The time has come for me to drop knowledge and school fans on this year’s best albums. Included below are what I consider essential albums for any rap fan. Granted some of you still remain so narrow-minded that you won’t peep anything outside of your comfort genre, but for those who can open their mind, the following list should provide plenty of great music to enrich your life. This list isn’t all encompassing and I can even admit I missed a few albums everyone raved about in 2005 (What can I say? I’ve listened to “The Listening” over and over and Little Brother has yet to motivate me to cop “The Minstrel Show.”). But chances are I listen to more music, from more regions, and from more genres in any given year than the average rap fan does in a lifetime. While my open mind and ear for talent doesn’t make me better than anybody else, it does mean that I’m usually listening to better music. If you too want to listen to better music then peep the albums on my list, if you haven’t already.

10. DJ Quik: Trauma

“Trauma” didn’t live up to the hype that Quik himself placed on his latest offering, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad album. Anyone will have a difficult time delivering an album that aims at revolutionizing the production game. High expectations aside, Quik was as solid in 2005 as he has been the last 5 years, dropping another sonic journey into West Coast funk. Unmatched in production skills by anyone on the west, Quik’s unique voice and party vibe make his albums a feel good affair that can be appreciated from coast to coast.

9. DJ Muggs vs. GZA: Grandmasters

The year wouldn’t be complete without at least one solid appearance from the Wu. Last year Masta Killa and Ghostface dropped superior efforts that proved the 36 Chambers were still open for business. This year Gza challenged Muggs in a mental chess competition and the result was a battle sure to please any spectator. Muggs’ beats were surprisingly “Wu,” while Gza’s darts were as razor sharp as ever. The Wu as a group may never return to glory, but as individuals they still have plenty to offer.

8. Danger Doom: The Mouse and the Mask

Dedicating a rap album to cartoons is a risk most rappers would never dare take. But MF Doom and partner in crime Danger Mouse have no qualms about expanding the world’s perception of what is and what isn’t rap music. Backed by Cartoon Network, DangerMouse delivered what is sure to be a cult classic for years to come. Mouse’s quirky beats and Doom’s off the wall rhymes are the perfect match for Adult Swim’s eclectic cast of characters. Many rap fans will likely pass up on cartoon rap, but those who can get over themselves enough to peep this album well be in for an entertaining treat.

7. Common: Be

The Chi-Town tag team of Common and Kanye delivered a strong combination of beats and rhymes that saw Common finally reach the commercial success he deserved. From dope stories (“Testify”), hood anthems (“The Corner”), and catchy radio tunes (“Go”) – Common delivered one of his most well-rounded albums to date. Hardcore fans may have found the album a little soft overall, but no one can fault the man for trying to sell records.

6. Public Enemy: New Whirl Odor

P.E.’s latest was indeed a breath of fresh air in what can at times be a very stagnant rap scene. Chuck D and Flava Flav were in top form for the 2K5, dropping knowledge and dope rhymes over funky beats. Public Enemy updated its sound while maintaining the same feel we’ve come to expect. It’s not groundbreaking music or even as catchy as your local radio rotation, but it’ll definitely sound better than the latest dope boy anthem.

5. Chamillionaire: The Sound of Revenge

2005 was definitely Texas’ year in the rap game. Every major Texas player dropped a solo in 2005, from legends like U.G.K. to once small-time hustlers like Mike Jones. On top of that, most of the albums dropped were quality showings. Despite facing such tough competition, Chamillionaire managed to separate himself from the pack and drop the best album out of Texas. Cham’s formula for success included the traditional Texas recipe of ballin’ and more ballin’, but added his own flair for complex wordplay, lyrics, and cadences.

4. Kanye West: Late Registration

Though Kanye loses points for bitching like a child every time he feels he doesn’t get enough props, his music is too good to be knocked. Besides a knack to make catchy hits (“Diamonds,” “Golddigger”), Kanye also manages to pack his album with tracks that are felt coast to coast. If you can’t find at least one track on “Late Registration” that you can’t stop playing then you’re at the wrong website. Add to all that the balls to speak out on national T.V. and you gotta give Kanye his props, even if you think Bush actually does care about Black people.

3. David Banner: Certified

I was ready to crucify Banner for selling out upon hearing “Play” for the first time. It’s not that I didn’t find the beat insanely catchy, but I thought such x-rated club music was beneath the south’s self-proclaimed savior. Upon further review, I found it unfair to knock Banner for making good club music, especially when the rest of the album is full of such quality tracks. Providing everything from amped anthems (“On Everything”) to deep reflections on life (“My Life”), Banner took the first step towards commercial success and a wider audience for his message.

2. Sean Price: Monkey Barz

The Boot Camp Clik is BACK! Well not quite. Though 2005 did see the reemergence and release of several BCC projects, only one really lived up to its potential. Sean Price’s long awaited solo album was as gritty, raw, and lyrical as fans had expected. Sean Price’s account of the trials and tribulations of being a famous rapper but not being famous was both entertaining and heartfelt. Combined with a raw style and top notch lyrics, Sean Price’s honesty hopefully earned him more than four dollars on his latest royalty check.

1. The Jacka: The Jack Artist

I’ll be the first to admit that 90% of the albums that come out of the Bay area in California are garbage. While the market is full of wack compilations from every street hustler and albums made in what sounds like minutes, every now and then an artist steps his game up and makes something truly dope. This year The Jacka dropped a soulful and heartfelt representation of life in Cali. Fueled by Rob Lo’s superior production, “The Jack Artist” was accessible as any street album to date and saw the emergence of one of the West Coast’s most promising emcees.


Worst Album of the Year: Webbie: Savage Life

In a way labeling Webbie’s debut the worst album of the year is unfair. There were tons of albums dropped in 2005 that I’m sure are far worse than Webbie in both production and rhymes. But out of the major label releases I managed to peep this year, Webbie’s immature and stereotypical take on southern living was the worst. Hot single aside, Webbie’s skills are wasted addressing stale topics over even staler production.

Most Overrated Album of the Year: The Game: The Documentary

Before I get raided by the G-Unot minions, let me make it clear that I don’t take sides in rap beef nor do I take into account anything but the music when I compile my “Year In Review” column. But frankly, Game’s debut album was the most overhyped and overrated CD since “The Firm.” While fans quickly changed sides and realized “The Firm” was a disappointing flop, “The Documentary” has yet to be exposed as what it is: an album with dope production by an average West coast emcee. I’m not saying Game is wack, but he doesn’t distinguish himself from any other decent Westside emcee other than by constant name-dropping and blind cockiness.

Best Album I Refuse to Admit Was Actually Good: Young Jeezy: Let’s Get It

I admit I hated on Jeezy well after “Let’s Get It” had been in stores for weeks. After peeping “Trap or Die” and failing to be impressed by what was another mixtape about pushing crack, I was skeptical Jeezy had much to offer. But thanks to a string of singles and crazy track with Jigga, Jeezy finally made it into my collection and showed me that rapping about crack never gets old as long as it’s done well.

Best Album Released in 2005 not from 2005: Cormega: The Testament

“The Testament” was definitely one of the better albums to be released in 2005, but this album is actually an alum of the class of 1997. Long overdue, Cormega’s debut album sounded as fresh as anything else this year.

Best Soundtrack: Hustle & Flow

Rap soundtracks tend to be pretty horrible. Usually a compilation of whoever is hot at the moment, the result ends up being a mismatch of styles presented in the form of filler tracks. “Hustle and Flow” not only provided a cohesive southern vibe throughout, but it even provided dope tracks from an actor turned pimp turned rapper. A true companion to the movie, “Hustle and Flow” laid the blueprint for aspiring rappers and businessmen alike.

Best Album You Probably Missed: Xzibit: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Towards the end of every year a slew of albums drop that usually haven’t been out long enough for critics to get a feel for. Most of these albums end up being solid efforts that spawn enough hits to ensure fans keep them in mind for the new year. Some of these efforts, however, get lost in the shuffle. Xzibit’s latest was unfortunately ignored by rap fans in late 2004. Despite a hot single with a hot beat, hook, and lyrics, Mr. X to the Z still was slept on. With his hit show, “Pimp My Ride,” X may no longer need your support as far as record sales go, but you should still enrich yourself by peeping X’s latest barrage of fierce rhymes and hard-hitting beats.

Most Disappointing Album of 2005: Anything from DipSet

In retrospect I can admit that I might have scored Jim Jones’ “Diary…” a little too highly. Maybe I refused to admit I was disappointed by Jones’ penchant for R&B tracks and crunk music. Even Juelz Santana’s “What The Game’s Been Missing” missed the mark and definitely failed to live up to even a fraction of the hype. Though Dip Set didn’t drop horrible albums, they seemed content to stick to their old hustle instead of upping their game. While die-hard fans will be content buying the same mixtape with a different cover week after week, Cam’ron’s goonies need to up the ante if they want to remain a force to be reckoned with in the new year.

Best Mixtape of the Year: Talib Kweli: Right About Now – The Official Sucka Free Mix CD

Yeah, I admit it, I took the easy route on this one. “Right About Now” isn’t really a mixtape in the traditional sense. But since Kweli himself labeled this effort “The Official Sucka Free Mixtape” I won’t argue with the man. What Kweli considers mixtape material blows most rapper’s album cuts out of the water. Peep this for dope rhymes, dope beats, and no annoying voice in the background.

Worst Mixtape of the Year: P-Cutta: Street Wars Series

If I went to any bootlegger’s stand on any given day and copped 10 random mixtapes, chances are at least 9 would make a strong candidate to win this award. Let’s face it, the mixtape game is oversaturated and instead of innovating, everyone is just rushing to put out the same shit before the next man can. But P-Cutta’s “Street Wars” series takes the trophy home this year simply for trying to cash in beef. Other DJs do the same, but P-Cutta’s need to fuel his mixtape leads to such dramatic beefs as R.K. vs. Jay-Z, Uno Dose and Lakey the Kid vs. Nas, Reeks vs. Krutch, and even a diss for record execs and the industry. While I wouldn’t mind hearing what Lyor Cohen has to say to some of these rappers, P-Cutta needs to retire the series before people start to realize their paying to give rapper’s free publicity.

Most Innovative Album of the Year: Daz Dillinger: Samplin to the Beat of the Drum

There’s probably an album about space, or elves, or featuring a mute emcee and deaf producer out there that might be more innovative in the technical sense, but Daz’s drum beat record takes the cake as far as being innovative and useful. Giving producers a CD full of beats at an affordable price is something no major rapper/producer had done to date, but hopefully others will soon follow suit.