The Best Hip Hop Albums Of The Decade: Part One

Very rarely will you see me post about basketball. However, you will see me post a lot about football. I'm smart enough (most of the time) to only give my opinion about what I know and what I follow. So while I do occasionally give my opinion about music, I do not claim to know even the small minority of the new music that happens this decade. But then again, I don't want to listen to the crappy indie/hipster movement mumbo jumbo that's going on right now. (You're damn right that's a stab at you DME!) But what I do know is hip hop slash rap. I don't know really what the difference between the two are, but like a Supreme Court jerking it, "I know it when I see it" Not only am I aware of mainstream hip hop but I'm also decently aware of some of the underground stuff as well (Mainly thanks to my indie/hipster little brother). I've seen a white 'Bama rapper names Yelawolf at a Chi-Town club at like 2 in the morning. I've heard rap by a blind elbino rapper. Yeah, a white Jewish boy from the 'burbs has gots street cred son! Yeah, not really, but needless to say I do know a lil' bit 'bout hip hop.

Now originally I wanted to have all ten albums in one mega-post. In fact, I've been starting to write about this topic since a week and a half ago. But as I'm going through and talking about each album, I realize that a full on top ten list will just too huge and too long (that's what she said) to put all in one post. You'll get to maybe one or two anyways and then just skim the rest. So I have decided to break it up into pieces. I haven't decided yet if I'll break it up in three pieces or four and the last post will just be my number choice, but either way, drum roll please: here's part one.

Also, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of lists.

10) Collision Course (2004) by Jay-Z and Linkin Park

This is the first of three appearances of Jay-Z's The Black Album and this six track album is actually revolutionary. Now pure hip hop fans and pure rock fans (throwing a stab at Linkin Park- "LP is not rock!") both despise this album, but this should be pure joy for music fans. This album was not the first to do rap/rock mash ups, they weren't the last to do it, and it's not the best mash up album on my iPod (That spot currently goes to Stars and Stripes by Adrian Champion which mashes up hip hop hits over White Stripes rock beats. You can go to here to download the free album which I highly recommend) but Collision Course revolutionized mash ups bringing this cult classic style into the mainstream- mainly with its one and only single "Numb/Encore"

Another reason this album makes it on to this list is because I actually like and every single song on this album. Now, it absolutely has the benefit of only having six tracks like a running back leading the league in yards per carry while only averaging five carries a game (Oh, a sports reference! Yay!) but I can still say every single song on this album is good and that's not something I can say for some of the albums on this list.

I remember I was a freshman in college and I had one of the worst drinking nights of my life. I vaguely remember lying in some person's room whom I had just met saying over and over again "Play Kanye West! Play Kanye West!" and my friends helping me stumble back to my room where I promptly blacked out and ended up destroying it a la Charlie Sheen style. My roommate came home the next day and, rightfully so, was extremely upset with me. To help me apologize to him, I spent all night trying to find and then downloading Collision Course to give to my roommate. Despite me just admitting that I had committed at least three crimes and going off on a tangent, I just think it's nice to hear anecdotes. That and Collision Course holds a slightly special place in my heart.

Very few artists can do mash ups successfully and since Numb/Encore shot to #1 on Billboard, many others try to jump on the bandwagon and create mash ups- and all seemed to fail miserably. Which goes to show you what a great job Linkin Park did with Jay-Z's songs. Hell, I can't listen to Jay-Z's "Encore" anymore because the beat just upsets me because Collision Course's version raised the bar and his better than Jay-Z's.

The number one factor that goes into a great hip hop album or song is the quality of the lyrics. Next, it's the flow and style of the rapper. Hip hop as an art form is like poetry for a new generation; it's all about the words and how they are expressed to tell stories. But the quality of the beat is what helps distinguish the good from the great. Common and Talib Kweli are probably the two best lyricists in the history of hip hip, but you'd be hard pressed to find their songs among the best of the best songs of all time (sans Common's "I Used To Love H.E.R.) and that's because they have consistently sub par beats.

I like to distinguish in music (as well as sometimes in movies) enjoyable vs. good. Most of the dribble you hear on hip hop stations right now is enjoyable. It's got a catchy beat and when you have a few alcoholic beverages in you on a Saturday night, those songs are really fun to dance to (or in my case bob my head side to side to). But they are absolutely, by no stretch of the imagination and by no standards of quality, considered good. Guys like Common and Kweli are the epitome of good but not enjoyable. The words these men say and how they say them are one of the truest and most purest art forms we have right now. But at the same time, it's still music and you still need to want to listen to it as opposed to hitting "Next" a la an MTV show when that song comes up in shuffle on your iPod. It's still music and there still needs to be an aesthetic quality to it.

That's why I like Collision Course so much. It's both enjoyable and good. It's got the amazing lyrics of Jay-Z combined with the enjoyable beats of Linkin Park. The rap/rock mash up is not only inventive and creative, but good. And for that Collision Course, you have earned a spot on this list.

9) Chicken-N-Beer (2003) by Ludacris

Now I will fully admit that Ludacris is a singles rapper and not an album rapper. But I knew I wanted LUDA! on this list because I love his talent and skill. But going through his actual album listings and it was slightly disappointing. So if and when Ludacris puts out a Greatest Hits album I will consider that heavily. But despite my recent disparaging, I still think Chicken-N-Beer is Ludacris' best albums. It's just classic Ludacris. Luda really doesn't have the best lyrical skill nor does he have the best beats consistently, but what he does have is amazing flow and old school rhythm and this album is the epitome of it.

When you listen to Ludacris rap you will rarely him to talk about the plight of his fellow African American brethren or his personal problems but what he does talk about is fucking chicks, getting drunk, and starting fights. Now normally these types of lyrics are a recipe for disaster and will not be considered good hip hop music, but Ludacris is able to step above that and create catchy and good songs. "Splash Waterfalls" is just a song about all the hardcore sexual things Ludacris will do to his, um, lover and "Stand Up" is a song about Ludacris going to the club getting drunk and starting fights. Again, not really what you would consider "good".

But somehow they are. Some how Ludacris keeps putting out singles and showing up on people's songs and you're blown away by it. Maybe Luda just has that "it" quality, that one thing you can't quantity (What!? This is a stats blog, you can quantify anything!). But I believe it's something more, that Ludacris is able to put his own take on the cliche and he's able to rise above the average like Barry Sanders was able to rise in front of a mediocre offensive line.

Tracks off of Chicken-N-Beer show off Ludacris's signature Southern Drawl and surprisingly creative rhyming scheme. Lyrics like: Watch out for the medallion my diamonds are recklessssss/ Feels like a midget is hanging from my necklesssssss and makes Chris "Ludacris" Bridges one of the greatest rappers of this generation and makes his album Chicken-N-Beer earn a spot on this list. So while he's now acting (like every other rapper) and doing a fantastic job at it (see Crash, his cameo on Law and Order: SVU), his rapping will hold a special place in my heart. And on this list.

8) Revolutionary Vol. 2 (2003) by Immortal Technique

Who? Yeah mo fos, this is my street cred right herrr! Immortal Technique is a latino rapper from New York who refuses to be signed by labels because he's so against The Man that he wants 100% control over his music. And if you listen to IT's lyrics he is the most leftist, conspiracy theorists, crazy dudes you will ever listen to. Yet it's clear he has talent oozing out of his pores.

Technique's greatest song and THE greatest rap song nobody has heard of is "Dance With Devil"- a nine plus minute song about a young kid's struggle growing up in the project and his dream about becoming a rich gangsta and the awful things he has to go through to achieve this dream he wants. The song has an awful hook sung by Immortal Technique himself and you can hear him trying to push syllables together to make his leftist viewpoint and syllogisms work but when you get to ending that straight out of an M. Night Shylamalan movie (The Sixth Sense Shylamalan not The Happening Shylamalan) and you realize why you spent so long listening to Immortal's words.

But unfortunately Dance With The Devil is on Vol. 1 and not Vol.2. I'm sorry, I just had to give respect to that great song. In fact, it's that song alone that seriously made me consider putting Vol 1 over Vol. 2 in this spot, but I couldn't do it because his follow up is the better overall album.

Immortal Technique's second greatest song, "You Never Know" is off of Revolutionary Vol 2. about how he feel in love with a girl, yet it's a seven minute journey about a real life love story tragedy that happened to him that even Shakespeare himself would say, "Damn, sucka! I'm going steal this shit it's so good!" He also has a song called "Obnoxious" in which the only way I could describe it is like an early Eminem song on Ritalin. Lyrics like: I throw your gang sign up, and then I'll spit in my hand/ Gimme 100 grand, give me your watch, give me your chain/ That's your girl, bitch get over here, give me some brain/ I'll bust off in her face, and right after the segment/ She'll probably rub it in her pussy, trying to get herself pregnant. Despite the extreme vulgarity of those last few lines, I think they represent not only the skill that Immortal Technique has but also his view towards life and society that he has.

Now most of the album (as well as Immortal Technique's career) has to do with politics about how our government is bending us over backwards and just screwing us like something out of a Karl Marx novella and it can get old and tiresome at times, but not only would I prefer a social conscious rapper over some generic pop douche like Gucci Mane, but I feel like I was in his shoes, I would feel the exact same way. I always prefer rappers and hip hop artists to use their music to try and bring out social change- especially considering most (if not all) rappers come from poor and awful upbringings and environments. And Immortal Technique does a great job of that.

For beating the listeners over the head with his views on our government as society like something out of Wall-E and as well for the severe lack of hooks or catchiness (which needs to be at least a LITTLE bit present because we as listeners need to be aesthetically pleased) Immortal Technique's Revolutionary Vol. 2 drops to 8 on my list. But for his great talent, his historical and literally references, and for making the effort and overall doing it successfully to be a socially conscious rapper, Immortal Technique's album earns and deserves a spot as one of the best rap/ hp hop albums of the past decade.