Over the next two weeks, myself and a very talented cadre of contributors will be emulating the book above. Unlike said tome, it won't cost money and you'll get free MP3s–which, presumably, serve a tangible purpose. Now go cry into your near-beer, Phillip Ardagh, you lovable rogue.
50. Redman ft. Oh No-“Lay You Out”
You couldn't pay me to be a kid today: anaconda jeans in vogue, MySpace as courting ritual, “Lollipop” as teenage head-anthem. (Wherefore art thou Akinyele?) But no matter how much I love the themes to Magic Johnson's Fast break and Marble Madness (word to Jones and Soderberg) the kids have us beat on video game soundtracks. Listening to Redman and Oh No's contribution to Street Fighter's HD release on XBox and PlayStation, makes me feel like a 8-bit octagenarian. Four Hadoukens out of four.
“Icky Thump” re-purposed as the sound a corpse makes when it hits the floor. Rhythm J flips Jack White's squealing guitar-as-bagpipe hiss and hands it to some of Philly's finest, who summarily dismember it. Ciz, Reef, and M.O.G. hit Manny Pacquiao-hard, but Nico steals the show with 16 bars of name-dropping that fits nicely next to Elzhi's “Colors” and Edan's “Rock and Roll, ” as great “Labels” songs of recent vintage.
Wale might have been the first DMV MC to break nationally, but Northern Va's, Praverb, demostrates the talent pool runs much deeper than just Mr. Folarin. Rocking a sample from Run DMC's last great single, the Pete Rock-helmed, “Down With the King,” Praverb channels the spirit of '93 without falling until the underground sandtrap of maudllin, unremembered nostalgia.
* Though, I suppose you could sort of make a case for DJ Kool.
47. Termanalogy-“Watch How It Go Down”
In his first single * from '90s homage-cum-debut, Politics As Usual, Boston-bred
Termanalogy claims to be the second coming of Big Pun, an eye-rolling
gesture for any fledgling artist, let alone a guy born hundreds of
miles from the Boogie Down. But give him credit for spending the next
four minutes kicking a respectable imitation over a Primo-laced beat
that sounds unearthed from the Moment of Truth sessions. Term
might lack the original style of his deceased inspiration, but ranks as
one of his best disciples. And we can all probably agree that he's
better than Cuban Link.
* Yes, I know this is two years old. However, it was officially released in '08.
All things considered, Vast Aire sparked a nice comeback between the Mighty Joseph record and his solo jaunt, Deuces Wild. But you know how it goes, The Cold Vein, blah,
blah, blah. So this is the place where I make my annual plea for Vast
and Vordul to get back together, call El-P and live happily ever after.
Of course, I'm pretty sure they aren't listening and I'm mainly doing
this to egg the ex-Cannibal Oxer into wasting a MySpace blog post on
me, a la Ben Westhoff. Jealousy's a motherfucker.
45. Scarface ft. Lil Wayne & Bun B-“Forgot About Me”
People were never going to forget about Scarface. Even the people who
hate Southern rap rank him on their list of all-time greats and Bun B
isn't exactly far behind. As for Lil Wayne, his career might be better
served if he'd let people forget about him for five minutes. Or at
least, agree to never appear at another Country Music Awards again
(Like Zac Efron was so far-fetched?). “Ultimately, this song's only purpose is to be good and really, no better reason exists.
Eskay stays winning. All I can say
is, hey man, next time you talk to Cheeba and Suede, tell them to do a
Passion of the Weiss song. I'll pay. I think I have some Bar-Mitzvah
money stashed around here somewhere.
return from ex-girlfriend-tried-to-kill-me hiatus drew mixed reviews,
with most fans pleased to see the underground linchpin rapping again,
yet slightly disappointed that 11th Hour didn't
meet the sky-high bar he's consistently met through his career. But
over stabbing horns, vinyl cuts and eerie synths, “Raw Sewage” sustains
hope that Deltron 2 will satisfy every rap nerd's dream. Should it ever arrive.
“Christian Rock,” turns off most discerning souls faster than the
phrase, “Bea Arthur Nude.” But this fundamentalist impulse often yields
some of the most stark and powerful songs in rap, particularly when
Bone-N-Thugs N' Harmony are involved. Granted, Bizzy, Wish and Krayzie
are absentia, but aided by ex-Po' Pimp, A.K. of Do or Die, Layzie
amply carries the slack. On “Guard My Life,” a harrowing halo of
mortality and fear is inescapable. If these two have more music in them
like this, let's hope their prayers are answered. (And if not, I
suppose I wish to confine them to the eternal flames of Hades.)
Don't tell Yoko about Blu and Mainframe's haunting flip of this Plastic Ono Band prayer
for self-preservation. Departing on similar flight patterns as that
other John, the prolific LA rapper waxes philosophical on life, drugs,
and death, turning in one of his most complete songs to conclude an
already impressive Johnson & Jonson record.
The Willie D of the blog-generation, Killer Mike's voice absolutely
drips with contempt and alienation on this alternately hilarious and
damning diatribe against pretty much everything but Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years (presumably, left for Ghetto Extraordinary II).
In just 2 and a half minutes, Mike mows down Kobe, Don Cornelius, BET,
Al Sharpton, Q-Tip, Andre 3000, Sisqo, Creflo Dollar, Murder Inc, and
lets it be known that he's up for “toe-tagging Grand Dragons.” By the
way, if you're Aryan Nation, “Fuck Hitler.” Mike and him share the same
birthday–that bothers him too.
is a sort of litmus test that I have for deciding whether a rap song is
merely a good “rap song” or a good “song”: I play it for my girlfriend.
I admit this isn't a flawless test, but it's reliable more often than
not. My significant other knows nothing about Pete Rock and his
contributions to rap, nor much of Kurupt, but she knows that “Yessir”
is four minutes of effortless, distilled swagger from one of the best
rappers no one talks about anymore. Kurupt rides the sparkling piano
keys with a level of self-confidence that makes his ridiculous rhyme
patterns seem that much more impressive. And any song that inspires my
girlfriend to randomly quote Kurupt is truly worth praise. —Renato Pagnani
When he wasn't duping fans with a metal-masked doppelganger, 2008
marked Doom's gradual re-emergence from his underground cavern, with
the madvillain popping up twice on on fellow Rhymesayer, Jake One's White Van Music, and once on Babu's Duck Season 3.
“Get “Er Done” is the finest of the trio, with Jake mimicking Dumile's
own cartoons, sugar and Saturday morning aesthetic and Doom actually
not mailing it in. Presumably, because he couldn't find a good vocal
first listen “Traffic” sounds like a 9th Wonder track, and I assumed it
was (Little Brother even show up, after all) until I found out that it
was actually Quincey Tones who was responsible for the slice of
stretched soul that plays soundtrack to the sun-drenched bliss that
perfect July days bring. And it's the small things that make this
particular afternoon so special for Masta Ace and company: hollering at
girls while driving around with your friends, kids outside the local
deli playing, old folks sitting on porches reminiscing, impromptu block
parties, loud music and chicken wings. This speaks to the greatest
strengths of the rappers on this track–they sound like regular dudes
who you'd love to kick it with that just happen to rap extraordinarily
well. —Renato Pagnani
Few crews have squandered their promise like State Property. Had these
guys stayed out of jail and record industry limbo for most of the
decade, the above trio (plus Beanie) could've been Philly's answer to
Dip Set. That grand plan of ascending to be Roc-A-Fella royalty isn't
happening, but if they can crank out more ready-made anthems like this,
there's time left to fulfill their potential.
Until I caught the video for Crookers' remix of “Day 'N' Nite,” this spot was
originally reserved for the Cudi/Wale collabo, “Is There Any Love.”
It's not that the above clip is that good,
but more that there's something endearing to Cudi's breezy nonchalance
and willingness to play the fool without worrying about coming off
soft. For the all shit “hipster rap” gets, it's difficult to dislike a
major label-signed artist who remembers that rappers are musicians not
thug caricatures. Most interesting is the iconoclastic move to shoot
the video for a remix done by an Italian house duo. Electronic and rap
often don't mix well (see Khalifa, Wiz), but Cudi's humor and
versatility certainly do. I wouldn't be surprised if he blows up soon.
34. Tobacco ft. Aesop Rock-“Dirt”
the pairing of Aesop Rock and Black Moth Super Rainbow front-man,
Tobacco would make for a strange mix. They're hippie-freaks from the
woods outside of Pittsburgh who play Richard Simmons videos at their
concerts and name themselves after cash crops. Aesop is a misanthropic,
hyper-syllabic B-boy from New York who used to call himself “Bazooka
Tooth.” Then again, last year's Dandelion Gum, with its woozy drum machines, cavernous mellotrons and cotton candy and LSD vibe, felt more like a cross between Moon Safari-era Air and Edan's Beauty and the Beat record
than it did “indie rock.” On “Dirt,” Tobacco's fractured pop conjures a
lazy Summer aesthetic, while Aesop craftily falls back into the pocket
of the bubblegum beat and rides things out smoothly.
The beat for the last song on Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca succinctly
summarizes why it–and by extension–the mixtape succeeds. It's a
combination of everything that you liked about hip-hop when you were
growing up*: a timeless Bob James “Nautilus” sample, Primo's Livin' Proof-era
formula of head-bobbing scratches and esoteric sounds, and a patina of
Reggie Noble ad-libs swiped from “How High.” On the mic, Clean Guns
have evolved into unique characters with agile rhyme skills. Forever
South Philly but not above making goofy retainer and Karate Kid references,
or sarcastically using the phrase “Rootin' Tootin,” Clean Guns aren't
popular among hip-hop bloggers because of nepotism, but because they're
pretty similar–except one group is really good at rapping.
*Excluding those born after '88.
remix for Paper Route Gangstaz's turns what was once a buoyant ode to
car finshing into a sinister, screwed stomp. Straight out of hip-hop
backwater, Huntsville, and blessed with the imprimatur of hipster deity
Diplo, shockingly, the Paper Route Gangstaz have yet to set the
Southern Strategy set on fire. Surprising, considering this is the
apotheosis of the Houston takeover fantasia of '05. * Even if it was
made by two Alabama rappers from Alabama and a producer from Philly.
* I know, I know, it was a slow year.
31. The Roots ft. Styles P & Mos Def-“Rising Down”
I'm sorry. I probably told a lot of people that you really sucked. My
bad. “Rising Down” is tangible proof that Hollywood has not harvested
your organs and bartered them in exchange for an Emmy Nomination and
one of Gabrielle Union's toes. Congratulations. What good is a toe
Anyhow, someone (not your friends who tell you everything you do is
brilliant) needs to tell you you can't kick that genre-fusion shit
convincingly. Sorry, you spend most of your time acting. I know, life
really isn't fair and yes, I understand that you want to keep
pretending that you're in Bad Brains. But people really like this “Rise
Above.” So do I. Last time I checked, no one was really checking for The New Danger or True Magic. And
that bizarre contraction of Wyclef Jean disease* that you exhibited at
Rock the Bells this summer was not a pretty sight. Keep up the good
work–I'm really looking forward to seeing Cadillac Records.
Everyone who bought a copy of Black Star and Black on Both Sides during the Clinton Administration
* Temporarily believing you are the reincarnation of Bob Marley and/or a flamingo.
Alchemist arrives with the head-nodding psych guitar sample, Evidence
kicks his admirably consistent slow flow that sinks into the plush
pocket of the hypnotic, psych-guitar sample and soft drums. Blu
plunders the '07-08, Andre 3000 method, but makes it his own. Kweli
sounds resilient and recovered from the ungainly mid-career flirtations
with the mainstream. Therapy was never this easy.
producer thinks they can rock the mic, but Southeast Slim might be the
best to emerge this year (Don't sob Ron Browz). On “The Bomb,” the man
behind the beat for Wale's biggest pre-Ronson hit, “Dig Dug,” enlists
his fellow D.C. native to flow over a soulful sample of “I Heard It's
the Bomb,” from Go-Go giants, The Backyard Band (whose front-man Antwan
Glover is best known for playing Big G/Slim Charles on The Wire). Exhibiting an impressive chemistry, “The Bomb” suggests more excellent collaborations loom in the future.
Blackout 2? I'll believe it when I see it. How High 2? I'll see it when I rent it. Unless I'm playing Chicago,
Dr. Stephen Cheebahawking holds his breath for no one. Especially not
for these guys, who almost certainly have the two most severe cases of
“The Fuck It's” on historical record. Take it from the doctor: watched
pot don't boil. Better to just let stoners pleasantly surprise you
every now and again.
Method Man and Redman's “Broken Language 2008,” was just that, a
surprise, appearing out of nowhere in late February presumably to whet
appetites for new Red & Meth material.
It's now 10 months later,
there's been a “Still High” tour but still no sign of any new music.
Unsurprisingly, “Broken Language 2008” remains a pleasant surprise.
Over the beat to the Smoothe Da Hustler classic Red and Meth's version
is arguably better than the original in every respect because Method
Man and Redman are, in every respect, the best. With
teaching-these-rappers-how-to-rap-again lines like “Pearl handled piece
keeper / I piss gas and breathe ether” their chemistry sounds every bit
as potent as it did 10 years ago. No one's telling anyone to put the
blunt down, but a few more surprises like this in 2009 will be more
than welcome. –Disco Vietnam
Nas just isn't funny. Otherwise, he's pretty much incredible in terms
of diction, pacing, and skill. But as great as he is, he's rarely fun
to listen to anymore. On “Esco (Let's Go)” he eschews the sophistry and
sanctimony for wanting to roll a B-L-U-N-T on watch B-E-T. He asks
Elizabeth Taylor, when did ice turn to bling? She responds that he's
the 5th Beatle and the 10th Member of Wu-Tang. In a discography heavy
on didacticism, “Esco (Let's Go)” is the rare instance where Nas
actually listened to Jay-Z's advice to lighten up. Or as Elizabeth
Taylor told him, “let your nuts hang.”
26. Bun B ft. Lupe Fiasco-“Swang On 'Em”
Acquitting himself for the apostasy commited when Fiasco repudiated the The 10 Commandments*
in favor of a golden statue of 8-Ball & MJG, Lupe nimbly skitters
across the tuba-thump and hydraulic quake of Enigma's beat. Bun stomps
in saber-rattling, boasting that he's got that white, that brown and
that purp. It's a verse he's done hundreds of times but due to blunt
force, no matter how telegraphed the punch is, when he swings and
connects, it always leaves a mark.
* Underground rap version.