Numbers 12-7 after the jump. I should have said this earlier, but feel free to comment.
12. Ryan Shaw – It Gets Better
Ryan Shaw's inclusion is a last minute addition thanks to the great Frank Leon Roberts, who turned me onto this talented singer a few weeks ago. Shaw seems to live in the 1950s when rock was rhythm and blues. He's practically Bill Withers reborn. And his voice is remarkably elastic. He's able to go from gravelly chest voice to a shout with ease. This is probably the best overall sung album on the list. Thanks Frankie.
11. Nottz, You Need This Music
I love that producer Nottz called his first album as an emcee, You Need This Music. And he's not wrong. This is a remarkable debut. The music is as sharp as to be expected from a producer of Nottz' caliber. But it turns out that Nottz is a pretty good emcee (I particularly like his work on "A Dream Come True"). And he doesn't get lost in the shuffle of cameos by folks like Black Milk, Joell Ortiz, Snoop Dogg, and Royce da 5'9. He even makes Asher Roth sound good. (yes, I know they just did a collabo mixtape, haven't listened yet).
10. Releases by members of the Wu-Tang Clan (Inspectah Deck – Manifesto; Raekwon – Staten Go Hard, Vol. 1; Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon – Wu-Massacre; and Ghostface Killah, Apollo Kids)
Four releases by Wu-Tang members. What a year! My favorite is probably Deck's (despite being about 4 songs too long), but Ghost brought back that old Wu feeling on the just-released Apollo Kids and Raekwon's mixtape is rightly grimy. It is quite a thing to watch a bunch of emcees going on 20 years in the game just get more and more exciting to hear. These are emcees who do it for the love of it and for their rabid fanbase. There is not really any mainstream bait on these albums. Thank god, buddha and nem for that.
9. Black Milk – Album of the Year
I really think Black Milk is the most exciting rapper/producer to have emerged this century. He's definitely a student of J Dilla, but he's more of a showman. His music is big and loud, but also very very tight and layered. Take a song like "Distortion" where his trademark drums sound almost arhythmic in combination with the rest of the track. And he's continuing to grow as an emcee, enough that he is confident enough to only have couple of rap cameo (by the great Royce da 5'9 and Elzhi on lead single "Deadly Medley" and Kon Artis on "Closed Chapter") and make a couple of songs that are more emotional than we've gotten from him before.
8. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
Return of the Ankh is Badu's treatise on love. It's somewhat of a comforting return to form for her after a few albums that were stylistic departures from what we have been used to. Badu's frankness and her vulnerability have always been her greatest strengths. Deployed here in a focused way, they pay enormous dividends. And while "Window Seat" is a wonderful song, unfortunately the video has so overshadowed the album that it is likely that the album won't be fully appreciated for a few years. Too bad because there is so much here to savor, particularly album closer "Out My Mind, Just in Time" which proves that "Green Eyes" was not a fluke.
7. Teedra Moses – Royal Patience compilation…a love journey
You should know that the songs on Royal Patience are rough and unfinished. You should also know that you really won't be able to tell because they are still better than most of what I heard this year. That is really how talented Teedra Moses is. I've said a bunch of times that I think she's the voice of the young black woman sophisticate. And what I mean by that is that I don't think there's is anyone who better serves that young black woman who secretly loves Beyonce and adores Jill Scott and India Arie than Teedra. That young black woman who has a "good job" but likes to drop it like it's hot on the weekends. That young black woman who is educated but keeps dating losers. That is Teedra's audience and on Royal Patience she gives it 11 songs and one interlude that capture various feelings of (and responses to) love. It may be true that she will perfect these songs for an official release, but there really is nothing wrong with them as is.
My full review over at Popmatters.