2010 was another year of slumping record sales, but to remember it that way would be a crime. Despite fans not copping albums in stores and online, 2010 was a year when there were so many long-awaited, quality albums that dropped that it’d be a shame to not remember the last 12 months for that.
When I first listened to this album, I was pretty close to throwing it out my car’s window. I was driving back from Metropark after a long day in New York City (copped the album at Fat Beats) and was expecting hard-hitting boom-bap tracks complimented mostly by Black Thought and maybe a little Dice Raw on the side. What I got instead was a laid-back, feature-heavy opus that didn’t give me the instant gratification my ever-growing ADD attention span expects when listening to music. However, instead of taking the album out and hoping the next one would be better, I let it rock for awhile and not only found songs that I loved (“How I Got Over,” “The Fire,” “Walk Alone”) but I was able to find songs that felt as good as they sounded, which is near-impossible today. As the summer progressed and the days grew shorter, I found myself reaching for this album more and more to the point where it stayed in the car for a straight week as well as accompanying me on my many long runs as I trained for a marathon that wouldn’t quite work out because I was running with pneumonia. How I Got Over is not just a great listen, it’s a strong, cohesive body of work that can be appreciated by long-time Roots fans and newcomers alike.
Celph Titled and Buckwild - Nineteen Ninety Now
When Celph first told me about this album, I was pumped. I couldn’t imagine one of my favorite MCs linking up with one of my favorite producers to make an entire album. The theme of the album was flawless. Celph, being a huge Golden Era fan like so many of the respected MCs in the game today, linked up with Buckwild to rhyme over unused beats from that era. Perfect combination on paper, but it’s a difficult concept to pull off because there’s so many things that could potentially go wrong. Listening to cuts like “Step Correctly,” “Styles Ain’t Raw” and “I Could Write a Rhyme” show that Celph was able to draw vivid, violent paintings over Buckwild’s crisp, vintage canvasses to create an album that could stand the test of time from the mid-1990s to the mid-2090s.
3) Capone-N-Noreaga - The War Report 2: Report the War
The War Report, CNN’s first album they put together with some help from Tragedy Khadafi, is one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made. Much like Raekwon faced with creating a sequel to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Capone N Noreaga had a similar challenge in front of them, especially after their last project Channel 10 wasn’t anywhere near classic level. The War Report 2, however, is about as close as we could ever expect CNN to get to their classic and to expect them to replicate The War Report is akin to asking Nas to make a second Illmatic. No matter where you are, you’re going to feel like you’re in Queens hearing songs like “Hood Pride,” “Bodega Stories (how classic is it hearing Capone rapping about playing Street Fighter 2 with Foxy and Cormega?),” and “Brother from Another.”
4)Diabolic - Liar and a Thief
Talk about an album that’s long overdue. ‘Bolic had fans waiting ever since he snapped necks on the hidden track after Immortal Technique’s “Dance with the Devil.” Unfortunately all Diabolic did was drop random freestyles and features that would eventually be compiled on hard-to-find mixtapes. Even though Diabolic didn’t do everything he could have to make the album more of a success, he came through on the rhymes, from threatening to stab you with plastic spoons on “I Don’t Wanna Rhyme” to professing his love for poisoning minds on “Not Again.” The main criticism Diabolic had been facing was that he relied too heavily on punchlines, but with Liar and a Thief, he was able to prove that while punchlines are his strong suit, he can do much more when he has to. But who wants that?
5) Freeway and Jake One - The Stimulus Package
It’s a shame that a great album like this will probably get overlooked by most lists because it came out so early. It’s like a college football team losing early and still getting a decent bowl bid as opposed to an undefeated team losing late in the season and getting stuck in the Weedeater Bowl. Jake One was able to give Freeway something we hadn’t heard from him in a long time - chemistry with a producer that makes you ask Just who? Freeway’s a beast at making quality songs, but until The Stimulus Package, all of Freeways albums were just nice collections of songs. This was the first time I heard a Freeway album that sounded exactly like an album. The beats stay consistently dope, which is status quo for Jake One while the rhymes remain fresh whether he’s talking about his girl’s snappa-pow on “She Makes Me Feel Alright” to letting fans know he’s holding down the dynasty on “Throw Your Hands Up.”
6) Eminem - Recovery
Whenever news of Eminem dropping an album comes out, there’s always questions that need to be asked. What’s he going to do to his mom and Kim this time? What new accent is he going to develop? What excuse will his stans use for justifying another album that fails to meet expectations? Unlike Encore and Relapse, two huge disappointments, this one isn’t as bad, but perhaps that’s also because our expectations have been lowered so much since The Marshall Mathers LP days when every song was either a classic or near-classic. Eminem scores major points on Recovery for admitting to his past flops on “Talkin 2 Myself” as well as losing the gimmicky accents and doing what he does best - rhyme. I could have done without the Pink and Rihanna collaborations, but ultimately Recovery proves that Eminem is on the path with the same name.
Reef the Lost Cauze - Fight Music
When I first heard Reef the Lost Cauze at a Rocksteady MC Challenge, I knew he was dope. I just never knew he was going to be as dope as he is now, where he’s able to rip a track to shreds in half a verse. On this Guns-N-Butter produced album, Reef reinforces the fact that he can still hold down an album for those who just want to think of him as a member of Army of the Pharaohs. Reef’s most triumphant moment on Fight Music is when he proves he belongs alongside the legendary Kool G. Rap and soon-to-be-legendary R.A. the Rugged Man.
8) PackFM - I Fucking Hate Rappers
One of the drawbacks to this job is that you get to talk to a lot of rappers. Having conversations with some MCs, you realize they have a pretty good sense of humor but won’t ever let it come through in their music because they don’t know how their fans would respond to it. PackFM has never been one of those guys and for that I thank him. His latest album is pretty short, but he doesn’t need to stretch it out to make his point, which is that he’s not too happy with the state of hip-hop today, from the tight jeans to crooked show promotors. PackFM even does what I thought only Cam and Juelz were capable of doing these days and that’s make entertaining skits, whether it’s dissecting “The Kanye Look” or the million side hustles everyone is doing on “Closure.” While the album doesn’t even break 40 minutes, a rarity in today’s game, it’s important to remember that a lot of great albums never cracked 40 minutes (check Illmatic). PackFM proves here it’s not how long you can rap for but what you can do with the time you have.
9) Killah Priest - The 3 Day Theory
It’s strange how Killah Priest isn’t on more fans’ radars today. With all the complaints about hipster rap and there not being any real MCs anymore, Killah Priest has been/is here dropping albums that are consistently fresh in terms of lyrics and mostly fresh in terms of beats. From “Shadows” to “A Priest Theory,” it’s hard to not enjoy the album. Priest does on here what he does best - deep, introspective, spiritual rhymes that hit hard and make you reach for the rewind button on your iPod.
10) Breez Evahflowin’ - As He Goes On...
Breez has quietly carved his niche in the game for being a battle-tested MC who can do anything in a song. With As He Goes On..., his last album for awhile (I’m betting on his return) Breez drops an album that is more accessible to the mature ear and will probably be somewhat inaccessible for those looking for the next Drake, but knowing Breez, I don’t think he’d have it any other way. The album has some pure gems on it, like the Doc Butcher and Rob Swift-assisted “Uplift” to “Ageless” featuring past collaborator Dirt. E Dutch. Breez is also the first MC to rhyme on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme song when it’s flipped correctly (sorry, Jay-Z). Breez and Immortal Technique take on the government with “Land of the Gun” that would please revolutionaries and Clint Eastwood junkies alike. Despite Breez taking a hiatus from the game, by the time you go back to check all the dope material he’s dropped in the last few years, he’ll hopefully be back with a new project.
10) Honorable Mention:
Hell Razah - Heaven Razah: Hell Razah dropped one of the smartest, most soulful albums of 2010. Let’s hope he can get back in the booth because hip-hop without his voice just wouldn’t be the same.
Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Method Man - Wu Massacre: This album played more like an EP, which definitely disappointed some fans. However, anytime you get three of the best MCs in the game rhyming together for an entire album, you can’t really go wrong. Besides, when songs like “Mef vs. Chef 2” and “Dangerous” leave the listener longing for more, it means they must have done something right.
Black Milk - Album of the Year: Black Milk was able to show growth and drop his first true anthem with “Deadly Medley.” While I still prefer him as a producer to an MC, he’s slowly proving that he’s a solid double threat.
Rah Digga - Classic: Dirty Harriet may have been gone for a long time, but she was easily welcomed back with the help of Nottz on Classic, an album that does its best to live up to its lofty title. Songs like “Classic” and “The Book of Rashia” leave me hoping Digga doesn’t disappear to the Poconos again.
Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson: I’d be lying if I said Madlib wasn’t one of my favorite producers of all-time. The way he builds beats is not only inspirational but genius. When you throw his left coast style with three MCs who uniquely embody what it means to be from the west, what you get is an intense mix of high-grade lyricism with beats to match that flow together like a burrito fresh off the burrito truck and Corona while watching an L.A. sunset.
Little Brother - Leftback: It’s sad that Little Brother is no more for now, but when you look at why they’re no more, it’s downright bizarre. From 9th cockblocking a bonus track to not returning their calls, it’s evident the group’s chemistry on records didn’t translate behind closed doors. Undeterred by the bullshit, Phonte and Rapper Pooh come through with the rhymes fans have come to love over animated soundscapes mostly by Khrysis.
Inspectah Deck - The Manifesto: Inspectah Deck is one of my favorite MCs of all-time, so imagine how hard it is to have him drop an album and not have it be on my top 10 list for the year. As much as I love songs like “Champion,” “Born Survivor” and “This Is It,” I can’t get over how terrible “The Big Game” is. If Deck trimmed the album to 12 tracks and had stronger beats with less features, he’d probably be looking at album of the year.
Vinnie Paz - Season of the Assassin: We’ve always wondered what Vinnie would sound like without Stoupe on the boards. Our question was finally addressed and the answer was one word: dope. Pazienza doesn’t let down on this high-adrenaline ride through the mind of an assassin.
Vado - Slime Flu: After forgiving him for jacking the whole “slime” thing from N.O.R.E., it’s easy to see why so many people love Vado. He can spit. Songs like “The Greatest” and “Shooter” secure Vado’s place as the most exciting up-and-coming rapper coming from New York.
7L and Esoteric - 1212: I’ve always enjoyed Esoteric’s witty, sarcastic insults over 7L’s funky beats. From strong collaborations with Celph Titled to the Rebel INS, the Boston duo proves why they’re still crushing the game today.
Skillz - The World Needs More Skillz: Skillz gets his grown-man on this go-round, and who can fault him for that? Too many girl songs on here for me, but he does a great job eulogizing DJ AM in “Adam” and reinforcing his average joe status on “Regular Guy.”
Freddie Gibbs - Str8 Killa, No Filla: Freddie cemented his place in the game with this project as an up-and-coming MC who definitely has a future in the game. From getting respect from vets like Bun B to holding it down on his own, Str8 Killa, No Filla will silence anyone still doubting the Gary, Indiana’s talents.
Rakaa - Crown of Thorns: Remember Rakaa? Isn’t he that third guy in Dilated Peoples? While Evidence and DJ Babu have been crafting successful solo careers, Rakaa played the background. No longer will he have to do that, as it sounds like his time was well-spent crafting an incredibly solid solo debut.
Murs - Fornever: Murs and 9th Wonder may be getting the chemistry down, but this was not my favorite collab album they’ve done. From 9th Wonder rapping to Suga Free dropping a dope verse over a beat that doesn’t fit him on “Let Me Talk,” the album has its missteps but what makes this dope is what’s made every Murs album dope, and that’s his witty everyman rhymes that always remind the listener that he’s one of us.
Chief Kamachi - The Clock of Destiny: ‘Mach always comes fresh with his stream of consciousness lines that question society while proclaiming his dopeness as an MC. That’s exactly what Kamachi does on his quietly released album that is still flying below most fans’ radars.
DJ Muggs vs. Ill Bill - Kill Devil Hills: Muggs has perfected the one DJ/one MC formula with a variety of artists, which is something he deserves more credit for. Ill Bill does his thing on here, as the duo prove a perfect combination for dark, sinister tracks that cause excessive head-nodding and the likelihood that you’ll have to sleep with your lights on.
Fat Joe - The Darkside, Volume 1: It’s easy to hate on Fat Joe today, as he’s often looked at as the prime example of a New York-made MC who found greener pastures down south. However, Joey Crack must have heard some of that criticism because he took it back to his roots on this one, with the anthemic “Slow Down” and the grimy “Valley of Death.” I’m still surprised he got away with jacking MoSS and Ghostface on “Kilo,” which is not one of those beats that you could redo and play off as a coincidence. Without that erroneous bite, this would have been rated higher.