2010 was a great year for hip-hop. We’ve seen some great albums come out from Drake, Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Kid Cudi, Roc Marciano and Nas & Damian Marley, to name a few, but when all is said and done, the two best discs to come out this year were undoubtedly from Kanye West and Eminem.
Both were labeled as comeback albums; Em finally got his swagger back and retuned to the level of MCing and passion that made fans crown him one of the best of all time and Yeezy, for the most part, pressed pause on the Auto-Tune button, stepped up his pen game crazy, and clocked long hours behind the boards to create an album that sounds like nothing else on the shelves.
Both MCs also made a conscious effort to step outside of their comfort zone and work with new collaborators, as well. A rejuvenated Shady finally gave Dre a rest, for the first time in his career, and showed fans what he sounds like over production outside his inner circle by dudes like Just Blaze, Boi-1da and Jim Jonsin. ’Ye let his rap heroes and the same people that helped mold and influence his style as an up-and-coming producer, join his Fantasy sessions. Innovators like Pete Rock, the Rza and Q-Tip all flew down to Hawaii to help craft the LP, even though not all of their work made it onto the final disc, their expertise was considered into the decision making process of the finished product.
Yet despite those similarities, both albums are very different. One of Recovery’s greatest strengths is how it was able to completely take fans by surprise. After the lackluster response of Relapse—a disc that basically documented Em in the process of getting his mojo back—a lot of listeners were starting to give up on the Detroit talent. But Em was able to quiet all the naysayers, once they finally came around to giving Recovery a spin. The rap great actually took heed to critics’ complaints about Relapse and gave us what we wanted; a disc balancing tracks both playful and personal about an artist we love and know is able to rap circles around most MCs. He ditched the corny first single formula, he ditched the horrible accents and high-pitched voices, he showcased how he was able to flow on beats by other producers besides just himself and the Doc, he spoke about real topics again instead of from the perspective of some fake serial killer alter-ego, he finally gave Proof the dedication that was deserved and above all else, he sounded like he was enjoying himself in the process. Fans wanted Em to win, and he gave us something to stand behind. Sure there’s some corny metaphors in there, but the album is down right addictive. When I copped this shit (yes I actually bought it) I had it on repeat for weeks, to the point where I would listen to it all the way through (except for maybe “Won’t Back Down” and “Not Afraid”), and go right back and listen to it again from the top. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been able to do that for a new album and that counts for more than you know.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is great for a whole other set of reasons. Bottom line, Ye paved his own lane with this release. He created a sound so futuristic, unique and modern that it almost doesn’t sound like a hip-hop album. He’s on some other shit and as a music fan, not just a hip-hop fan, a straight music head, it makes me proud and excited. But as far as the album is concerned, I was disappointed with the fact that when it was finally released, I already knew all of the songs except one. And on top of that, I already played out the other joints for the most part. Yes I loved all the bells and whistles that were added, I loved hearing Ross on “Devil in a New Dress,” I enjoyed the expected shininess and over-the-top quality of the finished project, but as the old cliché goes, you only get one chance at a first impression, and that really took away from the experience for me. Another thing that bothered me was the vocal effects on Yeezy’s rhymes. It sounds as if he’s speaking through a phone, and though it does sound fitting for the songs as a whole, it takes away from his lyrics, which is a shame cause dude is a contender for one of the best on the mic at this current moment. I could also do without some of the contributors. (I’m a huge Rae fan, but did was his verse really necessary for “Gorgeous’)
I guess you could see which album I’m leaning towards for the best of 2010. Question is, which one is on your list? —Jesse Gissen