Killer Mike – I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II 

Killer Mike  is everything Hip Hop loves about Atlanta. The former trapper has the southernplayalistical lyricism we’ve come to know, with sprinklings of Snap and Crunk music around him. I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II was initially presented as a hold-me-over to Mike’s long-awaited 16 In the Kitchen. Little did fickle fans realize that the album, filled with mixtape interludes and drops, would be amongst the realest released this year. “Killer Kill” began the year as the biggest artist on SMC Records, and he closed out the year surrounded by greatness as part of T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint. Whether it was motivational sermons, the controversial “2 Sides” or the renaissance to rap’s political roots in “Pressure,” Mike reaches the people with his words, his energy and his realness on this epic independent release.

T.I. – Paper Trail
Paper Trail was the album that saw T.I. justify his actions from the past year with poise and Pop personality, without compromising his street base one bit.

Atmosphere – When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold 
Ant traded the ASR for a conductor’s wand as the underground stalwarts made an album that was artfully created, and made for their rigorous tour schedule. [click to read]

Johnson & Jonson – Johnson & Johnson
Blu provides the same common-man rhymes that made Native Tounges’ emcees prolific, with an against-the-grain delivery that meshed perfectly with Mainframe’s dusted, bedroom sound.

With 2006’s Hip Hop Is Dead [click to read], Nas entered a new period of his career. His penchant for both headline-grabbing criticism and album titles continued with Nigger [click to read], which he was later coerced into releasing with no title at all. “Queens Get the Money” affirmed that Nasir was well-aware of his critics, and the 35 year-old can easily return to the raw rap style he made famous at 21. “Sly Fox” showed a mind at work, as one of rap’s superstars challenged the corporate structure that has embraced peers like Common, Jay-Z and Pharrell. “Fried Chicken” brought the metaphor back to the genre, as “My President” will be a time capsule for the next four years. With significant appearances on albums from Ludacris, Young Jeezy and The Game, Nas was a big commodity this year. From albums, to co-headlining the Rock the Bells tour all summer long, Nas, like Jay-Z and Ice Cube, has become an artist who thrives off of reinvention and going against the system.



The Slum Village member rhymed about colors, his city, nightmares and everything else, as one of 2008�s most intelligent rappers who actually went on adventures in emceeing. [click to read]

Crooked I

Without an album, the star in waiting for the last decade put fate into his own hands with weekly freestyles, a digital retail mixtape and lots of crew love in the �08. [click to view]

Lil Wayne

With his stream of consciousness making singles out of �A Millie,� and winning skeptics on �Dr. Carter,� the multi-platinum superstar remained at the top for another year of Wayne�s world. [click to read]

Royce Da 5� 9� spits verses as if he has beef with whatever beat he rhymes over. After a hiatus spent ghost-writing, “The Nickel Nine” returned with DJ Green Lantern [click to read] for Bar Exam 2 [click to download]. Honestly, where do you start? “Bullets touch men and women just as quick as Madonna/I’ll do to your mama what the KKK wanna do to Obama,” his threat to cremate you and “gratify himself” on your ashes? From Jesse Jackson, to R. Kelly, Hollywood starlets, other emcees, and even Terrence and Rocsi. This mixtape proved no one was safe from the wrath of Royce.


The Mixtape About Nothing by Wale (Nick Catchdubs)

Wale brilliantly executed a theme that not only adapted Jerry Seinfeld�s signature delivery, but aired out Michael Richards, on a mixtape that commanded a buzz. [click to listen]

Design of A Decade Volume 1 by Skillz (J. Period & Don Cannon)

Skillz took it back to the �90s with original interpolations of classics, signature brutal punchline commentary, and his most complete work since From Where??? [click to listen]

We Got It 4 Cheap Volume 3 by The Re-Up Gang (DJ Drama)

Re-Up Gang snatched �Roc Boys� and �Dey Know� to climax their longstanding reign as beat-jacking masters who embodied everything your favorite rapper wanted to be. [click to listen]

Giovanni Hidalgo took the played out formula of luxury cars and voluptuous vixens and flipped it on its head with this clip. Featuring only Killer Mike against a plain white background and some great editing, this video kept the focus on the strong visuals inspired by Mike and Ice Cube‘s verses. Nine times out of ten, the average “music” network is playing some reality program instead of any programming with actual music. If you don’t want to be bothered with the day-to-day troubles of airhead “celebutantes,” do yourself a favor and watch this. The last verse, which starts around the four minute mark, will remind you why you used to alter your day to catch your favorite videos on Video Music Box and shows like Pump it Up and Yo! MTV Raps [click to view].


“Flashing Lights” by Kanye West featuring Dwele (directed by Spike Jonze & Kanye West)

The cinematic companion to one of rap�s most sensuous tracks of the last five years, a perfect allusion to Glow In The Dark stylings, and classic rap video surprise ending. [click to view]

“Birthday Girl” by The Roots featuring Patrick Stump (directed by Rik Cordero)

With some help from the lovely Sasha Grey, The Roots took a song, eventually withheld from Rising Down, and turned it into art, with a lot of curiosity and emotion. [click to view]

“Anchor” by Sandman (directed by Alec Sutherland)

Concept and realness compensate for budget, as Sandman blurred the lines between reality and rap beautifully with a video that brought back videos before the networks fell off. [click to view]

Early in his career, Joe Budden‘s [click to read] commentaries on depression, paranoia and doubt put him in the hearts of rap fans. Now an uncensored mouthpiece, the New Jersey luminary gave us a non-album masterpiece with “Who?” [click to read] Budden took Nas‘ proclamation from 2006, and started investigating who killed Hip Hop. From examinations of T-Pain‘s Auto-Tune use, to 50 Cent‘s endorsement of money over skills, both parts of the the no-holds-barred, 11-minute song created anticipation for an album that’s been hyped for years. “Jumpoff Joey, like Lil Wayne, provided another example of how mixtape/leak consistency and a lot of patience can lead to plenty of excitement.


“Hold On John” by Blu (second verse)

A bonus track on the Johnson & Jonson album, Blu reflected on funerals, addiction and life�s ills on a John Lennon-channeled cut in the vein of �Get By� and �T.R.O.Y.� [click to read]

“2nd Time Around” by Brother Ali

In one of several strange collaborations he made this year, Ali spoke about government, national security and race in this brilliantly charged show-stealer. [click to listen]

“Royal Flush” by Andre 3000

Last year�s verse winner did again, with even fewer appearances, but his closer on OutKast partner Big Boi�s single reminded us why greatness never really goes away. [click to read]

It took over 30 years for Hip Hop to deliver a national star from the Washington, D.C. area. With his slow-building hit “Nike Boots” combining a self-aware style with principles and cultural awareness, Wale Folarin [click to read] began the year grinding. In the journey, he landed an Allido/Interscope deal, support from Jay-Z, his first official appearance with The Roots, and mixtapes with both Nick Catchdubs and the legendary 45 King; the Capitol City’s mark came exact with a capital W.


Charles Hamilton

Releasing online mixtapes with deejays, with blogs, with little to no help, Charles Hamilton brought a stylized image and a dynamic creativity to the field in �08. [click to read]

Jay Electronica

Whereas Hamilton was in your face, Erykah Badu�s boo Jay Electronica was sparse with the offerings in �08. With a style very reminiscent of early Nas, the 31 year-old challenges the teens with tons of style.


In the vein of Devin The Dude and “Three Stacks,” B.o.B. made Hip Hop unpredictable and fun, to the point where T.I. helped push him through the Atlantic system. [click to read]

Once saddled with J Dilla comparisons after he helped carry Slum Village‘s sound past 2002, Black Milk fully arrived this year. Whether it was his steadfast boardsmanship on albums from Kidz In The Hall, Torae, Guilty Simpson, Elzhi and Fat Ray, or his own magnum-opus, Tronic [click to read], Black Milk balanced a supreme quality with non-stop quantity in 2008. With his Electronic-influenced album, and established Soul credits, the rapper, who employed a full band on “Give the Drummer Some,” kept Hip Hop refreshing this year, and reminded rap fans why the northern part of the Midwest is a breeding ground for some of rap’s best ears.


Kanye West

The king of the Midwest may have sweated out a new technique, but with lots of freelance work and a trend-setting approach, all signs point to the future.


Having remixed two previous full-lengths just because, as well as helping Erykah Badu, Guilty Simpson and Jackson Conti, Madlib has gotten more talented with time.

Jake One

After years of versatile guest-work, Jake One made an album that put Freeway and Brother Ali, Evidence and Prodigy and others on the same plain. Jake raised the bar high in �08. [click to read]

After three epic mixtapes that arguably pushed cocaine-inspired raps into the spotlight over the last five years, fans anticipated a monstrous studio album from The Clipse, Sandman and Ab Liva [click to read]. Instead, the foursome yielded a thrown-together mess of recycled verses, un-mastered beats, and a video that excluded the two non-Thorton quarters of Re-Up Gang. In the aftermath, Sandman left the group to pursue solo interests. Clipse Presents Re-Up Gang halted some of the buzz that made this Interstate 95 connection one of the biggest rap could-have-beens since The Four Horsemen. [click to read]


Exit 13 by LL Cool J

While Ice Cube, Scarface and EPMD represented their class with albums true-to-form, LL stood for loss as the Def Jam departure sounded like a Konvict arrival. [click to read]

Universal Mind Control by Common

This album, complete with “Sex 4 Suga,” was not only a departure from the redundant Finding Forever, but something that made Electric Circus era Comm deeply missed. [click to read]

Politics As Usual by Termanology

The production lineup from Illmatic, Murda Muzik, plus Buckwild and Easy Mo Bee, and – although hardly bad, ended up with something that sounded way better on paper. [click to read]

If you’re a fan of the Neptunes, then Seeing Sounds [click to read] more than made up for the lackluster production found on Clones and Pharrell‘s In My Mind. After an unofficial hiatus, Chad Hugo returned and apparently brought the group’s signature melodies and chord progressions with him. If the acronym they use as their name didn’t already tip you off, Pharrell, Chad and Shay have a tendency to take themselves really seriously at times. But, even with the out there themes of “Windows,” and the powder room anthem, “Everyone Nose,” the Virginia Beach trio successfully pulled off a return to the lighter sounds found on In Search Of…

N*E*R*D – Seeing Sounds (2008)


The New Amerykah, Pt. 1 by Erykah Badu

With help from Madlib, 9th Wonder and Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Erykah Badu crooned controversial lyrics that spoke to grown folks and the Hip Hop generation about real life. [click to read]

Dear Science by TV On The Radio

The Brooklyn boys who worked previously with El-P made the kind of Rock music that rearranged all the elements that rap fans love, with some amazing rhythms along the way.

The Way I See It by Raphael Saadiq

The Tony! Toni! Tone! front-man found some fitted suits and a joy that carried this ’60s-themed record so wonderfully. Despite a forced Jay-Z verse, this is timeless Soul. [click to read]

Nine years removed from Amplified�and six from the shelved Kamaal The Abstract� Q-Tip [click to read] had been more seen than heard in the in the new millennium. Much like Kanye West or Black Milk, Tip challenged the genre and made soulful music that several generations of fans could bond over in The Renaissance [click to read]. With some cherished work from J Dilla being unveiled, Q-Tip pushed his own production envelope in a mixture between samples and instrumentation to show that a 38-year-old can still sound and look young, with the wisdom and poise not found in the young bucks.


The onetime go-to producer for Rawkus Records album-cuts made a name for himself as an artful producer, but also a dynamic entertainer that explored new terrain. [click to read]

Nappy Roots

The six members of the Kentucky rap collective Nappy Roots started 2008 with a chip on their shoulders, and anyone who heard The Humdinger was the beneficiary. [click to read]

Heltah Skeltah

A decade later, Ruck and Rock return, as the former, now as Sean Price, carried his brother back into the spotlight with D.I.R.T., one of the few 2008 albums that lyrics eclipsed beats. [click to read]

After the sneaky success of last year’s Below The Heavens, Blu released two albums this year. Whereas C.R.A.C. left some a bit unsettled, Johnson & Jonson [click to read], a collaboration with rookie producer Mainframe, was the Supreme Clientele of the underground. Dynamic ’70s sampling, cocky-yet-vulnerable rhymes and age-old life lessons made this reportedly shelved project from 2006 sound like brand new funk, with some revisions and updates. Blu landed himself appearances with Evidence and Talib Kweli, plus an XXL cover spot this year, but this gem of an album, like the one last year, went under the radar of many looking for the next worthy microphone fiend. We have now entered the Blu period.

Blu & Mainframe – Johnson & Jonson


Daily Conversation by Torae

Coney Island came correct [click to read] with deft, nation-wide production, and a veteran’s patience told over a microphone. Meet the leader of New York’s new school.

Tronic by Black Milk

With an extraterrestrial sound kit, the Detroit producer blew ’em away [click to read], but also sharpened up his emcee skills on an album that pushed creativity to new levels this year.

Main Source by Large Pro

After a lengthy hiatus, the always elusive Queens legend reminded Hip Hop fans why between the boards and the mic, there is none higher [click to read].

Cold, northeast Hip Hop shined hard on this creepy collabo between the hardest working group in rap, “SP The Ghost,” Mos and Dice Raw [click to listen]. Black Thought met the two in the middle for this gem of the album of the same name. Styles P delivered his most polished verse of the year, as all three men chronicled the ills of changing times, while the soundtrack to Philadelphia banged out a sonic canvas that made no bar safe, and surprised man the first time they saw the greatness compacted onto this one track.


“The Truth” by Jake One featuring Freeway and Brother Ali [click to listen]

Two great Muslim rappers collide, from vastly different communities on a hard-as-nails beat. The synergy and subsequent performances made the unlikely collaboration live on lovely.

“I Do It For Hip Hop” by Ludacris featuring Nas and Jay-Z [click to listen]

The magic spell of Nasty Nas and Hov together may have worn off, but this track, strengthened by its enduring message was lost in a shuffle of make-up post-beef tracks in ’09.

“Put On” by Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West [click to listen]

The hometown anthem to all marks the genesis of ‘Ye‘s new style, and his new lyrical vulnerability, as he claimed debts in checks and sex, and spoke openly about love and loss.

“Swagger” started out innocently enough. Like obscenity or sex-appeal, it was meant to define that quality that you couldn�t quite describe, but knew exactly what it was when you saw it. To be sure, plenty of people who used the word�T.I., Jay-Z and Jim Jones to name a few�did actually posses said quality. Somehow, the lure of “swagg” became more important than having the actual skills which gave artists their swagger. So now we find ourselves with an overabundance of “weed carriers” and C-list artists with stylists and more swag than actual substance. Consider the eponymous Old Spice deodorant the final nail in the coffin. “Swagg: 2008-2009, RIP.”


Skinny Jeans

The new school bit this one hard in the early part of the year, but just as he did with jerseys and rims, Jay-Z put the trend to bed in two lines on “Swagga Like Us,” fueling the top worst trend in doing so.


Give T-Pain some credit. Call Kanye West‘s decision art or outrage. But after that, this studio crutch became the wanna-be’s blueprint for mockery in 2009. Put it to rest!

The Artist Blog/Vlog

Instead of making quality music, nearly every artist found the need to interview each other, film themselves driving, or in some cases, walking down the damn sidewalk. Quit wasting bandwidth.

After eight years of “Bushonomics,” Hip Hop hit the ballot box hard [click to read]. Jay-Z, Bun B, Nas, Young Jeezy, and a list of emcees too numerous to name here, all took turns stumping for Sen. Barack Obama in the name of hope and change. Obama turned artists who went on record as being disgusted with and disenfranchised from America’s political process into pollsters almost as quickly as he brushed the dirt off the shoulders of his designer suits. A somewhat awkward dance that saw him embrace Jay-Z from a distance while renouncing an ill-timed Ludacris endorsement [click to read] didn’t diminish the majority of the Hip Hop community’s love for the progressive Illinois senator. Along with the pro-Obama anthems came voter registration drives and more socio-political commentary than we’ve seen since the days of Public Enemy.


Rick Ross’ Past

Now deemed “Officer Ross” by many, the Miami kingpin was caught out there [click to read] with some revealing photographs that showed that the self-proclaimed OG was in fact a former CO.

Ice-T vs. Soulja Boy

The rift between older and younger generations was personified when Ice-T accused Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em of ruining Hip-Hop (via YouTube no less), then subsequently told the then 17-year-old to “eat a dick” [click to read].

Lil Wayne vs. Mixtape Deejays

One interview, and Wayne started a controversy that had all of Hip Hop talking [click to read]. A leaked album in vengeance, and C3 still sold almost three milli, before Wayne dropped two official tapes this year.

If you�re a Hip Hop fan and a movie buff, you can�t watch The Dark Knight without being reminded of Ol� Dirty Bastard. Sure stuff blew up, and we were always entertained, but there was a great story at the core. In an ensemble piece that featured a cavalcade of characters as talented as the Wu circa �93, one performance stood out. We watched Heath Ledger�s turn as the Joker much like Russell Jones� role as ODB. At times, both were hilarious, riveting and tragic�yet, who could turn away?



The year 2008 found many a B-Boys and B-Girls channeling their inner fanboy, via movie adaptations of classic comic books. Much like the fictional title character, Robert Downey Junior‘s turn as a flawed Tony Starks gave this big-budget blockbuster some much-needed heart.


Not to be confused with the Rookie of 2008, this children’s movie definitely kept the adults entertained and laughing. Great voice work and cutting-edge 3D animation made this film stand out in a year that Ludacris made an album more cinematic than most films.

Schenectady, New York

With Schenectady, New York Charlie Kaufman revisited the topic of batshit crazy men and the women who helped them become that way. The writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind proved, once again, that other people’s issues can sometimes be the best form of entertainment.