If you're a fan of the Lakers, soccer (I mean, futbol), or vuvuzelas, 2010 has been a great year. If you live, eat, sleep, breathe hip-hop, then you're probably happy that the music gods have also smiled on you this year. It's been a good year for hip-hop and the evidence is overwhelming.
Honorable Mention: Marcberg (Roc Marciano), Concrete Dreams (Preemo), Str8 Killa (Freddie Gibbs)
Before Taxes seeks to hit the reset button on the current hip-hop climate, as yU transports the listener to a place where music isn't diluted by economic motivation. It's a powerful statement by the Diamond District member. One that he truly backs up with inspired rhymes and mellow compositions.
Curren$y has weed on his mind, but not in the way you might expect. He breaks his rhymes and his buds the same way -- slow, lazy, meticulous. The beats are equally woozy and magnetic. This young upstart employs this signature approach to both Pilot Talk and its sequel, both released in the span of less than a year. PT 2 earns the slight height advantage because Ski Beatz ensures that it's cohesive from start to finish.
It's become something of a musical sport, trying to capture the essence of Africa in song format. Over the last few years, artists great and small have hurled their harpoons at this whale of a continent, with results ranging from interesting to mundane. No one has come as close as piercing the heart lately as Nas and Damian Marley with Distant Relatives.
Shad isn't from the school of bang bang shoot 'em up boasts. He doesn't have blinding bling or model girlfriends to brag about. What he has is the gift of gab and a desire to balance out hip-hop's excess with technically sound, conscious-driven music. He's likely to be pegged as the "holier than thou" type. That's unfortunate, but the razor-sharp rhyming on display throughout TSOL should see him through.
Pretend it’s 1996 and UGK's Ridin' Dirty is oozing from every car in Houston. J Dilla and Outkast are making strides. Now fast forward to 2010. Throw Pimp C, Dilla, and OutKast in a blender and sprinkle a hint of 8Ball & MJG. Welcome to Big K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. How good is this album? K.R.I.T. released his self-produced debut to the web for free. A few weeks later, Def Jam reps came knocking on his door, record contract in hand. It all happened on the strength of the year's best DIY debut.
A sprawling musical palette is the driving force behind How I Got Over. Meandering electric slides, lush piano loops, drawling bass, and brisk snares wrap around Black Thought's resolute voice. His lyrics take on the weight of the world, whether rapping about his late parents on the dreary "Dear God 2.0" or dishing pep talk to his daughter on "Hustla." The lush arrangements provide the perfect backdrop for Black Thought and the cast of supporting MCs, as they explore the harsh realities of life with uncommon insight and depth.
It's not the greatest hip-hop album ever. It's not even Kanye's best album. But My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a wildly ambitious, thoroughly enjoyable musical fare. Self-indulgence rares its ugly head from time to time, but when 'Ye fully connects it's a ferocious slam dunk, as on "Power" and "Monster."