Though 2009 produced more duds than gems, the year still gave us an array of great albums that managed to sustain our faith in hip-hop. Grab a cold drink, pull up a chair, and join us as we take stock of 2009's best hip-hop albums. (For albums that let us down, see our 10 Most Disappointing Rap Albums of 2009)
For a guy who only learned the English Language a decade ago, Somali-Canadian MC K'naan is an outstanding lyricist. K'naan Left an indelible mark on the global hip-hop community with 2005's Dusty Foot Philosopher. He now returns with the musically rich Troubador, which features Damian "JR Gong" Marley, Chubb Rock, Mos Def, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Chali 2na and Adam Levine & James Valentine of Maroon 5. 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. The incredibly polished production makes Yes! a special treat.
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. There are unique rhyme sequences and vocal cadences here ("Soon as the flow starts, I compose art like the ghost of Mozart"). Relapse isn't his best work (the shock value wears thin after a while), but you'd have to go back a decade to find another Eminem album this good.
7. Clipse - 'Til The Casket Drops'
Give the Thornton Brothers 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 Clipse soundscape. It's a well-rounded, thoroughly enjoyable album, though their coke tales are nothing new.
After watching the rap 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. Born Like This is engaging from start to finish. DOOM even enjoyed cosign from strange places, as Radiohead's Thom Yorke loved the album that he ended up doing a remix for one of its songs, "Gazillion Ear." The "Gazillion Ear (Thom Yorke Remix)" appears as a bonus track on iTunes.
UGK's final album, UGK 4 Life, is incredibly cohesive and devoid of a boring moment. Bun B’s bassy mid-paced enunciation is almost as hypnotic as Pimp C’s high-pitched delivery. The result is a mix like night and day, and they complement each other perfectly.
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.
Cuban Linx... Pt. 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.
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 has conquered his demons, and Ecstatic finds him returning to the breath-defying, head-spinning lyricism that made him a hip-hop great.