Thursday, December 28, 2006

bagg up

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In compiling my lists for Jackin' Pop (subversive!) and PopMatters (overlooked!), I came to the conclusion that I neglected to listen to a lot of the biggest albums of the year because I never got around to downloading them or I forgot they were on my iPod or nobody was paying me to write about them. Or because I had better things to do with my morning commute than listen to Like Father, Like Son (like listen to Crook By the Book again). And that's just rap. I didn't hear Y's; no matter what P-fork says, I'm just not into harp, except on "Ridin Around Shinin".

They spell it "phaeries."

Being a blogger/ersatz critic is a pain in the ass because it often obligates you to listen to hours of music with the goal of staying informed. With the new shit I actually want to hear, the pile of old new shit I'm constantly wearing down, and old shit I want to hear, new shit I'm ambivalent about gets low priority. I'm just sayin.

But just for posterity, here's the list.

1) Ghostface - Fishscale
There's not much more to be said about this album, but it deserves all the press it's getting. This would be at the top of the list in a good year, but in what is widely considered a bad year for rap, Fishscale is throwin dudes off the hovercraft. The Fishscale doggie bag that is More Fish was actually really good too, but not worthy of the year-end-list-love some dudes are giving it.

2) Field Mob - Light Poles and Pine Trees
I got my hands on Light Poles because I liked what the Field Mob boys were doin on "Shotgun" on Luda's album, and then I listened to it for like a month and a half straight. The beats are wild (thanks Polow!), and Smoke and Shawn Jay have some funny lines and sound like they're having a good time. There's chemistry there too. The whole thing is just mad fun.

Side note: between Field Mob, Shawnna (whose Block Music was pretty good too), Bobby Valentino's pimpin ass, and some promising shit from Playaz Circle and Shareefa, and Luda himself, what other unified movement is fucking with DTP right now? Especially in the South? Yeah both their albums were crap, but that's a really solid line-up.

3) Ray Cash - Cash On Delivery
Anyone but me noticed that every city in America is making (and possibly has been making) Southern rap except New York? The best track on the Cleveland rapper's Cash On Delivery is the generic, yet remarkably pleasing "Smokin and Leanin", which sounds like it got lifted from a T.I. beat tape. Same thing for "P.A.N." with Bun B and Pastor Troy. And let's not even talk about "Bumpin My Music". COD is actually all over the map, with shades of New York ("The Payback") and Cali ("The Bomb"), and Ray's bootleg T.I. style fits anywhere he pleases.

Dude is also the first rapper I've ever heard complain about the hustle. While your average crack salesman takes the Jeezy-via-Marx Work Is Good, Stay On the Grind mentality to their trade, Ray thinks fiends are annoying and sounds like he's mad bored on the corner. He can do the work, he'd just rather do something else. We often hear about the perils of being a d-boy, but danger is at least a rush. Boredom is a bitch, and not many dudes have mentioned that aspect of the dope game.

4) Mr. Lif - Mo' Mega
When Def Jux albums reach their potential (Labor Days, Fantastic Damage, the game-changing Cold Vein), they are the pinnacle of underground rap. With Cannibal Ox in sweatpants-wearing limbo, Lif has taken over as the resident so-simple-it's-complex Jukie. I wrote about Mo' Mega when it dropped and I don't have anything to add to what I said then, but as I really can't get myself excited about the latest 9th Wonder production or whoever's biting J-Dilla this time around, big props to Lif for making underground rap that I care about.

It hasn't been a good month for Lif, so in addition to buying a real copy of Mo' Mega, you might want to throw dude a few ducats since he, y'know, lost all of his possessions in a bus fire.

5) Trae - Restless
I got tired of Z-Ro's I'm Still Livin really fast because it was *too* bleak. Z-Ro's cousin Trae is a pretty sad dude too, but while Z-Ro contemplates suicide (with Trae actually talking him out of it, if his lyrics can be believed), Trae looks towards better times. The same track shows up on both albums, sort of, with Trae bringing "No Help" and Z-Ro calling it "One Deep". Except where "No Help" is just meloncholy, "One Deep" is overdramatic, with huge strings and an outro with Z-Ro encouraging you to throw your hands up if you know any "bitch-ass niggas." Whoah.

"Real Talk" is the wildest rap song I heard all year, the kind of prog-sampling beat El-P was making a couple years ago. And there's plenty of straight-ahead gangster shit here, and Texas rappers are so good at working in guests that the whole "they can't make a track on their own" quip doesn't even apply here. Lil Keke sounds like he's tip-toeing on "Screw Done Already Warned Me", and DJ Paul rhymes about the perils of putting a fishtank in your dashboard on "Cadillac". Even the track with Young Joc ("In Tha Hood") was strangely tight. I mean, Joc even sounded good on it.

6) J-Dilla - Donuts
My tribute covers this one. But all resting in peace aside, Donuts is production wankery from one of the most innovative producers ever. It's like a personal tape of half-finished beats. Something like this would be narcissistic for most producers (lord help us if Kanye ever does one), but it works for Dilla. Also he called it donuts because he really likes donuts, and that's awesome.

As Treats notes, the "Won't Do" video is mad respectful in a way most posthumous videos aren't. It's also beautiful.

7) The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
It's like punk that isn't snotty. Works for me.

8) The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
As good as everyone said it was. Mad easy to listen to. All about teenagers getting fucked up and having bad relationships. Also works for me.

9) T.I. - King
Not as nuclear as Trap Muzik, but just as solid and enjoyable as Urban Legend, except with more essential production. No offense DJ Toomp (you got yours with "What You Know"), but Just Blaze, Mannie Fresh and Swizzie's inclusions make King the classic it is. Not classic as in "an essential in a catalog", but this is Tip's pop statement album, and most likely the one for which he will be remembered most. By which I might mean it's hard to imagine him making anything better than King. Nothing wrong with that.

But dude needs to step up his legacy game something fierce. ATL was good, not just not embarassing, but the same can't be said about anything that has anything to do with the Pimp $quad Click. Are you a squad or a click? Figure that out, then we'll talk about why Young Dro must be stopped.

10) Spank Rock - Yoyoyoyoyo
I wanted to hate this album so much because the combination of Philly heritage, Baltimore momentum, Grime-influenced beats/pedigree (British label), a track called "Screwsville, USA", and a plethora of other hipster trends that came together for the movement that is Spank Rock seems so fucking engineered. But whatever, shit's really dope, really level-testing and really cohesive. The production is unique and experimental, but ultimately very dancefloor-approved, in a way that shit labled "experimental" doesn't usually fly.

(off the record honorable mentions: Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury, TV On the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain, Snoop Dogg - The Blue Carpet Treatment, Nas - Hip-Hop Is Dead, Project Pat - Crook By the Book, Lyrics Born - Overnight Encore)