It’s amazing how much Hip-hop has changed in the last decade or so, and how I’m living in the middle of a transition of sensibility. Eight years ago, most of the classic albums of the year would have street-level instruments and creative sampling to go along with linear-type lyrics on a predictable flow. Now, it’s all about tricked-out electronica progressions and the “swag” (which, I fucking hate as a commonly used word) in which people spit their rhymes. I feel like the effort to spit dope has been put into the backburner in an effort to sound dope, which I never took as a bad thing.

The reason why I’m going on this reminiscent tear is because 2010 has been a steady mix of both for me. I’ve been treated to some of that traditional music that I grew up with (E-40, Reflectional Eternal), and I’ve began to appreciate some of the more experimental sounds (Kid Cudi, Kanye West) that have been dominating the airwaves of late. So without further ado, the most significant albums of 2010 in no particular order:

Pimp C: The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones

I find it extremely frustrating that we were never exposed to Pimp C the solo artist while he was still alive and breathing. And while I can go on a diatribe about the bullshitted intricacies of record labels and releases that prevented us from hearing this album sooner, I’ll just be satisfied with the fact that we got to listen to it at all. It’s classic Pimp C, with beats thicker than Texas Tea and the smooth croon of Chad Jones all throughout. If you mix in heavy hitters like Chamillionaire, Slim Thug, E-40, Jazze Pha, Young Jeezy, and of course the indomitable Bun B (thoughtfully limited to three tracks, to prevent this from becoming a UGK joint instead of a solo Pimp C jawn), you have the makings of a classic Port Arthur release. It’s a fitting bookend to the legacy of UGK, with the solo shot of “The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones” echoing at the end of a 21-gun salute. R.I.P. Pimp.

Reflection Eternal: Revolutions Per Minute

I had Reflection Eternal bagged and tagged for all sense and purpose, until I was blindsided by the news that they would be coming together again for another spin. “Revolutions Per Minute” doesn’t have the groundbreaking quality of “Train of Thought”, but I have to give Kweli and Hi-Tek enough credit to give us a strong release that’s nostalgic enough to keep us grounded, but progressive enough to keep it fresh. Talib has gotten old for me over the years, but he manages to remind me why he was one of my favorite artists growing up. Hi-Tek comes correct with a mostly organic approach to the production. It’s not a home-run release by any means, but it did just enough to deserve mention here.

The Roots: How I Got Over

Jimmy Fallon be damned, The Roots have refused to let commercial success affect their artistic essence. “Dear God 2.0” brings the same crossover success that “The Seed 2.0” brought in Phrenology. “The Day” is an all-star song with all-star cast of Phonte, Blu, and Black Thought trading verses between Patty Crash’s haunting chorus. Even “How I Got Over”, with Black Thought and Dice Raw singing for most of the song, manages to capture my attention long after my initial run through with the album. If anything, maybe this new gig has inspired The Roots to hit some new heights after languishing with Geffen for so long. Long live the Legendary Roots Crew.

Zion I: Atomic Clock

Amp Live and MC Zumbi have always been about pushing boundaries with their music. I always thought that Amp Live married organic instruments with electronic dub sounds perfectly, and MC Zumbi fits his like Guru did Primo, Blu did Exile, or GZA did DJ Muggs. The introspective lyricism from MC Zumbi and an inspired performance from Amp Live have made Atomic Clock a definite highlight in Zion I’s catalogue, one that grows in prestige with each year. Do not sleep from these boys from the Bay.

J. Cole: Friday Night Lights

I’m very skeptical of any artist that comes with an inordinate amount of hype. So it goes without saying that I was very skeptical of J. Cole coming out of the gates. It’s safe to say, with the entire “Freshman Class” having established themselves with a bevy of mixtapes or albums, J. Cole has established himself head and shoulders above everyone with his unique blend of slick delivery and sledgehammer lyrics. “Friday Night Lights” makes a bigger impact as a mixtape than most other rappers’ full length releases. If you’re like I was and are still skeptical from the kid from Fayettenam, trust the hype for once. This kid is for real.

Kid CuDi: Man on the Moon Part II

By all sense and measure, I should hate Kid CuDi. I hate the hipster fashion, I hate the experimentation for the sake of experimentation, and I should definitely hate that Down’s syndrome delivery that goes in a Nelly-like singsong. I should hate it, but I don’t. I hate that I bang Kid CuDi’s joints a lot more than artists that I should like in the old Honda Accord, but it is what it is. Subversive music, dark overtones, that infuriatingly catchy delivery‚ĶI mean, the fact that I should hate it, but I don’t, is statement enough of how good this album really is.

Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma

It took me awhile to get used to this album. I only gave it a chance thanks to recommendations from a friend of mine who swore that “Flying Lotus is the best beatsmith of our generation”. I’m going to hold back from giving him that hyperbolic label, but Flying Lotus manages to make a complex soundscape that offers something new with every listen.

Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye fell hard, but he came back with a vengeance with this album. I’m glad that he sees the auto-tune as a supplement instead of a crutch, and that he’s found the hunger and inspiration that made him such a great artist before the whole “808s and Heartbreaks” and Taylor Swift fiascos. Any artist with the confidence to film a thirty-minute music video a la Michael Jackson deserves a listen, and any artist that backs up that confidence with a consistently good album from start to finish deserves a mention as one of the most significant albums of 2010.

E-40: Revenue Retrievin’

Quiet consistency is the name of Earl Stevens’ game. He won’t break any barriers or blaze any new trails that he hasn’t pounded out before. I mean, in the beginning it was all about putting the Bay on the map, now it’s just about hustling out enough solid albums to keep his hustle going strong. It’s not the best E-40 album I’ve ever listened to, nor does it even clear the bar that “The Ball Street Journal” set for me back in 2008, but the release of two CDs coupled with a reliable Bay Area turf sound is enough to keep my hunger sated until the next album. You don’t have to be a fan of Bay Area Mobb music in order to appreciate the overall strength of E-40 as a musician, he entertains and educates his listeners to the wider culture of the Bay Area. Hustle on 40.

Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

I know I said that I was naming albums in no particular order, but I had to save my favorite album for last. “Sir Lucious Left Foot” is the only album on this list that I can imagine giving to my children, to define what their father considered to be “good music” from “back in my day”. The production has no missteps, from the slippery bass of “Shutterbug” to the deep soul of “Shine Blockas”, every song hits a very high bar with relative ease. Of course, Big Boi comes correct with each verse, choosing his guests wisely but never allowing them to outshine him. “Sir Lucious Left Foot” is a virtuoso performance from Big Boi, switching up flows with relative ease and writing great verses that will gladly stick to the walls of my head. Even if it’s been years since OutKast has blessed us with an album, Big Boi held down the fort for the ATL and established himself as the best artist of 2010, no Andre 3000 required. Speaking of which, Andre, where the fuck you at?