Alternative hip hop is a tricky phrase. Akin to the term urban music, it is ambiguous, a broad stroke and an umbrella term that can mean many different things and really is down to interpretation. Alternative hip hop is seemingly a phrase used to describe a type of music that does not sonically align with the sound of mainstream today and does not sonically relate to any type of sonic that has formerly occupied the hip hop mainstream.
A bit wordy, in simpler terms, it is of a style hip hop that no one else is doing. Usually, it’s used as a synonym for hip hop that fuses more than two styles of music together. If a hip hop song sounds like a fusion of two genres, common journalism media practice is just to add the suffix “hop” or the prefix “rap” to the genre. People may label some “jazz-hop” or “funk-hop” for example or “rap-pop” or “rap-rock”.
However, sometimes this isn’t enough. Some artists are just too obscure, and their art transcends the fusion of just two sonic styles, instead managing to incorporate three or more styles. This is when a track or album usually gets labelled as alternative hip hop. So in this article, we will list what we consider the five best alternative hip hop albums ever.
The five best alternative hip hop albums ever:
5. Club Soda vol. 2 – Cookie Kawaii, (2020)
A self-proclaimed Jersey club music artist, a lot of Cookie Kawaii’s music would fall into that ambiguous alternative hip hop category. Managing to fuse Jersey club music with some acoustic rock, EDM, hip hop and R’n’B music, Cookie Kawaii most definitely transcends normal Jersey club music.
The singers ‘Club Soda vol. 2’ mixtape is a genre-transcending, outlandish body of work that is incomparable to anything out at the moment. Those who dare to go outside of the box are the ones who inevitably spark progress, and Cookie Kawaii is a sign of the rising popularity of experimental music. Much like an Azealia Banks or a Solange, Cookie Kawaii raps and sings over some extremely obscure backing tracks and pulls it off with ease. Most definitely worthy of a spot on the list.
4. Seeing Sounds – N.E.R.D, (2008)
Pharrell always described his band N.E.R.D as a side project, but mostly explained his reason behind forming the band was not only so he could express his love of rock to the world but so he could get The Neptunes signed as artists.
In an interview, Pharrell once explained that because the Neptunes, up until 2004, were not recording and releasing any original music but merely producing for other artists, the label could only provide them with a production deal. So in 2004, he formed N.E.R.D, and they recorded Fly Or Die, handed it to the label, and got signed as artists because they had an original product.
N.E.R.D is comprised of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley. The trio released three albums, with their third studio 2008 album, Seeing Sounds being phenomenal. Had to be included on our list.
3. 808s & Heartbreak – Kanye West, (2008)
Kanye West has always broken boundaries with his music and is known for his evolution over time. With his first two albums showcasing his soul sampling techniques, with his first album leaning heavily on his then-signature “chipmunk soul” style, by 2007, Kanye had evolved with his music, and his intentions changed.
Kanye himself has let it be known on multiple occasions that after accompanying Jay-Z on his Kingdom Come in 2006, he felt he needed to start making music that would play well in a stadium environment. Kanye revealed that up until then, he had only been making music for the club, but he began to think larger in 2007, heading in a more electronic direction.
After the release of Graduation in 2007 to vast amounts of critical acclaim, Kanye continued to explore the electronic vein of hip hop he had found. However, for his following project, 808s & Heart Break, the rapper took it one step further but stripped away some of the hip hop and infused some singing and rock. 808s & Heartbreak is still pretty much unmatched as an alternative hip hop album. However, it is not the best.
2. Broke With Expensive Taste – Azealia Banks, (2014)
Azealia Banks has often been boxed in as a hip house artist. However, that’s usually a telltale sign that they haven’t actually listened to her music because there is more than just the two genres of hip hop and house in her music. Undoubtedly songs like ‘Liquorice’ and ‘1991’ do fall into the hip house genre. However, there are many songs she has that don’t.
Similar to Cookie Kawaii’s Club Soda vol 2, Banks’ 2014 debut album has too many genres to mention, and they work well together. There is house, experimental trap, and merengue, as well as a UK Garage track produced by MJ Cole and a surf-rock track produced by Ariel Pink. It’s a must-listen for hip hop lovers who want to see the far expanses of the genre.
1. Man on the Moon: The End of Day – Kid Cudi, (2009)
As Cudi’s debut album, this was the first official and commercially released album Kid Cudi ever created, and it was mind-blowing. Man On The Moon spawned instant classics such as ‘Day n Nite’ and ‘Pursuit Of Happiness’. Furthermore, it set the tone for who Cudi was as an artist, as a person and as a versatile creative.
Man on the Moon: The End of Day debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified two times platinum. Despite being a remix of the original song, the ‘Day n Nite’ Crookers remix was actually the track that landed Cudi on the charts internationally.
Kid Cudi is the essence of alternative hip hop, he has shown his influences in his music, and they are evidently vast and are cross-genre. He includes electronic elements in his music, as well as rock, hip hop and more. His aesthetic has always been fairly psychedelic and futuristic. Man on the Moon: The End of Day is undoubtedly the best alternative hip hop album of all time. However, other alternative hip hop artists to look out for include Childish Gambino, Tyler The Creator and Bree Runway.