1) Q-Tip, The Renaissance – I’d go so far as to call this the album Q-Tip should have put out back in 1999, except I can hardly remember how Amplified sounds aside from the singles. I know for a fact that I bought it. But I probably just listened to it once and tossed it in the reject pile, because it didn’t sound like Midnight Marauders. Now the Renaissance has got me wondering if I slept. However, I’ll point out that the Renaissance is not just good in the sense that my standards have been lowered to the point where any ol’ bullshit from ’99 (say, Melvin Flynt the Hustler) sounds good to me. It’s genuinely that good.
2) GZA, Pro Tools – If anything, 2008 ought to go down as the year old man rap broke. For all of the talk about hipster rap, and XXL’s 10 Freshmen cover and what have you, some of the best albums that came out were by guys closer in age to my parents. Case in point, this new album by the GZA. He hooked up with that Dreddy Krueger label, which must employ someone with sense in a management capacity (is that even allowed in hip-hop?), and put out what I’ll maintain is the best work he’s done since Liquid Swords. Some of the younger guys would be well served to pick up a copy and see how it’s done.
3) C.R.A.C., The Piece Talks – The rare exception to the rule that none of these younger guys are gonna release very many albums, let alone very many albums people actually like, is Blu. He cranks out actual albums more often than a lot of people put out mixtapes. I haven’t been a huge fan of all of them, but I was a huge fan of this one. I think the difference is that he got with this guy Ta’Raach, who, as Noz once pointed, isn’t as interested as some of Blu’s other collaborators in putting out a budget, 2008 version of mid ’90s era native tongues rap.
4) Fat Ray & Black Milk, The Set Up – I know… How in the fuck does Bol have this way up in the top 5 of his list, and Tronic isn’t anywhere to be found? It’s not that I don’t like. I’ve actually come to like it almost as much as I like this album. Almost. And I would have put it on the list, but there was a lot of deserving shit this year I didn’t want it to crowd out. The Set Up, on the other hand, I liked from the first moment I laid ears on it, and I still like it to this day. It’s harder, funnier, and dirtier-sounding that Tronic. It’s too bad it wasn’t released at a later point in the Black Milk hype cycle.
5) East Coast Avengers, Prison Planet – The long-awaited (by all of about eight people) full length debut by the guys who threatened to “Kill Bill O’Reilly.” I was afraid this was gonna be one of those cases of the buzzed about single, and then 10 or 11 other songs the group tossed off in order to capitlize on the hype. I suppose I should have known it wouldn’t be. Esoteric, the third of the East Coast Avengers I’m most familiar with, is one of the most album-oriented artists in hip-hop today. But it was trademarc, the other MC in the group, who really surprised me on this album, especially when you consider he’d mostly been known for working with wrestler John Cena.
6) Vast Aire, Dueces Wild – Remember this dude, from that incredible Cannibal Ox album, way the fuck back when you were in college. I’ll admit, I lost track of Vast Aire in the interim. But, as was the case with the new Q-Tip, Dueces Wild has got me wondering if I slept. Whoever it was that did beats on it managed to come up with a sound more like the Cold Vein than the stuff El-P is doing these days. And Vast Aire, for his part, reminds you that he played as much of a role in making that album a classic as anyone.
7) The Knux, Remind Me in 3 Days – The incredible debut that somehow failed to set the world on fire, despite the fact that I thought the Internets was supposed to be obsessed with hipster rap. Was it the guitars? I’ll admit, there were definitely points where this album got a little bit too Black Eyed Peas for my usual high standards. And neither of these guys are particularly memorable rappers. They’re like OutKast in that sense, but even more so. (Ha!) But I thought they more than made up for it with the wanton misogyny and the sheer musical invention. I could listen to this album all day. It’s like the new Stankonia.
8) Chief Chinchilla, Live @ The Liqua Sto – J-Zone and I were involved in a bit of row earlier this year having to do with my having suggested, in a review of an obscure for a reason rap album, that he’d been reduced to podcasting. In a later episode of said podcast (which apparently all of four people listen to) he explained that he hadn’t been “reduced” to podcasting – he chose to end his rap career and focus on podcasting. Um, okay. To his credit, both his podcast and this album, where he raps from the perspective of a drunken chinchilla that hangs out at White Castler, are fucking brilliant. It’s too bad hardly anyone will ever give a shit.
9) Elzhi, The Preface – Most dudes on the Internets’ new favorite album of the year. It would have placed higher on my own list, except a) I think they could have done a better job of combining the very best cuts between this and the tour-only promo CD that preceded it, Europass; and b) I wish Elzhi would have done a better job of reigning in some of his nerdier instincts. That song where he raps all but the last line of a verse, and then you’re supposed to guess what that line was, or whatever that was supposed to be… I could’ve done without that. That being said, I’m pretty in agreeance with the Internets:
pr0n is fantastic Elzhi is on entirely different plane than most rappers.
10) 7L & Esoteric, Esoteric vs. Japan – Sometimes I wonder, how does Esoteric even find the time to dig up the bizarre samples he uses on these solo albums he’s putting out seemingly every few weeks now? It’s not like he’s Kanye West, where he’s got a team of guys who do all of the heavy lifting, then he just shows up for two weeks and adds superfluous synthesizers and vocoder. This dude must spend a serious amount of time in a basement, surrounded by action figures, and, let’s keep it real, probably some sort of weird Asian pr0n. Well, as long as keeps cranking out albums as creative and downright enjoyable as this, I’d say it’s to our benefit. Nhjic.