Saturday, January 3, 2009

2008 Recap - Hip-Hop's Top 10

I posted this in the comments section over at The Smoking Section on New Year's Eve, right before I came up with the bright idea of doing my own blog. I figured I'd repost it just because. Plus, I added my top 10 songs cause I really like lists.

Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums Of 2008
10. I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II - Killer Mike
Like the title of his debut suggests, Killer Mike is a monster. On IPATTGII, we find Mike at the top of his game with his rhymes & flow at their sharpest, as always, spitting the ghetto gospel as if his life depended on it. His most focused effort to date, Mike's raw delivery, along with his talent for painting ultrarealistic pictures with his bars, lend an air of credibilty that allows the album to transcend it's average production & merely servicable supporting cast.
9. It Is What It Is - A.B.N.
I don't know whether they've been underrated or simply overlooked, but it makes sense for cousins Z-Ro & Trae to reunite as A.B.N. (Assholes By Nature) for my pick for sleeper album of the year, "It Is What It Is". Sticking to what they do best, Ro & Trae continue to deliver double time flows & slowed down, soulful hooks over stripped down Texas style production. It's the modern day blues & A.B.N. deliver a project that solidifies their standing in the Houston underground while still being accessable enough to appeal to a broader audience.
8. Tronic - Black Milk
Tronic may be the album that forces the mainstream spotlight on Detroit. While it's drenched in producer Black Milk's signature Rock City sound, it's also progressive enough musically that you can hear the seperation from the Dilla school of beatmaking into something that's rooted in the underground scene but sounds modern & glossy all at the same time. Black Milk may not be as skilled of an MC as some of the guests on "Tronic" (ie. Royce Da 5'9", Elzhi, Sean Price , etc.), but he manages to hold his own & not be completely overshadowed either. Simply put, Tronic is too dope to front on & has crossover appeal with out blatantly "selling out".
7. Tha Carter III - Lil' Wayne
The strangest album since "Dr. Octagon", Kool Keith's free associative classic, the third installment of Lil' Wayne's "Tha Carter" series is the culmination of Wayne's undeniable dominance over the Hip-Hop scene over the past couple years. The most appealing thing about the album is the apparent freedom Wayne has this go around, allowing him to indulge all his eccenrtricities regardless of public opinion. Graced with some of the finest production of his career, Weezy is uncompromisingly the same MC from the mixtapes, cocksure, brash, & at points, most certainly off his rocker. Over the years since "Tha Carter II", Wayne's flow has grown far beyond his "Hot Boyz" days, maturing into a whirling tornado of metaphors & non sequiturs, but there's still a level of innate intricity to what he does, as evidenced on standout tracks like "Dr. Carter" & "Tie My Hands". There are a few attempts of introspection, but none really offer any true insight, so while this is one of the years most entertaining albums of any genre, it lacks the profundity which would truly set it apart from the pack.
6. Paper Trail - T.I.
With all his legal troubles from '08 being well publicized, "Paper Trail" does a good job of touching on the issue without dwelling on it, but therein lies it's main drawback. With a few exceptions (ie. "Ready For Whatever", "Slide Show" "No Matter What", "Dead & Gone") this album is mostly devoid of the introspection one would expect from T.I. after such a tumultuous year. Instead it's been replaced with the most radio friendly material of his career. For every track where "Tip" tries to shine through, there are three others where "T.I." is in full superstar mode. Though he doesn't disappoint lyrically & the album has very few missteps, it comes off vapidly compared to the T.I. of old. Even the track aimed at his rivals, "What Up, What's Happenin'", lacks the fire & venom of similar fare from the past. For any other MC, "Paper Trail" would be a fine addition to their discog, but in T.I.'s case it just comes off as a psuedo-inspirational bid for commercial success. Although I'm sure it's totally unintentional, "Paper Trail" is the depiction of duality that "T.I. Vs. T.I.P." aspired to be.
5. Theater Of The Mind - Ludacris
If theres one thing Ludacris has proven with this album is that his success in film hasn't made him complacent when it comes to his other job. "Theater Of The Mind" is the celebration of an MC who has achieved a certain status in the Hip-Hop game & he's invited all his famous friends to join the party. Although it doesn't quite deliver as a concept album, it does succeed in delivering a theatrical experience, with nearly every song featuring A-List features & production. Straddling the line between critical & commercial success, 'Cris manages to make music that is decidedly mainstream without losing any of the wit or wordplay that he came in the game with. With each release, Luda has made an effort to broaden his appeal & while "Theater Of The Mind" may not get you any closer to understanding who Chris Bridges is, it's still one of those rare albums that actually has a lil' something for everyone.
4. The Renaissance - Q-Tip
Yeah, I know what I said back when this first dropped, "The Renaisance = Amplified"*, & that's still true for the most part. Thing is, I really liked Amplified & after hearing it a couple of times, I realize I really like The Renaissance. I wouldn't try to compare it to any of the Tribe albums, but at the same time it's an album made for Tribe fans, especially those who were turned off to the more uptempo sounds of his previous effort. Though he may not be as lyrical as he was in his Tribe days & the subject matter is hardly anything groundbreaking, Tip still succeeds in cementing his status as one of Hip-Hop's elder statesmen by being present in the now instead of living off the accomplishments of his past.
3. The Death Of Adam - 88 Keys
The concept album in Hip-Hop. An undertaking many have accepted but few have truly delivered on (ask Ludacris). Producer 88 Keys "The Death Of Adam" succeeds where few concept albums do, it sticks to the concept. The album is the story of "Adam from Uptown" & how all his encounters with women lead to his untimely demise. The first thing you'll notice about this album is the excellent production by Keys, it's resemblence to Kanye West's early works should come as no surprise, being that 'Ye is Keys best friend & co-executive produces the album. Bursting with horns, strings, samples & soul, "The Death Of Adam" offers a sonic experience unlike any other album in '08. A dark comedy in tone, the album finds Keys (an admittedly green MC) rapping & singing on a bunch of songs to varied results. It's the albums guest stars (ie. Kanye West, Redman, Phonte, J*Davey, etc.) that really give life to Adam's narrative. In all, as good as this project is, it's 88 Keys' 1st solo release & one can sense that this is merely the tip of the iceberg for a truly talented producer.
2. Untitled - Nas
Let me preface this by saying that this is a mature album, so if you're looking for glorified tales of gangsterism or a soundtrack to "Dougie" to, this probably isn't the album for you. Instead, Nas sets about on the ambitious undertaking of tackling the issues of race in America through his music & for even mustering the nuts to challenge his self in such a way is commendable. With this album, Nas returns politically charged rap back to the mainstream with his most focused effort since "Illmatic". Nas has always been at his best with a chip on his shoulder & a focal point for his rhymes & "Untitled" provides both, spurring him on to delivering some of the most insightful lyrics of his career. If anything holds "Untitled" back from fully realizing Nas' vision is the somewhat understated production, with the exception of Polow the Don & Cool & Dre's contributions. While the lowkey soundscapes allow the listener to fully focus on the depth of the lyrics, they sometimes drone on, losing the listener in the process. But this merely a minor criticism, because the songs themselves are so poigniant without being preachy, that for the most part Nas' message manages to be heard despite the music around it. Last album, Nas proclaimed that "Hip Hop Is Dead", but "Untitled" shows that Hip Hop still has a strong pulse & artists like Nas are the reason why.
1. The Recession - Young Jeezy
As an artist that's made a career outta reporting from the trap, Young Jeezy manages to venture further out this time around & delivers his stellar 3rd LP, "The Recession". Sonically as dark as ever, "The Recession" is a return to the minimalist synth heavy production of his debut & a departure from the more polished/sanitized sound of "The Inspiration". Though some of the tracks do have similar instrumentation, it only adds to the cohesive sound of the album overall. No one has ever mistaken Jeezy for a lyricist & while the occasional clunker of a couplet sneaks through, there is a definite improvement from "Thug Motivation 101" to now. Young Jeezy manages to stick to his usual script without becoming monotnous, at the same time he's taken steps towards expanding his sights past the block. The main knock against Jeezy from critics has been his lack of substance, and using the recession as a binding theme, Jeezy manages to add a layer of depth to his songs without sacraficing the rawness that fans have come to expect. The "Trap Life" that Jeezy lives in his lyrics may be reserved for real-life D-boys & the denizens of "The Wire", but everyone can relate to the frustrations of $5.00 gas & past due bills. While his 1st two albums were supposed to motivate the streets, "The Recession" serves as a soundtrack for anyone in the day to day grind, from the corner to the corner office.

Top 10 Mixtapes Of '08
10. Elephant In The Sand - G-Unit
9. The Nigger Tape - Nas
8. It's Charles Hamilton - Charles Hamilton
7. Public Domain III - Max B.
6. The Mixtape About Nothing - Wale
5. The Confessional - Bishop Lamont
4. Adam's Case Files - 88 Keys
3. Hi, My Name Is B.O.B. - B.O.B.
2. Bigger Then The Mayor - Rich Boy
1.The Road Till' The Casket Drops - The Clipse

Top 10 Songs Of '08
10. Stay Up ft. Kanye West - 88 Keys
9. Love Don't - C.R.A.C. Knuckles
8. Wish You Would ft. T.I. - Ludacris
7. Hands High ft. Big Pooh - Vandalyzm
6. Brooklyn Girl - Charles Hamilton
5. A Millie - Lil' Wayne
4. No Matter What - T.I.
3. 88 - The Cool Kids
2. Gotta Believe It - Saigon
1. Day N Nite - KiD CuDi

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