Maxwell's first 3 albums were all released during my teenage years, and they all seemed to pass me by, even during the time that my interest in R&B was really being awakened; it's like his singles always came out during periods when I wasn't listening to the radio or watching cable much, or I'd just tune them out because they didn't seem terribly interesting. But "Pretty Wings" just grabbed me from the very first listen and has yet to let go, and I'm loving the rest of the album just as much, especially "Help Somebody." Really need to give his back catalog a chance now.
2. Demi Lovato - Here We Go Again
Still haven't checked out her first album from less than a year ago that I liked all the singles from, but this is really good, moreso when she sticks to big stadium pop-punk bangers like "U Got Nothin' On Me" than the blander midtempo stuff like the John Mayer-penned one or the one that sounds exactly like Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning."
3. The Alchemist - Chemical Warfare
There's a skit on Chemical Warfare where cartoonish caricatures of a gangsta rapper and a backpacker nerd argue about whether the Alchemist is better when working with Mobb Deep types or when working with Swollen Members types, and even though it's not terribly funny, it kind of neatly illustrates the fact that Alc is one of the few guys in rap who has enough of a foot in each camp to capably make fun of both, and himself, in such a way. He's caught between two worlds in a way beyond just the one that all white guys involved in hip hop are. Of course, having people like Oh No and Lil Fame guest on the same album isn't nearly as novel in 2009, at a time when Freeway is signed to Rhymesayers, as it was 5 years ago when Alchemist had the same kind of subtle subculture clashes all over 1st Infantry. But even if other white boom bap producers like Statik Selektah have made albums like this feel a lot more commonplace now, Alchemist is still the greatest white boom bap producer of all time, and his beats just keep getting more tangled and dense with left-field samples and creative rhythms. "That'll Work" with Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile is anything but a token Southern beat, and is up there with my very favorite songs of the year.
4. Twista - Category F5
It probably says something about me as a rap fan that I consider Twista one of the greatest of all time, just on the flow alone, nevermind how generics his lyrics might be most of the time. But fuck it, I never get tired of that doubletime shit, and in an era when even good rappers are doing fucking slow-ass singsong Yung Joc flows, he's never been more of a welcome change of pace. I really have no idea which of his 3 post-Kamikaze albums is best or worst, they're all just kinda Twista albums, but I like them. You got the usual people that are always on his records (Do Or Die, R. Kelly, and Johnny P. sounding awesome with really cheap/distorted AutoTune), plus some guys that it's a little fresh to hear on a song with Twista (Lil Boosie, Gucci Mane), overall a good mix. The Kanye/No I.D. track "Alright" that got done too late and ended up an iTunes bonus track, is better than almost anything on the proper album, though.
5. Gucci Mane - The Movie 2: The Sequel
It's kind of funny how Gucci Mane has become this polarizing figure with bloggers taking these ridiculous positions about whether he's a lyrical genius or mentally retarded, when he's just a good solid wordplay-heavy Southern rapper along the same lines as Young Dro, who people have never had to argue that much about loving or hating. I guess that's what hype does, though, everyone's gotta pick a position. I still don't think I'm really on board with all the love, and generally like him in small doses, but this is a good quick follow-up to Writing On The Wall, really liking "Burr" right now. Plus we should really enjoy all these Zaytoven-produced mixtape tracks while we can, since Gucci is currently amassing the the boring-ass beats all-stars for his official album.