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10. Mixtape for Honorable Mention – J. Cole: The Warm Up

With all of this frenzy about Drake, there hasn’t been much space for other up and comers to breathe and get their own spotlight to showcase what they had to bring.  As some people wait, others grab for their shine and North Carolina’s own J. Cole made sure that his trip to New York wouldn’t be for nothing.  Finding his way into the office of Jay-Z and leaving under the Roc Nation’s label, the young rapper delivered this mixtape as a sample of things to come in the future, hence the title The Warm Up. Although it was a mixtape, the release was treated as an album as Cole didn’t just attack instrumentals, he actually made developed songs which had substance to match his lyricism. 

Bringing effective verses for The Blueprint III and Attention Deficit showed a rapper on a mission to put himself at the forefront and outshine those beside him, even his own boss if necessary.  In preparation for his actual debut Lights Please, Cole has promised that he has saved the best for the grand entrance.  The impact of The Warm Up with The Next Up on the way only creates high expectations for Roc Nation’s first artist, but his ability and potential so far only makes the debut something to definitely look forward to.

J. Cole – “Dreams”

J. Cole – “Dead Presidents”

9. Rick Ross: Deeper Than Rap

When news of his past as a correctional officer sprang, Ross’ credibility as a rapper was placed in front of a firing squad.  His whole career now came off as a lie.  With 50 Cent adding fuel, the Bawse’s tales about a criminal background and dealing drugs was denied by the fans as all they saw was a man with a badge.  Upon the actual release of the record, there was speculation as to how he would go about the project with his past placed in the forefront, but the rapper was able to deliver a third number one album in the end.  No matter what his past was, not even 50 Cent could take away from the fact that Ross has always been able to deliver good music with phenomenal production.  Outside of production, Ross was able to establish the fact that he is more than a Florida-based Young Jeezy as he has gradually stepped up his lyrical presence with each new record.

Rick Ross – “Yacht Club”

Rick Ross – “Mayback Music 2”

8. Joe Budden: Padded Room

After Joe Budden released his debut album in 2003, the rapper from Jersey had the appeal to make him a dominant figure in the Def Jam roster.  The cards, however, did not play in his favor as his sophomore album was shelved indefinitely along with having his career placed on hold.  Keeping himself afloat through his Mood Muzik series, Joey showed fans a side of him established in tracks off of his debut such as “10 minutes” and “Calm Down” where he wore his heart on his sleeve for everyone to see.  As 2008 came to a close, the release of Halfway House set off a domino effect for the rapper. 

Not only was he able to introduce Slaughterhouse to rap, but it also opened up the gate for him to finally release a second album.  Padded Room played off the same vein as his mixtape series, blending his personal thought with exceptional lyricism.  He was able to establish the fact that the mind of Budden is only one that he could ever understand, and even he has issues coming to grips with it.  Above all else, Padded Room served as a catalyst and brought the return of Jumpoff as he has owned 2009 with subsequent releases alongside Slaughterhouse and especially on the solo tip.

Joe Budden – “In My Sleep”

Joe Budden – “Blood On The Wall”

7. Eminem: Relapse

With a five-year hiatus since the release of Encore, the music game made a transition from hard hitting lyrics and imagery to bubble gum music that was generally geared for the club.  Substance was going farther and farther to the way side as fans were striving away from dissecting metaphors and double meanings.  When “Crack A Bottle” dropped, there was a glimpse of hope that the blonde rapper was returning.  The first appearance, however, showed Eminem with his natural brown hair and as a man that was fighting his eternal demons and dealing with the death of his best friend, another failed marriage with Kim and a drug addiction that found him placed in rehab.  As with his previous releases, Slim Shady was willing to share his story with everyone that was willing to hear. 

Listening closely to the album, fans will come to feel as though the rapper is still struggling with his addiction and gradually begins to clean himself up as the songs wind down to the end.  It’s almost as though Relapse was his own 12 step program to recovery.  Transitioning from Slimy Shady to Eminem, the rapper comes off as if he’s going through an identity crisis, but in actuality he’s really getting back into the swing of things.  Although most of Black America might not relate to the actual content of Relapse, his skill was still present, even in an unstable state, and only left expectations for what he would offer with Relapse 2 once his head was fully clear.

Eminem – “Stay Wide Awake”

Eminem – “Beautiful”

6. Jay-Z: Blueprint III

Ever since the curtain “closed” for Jay-Z after The Black Album, fans and artists have continued to question why he keeps coming back.  Being his third album since “retiring”, The Blueprint III remains in the same vein as the original Blueprint in 2001 where Mr. Carter sets out not to follow trends, but set a new trend.  After shaking up the industry with “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)”, Jay was able to showcase an album that wasn’t necessarily meant to rehash the same story of his past, but instead step into the future.  Think of it a sequel to Kingdom Come. At 40, Hov realizes that he must escape the pitfall of becoming a broken record and uses the third installment of the series to show progression in his artistic growth using a heavy amount of experimentation with production that makes him come off as a European version of himself. 

The album marked the return of Jay’s dominance and his grip on the Hip Hop game.  You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but clearly a wise man knows how to keep themselves above the pact no matter how long they have been in the game.  Why try and keep up with the young crowd when his history already places him at the finish line?  With this marking his 11th album, Jay shows that he isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.  The man created an anthem for New York with “Empire State of Mind”.  Now what gets better than that?

Jay-Z – “Already Home”

Jay-Z feat. J. Cole – “A Star Is Born”

5. Ghostface Killah: Ghostdini: The Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City

As some rappers begin to grow older in a game where youth is deemed as dominant, many try to find ways to adapt to trends going on currently to make sure that they can even last with the new generation of artists.  Wu Tang Clan’s own Ghostface Killah, however, has never been an MC to adapt to his surroundings, but more of evolving his own particular talents.  Aside from telling street tales alongside Raekwon, Tony Starks is also quite the ladies man and has a career of music filled with material paying homage to the opposite sex. 

It is with this that an artist only with the caliber of Ghost that he would be able to create a project such as The Wizard of Poetry which is essentially an album saturated to appeal to women, with the necessary flavor of Ironman to make sure that he maintains his male audience.  Ghost makes it clear that no matter who you are, no one can avoid trials of the heart as they deal with chasing the girl, getting the girl and even losing the girl.  An individual such as Starks that has kept it real on wax shows that even a gangster can get lonely too.

Ghostface – “Forever”

Ghostface feat. Fabolous – “Guest House”

4. Clipse: Til The Casket Drops

Proclaiming that the third time’s the charge, the rap duo from Virginia returned in 2009 refreshed and with a more positive outlook than what was left from their dark sophomore album Hell Hath No Fury. This new project has some of the same formula from the previous releases, but unlike the two prior, the duo seems to have a new lease on life this time around and are embracing the finer things in life such as family and friends.  Going through countless trials in their career, Till The Casket Drops serves like a confessional as they step forth to profess their sins and strip away of their past troubles. 

With a clean conscience, the Thornton brothers are reborn and having already showcasing their talents as rappers, are feeling themselves this go around, but with good reason as their talent has never been denied, they were just never given the proper situation to deliver.  To keep it plain and simple, these dudes are living and loving life now.  The climb to the top of the mountain has left its bruises and scars for the duo, but the view from above has made everything before worth the opportunity now. 

Clipse – “Doorman”

Clipse – “Freedom”

3. Slaughterhouse: Self Titled Album

As individuals, Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Royce Da 5’9” were all established lyricists that were a problem behind the microphone, but were also never given the proper outlet to exercise their skills to the masses.  All coming from different parts of the country, they all had one common goal which was to simply rap.  Outside of Royce, the other three were dealing with their solo albums facing setbacks and complications.  Assembling to form Slaughterhouse, the four rappers showed exactly what it means to be a lyricist.  Not worrying about the money or sales and only seeing it as a means to preserve the essence of Hip Hop, the four-headed monster was able to release a project infused with hard hitting lyrics and countless reasons to keep hitting rewind. 

The worst part, but best for them, was the fact that it was hard to figure out who was the best as each artist was able to go toe to toe with one another which only made the friendly competition even more entertaining to hear as a listener.  Add on the fact that they actually made songs instead of spitting lyrics throughout the whole project, rap’s Voltron is clearly an issue.  The album was able to set the bar for MCs to step up their game and to this day, no other album has even reached the bar that these four have been able to establish.

Slaughterhouse – “Not Tonight”

Slaughterhouse – “Cuckoo”

2. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2

The problem with creating a sequel is trying to duplicate the original product.  An even harder task is to create a new project that finds a way to outdo the first offering.  After releasing Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, creating a follow up to such a debut was becoming quite a challenge for Raekwon as the two following releases failed to hold a candle to his first offering.  Maybe running out of options, it only made sense to return to what catapulted him to his fame.  With Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2, the Chef not only follows in the footsteps of the prequel, it was also a worthy addition as it. 

Although nothing can ever truly match the first movie, Part 2 established the fact that Rae still had the ability to craft a masterpiece in today’s climate of music and that presence in the mainstream does not determine the authenticity of a rapper’s project.  Since the underwhelming release of 8 Diagrams, some fans may have become doubtful of the Wu Tang Clan, but alongside his partners in rhyme, particularly Method Man and Ghostface Killah, Wu Tang still ain’t nothing to Fawk with.

Raekwon – “Pyrex Vision”

Raekwon feat. Beanie Sigel – “Have Mercy”

  1. 1. Wale: Attention Deficit

First impressions make a grand statement about a person, especially a rapper first entering the mainstream realm.  Once people develop an opinion about a rapper, it’s hard to shake it so it is essential that the lasting impression is one that wants more.  Known mainly for his work on the mixtape circuit, Wale spent 2009 introducing himself outside of freestyles and over industry beats.  Stepping out with “Chillin”, however, might not have been the best foot forward as he was portrayed as a pop act alongside Lady Gaga and could have turned fans away. 

Scratching deeper past the surface and actually listening to the album, the young rapper shows versatility that hasn’t been shown by any other new artist or any other rapper in quite some time.  Diving into topics such as self-hate, racial barriers and triumph, the album was able to cover most aspects of life that every day people deal with.  Although some may feel that it lacked focus, it in fact was focused on establishing himself as a well rounded artist that can cover all sides of life, not just the money, cars, clothes and women.

Wale feat. J. Cole – “Beautiful Bliss”

Wale – “Contemplate”