The Year 2003 in Review
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
It's nearly impossible to do a list like this without generating some controversy.
Last year, RapReviews.com conducted a scientific poll of
all staff contributors as to what their favorite albums were. The votes were tabulated,
the results were displayed in the order of which releases got the most points, and it
turned out to be just as controversial as ever. While I thought that Scarface's
"The Fix" was the appropriate choice for
album of the year both then and now, a lot of the feeback read like this: "Why wasn't
Canibus included? How could you overlook GZA? Who didn't pick 'The Lost Tapes' by
Nas, that's classic shit!" Et cetera. This year was no different - after originally
posting this list on New Year's Eve, my inbox was flooded with e-mail questioning
both my wisdom and sanity. While I don't kowtow to critics normally, I will admit
the list did overlook some important candidates for the year's best albums.
The editor would like to personally mention the following ten 2003 albums which
didn't make the cut of the updated list, but deserve to be recognized:
* Cadence: Poisons the Minds of the Children
* David Banner: Mississippi: The Album
* G-Unit: Beg for Mercy
* Juvenile: Juve the Great
* Little Brother: The Listening
* MF Doom: Viktor Vaughn - Vaudeville Villain
* Keith Murray: He's Keith Murray
* Obie Trice: Cheers
* Prince Paul: Politics of the Business
* Raekwon: The Lex Diamond Story
With that out of the way, here's the revised 2003 "Year in Review" for RapReviews.com:
#15. OutKast: "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below"
Not personally one of the editor's favorite albums, this one is by admission
a forced inclusion after the overwhelming amount of complaints that it wasn't
on the list. It's not that Big Boi's disc wasn't some of the best hip-hop heard
in 2003, or that Andre Benajamin's disc wasn't some of the most creative, it's
just that it didn't really feel like a cohesive OutKast album with them each
doing their own thang. I still wish both albums had been sold seperately.
#14. 50 Cent: "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"
While this album was released so early in 2003 as to almost be forgotten,
it clearly established the already popular 50 Cent as an international
superstar of the future. The signing and subsequent success of
50 Cent on Eminem's Shady Records was a thorn in Benzino's side that he
couldn't bear, as he spent the rest of the year haterizing on
him in progressively weaker freestyles and songs, turning The Source into
a joke and making David Mays a puppet whose strings he pulled to get revenge.
#13. KRS-One: "Kristyles"
This may be the album Kris never intended to be released, but all things
considered it still came off type nice anyway. "For those who were upset at
KRS-One for being too preachy on Spiritual Minded this album will be refreshing.
For those who were upset at KRS-One for choosing weak beats on The Sneak Attack
this album will be refreshing. For those who have been waiting for KRS-One to
release an album as big as his ego, Kristyles is that album."
#12. J-Live: "Always Will Be"
"It's possible that the only thing which holds Live back is his self-produced beats,
which are never ever the whack but sometimes leave one wondering how much more he'd
score if produced by Alchemist or DJ Premier. It has happened before, but in his quest
to do for delf he has eschewed their sometimes expensive beats to keep as much of the
pie as he can for himself. At some point for J-Live it will become a tradeoff whether
he wants a big slice of a smaller cake or a smaller piece of a much bigger pie. If
he can bake up some tracks with legendary beats to go with his supreme oratorical
and writing skills, the sky's the limit."
#11. RJD2: "The Horror"
It's not every day that an almost entirely instrumental album can make the top 15
of a rap list, but this one is certainly worthy. RJD2 has been an underground
folk hero for his work with Def Jux artists for a while now, but ever since his
"Deadringer" album he's stepped fully into his own spotlight. This album of
alternate takes, unreleased tracks, and stripped bare instrumentals of previously
rapped over cuts speaks volumes about his skills as a producer. In ten years
time, he will be the legend that DJ Premier is today - if not sooner.
#10. Louis Logic: "Sin-A-Matic"
"As for beats, you really can't go wrong on this album, from Memo's internet ode
'Fair Weather Fan' to J.J. Brown's lightly comical 'The Rest' to a darkly disturbed
keyboard by Avid Record Collector on 'The Ugly Truth.' It's all held together by Logic's
rhymes though, which on the latter track will deeply upset anybody who doesn't get the
joke. Save to say for that reason we won't reprint it here, but it's a mockery of any
and all stereotypes made about various ethnic and racial groups. If you don't get South
Park, it's not for you. That's true of Sin-A-Matic in general, but if you appreciate
rappers with no restraints you'll be with Logic from the opener until his closer."
#9. J-Zone: "Sick of Being Rich"
Besides having some of the funniest skits you'll hear on any rap album this
year, J-Zone is so ill you may just get nauseous off his verbals. "Zone's
been carrying the weight for so long, he doesn't get to concentrate full time
on either his beats or his rhymes. Maybe more guest appearances would help,
but don't misunderstand what I'm saying here - a J-Zone album is still funnier
and fresher than 95% of the indie label shit you can cop (or as he wryly notes
download for free) hands down period. It's just not as astounding as when he
first broke on the scene, but still worth that green all the same."
#8. Lexicon: "Youth is Yours"
"Lexicon's approach to rap is a bit old-fashioned, in a good way. Instead of
overzealously trying to punch a punchline into every line, Nick and Oak concentrate
on telling stories and providing interesting scenarios. The experience is like
watching a movie called 'A Day in the Life of Hip-Hop' unfold before your eyes,
as you picture the information being fed through your ears. That's not to say
they aren't clever, because they can certainly flip the script, but Lexicn rely
more on their lexicon of words to draw you in and put you in the song. That's why
from 'Gotta Believe' at the start to 'Don't Be Afraid' at the end, you'll be vibing
off the fresh tracks, sly humor, and precise rap diction and narration."
#7. Royce Da 5'9: "Build and Destroy"
Please don't ask - the double disc version of this album is out of print, and I don't
know where you can cop it. It's still worth hunting down though: "It's pretty clear
listening to songs like these why no record label would touch publishing it officially -
they'd probably have to fear Shady Records running up in some A&R's office with gats
and shooting at whoever signed Royce to release this album in the first place. With this
second disc Royce threatens to "do you like EPMD did to the heads when they broke up" but
there's no reason to be depressed with tracks like the Rush produced "Running," the DJ
JS-1 produced "Lights Out," and the Alchemist produced "You Don't Know Me." Why haven't
these songs been heard before? Maybe there really is a conspiracy to keep Royce out of
hip-hop's spotlight, or maybe he really does have a beef with Eminem and Dre. Whatever the
case, snatch yourself a copy of Build and Destroy before some label snatches up all
the copies and has them destroyed."
#6. Ugly Duckling: "Taste the Secret"
Matt Jost's review impressed me so much, I had to go out and get this one for
myself. He was right: "Naturally, a lot of people are put off by Ugly Duckling's
happy-go-lucky vibe. Even those who can appreciate the lighter side of hip-hop
will miss a lot of what we used to find in acts like De La Soul, The Pharcyde,
Black Sheep or Biz Markie. But at this very moment, on hip-hop's very own
playground Andy C, Dizzy Dustin and Young Einstein are the undisputed kings of
comedy, showing and proving that you can be wacky without being whack."
#5. Aceyalone: "Love & Hate"
Nothing can sum up this album better than these words from the review:
"An Aceyalone album is always worth copping on the strength of his writing
and flows alone, since his timing is timeless, his pitch is perfect, and his
verbosity ambidexterous. It's a rare treat then to hear his songs matched to
producers who understand his eccentricity and versatility and can go blow for
blow with his writtens."
#4. Immortal Technique: "Revolutionary Vol. 2"
He gives Canibus a run for his money as hip-hop's top conspiracy theorist,
and he might give Woody Allen a run for entertainment's most paranoid neurotic.
What's the result? "Like the early days of Public Enemy and Ice Cube, these are
raps which are powerfully intoxicating in that they get you drunk off both the
power of information and the way it's presented. Immortal can put on Vol. 3
and Vol. 4 and continue to find an audience, as long as he keeps using the
power of his mental to combine with dope instrumentals. It will be interesting
to see if he lives up to his threat of being the Patriot Act's worst nightmare."
#3. GangStarr: "The Ownerz"
Like a bottle of Aquefina in the Sahara, a new GangStarr album is not only
refreshing, it just might save your life. At the very least, it will remind
you what you love about hip-hop: " DJ Premier has an uncanny knack for making
tracks for any MC, but when working with long time partner Guru he pulls out
all the stops. All the elements fuse to perfection - jazzy samples, crispy beats,
hard knocking bass and some of the swiftest and cleverest scratching of hooks
you'll hear ANYWHERE. This would mean nothing if Guru didn't spit his hardcore raps."
And spit them he does - proving he still ranks as one of rap's best orators.
#2. Jay-Z: "The Black Album"
"Whether this release will settle the debate about his rank in hip-hop or just
fuel the discussion further is ultimately not as important as whether or not this
is a good album. It's not a good album - it's a GREAT album. Shawn Carter has had
the tools he needs for a long time - great breath control, clever wordplay, a
commanding presence vocally and on stage, and an uncanny knack for giving people
what they want to hear." There's nothing that sums up why this album nailed the
#2 spot on the list better than that, other than the REST of the review!
#1: Canibus: "Rip the Jacker"
LL Cool J may claim the title "Greatest of All Time," but his rival Canibus
holds an equally impressive title - Greatest COMEBACK. After
nearly derailing his career on albums like "'C' True Hollywood Stories," hip-hop's own sunwalker finally found a producer
equal to his verbal heat - Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind. Check what the review
says about it and see if you don't think it's the "must have" album of 2003.
Here's a snippet: "Rip the Jacker may be the first album of perfection Canibus
has seen in his half decade career, and it showcases to an unparalleled degree
why early on he was compared to greats like Rakim. If he continues to work with
Stoupe and release albums like this, there's no limits to where 'Bis can take rap."
Originally posted: December 31, 2003 (updated 02.03.04)