Archive for April, 2011


Covert Jets.

After marinating in this one for a few days, I’m surprised and impressed. Curren$y brought out a pair of solid projects in 2010, but neither featured him as consistently wrecking microphones as he does here. And following up a good-but-disappointing joint LP with Oh No effort, The Alchemist brings some of his finest work in nearly a decade for the free drop, courtesy of the good folks at Diamond Supply Co. The collaboration between Spitta and Alc sounded good on paper, but defiantly sounds even better in execution.

This will go down as a serious contender for the genre’s “album” of 2011 consideration. Jet life. No Rex Ryan.

DOWNLOAD: Curren$y & The Alchemist – Covert Coup

Click for Tracklist


Everybody’s Working.

The spectacular city of Toronto seems to be turning into a hotbed for digital download R&B records. Less than two years after Drake shook up the scene with So Far Gone, fellow T.O. representer Abel Tesfaye, known to the world as The Weeknd, has dropped his nine-track debut House of Balloons for the customer friendly price of free-ninety-nine via his website. The tape picks up where So Far Gone left off, and is similar in many ways to Frank Ocean’s recent Nostalgia, Ultra project. Though little is known about The Weeknd and he has refused to grant inteview requests until sometime next month, we do know that Drizzy and 40 are lending a helping hand, though judging by the sound of HoB, he’s ready to make moves by his lonesome. Don’t let this one slip by.

DOWNLOAD: The Weeknd – House of Baloons Mixtape [Direct Link]

SIDEBAR: OFWGKTA’s Mike G chops-and-screws one of the tape’s highlight tracks, “What You Need.”


This is the Soundtrack: 2010

To wrap up 2010, I continue with the premise that originally caused me to enter the blogosphere in the first place: a look back at the year-that-was in hip-hop and shed some light on what I feel are the most significant and memorable projects from twenty-ten. My late pass has been handed in, but it comes at this time because I wanted to give some of the late year releases a chance to marinate a little and review others that slipped by me earlier in the year. Before I get into the list, I’ve got to point out the obvious: This is the first time I’ve considered mixtapes, as opposed to studio albums, when trying to determine what really mattered within the genre. With increased piracy and album sales down, the mixtape game has become more vital than ever in establishing the marketability of an up-and-coming artist, and as a direct result, we have seen a huge improvement in quality. Often times, these “mixtapes” aren’t mixtapes by traditional standards, acting as more of a free promotional album, increasingly consisting of original material. Say what you will about the effects of piracy, but there is no denying that the game just ain’t the same as it once was, and to review the year without taking into consideration such free-for-download releases would be ignoring the evolution of the hip-hop industry. Without further ado, in chronological order of release, this is the soundtrack of 2010.

Earl Sweatshirt – Earl (OFWGKTA)

In the interest of transparency, I must mention that I added Earl after the first draft of the list was complete (at the expense of Bun B’s Trill OG.) I recently shared my introduction to the Odd Future Wolf Gang on this here blog, and like I said in that piece, I slept on these California kids for a hot minute. Shit, I didn’t even get ahold of Earl Sweatshirt’s debut project until the middle of December. But that didn’t stop me from keeping the album on repeat ever since. In fact, that was what made this inclusion necessary; I can’t turn this jawn off. And after reviewing Bun B’s latest project in preparation for writing, I went right back to playing Earl (along with OFWGKTA’s mixtape Radical, Tyler’s Bastard, Domo’s Rolling Papers and a host of other Wolf Gang material).
Earl’s project – with just 10 tracks and a runtime of under 26 minutes, it’s hard to call it an album – was, without a doubt, your humble narrator’s choice for sleeper release of the year. The truth is, I spend way too much time scouring hip-hop blogs looking for that next shit, so it’s been a long time (Blu and Exile in 2008, perhaps?) since anything in the genre has smacked me upside the head like the OFWGTKA movement, with Earl’s material at the forefront. Let me put it into context: a 16-year-old skaterat from LA, who should be busy attending 10th grade math class but instead spends afternoons waxing poetic about anal rape and genital mutilation, uses a Tumblr blog to release a free, in-house-produced project that somehow makes it onto the Top 25 Most Played iTunes list of a 26-year-old kindergarten teacher in Taiwan within a month of its download. Traditional? Fuck no. Inappropriate? Probably. Entertaining? Absolutely. Earl spits bars that would make even the most grizzled emcees give the gasface, all delivered with a Ciroc-smooth cadence that almost masks the always-offensive lyrical content and gives the project an unexpected replayability in comparison most albums with similar content. Don’t believe me? Check the aforementioned iTunes stats. Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. Cuts like the title track, in which Earl vividly describes his ideal cannibalistic meal preparation and, of course, his less-than-ideal treatment of women (“Now go on and suck it up / but hurry, I got nuts to bust / and butts to fuck and ups to shut / and sluts to fuck and uppercut. / It’s OF, Buttercup. / Go ahead, fuck wit us; / without a doubt, a sure-fire way to get your mother fucked.”) are marvellously grotesque but impossible to turn away from. A huge assist goes to Tyler, the Creator, who plays Stockton to Earl’s Malone by providing an ever-changing canvas of beats for Earl to paint his beautifully horrific pictures (“Luper” and “Kill” stand out for their production), and displays his impressive microphone skill with dope guest verses on “Pigeons” and “Couch.” These two display a chemistry that justifies the rampant comparisons of OF to early Wu-Tang material. It won’t be long before Earl, Tyler, and the rest Odd Future Wolf Gang are getting the panties of media pundits and parents in a proverbial bunch, the same way it happened a decade ago with Eminem, and a decade before that with NWA and 2 Live Crew. And after one listen of Earl, you’ll understand why. But just like the aforementioned acts, creativity will prevail. Provocative art always finds a way to prosper, and this is just the next wave. I might be too old to use the term with the same effectiveness as Based God or his fans, but OF is swag personified. If you ain’t with the movement, they certainly don’t give a fuck. But in my opinion, you’d be stupid to dismiss it; the Wolf Gang has come up the right way, and for that, they’ve earned a place on this list. And Fuck Steve Harvey, for that matter.

Method Man, Raekwon, and Ghostface – Wu-Massacre (Def Jam)

A molasses-slow first quarter in record stores was saved by The Clan’s three most dynamic emcees when they dropped this collaborative LP at the end of March. Though nothing quite beats the controlled chaos of all nine of the Killa Beez unleashing fury on the same track, chances are that, if given the choice of any three members to create a Wu-Tang Dream Team of sorts, these would be the names most frequently dropped. If there was ever any doubt, the final product is trademark Wu: rough, rugged, and raw from beginning to end, filled with vivid street tales (see: “Pimpin’ Chipp”), homage to past classics (see: “Criminology 2.5,” “Mef vs. Chef 2”), and even the absurd skits that add to the mystique of hip-hop’s most consistent collective. Some critics have labelled Wu-Massacre a disappointment, citing an overabundance of guest spots and overall poor planning. But this type of organized chaos is what most diehard fans have come to expect from a Wu-Tang project (remember the Bulletproof Wallets tracklist fiasco?) and is a big part of what keeps The Wu so endearing, like the homies from around the way who drunkenly stumbled into the studio and made magic happen. Pause. Would Enter the Wu-Tang have been such a masterpiece had it been overproduced and perfected by studio execs? Exactly. Due to poor promotional efforts from Def Jam, as well as a lack of the cohesive production generally associated with Wu-Tang projects (and perhaps the meagre 12-song tracklist), the album was a huge disappointment when it came to Soundscan figures. Not even a blazing lead single – the RZA-produced, Michael Jackson-sampled “Our Dreams” – could save Wu-Massacre from flopping. If these three emcees re-unite for another LP in the future, they could perhaps avoid the same fate by getting The Rzarector on-board for the full duration of what would certainly go down as a classic record. But don’t get it twisted; this isn’t far off.

Wiz Khalifa – Kush & Orange Juice (Taylor Gang/Rostrum Records)

It was March when young Cameron Thomaz graced the cover of XXL’s Freshmen 10 issue, and it certainly didn’t take long for him to realize the potential that editors saw in him. Long before “Black and Yellow” turned Wiz Khalifa into a household name and The Source named him 2010’s rookie of the year, Wiz dropped a link for Kush & OJ on his Twitter feed on April 14 and had the Internet goin’ nuts. Though he had previously released two studio albums and seven mixtapes in the years leading up to 2010, none quite garnered the buzz caused by his latest effort, as it was quite clear that Wiz had settled comfortable into his niche as a sort of evolutionary Snoop Dogg: while Wiz’s weeded lyrics aren’t likely to rouse much intellectual debate, there is no doubt that youngin’s delivery is what separates him from his peers. Freshness oozes from every line, as evidenced by silky joints like “Mezmorized”, “The Statement,” and “In the Cut,” and while the production for the tape comes from a wide variety of sources, there is an undeniable cohesiveness that separates the tape from previous endeavours. If I were to sum up the production sound, I would say G-Funk meets Dirty South; think DJ Quick meets Three 6 Mafia. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the tape is that, at a clear career crossroads, Wiz avoided the safe route and took several substantial risks: laying bars over UK R&B outfit Loose Ends’ 1985 hit “Hangin’ on a String” on “The Kid Frankie,” and even managing to turn a track from Disney’s pauseworthy Camp Rock into a certified party jam on “We’re Done.” Perhaps more than any other young emcee, Khalifa established himself as an industry heavyweight in 2010. So roll up a spliff (no blunts for the Taylor Gang), pour a tall glass of Tropicana, and kick back. Wiz and his Taylor Gang cohorts plan to be around for a while.

Drake – Thank Me Later (Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown)

When Aubrey’s debut record dropped in June, I let my (extensive) thoughts be known to the legions of readers of TITS. So, how has the record stood the test of time? Is it still in rotation now six months have passed? Yessir. How does Thank Me Later hold up now that the dust has settled? Impeccably. Though the sales numbers didn’t live up to pre-release hype (due in part to more leakage than a dollar store maxi pad), the album was certified platinum in less than a month, and critical response was, while far from overwhelming, mostly positive. Why, then, does the mere mention of Drizzy’s name cause so many “true school” heads to get their panties in a bunch? I chalk it up to the “I’m too real to admit I like anything in radio rotation” corollary. Yes, the album left substantial room for improvement, especially when it comes to the pen game. And yes, TML may have been a little heavy on the R&B content. But keep in mind that Drake’s core fanbase – a huge portion of which consists of females – is unlikely to be riveted by Rakim level lyricism, and to go toe-to-toe on tracks with the likes of Hov and Weezy without embarrassing himself is a testament to Drake’s underrated writing ability. Singles like “Over” and “Fancy” are undoubtedly key inclusions to any 2010 musical time capsule, while album cuts like “Light Up” and “Up All Night” have a certain timelessness that is a prime example of why Drizzy will not end up as the flash-in-the-pan so many expect(ed) him to be. I admit there are songs on the album that I skip every time (namely “Shut It Down” with The-Dream and solo joint “Cece’s Interlude”). But I guarantee you those tracks are the favourite for thousands of ladies who swoon over Drake’s crooning. Which brings me to another key test that the album passed: During a summer conversation amongst three fellow hip-hop heads, it was revealed that each of us had a different opinion as to what was the album’s best song. More than enough hits to go around. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what creating an LP is about? Haters gon’ hate. Meanwhile, I eagerly anticipate the release of Take Care scheduled for later this year.

The Roots – How I Got Over (Def Jam)

When you look at their lengthy discography, it’s not hard to believe that Black Thought, ?uestlove, and their rotating cast of associates have been at this hip-hop shit for more than 20 years now. By all accounts, their live performances are the best in the biz and justify the “Legendary” tag that is often associated with their name (and shame on your humble narrator for never witnessing the magic in person.) Shit, since joining Jimmy Fallon on Late Night in early 2009, there probably aren’t many hip-hop acts that make their way into baby boomers’ conversations more than Illadelph’s Finest. All that being said, there isn’t a single project in their vast body of work that has struck a chord with me as much as their June release, How I Got Over. As a reformed backpacker, I had given each of their albums a chance at one point or another. None of them, however, seized more than a handful of front-to-back spins in my personal playlist. Until, that is, I got my hands on their latest effort. Stunningly cohesive, potently poetic, and as gripping a record as has been released in years, HIGO was a refreshing break from purveying industry trends that was profound without being preachy. Singles like the title track and “Dear God 2.0” act as rallying cries for potential community leaders, a much-needed musical reality check in an era where vanity and hedonism dominate lyrical content. Meanwhile, cuts like “Radio Dayz,” featuring Blu, P.O.R.N., and Dice Raw, and strong “Track of the Year” candidate “The Day” with Blu and Phonte of Little Brother sound like funkdafied self-help motivational speeches, without the sermonizing tone that has alienated so many former fans of the so-called “conscious” sub-genre. All the while, there’s room for some straight-up fun on tracks like “Right On” and “Hustla” with the album’s breakout star STS. While The Roots’ have earned legendary status by consistently taking musical risks within an often ornery genre, and records such as Things Fall Apart deserve special recognition for breaking new ground in the mainstream, I believe that How I Got Over may well be remembered as the crew’s magnum opus when it’s all said and done.

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam)

When Dre 3K and General Patton decided to put the Outkast brand on ice nearly four years ago, it was a forgone conclusion that Three Stacks would be the first of the duo to ride his successful string of remix appearances into a much-anticipated solo project. While each release of a verse from Andre seemed to be met with a flourish of trumpets, we, as has often been the case, slept on Big Boi until he hit us upside the head with his solo debut to kick off the summer. That’s not to say anyone ever questioned his abilities as an emcee; it was a well-known fact that Antwan was a beast on the microphone. But could he deliver a hit single – let alone a dope LP – without his more charismatic wingman? “Shutterbugg” gave us a resounding “yes” to the first question when it dropped two months prior, and the rest of the album followed suit. Following a short, Talkbox-fuelled intro, Big jumps right into things with the vigorous “Daddy Fat Sax.” Evident from the first bar is a next-level confidence and swagger, the lack of which being the reason Big has always seemed to take a backseat to his more recognizable partner-in-rhyme. Not that Antwan ever came across as humble on the mic – the man rightly made the claim that he is “cooler than a polar bear’s toenails” – but on tracks like “Tangerine” (on which he sons T.I.) and “Fo Yo Sorrows,” Big Boi displays a certain alpha dog swag that, quite frankly, I never knew he possessed. Big handles a diverse production line-up with an equally eclectic compilation of flows, all the while maintaining the signature sound that helped solidify his position as a Southern hip-hop pioneer. “Shine Blockas,” featuring an ambitious Harold Melvin flip from producer DJ Cutmaster Swiff and an underwhelming guest spot from Gucci Mane, is perhaps the highlight of the album and was a mandatory inclusion on any true head’s summer playlist. Any music critic who leaves Sir Lucious Left Foot off of their “Best of ‘10” list either (in the words of Hov) just skimmed though it or doesn’t understand hip-hop. It’s simple. This is what hip-hop is all about: a genre-bending expedition that inspires equal parts deliberation and dancing. While we patiently wait to hear what Three Stacks has to offer the world of music with his solo composition, Big Boi has proactively removed the unofficial “sidekick” label that has plagued him for too damn long. The next Outkast album is shaping up to be something epic.

Rick Ross – Teflon Don (Maybach Music Group/Slip-N-Slide/Def Jam)

If you are one of the legions few that makes regular visits to this here blog, you know that I’m a bit of a Rick Ross fanboy. I can’t hide it: Of the 140-plus posts I’ve made since opening this WordPress account in late ’09, no less than 20 have featured material from Ross. It was a relief, then, when I found out I wasn’t the only one who thought Teflon Don was an incredible LP. When Ross arrived on the scene in 2006 with “Hustlin’,” Port of Miami, and a contract featuring the signature of Mr. S. Carter, I would never have imagined dude forcing his way into my list of favorite emcees. Deeper Than Rap began the infiltration. Teflon Don confirmed it. Even with a bevy of the genre’s biggest names lending their vocal and production talents, Rozay manages to be the album’s unquestioned star (regardless of what he says on the opening track), often stealing the show with his uncharacteristically candid lyrics and a domineering delivery few can match. With the help of hood favorite Lex Luger on the boards, Ross crafted one of the summer’s most memorable cuts, “B.M.F.” with Styles P and proved he still can drop hood anthems on command. But where Ross made his biggest leap for this LP is with his increasing versatility. The content is no longer all coke and cars (though both remain central.) “Free Mason” with his former boss, Hov, takes direct aim at critics who have questioned his motivation for success during his continued quest for stardom. Meanwhile, on the silky “Aston Martin Music” with Drake and Chrisette Michele, Rozay displays equal parts affection and aggression. Ricky shows off his introspective side on “Tears of Joy,” featuring a stirring soul hook from Cee-Lo Green, as well as “Live Fast, Die Young,” his first collaboration with Kanye West and one of the audacious, uplifting hip-hop cuts of the year. The message, of course, is live for the moment and the Bawse is certainly heeding his own advice. I can’t remember an emcee that has gone from so heavily criticized to so heavily praised in such a short period of time, all the while maintaining his all-important street credibility. Ross has done so despite admitting to fabricating stories of his past and spending time working as a corrections officer. The truth is, we choose to ignore such personal details, focusing instead on the impressive musical run that Ross is currently in the midst of. Against all odds, Ross had cemented himself as a figurative industry heavyweight (the literal was never in question). While haters remain in abundance, don’t expect them to get their wish anytime soon: The Bawse looks to continue his reign with God Forgives, I Don’t in 2011.

J. Cole – Friday Night Lights (Roc Nation)

November 12, 2010 was a big day for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation: Besides inspiring internet uproar by inking the game’s premier unsigned artist, Jay Electronica, to a new contract, the upstart label’s first and (up to that point) marquee artist, J. Cole, dropped his first official mixtape since signing with Hov and becoming one of the most talked about up-and-comers in the game. Though Jay Elect’s signing may have dampened the initial hype surrounding the release of Friday Night Lights, it wasn’t long before overwhelmingly positive critical response brought the focus back to young Jermaine and his most polished work to date. Similar to Drake’s So Far Gone in 2009, FNL sounds much more like a studio album than a “mixtape” with 17 of the tape’s 20 cuts featuring original production. And much like Drizzy’s breakthrough, Cole’s effort clearly acts as a precursor to his upcoming, full-length studio debut, showcasing the versatility and poignant lyricism that has garnered Cole an impressively loyal following despite his rookie status. There are a few things, though, that separate Jermaine from most of his contemporaries. For starters, Cole graduated magna cum laude with a degree in communications and business from St. John’s University – not exactly the type of background that provides the ever-important credibility young’ns bend over backwards to obtain. Then again, with a co-sign from Mr. Carter, it might not be much of an issue. Perhaps the most important element that sets Cole apart from his peers is that the bulk of his work (almost all of it, in the case of FNL) is self-produced. As nice as Cole is on the microphone – lyrical exercises such as “Back to the Topic,” a freestyle over an old cut from Cassie & Busta Rhymes, and “Premeditated Murder,” a vivid tale of the struggle that he faced in establishing himself in the game, put to rest any doubts about his pen game – he’s equally prodigious behind the boards. Beats like “Higher” and the Wale-featured “You Got It” prove that Cole possesses the production chops to orchestrate mainstream-flavoured hits with plenty of radio potential, while on “Blow Up,” “Cost Me A Lot,” “Love Me Not,” and “See World,” Jermaine shows traditionalists that he can flip a sample with the best of them. The double-threat ability is likely to solidify Cole’s status a little quicker than other newcomers who don’t have the same flexibility. But that doesn’t mean that the tape is perfect: though Cole clearly takes the high road in avoiding exaggerations and falsities within his lyrical content, it makes for some thematic repetition. I respect the effort to “keep it real,” but embellishing a little for the sake of entertainment wouldn’t hurt. Right, Ricky? Still, after listening to Friday Night Lights, and particularly certified-single material like “In the Morning” with Drake, it’s hard to believe that Cole was featured on the cover of XXL’s Freshmen 10 issue just over a year ago. Cole displays the skills and song-making savvy of a grizzled veteran, and all indications point to a classic debut. In the event that Jermaine manages to put it together, it’s gonna be a Cole summer.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

Kanye West has been the definition of a polarizing figure ever since he dropped The College Dropout in 2004. Even through the release of 808s and Heartbreak, easily ‘Ye’s most panned project within hip-hop circles, Kanye’s legions of fans maintained their support while the music was applauded for it’s groundbreaking artistry. But when Yeezy stepped foot on the Radio City Music Hall stage on September 14, 2009 (with some assistance from old friend Louis XIII) and made his now-infamous interruption of young Taylor Swift, I wasn’t sure he would recover. Media pundits everywhere – even President Obama – bashed Kanye for his selfish, indulgent bullheadedness. Yeezy’s name was in everybody’s mouth, and it never seemed to be about his music. Facing his toughest challenge yet, he made a brilliant career move: escape the public eye, kick it in Honolulu with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, let the smoke clear, and make people remember what got him to the top. And judging by the scorecards for his latest endeavour, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezy scored a unanimous victory by doing just that. When “Power” was leaked way back on May, we knew Kanye was ready to deliver an album more akin to his first three that had more than pleased traditionalists. And when rumours of producers for the project began to surface (including DJ Premier, The RZA, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and Madlib), it seemed like an Older God’s wet dream. But as Kanye began to release cuts for his G.O.O.D. Friday free music program, two thoughts surfaced: 1) Where are the contributions from said Golden Era producers? and 2) What is left for the album? Turns out ‘Ye had plenty of material on hand to go around (only two of the 14 online releases made the final cut), and cleverly parlayed the buzz surrounding the free tracks into solid first week numbers. Yeezy knew what he was doing. We all should have known. The end result as a beautifully cohesive, brilliantly conceptualized audio tour-de-force through the convoluted imagination of a self-proclaimed musical genius (though I’m beginning to agree with said proclamation.) From the early moments of Nikki Minaj’s accented intro, the brazen ambition of MBDTF becomes abundantly clear, and “Dark Fantasy,” the opening track that follows, helps set a furious – almost paranoid – tone. This fervor is relentless throughout the first half of the album, perhaps highlighted by the inspired “All of the Lights” with guest vocals from Alicia Keyes, John Legend, Fergie, Rihanna, Elton John, and possibly your grandmother. The first lapse in the chaotic pace comes with my vote for Track of 2010, “Devil in a New Dress,” which features a blazing guest verse from Rick Ross, a haunting beat from little-known producer Bink!, and Kanye in his finest form, putting on display the verbal savvy that highlights just how far he has come as an emcee in the seven years since The College Dropout. Next comes the LP’s second single, “Runaway” with Pusha T, a prime example of Yeezy’s hit-making abilities and the vulnerability that has endeared him to so many despite his repeated public miscues. If MBDTF features a flaw, it is most certainly the inclusion of “Hell of a Life,” a corny, out-of-place “skipper” that features arid verses and an unlistenable hook over a forgettable beat. But the album picks up again in the final moments and closes with the project’s most ambitious track, the indie-rock-infused “Lost in the World,” which perhaps offers a look at the musical direction ‘Ye plans to pursue with future projects. If music is art, and we judge art on the basis of creativity, than Mr. West has created a masterpiece. I hate to be just one of a crowd in saying it, but MBDTF is the best album of 2010. Love him or hate him, Yeezy is back on top of this hip-hop shit the music industry.

Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids (Def Jam)

It has become almost cliché to point out Denis Coles’ status as Wu-Tang’s unofficial bearer on the Iron Flag, but one look at the catalogue proves why Ghost Deini has consistently garnered more critical acclaim than any of his Clan brethren. While other Killah Bees have occasionally stumbled and released a complacent solo record, Ghost has backed up his Ironman alias by releasing a remarkable string or classic or near-classic LPs, and Apollo Kids continues the stellar streak for The Wu’s Joe DiMaggio. Last year’s The Wizard of Poetry found Pretty Toney in unfamiliar waters, delivering bars over silky R&B tinged production amongst a bevy of hooks from some of the industry’s leading crooners. And while the album was widely heralded for it’s direction, a lot of Ghost’s core fan base (including Your Humble Narrator) were taken aback and left calling for the rough, rugged, and raw GFK that had become so celebrated since Enter the Wu-Tang dropped in ‘93. Apollo Kid’s answers those calls in typical over-the-top Ghostface fashion. By the time the vocal sample loops on “Purified Thoughts,” the album’s opening cut featuring fellow Clan member GZA and long-time Wu-affiliate Killah Priest, the Wally Champ makes it known that he is back to his vintage self, masterfully navigating soul-sample driven production with his outlandish braggadocio. “2Gether Baby,” Apollo Kids’ first and only single, could have easily been recorded for Supreme Clientele or Fishscale, and while such a claim usually hints at redundancy, Ghost has an uncanny ability to make each and every verse an original auditory experience. Though the album features a variety of upstart producers providing top-notch material in hopes of this being their big break – relative-unknown Big Mizza and his standout beat for “Street Bullies” being a prime example – Ghost seems to save his best for collaborations with established producers. As has been the case over recent years, Ghost makes himself right at home over a Pete Rock production on “How You Like Me Baby,” a stringy boom-bap instrumental that sounds like something lifted directly from The Golden Era that spawned both of the track’s legendary creators. Perhaps, though, Starks saves the best for last in the anchor track “Troublemakers” with Wu-Massacre cohorts Raekwon and Method Man and a fitting verse from Redman. Featuring a prominent horn chop and archetypal drum proficiency, Jake One’s beat provides the ideal scene for these four East Coast tastemakers to put on a refreshing display of one-upmanship. Though Ghost and his usual crew of New York’s Finest don’t break any new ground with Apollo Kids, the LP was a nostalgic cap to a landmark year for hip-hop, and a return to the unrefined style that we have become accustomed to. As usual, no days of for Mr. Cole: he’s already at work on Blue & Cream, slated for later this year.

Here are some of the projects from 2010 that were nearly made the cut, and two-sentence reviews of each:
Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Wuz Here
Clearly influenced by Outkast, UGK, and other legends of the Dirty South movement, K.R.I.T. continues on the legacy of ATL’s country hip-hop sound. He might want to stay behind the boards: the beats are clearly the strongpoint here.
Black Milk – Album of the Year
Not quite as the title suggests, but a definite contender. As much as any other emcee, Black Milk is helping Detroit remain relevant in the wake of Dilla’s passing.
Bun B – Trill OG
The hardest omission from this year’s list, Trill OG is Bun’s best solo project to date. Though I’m not convinced it’s worthy of the 5-Mic rating handed down by The Source, Bun proves that he still has plenty of bullets left in the clip.
Curren$y – Pilot Talk
Curren$y – Pilot Talk II
2010 looked like it would be the year that Spitta would finally hit the big time with his first two major-label releases. Though there are a handful of dope tracks on each, Curren$y is yet to maintain my attention for a full-length release, and it appears as though this pair of records may represent the pinnacle of a much-hyped career
CyHi da Prynce – Royal Flush mixtape
Riding with Yeezy is a sure-fire way to get noticed, but so is putting out a mixtape that sounds more complete than most cats’ albums. I anxiously await CyHi’s G.O.O.D. Music debut to see just what he can do with a top-shelf production team as he continues his development as an emcee.
DJ Premier – Get Used to Us
Preem isn’t going to knock you out the box with any new releases: he is a master of his craft, and proves it time and time again. If Primo hadn’t relied so heavily on his often-disappointing Year Round Records family for rhymes, this likely would have made its way onto the list.
Fabolous & DJ Drama – There Is No Competition 2: The Funeral
Fabolous has long been regarded as one of the most underrated lyricists in the game, and on The Funeral he works to put to rest any doubt about his lyrical abilities. There are very few rappers who can deliver rolls of witty punchlines like Loso.
Freeway & Jake One – The Stimulus Package
After stealing the show on a pair of tracks from Jake One’s White Van Music, this pairing seamed natural. With Jake One production, Freeway clearly finds a comfort zone that transforms him into the upper-echelon emcee that he has always possessed the potential to be.
Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
This record was a critical darling, but to be honest, I was expecting a lot more after the first MOTM. Cudi darkens things up this time around, and while some of the auditory experimentation comes out flawlessly, there are too many skippable tracks for top ten consideration.
Lloyd Banks – The Hunger for More 2
With 50 laying dormant on the mic, Lloyd Banks has surprisingly become G-Unit’s most credible artist for the time being. The production here is tight, and Banks has developed into far more than a mere punchline rapper, going bar-for-bar on this outing with heavyweights like Eminem, Kanye, and Pusha T.
MellowHype – YelloWhite
MellowHype – BlackenedWhite
The Odd Future Wolf Gang stay winning, and with this pair of free releases, Hodgy Beats and Left Brain let the world know that the crew runs thicker than Tyler and Earl. While YelloWhite is amongst the best-produced albums of the year, Hodgy developed a lot as an emcee over the eight months between the two projects and is the clear star of BlackenedWhite (besides Earl’s memorable spot on “Chordaroy.”)
Murs & 9th Wonder – Fornever
The fourth collaboration album between these two backpacker favourites certainly isn’t their best, but is still an enjoyable listen. 9th’s production always seems to bring out the best in Murs, and things are no different here.
Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives
I have a problem reviewing this album objectively: I’ve never been a fan of hip-hop with a strong reggae influence. Still, Esco and Bob’s Youngest come correct with a well-needed revolutionary cry in an age when calculated content and materialistic ideals continue to dominate radio and video outlets.
Nikki Minaj – Pink Friday
After going toe-to-toe with Hov and Ye’ on “Monster” and with Weezy in her corner, it seemed expectations for Pink Friday were a little too high. But Barbie came through with a bold and creative album that, perhaps most importantly, proved that femcees have a place in the modern hip-hop landscape.
Odd Future – Radical
Though nowhere near the quality of the OFWGKTA solo projects, Radical is a must-have, if not only to hear the kids stomp all over hijacked production. Earl’s “Blade,” going in on Terror Squad’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me,” validates the bandwidth on its own.
Reflection Eternal – Revolutions Per Minute
No, it’s not nearly on the level with Train of Thought, but it’s not an easy task to follow-up a certified classic. RPM makes a solid attempt, and it is reassuring to know that thoughtful, intricate rhyme schemes still have a place in the industry.
Rick Ross – The Albert Ansitasia EP
Rick Ross – Ashes to Ashes mixtape

Although Teflon Don was clearly the highpoint of The Bawse’s phenomenal year, this pair of tapes kept Rozay’s name buzzing and certified his status as the year’s most productive force. While AA provided a glimpse into what followed with Teflon Don, Ashes to Ashes ensured that we’d have enough Ricky to tide us over until God Forgives, I Don’t. Pause.
Tyler, the Creator – Bastard
Only left out of the Top Ten due to a technicality: it was released on Christmas of ’09, and only rereleased this year with minor changes. Still, this is the record that put Odd Future on the map and is a beautifully twisted journey into the disturbed mind of the Wolf Gang’s young Creator.