The Best Hip Hop Albums Of The Decade: Part Three

You can read Part One and albums 10-8 here
You can read Part Two and albums 7-5 here
Albums 4-2 are below

4) College Dropout (2004) by Kanye West

When I say "Kanye West" what comes to your mind? Is it "fish sticks"? Is it "arrogant fuck"? It is "Taylor Swift"? Because you'd be correct no matter what you answer. My roommate my Freshman years of college went to go see Wilco in concert as opposed to West because of the comments Kanye said about Bush. Needless to say controversy follows West throughout his entire career. But with all that being said and despite everything Kanye has done in his personal life, he's a phenomenal, talented, and great lyricist and beat creator. While his goofing off with the auto tune pisses me off like most things Kanye does, the words that he spits and the beats that he puts behind them are nothing less than musically genius. While South park joked that he's "the voice of out generation" he seriously is in contention for the best artist of this decade and deserves serious consideration for being a top 5 rapper of all time. Hell, every time, and I mean EVERY TIME, I hear records with both Jay-Z and Kanye West, West raps circles around Jigga Man.

Like Ludacris, I think Kanye is more of a singles rapper and I'm not the biggest fan of his overall albums (especially 808 and Heartbreak) but when you ask me what album best represents Kanye I would say it is his debut. His first single "Through The Wire" Kanye was recorded when his mouth was literally wired shut and he literally rapped through the wire yet was still able to produce such lines as: Imagine how my girl feel/ On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emitt Till. I bet many few rappers would know the civil rights story of Emitt Till nevertheless throw in a reference to it. West still managed to rap amazingly throughout the entire song.

Kanye has never been one to shy away from societal issues and songs like "All Falls Down" shows this; about the need that African-Americans seem to have to succeed and have the appearance of success: It seems we be living the American dream/ The people highest up got the lowest self esteem/ The prettiest people do the ugliest things/ From the road to riches and diamond rings. So despite me thinking that Syleena Johnson was talking about "uranium" when I first All Falls Down's chorus, I love the message this songs says along with Kanye's rhymes.

And what I think is truly the best song on this album and still one of Kanye's best is "Jesus Walks". Seriously, how many rappers do you know dedicate a full song to religion!? Yeah, yeah they all thank G-d in their songs and at award shows, but Kanye dedicated an entire song to Jesus. West mentions in the song: They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus/ That means guns, sex, lies, videotapes/ But if I talk about God my record won't get played Huh!? And the best part about this song, and this is coming from a Jew, is that he's not being preachy about it: I ain't here to argue about his facial features or here to convert atheists into believers/ I'm just trying to say the way school needs teachers/ The way Kathy Lee needed Regis/ That's the way I need Jesus. He's just expressing himself himself about his own problems and the way religion helps him out in life. He found a way to successfully rap about religion.

Now I think Kanye's best song is "Gold Digger" because not only is that one of the most inventive beats of all time (sampling the slow Ray Charles classic "I Got A Woman" while using Jamie Foxx who had just won an Oscar playing Ray Charles) but it uses complex storytelling with sophisticated rhymes and actually takes the perspective of both the men and the women about relationships and gold diggers. But I think College Dropout overall is West's best album.

Now really you can choose any West album this decade (sans 808 and Heartbreak) and place it in this slot. I'm going to go the Vh1 route and only have one album per artist. I only have ten slots I'm filling and I'd prefer to showcase a handful or artists. Plus, like I said, I think Kanye is a singles guy, not a full album guys anyway.

For having amazing beats, inventive song concepts, great lyrics and for just being a great rapper overall, Kanye West has earned and deserves a spot on this list.

3) Paper Trail (2008) by T.I.

I originally had Kanye's College Dropout number eight on this list but recently I had a conversation with my brother who had nothing but rave reviews about College Dropout and as I was continuing to write about albums like Outkast's "Speakboxxx/The Love Below" and "Collision Course" by Linkin Park and Jay-Z I had to put College Dropout ahead of those albums. But "Paper Trails" is where I'm drawing the line. This album is what made me a T.I. fan and in all honesty, as a whole, I don't think College Dropout, is all THAT good. I could listen to to this T.I. album for days. Something I can't say about any Kanye West album.

The title originates from T.I. actually writing down his lyrics- which is what makes this album so great. In order to be a truly skilled rapper, you need to be able to free style. You need to be able to spit mad flows and awesome rhymes at the drop of a hat. Guys like Lil' Wayne and Jay-Z make albums this way- they're given a beat and they just spit. And T.I. used to create albums this way as well. He didn't write anything down and just starting rhyming. And by by doing so, he was just another dime a dozen rapper making songs solely for club hits. But as soon as he (a convicted felon) got arrested coming to the University of Illinois to play a concert and got caught with weapons in his tour bus, things changed. So as a result, T.I. ended up having some free time on his hands and started writing down his emotions and feelings and actually started creating art as opposed to just songs and would eventually come together and be known as "Paper Trail"

There are about three to five bad songs on this record and I say they're bad because they don't showcase T.I.'s talent and skill and they are the club hits and the songs you need to make money in music. Unfortunately, those songs ended up being the album's singles (or in the case of "Swing Ya Rag" where Gucci and Louis Vuitton got upset when their products were being used in the music video along as within the chorus of the song- would have been a single). However, the first single "Live Your Life" is the exception. It has a great hook and the beat is a sample from the YouTube sensation "Dragostea Din Tei" by O-Zone (you'd know if you heard it, trust me). The entire song essentially rhymes two words: Consider them my protege/ Homage I think they should pay/ Instead of being gracious/ They violate in a major way and I'm the opposite of moderate/ Immaculately polished/ With the spirit of a hustler/ And the swagger of a college kid but it's amazing the story T.I. is able to tell by essentially rhyming those two words.

And although one of the singles features sexy Justin Timblerlake ("Dead and Gone") and has got a catchy chorus, it actually tells the story about how T.I.'s best friend Filant Johnson got murdered by T.I.'s actions and actually made me believe (until he got arrested again and again) that T.I. was practicing what he was preaching to inner city youts (I'm sorry Your Honor, youthhhhhhhs). What's even more impressive about "Dead and Gone" is T.I.'s pacing in it. It's extremely fast and Twista-eqsue yet he's enunciating every word and still keeps up his flow. It's great to hear T.I. spit fast one one track and then slow it down in another and still be great at both.

The theme of this album is redemption and I truly believe that when T.I. was writing this album, he wanted to make sure to not only to avoid jail forever but to try and balance his law-abiding actions while making sure his drug dealing past wouldn't catch up with him. "Ready For Whatever" and its chorus I think is the epitome of this (and appropriately Track 3 on the record) and says it best: Now is it that hard to understand if you listen/ Either die or go to jail that's a helluva decision/ But I'm wrong and I know it my excuses unimportant/ I'm just trying to let you let you know that I a'int think I had a choice. T.I. knows that he broke the law. He's a felon and he knows felons are not legally allowed to be in possession of fire arms. But he has to carry the firearms for the protection of my family and he raps about this frustration.

Now while the themes of T.I.'s songs are not as universal as I would like them to be, they are personal. When he was free styling, he was cliche. He was rapping about making money and fucking bitches and how awesome he was and all that good stuff. But after his guns conviction, I think T.I. had a different perspective on life and when he sat down to write out his feelings and where he was at this point in his life, I think his music and artistry blossomed.

I could go on and on about and rave about the songs on this record from "Slide Show" a song featuring Anthony Hamilton where T.I. reflects upon his life or "Swagga Like Us" a song featuring Lil' Wayne, Jay-Z, and Kanye West with a hook that steals a line from M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" where T.I. is by far the best rapper on the track or "Sittin' On Top Of The World" featuring Ludacris. This is just a great album from start to finish and for consistency and greatness, "Paper Trail" earns a spot on this list, and a high one at that.

2b) The Black Album (2003) by Jay-Z

Did you really expect anything less that have The Black Album ranked so high? Of course not. Jay-Z is by far and away one of, if not THE greatest rap artists of the past decade; a top five talent on everybody's Greatest List and The Black Album is by far his greatest achievement. To be a truly great album you need to have EVERY single song be good. Not some of them, not most of them, but every single one of them. And The Black Album has accomplished that feat.

The best song on the record and probably Jay's best song and the song that he "retired" on is "99 Problems". The song also has a line that I use, as a kid in law school, as my favorite facebook status "I ain't pass the bar put a know a lil' bit". The song has my favorite rap verse of all time in it- the second verse which Jay-Z gets pulled over by a cop. But what really makes this song so great, besides the fact that it's lyrically genius and every line is awesome, is that it sort of puts rap songs on its head. So many songs talk about bitches and hoes (Boats and Hoes!) and how much they suck and it's hard pimping them and stuff like that, But Jay doesn't care about that stuff. In fact, the chorus goes "I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain't one." It's the opposite of what you would expect, like when two people who like each other and walking away and they DON'T turn around to look at the other one in a movie.

I'm actually speechless about what else to say about this album. I'm sure you've heard the greatness of The Black Album by this point. It's even more impressive if Jay-Z actually didn't write down those lyrics beforehand because his raps on every song is just great. I could go through every single song and talk about and analyze how great it is, but I just can't. I can't even really explain why Jay-Z is so good. The way he rhymes, his cool flow, the non-cliche content of his lyrics- all of it makes him great.

So for being one of the greatest rap albums ever, The Black Album earns a spot on this list.

2a) The Grey Album (2004) by D.J. Danger Mouse

As I'm sure you can tell from the album photo and the name, The Grey Album is a mash up of Jay-Z's The Black Album and The Beatles' The White Album. It takes the awesome lyrics of The Black Album and uses remixed versions of the music from The White Album as beats. And the reason I put this (2a) and not (2b) because I think the one glaring flaw in The Black Album (and part of the reason I can't in good conscious put it #1) is because the beats kind of suck on The Black Album. Maybe they're awesome beats and I've been too negatively impacted by mash ups following the release of the album, but I think The Grey Album has better beats than The Black Album.

As alluded to earlier, I think this is D.J. Danger Mouse's greatest work and it's a shame that it can never be commercially sold because Danger Mouse didn't receive permission from The Beatles before doing this (he also didn't get any from Jay-Z either but Jigga Man has always been cool about people sampling/stealing his stuff that he doesn't care). I love the original beat to "99 Problems" but I think Danger Mouse does it better with a brief sample from "Helter Skelter". I was never a fan of "Change Clothes"'s beat and I think that's why I like Danger Mouse's beat sampling "Dear Prudence" and "Piggies" better.

But I think the biggest disparity between The Black Album's beats and The Gray Album's beats is Danger Mouse's version of "What More Can I Say" that samples a top five personal favorite Beatles song of mine "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." While The Grey Album leaves out the Gladiator Russell Crowe speech from the beginning, I think The Black Album's beat is Common-esque whereas The Grey Album's beat is amazing. Plus, unlike the every other song on The Grey Album, Danger Mouse actually takes out the original Jay-Z chorus (which isn't all that good) and subs in The Beatles chorus, which makes the song even better.

As great as The Black Album is (and it is) it has some major flaws and The Grey Album seems to plug those holes. So for using the amazing lyrics of Jay-Z's The Black Album and improving an already amazing record, D.J. Danger Mouse's The Grey Album earns a spot on this list and earns a spot over the original cut.

Like Kayne, you can plug in any Jay-Z album in this spot. I'm a huge fan of his recent drop The Blueprint, Vol. 3 and I love everything Jay-Z does, but not only do I think The Black Album is his best work, I'm only going to put one album per artist on this list.

My number one album coming soon, although knowing me (if you do) and knowing what artist/album I left off you can probably guess what I will choose, but even still, the best hip hop album of the decade will warrant it's own post.


David "MVP" Eckstein said...

"I think College Dropout overall is West's best album."

Clearly you haven't heard his newest album, which is not only his best, but probably the best album of the year

Sexy Rexy said...

I actually have heard it and I like it but it still doesn't even come close to either College Dropout or Late Registration. Just because Pitchfork named it the #1 album of 2010 doesn't mean you need to jerk off to it 24/7

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

a) I've been raving this album since it came out a month or so ago. My love precedes pitchfork.

b) Pitchfork is just better than you.

Sexy Rexy said...

1) If we're going by past decade, it's from 2000-2009 and thus his newest one doesn't even qualify
2) It doesn't matter because College Dropout his Kanye's best album
3) Think of that spot as a tie between all of Kanye's album anyways because I'm only doing one album per artist
4) Good lawd is Pitchfork shitty as fuck
5) Stop jerking off to Pitchfork and riding their cock

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

a) touche re: Kanye's new album
b) Where's kid cudi and the rest of the shit I dropped on your head. I realize you hate Wu Tang, but that does not mean Raekwon's album from last yr is not top 10 in rap of the decade. Be an objectively reasonable person, brah

Sexy Rexy said...

Even if I liked what I heard out of Raekwon and such- this is only a ten album list. There's only so much I can do and thus there is inevitably going to be some very good albums that are left off the list.

Plus, music is entirely subjective, no one will ever be objective about it

Also, how do you know it's not my #1 album?

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

I know its not your #1 cause you hate Wu Tang like I hate regular Tang. it is objective the best rap album of 2009.

Sexy Rexy said...

Even if it truly is the best hip hop album of 2009, that doesn't mean it deserves a spot on the list. I don't have a single 2009 album on the list so far

The 'Bright' One said...

i'm a singles guy over the album, but i love every song on Nas' "God's Son". If you take NY state of mind, halftime, and the world is yours from the Illmatic and add it to God's Son it would be the greatest album ever of any genre ever said...

Pretty helpful material, much thanks for this article.