The Top 25 Hip Hop Albums Of 2008

posted December 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM CST | 276 comments

2008 was a crowded year, as HipHopDX reviewed nearly 250 albums. Here is that top 10 percentile, or more specifically, the Top 25 Hip Hop Albums of 2008. Check out last year's if you like too [click here].

P.S. In order of their release date, in case you’re wondering.




Torae [click to read]
Daily Conversation
Released January 29, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

It would be a travesty to call "The Young Veteran" a rookie. However, few debut albums were anywhere close to as impressive as Daily Conversation in 2008. With DJ Premier, Black Milk and Khrysis on the boards, the pride of Coney Island's rhymes spoke on the patience of his career, and why his unmistakable kindness ought not be confused as weakness. For all of his peers releasing downloadable mixtape after mixtape, Torae raised the stakes and made an album that was a  rejoice for New York and contemporary rap fans, just "Click" if you need proof. - Jake Paine


eMC [click to read]
The Show
Released March 25, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

What does eMC stand for? Beyond the explanations offered on a similarly-titled song, eMC represents piercing wordplay, revealing lyrics and great music. Masta Ace, Strick, Punchline and Wordsworth–collectively known as eMC–deliver those traits and more on The Show. The longtime collaborators are witty, natural performers who are compatible in ways that supergroups typically lack. This chemistry and a performance-themed concept help The Show embody yesterday's sensibilities without distancing itself from today's style. Utilizing updated boom-bap for "Winds of Change" and "Get Some," the harmonious foursome deliver rhymes relevant in any era. – Andrew Kameka


Atmosphere [click to read]
When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
Released April 22, 2008
DX Rating: 4.5 [click to read]

The kings of the indie scene took their thoughtful raps and boom bap into left field for their sixth LP. With Slug ditching his diary on wax in favor of an album full of narratives and Ant giving his production a live twist, Lemons was a refreshing change for the Minnesota duo. It won't go down as their best album, but the successful pushing of their boundaries with songs like the bare bones, guitar-driven "Guarantees" ensure it will be one of their most notable. – J-23


The Roots [click to read]
Rising Down
Released April 29, 2008
DX Rating: 4.5 [click to read]

A delve into the darkness heard on Game Theory, The Roots had a lot on their mind and in their ears, as they made an album that was reflective more of time in the studio than their restless touring. Dice Raw (and Malik B) returning to the mix was a welcome element, as The Roots' production took an electronic turn, while ?uestlove hit the pads harder than ever, as Styles P, Saigon and Peedi made the idea of collaboration fun again. The Roots stay challenging themselves, and as tour retirement and label woes come out, can we just say, yes, we want more!!! - Jake Paine


J-Live [click to read]
Then What Happened
Released May 27, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

Forever one of Hip Hop's most overlooked and talented artists, the emcee/producer/dee jay saw his stock slip after 2005's bland The Here After. Then What Happened was a fine return to form though, as J sounded rejuvenated over guest production from Oddisee, Evil Dee, DJ Spinna and DJ Nu-Mark. The Posdnous-assisted "The Upgrade" was not only the zenith of the LP, but the best one-word description of album itself. – J-23


Lil Wayne [click to read]
Tha Carter III
Released June 10, 2008
DX Rating: 3.5 [click to read]

Lil Wayne feels colossal on "Mr. Carter," and Tha Carter III validates his larger than life sentiments. Spawning an unrelenting hit in "A Milli," and cracking the floodgates of Auto-tune pseudo-rap with "Lollipop," C III was 2008's one true inescapable presence. Overflowing with cocky boasts and reflections, Weezy's raspy voice packs wordplay at every turn. Though this free flow occasionally stumbles with cringe-worthy lyrics ("I'm doing the same shit that Martin Luther King did"), Tha Carter III propels Wayne to an elite plane in music. Credited with the top-selling album–and arguably one with the most impact–colossal is an understatement. – Andrew Kameka


Pacewon & Mr. Green
The Only Color That Matters Is Green
Released June 20, 2008
DX Rating: 4.5 [click to read]

Slept-on by even a lot of underground heads, the debut from the emcee/producer duo was probably the best album in '08 you didn't hear. With the Outsidaz front-man returning to form and rookie producer Mr. Green proving a master of the chop, The Only Color was a lighthearted callback to the early '90s. "Four Quarters," the album's opener, remains the unofficial sequel Jay-Z and Just Blaze's timeless "Public Service Announcement." Introduce yourself. – J-23


Killer Mike [click to read]
I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II
Released July 8, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

As America awaits its first black president, Killer Mike stresses that politics are anything but usual. Obstacles be damned, prosperity is within the working man's grasp. Buoyed by commanding vocals and thumping, operatic music, I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II is Mike's wakeup call to "git up, git out, and git something." It is all power and passion as he growls over gritty keyboard compositions and documents all aspects of the grind, be they economic or social. From the go-getter anthem "10 G's" to the overdue reality check in "Pressure," Killer Mike's fiery raps and sharp beat selection craft a "soundtrack for success." Andrew Kameka


Nas
Untitled
Released July 15, 2008
DX Rating: 4.5 [click to read]

With Hip Hop Is Dead, Nas entered a new period of his career. His penchant for both headline-grabbing criticism and album titles continued with Nigger, which he was later coerced into releasing with no title at all. "Queens Get the Money" affirmed that Nasir was well-aware of his critics, and the 35-year-old can easily return to the raw rap style he made famous at 21. "Sly Fox" showed a mind at work, as one of rap's superstars challenged the corporate structure that has embraced peers like Common, Jay-Z and Pharrell. "Fried Chicken" brought the metaphor back to the genre, as "Black President" will be a time capsule for the next four years. With significant appearances on albums from Ludacris, Young Jeezy and The Game, Nas was a big commodity this year. From albums, to co-headlining the Rock the Bells tour all summer long, Nas, like Jay-Z and Ice Cube, has become an artist who thrives off of reinvention and going against the system. - Slava Kuperstein


Murs & 9th Wonder [click to read]
Sweet Lord
Released July 29, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

It's not unlikely to hear that a producer brings out the best in a particular emcee, but it's not often that you hear about an emcee consistently bringing out the best in a producer. When it comes to Murs and 9th Wonder, this is clearly the case, with the two artists maintaining their well-documented chemistry in their third outing. Sweet Lord is brimming with charm as 9th provides some of his best work in recent memory, and Murs remaining one of the most amiable emcees around by flipping rhymes about everything from G.I. Joe cartoons to getting married. – Slava Kuperstein


Nappy Roots [click to read]
The Humdinger
Released August 5, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

Fish Scales, Skinny DeVille, B. Stille, Ron Clutch, Big V and R. Prophet returned with both Top 40 radio material and thought-provoking cuts–all without compromising their trademark sound on The Humdinger. Clocking in at just over an hour, their album showed the Kentucky collective equally comfortable tricking off dough at the strip club or on the porch with a jelly-jar full of liquor contemplating life's mysteries. Instead of becoming a casualty to "industry rule number 4,080," Hip Hop’s most notable representatives from The Bluegrass State bounced back with the same unique approach they displayed on Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. – Omar Burgess


Elzhi [click to read]
The Preface
Released August 12, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

It was already shaping up to be a banner year for Detroit before Elzhi dropped The Preface. But this solo album showcased what critics and his peers have been saying for years; Elzhi is an emcee's emcee. The Slum Village alum displayed storytelling prowess on "Hands Up," took conceptual rhyming to another level on "Guessing Game" and "Colors," and made you remember exactly what we expect from our top-tier spitters. He didn’t get close to reaching the commercial success of "Tainted" or any of the other Slum Village hits he helped create, and it appears he never wanted to. The fact remains that you can’t have a discussion about 2008's best albums without mentioning this uncomplicated approach to crafting classic Hip Hop. – Omar Burgess


The Game [click to read]
L.A.X.
Released August 26, 2008
DX Rating: 3.5 [click to read]

Hate him or love him, Jayceon Taylor is one of Hip Hop's most listened to voices. His third official effort pulled the Compton superstar away from beef and bandanas and into a feature-filled ride about sex, money and signature name-checking. It was an emotionally unstable year for The Game, as tracks like "State of Emergency" with Ice Cube and the Lil Wayne-assisted "My Life" [click to listen] allude to, getting The Game out of 50 Cent's shadow and away from Dr. Dre dependency. Like Eminem, Snoop and Nas, he may forever be compared against his debut, but The Game has never made a bad album. – Jake Paine


Ill Bill [click to read]
The Hour of Reprisal
Released September 16, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

Ill Bill's Hour of Reprisal is like an episode of The Wire–every moment serves a purpose; and if you don't pay close attention, you'll miss a key scene. Backed by an extremely formidable production team, which includes himself, DJ Premier, DJ Muggs and Necro, Ill Bill doesn't waste a breath. Whether it’s twisted conspiracy theories or tales of cocaine, Ill Bill makes certain you feel every furious lyric. Moreover, the hostile production and extremely aggressive lyricism alongside guests like Raekwon and B-Real ensure that this record won’t soften up over time. Hour of Reprisal is an outing that’s sure to knock you flat on your ass. – Slava Kuperstein


Z-Ro
Crack
Released September 16, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

Rap-A-Lot Records may have lost a star in Devin The Dude, but 2008 marked an arrival point for Screwed Up Click/ABN member Z-Ro. The brutally honest Houston rapper spoke about love in a year that championed Kanye West for the same, and aired out his self-conflicts in a year that portrayed The Game as suicidal. With the epic nine-minute DJ Screw tribute freestyle "25 Lighters," and the archetypal "Lonely" outcry, Z-Ro furthered his way into the mainstream. Like its namesake, this album felt like it was cheap to make, and for stagnant big budget rappers, Z-Ro is most certainly a career epidemic. – Jake Paine


Johnson&Jonson [click to read]
Johnson&Jonson
Released September 23, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

After the sneaky success of last year's Below The Heavens, Blu released two albums this year. Whereas C.R.A.C. left some a bit unsettled, Johnson&Jonson, a collaboration with rookie producer Mainframe, was the Supreme Clientele of the underground. Dynamic '70s sampling, cocky-yet-vulnerable rhymes and age-old life lessons made this reportedly shelved project from 2006 sound like brand new funk, with some revisions and updates. Blu landed himself appearances with Evidence and an XXL cover spot this year, but this gem of an album, like the one last year, went under the radar of many looking for the next worthy microphone fiend. We have now entered the Blu period. - Jake Paine


Large Pro [click to read]
Main Source
Released September 30, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

The man responsible for introducing Nas and teaching DJ Premier the chop added to his 20-year career with his most complete album to date. From its charged intro "The Entrance" to stream-of-consciousness rhymes like "In the Ghetto," Large Professor reminded us all why he was just as talented as an emcee for his tenure with Main Source. Mid-'90s stars like Jeru Da Damaja, Big Noyd and Lil Dap assisted to make this album a time-machine to slow cooked, original recipe Hip Hop, as the title and Mikey D's presence on the album established a newfound comfort in this Hip Hop hall of famer's dynamic career. – Jake Paine


T.I. [click to read]
Paper Trail
Released September 30, 2008
DX Rating: 3.5 [click to read]

Back against the wall, many assumed T.I. might just make a grimy, lackluster album before returning a predictably changed man. Wrong. This album channeled All Eyez On Me for its ability to make delightful Pop music, spaced between hard hood tracks, as T.I.'s bars seem to balance between speaking to the people, admitting and justifying his mistakes, and also letting Shawty Lo have it for throwing rocks at the throne any chance he got. Perhaps it won't be the magnum opus of King, nor the hood staple I'm Serious, but Tip did not waste a word or a moment in 2008, and the king made an album that was smart, feel-good, and made us all cry for victory. - Jake Paine.


Jake One [click to read]
White Van Music
Released October 7, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

White vans have usually been the preferred mode of transportation for pedophiles and the cable guy. Lucky for us, Jake One changed that stereotype with a debut album which served as the perfect vehicle for that space where underground and mainstream meet. White Van Music provided pairings such as Freeway and Brother Ali, and Slug of Atmosphere with Posdnuos of De La Soul, all while delivering album worthy material from the likes of Young Buck, Busta Rhymes and Bishop Lamont. There were a lot of people who attempted to revive their tanking SoundScan numbers by mixing in a few singles with their normal material, but few did it as successfully or as effortlessly as Jake One. – Omar Burgess


Black Milk [click to read]
Tronic
Released October 28, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

After being one 2007's hottest newcomers, Black Milk blossomed into one of 2008's hottest artists, period. Along with growing as a producer, the Detroit native stepped up his rap game in a big way. The result was one of the year’s premier albums in Tronic. Few albums, if any, featured better wall-to-wall production. As evidenced by raw boom bap of "Give the Drummer Some" or the sampling prowess shown on "Losing Out" featuring Royce Da 5'9". Motown's Hip Hop scene isn't just looking promising, it is delivering. – J-23


Q-Tip [click to read]
The Renaissance
Released November 4, 2008
DX Rating: 4.5 [click to read]

Nine years removed from Amplified—and six from the shelved Kamaal The AbstractQ-Tip had been more seen than heard in the in the new millennium. Much like Kanye West or Black Milk, Tip challenged the genre and made soulful music that several generations of fans could bond over. With some cherished work from J Dilla being unveiled, Q-Tip pushed his own production envelope in a mixture between samples and instrumentation to show that a 38-year-old can still sound and look young, with the wisdom and poise not found in the young bucks. - Slava Kuperstein


88-Keys [click to read]
The Death of Adam
Released November 11, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

Woman may have been the downfall of man, but the fairer sex also gave birth to The Death of Adam, a tragedy set to song. 88 Keys' emotive melodies narrate the story of Adam, a man overwhelmed by lust's rewards and consequences. Catchy alt-rock rhythms detail his early stages of infatuation, while a sultry hip-hop loop makes "Viagra (Stay Up)" drip with sexuality. Keys' expressive production, Kanye-esque rap style, and a long list of collaborators fill in the remaining gaps, bringing cohesion to a strong, genre-bending effort. Death recounts one man's costly mistake but still manages to produce an album with few errors. – Andrew Kameka


Kanye West
808's and Heartbreak
Released November 24, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

I'll admit it–I was among the skeptics when Kanye West unveiled his new Auto-tuned persona. But when Mr. West released his latest opus, any questions about his intentions were quickly dismissed. Rather than deliver the T-Pain-esque pop many fans feared, Kanye dug deep into his thoughts and feelings, drawing on personal tragedy and relationship woes. Lines like "My friend showed me pictures of his kids/And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs" are among Kanye’s most poignant ever, and ought to remind everyone of why they became his fans in the first place. Minor missteps like "RoboCop" aside, 808's' epic production and moody content make it one of this year's best releases. – Slava Kuperstein


Ludacris [click to read]
Theater of the Mind
Released November 24, 2008
DX Rating: 4 [click to read]

Mistakes have been common throughout Luda's decorated career; Theater of the Mind was no exception. A couple bad apples and a few too many guests kept the album from rising to the next level. That said, it was Luda being nothing short of a monster on the mic that made Theater one of the year's best. Between holding his own along side Jay-Z and Nas, blistering yet another intro and blessing his first DJ Premier beat (even if he wasn't really the first southern rapper to do so), Ludacris made an LP as good as anything he's ever released. –J -23


Scarface [click to read]
Emeritus
Released December 2, 2008
DX Rating: 3.5 [click to read]

Emeritus distinguishes retired professionals, so it's fitting that Houston rap legend Scarface appropriates the title for his final album. Though his once youthful fire is relatively subdued, 'Face's sagely presence is just as powerful. His weathered voice bears a veteran's tone as he laments, "These young niggas steady dying over dumb shit/Fast money for your soul, now you're done with." Embracing the crisp, magnetic production style used for his strongest work, he offers a stream of similarly astute observations and personal truths. If this is Scarface's last album, Emeritus is a strong final lecture from one of Hip Hop's greatest professors. – Andrew Kameka

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