Runners Up:

Ghostface Killah: Ghostdini

Danny!: Where Is Danny?

DJ Quik & Kurupt: BlaQKout

k-os: Yes!

Knine: Robots Have Feelings Too

Mos Def: The Ecstatic

The John-Michael Bond Top Ten:

10. Eminem: Relapse

At first the inconsistencies of “Relapse” simply pissed me off. How could the guy who dropped “The Marshall Mathers LP” put out such an unfocused record? As the months have passed however I found myself constantly going back to Em’s palpable rage and darkest material since his debut. Under all the dick and fart jokes were blood soaked tales of personal loss, struggles with substance abuse, and hints at the artist’s own molestation as a child. You had to look under a lot of filth to see the soul of this record but once it became clear it was hard to look away.

9. Wale: Attention Deficit

“I asked Mr. West for a little bit of help/But I realized these new niggas got to get it ourself”

Within the first forty seconds of his long awaited debut Wale showed the difference between himself and the sea of backpackers waiting for a co-sign to take a grab for the crown. Some folks might hate on “Attention Deficit” for having a Lady Gaga hook on the first single but these horn and rock infused tracks feature some of the finest production and most swagger filled rapping you’re likely to hear this, or any, year.

8. Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon

Reflection has left a weird taste to “Man on the Moon” for me but I stand by my review. It’s a solid record, and when it truly shines it stands among the finest of any rap record in the last few years. But I’ll give those of you who wrote me to tell me I was out of my mind for hyping this as much as I did credit. I probably went a little overboard talking it up. That being said Cudi’s hustle and drive put him over the top and this “Man on the Moon” will keep me company until his next record drops.

7. Royce Da 5’9″: Street Hop/Busta Rhymes: Back On My B.S.

Both of these records came out straight swinging with the hungriest either of these guys has sounded in years. While some people are sure to prefer Slaughterhouse proper I felt like Royce’s solo album was a more consistent effort (though his side project is still well worth your time). Likewise Busta took a chance, brought his aggressive energy to a modern take on hip-hop while rising above stereotypes of his talents and proving he’s comfortable riding any beat thrown his way.

6. Wyclef Jean: From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion

Speaking of hungry artists, where the fuck has this Wyclef Jean been for the last few years? Battle rapping? Political anger? Finally standing up for his legacy while furthering it with adventurous production and somehow making Cyndi Lauper gangsta? It might have just been a EP but ‘clef’s latest was his finest moment since “The Carnival.”

5. Clipse: Til the Casket Drops

If I was rich I’d buy out Clipse’s contract so these guys could get a break. Once again finding themselves victims of the release date major label five card monte game this classic dropped with almost no warning after months of shuffling. It’s a damn shame as the brothers Thornton finally left the comforting cover of straight Neptunes produced records and found musical gold for their efforts. If you want to know why major labels are dying look no further than the DJ Khalil produced “Kinda Like a Big Deal” featuring Kanye West. How the fuck could you not make that a radio hit? The labels couldn’t sell gold in a recession, and it’s artists like Clipse and hip-hop fans who are going to suffer for it.

4. Eyedea and Abilities: By the Throat

I got hate mail for liking this record so much, but seriously haters can get a new pair of ears if they couldn’t see the brilliance of this album. Eyedea could battle his way out of a Slaughterhouse record and come out on top so why the hell can’t the cat stretch his legs a little bit with a musically different album? Sure it’s got guitars. Yeah Abilities uses distortion pedals on his turn tables to create guitar solos made of wax, but for all the innovation “By the Throat” is a 100% hip-hop record. People said Afrika Bambaataa was out of his mind when dude first dropped “Planet Rock” for the Kraftwork influence. Ten years from now they’ll be talking about how Eyedea finally brought Sonic Youth back to hip-hop sixteen years after the “Judgment Night” soundtrack.

3. Cage: Depart From Me

I’ll always hold my Nighthawks vinyl close to my chest but I can’t say I don’t like this version of Cage better. Teaming up with a former guitar player for the hardcore punk band Hatebreed gave “Depart From Me” a decidedly strong Suicidal Tendencies vibe for the punks to skate to but lyrically Cage’s pitch black sense of humor was still the star of the show. “Fat Kids Need an Anthem” somehow makes you laugh while the guy pretty much cuts open a vein to pour his pain out on wax. How many of your favorite rappers talked about a shoot out in a club this year? Now how many of them did it wishing the violence would give them a good reason to get out of an awkward social situation? No longer content to just talk about how awesome he is Cage truly put his heart out for all to see, sickness and depression be damned.

2. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II

The Godfather II of hip-hop. Better than the original in every imaginable way while reminding you why you loved part one so much in the first place. Also hearing quotables from Method Man again almost brought tears to my eyes. His verse on “House of Flying Daggers” was probably my favorite moment on any record this year.

“Man, is Staten in this bitch or what, don’t get it twisted, we
Twist it up and even mixed with dust
See these fans can’t resist the rush, they Wu-Tang for life
Scarred for life, they can’t forget the cuts
Got a whole line of classic joints, and while you at it
Pass the joint, let’s push this music past the point
Of no return, ’til they crash and burn, down the ashes
Then placed inside Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s urn
When it’s my time to go, for sure, ya nigga goes to war
What you think I brought these soldiers for?
To send shot like forget me not, at any nigga
Respect, bitch, that figure they gon’ get me got”

Hey Meth, you got me pegged. Now bring that fire to your solo work again already!

1. P.O.S.: Never Better

Hands down the most complete album of the year. Period. Regardless of genre, artist, hype, name dropping, guest spots, and cool points, no one brought it as hard as P.O.S. this year. The Doomtree member, hardcore punk rocker (check out his band Building Better Bombs if you dig the Bad Brains), and all around brilliant poet P.O.S. provided me a soundtrack for a dark year replete with humor, heart, and musical chops that stand among the finest in all of hip-hop. Few rappers produce their own shit. Even fewer do it well. Stefon Alexander stands with the Kanye West’s of the world who produce their own shit just as well as they rap over it. Artistically challenging while never forgetting to be fun “Never Better” is a terrifying prospect for long time fans of this far too long slept on artist. What if he never gets better than this? I’ll lay up at night worrying until his new record drops, but anyone who calls themselves a hip-hop fan who hasn’t checked this record out has seriously screwed up their year. The album opens with the best summary of 2009 I could imagine, even though “Never Better” came out in February.

“There ain’t nobody to be pretty for fuck it
Let it rattle
Let the clatter kill em
Let the cataclysm wash
Who really listens?
Precision with a verse draws a crowd
I draw a line between easy melody
And piece of mind
I keep the game tweaked
Freak the same to its own thing
Spit the plain pain
Econolines for the dime class
Its a god damn recession
Show a little respect
You Pfizer babies
Look how they hate
Pilled out
Bounce they liver off they top eight
Who got a fix for the fix? Bush no more
Nobody’s like “Dufrane, search party of four”
Tell me – who’s eatin? I mean well
Who’s beaten shell toes kick a hole in who’s cheatin hell
Need it while you can
Serve get swerved get sleep
Buy it up c’mon
They out for presidents to represent them
You think a president could represent you?
You really think a president would represent you? (Right)
They call me P.O.S.
Bold from the go to the goal
To them ice cold bones
Freezin in that Minnesota snow
Heatin up the winter with the flow
They make it rain (rain?) Rain go away
Come again brave
Or when you bring a bit to help us grow”

Our modern hip-hop listeners are looking for someone to spit us some truth and all we get are songs about money, guns, and now obligatory tracks about how great the president is. I like Obama as much as the next man, but P.O.S. was the only artist this year to address the culture and not the man. While we’re out there singing songs about how the president is going to make everything better are we becoming complacent? Are things so great that we no longer need to hustle and work to make the world a better place? This is where “Never Better” over took Cuban Linx in my book. Both are lyrically and musically stunning records, but “Never Better” made me think while I shook my ass. Let it rattle indeed.