- Blame Dr. Dre who continues work on Detox. Yeah right.
- Blame the labels for not getting their act together and actually releasing music that we can listen to. What happened to Papoose? What happened to those Doom projects? Where's the Fugee's reunion record? Percee P? Saigon? I heard that G-Unit was going to take over the whole world this year. What happened? Houston blew up last year, but where did all that momentum go in 2006? At least a Lil Jon record?
- Blame the Black Eyed Peas because of Fergie's stupid ass.
- Blame the industry for abandoning the album format and, instead, adopting the nickel-and-dime mentality of ringtones and downloads. Let's not find a way to make an album better, let's make it more disposable. Ringtones, at the very core, perfectly communicate the publics view of music--good for only 20 seconds and worth 2 dollars, but not a cent more. Hip hop ain't dead, but the album as we know it might finally be. They're not interested in making artists anymore, just radio singles when radio is a dying dinosaur.
- Blame Steve Jobs.
- Blame Brooke Hogan who, in an interview with XXL said the first rap record she bought was Stevie Wonder's "Greatest Hits," because she's really into "old-school stuff." After Amy Linden stated the obvious that Stevie Wonder ain't hip hop, Brooke replies, "But he's urban and I look up to the old classical, original stuff." The term "urban" is nothing but marketing drivel. It would make sense that an artist that is all marketing would find a way to call Stevie Wonder "urban."
- Blame "urban" and the consolidation of hip hop into one pop format. Rap is not pop, if you call it that then do your damn homework.
- Blame "snap" and "hyphy" which got exposed as the very fad's they were. Both movements were dead before Lil Jon could release his next album containing the song "Snap Yo Fingers."
- Blame Common for that silly hoodie.
- Blame the catalog divisions for, once again, failing to promote hip hop's storied history and classic recordings.
- Blame lupus for taking J Dilla.
- Blame Jay-Z, Nas, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Juvenile, P. Diddy, Outkast, the Game, Ice Cube, Mobb Deep and Ludacris (now that's a lineup) for all releasing forgettable records. Did you know of the top 50 albums at Soundscan in 2006, only three were hip hop albums? Furthermore, the top selling hip hop album was nowhere near the top of the charts--that'd be TI's King at #17. Dismal.
- Blame Flava Flav simply because it's easiest to.
- Blame the following disappointments. If these five albums were half as good as they could've been, it would've been a descent year.
Waco representin’. Central Texas won’t ever be known as the mecca of hip hop, but Strange Fruit Project is out to prove that Texas aint’ all screwed and chopped. The Healing is a stoutly soulful offering that flows with reverence to hip hop’s past, but blazes trails forward to hip hop’s otherwise dim future. The Healing dances, bounces, sings and grooves and, when it’s all said and done, Strange Fruit Project shake doubters aside and make a musical statement that’s impossible to ignore. Essential for fans of Little Brother.
LUPE FIASCO'S FOOD AND LIQUOR
Cleverly-crafted big label hype of the year! And it’s not bad either. I’ll be honest, I was drinking the Kool Aid when the first two singles hit. I thought this was album of the year even before hearing the full record. This guy was starting to reach a feverish, Kanye-like buzz and, in the infinite wisdom of the music industry, they kept pushing the record as the demand was building. In the end, it’s a crisp, clean corporate hip hop record. It’s like processed cheese, but even Velveeta makes for good once it’s melted down. Lupe is the street corner in the hip hop community where backpackers, college hipsters and snobby geekazoid record store clerks meet—like Kanye. In the end, Food and Liquor is a contender, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s the album of the year. I’ll put it this way it’s twice as good as haters say it is and half as good as everyone at Atlantic was saying it was.
Like there’s only room for one ex-member of Brand Nubian that is not Grand Puba. I kept hearing all about Lord Jamar’s 5% record, but didn’t find it as compelling as Sadat’s Black October. It’s Sadat returning to his prizefighter form—proving there’s life after old school finding refuge at Riverside Dr. With guests on production from J-Zone and Ayatollah among others, Sadat pieces together a wonderfully entertaining long-player. And while it won’t rival every record released this year, it serves as a reminder that rappers don’t retire (Jay-Z) and it truly is the size of the fight in the dog. Hopefully, Sadat remembers that on his way to prison for brandishing a firearm at a group of teenagers in Harlem. Whatta shame.
Like a brand you can count on, People Under the Stairs are the sureshots of the independent game. This, their fifth record in seven years, finds Thes and Double doing what they do best—making tasty hip hop. In all fairness, the album does sound slightly formulaic as it relies heavily on the same elements that made their first four records so damn dope. But give them their credit, to maintain a high level of quality as PUTS have with Stepfather is commendable. Although this record drags a little long with 20 tracks, it’s packaged with a DVD featuring hidden footage of Thes bidding on a replica of a vintage record player on The Price is Right. Now that’s priceless.
MURS & 9TH WONDER
The follow-up to 3:16, the first pairing 9th Wonder and L.A. vet Murs, Murray’s Revenge is a continuation of theme which sees Murs once again showing he’s underground’s premier vocalist. Infinitely funky and enjoyable, Revenge is just that as both parties return to their prime form and carefully generate an evenflow of spectacular hip hop. Murs’ signature of wearing his heart on his sleeve yet injecting enough humor to keep the mood light coupled with 9th's insanely engaging production, solidifies Revenge on this of many year-end lists. Additionally, Justus League alum Joe Scudda and Big Pooh guest, making this an album worth copping.
SKYZOO & 9TH WONDER
9th Wonder always has knack for finding the perfect match. This time out, it’s with Brooklyn native Skyzoo with what is one of a couple sleepers on this year’s list. Cloud 9 showcases Skyzoo’s street narratives and eager energy over what is, quite possibly, 9th’s most collectively fresh and inspired production since The Minstrel Show. Overall, it’s a beautiful record and well worth the dough. If you’re demanding a refund on Kingdom Come, exchange it for this colossal set.
USE YOUR CONFUSION
They were at the helm of the once-promising mid-90s underground movement, but after Elektra failed to release their debut, the Juggaknots were sent packing back to the independents. Their debut would finally see the light of day thanks to the short-lived Third Earth Records, but being the material was seven years old, the Juggaknots would have to wait for their proper introduction. Until now. Thanks to the dedicated heads at Amalgam, the Juggaknots finally got their long overdue chance to shine. Confusion is a brilliantly entertaining exhibit of the trio’s capabilities—a clever uppercut of no-bullshit hip hop. Breezly Brewin and Heroine seize every opportunity to tout their lyrical prowess as the verses of Confusion blow by at an almost reckless pace over Breezly and Buddy Slim’s arresting production. The Juggaknots have finally arrived.
A PIECE OF STRANGE
THE AUDIENCE'S LISTENING
The concept of minimalism in an era of hip hop where so much emphasis is put on the producer is novel at best. In fact, if you want to hear it at its best, you’d have to cross the Atlantic with artists like Lady Sovereign, MIA, the Streets and Roots Manuva. That is until this year when Baltimore’s MC Spank Rock with help of producer xxxchange perfectly combining the gigantic bass of dancehall rhythms with blips, drips and beeps at breakneck speed to deliver one of the most excitable albums of the year. It’s not fair to suggest all of Yoyoyoyoyo is all po-boy produced, because xxxchange does put together some bangers like the uberfunky “Sweet Talk” and the headnoddin’ “Coke and Wet.” MC Spank Rock is like Busy Bee with his endless shotcallin’ and spitfire lyricism. Make no mistake: it’s serious stuntin hip hop, but it bumps like a Chemical Brothers record rockin’ a 1998 New Years’ Eve house party. Don’t be a snob, just because it ain’t gotta breakbeat doesn’t mean you can’t shake ya ass to it.
BEAT KONDUCTA 1-2: MOVIE SCENES
It’s almost unfair how good Madlib is. Listening to the instrumental Konducta, we find ‘Lib at his finest—shining brightly as one of very few naturally-gifted producers in the game. And that’s as if his incredibly deep repertoire hasn’t convinced you yet. Supposedly billed as a soundtrack to an imaginary movie, it plays like a compilation of 35 interludes, but as you dig deeper, it truly is a masterful composition that finds ‘Lib at what is maybe his creative peak as he borrows and steals then switches and morphs sounds and samples into an explosion of hip hop goodness. What’s beautiful about ‘Lib’s creations, and this is no exception, is the noticeable unfinished, not-yet mastered rawness of the recordings—intentionally leaving tracks unbalanced and uncut. This method has become his signature and Konducta is a prime example of this technique. It’s not instrumental, it’s instru-mental.
THE DEATH OF FREQUENT FLYER
The sleeper on the list. The Windy City’s very own Psalm One caught everyone snoozing in a serious way scanning only, get this, 2,700 units of Flyer since July. July! To put that in perspective, Twisted Sister’s crappy Christmas record sold six times that amount last week. Nonetheless, the optimist tells me that talent will win when the dust settles and Psalm One has enough talent to run circles around your favorite emcee. Possessing the effortless flow of a veteran, but the exuberance of a newcomer, her gift as an emcee cannot be questioned. With ferocity, Psalm spits fire and proclaims her arrival, with help from tastemaker Rhymesayers Entertainment. This right here is the real deal.
COMBINED SOUNDSCAN: 358,066
Since Def Jam got a tad greedy by releasing the two records separately instead of dropping what would’ve been a double album of historic proportions, I’m going rate them as one because, essentially they should be and, secondly, to advocate the purchase of both rather than either or. Def Jam gave him the “Killah” back and dude comes out swinging like a man under some freakishly frantic possession. Ghost’s mind-boggling ability to spit freshness on every outing continues to baffle critics, listeners and even his label by posting a mighty healthy 110,000 units on the first week of Fishscale. The proof is in the puddin’ and the reality is this: both Fishscale and More Fish are official. Fishscale is Ghost in prime form as he compiles more uncut dope than any one listen can fully expose. With production assistances from Just Blaze to the great MF Doom, Fishscale doesn’t miss except for, of course once again, a horrible attempt at a radio track—this time with “Back Like That” featuring Neyo. Couple it with the Theodore Unit-laden More Fish and you have a tandem that can hardly be touched this year.
HELL HATH NO FURY
Rap’s obsession with realness has rotted into parody. Nothing in the rap game is real anymore. The only thing that is, in fact, real is how fake it is. It’s all a fantasy world where rappers are the heroes and the taxman is the villain. That was until Clipse blasted onto the scene back in 2002 with their still highly slept-on debut, Lord Willin’. After Jive almost killed their career by sitting on Hell for four years (a whole career for most rappers and unnecessarily long between debut and sophomore efforts), it would finally see the light of day. The result is an startling and sometimes even disturbing depiction of street life holding no reserve for their exploits as dealers and hustlas. Pusha T and Malice’s narratives are as entertaining as they are haunting begging chuckles from the listeners with their slang, their speak and the unending talent for creating metaphors and euphemisms for cocaine. Also notable is Pharrell who continues to prove he’s unstoppable as a producer as he produces yet another insanely delicious offering with a much sparser, barebone beat construction contributing to the omnipresent gloom that dominates the album. In Jive’s pursuit to sell millions of records and turn the Clipse into a single-centered act, the Clipse got the last laugh selling a modest 78,000 their first week with a cohesive and completely unmarketable gem of a record. With all the talk of coke rap, crack music—this is real trap muzik. Maybe now, Jive will finally dump them so they can get on with their careers.
Truly one of the most compelling instrumental hip hop records to release within the last decade, Dilla’s Donuts is, at first listen is somewhat confusing. But upon digestion and the multiple listens that will follow, this record drips of so much soul, you’re gonna need a couple of mops. Released just three days before Dilla would pass from lupus complications, Donuts sadly was Dilla’s outro. Maybe that’s what makes the recording so fascinating and arresting. With the average track lasting only a minute-thirty, there’s more beats than anyone listener can handle at a time. It’s an assault of scattered tempos, twisted genres, sirens, backspins, slow jams and breakbeats that’ll make your neck hurt for weeks. It’s almost a ghostly recording as if, perhaps, he knew this would be his last full offering before his untimely death and he's desperately trying to cram every funky sample he could into one session--sometimes with one track ending mid-beat before switching over to another completely different soundscape--like a kid playing around in the DJ booth with four walls of vinyl. The lesson being this: dope doesn’t need transition. Just play the damn record. Donuts is a suiting record for a repertoire as vast as Dilla’s because if you play it from beginning to end as it was obviously intended, it’s not 31 tracks, it’s just one 48-minute song. that's a boastful taunt to all aspiring beatsmiths saying, “Top this, homie.” Safe to say that won’t happen for quite some time. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.