Welcome to the 2010 HipHopDX Year End Awards. For the last decade, this is when we acknowledge the year, honor its greatness and missteps, and begin our own celebrations leading up to another exciting year giving you the best in Hip Hop.
From December 13 to December 17, the editors at HipHopDX will update this every day with three new category winners. Congratulations to the winners and runners-up and may all of our readers have a safe, happy holiday season.
Album of the Year:
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Keep the TMZ headlines, staged beef and gimmicky promotional campaigns. Longevity is still dependent on being able to simply deliver a winning combination of dope beats and equally potent rhymes for the better part of an hour. Even in an era oversaturated by way too many albums, there's always one release that stays in heavy rotation and dominates conversations from the local barbershops to editorial offices everywhere.
You may want to not think about Amber Rose when you hear "Devil In A New Dress." It would be great if we were never subjected to another "I’mma let you finish…" joke. But because of the 24-hour news cycle, Kanye West's albums are now performance art. Luckily, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy proved to be one hell of an exhibition. People's expectations were high from the moment we found out 'Ye was out in Hawaii with Pete Rock, RZA and a dozen current A-listers. Our attention was held each Friday night, as he previewed the album piece by piece. And none of the above made the album any less of a classic from the intros and interludes on down to the highly detailed album covers. Critically and commercially, no other release combined the same level of production, lyrics and a coherent theme over the course of the whole album.
Runners Up: Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty, The Roots – How I Got Over
Tour/Concert of the Year:
Jay-Z & Eminem: Home and Home
If you want to know why people were so up in arms over the concept of a 360-deal, just look at your favorite emcees' touring income. Whether it's a string of small club shows or an arena date, at worst, an artist who didn't deliver on their latest album can still win by performing a few of yesterday's hits and incorporating a few surprises. At best, even a high price tag justifies being part of a historic show that leaves you hoarse the next morning and confirms your favorite artist as more than just a one-dimensional studio rapper.
Back in 2003 on "Excuse Me Miss," Jay-Z boasted, "Only dudes movin' units Em, Pimp Juice and us." Seven years later, the Roc as we once knew it has disbanded, Eminem has since successfully battled drug addiction, and Nelly is no longer moving millions of units, but Jay and Em continue to make history. Both artists are close to 40-years-old and their "Home And Home" tour celebrated the type of career longevity usually reserved for aging Rockers such as Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones.
From a cultural standpoint, their inclusion of Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Drake and others made the four concert dates one of 2010's biggest Hip Hop events. And with an average attendance of over 86,000 and an estimated gross of between $15-$20 million, it was also one hell of a business move. Stadium status indeed.
Runners Up: Rock The Bells, Waken Baken Tour
Video of the Year:
Erykah Badu – "Window Seat"
Now that financial boom of the early Aughts is over and BET and MTV are more likely to air a reality show than a video, maybe we should reexamine Suge Knight's infamous quote. Artists want to still be stars and not have to worry about "the executive producer trying to be all in the videos." Your favorite artist is forced to (gasp!) think of an actual concept for their video. So getting nominated for an award is nothing. But if you get arrested, then you just might be on to something.
What a difference two years can make. In a year where seemingly every last bit of leftover positivity from Hip Hop's role in the 2008 election was drowned in a tide of veiled, partisan Tea Party race-baiting, Erykah Badu was more hardbody (no pun intended) than nearly every male emcee who fixed his lips to say, "Yes we can."
Fat Belly Bella returned to her native Dallas with Coodie and Chike of Creative Control and borrowed heavily from Matt and Kim's "Lesson's Learned" video. Controversy makes headlines. But the fact that draws were dropped shouldn't overshadow the not-so-subtle jewel dropped about William Whyte and Irving Janis' concept of Groupthink. Ms. Badu figuratively took a bullet for the cause, and, in real life, garnered an arrest and a whole lot of free publicity for her album.
Runners Up: Gil Scott-Heron – "Me & The Devil", Big Boi – "Shutterbug"
Reader's Choice: Best Album
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The people have spoken, and you've picked Kanye West for the Reader's Choice Album Of The Year. Early on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had over 50% of the votes, but Eminem fans rallied and closed the gap. The underground contingent represented well, with Celph-Titled & Buckwild, Roc Marciano and Homeboy Sandman also garnering more votes than Nicki Minaj. What surprised the DX staff was Big Boi's outstanding solo album falling to fifth in the voting, we thought it would be a lock for second or third. A big thank you to all those who voted. Until next year...
Here's the breakdown of the voting:
Rising Star of the Year:
Previously called "Rookie of the Year," this category has evolved with the times. It used to be that an artist was heard featured on another's work, such is the case with Nas, Jay-Z or Lupe Fiasco. In today's times, most rookies are revealed to have been rapping or producing for years. So now, we look to the artist without a retail album coming or released in the last year who made an artistic and critical impact in the year.
Heard last year on Slim Thug’s single "I Run," Gasden, Alabama's Yelawolf has an ability to combine street culture with imagery not often heard in Hip Hop – rivers, cookouts and slaughterhouses. With a delivery in the school of Twista and backing sounds from the school of Gucci Mane, Yela advances lyricism and presentation in a way that still breaks new ground in seemingly stagnant times. The former crab boat fisherman gave Rap a burst of energy, and with his Interscope deal, a hope for tomorrow.
Runners Up: J. Cole, Vado
Story of the Year:
Keith “Guru” Elam Dies
Whether it's tragedy or triumph, the 37 years of Hip Hop as we know it are chronicled by large events. These cultural touchstones remind us of our youth, the times in our lives, and why Rap means so much to us as we grow with it. As Hip Hop continues to expand, the moments that occur within in it impact the world on greater scale. These are the stories that rang globally – and not only affected Hip Hop, but had those outside of the culture involved with the events.
Our Hip Hop hearts were broken this April with the sudden passing of one of its greatest voices – Guru. When Gang Starr disbanded, Hip Hop mourned the loss of a group that changed the face of Rap music. However, hope was kept alive that one day both DJ Premier and Guru would one day create the magic that everyone felt on Hard to Earn. Losing Guru was devastating, not only because of the talent that was no longer with us, but the idea that Gang Starr would one day reunite was no longer a possibility.
Runners Up: T.I. Goes Back To Jail, Kanye West Revolutionizes The Way Albums Are Promoted
Collaboration of the Year:
Kanye West f. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver – "Monster"
For the last 15 years, conversations are driven by features. Beefs end in collaboration, future empires are introduced, and the age-old question is answered of "who stole the show?" Whether it's unthinkable guests, lyrical elites sharing one stage, or simply just career significance, we look at the microphone sharing that had Rap fans talking the most.
The most high-profile of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Friday leaks featured his mentor, Jay-Z, one of his contemporaries, Rick Ross, and a protege in Nicki Minaj. Throwing the gritty rock vocals from Justin Vernon from Bon Iver for good measure, and "Monster" became one well-rounded track. Sometimes a horror-based concept can come across as kitschy and reserved for October 31st, but "Monster" manages to use its scare tactics in its favor with the help of its guest appearances. Ross has the shortest bars, but it makes for a great intro with Ye and Jay tackling the heart of the song, then Nicki delivers the bars of her career thus far with her cleanup verse. "Monster" changed alot of minds; people became instant Nicki Minaj fans and might have added some Bon Iver iTunes to their collection.
Runners Up: Reflection Eternal f. Jay Electronica, J. Cole & Mos Def "Just Begun", Royce Da 5'9" f. Eminem "Echo"
Verse Of The Year:
Nicki Minaj - "Monster"
Each year there are several dozen candidates for Verse of the Year, it is damn near impossible to narrow down, let along pick one. This year it came down two men and a lady, two rookies and a veteran, two show-stealing guest spots and a sentimental sign off. Best of all, it came down to the three verses from drastically different emcees with styles worlds apart.
"Monster" did for Nicki Minaj what "Dead Wrong" did for Eminem; gave her credibility from those who had been ignoring and/or hating. The debut album from the Queens femcee may have been targeted mainly at her pop audience rather than her Hip Hop fans, but this verse was for the heads. On her biggest stage to date, Nicki dropped 32 bars showcasing not just her rhymes but her charisma and style. Oh yeah, and she stole the show from Jay-Z and Kanye West along the way. No small feat in itself, in fact, it's a monstrous one.
Non-Hip Hop Album Of The Year:
Cee Lo Green - "The Lady Killer"
2010 was a tremendous year for albums that fall outside of what we call Hip Hop. Several even came from rappers showing off their singing chops, while others came from a spoken word legend, Indie rockers, cartoon bands, funk outfits and Hip Hop's favorite rappers baby mama. Life is more than just hot 16s, kicks and snares.
When it comes to rapping and singing, there isn't a double threat that even comes close to Cee Lo Green. He's dropped some of the best 16's of all-time and sings with so much soul that Marvin Gaye would blush. Much like his Gnarls Barkley projects, Cee Lo abandons rapping for The Lady Killer and delivers a silky gem with tremendous Pop appeal. The Atlanta native runs through 50 years of musical influences and delivers one of the year's most enjoyable listens. In addition, his single "F*ck You" became the anchor track of the album, much like "Crazy" was for Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere.
Most Disappointing Album Of The Year:
Ice Cube - I Am The West
For the most part, this category is all relative to expectations. If you don't expect an album to be good in the first place, you can't be too disappointed when it lives up to your low expectations. For some artists, it just doesn't matter though does it? If they've proven time and time again they can bring the goods, it's hard to accept a bad album from them. This year we unfortunately had a lot of albums to choose from, be hopeful these don't end up in your stocking.
Ice Cube has disappointed fans before, when he be clubbin' we still wanted him to be steady mobbin.' If I Am The West was released after War & Peace Vol. 2 it would have been no surprise, but after his revival in 2006 this one is a tough pill to swallow. Cube still largely gets it done with the pen and the pad but the production ranges from decent to downright embarrassing. It is difficult to believe a song like "She Couldn’t Make It On Her Own" was made by the same man who made "A Bird In The Hand." Cube is right, he is the west, this just didn't show us why.
Producer Of The Year:
With today's liner notes literati, producers matter as much as rappers. Creating a sound that advances Rap music and still managers to make the music exciting and true to its heritage isn't easy. We honor the great ones, and the type of sonic masters that all of tomorrow's producers should pay attention to.
From Soul samples to Auto-Tune to distorted guitars, Kanye West has changed the way Rap music sounds in the mainstream in his decade-plus at the boards. With his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 'Ye joined by his unsung team of Mike Dean, Jeff Bhasker and last year's award-winner No I.D. made an album that was mixed and constructed in a way that gave speakers a workout. With additional credits with Rick Ross, Drake, T.I. – and his G.O.O.D. Fridays, he deserves to do these numbers.
Runners Up: Boi-1da, Buckwild
Comeback Of The Year:
Like sports or film, Hip Hop loves a comeback. Whether age, artistic missteps, or bad label contracts can pull once-hopeful emcees and producers out of favor. With talent and hustle, all can be returned, and Rap is reminded that nothing is certain and few things – good or bad are permanent.
It was believed that only 50 Cent could save G-Unit after Interscope Records. Lloyd Banks in particular had disappointed some of his biggest believers after 2007's middle of the road Rotten Apple. With a street single turned to a gold radio smash, Lambo Lloyd proved G-Unit naysayers wrong by not only making an exciting sequel in HFM2 (The Hunger For More 2), but by opening himself up to collaborations and stepping outside of the corner of what we grew to expect from Southside's saviors.
Runners Up: Fat Joe, Roc Marciano
Mixtape Of The Year:
Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (DJ Wally Sparks)
In today's climate, the next best thing to albums are mixtapes – and more people may hear it. Between deejay-led collections of new and old songs, and the increasingly popular artist-helmed tapes that showcase skills over music that's not commercially viable, mixtapes were a crucial part of Hip Hop's genesis, and that still holds true today.
Meridian, Mississippi's Big K.R.I.T. has been under the national radar for the last five years, making free mixtapes that eclipse many rappers' albums. With his simple K.R.I.T. Wuz Here tape, the emcee/producer needed little help in upholding traditions started by both UGK and Little Brother. With regional commentary, K.R.I.T. brought substance to his craft and demonstrated an ability to make songs that belong in box Chevys and dorm rooms alike. The DJ Wally Sparks-assisted tape carried K.R.I.T. to a Def Jam deal that makes his debut highly anticipated.
Runners Up: Wiz Khalifa – Kush & Orange Juice, Yelawolf – Trunk Muzik
Emcee Of The Year:
With the evolution of Hip Hop, what we look for in emcees also evolves. An ability to further the craft of rhyming words, telling stories and commanding the track and the stage has held true since the days of the Cold Crush. A great emcee captures the times in their rhymes and presents the present in a way high above others.
For the last decade, Marshall Mathers has ascended from an 8 Mile Road battle champion to a conceptual master at songwriting to a pillar of inspiration. With the best-selling album of 2010 in Recovery, Eminem truly opened up his guarded world with a light in his life that inspired others. Multi-syllablic rhyme-schemes, real-life subject matter and an open-mind to Rap's new landscape gave last year's runner-up the award. One of the greatest rappers of all-time is no longer a spectacle, he's just spectacular.
The Trend We'd Like To See Die:
Weekly Song Releases
For a culture that prides itself on originality, the Hip Hop industry loves a good trend. So much so, that what works for one usually gets taken to a new extreme and ruins the party for the rest of us. Each year, we put a fork in something we're tired of – as Rap fans, in hopes that the Hip Hop Gods listen and keep the culture evolving.
G.O.O.D. Friday was one of 2010's most appreciated gifts. Kanye West and his "Grammy family" kept the Internet moving on the week-ends, and hinted at an album that belongs on every Rap fan's CD shelves. However, as Lloyd Banks, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, Joe Budden and even lesser emcees "mr. me too'd" with days of their own, audio calendars were too crowded and only one endured, having all of us say T.G.I.F. every week.
Runners Up: Kat Stacks, Self-Shot Videos
Slept-On Album Of The Year:
Celph Titled & Buckwild's "Nineteen Ninety Now"
For all the talk about sales and mainstream rankings, most Rap albums fall short of reaching chain stores and the charts. Great albums are made yearly that don't get the distribution, the promotion or the word of mouth that they deserve, and often times, if skills sold, truth be told, they'd probably be, commercially, Black Eyed Peas.
Golden-era purists bemoan the 1990s greatness that's gone missing in today's Rap marketplace. A veteran Florida emcee Celph Titled teamed with Bronx beat-master Buckwild for an album of hard-nosed rhymes overtop unused beats from the Word…Life and Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous era. Diggin' In The Crates and Army of The Pharaohs collided to give us a star-studded album that celebrated addicts for sneakers, 20s of Buddah, and bitches with beepers.
Don't Forget To Cast Your Vote For The 2010 Reader's Choice Best Album
Now that you've read HipHopDX's daily opinion on the best (and worst) of 2010, we want yours. For the first time, we are asking readers to vote for their Favorite Album of 2010. Users can vote as many times as they'd like, and we will announce the winner on Friday, December 17.