Julian Benbow's top hip hop albums of 2009

Globe critics name their top 10 list (and a surprise)

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 20, 2009

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DRAKE “So Far Gone’’ So a kid whose previous claim to fame was his role on “Degrassi: The Next Generation’’ made the biggest mark on rap this year by doing Kanye’s emo break-up album better than Kanye. Go figure. And since everyone - except copyright cops - essentially read the word “mixtape’’ as “free album,’’ consider this his debut.

BLAKROC “BlakRoc’’ Really, it’s like community service. Damon Dash brought Mos Def, Jim Jones, RZA, Raekwon, and a crew of other rappers together with the Black Keys to once and for all destroy the archetypical Run-DMC/Aerosmith, Method Man/Fred Durst rap-rock cliché. In the process, they made one of the nicest surprises of the year.

JAY-Z “Blueprint 3’’ Everything about this album was a push for the pop charts. And he got the first No. 1 single in the 13 years since his debut album.

RICK ROSS “Deeper Than Rap’’ Even if the Grammys refused to acknowledge it, Ross (and more specifically production team J.U.S.T.I.C.E League) magnified his (probably fabricated) Miami Vice persona and created a new hip-hop sub-genre: orchestra rap.

RAEKWON “Only Built for Cuban Linx II’’ It worked for the Godfather, the Matrix, the Pirates, and now Raekwon. Somewhere in the process of re-creating OB4CL, the Wu-Tang rapper rediscovered the eerie crack-rap narrative that made his debut a genuine classic.

SKYZOO “The Salvation’’ The elements are simple: lyrics delivered steadily, painting the paradoxes of urban decay; beats supplied by Just Blaze, Best Kept Secret, and 9th Wonder, who fleshes out skeletal samples of Phyllis Hyman, Robert Winters & Fall, and the Sylvers.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE “Slaughterhouse’’ Kidnap four disgruntled/underappreciated rappers, starve them for, say, the duration of their careers, lock them in a steel cage together, and throw a microphone in the middle. You’d get this album, specifically the lyrical death-match “Microphone.’’

KID CUDI “Man on the Moon: The End of Day’’ Weird, self-indulgent, whiney, hipster rap that relies heavily on its nearly flawless production and infectious hooks while overlooking simple things like, well, writing a verse? Sure. But somehow it all comes together and makes a woozy and moody debut.

BLU “Her Favorite Colo(u)r’’ The hook is an exquisite Billie Holiday sample. The apex is an intense exchange between two of the crisscrossed lovers in “Closer.’’ Blu is smart enough to whisper quietly in the background, and you hardly notice one of the best coffee shop rhymes of the year: “Naive as the dry leaves on the ground looking past the tree, staring at the sky asking, ‘Why me?’ ’’

DOM KENNEDY “Futurestreet/Drugsounds’’ The last record to ooze this much LA was Game’s “Doctor’s Advocate.’’ But the range and quality - from the Chuck Inglish bang on “Hard Work’’ to the crackling record player and the soft piano on “It Was Beautiful’’ - is what sucks you in.

LIL’ WAYNE “No Ceilings’’ Remember that two-year stretch when Wayne was, you know, a rapper? This tape jogged people’s memories. The stream of consciousness flow is in “Drought 3’’ form with references to Nomar Garciaparra, Lane Kiffin, and Captain Kirk, likely to make Jay-Z eat the words he spoke on “D.O.A.,’’ that “he might send this to the mixtape Weezy.’’

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