10 Essential Industrial Hip-Hop Albums

Treble staff
Death Grips

For the last couple years at least, noisy, chaotic hip-hop records have been dominating the conversation. But it’s not as if industrial hip-hop was born with Death Grips or Kanye West. No, in fact, way back in the ’80s, artists were blending hip-hop beats with menacing, destructive sounds. Sometimes it turned out funky, other times it was downright terrifying, and most of the time it involved radical political statements, but it was almost always interesting and innovative. We decided to take a look back at some of these noteworthy, ear-shredding releases, with our 10 essential industrial hip hop albums. Have fun, and bring earplugs.

industrial hip hop Mark Stewart - As the veener of democracy starts to fadeMark StewartAs the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade
(1985; Mute)

Back before The Roots collaborated with everyone and your sister, the house band of nascent New York rap label Sugar Hill Records — including eventual electro converts Doug Wimbish and Keith Leblanc — were invited to collaborate with British art punk Mark Stewart. The former lead singer of The Pop Group was dabbling in the dub alchemy of On-U Sound at the time, and with his confrontational, socially-conscious style of performing and producing he cut, retouched, obscured, or scorched everything Sugar Hill brought to the studio. Veneer of Democracy is not just an album where industrial cognoscenti can swear fealty to fearsome sampledelica and screaming guitars. The tinny drum machines, shards of spare electronic funk, and gritty spoken word all heard in the chaos combine to serve as the foundation for a range of music able to encompass both “The Message” and “Down in It.” – Adam Blyweiss


industrial hip hop The BeatnigsThe BeatnigsThe Beatnigs
(1988; Alternative Tentacles)

Should anyone make the mistake of thinking that Michael Franti was always mired in granola reggae rap overflowing with peace, love and all that, I’m here to disabuse you of such a notion. In the 1980s, Franti fronted noisy, chaotic industrial rap troupe The Beatnigs, whose name, admittedly, is far less commercial than, say, Spearhead. Likewise, their music brought a particularly complex mixture of rap, spoken word, jazz, hardcore punk and industrial, blending together in a dark, abrasive soup of distortion, leftist politics and righteous catharsis. The Bay Area group found a strange cross section of Public Enemy, Meat Beat Manifesto and Bad Brains in their brawny assault, and it hit hard from all angles. It’s remarkable how ahead of its time their self-titled debut (and only album) is. It’s maybe not as ear-shredding as Death Grips, but listening to the distorted bass and flashy synths of single “Television” (later reworked by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy), it’s clear where the kernel of that group’s anarchic approach was planted. – Jeff Terich


industrial hip hop Consolidated - Play more musicConsolidatedPlay More Music
(1992; Nettwerk)

Unflinchingly socialist at a time when radical politics were just re-entering music’s mainstream, this American trio assembled harsh and hidden social realities, a self-critical eye, and notorious fan participation using cut-and-paste propaganda as epoxy and earnest rhyming as catalyst. Prior albums like Friendly Fa$cism may have won Consolidated critical acclaim, but it was this third release that put them on a larger map. Granted, their biggest hits were the songs that needed the most help: San Francisco novelty act The Yeastie Girls rapped out the cult hit/dirty little secret “You Suck,” celebrating cunnilingus as feminism, while Paris spit hot fire on the black-on-white revenge fantasy “Guerrillas in the Mist.” However, Play More Music also showed an almost pastoral side to Consolidated on songs like “A Day on the Green” and “He,” even as they continued to boldly toss around talking points on veganism, the war on drugs, and a rampaging corporate state. – Adam Blyweiss


industrial hip hop Meat Beat Manifesto - SatyriconMeat Beat ManifestoSatyricon
(1992; Elektra)

The British duo of Jack Dangers and Jonny Stephens grew from side project to ongoing industrial-music concern due in no small part to shifting their focus to America. The late 1980s saw them move to San Francisco (associating themselves with like-minded artists including Consolidated) and hook up with Chicago’s legendary Wax Trax! label. Already thick with mass media samples as well as the noises of No Wave and jazz, on Satyricon their takes on dub and cracked hip-hop instrumentals embraced melodic electronica as well. With its release at the start of the big beat techno era — and within a week of Play More Music — it brought the band a level of exposure they wouldn’t see again until a slot on the soundtrack to The Matrix. The vocal tracks on here include politically aware rapping (“Edge of No Control,” “Son of Sam”) and third-eye singing (“Mindstream”) as well as material that falls somewhere in between (“Drop,” “Original Control”). Don’t let that disqualify Satyricon from this list; Drake mixes up a similar “rap” recipe on his albums, right? – Adam Blyweiss


Scorn - GyralScornGyral
(1995; Earache)

Having been the drummer for grindcore band Napalm Death, Mick Harris was already well-versed in the sonic vocabulary of dread before spinning off this dark beats project at the start of the 1990s with fellow ND members Justin Broadrick and Nic Bullen. They left Harris to his own devices after a few releases, and Gyral finds Harris coming into his own on many levels. Prior albums like Evanescence had a bunch of echo-chamber vocals that belied his roots and betrayed any pure hip-hop feel in the music; the rather good remix set Ellipsis by definition relied on other artists to focus attention on the beats. Gyral is one-track-minded without being one-note, a cluster of eight epic statements made with crushingly sad atmospheres and deliberate drum breaks. You can call these industrial hip-hop beats “dark ambient” or “illbient” if you wish. It doesn’t necessarily matter what they are; what they do is extend the Wu-Tang Clan’s nightmare scenarios, form a template for the left-of-center beats Kanye West would eventually favor, and prepare us for other grand statements by the likes of J Dilla, Madlib, DJ Shadow, and Teargas and Plateglass. – Adam Blyweiss


Techno Animal - Brotherhood of the BombTechno AnimalThe Brotherhood of the Bomb
(2000; Matador)

The British production duo of Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick brought together experience in industrial metal, post-metal, grindcore, and jazzcore to create genre-warping hip-hop beats. Heavily influenced by acid-house and industrial electronica, the instrumentals on The Brotherhood of the Bomb stomp forward at a rap-friendly pace, built around striking arrangements of unsettling noise and rattling bass. To top it all off, the strong production is paired with an excellent cast of featured emcees — dälek, El-P and Rubberoom, just to name a few.  The Brotherhood of the Bomb made a mark in the established, if deep underground realm of industrial rap, and set a new standard for artists to come. – A.T. Bossenger


Dalek - AbsenceDälekAbsence
(2005; Ipecac)

New Jersey’s most abrasive hip-hop duo, Dälek, carved a unique niche for themselves on their darkly captivating debut EP Negro Necro Nekros, and brought in even more noise into the frame with 2002’s From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots. But no album in their catalog tops 2005’s Absence for sheer sonic terror. Emcee Dälek continues his characteristic apocalyptic, political raps, but its producer Oktopus whose talents truly take over, his horrific industrial soundscapes providing a jaw-dropping, paralyzing atmosphere for violence and menace. In context, the industrial influence here is much more Einsturzende Neubauten or Coil than Nine Inch Nails or Ministry, and that makes it all the more interesting. Plenty of emcees have banked on how raw or hard they are, but Absence presents a kind of terror that mere braggadocio can’t accomplish. – Jeff Terich


Saul Williams - Niggy TardustSaul WilliamsThe Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust
(2007; Fader)

A collaboration between Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor (as producer) and Saul Williams, best known for his boundary-pushing spoken word material, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust turned out to be a surprisingly accessible effort by two artists known for their unapologetic experimentation. Riding a fine line between industrial-rap and rap-rock (there’s a fully-sung cover of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” here), Williams’ third full-length mixed elements of his poetry with instrumentals reminiscent of NIN’s Year Zero — a risky combination with an intense, yet aurally pleasing payoff. With equal parts harsh philosophy and dark humor, it’s a grooving, self-aware hip-hop album as enjoyable as it is serious in its tone and approach. – A.T. Bossenger


Death Grips - Money StoreDeath GripsThe Money Store
(2012; Epic)

Joyfully abrasive, carelessly artistic, and shamelessly self-involved, Death Grips’ major-label debut, The Money Store, used the existing language of noisy, industrial rap to raise the genre to a new level of anarchic chaos. Featuring a heavy use of found-sound samples, the jarring beats of tracks like “Get Got,” “Double Helix” and “Hacker,” provided the perfect theatre for Stefan Burnett’s intense, often barked, stream-of-conscience musings. Death Grips have gained notoriety for trolling record labels and audiences alike, but with creative execution this rewarding, we’re willing to forgive them if they’ll keep up the good work. – A.T. Bossenger


El-P - Cancer 4 CureEl-PCancer 4 Cure
(2012; Fat Possum)

Cancer 4 Cure is claustrophobic. It’s the soundtrack to a maximum security space prison, music from the corroded mind of a dying android. The fact that El-P takes the Metroid theme and turns it fifty shades darker for the album’s happiest song is an indicator of the dystopian sci-horror landscape he creates. The lyrics are darkly paranoid, delving into his fears and insecurities with no attempt to defend them. “Drones Over Bklyn” is full of political pessimism, while in album standout “Tougher Colder Killer,” he faces down the numbing inevitability of death.

But the album isn’t just El-P peering out nervously through the shutters: he takes that insularity and breaks it down. He gradually goes from fuck-the-world posturing on tracks like “The Full Retard” to a kind of cathartic happiness on “$ Vic/FTL (Me and You).” Cancer 4 Cure is a unique industrial rap album because it takes the crippling darkness that’s omnipresent in the genre and finds an odd peace within it. – Sam Prickett

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View Comments (6)
  • I would include SMP Stalemate, not to give those guys any credit for anything else after it, but that shit is superb raw industrial hip hop. There’s nothing like it. And it’s an ASR-10.

    • Hi, one of the authors here. Tackhead’s a great act but I always thought of them more as dub than rap. I did make a very brief passing reference in the Mark Stewart review to Doug Wimbish and Keith Leblanc, and how what they did with him formed the roots of their work with On-U and beyond.

  • Great list, I agree with most of these choices although I would’ve included Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury by ‘The Disposable Hero’s of Hiphoprisy” Michael Franti’s project after the Beatnigs and before Spearhead. In my opinion one of the best Industrial Hip-Hop albums of all time… or at least the 90’s.

  • thanks for this! it might help a bit to raise awareness for the younger generation(s) of noise rap enthusiasts.
    as a sort of anarcho-punk-hiphop teenager in the early/mid 90s, i was socialized (and politicized) by consolidated, beatnigs / disposable heroes and meat beat manifesto. then, it seemed like a logical step to move on to mark stewart / on-u sound / tackhead, test dept, early spk, and also the universe of bill laswell / john zorn et al, as well as the mick harris / justin broadrick / kevin martin posse.
    needless to say that, with this musical trajectory, mainstream rap music was a huge let down in the late 90s and early 00s (and still is). however, i fondly kept track of rap’s side-streams like el-p / def jux, dalek, saul williams, word sound, apc or anticon. for me, those were leading the true continuation of the 80s / early 90s rap i used to embrace.
    and death grips, whom i also liked immediately at discovery a few years back, surely match in this tradition…. although they reflect a completely different cultural landscape and represent a somewhat different attitude – the self-destructive rock star hedonism axis between sid vicious, ministry and digital age idm-noise is much closer here than the ‘conscious rap’ ethics.
    so i don’t think you can call ‘industrial rap’ a ‘genre’. there are obviously common elements in all those mentioned in your post, however ‘veneer of democracy’, scorn and death grips are worlds apart. they just don’t fit together in a definite cathegory. which makes your choice only more interesting: what you traced down here is not a genre, rather a subliminal stream of musical significants that is genre-crossing and stretched over decades.
    it would have been nice to even extend the list, to give exposure also to some lesser known artists of the last 10-15 years, also a few important earlier examples are missing imho…. like mc 900 ft jesus’ groundbreaking 1989 debut ‘hell with the lid off’, and of course the disposable heroes album (which is significantly different from the beatnigs’ output, so it wouldn’t really be a double-feature…)
    a last remark: browsing down the list, it becomes strikingly obvious that there’s not one female artist included (apart from the one-track yeastie girls feature on the consolidated album). and honestly, i agree it’s hard to find any which would fit in. why is that? do female musicians, associated in whatever loose way with rap / hiphop, generally fullfill the cliché of being rather on the smooth, soulful, melodic and non-confrontational side? back in the ‘conscious’ era, rap has witnessed one of its most angry and uncompromising figures in sister souljah. after the rather quick demise of political hardcore rap, we were basically left to the ‘sub-genres’ of gangsta rap, smooth soul rap and dirty club rap and these are obviously reproducing the rather reactionary (or naively-regressive) gender stereotypes…. but i think it’s worthwile to investigate further in the ‘underground rap’ vaults, to find a few more female artists literally bringing the noise, they must be out there somewhere…..!

  • Great list cheers.

    I also like an artist from Bristol UK called Allflaws.

    And EL-Ps other stuff with Run The Jewels.

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