Wherein I use the Earth's positioning in relation to the sun as an excuse to pontificate about why my favorite songs are better than your favorite songs - or at least why I think you should really, really give this music a chance. FYI - it would take just barely seven hours to listen to all of the songs on my Top-100. Not a tremendous investment - I think you'll be happy with the returns.
Incidentally, in the interest of saving myself from the embarrassment of an increasingly one-dimensional palette, this year's list will focus exclusively on what I listen to most and know best: Hip-Hop.
Lastly, to borrow something I liked from Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix: "I don't spend hours doing round-ups every year because I believe that I'm endowed with a divine ability to deliver definitive compendiums. I do it because I listen to 50 times more new music than 95 percent of hip-hop critics, and because I know that heads who still look for raw rap will appreciate the effort."
First, my Top-6 albums of the year. Why 6? Cause fuck off, that's why. Then, per tradition, my Top 100 songs of the year.
Here we go! Hopefully Ghostface doesn't destroy all of this by dropping another masterpiece tomorrow...
KRS-One & True Master
As beats go, "Y'all Been Warned," off the Clan's Iron Flag (2001) is as quintessentially Wu as any. Ol Dirty's "Brooklyn Zoo," GZA's "Columbian Ties," and Ghostface's "Fish" & "Biscuits" are other top-notch beats likely attributed to RZA at one point or another. They are all, in fact, products of True Master's catalogue. With RZA's grip on reality loosening, his M.O. has become a spattering of unassailable brilliance obfuscated by rushed productions, bizarre experimentations, and recycled samples. True Master, on the other hand, is "Forever (1997)"-era RZA without the merit of the Abbott's originality (nor his untamed drums). His style is consistent, more minimal than that of the other Wu-Elements - becoming an MC with a lot to say. Enter The Blastmaster.
KRS-One did some of his best work ever in '10. With his catharsis and dramatic spiritual growth immortalized on wax since '87 and palpable on every release since (17(!) full-length LP's in total), it makes sense that of all Hip-Hop
s elder statesmen, The Teacha would be the one to go Brett Favre on our asses, throwing TD after lyrical TD, setting PR's long after the conventional "prime" of his career. When I listen to Chuck D's intro on "Us (2009)," I can't help but think that if the offer had been extended to KRS, Brother Ali'd have been blessed not only with a sermon, but with a wise 16 bars.
9 of the 20 tracks are actually excerpts from an interview where KRS muses over one cryptic, drowsy beat. This is a daring decision, supported by the substantial content in his teachings, which actually address the same issues tackled in the music. Blurring the line between MC and guest lecturer, his declarations are sometimes simplistic, but always full of love & joy. True Master comes out swinging. He's at his best with productions like "Unified Field," where KRS sets out to deliver his verse over a march ng, short loop, but is then joined by a venomous 4-note guitar lick which punctuates the lyrics without breaking their momentum. "At this level money is irrelevant / I'm makin you more intelligent and that's the end of it"
KRS' understanding of the culture is so dense, his stature so commanding, he's able to pass down a lot of knowledge without sounding out-of-touch or conceited. Hard to say how many of these he's got left in him, best cherish it while it lasts, before True Master goes back to squandering heat on Cappadonna.
While it's customary to bring attention to an album's high-points in celebrations like the one you're reading, Eminem's sheer ability makes him a frontrunner for "Album of the Year" anytime he releases material. So here I'll focus on what kept the album to a mere Top-5 appearance on my list.
One of the few things Eminem has never done is a concept album. But Recovery is so fixated on the singular concept of Eminem's comeback that it is more concept album than comeback album. It's tiresome that way.
I'm not insinuating that Marshall Mathers' brush with death at the hands of methamphetamine addiction was fabricated or even exaggerated. I'm merely proposing that a less business-savvy entertainer would have let the music tell the story (with the help of headlines), rather than strain to blend the two. Eminem's artistry is beyond question, and his art is here amplified by a great story. But Em isn't dumb enough to leave the assembly of that narrative to his largely mainstream audience. So he forces it, continuously re-stating a plot that was already contained within every venomous, re-invigorated verse. With the artist too conscious of his own legacy to let the art speak for itself, the art suffers.
That said, Em executes the act of rapping better than ever. It's as if, having pushed the content-envelope as far as it would go, he now pushes the flow-envelope, stacking incredibly complex rhyme schemes atop one-another like building blocks, ascending rapidly and maintaining intensity as he finds new space to fill with syllables. Lost in the stark contrast to his recent output is Em's wise decision to leave the production to others - Though Dr. Dre is the exec., he contributes just one track. Em himself has only co-production credits, on two tracks. The beats aren't the focus here, but there is palpable freshness in the break from the old trope, severing the ties to recent follies on another level. Shit ain't a game.
"Encore" (2004) & "Relapse" (2009) are not simply forgotten by this extraordinary album, they are apologized for - literally. "Not Afriad" isn't a standout track on it's own merit, but forsaking his recent back-catalogue in favor of a clean slate and good-standing with his fans is an act which makes me proud to have supported Em through the tough years. Without knowing the details or extent of his personal crises, I defended tracks like "Shake That" and "Like Toy Soldiers" instead of focusing on the indefensible and proclaiming him dead as many justifiably did. Now I have tracks that don't need my defense. Except for "W.T.P." Oh, well. Welcome back, Shady. Long live the G.O.A.T..
Staying true to ones's roots a) artistically and b) geographically - these are the two strongest pillars of Freddie Gibbs' formula.
He embraces his role as mouthpiece for Gary, Indiana - a city cloaked in middle-America anonymity but ravaged by poverty, drugs & unemployment. On "The Coldest" he raps: "Ain't been a nigga bigga since The Jacksons left my city / even the hardest didn't know that we was rappin in my city / so regardless of if I get support or backin from my city / they'll remember me as the nigga that got it crackin for my city"
Equipped with a nimble tongue, Gibbs' songs serve primarily as a showcase for his double-time, multi-syllabic rhyme skills. He's direct as he is confident: "Rappin ain't nothing but talkin shit / I'm just the best at it" His 16's recall Big L - in skill, cadence, & swagger - but with an added sense of forward momentum. While L thrived without ever showing any sign of weakness, Gibbs' music is enhanced by his intermittent vulnerability. His tales of ghetto indigence are unbelievable - rendered fantasy/fiction like so many others - if he doesn't show emotions like fear, uncertainty and other rarities of the gangsta-rap lexicon. His hubris & honesty in doing so contextualizes the relative brutality of the rest of his catalogue.
His choices for jacked beats on which to rhyme (Goodie & OutKast's "Black Ice," Souls of Mischief's "'93 till Infinity," Big L's "Flamboyant") are as ballsy as they are telling: a rapper's rapper, he is also a fan. A product of the midwest, Gibbs' content is Dirty South, but he sounds best over East Coast beats - a tribute to his lyrical approach to song-crafting. Don't let the "Gangsta Gibbs" moniker fool you: yes, dude is raw as fuck, but I've found only one song in his catalogue of mixtapes which is better off screwed & chopped ("In My Hood"). Hopefully he'll recognize this characteristic before the release of his first full-length LP (est. release: Feb '11) and pick his beats accordingly. His songs fail only when the beat fails him (see: "Rep 2 Tha Fullest").
Kurupt & Daz, while prolific, haven't been able to summon their Chronic-era heat for years now. Pimp C is gone and Bun B has sold out (earning 5 mics from The Source in the process). Mobb Deep will most likely never recover from the G-Unit years, and my grandmother can identify Snoop by sight as easily as any Crip. So where does that leave gangsta rap in 2010? In shit-hole, Indiana? Apparently. Though if Str8 Killa is any indication, the sub-genre may be poised for a renaissance. In any case, Gibbs has left his mark and it's hard not to get excited for the future. Freddie misses out on the #3 slot not for lack of quality but lack of quantity. Str8 Killa is merely an 8-course EP, one of which was taken from the previously released mixtape of the same name - making the release itself more of an appetizer than an Album-Of-The-Year candidate. Next year should be another matter.
Sir Luscious Left Foot: Son Of Chico Dusty
The best thing I can say about this album is that it's an OutKast album. Andre is not missed, and that speaks fucking volumes.
My Dark Twisted Fantasy
In the wake of "Late Registration" (2005), KanYe West developed and cultivated what I have always felt to be a contrived ego - a new persona to reconcile his roots as a silent producer of soul beats with his new place among the most visible and commercially successful MCs alive. It's entirely possible that the money and lifestyle of a multi-platinum artist actually prompted constitutional change in his personality, but if that was the case, he embraced his newfound egotism. He flaunted it in his music and we were fine with it, especially when Graduation pleased his core audience while simultaneously expanding his role as Hip-Hop's ambassador to pop.
However, shortly thereafter - incidentally, around the time of his mother's death - a nut came loose and things went awry. This was first evident in his music: Those of us in his corner are quick to deny 808s & Heartbreaks from canonization, writing it off as one part masturbatory fling and two parts unabsorbed grief. Not only was it not Hip-Hop, it was not listenable; here was Exhibit A in the case against Auto-Tune. Things took a turn for the worse when his inner-turmoil then began manifesting itself in his public persona. His bravado crossed over the threshold into douchebaggery - most visibly at the VMA episode, which was either a) a hilarious, ill-timed outburst or b) a monstrous annihilation of an All-American girl's dream come true - depending on your tolerance for minority celebrities. Even Taylor Swift's people have admitted the incident was ultimately gold for their promotion (http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/news/id.12730/title.taylor-swifts-label-says-kanye-west-incident-helped). But for Yeezy, the damage was done; the label of "asshole" is a hard one to wash off, especially having been originally self-imposed. Made acutely aware of the damage his impulsive, self-centered actions had done, he sat-out most of 2009, then retreated to Hawaii to channel his emotions through music.
One by one, Hip-Hop representatives in better public-standing came back from Hawaii with high praise. RZA, Pete Rock & DJ Premier - the holy trinity of boom-bap production - each came back with warnings of the impending takeover. These testimonies were given credence by G.O.O.D Friday: if these songs were not album-quality (they were), then they were certainly at least the product of album-level focus, featuring album-budget collaborations and an album's attention to detail. Ye's willingness to jettison high-quality tracks of such thorough, meticulous production garnered even higher anticipation for the LP.
At once apocalyptic and celebratory, every track is huge enough to render his prior catalogue relatively impotent. Everyone else's, too. There's contradiction & clarity, there's misogyny & love: both carry undertones of regret, but there's plenty of joviality, too. There are enough little touches that everyone has a different favorite part. I find a new one on each listen - currently the screwed & chopped break midway though "Hell Of A Life."
If there's a flaw, it's KanYe's lyricism. He blows his wad on the first three tracks, and doesn't wow with the pen again until the final 4 minutes. But on the commanding strength of those first three tracks, he rides the rest of the way on top-notch production & guest spots from Hove, Nicki, CyHi, Pusha, No I.D., & John Legend - even Rick Ross couldn't land a turd in the punch-bowl; I couldn't agree more with Cokemachineglow's observation that "his guests here are all subsumed by his vision, his influences treated as subject to his emotions."
The message sent to his contractors is simple: Hate if you must, but know that you will be excluded from the music, condemned to look from the outside-in on the greatest trip of the year. At least, the greatest in an average year...
Shut Up, Dude & Sit Down Man
To review Das Racist is to take them more seriously than they take themselves. Or so it would seem.
Two mixtapes released 6 months apart, "Shut Up, Dude" & "Sit Down, Man" play like parts 1 & 2 of a manifesto calling for both less seriousness and greater relevance from the genre. Their approach to making "rap songs," as they refer to their tracks, is so original, so damn weird, that it flew over my head on the first listen or two. I'd fallen into a depressing mindset: Relying on Hip-Hop for so much, yet never asking more than dope beats & dope rhymes. Less than that, in fact, because I'm still happy to listen to plenty of MCs who offer either one or the other.
Whereas DR might at any given moment not offer either. They might instead be repeating absurdities as many times as they feel they can get away with (which is a lot), or just interpolating something Ghostface said.
They make a lot of obscure references. They do it rapid-fire. Mistake this for a flippant shtick and you risk sleeping on two MCs whose fusion or perspicacity and wit with awareness and social commentary rivals that of any to ever spit. That said, it's so much fun to hear them eschew this potential in favor of an advertisement for their cocks. Or just some auto-tuned shouting.
Hip-Hop allows room for this kind of experimentation - there's even room to take it farther, because the mic is always properly rocked. More often than not, they are balls-deep in the zone: often a biting expression of social discontent, but always fun. Himanshu: "We dabble with non-sequiturs, dadaism, repetition, repetition."
They've been described as "a hip-hop version of "Flight Of The Conchords." While I am a fan and don't object entirely, I find no equivalent in the music world: I'd sooner dub them hip-hop's answer to "The Colbert Report" - a caustic
commentary masquerading behind mock-ignorance & commanding showmanship. Moreover, while F.O.T.C's musicianship is rarely subject to critique, Himanshu & Victor - no matter how funny or socially aware - would be laughed out of they game if they couldn't hold their own. But both are good technical rappers whose flows & lyrical proficiency merit multiple listens, even for those on whom the joke is tragically lost.
In an era where rappers are quick to proclaim themselves "revolutionary" or "old-school," DR exemplifies the best of both terms. Old-school means pure Hip-Hop that has not been forcibly bred with pop, neo-soul, R&B, or any other off-shoot intended to open up additional demographics. It also means fun. However, it does evoke an image of songs that are simple, lyrics that are low-minded, and unvaried content. The "Insane Brown Posse" reminds us that with a little focus, the old-school's spirit can be channeled - fun, unpretentious jams that don't fall prey to the aforementioned pitfalls. As for their "revolutionary" credentials, they apply a show-not-tell approach; they are not merely conscious of racism in America, they are conscious of it's roots and means of perpetuity. Moreover, they know America's vices go far beyond racism, and they demonstrate this understanding to varying degrees in nearly every track.
As if that kind of arsenal weren't enough, their most powerful weapon may be their ear for the infectious. It's not just the songs, but individual lines & bars which stick with you for the better part of a day...or week. This is what helps their music transcend what is merely great, to bore their way into one's soul, leaving an indelible mark and tying themselves to memories that tend to be those of uninhibited fun. Even if they are never to record again, I will forever measure the work of others by the bar they've set this year with their ferocious uniquity & style. But I imagine there is much more to come. After all, "Why not?"
TOP 100 SONGS
"All I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don't like them as much as I do."
100. Eligh - "Shine" feat. The Grouch & K-Lay
99. Atmosphere - "The Loser Wins"
98. Von Pea - "The Yorker"
97. B.o.B - "Dr. Aden"
96. Dead Prez - "Exhibit M"
95. Dead Prez - "The Movement"
94. PackFM - "Wanna Know" feat. CunninLynguists
93. Kno - "Graveyard" feat. Sheisty Khrist
92. Ski Beatz - "Prowler 2" feat. Jean Grae, Jay Electronica & Joell Ortiz
91. MURS & 9th Wonder - "The Lick" feat. Verbs
90. Big Boi - "Hustle Blood" feat. Jamie Foxx
89. KanYe West - "Runaway" feat. Pusha T
88. Shad - "At The Same Time"
87. Yelawolf - "I Wish (Remix)" feat. CyHi Da Prynce & Pill
86. Big Boi - "Tangerine" feat. T.I.
85. Dynasty - "Epic Dynasty"
84. Reflection Eternal - "In This World"
83. Kurupt - "Yessir"
82. Eligh - "When I'm A Dad"
81. MURS & 9th Wonder - "Fornever" feat. Kurupt
80. Eminem - "25 To Life"
79. Inspectah Deck - "9th Chamber"
78. Bun B - "Let Em Know"
77. Canibus - "Gold & Bronze Magik" feat. Bronze Nazareth
76. Raekwon - "Never Matter To You" feat. Bun B
75. Joell Ortiz - "Sing Like Bilal (Version 3)"
74. The Roots - "Dear God 2.0"
73. Snoop Dogg - "That Tree" feat. KiD CuDi
72. Freddie Gibbs - "The Ghetto"
71. KanYe West - "All Of The Lights" feat. Rihanna, Fergie, KiD CuDi, Alicia Keys & Elton John
70. 7L & Esoteric - "I Hate Flying"
69. Eminem - "Cold Wind Blows"
68. Cypress Hill - "It Ain't Nothin'" feat. Young De
67. KanYe West - "Christian Dior Denim Flow" feat. KiD CuDi, Pusha T, John Legend, Lloyd Banks & Ryan Leslie
66. KanYe West - "So Appalled" feat. Jay-Z, Pusha T & CyHi Da Prynce
65. Kno - "Rhythm Of The Rain" feat. Thee Tom Hardy & Tunji
64. Big Boi - "Night Night" feat. B.o.B & Joi
63. Nick Javas - "Opportunity Knoccs"
62. Das Racist - "Roc Marciano Joint" feat. Roc Marciano
61. Big Boi - "Shine Blockas" feat. Gucci Mane
60. Mac Miller - "Nikes On My Feet"
59. MURS & 9th Wonder - "Live From Roscoe's" feat. Kurupt
58. Raekwon, Ghostface & Method Man - "Gunshowers" feat. Sun God & Inspectah Deck
57. The Roots - "Right On" feat. STS
56. Vinnie Paz - "Same Story" feat. Liz Fullerton
55. Reflection Eternal - "Just Begun" feat. Jay Electronica, J Cole & Mos Def
54. KRS-One & True Master - "Knowledge Reigns Supreme"
53. MURS & 9th Wonder - "Vikki Veil"
52. Big Boi - "Shutterbug" feat. Cutty
51. Yelawolf - "Pop The Trunk"
50. Eminem - "Talkin 2 Myself" feat. Kobe
49. Das Racist - "Free Jazzmataz"
48. Raekwon, Ghostface & Method Man - "Miranda"
47. Das Racist - "Rapping 2 U" feat. Lakutis
46. Donwill - "Ian's Song" feat. Opio
45. KanYe West - "Blame Game" feat. John Legend
44. Das Racist - "Hahahaha jk?"
43. Lupe Fiasco - "S.L.R"
42. Eminem - "No Love" feat. Lil Wayne
41. Jay Electronica - "The Announcement"
40. Das Racist - "Sit Down, Man" feat. El-P
39. Das Racist - "Who's That? Brooown!"
38. Freddie Gibbs - "Personal OG"
37. Eminem - "Cinderella Man"
36. Big Boi - "Fo Yo Sorrows" feat. George Clinton, Too $hort & Sam Chris
35. KanYe West - "Lost In The World / Who Will Survive In America" feat. Bon Iver
34. Von Pea - "Dreams" feat. Jermiside, Ilyas & Spec Boogie
33. Sway & King Tech - "2010 Wake Up Show Anthem" feat. Locksmith, Kam Moye, Crooked I, Tech N9ne, Tajai, RZA, Ras Kass, B-Real & DJ Revolution
32. Donwill - "Championship Vinyl" feat. Von Pea & Ilyas
31. Das Racist - "Luv It Mayne" feat. Fat Tony & Bo P
30. Das Racist - "All Tan Everything"
29. Reflection Eternal - "City Playgrounds"
28. Big Boi - "Daddy Fat Sax"
27. Das Racist - "Rainbow In The Dark"
26. Das Racist - "Rooftop" feat. Despot
25. Donwill "Laura's Song"
24. KanYe West - "Hell Of A Life"
23. Eligh - "Whirlwind" feat. Pigeon John
22. Das Racist - "Hugo Chavez"
21. Big Boi - "You Ain't No DJ" feat. Yelawolf"
20. KanYe West - "Lord Lord Lord" feat. Mos Def, Raekwon & Charlie Wilson
19. KRS-One - "Meta-Historical"
18. Big Boi - "General Patton" feat. Big Rube
17. Canibus - "Melatonin Magik"
16. Eminem - "Almost Famous"
15. KanYe West - "Monster" feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver
14. Inspectah Deck - "The Champion"
13. Mathematics - "All Flowers" feat. Raekwon, Method Man, Ghostface, Ice Da Don & Inspectah Deck
12. KanYe West - "Power (Remix)" feat. Jay-Z
11. KanYe West - "Dark Fantasy"
10. Das Racist - "Ek Shaneesh"
9. KRS-One & True Master - "Palm & Fist"
8. KRS-One & True Master - "Unified Field"
7. KanYe West - "Gorgeous" feat. KiD CuDi & Raekwon
6. Sage Francis - "Little Houdini"
5. Raekwon - "Rockstars" feat. Inspectah Deck & GZA
4. Freddie Gibbs - "The Coldest" feat. B.J. The Chicago Kid
3. Das Racist - "Amazing"
2. Freddie Gibbs - "National Anthem"
1. Eminem - "Despicable"
This is the music Eminem makes when he wants not to exercise one of his personal demons, nor to shock us, necessarily, but simply to remind us that he has the art form mastered, that he is the best rapper alive.
"Cinderella Man," "25 To Life," and "Almost Famous" all showcase a hungry Shady with something to prove. But here, outside the structure of the impressive "Recovery" LP, are his greatest 2 minutes and 15 seconds of 2010.
"Encore" and "Relapse" are not without stretches of sleek writing and fluidity, but even cohesive diamonds in the rough like "Yellow Brick Road" and "Deja Vu" are less Hip-Hop than they are added chapters in a compelling diary.
Here, like in his show-stealing performance at the '09 B.E.T. Awards cypher (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9BB09uoAlk&fmt=18), he stands beside the catharsis which at once aids and hinders his entire oeuvre. Unrestrained, he showcases a flow reminiscent of that on "Role Model," "Renegade," or "'Business", but it has evolved - sharpened by sobriety and hardened by wisdom.
Borrowing beats from Drake and Lloyd Banks - two MC's with whom Em has enjoyed fruitful collaborations (see: "Forever," "Warrior (Remix)"), he at once tips his cap and runs up the score on his contemporaries (read: competition). For these 40 bars of fire, he didn't go with two original beats - not did he go with two particularly great ones - but in hijacking them he adds a caustic, underlying "fuck you" to any/all lesser MC's.
Produced by The RZA
I have remixed this track, editing out the incredibly shitty Swizz Beatz verse.
I don't agree with KanYe's decision to split these two, as I cannot imagine anyone listening to one without the other.
#63, 75, 78, 85
Produced by DJ Premier
I have remixed this track, editing out Copywrite's shitty verse.
Produced by Pete Rock
#20, 41, 67, 72, 96, 100
If you know who produced these tracks, please let me know