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Since you are what you eat, as a hip-hop junky in his 30s a lot of what is being served out there just isn’t palatable to  me. But thankfully my position at TheUrbandaily brings me in contact with sounds and artists that may have otherwise gone overlooked. Following the relative drought of music in 2010, 2011 has brought a gorilla monsoon of rap and a tsunami of soul. With so many people driving home the misconception that hip-hop is dead, I’d like to share the ten albums that have helped keep me alive this year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Pharaohe Monch, W.A.R, We Are Renegades

I’ve been a fan of Monch since he was cussing people out for stealing his last piece of chicken. The irony is that if I heard about a song called “Who Stole My Last Piece Of Chicken” in 2011 I would probably throw my iPod against a wall. But since then Pharoahe Monch has proven to be one of the most thought-provoking artists I’ve ever heard (maybe there is hope for the Weezy after all.)   This year he joined forces with Duck Down records to release his third solo album, W.A.R. We Are Renegades. After one listen the album impressed me so much that I constructed a making of the album, interviewing almost a dozen different people that contributed to it. While his previous project Desire showcased his wide range of abilities, Monch chose this time to constrict his focus and deliver the heavy-hitting linguistics and jaw-breaking production that earned him fans across the globe. Instead of raging against the machine Monch gave detailed instructions on how to break into it and dismantle it from the inside.

“If you are not performing fellatio for radio rotation /What’s the ratio for radio play at your station? /If you’re not paying to play, the record is dead /Puts a whole new spin on radio head/Radiohead”–The Hitmen

Steal this song: “Still Standing” /F Jill Scott

DJ Quik, The Book of David

While everyone played a game of “hurry-up-and-wait” with Dr. Dre’s Detox, another West Coast veteran laced us with his eighth studio album, The Book of David. Mr. Blake reinforced why he is one of the best rapping producers alive walking the line of being a gangsta (“So Compton”) and a gentleman (“Luv of My Life”). “Records like ‘Luv of My Life’ are reddish, greenish, orange,” he said in our interview. ” ‘Real Women’ is clear, it’s colorless. It’s a white diamond. I sampled that from Dave Grushen and Angela Bofill. Don’t you love my range and my diversity?” Yes, we do.

Steal this song: “Time Stands Still” f/ Dwele

Kendrick Lamar, Section 80

I literally discovered this brother by accident proving that word of mouth still matters. When I interviewed producer Wyldfyer he told me he’d done the track “Kush and Corinthians” for this album, so I downloaded the entire thing on GP and was not disappointed.  I used to think every 80s babies had their life graded on a curve before listening to Section.80. However, Kendrick Lamar has a gift for making simple truths seem profound that I haven’t felt since Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, but with the musical sentiments that harken back to Bone Thugs N Harmony. “And then she started/ And then she started/Feeling herself like no on else in this apartment/Beg your pardon/Oh I rap baby, how old are you?/She say 22, I say 23/Ok then we are crack babies…”

Steal this song: “No Make Up” F/ Colin Munroe

Phonte Coleman, Charity Starts At Home

The subtitle of this album should be “Mind Of The Married Man” because I don’t think any hip-hop album has so dealt with the realities and challenges of matrimony so honestly before. We’ve had songs about relationships, sure. But this whole album is just over your head if you’re under 30 and never had to share bills under the same roof with somebody. There, I said it.  When he rhymes on “Sending My Love” that he was “arguing about some shit rooted in some other shit/ long story short it was a night I ain’t feel like coming home…” every man in a long term relationship is going “chu’uch” and “tabernacle.” So I’m personally thankful that there is somebody addressing emotions from a man’s perspective that doesn’t drunk dial his exes.

Steal this song: “Who Loves You More”

Torae, For The Record

For the past five years or so New York hip-hop has endured slander of epic proportions. Nicki Minaj notwithstanding, MCs from the 5 boroughs have had to learn to subsist on a subterranean level like the folks in Demolition Man. And like that movie, much of what is being served on the surface is Taco Bell level filler. Thankfully MCs like Coney Island’s “Young Veteran” Torae have not rejected their city’s boom-bap DNA while still managing to evolve. After recording his collabo album with producer Marco Polo, Double Barrel, Torae has complete his first official solo album with production from DJ Premier, Large Professor, Diamond D and many more. But beyond the headphone friendly beats, Torae manipulates words like a Soul Train scramble board contestant cheating on their SATs: “I got the energy of Left Eye/ride through the Honduras like it’s Bed Stuy/The good die young so at 12 I got the double breast, a pair of steps and a neck tie…”

Steal this song: “Imagine”

Focus, Music Of The Misinterpreted

Most of you reading this probably don’t know how much Focus has impacted your musical life. The Grammy Award winning producer was once a staff producer for Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label and is responsible for laying the sonic foundations to Beyonce’s “Yes” , J.LO’s “Dear Ben”, Marsha Ambrosius’ “Tears” and Busta Rhymes’ “Respect My Conglomerate” just to name a microspic sample of his catalog. Not to mention that his father is former CHIC bassist, the late Bernard Edwards, so music is literally in his blood. But this year the producer has stepped from behind the boards to deliver his message on the mic with a little help from his friends. After having Music Of The Misinterpreted on repeat for several days I’m convinced this man should have been rapping way before this.

Seems like I’m always gettin’ looked over, cold shoulder, but I bear with it–polar/Me and the industry was like lovers/put nothin above her/ but we’re growin apart as I get older/now I find a niche sink my teeth in–molar/I’m eatin and seen with the big stars–solar/I came a long way and taught a couple cats and now I’ ma force to be wreckoned with–Yoda.

Music Of The Misinterpreted is what the 99% would sound like if they had…focus.

Occupy Beat Street, bitches.

Steal this song: “1ne” (feat. Embassy Music Board & Tez McClain)

Jill Scott, The Light Of The Sun

In an era when artists are churning out albums on an annual basis Jill Scott has mastered the art of making us wait. While I’m sure the contractual wranglings with her former label Hidden Beach contributed to the four year hiatus after The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol 3., it served to whet the collective appetites of her fans, stans and google images stalkers. Once I stopped staring at the album cover the music was every bit as confident, seductive and renewed as the front image led us to believe.  Who do you know can craft a female empowerment anthem like “Womanifesto” then turn around and sing about  diamond d*cks without sounding the least bit contradictory? Jill Scott, that’s who.

Steal this song: “Rolling Hills”

Saigon, The Greatest Story Never Told

To say that I was happy this album dropped is an understatement. Back when I was the editor of Scratch magazine I’d featured Saigon and his producer Just Blaze on the cover in homage to Gang Starr. Sai played me several cuts back then that thoroughly impressed me and five years later the world finally got to hear what I did. For folks who were missing that aggressive, slap-your-chef-for-using-too-much-paprika level of sonic ignorance from Just Blaze GSNT had all you were waiting for. Then add Saigon’s sicker-than-your-average lyrics and this is one story you can tuck your wealth in at night to.

Steal this song: “Preacher”

Eric Roberson, Mr. Nice Guy

That line between love and hate isn’t always thin. There is a whole four-lane highway’s worth of experiences and emotions that singers like Eric Roberson tap into with ease. Ever since I was first introduced to erro via “Find A Way” and “Couldn’t Here Me Over The Music”  and “Def Ears” from his The Vault vol 1 I’ve felt a kindred spirit with this brother.  Some woman at some point in his life has jacked.him.up! And I’m man enough to say that I can relate. Whether it’s that one you had that didn’t quite work out or the one you didn’t have that never got a chance to fail, Eric paints those shades of gray with broad strokes. His latest collection, Mr. Nice Guy, is arguably his most complete album since The Vault and any fan should scoop this up immediately.

Steal this song: “Love’s Withdrawal” f/ Omari Hardwick

Killer Mike, PL3DGE

I’ve been an admirer of our Rhyme of The Week recipient since his days of rapping about “A.D.I.D.A.S” but I honestly haven’t consumed many of Killer Mike’s albums since then. As talented as he is on the mic (and articulate in person) I never felt like his beats did him justice. However, after hearing the high praise for his PLEDGE series I decided to take a listen to the third installment and Mike Bigga has truly evolved. From the political chin-check of “That’s Life II” to the unlicensed bravado of “Ric Flair” he’s more than found his groove and I was happy that I could find songs with substance with beats I wanna ride to. Word to PE.

Steal this song: “That’s Life II”

It’s no coincidence that several of these artists have collaborated with each other on their respective projects. I’m just tuned into a certain frequency I guess. If you like my list check out more of my selections on CLICK HERE

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