Mixtapes and singles have been kicking ass for the last 5 years, while album quality continues on its downward spiral. No year was this more evident than 2009. I had a hard time coming up with 10 hip-hop albums I really enjoyed this year. When it came to songs, I had to stop myself at 50. I could have stretched it to 75 if I really wanted. Yep, songs and mixtapes murdered albums in 2009. Here’s my Top 50 Rap Songs of 2009. (Download link for the Top 20 awaits under the hood.)
50. Dolla – “Georgia Nights”
ATLien Dolla unleashed this slow cooker just days before he was murdered in L.A. We’ll never know how good he could’ve been, but he left an indelible mark on the game with this prescient gem.
49. Grouch & Eligh – “All In”
Once in a while, alt-rap specialists like Blackalicious and various members of the Hiero clan pop up to remind us that the west coast isn’t all hyphy and big basslines. Case in point: this slice of slaphappy hip-hop anthem courtesy of The Grouch & Eligh (both members of Living Legends).
48. LEGACY – “T.K.O.” (Ft. Phonte)
Hip-hop posse cuts have become a way to demonstrate clout and drum up publicity for an album, as opposed to a lyrical showcase. This jawn by L.E.G.A.C.Y. doesn’t conform to that standard. It finds like-minded MCs Sean Price and Phonte pummeling a rather tough beat into submission.
47. Pac Div – “Mayor”
Mibbs & crew are having an Ice Cube-style good day. In fact, they’re bubbling with so much excitement that a run for mayor suddenly seems feasible. Or is that Grey Goose in action? The group expects to drop its first official full-length via Universal Motown Records in 2010.
46. Slim Thug – “I Run”
Brassy, slap-happy southern rap encouraging all personages in the streets of H-Town to please recognize his royal Thuggness.
45. 50 Cent – “Death To My Enemies”
Dr. Dre’s haunting beat collides with 50’s ruthless rhymes to yield one of the best the cuts on Before I Self Destruct.
44. Wale – “Shades”
The self-introspective, starkly honest “Shades,” off Attention Deficit, reaffirms Wale’s narrative skills and his ability to summon internal rhymes at will (“Man, I hate black/ Skin tone, I wish I could take it back/ But rearrange my status, maybe if I was khaki/ Associating light-skinned with classy”).
43. Snoop Dogg – “I Wanna Rock” Remix (Ft. Busta Rhymes)
Snoop Dogg hasn’t had a good album since 1993, but he’s dropped enough hits to fill an entire disc. Add “I Wanna Rock (Remix)” to the ever growing list of great songs from bad albums.
42. P.O.S. – “Goodbye”
Wordy but never preachy. Fierce but never chaotic. P.O.S. uncorks a sunny hip-hop jam sure to get your head bobbing. “And we all save face in the face of our friends/And we all bend backwards to make amends,” rhymes P.O.S. on the first single from Never Better, arguably the most underrated hip-hop album of 2009.
41. DJ Drama – “Yacht Music” (Ft. Nas, Scarface, Willie The Kid, Marsha Ambrosius)
DJ Drama shows off his industry clout with this mellow tune from Gangsta Grillz: The Album Vol. 2. “Yacht Music” was produced by fellow record selector DJ Khalil.
40. Drake – “Forever” (Ft. Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Eminem)
“Forever” is 2009’s “Swagga Like Us 2.0″ — a star-stuffed hip-hop collaboration of monstrous proportion. For the sake of argument, Eminem wrecked this track with lines like: “There they go, back in stadiums as Shady spits his flow. Nuts they go, Macadamia they go so ballistic whoa” and “When I slap the bass out your mouth with a taste so great that it shakes the place.”
39. Fabolous – “Everything, Everyday, Everywhere”
Fabolous + Ryan Leslie = a winning combination. Throw in a hint of Keri Hilson and you’ve got yourself a sureshot.
38. Brother Ali – “Good Lord”
The whitest rapper with the most soul oozes charm and charisma on this head-snapper from The Truth Is Here EP. Sample rhyme: “Chappelle busts funnies, Mos Def busts rhymes/Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all-time.”
37. Royce da 5’9″ – “Dinner Time” (Ft. Busta Rhymes)
If you’ve ever driven a standard car with one gear, then you have a slight idea of what a Royce da 5’9″ album sounds like. Nickel Nine only knows one way to operate on the mic, and that’s to attack every verse as if his life depends on it. “Dinner Time” is no different.
36. Eminem – “The Warning”
Who knew it would take a silly beef with the Butterfly lady to get Eminem spitting raw rhymes again? In response to Carey’s “Obsessed,” Em rips the R&B superstar and comedian hubby Nick Cannon in shreds.
35. Alchemist – “Smile” (Ft. Twista & Maxwell)
Alchemist brings the poignant production, Twista brings a fiery delivery, while Maxwell rounds out the edges with his soulful crooning. Together, they urge optimism in the face of adversity. Just what the doctor ordered in these hard economic times.
34. Raekwon – “New Wu”
“New Wu” is reminiscent of old Wu. Maybe it’s the thunderous drums. Maybe it’s the dusty soul sample. Maybe it’s the impressive guest turns by Ghost and Meth. Maybe it’s witchcraft. Whatever it is, we’re grateful for that good ol’ Wu banga.
33. Freddie Gibbs – “Womb 2 The Tomb” (Ft. Pill)
Two of 09’s most impressive newcomers, Freddie Gibbs and Pill, join forces on this dusky thriller.
32. Gucci Mane – “Lemonade”
The Burr-Man whips up a tasty tune that’s guaranteed to stay on your, uh, lips long after you’ve hit the stop button.
31. Slaughterhouse – “Move On”
Slaughterhouse is a hip-hop supergroup comprised of Royce da 5’9″, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I, and Joe Budden. “Move On,” their most notable non-album cut, finds the quartet thumping their chests and tackling hurling disses at gossip media.
29. Cam’ron – “I Hate My Job”
Call it “recession rap” if you want, but this lead cut from Cam’s Crime Pays is no joke. Sample rhyme: “Why am I workin’ here? It ain’t workin’ here, it ain’t worth it here/I’m never gone persevere.”
28. Nipsey Hussle – “Hussle In The House”
A brazen, haunting masterwork that signals this Cali native’s radiant future in hip-hop. Keep an eye on this one.
27. Kid Cudi – “CuDi Zone”
Mr. Solo Dolo rocks his heart on his sleeves as if it were a BBC sweatshirt. This guy is a threat to the machismo movement, but we’ll forgive him as long he keeps churning catchy tunes like this.
26. Wu-Tang – “Ill Figures” (Raekwon, M.O.P., Kool G Rap)
“Ill Figures” is a superb bit of 90s-inspired street-hop, layered with haunting piano loops and superior drum blasts. It appears on Wu’s side project, Chamber Music.
25. M.O.P. – “Blow The Horns”
Fifteen years in and Billy Danze and Fizzy Womack are still blessing our ears with beautiful noise. How’s that for consistency? “Blow The Horns” appears on M.O.P.’s 5th studio album, Foundation.
24. Mickey Factz – “Rocker”
Mickey Factz has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but if he keeps making songs like “Rocker” his future will be so bright we’ll all need glasses to see it. “Rocker” appears on the boxing game, Fight Night 4.
23. Jadakiss – “Letter To B.I.G.”
Cuban Link once wrote a letter to Pun in song form, but it was more like an opportunity to air out some dirty laundry than a tribute. What makes Jada’s “Letter to B.I.G.” special is that it sounds heartfelt and genuine, a few boastful lines notwithstanding.
22. Eminem – “Deja Vu”
Buried amid all the comedic Slim Shady babble of Relapse is this Dr. Dre-powered reverie in which Em ponders his past struggle with drugs and alcohol.
21. Mos Def – “Casa Bey”
“Casa Bey” is epic Mos Def. The way it starts off strong and hits a plateau toward the end is supermagical.
20. J Cole – “Lights Please”
With so many people picking up the mic these days, it’s almost impossible to find a breath of fresh air. J Cole is one of just few MCs who may be able to pull away from the pack. On “Lights Please,’ the Roc Nation signee manages to cram an epistle worth of social commentary into 4-minute gem without wandering off into preachy territory.
19. Rakim – “Holy Are You”
Ra sounds fierce and focused throughout, rhyming with a force unheard of on the numerous false starts en route to the release of The Seventh Seal. Too bad, the rest of the album was forgettable.
18. Diamond District – “Streets Won’t Let Me Chill”
When that neck-snapping drum kicks in and Oddisee starts riding the beat with military precision, I dare you to sit still.
17. Mos Def – “Auditorium” (Ft. Slick Rick)
It’s no secret that Mos Def is rhyming his head off on “Auditorium”, but what’s even more delightful is that Slick Rick, arguably hip-hop’s finest raconteur, hasn’t lost his storytelling chops.
16. Royce da 5’9″ – “Hood Love” (Ft. Joell Ortiz & Bun B)
What happens when you put two MCs who are incapable of wasting a verse and one rap elder statesman in the same room with an elite sound architect like Premier? Easy. An insta-classic.
15. Kurupt & DJ Quik – “9x Outta 10″
This steely single from Kurupt and Quik’s collaborative album, BlaQKout , features Kurupt at his grittiest in years. It’s the 2009 version of the Clipse’s “Grindin’.”
14. UGK – “Da Game Been Good To Me”
The brilliant yin and yang of Bun and Pimp yields one of UGK’s best cut ever.
13. Drake – “Successful” (Ft. Lil Wayne & Trey Songz)
2009 was Drake’s year, thanks in part to a trifecta of infectious hits — “Best I Ever Had,” “Forever,” and “Successful.” If success is what he prayed for, then mission accomplished.
12. Jay-Z – “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”
No I.D. transforms a psychedelic jazz gem into a knockout rap anthem, while Jay pokes fun at the robo-voice trend popularized by the likes of T-Pain and Lil Wayne. Throughout “D.O.A.”, He even urges rappers to put down the pitch-correction device and *gasp* “get back to rapping.”
11. Drake – “Best I Ever Had”
“Best I Ever Had” deserves a mention on the strength of the panties that were dropped to this tune throughout 2009.
10. Rick Ross – “Maybach Music 2″ (Ft. Kanye West, T-Pain, Lil Wayne)
Rick Ross isn’t going to win any awards for lyricism, but his keen ear for potent beats and songwriting acumen enable him to conjure up hits on a consistent basis. Backed by Justice L.E.A.G.U.E.’s densely stacked live instrumentation, Ross turns in one of his most compelling hits.
9. Slum Village – “Dope Man”
After losing yet another group member to the cold grip of the reaper, T3 and Elzhi gathered just enough composure to release a fierce EP. “Dope Man” is a standout cut from SV’s Villa Manifesto EP.
8. Big Boi – “Shine Blockas” (Ft. Gucci Mane)
Big Boi gets gully over a Harold Melvin-inspired track. “Shine Blockas” is taken from his eternally delayed solo album, Sir Luscious Left Foot. “Royal Flush” is now nearly 2-years old and still no sign of Boi’s solo LP. What gives?
7. Method Man & Redman – “City Lights” (Ft. UGK)
Blackout 2! finds hip-hop’s favorite stoners reminiscing about fun times on just about every other song. The UGK-assisted hit “City Lights,” taken from BO2!, is the most balanced crossover song of 2009.
6. Clipse – “Popular Demand (Popeyes)”
This Neptunes beat was tailor-made for Cam’ron’s comedic flow. “Call me uncle. Uncle who? Uncle Cam. Like Uncle Sam, I tax ‘em,” quips Killa Cam.
5. Jay-Z – “Empire State of Mind” (Ft. Alicia Keys)
“Empire State of Mind” is The Blueprint III’s apex. More of a standout than any of Jigga’s rhymes is the brilliant display of exceptionally strong vocals from Ms. Keys. Imagine if Jay-Z teamed up with Nas and Rakim for a remix. A brother can dream, right?
4. K-os – “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman” (Ft. Saukrates)
T.Dot’s rap flagbearer employs his tremendous sense of melody on this Nelly Furtado-sampling heater, while Saukrates rides shotgun. Bonus points for the catchiest chorus of the year.
3. Mos Def – “Quiet Dog Bite Hard”
Mighty Mos Def blends Fela Kuti-inspired funk with Kanye-esque 808s for an uncanny hip-hop anthem.
2. Raekwon – “10 Bricks” (Ft. Ghostface & Cappadonna)
Raekwon serves up a certified Wu banger, alongside Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck. “10 Bricks” is movie on wax, replete with vivid descriptions and rewind-worthy metaphors.
1. Jay Electronica – “Exhibit C”
“Exhibit C” embodies everything people admire about Jay Electronica — a combo of compelling confessionals and convincing boasts, delivered in a charismatic manner. Jay’s imagery is impressive. But it’s only one part of the equation. The other part comes from Just Blaze’s musically rich soundboard. A dense soundscape of shimmering piano licks over a classic break beat and thumping bass is the recipe for an instant banger. Hey hip-hop, your future is in safe hands.
[lead image swiped from bowling trophy]