I probably shouldn’t even list these as “top hip-hop tracks” because I really haven’t heard everything in the world of hip-hop this year. Drake caused every rapper to want to do a decent mixtape, or put out a song a week or whatever. There were a lot of new artists in the rap game this year. Some were covered here, but I’ve missed a lot I’m sure. These are my favorites of the mass amounts of hip-hop/rap I did hear though. Feel free to let me know what I missed (again, apologies to Brother Ali and Wale).
13. Asher Roth – As I Em
You knew Mr. Roth would get the inevitbale Marshall Mathers comparisons just by looking at him. Then you hear the similar tone of voice and multiply the correlations by 1000. Either way, “I Love College” aside, I believe Asher Roth can spit. “As I Em” addresses the elephant in the room directly with poignancy and head-nodding manner. The Chester French feature was a nice touch as well.
12. Drake – Uptown ft Bun B & Lil’ Wayne
Was there a grimier beat than this in hip-hop in ’09? I’m not sure there was. The southern bounce that emitted from “Uptown” was part Houston screw and part New Orleans bayoo, so its only fitting that Lil’ Wayne and Bun B help out newcomer Drake. Plenty of quotables here, but my favorite might be from Bun B: “I wrote this on my iPhone/so let me drop this ibomb, I palm/The game like it’s a spalding ball and take flight/From the free-throw line and slam it down like I’m the great Mike.”
11. Killer Mike – I’m A Fool
This might be a little biased based hearing this song at that start of my first summer in Atlanta. But there is something about driving thru Mid-town at night while listening to this bass heavy track. Killer Mike (or whatever hes called these days) might never be one of my favorite emcees, but he and Big Kuntry King drop slick, down south flavored rhymes on Nard & B’s grimy production.
10. Cam’Ron – I Hate My Job
I can’t believe that there will be 2 Cam’Ron appearances on this list, but my distaste for Mr. Giles was at an all time low in 2009. “I Hate My Job” showcased one of Harlem’s finest doing what he does best, spitting stories via stuttering and off the wall bars. Its kind of interesting to hear an emcee make a modern day hip-hop song for the working man. Troubles include background checks, lunch breaks and money troubles over a fitting piano-filled backing.
9. Drake – Forever ft Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West and Eminem
“Last name Greatest, first name ever”. I don’t know about that, but the best posse cut of 2009 came from Drake and co. I still say Eminem had the best verse. Why Relapse didn’t sound anything like the Marshall Mathers we heard here is beyond me.
7. Kyle Lucas & Captain Midnite – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Reason #5,087 that we need a Kyle Lucas solo LP. The lyrics on the most of the I Brought Dead Flowers To A Funeral EP sound heartfelt and emotion-filled, but this track might have the most pain attached. My appreciation for Captain Midnite‘s production also skyrocketed based of this song alone.
7. Mos Def – Auditorium ft Slick Rick
Its been awhile since I’ve heard anything memorable from the three parties involved: Mos Def, Slick Rick and Madlib. All three sound on point on this effort. Mos Def gives educated street poetry, while Slick Rick narrates the story of a soldier’s encounter with a local Iraqi bring two different views of the street together. Madlib’s shadow-filled beat is the perfect stage for these two artists’ wordplay.
6. Clipse – Popular Demand (Popeyes) ft Cam’ron
Its amazing how Pharrell can go from producing pop hits to some of the grittiest hip-hop tracks you’ll ever hear. Like I said before, “Popular Demand” sounds like a more polished “Grindin'”. Almost as if the accomplished hustlers came back to the block just to show that they made it. Even Cam’ron’s crazy ass gets in some slick lines with a retarded flow on this bass heavy track.
5. Royce Da 5’9″ – Shake This
DJ Premier and Royce Da 5’9″ link up again in masterful fashion. “Shake This” takes you through the rise, fall and re-birth of Mr. Nickel Nine. From birth to problems in Detroit to an unexpected jail sentence for DUI to a graphic and sometimes reflective 1st day out of the pen. Royce’s lyrcisms seems even more poignant over Preemo’s knack for digging in the soul crates.
4. Kid Cudi – Pursuit Of Happiness ft MGMT & Ratatat
When I saw “featuring MGMT and Ratatat” on the tracklisting for Man On The Moon: End of Day, I knew what would be one of my fav. songs of the year. Cudi party anthem lyrics sound celebratory on a first listen, but there is also anxious and leery words that most likely mirror his true worries about solitude with new fame. Ratatat’s moody production and brooding guitar punctuate the emotional tension of the track. There is defintely something for hip-hop and indie fans to like on this cut.
3. K-OS – 4,3,2,1
I couldn’t stop listening to “4,3,2,1” when I first heard it. It subtly crept into my mind more times than I could count. Just uttering those numbers backward brought on the eerie voice sample, the scratching and midtempo bouncing beat. Thats not even counting K-OS’s stellar lyrics (first verse about a troubled relationship, second verse questions more violent encounters). I still don’t know why this guys hasn’t blown up worldwide.
2. Raekwon – House of Flying Daggers ft Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah and Method Man
Vintage Wu Tang cut that sounds like a a session from Enter the 36 Chambers. Everybody sounds focused on this JDilla produced beat (even Inspectah Deck!), but the way Ghostface destroys it sticks out in my mind.
1. Big Boi – Shine Blockas ft Gucci Mane
There is always someone who comes along and shakes up bloggers’ end of the year lists with a Q4 release. This year it was Big Boi’s turn. Much like “International Player’s Anthem” sold me on a soul-sample used to perfection in ’07, “Shine Blockas” did the same in ’09 (via Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes “I Miss You”). Now if we could just get his solo LP to drop, I’d be fine with re-organizing my best of hip-hop albums lists.