Best of 2010: Chul Gugich’s Top 10 AlbumsPosted by Chul Gugich
The problem with a year consisting of 12 months, is that by the 365th day one has had nearly the same amount of time to forget all of the music that has come before it. Hence the problem with actualizing a Top 10 list in the haste this one may or may not have been written in. Anyway, here goes nothing:
10. Thank Me Later – Drake
The guilty pleasure rap album of the year is also sneakily one of pop music’s smartest. By all accounts, Drake is a likable dude and perhaps rap’s most accessible personality. He never quite looks believable in his videos — or sounds that way in his music, for that matter — which may be his secret ace-in-the-hole. Drake is essentially a kid playing dress-up, and on tracks like “Fireworks,” where even the rapper can’t seem to believe any of this fame stuff is happening, he seems to know it. Drake’s ultimate weapon is not his punchline flow but his self-awareness, and it’s earned him millions of fans who will ride out with him until his 15 minutes are up.
9. Gravity - Def Dee & La
The best Seattle hip-hop album of 2010 was also the one that sounded the least like Seattle hip-hop. Producer Def Dee and emcee La captured the essence of the early to mid 90’s New York sound on Gravity. With nods to Mobb Deep, Nas and Boot Camp Clik, the duo connected dots between two vastly different musical regions. With a hip-hop movement as insular as Seattle’s, a well-crafted Golden Era revivalist album like this is important because it reminds local heads of where our rap DNA originated.
8. Revolutions Per Minute – Reflection Eternal
Talib Kweli has grabbed the long competed-for title of “Most Widely Beloved Pseudo-Underground Rapper” from the likes of Mos Def (too erratic), Q-Tip (too R&B) and Common (just not very good). Revolutions Per Minute brought great satisfaction to Kweli fans who prefer his rhymes laced strictly with DJ Hi-Tek’s beats. RPM is just a solid album from start to finish with a little bit of everything for everyone, from the stripped-down beat and expert lyricism of “City Playgrounds” to the soul inflected “Ends” (featuring Bilal).
7. Sit Down, Man – Das Racist
The three members of Das Racist are the most dangerous kind of satirists: ones who are smarter and better at their craft than virtually all of the people they are satirizing. Sit Down, Man was the crew’s second mixtape of 2010 and it firmly established the trio as underground hip-hop’s official court jesters. The Sabzi produced “All Tan Everything” was the best track to creep-in-the-ride to, but the Boi-1da crafted “Hahahaha Jk?” best embodied the listeners’ fundamental dilemma with Das Racist: are these cats serious?
6. Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
Plastic Beach is the album that fans and critics of Gorillaz knew the band was capable of making. Its first two LP’s were too uneven, musically and conceptually, to be taken for more than novelty acts. Here, Gorillaz has made a concept album that doesn’t deviate from its mission of unapologetic catchiness and the advancement of a not-so-subversive sociopolitical message. Plastic Beach takes the notion of a world degrading physically and spiritually and translates it into electro-pop art that swirls and thumps for a full 16 tracks. It resonates in both immediate and enduring ways — the way great pop music should.
5. OJ Simpson – Guilty Simpson
The star of any album on which Madlib handles the entire production is the producer himself, that’s just a given. Still, Guilty Simpson (the man with the best emcee name in the game) is more than just the voice on this massive 24-track undertaking. GS is a cross between Beanie Sigel and MF Doom: a street-oriented thug brawler with the soul of a backpacker. His gruff delivery and top-of-the-dome rhymes are the figurative cream in Madlib’s coffee. These beats aren’t commodities that can be traded easily between lyricists, which is why OJ Simpson could not exist without the sum of its two parts. The one DJ/one emcee axiom is something Madlib understands better than any hip-hop composer working today and it’s why his fully-helmed production efforts are so overwhelmingly better than everyone else’s.
4. The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae
There are so many great ideas on The ArchAndroid that the massive amount of creativity nearly threatens to distill the album down to the point of inaccessibility. It’s overly long at 19 tracks and Janelle Monae’s voice isn’t powerful enough to singularly support the weight of such length. No matter, though. The dynamism of Monae’s personality and her commitment in trying to the point of exhausting all creative resources are what fuel ArchAndroid, the best R&B/soul album of 2010.
3. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty – Big Boi
Big Boi’s long-delayed solo debut isn’t just a placeholder until the next Outkast album comes along, it’s the album Outkast’s fans (particularly the ones who prefer the group’s earlier straight-forward hip-hop iteration) wish the crew had made together sooner. It slaps, booms, creeps, and funks along in just as many imaginative ways than any Outkast record, ever. And on the album standout, “Shutterbugg,” Big Boi packs more soul and innovation into a single track than most rappers do in their entire albums. For this critic, there was even a surprise waiting at the end of Sir Lucious Left Foot: Andre 3000’s presence wasn’t even missed. In fact, he’d nearly been forgotten.
2. How I Got Over – The Roots
Upon hearing that the new Roots album would supposedly feature some of indie rock’s most ubiquitous flavors of the month (Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, et al), skepticism abounded in some hip-hop circles. Could it be ?uestlove and company had been using their Late Night post to network too far out of bounds for rap heads’ comfort level? For the first time, a dubious ear was being lent to the world’s most reliable hip-hop group on the eve of How I Got Over’s release. Heads were quick to rest easy, however, as the group’s ninth full-length studio album turned out to be its best since Things Fall Apart. Over featured a re-focused Black Thought (who, along with ?uestlove, is one of the band’s two indispensable components) and the most cogent collection of tracks The Roots have released, maybe ever.
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Kanye West has forced music critics into a corner. It’s now impossible to consider his music without also taking into consideration his cult-of-personality. The last pop artists to accomplish that? Madonna and, you guessed it, Michael Jackson. To consider whether or not Kanye is shrewd enough to do this through manipulation and media machinations isn’t really the point. Everyone has an opinion of the artist now, which is how we’ve gotten to a place where we’re comfortable with the systematic dissection of his every word and movement. Pretty much since the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” incident, we’ve seen fit to splay the man out, pointing and nodding interestedly at his every imperfection. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the musical culmination of that dissection. And the real kick of it: Kanye’s getting everything he could ever have wanted. People with low self-esteem want nothing more than to be affirmed, constantly. And judging by his actions in public Kanye West is a man with severely low self-esteem. So here it is, then: another Perfect 10 for his mantle. A relationship between listener and musician has perhaps never been more co-dependent than this. Kanye can sleep at night knowing he’s revered. And we listeners and critics can take solace in the fact that we’ll continue to be warmed by his brilliance. For it is us, ultimately, that are fueling his creative fire.