5. Eminem – Relapse
Mixed reviews from critics, this album saw Eminem for the most part abandon putting his personal life as the main fodder for his rhymes and focusing on mastering that psycho serial killer persona he introduced in his first album, the Slim Shady LP. This is easily his best album since the Marshall Mathers LP, and is actually better lyric wise and beat wise, but it isn’t as accessible for mainstream fans. But honestly if you can’t appreciate a song about kidnapping a ditsy female hitchhiker, torturing her than properly disposing the body, you’re not a true Eminem fan anyway.
4. Brother Ali – US
Brother Ali dropped two albums this year and US was the stronger one. He uses his storytelling MC ability to put the listener in the eyes of a young Muslim woman trying to fit into American culture in one verse, to a gay kid growing up in a Christian fundamentalist house the next verse, to a toddler from a broken home the next verse. This is message rap at its finest. If a mainstream rapper such as T.I. or Fabolous dropped an album like this, they could probably change the psyche of their young fans, and that is no exaggeration. But they don’t, and I suppose that is why Fabolous and T.I. are mainstream and many of you thought to yourself “Who?” when you saw Brother Ali on this list.
3. Slaughterhouse – Slaughterhouse
This year saw the formation of quite possibly the most talented super groups to ever be formed in recent Hip-Hop history. Royce Da 5’9, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I, and Joe Buddens are all lyrical monsters with cult followings of their own, having all these talents on one album is almost a sensory overload. The Slaughterhouse album did a great job of demonstrating the potential of this super-group and satiating the hip hop purist’s appetite.
2. Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx II
2009 saw Raekwon release the sequel to his classic debut album. This album was delayed over the course of 3 years so few expected it would see the light of day, fewer still expected the album the be even better than the original. But “Purple Tape” part deuce is just that. From Dr. Dre, to Alchemist, to RZA, to Necro, The assortment of producers and beats are outstanding. Raekwon has perfected his storytelling crime rap style. And the album features every living member of Wu-tang except U-God at their absolute best. This is the new standard bearer for crime rap albums, and arguably the best solo album from a Wu-tang member in recent times.
1. Fashawn – Boy Meets World
A lot of people are taken aback when they see that I have a large Nas Illmatic album cover tatted on my left shoulder. It is universally recognized as one of, if not the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time, but my meditation for getting the tattoo went deeper than that acclaim or being a fan of Nas in general. Illmatic for me was the ultimate artistic expression of how it felt to grow up a poor black kid in a 1990’s New York City ghetto. It vividly describes all the stages you go through in that coming of age story, from seeing all the poverty, death and traps around you, to feeling as if you were cursed and becoming apathetic about life in general, to elevating above that and finding a resolve to being your own man, your own god, into making your own world yours. Illmatic tells that story for any young boy from the inner city slums becoming a man in that era. This year an album came out that did it for the 2009 era, and that album is Fashawn’s Boy Meets World. It is a musical album; producer Exile does a great job of providing 20 year-old MC Fashawn with soundscapes that you would swear have their own pulse and heartbeat. Fashawn spits poetic lyrics that recant his coming of age story of how he made a man out of a black kid who grew up in a California where if you are poor, it could feel like hell. This young MC has a bright future.
Honorable Mentions: (Tiye Pheonix Half – Woman-Half Amazing, Method Man & Redman – Blackout 2, K’NAAN – Troubadour, Amanda Blank – I Love You, DJ Quik & Kurupt – BlaQKout)
Noteworthy Non Hip Hop Albums for 2009: (Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement, Various Artists – Black Roc, Shafiq – Shafiq En- AFreeka, Alicia Keys – The Element of Freedom)
Deliberate Non Inclusion: Jay-Z – Blueprint 3 (Easily Jay-Z’s worst album lyrically and sonically, a lazy effort in which it’s only saving grace is its Alicia’s Keys’ beautifully sung “New York” hook, remember kids, radio play doesn’t necessarily equal good.)