The year’s best rap albums — and two of the best albums period — were recorded by two emcees due to make a musical impact: Big Boi and Kanye West.

Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot didn’t leave my ears for weeks (or my turntable after the white vinyl release). “Shutterbug” and “Fo Yo Sorrows” provided the best summer jams of the year, the latter offering a smoky George Clinton hook and an unexpected Too Short cameo. “No DJ” teamed the ATL vet with buzz-worthy upstart Yellawolf, and Janelle Monae (another standout in 2010) took the controls on an outer-space synth riff with “Be Still.” The beat on “General Patton” is untouchable and “Tangerine” (feat. T.I. & Khujo Goodie) is a flawless low-key burner that’s easy to forget in the flashbulbs of it’s surroundings.

Kanye, better known for his ego and antics than his music for most of the year, silenced his critics with perhaps the most orchestrated hip hop album in the genre’s history. Short on radio hits and long on dramatic genre-hopping tracks, West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is also a music critic’s wet dream. With each listen, new subtle ideas enter the already complex conversation. Like West’s ego, it’s robust. Jay Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minja, and other hip hop A-listers provide some of the best features of the year with their contributions, as well. Minja’s verse on “Monster” is probably the best of the year.

Kanye West “Monster”

In 2010, hip hop was alive and well.