I’m convinced that Lil Wayne is party to some kind of dark sorcery occurring in the suburban sound systems of America’s mini vans, rendering Lollipop not only listenable but actually enjoyable.

Lil Wayne

From what I understand, his popularity comes from allegedly delicious punning, but I’m sorry if confusing “rapper” and “wrapper” with salacious results doesn’t strike me as a particularly high minded lyrical achievement.

And let’s not even get started on the whole Prom Queen debacle.

This being said, here are three current hip hop artists putting out wicked material — all of them more worthy of accolade than Lil Wayne and his vocoder riddled trash.

k-os - Yes! (2009)

k-os - Yes (2009)

1.  k-os
One of the least traditionally hip hop artists on this list, k-os is also one of my favourites.  He’s got an infectiously melodic style, more akin to singing than rapping.  He probably falls under that broad umbrella of “R&B” rather than the substantially narrower category of “hip hop.”  His first album, Exit, was critically acclaimed and moderately successful, but he didn’t reach mainstream superstardom until Joyful Rebellion in 2004.

Why he’s interesting
k-os is notable for his atypically cerebral lyrics and generally positive message, often criticizing the overly commercial, violent and misogynistic nature of mainstream hip hop.

Listen to…
Heaven Only Knows [Exit 2002]
The Love Song [Joyful Rebellion 2004]
Flypaper [Atlantis 2006]
Burning Bridges [Yes! 2009]

2.  K’naan

K'naan - Troubadour (2009)

K'naan - Troubadour (2009)

K’naan is a Somali-Canadian rapper, only recently gaining popularity.  His first album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, is a combination of hip hop and spoken word poetry, often emphasizing the degree to which the two forms often overlap.

His most recent album, Troubadour is a more typically hip hop album with plenty of big-name feature credits (like Chubb Rock, Adam Levine, Kirk Hammett and Mos Def).

Why he’s interesting
He fuses African rhythms with North American style hip hop, rails against “gangsterism,” raps about global politics and incorporates a generous amount of horns, guitars and drums.

Listen to…
I Was Stabbed By Satan [The Dusty Foot Philosopher 2005]
Wavin’ Flag [Troubadour 2009]
ABC’s (feat. Chubb Rock) [Troubadour 2009]

3.  N.A.S.A.

N.A.S.A. - The Spirit of Apollo (2009)

N.A.S.A. - The Spirit of Apollo (2009)

The only collaboration on this list, N.A.S.A., is more of a DJ collective than a hip hop group, but the music they produce is undeniably rap.  Led by Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon, N.A.S.A. has produced possibly the most feature credit heavy album ever made.

Why they’re interesting
Everybody is on this record.  And I mean everybody.  From contemporary rappers like Kanye, to indie rock darlings like Karen O, to classic alternative artists like David Byrne and Tom Waits, to iconic hip hop pioneers like Chuck D and Del tha Funkee Homosapien.  They’re all here. The sheer logistics of such a feat boggles the mind.

Listen to…
Gifted (feat. Kanye West, Santogold, Lykke Li) [The Spirit of Apollo 2009]
Strange Enough (feat. Karen O, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Fatlip) [The Spirit of Apollo 2009]
Money (feat. David Byrne, Chuck D, Ras Congo, Seu Jorge, Z-Trip) [The Spirit of Apollo 2009]

Honourable Mention: Classified
Everybody’s favourite Halifax rapper earns an honourable mention in this list.  The primary reason to love Classified is his mastery of the fine art of sampling.  His otherwise unremarkable lyrics are excused away by fantastic production and brilliant sample selection.  2005’s Boy-Cott-In the Industry had some of the catchiest beats since N.W.A. sampled Charles Wright.  And this year’s single, “Anybody Listening,” puts Genesis to fine use.