The Best Instrumental Albums of 2021

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L’Orange – The World Is Still Chaos, But I Feel Better

L’Orange – best known for collaborations with Solemn Brigham, Kool Keith, and Jeremiah Jae – is a proprietor of some of the most overtly backpack hiphop out today. Essential to the sound of Mello Music Group, he brings a distinct brand of dusty, yet comforting boombap with the occasional psychedelic motif. On The World Is Still Chaos, L’Orange meditates through sound on his growth through all of the bullshit in the world. There is a nostalgic feeling to many of these beats (often a product of old-timey vocal samples), considering better days and regrets; However, beauty and potential always shine through with light keys and soaring horns. The mix on this project is also very distinct and tinny, really demanding the listener’s attention. Overall, L’Orange brings competent beats while expressing a lot about both himself and the modern man.

Listen to The World Is Still Chaos, But I Feel Better on Bandcamp

DJ Muggs – Dies Occidendum

One of the greatest producers of all time, DJ Muggs got his start as far back as the late 80’s with Cypress Hill. With many different styles and lanes across that long career, he has settled in over the past decade to the grimy New York underground where he frequently links for full-length collabs with artists such as Roc Marciano, Mach Hommy, and Crimeapple. Dies Occidendum is a rare beat tape from the Black Goat, and it certainly delivers. Muggs maintains his usual Hellish sound with chilling keys and distorted guitar riffs, but he has more room to play without an MC weighing him down. There are elements of electronic and heavier bass than we often get from him. It all comes together for a cohesive listen which sounds truly evil – straight from the lion’s den. Check out our DJ Muggs 2021 recap playlist for more info!

Listen to Dies Occidendum on Bandcamp

Tall Black Guy – Airplane Mode

Airplane Mode is the latest beat tape from Detroit producer Tall Black Guy, one of the most talented and polished in the game. He wears his influences on his sleeves – an apparent Dilla acolyte – with lush and jazzy sounds which envelop the listener in his city. The vocal samples get stretched, the drums skitter across your heart just on time, and the keys, synths, and light horns take you back to sweet memories. Airplane Mode might not reinvent the wheel, but it is among the best and most personal jazz/soul production you can find. Don’t sleep on Tall Black Guy any longer!

Listen to Airplane Mode on Bandcamp

Blockhead – Space Werewolves Will Be the End of Us All

Blockhead has been a pretty underrated producer across his career despite building such a strong discography. There are of course the classic collabs with oddball legends Aesop Rock (be sure to check our AOTY review on their newest effort, Garbology) and Billy Woods, but it must be noted how competent and visionary Blockhead is himself. On Space Werewolves, we obviously get a lot of that fun, old-school character we love him and his contemporaries for in addition to what are just some high quality beats. The production is at once minimal and cinematic – Blockhead can make something out of nothing as he takes some pretty lowkey sounds and blows them into something epic and really expressive. Every song is full of progressions and include a wide variety of instruments – From soul vocals to wacky, retro synths, to tribal drums. Overall, this is among Blockhead’s best work and is a great representation of who he is as an artist.

Listen to Space Werewolves Will Be the End of Us All on Bandcamp

Kenny Segal – Indoors

As a member of the Jefferson Park Boys collective, Kenny Segal is no newcomer to the game; Over the past several years, however, he has become even more prolific and hailed for collaborations with abstract MC’s such as Milo and Billy Woods. Already possessing a strong catalog of beat tapes (notably the Kenstrumental series and Happy Little Trees), he comes through with a particularly immersive and complete project on Indoors. There are heavy electronic influences given Segal’s background, and it leans heavier than his collaborations. Prominent synths tend to be the base, but wobbling drums and 808s are common as well. That’s not to say it is ever aggressive though; The melodies shine through and bring warmth, while the electronic elements bring energy. It is at times Flying Lotus-esque. You can feel Segal pouring his heart out on these breaks and expressing so much without words. Every song has multiple progressions and is extremely dense and layered, showing that there was a lot of thought and care put into this rather than a bunch of throwaway beats. Kenny Segal simply shows a true mastery of the boards on Indoors.

Listen to Indoors on Spotify

Madlib – Sound Ancestors

As a nearly undisputed GOAT, Madlib is a producer who certainly needs no introduction at this point. Sound Ancestors sees him linking with Four Tet for a meticulously constructed instrumental album which feels like a virtuoso at work. It’s imbued with his signature brand of quirky funk and jazz, sampled from something beautiful into something strange. There are also growing elements of more traditional music in his work recently (evidence by last year’s Jahari Massamba Unit), such as tribal singing and drums on “Theme de Crabtree”. Overall though, things generally stay pretty light while transporting us through a huge variety of genres and black artforms throughout history with Madlib’s one of a kind modern twist – He is carrying the musical mantle and legacy of an entire world.

Listen to Sound Ancestors on Spotify

ohbliv – Darktwaine’s Wilderness

Lo-fi producer Ohbliv is mostly known in hiphop for his work with Mutant Academy and sLUms artists like MIKE or Medhane (check out our guide to the sLUms scene!). He favors sparse instrumentation with samples chopped and combined with other harsh elements to create something surprisingly busy out of it all. On Darktwaine’s Wilderness, he takes us on an audio safari; The sounds of the plains and the woods deep in the night are both unsettling and beautiful. These beats are typically light and chilling, apart from cuts like “How to Find Your Way”, featuring a tribal drum which creates a vast atmosphere. Subtle samples reminiscent of wildlife sounds further the immersion. The soundscape is twisted and implies a threat from a predator or local, with some truly paranoid and skipping effects. This project is extremely unique if nothing else.

Listen to Darktwaine’s Wilderness on Bandcamp

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