It’s that time once again as the culmination of 2006 commences. We’re faced with the difficult and arduous task of choosing the best of the best, the “cream of the crop,” or any other clich├ęd term used to describe the unsurpassed talents in hip hop from this past year. As a newbie to RR, joining the celebrated team in late October this year, my choices are from my own personal stacks that I came across throughout the year. As my first “Top Ten” list, I never realized what a daunting task it is to choose ten albums from a year full of remarkable artistry and lyricism. In retrospect, hip hop in 2006 was a remarkable year full of variety and change. Underground went a little mainstream, music became experimental, and artists were remembered as fallen heroes in rap. It was a noteworthy year. In any case, if you know what’s best, you’ll accept my recommendations and snatch these albums if you haven’t already because you know you can’t go wrong with a female’s perspective on hip hop music. Right?! Now, what’s in store for the year to come? We shall patiently wait and see.

10. Madlib: Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes.
As an invented soundtrack to an imaginary movie, Madlib constructs imagery through short instrumental cuts to depict scenes from the fictional film. In this 35 short track compilation, just short of an hour’s length in its entirety with its multiplicity and fluctuations in subject matter, it is ideal for the listener with an attention span at a minimum, perfect for someone like me. As a concept album, it is a clever work of genius, to say the least.

9. Mr. Lif: Mo’ Mega.
Back from an almost four year hiatus, the socioactivist storytellings of Mr.Lif comes back to life in 2006. In an almost two part saga, the first touches upon political issues and reverts back to conscious hip hop over EL-P’s production of gritty, industrial sounds, whereas the second highlights his own personal memoirs, but maintains his humorous qualities. The two halves make for an interesting album as it joins social insight and perspective together, but still manages to retain a steady balance throughout.

8. Murs: Murray’s Revenge.
As an underrated artist with roots that run deep in 3MG and Felt just to name a few, Murs doesn’t get as much praise as he should especially when paired with the villainous producer 9th Wonder. A transformation of sorts, recording under a different label Record Collection this time around other than the usual Def Jux solace, Murs retains his simple wordplay and effortless lyricism on simple 70s and soul production from 9th Wonder. It is nothing, but a celebrated pairing of the two.

7. Living Legends: Legendary Music.
Marking ten years of providing quality music to the Bay Area/Los Angeles underground hip hop scene, Living Legends comes together in an almost mixtape fashion that introduces solo and inside projects from each crew member. It provides a glimpse as to what is in store for the near future as their upcoming years remain strong. Also, keep your ears listening for highlights from 3 Melancholy Gypsies consisting of Eligh, Scarub, and Murs featured in the tracks.

6. J Dilla: The Shining.
Seen as a celebration this year, if you will, of J Dilla’s life and love of music, “The Shining” features an endless list of artists influenced by Dilla’s work of art. It puts into perspective to not dwell on what Dilla may have become, but more so who he was and the inspiration felt across the hip hop world. It was a great loss in ’06. Rest in peace Dilla.

5. J Dilla: Donuts.
It’s unfortunate that the passion and genius of Dilla overlapped with his death. An almost emotional instrumental experience with his distinctive soul, funk driven tracks and familiar 90s hip hop flair, you value every moment Dilla put into the album. Almost haphazardly put together, it begins to make sense from track to track as you realize some tracks were done in hospital beds and time was minimal. If anything, it makes you step back and appreciate your own passions and loves similar to that of Dilla’s fervor for making incomparable music.

4. Aceyalone: Grand Imperial.
Shortly after the release of “Magnificent City” (#3), Aceyalone came out with this follow up project that was not promoted as much as it should been. As a compilation full of exclusive tracks, mixes, and production from masterminds such as RJD2 and Z-Trip, the album is nothing short of amazing. As a limited edition with only 7,500 copies supposedly pressed, you know this one will become a collector’s item. If you didn’t grab a copy while it was out, you missed out on some solid music.

3. Aceyalone: Magnificent City.
Yes he’s on my list again because the iconic Aceyalone always seems to put out skillful music with his unsurpassed signature lyricism. At first glance, the alliance between the prolific, yet legendary masterminds of Aceyalone and Def Jux’s RJD2 seems to be an unusual match, but in the end comes together as a rhythmic cornucopia of sounds. Toning down his signature abstract, complex flair to complement Aceyalone’s otherwise tongue twisting lyricism, RJD2 introduces some 70s funk and instrumentation with some simple drums and claps. RJD2’s masterwork ceases to overpower Aceyalone’s lyricism, but instead, enhances the existing artistry to another level to construct a timeless album.

2. Zion I & The Grouch: Heroes in the City of Dope.
When you mix Zion I’s experimental drum n’ bass style with The Grouch’s traditional Bay Area underground roots, you get one hell of an album. Many have only heard guest appearances from The Grouch on previous Zion I tracks, so to see a whole album blend the two distinct styles is incredible and memorable for 2006. Together, these Bay Area icons unite to celebrate life and change in the “City of Dope.” Yes, they got HELLA hyphy, too.

1. Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere.
So, this is it – numero uno. Whether he’s utilizing his lyrical skill or employing his melodical croons, Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo takes us all by surprise. Teaming up with omnipresent beat savant Danger Mouse, the double act that makes up Gnarls Barkley creates a complementary twist to traditional soul and hip hop. The unconventional music blended with Cee-Lo’s pensive lyrics makes for one of the year’s most eccentric, yet innovative albums that defy the laws of hip hop. As many can vouch for me, there was nothing like it this year.