The best hip hop from the Bay Area in 2021
Chill, political, gangsta, goofy, and everything in between from the Watershed, ALLBLACK, Alleyes Manifest, Guapdad 4000, Ian Kelly, Kevin Allen, Su'Lan, and more
I just wanted to know about all the new music happening in the Bay Area. That’s how White Crate got started. It was self-education from the beginning, and I can say without hesitation that the area in which I was most heavily schooled was hip hop.
I can hardly keep up.
From chill, conscious, and political underground hip hop in the city to bold, brazen braggadocio across the East Bay, there are dozens of rappers and producers delivering amazing music. All. The. Time. My “Release Radar” playlist in Spotify—featuring all the week’s new music every Friday—now bursts with hip hop singles, mixtapes, and albums from Oakland, SF, Richmond, Vallejo, Sebastopol, and beyond. It’s endless, and more than any other genre, it constantly poses a question to me: With so much happening here, why would I listen to MCs and beatmakers from anywhere else?
Read on for the best hip hop from the Bay in 2021, or shuffle the playlist.
Don’t Forget You’re Welcome - The Watershed
One of the first collectives encountered in my Bay Area music explorations, and still one of the best. Declaring that they’ve “evolved from a loose collective to an official group,” the Watershed features Equipto, MC Pauze, Monk HTS, and Professa Gabel on the mic with productions by Baghead and Brycon. Eschewing hyphy, trap, and other hyped up hip hop styles, the group leans more soulful and jazzy, making music better suited to a spliff than a 40. The best part is this can serve an entry point to a ton of great solo music by each of the contributors: To start, check out the amazing instrumental hip hop on Dedicated to Those Who by Baghead and everything by Brycon.
TY4FWM - ALLBLACK
Featuring collabs with Vince Staples, Kenny Beats, and Mozzy plus fellow East Bay rappers G-Eazy, E-40, Guapdad 4000, Rexx Life Raj, and more, TY4FWM (Thank You 4 Fuckin’ With Me) isn’t just the debut album from ALLBLACK. It’s a goddamn party.
In November, James Wavey (aka Alleyes Manifest) released Butterflies & Kisses, his third full-length of the year. Don’t think the frequency of releases suggests lower quality output, however, as the new album continues the Oakland artist’s commitment to a unique and always-captivating blend of soul, funk, hip hop, and love-filled mysticism. Anyone a fan of funk maestros George Clinton and Dâm-Funk or neo-soul stars Erykah Badu and Solange will find something to like on each of Wavey’s releases.
The Game - DÆMON, Modulaw, Xzavier Stone
Completely bypassing anything resembling “conscious” hip hop or hyphy or typical rap music for the club comes this (what I call) hyperpop hip hop album from Oakland’s DÆMON and Zurich-based producers Modulaw and Xzavier Stone. Experimental electronic meets big bassy hip hop, and it hits with precision.
1176 - Guapdad 4000, !llmind
With one of the most striking album covers of the year, 1176 is the newest full-length from West Oakland-raised rapper Guapdad 4000: “This is the house I grew up in. It was hella hard for me to go back and look at this demon in the face as we began to make art with it.” A collaboration with Brooklyn producer !llmind, the album starts with a sentimental note on “How Many” (using a muted sample of "Better Off Alone" by Alice Deejay), before moving into the sexed up gangsta rap of “She Wanna”. From there it winds through a variety of styles - stuff you can dance to, smoke to, trip out to, play video games to, and on. More than anything, as the cover indicates, it’s a highly personal album that tells real stories and draws from the artist’s many influences.
Kells is D.E.A.D - Ian Kelly
Ian Kelly dropped KELLS is D.E.A.D. on North Carolina’s Jamla Records, also home to Rapsody. With label boss 9th Wonder on production duties and Kelly effortlessly weaving his own confident but easy style with lines and motifs from 2Pac, Kendrick Lamar, and Wu-Tang Clan, the album successfully presents the Oakland rapper as one of the best rising voices in hip hop.
Nothing Lasts Forever - Kevin Allen
Inspired by groundbreaking albums like A Seat at the Table by Solange and The Chronic by Dr. Dre, Nothing Lasts Forever is the newest full-length album from Oakland rapper Kevin Allen, featuring a bunch of great Bay Area artists: JANE HANDCOCK, Ian Kelly, Rexx Life Raj, Guapdad 4000, and more.
Orange Print - Larry June
The perfect listen for any heads looking for something chill to first thing in the morning—or maybe at the after-hours kickback. “My goal is to be a legend,” says the SF rapper. “To be a legend from here.” Read an interview with the MC on the Ringer.
Rich Off the Pack - Offset Jim
“The next name to know in Bay Area hip-hop.” Even the Datebook knows. Rich Off the Pack is a 22-min album of laidback hip hop by Oakland rapper Offset Jim featuring Kenny Beats, Babyface Ray, ALLBLACK, EST Gee, and Aitch.
Free Su’Lan - Su’Lan
There can be no one better to cap this extremely male-dominated list. On their fiery 15-min EP Free Su’Lan, the Oakland duo Su’Lan has two settings: hard and harder.