Thursday, January 18, 2007

'Sooo 2006' Long Players: I know all about that…

10. E-40 - My Ghetto Report Card: A solid affair from the futuristic right-on-time funk beats (sparse enough, inventive, foreign AND familiar) to the density of slang to the variety of voices (and there’s a lot of them). The skits are not only forgiven but endorsed for their local detail and slapstick tone.

9. Young Jeezy - The Inspiration: Stays the course with content but the range of play seems greater with layering vocals and ad-lib counter rhythms which complicate the oft heavy-handed descriptions and simplistic dramas.

8. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not:
Distinctly white-boy rock with some swing to the hooks and tight angles to the riffs lets the vocal rhythms bounce while bringing slangy reportage of the absolutely contemporary everyday bullshit which can sometimes seem like the most important thing in a young mans life.

7. Ghostface - Fishscale: The predictably freewheeling and heartfelt ‘educated clapper’ continues lessons on sentimentalizing hard-times (‘Whip You With a Strap’), rapping over old soul (‘Big Girl’), surrealism for the streets (‘Underwater’), how to crossover (‘Back Like That’), detailed seduction (‘Beauty Jackson’) and even just some old-school rap (‘Be Easy’). When an artist opens an album with something like ‘Shakey Dog,’ forgoing hook and inundating with integrated details and action, it begs the question: How have these albums of avant-garde poetry by this bizarre genius become so… I dunno…‘expected’?

6. Yo Gotti & DJ Drama - I Told You So:
The direct talk to the Memphis hood beats out his legit album and those grizzled syllables with extra distortion from his distinctly delivered drag have made YG one of my favorite voices in hip-hop.

5. The Streets - The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living: I might be on opposite escalators of the fans of The Streets and of Ghostface respectively. How else to explain the least heralded of Mike Skinner’s albums getting heavier rotation on my ipod than ‘Fishscale’? Maybe it’s because every time I listened to ‘The Hardest Way…’ I couldn’t help thinking Ghostface should hear this album and do a mixtape over these tracks (especially ‘Hotel Expressionism’ or ‘Two Nations’) and redo the off-key sung-hooks in his own off-key way… The ‘simplicity’ of the tracks (‘Memento Mori’ rap shadowing the keyboard) was criticized by otherwise loyal fans but made the album perfectly great for me.

4. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury:
It ain’t quite the gospel that was “We Got it For Cheap Vol.2” but their cold and slang-heavy environs allow for a weird mix of desperate actions sprinkled with new money flash (Hi Pharrell!). I can’t help but be struck by the near perfect craft of Clipse lyrics and matching Neptunes tracks and that glossy surface discourages me from reaching out for their shadowed perch. The crispy cadence, the mechanized beats, and the clear vocal tone, click together like a well-oiled machine… but I’m still just admiring clockwork a safe distance from the grinding gears. Clipse cleverness has no equal.

3. Raekwon - The DaVinci Code The Vatican Mixtape Vol. 2:
Where Ghost wears his heart on his sleeve, Rae plays cagey, but both always lean towards an overwhelming barrage of imagery (“Broke down fuckin’ Mazda”), poetic slang phrases (“Stole niggas wizessess… izzizzizz”) and smashed together unexpected details (“Celine Dieon chickenheads straight outta Houston” “Kill industry niggas and build maps”). Puzzles of slang permeate the claustrophobic hood visions even while thinking globally (“Wide world of sniffers, spyroglyphics, Caesars and blue angels” or something like that).

2. Lil’ Wayne & DJ Drama - Dedication 2: ‘The greatest rapper alive’ debate is getting tired but there is no doubt that he (at least) sounds like the rapper who most enjoys rapping. Go figure. His disrespect towards hip-hops ‘icons’ is only a reminder of his “Fuck Hip-hop!” days when he was just a Hot Boy. And that’s a great thing!
This mixtape and others on this list are REAL hip-hop ALBUMS, not ‘in spite of’ but BECAUSE they are jacks or flips of the hottest beats and flows and often neglect crossover song structure for the pure pleasures of rep-building. Of course they qualify as albums.

1. T.I. - King :
Clipse, Raekwon and Mike Skinner might be the poets and Wayne’s wordplay could arguably earn him best rapper status but the most integrated versatile personality is both the reporter and the showman, the vocal stylist and the style icon, the trap star and the movie star… He is the best MC... which, you may have forgotten, is a bit more than a rapper. This was the album that connected the dots to finally give the masses something to measure all other pretenders against. A ruler perhaps?