Ajay-182's Best of '09


In what can best be described as a fitting coincidence given the retrospective nature of this particular post, 2009 was very much a year of hindsight. I rediscovered artists I’d neglected, I discovered artists who I’d simply ignored, but most importantly I began to see the fundamental flaw in my appreciation of music (especially hip-hop) and how I probably got it wrong.

Don’t make the same mistakes. Click on to grab some unmissable tracks, and of course my discoveries from the year gone by. I’ve thrown in a couple of lists too, as I know some of you can’t deal with excess reading.


OK. Prepare yourself. This could take a while. Ready?


Soul

Soul music is one of those things that’s become a little bit of a mystery. There’s no reason to not enjoy it, and those who give it a shot rarely look back, but it’s just something which, worryingly, naturally slips under the radar. This year, I made a conscious effort to expose myself (steady now) to more of this sort of music.

Having been a longtime Common fan, and taken a liking to J Dilla’s work towards the end of ’08, it seemed natural to move into the real neo-soul stuff. I kicked things off with the Lucy Pearl album, and moved to Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It. Neither of these were ’09 releases, but certainly had the biggest impact on my listening this year in terms of broadening my horizons.  More importantly they paved the way for me to grab Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night, which has cemented itself as one of my favourite albums released this year. There’s no point in reviewing it again though, so check the review out and grab the track.

Maxwell-Bad Habits

Lucy Pearl-Dance Tonight

Hip-Hop

Wu-Tang Clan. At the age of 11/12, as hard as I tried it’s probably fair to say I never really totally understood the Wu. As a young, budding music enthusiast, I liked their beats and the more catchy tracks (Gravel Pit) but never properly appreciated what they did. So I ignored them. I let the CDs collect dust. This year, I pulled them back out, and suddenly found myself realising my hip-hop tastes were empty. I was still spending too much time on trend-driven current hip-hop, and not going back and fully educating myself. In doing so, I realised that Murray was right all along: Nas > Jay-Z. I’d become beat/hook-blinded, and Jay-Z’s radio friendly approach simply wore off. Nas brought me the lyrical gift and metaphorical intricacy I’d apparently craved, but never knew it consciously.

Gradually, my tastes in current hip-hop adjusted. I was less bothered about finding out every little project Kanye West was working on, and more concerned with the development of Slaughterhouse and re-emergence of Raekwon. I feel I’m at a good place with hip-hop, as I can enjoy the mainstream stuff and I can really get properly into the underground noise. The two tracks represent the two best underground hip-hop tracks this year for me, as they were really the key tracks in my transition to this sort of stuff.

Slaughterhouse-Wack MCs

Raekwon-House Of Flying Daggers ft. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, GZA & Method Man

Don’t misinterpret me though. I’m all about the new, up-and-comers too and I’d be lying if I pretended I was a total underground/old-school sort of guy. I’d like to think I did my part with the Drake buzz early this year, when I genuinely felt he delivered a mixtape which was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Yeah, it was pretty R&B-ish, but so what? It was easy to listen to, and since when was hovering genres a bad thing? Since then, I feel he’s been more miss than hit, but as far as mainstream rap goes it could be an awful lot worse (Soulja Boy? Gucci Mane?), as this track evidences.

Wale really cemented his place as someone who you can count on for solid material. His Back To The Feature mixtape had some unbelievable tracks and when put into perspective with his other releases, demonstrated his versatility.

The real surprises though came from Kid Cudi and J. Cole. Cudi was different, but was he special? He’d been fairly quiet since his mid-2008 mixtape release…and then Day ‘N’ Nite blew up. We were then met with a different proposition: not will this guy blow up, but how? What angle is he coming from? The album completely surpassed my expectations, and whilst he probably isn’t your traditional bar-for-bar rapper, he’s got a unique dreamscape quality which makes him much easier to attach to.

J. Cole frankly is one of the most complete rappers emerging. He has a realism, a determination and a skillset which makes for incredibly addictive listening. To hear someone come through who wants to do nothing but rap, and genuinely has a love and knowledge of what he does is not rare, but it is often a compensation for a lack of ability. J. Cole has both, and I proudly crown his mixtape The Warm Up the best mixtape of 2009. Top to bottom, there’s variety, there’s honesty, and there’s damn fine rap.


Everything Else

No room for more sub-headings.

There is one man who has emerged from this year that has absolutely convinced me that 2010 will be his year-Mike Posner. Many artists make that claim, but none have the justification that he does. He dropped his very first mixtape, and created the kind of debut buzz that I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Come his second mixtape later in the year, those who didn’t believe began to believe. Is it his voice? Is it his eclectic style? It’s everything. Posner has the total package, and I fully expect him to be a huge force next year.

Much like my movement to soul music, shifting to acoustic and chillout music became a by-product. John Mayer has featured heavily in my rotation towards the back end of this year, and really justified the universal praise he recieves. Battle Studies is one of the best albums this year, and I’d urge everyone to check it out. There’s going to be at least one track you’ll like. Me? I love the track below.

John Mayer-Heartbreak Warfare

I think in terms of official releases, R&B had a lean year. The-Dream’s sophomore album wasn’t up to the standards of the original, and aside from him and Lloyd I don’t really look out for too many other R&B albums. However, Trey Songz came to the rescue. For about 18 months I’ve loved his unofficial content in terms of remixes and such, and his 2009 album Ready was the dominant force in R&B. Trey forcefully took the position of the best singer in the game right now, and doesn’t really look like surrendering it. Ready was reviewed here, so I won’t get into it now. Having said all that, Chris Brown’s Graffiti looks to be a pretty strong effort too, and whilst I’m not 100% finished with it yet, it’s shaping up to definitely be the #2 R&B album this year in my books.

To finish, the emergence of The Five One has been something I’ve followed with great interest. They really embody everything that’s good about this site: they’re eclectic, they’re original, and they pretty much do what they want. It’s always a good moment when you find a band or a song that fits you so well, and they seem to have a knack of taking something good and making it better. I’m keeping this brief, as I’ve got more opinion on The Five One coming soon in a later post.

The Five One-Little Bit Remix ft. Lykke Li

I don’t really have the space to write much more. I’ve taken far too much of your time, so I’m skipping to the lists. I’ve missed out a lot of what I’d liked to have put in, but this is all I can really put you through and not feel guilty. Hope you enjoyed it. If I get time, I might throw on a part 2!

Top 5 Albums:

1. Kid Cudi-Man on the Moon: The End of Day
2. John Mayer-Battle Studies
3 Maxwell-BLACKsummers’night
4. Trey Songz-Ready
5. 30 Seconds to Mars-This Is War

Top 5 Tracks:

1. Maxwell-Bad Habits
2. The Five One-Little Bit Remix ft. Lykke Li
3. Kid Cudi-Sky Might Fall
4. J. Cole-Losing My Balance
5. Slaughterhouse-The One

Other artists worth mentioning if I don’t do a part 2: B.o.B, Asher Roth, 50 Cent, Big Sean, Eminem, Mr Hudson, Matthew Santos, Ryan Leslie, Quietdrive.

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6 comments to Ajay-182′s Best of ’09

  • Murray

    Brilliant AJ. Enjoyed reading all of it and liked the personal touch you came with. Appreciated your honesty which is always refreshing to hear when reading a review.

    Interesting to note your mention of 50 at the bottom as he came with his strongest effort arguably since GRODT but as is the state of hip-hop that people are just after something else now. I was chatting with my bro yesterday about 50/Ja and he said 50 was one to talk for accusing Ja for selling out. It seems Ja – as I will mention in my ‘look out for 2010′ – is coming back stronger now, but the damage is already done and I think he will struggle to regain his mass audiences like he once did. Much like, I believe, 50 will.

  • I agree totally with the 50 assessment. He’s left it too late, even if it is a very strong album. 50 as a person has become boring. He’s the opposite of Em: he’s always in the media, always running his mouth, and his actual music rarely matches up to the bragging/hype.

    I dislike Rick Ross with a passion, but many consider his album to be a much bigger success than 50′s in terms of actual music (I don’t, but that’s not the point). It’s a sad day when that happens. However, it’s still one of the best (mainstream) hip-hop albums released this year in my book, so he still deserves a mention.

  • Francis Wight

    really good round-up, very interesting, especially the hip-hop section. i diagree about 50, maybe i need to give the new one a bit more of a chance, but i couldn’t stand it on first listen. get rich was a very good album but (singles excluded) the majority of what hes done since has been awful.

  • Appreciate the praise. Fair enough on the 50 assessment, it does take a bit of getting into when compared to the instant impact of GRODT, but it is a good album.

  • Notorious Indi

    Great read.

    50′s album is by far his best since GRODT, I’d say its even more hardcore/grittier. GRODT was gangsta rap littered with many (great) mainstream tracks for his singles. These mainstream type tracks are few and far between on his new one, and he seems to have made the album to cater to his own taste, rather than middle class white america. This has made up for all the other atrocities to Hip Hop he’s released since GRODT in my opinion.

  • This is a good share. Thank you!

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