Yeah, it stirred the Yankees to the World Series championship, but was there a more boring album this year than Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3? Perhaps it was a geographic thing. With a few exceptions, like Raekwon and Kid Cudi, most of 2009's exciting, innovative rap records came from Southern artists. Sure, many are filthy, grimy, and didn't get major-label releases — note the preponderance of mixtapes below — but there's little doubt that hip-hop is still whistling Dixie. Here are the year's best Southern rap albums.
Murder Was the Case (Big Cat)
Gucci was 2009's most divisive MC, inspiring both superlative praise and histrionic disgust from fans and critics alike. He was also its most prolific, seemingly spending every free minute recording — when he wasn't in the can. Though he cranked out countless mixtapes and even a major-label album, unauthorized studio disc Murder Was the Case stood out. Culled mainly from older material, it features thick, ecstatic beats from Atlanta producer Zaytoven and showcases Gucci at his slurring, dazzling best.
B.o.B. vs. Bobby Ray (mixtape)
Atlanta MC B.o.B. was gangsta rap's next big thing, a tremendous talent who plays live instruments, produces, and rhymes with equal aplomb. So of course, the 21-year-old abruptly changed his moniker to Bobby Ray and began penning introspective songs. This oft-hilarious mixtape pits the two alter egos against each other. With DJ Don Cannon and DJ Green Lantern at the helm, it's a substantial appetizer for his major-label debut next year.
Lil Boosie & Hurricane Chris
Category 7: A Bad Azz Hurricane (mixtape)
Who would have thought two Louisianans not from New Orleans would make the state's best music this year? Category 7 showcases Shreveport's Hurricane Chris and Baton Rouge's Lil Boosie's debauched chemistry. Both thrive on the same type of tinny, low-budget country-rap beats, and unlike Boosie's pandering, unadventurous studio album, SuperBad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz, this mixtape features them at their most explosive and silly. It's not always poetry — Chris' description of two "bad bitches" who "got naked while I watched Austin Powers" comes to mind — but it's never boring.
With Z-Ro's long-awaited album Heroin delayed, Cocaine ended up as the appropriately named follow-up to 2008's Crack. Though Cocaine was originally intended to be a mixtape put out by little-known producer DJ Drama Queen, it more than holds its own as a proper album. Full of swirling, cinematic beats from Z-Ro himself, it's the latest from a melodic-flowing MC who still hasn't quite gotten his due.
UGK 4 Life (Jive)
Mostly recorded before Pimp C's syrup-related death in late 2007, UGK's probable swan song is a compelling testament to Pimp's skills, despite barely acknowledging his passing. There was never much room for downcast introspection in the duo's songs anyway, and so it's probably for the best that the record focuses on what Pimp and Bun B always did best: rhyme about their whips and their dicks.
4075: The Refill (mixtape)
Despite being virtually unknown to anyone besides bloggers and heads, Atlanta gangsta MC Pill is already being compared to (gulp) Tupac and Biggie. His standout mixtape 4075: The Refill is Southern rap for coastal snobs, full of quickly spit, sincere laments about street life and plaintive reminiscences about his deceased mother.
Underground Atlanta (SMC Recordings)
Look past the bold-faced, not-at-all-underground names on Killer Mike's Underground Atlanta compilation (Soulja Boy, OJ da Juiceman) and you'll find some great below-the-radar talent like Prynce Cyhi, Rich Kidz, and Grip Plyaz. That's not to mention much-missed veterans like Trillville. Of course, the show is stolen by the Killer himself, whose humor and bombast help him unite this diverse group of ATL artists.
Boss of All Bosses (E1)
Just as Bon Jovi survived the hair-metal era, Slim Thug has made it through Houston's gimmicky, mid-decade sittin'-sidewayz craze with his credibility intact. In fact, his long-awaited sophomore disc, Boss of All Bosses, is superior to his Neptunes-heavy 2005 effort, Already Platinum. Here he trades flash for easy, syrupy, anthemic slow-burners that don't try to reinvent the lowrider wheel.
Dallas Austin Experience
8Dazeaweakend (Universal Motown)
With no promotional support from his label, venerable Atlanta producer Dallas Austin's 8Dazeaweakend film/touring show/album fell completely under the radar. But though the movie was a muddled, poorly acted hallucination, the soundtrack disc is full of contagious club songs and solid '70s-influenced genre mashups. Goodie Mob's Big Gipp, George Clinton, and Colin Munroe all make appearances, but Austin does the bulk of the writing, playing, and production. His simultaneously goofy, earnest, and endearing ode to the hippie era is easily more fun than all of the year's Woodstock tributes.
The Incredible Truth (mixtape)
This latest from ever-sinister-sounding Houston rapper Trae (who just happens to be Z-Ro's cousin and Screwed Up Click-mate) features his rhyming alongside Wayne, Joc, Boosie, Twista, and others. None of them comes off sounding particularly good by comparison. Although Trae is perhaps best-known for scuffling with Mike Jones at an awards show a couple of years back, TIT (sorry) shows the swangin' H-town underground champ at his most potent.