I think the hip-hop albums list gets tougher each year. Last year, the caliber of mixtapes that came out (see Wale and Kid Cudi) warranted placement on the list. This year, artists like Kid Cudi, Mike Posner, Drake and K’Naan made albums/mixtapes that encompassed more than just hip-hop. So this year, EPs were added to the consideration set and the list was based the hip-hop element of each album. Apologies to Brother Ali and Wale, who I’m sure would have made the cut, but I didn’t get a chance to hear the albums (yet!).
10. Lil’ Wayne – No Ceilings Mixtape
Album Weezy is all well and good, but Mixtape Weezy is so much more appealing. Dwayne Carter destroys just about every beat he touches on his latest mixtape, No Celings. No one is safe from Jay-Z (“D.O.A”, “Run This Town”) to Noreaga (“Banned From TV”) to numerous one hit wonders. Sure there are some misteps (see the weak “I Gotta Feeling” interpretation “No Ceilings”), but you can’t tell me he didn’t shred “Swag Surf” and “Run This Town”.
9. K’Naan – Troubadour
Talk about a come from nowhere surprise. I saw K’Naan perform a couple songs at Lolla ’08 and was hyped for more after hearing an early version of the socially conscious “Take A Minute”. I had no idea he would craft an album that I listened to more times than the new K-OS. I wouldn’t say its the best hip-hop album this year, but it had great re-playability. “Somalia” gave an interesting look into K’Naan’s home country, while the aforementioned “Take A Minute” and “Dreamer” recognize problems, but the need to have outlets for those issues. Much of the Troubadour has loads of pop potential (“Take A Minute”, “Bang Bang”, “If Rap Gets Jealous”) that I’m not sure why A&M didn’t capitalize on. A song like “Bang Bang” not only had a Adam Levine feature, but a hook that was near infectious.
8. Royce Da 5’9″ – Street Hop
Its no Death is Certain, but Street Hop is still a focused Nickel Nine. It probably helped that the album was executive produced by the legendary DJ Premier and it shows. Premo has always produced the best tracks for Royce (see “Boom” and “Hip-Hop”) and has two of the best tracks in the relaxed, but potent “Something 2 Ride 2” and lyrically engaging “Shake This”. Its also nice to hear Royce destroy the mic in true MC fashion on the rapid-fire “Dinner Time” and “Count For Nothing”.
7. Kyle Lucas & Captain Midnite – I Brought Dead Flowers To A Funeral EP
While Auto-Tune deservedly caught a lot of heat after it was used so well on 808’s & Heartbreak, there were a select few artists (Lil’ Wayne, Bon Iver, Discovery) that used it right. Kyle Lucas and Captain Midnite did their best to create their own Kanye magic and it definitely worked. Fresh off a painful break-up, there was no better time for Kyle to fly west to link up with Midnite in Seattle. What came out of that trip was a chemistry that I can only hope warrants a sequel. Six tracks that showcases Kyle’s wicked wordplay and diverse production from Midnite. Kyle has mentioned that it was his own version of 808’s and songs like “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “Dead Flowers” bring to light emotional vulnerability and Mr. West would be proud of.
6. Mos Def – The Estatic
From the get go, Mos Def’s The Ecstatic jumps back into the hip hop conversation. The intro, “Supermagic” sets things off right with a machine-gun style flow and things just continue from there. The dark “Twilite Speedball” sounds like the grim reaper’s point of view of the Brooklyn streets, while “Quiet Dog” has the bounce of a corner cipher. The Ecstatic is enjoyable in its entirety, but for some reason Mos Def shines brightest among guests. Slick Rick ‘s verse on “Auditorium” stands out amid Madlib’s superb beat, but Mos’s bars might be some of his best on the album. “History”‘s Talib Kweli feature only echoes fan’s wishes for a Black Star reunion. Lets make that happen.