2009 continued the trend set in the years previous – it may not have been spectacular in terms of releases that will eventually be considered classics – but it was another solid year for Hip Hop, with plenty of dope albums that will stand the test of time. For this piece, we have complied OUR top 40 Hip Hop albums 2009 list (not included are EP’s, compilations, mixtapes, or instrumental albums). What do YOU think?
Also read: Top 150 Hip Hop Albums Of The 2000s
1. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
The Ecstatic is Mos Def’s fourth solo-album, after his magnum opus Black On Both Sides (1999), the misunderstood The New Danger (2004)) and the disappointing True Magic (2006). While Black On Both Sides will forever be seen as Mos Def’s best and most defining work, The Ecstatic is just about as excellent – without a doubt the best album released in 2009. Sonically creative and diverse and lyrically astute – this album is standing the test of time and will always have a place among the best 100 Hip Hop albums of all-time.
2. Diamond District – In The Ruff
Diamond District is the truth. This is real, raw & pure Hip Hop done right. In The Ruff is that perfect example of an album with a Golden Age sound but with one leg firmly in the present as well. Oddisee is a talented producer and emcee, and together with emcees X.O. and yU he delivers an excellent record, filled with hard AND smooth boom-bap beats and dope flows. A breath of fresh air in 2009; and an album that should have a place in any Hip Hop fan’s collection – easily one of the best Hip Hop albums released this year.
3. P.O.S . – Never Better
Doomtree’s P.O.S best solo album? It may be hard to pick one from his catalog and label it ‘best’, but Never Better certainly is our P.O.S favorite. Every single track on this album is great. Like most other Doomtree projects Never Better may require multiple listens to fully appreciate its brilliance – this is not easily digestible and forgettable bubblegum pop-rap after all.
What Never Better is, is a creative blend of Hip Hop and other musical styles like punk-rock – with P.O.S dropping his challenging semi-abstract, metaphor-heavy but at the same time relatable and accessible lyrics over unique instrumentals. Take an hour, sit yourself down, play the album from the start to finish, and read along to let the lyrics sink in. Or just listen to the emotional “Been Afraid”, or other stand-out cuts like “Goodbye”, “Optimist”, “Purexed” and “Low Light Low Life” (with Dessa and Sims) to get a taste, and you will go in for more without a doubt.
4. Felt – Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez
Opinions seem to be divided on this one. Some critics consider this to be the worst of the three Felt albums, Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez is our absolute favorite of the series, however. Some nay-sayers have criticized Aesop Rock’s production on this one, but we feel the beats he provided here serve super-combo Slug and Murs’ lyrics perfectly. Everything fits on this album, the beats do work and the synergy between Slug and Murs is awesome.
5. Fashawn – Boy Meets World
Great beats, great lyrics, great hooks. The beats provided by Exile prove to be a fine foundation, but it is Fashawn’s deep and personal lyricism that makes his debut album Boy Meets World the modern classic it is. Fashawn comes off like a seasoned vet, commanding every track with ease. Boy Meets World is an awesome debut by a great talent (Fashawn was just 21 at the time of its release), and it still is his best work to date.
6. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II
In ’95, Wu-Tang’s dynamo Raekwon delivered what became one of Hip Hop’s greatest achievements in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which has widely been considered the greatest Wu solo album (besides Supreme Clientele) to emerge from the Wu camp.
With pressures from fans to deliver a sequel, Raekwon finally did so in 2009. It’s damn near impossible to recover the magic of an exceptional classic debut, but Raekwon did it with this one. Everything from the cover to the feel of the album was reminiscent of the original. After several sub-par efforts, Raekwon struck gold again with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II. If the first one was The Godfather, this one was The Godfather Pt. II.
7. Skyzoo – The Salvation
The Salvation is the debut album of Brooklyn emcee Skyzoo, and even though he has been dropping consistently dope albums ever since, The Salvation remains of his best releases. Skyzoo has described The Salvation as autobiographical and his most personal work – Skyzoo is one of those artists who are willing and able to write lyrics with substance, in a time when the mainstream was demanding the opposite. There are really no let downs or skippable tracks on the entire album.
8. J Dilla – Jay Stay Paid
Nine times out of ten posthumous releases are doing a disservice to the memory of the artist in question, and are often obvious cash-grab attempts by rightsholders. Not the case with Jay Stay Paid. The album is a 28 track collection of unreleased Dilla beats mixed and arranged by Pete Rock. Although Jay Stay Paid is mostly instrumental, it includes guests vocals from several artists that Dilla worked with or admired, such as Black Thought, Havoc, Raekwon, MF DOOM, and M.O.P. It was executive produced by Dilla’s mother Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey along with the musical supervision of Dilla’s musical idol, Pete Rock. In regard to the album’s feel and direction Ma Dukes stated:
It wasn’t rushed and it wasn’t haphazard. This album combines what he did in the beginning of his career, what he did in some of our early hospital stays, which was very deep, and some stuff pulled from old floppy disks & DATs. It’s mind blowing… this is like the missing links to Dilla’s legacy. (Wikipedia)
The format of the album plays like a radio show with Pete Rock as the program director.
9. Brother Ali – Us
Us signified another Brother Ali gem – one hour of music, with 16 non-skippable tracks laced with truth and emotion – Ali never disappoints. Few emcees are able to come with thought-provoking content without sacrificing rhyme schemes, wordplay, and masterful flows the way Brother Ali is – songs like “House Keys”, “The Travelers”, “Tight Rope”, “Baby Girl”, and “Us” cases in point. Other stand-outs where Ali is boasting his lyrical abilities are “Best@it”, and “Bad Muf*cker Pt. 2”. Us has outstanding Ant instrumentals too, as always – with the incorporation of a lot more live instrumentation this time around. Following Shadows On The Sun (2003) and The Undisputed Truth (2007), Us is another Brother Ali sure shot, and of 2009’s best releases.
10. Marco Polo & Torae – Double Barrel
Traditional, Golden Age flavored, East Coast boom-bap Hip Hop. No ringtone pop-rap garbage on this album. With Marco Polo on the boards and dope emcee Torae on the mic, this is an album real heads will love. Double Barrel was preceded by Marco Polo’s critically well-received debut album Port Authority (2007), and Torae’s inaugural release Daily Conversation(2008) on which Polo has produced three tracks.
Standouts aplenty on Double Barrel, most noteworthy the title track, “Lifetime” (with a great hook and DJ Revolution absolutely killing it on the turntables), and “Hold Up” which features legends Sean Price and Masta Ace. If you’re into real Hip Hop and somehow missed this gem, go cop it now & enjoy!
11. Finale – A Pipe Dream And A Promise
In Detroit’s post-Dilla world, Finale deserves a mention alongside the likes of Apollo Brown, Black Milk, Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9″, Guilty Simpson, Esham, and of course Eminem as a top representative of D-town’s Hip Hop scene.
Finale’s wordplay on his independently released debut album A Pipe Dream And A Promise is simply CRAZY. Finale shows of complex internal rhyme schemes and multi-syllabic rhyming combined with a distinctive flow (reminiscent of R.A. The Rugged Man) and razor-sharp delivery – this guy is a true lyricist and a verbal acrobat. With beats provided by J-Dilla, Black Milk, and Nottz (among others), the production is top-notch too – this album really is a must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop fan.
12. Killah Priest – Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic)
Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) is Killah Priest’s 8th solo album and the most underrated album in his vast discography. Killah Priest’s metaphysical deep and thought-provoking lyrics are not for everybody, but those who are in tune with Killah Priest’s particular style will love this album. With 23 songs on Elizabeth and at over 77 minutes of playing time, this is another LONG Killah Priest album but it holds hardly any filler material. There are no features and all production is handled by DJ Woool, which makes for a super consistent presentation that is able to keep attention despite its length. Elizabeth is a quality listen – an experience with a lot of replay value and deep lyricism that will have you coming back for more.
13. People Under The Stairs – Carried Away
Carried Away is the seventh studio album by the unsung Los Angeles duo People Under The Stairs. Like most of their other albums, Carried Away is a great experience, tailormade for Hip Hop traditionalists – a presentation of entertaining rhymes and dope beats dotted with well-placed samples, all without guest producers or rappers. This album continues the tradition of the PUTS’ brand of independent, organic Hip Hop, created by two talented artists who are the definition of the art form. Carried Away is another PUTS album to treasure.
14. Tech N9ne - K.O.D.
K.O.D. (King Of Darkness) is Tech N9ne’s second release of 2009 after the collaboration filled Sickology 101. K.O.D. is sort of a concept album, divided into three acts: Anger, Madness, and The Hole – telling the story of Tech N9ne as the “King of Darkness”. The album features guest appearances from Three 6 Mafia, Brotha Lynch Hung, King Gordy, Kutt Calhoun, Krizz Kaliko, and Big Scoob, among others.
This is arguably Tech’s darkest and most emotional album, built on him dealing with his mother’s failing health and the repercussions on his own life, plus other deeply personal subject matter. The stylish and haunting instrumentals as well as Tech’s flows, rhythms, and lyrics fully engage and manage to sustain interest all the way through this LONG 78-minute album. K.O.D. is our favorite Tech N9ne album, alongside Anghellic (2001).
15. Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon: The End Of Day
Man On The Moon: The End of Day is the debut studio album by Cleveland-native Kid Cudi. Man On The Moon: The End Of Day plays like a concept album, and is narrated by Common. The album follows the release of his first mixtape A Kid Named Cudi (2008) and is the first installment of the Man on the Moon trilogy. Production was handled by several high-profile record producers, including Kanye West and No I.D., among others.
Man On The Moon: The End of Day is a genre-bending piece of music, with a more eclectic musical feel to it than ‘regular’ Hip Hop has. Kid Cudi’s singing rap style is engaging, the personal lyrics and moody subject matter are immersive, and the haunting production is phenomenal. The album has a spacey, atmospheric vibe that fuses psychedelic, indie pop, R&B, electronica, and rock styles – typified by infectious melodies, sparse arrangements, experimental structures, and lush beats laced with shuddering keyboards, brooding synths, syncopated drums, sinister strings, and light pianos.
Man On The Moon: The End Of Day is an immersive experience, to be taken in in single sittings – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, even if individual songs like “My World”, “Day n Nite”, Sky Might Fall”, “Alive (Nightmare)”, “Cudi Zone”, “Make Her Say”, “Pursuit Of Happiness”, and “Up, Up And Away” are all great. Man On The Moon: The End of Day is a masterpiece and a modern classic.
16. Oddisee – Mental Liberation
While Washington DC’s Oddisee already had one of the best albums of this year with Diamond District’s In The Ruff, his second solo album Mental Liberation is a top album of 2009 as well. The whole album is masterfully produced by Oddisee himself, and he holds his own as an emcee too. The album also features contributions from LMNO, Hassaan Mackey, Bilal Salaam, Dudley Perkins, Prince Po, yU, Kenn Starr, Silent Knight, XO, J-Live, Stik Figa, Trek Life, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Rapper Big Pooh, Black Milk, DJ Romes, DJ Clear, MED, Invincible, and Finale. Mental Liberation is a great album that is not talked about nearly enough.
(Two album covers circulate, we like this one better than the original one.)
17. The Large Professor – The LP
The LP is the debut solo album of legendary producer/emcee Large Professor. It was released officially in 2009, after being shelved in 1996 by Geffen Records. “The Mad Scientist” and “I Juswannachill” were released as singles prior to the anticipated release, and a bootleg was circulated. In 2002, Large Professor regained the rights to the recordings and released the album as a promo-only CD. In 2009, a new, extended version of The LP was finally released officially. Because the 2009 edition is different from the 1996 bootleg and 2002 promo version, it is included here, even if it’s not all new music.
18. Qwel & Maker – So Be It
19. O.C. & A.G. – Oasis
Oasis offers an hour of Hip Hop excellence from the legendary D.I.T.C. crew. With beats from E-Blaze, Showbiz, and Lord Finesse and nothing but dope rhymes from O.C. and A.G. Even though this album came out in 2009, it sounds like the classic 90s NYC Hip Hop. Strong beats plus great lyrics and nice flows from both emcees – Oasis is FIRE.
20. Souls Of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge
Souls Of Mischief’s best album since their classic 1993 debut ’93 Til Infinity.
21. Paten Locke – Super Ramen Rocketship
22. Eminem – Relapse
Eminem is one the biggest names in Hip Hop ever, with one absolute classic – The Marschall Matters LP (2000) – on his name, and two albums that come close enough: The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Eminem Show (2002). The rest of his catalog is more miss than hit, though. Even if Eminem’s lyrical abilities are never in question, most of his other albums are usually plagued by weak beats, bad features, and corny hooks. That said, Eminem tends to be over-hated by a lot of people, because his output besides his three classics is not all bad.
Relapse is an example of an Eminem album that received much more hate than it deserved. There are no misplaced popstar features here, the hooks are mostly OK, as are the beats. The dark, horrorcore concept works and Em’s pen game and lyrical skill are unbeatable. Relapse is a great album, and easily Eminem’s best behind the three classics.
23. Toki Wright – A Different Mirror
Minneapolis artist Toki Wright came up as an opening act for Brother Ali and as his hypeman. A Different Mirror is his official solo debut on Rhymesayers and the first installment of the Rhymesayers Spotlight Series. Toki Wright has a good voice with a smooth melodic flow, and his intelligent lyrics are worth listening to. The production is competent enough, but a bit spotty and forgettable here and there – Wright deserved better beats. But even if the album could have been better beats-wise, A Different Mirror is a must for fans of smooth boom-bap and conscious lyrical content.
24. DOOM – Born Like This
Born Like This may not be as great or iconic as DOOM’s best works, but it still is pretty great. Lots of dope tracks on Born Like This: “Ballskin”, “Yessir!” (with Raekwon), “Lightworks” (with J Dilla), “Still Dope” (with Empress Starhh), and “Absolutely” (with Madlib) all are dope MF DOOM joints, while “That’s That” and especially the J Dilla produced “Gazzilion Ear” are among MF DOOM’s best songs ever. Messy mixing and sequencing, along with a couple of weaker tracks and questionable choices – like the posse cut “Supervillainz” with its terrible beat and autotune-use, and the controversial “Batty Boyz” (is it nothing more than dumb juvenile humor, or is it intentionally homophobic?) – bring Born Like This down a couple of notches when compared to DOOM’s earlier masterpieces. All in all, though, this is another solid DOOM effort.
25. Mr. Lif – I Heard It Today
26. Tanya Morgan – Brooklynati
27. Superstar Quamallah – Invisible Man
Brooklyn-born, California-based emcee, DJ, and producer Superstar Quamallah’s Invisible Man is one of the most slept-on albums released in 2009. Superstar Quamallah’s deep and soothing voice complements the summertime vibes projected by the smooth beats and the sharp nostalgia-inducing samples and vocal scratches. “We Got Plots”, “88 Soul” and especially the single “California Dreamin’” are highlights, but the strength of Invisible Man is its consistency – this is 50 minutes of laidback, jazzy boom-bap Hip Hop reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, and in some parts of Gang Starr even. Invisible Man is a memorable album with nothing but dope beats and dope bars – do yourself a favor and check this album if you’ve slept on it up to now.
28. Antipop Consortium – Fluorescent Black
Antipop Consortium is a group that has been at the forefront of left-field Hip Hop since the late 1990s, and the innovative Fluorescent Black is one of their strongest projects. Stream-of-consciousness lyrics and an effective blend of electronic and industrial beats make for an experimental but accessible enough album that deserves more recognition than it received upon its release.
29. Slaughterhouse – Slaughterhouse
30. Illogic – Diabolical Fun
31. Ace & Edo – Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment is a collaborative album from legendary emcees Masta Ace and Edo G. Ignored by critics and fans alike, there is plenty to like on this album. Ace and Edo confidently drop their bars over vintage Hip Hop beats, and other Hip Hop alumni like KRS-One, De La Soul’s Posdnuos and Large Pro bring some extra flavor to the table with dope guest verses.
Sure, this isn’t a classic Disposable Arts or A Long Hot Summer, but there are some memorable tracks here. “A’s &E’s”, “Ei8ht Is Enough”, “Pass The Mic”, “Good Music”, the personal “Reminds Me” and “Little Young” (where Ace and Edo cleverly take on all the rappers with Lil’ or Young in front of their names) are all dope tracks. Only the last track (the wack “Dancing Like A White Girl”) should have been left off the album, but overall this is more than a solid Hip Hop album by two all-time greats, an album that is worth checking out.
32. Ugly Duckling – Audacity
Audacity is Ugly Duckling’s fourth studio album. Audacity is a tad darker than other Ugly Duckling projects, but it’s another solid UD album that will delight Hip Hop traditionalists.
33. La Coka Nostra – A Brand You Can Trust
34. KRS-One & Buckshot – Survival Skills
With guests ranging from Mary J. Blige, Slug Of Atmosphere, K’Naan, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Immortal Technique, Melanie Fiona, Naledge of Kidz In The Hall, Sean Price, Geo of Blue Scholars and Smif N Wessun, and production from Havoc of Mobb Deep, 9th Wonder, Black Milk, Ill Mind, Coptic, Moss, Nottz, Marco Polo Survival Skills incredibly manages to maintain of cohesive sound throughout.
But because of the overabundance of guests, it feels more like a compilation album, not like a KRS-One – Buckshot collaboration. As good as all the guests are, this is a clear case of less is more: KRS and Buckshot are two excellent emcees, and the album would have benefitted from more interplay between the two main characters and less clutter by guests. That said, the album contains enough dope and memorable tracks to deserve a place in the record collection of those who appreciate real Hip Hop.
35. Five O’Clock Shadowboxers – The Slow Twilight
36. Black Noise – The Black Noise LP
37. Curren$y – This Aint No Mixtape
38. Jay Z – The Blueprint 3
Far from Jay-Z’s effort, but memorable if only because of the two excellent monster-pop hits “Run This Town” (with Kanye West and Rihanna) and “Empire State Of Mind” (with Alicia Keys).
39. Blaq Poet – Tha Blaqprint
Blaq Poet is a Hip Hop veteran who never really got wide recognition. He was first heard as a teenager on the 1987 track “Beat You Down” from the Bridge Wars, a diss song towards KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions. In 1991, Poet and DJ Hot Day formed a duo called PHD (Poet & Hot Day) and released their debut album, Without Warning on Tuff City Records. In 1996 they parted ways due to being unable to find another record label. Poet went on to team up with KL, Hostyle, and Solo, creating the group Screwball. They released two albums and a compilation together before Poet went solo with the street album Rewind: Deja Screw, released in 2006. The album featured production from DJ Premier amongst others. Poet, later on, signed to DJ Premier’s Year Round Record label and released his second album, Tha Blaqprint in 2009.
Tha Blaqprint features guest appearances by the also Year Round Records signed group NYGz and Nick Javas, N.O.R.E., Imani Montana, Lil’ Fame from M.O.P., and the late Screwball member KL. Blaq Poet flexes his veteran lyrical skills, and let’s loose a barrage of gritty street narratives and some more introspective reflections over 15 solid tracks. DJ Premier, who provides 13 of the 15 beats, does what he does better than anyone: laying down atmospheric strings and loops, combined with heavy drums and his trademark scratched-up hooks. Tha Blaqprint is a fine street-hop banger from start to finish and an essential album for DJ Premier fans at the least.
40. Apathy – Wanna Snuggle?
- Royce Da 5’9″ – Street Hop
- B-Real – Smoke N Mirrors
- Cyne – Water For Mars
- Emdemic – Terminal Illest
- Tone Spliff – Authentic
- UGK – UGK 4 Life
- Sha Stimuli – My Soul To Keep
- Sick Jacken – Stray Bullets
- Camp Lo – Another Heist
- Killah Priest – The Exorcist
- Willie Isz – Georgiavania
- RA EL – Noir World
- Rita J – Artist Workshop
- D.Black – Ali’Yah
- Zion I – The Takeover
- Prop Dylan – Crossing The Bridge
- Rapper Big Pooh – The Delightful Bars
- Serengeti & Polyphonic – Terradactyl
- Danny! – Where Is Danny?
- Busdriver – Jhelli Beam
- Dälek – Gutter Tactics
- Sole & The Skyrider Band – Plastique
- Havoc – Hidden Files
- Snowgoons – The Trojan Horse
- The Alchemist – Chemical Warfare
- Gift Of Gab – Escape 2 Mars
- C-Rayz Walz – Who the F%@k Are You?
- Rasco – Global Threat
- Cormega – Born And Raised
- Tha Connection – Love Royale
- Abstract Rude - Rejuvenation
- J.R. & PH7 – The Standard LP
- Clipse – Til The Casket Drops
- Oh No – Oh No vs. Now-Again
- Esoteric – Saving Seamus Ryan
- Blame One – Days Chasing Days
- Cage – Depart From Me
- Nine - Quinine
- Dynas – The Apartment
- Mr. SOS – How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
- Elevated Ruffians – The Magnificent Soul LP
- The Doppelgangaz – 2012: The New Beginning
- Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind – Decalogue
- Funkdoobiest – The Golden B-Boys
- Del The Funky Homosapien & Tame One – Parallel Uni-verses
- Del The Funky Homosapien – Funk Man: The Stimulus Package
- Del The Funky Homosapien – Automatik Statik
- Kam Moye aka Supastition – Splitting Image
- Sene & Blu – A Day Late & A Dollar Short
- Sleep – Hesitation Wounds
- Snoop Dogg – Malice n Wonderland
- Kurupt & DJ Quik – BlaQKout
- Rakim – The Seventh Seal
- M.O.P. – Foundation
- Shyheim – Disrespectfully Speaking
- Sadat X – Brand New Bein’
- AZ – Legendary
- Jadakiss – The Last Kiss
- Grand Puba – Retroactive
- Beanie Sigel – The Broad Street Bully
- Capone-N-Noreaga – Channel 10
- Cappadonna – Slang Prostitution
- Freeway – Philadelphia Freeway 2
- Sheek Louch – Life On D-Block
- Method Man & Redman – Blackout! 2
- Busta Rhymes – Back On My B.S.
- U-God – Dopium
- Ghostface Killah – Ghostdini: Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City
- Joe Budden – Padded Room
- Jim Jones – Pray IV Reign
- Hopsin – Gazing At The Moonlight
- Tech N9ne – Sickology 101
- Krizz Kaliko – Genius
- Grandmaster Flash – The Bridge: Concept Of A Culture
- Aceyalone – Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones
- Sol.Illaquists Of Sound – No More Heroes
- Crown City Rockers – The Day After Forever
- Dudley Perkins – Holy Smokes
- Blakroc – Blakroc
- Wale – Attention Deficit
- Q-Tip – Kamaal The Abstract
- K’naan – Troubadour
- k-os – Yes!