Usually by November, critics are already done compiling their year-end best-of lists. But while indie rock blew its wad early in 2010, the last couple of months appear to belong to hip-hop. Spearheaded by a hype cycle led by a certain fellow who needs only to be identified by his initials -- K.W.! -- November and December boasts a run of impressive releases that aim to end hip-hop's dry spell. Here are six to enjoy over the long weekend, and they all came out just this past Tuesday!
Lloyd Banks - H.F.M. 2 (The Hunger For More)
This Queens rapper has been a member of G-Unit since 1999, when he was just 17! The ensuing years have only refined the hardened sound you'd expect from that pedigree. It also sees him hungry to recapture past success.
He was dropped by label Interscope last year, although he remains on G-Unit, and his last couple of mixtapes have shown him lashing out, even dissing Rick Ross in the song "Officer Down." H.F.M. 2 ties his new work back full circle to his solo debut album, 2004's The Hunger For More.
This year's radio hit "Beamer Benz or Bentley," which featured Juelz Santana, provided a decent overview of his minimalist noir tales. Meanwhile other songs like "Start It Up," featuring Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Fabolous, and Ryan Leslie, show him aiming for the club and the car.
"Start It Up"
Curren$y - Pilot Talk II
Curren$y is one of the names currently flying along, with Wiz Khalifa et. al., as one of the possible saviors of hip-hop. That's a lot of burden, but the New Orleans native may be up to the task eventually. His new album is heavy on a Southern influence but relatively low on flossy posturing. The laid-back beats of his current single, "Michael Knight," combined wit his loose-lipped relaxed flow, almost recalls vintage Outkast.
Big L - Return of the Devil's Son
How is Big L pulling a Tupac and releasing an album posthumously years after his death? Well, unlike Pac, although it's been almost 12 years since his death, this is the only official Big L record to drop since he's been resting in peace. A member of Fat Joe's DITC crew, the then-24-year-old rapper was mysteriously gunned down in Harlem in 1999, a case that remains unsolved.
He left behind a small but hugely influential body of work -- plenty of New York rappers STILL shout him out onstage -- and one that married neck-snapping boom-bap beats with hard, but deft, clever, narrative lyricism. It remains best encapsulated in his 2000 album The Big Picture, which was largely completed at the time of his death, and now, this new record. A couple of unofficial collections have been released since 2000 and now, but this is the first to be authorized by his family.
Yelawolf - Trunk Muzik 0-60
Where to file Yelawolf? He's a peripatetic Southern boy who escaped to the west coast to skateboard, only to circle back and try hip-hop rap on a whim. He rocks one of the stranger hipster mullet-y haircuts we've seen in Southern rap, and the cheekbones and style of a high-concept streetwear model.
Still, he's boasted enough lyrical chops to date to score collabos with demi-gods like Bun B. Keep an eye on his rap efforts while it lasts, because he's already said in interviews he plans to move on to guitar music later in life.
"Good to Go" feat. Bun B
Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday
Poor Nicki - there was no way she could hope to crawl out from under the avalanche of hype for Kanye's magnum opus, released the same day. That's okay though, because Pink Friday sees her going in an entirely different hip-hop-influenced direction.
Note the word "influenced": Pink Friday is less aggro-rap and more electro-pop. With a distinct '80s bubblegum tone, the Young Money monarch's debut album is garnering mixed reviews from people who expected something harder, along the line of rap queens past whose names we won't mention. The record has its peaks and valleys, but Nicki still goes hard on tracks like "Roman's Revenge," and sounds sweet singing on "Your Love."
"Roman's Revenge" (feat. Eminem)
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
We weren't going to try to rank this list in any kind of hierarchical order, but if you buy any album this week, make it this one. Sure, Kanye released seemingly 75 percent of the tracks for free through his strangely generous Good Fridays MP3 series.