Monday, December 29, 2008

The Top 20 Baltimore Hip Hop Releases of 2008

Y'know, it's funny. I've been running this site for over 4 years now, and hearing more and more Baltimore rap every year that I do it, and yet every year I feel less and less qualified to let my opinion be the end-all-be-all that some people treat it as. There's simply too much music, too much variety coming out of this scene for any one person to really fairly judge, but if I'm gonna be the only person that attempts to hear all or most of it, I might as well throw in my two cents, even as I encourage any and all other critics and bloggers to cover this stuff from a different perspective. So I make no claims to objective truth with this list; this is totally my taste, my opinion. I tried to do a poll a couple years ago, but that didn't really pan out and I'm kind of soured on the idea now, but if anyone wants to post their top 10, top 5, whatever in the comments, or e-mail them to me, I'd love to post those if I get enough of a response.

The last two years I did top 50 lists, but this year I decided to scale down to 20, even though I heard more stuff, just because I really wanted to emphasize the cream of the crop, and also because a lot of cats put out boring garbage this year. That's not to insult everyone that isn't on this list, because there were definitely some good releases that didn't quite make the cut, and also some great singles and tracks that didn't really fit into the list anywhere, but I felt the need to be more selective this time. Government Names will return to daily posting sometime in January, probably not for another week or two.

1. 410 Pharaohs - 410 Funk (Strictly Rhythm/Ill Friction)
This list is not really about club music, but the Labtekwon/DJ Booman/Jimmy Jones club/rap masterpiece really deserves to be at the top of this list, as well as the City Paper top 10, anyway, because it is a historic moment for Baltimore hip hop in general.
410 Pharaohs - “Big Girls” (mp3)

2. Brown F.I.S.H. - Bootleg III: F.I.S.H. & Friends... The Mixtape
This isn't really an album or a mixtape, just an odds & sods collection of remixes and collaborations that the F.I.S.H. recorded in the past few years, but it's so full of great music that it's the equal of any album, in my opinion.
Brown F.I.S.H. f/ Jeneba Suma & Jahli of Golden Seal - “Cheatin' (It Ain't Cheatin' Unless U Caught)” (mp3)

3. various artists - Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks from The Wire (Nonesuch Records)
There's a couple club tracks on this, and a couple non-hip hop tracks, but this is still more than half local hip hop, and considering how much mileage Baltimore rappers have gotten from associating themselves with The Wire over the past few years, I thought it was pretty amazing that an official soundtrack of the show came out with songs by Ogun, Bossman, Mullyman, Tyree Colion and others. It was really one of the highlights of my year that I got thanked in the liner notes for this album, and had even a small role in it coming together.
The Get ‘em Mamis feat. L. Cash - “When You See Us” (mp3)

4. The Pornstars - Dirty Work (Pornstar Productions/Bird City Entertainment)
A couple MC/producers that are nicer on the tracks than on the mic, but got enough personality and humor that you aren’t sitting around wishing they just sold the beats to someone else. These dudes could be, like, Baltimore’s answer to the Beatnuts. I can bump this album all fucking day, front to back.
The Pornstars f/ Ckrisis & Mell - “Bird City” (mp3)

5. Bear - All We Got Is Us 2008 edition (For The People Entertainment)
For The People Entertainment has really been a unique and fertile label in the past couple years, and in my opinion this is their most complete and enjoyable release to date, although this year's Cutthroat album comes in a close 2nd.
Bear - “Live Through Time” (mp3)

6. E Major - Majority Rules (Under Sound Music)
Another one that I helped get into the City Paper top 10, so I won't say much more about than I already said there, but I feel like he really did everything right with this project, from the great release party show to the videos to making the whole thing available for free online, he really was smart about how he worked this project and got his buzz up.
E Major - “Don’t Worry” (mp3)

7. PenDragon - I Got Hits 4 Cheap: Draggy Baby Edition (Team Arson)
It's funny, Drag is one of these guys that gets on my nerves for calling himself the "king" of the city and this and that, but he also gets my respect for totally watching everyone's moves and sizing up the competition (he's always sending me links to other people's videos and music before know about them). And really between his production skills, and the heart and intelligence and humor that come across in his music, he has as much of a chance at making a run at the title as anyone these days, in my opinion. Not that I think there is a title, or that there should be.
PenDragon - “How Does It Feel” (mp3)

8. Ab Rock - The Mid Midlife Crisis (Rockmics Entertainment)
Maybe it's just because they did the release party together, and guested on each other's albums, but I really mentally group this along with the E Major record, and they're both really good examples of mature 'conscious' rap albums that are actually fun and laid back.
Ab Rock - “The Incredible” (mp3)

9. Tha Profitt - Concept Art (Profitt Productions)
Bmore's #1 white boy really went in on this one, coming up with creative concepts for every song and showing improvement as an MC.
Tha Profitt - “Fast & Furious” (mp3)

10. 80'z Boys - The 80'z Made Me
Most of the time when rappers boast about being born in the ‘80s, I feel almost like they’re making excuses for their music being inferior to the generations before them. But these guys pretty much just make dope music that doesn’t feel too tied to any particular age or era. I got this early in the year and I’m pretty sure it was released before 2008, but it’s still by far one of the best things I heard in Baltimore this year.
80’z Boys - “The 80'z Made Me” (mp3)

11. Skarr Akbar - The Epidemic (DNA/Akbar Enterprize/U-Turn Ent./Round Table Music Group)
Another year, another ton of new music from Skarr, but even as he was churning out radio singles and collaborations, he put out a 'street album' that ranked up there as one of his most consistent efforts to date.
Skarr Akbar - “If I Should Die” (mp3)

12. Profound - Carpe Diem (Real On Purpose Entertainment)
After years of dwelling in Ogun's shadow, Profound came out swinging this year and established himself as one of Baltimore's punchline masters.
Profound - “What You Gonna Do!?” (mp3)

13. Greenspan - Got Green? (Federal Reserve Music Group)
I knew this guy was a serious talent from the first couple times I saw him live, and I was not disappointed by his debut full-length release.
Greenspan - “Mt. Rockmore” (mp3)

14. D.O.G. - G Pack Music (7 Entertainment/Invisible Set Entertainment)
On the same tip as the 410 Pharaohs record, a really inspired union of rapping and Baltimore club, stretched out to album length. If he put this out right after "Ryda Gyrl" it could've been huge.
D.O.G. - “Louder” (mp3)

15. Soul Cannon - Kaboom (Soul Cannon/Morphius Records)
Soul Cannon might be kinda slept on in the hip hop scene, just because they're a band and mainly play rock clubs, but they really made one of the best conscious rap albums in the city this year.
Soul Cannon - “Get Serious” (mp3)

16. various artists - The Mania Music Group Sampler (Mania Music Group)
Mania Music Group put out a pretty ridiculous amount of free music this year, including solo EPs by each of its 3 solo artsts, and while they were all pretty good, this first sampler mixtape still really stands out to me as the best demonstration of the label's range and diversity of sounds.
Ron G. - “What Ya See” (mp3)

17. Wordsmith - The Revolution Begins With a Takeover Vol.1 (DJ Furious Styles/
Wordsmith is another guy that's been so prolific this year that it's been really hard for me to keep up with his output so far, but this mixtape was the first time I really started to get a handle on how talented he is.
Wordsmith f/ Kontact - “Hard To Forget” (mp3)

18. B.O.M.B. - Testers EP (Money In Da Bank Entertainment)
B.O.M.B. had one of the best ideas this year: make a release as long as possible (9 songs) while still being able to call it an EP, so that he could sell basically an album-length release at half price. And really, there's something to be said for making a short release where every song counts, instead of just filling the CD to its maximum running time just because you can.
B.O.M.B. - “Over Here” (mp3)

19. EJ - The Westside Hustle (Carnigie Records/DJ Radio)
I'd been waiting to hear a mixtape from EJ since I first heard him like 3 years ago, and while I thought it could've been better overall, this still had some jams on it.
EJ - “Bitch Niggaz Pt. 1” (mp3)

20. Caddy Da Don - Fixed Fight 2.5: Exclusive Edition (Harup Entertainment)
Caddy definitely gets props for being one of the most notable newcomers of the past year or two.
Caddy Da Don - “What’s Funny” (mp3)

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Thanks Al!
Other than maybe the order you put them in, I pretty much completely agree with your top 20! Good lookin' out, Al.
I dont really have an argument with this list, i pretty much agree with it totally, probably would of put a bomb a lil higher but overall im content with this
I was hoping to pick up Brown Fish's Bootleg III at Sonar on NYE, but didn't see the band selling anything. Also wanted a Skarr shirt and, amazingly, he didn't have much to sell himself. Bought Ogun's new mixtape and a couple of Wu Tang shirts (they raped me for sixty bucks...for two shirts!).
Thanks Shipster

Just saw this. Thanks as always Al. Much appreciated. I really think with all of this talent someone is really going to splash into the national hip hop scene from Baltimore in '09 BIG.
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