At the end of every year there are usually a few albums that I don't get to until a month after. By the way, when I say end of the year, I mean in the last couple weeks. I don't know why record companies decide to release them at this time, for the simple fact that it will most likely disappear under the weight of holiday blockbuster promotions and fans trying to trace high water marks.
Even if I had got to Mikkey Halsted's The Dark Room, which was released on December 21st, I wouldn't call it just a good album. Halsted has been bumped around by around Cash Money and Virgin records in recent years, and has earned his time to shine. He's Chi-town proud, has a M.A. in Education, and hates on an Uncle Tom the way Scarfarce hates on a snitch. Along with production from No I.D. (Common, Jay-Z, Kanye West), who covers the boards for most of the album, he delivers over an hour long compilation of tracks that isn't a debut LP. It's a mission statement.
The two tracks that really standout are "Field Ni*#a Blues" and "Exorcist." "Blues" features Freddie Gibbs, another rising star from the midwest, a running ice-cold piano, and a swooning hook from B.J. the Chicago Kid. "Exorcist" is lead in by "Reading of Scripture," a poem read by J.Ivy that would make Farrakhan proud, then Halsted and a smoldering organ attempt to free hip-hop from it's wayward ways.
It's true that over the duration of the album the production begins to thin itself out and the returns begin to diminish, however in turn Halsted is given the chance to lyrically flex his talent. On "Camera Ready" Nat Turner takes you on a ride by Hyde Park and The Israel of God church, "Frozen" delves into the tragedy of neglected and abused women in his community, and "Story Untold" is a letter of warning and compassion from a father behind bars. The pain and pathology of ghetto life is captured on "N****z Just Complain" when Halsted rhymes:
"I'm from the place
where it used to take a village
now we scared to say shit
to anyone else's children.
Where we're paying for our feelinz'
slingin' death right by the buildinz'
our back up against the wall
we killin to make a livin."
This is a multi-dimentional, piercing, and mature emcee committed to his craft. Most artists need several efforts in order to establish an identity for themselves, but The Dark Room finds Halsted fully aware of who is he is as an artist. The years of trial and opportunity deferred has only sharpened his lyricism and a determination to be heard. With his connection to other Chicago names like Kanye and Lupe, it's only a matter of time before word gets out, and there is no doubt that when the time comes, Halsted will be ready.
Other 2010 greats that I am stuck on:
Megafaun - Heretofore
Pestifer - Age of Disgrace