The Best Rap Albums of 2008

2008 was a mixed bag for hip-hop. If you lost your faith in hip-hop because of all the disappointing rap albums that dropped in 2008, I hope you'll find this list to be a thorough guide to the year's best hip-hop music. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the best rap albums of 2008.

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Guilty Simpson - 'Ode to the Ghetto'

Proudly hoisting Michigan's hip-hop flag is the raw and captivating Guilty Simpson. On

Ode to the Ghetto

, Guilty captures the essence of Detroit with vivid snapshots about inner-city life. The tracks run the gamut from rage to angst, but mostly rage. Just don't play it while stuck in traffic on a bad day.

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Nicolay & Kay - 'Time:Line'

© Nicolay Music



is more soul-hop than boom bap. Lyrically, though, it's hard-edged hip-hop at its underground finest. The album deals largely with preexistence, life, and afterlife. To that respect, the seamless transition between tracks makes Time:Line very easy to digest.

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Bun B - 'II Trill'

© Rap-A-Lot.

Every great artist experiences and expresses growth at some point in their career. Maturity is the dominant theme on

II Trill

. For every braggart anthem there are two thought-provoking gems. Ever gracious, Bun also dedicates a couple of heartfelt tributes to the memory of his late friend, Pimp C.

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Akrobatik - 'Absolute Value'

© Fat Beats

Akrobatik debuted in 2003, got lost in the shuffle, and kind of disappeared for five years straight. But you wouldn't know it from listening to

Absolute Value

. Ak is in top form here, tackling serious issues like societal imbalance and gang violence on "Rain" and "Front Steps Pt. II (Tough Love)" as effectively as anyone since Chuck D.

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Little Vic - 'Each Dawn I Die'

Little Vic - 'Each Dawn I Die'
Little Vic - 'Each Dawn I Die'. © Orena Records

No pricey bangers from Timbaland. No market-tested concepts. No club-ready singles. Just a young New York MC mouthing off rhymes about life and death over some organic beats. At 42 minutes and 11 tracks,

Each Dawn I Die

's brevity allows very little room for missteps.

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Young Jeezy - 'The Recession'

© Def Jam

Musically, this is consistent with Jeezy's last two albums. Synth-heavy cuts and big-bass beats are prominent throughout

The Recession

, which an unbiased Jeezy dubbed "hands down the best album of the year." Lyrically, the Snowman is as entertaining as ever, ad libs and drug references intact. Fans will be delighted to see him branch out of his comfort zone and address social issues briefly.

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Ice Cube - 'Raw Footage'

© Lench Mob
Raw Footage

continues Ice Cube's tradition of speaking truth to power without fear of consequences. And when he's not busy indicting corrupt government, Cube engages the listener by retracing his roots while looking onwards towards his seemingly infinite path of success.

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9th Wonder & Buckshot - 'Tha Formula'

© Duck Down

"We share a comfort level that allows me to be at ease when it comes to recording and that natural sound translates into great music," Buckshot once said of his partnership with veteran hip-hop producer 9th Wonder. We have that musical chemistry to thank for the magical moments on

Tha Formula


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Jake One - 'White Van Music'

© Rhymesayers

Jake One's brief stint as a member of G-Unit's production crew gave him access to some major players.

White Van Music

is more than just a demonstration of this young producer's clout, as MCs like Talib Kweli, Young Buck, and MF Doom make notable appearances. The true magic of the album lies in Jake One's ability to pair the right artists with the right beats.

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Murs - 'Murs for President'

© Warner Bros.

West Coast wordsmith Murs has fought tooth and nail to gain prominence on the national stage.

Murs for President

brilliantly captures the next chapter in this journey and imbues it with a freshness that's part potential and part promise.

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Scarface - 'Emeritus'


left off. Slow-rolling beats mesh beautifully with Scarface's dreary howl. If this is truly Face's swan song, as reported in some circles, then it's safe to say that he went out with a bang.

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Killer Mike - 'I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II'

Many a great MCs have won critical affection by concocting projects that color outside the lines. In the past few years, Killer Mike, the ATLien with an imposing voice, has drawn freely on this license. Now Mike is back with the 2nd installment in his I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind series.

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N.E.R.D. - 'Seeing Sounds'

© Interscope

Seeing Sounds, an eclectic blend of soul-metal, alt-rap, and funk-rock, sees N.E.R.D. thriving on innovation in a business that favors conformity.

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T.I. - 'Paper Trail'

Paper Trail'

s lead single, "No Matter What," set the tone with a "champion sound" blend of rock-tinged horns and guitars to give an action-adventure hero film feel. Tip smoothly flows with "avoid insanity, managed to conquer/making the impossible possible." As you listen, you can only hope that T.I.’s real-life troubles come to an equally satisfying conclusion and help him emerge a better man.

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The Roots - 'Rising Down'

© Def Jam

Like they've done for the last decade or so, The Roots transform angst into art on

Rising Down
Things Fall Apart
Game Theory

, but with the equally hard-hitting lyrical content of the latter."

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Jazz Liberatorz - 'Clin d'oeil'

jazz liberatorz clin d'oeil
Jazz Liberatorz - 'Clin d'oeil'. © Phantom Sound & Vision

American audiences have been clamoring for the return of jazz-hop, a sub-genre popularized by the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. But it was three sound architects from Meaux, France that stepped up to answer this clarion call. On their first try. Relax,

Clin d'oeil

was cosigned by a bevy of American MCs, including Asheru, Buckshot, Apani B Fly, and J-Live.

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Cool Kids - 'The Bake Sale EP'

Cool Kids - The Bake Sale EP
Cool Kids - The Bake Sale EP. © Chocolate Industries

Whoever dismissed this Chicago duo as a one-hit wonder has egg on his or her face right now. After setting SUV speakers ablaze with the bass-heavy "Black Mags," the Cool Kids (Mikey Rocks & Chuck Inglish) return with an album-full of sonic excitement. Though Chuck and Mikey are still obsessed with dookie chains and Adidas shell toes, they don't beat you over the head with 80s revivalism. They simply let theose 808 thumps do the talking. And boy do they rattle or what?

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Elzhi - 'The Preface'

© Fat Beats.

It's hard to believe that

The Preface

is Elzhi's first full-length -- The Detroit MC has been around since the early 90s. After earning his lyrical stripes as a member of the revered hip-hop outfit Slum Village, alongside J Dilla, El emerges from behind SV's shadow and asserts himself as one of hip-hop's brightest MCs.

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Immortal Technique - '3rd World'

© Viper Records

Immortal Technique spits rapid-fire like an automatic weapon. Think of

The 3rd World
Fahrenheit 9/11

set to music. Like graphic war coverage, it’s not for the faint of heart.

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Estelle - 'Shine'

© Atlantic

Superb songwriting and eclectic vocal stylings help make


one of 2008's best hip-hop albums. Lauryn Hill she's not, but Estelle's U.S. debut remains one of the best hybrids of hip-hop and R&B we've seen in a long, long time.

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88 Keys - 'The Death of Adam'

© Decon

It's true. 88 Keys really did make an entire album about the power of punani. The Death of Adam follows the trajectory of a man named Adam, who falls prey to the "juicebox," replete with ambivalent song titles like "Stay Up" and "The Burning Bush." It's as good as concept albums get. Focused, funny, and musically engaging.

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GZA - 'Pro Tools'

© Babygrande
Pro Tools

is a Wu-banga that sacrifices quantity for quality. Each track knocks with Wu-centric elements, from the mellow "Intromental" (which utilizes the same Soul Dog track as Common's "Hungry") to the frenetic Gary Numon-sampling "Life is a Movie".

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Black Milk - 'Tronic'

© Fat Beats

He's not exactly the 2nd coming of J Dilla, but Black Milk is the closest thing to it. The young MC/producer doesn't disappoint on his second go-round.


's highlights includes "Give the Drummer Sum," a street anthem which features gorgeous hi-hats and snares that would make ?uestlove proud. "Losing Out" and "Matrix" are equally enjoyable in this artfully sequenced album.

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eMC - 'The Show'

eMC - The Show
eMC - The Show. © M3 Music
The Show

chronicles eMC's journey as a rap group, from the streets to the stage. Each song tells a unique story and the skits add sugar and spice to the narrative. Masta Ace brings his storytelling knack to the forefront while allowing the other 3 MCs (Strick, Punchline, Wordsworth) to shine as well. It's a thoroughly cohesive album.

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Nas - 'Untitled'

Nas - Untitled
© Def Jam

Despite the title change from


is an intellectually sizzling ride that embodies all the introspective expressionism, unabashedly biting commentary, and naked honesty about issues that dominate our daily conversations.

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J Live - 'Then What Happened?'

© BBE Music

The verbal energy and inspiring production that J Live brings to the table on Then What Happened? makes it a strong contender for Rap Album of the Year. With only a few guests (Posdnuous, Oddisee, and Chali 2 Na), J Live holds down most of the album on his own.

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Atmosphere - 'When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh*t Gold'

© Rhymesayers Entertainment

It's often said that the true test of a classic material is time. With that in mind, it's too soon to examine Atmosphere's through the masterpiece prism. That said, it's the best thing standing in 2008. From Ant's rich, organic layers of instrumentation to Slug's metaphor-heavy, crisply delivered lyrics,

When Life Gives You Lemons

is a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere sullied by the stench of mediocrity. Having a bad day? Chug down this bit of optimism and you're good to go.

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Q-Tip - 'The Renaissance'

© Universal Motown

Eminem. Jay-Z. Nas. You can now add Q-Tip to the incredibly short list of MCs who can single-handedly hold down an entire album. The absence of guest MCs is not only refreshing, it also builds cohesiveness that's often absent on albums cluttered with too many other voices. Who needs to hear another MC when you have a linguistically dexterous tune like "Dance on Glass" or the silky smooth funk-jazz "Life is Better" with Norah Jones? It took 10 years but Q-Tip has finally blessed us with a masterwork. This one will still sound good in 2018.