This is the first of three posts with my favorite albums of the year. Music is subjective, like all other pieces of art. I picked these albums because they were the most entertaining to me. I will start out with my Top 5 Rap/Hip Hop releases.
5. G.O.O.D Music – Cruel Summer
This album does what I expected…to be another vehicle for Kanye West. The songs that he was on are the best ones. This album is also really positive for Pusha T. Despite being one half of the Clipse and having a burgeoning solo career, I have never heard him better than when he is dropping a guest verse on a track. He continues that trend here. I think that is one of his greatest strengths. “Clique”, “Mercy”, “New God Flow”, and the “I Don’t Like Remix” are so good that they could have been an unbelievable EP but in reality it just makes a solid compilation CD. Its downfall is the same downfall as every compilation. It has great songs and okay songs.
4. T.I. – Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head
I absolutely loved his last album, No Mercy, a post-prison, repentant, apologetic soliloquy to fans, family and friends. This album is a large middle finger to the man that wrote that album. Here T.I. revels in the fact that he gets in trouble and then enumerates the things that make him a “Trouble Man”. I am not typically a fan of this level of bravado but I can’t help but love tracks like “Go Get It”, “Who Want Some”, “G Season” and “Hello”. The swagger on this album is unparalleled and the payoff is tremendous.
3. Meek Mill – Dreams and Nightmares
I am not the biggest fan of “hood” or “gangsta” rap and that’s why the placement of this album, not only in my top 5, but so high is so surprising. Tales of selling drugs and killing people is not appealing or relevant to me. That goes to show the quality of this work, Mr. Philadelphia lays out this string of street tales in a way that makes it anyone can relate to. Anyone can relate to an underdog story and someone that works hard to advance himself in life. Here he shows that “the life” is simply his reality and that he has just jumped into this role and did what he had to. Meek shines on tracks like: “Young & Gettin’ It”, “Who You Around”, “Believe It” and the “Dreams and Nightmares”. Maybach Music Group’s young star is definitely a part of rap’s bright future.
2. Lecrae – Gravity
Christian hip-hop/rap is a small and relatively overlooked sub-genre. A lot of what is out in this genre is watered down and uninspired. Lecrae brings a little street mentality and reality to the genre and it makes it more real. I like that he is actually DOING what Kanye West was TRYING to do on “Jesus Walks”…bring God into the mainstream market. He has been around for years but I believe that his recent work has made him prime for the big time. He also put out a mixtape this year called Church Clothes that was hosted by Don Cannon and featured Lecrae’s move more towards the mainstream using mainstream producers. He is a talented wordsmith and deserves all of the commercial success that is sure to come. Try to deny his talent after listening to standouts: “Gravity”, “Falling Down”, and “Tell The World”, but the entire album is awesome.
1. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part.1
This is my favorite rap/hip-hop album of the year, hands down. I was really anticipating this one a lot and it delivered on all of my expectations. I have loved Lupe ever since I first heard him on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky”. This album seems like a return to form after LASERS. Although I really enjoyed LASERS, more than most, I agree that it didn’t hold up to his previous works. With songs like “ITAL (Roses)”, “Hood Now”, and “Bitch Bad”, his conscious side is as strong here as ever, if not stronger. One of my favorite parts on the album is the end of “Unforgivable Youth”, a commentary on the state of the United States and how far from utopia we truly are. Not only does he not shy away from hot button topics but he doesn’t avoid hooks on this album either, just listen to “Battle Scars”, which has one of the best hooks I have ever heard. All of this culminates in the best rap album in the year.