Age: 31
Recent Project: F.N.O. (Failure's No Option)

Every year, a vet or two will make their way onto a list like this. Sometimes, it seems like the list could be half vets. Prodigy's Albert Einstein is an undeniable record from a legend, and any time a rapper of Prodigy's stature gets behind the mic this many years into their career, it's bound to make people wonder if they're really being recognized like they should. But although Prodigy's latest is a great album, he's still, after all, a legend. It's hard to be underrated when that's your indisputable position in the game.

The same wouldn't, necessarily, be said of Lloyd Banks. While his early tapes are rightly celebrated among the G-Unit canon, even calling G-Unit's debut a classic is controversial at best. But his latest tape, the DJ Drama-hosted F.N.O., is one of the year's best tapes. The production, helmed primarily by Doe Pesci, has a gritty melodicism that perfectly complements Banks' tightly written bars. Those lyrics unfurl with effortless motion, as if the words were simply spilling over from inside of him, each verse billowing into perfectly formed shapes.

Banks doesn't do much press, so it's unlikely we'll figure out all of the mysteries he's speaking on. But there's a density to his ideas that should leave listeners pondering the source of the hard-won wisdom he drops throughout. For a rapper who no doubt does alright for himself, performing overseas and banking off of his older music, it's refreshing to discover that he still feels that he has something to say this late in his career. —David Drake

If You Don't Believe Us Listen To: "Failure's No Option"