5. Samuel Locke Ward & Darren Brown – From the Privilege of the Grave (Grotto Records/Mission Freak Records)
You know those albums which just have to be good? Because they have an ostentatiousness title, or a release from a “supergroup,” or maybe because it’s been so long in the making, or tied up so many times along the way it simply has to be worth it for the artist(s), regardless of commercial/critical reception. Well, the collaboration between Samuel Locke Ward (Miracles of God) and Darren Brown (Boy Dirt Car) isn’t so much supergroup–except to a very feverish minority; and even with the sort of heady album title, I wouldn’t say From the Privilege of the Grave is too much to live up to; however, after legal battles threatened the mere existence of this record–holding it up for almost a year (nearly a lifetime if you consider how prolific Locke Ward is), Privilege was under considerable pressure to be a quality platter. Thankfully, not just for Locke Ward and Brown, but for anyone who drops a needle on this record, it’s damn good.

“Further From My Boat”

4. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II (Sacred Bones)
Zola Jesus came out of the basements of America and is now opening for Fever Ray and the XX. The move from basements to theaters is largely predicated on her voice. Jesus has a classically trained howl. Like a DIY, operatic Depeche Mode, Zola Jesus is dark and brooding, but with a voice like her’s she boarders on a force of nature.


3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella)
What do you say about an album that tries almost everything, an all-encompassing, genre-swallowing omnibus? West’s magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a mess. It’s glorious, it’s gigantic, but damn the trio of G.O.O.D. Firday cuts sitting at the center of the album is weak and completely nonsensical. So many questionable choices which yield surprisingly wonderful results, but cowing to popular demand (the story I’ve heard behind including “Monster,” “So Appalled,” and “Devil in a New Dress”) and adding fat and sag to a taut and well-sequenced record. Only Kanye could derail his masterpiece, and while he may not have sunk it, he’s certainly the reason I skip nearly a fourth of it every time I spin it.

“Lost in the World” (ft. Bon Iver & Gil Scott-Heron)

2. Curren$y – Pilot Talk (Roc-A-Fella/DD172/BluRoc) / Pilot Talk II (DD172/BluRoc)
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce Curren$y. This Louisiana MC has been locked in mixtape purgatory since 2003 (another victim of label mismanagement), Curren$y has finally broken out and released TWO fantastic albums in 2010. Both Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk II are two of the finest blazed-up classics. Curren$y’s Pilot Talks are built on silky soul loops which are the perfect beds for his cloudy, subtle verses. These are some of the most deceptively intelligent verses; these are slow burners, folks. Get on ’em.

“The Day” (ft. Jay Electronica & Mos Def) from Pilot Talk

“Michael Knight” from Pilot Talk II

1. Big Boi – Sir Lucius Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
There’s not much to say here: Big Boi, with almost no help from his OutKast partner, Andre 3000, released an almost perfect hip-hop record. The minor dead weight to be found on the solo debut from amount to about three minutes of skits, beyond that, Sir Lucius Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is an unstoppable slab of slamming rap. Big Boi plies his trade on a little bit of everything, but instead of sounding scattered, Antwon Patton sounds determined.

“General Patton”