Right off the bat let me tell you my top ten is more than just ten albums.
No, it's not because I don't know how to count, it's because this was an
incredible year for hip-hop, and music in general, and I thought it only
right to shout out at least a few extras. Yeah yeah, I know, it's a
recession, you can't buy everything. That's cool, but it's always nice to
have more options, right? With that in mind here are a few albums there
were great, but didn't quite make my top ten. They're the NCAA bubble teams
who's fans totally have legit arguments for being in the tourney even
though they were the last one's bumped from the bracket.
PremRock has always had one of the most incredible voices in NYC's hip-hop
scene, and Willie Green has always been one of the best producers in that
same scene, so it only made sense that eventually they'd work together. The
fact that they created an entire album together is something hip-hop fans
should be thankful for. A fantastic, true school, hip-hop album, PremRock
and Willie Green's self-titled project falls under the heading of a
"definition" album. By that I mean if someone ever asked you what good
hip-hop sounds like you could play it and it would define it for them. The
only thing better than hearing this album is seeing them perform it live.
If you get a chance to, do it!
When you mix hip-hop and rock together you sometimes get a horrific mess
that makes 3OH!3 sound like Beethoven. When it's done correctly, however,
you get an artist like Notar, who seamlessly weaves the two genres together
on his full length debut, Devil's Playground. I think the real key to the
entire thing is that Notar doesn't let one definition of "rock" dominate
the album. There are high energy songs, but also slower, ballad-like
tracks. The ebb and flow creates a much better listening experience than if
he had just used one form of rock. Rhyme-wise Notar is incredibly on point.
He honed his skills in some of NYC's toughest freestyle spots and it
definitely shows. This is one Devil's Playground you'll want to play in.
8) Theophilus London - Timez Are Weird These Days
It's hard to admit this, but Theophilus London is one case where the
hipsters got it right. Dude is just dope. London has a great flow, and his
sound is a really cool mix of hip-hop, dance, and soul. There's also an 80s
pop influence in his work. I actually thought he was a European artist the
first time I heard him. Maybe his last name had something to do with it,
but I think the decidedly Euro feel to his music also led me to that false
conclusion. This should tell you a lot about his vibe - he's not hung up on
traditional American genre categorizations. Timez Are Weird These Days is a
fun, funky ride worth taking.
7) Sketch Tha Cataclysm - IRDIFGM 2
I've been a fan of Sketch Tha Cataclysm's work for quite a while now and I
have to say, even though I've thoroughly enjoyed his previous albums, Indie
Rappers Do It For Gas Money 2 is a huge step for him. The musicality is on
another level and many of the songs have potential crossover appeal. I'm
not saying they aren't decidedly hip-hop, just that songs like
"Re-Introductions Aren't Necessary But Fuck It," "Love Is," and even "Get
Over You" could reach a wider audience. Remember how The Fugees' Blunted on
Reality had "Mona Lisa" and "Vocab" to attract those who might not realize
they like hip-hop? You have that vibe with this album. It can easily be a
gateway album. By the time folks will have gotten to "IRDIFGM" at track
nine it will have made them a fan of hip-hop and Sketch.
6) Everlast - Songs of the Ungrateful Living
Everlast has created his own unique position in the music world as the guy
who can croon throaty, political, blues songs as a solo artist, and cocaine
fueled raps as a member of La Coka Nostra. Both are fantastic projects.
This year's blues release, Songs of the Ungrateful Living, features
Everlast at his best. After criticizing then president George Bush on
2008's Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford, Songs of the Ungrateful
Living sees Everlast taking a few shots as president Obama. The most in
your face being "I voted for some change and it's kinda strange / now it's
all I got in my pocket." As a whole this is a fantastic storytelling album
based in the present day as Everlast, who once ordered us to "Jump Around,"
has become the unlikeliest of generational griots.
5) Us3 - Lie, Cheat & Steal
A lot of people thought Us3 disappeared off the face of the earth after
their 1993 smash Hand on the Torch. The only disappearance they made,
however, was from the US airwaves. They've been pumping out great albums,
eight of them, in fact, over the past 18 years. Their eighth, this year's
Lie, Cheat & Steal, features Us3 mastermind Geoff Wilkinson laying down
some fantastically funky/jazzy beats for emcees Oveous Maximus and Akala to
rhyme over. The result is a soundtrack to the revolution that's currently
going on in the streets of London, on Wall Street, and all over America.
Thought provoking, and toe tapping, Lie, Cheat & Steal is the kind of
hip-hop album that's a throwback to when the music could make your body
move while the lyrics simultaneously made you think. It's something very
few can accomplish, but Us3 did to perfection with this.
4) Jonny October - The Wheelhouse
Jonny October came out of nowhere for me, which is odd since he currently
resides in Brooklyn and I work with A LOT of Brooklyn emcees. I first saw
J.O. a handful of months ago at a show in Connecticut. I dug his
performance, but I didn't realize how much I dug it until I saw him perform
at the same spot again a few months later. The music was still familiar to
me, and it felt really good. To create that kind of connection with only
one listen is really impressive. Jonny October is a storyteller and The
Wheelhouse showcases that ability perfectly. Throw in the fact that he has
production by J.J. Brown and guest appearances by the likes of Louis Logic
and Homeboy Sandman, and all signs point to Jonny October being something
special, which he is. When you look at him you may not instantly think
"emcee," but once you've heard him you'll probably be like me and wonder
why you hadn't heard of him before.
3) Astronautalis - This Is Our Science
Much like Everlast is an emcee who doesn't necessarily rap all the time,
Astronautalis is a hip-hop artist who raps far more on stage than he does
on his albums. That being said, with This Is Our Science Astronautalis has
finally captured the frantic energy of his live shows on CD. Effectively
mixing the melodic and the manic, This Is Our Science is an album that
showcases what hip-hop can do when boundaries are stretched by a really
talented artist. Sure, some purists will say he's singing a lot of the
time, but as he'll point out, the lyrics are still structured in hip-hop
rhyme form. In other words, it's a hip-hop album that even non-hip-hop
heads can enjoy. At times even throatier and bluesier than Everlast,
Astronautalis finds ways to aim for, and hit, the heart or jugular
depending on which song you're listening to. Heck, he's so talented he even
has the ability to hit both at the same time.
2) IamOMNI (w/ Tricky) - IAMOMNI
When you put a dope rapper with one of trip-hop's greatest innovators
you're going to get one of two things - an unlistenable mess, or a sonic
orgy of greatness. With IAMOMNI we get the latter, as producer Tricky
masterfully crafted beats that allow the poignant lyrics of IamOMNI
(formerly Omni) to shine, and then build to the breaks where the beats
shine on their own. In an extreme rarity, both artists end up stealing the
show at the same time. Lyrically, IamOmni is at his thought provoking and
empowering best on IAMOMNI, and musically Tricky maintains the level of
excellence we've all come to expect from him. I had no idea this full on
collaborative effort was going to happen until it arrived in my mailbox,
but I can tell you this, it's been in rotation ever since the day it
arrived. In an era when few artists understand how to be both unique AND
dope, IamOMNI and Tricky manage to walk on that thin line as if it was the
size of a six lane highway.
1-A) Dessa - Castor, The Twin
I'm beginning to feel like a broken record when talking about Dessa. The
owner of last year's #1 album on this list (A Badly Broken Code), she
really is one of my favorite artists. Dessa's latest, Castor, The Twin, is
a re-imagining of her previous work. The album features lyrics fans have
heard before, but the music accompanying those lyrics has been completely
reworked with all new compositions and live musicians. With the reworking
of the music came some major changes to the way Dessa delivers her lyrics.
Some songs have been slowed down, some include more singing, but all of
them are f*cking fantastic. I almost didn't put this album on the list
because the lyrical content isn't new, but the music is so vastly
different, and it's so damned good, it would have been wrong to shut it
out. Even if you own A Badly Broken Code, Castor, The Twin is totally worth
the investment. This is Dessa we're talking about here. She might very well
be the most talented artist in not just hip-hop, but music, today.
1) Toussaint Morrison - Toussaint Morrison Is Not My Homeboy
It's very rare that I hear a hip-hop artist that I feel makes hip-hop for
me. I hear plenty that make fantastic hip-hop music that I enjoy, but to
affect me on a personal level is rare. Toussaint Morrison managed to do
that with Toussaint Morrison Is Not My Homeboy. From the first moment I
heard the album's opening song, "Chrysler 300," there was an honesty and
relatability that instantly drew me in. Combine that with Morrison's killer
flow, fantastic lyricism, metric ton of pop and fringe culture references,
and dope beat selection (it's technically a mixtape), and I knew I was
listening to a winner. It was the same kind of feeling I had the first time
I spun Tech N9ne's Absolute Power. I hit repeat after the first play. Will
this album hold up as well as some of the other albums on this list? I have
no idea, but I know this, it gave me an amazing feeling of discovering
something awesome the first time I heard it, and that's something that
makes an album truly unforgettable.
Originally posted: December 21, 2011