25. Big Boi ft. Gucci Mane – “Shine Blockas”

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Somehow, Big Boi, one half of the most popular rap group of all-time, has leaked fantastic album material for over a year-plus and still Sir Luscious Lead Foot can’t get a release date. The latest gem from Daddy Fat Sacks’s solo album, “Shine Blockas” combines Gucci’s infectious energy and Big Boi’s unmatched flow over a superbly soulful beat with a distinctly Southern trunk thump. Gucci and Big make a natural pair, given the two’s mutual love for goofy similes and metaphors. Big awkwardly sprays like a skunk, while Gucci strives for Tyler Perry sales. Producer Cutmaster Swiff spit-shines Harold Melvin’s vocals until they glisten like a fresh coat of candy paint on a Caddie. Where Kanye used he same sample on Jay-Z’s “This Can’t Be Life” to convey sadness and lamentation, Big Boi turns it into a playful, triumphant kiss-off to the haters. Of course they can’t close the safe–there’s too much money in it.–Aaron Matthews

24. Cormega – “The Other Side”

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Outshining legendary producers like DJ Premier and Large Professor, M.O.P’s Fizzy Womack stole the show on Cormega’s latest album with the laid-back beat to :The Other Side.” Shimmering with smooth-jazz strings and blaring saxophone runs, the track recalls the smoother moments of A Tribe Called Quest’s late 90’s Love Movement, providing an unexpected canvas for Mega to display a newfound maturity. Describing his transition from crack to music, Cormega spits fire proving that rapping about finding peace can be just as entertaining as rhymes about going to war. Like Common on Resurrection, it’s the not the positivity that shines through here but the journey to reach it. —Sach O

23. Q-Tip ft. Chef Raekwon, Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne – “Renaissance Rap Remix”

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Q-Tip signals his intent immediately, imitating the opening of”The Symphony:” I don’t care who’s first or who’s last, I just know y’all better rock this at the drop of a dime. Playing the role of Masta Ace, he sets it off over J Dilla’s X-Files gone boom-bap beat, recycling his verse from the original, a rehash of his ascent battling on trains. Busta Rhymes and Raekwon make up for the lack of novelty, with the former in full-on conspiracy mode babbling about diamonds buried in Jerusalem, and a zoological leitmotif as though he only wore khaki and camouflage. Befitting his epic 2009 run, Rae steals the show in a full-on vivid laser-eye guide mode, squeezing “Johnny Walker in the Benz all freezing,” “poison medals on his necks wrists and arms,” “Louis luggage is bronze. Together they’re they’re the “Chi-Lites, a twist of the O-Jay’s, one line of this will have you leaning like roach spray.” It’s the rare contemporary track that doesn’t let its self-conscious aspirations towards greatness affect its actual greatness. It might lack the magnitude of a “Symphony,” but it’s still rough as brillo and the closest we came in 2009. –Jeff Weiss

22. Royce Da’ 5’9 ft. Joell Ortiz & Bun B – “Hood Love”

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Say what you want, I loved the Slaughterhouse album, if only because it served as a great rap litmus test for my RSS feed. Though it was definitely uneven, the record’s uncompromising hoodies n timbs aggression served as a fantastic way to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to rap critics: if you didn’t fuck with this but spent the year bigging up Drake, Gucci Mane or Diplo, I stopped reading your blog. With that out of the way, “Hood Love” from Royce’s Street-Hop is the best thing any of those guys did all year, a laid-back Premo produced banger that had cats catching ’95 flashbacks for real. Royce continues to be the closest thing we have to early Nas and Biggie, spitting razor sharp meticulousness about street life without dropping ridiculous lies about the weight he’s moving. Joell’s nasal flow is his perfect foil, dropping humorous details about an Ice Cube quality good day and proving he’s Slaughterhouse’s most underrated member. As for Bun B, he continues to prove correct the theory that Premo steps his game up whenever a southern emcee spits on one of his tracks and adds the rare elder-statesman cosign that still means something in 2009.–Sach O

21. Sean Price – “Figure Four”

Sean Price inevitably drops at least one song each year that’s so amazingly ill that you hold out hope that he’ll put 11 of them together in one album. “Figure Four” is 2009’s pick of the litter, a sneering old man rap clinic that’s custom-made for aging backpackers to wild-out to. As hilarious and talented a writer as hipster favorites Cam’ron, MF Doom and Ghostface, Sean Price is so adverse to trends that he’d forgo that demographic’s fandom to avoid their bullshit, a fact that’s made him the champion of rap’s stubbornly die-hard NY purists. When Sean name-drops Nahright, he’s not currying favor with Eskay so much as shouting out his fan base: the site’s readership sums up his entire audience in one fell swoop. And while critics can complain about his choice of production and refusal to update his style, there’s something immensely satisfying about a rapper who doesn’t give two shits about what people outside the five boroughs (and his corner of the internet) think.–Sach O

20. Lil Wayne – “D.O.A. Freestyle”

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By now, every single rap fan should know what comes next when they hear those blaring clarinets. You’ve bobbed your head to it and searched for the sample. Hell, you and your boys have probably even freestyled to it. But out of the multitude of rappers who have laid down vocals over “DOA,” there’s only one rapper who sounds completely at home on it, and it’s not the Carter who the beat was given to. The Mixtape Weezy takes the ball that was given to him via shout-out and runs all the way to the touchdown, with the 27-year-old gleefully navigating the terrain in true Wayne fashion. In addition to the usual fecal metaphors and going mentally-disabled on the beat, he hosts makeup parties (“Paint your face red, you all dolled up,”) fucks the game up like a bad call, name-drops rap pioneer DJ Red Alert for the hip-hop geeks, and ends Aaron Brooks’ career in one line just like Biggie did to Kwame and them fuckin’ polka dots. A bottle of water and two blunts later, Young Carter is cackling his way out of the song, knowing good and well that he had just usurped the King. –Douglas Martin

19. Clipse ft. Cam’ron – “Popular Demand (Popeye’s)”

Clipse were bizarrely tentative and unsure throughout most of their last album, which made “Popular Demand” all the more thrilling. After 2008’s wanton abuse of the word “swagger,” I never wanted to hear it again but there’s no better word to describe the brothers Thornton’s arrogance on this track. Tossing off punchlines like peanut shells, Pusha and Malice shuffle words over a swinging Neptunes beat that combines buzzing synths and chintzy piano melody straight out of Rza’s playbook. It’s Cam’ron who steals the show though with a verse that’s practically one giant double tracked adlib, flipping a style that’s half imitation Jeezy half Cam 3.0. The soundtrack to a rap showdown at high noon, Popeyes isn’t the kind of track that’s made for the dancefloor, it’s the kind of the tune the DJ drops when someone important walks in the room.–Sach O

18. The Knux – “Fuck You”

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The Knux spent their 2009 listening to Raw Power, rocking every festival that featured falafel and women with armpit hair, and ingesting enough hallucinogenics to confuse New Orleans with New Mexico. Which would explain why Rah Al Milio’s hair is approaching Hendrixian volume and why the warped tape loop on “Fuck You,” sounds straight out of Abbey Road. Long obsessed with synthesizing the Cadillac music and Wu-Tang worship of their adolescence with the Strokes and Stooges fervor of their early adulthood, the brothers Lindsey produce a winning alchemy, casting aside the white girl gloss of their debut for the sun-split psychedelia of their present. Drums dredged from moats, mangled keyboards, and the disorienting high of the infinite California summer, The Knux produced this year’s sleeper summer jam–like chillwave if it happened to turn towards the hardcore. –JW

17. Cam’ron – “I Hate My Job”

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With scant jobs available and fewer jobs still with the potential for career advancement, young workers everywhere are feeling the crush of a lack of a certain future. So when Cameron Giles laments that “hope sits in a casket” on his zeitgeist-diagnosing single “I Hate My Job,” an entire generation, potentially robbed of their future by the greed and lack of foresight of its predecessors, nods solemnly in agreement. Over a stuttering catchy piano riff, Cam’ron’s “I Hate My Job” diagnoses the bitter resentment and apathy of Generation Y better than any song released since the global recession struck, lamenting: “All this bullshit for twelve bucks an hour/Plug Me To Chuck D, wanna fight the power/instead I light the sour before I go in the office.” A transformational single for the traditionally hedonistic and amoral rapper, Cam’ron spits some of his most humanist and empathetic rhymes of his career as he bitterly describes the resigned apathy of “the everyday working woman” and the self-destructive hopelessness of an ex-con trying to find a job. Remember the words of Cameron Giles before any hypocritical baby boomer attempts to accuse my generation of being selfish.–Doc Zeus

16. Wale – “TV in the Radio”

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On paper this track was a terrible idea. Pretentious indie rocker+African rappers=awkward post-racial gunk strictly for my H.I.P.S.T.E.R.S. Surprise, surprise! “TV in the Radio” is one of those rare super-group tracks where everyone keeps his ego in check and does what he does best. Dave Sitek’s boom-bap instincts are surprisingly sharp, delivering a stuttering drum pattern punctuated by clipped horns and rumbling subbass that could have only come from someone intimately familiar with Boogie Down Productions. Meanwhile K’Naan and Wale  sound like a more-fun new millennium Black Star. What should have been an awkward collaboration based solely on their respective African heritage instead feels like the most natural pairing in years, with Wale’s midrange contrasting perfectly with K’Naan’s sing-songy alto. In 2009, old rappers started teaming up for “dream projects” (and I use this term loosely) in droves to shore up their fan bases. Let’s hope Sitek, K’Naan and Wale don’t wait until they’re in their forties to bless us with a CD’s worth of this stuff. –Sach O

15. Flu (Blu + Flying Lotus) – “GNG BNG”

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One of L.A.’s best rappers hooks up with one of its best producers and magic happens. “GNG BNG” finds Blu hopping on the most overtly boom-bap beat off Los Angeles; the track’s ESG-by-way-of-LSD thump gives Blu a perfect jumping off point to weave a head-spinning web of punchlines and similes over the twisting breaks. Blu is at his prime here, abandoning the self-conscious Resurrection-reflection raps of Below The Heavens for jaunty play between robotic syllable chopping and freeflowing assonance. It’s the first vocal performance over a Flying Lotus beat to actually match the unearthly crackle of Lotus’s sound. And remarkably Blu still finds time to reference Scrooge McDuck, Rick James, the Dukes of Hazard, Parmesan cheese and queefing. –Aaron Matthews

14. The Lonely Island ft. T-Pain – “I’m On a Boat”

It was a rough nine months for Rick Ross. In July of 2008, the Officer Ricky photos were exposed. Then in February of 2009, the complete lunacy that is Ross’s entire musical oeuvre was exposed by a Jewish rap group that’s not even the Beastie Boys. Tough break, William Leanord Roberts the 2nd, but it’s quite the accomplishment that in an otherwise humorless year of music, a joke song could exist as a viable commercial entity, going gold and garnering a Grammy nomination. “I’m On a Boat” is superbly crafted, cleverly written, and just respectful enough of hip-hop tradition that it can be discussed critically. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is T-Pain mocking himself and the word “flippy-floppies” and nautical-themed pashmina afghans. Have some fun every once in a while, rappers.Trey Kerby

13. Method Man & Redman – “City Lights”

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The best part about rap music in 2009 was the spate of unexpected collaborations. From Quik and Kurupt, to Del and Tame One, to Dame Dash secretly purchasing stock in American Apparel and creating a soundtrack to answer Meth’s original question of “what exactly is a panty raid?”, the lack of funds, ease of  communication and transport meant that rappers were more apt to take interesting chances. Granted, pairing Meth and Red–the Eastern Seaboard’s #1 Ranked Stoners for 15 years running–with Bun B makes sense on paper, but Def Jam labelmates ate up all the spots on the first Blackout (or did you think Reggie Noble was a Ja Rule stan?) With Lyor Cohen more apt to bank on Rihanna than Redman these days,  “City Lights” found rap’s Cheech and Chong messing around with auto-tune and kicking red-eyed, trunk-rattling raps alongside Houston’s finest, complete with the ghost of Pimp C lingering for one last hook. I’m starting a petition to get Lawrence Ferlinghetti to make this his theme song. –JW

12. Ghostface Killah ft. Fabolous – “Guest House”

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Everytime I hear a Ghostface story rap, I think about what might’ve inspired the Wally Champ’s fable. Maybe it’s angel dust and funny ass weed carriers (see: the majority of Supreme Clientele). Maybe it’s repeat viewings of Ray on Starz (see: “Alex (Stolen Script)”). For “Guest House” off this year’s Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry, I’m pretty sure Verizon pissed off Black Jesus. Don’t think an all-time top 5 rapper isn’t immune to the cable providers; you might be a Ghost, but we’re only coming on Monday from 11am-5pm, mothafucka! With a beat twice occupied from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League via Def Jam (see Rick Ross’ “Yacht Club”), Ghostface got his Ready to Die on: epic rap cinema complete with vivid details, gunplay, internal questioning, and an ending that makes you think “I know this probably didn’t happen, but COULD this have really happened to someone in Ghost’s circle?” Every rap purist had to be overjoyed that Fabolous was reduced to a cable technician jumping out the window in his drawers after being pegged as “the black Adam and Eve, some sinful lovers”. “Guest House” makes me want to switch from Comcast to Verizon so I can casually proclaim on installation day that I’ll be getting a visit from a “FiOs mustache wearing muthafucka”. Thank you Ghostface! –Zilla Rocca

11. Rick Ross ft. Kanye West, Lil Wayne & T-Pain – “Maybach Music 2”

Featuring the lushest instrumental opening ever recorded for a rap song, “Maybach Music 2” is everything wrong with Hip-Hop… so why couldn’t I stop listening to it? A gaudy, overproduced monstrosity by an overweight, bearded, former corrections officer, “Maybach Music” is the best pop-rap money can buy and you can bet that Def Jam ponied-up something fierce to get Mr. West and Weezy to drop guest verses, not to mention T-Pain and his hundred layers of auto-tuned vocals. Give them credit though, from the swelling string crescendos to the Miami Vice saxophone line, the song blasts past the point of self-parody into a fantasy world so improbable that Rawse may as well be rapping about moving kilos on the back of a space dragon. Like Camp Lo (yes, I just compared Rick Ross to Camp Lo) Ross’ gangster surrealism is total fiction but taken as such, it’s as entertaining as any other focus-grouped mass-media product released this year. Who knows why Rick Ross still gets to release records, but as long as they feature the two hottest rappers of the moment, the game’s best hook-man, a top notch-ghostwriter and a six-figure production team, there’s no doubt I’ll be entertained by the results.–Sach O

10.  Freddie Gibbs ft. Pill – “Womb 2 The Tomb”

In 2009, Pill and Freddie Gibbs emerged as two of the most talked about rappers on the blogs. Whether or not it was a matter of undeserved hype is less important than the fact that both of them connected with a lot of people who had never heard of them prior to this calendar year. “Womb 2 The Tomb” and its gritty, graffiti-scarred video was a major reason why, a clip that captured two rappers who aren’t out to necessarily redefine their genre but rather work around it’s most common signposts to convey well-worn topics (getting paid, ducking death, dealing drugs) in a naked light that illumines their own unique sagas. They’re lyrical without being pretentious, hard without being audacious, and aware of convention but brazen enough to flout it.  Authenticity may be irrelevant but honesty will never be and I suspect Pill and Gibbs struck a chord with so many people because they felt more real than anything they’d heard in a long time, irrespective of whether or not they actually were. –JW

9. Camp Lo – “Son of A”

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Take Raekwon’s fly pelican mockneck butta suede tims slanguistics, add Doom’s emphasis on abbreviated song length for extended quality, toss in triumphantly funky post-College Dropout soul beats handled by Ski Beatz, and inject EPMD’s rhyme partners trade-off routine and you STILL don’t quite have Camp Lo in 2009. Unlike their revered colleagues, Lo-ah haven’t dominated the blogs, the indie thinktanks, the old school revivalist tours, nor the “grown man rap” movement that is giving a home to our former platinum heroes from the 90’s. And it doesn’t seem to matter to Geechie Suede or Sonny Cheeba. They’re having too much fun dropping projects every year like the superb Another Heist. “Son of a” is a snapshot of Camp Lo right now: a jittery wah-wah guitar with soul fever drums that would get your neighborhood Pretty Tone on his feet. Cheeba and Suede run down the list of fathers to their style: Willie D, the Black Panther Party, the D train, even the Jackson 5 when Mike was feeling euphoria. They’re not asking for Black Nostaljacks; they are “sons of the past, fathers of what’s to come, fathers of right now, Lo sons just begun.” —Zilla

8. Lil Boosie – “Loaded”

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Loaded” can mean too high, but it also means fueled–in the case of this song, it means both. The necessary supplies to get you through another session, and the wobbly disorientation you get when you start losing things and empathizing with Plaxico Burress. There’s a joyful resignation here, acknowledging a creative debt to a drug, but simultaneously singing its praises. In the first three minutes of the song Boosie demands blunts of train wreck and purple kush–it’s the only way he can keep rolling. Then the clouds in his head turn cancerous, his nose starts running, he sees ghosts of fallen friends, his deceased father Ivy hovering around him. It’s simultaneously a rock-solid endorsement and a damning condemnation, the stuff they didn’t tell you in DARE class, the truth. –JW

7. Kurupt & DJ Quik – “9 X Out of 10”

Like the urban legend concerning Mariah Carey’s voice and garage door openers, it’s a believable conceit that the volcanic bass in “9 X Out of 10” can cause seizures. An acquaintance once told me a story about the time that he was supposed to go to a party with DJ Quik, but first had to accompany him to the record store to purchase some re-mastered Prince albums. The moment they got back into the car and popped the CD in, Quik threw a temper tantrum at the desecration done to the Purple One, canceled plans to go to the party and forced said acquaintance to accompany him back to the studio, where he proceeded to remaster them himself for the next four hours, despite the fact that the acquaintance told him that they sounded perfectly fine in the first place. When he was finally finished, the product supposedly came out sounding pristine and the acquaintance had no idea how Quik did it nor how he’d detected the imperfections in the first place. That’s sort of how I feel about “9 X Out of 10.” I don’t have a clue how he made this beat, nor do I care. All I know is that turning it up really loud can cause Prince Myshkin moments. –JW

6. New Boyz-“You’re a Jerk”

Without “You’re a Jerk,” jerkin’ would’ve been confined to a minor regional dance that flamed out by the Winter Break of ’08. Instead, Ben J and Legacy’s best attempt at bonding a Cool Kids beat to cocky double entendres ended up spawning hundreds of dance crews, imitation rappers, and sent Asylum executives digging into their wallet with the insistence that this one would be bigger than snap, Houston, or hyphy. If perfect pop is one of the most trite terminologies extant, the New Boyz’s debut single is one of the few things worthy of the epithet, a minimal beat with the low end cranked higher than spaceships on Bankhead and a couple of 17-year olds too young to know that they shouldn’t be having this much fun and instinctively aware that they should never look back.--JW

5. Lupe Fiasco – “The National Anthem”

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In the Year of Our Hipster Rap Lords 2009, the prospect that a lyricist and unironic rock music devotee would finally decide to Jimi Hendrix “The National Anthem” seemed unattainable. Surely, a disposable mohawked Urban Outfitted neophyte who just discovered Radiohead via torrent would revel at the chance to “stand out” and “show these bloggers a thing or two” by spitting on Thom Yorke and company’s hardbody bruiser from 2000’s Kid A. Enter Lupe Fiasco. Recently considered “un-hot” by MTV, Lupe unloaded a murderball mixtape titled Enemy of the State in response. Only Chi-town Guevera could combine oh shit! emcee moments with Yorke’s grim oh, shit stanzas. “Health care hair, drive by thighs, education lips, HIV eyes, environment feet, justice get her so wet, brains get you brains, you can fuck her if you protest”. Every other rapper has now got the fear.–Zilla

4. Pill – “Trap Going Ham”

“Trap Goin Ham” is the tensest, most-claustrophobic rap single of the year and while much has been made of its accompanying video, the song really needs no visual. All the fucked up details of hood life are right there in the cut with Pill reporting live from a hellish Fourth Ward that’s threatening to boil over into bloodshed at any minute. Attacking the track with an aggressive flow that captures the paranoid, overworked, drug dealer lifestyle to a T; Pill was the perfect antidote for those equally sick of corny stream of consciousness swagger raps passed off as lyricism and metro-sexual Hypebeasts styling in GQ. Better still, the song’s beat is an uncompromising monster: 808 hi-hats, marching band horns, plucked strings straight out of a chase scene and of course, the Beastie Boys sample that got him in the New York Times. No autotune, no Euro-dance, no R&B vocals; just a cacophonous racket for the emcee to rip apart. Sounding like something that 1989 Dr Dre would produce if he were beamed 20 years into the future, “Trap Goin Ham” is the rare Hip-Hop single that remembers what a good hip-hop single sounded like before the advent of Rap & Bullshit. –Sach O

3. Mos Def – “Supermagic”

It starts with a prayer, segues into a snippet of Malcolm X, explodes into Oh No’s Turkish psych-rock boom-bap and before you know what hit you, Mos Def is BACK. Wilder than ever, he finally releases the unhinged, bluesy wildman persona he’s been hinting at since Rawkus’ marketing team labeled him an overly sensible backpacker, ripping into the track with an intensity belying his frustration with years of major label shenanigans. He raps! He sings! He Yells! Meanwhile the aforementioned beat by Oh No recycles one of the best moments on his underrated Oxperiment project, chopping up sun-drenched guitar and operatic vocals from the depths of Turkey’s acid-rock scene and transforming them into a pan-gobal soundscape for the Mighty Mos to do his thing on. Opening one of the year’s strongest full length rap releases, “Supermagic” is pure kinetic energy, the sound of Mos Def gaining his independence and telling the world he’s back and ready to kick ass. He knows that you cannot confuse him, bitches. –Sach O

2. Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah – “10 Bricks”

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Successful comebacks in hip hop are about as rare as rapping leprechauns are (See: Rakim; Seventh Seal). Thus the improbability of Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II” of escaping the dreaded Aftermath vaults is only matched by the improbability of the sequel to the most influential crack rap album of all-time being any good at all. It only takes two bars into Raekwon’s “10 Bricks” to know that Raekwon is back in the kitchen cooking up that “marvelous shit to get your mouth watering” again.

When Rae authoritatively stomps “Rapper step into me, they wanna brick, son/But I’m the Chef, my price is 26, son,” he’s serving notice that he’s back and ready to take back the legacy that was always rightfully his. He isn’t some mere, petty street hustler kicking cliche rhymes about selling drugs on the block. He’s the fucking supplier and you aren’t going to be getting his pure uncut raw for cheap. You’ll be paying full price. Over a gritty, metallic J-Dillla beat that sounds more authentically Wu-Tang than anything RZA has done in a decade, Rae, Ghost and Cappadonna trade fierce, vicious rhymes like it was 1995 all over again. Ghost being Ghost steals the show as usual but there isn’t a single person that doesn’t come off at the top of their game on this song. “10 Bricks” is a tour de force of anti-social, grimy New York hip hop at its finest. –Doc Zeus

1. Jay Electronica – “Exhibit C”

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Nas hit him up on the phone, said, “What you waiting on?” Tip hit him up with a Twit, said, “What you waiting on?” Diddy’s sending texts every hour on the dot, saying, “When you gonna drop that verse, nigga? You taking long!” The whole hip-hop world is waiting on Jay Electronica, the New Orleans-bred nomad, to drop the classic that literally everyone knows is in him. Over dramatically-triumphant production by Just Blaze (a man with the preternatural ability to make any rapper, let alone one who is actually great, sound like a god), Jay Elect composedly goes over his own backstory, homeless and sleeping on trains, all stoned and existential, gaining and losing money from shooting dice.

Not since “Nutmeg” has someone with a pop guard in front of his face sounded so larger than life, but where Ghostface created a classic rap song through stream-of-consciousness poetry written in jail, Electronica uses a dexterous and percussive flow to drop crazy scientific metaphors, ingest rappers and defecate their jewelry and tungsten wedding bands, squint his eyes at fake gangsters (“You sound real good, and you play the part well/But the energy you giving off is so unfamiliar”), and– probably greatest of all– evokes that nostalgic feeling of the days before rap became a cash cow and was primarily the world’s most exciting artistic medium. Reverend Run rocking Adidas out on Hollis Ave, indeed. On “Exhibit C”, Electronica crams so much intelligence, so much experience, so much heart into one song, that it’s easy to see why the whole rap world– from the bloggers all the way up to the legends– are doggedly checking their watches and tapping their feet, impatiently waiting on pins and needles for Electronica to deliver his full-length debut. And that, my friends, is how an incomplete version of a radio-ripped track became the best rap song of 2009. Abracadabra. –Douglas Martin