10. Yelawolf—Trunk Muzik
Alabama’s Yelawolf emerged as the most interesting rookie of the year in hip-hop. A learned guy with guarded and meticulously crafted raps, Yela would be familiar if he didn’t also come with the melodic sensibilities of great southerners. He’ll spit double-timed Scribble Jam verses, then sing a crispy hook about Cadillacs and catfish and crystal meth.
On the heels of this precise, sticky mixtape blessed by aged diplomats like Bun B, Yela would spend the year spicing up homeless remixes on the blog circuit before releasing an aggressive, rock-tinged album. He was also responsible for the only memorable verse on that hilariously overrated Chico Dusty album.
9. The Dream—Love King
Cheeky loverman The Dream’s songs are blindly misogynistic. Women are plants that need watering vis-a-vis some Dream in their respective lives; unhappy objects discontent with faceless lames that can’t satisfy their need to be blindfolded and fed berries. But Dream’s jams are sonically wondrous, bouncy masterpieces on par with the best pop rap singles Atlanta has made since Usher and they’re sharply witty: “I got girls with weaves, girls without ’em/she like ‘this all mine’ and I’m like, ‘hmm I doubt it.'”
Songs are not about the lovemaking but the courtship process. “FILA” is about a woman with a man that Dream wants. “Love King” touts Dream’s many scattered, patient women (“Got a girl up in Target, a girl outta college/ sorry ladies it ain’t nothing like a smart bitch”). “Make Up Bag,” is advice for the everyman: when she catches you cheating, drop five stacks on that make up bag. “Sex Intelligent Remix” drops immediately after “Sex Intelligent” because, “she wants me to remix that shit.” That’s a metaphor, by the way.
8. Colin Guerra—Falcon Fly By
It’s accurate to describe Bastrop, Texas-based singer-songwriter Colin Guerra as a friend. I’ve only engaged with Guerra while researching his music, but he once let me leave his home with a tuxedo cat I continue to feed and protect. He’s an excellent, shredding guitar player that’s more interested in emulating Bob Dylan‘s vocal stylings; this would be an afterthought disaster if he wasn’t so good.
The guy that ditched college so the band could make it, Guerra and his roommate/drummer moved to nowhere for the space; to make art; to do drugs with only goats and a horse passing judgment. Along the way, they became de facto house musicians for the church concerts and jazz band concerts and middle school dances up the dirt roads into town. They taught music lessons and lived on ranches, in foreclosed mansions, and currently at a distinct property just off Main Street that was a General Motors dealership in the ’50s. The whole bag is an off-the-charts mashup of aesthetics.
Again, I’ve slept on Guerra’s floor, so grains of salt are in order. I’ve met his lovely, small town wife and his adorable toddlers and am that much more moved when he’s bent over a rebuilt Rhodes, howling, “how you fill me with wonder, stayed on my good side.”
7. Best Coast—Crazy For You
Cheers to polarizing Internet brat, Bethany Cosentino. I also dug the Wavves record, as both California acts occupied a welcome genre strain: Snotty, bored, bitter indie rock.
But Cosentino’s weed-soaked, moping bits of three-minute existential despair connected repeatedly. It’s a non-issue that any number of ’90s alt bands served up similar sounds more vigorously. For most of the album, bland, delicate lyrics stick. Sometimes all that needs to be said is “I miss you so much” over and over and over.
In a jarring comeback, the oft-villanized Eminem sold 700,000 copies of Recovery during opening week like it was 2002, and would out-sell every other 2010 release. Propelled by Rihanna and Pink on hooks, a sober flow, high cheekbones, and an all-time ability to connect with angry young men, Em reigned as rap’s biggest statistical star. This is more noteworthy aside, because with the liberal media annointing Big Boi‘s laughably hype-driven album as its token rap placeholder, and other associates dominating headlines, the most astonishing feat is the efficient, quiet storm functionality of it all.
Recovery is a 12-step program; a downright positive avalanche of words. Em apologizes to colleagues, to fans for losing his creative focus because he was too busy flushing out drugs, to deceased best friend Proof, to his ex-wife, to fans again for 2009’s awful Relapse. The biggest song, “Love the Way You Lie,” made him an advocate for battered women.
Showing flashes of the Eminem we all love, he’ll flippantly employ gay slurs, and indulge a deep-rooted hatred for women. He’ll break your heart revitalizing an also-ran, hip-hop-is-a-bad-romance theme on “25 to Life,” then make you cringe with reaching, tasteless similes. He’ll flatly tell you the album’s operating mission statement, “I just put a bullshit hook in between two long-ass verses.”
5. White Denim—Last Day of Summer
In 2007, Austin, Texas’ White Denim sounded like charming but limited revivalists. They’d make instantly addictive mp3s like “Don’t Look That Way At It” with singer James Petralli admirably imitating Jimi Hendrix‘s vocal inflections, churning out left-brain, punk-fueled soul. On last year’s Fits, the jazzy thrash culminated in scattered moments like album opener “Radio Milk How Can You Stand It,” of the bananas percussion, pulsing bass line, and sublime, reverb-laden chants.
During summer vacation, the band recorded and released its most mature bundle of songs. All youthful exuberance, delicate finger-picking, and elegant arranging, Last Day of Summer is devoid of the messy, inviting, expected loud noises. With clear vocals, restrained rhythms, and triumphant hooks, songs like “Tony Fatti” evoke first-date nerves and frenetic toe-tapping. “If You’re Changing” is the gorgeous steel guitar love song. “New Coat” is equally romantic and shining, loaded with nice lines like, “when we met we reminded one another of a time we’d never lived in.”
4. –Drake—Thank Me Later
For his summer blockbuster, Drake retreaded to the trusted narrative arc of his masterfully designed February ’09 mixtape, So Far Gone: slow-burning intros, apprehensive instrospection, a fierce loyalty for trusted cohorts, and fear of love. Lead single “Over,” with its coronating swagger, was a front. Thank Me Later should have dropped in November.
Still, the most promising new mainstream rap star in six years carved a vital niche: the kids. Drake’s targeted songs hit their desired marks; specifically, laid back bros and cute sorority girls studying at Howard. Full of charisma and the selfless nature it takes to stand out alongside home run guests (high marks to the inspired appearances from Jeezy and Jay-Z), Drizzy Drake’s polite stylings succeeded across the board.
Kudos for the slumber party production from composer and Drake bff, 40, that mapped such an arresting record. And props to Drake for building his own voice first, stashing the guests on the album’s second half, and saving the best song (the “Hitch”-recalling origin story, “Karaoke”) for himself.
3. Titus Andronicus—The Monitor
New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus was a promising emo band preserving spirited and essential memories of growing up in survival mode. On 2008’s instantly-lovable The Airing of Grievances, potential bubbled because singer Patrick Stickles could churn elementary school questioning, bar fights, and getting lost in downtown San Francisco into transcendant experiences. Then they made a concept album about civil war, with ten-minute punk songs.
The Monitor (named for Battle of Hamptons centerpiece, the USS Monitor), is an exhausting work. Each song feels like an EP. But in two-to-three song increments, few albums were more rewarding.
2. Kanye West—My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The best justification for all the five-star ratings is that Kanye West’s fourth-best album harbors five perfect songs: the sublime douchebag toast highlighted by an infectiously performed and written Pusha T passage; the crazy cocaine hubris of “Power”; the volcanic cautionary tale about spousal abuse and redemption conveyed with a laughable roll call of talent on “All of the Lights”; the pissing contest between Nicki Minaj and Justin Vernon on “Monster”; and “Devil In a New Dress,” a straight-forward hip-hop masterpiece built around a beat Kanye received from Blueprint co-producer turned recluse, Bink. In the spirit of friendly competition, Kanye expands Bink’s looped soul to seven minutes, adds guitars and strings, and flies in a half-stoned Rick Ross to harp about making love to the angel of death.
1. Rick Ross—Teflon Don
I named my fantasy football team the Teflon Dons this season. Ricky Ross’ badass album is the anthem-stuffed banger that sticks most. It was likewise popping off everywhere in this city: public transit, public pools, public schools, out of parking lot-pimping SUVs at FedEx field. It’s gruff, lavish ‘hood music for posers that bleed near-identicle jams “B.M.F.” and “MC Hammer” from their 2003 Ford Focus out of sincere appreciation for the artistry and to manifest resentment at all the white people having brunch in Logan’s Circle.
Expansive arrangement from the likes of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and No I.D. fuel drug ballads of excess. And after enough vices, Ross gets sentimental (“Tears of Joy”), drives around with famous friends (“Aston Martin Music,” “Maybach Music III”), appreciates the moment over a supreme Kanye beat (“Live Fast, Die Young”), waxes paranoia with Jay-Z (“Free Mason”), and thinks about his legacy (“All the Money in the World”). Beneath the tactless mantras and degrading lyrics about not using deoderant while laying famous women, Ross lays down the vocal performance of the year.