has already published its official
for the year in Baltimore music, but I thought I'd use this space to share an expanded version of my personal ballot for the list. I didn't hear every local record in 2007--hell, I didn't even hear half the albums voted onto
's list--but I did hear a lot worth acknowledging before we move into 2008.
1. Darkroom Productions - Hamsterdam Vol. 2 - Stash to da Strip
(Darkroom Inc.) Darkroom produced the lion's share of the Baltimore hip-hop featured in
in the show's fourth and upcoming fifth seasons. Although an official soundtrack to the series is due out in January, Darkroom's second mixtape compilation is currently the only way to get many of those tracks. But, with or without that tie-in,
Hamsterdam Vol. 2
is a landmark of local hip-hop, featuring a large percentage of the MCs in this town who matter, all of them furnished with funky, creative tracks from the production duo.
2. Monarch (now Wye Oak) - If Children
(Morphius) Although a big part of Monarch's appeal is its live show, and realizing that the band's two members can create that dense sound in person, the many charms of their debut album have nothing to do with whether or not it's tracked live or overdub city. And while there are a good number of bands in town making pretty, feminine indie rock, none of them had as many songs that have stuck with me as consistently as the ones on
3. Jade Fox - Ashes of Another Life
(self-released) Our Best of Baltimore issue's top female MC this year dropped a cohesive, immaculately produced 10-song album on which not one track was wasted, an accomplishment in and of itself in the age of 30-track mixtapes.
4. Say Wut - Beats Extraordinaire EP
(Unruly Records) Say Wut is one of the producers dragging Baltimore club kicking screaming toward new sounds, alongside peers like Blaqstarr. And though he released a mix CD,
Club Chronicles: Level 1
, the best showcase of his latest tracks was a digital EP available on
, featuring hyped-up, mind-blowing recent cuts like "Futuristic" and "The Monster."
5. Avec - Lines
(Civil Defense League/Doghouse) Perhaps not since Shudder to Think's
Pony Express Record
has there been an album that made tangled song structures and disjointed time signatures sound so darkly sensual and strangely sexy.
6. Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
(Carpark Records) Here's a little secret: I can't stand Dan Deacon's live show. The forced sense of fun, the quirky monologues between songs, the fact that the way he performs on club floors, barely visible to anyone but the people immediately around him, excludes more audience members than it includes. But the Baltimore resident who took the indie world by storm this year, largely on the basis of his reputation as a live performer, thankfully did make a pretty awesome record, full of skronky electronics and tweaked chants.
7. Ogun - B-More Hero: The Mixtape of the Year
(A.R.S. Entertainment/Real On Purpose) Ogun announced with the title of his latest release that he wanted to have the mixtape of the year, and, as far as Baltimore's concerned, that's what he got. And though he occasionally lightens up with celebratory posse cuts and the hilarious "Cyber Thuggin'," it's still the same old O, intensely earnest and passionate in just about every lyric he writes.
8. Comp - The Man With the Hand: Bang-A-Rang Mixtape Vol. 4
(Bang-A-Rang Gang) Comp is a perfect case study in why Baltimore rappers are probably better off without major-label deals. As a teenager, he signed with Def Jam, and proceeded to spend three years cranking out the occasional soundtrack contribution as his hopes of ever releasing an album on the label gradually faded. While he was signed, his mixtapes were hodgepodges of freestyles and "remixes" of popular songs that made it clear he was holding back his "A" material in case that Def Jam album ever happened. But in the two years since parting ways with the label, Comp has become a beast, doubling his mixtape catalog with his best material yet, and showing up at virtually every hip-hop show in the city to perform a ferocious set.
9. The New Flesh - Vessel
(Heartbreakbeat Records) Like most confrontationally loud bands, the New Flesh's albums never quite capture the earsplitting chaos of its live show, partly because such confrontationally loud bands aren't usually commercially successful enough to get a recording budget that would allow them to fully capture their sound. But if you turn
up loud enough, it just about does the trick.
10. The Tao of Slick - Jazz Hall: The Epitome of Epiphany
(Ankh Ba Records) Labtekwon is by far one of the most prolific MCs in Baltimore, and can usually be depended on to drop at least a couple solo albums every year. But lately, he's been focusing on group projects, including his long-running trio CSD and the forthcoming progressive club album from the 410 Pharoahs. And the debut album from another group, the Tao of Slick, in which producer Thur Deephrey and chanteuse Hazel Black drench Lab's straight-talking rhymes in jazzy atmospherics, is one of the most rewarding detours his career has taken.
11. Blaq Starr - The King of Roq
(JB Starr Productions) Having written about this album in the paper
, I'll just say this: on the basis of those two tracks Blaq Starr did with Woodie Rock from Dru Hill, I'm ready for a whole album from them. Bring on the club & B!
12. Bossman - End of Discussion
Dollars - The Overdose
(One Up Entertainment) After last year's two-CD solo mixtape
, Bossman decided to double up again, this time with one disc of his latest material, and another from his N.E.K. group mate Dollars. Now the only question is: When is the Tony Manson solo joint coming?
13. Sand Cats - Some Kind of Mantra
(Must Finish) One regret about my listening habits this year that I intend on correcting in 2008 is that I didn't spend nearly enough time fishing elaborately packaged cassettes and CD-Rs out of the local music rack at True Vine. But one of the highlights of what I did hear was from Rjyan "Cex" Kidwell's productive run of limited editions from his DIY label Must Finish, this one from his Sand Cats project with wife Roby Newton, a woozy tape collage of voices that bears no similarity to the Sand Cats live experience.
14. Mario - Go!
(J Records) Three years ago, Mario Barrett seemed to be on the cusp of R&B superstardom with his first No. 1 hit, "Let Me Love You." But the superstar career it kicked off happened to be that of the song's writer, Ne-Yo, while Mario struggled to follow it up with his third album,
, which was delayed for more than a year as multiple attempts at singles did middling business. Thankfully, at least the album itself is good, with the 21-year-old singer's velvety voice maturing more gracefully than that of most of his teeny-bopper R&B peers.
15. Private Eleanor - Sweethearting
(Beechfields) Baltimore indie rock these days is flush with bands making quiet, pretty music, and Private Eleanor is one of the quietest and prettiest. And while this year's
wasn't the perfect rainy-day record that 2005's
No Straight Lines
was, it found the band expanding its range and rocking just a little less softly.
16. Ron Rico - Extra-Terrestrial Instrumentals Vol. 1
(Music in Me Productions) Ron Rico is one of the most versatile producers in the city, tackling cartoon-sampling club tracks and soulful hip-hop with rapper Mike Malachi with equal aplomb. And for his first solo project, he unveils a third skill set with murky, chilled-out instrumental hip-hop in the vein of the late J Dilla.
17. Velociraptor - EP
(self-released) Velociraptor is a great case study in just how fleetingly a promising act can come and go in Baltimore's DIY scene. The duo formed at the beginning of the year, released an EP of pretty bedroom techno-pop, played a few local shows and toured, and then promptly broke up, leaving behind just these four songs.
18. D.O.G. - The Feeling—Bring It Back
(Invisible Set Entertainment) Things have been pretty quiet in D.O.G.'s camp in the year since his Blaq Starr collaboration "Ryda Gyrl" became a breakout hit and he signed a deal with Universal Records. But D.O.G. finally broke his silence recently with a mixtape full of original tracks, which deserves to raise his profile back to the height it was at a couple summers ago.
19. Ace - The Product
(For the People Entertainment) For the People Entertainment has a large roster full of artists like Billo and Cutthroat who mostly didn't drop albums this year. But one who did, Ace, stepped up and showed his storytelling skills on tracks like "Juice" over the label's beats.
20. K-Swift the Club Queen - Jumpoff Vol. 11: Not Guilty
(Next Level/Unruly Records) K-Swift spent much of the year embroiled in a mild controversy about her role in local music airplay on 92Q, but it had little effect on her status as the most visible and popular club DJ in the city. And, thankfully, it had little effect on the quality of this mix CD, beyond the defensive title and some completely pointless courtroom skits that fail to even address what she's been accused of, and it featured the closest thing to a comprehensive 2007 club music hit list as any mix out this year.
21. Skarr Akbar - The Epidemic
22. Cex - Sketchi
23. TestMe - TestMe Talk Vol. 2
(Power Hitter Records)
24. Heavy Gold - Tha Testa
(Stay Gettin' Ent.)
25. Thrushes - Sun Come Undone
26. Yuk and Cut - Da Hard Wae 3: Squadre Radio
(For the People Entertainment)
27. Height - Winterize the Game
(Grand Man Records)
28. State of teh Arts - Sun Ra Used to Say
29. Various Artists - Marketing and Distribution Volume 1
30. B.I.G. Status - Green Day
31. B-Ill - The Best of B-Ill: Chapter 1
(Banga Bill Enterprises)
32. Celebration - The Modern Tribe
33. Tufflon Dona and Tyreika Renee - The Best of Both Worlds: The Royal Queens Edition
(Queens Royalty Entertainment)
34. Mullyman - Industry Invasion
(Major League Unlimited)
35. CSD - Emmett Till's Revenge
(Ankh Ba Records)
36. Gary B. and the Notions - Get Those Crazy Notions!
37. Stackz - No 2Morrow
(Rebel Royale Ent.)
38. DJ Mic Marvelous - Deja Vu
(@ttic Records/H. Ent)
39. Minlus McCracken - Rock and a Hard Place
(Wandering Soul Records/Hazmatic Records)
40. Hots - Advanced Warning
(One Up Entertainment)
41. Blaq Starr - Supastarr EP
42. DJ Frie - Da Club Tip Vol 12: The Summer Rock Off
43. A-Maz-On - Da Newest Kid on the Block: Freshman 101
44. DJ Radio - Architects Recording Studio presents ARS Re-Loaded
( A.R.S. Entertainment)
45. UnReal - Da F$$k Else U Want 4 Free
46. Backland - This Is Me
(Block Boy Music)
47. Born King - Krad Edis
(Street Legal Entertainment/Mad Thinkah Productions)
48. Tha Profitt - Baltimore Entrepeneur
49. DJ Tigga - It's Not a Fuckin' Game! Vol. 21
(Bounce Alot Productions)
50. The Weak - Painful EP