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Best Hip Hop Albums of 2010

2010 has been a decent year for hip hop with some genuinely special projects and a lot of mediocre ones. We Got This Covered is here to narrow down the best hip hop albums of the year.

2010 has been a decent year for hip hop. We’ve seen some disappointments, some truly special projects, some interesting collaborations and alot of mediocre albums. While we’re going to bring you several other best of 2010 lists, I decided to stick with the genre I know best since I probably haven’t heard as many albums in other genres this year to generate a fair list.

With the line between album and mixtape closing in on each other with the emergence of street albums and retail mixtapes, I used the ability to purchase it on a reputable site as a benchmark. If I can buy it on Amazon or any other retailer and it’s not an EP or a single, it potentially could be on the list. So without further delay, here are We Got This Covered’s best hip hop albums of 2010.


Curren$y – Pilot Talk & Pilot Talk II

Released on July 13th and November 22nd

Yeah I’m cheating a bit here already with this one but it’s my list so I can justify it how I want. Curren$y released ‘Pilot Talk’ and ‘Pilot Talk II’ within four months of each other and both are almost entirely produced by Ski Beatz, who is most known for his work with Jay-Z, Original Flavor and Camp Lo. Both cover similar topics (mainly weed) and are pretty close in quality but I’d have to give ‘Pilot Talk’ the slight edge over its sequel. ‘Pilot Talk II’ works better as a whole album with its cohesive and smooth vibe but ‘Pilot Talk’ has more standout tracks that are all better than the highlights on ‘Pilot Talk II’. Because of that, I’m nominating both for different reasons.

Curren$y’s lazy, laid back, smoked out delivery was grating at first but these two albums and subsequently Curren$y as a rapper really grew on me after repeated listens. But be warned that Curren$y is not for everyone. Spitta’s flow and delivery are not easily digestible on the first few listens. Nonetheless, his partnership with Ski Beatz is proving to be one of the more interesting rapper/producer duos of the last few years. Listen to these two in a smoke filled room and zone out.


Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids

Released on December 21st

The album just released a few days ago so it may be premature to call it at the moment. Depending on its longevity in the coming months, this one may move up or down my list by a couple of spots but I can’t in my right conscience leave this off the list right now, even if I’m still marinating with it. Ghostface released ‘Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry’ last year to some puzzled listeners. While Ghost has always been the soulful member of the clan and has done some R&B songs before, releasing an album almost entirely for the ladies is still out of character for a street rapper such as himself.

While it was still decent for what it was supposed to be, I’m glad he went back to a more traditional hip hop style. ‘Apollo Kids’ is a rugged street album that’s mostly just rap for raps’ sake and is pure unadulterated vintage hip hop. While I’m all for some personal songs like what we heard on some of his previous albums, I think a pure rap album such as this is a perfect contrast to the R&B album of last year and is exactly what fans needed to hear from the Wu veteran. We don’t always need complex topics and deep social content when you have dope beats and poisonous darts (Wu-tang slang for dope lyrics). Sometimes it’s just that simple.


Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives

Released on May 18th

This has been a much talked about collaboration for a few years now. Ever since we heard Road to Zion on Damian Marley’s 2005 ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ album, fans have been clamoring for a collaborative album. As odd as it may sound if you’ve never heard Road to Zion, ‘Distant Relatives’ features one of the sons of iconic Bob Marley and Queensbridge rapper Nas collaborating on a full length album.

You’d think that a reggae artist and a rapper would create a really disjointed album but somehow they make it feel organic even though as Nas puts it, “My man will speak patois, and I can speak rap star”. Rather than feeling like a Damian Marley featuring Nas album or vice versa, they really do mash the genres and create an even-footed effort with the central theme of Africa throughout the album, hence the title referring to them as distant relatives. I also feel that with the consistent direction of the Marley brothers as producers, this is Nas’ best release in years.


Freeway & Jake One – The Stimulus Package

Released on February 16th

They say that releases that happen early in the year tend to be forgotten when it comes to best of lists at the end of the year but I couldn’t forget this one. After the messy breakup of Roc-A-Fella Records, it left a lot of artists stranded. Freeway took the independent route and signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment where he teamed up with one of their star producers Jake One and came out with something big.

Besides the creative package that the CD comes in, this is also easily Freeway’s best album to date. While still bearing his usual boasts and catchy choruses, he also gets more soulful and personal on some of the songs like Free People and Money. He also still has his amazing ear to pick out beats that suit his style perfectly. He meshes so amazingly well with Jake’s music, these two are a match made in hip hop heaven. The Stimulus Package is arguably the best rapper/producer combination this year.


Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Wuz Here

Released on July 27th

K.R.I.T. was a relative unknown as of last year but when he came into the game he quickly became an internet sensation. Coming from the South, I think he felt a pressure to conform to the standards set by some of his peers but he definitely goes his own way, owing much of his style to earlier Southern acts like Outkast, Goodie Mob (actually the whole of Dungeon Family) and UGK. The album starts off with typical Southern tracks but by the time you get to the meat of the album, you get songs like Good Enough, Something, and concluding with Voices, which are more reminiscent to the aforementioned Southern artists.

K.R.I.T. produced this album himself and crafted the perfect soundscape for himself, again very reminiscent of Organized Noize’s production. His diversity here shows that he is more than a one-trick pony and is capable of covering a wide variety of topics while at the same time, simply making your head nod. And trust me, it never lets up on the head nodding. I was unfamiliar with Big K.R.I.T. before I heard this but he has my full attention now. He’s one of the newcomers to look out for in the next couple of years because he came out of the gate swinging with this debut.


Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Released on July 6th

And how appropriate that someone who influenced the last artist on our list immensely has an even better album. As one-half of Outkast, we finally have Big Boi’s long awaited solo debut. Yeah he had ‘Speakerboxxx’, essentially a Big Boi solo album packaged as a double disk with Andre 3000’s ‘The Love Below’, but it was still labeled as an Outkast album. This is his first proper solo album and damn did he ever deliver.

Sir Lucious is an eclectic album with 80’s synths and bounces but most interesting is the way Big Boi rides the beats. Instead of using the same old tones and cadences, he is an unpredictable wild man on this one, never sounding the same on any two tracks and delivering some really good performances.

While label troubles prevented his other half, Andre 3000, to appear on any tracks (which is a shame because Royal Flush was ridiculous), Big Boi proves that he can hold down an album on his own and has enough vision to release an amazing solo debut and one of the more progressive hip hop albums this year.


Shad – TSOL

Released on May 25th

While many outsiders have their eyes on Drake as Canada’s big hip hop star, many hip hop heads have their money on Shad, hailing from London, Ontario. Shad is one of those emcees who craft thought provoking lyrics while not sounding preachy because he adds subtle humor in sometimes inappropriate but witty similes and word play.

While the production on Shad’s first two albums were still good, they were more minimalist whereas the beats on TSOL are much more layered and have more depth. At the same time, they do not overpower Shad’s intelligent lyrics, allowing him to flex his lyrical muscles with ease. While he’s just starting to make waves with American listeners, I really do urge hip hop fans to check him out. Canada’s good for more than hockey and Drake!


Kno – Death Is Silent

Released on October 12th

It’s rare that a so-called producer album comes out as successful as this when the producer raps. Kno is a capable emcee, though still not the strongest. Because of this, like most producer albums, he brings a cast of rappers to pick up the slack, mostly from the QN5 collective, creating one of the most enjoyable albums this year…if you’re in a depressed mood.

As you can probably tell from the title and the emo cover art, this is not the type of music you want to throw on at a party or to pump you up before a big game. This is solemn, depressing music but give it a spin on a rainy afternoon and you’ll see the type of atmosphere that created this dark album. The production on this album is outstanding, filled with lush strings and pained guitar licks, certifying “the emo Premo”, Kno as one of the most underrated producers in the game.

Check out my full review HERE.


The Roots – How I Got Over

Released on June 21st

I’m a huge fan of The Roots and so whenever the hip hop band releases an album, it really is an event to me. What I immediately noticed when listening to this was how sonically perfect it is. The mixing is so crisp, ?uestlove’s drums have so much punch, Black Thought’s verses are on point, the usual guest rappers hold their own and the album flows better than any other release this year.

The album starts very somber and slowly picks up steam as the songs get increasingly energetic until the album climaxes with The Fire and ends with Web 20/20, a traditional hip hop posse cut. This also features some of the best transitions I’ve heard all year with each song flowing seamlessly into each other.

While these songs on their own aren’t exactly the strongest from the band, this is definitely their strongest effort when taken as a whole. This truly is the type of album you throw on and don’t touch until it finishes. It’s also nice to hear them playing like a band and using more instrumentation instead of the heavy use of synths that we got on their last album. It was a tough choice but I had to give The Roots the runner-up spot this year.


Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Released on November 22nd

Yeah this is cliché and is probably going to end up on almost everyone’s year-end lists but as you can tell from the rest of the list, I’m usually not into mainstream hip hop so I’m not giving Kanye the number one spot unwarranted. After multiple media disasters over the years, culminating in the infamous Taylor Swift incident, Kanye took a short break from the spotlight and came back refreshed and reinvigorated, crafting his most ambitious album to date.

Kanye breaks all the rules of hip hop and creates an album full of grandiose, epic six and seven minute events. Forget the usual chorus-verse-chorus structure that the genre seems to be forever stuck in. Here is an album with long musical breaks in the middle of songs, false endings, an Elton John piano solo, a rap verse from Fergie and a three minute vocoder solo at the end of an already six minute song.

All conventions tell us this shouldn’t work within in the context of hip hop but somehow it does. And that sums up the brilliance of this album. It’s very clearly a hip hop album but is so unconventional in its songs’ structures that it creates a unique experience with many unexpected twists and turns.

This album may not have the absolute best thirteen songs of the year when taken individually but as a whole, it works out great. This ambitious project and Kanye’s bravery in trying something more experimental after the mixed reactions of his auto-tune album should be applauded. Even if you don’t like Kanye as a person because of his antics, truly try to separate the man from the music and enjoy his Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as it really is something special in the soundscape of today’s mainstream hip hop.

Check out my full review HERE.

Honorable Mentions

Roc Marciano – Marcberg

Niggaz With Latitude (Deacon the Villain & Sheisty Khrist) – Niggaz With Latitude

J. Cole – Friday Night Lights (disqualified as a mixtape)

Freddie Gibbs – Str8 Killa EP / Str8 Killa No Filla (disqualified as an EP and mixtape respectively)

The Left – Gas Mask (Added after I posted this. I slept on this album hard and it’s too late to add it to the list)

So there you have them. There weren’t too many standout albums and a lot of mediocre ones but the highlights we did get are all very strong. I realize I left out some big mainstream albums like Drake and Eminem that some may feel should be on this list. Personally, I didn’t think they were as strong as the albums I have listed, though are still decent. If you’ve never heard of some of these artists, I urge you to give them a shot as there is a ton of good music to be found that is not heard on the radio. With a lot of big albums being pushed back to next year, 2011 should be a great year for hip hop.

About the author

Vince Yuen

Vince Yuen is an Associate Editor and author for We Got This Covered based just north of Toronto. I'm a graduate from York University and write video game and music articles for the site in my spare time.