2009 was a very interesting year for music. The “industry” make a roaring comeback, for the most part, sidelining the blogs and other “alternative media,” as our eyes once again focused back to more traditional outlets like radio and MTV. 2009 has also been one of the most devastating years that I could remember–we lost such names as DJ AM, Brittany Murphy, and the King, Michael Jackson, leaving us for good. But there is hope for 2010. As we close our first decade of the new millennium, 2009 had its highs and lows. Kid Cudi’s much anticipated debut was a disappointment, while cheeky UK electro artist Calvin Harris drops one of the best (and fun) albums of the year. And as much as I love The xx, their debut album does little to showcase their potential. Other artists like Gucci Mane and Rhianna dropped adequate, yet predictable albums, while the country of New Zealand has surprised us all with its doses of Down Under soul.
All in all, 2009 was a great year. 2010 is proving very unpredictable, which in the end, makes the business of writing about music more exiting. I cant’ wait.
The Top 15
15.) Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
French group Phoenix showed up on a bunch of people’s “year end” lists in 2009 and rightfully so. The band managed to fill our need for uptempo rock music, mimicking such US acts like The Rapture, and were rewarded with exposure from a Cadillac commercial and radio airplay here in The States. 2010 should bode well for this band.
14.) Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement
Michigan hip-hop producer turned LA based soul crooner Mayer Hawthorne surprised us in 2009 with his delectable album, A Strange Arrangement. Just when you thought the whole “blue eyed soul” era of music was dying, Mayer comes through and drops such neo-classics as “Green Eyed Love,” and “Maybe So, Maybe No.” Word is, his next album is even better.
13.) Lushlife – Cassette City
In a world where most of the underground is jumping around about Jay Electronica and Mos Def, little known Philly beatmaker Lushlife rolls through and drops one of the best hip-hop albums in recent memory. Yes, it’s “backpacker”, and “left field,” but Lushlife’s laid back beats are the perfect compliment to a lazy Sunday afternoon.
12.) Passion Pit – Manners
With Empire of the Sun, Miike Snow, and Passion Pit dominating critics lists this year, it’s safe to say that the pseudo-urban white male electro crooner (yeah I made that up) has dominated 2009. Passion Pit started off this year with their iconic track “Sleepyhead,” and their album has been a favorite ever since. The Boston-area group crafted an album that is both eccentric and accessible at the same time. Even though the blogs sometimes get it wrong (Neon Indian?), Passion Pit is most certainly worth the hype.
11.) Mos Def – The Ecstatic
This album went from a collective “bleh,” to being one of the best albums of the year. Yes, I didn’t like this album at first, but after a number of listens, it continued to grow on me and almost made the top 10. Even though Mos really needs shift his career back Back On Both Sides era, The Ecstatic is a competent effort whose potential is only realized when listened to from beginning to end.
10.) Miike Snow – Miike Snow
While the US was jumping over Passion Pit, the Swedes were already knee deep in Miike Snow. The Stockholm-based group crafted a beautufl collection of left-field pop in their self-titled album. From upbeat tracks to ballads, this album simply wins, and like other Swedes, their visuals are simply out of this world. We already know: Sweden Stays Winning.
9.) Dam-Funk – Toeachizown
LA’s Dam-Funk brings back the 80s with his double disc “Toeachizown,” and album so steeped in back in the day nostalgia that it should come with it’s own bottle of Afro-Sheen. All jokes aside, these types of albums tend to be a huge FAIL if not done correctly. However Dam has curated an album that blends the sounds of the past with the sound of the current so seamlessly and effortlessly that most people cant’ tell if it dropped in 2009 or 1979.
8.) The Kickdrums – Just a Game
Yes, this was a free album, but I would have GLADLY paid money for it. With a sound that mimics fellow Ohioian RJD2, the duo crafted low-fi masterpieces, and unfortunately this album seemed to be overlooked by many in the music press. The transition to hip-hop producer to Radiohead-esque composer might be a daunting task, but Ohio’s The Kickdrums did it like it was nothing.
7.) MSTRKRFT – Fist of God
Unfortunately this album was a love it or hate it type of deal. I love it, the rest of the world seemed to hate it. EDM purists went at MSTRKRFT for “selling out,” while hip-hoppers were left scratching their heads at some of their greats rhyming over 120 bpm. I think the combination is brilliant, and the collaboration with John Legend, “Heartbreaker,” should’ve been a dance club staple.
6.) Alex Goose – The Blueprint 3 Outtakes
Even though none of these tracks ever got on Hova’s album, Alex Goose’s seamless blending of 60s and 70s orchestral samples makes for some of the best hip-hop beats you will hear this year. Let’s all hope that Hova reconsiders these tracks for The Blueprint 4.
5.) Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
Speaking of The Blueprint 3, well, Jay managed to defy the haters and drop one of the most successful albums of his career. Yeah, Jay phoned it in lyrically, and some of the beat selections are off, but tracks like “D.O.A,” “Off That,” and the pop-tinged “Run This Town,” and “Empire State of Mind,” make up for that.
4.) Skyzoo – The Salvation
The most slept on album of the year, HANDS DOWN! Skyzoo dropped The Salvation this year and nobody listened. It’s a damn shame, but it also shows the shrinking market for East Coast hip-hop in this country. Every song on this album is a BANGER, and produced to perfection thanks to the talents of Just Blaze, Illmind, Black Milk, and 9th Wonder.
3.) Major Lazer – Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do
Say what you will about the hipsters, but their community has spawned some of the best, creative music this decade. Diplo and Switch created one of the best dancehall/reggae record that I’ve heard in a long time. From the club banger “Pon the Floor,” to the radio-friendly “Keep It Goin’ Louder,” to the Auto-tuned baby, this album has something for everyone. After the success of M.I.A. and others, the question needs to be asked…when will the industry give Diplo a seat at the table?
3.) Drake – So Far Gone
Drake is 2009’s success story and So Far Gone is his canvas. While it seems like everybody and their mama dropped mixtapes (including our site), Drake was the only one that harmoniously blended all of his influences–from a duet with Swedish songstress Lykke Li, to rapping with Lil Wayne over Jay-Z’s Ignorant Shit, giving the hipsters AND the hoods something to love. Add to that, the singles that were produced by his Toronto-based production crew–Best I Ever Had, Successful), getting worked onto radio without a major label deal and you have the epitome of the . Want further proof? Drake released this free mixtape to stores and still outsold many rappers proper solo efforts.
2.) Calvin Harris – Ready For The Weekend
With the cost of production equipment falling to record low prices, it seems like everybody is a “producer” these days. However, not everyone has the skills of 25 year old Calvin Harris, whose sophomore CD combines the styles of house, electro, disco and everything in-between. The result, a light, fun, danceable, “floor-filler” of a CD that is the most well-rounded release this year.
1.) Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part II
Hip-Hop has become a Mexican Standoff. There are now several factions of the genre: Dirty South, hipster, NYC, “Street,” “Classic Golden Era Boom Bap,” etc and there are no plans for rival groups to get along (No Gucci Mane/Tribe collabos?) Out of the ashes of this mess rose Raekwon, who’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx unapologetically brings back the Wu-Tang era, but opened up room for new fans in the process.+
The rest of the Top 50 Albums Below:
50.) The Eels – Hombre Loco
49.) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Day
48.) Rhianna – Rated R
47.) Röyksopp – Junior
46.) Tanya Morgan – Brooklynati
45.) Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
44.) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
43.) Eminem – Relapse
42.) The xx – xx
41.) Gucci Mane – The State vs Roderick Davis
40.) Young Money – We Are Young Money
39.) Muse – The Resistance
38.) Wale – Attention Deficit
36.) Laura Izibor – From My Heart To Yours
35.) Slaughterhouse- Slaughterhouse
34.) Diamond District – In The Ruff
33.) Snoop Dog – Malice in Wonderland
32.) David Guetta – One Love
31.) Miles Bonny – Scorpio INN
30.) Melanie Fiona – The Bridge
29.) Basement Jaxx – Scars
28.) Warpaint – The Exquisite Corpse EP
28.) La Roux – La Roux
27.) Freddie Gibbs – The Labels Tryin’ To Kill Me
26.) US Royalty – Midsommar
25.) Little Dragon – Machine Dreams
24.) Electric Wire Hustle – Every Waking Hour
23.) Danny Swain – Where Is Danny? (Demo)
22.) Fat Freddy’s Drop – Dr Boondigga & the Big BW
20.) Panacea – Corkscrew Gaps EP
19.) Ryan Leslie – Transition
18.) Florence and the Machine – Lungs
17.) J Cole – The Warm Up
16.) Blacroc – Blacroc