The Year 2007 in Review
Author: Jordan Selbo
In a year that further cemented the industrialization of rap, while that very status quo seemed to crumble all around (in an eerie facsimile to our very nation itself), it seems the very corporations that greedily co-opted H.E.R. are too complacent or too incompetent to care about her death. Digging their own graves by fucking with mixtapes and building the coffin through neglecting to embrace new internet technologies, all that's left is to dump the body and drive through enough nails. An believe me, there were plenty of 'nails' this year to do the job: from Hip Hop's recurring status as cultural scapegoat, to media misrepresentations of what it's really all about (and no, it's not the dough or the shorties), to the garbage product from both the majors and the indies, it was another disappointing year in both the musical output and the culture itself for anyone who still remembers the D.A.I.S.Y. age (or hell, even '95 for that matter). Those few artists that succeeded were either on majors that raged against their own machine, or indie cats that let us forget our troubles for an hour at a time through feel-good escapism; the rare few gem LPs straddled the line between celebration and indignation, and made the distinction between corporate-backing and DIY aesthetics irrelevant. The writing is on the wall: armageddon has been in affect, step, get yours, step. Thankfully there are now (somewhat suddenly) a slew of decade-plus veterans who seem to take their role of artists and community mouthpieces more seriously than the pursuit of a quick buck. Put the whole big mess together and you get no stone-cold classics, but plenty of interesting product nonetheless.
"Tied for 11th Place is Better than Sucking Completely"
Honorable Mentions of 2007
* Devin the Dude: Waitin' to Inhale
* El-P: I'll Sleep When You're Dead
* Calligraffitti: The Grand Analog
* Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams
* Ill Poetic: The World is Ours
Albums I inexplicably did not purchase due to lack of funds or idiocy
* Brother Ali: The Undisputed Truth
* Talib Kweli: Ear Drum
* Young Buck: Buck the World
* Sean Price: Jesus Price Superstar
* Common: Finding Forever
Favorite Albums from the Flat-Not-Fat Pocketed Hater
10. (tie) Lifesavas: Gutterfly/Blue Scholars: Bayani
Taking these two LPs as a small but potent sample size of the Northwest, the region seems to be teeming with diverse, creative artists that aren't afraid to explore and expand both thematic and cultural norms. Respect their ambition, dance and think to their genuine thought groove, and stop hating the Northwest!
9. Kanye West: Graduation
His vocal delivery is still playful yet impotent, his flirtation with white popsters is still slightly disturbing, and his drums are still weaker than your grandpa's urine stream; Kanye remains the artist I LOVE to hate. But despite all his flaws as a Hip Hop artist, Kan Weezy still manages to make polished, expansive mood music equally good for dance revolutions and Sunday porch visits as well. I'm hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse it ("Drunk and Hot Girls," anyone?), and there's plenty I don't enjoy here, but there's just enough sublimity (in a year of almost total mundanity) to push his third offering into the top ten.
8. Marco Polo: Port Authority
Although lacking the cohesion of a proper solo album, producer Polo fills in his throwback boom-bap compositions with universally-dope lyricists, making this grab bag banging from start to finish. Comparable to Marley Marl's classic "In Control" offerings, it's just quality hip-hop for those that claim "Illmatic" and "Jewelz" as their favorite albums.
7. Hezekiah: I Predict a Riot
Creativity coming out the anus, Philly-repping Hez delivers such an assured sophomore LP that one has to wonder if he's been possessed by some kind of demon. Exploring a heady range of emotions and social factors (loosely structured around the experience of the modern Black man in America today), the expansive "Riot" incredibly never reaches too far. Seek it out and you won't be disappointed.
6. Little Brother: Getback
The loss of 9th Wonder did little to change the fact that Little Brother is hands down the most feel-good group in rap. Put on the disc and a smile almost instantly ensues, and why not? With casual yet on-point flows and keen yet humanistic observations over soulful, southern-fried beats, Phonte and Pooh have definitely aged gracefully, even after being thrown through the ringer of major label tomfoolery with 2005's solid "The Minstrel Show." In an era filled with teens spitting ignorance and sexism for the radio, it's a good time to listen to your elders.
5. Lupe Fiasco: The Cool
An album absolutely overteeming with artistic and creative ambition, it's inevitable that the recently-released "The Cool" occasionally oversteps its capabilities and gets messy and overlong at times. But that's a small price to pay for genuinely thought-provoking concepts and a lyricist coming out his head with skills. The kid can flow, the kid has something to say...let's listen for a hot minute more.
4. Jay-Z: American Gangster
Nothing new needs to be said for Jay-Z and his latest submission of evidence in the case for best rapper, dead or alive. Flippantly inspired by a movie screening, he goes and makes an album that most cats couldn't even approach with divine intervention. With help from the renewed and reinvigorated Hit Squad, Hova refused to dumb it down too much, leaving real heads grateful to be blessed by the God once more.
3. Pharoahe Monch: Desire
Coherent musically yet diverse thematically, Pharoahe's looooong awaited follow-up to "Internal Affairs" was certainly worth the wait (though I hope he doesn't take another eight years for the next). Building off of his lyrical and conceptual workouts of the past, the suddenly elder-statesman of conscious-yet-blistering East Coast rap came through with a collection of tracks that burned, bumped and soothed the soul. His forays into live instruments and crooning didn't distract from the fact that he can still rip 16 bars harder than anyone out there (check "What It Is" for a tutorial). So if you "Desire" to be "Free" of all the wick-wick-wack shit out there, "Hold On": "Let's Go" get in line with the sick, cynical grime shit. After all, Monch is a Monarch, only minus the "a" and "r."
2. Ghostface Killah: The Big Doe Rehab
Another year, another stellar Ghost album. Although not as classic as his first two joints, "Big Doe" is arguably more enjoyable than either Fish entry from 2006, as Tony went deeper into his strengths (soul-drenched soundscapes, epic criminology narratives and off-the-wall vocab clusters) and found gold once again. The songs celebrate aging gracefully and with perspective, while also not neglecting to deliver what Wu fans crave. Demanding dozens if not hundreds of listens due to its dense quality, there's nothing more to do but cop it already!
1. UGK: Underground Kingz
You really don't know a good thing 'til it's gone—with the tragic and premature passing of Pimp C, it seems that the Southern rap institution known as UGK is no more. It's sadly fitting, then, that their latest double-LP is by-and-large their most diverse yet consistent release to date. Filled with the syrupy slow beats and "country rap tunes" grammar that have long since become a signature of the legends, UGK also features a wide-array of talented guests from all coasts; amazingly, this doesn't come off as gimmicky or crass, and there are only a few missteps in an otherwise stunning collection of superior songs. What really sets them apart, however, is the authentic veteran swagger that is displayed so deliciously throughout the two discs—we're triller than you, and here's proof. In a time of style over substance and flash over flow, that should count for a million. (R.I.P. Sweet Jim Jones)
My New Year's Resolution
Pray that 2008 isn't filled with more wack shit! Peace!
Originally posted: December 25, 2007