Last year, you may have found me starting off my YIR ’07 with a rant at how WHACK hip-hop had been – in regards to albums, not singles. When looking back on 2007, only the Top 3 records on my list actually made an impression on me – “The Cool” and “Kala” getting beaten out by “American Gangster.” However, at least all three of those were straight-up classics.
This year, the trend reversed, and we’ve seen a huge number of major artists come out fighting on behalf of the album (albeit to the detriment of the singles). To put it into context, only a few artists like 50 Cent and Jay-Z DIDN’T release major albums – pretty much everyone else in the entire world of hip hop did… That’s big. But how many classics have there been this year? Again, not too many – but at least hip hop flexed its muscles, and a lot of very solid LP’s made it through. If hip hop in 2007 got a TOTAL Vibes score of 4.5 out of 10.0, then the 2008 score would be a much healthier 7.5 out of 10.0 – not a vintage year, but a definite step in the right direction. Anyway, enjoy the list and have a great 2009! Jay Soul.
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2008
10) Sway – “The Signature LP”
This just about creeps into the Top 10, although that may say more about the artists that missed out. A solid album, recommendable too – but we were expecting more from such a talented MC, and after a pretty long break. Some great songs hindered by poor sequencing.
9) Outerspace – “God’s Fury”
An excellent album in the mould of Army of the Pharaohs – yet with added emotional depth and genuine feeling. A strong offering from Outerspace.
8) Roots Manuva – “Slime and Reason”
The sound of a UK legend relaxed and completely in the zone to make superb music, and possibly his most consistent album to date. Very good stuff and a touch more diverse than the other LP’s on this list.
7) Brooklyn Academy – “Bored of Education”
This was one of those albums that with 10% extra in it, would have been declared a classic – it was that close. Still, it can still be considered one of the strongest releases of the year, and a well-balanced effort that is strong as iron. Wicked.
6) T.I. – “Paper Trail”
The first half of any T.I. album is always pretty awesome, with the second half being tired. That trend almost continued with the excellent “Paper Trail” – but then up popped “Swagga Like Us” and “Dead & Gone,” two titans that helped prop up the latter parts of what has probably become T.I.’s international breakout album. I pointed out in my review of Sway’s latest LP that he lacked the DNA that T.I. shares with other top rappers – the ability to coast through an average album, then suddenly burst into turbo and knock out a cast-iron classic, and Tip demonstrates that very well on “Paper Trail” on a number of occasions. He really does seem to step his game up year after year and learn from his errors.
5) Nas – “Untitled”
Being a Nas fan is just a straight up chore. Here you have probably the greatest lyricist of all time, continually flowing over average beats. Yet we never learn our lesson, and always hope that THIS time, history will miraculously change. Well, it is safe to say that it didn’t. But who cares? On “Untitled,” he delivered such a legendary lyrical performance that you could, for once, forget about the tepid music. Actually, I care – this album deserved classic music, and didn’t get it, hence sank pretty soon after the release. Plus it got shown up by “The Nigger Tape” – a mixtape that was probably better than the actual album… Oops. Being a Nas fan is just a straight up chore…
4) Lil Wayne – “Tha Carter III”
This time a year ago, I knew so little about Weezy that I used to confuse him with Lil Flip. Thus I went into my review of “TC3” with fresh ears and no prejudice at all – and came out acknowledging that he was indeed a unique and talented artist. Whilst not perfect, he somehow managed to find success by throwing 15 different styles at a record and seeing what stuck. In a three-song sequence, he went from “saving” hip hop on “Dr Carter,” being an alien on “Phone Home,” and creating beauty from tragedy on “Tie My Hands.” This year probably belongs to Lil Wayne, and deservedly so. Yes, I’m shocked I’ve said that too. But in a year when there were many strong albums but few actual classics, this at least stood out from the crowd.
3) Q-Tip – “The Renaissance”
Another LP where the first half is flawless, but the second part is ever so slightly erratic. Otherwise, probably the most welcome release for hip hop heads this year – plus “Gettin’ Up” was one of my Top 5 songs of 2008. I said in my review that you could give “The Renaissance” to a music fan of ANY genre, and they would love it – I tried this in real life, and the theory panned out. Everyone loved it, and the mood it created. Not all my theories pan out, though – the death of Auto-tune, British summers, capitalism… You win some, you lose some. After 9 years out, Q-Tip came correct and definitely won out.
2) Elzhi – “The Preface”
If this had been a lean and mean eleven track LP, it may well have claimed the top spot. Mind-boggling rhymes from Elzhi, incredible beats from Black Milk (who is finally stepping up as a genuine contender to the throne that Dilla vacated) and some genial concepts. That’s not even mentioning “Motown 25” – one of my Top 5 songs of 2008. Yet after the halfway point, it just seems to drag on a bit, and it can be tough to get through the entire album in one sitting with 100% concentration. Emilee Woods also hit the nail on the head in her excellent review with the “emotional connection” line. Still, a fantastic LP.
1) Grip Grand – “Brokelore”
I have only had two genuine moments of panic this year. The first was when I realised that I gave LL Cool J’s “Exit 13” an 8.0 (nope, I’m not quite sure why I did either). The second was looking back on all my scores throughout the year, and discovering that the ONLY 9.0 I gave was to “Brokelore” – but listening back on it 8 months later, I feel vindicated. For everyone that is slightly bored of all the corporate rap being rammed down our throats, and who just want dope beats and rhymes from a talented MC, this is actually worth your money. An excellent album from an artist that I never would have heard of, were it not for RapReviews – so I’m happy to do my part and shine the light on Grip Grand. Superb.
THE MUST-OWN COMMERCIAL SONGS OF 2008
Q-Tip – “Gettin’ Up”
Dizzee Rascal – “Dance Wiv Me”
T.I. ft Rihanna – “Live Your Life”
Wiley – “Wearing My Rolex”
Lil Wayne – “A Milli”
The Game ft Lil Wayne – “My Life”
Beyonce – “Single Ladies”
Lupe Fiasco – “Hip Hop Saved My Life”
Ne-Yo – “Miss Independent”
Nas – “Hero”
Flo Rida ft T-Pain – “Low”
Lil Wayne – “Lollipop”
Fat Joe – “I Won’t Tell”
Estelle ft Kanye West – “American Boy”
50 Cent – “Get Up”
Sway – “F Ur X”
Young Jeezy ft Kanye West – “Put On”
Elzhi ft Royce da 5’9″ – “Motown 25”
Snoop Dogg – “Sensual Seduction”
Sway ft Akon – “Silver & Gold”
Kardinal Offishall – “Dangerous”
T.I./Weezy/Yeezy/Jeezy – “Swagga Like Us”
Usher ft Young Jeezy – “Love In This Club”
Lloyd ft Lil Wayne – “Girls Around the World”
Wiley – “Cash In My Pocket”