Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2008

Lamont's Lists
December 2008
The Top 10 Hip Hop Albums Of 2008

I can't front. I had a hard time coming up with my Top 10 Albums for 2008. Maybe it's because I just don't listen to as many albums as I used to given the singles-driven world we live in, or maybe it's just that there weren't that many great albums out there to choose from. But anyway, here's my obligatory posting of the best of 2008. Enjoy.


1. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III - No surprise here. Weezy ran circles around the competition again in '08. C3 validated his ability to focus in on a full-length, coherent record and he delivered in spades. The rhymes are manic, breathless and upon repeated listenings, largely brilliant. The guest appearances, including a stunner from Jay-Z on "Mr. Carter" were uniformly excellent, as collaborators labored to keep up with Wayne's twisted musings. By summer, Wayne was dominating the streets, the clubs and pop radio like no rapper has been able to do in recent memory. This was a throwback to the days when one artist could rally the entire culture around one seminal performance. 

2. T.I. - Paper Trail - With Paper Trail T.I. kept the hits coming with some truly monster singles. Radio friendly and commercially minded for sure, but that didn't stop us from bobbing our heads and singing along.

3. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool - Released in mid-December 2007, The Cool was another high-quality effort from my pick as the best rapper alive. Standout tracks like "Superstar"  and "Hip Hop Saved My Life" (with its ultra-clever "stack that cheese" sequence) fueled his run deep into '08 and brought him a broader fan base. But check out the slept upon cuts like "Little Weapon" and "Gold Watch" for further evidence of Lupe's impeccable wordsmanship.

4. Q-Tip - The Renaissance - Few things were more refreshing to aging hip hop fans like myself in 2008 than seeing Q-Tip finally make make his triumphant return . And while we missed Phife's naughty bits of street wise slang, as a solo effort, The Renaissance is still an impressive piece of work. The production is vintage Quest; organic, sparse and subtle, but still filled with neck-snappin' goodness. Tip is effervescent over songs largely about love and loss. During these troubled times, he sounds joyous and genuinely happy to be here. The sentiment is contagious. 

5. The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale - The Cool Kids were the most captivating of a series of contemporary hip hop kids obsessed with the 80's. They were also the most fun to listen to. Their trippy, 808 fueled tracks and catchy braggadocio instantly proved to be irresistible to the college and alternative crowd. But it took the thumpin' base of "Mikey Rocks" to finally start to pull in the hard core hip hop dudes.

6. Kidz In The Hall - The In Crowd - On their sophomore effort, Kidz In The Hall prove they've got staying power. Riding the retro hipster wave, they delivered a crisp set full of vibrant word play and expansive instrumentation highlighted by the scintillating "Driving Down The Block". It's a wholly pleasing effort and a definite sign of more good things to come.

7. J-Live - Then What Happened? - J-Live returned in '08 with another gimmick-free album full of bangin' beats and fresh lyricism. The lead single,"The Upgrade", featuring my other favorite unsung hero, Posdonus, sets the mood off right. But there is plenty more to enjoy here, including the Mexican flavored "Ole" and the blistering "Simmer Down". For his entire career, J-Live has done nothing but make excellent records that nobody buys. Then What Happened? is no exception.

8. The Roots - Rising Down - At this point, The Roots have distinguished themselves as one of the best bands working in music today in any genre. On Rising Down, they do nothing but add further credence to that claim. The entire set here is tight. Darker and more grimey than recent efforts, it's dense, layered arrangements have no designs on broad commercial appeal and "do not apologize" for challenging convention. This is strictly for the listeners.

9. Nas - Nas - After much angst over the title of his '08 opus, Nas's "Untitled" finally appeared in mid-July amidst a firestorm of controversy. Worth all the drama? Not really. The production value was willfully lackluster. Lyrically however, Nas was as eloquent as ever, spitting uncommonly complex narratives that were chocked full of insightful political commentary. He's a transcendent street poet for our generation, and at 35, he might just be getting nicer. 

10. 9th Wonder & Buckshot - The Formula - As an exercise in well-crafted, true-school east coast hip hop, The Formula is nearly flawless. 9th Wonder's meticulous, sample-driven production work is pretty fantastic. And when paired with the legendary Buckshot's subtle, sublime lyricism it makes for a full-on mid-90's revival. It's dope, if you're into that kind of thing.