Chamber Music by Wu-Tang Clan Presents…

Released: June 30, 2009
Label: E1 Entertainment
Producers: RZA, Fizzy Womack, The Revelations, Bob Perry, Noah Rubin, Gintas Janusonis, Josh Werner, Andrew Kelley
Guests: Inspectah Deck, AZ, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, M.O.P., Kool G. Rap, Havoc, U-God, RZA, Sadat X, Cormega, Sean Price, Thea Van Seijen, Tre Williams
Purchase Chamber Music by Wu-Tang Presents…

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Evil Deeds” (Featuring Raekwon, Havoc and Ghostface) (Produced by Fizzy Womack, Andrew Kelley and Noah Rubin)
2. “Harbor Masters” (Featuring AZ, Inspectah Deck and Ghostface Killah) (Produced by Fizzy Womack, Andrew Kelley and Noah Rubin)

The only downside to this album is that it isn’t an “official” Wu album. If it were, Chamber Music would only rank behind Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Only five Clan member appear, but their absences are filled in nicely by a handful of NYC veterans, most notably AZ and Cormega who deliver show stealing verses. Perhaps the most important guest was Fizzy Womack, better known as M.O.P.’s Lil Fame, who handled the bulk on the album’s stellar production. Chamber Music was bare, raw, gritty, and had the aura of something special. Everything the last couple Wu-Tang albums lacked. 

Tha Blaqprint by Blaq Poet

Released: June 30, 2009
Label: Year Round/Fat Beats Records
Producers: DJ Premier, Easy Mo Bee, Gemcrates
Guests: N.O.R.E., KL, NYGz, Nick Javas, Lil Fame, Shabeeno, Panchi, Imani Montana
Purchase Tha Blaqprint by Blaq Poet

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Ain’t Nothin’ Changed (Remix)” (Featuring Young Maylay and MC Eiht) (Produced by DJ Premier)
2. “Hate” (Featuring N.O.R.E.) (Produced by DJ Premier)

Queensbridge legend and Screwball frontman Blaq Poet is, pardon the cliche, as real as it gets. Tha Blaqprint is exactly what The Beatnuts once said, “it ain’t nuthin’ nice.” DJ Premier lends near wall-to-wall production (his best work in years) and Po kicks his finest violent, anti-social raps. While other rappers are busy making cottony soft love songs for the radio, Blaq Po is making “Stretch Marks & Cigarette Burns.” If you don’t know why that is the best song title of the year, then this album is not for you. 

Slaughterhouse by Slaughterhouse

Released: August 11, 2009
Label: E1 Entertainment
Producers: Mr. Porter, Emile, Streetrunner, The Alchemist, Focus, DJ Khalil, Realson, Filthy Rockwell, Frequency
Guests: Fat Man Scoop, Pharoahe Monch, Novel, Melanie Rutherford, K. Young, The New Royales
Purchase Slaughterhouse by Slaughterhouse

Two Essential Tracks:

1. “Cuckoo” (Produced by DJ Khalil)
2. “The One” (Featuring The New Royales) (Producded by DJ Khalil)

The deficit in hip-hop supergroups made Slaughterhouse’s arrival perfectly timed. Joe Budden, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz and Royce da 5’9 collectively showcased what happens when monsters on the mic put their greatest efforts together. Separately, some have their opinions about these guys, but as a group they all put their best foot forward on tracks like “Cukoo”, “Salute” and the Slaughterhouse manifesto “Sound Off”. Perhaps this union will last a Wu-Tang or Boot Camp lifetime, or maybe this was a one shot deal. Regardless of the stay of Slaughterhouse, their self-titled debut proves the theory of strength in numbers.

Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z

September 8, 2009
Label: Roc Nation/Atlantic
Producers: No I.D., Kanye West, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Al Shux, Swizz Beatz, The Inkredibles, Jerome Harmon, Kenoe, Jeff Bhasker
Guests: Kid Cudi, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Kanye West, Luke Steele, Young Jeezy, Drake, J. Cole, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, Mr. Hudson
Purchase Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)” (Produced by No I.D.)
2. “Run This Town” (Featuring Kanye West and Rihanna) (Produced by No I.D.)

As Jay-Z approached 40, many wondered what the album marking the Blueprint trilogy would sound like. Cameos were revealed and throwaway tracks were leaked (yuck yuck “Ghetto Techno”). The overall consensus was that Jay was throwing his jersey back on despite dismissing it years prior in hopes of hanging with the kiddies in the mall fountain of youth. Then “D.O.A.” dropped… then “Run This Town” dropped… and then “Empire State Of Mind” took over the world. Blueprint 3 was and still is proof that love him or hate him, Jay-Z is a force to be reckoned with. Jay wasn’t trying to be down with the youths. Like his wife, Jay was simply trying to upgrade them. Mission accomplished, Hov.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II by Raekwon

Released: September 8, 2009
Label: Ice H2O/EMI Records
Producers: RZA, Dr. Dre, Necro, Pete Rock, The Alchemist, Marley Marl, BT, Ice Water Productions, Erick Sermon, Mark Batson, Scram Jones, J Dilla, Allah Justice
Guests: Popa Wu, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Slick Rick, Jadakiss, Beanie Sigel, Suga Bang Bang, Tash Mahogany, Styles P, Blue Raspberry, Lyfe Jennings, Busta Rhymes, Cappadonna
Purchase Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 by Raekwon

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “10 Bricks” (Featuring Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna) (Produced by J Dilla)
2. “Catalina” (Featuring Lyfe Jennings) (Produced by Dr. Dre and Mark Batson)

Ghostface Killah has held down the role of Wu-Tang Clan’s most prolific member for nearly a decade. But in 2009, the baton was passed to Raekwon, as The Chef made what was arguably the year’s best album. Rae packaged the elements of a classic Wu album—great production, inclusion of every living Clan member and razor sharp lyricism—in a way he wasn’t able to do on his last two solo outings. In every way possible, Raekwon reminded listeners why there are still Wu stans walking around with tattoos of the group’s trademark W. Rae not only put his Clan brethren in position to surpass their own recent solo projects, he accomplished the nearly impossible task of living up to his classic debut from 1995.

Man On The Moon: End Of Day by Kid Cudi

Released: September 15, 2006
Label: G.O.O.D./Dream On/Universal Motown Records
Producers: Kid Cudi, Emile, Kanye West, Plain Pat, Jeff Bhasker, Ratatat, Dot da Genius, Free School, Matt Friedman
Guests: Ratatat, MGMT, Common, Kanye West, Chip Tha Ripper, Billy Cravens
Purchase Man on the Moon: The End of Day by Kid Cudi

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Sky Might Fall” (Produced by Kanye West and Kid Cudi)
2. “Solo Do (Nightmare)” (Produced by Emile)

Unless you were a Cudi fanboy (or girl), no one was expecting the Cleveland native to come so correct with his debut. With all the hype surrounding him, the co-signs from famous friends, the blog love, the music would have a tough time living up to the name. Man On The Moon did just that though, proving Cudi was worthy of all the adoration. He may not be the best rapper on the block, or even a very good one, but the man understands the art of making good song. No one is going to mistake his brand of music for the new M.O.P. record, but Man On The Moon is a great change of pace for those who would rather wallow than mash out.

Foundation by M.O.P.

Released: September 15, 2009
Label: E1 Entertainment
Producers: Fizzy Womack, D/R Period, Nottz, DJ Premier, Statik Selektah, Kil, DJ Green Lantern, Ron G, M-Phazes
Guests: Rell, Termanology, Demarco, Styles P,, Redman
Purchase Foundation by M.O.P.

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “What I Wanna Be” (Featuring Rell) (Produced by DJ Premier)
2. “Bang Time” (Featuring Styles P) (Produced by DJ Green Lantern)

Nine years is a long time to wait for a follow-up album, and it was been difficult for fans of the Mash-Out Posse to cope with the deficit of music. Now, the wait is finally over, and M.O.P. stans have more of a reason than ever to scream “Fiyah!” Foundation finds the Brownsville duo easing back into their old MO without missing a step. Sure, some of the production is lacking, but Billy Danze and Fizzy Wo keep it live with their energetic, .45 magnum-level of hardcore shout rap on cuts like “Bang Time” and “Blow the Horns.” At the same time, however, Fame and Billy know how to a subtle level of personal strife to songs, making more subdued songs like “Street Life” and “What I Wanna Be” as enjoyable as the next. 

Us by Brother Ali

Released: September 22, 2009
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Producer: Ant
Guests: Joell Ortiz, Freeway, Chuck D, Stokely Williams
Purchase Us by Brother Ali

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Us” (Featuring Stokely Williams) (Produced by Ant)
2. “Fresh Air” (Produced by Ant)

After two acclaimed LPs and two EPs Brother Ali left the sound and subjects that garnered him so much praise and took a chance with Us. Much like Slug did on Atmosphere’s last album, Ali turned his critical eye outward for much of the album. What was more striking was when Ali did keep his raps personal it was a joyous occasion. “Fresh Air” hardly sounds like the same man we heard on “Picket Fence” 6 years ago. Ant kept pace nicely, churning out the biggest productions of his career. With another stellar project under his belt Ali’s reputation continues to grow as his catalog boasts quality and consistency that few can dare to claim.

Born And Raised by Cormega

Released: October 22, 2009
Label: Aura/Traffic Entertainment
Producers: Cormega, Buckwild, DJ Premier, Large Professor, Easy Mo Bee, Fizzy Womack, Ayatollah, D/R Period, Pete Rock, Havoc, Khrysis, Bear One, L.E.S.
Guests: Marley Marl, DJ Red Alert, Tragedy Khadafi, Lil Fame, Havoc, PMD, Grand Puba, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One
Purchase Born and Raised by Cormega

Two Essential Tracks:

1. “Live and Learn” (Produced by Pete Rock)
2. “Make It Clear” (Produced by DJ Premier)

One of the more delayed releases of 2009, ‘Mega Montana displayed his maturity on his fourth studio (third official) album. With a dream team of east coast producers, the Queensbridge emcee transmitted wisdom that shows an after-life to the saturated market of dope-dealing emcees. Regrets, respecting women, and cherishing Hip Hop were prominent themes on this release. As with previous work, ‘Mega is cementing a place in the game as one of the true independent luminaries of the New York emcee community. “Life and Learn” and “Journey” serve as brilliant revelations from a 18-year rhyme veteran embracing his thirties.

Boy Meets World by Fashawn

Released: October 22, 2009
Label: One Records
Producer: Exile
Guests: Aloe Blacc, Devoya, Evidence, J Mitchell, Co$$, Exile, Mistah FAB, Blu
Purchase Boy Meets World by Fashawn

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Boy Meets World” (Produced by Exile)
2. “Life As A Shorty” (Featuring J Mitchell) (Produced by Exile)

For the majority of fans, Nas’ Illmatic is the benchmark of what a debut album should be, and for that same majority, that benchmark is rarely reached. Yet of all the highly anticipated debuts to be released this year, perhaps the most heir apparent to Nas’ ’94 classic the Left Coast emcee Fashawn’s Boy Meets World. Backed by Exile’s diverse palette of production, Boy Meets World is a moving and exciting glimpse into the life of a Fresno youth, rife with vividly executed tracks like “Life as a Shorty” and “Father.” Of course, Illmatic still reigns supreme, but Boy Meets World definitely shows an emcee with lyrical skills only comparable to that of God’s son.

My Soul To Keep by Sha Stimuli

Released: October 27, 2009
Label: Chamber Musik
Producers: Just Blaze, Lord Digga, Jaisu, Ian Heyward, G.I. Joe, WMS Sultan, M Dot, Bellringer, Chopz, G-Clef da Mad Komposa, Beat Butcha, J. Cardim, Jaywann, TheRealFocus, Cookin Soul, M-Phazes, DJ Victorious, Seige
Guests: Freeway, Young Chris, The Astronomical Kid, Torae, Bellringer, Khaliq, Lydia Caesar
Purchase My Soul to Keep by Sha Stimuli

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Move Back / The Reason” (Featuring Young Chris and Freeway) (Produced by Just Blaze)
2. “Follow The Leader (Remix)” (Produced by G-Clef da Mad Komposa)

One would think that releasing 12 original mixtapes within the span of 12 months would leave an artist topically and lyrically drained. But not Stimuli; little under a year after he wrapped up his monthly mixtape excursion with DJ Victorious, Sha Stimuli took on the studio album format with his deeply introspective debut My Soul to Keep. From the dramatic opener “Hang On” to conscious-minded street bangers like “Move Back/The Reason” with Freeway and Young Chris and “What’s Wrong?” with Torae, Sha keeps Soul moving forward in an exciting direction. Sure, the album isn’t 100% spot-on, but Sha Stimuli provides a vivid glimpse into the soul of an artist.

Attention Deficit by Wale

Released: November 10, 2009
Label: Allido/Interscope Records
Producers: Mark Ronson, The Neptunes, Dave Sitek, Best Kept Secret, Cool & Dre, Juju, Syience, DJ Green Lantern, The Sleepwalkers
Guests: Bun B, Gucci Mane, Weensy, Jazmine Sullivan, Pharrell, Chrisette Michele, Lady Gaga, K’Naan, Melanie Fiona, J. Cole
Purchase Attention Deficit by Wale

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Contemplate” (Produced by Syience)
2. “Mirrors” (Featuring Bun B) (Produced by Mark Ronson)

HipHopDX’s rookie of the year for 2008 delivered the kind of album that a major label is supposed to. With his unique cadence, Wale put on for his region with some genre-bending suggestion courtesy of Mark Ronson and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek. The release was not as conceptual as Wale’s mixtapes, but showed his Pop potential on sleeper cuts like the Rihanna-sampling “Contemplate.” “Mirror, Mirror” with Bun B also showed that Wale can bring structure to his developed craft of emceeing. Wale loves Hip Hop, and Attention Deficit incorporated Pop, R&B, Rock, and new and old stylings of Hip Hop for the man in the Nike boots to say “Hip Hop, love me back.”

Before I Self Destruct by 50 Cent

Released: November 9, 2009
Label: Shady/G-Unit/Aftermath/Interscope Records
Producers: Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Ty Fyffe, Lab Ox, Havoc, Manny Perez, Vikaden, Mark Batson, Tha Bizness, Team Ready, J Keys, Team Demo, Rick Rock, QB Da Problem, Nascent, Black Key, Dual Output, Polow Da Don, Rockwilder, DJ Khalil, Chin Injeti
Guests: Ne-Yo, R. Kelly, Eminem
Purchase Before I Self Destruct by 50 Cent

Two Essential Tracks:
1. “Crime Wave” (Produced by Team Demo)
2. “Psycho” (Featuring Eminem) (Produced by Dr. Dre)

There were concerns that once he drank the Formula 50 Kool-Aid, Curtis Jackson had gone soft. However, on Before I Self Destruct, 50 traded in his business suit for his bulletproof vest once again to prove he has the ammo to fire back despite his newly Hollywood corporate persona. Tracks like “So Disrespectful” zoom in on the 50 charisma we’ve always enjoyed – the guy who uses his sharp bullet lodged tongue to slick talk at any given moment. The Eminem-assisted “Psycho” was aptly titled, and “Crime Wave” took Fif up another couple notches. Then of course “Baby By Me” met the world and we’re reminded of why 50 Cent is such a genius. He maintains his wallet with one track, and dedicates the remainder of his album to maintaining his street cred.

Read HipHopDX’s Top 25 Albums of 2008…