2008 was the year of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III and Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreak, two albums that did well commercially and that received a lot of critical praise too. There were also enough critics who didn’t love these albums though, and here at HHGA, we belong to that particular camp. Auto-tune is a no-go in any case as far we are concerned, and Lil Wayne is automatically excluded from any list we make because for us he symbolizes everything that was wrong with mainstream rap after the turn of the millennium – call us biased, but there you go. For this list, we have ranked OUR 40 favorite albums of the year (not included are EP’s, mixtapes, compilations, or instrumental albums). What do YOU think?
Also read: Top 150 Hip Hop Albums Of The 2000s
1. Q-Tip – The Renaissance
There was a lot riding on this album, released 9 years after Q-Tip last (solo)album Amplified – which wasn’t all that well-received. While not a bad album at all, Amplified was considered too ‘lightweight’ and insubstantial for someone with Q-Tip’s stature.
The Rennaissance obliterated all doubters and Q-Tip critics. The album is consistent as hell, 13 tracks with no filler material. “Gettin Up”, “We Fight/We Love”, “Official” and “Believe” are highlights, but there really are no weak tracks here. With The Rennaissance, Q-Tip succeeds perfectly in blending the ATCQ vibe we all love with his own distinct style.
2. Grip Grand – Brokelore
Six years after a distinctly mediocre debut, Bay Area producer/emcee Grip Grand returns with this truly excellent sophomore album. Brokelore is the most surprising album of the year. Excellent rhyming – lyrics and flow – and smooth, infectious beats from beginning to end. The album has a couple of great, well-placed guest appearances too, especially NYC legends Percee P and A.G. steal the show with their features. This is a near-perfect album, expertly blending traditional West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop sounds and adding a unique contemporary vibe. The mark of a classic? Endless replay value and no skips – Brokelore is such an album.
3. Prolyphic & Reanimator – The Ugly Truth
Prolyphic & Reanimator’s The Ugly Truth is an excellent and sadly slept-on gem. The album was released on Sage Francis’s Strange Famous Records, and features guest appearances from Sage Francis himself, along with regular collaborators Macromantics, B. Dolan, and Alias. Reanimator’s inventive instrumentals are a delight from start to finish – the dark and dirty boom-bap beats infused with live instrumentation serve as a perfect backdrop for Prolyphic’s clever bars.
4. Elzhi – The Preface
Elzhi is one of the most underrated emcees in the game. The Detroit lyrical giant dropped an instant classic with The Preface. Bangin beats – mostly provided by equally underrated Detroit producer Black Milk – and excellent wordplay by Elzhi himself and guests like Guilty Simpson, Royce da 5’9″ and Black Milk, make this one of 2008’s best albums. “Guessing Game”, “Motown 25”, “Colors”, “Transitional Joint”, “What I Write”, “Talking In My Sleep” – just a few standout tracks on an album with not a bad song on it. “Show these motherf***ers what a classic is…” In the intro of the album Elzhi sets himself up for a tall order, but boy does he deliver.
5. The Roots – Rising Down
Much like its predecessor Game Theory, Rising Down gives us a slightly darker sound than we were used to on earlier Roots albums. Stripped down sonically, with intelligent socio-conscious lyrics throughout – Rising Down is a great album and among the most under-appreciated within The Roots’ discography.
6. Doomtree – Doomtree
Doomtree’s first album as a group, and what an album! When the beat from the first track (after the intro) “Drumsticks” kicks in you know what you’re in for. The album received mixed reviews upon its release in 2008, but those who underrated it either clearly didn’t really listen to it or were otherwise not in a right state of mind. Top-notch beats, top-notch rhymes, and top-notch production – this is the first official release on which the individual Doomtree talent combine their skills to create something that is bigger than the sum of its individual parts. Make no mistake: this is one of 2008’s best albums and if you have never listened to it before you are in for a treat.
7. Immortal Technique – 3rd World
Immortal Technique’s third album continues in the vein of its two predecessors – 3rd World is another intense and intelligent album, filled with nuggets of knowledge and unfiltered opinions on the state of the world we live in. Reminiscent of the ferocity and insightfulness we know from early Public Enemy and Ice Cube, Immortal Technique once again pulls no punches – he is without a doubt one of the best, if not THE best political rappers in the game.
8. J Live – Then What Happened?
J-Live dropped two absolute masterpieces – The Best Part (2001) and All Of The Above (2002) – but most of his other releases are dope as hell too. The label underrated is over-used, but J-Live truly is one of the most slept-on acts in the Hip Hop game. This mock interview excerpt taken from the first cut on Then What Happened? says a lot:
How many records have you released as J Live?
A little over five
How many records have you sold combined since your first album?
Approximately 100, 000
Do you mean to say that the millions of people who love Hip Hop aren’t aware of your music?
I can hardly believe that unless they were blind, deaf and dumb
Well they were made blind deaf and dumb by popular culture since they were babies
It’s crazy when you consider that wack rappers like Lil Wayne sell millions of albums, while true emcees like J-Live sell almost nothing. Then What Happened? may fall a little short when compared to his first two albums, but it still is an excellent album. Production (by DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Spinna, Evil Dee, Marco Polo, and a few others) is tight and J-Live’s lyrics are sharp and on point as always.
J-Live is part of the best Hip Hop has to offer. If you have slept on J-Live get his first two albums first, then you’ll soon check out the rest of his work too.
9. eMC – The Show
The Show is the debut album by supergroup eMC, which consists of Masta Ace, Punchline, Wordsworth, and Stricklin. After his supposed retirement with the excellent concept album A Long Hot Summer, legendary Masta Ace returns with this collective, recruiting underground battle rappers Punchline and Wordsworth as well as his protege Stricklin, a.k.a. Strick.
With production duties handled by the likes of Marco Polo, Ayatollah, Nicolay, The ARE, Frequency, Koolade, and Quincey Tones and with guest appearances from Sean Price, Ladybug Mecca, and Little Brother all ingredients are there for well over an hour of dopeness. The Show does not disappoint and gives what we want to hear: real Hip Hop, cleverly structured as a thematic concept album that follows a day in the life of eMC doing a show on the road. Great album.
10. Nas – Untitled
The original name for this album, N****r, was obviously so controversial, nobody would sell it in stores unless the title was changed. Regardless of what the title was, this album explored the plight and at the same time celebrated the empowerment of African Americans, even with using the most venomous word in the English language. Untitled is an ambitious, politically-themed project, with phenomenal cuts like “Y’all My N****s”, “America” and “Testify”, “Sly Fox”, “Project Roach”, “N.I.*.*.E.R. (The Slave & The Master)”. The beats could have been better here and there (as is the case on most of Nas’ albums), but overall this is another outstanding Nas release.
11. Jake One – White Van Music
We all know the high profile artists from the epic Rhymesayers Entertainment label, like Atmosphere and Brother Ali. Producer Jake One is a name that may not immediately come to mind when the Rhymesayers roster is discussed, but with this debut album, he definitely established his name. With guests like MF DOOM, Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9″, Busta Rhymes, Slug, Pharoahe Monch, Posdnuos, Brother Ali, Freeway, Black Milk, Prodigy, Evidence, Little Brother, and M.O.P. rhyming over his beats, there needs to be no doubt about the lyrical quality on this album. But Jake One is a producer, and this is a producer’s album. 20 tracks and not a weak beat to be found – White Van Music is tight and crisp, a dope debut that is a must-listen for all Hip Hop heads.
11. Black Milk – Tronic
13. Dela – Changes Of Atmosphere
French producer Dela recruited a host of dope emcees (J-Live, Elzhi, Talib Kweli, J. Sands, Blu – among others) to create this excellent 90s-centric jazzy Hip Hop album.
14. Invincible – Shapeshifters
15. Ill Bill – The Hour Of Reprisal
Ill Bill’s second and most personal album, The Hour Of Reprisal is a deep and powerful release – a stand-out in his solo discography and even counting his work as part of Non-Phixion, Circle of Tyrants and La Coka Nostra. Ill Bill handles most of the production duties on this album himself, with some tracks being produced by the likes of Ill Bill’s brother Necro, DJ Muggs, DJ Premier and DJ Lethal. Featured guests on the album include Vinnie Paz, Immortal Technique, Everlast, B-Real, Raekwon, Tech N9ne, and Necro. This combined power results in a well put together album, that is sorely underrated by the larger Hip Hop audiences.
16. Vordul Mega – Megagraphitti
17. Cyne – Pretty Dark Things
18. Mike Mictlan & Lazerbeak – Hand Over Fist
Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak are best-known for being part of the eclectic Doomtree collective. Hand Over Fist offers solid lyricism by Mike Mitclan and blistering soundscapes by Lazerbeak, this is an excellent album by any standard; perhaps the best entry point into the Doomtree catalog for those who like their Hip Hop more traditional and less genre-bending.
19. Atmosphere – When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh** Gold
20. Dagha – The Divorce
21. East Coast Avengers – Prison Planet
22. Vast Aire – Dueces Wild
23. Pacewon & Mr. Green – The Only Color That Matters Is Green
24. People Under the Stairs – Fun DMC
25. Johnson & Jonson – Johnson & Jonson
26. Common Market – Tobacco Road
27. Killer Mike – I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II
28. Kenny Segal – Ken Can Cook
29. Thirsty Fish – Testing The Waters
30. Kool Keith – Dr. Dooom 2
Kool Keith has always needed someone to bounce his energy off for his projects to be really dope. Such a partnership would mean teaming up with another emcee or like in this case with a producer. Longtime collaborator and producer of the first Dr. Dooom album, Kutmasta Kurt is back once again to provide some excellent boom-bap beats for Kool Keith – who is using the Dr. Dooom moniker again this time – to shine on.
Sure, this album is not as good as Dr. Dooom’s first outing First Come First Served, but together with Diesel Truckers it easily is one of Keith’s best albums of the 2000s. Kool Keith’s rapping is better and more inspired here as it had been in a while and most of his lyrics are as insane, bizarre, and fun as they always are.
“Your chance to talk the same stuff is irrelevant to me / You’re a glorified peasant to me / Your chick has the face of the gorilla / Of course she can bring a present to me”
“Step-N-Fetchers”, “The God Of Rap”, “Surgery” and “Do Not Disturb” are stand-out tracks, but there’s more than enough to enjoy on Dr. Dooom 2.
31. Jedi Mind Tricks – A History Of Violence
Not Jedi Mind Tricks’ best album, but not nearly as bad as some critics have it. A History Of Violence is a solid follow-up to the admittedly superior Servants In Heaven Kings In Hell (2006) album.
32. Awon – Beautiful Loser
Awon’s debut album Beautiful Loser is a dope presentation of smooth, jazzy, 90s-centric boom-bap Hip Hop, and a fine primer for even better things to come in the 2010s – Virginia resident Awon is one of those stalwarts who are instrumental in keeping real, traditional Hip Hop alive. Underrated, but appreciated.
(This is the cover art for the 10th-anniversary edition, which we think is aesthetically more pleasing than the original 2008 cover.)
33. Murs – Murs For President
Murs’ sixth studio album is not his best, but worth the price of admission on the strength of classic cuts like “The Science” and “Break Up (The OJ Song)” alone.
34. Akrobatik – Absolute Value
35. Reks – Grey Hairs
36. Paris – Acid Reflex
37. Substantial – Sacrifice
38. Snowgoons – Black Snow
Snowgoons is a crew of German producers who are basically making the same album over and over again – all their projects feature hard-hitting and bass-heavy boom-bap beats in the best Jedi Mind Tricks and Army Of The Pharaohs tradition, and for each project they recruit a bunch of the finest underground emcees to do justice to those beats.
Black Snow is Snowgoons’ second studio album and of their best, also thanks to the vocal contributions of heavy hitters like Apathy, Reef The Lost Cauze, King Magnetic, Ill Bill, Smif-n-Wessun, Edo G, Killah Priest, R.A. The Rugged Man, and many more.
Craig G & Marley Marl – Operation Take Back Hip-Hop
40. KRS-One – Maximum Strength
In 1998, a year after KRS’s best-selling album I Got Next, the intended follow-up called Maximum Strenght was shelved. Ten years later this album appeared, using the shelved 1998 cover with ‘two thousand eight’ added to the title. Upon release it was said to contain all new tracks, so the reason for re-using the mothballed name and cover is not really clear.
Whatever the case, Maximum Strenght is a solid KRS-One effort. Tight lyrics, good beats, and that expected KRS flow and philosophical teachings – nothing wrong with this album other than that it is too short, a little over 30 minutes in length make Maximum Strength feel more like an EP than a ‘complete’ album. “Beware”, “Pick it Up”, “Hip Hop”, “New York”, “The Heat” – enough dope tracks here, if no real standouts like on most of his other albums.
- Ice Cube – Raw Footage
- Scarface – Emeritus
- EPMD – We Mean Business
- Kool Keith – Tashan Dorrsett
- AZ – Undeniable
- Pete Rock – NY’s Finest
- Jean Grae – Jeanius
- KRS-One – Adventures In Emceein’
- The Loyalists – Redemption
- Torae – Daily Conversation
- Large Pro – Main Source
- Raashan Ahmad – The Push
- Viro The Virus – The Sharpest Blade
- Verbal Kent – Fist Shaking
- Nappy Roots – The Humdinger
- Skillz – The Million Dollar Backpack
- Edo. G & Da Bulldogs – Acting
- Psych Ward – Rulers Of The Damned
- Edgar Allen Floe – The Streetwise LP
- Reef The Lost Cauze – A Vicious Cycle
- Killah Priest – Behind The Stained Glass
- Pumpkinhead – Picture That (The Negative)
- C.R.A.C. – The Piece Talks
- Chief Kamachi & Killah Priest – Beautiful Minds
- Big John – The Next Step
- Fakts One – Long Range
- Krizz Kaliko – Vitiligo
- Eric Bobo – Meeting Of The Minds
- Bun B – II Trill
- Chino XL – Something Sacred
- Qwel & Kip Killagain – The New Wine
- Moka Only – Carrots And Eggs
- Del The Funky Homosapien – Eleventh Hour
- Common – Universal Mind Control
- Big Noyd – Illustrious
- Panacea – A Mind On A Ship Through Time
- The Mighty Underdogs – Droppin’ Science Fiction
- Guilty Simpson – Ode To The Ghetto
- Kidz In The Hall – The In Crowd
- Nicolay & Kay – Time:Line
- Time Machine – Life Is Expensive
- Yak Ballz – Scifentology II
- Doap Nixon – Sour Diesel
- Outerspace – God’s Fury
- Tame One – Ol’ Jersey Bastard
- Flobots – Fight With Tools
- Termanology – Politics As Usual
- Moka Only – Clap Trap
- MC Chris – MC Chris Is Dead
- DJ Muggs & Planet Asia – Pain Language
- Murs & 9th Wonder – Sweet Lord
- 9th Wonder & Buckshot – Tha Formula
- GZA/Genius – Pro Tools
- RZA – Digi Snacks
- Cappadonna – The Cappatalize Project
- Prodigy – H.N.I.C. Pt. 2
- Sheek Louch – Silverback Gorilla
- Shawn Jackson – First Of All
- Black Spade – To Serve With Love
- Chief Chinchilla – Live @ The Liqua Sto
- T.H.U.G. Angelz – Welcome To Red Hook Houses
- Heltah Skeltah – D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team)
- Andre Nickatina & Mac Dre – A Tale Of Two Andres
- 88-Keys – The Death Of Adam
- Sadat X – Generation X
- Z-Ro – Crack
- David Banner – The Greatest Story Ever Told
- Fat Joe – The Elephant In The Room
- G-Unit – T.O.S: Terminate On Sight
- Ludacris – Theater Of The Mind
- Three 6 Mafia – Last 2 Walk
- Tech N9ne – Killer
- MJG – This Might Be The Day
- E-40 – The Ball Street Journal
- K-Rino – Triple Darkness Vol. 1 – Wreck Time
- K-Rino – Triple Darkness Vol. 2 – The Lyrics
- K-Rino – Triple Darkness Vol. 3 – Coalition Ambush
- The Game – LAX
- Joe Budden – Halfway House
- LL Cool J – Exit 13
- Snoop Dogg – Ego Trippin’
- Rick Ross – Trilla
- T.I. – Paper Trail
- Young Jeezy – The Recession
- Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
- Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak