Top Hip-Hop Albums of 2008

In '08, rap didn't always equal pap.

Q-Tip

Renaissance

(Motown)

Q-Tip is an artist who has been burned at the crossover game: His Amplified was derided as a pop sellout, while 2001's brilliant, jazz-inflected Kamaal the Abstract never saw release. But Renaissance strikes a happy medium between those two extremes and classic Tribe Called Quest hip-hop, making it as strong and accessible an album as any he has created yet.

Black Milk

Tronic

(Fat Beats)

It might be stretching a point to include Tronic on this list, since its sound draws heavily from hip-hop's more insular golden age (although it's filled with organ and other live instruments). But it belongs here in large part because of the fantastic production; with this disc and his work on Slum Villager and fellow Detroiter Elzhi's The Preface, Black Milk makes a case for himself as producer of the year.

The Cool Kids

The Bake Sale

(Chocolate Industries)

Even though The Bake Sale sounded as defiantly retro as any release this year — its spare, drum-machine-driven sound reminiscent of Eric B. & Rakim and EMPD — Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish are doing more than just revisiting the sounds of hip-hop's golden age. Those sounds are the vehicle for a witty lyricism more interested in referencing the BMX-and-Fruity-Pebbles culture of Middle America than gangsta esoterica. On "A Little Bit Cooler," Mikey said it best: "I'm a rebel/Eating a bowl/Of them Fruity Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles/How gangsta is that?/Not gangsta at all." Expect a (pop) hit in the near future; these guys are too smart and savvy for it not to happen.

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