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Ion’s Ten Fave Outside-of-Hip-Hop Albums of 2010

While I love listening to hip-hop, I certainly can’t appreciate it as much without listening to funk, soul, jazz, rock, electronica, hell even folk music sometimes.  And there were a lot of great albums that complemented this year’s hip hop releases and made their mark on 2010.  Here are ten of my favorites (in no particular order).

Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer

From the moment I first heard the song “Fuck You”, I sensed there’d be some heat to this album.  While I always expect Cee-Lo to bring his game, I was impressed many times over by his range and charisma while listening through The Lady Killer. Add that to motown soul backdrops and superb surprises, it makes for a great listen.

Deerhunter – Halcyon’s Digest

While it was nowhere near a hip hop record, the retro guitar riffs and now-and-then experimental drum patterns of Halcyon Digest had me instantly hooked.  Similarly enjoyed Before Today by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti for many of the same reasons, but “Helicopter” really took off like few songs could in 2010.

Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Pt. 2

Strip away the controversial public strip scenes in the “Window Seat” music video and what you have left is not only another stellar songwriting showcase from Erykah Badu but also a fluid neo-soul journey with the occasional WTF-that-was-strangely-hip moment.  But it’s an Erykah Badu record, so we should expect that.

Fitz & the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces

Being a huge crate-digger for rare funk and soul records, no record this year got me grooving more than the one from this Los Angeles band.  Their sound reminds me so much like  late 60s/early 70s Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone that’s scary.  I half expected Smokey Robinson to show his face halfway through a listen.

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Not even gonna try with this one.  Instant classic, Flying Lotus is pushing and reimagining hip-hop/electronic productions to new frontiers, part of the thrill is just trying to keep up with the wild sonic rodeo that is Cosmogramma.

The Foreign Exchange – Authenticity

Nicolay and Phonte do it again with another well-crafted album featuring perfectly thick vocal hooks, exciting keyboard melodies and, most importantly, undeniable chemistry.  Wish Phonte would still do more rapping, but plenty of needs are satisfied here.

Free The Robots – Ctr Alt Del

This was the year I started listening to a lot of dubstep and glitch hop, big thanks to great releases from Bassnectar and the Glitch Hop.  But Free The Robots’s debut album really stood out to me, ditching the lustrous instrument pads used by Flying Lotus in favor of warm sub-bass with plenty of sensational drum experimentation.  Enough robot swagger here to make Robocop bust-a-move.

Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

An album that draws inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, Philip K. Dick and Claude Debussy?  With an artist that truly believes in time travel? Who can make almost any hair style look cool? Janelle Monae gave us The Archandroid in 2010, a spellbinding album with so many enjoyable songs you wonder to yourself “what can’t she do well?”

Orgone – Cali Fever

Funkiest release of 2010 from a band really coming into their own the past couple years.

Teebs – Ardour

If you made it through the first nine I listed, put this one on for your dessert.  Teebs, who is only 23 and comes from the same scene as Flying Lotus, creates an even tastier, pleasure-filled album half-Cosmogramma and half-Strawberry Jam a la Animal Collective.  Sure it can sometimes be redundant, but I haven’t found an album this inspiringly fresh sounding in a long long time.

Ion’s Ten Fave Bay Area Hip Hop Albums of 2010

What’s up everybody!

First off let me say what a year it has been!  As someone who has only been in the Bay since fall 2008, I’ve really learned a lot about the history of Bay Area hip hop and have come to embrace the local scene.  While the Bay Area scene may not get as much national attention as the NY or LA scenes, hip-hop that grows from here is as diverse, conscious, tough and quirky as anywhere else, due to many reasons (the interaction of asian, white, hispanic and black cultures, portayals of rap as a “glamorous style” in times of economic downturn and record unemployment, fallout from the death of Oscar Grant and Mehserle trial verdict, etc.).  There have been many worthwhile releases this year from rappers all over the Bay, veterans and newcomers, of different rap styles and philosophies, and because of it I have gladly had the chance to bump music in my headphones a whole lot more.  Putting all personal feelings towards artists aside, I’ve settled on my ten favorite local albums released in 2010, in no particular order, excluding mixtapes and unofficial albums.

Chosen Few – New World Symphony

After listening to the first two tracks on New World Symphony, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Chosen Few has found a great home with Hiero Imperium Records.  Unjust’s production on “Few are Chosen” takes you back to the sound Domino crafted throughout Hieroglyphics’ debut Third Eye Vision. Though the members of Chosen Few are originally from Ohio (they have spent the past decade in the Bay), the handful of guest spots from Dilated Peoples’ Rakaa Iriscence and Hiero members Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Pep Love, Opio and Tajai pay off and make this album feel right at home on the west coast.  But no doubt, with its powerful messages and the drifting between golden and buckeye states of mind, this is more than just a Hieroglyphics record.  Check out “Dreamscape”

DaVinci – The Day the Turf Stood Still

The “urban renewal” of the spot known as Fillmoe in San Francisco is the prologue to the story contained in The Day The Turf Stood Still.  Hailing from the same place as SF veterans San Quinn and Messy Marv, DaVinci comes out with a strong debut album, smoothly delivering tough lyrics over spooky-yet-soulful beats.  I first became aware of him this past February when he performed at a show with headliners Freeway/Jake One.  The way DaVinci had the crowd moving with his honesty, storytelling imagery and undeniable passion, his fanbase should only grow in 2011.  Check out “Concrete Jungle Juice”

Do D.A.T. – Oakland In Blue

Since hearing Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest records in high school, I’ve been a huge fan of jazz and hip-hop combinations.  Do D.A.T.’s Oakland In Blue is a refreshing album using Duke Ellington recordings as sample and inspiration.  On face value alone, I never would have believed this album came out of the birthplace of hyphy, but the descriptions of Oakland life that Do D.A.T. offers up go seamlessly with this sonic landscape.  Sometimes lighthearted, other times somber, this album travels all over the city with the ability to take you from Yoshi’s in Jack London Square to 12th street & Broadway in a second.  Check out “The Bridge” featuring Melina Jones

E-40 – Revenue Retrievin’: Day Shift/Night Shift

With two discs and 38 tracks, E-40’s mega release was very hard to get an overall feel for if simply because there is so much.  My first impressions of a release this big is that there is a lot of filler and skippable tracks, and while that is the case for some tracks here, there are enough jams, slaps, catchy hooks and tongue-twisting verses to have me coming back to Revenue Retrievin. Both collaborations with Too $hort are huge bangers, plus there are a slew of appearances from other Bay Area artists to keep this album interesting.  It is not E-40’s best or most well-conceived release, but he impresses by constantly changing between his many rap styles, a reminder why the Bay Area has embraced him for so many years.  Check out “Can’t Stop the Boss” with Snoop Dogg and Too $hort.

Erk Tha Jerk – Nerd’s Eye View

Ironically, Erk tha Jerk stands out from other East Bay rappers because of his everyday realism, rapping about many topics that are relatable to the listener.  The production on Nerd’s Eye View is top-notch, and Erk’s flow works best riding comfortably with the beat rather than trying to outdo it.  Sure, singles like “Right Here” and “Hands Up” are little too R&B for my taste, but I found plenty to like over these 19 tracks. With the success of Erk’s Hood Nerd mixtape series and a collaboration with Nio tha Gift, Traxamillion and Willie Joe known as The FNM, its hard to argue any other Bay Area artist has had a bigger year.  Check out his new video, “Ha Ha” featuring London.

Kero One – Kinetic World

Not to be forgotten is Korean-American rapper Kero One, who released his third full-length album Kinetic World in June.  Independently writing and producing the entire album on his own label, Kero One pulls off a beautiful-in-its-simplicity piece of work while making the most of stellar guest verses from Fashawn on the title track and Tablo, Myk and Dumbfoundead on the standout “Asian Kids”.  His lyrics are very positive and upbeat, while his at-times speedy flow makes me think he would fit in well with the Project Blowed artists in Los Angeles.  But with the many talents he demonstrates on this album, I’m very happy that the Bay Area claims him.  Check out “On Bended Knee” featuring Sam Ock.

Moe Green – Rocky Maivia: Non Title Match

Vallejo’s Moe Green has admitted he needs to win a few belts before getting his shot at being the heavyweight rap champ.  With Rocky Maivia: Non-Title Match, he took a huge first step towards just that, spitting thoughtful lyrics over many different types of production, from the La Roux-sampled “Going For The Kill”, to the instrumentation of “Emerald City” which sounds like it belongs on a Deerhunter record, to the UGK-sounding “Preliminaries”.  Even with all this, there was no way one could have prepared for the adrenaline-boosting bonus track “Lights Camera Action”, accompanied by easily the most entertaining music video of 2010 kudos of the cast of Jersey Shore.  Not only is this album legally free, but Moe Green is set to release a new LP, To Whom It May Concern, on December 28th: Other emcees should be concerned.  Check out the infamous “Lights Camera Action” and get down wit’ yo self!

Raashan Ahmad – For What You’ve Lost

We were not likely to get a new Crown City Rockers album this year after 2009’s The Day After Forever, but member Raashan Ahmad’s solo effort is a huge surprise and welcome treat. Ahmad’s lyrics shine with engaging lines like “too beautiful to hate/too ugly to love” and clever references to golden era hip-hop “do what you like/one love  but two make a thing go right/some eat soul food and throw guns in the ghetto/my philosophy on the show like Edo/G see we go to have it/so check the rhyme anything can happen”.  The jazzy instrumentation is fun and addictive on such tracks as “Sunshine” and “Falling”, while delicious soul samples bring out songs like “In Love With Wax” and “Understanding”.  Not to mention guest spots from Count Bass D, Aloe Blacc, Gift of Gab and many talented vocalists.  Check out “Beautiful Ugly” featuring Adam Theis.

Richie Cunning – Night Train

My apologies to Richie Cunning because I think I was in a beat battle with him in July and didn’t know about this album he released.  Through word of mouth I heard about it and immediately got into Night Train, Cunning’s 45-minute ballad for the city of San Francisco which he grew up in.  Though as a white kid who went to UC Santa Cruz he may not look the part of a Bay Area rapper, he proves with his precise lyrics and soulful boom-bap production that he is as San Francisco as it gets.  With a record that’s perfect for listening during a BART or Muni ride, and having opening gigs for Little Brother and Hieroglyphics among others under his belt, Richie Cunning is poised to entertain many Bay Area fans who are now waking up to his rapping and producing talents.  Here’s a video for “My City” done for Warriors’ Weekly. Slam!

Zion I – Atomic Clock

Zumbi and Amp Live, who individually released projects earlier in 2010 (Amp Live with his hip-hop-turned-electro Murder at the Discotech and Zumbi with his collab with producer the ARE called The Burnerz), show exactly what great things Zion I is capable of in Atomic Clock. Compared to 2009’s The Takeover, this album shows a definite synergy between Amp Live’s electric production and live-performed instruments, giving the album some gorgeous reggae undertones.  Collaborations with reggae band Rebelution and Seattle rapper Macklemore further show how on-point Zion I is and how they’ve grown in the ten years since their debut.  “Clock”ing in at around 40 minutes long, its the shortest album on this list, but I feel there is no one bad track on this album.  If you want more after its over, there’s nothing wrong with playing it from the beginning again.  Check out the new video “Always”

UPDATE: Another album I would have put on this list was Esinchill’s Vigilante, but I found out from many sources that that was a December 2009 release.  Still another dope album to check out!

Besides these albums, there were many quality mixtapes released in 2010 which I haven’t all got to yet.  Here’s an incomplete list of some I was digging the past year (feel free to add)

  • Roach Gigz – Roachy Balboa
  • Young Gully – Grant Station Mixtape
  • Fashawn – Grizzly City 3
  • The Jacka – GSlaps Radio Vol. 1
  • Mistah F.A.B. – Prince of the Coast
  • Erk tha Jerk – Hood Nerd 2: Memoirs of the Invisible Man

Make sure to come back tomorrow to catch my Ten Fave NOT-SO-Hip-Hop albums of 2010!