You’ll notice Kid Cudi and K’Naan made both lists, but couldn’t land the top spot here because Raekwon stuck to his hip-hop roots. As an overall album, I like Cudi’s better, but Raekwon owned this list from a hip-hop perspective.
5. Drake – So Far Gone Mixtape
Arguably one of the most successful mixtapes in the past few years, Drake earned radio play (“Best I Ever Had”) and a deal with So Far Gone. Having some high profile guests like Lil’ Wayne, Trey Songz and Bun B certainly helped, but Drake holds his own. On tracks like the grimy “Uptown” and hopeful “Successful”, I often hit rewind to dissect the many metaphors/similes Drake spits. He also has an ear for indie beats when ripping thru Santigold’s “Unstoppable” and coolly utilizes his sing/rap flow on Lykke Li’s “Little Bit”. Even bonus track “Congratulations” is worth a celebration with Coldplay sample and freestyle-eque flow.
4. Clipse – Til The Casket Drops
Grimiest twin brothers in the rap game come back with another gem of an album, no surprise there. The real surprise is Pharrell letting Clipse branch out with producers like Sean C & LV and No ID with great success (see “Kinda Like A Big Deal”, “Freedom”). Pharrell still manages to make the duo shine best on his beats though. “Popular Demand (Popeyes)” sounds like a more polished hustler’s anthem a la “Grindin'”, while “Champion” has confidence the duo have earned. They even churn out a solid party jam with the help of Ms. Keri Hilson on “All Eyes On Me”.
3. Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
For the record, I’m a fan of Kingdom Come and American Gangster…but Blueprint 3 is the Shawn Carter I’d rather hear. There isn’t much not to love on Jay-Z’s 11th studio album: 1)Great guest appearances from Kid Cudi (“Already Home”), Alicia Keys (“Empire State of Mind”), Rihanna & Kanye (“Run This Town”). 2)Sound production from Timbaland (3 tracks), Pharell, Kanye (6 tracks) and No ID (5 tracks). 3)Typical and underappreciated wordplay (see “The Reminder”, “D.O.A”). My current favorites include the mockingly boastful “Thank You”, the elder statesman chatter over Timbo’s menacing beat on “The Reminder” and the slick “Already Home”. Its hilarious how he jabs at the “camel” reference:
Now these n-gga’s is mad, oh they call me a Camel
But I mastered the drought, what the fuck i’m an animal
2. Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon: The End Of Day
Like I said at the top, this album leans in all directions, not just hip-hop. Kanye West basically blew the doors off what is traditionally hip-hop with 808’s and its nice to see someone else carry the torch that might bring hip-hop in new directions. Man On The Moon: The End Of Day takes listeners on a trip through the mind of Scott Mescudi. The musical flow is about as moody as Cudi’s recent exploits, rants and indecision…in a good way. Party mode is in full effect on “Cudi Zone”, “Poke Her Face” and “Enter Galactic”, while other tracks range from menacing (“Solo Dolo”) to trippy (“Alive”) to problematic (“Soundtrack to My Life”). Ratatat has been known for crafting great instrumentals, but their production on “Alive” and “Pursuit of Happiness” truly shines. I’m not sure what you call the guitar sound their production emits, but I can’t get enough of it. The album ends on a hopeful note with the bouncy “Up Up and Away” capped with narration by Common that says “The end is never the end, a new challenge awaits”. Hopefully, Cudi’s next challenge takes shape of a new album in 2010.
1. Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx II
The Chef made exactly the album that Wu Tang fans have been salivating over for years. The mafioso/hustlin’ stories and grimy, dark and cypher ready beats make Only Built For Cuban Linx II sound like it was released not long after the original. JDilla posthumously produced some of the album’s best tracks in “House of Flying Daggers” and “10 Bricks”. Many people were hoping for the much talked about Dr. Dre produced album and the lone Dre-helmed track “Catalina”, will probably have fans asking for more. Raekwon utilizes a laid-back flow that combined with Lyfe Jenning’s hook and a dark piano sounds downright epic. The Alchemist-laced “Surgical Gloves” is quickly becoming an underground favorite as Rae tells of fearless schemes and hustles amid the stuttering beat. I’d certainly like to hear those “8 million stories” he speaks of.
Top Hip Hop Albums #10 to #6