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Top 27 Rap Albums of 2007

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7. UGK - Underground Kingz

© Jive

This 2-disc LP is a crash course for those UGK fans who were still in underoos when Too Hard to Swallow became a hip-hop staple. The album kicks off with the catchy "Swishas & Doshas" and leads into the year's most memorable rap song, "Int'l Players Anthem." Listening to this album again serves as a bitter reminder that Pimp C's riveting hooks and production prowess will be sorely missed.

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6. Talib Kweli - Ear Drum

© Warner

If you wrote Talib Kweli off after hearing The Beautiful Struggle, you've been forgiven. While that album had its moments of brilliance, it struggled to connect with core fans of unadulterated Kwelity music. In contrast, Ear Drum is an artistically sound package.

5. Brother Ali - Undisputed Truth

© Rhymesayers

Part of the success recipe for Undisputed Truth is Ali's ability to breathe life into Ant's beats with ease, like a translator of oneiric symbologies. I can imagine Ali in the studio bragging, "Ant, give me a beat and I'll tell you what it's saying to me."

4. Pharoahe Monch - Desire

Pharoahe Monch - Desire
© SRC/Universal Motown
Desire, Pharoahe Monch's poignant sophomore album is rich with poetic and insightful excerpts. Pharoahe underpins his fierce delivery with a unique sense of lyrical equilibrium. "Slave to the label, but I own my masters," he rhymes on the politically salient "Free." Then there's the soulful singing on "Push" and "Body Baby" that help yield an integrated masterpiece.

3. Jay-Z - American Gangster

© Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

American Gangster is an improvement on last year's 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. Jay-Z the American Gangster keeps coming back. But who knew it would only take a movie and a bucket of popcorn to return Jay to top form.

2. Kanye West - Graduation

© Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

If hip-hop were college, Kanye West would be the mildly irritating senior -- acing Psychology, kicking it with that sexy young English instructor, and spewing self-righteous jazz in the parking lot. Scratch that. Hip-hop is college in Kanye's world. And Graduation is a class act.

1. Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool

© Atlantic

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. Lupe limits the key concept to five songs, but the rest of the album is loaded with random gems that showcase his versatility. From the smoothed out vibe of "Paris, Tokyo" to the frenetic delivery on "Hello/Goodbye," the ever shifting themes never allow the listener to get too comfortable. By crystallizing his divergent interests into one bold work of art, Lupe proves that the elements of progressive hip-hop -- eclecticism, zaniness, swagger -- don't have to be mutually exclusive.

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