10. Qwel and Maker – “Owl”
Committed to their third album, this Chicago duo has only matured through the years. Qwel of Typical Cats and DJ Maker construct a creative union while balancing elaborate lyricism with subdued beats, yet still remaining inventive.
9. Atmosphere – “To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy”
Seventeen years going strong, Slug and Ant are veterans in the hip hop community; many still cannot compare to their unmatched talents. Slug’s nostalgic lyricism provides insight on life as his stories unfold in your head. Ant takes on a grimier, edgy sound while enhancing Slug’s narrative skills.
8. Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and HiTek) – “Revolutions Per Minute”
It’s been ten years, but Talib Kweli and HiTek finally reunite to continue where they once left off. Signature political rhymes from Talib Kweli and HiTek’s multitalented production skills were worth the wait.
7. Gorillaz – “Plastic Beach”
Constantly pioneering in innovative sounds and complexity, Gorillaz always keeps it appealing to their audience. This time around, Gorillaz is less pop driven and more intricate in sound as they include an eclectic list of guests including Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, and Mos Def.
6. Kanye West – “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
Kanye has made a comeback after “808s and Heartbreak” as his lyricism has gotten more superior and his production less muted. With choice guest appearances and less auto tuned tracks, Kanye has definitely matured as an artist.
Amp Live still maintains his variety in production while introducing a new dub sound as emcee Zumbi continues his unmatched delivery in his lyricism. Live instrumentation and introspective lyricism fuels this West Coast jewel.
4. Nas and Damien Marley – “Distant Relatives”
Hip hop meets reggae as two musical giants assemble. Inspired by their ancestry, the duo keeps their culture in mind, while remaining true to their individual inspirations.
3. M.I.A. – “/\/\ /\ Y /\”
M.I.A. isn’t quite a rapper, but instead, in a genre all her own. She’s boasts her own kind of distinctive artistry with her disorienting, but intriguing sounds and continues to push the limit with her political lyricism.
2. John Legend and The Roots – “Wake Up”
Smooth R&B skills and soulful hip hop beats are perfect complements to each other even when it’s fueled by political motives. Incorporating ideas and sounds from the 60s and 70s activism, Black Thought shines with his lyricism as well as incorporating guests including Common and CL Smooth.
1. The Roots – “How I Got Over”
Television fame hasn’t gotten to this group quite yet. Their signature jazzy sound and melodic, yet powerful lyricism still resonates throughout their music. Even after two decades, they are a powerhouse that people still continue to talk about and celebrate. They return to the basics and beginnings of where they once started as they once again embrace true soulful sounds.