It’s been another great year of music. It’s tough to keep up with everything coming out, so I’m sure there’s some awesome stuff missing here, but the normal rules apply: this what I dug most and came back to most frequently.

(See also: 2009, 2008, and 2007.)

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order.

The Best of 2010

  • Belleruche: 270 Stories
    Belleruche’s approach of combining turntables and soulful vocals (“Influenced by vintage blues records, punk girl drummers, obscure 60’s cover bands and experimental west coast turntablists”) reminds me a lot of what we heard from Kristin Mainhart and the Khromozomes crew in the earlier part of the decade. Great, danceable, funky tunes very much in line with their excellent “Turntable Soul Music” from 2008. The video for “Fuzz Face” is also well worth checking (every frame was photocopied to hell to create a really ill visual distortion). Favorite cuts: “Fuzz Face,” “3 Amp Fuse,” and “Gold Rush.”
  • Black Sheep: From The Black Pool Of Genius
    For some reason, this album completely flew under the radar. From my recollection, almost no one talked about it after the first week it was out. But, honestly, it’s pretty darn good. Production’s dope and no fan of early-90s hip-hop can tell me that they didn’t get geeked from “Elevation” or the Native Tongues’ reunion track “Birds of a Feather” (even with the awkward levels on the mix).
  • Boog Brown: Brown Study
    Voiced by Detroit native Boog Brown and produced by the (I-finally-realize-he’s) super dope Apollo Brown, Brown Study is packed with some genuinely awesome tracks, including the amazing “Friction” featuring Miz Korona and perennial favorite Invincible (if she’s not making an album of the year, she’s appearing on them), “Friends Like These” featuring Kam Moye/Supastition, “Play the Game” featuring Ken Starr, and “Marinate.”
  • CeHa: Bilet
    Driving Polish hip-hop with some excellent production. Favorite track: the reggae-inspired “Rób, Co Chcesz.”
  • Celph Titled & Buckwild: Ninteen-Ninety-Now
    Original, unused mid-90s Buckwild beats lacing Celph Titled verses? Um, yes please. Great stuff, including guest spots from Treach, Demigodz, Celph Titled, and a massive posse cut with Sadat X, Grand Puba, A.G., O.C., and Diamond D. Favorite cuts: “Swashbuckling,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Styles Ain’t Raw.”
  • Clutchy Hopkins: The Story Teller
    In a world where everyone knows everything, it’s kinda cool that the mystery behind Clutchy Hopkins has remained a mystery. Is he really DJ Shadow? Cut Chemist? Madlib? Whatever the case, the music sounds is like a folky funk live-instrument amalgam of all of them.
  • El Da Sensei & The Returners: Nu World
    El and Tame are working on an Artifacts album, but until then, we have their excellent solo work to enjoy. Tame had two killer albums last year (one solo and one with Del) and El’s work with Polish production duo The Returners this year was every bit as good as his first outing with them a few years back. A great, great release. Best cuts: “Knowledge Be the Key” featuring Raaka, “2 the Death,” and “Live Noize” featuring Akrobatik.
  • Igor Boxx: Breslau
    From the Skalpel crew, Igor Boxx’s solo venture at first may not seem quite as interesting as the group’s work, but with repeated listenings, it really opens up. Great, deeply personal music.
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way
    Do all the analysis you want about white kids and the popularity of retro-soul of the last decade thanks to labels like Daptone, Soul Fire, and One Note, there’s no denying that Sharon Jones tears shit up. I Learned the Hard Way is a phenomenal release, full of the fire and soul that R&B hasn’t had in decades. Classic recording equipment and techniques are an important part of the equation, but if Jones’ presence and voice weren’t there, all the recording gimmicks in the world wouldn’t matter. Top-to-bottom, this one’s a classic will be in rotation for many years to come. Favorite cut: “Money.”
  • Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
    Too busy? Phooey. Too blippy? Nah. All I know is that I’m continuing to dig the insanity and complexity.
  • The Left: Gas Mask (also)
    Producer Apollo Brown is another guy behind the sampler that had a great year, laying down the foundation for two of my favorite albums of the year, Boog Brown’s aforementioned Brown Study and this collaboration with MC Journalist 103 and DJ Soko. The classic formula: dope MC, soulful beats, and cuts (though I could have used some more of the latter). Favorite cuts: “Statistics (feat. Invincible),” “Gas Mask,” and “The Melody” (where Journalist 103 is on a Supastition steez). A month after the album hit, a 3-track EP of leftover cuts was released as Gas Leaks. It’s also worth snagging.
  • Little Miss Higgins: Across the Plains
    The album has firmly planted Little Miss Higgins amongst my favorite modern blues singers alongside Brownbird Rudy Relic, CW Stoneking, and Mamie Minch. Just, wow. There’s some serious power behind this creativity, as seen on “Bargain! Shop Panties,”
  • oddisee: Odd Winter
    Released in January, this one started the year off wonderfully. Oddisee is one of the most inventive and talented producers in hip-hop right now, able to tackle pretty much any style with ease and expertise, and this collection is a good example of his versatility. From the outstanding hands-on-the-lunchtable battle track “Riiight (feat. Stik Figa)” to the choppy “Carry On” to the mellowy-soulful “All Because She’s Gone.”
  • PackFM: I F*cking Hate Rappers
    “Too many MC’s, not enough fans.” The title track is the anthem for anyone who’s overwhelmed with the barrage of hip-hop by barely talented bedroom rappers and for the true MC’s and producers tired of nobodies talking shit with authority just because they were on a mixtape. But this 15-track (5 are skits) release isn’t a one-note pony. Pack brings heat on “Wanna Know” with labelmate Deacon the Villain, “Here We Go (Come On),” “Absolutely Positive,” “Sire” (Pack’s take on “King of Rock”), and the 180 degree turn from the title track titled “I F*cking Like Everything.” The skits are well done, but of course, get a little tired on repeated listening (though I’ll never tire of the “I think my Aunt got signed to Koch last week” line on the intro). The production by Kno, Tonedeff, Domingo, J-Zone, and others is great.
  • Pink Freud: Monster of Jazz
    Since one of my favorites bands of all-time, the brillant Polish post-contemporary jazz group Robotobibok, broke up a few years ago, I’ve been leaning on groups like Pink Freud to keep me happy. Like their previous output, Pink Freud’s “Monster of Jazz” is a wonderfully eclectic selection of modern jazz with splashes of electronica.
  • POE (Projekt Ostry Emade): Złodzieje zapalniczek
    I anxiously awaited this late-year release from the moment I heard about it. Emade’s a dope producer and OSTR is a great MC (ahd producer, but I don’t think he got behind the boards at all on this one) and the album didn’t disappoint. I only got to listen to it a couple of times since it took me until mid-December to get a copy, but it’s a great Polish hip-hop release with a classic style. Combine it with the full set of accompanying instrumentals, and I’m happy. Favorites: “Nie odejdę stąd,” “Nadzieja,” and “Ty Znasz Ten Stan.”
  • Rakaa: Crown of Thorns
    Of course Rakaa’s a dope MC, but when you give him some amazing production on every single track, you’re going to end up with an album of the year. There’s certainly no album that got more rotation for me than this one, due in part to the amazing “Delilah” and one of the sharpest political songs I’ve heard in a long time, “The Observatory” (featuring Mad Lion).
  • Reason: Landlords & Lullabies
    I wasn’t really too familiar with Rhode Island MC Reason, but I checked out some recent mixtapes and eventually bought the CD of his 2010 LP Landlords & Lullabies. His style may not be for everyone, but I really dug this release from the top down. Favorite tracks: “Paid Bills,” “Girls with Cameras,” and “Clingers” (featuring Dirty Hank).
  • Sade: Soldier of Love
    Receiving a massive PR push when it was released in January, Sade’s first album in a decade surprised the hell out of me. The title track/lead single was straight fire and the rest of the album was almost as good (other favorites: “The Moon and the Sky” and “Long Hard Raod”). This is one of those rare releases that matches voice and music so perfectly.
  • Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of an Eye
    The problem with blending jazz with any other genre is that the jazz almost always suffers. Guru’s Jazzmatazz series was good, but you weren’t hearing any hard-bop complexity in the song structure. It’s rare that one can do what Scanner and the Post Modern Jazz Quartet have done here: mesh blippy electronica with post-contemporary jazz and make it sound “right.” The key is that this is a jazz album first. Scanner’s contributions, while certainly not an afterthought, are understated. Rather than becoming the focus, they’re an accent. Half the time, one doesn’t even realize Scanner’s doing anything, until you realize that the swirly effect that swooped in was his doing. On “Dreaming With You at My Side” (probably the least “jazzy” of the tracks here) the fuzzy bleeps somehow mesh with vibraphones and dub-style reverb on keys doesn’t sound out of place.

    My favorite track on the album is the closer, “Beyond the Edge of the Frame,” a frenetic breakbeat with piano and vibes and Scanner’s occasional interjections. While structurally it’s not as complex as the other tracks on the album, it has a drive behind it that’s hard to resist.

  • Sxip Shirey: Sonic New York
    I came across this one late in year, after listening to an episode of “Radiolab” featuring Shirey. Really unique instrumentation mixed with ambient sounds of the city. Sounds like a played out combination, but it works quite well.
  • Stik Figa & D/WILL: Alive & Well
    Stik Figa had quite a year with several dope releases hitting the net. His work with Oddisee on the From the Top was really dope, but I actually preferred Alive & Well, his follow-up with D/WILL to 2009’s hellogoodbye. I wasn’t familiar with D/WILL as a producer before his work with Stik, but I’m digging his sound. Stik Figa mayne! Favorite cuts: “Be Like That,” “The Down,” and “Alive.”
  • Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony
    Cassandra never fails to impress, but I think Silver Pony, an interesting mix of live and studio recordings, may be my favorite release of hers in the last decade. Love that voice.

If I had to limit myself to one favorite, I’d pick two. Sharon Jones and Raaka. There you go… enjoy.

Though I never got around to doing any more, you may want to check out my mix I made in September titled “2010 Hip-Hop Favorites Part 1.”

The Best of Stuff from 2009 that I Discovered Late, in 2010

The Almost Best of 2010

  • Easy Star All-Stars: Dubber Side of the Moon
  • Eternia & Moss: At Last
  • Mos Def: Mos Dub
  • Nas and Damian Marley: Distant Relatives
  • Shigeto’s EPs

Other stuff worthy of mention, crammed into a small space.

BP and Odds: Vacancy,
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh),
Falside: Dollars Make Change,
Mary Halvorson Trio: Switzerland 2010 / Saturn Sings,
Jaga Jazzist: One-Armed Bandit,
Elton John & Leon Russell: The Union,
OSTR: Tylko Dla Dorosłych,
The Roots: How I Got Over,
Sadat X: Wild Cowboys II,
Sage Francis: Li(f)e,
Whitefield Brothers: Earthology,
Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles

Favorite Hip-Hop Producers

  • Apollo Brown
  • D/WILL
  • Oddisee
  • The Returners

Best Ways to Hear New Music in 2011

  • Music blogs (for old, rare stuff, start with the Mining the Audio Motherlode category from WMFU’s blog and expand from there; for new stuff, search around a bit – just remember: always buy the stuff you like after hearing it!)
  • MOG
  • plug-in for Chrome
  • Bandcamp