PART 2 – It’s that time again, to look back on the last year of hip hop and pick the top 10 albums that arguably defined this year and are more proof that this culture is very much alive and better than ever. Last year it was impossible to limit the list to 10 and this year is no different, as there are a couple of “honorable mentions” that I’ve made up excuses for but really, I just couldn’t limit myself to ten. Also like last year I’ve included a couple albums that could have made the list but for varying reasons, did not. As always these are in no particular order as that becomes much more subjective and the purpose is not to argue about why #5 should be #4 but just to have an overall list of what albums really shined this year.
Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives – May 18, 2010
Highly anticipated, these two linking up was an incredible fusion of two genres, with both bringing their love for Africa to create the perfect soundtrack for the sound of that continent. Right out the gate they hit you hard pause with “As We Enter” as Nas and Damian trade bars back and forth over a hype ass beat. Then they bring in the drums on “Tribes At War”. “Strong Will Continue” is one of most epic tracks of the year, with Nas flipping the FUCK out on the final verse. “Count Your Blessings” is smooth and upbeat, while “Nah Mean” is some of the hardest hitting hip hop with Damian really shining as he beasts the track. And the absolutely beautiful “Africa Must Wake Up” is the perfect ending to this project that is really a book of knowledge as well as a tribute to the still struggling continent of Africa. If there was ever a modern-day sound of Africa, this is it, as Nas and Damian Marley’s chemistry made for one of the most musical albums in hip hop this year.
Lloyd Banks – The Hunger For More 2 – released November 22, 2010
Lloyd Banks made his comeback earlier this year with “Beamer Benz or Bentley” and a few too many months later we finally got the album that solidified the Punchline King’s legacy, a sequel that really does live up to its predecessor. Then we got the epic “Start It Up” and it was clear that Banks was back on top, along with insane guest verses from Fabolous and Kanye. But Banks return was no better noticeable than on the way he beasts the opening track “Take ‘Em To War” with the obligatory Tony Yayo verse and razor-sharp production. Pusha T and Styles both stepped up for the G-Unit soldier and even Raekwon gave Banks a better verse than he gave Kanye’s album. The R&B chart toppers Akon, Ryan Leslie and Jeremih all show up at the right times as this album had it all, including a hilarious appearance from 50 Cent on the dumb-out clearly-had-Goose-in-the-studio “Payback”. It’s damn near impossible to recreate the feeling of your debut, but as Raekwon proved last year, it is doable, and Lloyd Banks pulled it off with this sequel.
Ayatollah Jaxx – Hello, Hip Hop – released March 9, 2010
Arguably the most complete hip hop album of the year, Ayatollah goes at every subject imaginable in rap, including some that aren’t normally touched upon, and comes away with a solid project start to finish. Right from the start on the title track it’s clear that Ayatollah is a student of the game and has mastered the craft. “Shoe Horn” is a scathing short track, and “Coming of Age” is an incredible biographical joint. “Ms. 416” is one of the most beautiful love songs hip hop has ever seen, “Wha Gwan” is a revolutionary anthem. He also attacks the subject of mainstream hip hop and how much of a business it’s become at this point on “This is For the Radio”. “Jobfair” is a damn good concept track, and both versions of “Street Hop” are solid, and the subjects he tackles on “Pain” are some that no MC has ever even come close to before. For the most complete all around representation of hip hop, this album is definitely a must-have in your collection as Ayatollah cements his name in the game with this solid project.
Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids – released December 21, 2010
Granted this JUST dropped, but if there’s one thing Ghost is good at, it’s being consistent, and nine albums later he’s still one of the greatest in the game and this album is no exception. The opener “Purified Thoughts” is that classic Wu-Tang soulful shit, complete with Killah Priest qualifying for verse of the year. “Black Tequila” is more of that Wu greatness, this time with Trife really stepping up. It seems like Ghost makes other MCs better as on “Drama” the Game went IN and spit like it was 2005 again. “Handcuffin’ Them Hoes” with Jim Jones is exactly what you’d expect from that title and that guest, and when the production was questionable on this was when Ghost was at his finest, like on “Starkology”. “In Tha Park” with Black Thought was a perfect tribute to the old school, “Ghetto” was beautifully soulful, with U-God crushing the track, and the most brilliant move of the whole disc came on the last track where the two famed combos of Rae/Ghost and Redman/Method Man finally came together on one track. It ain’t too early to judge, this is definitely one of the best albums this year, Ghost did it again.
The Left – Gas Mask – released October 26, 2010
That true school, boom bap, revolutionary hip hop was alive and well this year as the combination of Apollo Brown, Journalist 103 and DJ Soko gave us this album complete with gutter bangin’ production as well as true words of wisdom and straight up rapping. The Detroit sound oozes out of this album, as Apollo Brown’s production is exactly what all the backpackers have been fiending for since Das EFX stopping making albums like 13 years ago. The guest appearance from Kool G. Rap is a reminder as to what type of hip hop you’re getting with this and Invincible proves that female rappers still got skills on “Statistics”. “Binoculars” is so soulful you almost wanna shed a tear for the beat, and “Caged Birds” screams out with a brilliant sample. This is hip hop for the enlightened, and if your eyes aren’t open yet then this will definitely open them, especially on an anthem like “Get It Where You Fit In” with its epic production. This is not your average radio friendly rap-about-nothing bullshit, this is hip hop in its purest form, beats and rhymes with a message. Even the group name and album name prove that, don’t sleep.
Honorable Mention: Madlib – Medicine Show No. 5 – History of the Loop Digga 1990-2000
While it was easily one of the most listenable and blunt-worthy collections of the year, as one of the many amazing efforts that Madlib dropped as part of his “Medicine Show” series, it’s technically a mixtape, and it’s also old material, making it tough to include it as a top 10 album for this year. But for Madlib fans, as well as any true hip hop fan, this collection of beats, interludes, and tracks featuring everyone who’s ever been on Stones Throw from Wildchild to Medaphor to, of course the always-hard-to-find Quasimoto, is further proof that Madlib is one of the hardest working and most talented producers hip hop has ever seen. While the whole Medicine Show collection is worth checking out, this is far and away the highlight, pure hip hop at its finest.
Why didn’t ___________ make it??
Diddy/Dirty Money – Last Train to Paris – good question, it’s easily one of the best albums out (right now) but this is the furthest thing you can get from hip hop while still being put in the hip hop bin, and it’s more an R&B dance album (as it’s so influenced by euro-pop) that to include it in a “hip hop” albums list would be both accurate but questionable by so many that it’s respectfully left off.
Curren$y – Pilot Talk (I or II) – simply put, if you don’t smoke weed then you probably don’t like these albums. Let’s be honest, lyrically Curren$y isn’t on anyone’s top 10 MCs list, and even though his voice flows nice over the live instrumental production (word to my hometown native Brady Watt on the bass), along with the brilliance of Ski Beatz, production can’t carry an album. Plus you gotta be moving at a slow to medium pace to really fuck with this shit, but if you are blunted, these are incredible soundtracks.
Hell Razah – Heaven Razah – only 5% of mafuckas can fuck with this, but if you part of that 5%, this was the book of knowledge for 2010.