2008 was no 2007, but the year that brought The Cool and American Gangster was the closest the game has been to 1994 yet in awhile. However, 2008 did bring forth a new class of MC’s ready to show they can take Hip-Hop in a new, diverse direction (see Asher Roth, KiD CuDi, Kyle Lucas, Wale, The Cool Kids, B.o.B., Charles Hamilton, Izza Kizza). My 2008 top Hip-Hop releases is a little different in the fact that I included mixtapes. Hip-Hop has gotten to the point that putting out quality mixtapes is the only way to get noticed and build a solid following. If you put out a buzz worthy mixtape, than you can prove to labels that you might be able push commercial units in the “death of the cd” era.
8. Young Jeezy – The Recession
Ask anyone who I converse with about my hip-hop tastes, Young Jeezy has never been one of my preferred MC’s. He has always had solid beat selection, A-List guests, but never delivered lyrically. Until The Recession. I’ll gladly admit Jeezy’s 3rd album was one of my favorites of the year. He’ll never be in the same class as Kanye (“Put On”), Nas (“My President Is Black”), or Jay-Z (“Put On” remix), but if Def Jam will take care of the guest fees, he won’t need to be.
7. T.I. – Paper Trail
T.I.’s last opus (before he does a short prison bid for having a weapons arsenal in his trunk) was his most pop-friendly yet, but also one of his most reflective. Unlike the concept album that wasn’t, T.I. vs. T.I.P., Clifford makes the most of his free time with high profile guests. Rihanna and Just Blaze gave T.I. his biggest radio hit to date on “Live Your Life”, while JT crafted a soon to be burner with “Dead & Gone”. T.I. is lyrically at his best though on Danja’s “No Matter What” and among heavyweights on “Swagger Like Us”. 4 years ago, if you would have told me T.I. would have the best verse on a track with Jay-Z, Kanye and Lil’ Wayne, I would have laughed at you.
T.I. – Whatever You Like (Discotech Remix)
6. Paper Route Records – Fear & Loathing in Hunts Vegas
There wasn’t a grimier, bass pulsing release in 2008 than Alabama’s collective, Paper Route Records. Paper Route Records has an army of rappers reminiscent of No Limit Records (“Bama Gettin’ Money”, “Wood Grain”), with themes taking a page from “Tear Da Club Up”-era Three Six Mafia (“Real Good”, “Naturalz”). Boasting excellent production (Block Beataz, Diplo, Emynd) and a can’t miss Wale appearance (“Don’t Go”), its easy to see why Fear & Loathing in Hunts Vegas has been in heavy rotation in my car.
Paper Route Records – Wood Grain
5. Lil Wayne – The Carter III
It is a huge feat to sell “A Milli” in one week in the “death of the album” era, but I’m not ready to call The Carter III a classic. It was certainly Weezy’s best, but it doesn’t measure up to Reasonable Doubt, Aquemini, Ready to Die, Illmatic, etc. Baby finally let Lil’ Wayne experiment with some new producers (Just Blaze, Play ‘n Skillz, Kanye, David Banner) and results in Wayne’s most well-rounded album yet. But if you look at the rest of The Carter series and Tha Block Is Hot, its about time. Weezy’s lyrical growth is evident on tracks like “Mr. Carter”, “Dr. Carter” and “Let the Beat Build”. However, no matter how much pop success “Lollipop” and “Mrs. Officer” achieve, songs like that keep Mr. Carter from attaining All Eyez On Me and The Fix type respect.
Lil’ Wayne – A Milli
4. Nas – Untitled
There was a lot of hype for the planned album title, but it kind of got lost in the shuffle when it was released according to Def Jam’s rules. Most of Unititled sounded as though Nas was back on his grind. The confidant lyricist (“You Can’t Stop Us Now”, “Queens Get the Money”) was still there and so was the storyteller/poet (“Chicken Fried”, “Black President”). However, a track like “Make the World Go Round” sounds more Nas Escobar than Nas and contradicts the overall message. Its not perfect but this addition to Nas’ resume proves he is still one of the G.O.A.T.s.
Nas – Hero (ft Keri Hilson)
3. KiD CuDi – A Kid Named CuDi Mixtape
Without a doubt, my favorite upcoming rapper is KiD CuDi. His sing-song flow (“Dat New New”) may be reminiscent of others that have used the approach (Kanye, Nelly, etc), but KiD CuDi attacks it from angles Hip-Hop usually shys away from. Based on the theme that CuDi is a rapper from another planet (“Embrace the Martian”), eccentricity allows him to express his feelings as an outsider (“Man On the Moon”) and drug-induced depression (“Day’n Nite”). “Heaven at Nite” and “Down and Out” only furthered what was one of the most engaging releases of 2008.
KiD CuDi – Man on the Moon
2. Wale – Mixtape About Nothing
Mixtapes are usually about nothing, so I can see why someone would be mislead by Wale’s Mixtape About Nothing. The Seinfeld-inspired disc (it even has a real guest appearance by Elaine) has material ranging from the pitfalls of commercial hip-hop (“The Perfect Plan”, “Artistic Integrity”) to racism (“The Kramer”). Even the obligatory freestyle (aptly titled “The Freestyle”) is worthy of a replay. Seinfeld has to be the least likely theme for a hip-hop mixtape ever, but it deservedly caught the attention of many. Look out for Wale’s Mark Ronson helmed proper debut in 2009.
1. Kanye West – 808’s & Heartbreaks
Many purists probably don’t view Kanye’s latest as “Hip-Hop”, but he doesn’t care and neither do I. Kanye gets extra points for branching out and growing as an artist. Few stars in the rap game take that chance and few have the ego that Kanye has to pull it off. 808’s & Heartbreaks is Mr. West’s public confession (“Heartless”), cry for help (“Say You Will”), guilt session (“Welcome to Heartbreak”) and dark age (“Love Lockdown”). Auto-Tune may not be new, but if it allows Kanye to sound futuristic while expounding upon the past, I’m fine with it.
-The Roots – Rising Down, Kyle Lucas – Kyle Lucas Is Still My Favorite Mixtape, The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale, Kidz In The Hall – The In Crowd