It wasn’t until I actually sat down to contemplate my top ten albums of 2010 that I realized just how difficult the task was. Some albums get better with each listen, as it often takes time to truly understand the lyrical depth and immense production value that goes into a release, while some albums fizzle out and lose their appeal after a few months. Thus, it is difficult to tell not only which ten albums will stand the test of time, but also how they will rank against each other. Simply put, I feel that it is impossible to single out one album as the best album of 2010 just yet. Instead, I have eschewed rankings and come up with a list of ten albums that stand out in a year full of big name releases and equally big flops (*cough* “Rebirth” *cough*). And no thanks, I’ll pass on Drake’s “Thank Me Later,” arguably the most anticipated release of the year, and instead go with these ten albums:

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

Big Boi’s first solo album does not disappoint, as the unique production style that characterizes previous Outkast releases is present in full force with Organized Noise all over the production credits. In a year when mainstream rap has seemingly fallen into a rut, Big Boi distinguishes himself from the pack and keeps things fresh with his always witty, southern-style lyrics. And if “Shutterbug” isn’t the catchiest song of the year, I don’t know what is.

Bun B – Trill OG

Don’t let guest appearances from the likes of T-Pain and Gucci Mane fool you, Bun B keeps it real and remains the trillest rapper alive on his latest studio album. Highlights include “Let ‘Em Know,” which sees the Texas emcee team up with Houston-born producer DJ Premier, a match that Bun calls “a long time coming.” And what’s not to like about verses from Pimp C and Tupac – yes, Tupac – on “Right Now.”

Freeway and Jake One – Stimulus Package

Freeway’s gruff delivery shines through on “Stimulus Package” over old-school beats from Jake One, which feature lots of chopped up soul samples and hard-hitting drums. Songs range from the particularly catchy and upbeat “She Makes Me Feel Alright,” which samples Rick James’s hit “Mary Jane,” to the mournful “One Thing,” which sees Freeway go toe to toe with Raekwon. The Philly native goes hard from beginning to end and Jake One’s production never falters, making “Stimulus Package” a deep and well-balanced collaboration album.

Fresh Cut Collective – Fresh Cut Collective

A few months ago, I sat down at my desk ready to review Fresh Cut Collective’s self-titled debut album, knowing absolutely nothing about the group aside from the one-page biography that came with the CD. After just one listen through, I was blown away. The seven-man hip-hop band from Milwaukee brings an energy and passion to their music that makes it hard not to vibe to the group’s funky melodies and impressive lyricism, and I was hard pressed to find any flaw with the album. Fresh Cut Collective can flat out jam, and their debut remains one of the most underrated releases of 2010.

Game – Brake Lights

As someone who has followed Game from day one, I was frustrated by the numerous delays for “The R.E.D. Album,” which was supposed to drop in 2010. My disappointment was eased, though, by the release of his “Brake Lights” mixtape, which proved to the hip-hop world that Game isn’t on the decline. While “Brake Lights” has a slightly more mainstream feel to it than his previous albums, Game still comes with his raw, aggressive flow on tracks such as “Hustlin'” and “That’s the Way the Game Goes.” In a day and age where legends such as Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg are nearing the end of their careers, “Brake Lights” is a much-needed boost for West Coast hip-hop.

Inspectah Deck – Manifesto

Ask any Wu-Tang fan who the group’s most underrated member is, and nine times out of ten the answer will be Inspectah Deck. After tearing up “36 Chambers” and “Wu-Tang Forever,” Deck never achieved the same mainstream success as some of his Wu-Tang counterparts. 17 years later, though, INS the Rebel shows he can still “bring the ruckus,” even without a single RZA beat on “Manifesto,” and longtime fans will love tracks such as the Alchemist-produced “The Champion” and Deck’s collaboration with underground emcee Planet Asia, “Serious Rappin'”

J. Cole – Friday Night Lights

Jay-Z’s prodigy continues to build anticipation for his upcoming debut album in 2011 with his third official mixtape, and once again he comes through with a stellar performance. If you are still sleeping on J. Cole, then you need to get out from the rock you are living under and check out hip-hop’s next big sensation. Simply put, J. Cole is one of the most lyrically gifted rappers of his generation, and “Friday Night Lights” sounds better than most albums in today’s hip-hop game.

Nappy Roots – The Pursuit of Nappyness

Looking for music for a summer cookout or a cruise down the highway? Look no further than “The Pursuit of Nappyness.” The Nappy Roots may not be the most lyrically talented group, but there is something about their bluegrass-influenced beats and laid back style of rhyming on their latest CD that simply exudes good vibes. And even if you are not a Nappy Roots fan, or even a southern rap fan, it’s hard not to dig the mellow feel of the nostalgic “Back Home.”

Nas & Damien Marley – Distant Relatives

I’ll admit, I was both excited and skeptical when I heard that Nas would be teaming up with Damien Marley for an album that blended elements of reggae and hip-hop. Could two of the biggest names in their respective genres combine forces to create an album without sacrificing any of their talents? The answer is yes, and while the social commentary on “Distant Relatives” is a bit much at times, the bottom line is that the album brings a fresh and unique sound to hip-hop that can’t be overlooked. And really, would you expect anything less from QB’s finest?

The Roots – How I Got Over

The Roots are back once again with the same mellow jazz and soul vibes that resonate throughout their previous releases. While the group has never shied away from socio-political issues, “How I Got Over” sees Black Thought take a more somber, contemplative look at the problems of modern society. The only shortcoming: “How I Got Over” clocks in at under 45 minutes. Luckily, this doesn’t take away from the fact that The Roots’ latest album is one of the best listens of the year.