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 games premier young artists.
Detroits 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 59.
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.
The Chicago superstar made massive waves in 2008 through an illustrious world tour, laying beatings on the paparazzi, and a controversial new album sound. Yes 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 mans 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 Kanyes 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.
Love Lockdown, Heartless,
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.
Hip-Hop Saved My Life, Superstar, Paris, Tokyo
Another one of Chi-towns 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 Microsofts Zune MP3 player. This month, Common announced the launching of a new clothing line with Microsoft entitled Softwear. Forbes listed the rappers earnings at twelve million, making Common the thirteenth highest grossing Hip-Hop artist of 2008. Commons latest album, Universal Mind Control, was released on December 9.
Universal Mind Control, Announcement
Detroit producer / emcee Black Milk kept his prodigious talent all over Hip-Hops 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 Elzhis breakout sophomore LP The Preface.
This past October saw the release of Milks second album Tronic, entirely produced by himself, featuring Royce Da 59, 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.
Give The Drummer Sum, The Matrix
One of the Midwests 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 Jz.
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 Billboards Top 200 with less than 170,000 records sold to date.
Despite the flop, Nelly remains one of Hip-Hops most well known stars. Expect the St. Louis native to bounce back in 2009.
Stepped on My Jz, Warrior
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 dont try to be different, I am antics. Also the production is still top notch kid.