Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'll be brief: here's my gratuitous Top 10 albums list in this order:
1. The Roots - Game Theory: I'm biased up front - The Roots are my all-time favorite hip-hop band. They can do no wrong in my eyes. So "Game Theory," their debut on Def Jam Records, was probably going to be somewhere on is list regardless. What makes it the best album of the year is the dark vibe throughout: there is not one sparkling radio single for miles. The lead single, "It Don't Feel Right" is so deeply involved in its paranoia that it threatens to suffocate the earth. For a band who has been doing it so well for more than a decade, this album is an artistic triumph. It's been nominated for rap album of the year Grammy. It deserves to win.
2. TI - King: T.I. earned the right to call himself the king of the south this year. He has the business savvy of a young Russell Simmons along with being one hell of a rapper. Not only that, but he his ear for beats and penchant for making word sounds rhyme (he makes rhyming "Nike" with "Lightening" sound like a genius work of aliteration). T.I. has cranked out no less than five singles out of this album, and he could work it for another two or three if he so chose. Call it king shit, because T.I. wears the crown.
3. J-Dilla - Donuts: Geez, how can I put the legendary Dilla at number 3? This genius reached a creative crescendo with an album orchestrated on a dime-store digital sampler, while he bravely fought for his own life in a Los Angeles hospital. "Donuts" isn't a typical hip-hop album: it's a sound collage of found rhythms and impossible breaks that weave into one another. Dilla didn't produce a record, he knitted a blanket to keep the world warm in the wake of his absence.
4. E-40 - My Ghetto Report Card: The nation wasn't ready for the hyphy movement, and rightfully so. It's not as formulaic as a snap dance or walk it out anthem. What 40-water did on this album was hint at the culture, whether it was the fascination with "Muscle Cars" or the anthemic rallying call to the "Yay Area." The entire album was way too long, but overall, the stand out songs overshadow any filler. And the skits were hilarious to boot!
5. Ghostface - Fishscale: A contender for album of the year that barely cracked the top 5! Ghostface would have gotten the top prize hands down any other year, but this was a pretty good year for hip-hop albums. All I can say is this: anyone who can get MF Doom and the entire Wu-Tang Clan together on a track is a brilliant artist.
6. Lupe Fiasco - Food and Liquor: Hip-hop is back, and even if Lupe didn't get a platinum plaque, he still had heads checking for him. I don't care if he flopped sales wise, the only reason he isn't number one on this list is because there were so many choices to choose from. I'll just put it like this: "Food and Liquor" takes the best elements of Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides" and Jay Z's "Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life" and mixes them together. Hotness.
7. Game - Doctor's Advocate: Alright, so I ate a little humble pie with this one. I didn't think Game could recover from being kicked out of G-Unit. But I got to admit, when he's on his namesake, he's a force. Extra props for the Just Blaze produced "Remedy," which outright jacks the beat from one of my favorite songs of all time, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos."
8. Jay-Z - Kingdom Come: Quite possibly the most overhyped record of the year, but it was a necessary comeback for the king of hip-hop (don't front, Jay is that dude). The tracks with Just Blaze and Dr. Dre banged, as they were supposed to. Despite some radio-friendly filler (see collabos with Usher and Beyonce), songs like "Lost Ones" and "Minority Report" revealed a vulnerability 99 percent of today's MC's are afraid to reveal. Props for that alone.
9. Snoop Dogg - Blue Carpet Treatment: The West Coast Don stayed true blue to his Cali roots on this hefty release. Radio songs like "That's That S---" and "I Wanna Love You" became drive time staples in spite of their raunchy titles (check the CD for the real song titles). But more importantly, after Snoop's son mentioned to him that Cassidy had a better flow, pop's took it as a personal challenge. The result: Snoop's improved rhyme skills on full display, which is always a good thing.
10. DJ Heat: My Block - The Bay (Hosted by Sway): My choice for mixtape of the year. This CD featured all of the Bay Area slaps, slumpers and hyphy tracks that kept dance floors jam packed in the Yay this year. From Clyde Carson's "Hyphy Juice" to Too $hort's "Blow The Whistle," DJ Heat lived up to her namesake on this tape.
Honorable Mention: Nas - Hip-Hop Is Dead; Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury; Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere; Madlib - Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2; IceCube - Laugh Now, Cry Later ; Outkast - Idlewild