10 of the Most Underrated Hip Hop Projects of 2023
Only four months into 2023, there is already a plethora of incredible hip hop albums you might have missed out on. While mainstream titans like Tyler, the Creator hog the spotlight, the underground is thriving with no shortage of talented lyricists and expert producers. Here are just ten hip hop projects you might have missed out on from this year.
Shaw Calhoune – Fly Langston
Fly Langston is a summery jazz rap record from Shaw Calhoune. He glides over a range of slick beats laced with triumphant horn samples and groovy basslines, fully embracing the jazz rap soundscape with some of the sharpest production I’ve heard in the subgenre this decade. Shaw is an excellent MC with a smooth delivery that fits perfectly over the warm production. He has a swagger to his style that makes me engage with every word and appreciate his sharp sense of lyricism even more, taking the mic to hype up his ability and preach positivity. In only twenty minutes, Shaw covers so many themes, with a consistent performance just as elegant as the beats he dominates.
Shottie & Digitale – Stigmatic
Among my favourite records of the year, Stigmatic is the latest album from Miami MC Shottie, with beats supplied by French producer Digitale. Shottie is relentless on the mic, full of dense rhyme schemes and clever one-liners delivered with a nonchalance that make it sound like an effortless task for the rapper. Digitale’s production is as consistent as it is diverse – whether it be the heavy, despairing bass on “Nothing There” or the chopped-up soulful vocals on “Roll In Paper”, every beat will loop in your head for days, with Shottie adapting well to each one. For such a short runtime, Stigmatic displays an impressive level of diversity and versatility from Shottie and Digitale.
Kindred – Mourir D’Amour
Clocking in at a short eighteen minutes, Mourir D’Amour is a quickfire run of laidback jazz rap. At times, the brevity of each track leaves me wishing they had more time to breathe, but by that same token, it makes me eager to rewind the project as soon as it’s over since it goes by so swiftly. The rapping can be slow and seductive or swift and energetic, always delivered with a charm and wit which complement the crudely romantic lyrics. The production is crisp and builds on the energy of the vocals, with the chipmunk soul on “Sucrée” and meandering saxophone on “Déjà Vu” being some of my favourite moments on the project.
Salazar El Tabaquero & Tev95 – Triple Corona
Representing the Latin hip hop scene, Salazar seamlessly switches between English and Spanish, maintaining his vicious presence as he hops across languages. He thrives on the colourful production from Tev95, who weaves together sinister guitar samples with chopped-up horns to forge a uniquely summery and Latin sound. Don’t let the language barrier put you off – zigzagging through different flows on the mic, Salazar offers such a captivating performance that any hip hop fan could appreciate. Whether it be the more abrasive cuts like “Ponte a Eschuchar” or the more laidback tracks such as “Caja China” with its rippling electric guitar sample, Triple Corona is sharp, colourful, and effortlessly consistent.
BAPS University – SummerFALL ‘22
Although SummerFALL ’22 dropped on Christmas last year rather than in 2023, it was close enough to warrant an inclusion. It is the gorgeous new album from BAPS University, a collective currently consisting of rapper/singers Sir 7000 and Ambeeka. The duo match perfectly, with 7K’s husky, gritty style of rapping contrasting nicely against the silky voice of Ambeeka. There’s a huge diversity of sounds on offer – from the Wu-Tang interpolated “I, Kyrie” to the party-made pop rap anthem “Rum Chatta”, the record hops across so many styles, but the consistent performances tie it all together cohesively. The greatest highlight has to be “Vendetta”, an elegant song of the year contender where the duo’s chemistry is unleashed to its fullest potential.
Chapo’s Beatcorner – Man of a Few Words
Taking a moment away from rap albums, Man of a Few Words is an excellent instrumental hip hop record which captures the same soul and glamour as vintage ‘90s hip hop. Full of funky basslines, crisp piano loops and addictive horn samples, Chapo’s Beatcorner is resurrecting the classic sound of East Coast jazz rap with a modern polish. As I listen, I can imagine MCs like Lord Finesse and O.C. flowing over these instrumentals, recreating that same magical feeling of classic rap music but with his own groovy twist to keep it original. There’s no point listing out my favourite songs for this project, because Man of a Few Words flows so seamlessly that there’s no better way to listen than in full.
Skip the Kid – Fuck Ur Beats 2
One of the most consistent producers of 2022, Skip the Kid has already earned that title again for 2023, dropping a plethora of abstract, glitchy projects that showcase his off-kilter creativity. While most of his albums are full collaborations with other rappers, Fuck Ur Beats 2 is Skip’s own arena, bringing on a legion of different underground MCs to pass the mic and dominate his distorted style. “Soo Good” is a personal favourite, with the punching bass and piano loops giving a satisfying rhythm to Da Cleaver’s gritty-voiced rhymes. “Max/Lonely” is another highlight, with rapper Xhef hyping himself up and yelling into the mic as the beat switches from some soulful ambience to a jazzy explosion of sound.
Dedwrite – dedwavy
After a run of successful singles, dedwavy is the long-awaited mixtape from Dedwrite, where his sound comes into full form. His style of rapping is slow and almost whispery, floating in the waves of sleepy horn samples and haunting vocal chops which make up the project’s soundscape. The entire mixtape embodies the spacious ambience of cloud rap, with Ded’s rapping acting more as an instrument to build on the hypnotic atmosphere and fully immerse the listener in the mesmerising sound. It may not be for all hip hop fans, but if you’re on the lookout for rap music with a dense, engaging sound, look no further than dedwavy.
NODUO (Nonazz & No God.) – NODUO
Despite going into NODUO expecting something great, it still managed to exceed expectations, with a gorgeous soundscape that puts it up there with the most beautiful rap records of the year. NODUO is the combination of rappers Nonazz and No God. The chemistry the duo have, bouncing off each other over a range of crisp and soulful beats, is enough to make this project one of my favourites of 2023. Nonazz has a more laidback, solemn delivery which starkly contrasts the high-pitched and animated flows from No God, but what the MCs have in common are their vivid, introspective pen games. Gothic Delphine makes a few appearances, whose angelic singing elevates the beauty of NODUO to new heights.
Len-Dor & Bofaatbeatz – The Truth They Deny
With a braggadocious delivery and a steady flow, Len-Dor brings a strong, dominant presence to The Truth They Deny, thriving on the punchy jazz production provided by Bofaat. Len-Dor’s lyrics can be vividly personal – like on the brilliant opener, “DeLorean” – which make me wish the entire project consisted of his own stories and witty rhymes, as the more political tracks don’t resonate with me in the same way. Nonetheless, his clever sense of wordplay and thundering voice make for an engaging performance throughout the album. Couple that with Bofaat’s consistent production, and it’s a great record. Bofaatbeatz can deliver more summery sounds like on the aforementioned “DeLorean” with its lazy horn chops, but he can also build these dark, foreboding atmospheres like on the chilling “Head Trauma”. A versatile producer and a sharp-witted MC, they make a great duo.