Julian Benbow's top 10 hip-hop CDs of 2010

Who rocked the music world this year? Globe critics choose their favorite 10 albums -- and highlight some noteworthy surprises

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 19, 2010

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KANYE WEST “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’’ He took a year off to gather up all the ingredients (the boom-bap of “College Dropout,’’ the instrumentation of “Late Registration,’’ the polish of “Graduation,’’ the Auto-tuned emotion of “808s & Heartbreak,’’ the pain of family tragedy, a shattered engagement, a VMA implosion, a dash of the RZA, some Mobb Deep, some Michael Jackson, some Bon Iver) and voila! Pop culture’s public enemy No. 1 makes rap’s “Thriller.’’ (Thirty-five-minute movie and all!)


“Teflon Don’’ Easily the biggest Grammy snub, Ross’s alliterative delivery booms with the bravado of a Baptist preacher, and the lush soundscapes (crafted by West, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and newcomer Lex Luger) make each song sound like its own mini-mansion.

WIZ KHALIFA “Kush & Orange Juice’’ By all modern measures (hashtags, trending topics, and Google hot searches) an indie artist couldn’t have gotten much more mainstream buzz. It was worth it. He sampled everything from Loose Ends (“Hangin’ on a String’’) to long-lost Super Nintendo loops and somehow turned it into his own smooth yet distant brand of modern-day G-Funk.

TIRON “MSTRD’’ The Chicago MC hooked up with Boston-based Society Original Products to craft “MSTRD,’’ the bright and breezy summertime follow-up to 2009’s “Ketchup’’ that bottles up boy-meets-girl raps with beats by Oddisee (“60901’’) and a ridiculously unforgettable melody from MF Doom (“Ms. Right’’).

EMINEM “Recovery’’ It’s unbearably poppy, he tries to pack syllables where there isn’t space, and the pitch-corrected high note on “Not Afraid’’ was a disaster, but the album was successful because of the symbolism more than the music.

DRAKE “Thank Me Later’’ The hype from 2009’s “So Far Gone’’ grew to the point that it was impossible to live up to, and even though the introspection (“The Resistance,’’ “Unforgettable’’) gives way to obligatory radio records (“Over,’’ “Find Your Love,’’ et al), “TML’’ turned into a nice extension of his bar-setting mixtape, rather than a carbon-copy.

CURREN$Y “Pilot Talk I & II’’ His work habits are simple: smoke, rap, repeat. The New Orleans rapper put out this pair of smooth Ski Beatz-laced albums within five months of each other.

BIG BOI “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’’ Always the half of OutKast more rooted in rap, Big Boi stepped out on his own and, after a minefield of label issues, let loose a funk-infused solo debut with the frantically infectious “Shutterbug’’ as the lead single, proving that less eccentric doesn’t mean less creative.

NAS AND DAMIAN MARLEY “Distant Relatives’’ The chemistry oozed out of them. Growing more and more politically charged, Nas uses Marley almost as a sounding board to explore slavery, history, truth, fiction, and conspiracy theories, and the two of them could go back and forth forever.

SKI BEATZ “24 Hour Karate School’’ With respect to the appearances by Jay Electronica, Jean Grae, Curren$y, and Wiz Khalifa, the album is a showcase for Ski’s production. He was one of the architects of Jay-Z’s canonized 1996 debut, “Reasonable Doubt,’’ and 14 years later his ear for the perfect sample couldn’t be sharper.

BIGGEST SURPRISE VON PEA “So Motivational: The Most Skullduggery of Mixtapes’’ Admittedly intended to simply promote his more conceptual debut, “Pea’s Gotta Have It,’’ “So Motivational’’ is equal parts thoughtful (“Fancy Nancy’’), witty (“Food Stamps’’) and fun (“And Rollerskates!’’).