The music world has changed much in the last nine years. Since the introduction of the mp3 digital format, the rise of the World Wide Web, the exponential explosion in PC ownership and processing speed, universal high-speed Internet access and the introduction of the term “P2P” into our daily lexicon, the music game has surely not been the same.
To take it a step further, nothing has been the same. In today’s world, your crack at celebrity could be as close as your ability to download some cracked software, a low-cost digital video recorder, a high-speed internet connection and a willingness to put yourself out over the Web for the entire world to see and hear. Anybody can be a show. However, the problem with any desirable situation with reasonably low barriers of entry is that everybody can, and usually will, elect to join the free-for-all in the mad scramble for the golden ring.
The old rules are dead. Album release dates do not hold the same type of relevance for a generation used to torrents and bootlegs. Major labels still hold some muscle but the Web provides an abundance of consumer generated information, making it easier to research the type of music you might have been afraid to purchase before. The one great thing I can say about today is that there is no longer any need to wonder about what that mystery album you was checking out at the record shop of old sounded like because today you would just type in Google…
With so many different ways to sample sounds and so much more to partake in, it can become overwhelming for a sincere music fan. The casual music fan will not even BOTHER, they will just wait around until whichever tastemakers they trust tell them what is okay to listen to. This is the reason why radio playlists will always be around and sites like Rap Reviews exist. There is WAY too much of this stuff out there; someone has to filter out this madness.
The album, as we know it, is alive but mutating into something different. They can come in a variety of ways and some people just do not find it necessary to have something to hold in their hand. I did not always agree with this state of affairs, but in time, I have come around to accept that greatness does not always require a jewel case and a CD player. Besides, with so much competing for our attention (YouTube videos, blogs and podcast), there is no way we can turn back the clock back to when the anticipation of a record was part of the experience. We have a TON of experiences to deal with now. I have learned to adapt so, in the spirit of the new way of getting music, I will list the albums AND how I purchased them or obtained them.
TOP 10 RECORDS OF THE YEAR
10 – Jay-Z: American Gangster – purchased from a mom and pop CD shop.
Not quite the return to form that many fans would have liked, however anything close to pre-retirement Hova is a good thing. Even though he is not quite swinging for the fences, Jay still stands far above the average emcee.
09 – Scarface: Made – purchased from a mom and pop CD shop.
Scarface is one of the Southern lyricists who was repeatedly referenced a few years ago when the “Bring Back New York” movement was at its’ peak. There is no shortage of southerners who possess the same level of lyricism that the birthplace of hip-hop lays claim to (Chamillionaire, Ludacris, Killer Mike and Lil Wayne can spit with the best of them). Scarface reemerged this year with an album that reiterates his position as one of the greats without sounding forced or needing a dance to get you to pay attention to what he is saying.
08 – Klashnekoff: Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast – purchased from EMusic.
Klashnekoff is one of the emcees outside of North American soil that I use to demonstrate that hip-hop transcends the small boundaries many listeners tend to place it within. I have a fascination with hip-hop stars from other parts of the world because I love to hear how the universal rules of great emcees translate to a different land, culture and tongue. Great flow, a nice voice and lyricism is great combination no matter where you go. This album by the UK hip-hop artist is not his best work, but it is good enough to have seen repeat play on my stereo. I need to check out what Ol’ Kainry (“the French 50-Cent”) is up to.
07 – Kanye West: Graduation – Amazon download.
Ye Tuda has come a long way from his early “chipmunk soul” days. He’s managed to improve his flow, become a producer you WANT to hear and forge a solid hip-hop career from a modest beginning. I, personally, would not have thought a few years ago that he would still be standing so tall, but here he is. I like the direction he is taking and I am eager to hear what he is going to do next.
06 – Ghostface Killah: The Big Doe Rehab – purchased from major retailer.
His middle name should be consistent. Ghost just keeps being relevant and compelling. His solid track selections, his “anything goes” recording policy (who else can get away with spitting over the ACTUAL record?) and the passion he brings to the microphone every time the record icon is initialized means that he will continue to make these “best of” lists for as long as he likes.
05 – Chamillionaire: Mixtape Messiah 3 – downloaded from artist’s site.
This quality of this mixtape is what Chamillionaire’s album would have sounded like had he taken the same amount of time picking tracks for his album as he did for MM3. The way he flipped the track for “Renegades” by Hov and Em is a textbook example as to how an emcee should handle this mixtape game. He made the track his own and his version compares favorably to its’ sonic counterpart. In my opinion, MM3 is a far better representation of Chamillionaire’s potential as hip-hop artist than his two official albums. He has flow and lyrics; he needs beats…
04 – The Renaissance: Renaissance – handed to me at an apartment building in downtown Atlanta.
These guys do not have an official album yet. However, I was BLOWN AWAY by what I heard coming from out of the speaker when I put their mix CD in. Imagine two Dre 3000’s with less esoteric content, one with a slightly Grand Puba-ish vocal tone and one with a similar tone to D3000 with a little rasp thrown in for good measure. Throw in a dash of street knowledge, a touch of social consciousness, some serious swagger (cliché, I know) and the raw potential of youth (they are both only twenty-four years old!). I know the masses do not gravitate towards their style of lyricism, but I cannot help but be excited by what they create in the future. I will stay tuned.
03 – Wise Intelligent: The Talented Timothy Taylor – downloaded from EMusic.
Wise Intelligent flow was always ahead of its’ time and Poor Righteous Teachers never had a bad album. It may seem like another old head reemerging to make another run at the hip-hop prize, but when it sounds this nice, no one should mind at all. The album is at the same level of quality any fan of WI has come to expect from the New Jersey emcee. The production is solid and his performances are STERLING! It does not have an official physical CD release date until 2008, but it was already on sale at EMusic. Why wait? Nobody else does…
02 – Lil Wayne: The Carter Story – my local curbside entertainment retailer.
Lil Wayne has had one hell of a year. Almost two hundred songs and guest appearances in one year without releasing a single official album? That is insane! What makes it even more incredible is that, despite the quantity, so much of his work holds up under critical QA evaluations. “The Carter Story” is an unauthorized compilation of his best (and most bizarre) track appearances from 2007. Some of the work you will recognize from guest verses from tracks like “Barry Bonds” from Kanye West’s “Graduation” album and his verse from the “I’m So Hood” remix. There are also additional surprises like his live introduction of a single called “Gossip” from the upcoming “The Carter III” at the 2007 BET Music Awards. There are also some tracks where his experimentation is pushed to the wall like the track “Self Destruction” which features Lil Weezy channeling the Prince (the music artist) within. I cannot recommend this compilation because it is probably not available in many places, but it does make me curious to hear what the third edition of “The Carter” series sounds like…
01 – Black Milk: Popular Demand – downloaded from EMusic.
MY FAVORITE ALBUM THIS YEAR PERIOD. I can’t say enough about this album except that it has managed to find it’s way back into my listening rotation on a weekly basis every since the day it was released. I became a Black Milk around the time I took a chance on downloading his first EP “Sounds Of The City” a few years ago. I felt that he had potential then and, unlike many others who would like to put him in that bag, he does not seem to be a Dilla knockoff at all. Though some elements of his production style do have a similar DNA to Dilla’s estilo, for the most part, Black Milk is his own man and should be regarded in his right. On top of that, Black Milk is FAR MORE the emcee than Dilla ever was.
Black Milk is one of the few producer/rappers that is equally adept at both categories without appearing to cannibalize one for the other. I like hearing Black Milk spit over Black Milk production. I am not the only one who feels that way considering the raves he has received online and the line waiting to see him at The Loft in Atlanta earlier this year. “Popular Demand” is an example of what I mean when I insist that an artist can use the framework of what has made so many hip-hop albums so great without attempting to replicate the formula of that era. I look forward to hearing his “Caltroit” project with Aftermath’s Bishop Lamont and I have my ear out for ANYTHING he is a part of in the future.
In closing this was not a bad year for music at all. Sure, many of us are going through the growing pains as the music business model we have always known transforms itself. If you are like me, you are wondering how the music world is going to look when the bloodletting is over. In the end, it does not matter. The game looks different, but the passion to express oneself through song will remain the same. People will keep making it and I, rather it be by way of footwork, mailbox or mouse clicking, will be checking out what is floating around out there.