As cities and states across the country continue to lockdown and tighten restrictions, realities of quarantining begin to spring from what was once hoped to just be a bad dream. Working from home has proven to be a new and challenging task for many. While Hip Hop heads are likely binging albums during their newfound time, achieving productivity can be difficult while listening to music with lyrics.
HipHopDX has curated a list of instrumental Hip Hop albums to listen to while you work from home. From Madlib to Dr. Dre, DX has compiled some of the best instrumental albums to keep you sane and productive during these trying times. Whether you work best while listening hard drums breaks or jazzy melodies, DX has you covered.
Madlib — Shades of Blue (2003)
Arguably one of the best producers of all time, Madlib, has produced some of the defining projects in Hip Hop history. He’s worked with artists such as Freddie Gibbs, MF DOOM and Talib Kweli, to name a few, along with producing a rock-solid discography of beats and instrumentals, many of which have been flipped into tracks by recording artists around the country. 2003’s Shades of Blue is thematically the Oxnard-born producer’s most interesting project to date. Madlib was given access to the historic Blue Note Records archive to repurpose jazz and funk classics into soulful beats. The album is a journey through the storied history of the legacy of the Blue Note through the eyes of a true musical genius. Shades of Blue is luxuriously layered with textures and tones. It’s an homage to jazz, an underrepresented but undeniably important influence in Hip Hop. Queue up “Slim’s Return” and get lost in the world of Madlib.
Dr. Dre — 2001 Instrumental (1999)
2001 is a respectable choice on any list of important Hip Hop albums, but the instrumental version of Dr. Dre’s 1999 classic is surprisingly underappreciated. Without lyrics from Dre and guests such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Hittman, production, the unsung hero of the project, shines through and clarifies, if it was ever in question, that Dr. Dre is one of the best producers to ever grace the track. The beats on 2001 are foundational to the West Coast sound known today. For a soothing, guitar-based track to back the work-from-home day, try the discordantly named “Bitch Niggaz.” If you’re looking for something less sleepy, press play on “Bang Bang” (hopefully the gunshots aren’t too distracting).
DJ Shadow — Endtroducing….. (1996)
DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. is a trailblazing album by one of the pioneers of instrumental Hip Hop. As the genre was developing in the late 1980s, DJ Shadow was experimenting with production and beats for his radio program at KDVS, the University of California Davis’s campus station. Endtroducing….. presents DJ Shadow at the height of his production abilities. The album shifts between ephemeral and deeply focused and experiments with a wide range of emotions. It’s an almost entirely sampled album, one of the first of its kind, and the varying samples contribute to the complexity of the project. Listen to “What Does Your Soul Look Like – Pt. 4” seamlessly transition into “Untitled,” which fades into the magnum opus, “Stem / Long Stem – Medley” to truly comprehend Shadow’s natural control over his beats.
9th Wonder — Zion II (2017)
9th Wonder been serving as the backbone to Hip Hop classics for almost two decades since his breakout production credits on Nas’ God’s Stepson. His music is deeply personal and nostalgic and it shows an affinity for Motown and soul-adjacent sounds. Zion II is one of four albums in 9th’s Zion series. It’s a therapeutic, feel-good album that will make sitting at a home office feel like lying at the beach. The North Carolina producer is an expert in utilizing sampled vocals as an instrument. The billowing singing on “MsBetty!!!” is layered to perfection, while “FonkyLala!!!” follows it up with a fresh take on a boom-bap drum pattern. Listen to Zion II to gather the strength for the rest of the day’s tasks.
J Dilla — Donuts (2006)
No instrumental Hip Hop album list is complete without J Dilla’s Donuts. In any category, Donuts reigns as one of, if not the, most important and perfectly executed beat album in Hip Hop history. If there are any doubts about that, talk to the Smithsonian Museum—they’ve acquired the legendary producer’s MPC for their extensive musical archives. To listen to Donuts is to journey through one of Hip Hop’s most creative minds. J Dilla has perfected his skills on this project and lays before his listeners a controlled chaos that many have tried (and failed) to recreate. Dilla is the king of the 808s and as technically precise as a symphonic composer. It’s near impossible to choose a specific song, so here’s five: “Light My Fire,” “The Diff’rence,” “One Eleven,” “One for Ghost” and “Welcome to the Show.” Show some love and take a journey today with J Dilla, a Hip Hop icon taken far too soon.
Mac Miller/Larry Fisherman — Run On Sentences Vol. 1 (2013)
Mac Miller is a more common household name than Larry Fisherman, Miller’s alter ego who holds volumes of instrumental Hip Hop under his moniker, but it’s still the same person fans grew to adore. Run On Sentences Vol. 1 is Miller’s first complete album under the Fisherman moniker (though he’s also produced for scores of artists under that name, including himself), and rightfully put Miller into the conversation of noteworthy producers. It’s sentimental, perhaps because of Miller’s untimely death, but it’s also immensely enjoyable. “I Am Actually a Fish Alien,” has sounds of bubbling water and extraterrestrial synths, exactly as the title would suggest; it’s a surefire way to transport you to a different dimension.
The Alchemist — Israeli Salad (2015)
Choosing only one album from The Alchemist for this list was a daunting task. The super-producer from Los Angeles has a CV that would make any sensible producer shake in their shoes. He’s produced for Nas, Ghostface Killah, Snoop Dogg and Eminem. Israeli Salad, 2015, is one of Al’s most recent instrumental projects. It’s a cinematic 37 minutes, jam-packed with food references, Hebrew, and lush instrumentation. Along with its fantastic name, “Bone Thugs N’ Haifa” is a screw-faced punchy rhythm, sonically layered with Middle Eastern flutes and chants—get ready to type your emails to a beat that’s screaming for hard bars.
MF DOOM — Metal Fingers Presents: Special Herbs, Vol. 1 & 2 (2015)
The masked assassin is most well-known for his ominous and prophetic lyrics, but the metal man’s production is as tantalizing and mysterious as his vocals. Metal Fingers Presents: Special Herbs, Vol. 1 & 2 sounds as exotic and flavorful as the herbs for which it’s named. Special Herbs is an exploration through the diverse sounds of DOOM’s influences. DOOM’s production can often sound jarring and choppy—it’s part of his charm—but don’t be surprised if you’re caught off guard with a sudden rest or beat switch. Safron might be too expensive and hard to source from home, but the track is just as satisfying.
Pete Rock — Petestrumentals (2001)
Producer Pete Rock was an influential figure in the 1990s as soulful tunes emanated from New York from groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr. Rock’s melodic and mellow production should be a work-from-home staple for all Hip Hop fans. Petestrumentals, 2001, is the Bronx-born producer’s most cohesive instrumental body of work. Listening to tracks such as “Pete’s Jazz” and the intro track, “A Little Soul,” shows the jazz and blues that Hip Hop was born from, while also showing a glimmer of what New York Hip Hop would sound like in later years. Listening now to New York producers such as Kirk Knight, it’s clear of the monumental impact Petestrumentals had on the genre of East Coast Hip Hop. Take a step back in time to the golden age of rap and cool out to some Pete Rock.
Jonwayne — Bowser (2011)
The least-well known producer to grace this list, Jonwayne is a producer signed to Stones Throw Records. Jonwayne is known for finding sounds in untraditional places—he’s shaken a skateboard to record its rattle, and jangled keys in front of a microphone to pick up that distinct sound of keys colliding. Bowser is a genre-bending Hip Hop instrumental album, laden with an electronic influence. As the title might suggest, to listen to Bowser is to be placed smack in the middle of an arcade. Pinball machine buzzers and ray-gun blasters seem to permeate through the tracks. It’s music to listen to while your mind wanders. “Andrew,” keeps the listener guessing where Jonwayne will head next, but no matter how many times you run the trackback, it still ends up being a surprise.
DJ Premier — Beats That Collected Dust Vol. 1 & 2
DJ Jazzy Jeff — The Return Of The Magnificent (Instrumental)
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana Beats
Hi-Tek — Hi-Teknology (The Instrumentals)
Lord Finesse — The SP1200 Project: A Re-Awakening