Blu & Exile Below the Heavens; Sound In Color, 2007
Talk about an unexpected knockout punch. With little fanfare, Inglewood, California rapper Blu’s debut, produced entirely by fellow left-coaster Exile, floored all those who caught wind of it back in ’07. Blu’s insightful views and nimble wordplay combined with Exile’s rugged soul (think a DJ Premier/J Dilla hybrid) for one of the most cohesive and fully-realized albums in years, which remains the case three years after the fact.
Tech N9ne Killer; Strange Music, 2008
Dynamic by nature, Tech N9ne pushed his singular approach to hip-hop to a massive level with this 32-cut double LP, a high-octane whirlwind of bombastic production, intricate lyricism and accessible debauchery. And to think, this tour-de-force came from the inconspicuous Kansas City, Missouri underground scene. Killer is also notable for being the release that put Tech’s career sales mark over the one million hump, not to mention its brilliant cover artwork.