It's been a long time coming but finally I have a cool blog that I can call my own. Most people reading will already know who I am. Discussions of hip hop and life will usually take place here when I have things to talk about.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Hip Hop Albums of the 00's

So we've come to the end of the decade and I will probably be putting my thoughts to how the decade was in numerous incarnations and styles. I had an idea to countdown what I thought the best hip hop albums of the decade were and did a little video presentation to sum it up. For those that don't want to view the video and just want the dirt then read below along with my thoughts on each. For those that don't want the spoilers than don't read below.

The list is obviously incomplete. There was a lot of good hip hop that dropped in the last 10 years, especially if you scratch a little bit below the surface. In creating this list I have tried to create a balance between what was critically and somewhat commercially successful. The 3 honourable mentions are there because for some reason or another they didn't have the balance. I don't think many people have heard of Ohmega Watts or Jneiro Jarel other than your hardcore hip hop listener. So for this reason I included them as honourable mentions. The Madlib album doesn't quite qualify because although it is done by a hip hop producer it is a remix album of Jazz standards. So now that those have been clarified, on with the list.

10. People Under the Stairs - Fun Dmc (released 2008)
It's hard to find a definitive Puts album simply because all of them are simply fantastic. The other reason is that Puts have never really departed from their signature staple of sample based, old school hip hop. It's a sound that works well for them and while they tweaked the formula in recent years to allow for live instrumentation, they still haven't lost the meaning behind what they do. Beats, Rhymes, and Fun.

9. Shad - The Old Prince (released 2007)
Shad may still be unknown to a lot of listeners in the lower 48, but up in Canada he is quickly asserting himself as the cream of the crop for Canadian emcees. This albums marries some of the best underground production talent with Shad's witty and introspective flow. While other emcees are quick to descend into the commercial thuggism that is all too prevalent with the genre, Shad's lyrics pack a punch without descending into bravado boasts about bitches and hoes.

8. Common - Like Water for Chocolate (released 2000)
This came out before his commercial breakthrough "Be" and is better simply for the presence of the late J-Dilla on production. Dilla keeps the beats smooth and soulful throughout what might be one of his best efforts behind the boards. In front Common spits introspective rhyme after rhyme trying to debunk some of the stereotypes that come with rappers and hip hop.

7. Jay-Z - American Gangster (released 2007)
I'm gonna hear it from a lot of people saying....why didn't you put "The Blueprint: Vol 1" on here. Truth is, this is Jay-Z at his realest. The album that showed everyone that he was not content to put out the same album time after time. The album is loosely based on the movie with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, but you don't need the movie to enjoy this. Just let Jay-Z take you on a trip through his wordplay.

6. Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow (released 2002)
Kanye West said his goals were to make albums that were comparable to Stevie Wonder's classic 70's records. Blackalicious were able to offer up a celebration of 70's black soul and funk without making it sound old and stale. Gift of Gab is so gifted with words that he is able to take us on streams of conscious raps for 5 minute keeping us hanging onto his every word, or spit clever nonsense like Chemical Calisthenics.

5. Outkast - Stankonia (released 2000)
Outkast made some great records in the 00's, but "Stankonia" is the pick simply because it shows the duo at their peak before they drifted off in different directions. BOB might be the ballsiest lead single for a Rap album ever with its DnB percussion and machine gun rhymes. Definitely not what top 40 normally goes for. Over the album they keep things southern funky and some of their more interesting tracks verge on the Psychedelic. Andre 3000 sounds like he's channeling the ghost of Jimi Hendrix and that's not a bad thing.

4. Slum Village - Fantastic Volume 2 (released 2000)
Is this album cursed? The tumultuous history of Slum Village pretty much starts here (although Fantastic Vol 1 would be making the rounds on the bootleg circuit before this). With this album producer J-Dilla has his crowning achievement. The rhymes are pretty much forgettable, but work so well with the beats that stutter by in stoned rhythmic fashion. Dilla is too hip hop what the expressionists were to painting, which is minimalist production that hits a groove and fills the space. Slum Village would of course never reach these highs ever again with the loss of Dilla as a member and then his death. Baatin would join him in the hip hop stratosphere earlier this year. that leaves T3 as the sole continuing link Slum Village's legacy that still isn't finished.

3. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool (released 2007)
Lupe Fiasco first gained acclaim through the mixtape circuit which then led to a high profile guest spot on Kanye West's "Late Registration". "Food and Liquor" came out soon after and was critically acclaimed and then came "The Cool". Based around an idea that came about from the song "The Cool" off FnL, Lupe decide to base a large majority of the songs on his second album around that concept (Hence the album title). Lupe has loads of wisdom on the mic and is able to offer commentary on the state of mainstream hip hop with a song like "Dumb it Down" (another bizarre choice for a lead single). The Cool is like a gangster zombie flick with Lupe taking the persona of a slain gangster back from the dead looking for redemption. Cliched maybe, but Lupe keeps it packed with nice production, some of the best narrative this side of Jay-Z, and diversions into lighter material like Paris, Tokyo.

2. Kanye West - Late Registration (released 2005)
As an emcee Kanye is Ok. As a person Kanye is full of himself. Say what you want about Kanye West the truth is that as a producer there are very few better. His ability to see the big picture and take Hip Hip where people had only dared to go is commendable. Hence the orchestrations with Jon Brion on a lot of these tracks that really add that classic touch to the whole thing. It isn't rap, it's like Coldplay in spots with Rap lyrics. It is something that shows the average person of the enormous capabilities of Hip Hop if place in the hands of the right people. Now if only Kanye West wasn't so hard to like as a person.

1. Madvillain - Madvillainy (released 2004)
On the flip side we have an album that is enhanced by its rugged and raw production. The whole album is a concept playing off classical radio shows like the Shadow or Dragnet. On the production side we have Madlib who is noted for his straight into left field projects. On the lyrical side we have MF Doom, a rapper who is never seen in public without his mask and who once recorded an album dedicated to food. Taking the persona of radio villains, Madlib and Doom make their way through this mash-up of gritty, lo-fi beats and samples. Doom's flow never really changes through stream of conscious lyrics that rarely ever make sense unless your stoned. Which leads us to the track "America's Most Blunted" the song that will make your Grandma want to smoke up. A perfect record at a time when their are few classic record. This you can put up with "Nation of Millions" or "Paid in Full" as one of the best of all-time.

Honourable Mentions

Madlib - Shades of Blue (released 2003)
A complete left turn for Madlib from Madvillainy. This came out around the same time but has Madlib showing his appreciation for Jazz by cutting up and remixing the Blue Note Catalogue. It is mostly instrumental which might turn some people off but it is worth a listen if only to show you that there was and is some really great Jazz music to get into.

Jneiro Jarel - Three Piece Puzzle (released 2005)
Jneiro Jarel is a producer from Philly that has drawn comparisons to Madlib although more in work ethic rather than vibe. He enjoys his funk and has does a lot of abstract material similar to the late J-Dilla. This album contains several instrumental experiments but also that classic head bobbing rhymes of mid 90's hip hop. Well worth a listen.

Ohmega Watts - The Find (released 2005)
Ohmega Watts will tell you that he loves Pete Rock. On this album he channels Pete Rock along with some 70's funk, reggae, and Jazz. A great album for summer vibing and remember that it wasn't all about gangster's, sex, and drugs.