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The Top Five Instrumental Hip-Hop Albums

Posted on 06 Apr 11 Top 5s | 5 Comments
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A recent Synconation post about hip-hop’s place in the pantheon of poetry got me thinking about the many forms of the genre.  The wordsmiths are the first to be lauded as poets, but what about those musically adventurous souls that explore the poetry of the form with mouths firmly shut.  Here’s a top five dedicated to the lyric-less purveyors of this most modern poetic form. What did we miss? Who did we snub? Well, bring it on witchyobadself and comment below!


Odd Nosdam – Level Live Wires

David Madson’s take on hip-hop is influenced as much by noise rock, ambient electronica, and the minimalism and tape loop experimentation of Reich, Riley, and Stockhausen as it is by classic hip-hop. Layers of melodic loops, tape and vinyl noise, and fuzzy distortion create a droning, melancholy soup with a tenuous attachment to hip hop via sparse, mid-tempo beats and the odd guest MC (fellow anticon. founder, Yoni Wolf). Madson’s tools and techniques are classic hip-hop. The results are something far more interesting.

Prefuse 73 – Security Screenings

On the other end of the instrumental hip-hop spectrum is Guillermo Scott Herren’s Prefuse 73 album, Security Screenings. Instruments, beats, samples, and voices are chopped, flipped, and reassembled into a glitchy, constantly moving amalgam of hip hop, dance music, and jazz.  Prefuse 73 songs swirl and stutter into an often jarring, and often beautiful, mess.

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Steven Ellison’s Cosmogramma is a suitcase packed full of hip-hop beats, electronic textures, jazz instrumentation and rhythms, lo-fi sound effects, and the occasional Thom Yorke guest vocal, ready for a psychedelic trip to outer space. Ellison’s family tree has a strong musical heritage, including a few Coltranes, and his music speaks directly to that family history, but in new and interesting ways.  His jazz roots meet dance floor worthy bangers that float away through a narcotic haze into orbit. Cosmogramma is music for a Mars rover with a trunk full of subs.

J Dilla / Jay Dee – Donuts

The late J Dilla recorded Donuts at home and in the hospital during his final years of life. Despite his trials, Jay Dee left us with an album that takes hip-hop’s roots in jazz, R&B, and gospel music, and propels them, tripping and skipping, into the post-modern age. The most overtly hip-hop album on this list, Donuts teaches us that we can ambitiously move forward, while lovingly holding on to our past.

DJ Shadow – Endtroducing

No list of instrumental hip-hop is complete without DJ Shadow’s seminal album, Endtroducing. A pastiche of the last 75 years, or so, of popular music.  Endtroducing helped establish sampling as a legitimate artistic form. Impressively, the entire album, every track, is made up of samples…jazz meets R&B meets classic hip-hop meets Metallica, but with a subtlety and style not captured by some of today’s sample heavy works. Endtroducing is a grand recontextualization of the garage sale as high art.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15600820 Joanna Szymczyk

    Excellent post, sir! Of course I love that you threw in Prefuse 73, J Dilla (R.I.P.) and DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing”–definitely a classic. I just want to add in my $0.02 and state that I don’t believe a top instrumental hip-hop album list to be complete without RJD2′s “Deadringer” (one of my forever favorites, and also a newer classic in my eyes) and anything Madlib–particularly, “Shades of Blue.” I’m gonna have to check out Odd Nosdam and Flying Lotus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593090828 Clarissa Calderon Zuniga

      I really enjoyed this piece!. But I think you are leaving out Blockhead ( Music by Cavelight), sampling at its best Mr. Wax Tailor (Tales of Unforgotten Melodies which by the way the Que Sera track is one of my ultimate faves) and Cut Chemist (The Audience is Listening)…But I love the fact that you put some Flying Lotus int there pure magnificence. All in all I think this genre is really underrated and beautiful, sampling is not an easy thing to do and there are few that can actually make sampling work…

  • Micah Redmond

    Thanks for the kind words. I agree entirely with RJD2 and Madlib. If only it had been a Top 7, they would have been included. They were both strongly considered, and the only reason they weren’t included was so I could highlight some less well known, but really incredible musicians.

  • Jon Bosworth

    Wow. J Dilla. Thank you for Prefuse 73, I’ve been living so long with not a clue. I feel cheated.

  • Sam

    Ahh that Kill Tone beat never fails…