The Ten Best Hip-Hop Albums of the Half-Year
Contrary to popular belief, I'm of the mind-set that 2007 has actually been a very solid year for hip-hop. Granted, it's not at 93-97 levels where at least one classic seemed to fall out of the sky monthly. But I'd argue that in just half a year, 2007 has already yielded nearly as many strong hip-hop records as 05/06 combined. Then again, I'd also argue that Small Wonder is one of the greatest bad sitcoms of all-time, illustrating the on-going clash between machines and humanity that characterizes modernity. So really, what do I know?
10. Phat Kat-Carte BlancheCarte Blanche, the debut from Motown MC, Phat Kat continues to get better the more I hear it, despite the fact that I continue to believe that he is MC Skat Kat's brother. With half the beats supplied by the late J Dilla and the other half provided by his sonic heir, Black Milk, Carte Blanche's production is a hard-hitting collision of off-kilter drums, slashing synths and rumbling bass lines. Phat Kat's subject content is mostly limited to mostly battle-rap boasts, but his gravelly flow, reminiscent of Xzibit, more than makes up for his minor lyrical shortcomings.
MP3: Phat Kat-"Nasty Ain't It?"
9. Royce Da' 5'9 & DJ Premier-The Bar Exam Mixtape
Forget the bloated Da Drought 3, this is the mixtape of the year. The Bar Exam is 53 lean minutes of Detroit veteran Royce Da' 5'9 bodying tracks with the brunt force of Jerome Bettis. You can almost see the flecks of saliva dripping on the mic, with Royce's venom-soaked voice hinting of rage at the industry shakedowns and beefs that derailed his once-promising career. Stomping everything from classic Primo beats like "Nas is Like," to "A Million and One Questions" to Young Jeezy's "Go Getta" and "This is Why I'm Hot," Royce sounds surly and focused, delivering on the promise he's long flashed.
MP3: Royce Da' 5'9-"Hit Em"
8. Brother Ali-The Undisputed Truth An arrogant trash-talker, a loving father, a struggling worker, a grieving son, and an aggrieved activist, Ali is often strident, but at his best, he displays a level of depth rare in most of hip-hop. Behind the boards, Ant turns in his most consistent slate of beats since God Loves Ugly. Ultimately, the gale force of Ali’s convictions and talent leave you willing to believe most of his truth.
MP3: Brother Ali-"Truth is"
MP3: Brother Ali-"Whatcha' Got"
7. Devin the Dude-Waitin' to Inhale
The truth is, every time I listen to Waitin' to Inhale, I get bored sometime around the mid-way point. So consider it a testament to the perverted stoned brilliance of the first half that I consider Devin's record one of the best of 07. "Almighty Dollar" is a gonzo meditation on creeping inflation. "What a Job" might be my favorite song I've heard this year and "Broccoli & Cheese" has 07's best and funniest hook. And yeah, surprise, surprise, this record's better....on weed.
MP3: Devin the Dude ft. Andre 3000 & Snoop Dogg-"What a Job" (left-click)
6. Marco Polo-Port AuthorityA full length review will be up at some point this week, so I'll hold off on a description here. In short, Marco Polo is probably the best new producer to enter the underground rap world in the last few years.
MP3: Marco Polo ft. Masta Ace-"Nostalgia"
MP3: Marco Polo ft. Large Professor-"The Radar"
5. Black Milk-Popular Demand
One of the best rhyming producer/rappers to emerge in recent memory. Milk's lyrics are fairly pedestrian, hewing strictly to battle rap braggadocio. boasts. But his flow darts and zig zags across tangled canvas of odd rhythms. Not even the most byzantine of his beats fazes him for a second, as he agilely rides wobbling basslines that would leave lesser MC's gasping for breath. It might not be a classic, but it's tantalizingly close. Enough to leave one hoping that Milk evolves lyrically and streches the boundaries of his sonics further. With Dilla's untimely demise halting his opportunity to press the Detroit sound to its most unruly perimeters, Milk seems the best bet to carry on that tradition.
MP3: Black Milk ft. Guilty Simpson-"Sound the Alarm"
MP3: Black Milk-"So Gone"
4. Redman-Red Gone WildMaybe the most fun hip-hop record released in 07, Red Gone Wild sounds remarkably untouched by anything that's happened in hip-hop since 1998. Which I have absolutely no problem with. "Blow Treez," my personal choice favorite for stoner hip-hop anthem of the year, features squealing melodicas, reggae drone and Red and Meth unleashing their best collabo since "Da Rockwilder" nearly a decade ago. "Pimp Nuts" overcomes the shortcoming of being named "Pimp Nuts" as Red's wild but controlled flow overpowers the beat's spry bouncing funk. Hell, Red even has a West Coast, G-Funk era sounding collabo with Snoop and Nate Dogg, called "Merry Jane." Which to put it blunt (pun sadly intended), made me feel 14 again for at least two, maybe three bong rips.
MP3: Redman ft, Method Man-"Blow Treez"
MP3: Redman ft. Snoop Dogg & Nate Dogg-"Merry Jane"
3. Dalek-Abandoned Language
So dark it sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Abandoned Language features a production hybrid of My Bloody Valentine-esque swirls of dusty gray and ghostly white surrounded by gritty boom-bap drums. It feels like a combination of the albums I've been waiting on Cannibal Ox and DJ Shadow to do for the last half decade: a brilliant collage of eerie frigid instrumentals so cold you can practically feel the bone-rattling gusts of wind icing up your nose and ears; mixed with pure old school politically-bent lyricism.
MP3: Dalek-"Abandoned Language"
2. Pharoahe Monch-Desire
The best thing I can say about Monch's long-awaited debut is that it isn't a disappointment. That sounds underwhelming, but isn't considering I'd expected something close to a classic. Leaning on 70s era-Stax soul, Desire's beats feels light and often celebratory, a contrast to the fire and brimestone rumblings of its predecessor, Internal Affairs. At times, the production flirts with being dull, but Pharoah's presence is strong enough to redeem it. Desire isn't entirely perfect. The head-scratching cover of PE's "Welcome to the Terrordome" feels unnecessary, as does the nine minute "Trilogy," but ultimately, Pharoahe is too good of a rapper to produce anything that doesn't stand out markedly from the rest of the pack. One of the greatest artists in hip-hop history, Desire is a solid addition to Monch's catalogue.
MP3: Pharoahe Monch-"Let's Go"
1. El-P: I'll Sleep When You're Dead
To quote Jay: "What More Can I Say?"
I'll Sleep When You're Dead Review
MP3: El-P-"The Overly Dramatic Truth"
Clean Guns-Living in Harmony: The Mixtape
This could very well go in the top 10, but since I'm friends with Zilla, I'm a bit biased and to err on the side of caution, I'm throwing it in in the honorable mention section. Sorry dude. However, Living in Harmony is a great mixtape from a pair of rock-solid underground MC's who seem to be improving and evolving with each verse. At times, you get the feeling that the Beat Garden Squad could develop into a Philly version of Rhymesayers.
Review of Living in Harmony
MP3: Clean Guns ft. So-Say-"The Score"
MP3: Clean Guns-"Dead Presidents"
Evidence-The Weatherman LP
I'd always thought Evidence by far the more interesting half of Dilated Peoples, but not a compelling enough personality to carry a solo album. And while, he'll never become a big Eminem type personality, Evidence is still the dude who came at Slim the hardest during Mathers' brief reign at the top, (with Ev's scatching "Searching 4 Bobby Fischer)." Wisely, the album features stellar guest appearances, featuring underground linchpins like Defari, Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother, Planet Asia, and Slug. Coupled with grimy Alchemist beats, The Weatherman LP is Evidence's strongest record since The Platform.
MP3: Evidence ft. Slug-"Line of Scrimmage"
Jamie Radford-The Freedom to Be Reckless
Freedom to Be Reckless uses hip-hop as a jumping off point for sonic experimentation, employing swirling synths,rain-washed twinkling keys, and mellow brooding drums to create a record that sounds like if Prefuse 73 and Hot Chip had a child and he decided to be a rapper. Like his recent collaborators, Clean Guns, Radford has grown by leaps and bounds with every release, particularly his knack for making catchy left-field beats, that manage to burrow a hole into your head and stick.
Review of the Freedom to be Reckless
MP3: Jamie Radford-"Patterns in my Saturn"
Prodigy-Return of the MacThere's a few too many dull tracks on this one to warrant the massive hype thrown its way. However, when this record hits, it hits hard. "Stuck on You" is one of the best rap songs of the year and the soulful production supplied by Alchemist should be enough to give Havoc pause before getting behind the boards for the next Mobb album. Easily Prodigy's best record since Hell on Earth and a welcome comeback for a rapper everyone had left for dead.
MP3: Prodigy-"Stuck on You"
Joell Ortiz-The Brick:Bodega Chronicles
Like Return of the Mac, The Brick is a bit too inconsistent to warrant the lavish acclaim being bestowed on it. Ortiz has never met a cliche he didn't like and the Big Pun dick-riding can get a bit grating at times. That said, his flow is ridiculous and The Brick gives me enough reason to think that Ortiz has a shot at developing into one of the better rappers in the game. Though, considering he's signed to Aftermath, his official debut probably won't drop until sometime in the next decade.
MP3: Joell Ortiz-"Hip-Hop"
Lifesavas: Gutterfly. The Original Soundtrack
Relentlessly funky and wildly creative, Lifesavas sophomore record, Gutterfly was imagined as a concept soundtrack record for a film about a pair of crooks living the hard knock life in fictional, Razorblade City. At times, the record strays a bit too far from its concept for its own good. And like most rap albums, it could've benefited from some judicious editing. But on the whole, this is a very good record from a pair of underground vets who deserve more love than they've received. Plus, their title track collaboration with their stylistic soul mates, Camp Lo, is flat-out fantastic.
MP3: Lifesavas ft. Camp Lo-"Gutterfly"