I gave 2007 a 4.5 out of 10. Then, last year, I gave 2008 a 7.5 – so what of 2009? How did this mighty year score, one in which pretty much everyone – except Dr. Dre (obviously) and a mid-divorcing Nas – rushed to release albums before the decade ended? Actually, a few others ended up sitting it out too. Kanye West took a break to concentrate on making increasingly average beats, whilst improving his abilities as an MC after everyone bitched about his Auto Tuned singing. The Game, as per usual, licked his wounds. Lupe Fiasco delayed his “LASERS” album – a shame, since it is shaping up to be something special (we hope). Lil Wayne did his usual pantomime act… “IT’S BEHIND YOU!” Actually no, “Rebirth” is on the net, months ahead of the official drop date (with pretty savage pre-reviews).
There were some HUGE stories this year. Eminem returned, seeing out the decade as the highest selling musician full stop, any genre (and they say hip hop is dead, pah!). Jay-Z is back on the commercial gravy train with an album that divided opinion, but is still selling more healthily than any other Jigga effort for six years. Slaughterhouse got together to make everyone feel like the mid-90’s were coming back. Raekwon ACTUALLY made everyone feel like the mid-90’s never left. 50 Cent and the Clipse released albums for the first time in what seems like forever (but is only just a few years). Yet, the real heroes were the ones that quietly went about their business and CONCENTRATED on the MUSIC. It has been an almost exhausting year, with countless releases – part of me recognises that this is a good thing, yet I still yearn for the resurrection of the “visionary Executive Producer” to help direct artists, and take a hold of quality control. Would you be more likely to buy: TWO albums with six wicked songs out of a total of thirty tracks, or ONE album with twelve great numbers, full stop?
My score for this year? Well, the Top 10 list you’re about to read involves ten albums which I really listened to A LOT this year, and that hasn’t happened for a long, long time. So, by default, 2009 gets an 8.0 from me. But judging by how many releases there were, especially from artists with millions upon millions stacked up in their cookie jar, it could and should have been at least a 9.0. When an artist like Kage Sparks can make a really great debut on literally about one hundredth of the budget of 50 Cent and Jay-Z, those experienced guys need to step their game up and draw inspiration from the young hungry gunners. Where will hip hop be in 10 years time? Who knows, but so much has happened this decade that I would rather just sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy New Year, and I hope the next ten years bring you less of what you dream of, and more of what you need. Peace!
SORT OF HONOURABLE MENTIONS FOR 2009
Albums from people like 50 Cent, Wale, Method Man & Redman, Gucci Mane, Fashawn, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Cam’Ron, Fat Joe, Freeway, the Alchemist, Slaughterhouse, Royce, Joe Budden, Fabolous and Rakim all deserve honourable mentions for at least having seen the light of day. Most of them were average/shit, whilst the other few were good but not quite there, although admittedly I haven’t listened to a few enough times (like Brother Ali and Fashawn) who may otherwise have crept in. Sorry to them, but I’ve had a pretty crazy year.
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2009
10) DJ Quik & Kurupt – “BlaQKout”
An album so simple in execution, but enjoyable, and a very late entry into my top 10. I’m not going to lie and say that I will be listening to this album in ten years time, and perhaps if I’d got off my backside and listened to this Brother Ali dude and a few others I missed, “BlaQKout!” wouldn’t have made it. But I liked it, it had cool beats from a legendary producer, surprisingly decent rhymes, was short and free of filler.
9) Eminem – “Relapse”
It’s funny. I went through thinking “Relapse” was rubbish, then good, then great, then good, then rubbish, then good. Marshall spits some weird but interesting flows, and Dre was kinda boring. But even if it resulted in an album that was disappointing, I kept on listening to it, and had an affinity with a guy trying to go back to his roots to sharpen up his sword before slicing the fuck out of everyone else – something I’m quietly confident “Relapse 2” will do nicely.
8) Clipse – “Til the Casket Drops”
Read what I said about “Relapse” – almost everything there applies to TTCD. The thing is, a 7.5 (or whatever) Clipse album is still more listenable than the 290 other LPs released in 2009. Plus songs like “Freedom” – which may well be one of their very best songs ever – helped to prove it was no dud, just a bit confused. Also, I kinda cheated and made a playlist in iTunes that cut out the crap songs, which made me listen to it TONS more.
7) Major Lazer – “Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Do!”
A return to the good old-fashioned summer album, where – you guessed it – people listened to an album that made them FEEL GOOD in the SUMMER. This album was brilliantly executed, and clearly I didn’t listen to it through headphones once. No, I ROCKED the SHIT out of it REALLY LOUD whilst driving my car! For like two months straight!! Diplo and Switch provided some sick riddims whilst Islanders strong-armed the listener into submission. Nuff said.
6) Dizzee Rascal – “Tongue N’ Cheek”
I would love for every American hip hop fan to listen to this album for a week, and see what they thought. First of all, you won’t get all the UK references. Dizzee’s voice may annoy you. He isn’t a traditionally great lyricist/rapper. But TRUST that this is his well-deserved party album, with eleven songs that kick the ass of most US commercial hip hop from the last three years. Songs like “Dance Wiv Me” and “Bonkers” and “Holiday” and “Dirtee Cash” and “Can’t Tek No More” and… Well, pretty much every song is brilliant and whilst he isn’t a great rapper, he is a brilliant MC. There is a difference, and you would spin this continuously, believe me.
5) Kage Sparks – “The World Is My Block”
Last year, Grip Grand dropped “Brokelore” and it topped my list. This year, Kage Sparks released his debut, and it was superb. You will probably not have heard of either artist, but there are some rappers out there that FEEL like major label MC’s in everything but name. So much effort and talent has gone into TWIMB, and it shows a glimpse of promise that the next decade will be just fine for hip hop. Cool beats underpinned his brilliant lyrics, and his sophomore effort should be even better.
4) Mos Def – “The Ecstatic”
Another example of my blatant cheating-by-creating-an-iTunes-playlist-removing-wack-songs behaviour. Did I underscore Mos Def’s mos recent effort? No – the WHOLE album still feels like a 6.5 but if this had only been nine songs plus an intro, I probably would have scored it an 8.5 or 9.0. Go debate the merits of negative scoring versus positive marking. Go, go. I’ll be here listening to “Auditorium” on repeat. An international album that I listened to in Spain, Italy, the UK, the USA and everywhere else in between.
3) Raekwon – “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2”
Right, let’s get this out of the way. I actually PREFER part 2 to the first one. Shocked? Well, honestly, I just think it is better, more well-rounded, impressively structured, with real emotional resonance and a keener sense of pacing/rhythm – plus, you know, Robert De Niro is in it.
2) Busta Rhymes – “Back On My B.S.”
Oh shit, here we go, Jesal has been on the crack pipe again. The fact of the matter is that in the previous fifteen years of his career, you would have had to have force me AT GUNPOINT to buy a Busta album, unless it had “Greatest Hits” written on it. But, and I’m still not sure what, something convinced me to take a chance on BOMBS. And I’m so glad I did – it is just SUCH an enjoyable album, from start to finish, especially when you add (whilst nobody is looking) the remix of “Don’t Touch Me” and “I Got Bass” to the bonus track “We Made It.” Sure, like Dizzee Rascal, he will never win Lyricist of the Year. But (as you will see in my top pick) that isn’t everything. The beats are superb, trumping most other albums this year. And yes, there is Ron Browz with his Auto Tune – but look, eight years ago, he produced “Ether” and THAT is the real reason that Jay-Z hates him and his Auto Tune. I think. Either way, I don’t really care about being judged for picking it as my number 2 album of 2009, because it genuinely was the second most listened to album of the whole year for me. My brain does recognise that “OB4CL2” is better, for sure. But if you dismiss BOMBS, it really is your loss.
1) Kid Cudi – “Man on the Moon”
Let’s get this out of the way. Kid Cudi is a BAD singer, and an even WORSE rapper. But (and this is a big ol’ giant “but”) he is a BRILLIANT song-writer, and that trumps everything else. And frankly, in a year where you or I could have rapped better than Jay-fucking-Z over his shitty “Blueprint 3” tracks, who the hell are any of us to argue against anything rap-related anymore? This is an artist – and I use that in the 1970’s way, when the term actually meant something – who can strike a chord that melodically GETS you right by the heart-strings, kind of like Kanye West’s first couple of LP’s. I do concede that it would have been technically better if someone had ghost-written at least his rap verses – and by someone, I mean my fourteen year old cousin – but that would have taken away from the undeniably goofy charm of stupid lines like “Shut your mouth before I fuck it” which (somehow) helped the listener to CONNECT with the artist. Also, it is one of the best produced albums this entire decade, both musically and executively. The artist himself maybe nowhere near on the same technical or global level as Kanye West or Lauryn Hill, but “Man on the Moon” has a similar self-exploratory feel to “College Dropout” and “The Miseducation of…” and I will DEFINITELY be listening to this album in ten years time.