Yes, I’m aware that this is a month late. I never said punctuality was my strong suit. (That would be rambling, stoned gibberish. ) Look for the best 10 non-rap albums sometime next week.
10 (tie). Nico the Beast-No Beast So Fierce
Genre purists and anyone weaned on that mid-90s school of savage rhymes spit over sidewalk-splitting beats will undoubtedly find something to like on South Philly-raised Nico the Beast’s debut. Thanking Brother Ali, Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz in the liner notes, the Beast is very much in that mold: a baritone bruiser, capable of blazing any cipher with a bevy of different flows that he’s only now learning to master. Coupled with No Beast So Fierce and the impressive Feed the Beast promotion, Nico’s as technically gifted as any young subterranean rapper out there.
10 (tie). Danny!-And I Love H.E.R.
And I Love HER might not be perfect. Like most hip-hop records, it has too many skits and it’s too long. Moreover, its overarching concept is stolen from a Common song and at times, 24-year old Danny Swain has a bit of an imagined persecution complex. But these are ultimately minor quibbles, as the record marks the transformation of the South Carolina-based producer-MC from someone worth watching into probably the best new artist that Def Jux has signed in recent memory (uh, take that Yak Ballz?). With And I Love Her, Danny found a perfect balance of convincing, female-friendly love songs, nimble fast raps for the heads and all-world summer jam, “The Groove,” an easy lock for my year-end top 10.
MP3: Danny!-”The Groove”
9. Kidz in the Hall-The In Crowd
Like too many of their peers, The Kidz are quick to borrow rather of innovate, relying on stolen hooks and an all-star support squad of everyone from Camp Lo to El-P to Bun B. Yet The In Crowd remains a very solid sophomore effort, featuring jeep-jolting beats and impressive guest turns. Think of it as an indie hip-hop version of The Documentary, with competent raps layered upon a familiar foundation. To put them over the top, the three remixes of the already stellar, “Drivin’ Down the Block,” (including an El-P version and a West Coast G-Funk version) turned the cut into an anthem worthy of Masta Ace himself.
8. Nas & Green Lantern-“The N**r Tape”
As Ian Cohen so aptly put it in his Pitchfork review of Untitled, “the 18 months since Hip Hop Is Dead have gone a long way towards proving Nas wrong….[But] he’s gotten the message this year, producing an excellent 21st-century record that balances political powder kegs, audacious Escobar floss raps, complementary beats, and genuine inspiration. Unfortunately, that record was the far superior DJ Green Lantern Presents: The N**r Tape, whose songs are sadly underrepresented on Untitled. ”
Also, I have probably said the line, “I just want to roll a b-l-u-n-t and watch BET” more than any other sentence this year.
ZIP: Nas & Green Lantern-“The N***R Tape” (Left-Click)
7. Bun B-II Trill
Pimp C’s shadow hangs albatross-like over his partner’s first solo record since his death last December from a sleep apnea brought on by a cough syrup overdose. Despite being mostly finished at the time, Bun found time to pen the moving, “Angel in the Sky,” which transcends its overly sentimental title with poignancy and eloquence. Meanwhile, “Get Cha Issue” wields a nuance and political potency rare in not just hip-hop but music itself. While derided in some quarters for lackluster beats, II Trill manages to strike a balance between a moving tribute and great Texas trunk-rattling drive record.
MP3: Bun B ft. Lil Wayne-“Damn I’m Cold”
6. The Roots-Rising Down
Rising Down might not be the Roots’ finest moment on wax. Hell, most people ignored it (including me), writing it off as just another Roots album. Yawn. But it’s a solid if not workmanlike effort from the Legendary crew, with Black Thought, ?uestlove and company continuing to test out new strategies, even if said schemes suffered from woefully horrific, thankfully excised guest spots from the dude in Fall Out Boy that didn’t knock up Ashlee Simpson. Of course, it won’t make you put away your copy of Illadelphalflife (nor your organic free trade cup of Honduran java, hippie). But just because The Roots might lack novelty doesn’t mean that they don’t remain one of hip-hop’s most formidable outfits. (This, of course, being hip-hop’s most formidable “outfit.” On a related note, how is it possible to out-ugly a shirt that looks like Mondrian vomiting?)
MP3: The Roots ft. Styles P & Mos Def-“Rising Down”
5. EMC-The Show
The Show is about humanity, it’s about regrets, it’s about the concept of small victories resting uncomfortably next to failures. Those looking for ephemeral flash and outrageous braggadocio should look elsewhere. Arguably the most emotionally honest rap record made this year, each the rappers in eMC are well-aware of their personal and career failings. Yet rather than gratingly complain or make reductive “too smart for the masses” arguments, they possess a sort of fatalistic resignation gained from the vicissitudes of existence. The Show is a sober document cataloging the the struggles inherent in trying to eke out a living in a failing industry, one punch-drunk on youth and danger.
MP3: Emc-“Winds of Change”
4. El-P: Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixx2
At this point, it seems like there’s no piece of smooth sheet metal that El-P couldn’t twist into a fun-house of apocalyptic contortion. No sunny personality he couldn’t glare into dyspepsia. No bright day he couldn’t murk. It’s a lot to handle, but ultimately, it’s none of my fucking business. Artists should be allowed to be artists and regardless of whether you love or hate the guy, it’s tough to deny that his paranoid, neo-Bomb Squad wall of noise is as sonically innovative as anyone in hip-hop, 2008. The Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixx Vol. 2 channels My Life in the Bush of Ghosts done by someone convinced the Nazis could kick down the door at any moment. Maybe less original than the canonized Eno/Byrne collaboration, but no less awesome.
MP3: El-P-”Mike Douglas”
3. Metaform-Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Hewing to the instrumental hip-hop template that Shadow established over a decade ago, Metaform flips dusty samples and cinematic dialogue to great effect. ”The telephone” mines Weird Science for excellent results, crackling boom-bap drums pop and a gauzy stoned haze washes over you, ideal for users of the tangerine haze. Along with Dilla’s Donuts and Blockhead’s Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book, this is one of the best hip-hop instrumental albums in recent memory.
2. Wale-The Mixtape About Nothing
From “The Opening Title Sequence,” where Wale flows over the gurgling Seinfeld bass line, to “The End Credits,” Wale’s songs burst with ideas. The guy’s got an opinion on everything from the myriad problems facing the rap world to the press to illegal downloading, to the DMV and how its possible that Eddie Murphy could get a wife, ex-wife and baby mother all in the same year. Whereas it could easily come off as sub-emo whining, Wale succeeds because of his ability to reconcile contradictions. He’s moral without being moralizing, he’s smart but not nerdy, he’s critical but not conscious. The Mixtape About Nothing isn’t just a great mixtape, it’s a great record, the rare rap album capable of transcending genre and improving with repeated plays. Not only is it a high-water mark for the mixtape medium, but it also sets the bar for the next generation of rappers.
Not only is Europass the best rap record since at least The Big Dough Rehab, it provides a strong argument for the Motor City being the vital nerve center of hip-hop. Handling 75 percent of the production, Black eschews the sunshine organicism of post-Native Tongues Dilla, for a darker, metallic vision. This is the rusting, twisted metal of post-glory days Motown. Tracks like “That’s the One,” “Fire” and particularly, “Talkin’ In My Sleep” find him conjuring the sound of ice and cold Detroit steel. Drums pop like cars backfiring in a pounding rain. Soul samples are splintered into oblivion. If the Bomb Squad and El-P are the overt soundtrack to urban decay, Milk is the subtle alternative, with music less explosive than it is haunting. Fellow Motown native, Elzhi plays the perfect foil, tackling Milk’s tempestuous soundscapes with that rare chemistry found in the great duos: Cl Smooth & Pete Rock, Guru and Premier, Marley Marl and Kane.
MP3: Elzhi-” Talkin’ In My Sleep”
On the Bubble
Lil Wayne-Tha Carter III-Some of the year’s best moments but just too many terrible ones to crack the top 10.
Cool Kids-The Bake Sale EP- Fun but ran out of gas towards the end.
Vast Aire-Deuces Wild- Just call Vordul and El-P, Ok?