5. Z-Ro Cocaine (Rap-A-Lot)
With Z-Ro's long-awaited album Heroin delayed, Cocaine ended up as the appropriately named followup to 2008's Crack. Though Cocaine was originally intended to be a mixtape put out by little-known producer DJ Drama Queen, it more than holds its own as a proper album. Full of swirling, cinematic beats from Z-Ro himself, it's the latest from a melodic-flowing MC who still hasn't quite gotten his due. 4. UGK UGK 4 Life (Jive) Mostly recorded before Pimp C's syrup-related death in late 2007, UGK's probable swan song is a compelling testament to Pimp's skills, despite barely acknowledging his passing. There was never much room for downcast introspection in the duo's songs, anyway, and so it's probably for the best that the record focuses on what Pimp and Bun B always did best: rhyme about their whips and their dicks. 3. Lil Boosie & Hurricane Chris Category 7: A Bad Azz Hurricane (Mixtape)
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Who would have thought two Louisianans not from New Orleans would make the state's best music this year? Category 7 showcases Shreveport's Hurricane Chris and Baton Rouge's Lil Boosie's debauched chemistry. Both thrive on the same type of tinny, low-budget country-rap beats, and unlike Boosie's pandering, unadventurous studio album, SuperBad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz, this mixtape features them at their most explosive and silly. It's not always poetry - Chris's description of two "bad bitches" who "got naked while I watched Austin Powers" comes to mind - but it's never boring. 2. Bobby Ray B.o.B. vs. Bobby Ray (Mixtape) Atlanta MC B.o.B. was gangsta rap's next big thing, a tremendous talent who plays live instruments, produces and rhymes with equal aplomb. So of course the 21-year-old abruptly changed his moniker to Bobby Ray and began penning introspective songs. This oft-hilarious mixtape pits the two alter egos against each other. With DJ Don Cannon and DJ Green Lantern at the helm, it's a substantial appetizer for his major-label debut next year. 1. Gucci Mane Murder Was the Case (Big Cat)
Gucci was 2009's most divisive MC, inspiring both superlative praise and histrionic disgust from fans and critics alike. He was also its most prolific, seemingly spending every free minute recording - when he wasn't in the can. Though he cranked out countless mixtapes and even a major-label album, unauthorized studio disc Murder Was the Case stood out. Culled mainly from older material, it features thick, ecstatic beats from Atlanta producer Zaytoven and showcases Gucci at his slurring, dazzling best.