At the Red Bull EmSee Atlanta event. Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Photofiles

Comebacks, unexpected deaths, and new artists marked an interesting year for rap and hip-hop. Here are the five of the most compelling moments from 2010:

Rap and Hip-Hop Moments of 2010

#5 Nicki Minaj Making Female Rappers Matter Again

With Lauryn Hill out of the limelight, Eve never truly returning, Trina relegated to the minor leagues, Foxy Brown staying 730 and Lil’ Kim dancing on television, it seemed as though female rappers were an endangered species.

Nicki Minaj changed all that in a major way. In 2010, the Queens, New York-raised rapper became the first artist to have seven singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and her debut album, Pink Friday, sold more than 375,000 units its first week in stores, the most a female rapper has sold in one week since Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill in 1998.

Minaj’s affiliation with Lil Wayne may have helped her get through the door, but her imaginative flows, arresting lyrics and eye-catching imagery made her matter.

#4 Eminem Selling More Than 3 Million Albums

The disintegration of the music industry has been a hot topic for the last five years or so. Eminem wasn’t listening, apparently.

The Detroit rapper’s Recovery album sold more than 3 million copies, making it the best-selling album released in 2010. The videos for “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna and “Not Afraid” garnered more than 240 million and 170 million hits on YouTube, respectively.

While most artists complained about virtually everything (loss of sales, quality material being shunned in favor of ringtone music, and so on), Eminem simply crushed the competition with a chart-topping album filled with intricate rhymes and a complex look at physical abuse with “Love The Way You Lie.”

#3 Seeing Artists Dropped by the Majors Making Moves Independently

Getting a deal on a major label used to be the best way for an artist to reach their fans. In 2010, several rappers showed that getting dropped by a major label may have been the best thing to happen to their careers.

Wiz Khalifa left Warner Bros. Records in 2009, only to become arguably the hottest emerging artist in the game this year.

On a smaller scale, Freddie Gibbs took his walking papers from Interscope Records a few years ago and solidified himself in 2010 as one of rap’s most promising voices, producing a winning brand of insightful street-based music. The major labels’ losses were a boon for music fans.

#2 Ice Cube Putting Out an Album

The movies he’s starred in have grossed more than $750 million at the box office, yet Ice Cube hasn’t gone Hollywood – at least musically.

The Don Mega’s I Am The West arrived more than 20 years after his seminal work with N.W.A and contains some of the same kind of intense, thought-provoking music that is the signature of his best work.

The somber “Hood Robbin’” details how the American Dream has escaped too many of our country’s residents, while the confrontational “No Country For Young Men” defends his place in the rap game. Success on the big screen hasn’t tempered Cube’s angst in the booth.

#1 Guru Dying

In April, rap lost one of its most distinctive artists when Gang Starr rapper Guru died, reportedly of cancer-related causes. He was 48.

Along with DJ Premier, Guru helped Gang Starr become one of rap’s most potent duos. Guru’s authoritative monotone flow and DJ Premier’s innovative, mind-blowing beats made the pair one of the genre’s most respected acts.

Gang Starr scored two gold albums (1998’s Moment Of Truth and 1999’s Full Clip), the sales accolades finally catching up with the acclaim Guru and DJ Premier had been collecting since they emerged in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, rap lost another, albeit lesser known, artist in 2010. RIP to Apache.

Other Compelling Stories in Rap/Hip-Hop:

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