Hip Hop in 2010

December 3, 2010

So as I’ve been getting my best of 2010 lists together to post in the next few weeks, I noticed that despite some stiff competition, only one hip hop album made my cut for the top ten albums of the year although a few songs made the 20 song singles cut.

There have been some interesting things going on in hip hop this year even if a lot of those things were good rather than great. There have been enough of those good moments to warrant a somewhat more detailed look, so since I won’t be discussing many of them on the final wrap-up lists, I want to take some space here to mention them.

Recently I posted my review of arguably the most anticipated hip hop record of the year, Kanye Wests’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” You can read my evaluation of it here. I tried to highlight what was great and not-so-great about it; ultimately some of those less than great aspects keep it from making my top 10, but if I ranked a top 20 it would certainly make that cut.

The Roots are a favorite group of mine in hip hop and they released two really good records: “How I Got Over,” was another album just on the cusp of making it into my top 10. It had some great moments–“Dear God 2.0,” the title track (which makes my 20 singles list), “Walk Alone,” and “Doin’ it Again.” There aren’t any bad songs on the entire record and it was on my list for a large chunk of the year but ultimately dropped out as competition forced it just below the cut–those simply good songs filling it out keep it off my list. The Roots also backed John Legend for a solid joint effort, “Wake Up!” which covers and reinterprets a slew of classic and rare soul songs from the sixty and seventies. “Hard Times” and the title track are excellent and many of the other moments on it are really good as well.

Eminem returned sober for the first time in years with “Recovery” and with it gave his audience his best work in years, making them (hopefully) forget that atrocity “Relapse” and huge chunks of “Encore.” Fresh-minded he proved his undeniable skill on the mic, rhyming with insane dexterity and manic emotion. Ultimately, though he denies such attitudes as an individual, he still allows far too much misogyny and homophobia to creep into his bars and I know he could be more effective if he could open up his scope large enough to comment on some things that matter, something he managed to do under layers of superficial vitirol on the “Marshall Mathers LP” and “Eminem Show” albums. Anyway, “Not Afraid” and “Love the Way You Lie” are great rap pop hits; “25 to Life” is the best song he’s done since “Stan” conceptually; “No Love” may be devoid of moral substance but it shows off his skills better than anything he’s done in a long time.

The internet has grown the mixtape scene tremendously in terms of potential audience; no longer do you have to find out of the way barber shops and behind the counter record stores to purchase a mixtape, you can do it from legit websites, making available lots of great free music that artists often self-produce or work with a notabe DJ on. These mixtapes are great ways for up and coming artists to build a reputation and an audience, for notable MCs to show off their skill on others beats or hype an upcoming studio album, or in some cases release what sounds just like a studio album without any filter. The best ones I heard this year are: Dead Prez : “Revolutionary but Gangster” the mixtape– DJ Drama does the “Gangsta Grillz” line for two of the best and most important MCs in recent history; aside from the “Hell Yeah” single this was the best thing we’ve heard from DP since “Let’s Get Free” ten years ago.  J Cole‘s awaited studio debut didn’t show but he did drop a self-produced mixtape that sounds just like a studio album, “Friday Night Lights.” Das Racist got a lot of critical attention for “Sit Down, Man,” an often hilarious but always entertaing batch of songs with a unique sound.

Nicki Minaj built up attention on the mixtape circuit all year long and was being hailed as the best new rap talent long before “Pink Friday” finally dropped. “Friday” is a bit dissapointing in many aspects; I admit I’ve always felt Nicki to be a bit over-rated in many ways, but I do concede she has a real talent and a unique personality. Her verse on “Monster” is pretty undeniable in terms of hyperactive id and larger than life tongue-twisters. “Friday” did provide a few solid tracks and a few excellent verses.

Nas and Damian Marley: Distant Relatives” is probably the best hip hop reggae fusion album I’ve ever heard, not counting some of the best moments off of the Talib Kweli or Mos Def reggae dub records. Nas is one of the best veteran rappers in the genre today when he’s truly on, which he is for several tracks on this one.

Drake beat Nicki to the punch in releasing a thoroughly hyped, internet chattered debut with “Thank Me Later.” There are some really fun songs on the album: “Unforgettable” which provides us with a feature from Young Jeezy (which is his best moment of the year, closely followed by his mixtape appropriation of ‘Ye’s “Power” as “Powder”), “Lights Out!” which features a great rapport with Jay Z, “Over,” and “Fireworks” to name a few.

My biggest dissapointment this year was the delay of Lupe Fiasco‘s new record, “Lasers.” I’ve been waiting for a new Lupe record since “The Cool,” an album that I consider not only one of the best hip hop records ever but simply one of the best albums ever. Lupe is an excellent rhymer with the best substance of any rapper anywhere approaching mainstream– hell even from  the underground. The word was that “Lasers” was finished back in the spring and it kept getting delayed; Atlantic has yet to release it for whatever reason. There was even a protest in front of Atlantic’s office back in October demanding its release (!) and a widely circulated internet petition for the same purpose. Anyway, we did get a few singles- “I’m Beamin” and “The Show Goes On” as well as the “Enemy of the State” mixtape, and it looks like the full studio record will finally see the light of day in early spring next year.

I really dug B. Dolan‘s “Fallen House Sunken Ship” record as well, a few of its tracks are jaw-dropping (one of which I’ll go into detail on in my singles list) and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Ice Cube is yet another formative hip hop figure still capable of making genuine music into middle age and his “I Am the West” is his best work in a very long time and the best west coast rap record in general that I’ve heard in a number of years.

Erykah Badu is really more soul and R&B than hip hop, but hip hop is a substantial informing vibe to her work so its worth mentioning her pretty great (but not as great as its predecessor) “New Amerykah pt. II,” specifically the fantastic “Window Seat.”

Well, hopefully any hip hop heads reading notice at least one major omission, a major hip hop album not discussed here which makes my list of best albums of the year but I won’t specifically mention it yet!

More to come.


One Response to “Hip Hop in 2010”

  1. […] mentioned in my hip hop in 2010 article that only one hip hop album made the cut for my top ten albums of 2010, despite some strong […]

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