The Best Hip-Hop of 2009

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

14 December 2009


Best Albums (6-1)


cover art


Where Is Danny?

(Definitive Jux)
US: 17 Nov 2009
UK: 19 Oct 2009


Where Is Danny?, indeed. To be fair, he wasn’t completely off-the-radar. His 2008 full-length, And I Love H.E.R., was well-received, with good reason. And he dropped a few instrumental projects since then. But Danny!‘s proper Definitive Jux debut was nowhere to be found. Pushed back time and time again, a rough version of that album eventually hit the ‘Net, though that was never his intention. The IMEEM website and some writers leaked the advance. As a result, Danny’s camp released Where Is Danny? for free with a fully mastered version set to drop soon in stores and digitally. Rough or not, it was clear this was not only Danny’s best effort, but one of 2009’s best, too. A sprawling departure from his previous sound—gone are the soul samples and Kanye references—Where Is Danny? plays like a drugged up mix of early De La Soul and Madvillain. Danny and Alex Goose, who produced almost every track on here, crafted one hell of an experimental record that displays both artists at the top of their respective game. Andrew Martin



cover art

Tanya Morgan


(Interdependent Media)
US: 12 May 2009
UK: 19 May 2009

Review [14.May.2009]


For the last time, Tanya Morgan is not a neo-soul singer! Tanya Morgan is a rap group, a trio of three male emcees—Von Pea, Ilyas, and Donwill. In 2006, their Moonlighting album, and its concept of a cassette tape being passed around, reminded me of De La Soul Is Dead (which is still a good listen). This time, Tanya Morgan strikes again with a loftier, more exacting concept. They’ve created a city called “Brooklynati”, playing on their personal connections as Von Pea hails from Brooklyn, New York, while Ilyas and Donwill are from Cincinnati, Ohio. It also represents the meshing of their styles, the rapid flows of the Midwestern United States meeting the lyrical acumen of New York. Complete with skits, commentary, and a very believable Brooklynati Chamber of Commerce website, the album brings us a refreshing set of razor sharp flows from three energetic and witty emcees. The production is slicker here than on Moonlighting, and I miss the muddy and grimy we-don’t-have-a-budget sound they used to have. But they more than make up for it with interesting verses and complementary guest spots. Best of all, their personalities have grown, so that each group member sounds more distinct without ruining the overall cohesiveness of the effort. Quentin B. Huff



cover art


A Pipe Dream and a Promise

(Interdependent Media)
US: 7 Apr 2009
UK: 7 Apr 2009


Detroit has been quietly (or loudly if you keep up with the “underground”) killing the rap game for many years. From Eminem to Slum Village to Finale, the Motor City steadily churns out killer albums. And in 2009, it was no different. Finale’s A Pipe Dream and a Promise is the prime example of a proper solo debut—minimal filler, excellent production, and a variety of topics. It’s also a showcase of straightforward, no-bullshit hip-hop at its finest. Armed with beats from the likes of Kev Brown, J Dilla, and Black Milk, Finale spits passionately for just short of an hour. There is no denying the brilliance of cuts like album-opener “Arrival & Departure”, “Heat”, and “The Waiting Game”, the latter of which features like-minded rapper Invincible. And Finale’s lyricism and smooth flow aside, he—like other Detroit MCs—displays a ridiculous knack for breath control. There must be something in the water over there. Andrew Martin



cover art


Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II

US: 8 Sep 2009
UK: 7 Sep 2009


Hip-Hop’s Great White Whale appeared this year, and it surpassed everyone’s expectations. Right down to the mirror image cover, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II picks up where Part I left off.  Raekwon sounds like he’s been resting, contemplating, brooding during the 15 years it took to make his sequel. His slow, menacing delivery overpowers everything here: J Dilla’s two incredible production credits, the album’s grand storytelling ambitions, Ghostface Killah’s fiery passion—“When I was 12 in the church I thought of packing that metal!” he shouts on “10 Bricks”. When Raekwon says, “Soldiers in the front, let the heat pump”, with the meditative calm of a retired crime boss (hey, he’s playing a role, but he plays it well), you know a decade of mediocrity has been erased. Like The Godfather Part II, it makes the original cower in its shadow. Michael Miller



cover art

Brother Ali


US: 22 Sep 2009
UK: 21 Sep 2009

Review [8.Oct.2009]


Us is a storytelling powerhouse of an album. Brother Ali made the decision to replace his own trials and tribulations with those of others. There is no question he excelled in spitting autobiographical rhymes. But he packs the same emotion and strong lyricism into a slew of topics, including loving a woman who hates herself (“You Say (Puppy Love)”) and a former friend who can’t shake the life of the streets (“Games”). There’s plenty of braggadocio, too. “[email protected]”, which features Freeway and Joell Ortiz, has Ali rhyming like a man possessed. And even though it hosts 16 tracks of intense content, Us never drags. A big reason for that is co-conspirator/producer Ant, who, like Ali, also moved away from his calling card—slick samples and loops with a distinct early ‘90s vibe. This time around, Ant called on talented musicians to interpolate samples with live instrumentation. It all makes for a very rich, engaging listening experience that’s also one of 2009’s best. Andrew Martin



cover art

Mos Def

The Ecstatic

US: 9 Jun 2009
UK: 9 Jun 2009

Review [8.Jun.2009]


I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I first heard The Ecstatic, I despised it. I was so angry I wanted to take it back to the store. I mistook its eclecticism for being unfocused and scatterbrained, wrote off its use of repetition (in place of hooks) as laziness, and misread the lyrics as gibberish. Another sad case of Overzealous Critic Syndrome. Be sure to get your vaccinations. I must have listened to The Ecstatic 15 times before I realized it was worth getting excited about.  I see it now as a four part set, each comprised of four songs with a distinct movement, theme, and cycle. Far from unfocused, it showcases Mos Def at his mos’ energized, bringing us poignant and pointed rhymes backed by superb production. He’s still singing, still reminding us to call him Dante, Flaco, Boogeyman, or whatever, but the whole thing operates as if his “supermagic” is actually voodoo.  He designed these incantations to elicit nostalgia, hope, amazement, and delight. Quentin B. Huff


We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

Call for Music Writers... Hip-Hop, Soul, Electronic, Rock, Indie, Americana, Jazz, World and More

// Announcements

"PopMatters is looking for smart music writers. We're looking for talented writers with deep genre knowledge of music and its present and…

READ the article