10. Devin The Dude - Waiting to Inhale
As tempting as it is to dismiss Devin the Dude's records as paeans to weed and women, the swift-sailing soul underneath his smokescreen and smooth talk will keep naysayers in check. The Dude keeps evoked laughs and dialogs simultaneously with his bewildering tales.
9. Prodigy - Return of the Mac
Return of the Mac is a back-to-basics hardcore rap album that hearkens to the 90s era Mobb Deep. Alchemist, who produced the entire disc, keeps the soundscape gritty and cohesive, making it easier for P to focus on his CSI-esque crime tales.
7. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
I'll Sleep When You're Dead is metaphysics on wax. From abstract dialogs about falling through space to candid quips about selling dreams, El-P's melodramatic musings make for a unique headphone experience.
6. UGK - Underground Kingz
This 2-disc LP is like a crash course for UGK fans who were still in Underoos when Too Hard To Swallow broke big. It also spawned 2007's most memorable rap song, "Int'l Players Anthem." Listening to this album now serves as a bitter reminder that Pimp C's riveting hooks and production prowess will be sorely missed.
5. Pharoahe Monch - Desire
We waited damn near a decade for this bad boy, but it was worth every year. Pharoahe's fierce delivery on Delivery found a perfect match in his unique sense of lyrical equilibrium. "Slave to the label, but I own my masters," he rhymes on the politically salient "Free."
4. Kanye West - Graduation
If hip-hop were college, Kanye would be the mildly irritating senior -- acing Calculus, kicking it with that sexy young English major, and spewing self-righteous jazz in the parking lot. Scratch that. Hip-hop is college and Kanye is always ahead of his class. No diploma necessary.
3. Jay-Z - American Gangster
This was Jay's response to the criticism that followed Kingdom Come. Jay puts it this way: Here we go/And I'm a domino/"When it All Falls Down" I'm like Kanye's jaw -- I might break, but I don't fold." Bottom Line: No matter how many times he hits the floor, he can still bounce back stronger ever. But who knew it would only take a movie and a bucket of popcorn?
1. Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
In a year when hip-hop exploded with concept albums, many of them gimmicky, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool stood taller than Yao Ming on a court full of six-footers. From the smoothed out vibe of "Paris, Tokyo" to the frenetic "Hello/Goodbye," The Cool packed enough pizzazz to keep the listener glued. By crystallizing his divergent interests into one bold work of art, Lupe proved that the elements of modern hip-hop (eclecticism, zaniness, swagger) don't have to be mutually exclusive.