dam B’s Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2009

Before I get to my official top ten list I want to give recognition to three albums that were (and still are) amazingly dope that were released as free downloads. There’s really no reason not to check these albums out as they’ll cost you exactly zero dollars and zero cents, so give em a spin! What do you have to lose?

Top $ Raz – Spilled Milk

Spilled Milk is the announcement of the arrival of the next big emcee in NY hip-hop. Hearing Top $ Raz’s lyrical ability, his skill at creating complete songs, and his overall poise on the mic, you’d assume he was a veteran of the game, but at only 21 years old this incredible effort has people extremely excited at the prospect of Raz bringing some real talent back to the forefront of rap music. Forget the old saying about spilled milk, because after one listen to this album you won’t cry over it, you’ll cheer for it. Download it now, so in a few years when Raz is runnin things you can say “I knew about him way back when.”

Sketch Tha Cataclysm – The Shoeless Flow Jackson EP

I had to smile when I first listened to Sketch Tha Cataclysm’s The Shoeless Flow Jackson EP, the title of which is an homage to Sketch’s predilection for performing barefoot. As a veteran of Sketch’s live shows, I had heard almost every single one of these songs before. That being said, Sketch has some really amazing high energy shows and it’s VERY hard to recreate that on a record. On The Shoeless Flow Jackson EP he manages to take those songs that had only been performed live and flip them in a way that’s perfect for your stereo, or your headphones. Don’t miss out on this one.

Big Stat – Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Before heading out to hit the road with Method Man and Redman, Big Stat dropped the Redman hosted Don’t Quit Your Day Job mix-CD. The album is passion and hunger personified. Big Stat’s life story is an amazing one, and he lets you into that life through his work. He also lets you know he’s an emcee that is not to be F-ed with on the mic. Big Stat will not stop until he’s reached his goals and that kind of emotion can be heard all throughout this album, which is sure to please hip-hop heads far and wide.

Now, on to my Top Ten Hip-Hop Albums of 2009. My only rule for this list is that the albums had to be released as a hard copy (i.e. on CD and/or vinyl). Oh, they also had to be dope, but I think that goes without saying since this is a top ten list.

10) La Coka Nostra – A Brand You Can Trust

I had never been a very big fan of La Coka Nostra. Actually, before this album I’d never liked anything they’d done as a group, but because I loved Everlast’s 2008 solo album I gave this a spin. Boy am I glad I did because A Brand You Can Trust is a great album. With song titles like “Bloody Sunday,” “Bang Bang,” and “Gun In Your Mouth,” it should be obvious they have plenty of material for their hardcore fans, but they also show influences of Everlast’s other career as a blues singer and guitarist throughout the record, which makes for a great listening experience. Even if you didn’t like La Coka Nostra before, give them another shot with A Brand You Can Trust, you might be surprised.

9) Brother Ali – Us

Brother Ali has always been an unparalleled storyteller when it comes to his own life’s stories, of which he has plenty, but on Us he made the transition to telling other people’s stories in addition to his own. Now with an infinite amount of tales in his arsenal he has the ability to reach significantly more people, and with this album he does just that. Brother Ali is still as honest and heartfelt as he’s ever been, and it’s the true emotion that he puts into his lyrics, lyrics that have some phenomenal production behind them, that really makes Us great. The album is a welcome addition to his growing catalogue.

8) Wax Tailor – In the Mood for Life

Wax Tailor is one of a handful of artists that has successfully melded hip-hop and downtempo to create a kind of mood music unlike any other. In The Mood For Life is the latest example of the growth of his musical creation, and himself as an artist. For the album he once again enlisted the vocal prowess of Charlotte Savary, whose voice works absolutely perfectly with Tailor’s production work. This may not be a rap album, but it’s certainly hip-hop inspired, and many would qualify it as “grown folks music” for the hip-hop world. I just consider it great music.

7) Kero One – Early Believers

The Bay Area has a SICK hip-hop scene and Kero One’s Early Believers is a fantastic representation of that scene. The album has a very enjoyable, laid back, jazzy vibe. One might even say it sounds like California. The way I prefer to describe it, however, is straight up beautiful. From the beats, to the lyrics, to the overall feel of the album, Early Believers is the kind of hip-hop album everyone can get into. If you’re not already spinnin multiple albums from Bay Area emcees, start with Kero One’s Early Believers, you won’t be disappointed.

6) Us3 – stop. think. run

Everyone, or at least everyone of a certain age, remembers Us3 for their gigantic mega-hit “Cantaloop,” and even though the Blue Note library is a thing of the past for the group, they’re still making some fantastic jazz inspired hip-hop. Now working with emcees Sene and Brook Yung, Us3 sounds just as good as they ever have and this year’s Stop. Think. Run is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, in order to get Stop. Think. Run on CD you’re going to have to pay import prices, so this is a rare instance where I’ll actually recommend coppin the mp3 version unless you’re a truly dedicated album collector (which I happen to be).

5) M.O.P. – Foundation

It had been a LONG time since we’d gotten a proper M.O.P. album, but our reward for our patience was Foundation. Foundation was a return to form for everybody’s favorite Brooklyn bullies. It’s some classic M.O.P. – gritty, grimy, and over the top gangster. Not only is it great to listen to, but Foundation reminded me that there are still some people out there who realize that we need at least a few rap artists that can scare the masses. M.O.P. aren’t the type of emcees you’d want to invite over for your family dinner (unless you’re in the First Family), and that’s exactly what makes them so great.

4) Wale – Attention Deficit

Normally I’m a buzzkill when it comes to emcees that are buzzed about. This is because buzz normally comes from the least knowledgeable sources, i.e. the mainstream media (that includes YOU internet). Wale, however, proved that once in a while those sources get it right (although anybody who said Charles Hamilton was going to be the next big thing shouldn’t be allowed to write about hip-hop anymore). Attention Deficit is a perfect example of what can happen when an underground emcee decides to go a little bit commercial, but in such a way as to still be able to keep the essence of who he is. Think of it as a seriously dope lyricist keeping his lyrics tight, but getting some amazing production and a high profile guest or three.

3) Vinnie Scullo – I Spit On Your Grave

Nobody takes on a topic and tackles it quite the way Vinnie Scullo does. I Spit On Your Grave is Scullo’s poignant and vitriolic take on American politics and society as a whole. Never one to make things so serious that you feel like you’re being preached to, Scullo makes sure that all his points are served up with an acerbic wit that works to make you laugh while you’re thinking about the idea he just brought to the forefront of your mind. Scullo also works in a ton of hip-hop and pop culture references that sometimes require multiple listens to catch. Multiple listens that you’ll be more than happy to make.

2) Q-Tip – Kamaal the Abstract

I actually e-mailed Flash before listing this album because Q-Tip strays pretty far from hip-hop on Kamaal the Abstract. We both agreed, though, that Tip’s contributions to hip-hop, and status as an elite emcee, make it so that whatever he does at this point can be considered hip-hop. That being said, Kamaal the Abstract is a hip-hop album with some serious soul and jazz influences. This is smoother than anything we’ve ever heard from Tip before, and it’s really REALLY good. The story behind the album is almost legendary at this point, as it spent a significant amount of time on the shelf, completed, but unreleased. In 2009 it finally came out and talk about being worth the wait… wow! Kamaal the Abstract is Tip at his best, and it’s a new best, a new height we didn’t even know he was reaching for.

1) P.O.S. – Never Better

Over the past few years P.O.S. has worked his way into the upper-echelon of emcees and Never Better acts as an announcement of his arrival at the top. A combination of lyrics that will blow you away with both their depth and the dexterity with which they’re spit, and intense production that works perfectly with those lyrics, make for a musical one-two punch that every hip-hop fan can appreciate. Dealing with everything from issues of identity and self-worth, to taking the occasional shot at the American political system, with this album P.O.S. proves to all the doubters that hip-hop not only isn’t dead, in some places it’s better than it’s ever been.