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As years for music go 2010 ended up pretty damn good. I personally plunked down my hard earned money for at least ten CDs in this calendar year, partially out of a sense of obligation but mostly because there was that much good music out. Much of it flew below the radar but some of the main stream offerings delivered on the hype.

We’re a fairly diverse staff here at so make sure to look out for Top 10s from Bill Johnson, Shamika Sanders and many of our contributors as well.

If you hear the name Skillz and think “ghostwriter” you have some catching up to do. With his last two albums, especially this years The World Needs More Skillz, the VA vet has quietly debunked the notion that “lyrical” MCs can’t make good albums. One listen to the flirtatious “Call Me Crazy” and you know he’s left the 90s behind. And the euphoric synth of “Going Up” can go toe-to-toe with anything on the radio. But it’s bars like “How could one kid be so nice and keep screamin on niggas like Monique at night” that still make him your favorite rappers favorite rapper. If you’re tired of having to choose between Oxygen network emo rap and mind-numbing misogyny Skillz has come to save the day.

The irony of this album’s title is that it’s the least tape friendly collection of 2010. Skyzoo’s couplets like “the corner said ‘Sky you can’t grow up to settle/it’s like, why win if you can’t show off the medal?'” inspire so much spontaneous rewinding that no TDK would last more than a month. Conceptually the BK MC embodies a variety of blue-collar hustlers from the graffiti artist (“Krylon”) to the gunman (“Now Or Never”) and is convincing in each skin. Sonically !llminds futuristic boom-bap makes the project almost sonically flawless rendering fast-forward obsolete. From the filtered Dilla-esque bassline of “Winner’s Circle” to the figure-four funk of “Barrell Brothers” you’ll be glad  20 D batteries aren’t required to keep it in rotation.

On Airtight’s Revenge Bilal carves out a wonderfully new lane that renders the “neo-soul” tag obsolete while not alienating fans who fell in love with his previous works, First Born Second and the tragically scuttled Love For Sale. The soul emanates from Bilal’s voice and emotion and the music is forced to comply. The binary funk of “Cake & Eat It Too” hints enough at his George Clinton influences while sporting  a surprisingly seductive and melancholy groove. “Restart” and “All Matter” are up-tempo laments of love gone wrong that defy compartmentalization. The gem of the album is the unintentionally hilarious “Flying” that may initiate the campaign for strippers to get worker’s compensation.

By assembling a team of his peers and influences for his Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye West has achieved the logical next step in his evolution as an artist. Anyone who listened to Graduation and 808’s and Heartbreak should not be surprised at this ambitious mix of soul, rock and classical sounds. Where West wins is that he takes us to the brink of the event horizon without losing us in a black hole.  While the project is sonically in the upper atmosphere (“Power, ” All Of The Lights”) the themes of power”(Monster”), lust (“Hell Of a Life”) and love (“Blame Game”) are executed for the surface dwellers making it a a compelling and accessible rock opera. From the start of his career Kanye has been pining for recognition, but with thought-provoking output like “Gorgeous” he may finally be confident enough to let the music speak for itself.

There is a different album for every mood and Aubrey Graham gave the ladies their Friday night album of 2010 with Thank Me Later. From “Fancy”  to “Show Me A Good Time” Drake provided the soundtrack for party prep, but he won big by actually speaking to the ladies, not at them.  Tracks like “Karaoke” and “Unforgettable” showed a vulnerability that women haven’t seen in a rapper since…nobody? and they rewarded him with a Platinum debut. So why do I like it? I like girls. And Like Katt Williams said, sometimes you  have to keep some Alize in the fridge or the silk pillow case stashed for “company.”  Plus his producer’s  40 and Boi-1Da are beasts.

In 2010 it’s becoming standard practice for rappers to perform with a band or live instruments so it’s only right that the best hip-hop band  ever  drops arguably their best album. How I Got Over benefits from the road-tested crew actually having to rehearse for their gig at Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and the result is a cohesive and musically balanced project that sacrifices none of what we’ve come to love from The Roots. The introspective “The Day” and “Walk Alone” are musically and lyrically superior and offer evidence that hip-hop can evolve without completely abandoning its…well…roots.

Ras Kass’s A.D.I.D.AS. (All Day I Dream About Spittin) is the album the Illuminati doesn’t want you to hear.  The double CD is 26 tracks of middle-finger to the rap industry from one of the best pure lyricists alive. If you’re judged by the company you keep Skillz, Royce Da’ 5’9, Kurupt, Canibus, Strong Arm Steady, and Xzibit are just a few of the guests he invites to stomp on your dreams of being an MC.  With a sound that goes from  bi-coastal boom-bap (“Life’s A Bitch”)  to Michael Jackson Samples (“He Say, She Say”) Razzy covers all the bases but the flurry of punchlines will keep you reeling for days “I even sleep in a circle/ I’m the nicest around…”

If there was a hip-hop dictionary, right under “guilty pleasure” would be Rick Ross’s bearded mug.  I’m the first to admit that half of what Rozay raps about doesn’t really jibe with me but the man knows how to make a catchy song. Clearly he has a bright future as an A&R recruiting producers J.U.S.T.I.CE. League, Lex Luger and veterans like DJ Clark Kent and NO ID to make Teflon Don one of the most listenable albums of the year.  Ricky isn’t that bad with the wordplay either  but when he needs someone to help move the song along he doesn’t skimp. Jay-Z, Cee-Lo, Kanye West, T.I., Jadakiss, Drake, Ne-Yo, Erykah Badu and Chrisette Michele is the strongest supporting cast you can get and they all sound great on this album. Not to mention he made MC Hammer cool again (at least until he put out that lame diss record).

Cee-Lo Green finally did it. Ever since the days we heard him singing on songs with Goodie Mob and Common we figured he was going to give us one hell of an R&B album on day. While he did provide some good collections of him singing like Perfect Imperfections and his two as Gnarles Barkley they were a bit too out there for some folks. But on the Lady Killer he finally delivers with that yester-year soul tailor made for his voice. The viral sensation “F*ck You”  “Bright Lights, Bigger City”  and “Fool For You” make it impossible to sit still but when he slows things down  like on “Bodies” you can just draw the chalk outline around the evidence and die the little death.

Erykah Badu is out of this world. Her fusion of hip-hop, jazz and alien secretion made Return Of The Ankh her best album since Mama’s Gun. But make no mistake, this is not the same old Badu.  She used conventional means to make an unconventional album. The rules are broken left and right, from 1:05 long comedic interludes about “fuckin your friend” to the 10:22 long thesis on love “Out Of My Mind Just In Time,”  that says more about the complicated state of relationships than some entire albums.  Badu continues to defy expectations and breaking out of any box you try to paint her into one naked verse at a time.


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