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What are some of the most interesting quirks of the English language?

10.Garden Path SentencesExample: The horse raced past the barn fell.A garden path sentence refers to a type of sentence where an initial reading of the phrase will likely be incorrect; it will thus call for a re-reading. In this example, ‘raced past the barn’ is a reduced relative clause, meaning it lacks a relative pronoun – a who, which, or that. The correct parsing of the sentence would hence be ‘The horse – who was raced past the barn – fell.’ This gives a much fuller understanding of the sentence and it can now be understood that the word ‘fell’ is the main verb.Other interpretations can also exist; a ‘fell’ could be a noun (meaning a mountain or hill). In this sense, ‘raced’ could be the verb and ‘barn fell’ could mean the fell by the barn. This leads onto the next point.9.Syntactic AmbiguityExample: I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.Syntactic ambiguity allows for multiple meanings of the same sentence. In Ray Davies’ (of The Kinks) seminal song Lola, he writes the lyric “I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.” This can mean one of four things: “Lola and I are both glad I’m a man,” “I’m glad Lola and I are both men,” “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also a man,” or “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also glad to be a man.” Davies opted to use syntactic ambiguity on purpose and has never made it clear which interpretation is the correct one.Other sentences might hinge on the word order of a sentence: is “The Electric Light Orchestra” an orchestra consisting of electric lights, or is it a light orchestra that happens to be electric? I suppose we’ll never know.8.ParaprosdokiansExample: I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.The late great Groucho Marx is credited for this comic ingenuity, a sentence which is a prime example of a paraprosdokian: a phrase which figuratively sucker-punches you. The listener or reader will have to reframe or reinterpret the earlier clause.From the Greek ‘para’ meaning ‘against’ and ‘prosdokia’ meaning ‘expectation’, a paraprosdokian leaves the reader somewhat baffled by the conclusion of the sentence. They are most often used for comedic effect (and can sometimes result in an anti-climax), especially by the supremely talented Mitch Hedberg: “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.”7.Generonyms, auto-antonyms, and synonymsA generonym is the brand name we use to mean an everyday item. These terms have seeped into the general psyche and are used more often than their technical counterparts. We almost always ‘Google’ something instead of doing an ‘online search’. Perhaps one day I will choose to ‘Bing’ it. In the US especially, many people refer to cotton swabs as ‘Q-Tips’ after their brand name. Increasingly more popular nowadays is the process of ‘Photoshopping’ an image, after Adobe’s software of the same name.Auto-antonyms are words with multiple meanings, two of which are antonyms of one another. Some are used in everyday language without our realising it: the word ‘off’ is guilty of this. We can turn something off, meaning it will cease to be on. Conversely, the alarm can go off, meaning it has – rather bizarrely – just turned on. In more technical terms, a ‘strike’ can, in baseball terminology, mean a hit or a miss.Synonyms are certainly the most well-known lexical phenomenon in this list; but did you know that synonym has a synonym? That word is ‘poecilonym’. A synonym (or poecilonym) is a word which has a similar understanding and meaning to another word: ‘happy’ and ‘content’ are, for all intents and purposes, synonymous with one another.6.HeadlinesExample: Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim.Headlinese is the nonconversational, quick language which is used for headlines (usually of print newspapers, where space is an issue). Headlinese often uses shorter synonyms and articles are usually omitted. Verbs are in the present tense, unless the future is mentioned – in this case, the full infinitive is used (“Obama to sign healthcare bill”).Contractions and abbreviations are utilised for ease of reading as well as the aforementioned space-saving mechanism. The Republican Party is often referred to as ‘GOP’ by the US media, while honorific titles are usually discarded. ‘The Right Honorable Prime Minister David Cameron’ becomes the much easier to digest ‘Cameron’.As noted in the example, the simple headline, which we all know and love, can often fall foul of listing number two and result in an unintended comedic climax.5.MalapropismsExample: Our watch, sir, we have comprehended two auspicious persons.A malapropism occurs chiefly when a word or phrase means something different from the word the writer or speaker intended to use, or if the resulting sentence is nonsensical. The phrase above comes from Act II Scene V of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, in which the hapless Constable Dogberry informs Governor Leonato that he has captured a couple of people who are thought to have committed a crime; Dogberry mistakenly uses the words “comprehended” and “auspicious” when, of course, he meant to use “apprehended” and “suspicious.” Comic ruckus arises soon after.The primary reason given for the use of malapropisms, especially in spoken English, is the increasing need for people to use complex language in order to communicate their desire to be seen as intellectually superior to others.4.ParataxisExample: Veni, Vidi, Vici.I came, I saw, I conquered. These words uttered by serial river-crosser and one-time Roman dictator Julius Caesar, a paratactic sentence encompasses a train-of-thought mind-set where a following clause is coordinated by the previous one. In an homage to the metaphysical adherences of culture in the 21st century, the previous sentence was an example of (an unusually long) parataxis. In spoken English, rhythm, timing, and intonation set the mood for parataxis. When writing, it is important to note that psychological expression and means to express paratactic structure are important in developing a paratactic sentence.Swift and short coordinating sub-clauses can also be used in poetry to conjoin and juxtapose two seemingly distant and fragmented ideas into a morally ambiguous sentence for the reader to infer meaning.3.Semantic NonsenseExample: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.Veritable wordsmith Noam Chomsky devised the phrase used in the example as a way to illustrate the idea that logical and grammatically correct sentences can still have no obvious meaning. Worlds collide as mathematical probability and sentence structure attempt to explain the idea of remoteness in the English language. A sentence which seems to unnaturally occur in the discourse of English will be ruled out for being too remote; a statistical model has been devised to calculate the probability of a sentence occurring. If such a sentence is outside the previously ascertained boundaries, the phrase will be unceremoniously cast away to the coffee-stained pages of linguistic textbooks as an example of logical nonsense.The sentence itself has gained fame since its inception by Chomsky in 1955. Interpretations have been wild, but the ‘closest’ – figuratively, of course – has been “Newly formed bland ideas are inexpressible in an infuriating way.”2.Lexical AmbiguityExample: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.This unnecessary sentence is a prime example of lexical ambiguity, in which homonyms (words with the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meaning) and homophones (words that simply sound the same) can be combined to form a complex sentence structure with grammatical validity.The proper noun Buffalo – a city in New York – is present, as is the animal buffalo. The third and most unusual term offered is that of the verb ‘to buffalo’ which means ‘to bully’ or ‘to intimidate.’ A more coherent parsing of the sentence would be “The buffalo from Buffalo who are buffaloed by buffalo from Buffalo, buffalo other buffalo from Buffalo.” The sentence offers little doubt that bison from New York are sentient and capable of emotionally scarring other bison from the surrounding area.

Buffalo.DeixisExample: It is raining outside now, but I hope that when you read this it will be sunny.In this deictic sentence, context is required. The given example is known as temporal deixis and is contingent on the use of a timeous word which changes the meaning based on the moment in time it is said. The exact time the word ‘now’ refers to changes constantly. ‘Tomorrow’ is always the next day and that can never change, but the exact day tomorrow is always changing.Deixis also exists when a place is discussed. “I live here” changes depending on where one lives. Likewise, “How is the weather over there?” remains an ambiguous sentence through the use of the deictic adverb ‘there’.The final common form of deixis involves the person: “Would you go to dinner with me?” changes meaning depending on whom the ‘you’ in the sentence is. This is made even more difficult to understand in reality if more than one person is present and the speaker has no general focus.

Could Chinese commoners take the imperial exam?

They could, with exceptions.You could certainly take the exam if you were a member of the scholar-gentry or a yeoman farmer.If you were an artisan or a merchant, there were long periods where you were forbidden from taking the examination. If you were part of the jianmin (which included butchers, sex workers, boatmen, actors, musicians, and, at times, physicians, as well as legally restricted populations), you were forbidden from taking the examination. There are also cases where the possibility of a violation of the name taboo led to being unable to take the exam.The imperial exam was a very long-lived institution and varied (at times wildly) from era to era. The “classical” period (i.e., the one most studied) tends to be the later dynasties of Ming and Qing, generally because those were the eras where the classical exam as we know it reached its “final” form and pushed a more stable form of state orthodoxy in the form of Neo-Confucianism.In general, though, you could take the imperial exams if you met a number of social qualifications.Traditional Chinese society was divided into four categories, ranked in terms of descending prestige: scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants.It’s worth noting that the scholars were originally conceived to be aristocratic, landholding gentry—the earlier meanings of the Chinese term (士) come close to our word for “knight.” In addition, the “farmer” class generally didn’t include serfs or landless agricultural laborers, but more along the lines of yeoman farmers. So, originally, these were originally landholders whose property tax receipts contributed most to revenues of the state. Artisans, meanwhile, were generally landless (or possessed very little of it.)Merchants, on the other hand, were seen as the lowest of the four classes, and were traditionally seen as parasitic—the scholars led the people, the farmers produced the food, the artisans produced goods, but the merchants just bought and sold things for profit that other people had made.Meanwhile, seasonal agricultural laborers and what we might calls serfs were held to be part of the jianmin, the unnamed lowest social strata somewhat on par with Indian untouchables or the Japanese burakumin. More on that in a minute.It’s no mistake, then, that from the Sui to the Song, you were only allowed to take the exam if you were of the scholarly or yeoman farmer class. If you were an artisan or a merchant, you were generally unwelcome to take the exam an enter into government.You were also forbidden to take the exam if you were jianmin. Jianmin is a very broad class, largely bound together through a shared societal shunning. It included people in unsavory businesses (sex work, boatmen, butchers, slaves, or entertainers, including actors and musicians), or you were part of an ethnic community that was legally disadvantaged. The jianmin were subject to a number of other legal restrictions, as well, including being forbidden to marry outside of the jianmin—in essence, the jianmin class was broadly hereditary.This, of course, differed by dynasty—by the Ming and the Qing, both artisans and merchants were allowed to take the exam, but the restrictions against the jianmin were still in place.There were other restrictions, as well. If your name potentially invoked a taboo, you would be refused an examination—the poet Li He was forbidden to take the upper-level jinshi exam because his father’s name included the character 晉 (jin), which was a homophone of the jin in jinshi. The argument was that, if Li He passed, he would be granted a title in homophone to his father which would be unfilial. Presumably, if your name violated any of the other taboos, you would also be refused.So, after all of this, who was eligible for the examinations?If you were of the scholarly or yeoman farmer class, you were allowed to take the examination. If you were an artisan or a merchant, you were only allowed to take the exam from the Ming onward. If you were none of those and a jianmin, you were never allowed to take the exam. If your name violated a taboo (or potentially could), you could be refused an examination.That said, as other answers note, there’s a difference between being legally able to take the examination and having much of a chance of passing it.Taking the examination demanded that a student effectively memorize the so-called four books and five classics. Here, the “four books” were the Analects, the Mencius, the Great Learning (大學) and the Doctrine of the Mean. The five classics, meanwhile, were the Classic of History (書經), the Classic of Poetry (詩經), the Yijing (易經), the Classic of Rites (禮經), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋). Memorizing the Spring and Autumn Annals effectively meant memorizing its most famous commentary, the Zuo Zhuan (左轉), which was basically another work in itself. I can’t recall the precise number right now, since I don’t have the book with me, but I believe the total characters that had to be memorized were somewhere in the range of half a million, with the lion’s share coming from the Zuo Zhuan.In addition, you had to, in practice, memorize the approved commentaries on the Four Books—in later periods, Zhu Xi’s Neo-Confucian commentaries. So you wouldn’t just memorize the works themselves, but the relevant exegesis related to those works. You would also have to be very familiar with their philosophical positions.That was just the basic, baseline amount of work you had to do. In practice, you also had to memorize a wide corpus of poetry (since you would be tested on poetry composition), as well as a body of literary models whose style was seen as “proper” and could be adopted for your own.Scholars also intensely studied literary collections, such as the Wenxuan, which was a belletristic compendium from the Han era.In addition to that, you had to assiduously practice your handwriting (poor handwriting was grounds for failure, especially if the copyist couldn’t read it), memorize the relevant rhyme lists and poetic rules, practice writing your essays in accepted forms (which could be extremely constraining and complicated), and practice doing so under time constraint. One misplaced character could mean failure, one miswritten character could mean rejection. There was also the need to become fairly capable in the dialect of the capital, which served as the governmental lingua franca. Though not directly tested, showing up at the capital and speaking in a local dialect or accent was heavily frowned upon and could effectively end your chances of a political career.All of this was a massive investment and, practically speaking, meant that you had to hire a teacher, usually a member of the local scholar-gentry who hadn’t passed the exams himself but was fairly familiar with them. So, in addition to time, it also usually cost a pretty penny. Some towns and cities chipped in together to hire teachers, operating under the assumption that successful students would benefit the town if they achieved official rank.This was the case in the major port city and commercial center of Quanzhou during the Song—the town had an absolutely dominating number of successful scholars during the period of the Southern Song, including a good portion of the dynasty’s prime ministers, largely because wealthy merchants who couldn’t take the exams (and whose sons were likewise forbidden) shelled out tons of money to make sure talented students from their city could study and pass the examinations and, in turn, lobby on behalf of their benefactors for favorable economic policies. Think of it as something like the Chinese imperial equivalent of, say, the “Nike Scholar’s Fund,” but with a more explicit quid pro quo.But on top of all of that, even taking the exams was arduous and beyond the financial abilities of most people.First, you had to pass the introductory examination in your county. That would qualify you as a 秀才, literally a “refined talent,” which was sort of the basic licentiate position. That required you to go to wherever the exam was being held (usually the county seat) for probably somewhere around a week, including travel time—that meant a week you couldn’t be on the farm (or wherever). If you failed here, you could retake it, but beyond a certain point you’d be getting a pretty heavy Billy Madison vibe. On the other hand, if you passed, you got some legal benefits, such as exemption from the imperial labor service (the corvee).On the other hand, if you did super well—like, top in the nation—you could be given an annual stipend by the government and sent to study in the Imperial University. If you’ve made it here, you’re set.Then, you had to study for the triennial provincial exam. If you failed it, you could retake it—in three years’ time. Depending on when you got your xiucai, the provincial exam could be next year or it could be three years hence, so you might be more or less screwed by the timing. In any case, when that exam came about, you had to travel all the way to the provincial capital, find lodgings for a suitable period of time, take the examination, and await the results. That’s more time you can’t be working with the family.If you just can’t get past this level, basically you had failed and had to find employment as either a member of the scholar-gentry or as a teacher. If your family was poor, often you only had one real shot at taking it—if you failed, you were done, and these exams often had single-digit (as low as 1%) pass rates.Keep in mind that you’re not getting any compensation for doing this and that these exams are held in August, which, depending on where you were, could be the beginning of harvest season. In addition to that, pressure was intense—a failure to pass the exams after everything your family and town had invested in you could (and did) lead to mental breakdowns, suicide, and other unsavory things. Hong Xiuquan of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom fame ended up snapping after repeated failures.But, if you succeeded in the provincial exam, you were a juren, a “recommended man,” and were eligible for government employment and a salary (and bribes).Beyond this point, you were fairly successful already and basically went on to take the national exam and the palace exam (which was basically a “gimme”) and could more or less finance it on your own dime.But still—your family had to shell out money for a teacher (or send you to school), accept the idea that you basically couldn’t work in the fields because you were studying, then you had to pay for travel costs to the county seat or provincial capital, get lodging for at least a few nights before the exam. If you come from a humble farming family, that’s a hell of a lot of expense—even if they’re supportive of getting an education, all of that might just be out of their price range.Of course, that didn’t mean it was impossible. Chinese literature and history loved talking about scholars who had risen up from being poor farm boys to ministers—it was the Chinese equivalent of the “Lincoln grew up in a log cabin” story. It was, however, very, very hard.So, after all of that, could commoners take the imperial exam?If you were from the scholar class or the yeoman farmer class, then yes, you faced little to no official restriction on taking the examinations barring being on the wrong side of a periodic quota. If you were part of the artisan or merchant class, there were long periods where you were forbidden from sitting it. In addition, if you were part of the miscellaneous jianmin caste, you also couldn’t take it.Practically speaking, while the exam was open to you as a poor farmer, you had little real hope of passing unless you were just blazingly smart. Your family had to make substantial sacrifices to get you the education, books, and training you needed to have even a passing hope of doing well in a system that generally only had single-digit pass rates from exam to exam. So while you could take the exam, the costs of doing so with any hope of success tended to be prohibitive.

What are the best hip-hop albums from 2009-present?

Warning: this is a long and intricate answer.There are thirty different albums listed in this answer, each accompanied by a single choice track off of YouTube. Suffice to say, a lot of work went into this list.If you would be interested in learning about this later but are short on time right now, I encourage you to bookmark this answer and come back to it when circumstances permit. But maybe upvote it first because I promise that this right here is a magnum opus.This is the work of someone deeply in love with this style and era of music. This answer intends to be nothing but constructive. My primary intention is to dive into a period of musical history whose beauty I have seen for myself, and to extol it for those who might not know the glory that mine eyes have seen. If you love Rap music, then read on. If you have never gotten Rap music but you think my takes are something less than boring, then read on as well. I promise that there is an abundance of beauty ahead, even if you just skim for it.Okay, let’s do this.What a monumental question this is.I love it, though, because it gives me a chance to share some great music. So buckle up, and let’s take a dive into the last little-more-than-a-decade of Hip-Hop music.I am going to approach this question on a year-by-year basis, selecting a few albums from each year (with one exception) that I consider to be the outstanding albums of that particular year. Because the quality of albums released has not been consistent throughout the years being covered, this naturally means that there will be a variable level of quality. Some of the albums below would not be on this list had they been released in a different year with more outstanding releases.I should also be clear that in this list, I am trying to provide something more than just personal opinion. Naturally any such list is inherently subjective, but this list will include both my personal favorite albums from each year with those that I consider to be historically important and influential, even if they aren’t totally my personal cup of tea. That said, I’m not including a single album that I dislike.In case you are just looking for a brief, single-shot answer—and because I know that the first picture in an answer is the one that becomes the thumbnail—I will say that the single greatest album from 2009 to present at the time of writing is this one:Indeed, you will find Kendrick Lamar highly represented on the upcoming list, along with Run the Jewels, as pretty much all of the albums those artists released during this time period were among the strongest of their respective years. If that seems right to you, then I hope that this answer can introduce you to some more great music. If your list would include a lot of Drake albums then I predict that you will probably not agree with mine.My list absolutely does reflect my personal preference for what now gets called “lyrical rap.” As a result, Trap, Drill, and “Mumble Rap” more generally will not be featuring on this list, though that shouldn’t be interpreted as my saying that it’s worthless. I think that the diversification of the Hip-Hop sound that took place over the past decade is an important aspect of its history as a genre, and a lot of the gems below wouldn’t be as innovative as they are without the influence of the Trap movement within the genre.So without any more delay, lets get started on this list. The easiest way to begin is to take a trip through time back to 2009.2009To be perfectly honest, 2009 wasn’t a great year for Hip-Hop music. It was the final climactic peak of “the Bling Era,” and was marked by a lot of flat-out bad releases. Paul Wall and Mike Jones, both of whom I regard as emblematic nadirs of the Bling Rap era, both released albums.The five top-selling albums of the year by first week sales were Eminem’s Relapse, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3, 50 Cent’s Before I Self Destruct, Rick Ross’s Deeper Than Rap, and Young Money’s We Are Young Money. Spoiler alert: I don’t consider this a particularly impressive selection. Em and Jay are both legends to be sure, but these are not their best albums. As for the rest of them… eh.Despite this being an off year in my book, we got a few real gems this year, and foremost among them is where we will go first.Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, by RaekwonIt really is a testament to the staying power of the Wu-Tang style that 16 years after their Earth-shaking debut album, the Wu-Tang crew were still putting out the best music in an industry that had largely absorbed their sound and continued to move on. This album keeps the classic Wu-Tang style as sharp and fresh as ever.In order to properly appreciate Wu-Tang solo albums (and this will not be the only one on this list), it is important to understand them in their proper context. I often think of these albums as essentially soundtracks to movies that only play in your head while you listen to them. They are action movies with a heavy comic-book and kung-fu-flick influence. There is certainly a sort of generic character to them and they tend to follow a formulaic structure.The lead rapper is playing the character of a drug-dealing crime-lord trying to pursue his ambition while dealing with the treachery of the snakes and rivals around him, facing betrayal and pursuing vengeance. There isn’t a huge amount of variety to this lead role, and I see how that can make some people feel its played-out or unoriginal. But for those who can appreciate the cinematic nature of this style of music and aren’t grated by the “done before” nature of the epic saga in which the album is positioned, it’s a definite classic.Just in case people think that I am blinded by my preexisting love of the Wu-Tang Clan, let me say that music critics seem to have liked this album even more than I did. According to Wikipedia, it was the not only most critically-acclaimed hip-hop album of the year but also the fourth-most critically-acclaimed album on Metacritic in any genre that year and somehow sits in their top-50 most critically-acclaimed albums of all time. I’m not sure I would rate it quite that high, and as you will see in the entries ahead I don’t always fuck with the critics, but I feel that the utter acclaim this album received is worth noting, especially in the context of my own personal love for the Wu-Tang Clan (I am literally wearing a Wu-Tang t-shirt as I write this, so… maybe not totally unbiased). All I really mean to say is that you don’t just need to take my word for it, other people agreed this album was fucking fire.Also, this album is like a the hip-hop-production equivalent of a Rock supergroup. With contributions from the likes of Dr. Dre, J Dilla, RZA (of course), Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Mathematics, and more, this is a free-for all of great beat production, and every song holds up on its own.So here is “House of Flying Daggers,” one of the leading tracks off this monster of an album:Okay, on to the next cut.…Man on the Moon: The End of the Day by Kid CudiThis is admittedly something of a subjective entry. I realize the Kid Cudi isn’t for everyone, and I realize that this album has serious weak spots. But let me lay out why I think that this album absolutely belongs on this list.Part of it is admittedly nostalgia. 2009 was the year I graduated from college and found myself no longer a weird kid but now a weird adult trying to stumble into the world of professional life and figure out my identity within it. In that context, it was a deeply-resonant album for me.Were it to come out now instead of in 2009, I’m not sure exactly how I’d feel about it. Nonetheless, it marks the launching point of a career of an artist that—love him or hate him—would change the rap game and influence a huge swathe of the rappers to come.While it may not be a perfect album, I think this release is a laudably ambitious project and a stellar debut. If it wasn’t obvious to everyone at the time, the career that would follow it has taught everyone that this always was an album worth watching. The fact that I listened to it obsessively for months after its release has helped to frame the entire decade of music that would follow for me.Here’s “Day ’n’ Nite,” which was both the biggest hit from the album and one of those songs that still stands to define the period of time in which it was written.And with that, I think we’ll close out 2009. On to a new decade.2010The turning of this particular year was not just the start of a new decade, it marked the beginning of a truly new era in Hip-Hop music, only hinted at in echoes underground before. The Bling Era was officially over. No more would generic flows about how many diamonds you had on your wrist be enough to capture the imagination of rap fans. People were starting to want something new, and the market was shifting to adapt to that desire. The experimental foundation had been laid already, and was just waiting for expression. Part of this would be a return to the foundation and part would be groundbreaking and new.The most commercially successful album of the year was once again Eminem, but still just an echo of his prime. Rap music was still trying to figure out where it was.While some may disagree, I think that 2010 was another off-year in the grand scheme of Hip-Hop, but the seeds were being sown for a lot of great shit that was just around the corner.My personal top album from the year is highly reminiscent of the top pick from the previous year, though.Apollo Kids by Ghostface KillahMuch of what I said about Cuban Linx 2 also applies to this one. For those who don’t know, within the greater scope of Wu-Tang’s music Raekwon and Ghostface form something of a two-man unit. Their lyrical chemistry and personal friendship has led to them both featuring heavily on each other’s solo albums.That said, Apollo Kids is a different sort of album than the Raekwon joint that preceded it. Far less cinematic in its scope, it demonstrates Ghostface at his street-stream-of-consciousness best. Instead of paining an epic narrative it aims to build the scenery for an extraordinary existence defined not by superheroes but rather by individuals trying to get by. It’s lyrics and production are on par with the greater trend of Wu-Tang music, and stand as testament once again to the enduring power of the Wu-Tang style.Here’s “Ghetto,” which weaves a beautiful (and possibly freshly-recorded) soul sample with gritty street rap by a lineup of classic Gods who interact with it beautifully to form a coherent conversation, both between individuals and between divergent wings of Hood Culture:But there is another album that was released this year that—while it is admittedly not my personal favorite—any list like this would be incomplete without.…My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye WestSo, as I have mentioned, this album isn’t totally my favorite, but it is undeniably one of the most important Hip-Hop albums ever made. In it, one of the most influential artists of all time would begin his turn away from his more traditional beginnings and start leaning into a truly new era and sound.For all its weaknesses, this album has some real shining bright spots. Kanye is, as always, a true virtuoso producer who links up extraordinary samples to make a continually-gripping substrate of sound. It also marks some historic moments, like Nicki Minaj’s game-changing closure on “Monster,” which—because I am not choosing it as my example track—might merit some brief reflection.“Monster” comes across as a generally generic-to-disappointing track before Nicki’s entry. It has a great and classically-Kanye beat, but Rick Ross opens it poorly in my opinion. The man has his moments, but this just isn’t one of them. Kanye comes in with some decently-engaging lyricism, but still manages to disappoint me a bit, given the potential he has built with his exquisite production. After that, Jay-Z manages to drop one of the more boring Jay-Z verses that I have ever heard.By the time that MIA is dropping her four-or-so brief lines, I will admit that I am a little dismayed by the fact that they managed to get Rick Ross, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and MIA on a track and have it still be boring. Like everyone just seems to be coasting with minimal effort.And then Nicki Minaj comes in and utterly destroys all the big-name rappers that came before her. Her verse on that song is genuinely one of the stand-out features of the entire decade, so you should check it out. Its timing alongside the release of her first big-label solo studio album Pink Friday would help to launch her career as the uncontested top female rapper of the new era, and help her name to become a national phenomenon instead of just a Queens underground thing.But like I said, that’s not the track I am picking for this album. That’s because this album also contains the single greatest track that Kanye ever released, in my view. To understand this track, I need to lay down a bit of context, but I promise that it’s worth it, especially if you want to better understand the value of Kanye West, in all his troubling complexity.This album was preceded by what was—at the time—definitely the low-point of Kanye’s career. After releasing three celebrated albums in the previous decade, Kanye’s life and public persona took a turn for the chaotic, culminating in the embarrassing incident of him drunkenly taking the mic from a young Taylor Swift to shout about Beyonce having been cheated. It was reminiscent of ODB’s famous “Wu-Tang is for the children” interruption at the 1998 Grammy Awards, but not nearly as endearing. It was also reminiscent of his “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” exclamation during the fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina, but this time it was snotty and overprivileged rather than woke. Barack Obama called him “a dumbass” the following day.Out of this embarrassing low-point grew what I still rate as Kanye’s single greatest track. It perfectly exemplifies the “show me, don’t tell me” rule of great writing. It doesn’t bother with description, it dives right into the meat.In the first verse, we see the old Kanye who was dominating my iPod freshman year of college play out. We hear the hunger, the fervor, and the earliest iteration of the Power that gives the song its name. In the second verse, we hear egotism begin to subvert artistry as what was woke lyricism only seconds ago shifts into self-centered pettiness.In the final verse, we see egotism spill over into idiocy and insanity. No longer even pretending to be moored to any dock, the SS Kanye West drifts into the hurricane of reality unabated. Even as the narrator continues to unabashedly venture forth into a world where self-image starkly contrasts with reality, with his confidence in his own badassery undiminished. The satirical voice of the composer is lost completely in the self-satisfied peacocking of the apparently-separated artist.The interplay results is the hands-down most beautiful use of sampling by the greatest sampler of the 21st Century thus far. Appearing to be in his self-centric egotistical mode, Kanye delivers the following seemingly-unwoke series of lines:And how ‘Ye doin?I’m survivin’I was drinking earlier,now I’m drivin’Where the bad bitches? HUH?Where y’all hidin?I got the Power to make your lifeSo excitin’The lines, on their own, are not extraordinary, but they provide Kanye with his single most powerful sample ever. He says the word “excitin’” without really pronouncing the hard /k/ sound in the word, so that it comes out sounding like “so essitin.’” Kanye then takes the snippet of “so essit-”—which becomes a homophone for “suicide”—and loops it into an orchestral scale. In this moment, we see his human awareness and self-consciousness overtake his egotism as his narrator—like his public persona—spirals down from the upper echelons of high-society to the darkest catacombs of public shame and worthlessness.The fact that I find this album fairly boring in general but have expended this many words already on its best tracks is evidence of just how unbalanced this album is. Before I dig myself any deeper, here is my favorite song from Kanye’s entire discography, which I see as encapsulating his greatest strengths:If you are still with me, then thank you. Let’s advance our timeline another year.2011This was another year in which the market was largely dominated by some of the leading figures of the last decade. Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter IV was the most commercially-successful album, followed by Drake’s Take Care. This year also saw Kanye, high off his success with MBDTF, team up with Jay-Z to release Watch the Throne.But none of those are the albums that define the year for me. I will admit that this analysis is partially colored by what came later, but 2011 also saw the emergence of two new artistic voices in the Hip-Hop game, both of whom would go on to help redefine the genre.One was Kendrick Lamar, and the other was Death Grips.Section.80 by Kendrick LamarWhile it wasn’t his first-ever release, Section.80 represents the first major studio album from the man who would shortly thereafter rise to be the most important musical artist in the world. And while this album may not have topped the market when it was first released (or even been in the top ten most commercially-successful albums of the year), Section.80 rings with the voice that would bring so much to the decade ahead.It is different than Kendrick’s later work, to be sure. It isn’t as focused or structured as some of his later releases would be, but it is still unmistakably Kendrick. On “Hiiipower,” we hears the first shades of that voice that would do so much to define the industry in years ahead.For fans of his who haven’t listened to this album yet, it absolutely merits your attention. Viewed in the light of what his career would become, it is an album so clearly full of promise and potential that everyone really should have seen his rise to stardom coming.The other group that first emerged in this year is not for everyone, but absolutely deserves a spot on this list just the same.…Exmilitary by Death GripsThere is no doubt that Death Grips are a polarizing group. People tend to either love them or hate them. While I am firmly on the love side of the equation, I recognize that not everyone might be there with me.It’s a little bit difficult to explain to those who are not fans what exactly it is I find so compelling about the style of Industrial Hip-Hop that they make, but I think a lot of it comes down to this:I think that were you to plumb the depths of these artists souls, you would find that they really do not give a single solitary fuck what you think of their music. They aren’t making music for you, they are only making music for themselves, exactly the way they want it. If you like it then cool, but they seriously don’t care either way.I think a lot of artists try to maintain an air of this sort of nonchalance, but from what I can tell, Death Grips actually exemplifies it. Throughout their time as a band, they have shown no regard whatsoever for marketing. None of them have profiles on any type of social media as far as I am aware, and they make no effort whatsoever to create buzz. They just create music, and many of us find it so compelling that we make the buzz for them.Regardless of whether or not it’s your cup of tea, there is no denying that Death Grips took Hip-Hop music in a new direction with this album, and expanded the scope of what the genre could be.Here’s “Guillotine,” their first major single:And with those new emerging voices having been noted, lets move on to what was really an amazing year for Hip-Hop music.2012This is the first year that requires me to pick three albums to highlight, which alone is testament to its quality. Two of the artists are the same as from the previous year, and the other is one who will help to define the years ahead.Given all that beauty, let’s jump right in. And since we were only just talking about Death Grips, that seems a solid place to start.The Money Store by Death GripsAfter the solid start they made with Exmilitary, this album was where the trio really found their stride. Everything about this album, from the deeply chaotic production to the not-always-decipherable intricacy of MC Ride’s lyrics, was revolutionary and game-changing.Those who dislike Death Grips more generally will likely see little to appreciate here, but there is no doubt that this album expanded the scope of the Hip-Hop game, and pushed the limits of what it could aspire to.Despite some of the other tracks having been bigger hits, I like how the video for “Hustle Bones” manages to capture the wild energy of MC Ride’s performance style that makes this band’s live concerts so wild and exciting.Next, we will revisit our other artist who emerged in 2011, and watch him rise to a new level of focus.…Good Kid/M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick LamarWhile his sound and structure are still less refined than they will be on his masterpiece next album, this record was the one that demonstrated that Kendrick Lamar’s ultra-intricate writing style and penchant for layering levels of meaning and sound could also be made into commercially-viable music. Indeed, this was the second-best-selling album of the year, and would get Lamar his first Album of the Year Grammy nomination (though he would lose out to Daft Punk).In this album we see the central message of Kendrick’s music—that gangsters are people too, and that Gang Culture is in many ways a quintessentially American social ecosystem—play out as never before. The whole album documents how it is that a good church-going Jesus-believing Christian boy who avoids drugs can get caught up in a quagmire of crime and alcohol despite his best efforts to avoid it. Its aim, as with his later albums, is to give a new and human face to a people who are dismissed again on the news each night as a problem to be solved. Throughout, we hear Kendrick’s voice—cracks and all—reaching out into new territory.Like the albums that would follow it in his discography, it is well-structured, with the order of songs serving to form a narrative arc that keeps the album cohesive. This means that to remove any track from the greater structure of the album is to remove part of its meaning. Nonetheless, the tracks can stand on their own just the same.Here’s “M.A.A.D City,” one of the two title tracks, and itself bifurcated into a two-part narrative style reflecting on the brief ceasefire that took place between the Bloods and Crips during the artists childhood, and the violence that would follow it.It includes one of my favorite single phrases of Hip-Hop poetry ever penned:When you hop on that trolley, make sure your colors’ correct.Make sure you’re corporate, or they’ll be calling you mother collectSimple lines like that exemplify just how much Kendrick is able to convey in just a handful of words.Now on to our third and last album of the year, and one which also foreshadows greatness ahead.…R.A.P Music by Killer MikeWhile this is not his first album, it was on R.A.P. Music that we first really saw one of the most compelling voices of the past decade of rap come into its own. Killer Mike’s style of often irreverent and generally revolutionary political rap stepped up to fill the void that had been left by Immortal Technique since his last album. On this one, we see Killer Mike’s woke and politically informed brand of radical rap really come into its own.This new woke political style is perfectly exemplified in “Reagan,” which serves as both analysis and commentary on the Iran-Contra Scandal and the dawn of the age of mass incarceration:And with that we close out what really was an awesome year for Hip-Hop. That said, I can’t believe I’m only through 2012, so i will try to write less going forward so we can finish up on time.On to the next year!2013This was another really solid year for Hip-Hop music, and one from which I will pick three albums yet again. Without further ado, let’s jump right into the first one.Doris by Earl SwweatshirtWhile not all of the artists in the collective that called themselves Odd Future would have the staying power to make much of a mark on Hip-Hop music, it brought three major artists to the forefront of the game in the form of Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, and Earl Sweatshirt. Of the three, there is no question that Earl’s flow would be the most important to lyricism going forward.Earl’s layered-and-folded rhyme schemes are reminiscent of some early Wu-Tang affiliates like Killa Sin, and he creates a textured substrate of rhyme that makes his flow incredibly cohesive. This intricacy is juxtaposed to his generally bland and often monotone lyrical delivery, subverting all emotion in his voice into a blanket of sound.The track “Hive” exemplifies this interplay perfectly:The next album on the list bears a great deal of similarity to another that has already been discussed, so I’ll keep it short.…Twelve Reasons to Die by Ghostface KillahWu-Tang just keeps the cinematic albums coming and, for those of us who are into it, they just keep being awesome. Much like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, we see another iteration of the crime lord following ambition and facing betrayal only this time its Ghostface in the leading role and the narrative is even more dramatic. I will keep it short, but this is about as cinematic as albums get, and really compelling throughout.Here’s “Blood on the Cobblestones”Okay, on to the first of another run of albums that will dominate this list.…Run the Jewels by Run the JewelsThe pairing of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and New York rapper El-P was a match made in heaven. Together they bind the spectrum of East Coast rap together in a new ass-kicking hybrid sound. El-P’s abundant sense of humor also paired well with Killer Mike’s personality and helped to make their natural edginess more appealing.While, like Kendrick Lamar, their albums would also improve with practice and repetition, they really came out the box swinging, and this remains a remarkably impressive debut album.The video for “36” Chain” exemplifies their natural pairing of humor with badassery from the start:And with that we go on to the next year!2014But we don’t have to go too far because, as great as this year was for Hip-Hop, it starts much like the last one ended.Run the Jewels 2 by Run the JewelsHaving just introduced RtJ, I’ll keep this part short. On this album, we see their style continue to grow and solidify, and we see the political preaching that helped to bring them together crystalizing even. more.To exemplify this, let’s look at their socio-political anthem “Lie, Cheat, Steal”And with that, we turn to one of the true gems of the past decade and one of the most impressive collaborative albums ever made.…Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and MadlibWhat an album this is!I realize that Freddie Gibbs isn’t for everyone. I know some people find his endlessly gangster coke-dealing style of rap tiresome and occasionally uninspired. But regardless of how you feel about the man in general, this pairing is another match made in heaven.Madlib has consistently been one of the most outstanding beat producers of the era, but his beats aren’t always easy to rap over. It takes an energetic rapper to really ride a Madlib beat the way it deserves, and Freddie has the energy seeping out of every pore.Just listen to the dynamic between the grand cinematic foundation of strings and the bumping vocals on top of it on “Shitsville,” which is one of the more banging songs I’ve ever heard:Another year down, but stay tuned because we are really in the sweet spot of this list right now.2015This is the only year that gets just one pick on my list. That’s not because it was a bad year, but rather because that one album was really so good that nothing else can stand beside it, and I would rather spend all of my words on it than on any of the other admittedly-great albums released in 2015.To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick LamarThe only words sufficient to describe just how brilliant this album is are the lyrics that make it up. I will suffice to say that I consider this the single greatest album of any genre to be released in the 21st Century thus far, and count it as one of the very few albums that is able to stand alongside the likes of Illmatic, Ready to Die, and Wu-Tang Forever as a serious contender for the title of Greatest Hip-Hop Album Ever Made.Every single track on this album is a masterpiece, but so is the way they are woven together. In between tracks, Kendrick weaves together a poem, line-by-line, adding a new line of verse with each track, and the subject matter of the songs reflects the course of experience in the poem. We dive into issues of depression and victory, hope and despair, with a voice so personal that we really experience it all with him.This is at once the most humanly flawed and the most flawlessly perfect album of… well pretty much ever, and that’s really not hyperbole. Again, to remove any single track from the greater structure is to devalue it slightly, but I think the full cinematic scope of the album can be glimpsed from the remarkably-well-produced video for “Alright”If this answer only gets one more person to experience the beauty that is this album, that will have been enough. There is nothing else that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with in, so lets move on to the next year.2016At this point, the new age of Post-Bling rap is riding high and flourishing with creativity. The marketability of deep and complex Rap music was well established, and the art was thriving. This year would be marked by a lot of really top-quality esoteric and experimental artists continuing to push the art in new and unprecedented directions.So let’s get to it.The Impossible Kid by Aesop RockWhile Aesop Rock had been around and making his own esoteric style of music since the turn of the century, it was on this album that he really fully hit his stride. Long noted for his verbose and abstract lyrical style, Aesop managed to focus his craft more on this album than on its predecessors to produce something that was both imaginatively engaging and compellingly focused.I think the track “Rings,” in which he reflects on his past training as a graphic artists and the course of his path away from that field remains one of the greatest songs Aesop has ever written, and one of the most beautifully poetic bits of lyricism in the whole of the popular musical canon. As such, I’m opting to put in a lyric video so that you can really catch everything that he says:Such a gorgeously written track! Okay, on to another experimental and semi-underground Hip-Hop entry.…3001: A Laced Odyssey by The Flatbush ZombiesThe Flatbush Zombies came to the table with a new style of psychedelic rap that combined diverse influences and the different styles and voices of its three members in a way that was somewhat reminiscent of Wu-Tang’s stylistic diversity. At the end of the day, though, the conceptual innovation is more than matched by outright rapping ability on this one.On the monumental closing track, aptly titled “Your Favorite Rap Song,” the three of them demonstrate both their versatility and endurance, with each of them flowing for extensive stretches without ever toning down their quality or intensity for a moment.and with that, we return to something that we have seen before, back in yet another iteration.…Run The Jewels 3 by Run the JewelsLook who’s back with another hot album. The third release from this monumental duo shows their continual refining of their cutting sound an the beautiful choreography of their team dynamism.In the interest of brevity, I will say that this album is fucking hot and leave it there, with “Legend Has It” to play you out:On to the next year, which is another big one for the culture.2017The year that began with Trump’s inauguration was another turning point for Hip-Hop. The optimism and hopefulness that had sprung up during Hip-Hops glorious summer of the past few years now sunk into a winter of discontent and anger. The year saw Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes shouting “RESIST!” at the Grammy’s and gave us two of the most profoundly dark and powerful political rap albums of all time.DAMN by Kendrick LamarComing off a truly legendary album that rung with hope and optimism, the Rap’s king of allegory, satire, and metaphor came through with another utterly classic album. DAMN is not merely discontented, it is a battle between religious escapism, nihilism, and outright rage. We follow Kendrick through his own personal crisis of faith, as he comes to terms with the fact that the world he’s been praying so hard for hasn’t been praying for him.It’s not as perfect an album as TPAB, and it has a couple of weak spots, but make no mistake that this album is still likely the second best thing to have come out of this whole decade. It is another that really ought to be viewed as a single composition rather than a collection of different tracks.He also waits until almost the end to provide the context of the curse with which he fears his people have been damned, and it comes in one of the most profoundly moving tracks of the decade. On “FEAR” we see Kendrick walk through three different stages of life—ages seven, seventeen, and twenty-seven—and examines how his life has been defined by fear in a different way at every stage. I don’t think that there is another artist out there who can match Kendrick’s ability to get profoundly personal.If you haven’t done so yet, you should find a time when you can listen to this whole album straight through without interruption, as it truly is a masterpiece of continuity.…All-Amerikkkan Badass by Joey BadassThis year also saw a new Black star shining bright in Brooklyn. At a moment when a lot of people were becoming worried about the New York rap scene due to the growing influence of Brooklyn Drill music, Joey Badass stomped back into the limelight with a furious passion, releasing one of the most iconic albums of the decade, ready to take his place as the Brooklyn redeemer.Of all the adjectives you might use to describe this album, “happy” and “hopeful” likely wouldn’t be among them, though it certainly shimmers with a vision of a better world. As the nation coming to terms with the reality of the Trump presidency, he put out this album that’s two parts scholarly sermon, two parts social essay, and five parts Black rage. We hear Joey brought to the verge of ters more than once as he oscillates between impassioned shouting all the way to spitting spoken word over beats.This album is not only an excellent listen, but it’s also one that I would call historic. It’s place as a partial catalyst in a Black Lives Matter movement that would rise to ever greater prominence in the years ahead gives it added weight on top of its abundant beauty. The closing track, called “Amerikkan Idol” stands in my view as one of the most important bits of pop social commentary from the whole Black Lives Matter Era:What a year that was. Both of those albums are probably in my top 5 of the whole decade. Oh well, on we go.2018Getting close now. I feel like with each passing year my inclination to write long paragraphs diminishes. Let’s get into it.Oxnard by Anderson .PaakThis was easily one of the most delightful albums I have ever had the chance to discover. Despite having been around for a minute, I had never heard of Anderson .Paak until about two weeks before this album dropped, when a friend of mine who was hanging out at my apartment played “Suede” for me. The moment I heard this man’s music, I knew it was my jam. This man is not only a genre-bending artist who is likely to be remembered as one of the most important of his era, he’s also literally the most charismatic motherfucker alive. I am totally straight, but I maybe have a little bit of a crush on Anderson .Paak.He mixes Funk with Hip-Hop with Pop and Punk brilliantly. Having come from a punk-rock background he has carved out an entirely new niche for himself that doesn’t sit completely in any genre or category. This album saw him move defiantly out of the niche underground and on to centerstage, all without toning down his vivacity for a moment.When this album came out, I called it an instant classic, and almost three years later that call is still holding strong. It’s hard to pick just one track to give you a taste, but—aside from the brilliant two-part composition of Who R U -> 6 Summers—the opener, “The Chase,” is a track that never ceases to uplift me in one way or another. In particular, the line “time has no weight without hands to imply” serves as about the best opening statement for the album that you could find. It’s not what you would choose for a single, but it opens up the album very well.I’m hoping that will make you want to listen to the rest of the album, because it’s another that should really be consumed entire.…K.O.D. by J. ColeJ. Cole is an artist that tends to polarize fans to an extent. His die-hard fans will insist that he’s the greatest rapper of all time, while his detractors will call him corny. It’s my view that, while J. Cole doesn’t necessarily hit the target every time, this album really brings out the best in him.This album should also be understood in the greater context of the growing anti-drug movement in Rap, which some people may be surprised to learn is a major force. Several of the top artists of this period have taken a very strong stance against drug use and incorporate those values as a central element of their rap. I have mixed feelings about this movement overall. A lot of it is kinda corny, if you ask me, even when I agree with some of what they are saying.This album, however, manages not to be corny by being deeply personal. It is J. Cole’s ability to make himself vulnerable by sharing his own personal doubts and fears and shortcomings that allows his accounts to be compelling. A perfect example of this is his profoundly intimate “Once an Addict,” in which he documents the turmoil of dealing with his mother’s alcoholism, and manages to walk the narrow path of real relevance beautifully:And now for something completely different.…DAYTONA by Pusha TDon’t worry, America. There are still people rapping about drugs. And with that we go to Pusha T.I find Push to be another polarizing voice. Some people find him boring, and I understand that, as his songs all tend to be about generally the same thing (though he is not alone in the world of “mostly rapping about selling coke”). For me, it’s Push’s wordplay that wind me over, along with a hefty dose of nostalgia from all the Clipse I listened to in high school.But far more impressive even than Pusha T’s mostly-solid verses on this one is the utter masterpiece of Kanye’s production. At some point, I plan to do a whole post just diving into Kanye’s sampling on this album, but suffice to say it’s beautiful how he does it.As the track for this album, I might go against my better instincts and share “Infrared,” which was a song that should be understood in the greater context of Pusha T’s beef with Drake and Lil’ Wayne. This song is the jab that sets up the most devastating one-two combo in the history of rap beefs and utterly flattened Drake, not to mention that really nobody can do a diss track quite like Pusha T.I really need to do a post just on that beef as well. It’s legendary.Ah, well. Home stretch now so let’s keep moving.2019I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, so lets jump right into a year that will bring us more of the good we’ve just had and a bit of new and exciting beauty as well. Let’s gooooo!There Existed an Addiction to Blood by clipping.And now we have gotten to clipping. This group is, in my view, easily one of the best things to happen to hip hop these past few years. They have managed to redefine “experimental hip-hop” and revitalized the entire Horrorcore sub-genre, even while having their lead rapper need to take a break to play the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson as part of the original cast of Hamilton.On this album we see Daveed Digg’s utterly exquisite lyrical skill go toe-to-toe with the disturbingly-moving-in-its-dynamic-minimalism production of his bandmates. All of this pairs with a growing social revolutionary movement and roots in the post-Wu-Tang Horrorcore scene to give us an unbelievably compelling and enjoyable album.“Nothing is Safe” manages to take a single note being played continuously on a piano and may it feel orchestral and haunting. It is truly a masterpiece of minimalism:Damn, my spine is tingling. It’s wild how it still does that.…Bandana by Freddie Gibbs and MadlibGuess who’s back? It’s Freddie Gibbs and Madlib comin’ atcha with another hot album.Perhaps I should also say “guess what’s back?” because this album is also a return to the grand narrative saga style of album that we saw in Raekwon and Ghostfaces earlier albums. While there was definitely also a narrative arc to Piñata, Bandana sees it become even more cinematic. Like, literally. The music videos become essentially a short film documenting the saga of a hungry drug-dealing crime lord as he navigates treachery, much like we saw in Twelve Reasons to Die.If this kind of album isn’t your thing, I can assert that you will likely still find this one worthy of a listen, as it continues to pair Freddie Gibbs’s outstanding ability to rap with Madlib’s incredible mastery of beat production.About half of the video for my chosen track “Giannis” (from the delightful line “real g’s move in silence like Giannis”) is given over to the non-rapping side of the filmmaking, but I still enjoy it because of Freddie Gibbs’s abundant Hood Charisma and genuine talent for humor, not to mention the outstanding pairing with Anderson .Paak for a dose of funk. I’d watch this film:Not gonna lie, I think Freddie could have possibly made it as a comic actor if he wasn’t also an awesome rapper.Okay, let’s take a closer look at my boy Anderson .Paak before we move on to the next year.…Ventura by Anderson .PaakI have mixed feelings about my inclusion of this album, as it seems to oscillate between hit and miss, and some of its misses are bad, but it’s hits are still more than enough to make it one of the stand-out albums of its year. Like I said before, Anderson .Paak is about the most high-potential artists out there right now—aside from Kendrick, of course—and I am hoping to watch him conquer the world in the coming years.In Ventura, this Afro-Korean West-Coast sensation continues to raise his voice as a social activist, with social movement anthems like “King James” and genuine funk/dance classics like “Jet Black.” But the track I have to choose to showcase the album has got to be “What Can We Do?”The track is structured as a duet between Anderson and Nate Dogg, the single most defining voice of mainstream melodic rap for more than a decade.The only thing is that Nate Dogg died of a stroke in 2011.In an unbelievably ambitious move that he executes with total perfection, Anderson .Paak—presumably through his relationship with Dr Dre—manages to get ahold of some unreleased Nate Dogg vocals from a studio session that never made it onto an album. ultimate team player that he is, Anderson turns this recording into a beautiful duet that can’t help but feel reminiscent of Kendrick’s legendary conversation with Tupac at the end of TPAB.If you don’t enjoy this track then something is wrong with your ears:So close. Let’s finish this!2020This is a hard year for me to narrow down because I have already done another answer laying out the top ten albums of 2020. And mark my words: 2020 was a fucking brilliant year for Hip-Hop Music.As such, I am going to give myself four albums for this year, especially because that brings me to thirty, which is a nice, round, even number. So also that. But I will try to keep these entries short, especially because I have already talked about all of them here:Okay, let’s go, only this time in super brevity mode.All My Heroes Are Dead by R.A. the Rugged ManR.A. has been around forever and has been one of the brightest stars in the New York underground scene.I don’t feel the need to say much about this guy aside from that he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time and that’s not even a controversial statement for those who know him.Don’t believe me? I fuckin’ dare you to listen to “First Born,” his song for his daughter, and not be moved. Seriously, listen to this and if you aren’t sold then you literally have no soul:What a legend that man is. And what an album he gave us there. Nothing else quite like it. But we have to move on……RTJ4 by Run the JewelsGuess who’s back `(back, back)Back again! (gain, gain)Run the Jewels (jewels, jewels)Tell your Friends (friends, friends)Seriously, though, this is—in my view—RtJ’s best album yet, and they are the only artist aside from Kendrick to feature four times on the list (and Killer Mike technically beats out Kendrick at five, not counting… wait, I haven’t gotten there yet).Seriously, I have already explained how awesome Run the Jewels is at this point, and this answer is already too long for anyone to read so what the hell, here’s “Walking in the Snow” for your listening pleasure:Stop-motion animation at its finest. Onward!…Miles by Blu & ExileSadly, this duo’s 2007 album Below the Heavens was released two year to early to make this list, but I am glad to be able to include this beautiful composition on my list here.On this album, one of the most compelling voices in LA’s underground rap scene checks back in with an album about the unsung side of the American Dream. It’s a tale of hard work and loss and insufficient reward, but it is deeply relatable and personal and the artist bleeds himself all over the libretto.Even though it’s not my single favorite track, I think that “The Feeling” provides the best glimpse of what this album really has to offer. If you think that rap music talks too much about crime and drugs and hoes or whatever, I present to you the following rebuttal:And that brings us to the last featured album!…Visions of Bodies Being Burned by clipping.I have already built my case for clipping., so I won’t talk much more on it here. For what it’s worth, I see this as their best album yet.This album is so hot that I don’t totally have the words for it. Just listen to this shit, because it’s totally fire.Here’s “Say The Name,” which is one of those tracks that doesn’t give a shit about what you were looking for because it’s gonna punch you in the face anyway:And with that we are done!!!!!Oh wait, there’s still another year.2021So what will most likely be the definitive album of this year? Obviously too early to say for sure, but how about predictions?I’m not going to pretend that this is a profound or prescient prediction on my part. This is about the easiest call that I will ever make, but at the same time I think that it merits discussion:If Kendrick Drops, that will be the album of the year.Like I said, that’s not an insightful prediction to make, or is it the least bit reaching. I think that pretty much everyone knows that whatever the next thing Kendrick Lamar releases might be, it is set to be a monumental album, based on the evidence thus far. And he is due for a new album right about now…At the same time, I worry that Kendrick may be suffering from a serious case of “too brilliant too fast.” There is literally no other artist in the whole of the pop music sphere who has as much pressure riding on their next album as Kendrick has on his. He has been so consistently brilliant up to this point that were he to release an al bum that was “pretty good” or even “one of the better albums of its year,” that would still be interpreted as a monumental failure.I really hope that the pressure doesn’t blind him, though I know it has to be intimidating. The man has essentially caught lightning in a bottle three times in a row, and the potential has to be overwhelming.I will say that I alsi think it’s possible we might see the first great Kanye album in a decade this year. I have no intention of piling on, but evidence suggests that the quality of Kanye’s solo music is inversely proportional to how much the general public likes him. At his lowest and most hated moment of the past, he gave us “POWER.” Maybe the combination of his Trump support and his divorce will create a scenario in which he is sufficiently hated to make truly great music again!Regardless of any of that, thank you for reading, if you’ve read this far. This is a pretty solid dive into one of the most formatively important eras of Hip-Hop music, and I hope that this answer can be a jumping-off point for further engagement.Have a great day, or night, or whatever it is where you are!And keep your ear to the street, because there is a lot of beauty yet to come!Peace!

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