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AHH YEAR IN REVIEW: Who Was The King In The Midwest In ’08?

The oft-underestimated Midwest region continued to carve out their own distinct identity with a nice mix of mainstream and underground stars. Chicago elites Kanye West and Common were joined by Lupe Fiasco, who courtesy of the well-received The Cool began to receive recognition as one of the game’s premier young artists.

 

Detroit’s Hip-Hop scene also gained extensive coverage this year due to a blitz of material from underground emcees Black Milk, Elzhi, Guilty Simpson, Invincible, and Royce Da 5’9.

 

While the area may never get the same recognition as its counterparts, the Midwest can boast of having arguably the most diverse group of talent throughout the nation.

 

Kanye West:

The Chicago superstar made massive waves in 2008 through an illustrious world tour, laying beatings on the paparazzi, and a controversial new album sound. Ye’s critically acclaimed Glow In The Dark Tour kicked off in April in Seattle and concluded December 6th in Australia. Backed by an impressive rotating list of stars in Lupe Fiasco, Rihanna, N.E.R.D., Nas, Gnarls Barkley, Chris Brown, and Jay-Z, Kanye completed an exhaustive sixty one shows in total.

 

In September, West hit the headlines for an arrest at LAX airport following his manhandling of a photographer and subsequent smashing of the man’s camera. Two months later, Kanye was involved in another photographer scuffle, this time in England. Charges were dropped.

 

In November Kanye dropped 808s & Heartbreak, a risky project showcasing no rapping but singing exclusively done through the auto-tune vocal effect. Ignoring cries of foul from longtime fans and critics, the album debuted #1 on Billboard to the beat of over 450,000 copies.

 

Add on Kanye’s production work this year for T.I. (“Swagga Like Us”), Lil Wayne (“Comfortable,” “Let The Beat Build”), Jay-Z (“Jockin’ Jay-Z,” “Brooklyn”), The Game (“Angel”), and others, and you have another great year for Mr. West.

 

Standout Songs:

“Love Lockdown,” “Heartless,”

 

Lupe Fiasco:

Lupe spent the majority of 2008 riding the success of his critically acclaimed sophomore album The Cool. The crossover appeal of “Superstar” helped the album hit number one on Billboard Rap charts. The March 2008 video release of the poignant “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” pushed the album past gold and secured Lupe his first plaque.

 

Fiasco also took the time this year to partner with Coca Cola for the Refresh Your Flow Tour, a concert series aimed at empowering teens around the country from thirteen to seventeen years old that are active in their communities.

 

Next year, Lupe looks to again enthrall Hip-Hop fans with an ambitious three disc album named LupE.N.D. and the debut album from Child Rebel Soldier, a super group featuring Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Lupe.

 

Standout Songs:

“Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” “Superstar,” “Paris, Tokyo”

 

Common:

Another one of Chi-town’s finest makes the list through an impressive collection of accomplishments in film, business, and music. Common secured two high-profile movie roles this year in Wanted (Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman) and Street Kings (Keanu Reeves).

 

On the business side, the Chicago native signed a contract to promote Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player. This month, Common announced the launching of a new clothing line with Microsoft entitled Softwear. Forbes listed the rapper’s earnings at twelve million, making Common the thirteenth highest grossing Hip-Hop artist of 2008. Common’s latest album, Universal Mind Control, was released on December 9.

 

Standout Songs:

“Universal Mind Control,” “Announcement”

 

Black Milk:

Detroit producer / emcee Black Milk kept his prodigious talent all over Hip-Hop’s underground scene throughout 2008. In March, he collaborated with Fat Ray for the well-received album The Set-Up. He followed up by executive producing Elzhi’s breakout sophomore LP The Preface.

 

This past October saw the release of Milk’s second album Tronic, entirely produced by himself, featuring Royce Da 5’9, Sean Price, Pharoahe Monch, and DJ Premier. In 2009, Milk will kick off the year with Random Axe, a super-group project with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson.

 

Standout Songs:

“Give The Drummer Sum,” “The Matrix”

 

Nelly

One of the Midwest’s most reliable hitmakers took his first tumble this year. Four years since his last album, Nelly spent the majority of 2008 trying to get a single to connect with the public. After three lukewarm receptions (“Wadsyaname,” “Party People,” and “Body On Me”), Nelly finally settled on the Jermaine Dupri-produced “Stepped On My J’z.”

 

Even with a bevy of Hip-Hop heavyweights on the album in Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross, T.I., Pharrell, and LL Cool J, Brass Knuckles debuted with just over 80,000 copies sold and quickly fell out of Billboard’s Top 200 with less than 170,000 records sold to date.

 

Despite the flop, Nelly remains one of Hip-Hop’s most well known stars. Expect the St. Louis native to bounce back in 2009.

 

Standout Songs:

“Stepped on My J’z,” “Warrior”

 

The Verdict:

This was tough but we went with Kanye. Yeah the auto-tune has to go, but Common did us a disservice with U.M.C. Kanye kept us entertained with more of his “I don’t try to be different, I am” antics. Also the production is still top notch kid.

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