Published Nov 22, 20091. Raekwon
2. Mos Def
8. J Dilla
10. Kid Cudi
1. Raekwon Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II (Ice H2O)
It took 14 years, but Raekwon the Chef filled the orders of hungry fans, serving them a much anticipated second helping of 1995's classic album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. "The fans are the ones that been constantly wanting this album to emerge, so I definitely did this one for y'all," says Raekwon. "At the end of the day, any project I was going to give you next, I was going to put my all into it, but this one is definitely dedicated to the fans, first and foremost."
While maintaining the griminess of the original by bringing back the theatrical gangster saga, part two differs from part one with its broad range of producers, including Dr. Dre, J Dilla, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, Alchemist, and Scram Jones. "I wanted part two to be a little different from part one," says Raekwon. "RZA did all the production on the first one ― alright, that's cool ― but part two is like going to the movies: You don't want to see the same thing all over again. I'm a big fan of all these different producers, and I can tell when somebody is really excited for me and want me to win and got what I need. These are the dudes that came with that."
Also on part two is the bittersweet Ol' Dirty Bastard tribute "Ason Jones," produced by the also departed, J Dilla. "He was one of our greatest entertainers on the planet, when it came to representing real hip-hop," says Raekwon. "I looked at Dirty as being a hype man, a producer, an MC, an entertainer ― everything. I just miss him, man. That's why I made the song about him."
2. Mos Def The Ecstatic (Downtown)
After the disrespectful waste that was 2007's Tru Magic, Mos Def returned this year a force inspired, offering up his most concerted effort in years. Flush with a mesmerizing assortment of mind-twisting arrangements from the mental playgrounds of Madlib, OH NO, Chad Hugo and others, this was a musical gift the BK MC thankfully did not let go to waste. From his deceptively disjointed lyrical stabs, to the sweetness found in watching him finesse his wordplay around the record's myriad orchestral turns, Mos shines throughout and reminds us all of the reason we still keep a light on for this former hip-hop deity.
3. Jay-Z The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation)
Jay-Z's 11th, trilogy-closing record, Blueprint 3 was initially met with mixed reaction due to its consistent, yet seemingly less hungry, content. But the success of the gushing, NYC anthem "Empire State of Mind" (which spawned knock-offs from Toronto to Texas) kinda nullifies the "irrelevant" argument. Sure there's less of the gritty, rags-to-riches storytelling that set Jigga apart from the purely jiggy set. And there's definitely more commercial production. Still, this doesn't diminish the 40-year-old's eloquence and insanely captivating delivery. Blueprint 3 may not be Hova's crowning moment, but it cemented his longevity by proving he no longer has to prove anything.
4. DOOM Born Like This (Lex)
In a year packed with many a dope rap album, DOOM (aka the Metal Faced-Villain) set himself apart with the highly anticipated full-length Born Like This. Jam-packed with his signature head-scratching non-sequiturs and excellent boardwork from the likes of the late J.Dilla, Madlib, Jake One and himself, the Atlanta transplant produced a modern day alternative rap classic that definitely stayed true to the flavour of his back catalogue while simultaneously raising the bar for his next releases. Check the space-age organ strut found on "Microwave Mayo" for an idea of why the man demands you use "all CAPS when you spell the name." He's earned it.
5. K'Naan Troubadour (A&M)
The high energy drums and powerful poetry that made The Dusty Foot Philosopher so respected are employed again by K'naan on his second studio album, Troubadour. With so many artists clamouring to work with the Somali-born, Toronto resident, half of the album has K'naan acting as a vessel, channelling the various vibes of artists like Chubb Rock and Mos Def in a fine harmony with his own sound. He breaks away by himself to deliver some the moist poignant tracks including "Somalia," "Take a Minute," and "Fatima," all of which make Troubadour a remarkable second chapter in K'naan's odyssey.
6. D-Sisive Let the Children Die (URBNET)
D-Sisive's debut full-length continues to delve into his relationship with his parents and how their deaths affected him, but he also takes time to creatively critique the current state of hip-hop and the thug mentality that surrounds it. D-Sisive's flow is more conversational than conventional and his approach to writing demonstrates his willingness to ignore a rhyme scheme in favour of telling a story. On the other hand, these beats are more traditional, creating a mood that is lighter and less oppressive.
7. Eminem Relapse (Aftermath)
From the sleeping-pill collage cover art to drug references ad nauseum, Relapse is bottled as the brain sharts of a psycho fleeing from rehab, gobbling Vicodin by the handful. But Eminem's first effort in five years ― a half-decade in which he divorced his wife (again), nearly overdosed and lost his best friend ― only touches on the dour personal content that marked his last and worst-received LP, 2004's Encore, and a proper Proof tribute is strikingly absent. Instead, Marshall relapses to Slim Shady LP mode, rhyming for the sake of riddlin'/Ritalin and letting Dr. Dre prescribe the beats. Crazy good.
8. J Dilla Jay Stay Paid (Nature Sounds)
The second posthumous release by the late Detroit producer, the mostly instrumental Jay Stay Paid was constructed from J Dilla's unreleased beat tapes. Excellent features by the likes of Raekwon, MF Doom and Phat Kat break up the instrumentals, but the beats are the main attraction. Encompassing Dilla's love for Detroit techno, airy soul samples and vintage electronics, the album showcases James Yancey's stunning versatility, consistency and innovation as a producer. Jay Stay Paid is a worthy crowning ceremony for the king of beats.
9. Q-Tip Kamal The Abstract (ZLG/Battery/Red)
Less than a year after resurfacing with The Renaissance, the former front-man for A Tribe Called Quest dug in the crates to finally release an album that had been shelved since 2001. If anything, the delay has only added to the album's allure, as Q-Tip's foray into singing and full-on live jazz instrumentation admirably shows no signs of wear and tear. Loosely groove-oriented and lyrically intimate, Kamaal the Abstract is a successful interrogation of what the conventions for an MC should be from a pioneering figure who has usually taken the path least travelled.
Del F. Cowie
10. Kid Cudi Man on the Moon: The End of the Day (GOOD)
With its mix of complex rhymes, often angsty lyrics, and unorthodox, off-kilter beats, Kid Cudi's full-length debut is hip-hop's best attempt at psychedelia in years. Cudi spends most of Man on the Moon taking his audience on a tour of his psyche while riding haunting, ethereal beats, examining everything from childhood trauma to deep-seeded feelings of alienation. Sure, he occasionally lightens the mood with tributes to the great things in life, like magic mushrooms and oral sex, but Man on the Moon is less about getting head and more about taking long, winding head-trips.