When I first set out to write this I was sure it had been such a wack year that there was possibly no way I could find ten albums worth noting. Then I looked through my catalog of albums and all of a sudden I had like 20 joints to choose from. Sadly, despite the number of quality releases I think the era of the classic hip-hop album is gone. Even if an emcee does manage to drop a classic album chances are that ten more rappers will be dropping anticipated albums the next week and just like that it’s forgotten. On top of the quality of the music, a classic is classic because it defines a summer, winter, or at least a month. With corporate America looking to capitalize on rap so much CDs aren’t given the chance to impact, develop, and run their lifetime on the charts and airwaves.
Now on to a couple of things I’ve noticed about the rap game this year:
Hip-hop has gotten bottom heavy, meaning that most of the quality releases seemed to have dropped at around the same time late in the year. It can’t be good for sales to go a month without a halfway decent CD and then drop 10 major albums in a span of a month. It can’t be good because fans end up broke trying to keep up or end up having to choose between albums. Regardless, it seems the trend of flooding the end of the year with releases is here to stay.
Please stop bootlegging and downloading music. I could care less about the RIAA and all their greed, but the constant bootlegging is messing with the quality of the music. You’ve got rappers pushing back and reworking albums and rushing albums hoping that will help sales. It’s not just the Lupe Fiasco fiasco, but even new emcees seemed pressed to record one single and ten filler tracks just to release an album quick. And it’s not just the majors as even the most obscure emcee is getting bootlegged nowadays.
Finally, this is the list of the top ten albums I listened to in 2006. I wouldn’t be surprised if 6 out of the 10 don’t find their way on any other list. But in putting this together I found moments where I couldn’t quite remember some critically acclaimed album and then realized if I can’t remember it why should it be on my list. So there you have it, 10 albums I played out and 5 I left off which you probably think I should have played out.
TOP 10 RECORDS OF THE YEAR
10. Jedi Mind Tricks: Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell
JMT were back in full form in 2006, because last time around I wasn’t too fond of them. Vinnie Paz has matured a lot in the span of one album and Stoupe is in top form as always. The crew stayed true giving us vicious tracks in the form of “Heavy Metal Kings” with Ill Bill. Vinnie Paz showcased his improvement of tracks like “Uncommon Valor” and “Shadow Business.” While the group’s darkness doesn’t fit every mood one goes through it definitely has its place and it holds that place well.
I really loved this album. I bumped it non-stop during the entire summer and kept bumping it until it got too cold to turn on my subwoofers. I’ve given rap pimps my business plenty of times, but none had really impacted me as Suga Free. To say the beats were smooth would be an understatement. And for a pimp, Suga Free drops some knowledge that’s applicable beyond the world’s second oldest profession. It may not win you points with your girl, but one listen and you’ll understand why he does what he does.
8. Method Man: 4:21… The Day After
This is the reason I’ve kept buying Method Man albums despite the fact that I had yet to hear a Method Man album I liked before “The Day After.” That’s right, I didn’t even like “Tical” all that much. But on “The Day After” Method Man came through with a solid album from start to finish, blending his gritty rhymes and sense of humor perfectly. It’s just a shame that with amazingly smooth tracks like “Say” this album was given the budget treatment by Def Jam. I mean there was no excuse for no promotion and dropping it on the same day as The Roots.
7. Killer Mike – I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind
This was a late addition to mix and it knocked Ice Cube off my original list. Craving a Killer Mike follow up for years I dropped close to 20 bucks to get a copy of this double disk “street” album and I was not disappointed. Killer Mike is a beast on the mic, both lyrically and content wise. He smoothly transitions between vicious diss tracks, dope boy anthems, and heartfelt tributes. He even gets real political on the intense “That’s Life.” While it’s a given that his retail sophomore album should be better, it’s a scary idea since this is so good.
6. T.I.: King
Let’s see – Can you bump it in the car? Yes. Can you bump it with your girl in the car? Yes. Can you bump it with your mom in the car? Yes. T.I.’s latest was his most well-rounded and brought music that could be appreciated by all. “What You Know” was among a number of tracks that made the subwoofers work overtime. T.I. smoothed it out and made the ladies love rap like he was LL Cool J. He even asked if he “Could Live In The Sky,” showing he’s matured past the rubberbands. “King” is just a dope, balanced album that should get spins in 2006 and beyond.
You know, everywhere I’ve seen “The Return of Dr. Octagon” has gotten rave reviews while “Nogatco Rd.” has been largely overlooked. I really can’t understand why that garbage would get any kind of positive press. If you want to peep a dope Kool Keith album this year “Nogatco Rd.” is the way to go. While he’s been known to drop some trash over the years, Keith redeems himself with his bugged out alien conspiracy/movie. And while I’m at it, be sure to pick up the “Sex Style” re-release before that goes out of print.
4. Lost Children of Babylon: The 911 Report: The Ultimate Conspiracy
I took a lot of heat when I gave the Lost Children of Babylon a perfect 10 when “The 911 Report” first dropped and I’m sure this too will generate some controversy. Either more people are going to tell me I overrated them or some smart ass is going to ask me why they didn’t get the number 1 ranking if I gave them a perfect score. I admit the Philly group doesn’t have perfect rappers and perfect producers, but in an era where everyone is afraid to say the wrong thing and be perceived as unpatriotic Lost Children of Babylon spoke their mind. On top of bringing up some issues people are afraid to talk about, the crew also permanently captured a point of view that is being muffled and erased in America.
Clipse made the transition from Kings of Crack to Kings of Catchy thanks in large part to a surprisingly consistent supply of beats from The Neptunes. Their oft-delayed sophomore alum built up so much hype most thought it was sure to flop, but the Virginia duo used the adversity to fuel their fire and came out hungry as ever. “Hell Hath No Fury” has an abundance of tracks that would be at home on the radio and in the streets, not one or the other. Add to that a newfound capacity to make great hooks and the crew should have no label problems in the future.
2. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale/More Fish
Ok, so “More Fish” wasn’t as good as “Fishscale” but Ghost’s duo of albums was a welcome serving of fresh hip-hop. Rarely has a rapper who can be completely esoteric and abstract at times seen so much commercial success and for good reason. Though heads have always peeped Tony Starks for his crazy flow and gritty street rhymes, he’s always been a master of emotional love gone wrong songs. While most other rappers at Def Jam were complaining Jigga didn’t give them enough promotion, Ghost took the high road and sold the most units of his career, solidifying his stay at Def Jam and guaranteeing a steady flow of albums in the future.
1. J Dilla: Donuts/The Shining
J Dilla wasn’t the only Hip-Hop star that was lost this year, but he was the only one who dropped albums and what albums did he drop. “Donuts” was a maddening mix of superior instrumental sound bites that showcased J Dilla’s creative genius. “The Shining” was a more conventional release but it brought J Dilla back to his roots, dropping beautiful compositions that made rappers’ jobs easy. I’ve always been a great fan of Jay Dee and he’s been the mastermind behind several of my all-time favorite tracks, especially Pharcyde’s “Runnin’.” He will be missed and irreplaceable, but at least left us with two classic albums to ensure his legacy will never be forgotten.
PEDRO’S BONUS PICKS
Best Compilation of the Year: Celph Titled – The Gatalog: A Collection of Chaos
Ok, so I wanted to include this on here but I didn’t want to knock off any of the other ten albums so I made up a category. Go buy this! You will not be disappointed. 4 disks of dope music can’t be beat. Celph Titled, Apply Directly to Your Ear Drums! Celph Titled, Apply Directly to Your Ear Drums! Celph Titled, Apply Directly to Your Ear Drums!
Left Off: Jay-Z: Kingdom Come
Yeah, this was Jay-Z’s come back and it was good, but should it have been better? I realize that maybe with someone like Jay the standards get set a little higher, but at the same time shouldn’t he live up to them? Jay’s been “grown” since the first “Blueprint” and the whole “I’ve matured, look at me” act is wearing out quick. While an adult’s life can be interesting, a CEO with a dime piece wife gets little sympathy and brags about unattainable things a bit too much.
Left Off: Nas: Hip Hop is Dead
Hip-Hop is dead and Nas is just the one to resurrect it. Seriously, don’t you remember that video where he was on the crucifix like a certain other person who brought himself back to life to save all human kind. But wait, that wasn’t Nas, that was Puff Daddy so why isn’t he bringing Hip-Hop back to life? I’m not hating on the album title but I am hating on the lead single. You might get away with reusing a beat if you first used it 20 years ago, but reusing the same beat from your last album’s single? Nah Nas, not even you can get away with that. Outside of that, not a bad CD.
Left Off: Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor and Rhymefest: Blue Collar
“I’m broke, Beeyyotch!” – Ashy Larry
Yep, I was broke when both of these Chi-town natives dropped their debut albums. See I had my 9.99 ready when “Food and Liquor” first was supposed to drop back in June. But a leak and a few months later and all my money was gone. Rhymefest dropped at a similarly inconvenient time and since then I’ve gotten more money but other more recent releases have gotten my attention. I hope to get around to these eventually since I’ve heard nothing but good things.
Left Off: The Game: Doctor’s Advocate
Ummm, yeah, I think I’ve hated on Game enough in my lifetime to let it slide this time around. I will say I thought that one track where he pretends to be drunk and starts crying was actually pretty good. Other than that he’s still the same old Game and I still don’t like him.
Man, the bay disappointed me big time this year. I mean yeah they released even more albums this year than ever before and produced more hits, but honestly most of the music released sounded sloppily thrown together. What good is releasing 2-3 albums in a year when none of them are worth the price? The bay area artists need to focus on putting together solid cohesive albums if they really want to blow nationwide.