Gold Medal: A Piece of Strange by CunninLynguists
Don’t judge a book by its cover. And for that matter, don’t judge an album by its cover. And for the matter, don’t judge an artist by its name. Lo and behold, a Christian themed hip-hop album by a group with a blatant sexual innuendo as a moniker is probably my favorite rap album ever made. A Piece of Strange is the story of a man, just out of jail, trying to get back on his feet. He finds himself tempted (see apple on cover) by women, crime and drugs and ends up sucked in to this world of sin and finds himself in Hell, only to eventually see The Light. The story is powerful but what really sets this record apart are the beats. Kno is truly a master producer.
Silver Medal: The Long March EP by Blue Scholars
Yes, this is an EP. Yes, I may be biased because I met the two members of the Blue Scholars. Yes, much of this is inspired by the Chinese communism of Mao Zedong. Nonetheless, I hardly had to think twice about including this incredible record at number two. Each song is an eye-opening anthem for the struggling middle class. Each song makes you want to get up and do something about the problems of the world. Each song keeps you listening to every passionate word from the mouth of MC Geologic and grooving to every beat courtesy DJ Sabzi. “I heard a few heads say that hip hop is dead. No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed.”
Bronze Medal: Illinois by Sufjan Stevens
I used to be annoyed with how long this album is but because there is so much variety here, it's quite alright. Illinois has since become an indie classic and it has to do with the fact that he's possibly the most unique, cutting-edge pop musician alive. This album is all about the state of Illinois, and uses baroque pop, tender acoustica and minimalist vignettes to paint a complete picture of Sufjan's magnificent vision that was just coming into focus on Michigan and then was distorted into something completely different on Age of Adz. A master craftsman, Sufjan Stevens' work will undoubtedly stand the test of time.