10. K'Naan - Troubador
Troubadour finds K’naan assuming the role of a street griot and dishing out some of the most compelling narratives you’ll hear all year. In his own words, “My job is to write what I see/So a visual stenographer is what I be.
9. K-os - Yes!
K-os continues to show his maturity with yet another solid addition to his brilliant catalog. On his fourth go-round, the Canadian MC teeters the brink between thought-provoking stories and accessible rhymes.
8. Eminem - Relapse
Relapse maintains a cinematic vibe from start to finish. While Eminem's narratives are too familiar (it's another Slim Shady album, after all), his method of delivery has evolved. It's not his best work (the shock value wears thin after a while), but you'd have to go back 9 years to find a better Eminem album.
7. Clipse - Til' The Casket Drops
Give the Clipse credit for sticking with a formula that yields quality music (Clipse + Neptunes = Success). Give them even bigger props for exploring new sounds on Til The Casket Drops, the first Clipse album that wasn't exclusively produced by Chad & Pharrell. Adding DJ Khalil and Sean C & LV to the production lineup helped breathe new life into the their sound.
6. Slaughterhouse - Slaughterhouse
If you've ever wanted to see four individually acclaimed wordsmiths band together for the sheer purpose of rewiring hip-hop's current disposition while staying true to the game's fundamentals, then this is your chance.
5. DOOM - Born Like This
After observing the game from the sidelines for several years, DOOM (formerly MF Doom) decided he's seen enough. The masked one returned with one goal in mind: to reinject his esoteric brand of hip-hop into the game.
3. Brother Ali - US
Two years ago, Brother Ali teamed up with esteemed producer and Steven Seagal’s illegitimate twin (that would be Ant) to create one of the most brutally honest albums hip-hop has seen in years, Undisputed Truth. Ali’s back rapping about going from underdog status to shopping for underwear with Rakim, among other things.
2. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... PT2
Cuban Linx 2 is indescribably new yet familiar -- a smart blend of early Wu-Tang rawness and stylishly anti-modern production. Those Wu fans who turned on the Chef for alienating RZA on Immobilarity get their recompense on Cuban Linx II, which sports two vintage RZA beats.
1. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Mos Def has struggled with consistency in the past. One listen to The Ecstatic, however, and you'll forgive and forgive Mos' past transgressions. Pretty Flacco finally conquered his demons, and Ecstatic finds him returning to the breath-defying, head-spinning lyricism that made him a hip-hop great.