If We Alright, Hip Hop Gonna Be Alright (c) Mos Def
1. Nas – Street Disciple
Nasir Jones takes us through the dichotomous mind of a man who’s trying to find his proper place in this crazy world. The beats aren’t the choicest but Nas makes up for it with well written lyrics and an honesty that immediately makes you forgive his gaffes over the years.
2. T.I. – Urban Legend
Country drawl and standard lyrical fare aside, T.I.’s claims of being king of the south don’t seem too far fetched after witnessing his growth from his "Trap Muzik" LP to this latest disc. Make no mistake, he may be about making the club crunk but there is a true b-boy’s grit to his rhyme approach. It’s good, catchy music and it should satisfy old and new fans alike.
3. Handsome Boy Modeling School – White People
Just like Prince Paul’s "Politics of the Business" LP, most people won’t get the point of this CD. True enough, it’s not as good as their debut but nothing on a major label is currently this ambitious. Give Paul and Automator props for having the stones to do something this daring. Even Dres from Black Sheep shows up on this disc. You have to check it out just for that.
4. The Roots – Tipping Point
For every fan the popular Roots band may have lost with "Phrenology", they may have gained a slew of new ones with their latest release. Many say the Roots listened too hard to their critics and made an LP to appease their desire and if so, they’ve succeeded in making a solid yet far too short album. The highlights “Star‿, “Boom‿ and other songs are just amazing lyrical displays from front man MC Black Thought - although it is evident drummer/producer Questlove’s masterful vision is what drives this project.
5. Kanye West – College Dropout
OK, so Kanye West may come off like a bit of a jerk and the arrogance isn’t appealing one bit but as far as “concept" albums go (and I hate concept LPs mostly), he achieved his goal and should be applauded. To add, the album is pretty damn entertaining to boot. West as an MC is not hard to take as he’s more than capable, definitely charismatic and knows how to deliver his verses with punch. The beats are, without question, solid work and even the stodgiest backpacker would nod his or her head.
Honorable Mention: Ghostface Killa – The Pretty Toney Album; Erick Sermon – Chilltown, New York; Devin the Dude – To The Xtreme
1. Madvillian – Madvilliany
M.F. Doom, the prolific wordsmith of K.M.D. and The Gas Face (with 3rd Bass) fame, and his pairing with blunted beat conductor and musical genius Madlib is independent Hip Hop’s freshest and most ambitious album. It never stales after repeated listens and just when you think you’ve figured a line out, Doom shocks your senses again. Once you’ve deciphered the thick, hazy vocals of the super-villain, the dusty beats of Madlib will have you stuck on stupid for years to come.
2. De La Soul – The Grind Date
De La Soul has been in the game since 1988 – astounding enough to say the least. The fact that they still sound relevant in today’s microwave Hip Hop scene is a true testament to their dedication to building a legacy and sound we should appreciate for years to come. Dave and Pos sound like they’re having fun and the lyrics aren’t so inside joke-like any longer. They also have a sharp ear for beats and a fantastic cameo from the previously mentioned MF Doom.
3. Ed OG/Pete Rock – My Own Worst Enemy
Boston native Ed OG first saw fame in the early 90s with “Be a Father to Your Child" and “I Gots to Have It" but has stayed around the business with sporadic releases over the years. With this project with Pete Rock (who produced 7 of the LPs 10 tracks), he is showcasing some of what could be dubbed as “good ol’ grown man Hip Hop". Could easily be the best late year release in indie Hip Hop thus far and a surprise at that.
4. Oh No – The Disrupt
Madlib’s younger brother is by far a superior MC than his more famous sibling and his production skills are more dance floor ready than headphone proper, but he’s made one of the sleeper CDs of the year. He’s got a very busy flow ala his fellow Oxnard, California MC collaborator Wild Child of the Loot Pack (which is Madlib’s group). The hooks, just like on Wildchild’s slept on “Secondary Protocol" are stellar and the beats have knock. This should get some burn if DJs had the stones to play the record.
5. Murs and 9th Wonder – Murs 3:16. The 9th Edition
In an unlikely collaborative effort between west coast underground legend MC Murs and North Carolina beatsmith 9th Wonder resulted in an LP that’s just impressive enough to remind you that this wasn’t the best this pair could do. Murs let his hair down so to speak and came from a really honest perspective – possessing a rare humility not seen from many MCs. 9th, often criticized for the sameness of his tracks, even showed some new tricks on his trusty Fruity Loops program
Honorable Mentions: Prince Po – The Slickness; Theodore Unit – 718; Masta Killa – No Said Date; Foreign Exchange - Connected
As you can tell from this editorial piece in the Philadelphia Daily News, the usual suspects again are asked to explain "what's up with Hip Hop". No offense to these so-called experts the journalists seem to dig up but they all say the same thing and seem to be the standard set of usual suspects. And, as I've said before, academics who do NOT participate in the culture on the most organic of levels have no right to speak on the culture. None whatsoever and you can quote me on that. It is a tired, bland question that goes to show you we've become far too used to big selling acts to dictating the pace of the musical tastes of the public. That's not what Hip Hop participation or music is about -- the big sales and media hype. For every Jay-Z, there's a J-Zone nobody's gets to hear and it's the fans who lose in the end.
The big story is how political rap is making a quiet and steady comeback - thanks due in part to the efforts of sites like ours and movements like the P-Diddy spearheaded Citizen Change. But was poltical rap music a really big thing? Questlove of the Roots fame makes a good point in the above linked editorial. Was Public Enemy that popular? Perhaps because Chuck D's politics were so pointed, it felt bigger than life and he certainly carried a torch many were relunctant to help hoist then - and has kept up his end of the bargain a variety of ways. What scared the MC away from speaking up? Where is a voice in Hip Hop as angry as Zach De La Rocha's? Who's going to take that new weight? That's a better question to ask than what's up with Hip Hop. Hip Hop, as noted by all those releases above (and the many other decent offerings of the year), is doing just fine - with or without a political message.
That said, I do want more rappers, to quote Boston's Ed OG, to start "sayin' somethin'" we can apply to our lives in a major way.