Adam B’s Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2008

Making my year end top ten list is always an effort, but this year it was especially difficult with so many fantastic releases coming out in 2008. I honestly feel as though even if I were to list twenty albums I still wouldn’t be able to cover the entire spectrum of great Hip-Hop that came out in the year that was. That being said, here are my best of the best of 2008.

10) Illa J – Yancey Boys

J Dilla has been a favorite among the Hip-Hop community for a number of years and his untimely passing robbed us of potentially decades of great music. His younger brother, however, is looking to, if not pick up where Dilla left off, at least not let his familial legacy disappear with his brother’s death. Illa J dug into the archives for this effort as Yancey Boys features some fantastic J Dilla production. In fact, I would go as far as saying these are some of my favorite Dilla beats ever. Although Illa J isn’t the most accomplished emcee, he does a more than admirable job of matching the beats and creating a vibe. Not everyone needs to be a top battle rapper, sometimes being a mood creator can be just as powerful.

9) Azeem – Air Cartoons

Every time a new Azeem album comes out it’s fantastic. It makes me think he qualifies as one of the most slept on emcees in the game. When I first discovered Azeem back in the Craft Classic days I dug his style. When some of the things he said on that album came true I really started to develop a new level of respect for his mind. Air Cartoons works to reinforce both of those ideas in my mind as it’s an impressive statement on both Hip-Hop and the world we’re living in. Azeem manages to work some really important themes into his music without sounding preachy, which is a testament to how skilful he really is.

8) Chaz Kangas – Knee Jerk Reaction

Chaz Kangas is an incredibly smart individual. The cool thing about him, however, is that he doesn’t flaunt it. On Knee Jerk Reaction, what Kangas does show off is his unique flow, penchant for the absurd, and love of Hip-Hop. Certain song titles, such as “Drunks Throw up and then Fall Down,” will make longtime Hip-Hop fans laugh, and while some of the content is extremely humorous, including songs about dating “Christian Hard Rock Chicks,” make no mistake, the man can seriously rhyme his ass off (not literally, though. That would be weird). There might be a lyric or two that will have you running for your thesaurus, but in a day and age when so many artists are dumbing down their music it might be a good thing that Kangas can potentially help a listener smarten up.

7) Rugged N Raw – Truth Serum

The growth New York City’s best dressed emcee has shown between Another Level and Truth Serum is tremendous. While Another Level was a very good, high quality, album, Truth Serum is nothing short of spectacular. Rugged N Raw, who is one of the wittiest emcees around, manages to use his humor in constructive ways, such as on the album’s lead single “Broke and Proud” where he and Hasan Salaam go back and forth talking about the interesting things they do to make it through a week. My personal favorite line involves Rugged N Raw shouting out his Discman, adding “fuck your iPod!” Truth Serum also contains some serious songs, illustrating both the range and depth Rugged N Raw has.

6) Tech N9ne – Killer

One of the true living legends of independent Hip-Hop, Tech N9ne did something very few emcees, and very few artists in general, have been able to do effectively, he created a double album and made it work. From tracks where Tech N9ne is straight spittin, to politically relevant tracks, to introspective looks at his life, to booty songs, he found a way to put everything together and make a listener want to hear two plus hours from him. My personal favorites include “Crybaby,” his indictment on emcees who claim Hip-Hop is dead, the highly political “Black Boy,” which features Ice Cube and X-Clan’s Brotha J, and the incredibly personal life-assessment song “Happy Ending.” Of course, “Psycho Bitch II” is a classic in the making, as well.
5) Kardinal Offishall – Not 4 Sale

You have no idea how worried I was when I heard Kardinal Offishall had signed with Akon’s Konvict label. I became even more worried when I heard the single “Dangerous,” a blatant booty track designed for the clubs and radio. Thankfully, when I listened to the full album I heard that “Dangerous” was an aberration and the rest of the Not 4 Sale was filled with classic Kardinal Offishall material. What I found really amusing about the album was that the high profile guest appearances seemed to have very little correlation to what Kardinal was rhyming about. It was almost as if he said “you’re gonna put T-Pain on my album? Fine, but I’m still going to be talking about important shit!”

4) Doomtree – Doomtree

Rarely does a collective put together an album that sounds good. Most of the time it’s either filled with solo tracks that didn’t make the cut for various members’ individual albums, or disjointed songs that show the group really doesn’t work together that often. Neither of these issues come into play with Doomtree, who clearly worked long and hard together to make this album and the effort they put into it shows. The collective are all talented as soloists, but on Doomtree they really made an effort to push each other to the next level and the evidence is in the replay value of every song. Literally every single song is the kind of song you want to hear over and over. The only description I can give it that would do it justice is “dope Hip-Hop.”

3) Substantial – Sacrifice

When grown folks make grown folks Hip-Hop it’s a very good thing. Substantial, one of the most talented emcees around, is creating such music. With odes to house parties rather than nightclubs, and relationships rather than pimpin, Sacrifice is the kind of Hip-Hop album the 25 and up crowd has been waiting for. Substantial still engages in some braggadocio, most notably on the song “That Damn Good,” but he does it in such a way that it’s actually enjoyable, focusing on his own positive qualities rather than simply harping on the negative qualities of others. For Substantial fans this was a long awaited album, but one that was worth the wait.

2) Lee – Meet Lee

Speaking of grown folks Hip-Hop, Lee has been creating grown folks music for years as the lead vocalist of The Square Egg and in 2008 he embarked on a solo project where he didn’t just do all of the writing, but also the lion’s share of the arranging (he has a very large band that can fill a stage with over a dozen musicians at any given show) and production. The resulting album, Meet Lee, is a testament to the fact that subjects such as love, community and God still have a place in Hip-Hop. Never preachy, but always soulful, Meet Lee is a groove that is a very enjoyable ride. Some folks may think of Lee is a throwback, but he’s certainly one you won’t want to throw back. Once you hear the album you’ll be glad you met Lee.

1) Homeboy Sandman – Actual Factual Pterodactyl

With his 2008 release Actual Factual Pterodactyl the single most buzzed about emcee in New York City illustrated many of the reasons why his buzz is so unbelievable right now. Homeboy Sandman can flow, that’s never been in question, but on Actual Factual Pterodactyl he takes it to another level, flipping his flows in ways many listeners hadn’t heard before. From the lighthearted “iTunes Song,” to the darker tracks “Wise Up” and “Ggrrraa!!,” to the salsa inspired “Mambo Tail Tale,” Homeboy Sandman acts as a one man baseball team, covering all bases. The replay value is incredible as each time you listen you catch something new. Homeboy Sandman’s rapid fire flow may lead listeners to think that’s what he’s all about, but on Actual Factual Pterodactyl he proves it’s well worth a listener’s time to give him multiple spins to dissect some of the incredible lyrics that his flow houses. This album is pure Hip-Hop and it’s fantastic.