It’s July. The year is halfway over, so I figured it’s time to take a look back at the memorable albums that have dropped so far in 2009. Just as a warning, I will be leaving several, if not many, records off this list that you might argue are worth mentioning. Well, if you feel that way, I urge you to leave a comment and try to convince me. There is also the chance that I might forget one or two records that I enjoyed, but simply could not remember as I wrote this.
First on my list is the recently released Brooklynati by Tanya Morgan. Before this album, I never really jumped on the Tanya Morgan bandwagon. Sure, there were rave reviews of their past efforts and a plethora of forum posts praising them. But the trio and I never clicked. That was, of course, until I heard that Brooklynati. It’s cohesive without being repetitive. It’s smooth with a touch of grit. It’s serious but also full of humor. In other words, it is my top contender so far for the best record of 2009. And with tracks like “She’s Gone AKA Without You” and “So Damn Down”, among the others, how could it not be?
But in a close tie behind Brooklynati are The Grouch & Eligh’s Say G&E! and Finale’s A Pipe Dream and a Promise. While these albums could not be further from each other sonically, they share a common link in the fact that they are simply fantastic. Like with Tanya Morgan, I rarely listened to The Grouch & Eligh before this album. Hell, the only Living Legends members in my CD collection were Murs and Luckyiam. Say G&E! changed that. With a blend of traditional boom-bap, West Coast soul, and everything in between, the album just worked. Much of the same can be said for Finale’s solo debut. Except for the obvious fact that the Detroit emcee’s record is covered in much more grit and rooted more so in boom-bap. Unlike the previous artists, I was fully aware of Finale’s talents and was greatly anticipating this one. And that feeling multiplied exponentially when I saw the list of producers and guests, which included Flying Lotus, Invincible, Kev Brown, and J Dilla.
Although I never anticipated either of these records being on this list for different reasons, Mos Def’s The Ecstatic and Tiye Phoenix’s Half Woman/Half Amazin’ deserve their place on here. I must say I was in the majority when my feelings of pessimism took over as The Ecstatic‘s release date crept closer. Sure, I was blown away by “Life In Marvelous Times”, but “Casa Bey” left me less than enthused. But when the full album finally got here, it was, to be corny, something to be ecstatic about. With only one slight misstep on the entire effort, The Ecstatic plays like the record Mos always wanted to make but, for whatever reason, couldn’t fully accomplish on The New Danger or True Magic. As for Tiye Phoenix, I was almost entirely unaware of what I was getting into when I clicked play on iTunes. Would she spit flames like Jean Grae and Invincible or would she be another female emcee that doesn’t live up to the praise? I think it goes without saying (typing?) that the first of those statements holds true. Half Woman/Half Amazin’ features everything a hip-hop head could ever want: Dope, neck-breaking beats from the likes of DJ Scratch and DJ Spinna paired with fiery, content-driven rhymes. Thank you, Tiye, for further keeping my faith in hip-hop.
Then, there are the two records nestled just below the aforementioned releases – Brother Ali’s The Truth Is Here and k-os’s Yes!. It’s interesting that these two sit so closely together as they are so different in every possible way. But they share a very strong similarity in that they are two of the most consistent and groundbreaking emcees to emerge in the past decade. They are also two rappers that I have no issue with calling true artists. But aside from all of that, on these two albums, k-os and Brother Ali continue to dominate the hip-hop game. In all fairness, I could ramble on and on about these two. But it’s just worth writing that if you haven’t heard either of these albums, make sure you do so as soon as humanly possible.
Although I wanted to keep this list to just seven albums, I have to mention three that aren’t traditional hip-hop but are worth mentioning. And to avoid being long-winded, here they are: Exile’s instrumental masterpiece Radio; the grown-up funk of Abundance by PPP; and DJ Signify’s Of Cities, a magnificently crafted piece of lo-fi beauty.
And I couldn’t end this without making note of three phenomenal and FREE albums dropped this year. As I wrote with the other albums, I won’t write much, but instead I will just link to my reviews of this trio: Donny Goines’ The Breakfast Club, Jon Hope’s Somekind of Wonderful, and Inverse’s So True EP. Oh, and while it’s not an album, per se, I just have to mention the phenomenal, and free, mix from J.Period entitled The [Abstract] Best. It’s a collection of rarities, stories, hits, and more from the Abstract himself, Q-Tip.
Edit made on July 2: I now recognize two records that should have been on this list, at least by way of honorable mention. And they are Diamond District’s In The Ruff and 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers’ The Slow Twilight.