Looking Back at 2009’s First Half

tanya-morganIt’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.

Honorable mention goes to Black Noise’s Black Noise, DOOM’s Born Like This, Joe Budden’s Padded Room, Mr Lif’s I Heard It Today, and J Dilla’s Jay $tay Paid.

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.

14 thoughts on “Looking Back at 2009’s First Half

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  1. I had no idea Granite State had a new album out…makes me feel stupid as fuck cuz I used to keep track of their work since they’re from the same sticks. Thanks for the heads-up on that.

  2. I’m feeling most of what was originally posted. I’d argue that the Torae/Marco Polo joint is worthy of some recognition. It bangs. Lyrics are on point. And it doesn’t get stale. Not sure it has officially been released, but Strange Journey Volume #1 might also crack my top ten so far. Top release so far goes to… Mos Def.

  3. Oh yea, good call, P.O.S.’s album WAS tight! He did some really big things. Egypto ~ that’s to your Minneapolis fam!
    But yea, not entirely sure it was 2009 or maybe very late 2008, but John Robinson (& MF DOOM) – Who is This Man? was DOPEEE.
    As for the new Wu-Tang, I’ve actually heard very mixed reactions, not overwhelmingly good (or bad for that matter) at all… and one more i forgot to mention on the note of free albums (even though it’s an EP) was Dumhi – Flowers EP, which dropped back around Valentine’s day.

  4. Mos Def – Ecstatic – So over rated. Dope track with Slick Rick along with a few others but about half an album of mediocrity. Could have been worse I suppose, he could have sung more.

    People on point with Cyne – one of the best albums of the year.

    Some quality releases recently – Blak Poet, Grand Puba, Soulstice and SBe, Toki Wright

    Some other stuff that aint been mentioned:

    Rise And The Avid Record Collector – Present Risen
    Zion I – The Take Over
    D-Sisive – Let The Children Die
    Granite State – The RE Public
    Panacea – The Re Route
    Recordkingz – Heavyweight

    Prior to this I thought it had been a poor year for hip hop but it’s looking alright.

  5. Yooooo what about Meth and Red?? Maybe I’m biased cause Meth is my favorite rapper, but on the whole the album rocked, especially 4 Minutes To Lockdown.

  6. Yessir, Trek as well as the others that mentioned Diamond District are correct. That was a dope album… Another dope joint was yU’s solo cut, which I think flew under many people’s radars.

    One that everyone seems to leave out is P.O.S.’s album, that is definitely one of my favorites so far this year.

    Jon Hope I can see why some will love it and others won’t. It’s just one of those things, but I thought it was a solid project.

  7. Damn! Thanks for the all the comments so far. I’ll address the albums comments here:

    1 – CYNE’s Water for Mars is solid, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.
    2 – I must plead slight ignorance on Toki Wright (well part of it), Big Quarters, and that DJ Quik/Kurupt record. I’ll get to ’em soon enough!
    3 – Yeah…I’ve gotta hear that new Wu after hearing so much good about it.
    4 – I dig that Cold Legistics project and regret not mentioning it in the last section about mixtapes.
    5 – I still need to hear UGK 4 Life, but I don’t think Tha Blaqprint is strong enough to be on the list.
    6 – Yeah, you need to hear those records, francisco. I know what you’re saying about Finale, but I still love that album. And U-N-I was decent, you’re right. The Jon Hope assessment, though, is lost on me.
    7 – FINE, hahaha, I made a mistake: Diamond District deserved, at least, an honorable mention.

  8. *cough* ahem! *cough* & *cough* Diamond District *cough*

  9. francisco|

    I haven’t heard The Truth is Here, Yes!, half women/half amazing or Brooklynati, but completely agree with The Ecstatic, Abundance, Radio (yes a “masterpiece”, even though it doesn’t have much reply value) and Born Like This. A Pipe Dream and A Promise is spottty to me and Finale’s voice and mic approach kind of annoys me…, but how Diamond District is not on this list is beyond me! U-N-I’s a love supreme was decent, as was Jay Stay Paid…

    ill have to check for the others, but John Hope’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” was completely forgettable

  10. Andrewski|

    good list, I’ve been bumpin’ the hell out of Say G&E! and Brooklynati since they came out. Also to add to the list

    UGK – UGK 4 Life
    Blaq Poet – The Blaqprint

  11. “Deeper Than You Think” from Cold Legistics is still around the top of my 2009 list.

  12. This new Wu is ridiculously good. Co-sign on CYNE, and definitely Diamond District. An excellent list and yeah, this shit drives home how dope 2009 has been…and yet kids are complaining about hip hop everywhere I go! I need to make a bunch of “STFU Mixtape” CDs to carry around and insert directly into their poodle mouths.

  13. EgyptoKnuckles|

    The following:
    Toki Wright “A Different Mirror”
    Big Quarters “From The Home Of Brown Babies & White Mothers”
    DJ Quik & Kurupt “BlaQKout”

    S’all I got. But your list is pretty spot on.

  14. Good list, but to be honest, I really cannot let it go that CYNE’s Water For Mars is not on this list. I would also like to throw in Prefuse 73’s Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, K’Naan’s Troubadour, and Diamond District’s In The Ruff. Basically, 09 has been pretty good to us so far, and there are still some HUGE releases to look forward to!

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