"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The 2007 Annual Not A Blogger End Of Year Hate-off Spectacular - Part II: Hip Hop That Doesn't Suck (Sort Of...)

Welcome to Part Deux Of Not A Blogger's three part year end wrap up. In this installment, we look at the best music that 2007 had to offer or more accurately the music that only sucked slightly less. All kidding aside, as I was writing this piece I found there was a lot more records that I liked than I actually remember so I expanded this piece out to include 25 of my favorite songs and 20 of my favorite albums. I mean clearly the best I can I say about 2007 that it certainly wasn't 2006 or (god forbid) 2005, in terms of the relative quality of the music that came out. Perhaps, I'm just getting soft in my old age. Warning though, everything in this list is 100% true and accurate and should be accepted as canon in terms of the correct ranking. After all, I am a doctor.

Top 25 Hip Hop Songs Of The Year

25. 8 Ball & Devius - Jus Ridin’

If “Jus Ridin’” was the type of Southern Music that got promoted on the radio and all over BET than I wouldn’t be such a hater towards it. This songs sounds like a more Southern version of the opening track to Common’s “Be” with its wailing guitar and 808 drums. This is the type of song that Pimp C made famous and if songs like this that are influenced by his legacy are still being made than perhaps all is not lost.

24. Nas - Where Are They Now (West Coast Remix)

Outside of the requisite controversy courting album title, Nas had a quiet musical year. The most noise musically he made all year was the “Where Are They Now” remixes that he released in early January featuring every single forgotten rapper in the history of existence ever. The West Coast Remix was my favorite and the strongest of the bunch so its get the nod. Sir Mix-A-Lot kind of kills it on this. My only complaint...No Skee-Lo.

23. The Game - My Bitch

This Doctor’s Advocate outtake features a pretty sinister post-2001 Dre synths and its one of the more hilarious of Game’s 50 Cent disses. Its also kind of notable for the fact that Game pretty much outright attacks Jay-Z on the track after year’s of denying he has any beef with Jigga. I kind of wish this was on Doctor’s Advocate.

22. David Banner - Bitch Ass N*gga

I’m quite sure how this song didn’t gain more notoriety within the blog community than it did. Banner samples Colonel Stinkmeaner from the TV Show “The Boondocks” for the hilariously over the top offensive and extremely catchy hook. Lyrically, Banner is full of fire and bluster as he spits pretty hungrily defends T.I.’s and Michael Vick’s recent legal troubles.

21. Young Buck - Driving Down The Freeway

Buck The World was a G-Unified paint by the numbers mess and served as further proof that the G-Unit era is dead but Young Buck proves once again that he’s better than the rest of the clowns on that label as he makes a pretty dope track featuring 2Pac’s old weed carriers, the Outlawz. “Driving Down The Freeway” is a slow, sad rolling piano driven track produced by Hi-Tek that reminds me of a warm, spring day. If this is the type of music that Buck is gonna make outside the influence of 50 Cent then somebody for the love of God needs to get Buck as far away from Curtis as possible.

20. Nas/Kanye West/Rakim/KRS-One - Classic (Nike Remix)

Over a classic Primo track, three legends and a legend-in-the making put on a lyrical clinic. Honestly, what more can you want. Rakim, once again, proves that he’s the best rapper alive when he still wants to be (outside of Lil Wayne, of course...) and his verse is just wicked on this.

19. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Feat. Akon - I Tried

I don’t hate Akon’s voice as much as some people do. He wouldn’t be nearly as annoying as he is if he wasn’t on every song on the radio this year. Like literally every one except the ones featuring wack ass T-Pain. However, I like the fact although he can’t really sing, he really can project emotion through his voice. “I Tried” featuring Cleveland’s own (Holla!) Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to me was really a beautiful, unexpected song and I really am a sucker for “The Ubiquitous I’m Sorry I Sold Crack” songs. I really wished Bizzy Bone would’ve blessed this song instead of being high on crack or something or whatever he’s doing these days, though.

18. Wyclef Jean Ft. Akon, Lil’ Wayne & Raekwon - Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill) Remix

One of the weirdest unspoken trends that went on this year is the sheer amount of songs that ripped off the hook to “C.R.E.A.M” that invaded the radio, most of them were ass awful terrible but Wyclef’s remix to “Sweetest Girl” really works. Now usually these days if I see the words “Wyclef Jean” on a song, I know to immediately fast forward because its usually gonna be some reggae-ed up abortion (and I fucking hate reggae) and the original version of this song is pretty awful but if you throw Raekwon and that classic Charmells flip on it and you’ll make me happy.

17. DJ Khaled Feat. Akon, T.I., Fat Joe, Rick Ross, Baby & Lil’ Wayne - We Takin’ Over

Hey, look it’s Akon, again! Let me get this one thing straight, I hate (hate, hate, hate, HAAAAATE) DJ Khaled. His miraculously more awful than even Jazze “The Worst Producer Ever” Pha style introductions manage to ruin nearly even the most quality track. His fat awkward ass had to go and just ruin everything on “We The Best.” However despite all that “We Takin’ Over” is still pretty great, anyway. Perhaps because DJ Khaled’s presence is almost non-existent on this song. Jesus Christ, I hate that man.

16. Raekwon - My Corner

If and when Dr. Dre decides to get off the steroids and release another album it better be “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II” because judging by this awesome, epic gem, Raekwon has still got it. Dusty soul samples, moaning horns, disembodied vocal samples and Raekwon reminiscing about his life and career. This song sounds like it could be the opening track to a real monster of an album.

15. Kanye West Feat. Lil’ Wayne - Barry Bonds

Ignore the fact that Lil’ Wayne throws snake eyes on this track with his needless to say “underwhelming” verse, “Barry Bonds” is still a monster track. Nottz’ fuzzed up organs and dusty “punch you in the face” drums provide the perfect atmosphere for a banger and Kanye really comes correct with his verse. Konichiwa, bitches!

14. T.I. Feat. Busta Rhymes & Alfamega - Hurt

T.I. vs. T.I.P. was an unfocused mess with a completely superfluous tacked on gimmick (and nowhere near as good as King) but there were a couple of great songs that managed to trickle through cracks on the T.I.P. side. “Hurt” is the type of track that T.I. best excels at, the fast uptempo hardcore bangers that work best when Tip is using his mile-a-minute bullet flow. The video is pretty great, too.

13. Common - The People

It’s completely unfair to criticize artists like Common for making somewhat shallow, platitude infused “I’m Doing It For The Struggle” type boom bap joints and then turn around and breathlessly suck off Mims for making shallow, pointless club bangers because you like the production. Well, I love the production on this song and Common still is a good rapper so I played this a lot over the summer. Finding Forever was a mess but “The People” wasn’t.

12. Saigon Ft. Swizz Beatz - C’mon Baby

Dear Saigon,

If “The Greatest Story Never Told” is full of these Just Blaze laced heaters than please for the love of God, don’t retire!!! The game needs you, man. Stop being a bitch.

Hip Hop

11. Wu-Tang Clan - The Heart Gently Weeps

I love the album version even more than the Loud.com released version I reviewed back in October but this record continues to sneak up and grow on me. When RZA’s musical forays into guitars and live instrumentation work, they really work and Ghost, Rae, and Meth all kick vivid stories. 8 Diagrams is kind of disappointing but Rae and Ghost are crazy if he thinks that this song is wack.

10. Kanye West - Can’t Tell Me Nothing

For all Kanye’s critical nut slobbing that he received this year (and I was one of those who was....uh, let’s not finish that thought) for Graduation, its kind of interesting that the two best songs on the album (in my very un-humble opinion), “Barry Bonds” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” were not produced by Kanye. I couldn’t decide if I liked “Stronger” or this song better but I decided ultimately liked this one better because I thought it had a more epic and larger scope than the chaotic, post apocalypse funk of “Stronger.” Eh, sue me.

9. Jay-Z - Fallin’

And the winner of the best “Ubiquitous I’m Sorry I Sold Crack” song of the year goes to...Jay-Z for “Fallin’.” Although, I ended up highly praising the album after hating it on the first listen, “Fallin” was the one song on the initial listen that I really, really loved. The vocal sample that Jay-Z uses sets the song perfect for Jay’s thoughts on the emotional toll and consequences of selling crack that serve to connect the album together with the Ridley Scott homage that he wanted the album to be out.

8. Lupe Fiasco - Paris, Toyko

Lupe Fiasco is lying through his teeth if he says he listened to 8 Ball & MJG growing up and not A Tribe Called Quest because this sure sounds like an outtake from Midnight Marauders. This record has all of the jazzy cool of Q-Tip packed into one breezy fun song. The best song on The Cool for sure.

7. Little Brother Feat. Carlitta Durand - After The Party

On every one of Little Brother’s album, there is one or two songs on the album that could be huge crossover hits but for some reason the group or the label decides to go with some other weaker song for the single. For Getback, it was Khyrisis produced “After The Party.” How this song didn’t get a video or single is beyond me? Phonte if you are reading this, I’ll gladly direct a video if you want for free. Holler at me.

6. 50 Cent - I Get Money

Curtis was an atrociously bad album but “I Get Money” is my shit. I will freely admit that I lose my shit when this song comes on the radio and I’m alone in my the car. 50 Cent is hip hop’s greatest villain and their is something truly sinister in this song as 50 Cent is able to channel his absolute priceless asshole swagger that if you were braver man that I am would make you want to punch him in his face but it makes this song transcend the fact that its an absolute obvious bite of Cassidy’s “I’m A Hustla.” The “Quarter Water” line is the absolute pinnacle of brag rap. See Curtis, you can still be a good rapper when you aren’t focused on re-making “Magic Stick” for the 80th time.

5. Ghostface Killah Ft. Method Man & Raekwon - Yolanda’s House

Trap rappers from the South, G-Unit, the asshats in Dipset and various clowns in the New York mix tape rap scene, please take note, this is how you do crime rap. Method Man sounds amazing on this record and he sounds more focused than he has literally since Tical. I love this song too much for words.

4. Jay-Z Ft. Beanie Sigel - Ignorant Shit (Album Version)

This would be the best song of the year if not for the fact that it hadn’t already been released two years prior to it’s “official” release and for the fact that Jay-Z almost ruined it by allowing Beanie Sigel to rap on it and because he tacked on atrociously off-beat final verse. It’s #4, anyway simply because this song is just stunning. Who else but Jigga would release a song where the hook was “N****, fuck, shit, ass, bitch, trick plus ice” and make the song sound pop.

3. Devin The Dude Ft. Snoop Dogg & Andre 3000 - What A Job

I’m really glad that Devin the Dude got this year’s annual “Cameron Giles Memorial” requisite hipster nut hugging instead of say like Plies or somebody. Devin makes such a warm and likable music that really is unappreciated. “What A Job” is a song about something somewhat profoundly uncool as loving what you do. In a time where rappers are desperate to be seen as anything but being actual rappers, Devin makes a song about his love for being a rapper. Andre 3000 continues his campaign to prove that he actually can still rap and The Corpse Formerly Known As Snoop Doggy Dogg manages to rip it up too. Great song.

2. Young Buck - Get Buck

Rarely, I agree with Tom Breihan but this song is just an absolute monster. If club raps were more like this, menacing and evil, than perhaps I would go to “da club” much more often than I do. (As is, I generally try to stay away from places where T-Pain’s voice can be heard prominently. I don’t like my ears being aurally raped by T-Pain’s “big meat” in vocoder form.) “Get Buck” just plain bangs and Buck delivers a song that is full of passion and completely defiant. He really, really, really is the best rapper on G-Unit by a wiiiiiiide margin. Not like that's saying much but it's something.

1. UGK Feat. Outkast - International Player’s Anthem

R.I.P. Chad Butler. Such a tragedy. This song is just too good to really give it justice. The only song is this entire list that could honestly break into the 100 Greatest Rap Songs Of All-Time and not feel out of place. Andre 3000 spits the verse of his life, Bun B and Big Boi just black out on the track and Pimp C is just memorable, hilarious and charismatic on this track. Sweet Jones!

Top 20 Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2007

20. Common - Finding Forever: The Fourth Time I Listened To It

Wait? What? Didn’t you say that “Finding Forever “ was the fourth worst album of the year? Yeah, I did. So how the hell can it be the twentieth best rap album of the year? Are you seriously saying that Crunchy Black’s album is better than this? Of course, not. Well what? Make no mistake, “Finding Forever” is a stll gigantic, pretentious mess that is in no way better than it’s predecessor,“Be”, and anybody who tells you that is either lying to you, putting you on or is a Rich Boy fan but “Finding Forever” is one the rare albums that sucks that manages to stop sucking and start becoming better and better the more you listen to it. So by the fourth time I listened to it, I actually liked this record enough to place it on my list. Barely...I’m not forgetting the fact that I wanted to kick my speakers in the first time I listened to it. It’s not better than Be, though. That’s just some bullshit.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: “The People”, “Southside”, “The Game” and (inexplicably) “I Want You”

19. Sean Price - Jesus Price Supastar

Much like Ghostface inexplicably going from Wu-Tang second-stringer to by far the biggest star of the group, Sean Price’s rise from Boot Camp Clik also-ran to the group’s most recognizable name has been pretty inspiring. Sean Price doesn’t do anything that’s particulary ground breaking on this record. It’s pretty much your standard collection of “Knock Your Teeth Out Mosh Out” anthems over post-9th Wonder Boom-Bap beats but Price is able to sell it with his delivery and wit.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: “P-Body”, “Stop”, “Violent”, “Da God”

18. Chamillionaire - Ultimate Victory

Chamillionaire is one slept-on rapper. He’s too mainstream to gain the true respect for the hip hop heads, too Southern to gain respect of the East Coast, and too smart to be understood by people from the South (I kid, I kid.). All of this goes to explain why “Ultimate Victory” went plastic wood grain this year despite the fact that it’s a better record than multi-platinum sensation,The Sound Of Revenge. That and the fact that “Hip Hop Police” was no “Ridin’ .” Although, not many records are.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: “The Morning News”, “Hip Hop Police”, “Standing Ovation”, “Industry Group”

17. T.I. - T.I. vs. T.I.P.

“T.I. vs. T.I.P.” is half of a great record (Hint: The half of record by the version of Clifford that got his dumb ass locked up for attempting to buy Saddam’s missing WMDs) that is as good as anything on last year’s suprisingly great, King. It’s too bad that T.I.P. didn’t have T.I. snuffed and dropped in the back of the ocean for allowing him to release anything as nauseating as “My Swag.” Still Tip continues to prove why he’s better than Lil’ Wayne when he makes songs like “Hurt” and is the best young rapper from the South.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: “Hurt”, “You Know What It Is”, “ “Watch What You Say To Me”, “Help Is Coming”

16. Black Milk - Popular Demand

Since J-Dilla’s tragic death last year, there has been a surprising number of great young Midwestern rappers and producers that have been coming up in the indie rap scene that have been channeling his spirit and making some great music in his tradition. Detroit’s rapper/producer Black Milk crafted such a warm and lovely debut with Popular Demand, a record full of the sweeping disembodied vocal samples and tough ass nail drums that Jay Dee made famous.

Songs that Should Be On Your iPod: “Popular Demand”, “Sound The Alarm”, “Play The Keys”, “One Song”

15. Scarface - Made

With all due respects to Bun B, Scarface will always be the King Of The South, no matter how many Panzer Tanks Clifford Harris attempts to purchase from undercover ATF agents. I will never have a single ill word (well, maybe one or two but I have an addiction for hate. I need help...) for a man who has not only been remarkably consistent throughout his career but is a true pioneer. Made isn't Face's best album (but yet again, how many records are "Mr. Scarface is Back"...) and is a slight disappoint considering his last record was five years ago and was "The Fix" but it's still full of the moody, depressing crime rap that we have come to associate with Brad Jordan. This record might rank higher if not for the presense of "Big Dogg Status" which may in fact, be the worst song Mr. Scarface has ever recorded. Still, a very good record.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Never", "The Suicide Note", "Girl You Know", "Git Out My Face", "Who Do You Believe In"

14. Freeway - Free At Last

I don't quite understand all the hyperbole surrounding Freeway's sophomore record but "Free At Last" maybe the best, pure Roc-A-Fella record released in years. It has the blazing horns and soul riffs that we have grown accostumed to since Just Blaze and Kanye West toted their MPC's through Dame Dash's hallways. An immaculately produced record. Too bad, Freeway's voice sounds more annoying than Lil' Wayne's.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "This Can't Be Real", "Roc-A-Fella Billionaires", "When They Remember"

13. 9th Wonder - Dream Merchant, Vol. 2

Despite the fact that it's was truly sad to see one of my favorite groups to split this year, I was certainly glad to see that both 9th Wonder and Pooh and Phonte landed solidly on their feet and release strong records this year. Dream Merchant is full of the typical revivialist boom bap beats, dope rapping from 9th's Justus League cronies and posse cuts but 9th makes it work.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Brooklyn In My Mind", "Sunday", "Baking Soda", "Let It Bang", "Reminisce"

12. Joell Ortiz - The Brick: Bodega Chronicles

Joell Ortiz is one of the new breed of New York rappers that give hope to the AIDs infested, (metaphorically speaking, of course...) diseased New York mix tape rap scene. Joell's, an insanely gifted emcee and his independent debut, The Brick: Bodega Chronicles, is one of the best pure New York rap records to come out this year. If the world was even remotely fair, Dr. Dre would stop using the HGH that he copped from Roger Clemens and Timbaland and lace Joell with the production and attention that he gives 50 Cent and The Shriveled Husk Of Eminem for Ortiz' Aftermath debut.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Brooklyn Bullshit", "125 Parts 1 -4", "BQE", "Hip Hop"

11. Devin The Dude - Waitin' To Inhale

Mr. Copeland delivers another slow funk infused ode to wine, women and weed. Granted, it's a relatively shallow album but Devin has charisma for days and the type of songs that just make you wanna relax and get blunted. This may also be the most hilariously disturbing record of the year what with Devin's Pedophilia/Weed metaphor on "Cutcha Up" and "Just Because" might be the out and out hilariously morbid and misogynist record since "Ain't No Fun" what with it's Quiet Storm jazz cheesing it up all over the place.

Songs That Should Be on Your iPod: "What A Job", "Cutcha Up", "Shed Useta Be", "Just Because"

10. El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead

When Our Great Leader inevitably declares himself emperor and leads us into the Jesus reviving apocalypse as foretold in the Book Of Rove, this will be the soundtrack. El-P delivers us an incredibly, dense record full of buzzed out synths, bugged out drum patterns, and off beat rhymes about who the fuck knows. I may have no idea what El-Producto is talking about but it sure sounds awesome. Def Jux is back, baby!

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')", "Flyentology", "Poisenville Kids No Wins/Reprise", "Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)"

9. Blu & Exile - Below The Heavens

This is the indie rap record of the year. Below The Heavens is a stunning record from West Coast rap rapper/producer duo, Blu & Exile. Blu is an exceptionally talented emcee, full of warmth and wit that is quite the talented story teller. He kind of reminds of early Mos Def before he discovered that rock music was actually created by black people. These guys have a bright future.
Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "The Narrow Path", "The World Is...", "Soul Amazing/Steel Blazing"

8. Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams

So, ok, yeah, 8 Diagrams is still really disappointing but yeah (and I can't believe I'm about to utter this phrase. I think I'm gonna need to shower after saying this.), Tom Breihan's right about this album (no hipster). It really is great. It took a few more listens than it actually clicked for me, RZA is just on some next level orchestra rap shit on this one. Let me ask, the nay sayers about this record. If this record was released by any other group other than Wu-Tang Clan would people say it sucked? Well, yeah but those type of people also like Dipset so fuck 'em on principle but for most people, the standards for the first Wu-Tang Clan album since the Towers came down are fucking impossible for our heroes to attain. Still, they come damn near close. Straight up!

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Campfire", "Take It Back", "The Heart Gently Weeps", "Wolves", "Rushing Elephants"

7. Prodigy Of Mobb Deep - Return Of The Mac

If there is ever a case for repealing sampling laws, it's Return Of The Mac. It's full of so many lush, '70s era blaxploitation era soul samples, that it's crime that 99.9% of rap albums today can't sound this bad ass because they would have to pay up the wazoo for all those clearances. As great as the album is it's still pretty flawed, while The Dessicated Corpse Of Prodigy is the most focused he has been in years on this record, he still isn't the same rapper that he was pre-Jay-Z turning him into a walking punchline. The Alchemist really brings it though and for a few shining moments, we see glimpses of the old Prodigy on this record that makes this record a frustrating but ultimately, pretty bad-ass listen. Here's hoping this record is enough for P not to get passed around like Tupac in prison.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Mac 10 Handle", "Stuck To You", "New York Shit", "7th Heaven"
6. Jay-Z - American Gangster

This record should have been terrible. A Post-Post Retirement Jigga making a crack rap record using Puffy's extorted weed carriers and the Rotting Fleshbag Formerly Known As Pharrel as the primary producers. Count me the fuck out. However, Jay-Z proved my ass so wrong and he dropped one of the best rap records of the year. I'm still deducting points for the fact that Kindgom Come was miraculously worse than the movie that it was based on. Eww.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Roc Boys (And The Winner Is...)", "Fallin'", "Ignorant Shit", "Success"

5. Kanye West - Graduation

Who would have thought that the guy that brought us the awfully stunning "genius" line as "I'm killing y'all with this lyrical shit/Mayonaisse colored benz, I push miracle whips" than act as if he just quoted Shakespeare would be the biggest star on the planet, right now. Graduation serves as a fitting coronation for a dude that has brought self importance to stunning new heights. You guys are all tripping with "Drunk And Hot Girls" not being fresh, hot steaming garbage, though.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Barry Bonds", "Can't Tell Me Nothing", "Good Life", "Stronger", "Everything I Am"

4. UGK - Underground Kingz

For sentimental reasons, I want to place this as the top record this year and had this been a single disc than it damn, well sure should have been but as is, it's just waaaaay too long to top this list. Still, UGK dropped the album of their career and the rest of the world finally payed homage. If you don't smile the second, "International Player's Anthem" plays you don't have a pulse.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Swishas And Dosha", "International Player's Anthem", "Chrome Plated Woman", "The Game Belongs To Me"

3. Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab

The approximate moment I knew this record was gonna be awesome was about 0.2 seconds into "Yolanda's House" when Ghostface uttered the words "skinned up, Nikes are scuffed, still buggin'" I just knew this was gonna be another typical wild ride that Ghost always provides. If anything the only flaw to Big Doe Rehab is the fact that it's almost too typical. He's not offering anything groundbreaking as Supreme Clientele or as arresting as Fishscale but Ghostface is still in fighting form on this record and that's enough to make it #3.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Barrel Brothers", "Yolanda's House", "Walk Around", "Killa Lipstick."

2. Little Brother - Getback

I'm still personally kind of amazed that some people hate Little Brother. I mean I know they have a sense of entitlement but after three classic records in a row, you'd figure people would drop the whole played-out "They Just Some Boring Ass De La Biters" bit, people have labeled them with since The Minstrel Show had the balls to state the obvious, "that most rappers were wearing modern day blackface." Getback is their most accessible, likeable record yet and proves that Pooh and 'Tay can do it without 9th.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: "Sirens", "Good Clothes", "Dreams", "Can't Win For Losing", "After The Party", "That Ain't Love"

1. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool

You know, maybe there is something to Lupe's claim that "Food & Liquor" was his homage to "It Was Written" last year because Lupe's career arc is coming more and more like Nas. Like Nas, Lupe is a phenomenonally gifted lyricist that consciously and arrogantly defies mainstream musical pandering which of course engenders both intense stannery and intense hatred. You, either, worship the ground the man walks on or you spend your days going on message boards making hate threads about how he, his family and his career lost. The Cool is Lupe's Illmatic. I'm sorry but if you disagree than you simply aren't trying. You're the clownish dude on the hook to "Dumb It Down" who complains that Lupe is going over his simple, cars, rim, and bitches formula. Sorry, but it's true.

Songs That Should Be On Your iPod: Pretty much everything but specifically "Go Go Gadget Flow", "The Coolest", "Little Weapon" "Superstar", "Paris, Toyko" & and yes, "Dumb It Down"

That's all for part II. Stay tuned for Part 3 where I hand out my special year-end awards for achievement and non-achievement in hip hop music today. It's gonna be awesome.
Click Here For Part I.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lupe Fiasco - The Cool: Review

Every once in awhile, a rapper makes “the Leap.” “The Leap” being defined, of course, as the moment a rapper simply goes from “very good” to “great.” It happens very rarely but when it does happen it’s instantly recognizable and it’s truly an awe inspiring, beautiful thing. Some examples of rappers making “the leap” are Nas on “N.Y. State Of Mind”, Rakim on “Paid In Full”, Common on “Resurrection”, Eminem on “The Way I Am” and Ghostface on “Impossible.” Today, we have a new rapper who just made the mythical “leap” from merely “very good” status to “greatness” and his name is Lupe Fiasco. All hail the Best Rapper of the new generation.

Lupe’s new record, The Cool, is a dense and remarkable record. Other than maybe Graduation, nothing sounds anything like it this year. The post apocalypse pop funk of post-Graduation Chicago hip hop is full in effect on The Cool. The production on the record handled mostly by Soundtrakk and Lupe’s F&F weed carriers is full of synthetic strings, violins, off-beat samples, sweeping hooks and boom bap drum kicks, this album is the sister album to Kanye’s latest masterpiece. Its a better record as well. For one, Lupe is thrice the emcee than Kanye even wishes he could be. He employs a swift, nimble flow that darts around the beats and not only is technically flashy but is able to utilize dense and often difficult metaphors. It also a darker and more savage record than Graduation. The beats are darker, muddier and outside of the fantastic lead single, “Superstar”, there is nothing as joyous as “Stronger” and “Good Life” on the record. Lupe has much bigger fish to fry on this album.

Following the en vogue trend of hip hop concept albums, The Cool tells a loose story of “The Cool”, the undead hustler first introduced on Food & Liquor, as he navigates the world being lured into the temptations of the nefarious, “The Game” and “The Streets.” This concept allows Lupe wax poetic about a variety of social and personal ills. However, it’s a testament to Lupe’s talent that it doesn’t sound preachy, pandering, nor pretentious. Lupe is able to work in moments of sly comedic asides in an otherwise darker than dark rap record. Take for example the somewhat unjustly maligned early street single “Dumb It Down.” Outside the context of the album, the song appears somewhat annoyingly self-righteous and assholic with a shallow and obvious message of the evils of selling yourself out for radio but within the confines of the record, it appears to be the perfect counterfoil to the dark melodrama of the rest of the record. The chorus becomes defiant instead of self-righteous as he lets the genius of the rest of the record contrast the ignorant pleas of the the streets and white record labels to dumb down his music because it’s either not “what’s poppin’ in the streets” or “it’s shedding to much light.” It works so much better when it’s surrounded by the rest of the work.

As for the songs on the record themselves, there ain’t a weak song within the bunch which is pretty remarkable when you consider that even Kanye, Jay-Z and Little Brother had one or two weak songs on an otherwise fantastic albums. I personally really like “Paris, Toyko” which either proves that Lupe is absolutely full of shit when he says he’s not a fan of A Tribe Called Quest because the song is vintage Tribe or after the events of Fiascogate, Lupe was basically shamed into listening to Midnight Marauders because this song sounds exactly like “Electric Relaxation.” If you are gonna bite, bite from the best. “Little Weapon” is another highlight as it’s a powerful, epic anti-gun screed with haunting Gregorian-esque chanting and a dark satanic vibe. On other notes, “Hip Hop Saved My Life” tells the story of a Houston Mike Jones-clone rapper who falls to the temptation of “The Streets.”

I’m actually kind of mad at Lupe after listening to this record. The Cool has completely screwed up Part II of my Year End Wrap-Up that I was planning to release very soon as he messed up my rankings for the best albums and songs of the year. I haven’t had enough time with the record to determine if its better than that new Ghostface, UGK, or Little Brothers this year. My gut tells me this could be better than all of them but I need three or four more listens to be sure. Anyway, this record is triumph for Lupe as he reached the promised land of rappers. This might just go down as Lupe’s Midnight Marauders after all. Fuckin’ A.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The 2007 Annual Not A Blogger End Of Year Hate-off Spectacular - Part I: Hip Hop That Sucked

It’s that time of year, ladies and gentlemen - err... actually, more like gentlemen and gentlemen...Well, more than likely...Hi, Mom! - the time of year when there is magic in the air. Christmas carols float ethereally over the radio warming the cold and broken hearts of the masses, people give their change willingly to drunken hobos on the street not out of fear or annoyance but because of the goodness in their hearts and a bunch of self-righteous (“not a”) bloggers with too much time on their hands make lists of the things that they think is the best. Yes, it's List Season, folks and I couldn’t be more excited. I plan to do like a three part series over the next couple of weeks as the year draws to a dramatic and hopefully spectacular close so As I have stated on numerous occasions before I am not a blogger so I will start by bucking the trend and posting the things that drew my considerable ire the most this year.

And what a year it was for hip hop that was bad. I mean for a large, significant portion of the year, the best album that was released was by the Desiccated Corpse Formerly Known As Prodigy so you can just imagine how much I had to lower my standards to keep myself from listening to (god forbid...) “rock” music. I shudder thinking about it. Anyway, here’s my list of the worst of aural ear bleeders...Be warned.

Top 10 Worst Rap Songs Of The Year

10. Kanye West Feat. Mos Def - Drunk & Hot Girls

What?! It’s 2007 and a song that features a Mos Def guest shot is the worst song on your otherwise great album? You’re kidding me? I’m shocked! SHOCKED! I tell you!!! You mean the man that brought us the slightly retarded black guy with the heart of Gold from “16 Blocks” and “The New Danger” could help ruin your album? I don’t believe it. I refuse to believe it. I won’t believe it. Seriously, though, what the hell was Kanye thinking with this song? A slow, boring pretentious mess. C’mon now.

9. USDA - Corporate Thuggin’

Quick Math Equation: Young Jeezy + Untalented Weed Carriers + Budget Ass Production = Abortion. Uggh.

8. Ja Rule - Body

Just when you thought Lil’ Wayne and Baby’s shirtless XXL cover had beaten Hip Hop’s all-time record for homo-eroticism, here comes the defending champion, Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins, swooping in like Tobey Maguire to save the day. Oh, Jeffrey! Oh how have we absolutely not missed you so?

7. Wu-Tang Clan - Sunshine

RZA...RZA...RZA...there is a time and a place for a slow, abstract, off beat, off key rant about your weird and confusing religious mysticism and it’s called a Bobby Digital album. Please take note and keep this far, far away from any future Wu-Tang Clan album that the rest of the Clan may or may not allow you on. This ain’t ‘97 no more, Bobby, and this ain’t Wu-Tang Forever. We aren’t gonna tolerate this shit. Just bring da ruckus from now on. Thanks.

6. Jay-Z Feat. Pharell - I Know

And for the sixth consecutive album the worst song on a Jay-Z record is produced by....THE NEPTUNES!!! Let’s give them all a standing ovation for consistent achievement in consistent sucking. Why does this keep happening? “Give It 2 Me” isn’t even that great of a song. Pharell must have slept with Jigga and he has pictures. Only explanation.

5. 50 Cent Feat. Justin Timberlake - Ayo Technology

I don’t hold Timbaland in high regard as some but I’ll give him credit for one thing. Timmy selling a third rate rejected beat from FutureSexLoveSounds to 50 Cent and getting him to think this was gonna be a huge hit has got to make him a genius in some form or another. 50 Cent manages to get eaten up by Justin Timberlake on his own record. Good job there, Curt.

4. Yung Berg Feat. Jim Jones & Rich Boy - Sexy Lady (Remix)

The original one was terrible enough. Some random ass R&B singer singing through a vocoder, bootleg Scott Storch synths, Yung Berg...but when you add Joseph Guillermo “You All Still Remember Ballin’ Right? That Was A Big Hit!” Jones and Mr. I Look Like An Alien With Down Syndrome himself, Rich Boy. You get a song that’s off the charts bad.

3. Mims - This Is Why I’m Hot

Let me present to you the Good Doctor Zeus’ Guide To Telling If You Are Douche bag:

A. Do you have “This Is Why I’m Hot” As Your Ring tone?

B. Yes? Then you are a douche bag.

2. Soulja Boy Tell’ Em - Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)

This year’s “Ballin’”. Enough fucking said. Yoooouuuu need to stop making Yooouuuutube videos with yoouuuuu doing that stupid dance. Youuuu look like a jackass.

1. 50 Cent - Amusement Park

There is bad. There is bad. And then there is “Amusement Park.” 50 Cent manages to top himself in terms of sheer awfulness. The audio equivalent of “2 Girls, 1 Cup.” *Shudders*

Top 10 Worst Rap Albums Of The Year

10. Young Jeezy Presents U.S.D.A. - Cold Summer

Another math equation: Thug Motivation 101 - Def Jam’s Marketing Team + More Blood Raw & Slick Pulla = Tax Write-Off Weed Carrier Extravaganza. I downloaded this album specifically to hate on it. I was not disappointed. Just bad, bad, bad.

9. Boyz N Da Hood - Back Up N Da Chevy

Yet another math equation: Boyz N Da Hood - Young Jeezy + Gorilla Zoe = No One Giving a Fuck. Why did this have to happen? Is Puffy that desperate for a hit these days that he’ll release an album by Young Jeezy’s Rejected Weed Carriers. Seriously, these guys were so bad that Young “The Lyrical Miracle” Jeezy ditched these guys as if they were Pete Best or something. What made them think that replacing Jeezy with a 5th rate clone like Gorilla Zoe was a good idea. I swear to god somebody needs to hire me at a label as a Common Sense Consultant.

8. Havoc - The Kush

This album is about eight years, too late. It shows.

7. Crunchy Black - From Me To You

I haven’t heard this album and have no desire to it but I can be rest assured that this is one of the worst releases this year. I was just shocked that somebody allowed Crunchy Black to release a solo record. I mean c’mon it’s Crunchy Black. Even DJ Paul and Juicy J kicked him out of Three 6 Mafia for being a terrible lyricist. This can’t be good.

6. [Insert Your Favorite Rapper’s Mixtape Here] - Yes, Yours, Jerk!

I know I said that mixtapes are not albums but if you insist on placing them on year end lists then rest assure they probably belong somewhere on this list. Yes, yours! They are all terrible.

5. Yung Joc - Hustlenomics

How the hell did Yung Joc make the Forbes List of Richest Emcees last year? He had like one song and it was truly, truly terrible. Sometimes I just hate life.

4. Common - Finding Forever: The First Time I Listened To It

The first listening I had of Finding Forever, I was more nauseated with any record I listened to this year outside of Curtis. I have since warmed up to this record considerably and actually say I tentatively like it but I’m placing it Finding Forever because the gut, visceral “Holy Shit! Common is a lame cornball epiphany” moment I had while listening to about the ten straight cheesy love jams was enough to make me want to break Resurrection and the vastly superior Be.

3. DJ Khaled - We The Best

Question Of The Decade: How do you completely ruin an otherwise somewhat enjoyable compilation in one swift stroke? Answer: DJ “I’m Actually Middle Eastern But I’ll Pretend I’m Spanish So I Can Awkwardly Scream The N-Word on A Record As If That Wasn’t Completely Awkward As Well” Khaled. I want to hit that man in the face more than any person outside of Lil’ Wayne and Scott Storch. The definition of trying too hard.

2. Soulja Boy Tellem - Souljaboytellem.com

Remember when teenage rappers were like LL Cool J? Well, I don’t because I was like two but for those who did must look at Soulja Boy and think...Damn, my parenting skills fell off.

1. 50 Cent - Curtis

As if you didn’t see this one coming from a mile away...I’ll just leave you with what I wrote in my actual review of this record: “The album is like listening to 50 minutes of elevator music if only the elevator made death threats every 2.5 seconds or so...”

Well, that’s the end of Part I. Check back soon for Parts II and III.

To Be Continued...Bitches...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Albums You Should Own: UGK - Ridin' Dirty

(*I initially was gonna post my usual sarcastic, hate infused reviews on the new Beanie Sigel, Styles P, Freeway & Scarface albums but since Pimp C passed today, I decided it wasn’t necessarily in good taste so I have instead decided to do an “Albums You Should Own” Feature on UGK’s greatest album.)

I feel sorry for those haven’t heard UGK’s 1995 masterpiece, Ridin’ Dirty, before because chances are unless you are really into Southern rap like that you haven’t heard this album. And it’s a damn shame. Long before Southern rap started to get dominated by the sound of the forces of The Great Evil Of Commercial LCD Rap (I personally blame New Orleans, Master P & Mannie Fresh. Fuck 400 Degreez!) hijacked Southern Rap (And Eventually Hip Hop Itself) and turned into the Worst Music Ever In The History Of Mankind, Evar, Chad “Pimp C” Butler and his partner-in-rhyme, Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, were carving a warm, organic sound that was dripping with soul and funk and didn’t really sound like anything else in Hip Hop (save for early Outkast & The Dungeon Family). It wasn’t the relentless, menacing chopped loops and the drums of hell that beat your head in like the East Coast rap of that period or the slow, swooning synths of G-Funk that dominated the West. Instead, it was soulful, swirling church organs, swinging wah wah guitars, and funk infused horns. It was fresh. It was funky. It was the South. Bun and Pimp managed to perfect that sound by their fourth album, the undeniably classic Ridin’ Dirty, and unfortunately (or maybe just fortunately), it will end up be the record of their career.

The album opens up with the absolutely stunning and mournful lament of Ronald Isley crooning "Well, well, well, Hello Baby...” on “One Day,” the best song that anybody remotely involved in this song ever made. The song is simply heartbreaking as it speaks to everybody who has ever lost anybody that’s important to them in love, life or in prison. The pathos is palpable and touching and the regret, pain and confusion that Pimp expresses about his inability to understand how his friend’s young son can die in a house fire and killers from the neighborhood get to live and prosper is simply powerful as is when Bun touches on when he laments his brother coming home from prison after ten years inside just as he is about to go in and the pain is just too much for him. What makes this song so interesting and powerful isn’t so much the subject matter as songs like these are present in lots of hardcore rap albums but the sequencing of the song on the album. It’s the second track of the album after the "Intro" so it defies some of the cliches about songs like these which usually is sequenced at the end of the album. Often, these types of songs are placed towards the end of an album to mitigate some of the wanton violence and misogyny as if to show that the artist have a heart and I’ve always seen at it as completely cliche' and disingenuous. I’ve somewhat cynically nicknamed those songs as “The Ubiquitous I’m Sorry I Sold Crack" song but by placing it towards the beginning of the album, it amplifies the power of the song as what follows the song is some of the hardest of hardcore rap music you will ever.

The next five or six songs on the album is like the Murderer’s Row Of Southern Hardcore Rap. Starting with “Murder”, running through “Pinky Ring”, “Diamonds & Wood” and “Three In The Morning” and culminating with “Touched” (the song infamously bit by Jay-Z for the opening lines of “99 Problems) are some absolutely amazing songs. Pimp C’s production positively swings with a warm, organic swagger and both rappers come absolutely correct. Bun B blacks out and practically loses his damn mind on the final verse on “Murder” which is not only a contender for one of the greatest displays of sheer technical lyrical virtuosity but also may in fact, the best verse ever laid down by a Southern rapper if not all of hip hop itself. Seriously, he’s that damn good. Pimp C’s production is equally as good as Bun’s rapping. I mentioned in the previous post that I thought that Pimp C was the Greatest Southern Hip Hop Producer Of All-Time and I meant it. Pimp C’s live instrumented organic Southern funk is possibly one of the more influential sounds in hip hop history. He’s a direct influence on Outkast, Goodie Mob, Post-Geto Boys Scarface, Mannie Fresh and a host of Southern imitators. Prior to UGK, Southern Hip didn’t really have a sound that it was its signature. As amazing as those early Geto Boys records are, they kind of sound like NWA- Era Dr. Dre and somewhat West Coast but Pimp C gave the South a new identity in terms of his musical oeuvre. Ridin’ Dirty is Pimp’s production masterpiece. His earlier work on The Southern Way, Too Hard To Swallow & Super Tight have a somewhat more rawer and less refined sound but by Ridin’ Dirty, it was down to a cold, hard science and Pimp really spreads his wings musically as guitars are layered over horns, organs, and synths that create a warm, musical pastiche of the South. It’s quite brilliant.

The death of Pimp C stunned me today as Pimp had an out-sized personality and a certain “Don’t Give a Fuck” charisma that made him sort of endearing to his fans. He was always good for an outrageous hilarious interview or some ridiculous PCP fueled incident. However, much like Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death, it didn’t really shock me. Pimp C was as troubled as he was talented. He made no attempts to hide his copious drug use or his penchant for waving guns in the middle of a mall. He wasn’t a saint but it saddens me to see someone so talented and someone I was a fan of die. However, years of living on the edge eventually catches up to a human being and the inevitable hand of death finally caught up with Chad Butler. What we are left with now is his legacy. Pimp C is a much better rapper than his critics give him credit for. His charisma and penchant for outrageous and often hysterical boasts often elevated what on the surface could be seen as a below average lyricism but his delivery was full of passion and it simply carried him. On the year’s best song, “International Player’s Anthem”, he absolutely shined and completely stood his own amidst three monster verses from Bun B, Andre 3000, and Big Boi. He wasn’t wack. In some senses, he’s kind of a Southern RZA (and I think these days he was a better rapper than RZA) in the sense that he was both an extremely influential and pioneering producer but also a pretty talented emcee in his own right. I have a feeling due to the East Coast bias of many critics (including myself...), he’s unfairly criticized as a wack emcee and if he were from the East Coast, he’d be seen much more favoredly. He never comes wack on this album, though.

If we search hard, I think we can find a silver lining in such a strange and tragic death is that Pimp C went out on top. UGK were having up to this point, their most successful year ever. Their double album, Underground Kingz, one of the year’s best albums, was their most successful commercially to date as it landed them for the first time at #1 on the Billboard Music Chart in their long, storied career. It seemed that the world had finally recognized Pimp and Bun’s achievements and Pimp didn’t die struggling to achieve acceptance. They had found it. I think that may be the only comfort they can really have. It’s unbelievably tragic though that they never had a chance to truly capitalize and enjoy their success. I’m sure Bun B will press on. He’s too good of a rapper to be set down for good by Pimp’s death. But they’ll always have Ridin’ Dirty. I’ve been playing “One Day” all day long since hearing about Pimp’s death and it has only gotten more resonant since I first heard it. One day, you’re here baby....

And then you're gone...

(This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Janet O’Keefe, who passed on Thanksgiving this year. She was an amazing, kind and sweet woman and I truly loved her. She will be missed. Rest In Peace, Grandma. I love you.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One Day You're Here Baby....

R.I.P. Chad Butler. You will be missed. The Greatest Southern Producer Of All-Time.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Case For Ghost As G.O.A.T./Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab: Review

The Cover's Nuts, Too.
When No Trivia’s Brandon Soderberg dropped his monster post, “Reconsidering The Rap Canon”, earlier this year, he stressed the importance of keeping the so-called “canon” of hip hop - the limited and accepted number of classic albums and great rappers that all others are judged by - nebulous and open to change and debate. Although I am far from being a legitimate cultural gatekeeper due to my race, age and class in relation with the overwhelming majority of hip hop’s creators, artists and fans, I’ve always found myself firmly on the “Biggie, Jay-Z & Nas” side of New York centric rap fandom so I haven’t always been the most open to letting the Cam’ron’s, Lil’ Wayne’s, and the T.I.’s into the discussion of what makes a truly “great” rapper.

Since Lil’ Wayne’s unbelievably miraculous transformation from one of the youngest and most untalented Cash Money weed carriers in the late ‘90s/Baby’s first underage jump-off to contender (for various misguided souls and people who don’t know better) for the “Best Rapper Alive”, it has re-opened the classic “Who is The Greatest Of All-Time?” debate that had been somewhat closed since the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. As Brandon (and Uncle Ruckus himself, Byron Crawford) pointed out in his post, the (completely unwarranted and revisionist) souring of Tupac’s musical legacy in various music blogs, a rapper’s legacy is subject to change and rappers that were once considered canonical can become Spliff Star in a moment’s notice. I’ve always considered only three legitimate candidates for contender as G.O.A.T., Rakim - for being the most innovative and influential emcee of all-time, Nas - for his mastery of craft, the fact that he created Rap’s Holy Bible, and sheer lyrical genius, and Jay-Z* - for sustained commercial dominance, mastery of technique, and sheer influence. (*Biggie should replace Jay-Z on there but unfortunately, his death prevented an accurate measure of his sustained work). However, I think we have a new contender for G.O.A.T. and after listening to his new album, The Big Doe Rehab, his name is Ghostface Killah.

For some reason, Ghost is not in serious discussion about who the greatest of all-time is. Perhaps, it's his oddball eccentricities or the fact that he never had true solo commercial success or the fact that he's not known by the vast majority of the public but it should be fucking obvious. Absolutely NO rapper has enjoyed Ghostface’s level of sustained critical excellence neigh superiority in the history of rap music. Not Jay-Z, not Nas, not Rakim, not Ice Cube, not Scarface, not Tupac, not KRS-One, not anyone else in Wu-Tang. Every last one of his solo records are completely vivid and fantastic records that each have its unique vibe and musical direction that defy and push the current conventions of rap music including the underrated Bulletproof Wallets. Ghost has more stone cold classics on his resume than any other rapper, period; If you add his work on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ironman, Wu-Tang Forever, Supreme Clientele, The Pretty Toney Album, Fishscale and if you include his major contributions to Raekwon’s seminal Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, you have seven classic albums! SEVEN! Every other rapper I mentioned has only three except Scarface who has five classic albums but has dropped his share of musical turds as well.

But being the G.O.A.T. is more than having an immaculate discography. You have to be a dynamic and unique rapper and Ghost is perhaps the most truly unique rapper of all. Ghost is one of the rare rappers that has gotten better and better with age. He started out as in the bottom half of Wu-Tang Clan on their debut, good but nothing particularly spectacular when you compare him to Meth’s innovative flow, GZA’s mastery of metaphorical lyricism, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s off the wall delivery and charisma, Rae’s slang, and Deck’s raw lyricism. I wouldn’t even put him above RZA on their debut but somewhere between Cuban Linx and Wu-Tang Forever, he developed an oddball non-sequitur influenced slang and unparalleled emotional dramatics that earned him a spot with the greats. By the time, he dropped Supreme Clientele in 2000, he became the Best Rapper in the Clan which is saying a lot. However, it didn’t stop there. As rap became stagnant and “died”, Ghost continued to perfect his craft and became a master storyteller, a man obsessed with vivid and mundane details that transform your average song about crime and drugs into a meditation on violence. Ghost doesn’t just talk about violence but he describes and pratically emotes it from all angles: Emotionally, physically, metaphorically, hysterically, Ghost brings it all. But whatever...Ghost is great. He’s got a new album and it’s the Album Of The Year.

Big Doe Rehab is primarily about two things: sex and violence; their consequences, their relationship between each other, and the actual act of participating in each of these acts. No song best describes this than the absolutely stunning “Yolanda’s House” featuring Method Man and Raekwon. Rae, Ghost, and Meth narrate a story that starts with Ghost frantically running through the projects (again...) after narrowly escaping a drug bust and shootout with the police and searching for a safe house, Ghost runs into one of his girl’s house, Yolanda, only to discover Meth boxers around his hips fucking another girl on the couch while Ghost cracks up at the irony of it as he scares Meth and his girl half to death. Meth picks up the verse next and proceeds to chew Ghost out for his both his lack of manners and to lecture him on the mutual consequences that his dealing has on the community for everybody. The song is funny, ironic, exciting, and vivid and highlights all three rappers ample storytelling abilities. It’s subtle in the way, it both describes the consequences of drug dealing without being preachy and it shows the way sex and violence can occasionally collide. A moaning, orgasmic female wail underscores the soul strings and funky bass line and helps make the connection. Violence and sex are also addressed in songs like “Walk Around” where Ghost vividly describes the circumstances about and emotional consequences of the first time Ghost kills somebody, as well as “Superman Loover” referencing “Supa GFK”, “Shakey Dog Featuring Lolita” which is as detail rich as the original and “Killa Lipstick”, Ghost’s homage to EPMD’s classic, “Please Listen To My Demo.”

Ghost once again proves that he has the best ears in the biz for beats as the production on the album is ridiculous. The beats are as soul sample heavy as ever but despite the fact this is his fifth straight album rocking that style, it does not sound dated or tired. It still works. Ghost is as sharp as ever, lyrically. If the album has one weakness, its a bit derivate of Fishscale and the three songs that feature Ghost’s weed carrier cronies, Theodore Unit, drag whenever Ghost isn’t spitting a verse. (Seriously, can somebody drag Shawn Wigz out to the shed and shoot him so he doesn’t keep ruining Ghost’s songs. “White Linen Affair” is classic until Wigz shows up. I didn’t think I’d see a day where somebody would compete with Joe Scudda for Worst White Weed Carrier Award. These two clowns should start a group.)

Overall, this record just goes to highlight the giant flaws in 8 Diagrams. Wu-Tang still sounds great over the same dusty soul productions as ever and can still make great music together when they are in their comfort zone and feel equally inspired. Masta Killa on “Killa Lipstick” and Method Man on “Yolanda’s House” on their guest appearances absolutely maraude their verses. It proves that they still have classic in them somewhere and perhaps RZA is unintentionally sabatoging them by attempting to expand and experiment with the Wu-Tang sound instead of just hooking up some soul samples and letting these guys rock. When I initially heard that Ghost was gonna drop this album, the same day as 8 Diagrams, I was ten times more excited for the new Wu album despite the fact that Ghost dropped two top ten records last year and Fishscale was by far my favorite album last year. But once again, Ghost just makes this look easy. It took to his seventh great solo album to realize it. He’s the G.O.A.T. It’s that simple. Dennis Coles, Best Rapper Alive.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams: Review

Since the last time, the undisputed greatest rap group of all-time, The "Motherfucking" Wu-Tang Clan, formed like Voltron and made an album, a lot has changed with the world. We invaded, defeated, and proceeded to own Iraq's soul in a war that we somehow managed to lose. The country underwent the greatest economic recession since the Depression. Britney Spears married and divorced twice. Friends went off the air. Our Great Leader declared himself Emperor George The Lesser. 50 Cent became the most insidious major pop music star in possible the history of music like ever. Nas released four albums. Kanye released three. Jay-Z released two albums, retired, than released two more albums. A lot has happened.

Meanwhile, the undisputed greatest rap group of-all time, The "Motherfucking" Wu-Tang Clan has complained, bitched at, and bickered with each other more than any "Will They Or Won't They" obnoxious T.V. couple on some cute detective show drama. For a long-suffering Wu-Tang stan like myself, it's been hell. As much as I loved those Ghostface records, liked those GZA/DJ Muggs and Masta Killa records, tolerated that Raekwon record, and out right loathed those fucking Method Man records, all I really wanted was for Wu-Tang to get their act together, stop bitching about royalties that long ago got spent on RZA's invention of the Serato and dust habits and just make a fucking album and save hip hop from its inevitable horrific "infant-being tossed-into-some-spinning -lawnmower-blades-style" demise. Was that too much to ask? Apparently so, since the Wu couldn't even get it together for three years after Ol' Dirty Bastard's tragic overdose on everything that can be found in a CVS pharmacy plus Cristal.

However, all that has passed us and finally, The "Motherfucking" Wu-Tang Clan has come back to the faithful and their new album, 8 Diagrams, is finally upon us. Because the Wu-Tang can't do anything without somebody acting like my younger brother throwing a tantrum when he was four years old over me not letting play with my toys, their have been grumblings all through out the process to make this album. Earlier this summer, Ghostface was apparently refusing to grace the album with his presence because he disliked RZA's new shoes or something. Soon after, Raekwon apparently felt the need to bitch Miss Info on her website that RZA's beats were ruining the new album as if Mr. Immobilarity had a leg to stand on these days. Things weren't looking too good for the new album.

Well now, the record is here so what's the verdict. Is it the "shit sandwich" as the esteemed Byron Crawford suggested or is the classic that the nuthouse over at SOHH.com's message boards have been suggesting. Well....honestly...8 Diagrams is...a really, really confusing record. I'm truly and deeply at loss to make of it. It's at once wildly and totally disappointing and at the same time, somewhat oddly brilliant despite of it. It's as if RZA threw away everything that made the Wu-Tang sound great in the first place and said to himself "36 Chambers was under-produced. Nobody likes hard drums and finger snaps! What people want is orchestra strings, lots of bass and guitars! You know, I'm gonna produce this record as if I'm Kanye West and fly over everyone's head. Rock Critics Will Love Me! And more U-God! Definitely, more U-God!" Needless to say, that is gonna disappoint their core audience but at the same time, RZA's creating something new and kind of extraordinary. I just can't tell if I like it.

Lyrically, the Clan is on point (or as close to on point they'll ever be again) as usual. Meth sounds more inspired than he has been in years even if he on occasion still kicks a line as Papoosian as "I'm tryna bring the sexy back like Timbaland and Timberlake." Ghost, the Best Rapper Alive if we are going by the retarded Weezian "Let's Pretend Rakim isn't alive" standard, easily kicks the verse of the year (with all due respects to Dre 3000 on "International Player's Anthem") on "The Heart Gently Weeps" and anytime, his voice is heard on the song it instantly makes the song one hundred times better. GZA, Deck, MK, and Raekwon all do their thing even if they aren't quite the rappers that they used to be. They are still head and shoulders above the Short Bus Brigade that populates modern lyricism today. Surprisingly though, the rapper who turns in this albums most surprising performace is U-God (of all people!!!) on this album. U-God sounds like a man possessed and turns in the verse of his life on the George Clinton featuring "Wolves", the album's far and away best track. U-God is all over this album. If 36 Chambers was Meth and ODB's album, Wu-Tang Forever was Raekwon's and Deck's album, and The W was Ghostface's and RZA's, (and Iron Flag is....um, Masta Killa's or possibly the Contract Fulfillment Clause's album) than 8 Diagrams is U-God's. And honestly, while U-God turns in the best work of his life, that's part of the problem. U-God is just not the emcee that the others are in the group and if he is on the lionshare of the album than you are
going to have a problem. The album severely lacks from Ghost's lack of participation as he only shows up on about four songs and then disappears completely from the second half of the disc where it starts to lag. Ghost doesn't even bother to lend a verse to the somewhat underwhelming ODB tribute "Life Changes." Some of these songs scream out for a Ghostface verse as in some respects, he is the only member of the Clan that can channel ODB's chaotic comedy that helped soften the blow of the raw lyricism and death threats of the other. It's no suprise that the best songs on the album ("The Heart Gently Weeps", "Campfire" & "Get Em Out Your Way, Pa") are songs that Ghost is involved in. He's the best emcee in the Clan these days and if RZA was smart, he should've paid all the royalties he allegedly bilked from Ghost plus interest plus given him the patent to the Serato in order to get him on the lionshare of this album.

Ultimately, the album's biggest problem is the production. The problem is that it's not bad per se but it's just not Wu-Tang. Raekwon is right in the sense that the Wu-Tang sound isn't violins and guitars (no matter how dark and menacing they might be) but gutteral soul samples and drums that beat the shit out of you. RZA's production sounds too polished for a Wu-Tang record. It misses that crunch and hiss of 36 Chambers and the first run of solo LPs and honestly, that's what people love about the Wu-Tang. The harder than hell production. The production, however, un-Wu-Tang it actually is - is actually pretty damn good if you completely strip it off its context. It has a very dark and cinematic quality to it as it sounds like the musical cousin to RZA's work on the Kill Bill soundtrack. It kind of sounds like the weirder parts of The W and
Wu-Tang Forever first disc but it's not exactly the Wu-Tang sound and it leaves you feeling disappointed considering some of the verses these guys are spitting on.

I'm not sure where I would rank 8 Diagrams in terms of Wu-Tang albums. Obviously, its not better than 36 Chambers or the second disc of Forever, but I don't know if I would place it over Iron Flag or The W. Here's my prediction on the critical reception this album will recieve. Hip Hop fans and critics are gonna pan it, while rock critics and the Tom Briehan's of the world are gonna hail it, and it's gonna be a failure commericially even if it does do a big first week. However, I feel this album is a grower and eventually will be seen in a more positive light. It's just too weird to be completely written off as a "shit sandwich." I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Wu-Tang just ain't the same as they were but part of me still thinks they ain't nothing to fuck wit. Hopefully, they'll come back to smash the world. Just get RZA off the dust.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Closed For Repairs A.K.A. Time Warner Cable Needs To Stop Being A Bitch

This message was transmitted shortly before the Evil Corporate Overlords At AOL Time Warner arrested and executed the Good Doctor Zeus Judge Dredd Style At His Cubicle At Work....Be Warned!!!

To Whom It May Concern:

Yeah, so I fly back to New York after spending the week back home in the glorious city of Cleveland, Ohio all prepped, primed, and ready to go to hand in my review for Wu-Tang's completely oddball new album only to discover that Time Warner had felt the neccessity to not make my cable and internet work leaving yours truly with very little options to update the greatest blog in the universe (Maddox can suck it). Seeing how I don't have a girlfriend (surprise, surprise...sigh...) and live by myself, I have very little options to umm, "entertain" myself so I'm slowly going dizzy being cooped up in my one bedroom joint with nothing to but uh....read. Ew! Reading ain't hip hop! So if you see a bunch of unexplained double homicides in Brooklyn over the next week, you know who *not* to snitch on. I promise I will return, sullen and full of hatred as ever. You haven't seen the last of DocZeus.

The Good Doctor Zeus

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mixtapes Are Not Albums: Or How Da Drought 3 Is Like Watching Two And A Half Men

Once upon a time, not long ago, mixtapes were promotional tools used to generate “hype” for rappers you don’t care about. You know, the guys with names like Lil Dave or Terrordactyl that stand in front of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square and run up and try to annoy you into giving them like five bucks for a shitty, scratched CD-R with like 20 “songs” with him and his “crew” with names like the Hustle Murder Clique that were produced by some teenage white kid who was given a MPC sequencer that his parents bought him for Christmas. Usually, these abortions were filled with freestyles about how much cocaine they sold while shooting guns in their car while they fuck bitches in a lyrical finesse that can only be described as proto-Jeezian. I have fallen victim to these guys on several occasions so I have learned to spot them across the street before I enter the store as I always proceed to wait until they accost some unfortunate soul before I enter the premise with my head ducked down and my hat pulled low. I will not be taken advantage of, again! Goddammit!

The most famous of these Short Bus Squaders is a guy named 50 Cent. You may have heard of him. Mr. Cent when he was still attempting to get rich or die trying released a few inexplicably popular mixtapes that miraculously not only sold better than most rap albums but managed to capture the attention of Eminem and Dr. Dre. This unfortunate event not only ruined Eminem’s career but turned 50 Cent into the biggest star on the planet. This, of course, helped turn mixtapes from the province of untalented rappers on the street and Southern rappers (so I guess just untalented rappers on the street) into big business. Instead of the rejected weed carriers who used to put out mixtapes, legitimate rappers started making them as way to promote their album. Music labels started “authorizing” annoying DJs to shout all over unreleased material the label deemed too awful to put on the retail album and allow the DJ to sell their product free of charge and act as if they actually had anything to do with any completely unintentional artistic merit the mixtape might actually have. Why would the labels do this if they are giving a fourth rate DJ who can’t mix or scratch copyrighted material to sell on their own? You got me but apparently, the thinking was that it would help the annoying, washed up rapper nobody cares about anymore to sell a couple of more actual real life legitimate records at a Best Buy or something. I know, I don’t get it, either.

For the first few years of this phenomenon, people who make the taste routinely avoided these mixtapes and quite rightly wrote these glorified car commercials set to a shitty 808 beat off as the horrible, half thought garbage they were. I could live in peace...

Then Tom Breihan and the Pitchfork brigade discovered the Clipse and the We Got It 4 Cheap series and the whole world was turned upside. Suddenly, Cam’ron became a lyrical genius, the South wasn’t ruining hip hop, anymore, and Dwayne Carter became the Best Rapper Alive. What’s worse suddenly mixtapes that were being routinely ignored by the mainstream media started becoming legitimate and began showing up in Various Music Writer’s Year End Best Of Lists next to Interpol and Sufjian Stevens records. (The nerve!) Devoted hater that I am, I couldn’t let this stand. I wanted my comfortable world where Wu-Tang is the greatest thing to ever happen to hip hop, Illmatic is the best rap album ever made, and nothing remotely Southern or hipsterish broke into my closed, jaded canon back and I’m making a stand. Mixtapes are not albums!

I know this firmly entrenches me as an insufferable, Mos Def hugging, Illmatic loving elitist but a mixtape by its very nature is a completely different artistic medium than an album. Its kind of comparable to the difference between movies and television. Both mediums are very, superficially similar, they both feature music, songs, and something remotely passing as artistic vision but the fundamental difference between them makes them completely incongruous. They have different strengths and weaknesses that makes them separate. For example, a mixtape because of its “illegal” or “promotional” nature allows an artist to experiment with their sound and create the type of musical “sketches” that is often too commercially dangerous to put on a retail album. A freestyle whether its over a jacked Outkast song or an original creation is essentially a sketch. It allows the rapper to ignore the conventions of song writing and simply experiment with their words lyrically. However, a freestyle is not a song. A good song with very, few exceptions is structured and follows certain conventions. A freestyle is not. Even songs like Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph” or the Juice Crew’s “Symphony” plays within the conventional structure of the posse cut in hip hop and usually has a unifying theme. Mixtapes because of their freer nature can eschew the commercial and artistic responsibilities of an album. Because of the inherent experimentation going on, it allows the artist to express in some sense their true artistic goal. You rarely hear the pandering, cheesed out love song on an Uncle Murder mixtape but you damn well hear it on his album. In some sense, mixtapes are like television because you get a chance to really explore the truer side of the artist which is lot like the way a long running television show allows you to get to know a character more than a movie possibly can. The commercial aspirations most albums have usually prevent an artist even some with as delusions of grandeur if you will as Common or Talib Kweli from making an album that's full of spoken word interludes, guitar playing, and freestyle rapping. Mos Def’s Crazy Ass, of course, is the exception.

However, the strength of the album is the greatest weakness of a mixtape. Albums like movies allow for a grander perspective than mixtapes. Since they have higher budgets and feature original material, it allows the artist to create a cohesive musical statement or theme which is almost nonexistent in the mixtape world. I can’t think of an example of mixtape that has the same cohesive sound that a record like The Blueprint does or make a grand statement like Hip Hop Is Dead (if misguided statement if you are one of the people with their head in the sand). Usually, mixtapes are almost exclusively rejected album material and freestyles over other artist’s most popular tracks. You may luck out and find that you have something with great rapping and great beats like the Clipse’s We Got It 4 Cheap series but usually, you are just listening to somebody like Papoose abusing the world “like” when he confuses the concept of metaphors and similes with his tired ass punch lines.

Ultimately, I think it’s a lot harder to make a great album that to make a “great” mixtape. All jokes aside, since Lil Wayne’s coronation by the Pitchforkers and 15 year old who don’t know better, Weezy has made a lot of mixtapes that have gotten a lot of people really, really excited but he’s still not turned in a jaw dropping Ready To Die-like revelatory album. Its all fun and games to experiment with your voice and freestyle about drugs on a mixtape that only people on the internet care about but my feeling is the reason The Carter III is taking so long to be released is because Lil’ Wayne is looking to make a large, commercial smash and can’t write one. If you ask me, The Carter III is gonna leave a lot of critics disappointed when it sounds more like Kingdom Come than Reasonable Doubt. Many rappers struggle to make the transition from the mixtape scene to writing a full length album and its precisely because of the commercial and artistic demands that an album asks for that prevents them. Its a lot easier to kick a bunch of hot sixteens over somebody else's beat than it is to write a song as allegorical as “I Gave You Power” or even as ubiquitous as “In Da Club.”

If you take one thing from this post, I’d like for all of you when you make your Year End Best Of Lists to leave off any mixtapes off your best albums list. If I see Da Drought 3 or DJ “I’d Be Better Off Using Words Like Culo And Just Pretend I’m Spanish” Drama name anywhere near the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll this year, I’m gonna freak. Mixtapes are mixtapes. Albums are albums. Please take note.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Jay-Z - American Gangster: Review

Sometimes it’s better to wait a few days and take a second listen to a record before you give your opinion on the subject? Often, a record that you thought was weak can grow on you and you can find the nuances in the record that you didn’t hear the first time around. Or you can find that record that you loved the first time around actually ain’t that special at all and you wished you could take away what you said in the first place. Since I started writing my reviews for this “not-a-blog” I have found that I’ve soured slightly on Kanye’s and Chamillionaire’s records and Getback has only improved since I wrote the review. Its inevitable. It happens and luckily thanks to the magic of the internet if I really wanted to I could either change the review or make it disappear and pretend it never happened like it was “Braveheart Party” or something.

I’ve been sitting on my American Gangster review for about a week now since I officially heard the “retail” version of the record on about Monday night or so. Unlike my other reviews, I have heard this record numerous and numerous times, front to back, mulled it over, and now I’m ready to offer my opinion to world and to my legions (and legions) of my hungering, internet stans. Ok, so yeah, I’ll admit it, it’s pretty good but not for the reasons that you might think.

I must admit, I didn’t want to like this record. It’s not because I am some lunatic Nas stan who refuses to acknowledge Jay’s greatness or because I have a devoted Jay-Z hater all my life or I because I’m Byron Crawford and hate everything. Quite the contrary, I have been a pretty devoted Jay-Z fan all my life. I have warm, vivid feelings of riding the school bus with my soccer team and listening to “Hard Knock Life” over the radio. I’ve been a fan. I just don’t think he’s anywhere close to the greatest of all-time. He’s good but not as good as Elliot “I Like To Pretend I’m Responsible For Jay’s Success Because He Appeared On The First XXL mag cover” Wilson or MTV would like you to believe. I didn’t want to like this record because I kind of resent the fact that Jay-Z ruined his legacy with that middling and completely pointless “comeback” record Kingdom Come last year after he made such a triumphant exit a few years back with The Black Album. The way that Kingdom Come sounded so rushed and forced made it seem only like it compounded on the notion that the retirement theme of The Black Album was a completely artificial and forced concept designed to sell records. The way that record was promoted as the triumphant return of a heroic legend to save rap from its death throws made it worse because when it turned out that Kingdom Come was a giant “shit sandwich” (Not my words. Word to Bol) because everything about the record screamed 4th Quarter throwaway record designed to artificially inflate Jay’s numbers as President of Def Jam when the time came to renegotiate Jay’s contract at Universal. Kingdom Come was actually kind of notable for the fact that it somehow managed to not only be a bad record but it retroactively ruined a record that prior to its existence was damn near classic itself. Kudos, Jay-z! We all appreciated that. So getting back to the subject when Jay announced American Gangster last month of the blue, I was immediately prepped to hate this record with a passion. It seemed obvious to me (and to nobody else) that Jay was gonna make a pandering crack rap record to counter the stupid idea that Kingdom Come was a bad record because he wasn’t rapping about selling crack. As if... And I was more than annoyed by the band wagon nut hugging of this record by Elliot Wilson (whose such a Jay-Z stan it makes Jay’s own obsession with Nas look positively healthy) and his ilk than anything.

The first time I listened to American Gangster, it kind of confirmed my thoughts. I was kind of annoyed by the fact that Jay decided to make a Jeezy record with a lot more ‘70s soul horns instead of Shawty Redd synths if with only a slight more lyrical nuance but not that much. I was annoyed with the fact that he decided he needed to ruin the original “Ignorant Shit” with a completely superfluous Beanie Sigel verse and a god awful final verse. And more than anything, I thought the idea of damn near 40 year old uber-rich record executive decided he needed to bite a damn near 11 year old record because people didn’t appreciate the fact that he made a record about being a damn near 40 ear old uber-rich record executive. Just take the L, homie, go fuck Beyonce (or possibly Larry Johnson or even Bleek if you really feel like it), and keep moving into the sunset which you just should’ve done in the first place.

However, because of my laziness on my part to write the review, I listened to the record a couple of times more and a funny thing happened. I was listening to “Ignorant Shit” for the umpteenth time and the record suddenly clicked for me. Jay-Z wasn’t making a crack rap record because he didn’t want to seem like an uncool old man but because he wanted to craft an artistic “Fuck You” to the legions of fans who shunned him after Kingdom Come because he wasn’t rapping about being a gangster or the growing legions of hip hop haters who foolishly blame hip hop for everything that is evil with the world. Much like last year’s Fishscale, the goal of American Gangster isn’t so much to make a crack rap record because its the cool thing to do but to prove to his peers and fans that you are biting Jay’s style wholesale and he can still rap circles around you clowns. The presence of “Ignorant Shit” on the album seems puzzling to a lot of people since that song was originally designed for The Black Album in 2003 and has been making its rounds around the mixtape scene for years now but that song is really key to the whole album. It’s the point where the basic theme of the album completely shifts. It stops being about the completely superfluous tacked on idea that this Jay’s tribute to the Ridley Scott movie but actually a comment about rap music fandom and society itself. Its been commented on numerous forums that hip hop fans have been screaming for more balance in the music for years but the fact, that the most ignorant and generic gangsta rap music has consistently proven to be the highest selling subgenre of hip hop has kind of negated that point of view. Gangsta rap’s dominance of hip hop has lead to its stereotyping in the media that gangsta rap is what hip hop is only about which, of course, allows assholes like Don Imus to transfer the blame for their own sins onto hip hop as a proxy. Jay’s point which is, of course, obvious to everybody paying attention is that “ignorant shit” (n****, fuck, shit, ass, bitch, trick plus ice) is the shit that we like and hip hop’s preoccupation on the subject is due to the fact it sells. Simple as that. No apologies for it. It’s kind of refreshing for an artist to be that blunt about it and not side step it. In a lot of ways, American Gangster is Jay’s answer to Nas’ Hip Hop Is Dead or De La Soul’s Stakes Is High.

As for the actual music on the record, I’ve got to say the production sounds amazing. The music is the heir to Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly or Willie Hutch’s The Mack both stylistically and thematically in the sense that the production borrows heavily from 70s era blaxploitation soundtracks. Lots of horns, lots of strings, lots of upbeat tempos, the requisite slow love records, and of course, the ubiquitous “I’m sorry I sold crack” record. There are a lot of great songs so I’ll let you explore the record on their own to find your favorites but some of mine included “Fallin”, “No Hook” and the hyped Nas collaboration “Success.” The record isn’t without flaws though. Jay-Z still isn’t quite the rapper that he used to be. He’s improved since the last album but he’s still not kicking anything as he good as he did on Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint.

Overall, I think American Gangster will end up being one of Hov’s stronger records. I’m not sure if I would rank it up over The Black Album but its eons above Blueprint 2 or Vol. 1. The question remains though, what’s really next for Jay-Z. The one aspect that bothers a lot of his fellow rappers especially his ‘90s peers on Def Jam is that Jay-Z seems to have a pathological need for attention and desire to be admired above all else and he is only willing to promote himself. Does Jay-Z really need to rap, anymore? If Jay is gonna continue to rap about his days as “gangster” than eventually is he gonna turn into a hallow shell of himself like 50 Cent or Eminem who ran out of good ideas and just continued on until they became self-parody. I would hate to see Jay-Z making something as pandering as Curtis and becomes a shell of himself. Perhaps, after this last great triumph, Jay-Z needs to fade into the shadows and retire. At least, for awhile... You’ve earned it, big guy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

As We Reminisce Over You...Or The Greatest List Of Unappreciated Rap Songs Ever Assembled In The History Of Mankind, Ever...(By The Good Doctor Zeus)

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Well, howdy, loyal reader(s)! I’ve been on a mini sabbatical the last two weeks because a combination of the relative non-stress and the total and mind numbing boredom of my new super non-exciting temp job at the law firm that will legally remain nameless as well as the utter and black hole of despair created by the tragedy of my beloved Cleveland Indians once again losing the big one in typical spectacular, back alley abortion fashion that Cleveland fans are accustomed to, to the Boston Diet Yankees. Anyway, I’m back and today on Not A Blogger...We won’t be discussing T.I.’s decision to turn himself into a living version of Gangstalicious from the Boondocks nor Nas’ decision to name his album a certain racial epithet that apparently Al Sharpton believes should be banned and punished by beheading if uttered by anybody. However, we will be discussing ten of my favorite under-appreciated rap songs in the history of rap music so why don’t we just get started.

Ahem, in the particular order I looked for them in my iTunes...

1. Eminem - Low Down, Dirty - The Slim Shady EP (1997)

Before Eminem became the biggest rapper on the planet and way, way, way before Eminem turned into a sad, sad, sad tragic self-parody of himself, there was The Slim Shady EP, the most hilariously dark and twisted underground horrorcore rap record ever to be recorded by a white boy from Detroit (and also hip hop). The Slim Shady EP served as the introduction to Marshall Mathers’ most famous and celebrated alter-ego and as the prequel to his landmark Slim Shady LP. There are a bunch of great songs on this EP including early versions of classics like “97 Bonnie & Clyde” , “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” and “If I Had” from his Aftermath Debut but the standout on the album is DJ Head produced “Low Down, Dirty.” The song featuring a sample from Redman’s “Whut! Thee Album” is one of the earliest introductions to the Slim Shady persona and the record features some of his vintage dark humor in the lyrics describing some of Em’s more hilarious, scatalogical and violent practices. A sample lyric: “Doctor slapped my momma, “Bitch! You Got a Sick Kid!”/Arrested, molested myself and got convicted.” It’s also kind of notable for an odd reason Eminem takes a shot at Tupac for not being hip hop. Either way, if you are interested in hearing the evolution of a mercurial rap star find his voice than you should probably track this record down.

2. MC Eiht - Streiht Up Menace - Menace II Society Soundtrack (1994)

MC Eiht maybe one of the least heralded West Coast pioneers of all-time. Eiht has nowhere near the notoriety of Ice Cube or Too Short or hell even, Warren G but Eiht remains one of the most underrated West Coast rappers of all-time. Starting out with the somewhat N.W.A. derivate rap group, Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht moved onto some minor solo success when he appeared in the Hughes Brother’s classic “Menace II Society” and released the undderated classic “Streiht Up Meance” for the movie’s official soundtrack. The song closes out the film and the sadness, remorse and pathos in the song that Eiht is able to convey makes the song an absolutely haunting way to close such a gritty film. Employing cinematic synthesized strings, minimalist drums, Eiht vaguely narrates the story of the film but as opposed to some soundtrack rap songs from the era that seemed to narrate the entire story of the film down to minor plot points like Ice Cube’s “Higher” from Higher Learning or “Turtle Power” from the immortal Partners in Kryme, Eiht is able to put his firm stamp and add an even deeper meaning to the film. Lyrics like “Got to follow in the foot steps of the homies from the hood/And where's the role model?/N***** is putting brew in my fucking baby bottle!” add a pathos and darkness to the song while lyrics like the classic opening line “A fucked up childhood is the way I am/Got in me in a state that I don’t give a damn” gives a shocking bluntness that only adds to the song. G’yeah!

3. Devin The Dude - Doobie Ashtray - Just Tryin’ Ta Live (2002)

Devin The Dude has become this year’s hipster rapper du jour following in the storied footsteps of Ghostface Killah, Weezy F. Baby, Cam’rom, and the immortal Aesop Rock. Luckily, unlike some of the rappers that I just named but won’t name now (hint the ones that are not in Wu-Tang), Devin actually is pretty awesome. Devin’s greatest strength is in crafting slow, sad ballads. There is usually one or two of these gems on each of his albums but the song that stands out in a pack of diamonds is “Doobie Ashtray” from 2002’s “Just Tryin’ Ta Live.” The song is Devin’s ode to loneliness and (surprise, surprise) weed smoke in which Devin expresses lament of somebody stealing the last bit of hash from his ashtray after a night of partying and not having anybody to drink with after his friend’s have gone home. This is pretty universal sentiment and the slow, rolling west coast influenced synths and wah wah guitar that is provided shockingly by DJ Premier add to the profound melancholy of the song. Devin, of course, turns in a stunning vocal performance as usual and the chorus is instantly memorable. Perhaps, the most shocking aspect of the song is that it is produced by DJ Premier because it sounds absolutely nothing like Primo. Of course, there is the standard scratches but its the West Coastness of the song that really stands out. This song, maybe, the best songs Primo ever produced and I don’t hesistate to say that for a second. I can’t stress this enough. You need to hear this song. Stunning.

4. Little Brother - The Listening - The Listening (2003)

I’ve probably talked myself silly about Little Brother in the last couple of weeks due to my excitement about Getback so I’ll only say a few words about this song. Best... Song... Little... Brother... Has... Ever...Done....
Right down to the haunting echoes of “T.R.O.Y.” floating in the background to Phonte’s immortal verse to the skit that breaks out into the middle. This song is the best critique of rap fans ever made. If you don’t know somebody like the people they describe in the song than you are that guy. Classic.

5. Cannibal Ox - The F Word - The Cold Vein (2001)

I’ve talked briefly in my Graduation Review about my fondness for Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, the one indisputable classic rap album from the Def Jux crowd. “The F-Word”. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega’s ode to unreciprocated love and the dreaded friend zone, is one of the crown jewels of the album and probably the most mainstream accessible song that has ever come out of the Def Jux label. I am not a big fan of emo rap but this song has come something of a personal anthem for me(unfortunately...don’t front like your dating Jessica Alba either, fellow rap dorks. I can smell sexual frustration for miles. Wait, eww...). The song employs the typical buzzing synths and noise that El-P is famous for but in this case, it adds a dramatic and epic quality to the Cannibal Ox’s tales of love and woe. For whatever reason, this song just works.

6. Grandmaster Caz - South Bronx Subway Rap - Wild Style Soundtrack (1982)

Here’s a tip, if you don’t instantly recognize the beat to this song than you need to either go to your store and buy yourself a copy of Hip Hop’s Holy Bible and listen to “The Genesis” (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to start listening to techno) or you need to stop listening to rap. Grandmaster Caz better known as the Dude That Jay-Z Is Biting His Style Off absolutely destroys this classic beat from the Wild Style Soundtrack. The song is very reminiscent of “The Message” but Caz proves why he was Original Holy Lyrical Trinity In Rap. This song’s an old school rap clinic.

7. Obie Trice - Rap Name - The Shady/Aftermath Sampler (2002)

Obie Trice, Real Name, No Gimmicks! I was quite the Eminem stan in high school and throughout my first year college so the first time, I heard Obie Trice kicking a freestyle on Devil’s Night I became a fan. I suppose it was because like everyone else on Shady Records, he sounded like Slim Shady-lite (or Black Eminem) but unfortunately for Obie, his career never really panned out like it could’ve if he wasn’t Em’s weed carrier. However, “Rap Name”, off the Shady/Aftermath Sampler that accompanied the 8 Mile Soundtrack, showed Obie’s initial promise that I initially found attractive. There is an anthemic quality in the song that trascends the silly Eminem production sound in which Obie states his mission statement and signature catchphrase “Real Name, No Gimmicks.” I remember bumping the hell out of this song winter break freshman year in my car. Good times!

8. Nas - Fetus - The Lost Tapes (2002)

Say what you want to say about Nas’ career, personal life, penchant for using controversial titles to sell records but Nas has always been able to craft vivid and brilliant concept songs that showcase his truly prodigous lyrical ability and song-writing. If Nas can’t make a hit single to save his life these days, he’s still able to pull “I Gave You Power” out of his ass at any given time. “Fetus” off his slept-on, classic odds and ends collection “The Lost Tapes” is truly Nas at his lyrical finest. The song produced by the Trackmasters originally for I Am... uses quiet guitars, swirling Rhodes piano, and ambient noise helps Nas narrate his journey as a fetus from conception to birth. Nas puts on a clinic lyrically as he not only describes his physical growth but is able to simultaneously describe the domestic strife surrounding the pregnancy from the point of view of a fetus and the effect that it had on him even before his birth. It’s records like these that makes it hard for me to ignore the fact that Nas is the greatest rapper of all-time (outside of maybe the God MC and no not, Jay-Z. The original one.). Point. Blank. Period.

9. Masta Ace - Acknowledge - Disposable Arts (2001)

Have you ever heard of the Boogieman? How about the High & Mighty? No?!?! Well, chances are it’s because of this record. Masta Ace absolutely destroys these cats on what is pound for pound, the best diss record dropped this decade. An absolutely vicious record. Those dudes never had a chance. The lesson, as always, is “Don’t Fuck With The Old School.”

10. Big Daddy Kane (Ft. Scoob Lover, Sauce Money, Shyheim, Jay-Z & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) - Show & Prove - Daddy’s Home (1994)

Big Daddy Kane’s career was kind of over by 1994. After a few lackluster albums, a transformation from harder than hell battle rapper to cheesy loverman, and one Playgirl cover basically ruined any chance that Kane had to sustain a career which is a shame because 1994’s Daddy’s Home is actually an underrated record. The highlight of the record is a posse cut, “Show & Prove”, featuring a pre-Roc-a-fella Jay-Z, an in his prime ODB, Sauce Money, Scoob & a prepubescent Shyheim. The record is pretty awesome but its notable for the fact that a 12 year Shyheim absolutely destroys three rap legends just like he did on that immortal “MSG Freestyle” with Tupac and Biggie. Shyheim was a beast at thirteen and why Shyheim never did jack shit outside of a few great guest verses and why garbage ass kiddie rappers like Lil’ Bow “I’m Better Than Will Smith” Wow and Lil’ Romeo had huge careers will forever one of the bigger hip hop mysteries. Seriously, Shyheim at 13 >> Lil Wayne at 25 (or 29 depending on the source). Seriously.