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Wax Nostalgia: Hip-Hop On Vinyl In 2009

Did you hear that vinyl records are making a comeback? You should have. For the past several years, that very conceit has been the focus of an endless string of trend pieces. But in case you missed those: CD sales are at an all-time low while vinyl sales, however meager, are back on the rise. Fans young and old are revisiting the once out-of-fashion format for the tangibility, the large-form artwork, the perceived superiority in sound quality and the collectability. Even big-box retailers are lining their inventory with a handful of actual records. But while hipsters and nostalgists are eager to hop on the LP bandwagon, the hip-hop community has been curiously quiet within this revival.

Which is odd, given how closely the genre has been linked to vinyl culture over the years. It was hip-hop that kept the record stores open during the lean years of the format. DJs bought up 12-inches and producers hit the crates for samples. But these were utilitarian ventures, not investments in cool capital. You needed vinyl to scratch, and many of the rare groove records that built the genre's foundation had not yet made the transfer to CD. Now that technology has pushed both crafts into the digital age, hip-hop has little practical interest in vinyl. Where DJs once got white-labels, they're now delivered the latest hits via email. Producers scour blogs and file-sharing services in search of the perfect beat.

Appropriately, the production of new hip-hop vinyl has nearly slowed to a halt, even amid soaring demand for overpriced hyper-limited Animal Collective collector's editions and overpriced reissues of Beatles albums. A few of the larger, artsy independent labels — Stones Throw, Rhymesayers — still press albums to vinyl, but most majors and smaller labels have abandoned the format. Here are a few great hip-hop records that did come out on wax this year, and a few more that we wish would have.

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1. [released on vinyl] Murder Was The Case

Though Gucci Mane's breakout album (The State vs. Radric Davis) did not hit wax, this semi-sanctioned compilation release from his former label Big Cat was somehow deemed worthy of a double LP pressing. And despite its dubious origins, it's a solid slab of eyes-down gangsta rap from the misunderstood ATLien. But be forewarned: The "blood red" vinyl leaves much to be desired as far as sound quality goes.

Hear "Murder Was The Case" by Gucci Mane" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

2. Before I Self Destruct

Apparently, 50 Cent is still famous enough to warrant a cross-format release. (There's probably an 8-track of Get Rich or Die Trying collecting dust in a truck cab somewhere.) Before I Self Destruct represented a welcome return of the old 50, more sly instigator than club-oriented loverman.

Hear "Before I Self Destruct" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

3. Who I Be

While Wale may have gotten the most attention with his Attention Deficit album (also available on vinyl), it was his peers in Diamond District who dropped the most consistent D.C. rap album this year. A minor supergroup consisting of rappers XO, yU and rapper/producer Oddisee, Diamond District made its debut with a dense collection of utilitarian boom-bap. True to its indie-rap roots, the crew dropped the album on nice double vinyl. Good luck finding a copy, though, as distribution is dismal.

Hear "Who I Be" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

4. Ain't Nuttin' Changed

Leave it to the old heads to honor a passing format. Poet, a veteran of the legendary KRS/Juice Crew rap battles, teams with Gang Starr's ageless DJ Premier for this album of grown-man, super-ignorant, punch-you-in-the-mouth rap. New York hardcore resurrected.

Hear "Ain't Nuttin' Changed" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

5. Turn My Swag On

Soulja Boy's goofy wake-up anthem was exactly the type of disposable major-label pop 12" that once littered the New Arrivals section of your favorite record store (and, later, their dollar bins). Not anymore. The "Swag On" 12" is truly among the last of a dying breed.

Hear "Turn My Swag On" via YouTube

1. [we wish was released on vinyl] 9x's Outta 10

BlaQKout just might be the best example of grown-man Los Angeles rap since Dre took off his scrubs. Putting aside its gangsta leanings (DJ Quik and Kurupt long represented rival gang sects), the duo instead focused on breezy summertime production, classically vulgar girl raps and deft punchlines.

Hear "9x's Outta 10" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

2. Mega Fresh X

One-time Nas affiliate Cormega has spent much of the decade churning out heartfelt, street-minded hip-hop. His long-delayed Born & Raised met expectations thanks to Mega's impeccable ear for production, with DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and a reverent guest selection that placed KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Grand Puba and Parrish Smith on the closer "Mega Fresh X."

Hear "Mega Fresh X" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

3. Da Game Been Good To Me

Just two of UGK's six albums have been given the proper LP treatment. Still, it would have been nice had Jive gone all out for this, the duo's swan song in the wake of rapper/producer Pimp C's untimely death. (He was found dead in a hotel room two years ago, his recreational prescription-cough-syrup abuse having aggravated his sleep apnea.) Constructed mostly from recordings made before his passing, 4 Life paid homage to his trunk-rattling swamp-funk aesthetic.

Hear "Da Game Been Good to Me" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

4. New Wu

It's infrequent that a sequel does justice to its predecessor, but Raekwon managed to resurrect the feeling generated by his most cherished album 14 years after the fact. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II comfortably revisits all the touchstones of the original: the kung-fu samples, the murky soul production and the grandiose cocaine talk. (Fat Beats Records has hinted at plans for a purple vinyl pressing in the new year. Keep your fingers crossed and your expectations realistic.)

Hear "New Wu" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

5. O Let's Do It

Another one for the disposable singles file, Gucci Mane's second-in-command delivers this all-energy post-crunk hit. Asylum Records has long proved refuge for this type of of-the-moment local hit. That they aren't releasing physical pressings anymore only shortens their memorability.

Hear "O Let's Do It" via YouTube

Advisory: This song contains strong adult language.

This song will be available on Dec. 29 from Asylum/Warner Bros. Records.

Andrew Noz