’08 was a strange year for Hip-Hop, one of it’s biggest stars was exposed as a former corrections officer, another decided to stop rapping in favor of robotic singing and a third attempted to release an album with a title so offensive it was eventually released with no title at all. Declining album sales caused most labels to release less music than in years past, however these same declining album sales caused artists to tour extensively (these guys have to eat one way or the other), which created maybe the best year for live rap shows in history (for a rundown see the previous post “Live Shows 2008”). Kids continued to wear skinny jeans, trade in their Air Forces for Supras and devour “ringtone music” like there was no tomorrow, while older heads, myself included, tried to tell them that they had it all wrong (note: this is exactly the way our older friends and family looked at us and laughed when we told them how great Biggie, Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep were when they were still listening to Big Daddy Kane and LL). And through all this chaos one man dominated the year to a level we haven’t seen since 50 Cent exploded into the national spotlight half a decade ago.
I’m going to list my top 5 albums of the year with full knowledge that “the album” is a dying (arguably already dead) art form and that digital downloading, ringtones, youtube and mixtapes have made the idea of releasing a collection of songs with a coherent concept almost as obsolete as 8-Track Tapes.
FIVE: Murs-Murs For President
While it may have seemed like the underground took a year off in 2008, mainly because labels like Def Jux, Rhymesayers and Stones Throw all had limited output, underground champ Murs signed to a major, got spots on MTV during the Democratic National Convention and seemed poised to be the next big thing. While fans of this west coast MC eagerly awaited his new album and his impending crossover to the mainstream (mainly so we could tell our friends “I told you so”), the label completely dropped the ball during the last few weeks of promotion by releasing no videos and putting the slickly packaged “Murs For President” in stores the same day as T.I.’s obvious smash “Paper Trail.”
Lack of sales and promotions aside, as they should be, this record is solid from beginning to end. Murs connects with 9th Wonder for a few soul-drenched, introspective masterpieces and most of the attempts at mainstream acceptance are not that bad. There are two collaborations that feel forced (“Lookin’ Fly” with Will I Am and “Time is Now” with Snoop Dogg) however, dwelling on these two slightly flawed efforts takes away from appreciating another banger from the west coast’s best kept secret.
FOUR: The Roots-Rising Down
Hip-Hop’s best band finally release an album that captures the energy and intensity of their live shows. This was my favorite Roots album in years (maybe since 1999’s “Things Fall Apart”). The guest appearances all work, the lyrics are focused on addressing themes, as opposed to just extended freestyle sessions over live beats and the album is a testament to how powerful that “East Coast Sound” can be. The fact that this record sold poorly may be an indication that this sound is dead in today’s marketplace, but as long as people are willing to make it,I will be willing to buy (and not download) it. Also, this album was the only good thing to come out of Philadelphia in the previous 12 months.
THREE: Lupe Fiasco-The Cool
Technically released at the very end of 2007, but having most of it’s impact felt in ’08, Lupe’s second album filled that huge, gaping hole you have in your soul from listening to grown men sing about strippers and money into a machine that makes them sound like robots. From the crossover hit “Superstar” that warns of the trappings of fame to the ‘effin brilliant “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” which explains why some rappers act like buffoons, this album was awesome from intro to outro.
Nas rebounded from 2006’s weak “Hip-Hop is Dead” with this extended study of race relations in America and the effects of the most controversial word in the English language. Standouts like “Hero,” “Sly Fox” and “Fried Chicken” expand on various themes related to racism and the effect on not only Nas, but our society has a whole. While I don’t agree with everything he says (threatening to tie up Bill O’Reilly is just silly), I applaud his ability to incorporate complex topics into songs that are still listenable. If you think Hip-Hop lost it’s social conscience and yearn for the days of BDP and Public Enemy, this record should fill some of that void.
ONE: Lil’ Wayne-Tha Carter III
The fact that this album was even tolerable, let alone a classic that sold “A Milli” copies in a week defies all logic and reason. First, Wayne built anticipation to a fever pitch by appearing on countless mixtapes, collaborations and guest appearances since Tha Carter II dropped in ’05 and made himself a superstar without releasing an album (further proof that the days of the album may have passed), there was no way he could live up to this hype. Almost nobody can, there are way more Canibus’ and Mic Geronimo’s than 50 Cents.
The album itself sounds terrible on paper: a collaboration where the guest completely outshines the main MC (Mr. Carter), cartoonish ode to riches featuring T-Pain (I Got Money), a beat that was free-styled over hundreds of times, many better than the original version(A Milli), a half-assed attempt at social commentary (Tie My Hands), possibly the worst concept song of the decade (Dr. Carter), asinine comparisons to civil rights activists (Shoot Me Down), a rambling, incoherent monologue about the justice system (Don’t Get It), a song about making love to a police officer (Mrs. Officer), a bland collaboration with adult-contemporary artist Babyface (Comfortable) and a lead single that replaces verses and hooks with auto-tuned mumbling about oral sex (Lollipop). Add in an unoriginal album cover (“Illmatic” and “Ready to Die” did this a long time ago) and the requisite cameo by Busta Rhymes and it should be a recipe for disaster...right?
Wrong!...I can’t front, I’m kind of tired of this dude by now, but there was no album I played in my car, house or iPod more than Tha Carter III this year and that’s in addition to all the times I was forced to listen to these songs on the radio. Despite all the reasons you can list not to like it, it has some undeniable quality that makes it hot. I’ll admit, most of his mixtape verses were way hotter than anything on this release (excluding “Gossip” from this album was a huge mistake), I am tired of the songs I’ve heard 5,000 times on the radio, and let’s be honest of the one million people that bought this the first week, about 8,000 of them are not Hip-Hop heads and have never heard Tha Carter 1 or 2, but, for some reason I can’t explain, I like this album.
I’m pretty sure Wayne is not the “Greatest of All Time” and I’m also sure he’s not “The Greatest Rapper Alive” as long as that other Carter is breathing, but this is a legit collection of songs and the best thing to come out of an overall weak year for Hip-Hop.
Rick Majerus’s Top-5 Instant “O”ffense songs
Five: Sheek Louch-”Good Love”
This good times anthem reminds me of summer, the song sounds like getting off Exit 82 and driving down Rt. 37 to Seaside.
Four: T.I.-”Whatever U Like”
Even though I am adamantly opposed to the ideals presented in this song, I can’t deny it’s hotness in the bar/club/party setting.
Three: T-Pain feat. Lil’ Wayne-”Cant Believe It”
Autotune? check. Mispronounced States and Cities? Check. Lil’ Wayne mumbling? Check. Somehow it works.
Two: Ray J feat. Young Berg-”Sexy Can I”
This is the best example of two marginally talented artists collaborating to make a smash since J-Lo and Ja Rule got together almost a decade ago. Also, this is the second best video Ray-J has ever made.
One: Lil’ Wayne-”Lollipop”
The hottest rapper of the year on a club track and “rapping” about oral sex, how could this not be huge?
Some Random Thoughts About Music in 2008
16 years ago Ice-T wanted to kill cops, now Lil’ Wayne wants to make love to them. I’m not saying this is evolution or devolution, I’m just saying.
Considering vets like Wu-Tang Clan, Bun B, EPMD and Scarface all put out albums better than LAX shouldn’t The Game apologize for that “You 38 and still rappin’...eww” line?
About 20 years ago the hottest MC’s in the game got together to call for peace and an end to the rampant violence in America’s inner cities, this year they got together to remind guys on the corner that they don’t have swagger like them...something I’m reasonably sure the guys on the corner already knew.
How did England (which is about 1/100th the size of the US) have one season of their equivalent of “American Idol” and come up with Leona Lewis, who is better than any person ever on our multiple seasons of the show.
It is a little ironic that at one point in the spring the hottest two songs on commercial radio where called “Silly” and “Foolish” which perfectly describes current climate in music.