AOL Music The history of rappers and video games is a long and storied one.…
- Posted by Dave Morris
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10. Nicki Minaj, 'Pink Friday' (Young Money/ Universal Motown)
Easily the most talked-about MC of the year, Young Money's Barbie Girl switched up so many flows we lost track of what her real accent is. "I'm the best now/Everybody should invest now/Soccer moms should organize a pep rally." When she wins over the soccer moms, get out of the way – they might be the only women on earth tougher than Nicki herself. After a dazzling year of guest verses, she padded out bangers like 'Roman's Revenge' and 'Blazin'' with lesser cuts ('Your Love' with its eyeroll-inducing Annie Lennox sample). Still, there's plenty here to have you hollering 'TGIF!'
9. Marco Polo, 'The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo' (Duck Down)
Toronto-raised, New York–based producer Marco Polo has gone from strength to strength. Following his 2007 Rawkus Records debut and last year's feted album collabo with Torae, 'Double Barrel,' the beatsmith dropped two discs in 2010: 'The eXXecution,' with Ruste Juxx, and this, his solo album, which has the best joints of 'em all. One taste of 'Buggin Out,' with D-Story and Bad Seed channeling Meth and Red in their heyday, and you'll be Stupe-fied.
8. Wiz Khalifah, 'Kush and Orange Juice' (mixtape)
If you don't know what a paper plane is, or what "Taylor Gang or kill yourself" means, you probably spent the year under a rock. The kids heart Wiz Khalifa, Pittsburgh's proudest son, and a weed bust or two aren't going to slow his rise. The heavily tattooed star's got a new deal, a new single ('Black and Yellow') and an already-legendary mixtape that's dope in both senses of the word. For those who don't smoke, his woodblock melodies and languid rhymes will make you feel like you just inhaled a cloud of Amsterdam's finest.
7. Dessa, 'A Badly Broken Code' (Doomtree)
Hip-hop has produced countless unique voices from Afrika Bambaataa to Busta Rhymes. Add Dessa, a Minneapolis MC affiliated with P.O.S.' Doomtree crew, to that list. Her debut, 'A Badly Broken Code,' scrambles the signals MCs send to let everyone know they're down -- she sings as much as raps; doesn't talk street life -- but with the lyrical precision exhibited on songs like 'Dutch,' a personality emerges as vividly defined as any of the greats. Not to mention she's got a wickedly salty wit. Look out, Gaga: "I don't need a poker face/Open book, smoking gun."
6. Jay Electronica, 'Victory' (mixtape)
If this were a singles list, there wouldn't be much debate over the top spot. The grandiose 'Exhibit C' was everywhere this year, and anticipation is even higher for the New Orleans phenom's studio debut than it was for Drake's. In the meantime, this mixtape lets him lyrically rip '90s-sounding beats with references to the classics, but it's Electronica's commitment to his faith and his imagination that put him above the competition: "Sucker MCs should call me "sire"/I won't stop rockin' till the moon retire/Till the prophecy's fulfilled and the Earth catch fire."
5. Black Milk, 'Album of the Year' (Decon/ Fat Beats)
Go ahead and chuckle at 'Album of the Year' getting a No. 5 ranking, but the title of Black Milk's fourth LP also refers to the fact that the 12 months between 'Tronic' and 'Year' were, according to the Detroit producer/MC, the hardest he's ever faced, due to personal tragedies. The silver lining is in full effect, though; not only are Milk's songs moving testaments to perseverance ('Over Again'), the beats still slam like car doors.
4. Bun B, 'Trill O.G.' (Rap-A-Lot)
Is it enough to be anointed Southern rap royalty, have a dozen major figures from 2Pac to T-Pain as guest stars and tracks with a sweeping, larger-than-life quality reminiscent of a Broadway show? Does that guarantee you a great album? Probably not, which is why it's a good thing that Bun B is one of the game's most precise, detail-oriented and articulate rappers. 'Trill O.G.' isn't thematically ambitious, but on a rhyme-by-rhyme basis alone (even Drake goes in on 'Put It Down') the U.G.K. spitter's third solo disc stands taller than a Texan's ten-gallon hat.
Freeway apparently couldn't bring himself to pull a Rick Ross and subsume his mic skills in order to go pop. That partly explains why the Philly Freezer's latest seminar in wax poetics -- a collaboration with boom-bap-loving Seattle beatmaker Jake One -- came out on Minneapolis indie Rhymesayers instead of Freeway's former home at Def Jam. Seriously, major labels, if you can't make a hit out of a take-no-prisoners joint like 'One Thing,' you're in the wrong damn business. Don't be mad, UPS is hiring.
2. Kayne West, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
"I know damn well y'all feelin' this s---." True, but we tried to stay away -- after the fan-base-alienating mess of Kayne's last album, '808s and Heartbreak,' and another round of awards show calamity, even gossip addicts were saying no mas. Still, for all Yeezy's foolishness, orchestra- and piano-laced beats like 'All of the Lights' found him reinventing the production game for the umpteenth time. Love him or hate him, nobody paints a more evocative picture of the lonely view from inside fame's Ivory Tower ('Hell of a Life').
Rammed from tip to tail with boom-shake-the-room bangers ('General Patton,' 'Shutterbugg' and witching-hour musings 'Fo Yo Sorrows'), the OutKast MC's long-delayed solo set was full of the sharp-tongued rhyming and the filthy gags (listen for the definition of a David Blaine, a sex position your partner definitely won't want to try) that made the world fall in love with rap in the first place. Today's listeners need schooling in the Southern tradition of lyrical MCing, down-home charm and authentic swagger, and Sir Lucious belongs at the top of the syllabus.