Yes, I am actually publishing a 2008 year in review in March. But, I started putting this together last November and lord knows I’m hurting for content here, so here goes…
(See also: last year’s year in review.)

The Best of 2008

Invincible: Shapeshifters

When Jay Smooth embedded Invincible’s video for “Sledgehammer,” the first single off of her debut album (and my favorite hip-hop single of the entire year), I ordered the album from her site before the video had even finished. While Eminem and Dilla were Detroit hip-hop’s most popular exports, Invincible may well be the most deserving of attention. Not only is the precision of her complex flow razor sharp, she holds it down as an activist for the city’s forgotten. The result is an album full of jaw-droppingly dope lyricism, tight production, and an overall package that was hard to beat this year.

You’ll notice that I didn’t add anything like “one of the best female emcees ever” because I think we’re mostly past the point of acting like women can’t be every bit as ill as men. Invincible herself says it best with the nicest couplet of the year: “I’m striving to be one of the best, period / Not just one of the best with breasts and a period.”

Lots of superlatives here and they’re all deserved.

Supastition: Leave of Absence EP and Kam Moye: Self-Centered EP

I drop these together because Supastition=Kam Moye and both EPs are deserving of notice. Supastition is perhaps one of the best all-around emcees that you haven’t paid attention to. I know that was true for me — I heard his amazing “Fountain of Youth” two years late, but have been hooked since. This dude is hip-hop, like KRS used to say. Gems: “Welcome to My Life,” “Black Enough” (Self-Centered) and “Bad Blood,” “Word Has It,” “Worst Enemy” (Leave of Absence).

Goat: Special Agent

Special Agent is one of those rare unsolicited ADDreviews submissions that really grabbed me. It’s abstract, experimental, avant-garde jazz with just enough funkiness to keep things jumping. Now if I could just stop forgetting how good this album is after listening to it; I “rediscovered” it three or four times last year.

Nas: Nas

I haven’t really liked very much Nas has done since his first or second album even though the dude is a great MC. But this year’s self-titled album offered up some real gems, especially “Sly Fox,” a scathing attack on Fox News.

Neil Welch: Narmada

From my ADDreview: “Proof that post-contemporary jazz in the Trane/Shepp/Sanders/Ayler vein is alive, well, and getting better and better.”

J-Live: Then What Happened?

I’m a huge mark for J-Live. He’s one of the best out there and he proves it again and again, album after album. This one’s no different. “Ole (feat. Oddy Gato)”, “One To 31”, “It Don’t Stop”, and “You Out There” are all straight fire.

I had to stop following him on Twitter, though. Too many tweets.

7L & Esoteric: Esoteric Vs. Japan (Pterodactyl Takes Japan!)

I’ve always liked Esoteric as an MC but he’s really coming into his own as a producer. On this one, the samples are sourced from Japanese monster movies.

OSTR: Ja tu tylko sprz¹tam [Edycja specjalna]

From the moment I heard OSTR’s “Powietrze,” I knew this dude was someone to keep an eye on. And, indeed, this Polish emcee/producer has become one the country’s most well-respected and he’s finally getting his due in the States. This latest release has top-notch flows and beats that are beyond sick. Some surprise guests show up, too, in the form of X Clan’s Brother J, Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, and The Artifacts’ El da Sensei. Top tracks: “Co by siê nie dzia³o,” “1980 (feat. Sadat X and Cadillac Dale),” Jestem tylko dzieckiem (feat. El Da Sensei & Dan Fresh),” and “Jak nie Ty, to kto? (feat. Brother J).” Also, the instrumental for “Zamach na Ostrego.”

Al Green: Lay It Down

What do you get when you take legendary soul singer Al Green, put him together with producer ?uestlove and release the resulting album on Blue Note? A new Al Green album that has all the trademarks of his classic 1970 albums. This one was definitely an overlooked gem and the collaborations with Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae, and John Legend were surprisingly good.

Half Pint: No Stress Express

Yeah, I’m a bit biased, but Pint’s latest album is his best work since the late 80s, so I had to include it. Nice stuff here with Jack Maness from the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, Toko Tasi, Dollaman, and Miki Howard. Lots of great singles here, even if you’ve already got a couple of the tracks on other albums.

Pint also released a two-disc anthology last year that’s quite good, but he’s got several “Greatest Hits” compilations, so I decided this one deserved more notice.

Spejs: Czlowiek Z Jednym Pejsem

Another solid hip-hop album from Poland.

The Best of Stuff from 2007 that I Discovered Late, in 2008

A lot of times, particularly in the first month or two of the year, I come across something from the previous year that I missed. Here’s my ode to four albums that fall into that category.

Built by Snow: Noise (EP)

This is one of those CDs that I was sent for review on ADDreviews that sat around in my “unreviewed” pile for several months before I even listened to it. But it took only one time through to become one of my favorites. Sure, nerd rock isn’t exactly my normal musical territory, but the stuff here is just so catchy, I couldn’t deny it. “Radio,” “Julianna,” and “Laika” rawk.

Their new album, MEGA, came out last month and is almost as awesome as this.

Atmosphere: Strictly Leakage

This free album dropped on the web late last year and, truth be told, is as good as any other Atmosphere effort. It’s less introspective than Slug sometimes is and is more of a party record, with lots of battle rhymes over classic hip-hop tracks (like “YGM” (Young, Gifted, and Mixed) over Big Daddy Kane’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” track). Because of this, I think even Atmosphere/Slug detractors could get into it. Equally good on headphones, in the car, or while making pancakes.

100nka: Kompot Gratis and Potrawy sTrawy

I maintain that the progressive/post-contemporary jazz coming out of Poland is some of the most engaging music anywhere. 100nka is part of that scene.

I just became aware of their work last year and enjoyed the hell out of their 2007 double-release of Kompot Gratis and Potrawy sTrawy. Fans of Robotobibok and Pink Freud will love the complex, layered sounds of 100nka.

Thes One: Lifestyle Marketing

WOW. Thes One (of People Under the Stairs) takes the music of Herb Pilhofer, a composer responsible for a number of funky corporate jingles of the 1970s, and turns them into extra-funktastic beats. The swirling echoing vocals on “Northwestern Bell” will stick with you for days.

The Almost Best of 2008

One sentence each.

Craig G & Marley Marl: Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop: Way, way better than I expected.

Common Market: Tobacco Road: A strong follow-up to their classic debut.

pre: almightly low: Solid execution on a unique concept: an album built entirely on one-note samples.

Dr. Dooom: Dr. Dooom 2: Better than most of Keith’s recent output.

Del: Eleventh Hour: Not classic Del, but it’s always good to hear new stuff from the Funky one.

C-Rayz Walz & Kosha Dillz: Freestyle vs. Written: All writtens from Kosha Dillz and all freestyles from C-Rayz make for a fun concept album.

Muneshine: Status Symbol: The ultra-talented emcee/producer from the north is one to keep an eye.

Michael Franti: All Rebel Rockers: Like Yell Fire! part 2, but not quite as hot.

John Doe: The Last Amateur (One Hour Photo): More densely packed turntablism from the Hobo.