2009 has been a phenomenal year for rap music, especially in the underground hip hop world. Never in all of my years of being a hip hop head did I see so much experimentation and variety put back into the genre. In my opinion, 2009 put the life back in the veins of hip hop’s constantly beating heart. 2009 was also the year that many artists who I would consider founders of the underground scene released mature compositions of their music for old and new fans to embrace. Here are my personal picks for the best rap albums of 2009 – in no particular order.
Sandpeople – Long Story Short EP
Crew rap. There are about a handful that can come to the top of your dome who’ve stood out in rap history – and this year, Sandpeople made my top 5 with their album, “Long Story Short”. The official line up of Sandpeople consists of Al-One, Only One, iAMe, Simple, Mo-B Missletongue, Ethic, Gold, Illmaculate, DJ Spark & Sapient. All members claiming the west coast as their home, they rep Portland, Oregon and are the best thing to come out of the northwest in a very long time. With so many people working on a project, I admit that I had preconceived thoughts that the tracks would be claustrophobic – or that I would or wouldn’t like an emcee over another. Sandpeople proved me wrong and honestly have some of the illest emcees and producers in their group – making “Long Story Short” a unique listen that blows any other crew in this country out of the water. Its so hard to even pick a favorite track from this album due to how dope it is as a whole, but would have to say that “Strands” and “Money Is On Their Minds” are two of the best songs on the album, and are actually the only two that feature every member of their crew. If someone asks me for a good album – not just a good rap album, “Long Story Short” is the one that I have been recommending for months and will continue to as we venture into 2010.
Eyedea and Abilities – By the Throat
As a long time fan of Eyedea and Abilities, I was more than anticipating the drop of their third album entitled, “By The Throat” which Rhymesayers released this past July. It was half a decade since we’ve heard from the duo that makes up E&A and to say that they once again had me by the throat would be an understatement. Hailing from the midwest – their style is just as captivating when they first arrived and prove that they are strengthening the underground rap scene as they mature. At first listen I was startled, taken back, but curious as “By the Throat” sounded absolutely nothing like anything that is being done in rap today. The entire LP is less than a half hour long – making each track poignant and the album impeccably seamless. After the 29th minute of the first listen, I still wasn’t feeling right so decided to give E&A a rest for a day. The next morning I woke up, in this order, I listened to all of their albums in this order, First Born, E&A, and even Eyedea’s solo release “The Many Faces of Oliver Hart” – and then By the Throat. To my surprise, I wasn’t at all phased on how different I thought the album sounded the first time around. Eyedea and Abilities have progressed beyond what has been expected of them in this genre, and in turn, are pulling an entirely new crowd into underground hip hop by challenging rap and their own style. By the Throat is powerful and progressive, I utterly value the work behind it, and would say that there are even a few tracks that send chills right up my spine. “By The Throat” truly shows how two individuals can evolve with each other and still challenge their genre at the same time.
Alexander Spit – Open 24 Hours
The first rap show I was ever kicked out of resulted in me meeting Alexander Spit. It was 2007 – and EL-P was touring across this wonderful country after his 2007 release “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”. Due to a wonderful jet stream, I was waiting outside the Great American Music Hall (also known as Slims) in San Francisco and was approached by three kids with a taped up CD player, enormous headphones and few albums in their hands. These kids who looked my age were the Instant Messengers – and I’ve never been so impressed by meeting musicians at a show that weren’t even preforming at it. Alexander Spit is just one of the members of The Instant Messengers, who was steadily creating his solo project “Open 24 Hours” for what seemed like forever and finally dropped earlier this fall. Another benefit to 2009 was rappers finally jumping on twitter – and fortunately was able to follow along with his production “Open 24 Hours”, which I really do think is a masterpiece for any rapper, never mind a 20 year old who has one of the greatest passions for rap that I’ve seen and heard in a while. Have to go ahead and say that “Nobody” is my favorite track on the album – and it goes without saying that you will find a favorite too with his engaging mixture of lyrics and production all over “Open 24 Hours”.
Felt 3 – A Tribute to Rosie Perez
Slug (Atmosphere) and Murs (LIving Legends) are old time friends and talented emcees whose genuine appeal to the underground hip hop scene have made them classic artists, with worldwide fans for decades. Their long running side project together is called Felt, and just last month released their third album “Felt 3 – A Tribute to Rosie Perez”. Let me break it down really quick. The Grouch hopped on board for the production of the first Felt album entitled “A Tribute to Christina Ricci” which was released in 2002. This album made me fall in love with Slug – and took my passion for rap into a whole other level- one where females were adored and felt appreciated on a rap track. Slug’s longtime deejay Ant, took the reigns for the production of “Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet”, which dropped in 2005. It was so appetizing to fans to see how the content stayed the same, but the music and production, which includes Ant’s notorious erotic bass and funk sampled beats, was now switched up. Along their side this on their third ride is ultimate emcee and producer, Aesop Rock – who is just another pillar of the project to guarantee any incredible record and absolutely brings a mature thrill to the dynamic chemistry that Murs and Slug have developed over the years. All three albums are dedicated to actresses who warmed the cockles of their young hormonal hearts and I believe each emcee’s muse for how they wanted their women to be. Now, Slug has been rapping about the ladies since the eighties and is very skilled at his narrative lyrical craft. With Murs gritty L.A. charm in tow, hip hop heads of either sex will enjoy this collaborative effort to keep real rap alive and, most of all, to keep hip hop FUN. After my fifth time listening to the entire album, I decided that this is one of my favorite albums of 2009 – without a doubt. A whopping 21 songs lit up my eyes more then the do stars in the suburbs, and the trifecta of their dedication to rap, their individual flows and their narrative styles is completely apparent when listening to this album. Of course, there is an unrecognizable Aesop Rock touch in each beat that will make your heart and head bang. “A Tribute to Rosie Perez” absolutely proves that classic style will never die and third time around is just as charming.
Early Adopted – Lets Be Honest
You can choose your friends and you can choose the music you listen to, but not many are lucky enough to have the two go hand in hand. This year I met the hardworking and ever so talented Early Adopted through shows in the Boston area. There aren’t even enough words to describe what it takes to make a product that you are proud of every second of, but that’s exactly what Early Adopted did with “Let’s Be Honest”. Fed up with rappers claiming that they are something they are not, “Let’s Be Honest” is a the truth from years of hard work and desire to be a respected emcee. The entire album is the definition of real life as Early’s narrative qualities and melodious tones tell stories of his past, present, and unpredictable but hopeful future. I can not listen to this record enough – especially “The Florist”, where Early shares his own experience with love and heartbreak. I can only see bigger and better things happening for Early Adopted and truly value you him as a friend and even more as an emcee. Here’s my thank you to you Early, and you deserve every bit of success that comes your way with your first fantastic album, “Let’s Be Honest”.