London to Houston to Shaolin

2007's Best Rap

Sean Price
Jesus Price Supastar

Maybe the year's best underground sleeper hit, the second solo album by Heltah Skeltah/Boot Camp Clik veteran Sean Price is a key example of the current state of hardcore East Coast hip hop—independently distributed, reverent to the classic style, and completely without gimmicks. Price doesn't have any reservations when it comes to rapping about how broke and frustrated he is (from "Mess You Made": "I guess this rap shit is a thing of the past/Took the ring off my finger, sold the thing for some cash"), but the album—produced in the head-knocking soul-jazz tradition of Pete Rock and DJ Premier by the likes of 9th Wonder and Khrysis, among others—has enough battle-rap fire and hustler ferocity to make Price's broke-and-frustrated status seem inexplicable.

UGK
Underground Kingz

A rap double CD that's front-to-back great only comes around once a decade, if that—and considering the last great one, Wu-Tang Forever, involved one of rap's biggest crews, it's even more astounding that a two-man outfit could go all-killer-no-filler, especially within two years of each member releasing his own lengthy-yet-good solo record. Bun B and the late Pimp C of UGK take the simplest subjects (sex, drugs, cars) and carry them through with sheer force of charisma, flexible drawling flows, 21st-century g-funk production, and an impressive guest roster—OutKast on the year's best single "Int'l Player's Anthem (I Choose You);" Too $hort on "Life Is 2009"; Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap on the Marley Marl-produced "Next Up."

Wu-Tang Clan
8 Diagrams

Some Wu-Tang fans were disappointed after waiting six years for an album that turned out to be moody, fractured, and short on immediacy. It probably didn't help that Ghostface Killah and Raekwon more or less disowned it due to the RZA's new production tone, heavy on melodic R&B and acid rock. But give this one time: With just about every member on his A-game (especially Raekwon and a Tical-caliber Method Man), and a ton of beats that you'll suddenly find stuck in your head a week after forgetting what they sounded like, 8 Diagrams is going to become increasingly difficult to sleep on.

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