As both the year and the decade come to a close, now is the time to look back and reflect on the year that was in hip-hop. While many are quick to point out the droll moments such as Kanye West’s antics at the VMA’s and the seemingly revolving door of rappers going in and out of prison. At the moment, T.I. is on his way out while Lil Wayne is on his way in and Lil Boosie is already there waiting. Things are getting to the point where it’s part of the press kit. I’m not sure if they’re aware of it or not, but DEAD rappers are the ones who get better promotion (ask Styles P and Jadakiss), not the incarcerated ones. Aside from that, there was the return of several notable artists like Eminem, Mos Def and Raekwon. This year also seemed to mark the year for a sharp increase in the number of collaborative efforts, including KRS-ONE & Buckshot, O.C. & A.G. and Canibus & Keith Murray. With that said, I feel as if there’s much to look forward to as we move into the next year. So without further ado, here’s my list of my favorite releases of 2009.

10. Rick Ross: Deeper Than Rap
Defying the odds, Miami’s biggest boss seemed to survive a lengthy and dirty feud with 50 Cent and a heap of controversy stemming from photographs of him as a corrections officer to land his third straight #1 Billboard debut. Choosing to stick with what has always worked for him, Ross elevated his efforts and put together the equivalent of a mobster’s fairytale of a lavish life of excess and luxury.

9. Eminem: Relapse
Returning to the shelves after a tumultuous five-year absence since his previous effort, “Encore”, Marshall Bruce Mathers III delivered an album that was probably received the best by the most hardcore of Shady fans. Many people saw the album as regressive in terms of lyricism when compared to the progression he had made as an artist prior to the release of “Relapse”. Even with the handful of singles that the album spawned, it fares better as a long listen, rather than a pick-up-and-play type of release.

8. Ghostface Killah – Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City For the final album in his Def Jam contract, Pretty Toney wanted to do something different, and the result was an exceptional release pairing him with some of the best R&B crooners in the business. Standout tracks like “Do Over”, “Lonely” and “Stay” all help to show the sensitive side of the long-time sole bearer of the Wu-Tang flag.

7. Method Man & Redman: Blackout! 2
After ten years and probably thousands of blunts since their last release as a duo, hip-hop’s own version of Cheech & Chong picked up right where they left off. The natural charisma of the two emcees remains intact. Joints (pun intended) like the Bun B (and Pimp C via sample) featuring “City Lights” and “Diz Iz 4 All My Smokers” are guaranteed to keep long time fans satisfied and convert newbies with virgin lungs, or uh…ears.

6. Mos Def: The Ecstatic
Black Dante followed up his 2006 release, “Black Magic” with an album graced with production from Oh No, Madlib and the late, great Dilla. Standout tracks include the opening “Supermagic”, the Slick Rick-featuring “Auditorium” and the Talib Kweli-assisted “History”. The latter only further fuels the desire for a full-fledged Black Star album.

5. Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3
One of the biggest ballyhooed releases of the year came in the form of BP3. Originally intended to be released on 9/11, the album leaked weeks ahead of schedule and was either met with sheer delight or utter disgust. In earnest, it’s an exceptional effort that seems to get stronger and make more sense with subsequent listens…maybe that’s Masonic brainwashing at work.

4. Clipse: Til the Casket Drops
The Brothers Thornton, finally free from the situation they were in at Jive Records, deliver an album that isn’t as dark as their previous effort, “Hell Hath No Fury”. Tracks like “Freedom” and “Kinda Like A Big Deal” show that the duo can hold their own on tracks that aren’t produced by The Neptunes, but it is the infectious Neptunes-produced, “I’m Good” that sets the reflective mood of most of the album

3. Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon: The End of Day
For those who love to rant and rave about how hip-hop is going down the drain and is full of nothing but violence and misogyny, meet Kid Cudi. He doesn’t subscribe or adhere to the standard code of behavior that some rappers seem to go by. He’s not all bravado, all the time. In fact he’s anti-bravado for most of this album. Cudi’s willingness to open himself up and pour buckets of emotion into the listeners ears is a bold, but refreshing move that pays off.

2. Slaughterhouse: Slaughterhouse
A supergroup comprised of four emcees that all have cult followings proved to be a successful formula here as Joell Ortiz, Crooked I, Royce Da 5’9″ and Joe Budden seem to feed off of each other and get stronger as the album progresses. Production is handled by the likes of StreetRunner, The Alchemist, and DJ Khalil among others.

1. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
The only album that has been delayed more than Dr. Dre’s “Detox” has to have been the sequel to the seminal 1995 debut album, by then relative newcomer Raekwon. From the first track of this aptly named sequel, the album almost picks up where its predecessor left off. Almost. With what had to amount to a mountain of pressure behind him, Rae and his Wu-brethren delivered a long-play well deserving of the accolades it has recently received. Production is handled by everyone from RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, The Alchemist and more. Much like the original album, there are several appearances by Wu-Tang Clan members, most notably Ghostface Killah. The only member without an appearance on the album is U-God and the deceased ODB. However, the track “Ason Jones” is dedicated to his memory. Non-Wu guest appearances include Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel and Slick Rick.