10. “In The Ruff”-Diamond District
What a year for the DMV!! Whether it was yU’s “Before Taxes“, XO’s “RealMatic” or the various instrumental projects from Oddisee, there’s no denyin’ that the DMV picked up where Detroit left on in 2009. As Oddisee has stated on numerous occasions, this year Diamond District (the triumvirate of Oddisee, XO & yU) where truly: “The newest edition of what you been missin”. The only real trouble when deciphering an album such as “In The Ruff” is that it’s so damn solid and cohesive, picking a hands-down favorite from the album is a difficult task. When that problem occurs, you know you’ve got a darn good album on your hands, “In The Ruff” was just that!!
Straight up and down, Exile’s “Radio” is probably the closet thing J Dilla’s “Donuts” that you’ll ever hear in your lifetime. A master of the MPC, Exile’s instrumental opus, “Radio” often left me with my mouth gaping open (*pause*), especially after witnessing moments such as “Summer Song”, “Mega Mix” and the haunting sounds of “The Sound Is God”. A strong variance from his work as 1/2 of Emanon and his classic LP with Blu, “Below The Heavens”, “Radio” has me anxiously awaiting Exile’s forthcoming re-release of the album with emcees atop his masterful productions, the “Radio” Re-mix Project. Simply put, “Radio” will go down in Hip-Hop’s archives as one of the finest instrumental LPs to ever see the light of day.
It’s only right that the Exile (solely) produced LP, Fashawn’s deeply personal “Boy Meets World” would “one-up” the aforementioned “beat-head’s” wet dream. Although, my love for “Boy Meets World” has significantly cooled off slightly in the last two months or so (I’ve discovered that “Boy Meets World” just doesn’t quite possess the replay value that Blu & Exile’s “Below The Heavens” did), I mean, early comparisons to “Below The Heavens” where nearly unavoidable, let’s face it: Blu is truly one of a kid, and he is a better emcee than Fashawn. However, when you are mentioned in the same breath as Blu and your album is paired with the likes of a “Below The Heavens“, you know you’ve done something right and “Boy Meets World” finds itself rubbing elbow’s with some of the year’s finest due to the personal, insightful and thought-provoking lyricism of Fashawn. Plus, having Exile on your team doesn’t hinder your performance in the least!
You know, what’s really amusing to me is that the majority of my peers, friends, acquaintances, you name it, don’t seem to understand my fascination with the duo of Smoovth and Hus aka Tha Connection. The biggest complaint that I hear when speaking of tha Connection is simply: “Eric, those cats just aren’t up to par lyrically with some of the underground’s so-called “big hitters”. You know what? Who gives a sh*t? Really? These cats craft pure, raw, uncut, bare-knuckles Hip Hop that often times reminds me of a “Infamous”/”Hell On Earth” Mobb-Deep. To push the envelope even more, Hus is no GZA, Smoovth is no Raekwon yet at times this year, while listening to “Royale” I was taken back to 1993, when I compiled all my “snow-shoveling” money to cop Wu-Tang’s debut from Chamelot Music. What’s really great about not only “Love Royale“, but much of tha Connection’s prior catalog, is that many of the producers on the albums are overseas cats. Dudes like Vans Cal & AGC, incognito cats whom only emerge to drop near instrumental classics to accompany tha Connection’s distinct deliveries and word-play.
Dizzy’s “Soon You’ll Understand” may not have earned top honors as the “top album of 2009″, but it does earned “my most slept-on” album of the year for yours truly. Trav had mentioned to me on numerous occasions prior to November (yeah, I know right? I slept on Diz that long!), “Eric, you need to listen to that Diz Gabran!” For whatever reason, I often passed the album over when skimming through the archives of my Ipod, yet Diz along with Queens, New York producer Moonshine (not to be confused with Muneshine) quickly earned a spot in my daily rotation after just one listen. A dead-ringer for Lord Finesse, the Left Coast is in good hands with the emergence of Diz Gabran, along with the likes of Pac Div, Blu and Fashawn. In all fairness to both Moon and Diz, even though “Soon You’ll Understand” was distributed as a free mixtape, this 19-track long-play was essentially Diz’ official “here I am” to the Hip-Hop community. We see you Diz…we see you…
As the saying goes: “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. It’s time to let the cat out the bag, I’ve been holding it in for almost a year; as dope as Illogic and Ill Po’s “Diabolical Fun” was, the cover art was just as unimpressive, I mean Rubix-cube boom-box in the background? C’mon “Ills”!! I just didn’t grasp that concept in the least, with all due respect. However, we don’t listen to cover art here at Bloggerhouse, thank goodness!
On “Diabolical Fun” Illogic injects each track with a sense of honesty, humbleness and candor that is truly refreshing, and what Hip-Hop is sorely lacking these days. There’s really not much fault that lied within the lyrics that appear on “Diabolical Fun” as Illoigic flows effortlessly while varying subject matter from straight-up “braggadocio” (the BOOMING “welcome to my got damn album cut”, “What’s My Name”), to addressing the problems in our music today (“What Happened?”), to the extremely danceable, breaker’s anthem “Feel The Beat”, keep the album flowing like Moet and undeniably fresh. Kudos to you Illogic!!
Now, on the production tip? I may very well be Ill Poetic’s biggest advocate, but it’s hard to front on someone that has all the necessary skills to make a name for himself in a day where everyone and their girlfriend is shopping a demo. Ill Po’s production on this album is…..MIND-BLOWING!! With “The World Is Ours”, Ill Poetic delivered a soulful, sample-heavy sound that, reflecting back on the album, was actually somewhat ahead of it’s time. I mean, Jesus…dude took a record “crackle” and made it a snare for “So Good”. Who does that sh*t nowadays? Honestly, Ill Poetic took Lonnie Liston Smith’s “Visions Of A New World”, and freaked it numerous times throughout the album, yet you’d never know it. This time around, after a few listens to “Diabolical Fun” I couldn’t help revert back to the production techniques utilized during the early-mid nineties. Seriously, Ill Poetic’s production for “Diabolical Fun” is what it would sound like if the Bomb Squad’s beats mated with Organized Noize’s production and had a love child. When thinking of a word that is most descriptive for the beats featured on “Diabolical..”, I’d have to go with frantic. Your subwoofers are gonna’ get one hell of a cardio session when you play this album in your ride!! From the moment “What’s My Name?” hits your eardrums to the fitting skips of the finale cut, “Walk Into The Sunset”, there’s no letting up as Ill showcases all of his work on the boards with tracks that you can feel in your gut!
4. “Still Hear”-Thaione Davis f. Rashid Hadee
If you’ll notice in the album’s “description” (at least when you “Google” for the album) I noted Thaione Davis “featuring” Rashid Hadee, even though “Still Hear” is solely listed as just a “Thaione Davis” piece of work, I feel it’s time that Rashid Hadee receives his overdue shine. Produced in it’s entirety by Hadee, “Still Hear” is Rashid’s crowning moment to date as he effectively provided fierce backdrops for tracks that featured straight-up braggadocio (the 9-minute “free-for all”,”Tradesmen” ), talk of relationships (“Inside Your Mind”) to politics and reality (“Face Of The Hood”). Not to be overlooked, Thaione, who delivered one of the top lyrical performances of the year, touched all the bases with his lyrical content, all the while setting the listener at ease with his unique almost effortless delivery. Good music was out there this year, in the instance of “Still Hear” you just had to dig a little bit deeper to discover it. A soon to be “classic”, at least in my humble opinion.
Sometimes, you, the reader have no idea just how difficult a task it is to compile and evaluate year-end lists such as this. I mean, I’m literally sitting here at my PC with my head in my palms, rubbing my eyes red, trying to figure out the positioning of the top 3 albums of 2009. I’ll just say this: in my “approaching” 4 years of blogging and year end lists, 2009 has been the closest race for album of the year. I mean, who knows? Given another three or so weeks to the year Finale’s solo debut would have garnered the top spot…but, not today at least…I think? No, for sure..No…
By all accounts, one glance at the track listing, along with the notable producers involved, makes “A Pipe Dream And A Promise” a sure-fire classic, right? However, you know just as well as I do that we’ve seen it all before: up and coming emcees gets various co-signs (ahem, “throwaway” beats) from highly regarded beat makers and proceeds to drop a bullsh*t album filled with topics ranging from the newest Air Yeezy’s (Jesus, who in the hell would wear those out in public, really? Supras? same thing) to all his swag, cars, etc. Thankfully, Finale’s performance does not disappoint on his debut and in some instances (“Issues” & the Black Milk-produced “Motor Music”, which wasn’t one of the more notable beats I’ve heard from him as of late) his lyrical display outshines that of his producer’s performance behind the boards. CONSISTENT, Finale exemplifies the term as his flow doesn’t incorporate many hills and valleys within his no-nonsense, straight to the point delivery. Matter of fact, and I know this may be waaaay left-field here, but he actually sounds like a more lyrical 50 Cent on some of his tracks. Of course, we won’t hold that against Finale, as 50 could only dream of crafting an album half this dope.
The fast-forward material on “A Pipe Dream..” is virtually non-existent. If Ihad to cut out one track, being nit-picky, it would probably be the aforementioned “Motor Music”, not that it’s unlitenable by any means, it was just more of a let-down than anything else…especially considering the culprits. However, from the frantic, electro-boogie of “Waiting Game” (where J.L. affiliate Khrysis does his best Lab-Tech impersonation) to straight bananas, J-Dilla-laced “Heat” (Damnit, another M.O.P. sample? YESSSSS!!!!), the contributing producers laced Finale with some serious HEAT! I honestly don’t see another track this year bumping “Paid Homage” from my favorite track this year as this Flying Lotus produced thumper is so elegantly layered it gives me goosebumps with each listen, and it doesn’t hurt that it packs enough low-end to rattle your spine. If you’re searching for some of the best production in 2009, don’t stray to far you can find a healthy chuck of it, right on this album!
2. “Before Taxes”-yU
As yU mentioned on “Beats And Rhymes From March 25″: “And if that man gets cut/then he would bleed rhythm”, and when he says it, after bumping “Before Taxes” on a weekly basis since May…well, I believe him. I really wanted to do a tie for album of the year, I really did. However, one of the tasks at hand that I was able to fulfill on my drive from Arkansas to Philadelphia last week was to bump “Before Taxes” along with Aarophat and Illastrate’s “Black Noise“, back-t0-back to figure out just what was the best product to emerge from 2009. Needless to say, I played “Before Taxes” and “Black Noise” in succession for nearly 8 hours straight, and it’s still a very hard decision to make, yet I think I’ve distinguished the better of the two.
There was absolutely no wastage whatsoever on this album…NONE!!! yU is THAT DUDE, instantly it’s easy to gravitate to his delivery and his voice, in particular on tracks like “Beats And Rhymes (From March 25th)” and the head-nodder supreme, the Oddisee-produced “Lunchin”. I mean, not even knowin’ dude and judging from his music, yU just seems like a real likable, down to earth cat that speaks truth from the heart. And while Diamond District pal Oddisee may have a very distinguishable and easily identifiable “twang” (for lack of better wording) with the way in which he spits, yU has that same Southern drawl in his voice that is even more pronounced, that meshes perfectly with traditional East-Coast boom-bap that takes you back to 1993 on cuts like “Corners” (f. EyeQ) and the ridiculous flip of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and “InTheReign”.
What also struck me as very impressive was that the majority of the project was actually produced by the 1978ers (yU & Slimkat78), but it also features some guest production from Kev Brown, Oddisee & Bilal Salaam. This album is as solid as a bar of gold, not one dull moment, let alone a throw-away track. If you thought Diamond District’s “In The Ruff” was worth the listen, you NEED to check this album out! Admittedly, as impressed as I was with “In The Ruff”, yU’s “Before Taxes” has made Diamond District’s effort somewhat of a distant memory to me. Yes, it was just that good!
1. “Black Noise”-Aarophat & Illastrate
Drumroll please……and, for the “Top Album of 2009″ we have Aarophat & Illastrate’s collaborative effort “Black Noise”!!! So you may ask: ”so Eric, what was it that set “Black Noise” apart from the remainder of the pack in 2009?” Well, for one thing, just listen to tracks like “Higher” (Revolution), “Chips” and “Ghetto 2 Ghetto”..”Black Noise” you can’t tell me this long-play was just comprised of tracks, this album had ANTHEMS!! Even on more subdued tracks such as “Driftin” or “Whachagunnado” (f. Dolo), Aarophat & Illastrate still captured the true essence of Hip Hop during it’s finest hour. Plus, in “Driftin”, Chips” and “Higher”, “Black Noise” featured on of the best 3-song stretches that I’ve heard in quite some time. Yes, the album did have it’s flaws, as did all the aforementioned LPs on this list, but I can honestly say that “Black Noise” was as close to perfection as you could find in 2009.
Illastrate’s phenomenal qualities are always approaching newer levels as well, along with his knack for top-notch production, quality and style. Illastrate’s name now echos in the industry for his trademarked “dirty drums”, which can be heard on Akir’s “Legacy” as well as Dynas’, “The Apartment”. Illastrate’s has also served behind the boards are for Tiye Phoenix and Lords Of The Underground.
“Black Noise” is already being viewed as a “classic” underground LP amongst the masses. Both separately and jointly this duo has definitely proven themselves worthy of their rightful place on our “Next 30″. Aarophat and Illastrate have upped their ante for 2010, and because of this, their is no glass ceiling to what the future holds for this duo that are cut from the same cloth as Pete Rock & CL Smooth.
The Best Of The Rest (11-30)
12. “Church League Champions”-Pac Div
13. “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx2″-Raekwon
14. “Make Do”-Apollo Brown
15. “The Salvation”-Skyzoo
16. “Jay Stay Paid“-J Dilla
17. “Mental Liberation”-Oddisee
18. “Brooklynati”-Tanya Morgan
20. “Honest Music”-St. Mic
21. “The Apartment”-Dynas
22. “Super Ramen Rocketship”-Paten Locke
23. “The Slow Twilight”-5 O’Clock Shadowboxers
24. “Everything’s Good Ugly”-Che Grand
25. “Double Barrel”-Torae & Marco Polo
26. “Dr. No’s Ethiopium”-Oh No
27. “Ali’yah”-D Black
28. “Strange Journey Volume One”-Cunninlynguists
29. “The Blueprint 3″-Jay-Z
30. “The Art Of Ink”-Big Tone