10 Modern Hip-Hop Albums Every Metalhead Should Own

Run the Jewels, Dalek, Death Grips and more
(Image credit: various labels)

Metal and hip-hop’s close relationship and crossover appeal has been clear for decades now. Yet when you ask a metal fan about their favourite rap records, they’ll often tend to come from a specific era, and that’s a shame. While we all love Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Eminem and the many other hard rock-adjacent artists of the past, hip-hop is currently experiencing another golden era. 

If you’re a fan of heavy music and are looking to update your library, then here are 10 albums that represent modern rap at its heaviest and most inspiring.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (2011)

This Seattle-based duo features Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire. After self-releasing two EPs – 2009’s self-titled debut and Of Light – the pair became the first hip-hop act to sign to Sub Pop. Black Up, their first album, garnered critical acclaim in some quarters and left others scratching their heads. Sure, it’s experimental, psychedelic, noisy and peppered with free jazz freak-outs and off-kilter time signatures, but listen to Yeah You, with its pummelling bass and Butler’s alien flow, for a snapshot of their myriad styles. A modern masterpiece.

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Death Grips – The Money Store (2012)

The Sacramento trio could be considered one of the most influential artists of the past decade. Taking industrialised hip-hop into the most intense and extreme of realms with their debut full-length album, The Money Store is a classic; its potency has not dulled in the decade since its release. MC Rides’ aggressive delivery, paired with Zach Hill and Andy Morin’s oppressively dense and chaotic production on songs like Blackjack, Punk Weight and I’ve Seen Footage make for essential listening. 

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Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

Danny Brown’s fourth album is named after the JG Ballard novel and Joy Division song of the same name, and should give you some indication of his state of mind when he created this 2016 masterpiece. Atrocity Exhibition is an astonishing exploration of a troubled mind, with Brown forcibly dragging you into his fractured psyche, using dark post-punk bass, chilling Vangelis-style synths and jittering fairground noise loops as his sonic weapons. Nothing can compete with Brown himself though, who has the flow and cadence that really captures the sound of a man at the end of his tether.

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Dälek – Endangered Philosophies (2017)

New Jersey duo Dälek are not a new act by any stretch of the imagination, but ever since their 2015 reformation, the metal scene has fully embraced their potent mix of woozy hip-hop, experimental noise and harsh, industrial soundscapes. They’ve released a series of albums on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label, including this 2017 effort, which is probably their heaviest from that era. Opening track Echoes Of... sounds like Sunn O)))'s doomy oeuvre injected with John Bonham’s thunderous drumming, whilst MC dälek, a man very much from the “sounds like he could bite your head off” school of emcees, spits all over the music. Nice. 

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JPEGMafia – All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019)

The Brooklyn-based rapper and producer’s third full-length release is a dizzying listen. Barely stopping in the same place for more than a couple of seconds, All My Heroes Are Cornballs takes you on a journey which embraces industrial noise, classic soul, broken beats, hardcore punk, hyper-pop and liquid dub bass lines, sometimes within the space of a minute. It may be the most exciting album you’ve ever heard or it may give you one hell of a headache. Whatever your position, there’s no doubt that JPEGMafia is the kind of artist that has that zero fucks given attitude that you, as a fan of heavy metal, should at least appreciate. 

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clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood (2019)

Los Angeles trio clipping. are a unique force right now. Over the course of four albums, the production duo of William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes have created some of the most impenetrable music imaginable, leaving their talented MC Daveed Diggs to weave some of the most vile, yet jaw-dropping lyrics through the melee. Their whole output is worth your time, but 2019’s There Existed an Addition to Blood is their finest moment by a whisker; this is mainly due to Diggs’ stunning performance, as he delivers gruesome tales of torture, gang warfare and inebriated late-night violence.

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Run The Jewels – RTJ4 (2020)

This is an absolute no-brainer. Run The Jewels have toured with Rage Against The Machine, opened for Bring Me The Horizon and Queens of the Stone Age, and, here on their fourth album, feature contributions from both Josh Homme and Zack de la Rocha. You can't really go wrong with any of their studio albums, but we’ve plumped for RTJ4 due to the context of the record. Released in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the subsequent worldwide protests against police brutality, this record took on a whole new level of poignancy. Yes, there are the kind of huge, booming tracks you’d expect from a Run The Jewels album like Yankee and the Brave (ep.4) or Holy Calamafuck, but the real power sits at the end of the album. The spine-tingling Pulling the Pin and A Few Words for the Firing Squad both beautifully lament centuries of oppression and structural racism. An album of true, genuine power and importance. 

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Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram (2021)

Hip hop duo Billy Woods and Elucid – aka Armand Hammer – are two highly accomplished MCs, both of whom have explored deeply dark, socio-political themes in their music. They’ve made some great records together, but their collaboration with super-producer The Alchemist (Eminem, Snoop Dogg and members of Cypress Hill) has resulted in the finest record of their career. With the pair's rhymes almost gleefully focusing on exposing and criticising government structures, societal taboos and dogmatic attitudes, The Alchemist has created a wonderfully woozy and claustrophobic set of stabbing beats and broken soul samples to compliment them. The result is an oddly unsettling, yet brilliant album. 

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The Bug – Fire (2021)

The brainchild of British producer Kevin Martin, The Bug are a slightly different flavour to everyone else on this list, with Fire owing as much to drum and bass, dub and dancehall as it does straight hip-hop. All the same, it’s well worth your time investigating the record, with a series of different MCs guesting on each track to tell the story of a world ablaze and in disarray. Each guest brings something unique to their track, but if you're looking for highlights, then UK grime MC Flowdan booming his way through Pressure and US spoken word poet and activist Moor Mother’s controlled-yet-seething performance on Vexed are a good place to begin.

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Injury Reserve – By the Time I Get to Phoenix (2021)

This Arizona-based collective's second album is a record born from genuine darkness. Created in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the George Floyd protests of 2020, Injury Reserve were also rocked when original member Stepa J Groggs passed away during through the recording. These events informed the album's bleak, harsh, and uncomfortable sound. When By the Time I Get to Phoenix was released, the remaining members were quick to point out just how arduous the creation of the record had been, with MC Ritchie with a T explaining how he'd record his vocals in pitch-black rooms to help create the necessary mood. Truth be told, the glitchy, disorientating noise may be a challenging listen, but this is a fantastic artistic accomplishment worthy of your full, undivided attention.

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Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.