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12.31 The Cooler

It’s Been A Pleasure, 2K10: The 15 Best Hip-Hop Albums Of 2010

By / 12.30.10
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Albums have lost their allure to customers, at least that's the impression we're given. In part, the assumption's accurate. As rap acts continue to increase in astonishing numbers, numerous components increasingly pull fans attention from consuming full bodies of studio work. The accessibility and surprisingly equal quality of the mixtape game has narrowed the public's reasoning for actually paying for music, if utter garbage didn't turn them off to begin with. As a result, some get severely overlooked and overall record sales continue to plummet, forcing artists to scrounge and scrap for other ways of revenue to sustain a lifestyle.

Yet, why is it still the paramount goal is to record and release an album at the height of their popularity, even when mixtapes and random leaks still bring in show money? Maybe because enterprising artists know what TSS still values above all: the album is still the ultimate measuring stick for sizing up who belongs and who needs to switch majors. The ability to exhibit cohesion of top caliber is something not everyone will master, but for the ones who have, we like to applaud their efforts every chance we get.

Like always, the criteria for inclusion was simple (superiority, visibility, replay value, fluidity) and enclosed are the 15 best Hip-Hop albums of 2010 that should be in your collection, one way or another.

Give them your support. This kind of quality doesn't come cheap, you know.

Curren$y
Pilot Talk
Label: BluRoc/DD172/Def Jam Records
Producers: Ski Beatz, Nesby Phips, Monsta Beatz, Mos Def
Rated: 3.5 Cigs

Loaded ashtrays, inebriated women, crumbs of potato chips abandoned in their bag, stray socks, all bound together by billows of smoke. While the random entities in the aforementioned scenario illustrate something like a Def Leppard hotel room circa 1988, it's just a typical Wednesday evening for Curren$y, per his most focused release to date Pilot Talk. As the album cover suggested, Spitta took his loyal fanbase into greener pastures with live brass instrumentation.

Designed to navigate matters higher than Delta Airlines, tight-rolled doobies such as "Skybourne" and "Address" were open exhibitions in the lifestyle of the iron lung. Streams of consciousness from the weed smoker's point of view were also dealt with accordingly on the cool-as-fall-weather "Breakfast"---not to mention chest-pounding bravado of "King Kong." Essentially doubling as Ski Beatz album---thanks to his heavy contribution as a beat carrier, Spitta's cannabis couplets teetered on redundancy periodically, but not to the point where the tree wasn't smokable. Prop 19 or not, Pilot Talk will warrant burn well past 2010. -- TC

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

The Roots
How I Got Over
Label: Def Jam Records
Producers: Black Thought, Questlove, Dice Raw, Richard Nichols, Jeremy Grenhart, Rick Friedrich, Pedro Martinez, Ray Angry, Alectrick.Kom
Rated: 4 Cigs

That The Roots made a good album is expected, but How I Got Over is more than just another quality set of musicality from Hip-Hop’s greatest jam band. Topical tracks including the title cut and the inspirational “The Fire” strike an emotional balance that reflect America in 2010, both the hope offered and the immense mountain of troubles facing us every day.

Musically, The Roots have never been tighter, one track flowing seamlessly to the next with Questlove’s steady drum beat providing the usual foundation on standouts “Walk Alone,” and “Now or Never.” There may be less experimentation compared to prior releases, but each musical nuance, from the a capella opener “A Peace of Light” to the closing dissonant whines of “Hustla” adds power. Lyrically, Black Thought remains good as ever, his flow never faltering from the beats laid before him. A full team of guests, from Phonte and Blu to the usual long-time collaborators Dice Raw and P.O.R.N. add lyrical depth and variance throughout. Now if they could only ditch Jimmy Fallon… -- Patrick M.

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Big Boi
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Label: Purple Ribbon/Def Jam Records
Producers: André 3000, Big Boi, Organized Noize, Scott Storch, Lil Jon, Salaam Remi, Mr. DJ, Malay, DJ Cutmaster Swiff, DJ Speedy, Jbeatzz, Terrence "Knightheet" Culbreath, Royal Flush
Rated: 4 Cigs

People drive themselves to the brink of insanity over André 3000's whereabouts and the future of Outkast. Yet, the group's more visual half - Big Boi - dropped a jewel of a solo album in Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty. General Patton's charisma and overall creative imagery shined brightly as seen in the lyrical free-for-all "You Ain't No DJ" with Yelawolf and the quirky, yet energetic "Daddy Fat Sax." Exciting isn't even the proper word to describe the feeling of hearing Big move from track to track with a renewed sense of energy while being selfless enough to allow newcomers Janelle Monáe ("Be Still") and Vonnegutt ("Follow Us") to leave indelible impacts on the LP. A new 'Kast album is something we'd never turn down. On the same accord, we're not shunning any future solo projects from Mr. Patton either. -- J. Tinsley

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Reflection Eternal
Revolutions Per Minute
Label: Blacksmith/Rawkus Records/Warner Bros.
Producers: Hi-Tek, Jay Electronica
Rated: 4 Cigs

With the first complete Reflection Eternal album in ten years, Hi-Tek and Talib Kweli avoid a Detox-esque albatross with their remarkable follow-up to 2000's Train Of Thought with the heavily engaging Revolutions Per Minute. Their sophomore venture sees the two hashing out the same audio dope that made them notable in the first place: Kweli's socio-conscious lyrics and Tek's soulful samples. Cool horns and guest appearances by Roc Nation's J's--Electronica and Cole--and Black Star compatriot, Mos Def, create perfect lifted tunes on "Just Begun" and "City Playgrounds" is littered with Kweli's lyrical daggers.

Talib also didn't hesitate to take his edutainment to a higher level with the engrossing "Ballad Of The Black Gold," a calculated overview in the war over oil. Decade-long hiatus? No matter. This kind of finished product leaves no questions unanswered about the best comeback effort of 2010. -- Ryan J.

BUY: iTunes | Amazon


Ski Beatz
24 Hour Karate School
Label: BluRoc/DD172/Def Jam Records
Producer: Ski Beatz
Rated: 4 Cigs

If Ski Beatz was the sensei of his own dojo, we all learned a valuable lesson from his teachings: patience truly is a virtue. The often-delayed album from the über-talented producer was well worth the wait as Ski called in well-placed favors from Jay Electronica, Wiz Khalifa, Rugz D. Bewler and others. Spitta and Smoke DZA's horn-laden "Nothing But Us" was a near flawless crane kick to open the album with very few speed bumps afterwards to interrupt the listening experience. Add the explosive "Super Bad" with the triple threat of "Prowler 2" and Camp Lo's aggressive "Back Uptown," the last rapping track on the album, and one can confirm the thought which had been forming with each listen: why don't more people know about this man? And what are they waiting on?

Seriously, if this isn't in your archives, you have to ask yourself why. Now if only another highly anticipated album from another highly respected producer can translate into the same results in 2011, then all would be right in the world. You know who we're talking about. -- J. Tinsley

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Eminem
Recovery
Label: Interscope/Aftermath/Shady Records
Producers: Dr. Dre, Eminem, Just Blaze, Jim Jonsin, Boi-1da, Alex da Kid, Emile, DJ Khalil, Havoc, Denaun Porter, Supa Dups, Script Shepherd, Nick Brongers, Matthew Burnett, JG, Jordan Evans, Magnedo7
Rated: 3.5 Cigs

So we live in an age where a White guy can put out a rap album to mixed reviews and receive ten Grammy nominations? Hell yeah, we do. But the varied response doesn't mean Eminem didn’t churn out one of the year’s most potent and inspiring Hip-Hop narratives. Sure, the story of the underprivileged kid from the other side of the tracks reaching icon status smells of mildew at this point, but, to have a catalog of tales chronicling his ensuing nightmare of a journey is an unequivocally vital addition to the Hip-Hop history books. He wowed us with wordplay on "Won't Back Down," perfected the twelve-step program on "Going Through Changes" and even cracked daytime radio without his usual hijinks alongside Rihanna with "Love The Way You Lie."

We’ve seen Shady rise and fall over the years, all the while hearing his deepest emotions resonate through his work. Recovery may just be another chapter in that book, but somber tracks like "25 to Life" and "Space Bound" make it feel more like a starkly poignant epilogue. Even the overplayed lead single "Not Afraid" invigorated an air of redemption that normally surrounds the flawed protagonist during the denouement of a classic novel. Em may never match the hunger level we heard in "Amityville" and "As the World Turns," and that's O.K. No artist usually does. So try not to see it as an album, but as the end of a well-written autobiography. -- C. Paicely

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records/G.O.O.D. Music
Producers: Kanye West, The RZA, No I.D., Mike Caren, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean, Bink!, S1, Emile, Plain Pat, Lex Luger, DJ Frank E, Andrew Dawson
Rated: 4.5 Cigs

Kanye West may not be the best rapper. He may not be the best producer (yet). What he does have going for himself more than anyone else currently on the scene is an added sense of drive and ambition. Combine those with his already impressive skill set and you're looking at the best artist in the game. On his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West took another artistic leap by combining the large sounds of Graduation with the soul-baring episodes of 808’s & Heartbreaks.

On the surface, songs like “Dark Fantasy” and “Lost In The World” play up the fantasy element, but West’s lyrics keep them grounded by weaving in pieces of his own reality into the mixture. In turn, the aural lightshow that is “All Of The Lights,” captured the full range of emotion involved with domestic fighting and turns it into a fantastical event. The lyrical denseness of “Monster,” “So Appalled” and “Devil In A New Dress” fueled by strong features, make up the core of the album, before Kanye succumbs to his artistic whims and desires slowly throwing traditional song structure to the wind and simply creating entertaining, cathartic music like “Runaway,” which has somewhat become a classic anthem in a matter of months. By refusing to be confined by the rigid ideology of what Hip-Hop should sound like, Kanye once again pushes the boundaries and definition of conventional Hip-Hop. -- MZ

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Bun B
Trill O.G.
Label: Rap-A-Lot Records
Producers: DJ Premier, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Drumma Boy, Boi-1da, Play-N-Skillz, Steve Below, Big E, DJ B-Do, Sound M.O.B.
Rated: 4 Cigs

They wanted you to believe that Hip-Hop had completely moved past worthwhile contributions from legends of old. They wanted you to solely conform to futuristic sound waves suited for a spaceship in contrast to a '69 Chevy. Similar to a veteran pitcher not ready to retire from the mound, Bun B mustered up his trusty brand of trillness and met the present day milieu halfway to deliver the album of his career. Kicking in the proverbial door with muscular cha-ching's like "Snow Money" and "Countin' Money," Hip-Hop's most professional extended his usual aphorisms and offered up potent equilibriums with DJ Premier ("Let 'Em Know") and rolling out the red carpet on "Lights, Camera, Action."

Leaving no pocket full of stones unturned, slab culture, marking territories and Pimp C all spread royal flushes under the guidance of Bun's dealership, thus, stamping the album with the official seal of approval. As quoted on the marquee pennant "Trillionaire": "...you gon' understand that Bun B is forever trill..." Sho'nuff. -- TC

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Statik Selektah & Termanology
1982
Label: Showoff Records/Brick Records
Producer: Statik Selektah
Rated: 4 Cigs

Who says that Hip-Hop is dead? Beantowners Statik Selektah and Termanology released their collaborative effort, 1982, to nostalgic genre enthusiasts who appreciate two things among anything else: beats and bars. "The World Renowned" sees Statik supply signature scratches over Term's four-and-a-half minutes of unimpeded verbal warfare, while the breezy-sounding "Life Is What You Make It" sees Saigon and Freeway drop a few juxtaposed, gritty bars. Contrarily, rhyming for sport is always welcomed but Staik and Term still tackle important issues like routine poverty on "The Hood Is On Fire" and breaking cycles as exhibited on "Freedom." 1982 won't appear in the Billboard Top-25 nor will it receive any sort of force-fed overexposure. However, it will induce heavy head-nodding and multiple listens because it is what it is: damn good Hip-Hop. -- Ryan J.

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Big K.R.I.T.
K.R.I.T Wuz Here
Label: Cinematic Music Group/Multi Alumni/Def Jam Records
Producer: Big K.R.I.T.
Rated: 4 Cigs

It’s funny how the simplest words contain so much power. Call your collection of music a mixtape and it will be treated like one, holding court until the next one comes along. Call it an album and it will ll be held up under the light, scrutinized like one. K.R.I.T Wuz Here could have easily been one the year's top mixtapes, but once the dust settled on 2010, Big K.R.I.T. ended up with one of the year’s top albums. Starting things off with pimptastic cuts like "Return Of 4eva" and "Country Shit," K.R.I.T could have stayed in that lane and easily succeeded. Instead, he brings listeners into his world; sharing his both his aspirations and frustrations on songs like “Hometown Hero” and “Viktorius.” Touching on the harsh everyday realities of life with “Children Of The World and downright ghettoness on “They Got Us,” the King Remembered In Time didn't waste a second on needless fluff and delivered that kind of substance Hip-Hop purists claim went missing years ago. Regardless of the subject matter, beats per minute or tempo, all songs were declared with a down-to-earth and introspective persona that separated him from his peers, young or old. -- MZ

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Skyzoo & !llmind
Live From The Tape Deck
Label: Duck Down Records
Producer: !llmind
Rated: 4 Cigs

An emphasis on lyricism and punchlines aptly defines New York Hip-Hop protocol, but Skyzoo took the game’s mechanics and frequently emphasized his technical wizardry with Live From The Tape Deck. In the past, the man’s production has, at times, failed to showcase his poetic prowess appropriately, but alongside !llmind, the Jersey-bred producer revealed the fact that he was born to boost wordsmiths like Skyzoo. The vocal clarity on Tape Deck's spools remained crisp without diminishing the kick behind every East Coast-flavored beat.

Tracks like "Barrel Brothers" and "Speakers on Blast" were standalone gems and still managed to run together as an unit, as the project was dominated by one producer. Yet ambitious as a multi-layered !llmind beat or Heltah Skeltah presence was, it was Zoo’s words on the assonance-powered “Langston’s Pen” that could easily go down one of the most beautifully complex artistic expressions of 2010. And let's hope another self-absorbed athlete creates an idiotic media circus, just so we can get a "Winner's Circle" sequel. Analog has officially witnessed a resurrection. -- C. Paicely

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

B.o.B.
B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
Label: Grand Hustle/Rebel Rock/Atlantic Records
Producers: B.o.B., Eminem, T.I., Jim Jonsin, Dr. Luke, Alex da Kid, The Smeezingtons, The Knux, DJ Frank E, Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Kuttah, Lil' C, Luis Resto,
Rated: 4 Cigs

It was a very unorthodox, yet entertaining trek through Bobby Ray’s Adventures. The safari is in his land, and from the very beginning, the listener follows his rules, and lets him dictate the terms of his creative journey. Nothing about the album is formulaic or cookie cutter, as he keeps pushing the walls of Hip-Hop until they’re on the brink of tipping. Tracks like “Don’t Let Me Fall,” “Ghost in the Machine,” and “Satellite,” exemplify his unique harmonizing and singing abilities, while other records like “Bet I” and “Airplanes” show that he can simply kick rhymes just as well as any other rapper. And while B.o.B may have pushed the gauntlet too far in “Magic,” the album was overall a strong, cohesive, innovative, and most importantly, unique debut offering that has stood to be one of the best releases through the end of this calendar year. -- Raj

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Marco Polo & Ruste Juxx
The eXXecution
Label: Duck Down Records
Producer: Marco Polo
Rated: 4 Cigs

In 2010, drastic times called for even more drastic measures. Rappers are smiling in every photo opportunity, singing bad notes and squashing beefs with lukewarm collaborations. We needed a reminder that the true essence of Hip-Hop comes from the streets and Ruste Juxx and Marco Polo were our rhyme and reason with blistering fury on The eXXecution.

Presenting himself as the class of MC who will spit you countless hot 16's before spitting on you, his affiliation with Polo's rugged sound hybrids proved to be a formidable pairing indeed. Snatching candy-ass poofs out of drop top Benzes on "I'm Am On It" before embodying the live show set with Black Moon on "Let's Take A Sec" only scratched the surface of his juggernaut abilities. Not to be overlooked, the Canadian beatminer had Lake Ontario in his veins when lacing captivating piano loops overtop frightening mounds of bass as heard on "Nobody" and "Rearview" for RJ to chop heads at his every desire. By geniunely refusing to abandon the concrete throughout the entire project, the newly-formed faction blessed Duck Down Records with one of the hardest albums the label has ever witnessed and score one for capital punishment in the process. -- TC

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Rick Ross
Teflon Don
Label: Maybach Music Group/Def Jam Records
Producers: Kanye West, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, No I.D., Clark Kent, Danja, The Runners, The Inkredibles, Lex Luger, The Olympicks, The Remedy, LLC
Rated: 3.5 Cigs

Every year, fanatical devotees of “real Hip-Hop” hope Rick Ross goes away and every year he begrudgingly wins more of them over to his side. He does so not by showcasing lyrical growth or musical flexibility, but by bludgeoning them into submission with the tried and true formula of hot beats, flossin’/speedin’/fast life rhymes, not to mention a vocal style made for a microphone. Therefore, Teflon Don is the perfect description, as he delivers another well-sequenced platter of radio and club-ready head knockers.

Ross is at his best when the pace speeds up, like the ubiquitous “B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast).” Slower songs like “Aston Martin Music” still have a cool edge perfect for riding round with the windows down. It’s when Ross’ lack of circumstantial substance rears its ugly head does the needle start to skip. Ross’ self-doubting on “Tears of Joy” lacks the sincerity or skill to take him seriously, and there are too many moments where his lyrical limitations shine through to make this a truly great album. Still, with a golden ear for beats and access to any guest he wants, why stop the party? -- Patrick M.

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

Drake
Thank Me Later
Label: Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown
Producers: Kanye West, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, No I.D., Francis & The Lights, Noah "40" Shebib, Boi-1da, Omen, Crada, Jeff Bhasker, Matthew Burnett, Tone Mason, Al-Khaaliq
Rated: 4.5 Cigs

There was a hint of conceit in the title for Thank Me Later, the debut of album for Hip-Hop's newly-minted golden boy, Drake. After a remarkable 2009 which achieved more in a year than most completed careers, the pressure to topple his expecations took on a storyline of their own. However, with A-plus-listers like Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West chipping in for namesake, even Real & Chance would find it difficult to drop the ball with such a lineup.

Covering his bases like a potential grand slam, Drizzy hit clubs ("Up All Night"/w Nicki Minaj), radio ("Find Your Love"), and mixtape circuits ("Over") with confident ambidextrous vocal talents, yet it was the emotions that drifted beneath the surface that made Thank Me Later deeper than rap. Benevolence was key as he openly addressed a high profile romantic affair and strained relationships with his parents on "Fireworks" and learned to become flameproof over ultra-melodic production for "The Resistance."

It's generally customary (and humble) to accept praise after the fact, but in the case of this sonically remarkable, open letter, we'll gladly make an exception. -- TC

BUY: iTunes | Amazon

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TAGS2010 In ReviewALBUM REVIEWSAlbumsLISTSSpotlight

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