electronic music and the US deep dubstep scenes’ most favoured favourite MCs, Ill Chill, underwent a rebirth to transform into ‘Finnoh’. This occurred with the release of an album, featuring production from a whole range of heavy hitters, including DMVU, MORILLO, Aztek and Supertask). The results are dense rhyme schemes over mega laid-back beats and a soft-spoken delivery of spiritual warfare lyricism. Finnoh’s bars are mostly formed of simple and short sentence structures, but executed with a masterful succinctness. It’s like the bars have Feng Shui and while delivery is slow and spaced out, it’s decorated in exactly the right pockets. Tune in for humble and polite dojo rap.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Rider Shafique, Manic Focus, Slum, Mick Jenkins

(Bonsu) CloZee – Long Live The Chill ft. Sir Bishop

clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned [Sub Pop]

clipping.’s latest is one of the most out there hiphop releases you’ll hear this year. The combination of dissonant idm-esque atmospheric and horror film style instrumentals with quickfire haunted rhymes creates an instantly unique space that you won’t hear from any other rap outfit. In terms of lyrics, the album is full of creative word play, syncopated rhymes schemes, and poetic takes on horrorcore.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: Outkast, Schoolboy Q, Ho99o9

Ho99o9 – Christopher Dorner / Pray or Prey [999 Deathkult]

‘Christopher Dorner’ sees Ho99o9 at their most thrash metal, barking fast-punky vocals against storming blast beats and guitar solos, the song is a perfect remainder of how high-octane their gigs used to be back in the days of live music. I like the contrast of ‘Pray or Prey’ as it takes things to the opposite end of the Ho99o9 sound. The track is clearly more rooted in hip-hop and downtempo and to me, has a kind of MF DOOM (RIP) twang to it in the guitar samples. It’s nice to be reminded of just how multi-faceted and talented Ho9909 are as musicians and producers, it’s been a while since I listened to them for sure.

– Written by Chad Murray

FFO: JPEGMAFIA, Ghostmane, Hacktivist

Open Mike Eagle – Anime, Trauma and Divorce (incld. WTF is Self Care?)

“What the fuck is self-care?” asks Open Mike Eagle, the sharp-witted MC on a post-divorce downturn. However, the music is chill, even to some extent, jubilant and melodic. To an extent a comparison could be made between Open Mike’s style and that of Brother Ali, Danny Brown and to a lesser extent Anderson Paak. The production is so smooth and easy-going but, the subject matter is poignant, astute and at times darkly comedic. The album regularly engages with ideas that seem to represent the popular discourses of Instagram “influencers”, comment sections and to an extent it embodies the experience of sinking in one’s conflicting circumstance against a seemingly endless mass of absolutist statements in a digitally sanitised society. It’s good to hear an album that focuses on a subjective experience of adversity that is also conscious of the ceaseless and unrequested opinions of countless individuals almost always ignorantly stated as fact. What the fuck is self-care?

– Written by Chad Murray

FFO: Brother Ali, Danny Brown, Anderson Paak

Spillage Village – Spilligion [Dreamville]

The Dreamville all-stars crew of the Spilligion album consists of Spillage Village, Earth Gang, JID, Hollywood JB, Jurdan Bryant, Mereba, 6lack, and Benji. The album, which also features collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Masego, Big Rube and many more. There’s a lot of r&b, blues and soul influence all over the album, with a message that is equally grounded in emotional and romantic sentiment. It’s great to see this level of vulnerability being accepted at the highest levels of current hip-hop. With messages like “praying for family, peace, money and bees”, the album embodies the concept of an “earth gang” on Mecca, sending love to people in Japan, South Africa, Colombia, Sudan and all around the world. This brand of gratituous hip-hop from this new generation greats is a clear indication of wisdom beyond their ages. The Southern gospel aesthetic is strong across the whole project and this fresh take on spiritual hip-hop can be blasted anywhere from a cookout and church to an arena-sized Elton John featuring LiveAid show. Tuck in for the freedom jams.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: J Cole, Joey Bada$$, Frank Ocean

Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol.3: Cane & Able [Republic Records]

Another release came from the GOAT, Black Thought, as the third offering in his Streams of Thought series of albums. The album is not as obviously related to the Cane and Abel story; however, it still gives us all that we would expect and hope for from a Black Thought project. The purpose of this release is practically in the title with Tariq giving us an unadulterated insight into his poetic mind. His bars are luxury and his choice of words truly turn him the position of a designer brand in hip-hop. Just listening to the wise insights as they flow in a dreamlike soundscape is perfect as it is. The collaborations with Portugal the Man are pleasantly positive and vibrant and they add to the wise old man knowledge and art buried in this body of work.

– Written by Baxtak

FFO: The Roots, Common, Blu

Riz Ahmed – The Long Goodbye [Mongrel Records]

Riz Ahmed is the antithesis to the phrase “Focus on one thing at time.”, having proven himself as a capable actor, writer and MC. His 2020 album ‘The Long Goodbye’, accompanied by a film of the same name, tells the story of the dark and colonial-rooted history of Britain and Pakistan, where his family hails from, and its long-standing effect on British-Pakistani lives. The album reads like a breakup story, with Britain personified as ‘Britney’. Ahmed’s lyrical genius is in getting so much mileage out of this extended metaphor, while remaining faithful to his truth as he tackles intense topics such as colonialism, and the rise of the far right amidst Brexit, all the while dropping inside references possibly only decipherable by his fellow brethren and sistren of colour in Britain and the world over. Given the context of the album, it’s ill-advised to compare his poetry to the likes of Kae Tempest as many invariably will, so instead I’d compare it to the more spoken-word side of Kendrick Lamar seen in ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, with influences from Lowkey and other London rap giants apparent throughout the record, but comparisons aside, the originality of this album is undeniable. On the production side, the album is as decolonized as on the lyrical side, featuring a variety of south asian and african percussive and instrumental elements, either sampled or performed. Interspersed between a multitude of post-Brexit anti-colonial bangers are skits featuring everyone from Ahmed’s own mother to Hasan Minhaj, in his own right at the forefront of the battle against all-white all-time late night shows in America.

– Written by Arya Afshar

Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event Part 2 [Empire]

Busta Rhymes combined the timely concepts of a new world order, climate change and the religious iconology of being a hip-hop GOAT within the culture in the form of Extinction Level Event Part 2, the follow up to his Part 1 of the same series over 20 years ago. The album is the perfect execution of an old school meets new school production, with Busta’s multiple influences, including Caribbean culture and an almost post-apocalyptic warlord presence being evident across album. The album’s eschatological blueprint and the Extinction Level Event conceptual framework is compounded with references to Revelations, lines such as “The meek shall inherit the earth” and cinematic snippets of BLM riot sounds while a lady screams “no violence” amongst the chaos. The album has many tonne-weighing guest appearances, from a post-mortem verse from Wu-Tang’s late ODB, speech snippets from Minister Louis Farrakhan talking about Busta, as well as Chris Rock introducing the artist numerous times across the album. This album seriously makes you think why Busta Rhymes isn’t in everyone’s top 5, considering his longevity, commercial success, instantly recognizable flow, superior technical skills, conceptual storytelling and masterful breathwork and annunciation.

– Written by Baxtak

(Bonus) Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony [Roc Nation LLC]

(Bonus) Conway The Machine – Front Lines (Griselda / Empire)

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