10. (tie) AZ: A.W.O.L. / The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue / One.Be.Lo: S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.

I didn’t want to leave any of these albums out. You all know about these so I won’t tell you. I was thinking about putting Atmosphere in here, but I just wasn’t feeling their new album that much.

9. Blackalicious: The Craft

My favorite group, I wish I could put them in the number one slot, but that would be simply lying to myself and the three to four other people who read this. It was a solid album, but I just wasn’t feeling the turn that Chief took on the production tip. There were some great songs (“Automatique,” “Supreme People,” “the Craft”) but I’m growing tired of songs like “Rhythm Sticks,” where Gab tries to substitute his already dope lyrics for a weak concept song (trying to spell out Blackalicious). Still, this was better than most and most of this album was pretty damn good.

8. J-Live: The Hear After

Lyrically, one of the best albums this year; but you would expect nothing less from J-Live. The production was by no means bad, but damn, think of the potential if he actually hooked up with some of the best indie producers. Either way, the focus of this record was more lyrical and with his talent, I often forgot about the beat.

7. Edan: Beauty and the Beat

Along with “Danger Doom,” this had to be one of the most creative and daring hip-hop albums of the year. He showed flashes of RJD2 on the boards, flashes of a more lyrical Beastie Boy on the mic, and flashes of brilliance when infusing the psychedelic sound of the 70s into his hip-hop. I say flashes because “Beauty and the Beat” was only 34 minutes long. Edan, you’re good, but you’re not Nas and even Nas ain’t that nasty anymore. We want more.

6. Kanye West: Late Registration

Maybe it’s his egocentricity. Maybe it’s because I feel like Rolling Stone (a magazine I greatly admire) needs to take two steps back before their lips get caught in his zipper (album of the year? Ha..). Or maybe it’s because I can’t place this album too high when I feel his debut album was at least two stars better than this one, but I feel like I have to justify why another album is this low in my list. Yea, the production is great. Yea, the lyrics aren’t bad. But no matter how many people praise him for hiring that Fionna Apple guy, I think he was better without him. There, I said it. Really good album nonetheless.

5. Danger Doom: The Mouse and the Mask

This was just plain entertaining. You knew what you were going to get before you heard it. Doom is one of the best, Dangermouse is quickly being recognized as one of the best, and they’re both kind of odd, so when you combine the two, you get none other than a good ass weird album.

4. Common: Be

I thought this was going to be the album of the year. Obviously having only Kanye & Dilla handle the production made for a great, soulful canvas for Common to paint over, but, only compared to the incredibly high expectations he already set, I was slightly disappointed by the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, even on this album, Common’s lyrics shine over most any other MC. He just didn’t seem to have that lush spiritual viewpoint that he had in “Resurrection” “One Day….” or “Like Water…” I’m talking about when he seemed be very much part of the struggle, but also above it, simply observing with unbiased eyes. This record showed flashes of both, but it just didn’t have that edge to it that his other albums have had. But when you have to spend that many words justifying why an album isn’t the BEST album of the year, it’s not such a bad thing.

3. Zion I: True & Livin’

I don’t know how these guys still manage to go under the radar. Their Oakland funk trades off shades of futuristic and organic vibes thanks to Amp Live’s highest level of producing. Zion fits perfectly over his beats and creates his most political, emotional, and celebratory array of lyrics yet. Throw in the all-star guest list (Aesop, Gift of Gab, Del, Kweli) and you have a great album.

2. Little Brother: The Minstrel Show

This was easily the most soulful hip-hop record of the year. How the hell does 9th Wonder do that on Fruity Loops? No matter how he did it, the production was lush with soul and great sample choices. There were no bad tracks on this album. Pooh took strides in flow and confidence since “The Listening” and Phonte’ (already dope in fundamental MC skills) became more introspective, probably an after shock of Foreign Exchange. When all was said and done, few albums had as much life, personality, and replay value as the latest from Little Bro.

1. Cage: Hell’s Winter

This was the truest, rawest album of the year. No other album conjured up as many emotions as “Hell’s Winter.” There was heartbreak, inspiration, political diatribe, depression, battle raps, and even a few danceable tracks. Cage narrated his f**** up life with the same meticulous attention to detail that any great author utilizes when writing a book. Combine that with stellar production from indie hip-hop’s dream line-up of producers and you’ve got yourself the album of the year.