Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Top 20 Albums of 2007

When I started to make a list of the albums I liked over the past year, it started out to be a list of about 45 albums. When looking at the list, most between 25-45 were pretty much interchangeable. At about the 22 mark, they started to separate themselves from the pack, so I kept this at a top 20. Here we go.

20) of Dead Prez – Manhood
This narrowly edges out Devin the Dude’s Waiting To Inhale and Evidence’s The Weatherman for number 20. A really solid album with one of my favorite tracks of the year “Traffic”.

19) Lupe Fiasco – The Cool
I absolutely hated his first album, but this was a real solid effort. I doubt I’ll ever be a huge fan of his, but this was an enjoyable album.

18) Senim Sella – The Name, the Motto, the Outcome
I was a little surprised I liked this album so much. One Be Lo gets all of the notice from Binary Star, but Senim’s album was better than OBL’s The Rebirth.

17) Hell Razah – Razah’s Ladder
After being a little disappointed by his previous solo releases, he found producers that matched his style and lyrics perfectly.

16) KRS-One and Marley Marl – Hip Hop Lives
I was never a huge KRS fan, but this was a refreshing album to hear.

15) Jean Grae – The Orchestral Files
The best female emcee out right now. Period.

14) Special Teamz – Stereotypes
I don’t know if I would call this a supergroup like some people. But this was a very enjoyable album, lyrically and production-wise.

13) Smif N Wessun – The Album
I know a lot of BCC fans didn’t like this album, but I really liked it. They changed their production up and went to more introspective lyrics. I think most of those that didn’t like it were probably just disappointed that they got something they didn’t expect from Tek and Steele instead of more of the same. But they took a chance and it worked.

12) Jay-Z – American Gangster
Individually, the tracks range from average to bad. However, when you listen to the album as a whole as the concept album that it was meant to be, it’s very good. I’m not sure if the album has a ton of replay value because of this concept though. Still, a solid album.

11) Common – Finding Forever
He’s one of the most reliable MCs out there. Another very good album.

10) Kanye West – Graduation
I wasn’t anticipating liking this album. I didn’t like his last one much. So I was a little surprised when I finally heard it. Solid production and lyrics, although some of the tracks, especially “Big Brother” are getting overplayed and sampled to death already.

9) Marco Polo – Port Authority
Terriffic album from a producer I had never heard of before. He was able to bring in artists that complimented his beats perfectly.

8) Black Milk – Popular Demand
He’s quickly becoming one of my favorites and he seems to have a lot coming in the next year of two. With Eminem not doing anything good in recent years, Black Milk and Royce da 5-9 will have to carry Detroit. Something tells me that they can do it.

7) Chamillionaire – Ultimate Victory
Everyone has that commercial artist that they shouldn’t like but do and this is mine. I really liked this album. He went with the gimmick of not using any profanity and this had mixed results. I don’t mind the no profanity thing, but if he’s going to do this again, he has to let the guest artists in on it. It was a little annoying the way he had to censor out the profanity from the featured artists.

6) Talib Kweli – Eardrum
Once again, he puts out a great album with little promotion. It’s too bad too. Hip hop needs more albums like this to get noticed.

5) Scarface – Made
The more I listen to this, the more I like it. Typical Scarface album, but that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

4) UGK – Underground Kingz
I have never heard a double album that didn’t have some filler and this was no exception. However, it was extremely limited. Too many good tracks for just one album, not quite enough for two. Plus, Jazze Pha just gets on my nerves now. Besides those two minor points, this was a great album. It’s great to see UGK is finally getting some critical notice after all their trials and tribulations. It’s just too bad that Pimp C won’t be around to enjoy it.

3) Blu and Exile – Below the Heavens
The first time I heard this album I hated it. But, considering I was listening to it while fighting traffic with a splitting headache, I gave it another try. I’m glad I did. Exile’s production is near flawless. Blu mixes his flow with the beats almost perfectly. I still think some of his lyrics could use a little work, and I don’t put the “classic” label on it that some do, but this is a great album.

2) Brother Ali – Undisputed Truth
This was my top album for most of the year. I was already a fan and this just solidified it for me. He’s able to spin his lyrics about his life and his religious beliefs without being preachy. There was one or two club type tracks on here that I didn’t really like, but you can’t really blame anybody for making these nowadays considering that’s all that gets played on the radio or TV. He’s someone to really keep an eye on because he just seems to be getting better and better.

1) Cunninlynguists – Dirty Acres
I already wrote a review of this so I’ll keep this short. This is hands down my favorite album this year. Great production, great lyrics. Every time I listen to this I like it more. They are able to weave between more lyrical tracks, political, etc. without any of it sounding forced. Kno’s production is perfectly compatible with Deacon’s lyrics and flow and vice versa. I had heard some of their previous albums, so I thought I’d enjoy this, but this exceeded my expectations.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Biggest Disappointments of 2007

These are the top ten “disappointments” of 2007 – NOT the 10 worst albums, although some may actually be up there. This is based on what I was expecting when I listened to the album versus what I actually heard. So, although Soulja Boy, 50 Cent, etc may be some bad albums, they are not included in this list because 1) I didn’t listen to them, and 2) I wouldn’t expect to like them. So here’s the list.

10) Army of the Pharoahs – Ritual of Battle
Can anybody actually tell me who the members are now? Either can I. But whoever they are now, they are not nearly as good as they used to be. Apathy was not on this album at all, the lyrics were boring, and the production was uninspired. The exception was the production on “Seven” by Ill Bill, which was one of my favorite beats of the year. Vinnie Paz used to be one of my favorite lyricists, but he seems to have run out of things to say. This wasn’t horrible, but it doesn’t leave me dying to hear the next AOTP offering, whoever they might be.

9) Cormega – Who Am I
I was always a fan of Cormega, but nothing really stood out on this one. On the positive side, the guest spots were from artists from virtually every region. On the negative side, they weren’t very good. It had been so long since his last release, I thought he would come out with something better than this.

8) Big Shug – Street Champ
“Who’s Hard” brought back that Gang Starr sound that had been missing for a couple years. It didn’t get near the notice it should have. With “Street Champ”, any title Big Shug thought he had he lost. Nothing remotely interesting about this one.

7) El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
I know a lot of people loved this album. I was never the biggest fan of El-P, but based on others’ great reviews of it, I gave it a try. I just didn’t like it at all. He gets credit for putting together an original sound, but original doesn’t always mean good.

6) Eightball and MJG – Ridin’ High
PLEASE get away from Bad Boy immediately. They used to one of my favorite groups. Then, in an effort to get a little nationwide notice and make a little extra money, they signed with Puffy (I still refuse to call him Diddy). It’s clear that Bad Boy has no idea how to promote them and, from interviews I’ve read, the group doesn’t seem to enjoy their label either. It shows in their lyrics too, as MJG puts out some lyrics that are on the level of labelmate Yung Joc. Eightball still has his swagger, but any more albums like this and the Space Age Pimps may be stuck in a black hole that they can’t get out of.

5) Redman – Red Gone Wild
I should have known this would be a disappointment when it was consistently delayed from being released. Every 30 seconds he has to yell Gilla House like we have any chance of forgetting. But I guess that broke the monotony of his lyrics.

4) Camp Lo – In Black Hollywood
I keep waiting for that next great Camp Lo album after loving Uptown Saturday Night. I’m still waiting.

3) Dogg Pound – Dogg Ch!t
The title says it all. Neither Daz or Kurupt has anything else to say or an entertaining way to say it. After waiting for years for another good album and being constantly disappointed, I give up on them.

2) Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams
Part of the disappointment comes from the fact that I was expecting to be disappointed. All of the little kindergarten bickering between members and Ghostface’s whining about the release date, the production , and whatever else was wrong on a given day killed this one for me. It wasn’t horrible, but after hearing the “The Heart Gently Weeps” I had high hopes. Although the production and lyrics were okay, the album felt forced. It seems like this will be the last WTC for a while and that’s disappointing too.

1) Little Brother – Get Back
Whether you liked this or hated it, you had to be disappointed. I figured this would be in my top three of the year. Instead it’s my most disappointing. It’s too bad too because Phonte and Big Pooh seemed to work really hard on this release. They had decent producers to replace 9th Wonder, but the production seemed all over the place and didn’t have any theme. On a positive note, Lil Wayne lovers were finally able to see what the rest of us had been saying for years. Weezy has a decent flow, a decent style, a decent delivery, but lyrically he’s mediocre at best. He was trying real hard to compete with Phonte and Pooh, but his struggles and shortcomings were obvious. “The Listening” and “The Minstrel Show” are two great albums, so maybe LB gets a pass for one boring album. It’s still better than a lot of releases this year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hi-Tek - Hi-Teknology 3

OK. Another Hi-Teknology album. First off, I really liked the production. Also, I liked the Talib Kweli track. Other than that, the tracks range from slightly above average to mediocre. The Ohio All-Stars couldn’t even make the high minor leagues. “Handling My Bizness” with M-1 was okay. The Little Brother track and the Raekwon/Ghostface track just didn’t grab me. The Outlawz come with about their 30th track reminding you they were affiliated with Tupac. It’s starting to be a close competition now between the Outlawz and Afeni Shakur over who can pimp Tupac’s legacy more. The main problem with this album was the artist selection. I’ve seen interviews with Hi-Tek where he said he wanted to keep this album more street oriented. Well, the reason some of these artists are street is because nobody would give them a record deal. It’s a shame he ruined these decent beats with these artists. He has gone steadily down with each of his releases. At this rate, expect Yung Joc and Soulja Boy to be on Volume 4. Hopefully, his mind was on making Reflection Eternal 2 a classic.

Rating 2.5 out of 5

Scarface - Made

This is a typical Scarface album. Normally, a statement like this would elicit yawns. For an artist like Scarface, it brings a smile to my face. You get the same thing from every solid Scarface release. A short musical intro and outro, which border 10-12 solid tracks displaying the vivid storytelling and dark pianos, violins, and other instrumental sounds that take you into his world. I would put this Scarface release right after The Dairy and The Fix. It amazes me (in a good way) that he can continue to put out solid albums, even though there always seemed to be some drama going on with either The Geto Boys or Rap-a-lot. There’s some comfort in getting exactly what you were expecting and still being happy with it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Murs and The Misadventures of the Nova Express

This might be one the most frustrating albums I’ve listened to this year. There would be two or three really good tracks, then one or two tremendously pitiful tracks. Murs was obviously the driving force here, as to be expected. The rest of the cast really had trouble pulling their weight. Normally, I absolutely hate skits, but “Race Day” skit leading into “She Had a Nascar” was actually pretty funny. On the flip side, the Y.O.C. interlude was one of the most annoying I’ve heard in a long time. “1st Love” is the type of storytelling track that I like hearing artists make. But then came Supreme on the next couple of tracks, which brought the release back to average. It ends with 2 untitled tracks, the second of which borrows from Prince, which was a good experiment.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wu Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams

There is plenty written about 8 Diagrams already. Everybody has an opinion, including the artists. Ghostface didn’t do himself any favors with his comments. First, he complains about not getting paid for Wu projects, then makes comments that could make the project tank. If you want more money, then the project has to make more money. It may be time for Ghostface to take Finance 101. Second, if you don’t like the beat either a) refuse to rhyme over it or b) if you’re so lazy you’re mailing in your lyrics without a beat to go with it in the first place, don’t get mad with the beat that’s selected.

With that being said, the album is not that bad. The problem is that it feels extremely scattered. Different members on different tracks with no theme to the rhymes is what’s typical of this release. The production is really hit or miss. I realize that RZA was trying out some new things, but sometimes it doesn’t even seem to come close. The beats, while not bad, probably would have been better on a solo album where you know the style of the artists and can mold the lyrics and beats. Ultimately, this sounded more like a producer’s compilation rather than a group album. It ends with what sounds like an old ODB demo track. Although it was great, they put him on here, you would think with the technology available, they could have cleaned up the sound a little better.

With all that being said though, this is still worth a listen. I tended to like The Heart Gently Weeps and Stick Me For My Riches, but by looking over the internet, everybody seems to like different tracks, so the listener will have to decide for himself. Since this appears to be the last Wu album we’ll hear for a long time from the interviews, it can be considered a disappointment, but there are some solid tracks to go back and listen to. Maybe it’s fitting that the album ends with a track from a deceased member from their glory days.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Cunninlynguists - Dirty Acres

I first heard Cunninlynguists with the A Piece of Strange album, which led me to Southernunderground and Will Rap For Food. All of these albums were solid albums, so when I saw the Dirty Acres album, I decided to give it a listen. Wow. It is rare nowadays that a group will show progression from one album to the next. Part of this is the fact that major labels will drop the artist if he doesn’t immediately go platinum. Which in today’s rap music means creating a mindless track talking about your jewels and rims and making a stupid dance to go with it. Luckily, Cunninlynguists aren’t on a major label and so they have the latitude to mature as artists.

Cunninlynguists have developed to sound like the Goodie Mob of the Soul Food days. Weaving through tales of the south and current political issues, they are able to put thoughtful lyrics with top notch production from Kno. Even with the obligatory shout out to their region “KKKY”, they are able to stick with this concept. Not since Little Brother have 2 MC’s seemed so in sync with the production from the DJ/producer. That isn’t to say they are on Little Brother’s level quite yet, but if their development as artists continues on this path, they’re on their way. In a year with few high quality albums, this stands out prominently. Even in a great year, I think this would stand out.

Rating: 5 out of 5