That’s That ’09 Wrap Up

Since every other blog is doing it, I figured I should follow suit…The past 365 days (or so) has seen a lot of change in hip hop.  Thankfully, it seems as though the trends of autotune, dance songs, and ringtone music have sharply declined (with the exception of Weezy, who’s dignity continues to circle the drain).  2009 saw the release of Wale’s long-awaited debut album, the introduction of J. Cole to the larger hip hop community, the return of the Clipse, as well as legends Raekwon and Jay-Z dropping highly anticipated follow-ups to their respective classic albums on the same day.  Sales have been down, but such is the state of the economy and, from an artistic standpoint, 2009 has been a good year for the hip hop community considering the condition that faced entering the year (in fact, the economic conditions have contributed to the improvement in quality as consumers become more selective as to what they purchase).  The following are some of my favorite albums, EPs, mixtapes, and songs that have made past year special.

Peace, Love, & Hip Hop,

1.) Wale – Attention Deficit
I had a tough time deciding between the top two albums as both were nearly flawless.  I went with D.C. rapper Wale because his content tends to carry more weight.  The album contains numerous cuts, from the pop-crossover hits, "Chillin'" and "Pretty Girls," to deeper songs such as "Shades," "Diary," and "Contemplate," Wale's debut proves his claim on the final track, "Prescription," that he is the ritalin to the typical hip hop head disappointed with the quality of most albums today.  The best debut I've heard from an artist this side of Food & Liquor.
Best Tracks: "Beautiful Bliss," "Shades"

2.) The ClipseTill the Casket Drops
Like Attention Deficit, the Clipse's third album is nearly flawless from a production standpoint.  In the tradition of their previous releases, most of the production is handled by the Neptunes (though they do diversify their producer base on the album).  As a result, the production is crisp and provides the listener with some of the best instrumentals of the year in the form of "Popular Demand,""I'm Good," and "Kind of Like a Big Deal."  It is this production, along with the complex, humorous, and confident lyrics of Malice and Pusha T that have made the Virginia duo successful commercially, while maintaining the respect of the traditional hip hop fanbase.  Really, the only flaw I could find with the album was it's atrocious artwork.
Best Tracks: "Popular Demand,"I'm Good"

3.) Fresh Espresso – Glamour.
Slotting in at number three is a surprising duo in Seattle's Fresh Espresso.  Producer/Singer/Emcee P Smoov has previously worked with Mad Rad, a group known primarily for P Smoov's innovative, synth-heavy beats and goofy lyrics, but Glamour. represents a growth in P Smoov as an artist.  Rik Rude joins Smoov, providing him with more lyrical weight, while his own production and rhyming have grown more refined and complex.  The content of the album still isn't anything deep, but hip hop needs artists like FE, the Beastie Boys, and ODB, who just have fun with their music.  At the end of the day, Glamour. doesn't have a single bad track and provides an enjoyable listen from top to bottom.
Best Tracks: "Right Here," "Diamond Pistols," "Something New"

4.) Marco Polo & Torae – Double Barrel
The Brooklyn group Marco Polo & Torae revert to the classic hip hop formula of one producer/deejay and one emcee that has worked over and over again for the likes of Eric B & Rakim, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Atmosphere, and Reflection Eternal.  Following the DJ Premier-assisted introduction, the duo sets the stage with the hard-hitting, aggressive title-track.  The album doesn't let up and possesses an overall violent, sadistic, gritty tone that draws on the traditions of the Wu-Tang Clan and M.O.P. (Mash Out Posse member happens to drop by on "Smoke").  Double Barrel provides a rare, shocking sound that often doesn't see the light of day in hip hop (at least since old school Wu-Tang and Eminem). Marco Polo's high intensity production (frequented by sirens and shotguns in the background) sets the backdrop for Torae's rhymes and creates a deadly combination.
Best Tracks: "Double Barrel," "Danger"

5.) Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
There's not much more that I can say about this album that I didn't say in my previous review.  The only qualm that I had about it was it's length.  At twenty-two tracks and over seventy minutes of music the album takes it's toll on the listener and would have been better off cutting out some of the tracks with the more repetitive content in order to emphasize the stronger tracks.  Still, OB4CLII proves to be a worthy follow up to Raekwon's classic first-generation Wu album and picks up exactly where it's predecessor left off with the Papa Wu assisted "Return of the North Star" intro.  It would have been great if he had gotten Nas on a track for a sequel to "Verbal Intercourse," but "House of Flying Daggers" is one of my favorite songs (and music videos) of the year and harkens back to the heavy-hitting Wu-Tang collaborations like "Triumph" that dominated hip hop in the early 90's.
Best Tracks: "House of Flying Daggers," "New Wu," "Kiss the Ring"

6.) Royce Da 5’9” – Street Hop
Street Hop saw the return to solo work for my second favorite Slaughterhouse emcee (Joell Ortiz's Free Agent should be one of the better albums of 2010).  The album stands as a 19-track testament to why Royce is considered one of the best underground emcees in the game today.  Royce is joined by a host of talented emcees and even manages to get a good verse out of Busta Rhymes (is it just me, or has Busta Bust not been the same since he cut his dreads?), but the focus remains on him as he dominates even the best competition with his verbal assault on each and every track.  The one qualm I have with the album is some of Royce's choices in beats, as many fail to impress the listener or support his strong lyrics.
Best Tracks: "New Money," "Dinner Time," "Hood Love"

7.) Kid CuDi – Man On The Moon: The End of Day
Again, there's nothing I can really say about this album that I haven't said in my review (link above).  Kid CuDi provides us with an artistic, albeit psychedelic and dark, album.  The real success is getting an album like this released on a major label.  The one aspect keeping Man On The Moon from rising higher on the list is the absolutely atrocious Common and Kanye assisted "Make Her Say" (I swear, it's as if each emcee made a bet to see who could provide the worse verse).  Aside from that, if you skip over "Make Her Say" the album proves to be a very solid freshman release.
Best Tracks: "Soundtrack 2 My Life," "Pursuit of Happiness"

8.) Skyzoo – The Salvation
I had a tough time getting into Skyzoo's debut album.  It's an album that won't draw you in with catchy hooks or crisp production, which, though not bad, fails to stand out among other albums released this year.  The album requires the listener to pay close attention to the Brooklyn emcee's intricate wordplay.  Individually, all of the songs (with the exception of "Popularity" which seems like an out of place attempt to generate a single) are individually good, but they will take their toll on the average listener when placed together.  The content is good, but the content can still be there and provide an enjoyable listen throughout an album (as shown by #1 on the list).
Best Tracks: "The Opener," "Return of the Real," "The Beautiful Decay," "Dear Whoever," "Maintain"

9.) M.O.P. – Foundation
The Mash Out Posse has been through their share of misery over the past decade.  Mismanaged, first by Roc-A-Fella and then by G-Unit, the Brooklyn duo has released one studio album prior to Foundation since first signing with the Roc in 2002.  Foundation represents a new freedom for the group as well as a return to their roots in the unique hardcore-rock/rap combo that can only be described as that M.O.P. sound.  Foundation begins, backed by the screeching guitars, with "I'm a Brownsvillain" and only really slows down for "What I Wanna Be," which provides a slower, yet still equally good song that is typical for the group.  Granted, the album will only appeal to a small niche in the hip hop community (perhaps the reason it hasn't done as well commercially as the other albums on this list), but that doesn't change the fact that it's a solid album top to bottom.
Best Tracks: "I'm a Brownsvillian," "What I Wanna Be," "Crazy," "Foundation"

10.) Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
There was no way that The Blueprint 3 was going to live up to the hype it garnered.  Jay-Z and Eminem suffer from the same dilemna that nothing they can do or say will shock anyone anymore (part of the appeal of their early releases.  Coupling that with the expectations that come with owning a catalog full of classic albums, being arguably the best rapper alive, and the album being another follow-up to an album that is widely considered to be one of the best the genre has ever witnessed and there just wasn't any way it could succeed critically (Jay-Z has the most crossover appeal with mainstream consumers and hip hop heads alike since Biggie, so it was a forgone conclusion that it would succeed commercially).  The album is reminiscent of a previous Jay-Z release, Kingdom Come, that many felt failed to live up to expectations.  I would beg to differ with the conclusion reached by many on both albums.  I have listened to very few albums that a better five-track run than the first five on Kingdom Come and, when you throw "Beach Chair" into the mix, the album begins to look much better than most people hold it to be.  Sure the album gets "muddled" in the middle, but even quote-unquote sub-Jay-Z songs are better than 99% of most rappers best songs.  The Blueprint 3 follows a similar structure.  With the exception of the Timbaland beats (which are oddly bad), the production is superb.  The first five tracks is one of the best five-track runs of the year (and includes "Thank You," my favorite instrumental of the year, and "Empire State of Mind, which proves to be the antitheses to Nas' classic "N.Y. State of Mind"), the album then dips down in quality until being picked up by a figurative passing of the baton to the next generation on the J. Cole-assisted "A Star Is Born" (one of the best individual tracks of the year).  The album then drops to a much lower quality thanks to some of the worst Timbaland beats I've ever heard, before being picked up with the penultimate track "So Ambitious" (I'm not going to count the final track, "Young Forever," because I can't take it's impossible for me to listen to it without thinking of the prom scene from Napoleon Dynamite).
Best Tracks: "A Star Is Born," "Empire State of Mind," "Thank You"
Honorable Mentions: Blakroc, Brother Ali - US, Eminem - Relapse, K. Sparks & Pajozo - Soul Food, KRS-One & Buckshot - Survival Skills, Shabazz Palaces - Shabazz Palaces, Slaughterhouse - Slaughterhouse, Zion I - The Take Over

Extended Play:
I'm a huge fan of EP's.  Although I would prefer to listen to a good album, I will always be a proponent of artists reducing the number of filler tracks on their albums.  It is often difficult to create fourteen to fifteen tracks that are good and mesh well together, so this often results in the reduction from an LP to EP...

1.) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The VS. EP 
Easily the best seven track run of the year.  Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis have created a masterpiece.  VS., which samples relevant contemporary tracks from other genres, adds a touch of percussion, and lets one of the most talented Seattle emcees paint a canvas.  Macklemore bears all and takes us through the scope of human emotions over the course of the seven tracks, explaining his travels from success to drug abuse, to failed relationships, to moving back in with his parents, to rehab, to love that he has experienced over the past four years.  I don't think I've ever heard seven consecutive tracks better than the ones Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have compiled here.
Best Track: "Kings"

2.) Inverse – So True EP
It's from earlier in the year, but it's still sticks in the memory.  The California duo's EP was in heavy rotation this summer on my iPod, and for good reason.  Every track is good while "Rise and Shine" and the title-track are superb.
Best Track: "Rise and Shine"

3.) Blue Scholars – OOF! EP
There's not much more I can say that I didn't discuss in my prior review (see link above).
Best Track: "Hello"

4.) Small Eyez – From The Sol EP
This is the first I've heard of this Atlanta artist, but I'm definitely feeling pretty much every track on this EP and looking forward to exploring his catalog over the course of the next year.
Best Track: "OpenWIDE"

5.) Bobby Creekwater – The Day It All Made $ense
This is the first year I really tuned into BC's music.  I've been hooked ever since I heard "Hello World" (one of the anthems to my summer).  This proved to be a very nice addition to my library back in September.
Best Track: "The Day I Got Dropped"

6.) The Physics – High Society FreEP
I'm always up for new Physics, especially when it's free.  This FreEP demonstrates the fun loving side of the group.
Best Track: "Good"

7.) P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. – Love Songs for Losers & Ballads for Ballers EP
I've never been a big fan of concept albums.  It takes a lot of skill to pull them off and they tend to crash and burn.  That being said, I really enjoyed this EP by P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.  The Lansing, Michigan emcee bases the EP around all issues dealing with love and succeeds with all seven songs.
Best Track: "Fool In Love"

8.) AtmosphereLeak At Will
Nothing needs to be said to add to the allure of free music by Atmosphere (you had me at "free").  The line that sold me on this EP, came in the first song: Hey policeman, don't bother/ Even as a kid I only played robbers and robbers.
Best Track: "C'Mon"

9.) Common MarketThe Winter’s End EP
This was one of the hidden gems of the year.  It didn't get too much marketing and is only available as a digital download.  Still, every track is simply beautiful as has become typical whenever RA Scion and Sabzi collaborate.  I'd suggest checking out the video for "Escaping Arkham." It's directed by Zia Mohajerjasbi, the man behind "The Town" and nearly every Blue Scholars video.
Best Track: "Escaping Arkham"

10.) Grynch – Chemistry EP
This EP has a few more bumps than the others listed.  "Doin' Too Much" is a pretty bad track, but the rest of the EP has solid and has two of my favorite songs in "My Volvo" and "Smoke and Mirrors."
Best Track: "My Volvo"
Honorable Mentions: Bobby Creekwater - The B.C. Era Deuce, Cosmo - Pieces EP, Dyme Def - Panic EP, Kyle Lucas & Captain Midnite - I Brought Dead Flowers to a Funeral, Sol - Dear Friends, EP,

I had a lot harder time deciding the mixtapes this year (a you can probably infer from the large amount of honorable mentions).  The first four are above and beyond the best mixtapes of the year, but there were twenty-one projects that could have easily fit anywhere between #5 and #10.

1.) J. Cole – The Warm Up
Hands down the best mixtape of the year.  Every song is good or great and it's silly how good J. Cole's flow and rhyming are.  It's easy to see what Jay-Z saw when he signed this then-relatively-unknown artist as his first artist on RocNation.  J. Cole is the Truth.  He's the next big thing in hip hop and if you have yet to download this mixtape you should seriously consider handing in your hip hop card.
Best Tracks: "Lights Please," "Dead Presidents II,""Welcome," "Heartache," "Can I Live," "Dreams," "The Badness"

2.) Joell Ortiz – Road Kill
For the longest time I thought The Warm Up was secure in its number one spot, but when this mixtape was released in mid-December it made me seriously reconsider.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: Ortiz has absolutely demolished every track he's recorded over the past year.  He's killed [insert your favorite artist here] on their own track.  The mixtape sees him going over tracks by the Clipse, Eminem, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Wale among others.
Best Tracks: "Run This Town," "Popular Demand," "On Tour," "Crime Wave," "Taking My Ball," "Election Day"

3.) Donnis – Diary of an ATL Brave
Atlanta had a down year in 2009.  The city and hip hop as a whole continued to feel the gaping whole left by the absence of OutKast, until very recently T.I. was under house arrest, and the city that founded the subgenre is still dealing with the fact that crunk is dead.  The absence of these legends created a void that allowed Donnis to get noticed by Mick Boogie and DJ Benzi.  The ATLien took the opportunity to make a strong case that his name will one day be compared with the greats of the genre.  This mixtape (sponsored by 10.Deep which has previously sponsored mixtapes by Wale and Kid CuDi), was one of my favorites of the year.
Best Tracks: "Gone," "Over Do It," "Beginnings"

4.) Cook Classics – The New Classics
It's not quite fair to compare this mixtape to the others on the list.  Unlike the others, it's not the work of one artist, but a compilation of songs produced by Cook Classics with several different artists.  As a result, the mixtape is able to pick and choose the best songs of several different artists (which is why you will see songs like Inverse's "Rise and Shine" on the project).  Nevertheless, there is no denying that the songs on the project are good and mesh well together and the result is one of the best mixtapes I've heard in quite a while.
Best Tracks: "Mass Appeal Remix," "Breathing in a Smoggy City"

5.) PH – My Era (No Skinny Jeans Allowed)
This is one of my favorite projects I've ever heard.  It's not perfect, but as a fan of golden age hip hop, it's a huge treat.  I know it's heresy and the hip hop gods may very well strike me down where I stand, but I think I may like PH and Kyle Lucas' version of the Souls of Mischief's "'93 Til Infinity" better than the original.
Best Tracks: "'09 Til Infinity," "Scenario Remix"

6.) XV – Everybody’s Nobody
For those of you who have been following the blog for a while, you know that XV has become one of favorite up and coming emcees.  The Kansas artist's latest mixtape, Everybody's Nobody, contains several of my favorite songs of 2009.  With the exception of "A.D.D." and "Gobstopper," the other eighteen tracks on the album are very solid combining Vizzy's unique voice and flow over a variety of instrumentals.  XV has progressed with each mixtape and the release of his debut studio album, The Kid With the Green Backpack, he should be propelled into the national spotlight.
Best Tracks: "Everybody's Nobody," "Awesome," "Come Back Down," "Mirror's Edge,"Fall Out The Sky," "Undeniable," "Bad News (Everybody's Somebody)"

7.) Lupe Fiasco – Enemy of the State: A Love Story
Lupe's pedigree speeks for itself, so I'll let his work speak for itself.  Everyone knows what he's capable of on the mic and I easily place him in my Top-5 current emcees.  This is the only true mixtape on the list as most songs are short snippets (1-2 minutes).  Only twenty-two minutes in length, the project was originally released as one single track.  L.A.S.E.R.S. is going to be one of the best albums of 2010.
Best Tracks: "All the Way Turnt Up," "Yoga Flame," "Thank You"

8.) K. Sparks – Super Senior
Another of my favorite up and coming emcees, this mixtape is based around the basic concept of the life of a super senior in college (the antithesis of Kanye's College Dropout).  The song also features "Overtime," (prod. Hannibal King), fast paced song consisting of 80 straight bars of pure floetry.  K. Sparks is another guy to keep an eye on.  He has the talent to go places.
Best Tracks: "Overtime," "Callin' Me," "Temperature," "In the Building," "1-800-Beloved"

9.) Freddie Gibbs – midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik
Again, there's not much that I didn't say about this mixtape in my previous review.  Freddie Gibbs is the only up and coming emcee who has proven he can do gangster rap right.
Best Tracks: "Midwest Malcolm (Inhale)," "Just Tryin' Ta Make It," "Boxframe Cadillac," "Talkin' Bout You," "Sumthin' U Should Know"

10.) Drekidd – The Fix
Another new comer, Drekidd combines a great lyrical ability with several good sample choices ranging from Clapton to Adele.  The only problem I have with Drekidd is that, at time (not often), his flow seems a little rigid--not quite natural--it sounds too written, but these occurrences are rare and the good more than makes up for the bad on this tape.
Best Tracks: "The Fix," "Imagine," "Hometown Glory"
Honorable Mentions: Chace Infinite - I Would Have Killed This, Debaser - Back To Work, El Prez & Dale Danja - Perfect Strangers, Emilio Rojas - Recession Proof, Fly Gypsy - Vodka & Rum Mixtape, Gerald Walker - Gerald Walker's Evening Out With Your Girlfriend, Hannibal King - Eating Cornbread On the Millennium Falcon, Idle Warship & Mick Boogie - Party Robot, The Incomparable Shakespeare -  British Invasion, Lil' Wayne - No Ceilings, Macklemore - The Unplanned Mixtape, Rockie - Rockie's Modern Life, Theophilus London - This Charming Mixtape, XV - Please, HoldYNotMyDream.blogspot.comBeneath the Surface, Vol. I,

Songs (in alphabetical order by artist)
Big Boi f. Too $hort & George Clinton – “For Yo Sorrows”
Blue Scholars – “Hello,” “Coo?”
Brainstorm – “Bang It Out”
Brother Ali – “Us”
Chuck L.i. – “Blown Away”
Crooked I, K-Young, Ya Boy & One-2 – “My Story”
Donnis – “Gone,” “Over Do It”
Donny Goines – “Dream Awake”
Drake f. Saukrates – “The Search”
Dyme Def – “D.Y.M.E.D.E.F.,” "Cheers," "RedRum Freestyle"
Dyme Def f. Saigon – “Pick Up Ya Flow”
Fice, Logics, Fatal Lucciuano & Justis – “Boss Life Remix”
Fly Gypsy – “2 Step”
Freddie Gibbs – “Midwest Malcolm (Inhale)”
Fresh Espresso – “Something New,” “Right Here,” “Diamond Pistols”
Gotham Green f. Freddie Gibbs – “Nice As I Am”
Grynch, Tunji, & Geologic – “Smoke and Mirrors”
The Incomparable Shakespeare – “Hometown,” “Wonderwall”
Idle Warship - "The Warship"
Inverse – “Rise and Shine”
J. Cole – “Lights Please,” “Dead Presidents II,” “Heartache,” “Shook,” “Back To The Topic”
Jay-Z – “Thank You” (my favorite instrumental of the year)
Jay-Z f. Alicia Keys - "Empire State of Mind"
Jay-Z f. J. Cole – “A Star Is Born”
Joell Ortiz & Novel f. Cri$tyle – “Stressful” (a much more meaningful song that the original version)
K. Sparks – “Overtime” (favorite verse of the year), “Rap 101,” “Life’s Too Short”
Kid CuDi – “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” “Pursuit of Happiness”
KRS-One & Buckshot – “Survival Skills”
KRS-One & Buckshot f. Geo & Talib Kweli – “Oh Really Remix”
Kyle Lucas – “Breathing in a Smoggy City”
Lil’ Wayne – “Run This Town Freestyle” (No Cielings is the one thing maintaining some amount of my respect for Weezy)
Logics, Geologic, & Fice – “The Last Hope”
M.O.P. f. Rell – “What I Wanna Be,” "I'm a Brownsvillian"
Macklemore – “The Town” (also, one of the best music videos I've ever seen)
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “Otherside,” “Irish Celebration,” “Kings” (My favorite track off of The VS. EP)
Marco Polo & Torae – “Danger,” “Double Barrel”
The New Deal – “Untouchable,” “Roll to the Left”
O.C. & A.G. – “Keep It Going”
P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. – “Love Is,” "Fool In Love"
Paten Locke – “Breakthru”
PH f. Kyle Lucas – “’09 ‘Til Infinity”
The Physics f. Macklemore – “Good”
Project Lionheart f. Crooked I – “Heart of a Lion Remix”
QuESt – “Trouble”
Raekwon f. Inspectah Deck, GZA, Ghostface Killah & Method Man – “House of Flying Daggers”
Raekwon f. Inspectah Deck & Masta Killa – “Kiss The Ring”
The Roots – “How I Got Over”
Royce Da 5’9” – “New Money”
Saukrates f. Andreena Mill – “Hot Like Summer”
Shawn Jackson, Tunji, El Prez, & Convinced – “Mass Appeal Remix”
Slaughterhouse f. Bun B – “The One”
Slaughterhouse f. M.O.P. – “Woodstock Hood Hop”
Skyzoo – “Beautiful Decay,” "The Opener," "Maintain"
Small Eyez – “From The Sol”
State of the Artist – “Shapeshifters”
Theophilus London – “Humdrum Town”
Threatz f. TreaZon & Choze – “Tender Me”
Unknown Prophets f. Slug – “Never”
Wale f. John Mayer – “Letter”
Wale f. Lady Gaga – “Chillin”
Wale f. Melanie Fiona & J. Cole – “Beautiful Bliss” (Like Macklemore, I could pretty much list every song Wale released this year, but I’ll spare you and list my favorites).
Willie The Kid – “No Fly Zone”
Wordsmith – “Heavy Metal Mics,” “You Never Know”
XV – “Everybody’s Nobody,” “Awesome,” “Bad News (Nobody’s Somebody)”
XV f. Mike Posner, Bun B, & GLC – “Mirror’s Edge (Benzi Remix)”
XV f. Really Doe – “G.O.O.D.”
Young Buck – “Homecoming”
Zion I f. Brother Ali – “Caged Bird pt. 1”


  1. No D.Black "Ali'Yah" Come on, that record is doing great things nationally.
    No hate, I just thought it was worth mentioning. Just my .02

  2. I'm glad that Ali'Yah is bringing shine to the Northwest, but I'm still not entirely sold on D.Black as a lyricist. It's certainly shows improvement from his first album, but he gets manhandled by nearly every guest on the album. I did enjoy "The Return" though.