2- Dagha - The Divorce - Every once in a while a release comes out of the blue that is so refreshing and different that it requires notice, and this year it is Dagha’s The Divorce. The title of the album is exactly what the content is about; the Boston MC’s painful and strenuous divorce from his wife. The album works chronologically from his early meeting, the painful separation (including when she shuts him out of his home on “Changed Locks”) and the haggling over assets, including his young daughter. But don’t think this is some sing-songy light, painful cry, the album has flavor. Hot beats, a jazz-like undertone, tight samples and sharp lyrical metaphors. It’s still Hip Hop at its finest. HIGHLIGHT: Check out the wordplay on “Cliché”, a track in the same vein of GZA’s labels, in which he spits practically every tired and worn cliché you hear through everyday life.
3- Heltah Skeltah - D.I.R.T. - In their first album together in more than a decade, Heltah Skeltah makes up for lost time with an impressive collection of protypical Boot Camp cuts. The intro bleeds into the slow, piano riff backed "Everything is Heltah Skeltah" with Rock claiming his "gun clear the lane, like Proactive clear Diddy face." Of course, Sean Price is a beast throughout, from "...mistletoe in my back pocket, kiss my ass" to "I'd be Lean Cuisine, you Mushu Pork, Napoleon complex, pa, you too short." The duo is focused and more violent than their previous release, with gun play and verbal jabs throughout. Production is handled by Khrysis, Black Milk, and Evidence and all offer familiar gritty BCC beats. HIGHLIGHT: While Sean Price gets most of the dap for his lyrics, Rock nearly steals the show with his verses. His baritone "Lurch" flow not only is great on hooks, but on point throughout.
4- Vast Aire - Dueces Wild - The Cannibal Ox larger than life member checks in with another outstanding solo offering, leading off with the Le Parasite produced track “You Like It.” The synthesizer backdrop, piano riff and Vast bellowing that he “can break it down” sets the tone for the entire album. Vast is joined by an impressive array of vets and newcomers, including Camp Lo’s Geechi Suede on the unique, super hero themed “Dynamic Duo.” The posse cut “When Starz Fall” is an underground block rocker featuring Invizzibl Men’s Karniege, Thanos, and Swave Sevah ("bottom line, Swave will smack ya, I'm a man of few words, how the fuck did I become a rapper?") HIGHLIGHT: A track with Can O member Vordul Mega on “Mecca and the Ox”, which hopefully signals an upcoming album. Best yet, the track is produced by Pete Rock.
5- Giant Panda - Electric Laser - From the moment lasers and some electronic casino sound pierce through on Electric Laser’s opening you know you’re in for something different. LA’s Giant Panda doesn’t disappoint, as we have rapping in Japanese (“Precise Calculator”), an introspection on a father’s sexuality (“Pops”), waxing in love poetics about pay-TV (“Cinemax”), and those songs which make no sense (“Laser Ray”). The Japanese-American third of the group rapper Chikaramanga, shines, but it is also MCs Newman and Maanumental have their own moments including the high powered leadoff track “Justin Case” which harkens back to a early-90’s Freestyle Fellowship/Pharcyde vibe. HIGHLIGHT: The humor and fun track “Do the Robot in CyberSpace” reminds all of us that before Hip Hop got iced out, political, or criminal, it was about simple enjoyment and just kicking rhymes.
6- Pacewon & Mr. Green - The Only Color That Matters Is Green - Veteran MC Pacewon (The Outsidaz) hooks up with producer/DJ Mr Green to craft a hard hitting, ultimate boom bap gem of 08. The album's title (taken from 98’s He Got Game) doesn’t talk about money obsessed Hip Hop of the year, but the crafty beats created by Green. Those like “Hip Hop” which pimps the definitive MC Shan sample and gives the listener a bit of nostalgia, and “I Need Money” in which Pacewon brags about the need for the moolah, not what he has in riches. Pacewon does find time to direct a scathing diss track versus Eminem in “The Joker” where intimates Slim Shady forgot where he came from, Pacewon included. HIGHLIGHT: The melodic and string driven “Children Sing” takes a simple children’s chorus and flips it (not like the kid sand choruses that permeated rap few years back) into an ill head nodder.
7- Elzhi - The Preface - Detroit and Slum Village’s own comes out with his debut and is backed up with Black Milk production and guest MCs galore (Royce Da 5-9, Phat Kat) to make it a classic. His Royce track “Motown 25” blazed through the spring like an old back and forth cut (“I end careers, years, pierce ears fierce with spears/They say I'm gifted, get lifted like the beers in cheers.”) Black Milk’s work is about half the tracks, and the two have an undeniable meshing that produces such high powered tracks as “Hand’s Up.” Elzhi’s lyric’s are so concise and his concepts are ahead of what you get from most MCs (“Colors” is a prime example, with Elzhi mentioning various color in each bar.) HIGHLIGHT: “Guessing Game” is another wordplay joint, using half words, leaving the first half in the previous bar and starting the next with a completely different word.
8- Kidz in the Hall - The In Crowd - Kidz in the Hall join the classic collective of one MC and one DJ with their debut Duck Down release. Kids’ MC Naledge brings a precise flavor to the release, whether he’s spitting the conscious verse, some introspective ish (“Inner Me”), some metaphors and punchlines sure to get a smirk, or some love joint on “Love Hangover.” Right from jump, DJ Double-O packs a punch to get your attention with the leadoff “The Blackout.” Collabos frequent the album: Skyzoo, Camp Lo, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and the Duck Down posse cut with Buckshot and Sean Price on “The Pledge;” check Price’s flippin of “nickel back.” HIGHLIGHT: The album contains one remix of the hit “Driving Down the Block,” but dig deep to find the alternate remix with El-P and the ‘West Coast’ remix with Pacific Division and others over the Dre’s “G Thang” beat.
9- Jedi Mind Tricks - A History of Violence - Philly’s spiritual yet powerful duo bring most of the same formula to the table that have made them “indie” standouts for more than a decade: Vinne Paz’s monsterous articulation and Stoupe’s bellowing, loud, melodic beats. This installment finds JMT member Jus Allah back in the fold, and he further complements Paz’s angst. Of course we find tracks ranging from the media’s influence on “Trail of Lies,” to a Middle Eastern backdrop on “Monolith” to just some straight up hostility on “Deathbed Doctrine” where Vinnie warns “we the greatest fuckin clique in the game, if you know somebody better, pussy give me they name…” That’s Paz on this entire joint: mad angst. HIGHLIGHT: Scratches and samples are from all over the rap game, and fitting the initial cut is “let me tell you muthafuckas who ya fuckin with” from NWA.
10- Torae - Daily Conversation - Brooklyn’s own “Young Veteran” Torae flexes his East Coast lyrical muscle on his debut album on tracks like “Callin Me” in which he professes his fiending for the mic akin to a junkie for a drug. One hot standout is “Switch,” produced by Black Milk, with Torae literally switching his style every few bars. Collabo tracks with Skyzoo are all over, with the highlight being the DJ Premier produced “Click.” Yet Primo isn’t the only man behind the board lining up to work with Torae, as Khrysis, 9th Wonder, and Marco Polo all jump on the bandwagon. The hard core “Think About It” features MOP affliate and warns MCs of a verbal beatdown as well as to guard their grill. Ya see, BK is still grimey. HIGHLIGHT: East – West projects are always interesting and “The N*gguz is Coming” with Tha Alkaholiks’ Tash is among the best in the category.
Others receving votes:
eMC- The Show - Journey with Masta Ace and crew as they go out on the road from a late pick up at the airport, wrecking the promoter's mother's car, doing promo work, some fan boy trying to get backstage, and a angry "merch guy" all in one album.
EPMD- We Mean Business - Erick and Parrish are joined by Method Man, Raekwon, Keith Murray, Redman, Havoc, and KRS-One (the standout "Run It.") And more than 20 years later, the Brothers from Brentwood are met once again by their foil, Jane, who now sports a Keisha Cole haircut.
Akrobatik– Absolute Value - The Boston MC is joined on the track "Kindred" by Hip Hop idol Chuck D, who narrates Ak's journey from slavery ("Life flashes, whether from the whip lashes, he's threatening to burn me in my own ashes") to Hurrican Katrina ("I'm on my rooftop, sick and thirsty, asking God for mercy")
The Grouch- Show You The World - The Living Legends' member's release has the classic track "Artsy" which indicts knit hats, vegans, side burns, trendy lesbians, non-TV viewers who read books, hybrid drivers, 1/16 Mexicans, dread locked thespians, who dig in the crates. In the end, he's artsy, not weird, just honest.
Large Professor- Main Source- Back from behind the boards and a long break, Large Pro gets his flow on wax with guests like AZ and Styles P on "The Hardest" and also Big Noyd and Lil Dap make memorable appearances. However, dare we say, club banger "Rockin Hip Hop" is the head nodder of the bunch.
RELATED: 2007 Top Hip Hop Albums and 2006 Top Hip Hop Albums