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The Year 2010 in Review
Author: Guido Stern

I was disappointingly un-thorough in my listening to 2010's hip hop offerings, though from what I did hear, it was certainly no banner year anyhow. Pulling together a top five (let alone ten!) list was admittedly difficult, but the year did see the emergence of a couple of ridiculously talented artists as well as the unexpected major-label signings of J. Cole and Jay Electronica. Below is a top ten attached with the caveat that there were a handful of well-reviewed albums I either missed or gave only a cursory listen to.

10-6, in alphabetical order:

Big K.R.I.T. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here
Drake Thank Me Later
Freddie Gibbs Str8 Killa EP
Guilty Simpson & Madlib O.J. Simpson
Reflection Eternal Revolutions Per Minute

K.R.I.T. and Gibbs were two of the most promising surprises of the year, the former an intelligent, multi-talented artist in the likeness of Pimp C, the latter an instinctive gangster rapper with the chops of someone much older and wiser. Drake's debut is entirely listenable and yet frustratingly superficial, though still head-and-shoulders above comparable debuts from Kid CuDi and Wale.

5. The Roots How I Got Over
Much more languorous than their past few albums, The Roots manage still to consistently turn out quality, genre-pushing hip hop.

4. Gorillaz Plastic Beach
I was proselytized by "Stylo" but it's unexpected pleasures like the silly "Superfast Jellyfish" and rueful "On Melancholy Hill" that make the album so effective.

3. Big Boi Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
The ostentatious, ridiculous title could not be a more accurate precursor for the sheer immensity of Big Boi's long-awaited sophomore album. "Shutterbug" and "General Patton" have likely caused their fair share of deafening road accidents, while more regal, subdued tracks such as "Be Still" and "Turns Me On" provide ballast.

2. Das Racist Sit Down, Man
Decidedly not for everyone, I will nonetheless defend the two Wesleyan grads to the grave no others hip hop artists have married intelligent, dually internal and external genre critiques to seasoned lyrical dexterity like Das Racist. They're equally likely to reference Guru Dutt as J Dilla as S.E. Hinton as Camu Tao. They love to experiment with repetition ("Ask two questions, one: who da kid? two: who da kid?") and are refreshingly unafraid to point out the absurdness of both hip hop's conventions ("Illuminati in my mind, soul, and my body pause") as well as its listeners ("white people, play this for your black friends // black people, smack them"). And while one could understandably be irked by the potential smugness of it all, they're hilariously self-deprecating (Vic offhandedly refers to himself as the "second best Latin rapper with bitch hair"). If nothing else, they cram so many references, over-baked punchlines, and free association wordplay into every verse that one can listen to the mixtape and find new pieces to deconstruct every time. In a time when the Internet provides a seemingly bottomless influx of new music, this sort of labored complexity is easy to appreciate.

1. Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Really nothing to say which hasn't already been said.

Originally posted: January 4, 2011

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