So here we go. In no particular order (because I kinda hate the year-end-ranking thing):
Bizzle – The Messenger: Volume 2
Bizzle certainly made a mark in 2010 with his “Explaining to Do” Jay-Z shot from The Messenger: Volume 1. But I believe that The Messenger: Volume 2 really allowed him to shine and show that he was capable of crafting more than just songs addressed to celebrities.
On V2 he was also assisted by a handful of respected Christian rappers who had reached out to and clicked with him when the publicity storm hit shore. It’s a secular remake style offering, but a good one (witness Bizzle, Sevin, and KamBINO stomp on that stellar “Beamer, Benz, or Bently” beat.) You’ll also get a little bit more insight into the post-Jay-Z era (“From the Horse’s Mouth”) and an original cut like “Legal Money” with Von Won and Dre Murray.
Interested listeners can cop the free download here.
Braille – Weapon Aid
As I noted in April, Weapon Aid has a somber-but-hopeful mood which is surprising, yet expected, from a follower of Jesus who has experienced a mass of emotional turmoil the past few years.
Braille has spoken publicly about his father’s death, his painful divorce, moving from state to state, and caring for his young daughter. Add in the, then recent, demise of his Hip Hop is Music company and the public diss from a former labelmate and you’ve got a justifiable recipe for depression. Still, his lyrics convey an air of ultimate trust and rescue through Christ the King.
They process the concerns of a “Blessed Man,” admit periods of doubt, darkness, and defeat, but never lash out. Instead, Braille seems to seize the opportunity for self-examination.
On record, betrayal never leads to bitterness. This is the route we wish RedCloud would have taken.
Weapon Aid is heart-sleeve hip hop in the emotional vein of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. I’m guessing that five to ten years from now we’ll look back on this dark period in Christian hip hop and say that this album was a healing catharsis for us all.
This is another great album you can download for free here.
Playdough – Writer Dye
Playdough has always impressed me on the mic but Writer Dye definitely took it up a few notches. A large part of it has to do with the hipster-cool concept – for this project the MC took lyrics from other bands and genres (including The White Stripes, Kings of Leon, The Violent Femmes, and Nirvana) and turned them into hip-hop songs.
The lifts aren’t always obvious and often depend on the depth of your own listening experience, but still, it’s quite a feat. Dude’s got a freestyle vibe on nearly every song that reminds me of an X Games snowboarder gliding from topic to topic and he infuses just about every rhyme with a Scripture story, theme, or reference.
And of course, there’s the ill cover image. What more can you ask for?
To download this project, name your price here.
If you dig it, you may also want to read two of my Q&A sessions with Playdough here:
5 Questions with Playdough
Q & A: Playdough Talks Writer Dye, Battle Rapping, and White Rappers
Sho Baraka – Lions and Liars
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a big Sho Baraka fan before, but I mos def am now. My appetite was mostly whet by Reach Records’ excellent advance promo which included the lion character, teaser music videos, and deluxe package options.
What I really appreciated was that L&L showed such a breadth of topics, from manhood to loving your wife to issues of social justice, and of course, the supremacy of Jesus the Christ.
How much did I cut for Lions and Liars? I bought a copy for my pastor to introduce him to Christian hip hop. ‘Nuff said.
Buy it now from Reach Records
Theory Hazit and Toni Shift - Modern Marvels
In some circles, this joker flew under the radar but it needs to be top shelf. Theo’s an impressive producer, but my man can rhyme as well. I was impressed by the brave nature of two songs in particular – “Concealed Sorrow” and “Marvelust.”
“Concealed Sorrow” is a gut-wrenching tale of a gay kid who faces bullies on every front and contemplates taking his own life. Mind you, this track was recorded and released before this became one of 2010’s biggest news stories.
Meanwhile, “Marvelust” shares the story of a Christian father in a blended family. The narrator is brutally honest about his own failings to his wife, kids, and Lord but still expresses hope and trust in his Savior.
Those two tracks are daring enough for any hip hop artist, much less one who claims to follow Christ. The rest of the album is just as good, but even if it were just mediocre, I probably still would have listed Modern Marvels here on the strength of “Concealed Sorrow” and “Marvelust.”
Buy it now from Illect Recordings
So there you have it, five of the albums I considered to be the best of 2010. Three of them are being offered as free downloads by the artists so don’t blame me if you’re still spinning an empty iPod.
Related: Top 5 CHH Releases of 2009