Theres one life/One love/So there can only be one king
–Nas The Message
Last year, AllHipHop.com held the first annual Kings of Hip-Hop. The purpose of the 4 part series was to select an artist from each region (East, West, South, and Midwest) that made the most lasting impact in 2009. While other factors such as business-savvy and promotional campaigns were considered, above all the quality of the music was the deciding factor for each winner. Without further adieu, lets kick off matters with the region the originated the art form we all love, the East.
As in 2008, it was the veterans who remained at the mainstream forefront of East Coast Hip-Hop. Jay-Z, Nas, and 50 Cent kept their names buzzing throughout the year; sometimes for great reasons (Blueprint 3, Distant Relatives), and other times for issues beyond the music (Nas-Kelis Divorce, 50-Rick Ross beef).
Unlike last year, this region had strong, critically-acclaimed music being offered for those who were wise enough to turn off the radio. Artists like Skyzoo (The Salvation), Marco Polo and Torae (Double Barrel), Wale (Attention Deficit), and The Clipse (Til the Casket Drops) are just some of the acts that showed the East has the talent and music quality to compete with any other region.
After a lukewarm 2008 reception to the single Jockin Jay-Z, and worry amongst fans about the quality of Blueprint 3, Jay-Z delivered a solid effort with BP3s September release.
The Roc-Nation lead-off album was one of the most anticipated projects of the year, and its #1 Billboard debut gave Jay his 11th #1 album, shattering the previous solo act record held by Elvis Presley. The album has spawned 5 charting singles, 2 of which in the top 3 (Empire State of Mind, Run This Town).
Award-wise, Jay cleaned up in 2009 at the American Music Awards (Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist, Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album), the BET Hip-Hop Music Awards (Lyricist of the Year, Best Live Performer, MVP of the Year, and Hustler of the Year), and was named Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Artist of the Decade.
Outside the booth, the Brooklyn mogul kept in brand visible through smart marketing such as a taking Oprah to his old Marcy Projects stomping grounds, and performing Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys during the World Series. Additionally, Jay joined Will Smith in backing the $11 million dollar Broadway production on the life of Afro-Beat founder and music legend Fela Kuti.
Despite a trio of vocal detractors (The Game, 50 Cent, Beanie Sigel) throughout the year, Jay-Z chose to ignore the shots outside of a few interview comments.
In 2010, look for him to build the Roc-Nation around new protégé J Cole.
Standout Songs: What We Talkin About, Thank You, Empire State of Mind
With Before I Self-Destruct being plagued by pushbacks, 50 Cent utilized beefs with Rick Ross and Jay-Z to keep his name afloat throughout 2009.
The Rick Ross battle, ignited by the Miami emcees barbs on Mafia Music, spiraled away from traditional diss tracks to cartoon clips, video stalking of DJ Khaleds mother, and Ross sons mother joining forces with 50.
In June and July, 50 returned to his mixtape stomping grounds with the well-received War Angel, and the 90s R&B throwback project Forever King.
When the Ross feuds luster began to wane by summers end, 50 turned attention to Jay-Z, prompted by the Brooklynites declaration that no one was afraid of 50 Cent. Recruiting Beanie Sigel, 50 turned heads by unleashing the former Roc enforcer on his former mentor (I Go Off).
The Queens native capped his year with the release of his fourth studio album, Before I Self-Destruct. Due to the combination of numerous pushbacks, a month early leak, and mixed reviews, the project yielded him his lowest opening week sales ever (160,000, #5 on Billboard). For the first time, the perceived flop opened up the G Unit mogul to ridicule in an area he previously dominated.
Still, with a memorable beef and successful extracurricular activities like the Robert Greene assisted book The 50th Law, 50 Cent remained a visible fixture throughout Hip-Hop in 2009.
Standout Songs: Psycho, Death to My Enemies, “Get the Message”
Internet antics aside, Joe Budden put together a strong ledger of music in 2009.
In January, the Jersey City lyricists mouth got him in trouble with another emcee, this time Saigon. The two impressed fans with a gradual but distinct increase in lyrical potency with their series of disses, most notable Buddens Pain In His Life and Saigons Pushing Buddens. Unfortunately, a truce rendered an anticlimactic cease-fire before a clear winner emerged.
The encounter served Budden well in promoting Februarys Padded Room album. Despite questionable production choices, the LPs earned solid marks for the honest, raw emotion of tracks like In My Sleep and I Couldnt Help It.
A few months later, Budden challenged Method Mans skills under the guise of their placements on Vibes Greatest Emcees of All Time list. After a few instigative interviews, Buddens mouth would have dire consequences when a Wu-Tang entourage member assaulted him during a Raekwon interrogation at a Rock the Bells concert.
That same month, Joe Budden put the focus back on music. He gave his devoted fans another full-length LP in Escape Route, and his integral participation in the critically acclaimed Slaughterhouse debut.
The embarrassing blog soap opera saga with ex Tahiry and assault at the hands of Raekwon cant be ignored, but these incidents are not enough to overshadow the work Budden put in behind the mic.
For 2010, lets hope they hope the talk of Internet will be quality of the forthcoming The Great Escape, and not Buddens latest over the top video blog.
Standout Songs: Pain In His Life, I Couldnt Help It, Escape Route Intro
Raekwon told all of us he would deliver with the sequel Only Built for Cuban Linx II, and the Chef made good on his word.
Even with over 10 different producers (Necro, RZA, J Dilla, Alchemist, etc), Raekwon was still able to create a sequel that paid homage to the original classic (Gihad, House of Flying Daggers), and retained a sound accessible to the new generation of Hip-Hoppers (Broken Safety, New Wu). The end result was far and away the most critically acclaimed album of the year.
Outside the booth, the normally reserved Chef took up for Wu brethren Method Man, whose credentials in 2009 were tested by a bold Joe Budden. Instead of a traditional Hip-hop response on wax, Rae preferred to check Budden physically backstage at Rock the Bells.
At AllHipHop.coms 6th Annual Social Lounge event in Newark, NJ, Raekwon urged his peers to embrace their potential as activists and role models to the youth.
If we are going to mold and shape this industry and what it is and what hip-hop has done to us, we have to have brothers such as my brother right here, Mike [Bigga], myself, he stated. We love Hip-Hop before anything, but knowledge is so important. These kids are confused and we care about them I feel like its my duty to be that voice on all levels.
Look for the Chef to build on his Cuban Linx II momentum in 2010 with a joint album with Method Man and Ghostface Killah.
Standout Songs- House of Flying Daggers, New Wu, Ason Jones
2008s King of East was lowkey this year, but managed to keep our attention courtesy of the anticipated Damian Marley collaboration Distant Relatives.
Building on the acclaim of Untitled, Nas teased fans throughout 2009 with sporadic but vintage verses. Some were high-profile spots on albums from Jadakiss (What If) , Rick Ross (Usual Suspects), and the Grammy nominated Beastie Boys track Too Many Rappers. Others were underground gems that hinted for what was to come, like the Detox leak Topless and DJ Dramas Yacht Music.
In preparation for the March 2010 Distant Relatives release, Nas and Damian Marley spearheaded a December all-star panel discussion in Washington, DC reflecting on the connections linking Hip-Hop with Africa and the Caribbean.
Even with a public, costly divorce, and some rumored head-scratching moves (turning down Jay-Z and Raekwon on Blueprint 3 and Cuban Linx II), Nas respect and legacy as one of Hip-Hops greatest urban griots continues to grow.
Standout Songs: Dr. Dres Topless, Beastie Boys Too Many Rappers, Rick Ross Usual Suspects
Jay and 50 stayed in the news more, and Nas is working diligently to raise the social and political consciousness of Hip-Hop. But no one on this list delivered a better body of work that Raes Cuban Linx II. In an age where many use manufactured beefs, Billboard, and Forbes lists to validate an emcees art, Raekwons album was a reminder to all that the music should come first.
And even with all the acclaim, Raekwon remains humble.
Im always going to be grounded and respecting people who helped my career and life, Rae told AllHipHop.com earlier this year. But I am a silent king. I dont do a lot of bragging and boasting I love the fly shit. But that dont make me.