The Best Hip-Hop of 2009

by Andrew Martin, Michael Miller, and Quentin B. Huff

14 December 2009

 

Best Albums (12-7)

Best Albums - Honorable Mention

 


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Diamond District

In the Ruff

(Ryko)
US: 27 Oct 2009
UK: 27 Oct 2009

12


A bunch of albums could have received an “Honorable Mention” this year, for various reasons. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Eminem’s Relapse and Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 reminded us of what it feels like when an album’s release date is treated like an event. Royce Da 5’9's Street Hop, jumpstarted by Royce’s spotlight-stealing moments on the Slaughterhouse (Royce, Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, and Crooked I) album, could have made the cut. So could Fashawn’s Boy Meets World, Skyzoo’s The Salvation, or UGK’s UGK 4 Life. Diamond District (emcee and producer Oddisee joined by artists XO and YU) gets the nod because, with In the Ruff, this group made the rather bold decision to create an album that recalls the boom-bap sound of the 1990s, yet remains relevant to the contemporary landscape and also stays true to the group’s origins. By “origins”, I’m referring to the fact that Diamond District’s members were raised in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Washington, D.C., in particular, lends a peculiar atmosphere in that it sits at the center of United States politics while also sporting crime rates and income disparities that are out of this world. Listening to In the Ruff, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the politics and the not-so-great stuff are related. Diamond District offers intricate rhymes delivered with the ease that characterized the Native Tongue posse of the ‘90s, coupled with smart loops and bass-heavy beats in the mode of DJ Premier and Pete Rock. These guys make the ‘90s sound a heck of a lot better than I remember it. Quentin B. Huff

 

 


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Ghostface Killah

Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry

(Def Jam)
US: 29 Sep 2009
UK: 5 Oct 2009

11


This is Ghostface Killah at his most experimental. With his foray into R&B, he treats relationships with the same macabre ferocity as he does crack and violence. “I need a girl that’s stackin’ and poppin’”, he bellows on the opening song, as if his very life hangs in the balance in the necessity. Then, of course, there’s “Stapleton Sex”, a song so explicit it’s nearly impossible to listen to. “I’ve got my gun on the floor and I’m ready to fuck”, Ghostface admits before explaining, “My face is wet, got some hair on my tongue”. In a matter of seconds, he manages to make sex as frightening as the crack game, a testament to his skill with words. “Guest House” is the perfect synthesis of Ghostface’s wit, funkiness, and theatricality. “My dick’s as hard as a callus!” he shouts with the seriousness of a condemned man. This isn’t easy listening, but Ghostdini‘s total revision of the slow jam formula makes it one of the most important hip-hop albums of the year. Michael Miller

 
Best Albums
 

 


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DOOM

Born Like This

(Lex)
US: 24 Mar 2009
UK: 23 Mar 2009

Review [24.Mar.2009]

10


Taking its title from a Charles Bukowski poem, DOOM’s first album in over three years is also his most focused of the decade. DOOM’s incorporation of massive organ sounds, dirty guitar tracks, and jazz drumming recalls Low End Theory A Tribe Called Quest, but DOOM’s confident delivery is all his own: “Know the drill, it ain’t worth the over kill, flow still”, he says on “Gazillion Ear”, offering a worthy summation of his style on Born Like This. He’s laidback, but entirely self-aware, cutting out all filler, throwing in no unnecessary words. Yes, like a good Bukowski poem, the 40 minutes of Born Like This create a combination of humor and tragedy, distilled to its bare essentials. A glorious return. Michael Miller

 

 


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k-os

Yes!

(Universal)
US: Import
UK: Unavailable
Canada Release Date: 14 Apr 2009

Review [2.May.2010]

9


This Toronto native has never been one to color inside the genre lines. k-os has shown flashes of experimentation since hitting the scene in the mid-‘90s. But he’s never jumped outside the box as much as he did on this year’s Yes!. Yet it remains very accessible. Singles such as “4 3 2 1” and “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman”, which features fellow Canucks Nelly Furtado and Saukrates, are beyond catchy. They display k-os’s ability to write a pop song without sacrificing integrity or quality. And they also display his relentless urge to grow as an artist. That quality remains true across the entirety of Yes!. A multitalented artist who raps, sings, and produces better than most of his contemporaries, k-os’s discography continues to expand as a force to be reckoned with. Andrew Martin

 

 


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DJ Quik & Kurupt

BlaQKout

(Mad Science)
US: 9 Jun 2009
UK: Import

8


“This feeling right here is like taking me back to 1995”, DJ Quik says on the title track of BlaQKout. 1987 is more like it. A near-perfect meeting point of 1999-era Prince and Straight Outta Compton—which is to say this album is really FUNKY—BlaQKout finds these two veteran MCs alternating between their most playful (the nasty bedroom anthem “Cream”) and serious (“9 x Outta 10”). The record, with its otherworldy beats that combine elements of electronica, jazz, blues, and, of course, funk, is the sonic equivalent of DJ Quik’s evolution from a teenage DJ in Los Angeles to a purveyor of cerebral party rap. Its understated-ness is just haughty enough to provide a metonym for Kurupt’s less-is-more approach to rapping. With BlaQKout, these two rappers—now pushing 40—not only prove they are still relevant, they also show they can play harder than most other artists in the genre. Michael Miller

 

 


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Serengeti & Polyphonic

Terradactyl

(Anticon)
US: 23 Jun 2009
UK: 27 Jul 2009

7


Polyphonic’s the DJ. Serengeti’s the wordsmith. Together, they continue with the inventive, off-kilter rhyme and beat wizardry they almost perfected on 2007’s Don’t Give Up. Although the title brings to mind the ancient pterodactyl, Serengeti & Polyphonic’s Terradactyl is far from antiquated. Its thumping and pulsing futuristic rhythms make the affair more accessible than its sonic predecessor, largely because Polyphonic’s nimble and wonderfully busy soundscapes provide the right contrast to Serengeti’s lithe delivery. Serengeti is pensive, reflective, bluesy, and trippy, and although he doesn’t lean as heavily on humor as in some of his solo work, his lyrical heft is abundant. Serengeti packs a punch when he’s moody. Where Don’t Give Up offered a sonic quilt, Terradactyl is the musical equivalent of abstract art and impressionism. The results are workmanlike, fresh, and thrilling. Absolutely dope. Quentin B. Huff

 

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