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Saturday, January 01, 2005

2004 YEAR END WRAP-UP: Albums  

How sad is it that four of my Best Of picks were on The Source's list of the top six "Slept on Albums '04" in their Year in Review?

Call me an old man but I wish we could get back to the days when the best MC's spittin' the most original, unique ish over the hottest beats were the cats that did the best, not the cats whose labels had enough juice to get them in heavy rotation on MTV/BET and commerical radio; when hip hop wasn't about corporate branding and; when hip hop was still a music and culture you had to work to be into. Now that everyone can consume it practically on tap from outlets run by multinational/multimedia conglomerates or from the safety of their bedroom on their friggin' computers, shit has gotten way f-cked up to the point that I have to listen to cornballs go on about how into hip hop they are now just 'cos they bought The College Dropout and The Black Album this year.

That being said, there were actually some good hip hop full lengths released this year although Outkast, we still need you to come save us 'cos Nas, Mos and Kweli kind of dropped the ball this year.

The Top Shottas:

Slum Village - Detroit Deli (Capitol/Barak)
My favorite album based on how much I played it. Many dissed it because of the limited input from Jay Dilla but I think they managed to keep the Slum sound intact plus improved spittin', great collabs with ODB (RIP), Kanye and MC Breed (surprise return of the year) made this an album I kept spinnin' throughout the second half of 2004.

Dead Prez - Revolutionary But Gangsta (Sony Urban/Columbia)
Outkast-meets-Public Enemy is not hyperbole, just a pretty accurate description of not only the aesthetic Dead Prez managed to achieve on this almost-buried masterpiece, but the potential these cats have for future greatness too. One of the few groups I am genuinely excited about and fiending to hear new music from as quickly as possible.

Air - Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)/Phoenix - Alphabetical (Astralwerks)
Both French, both excellent. Air get plus points for coming back so crazy after dropping that turd of an album 10,000Hz Legend a couple years back and for dropping the guest vocalists and actually ending up sounding the better for doing so. Phoenix get props for making their blend of 70's era AM radio soft rock and blue eyed soul sound so funky. (N*E*R*D take notes on how it's done for next time before I lose interest and Maroon 5, give up now, my begruding love of your "This Love" single notwithstanding.)

Ghostface - The Pretty Toney Album (Island Def Jam)/Masta Killah - No Said Date (Nature Sounds)
First off I wanna know why everyone all of sudden was on a huge Wu-Tang nostalgia trip this year crying about when would they ever release another album when they dropped a great f-cking album barely two years ago that everyone plain ignored? Never mind, Starks' great new album this year should have been bigger just based off the crazy street buzz single "Run" and the Missy club banger collab "Tush" but, yet again, Ghost's sales fell short of his street and critical acclaim despite (or because of?) the assist from his new label, a rapidly disintegrating Def Jam.

Masta Killah also dropped a classic Wu-banger this year that was, inexplicably considering the supposed revival of interest in all things Wu, almost completely ignored. I heard some good things about the 718 album by Ghost's side-project The Theodore Unit. I was loving the lead single and spun it whenever I DJ'd so there's a strong chance I would have charted it but I never ended up getting to hear the whole thing.

Jadakiss - Kiss of Death (Ruff Ryders/Interscope)
Powered by the killer "Why" single, Jadakiss finally started to show why he's considered one of the best on the mic today. Kiss of Death was a solid album that strategically covered a lot of bases without sounding like a compilation or like Jada was trying too hard. He still has a ways to go before fulfilling his self-proclaimed boast of being one of the top five dead or alive, but at least he's going in the right direction now.

The Roots - The Tipping Point (Geffen)
Drubbed by the hip hop bloggerati, this album, with it stripped-down but still progressive aesthetic, suffered by comparison to its exceptional (but bloated) predecessor Phrenology. Despite their efforts at greater commericial success, The Roots ultimately proved they might not be built for it despite being musical geniuses (or at least hip hop vituosos). Tracks like "Duck Down" fell short of the hit single appeal of Terror Squad's "Lean Back" despite Scott Storch giving them virtually the same beat (thanks, Brian R for the spot on that one).

Usher - Confessions (LaFace)
This is how all major label pop music should sound. Big budget productions and hit songs galore that actually sound like the multi-millions that were likely spent on them. Who can stop this kid now?

De La Soul - The Grind Date (AOI/Sanctuary Urban)
Not sure why cats got so open on this album as compared to the last two AOI joints when they are pretty similar although, like The Roots, the pared down album length and relatively leaner production seemed to work to their benefit. Please don't forget that De La's AOI: Bionix pioneered mature and spiritual hip hop before The College Dropout was even conceived though.

Kanye West - The College Dropout (Rocafella/Island Def Jam)
Speaking of which... while this is probably topping many year-end lists, the truth is Kanye is a mediocre MC, despite his own belief to the contrary, but a great artist. Tracks like "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks" approached (and maybe surpassed) "T.R.O.Y." for showing how great and emotionally honest mainstream hip hop can be. Can he do it again though? With the backlash already in effect, he's got his work cut out.

The Futureheads - The Futureheads (Sire)
The masses preferred Franz Ferdinand's pop-friendly post-punk/new wave sound (so far) but, while this is not as commercially accessible sound-wise, to me it made a better listen overall.

Mobb Deep - Amerkia's Nightmare (Jive)
Severely underrated. Forget comparisons to The Infamous ('cos it's never gonna happen). Play this again and appreciate it for the great album it was.

Various Artists - Blue Note Revisited (Blue Note)
A remix album that honored, not butchered, the classic music it was tasked with reinterpreting.

Phil The Agony - The Aromatic Album (Vocab/GoodVibe)
This is an album I would have never heard if it wasn't gievn to me, so this probably ranks as the most pleasant musical surprise of the year. This kid is like the West Coast Joe Budden and long-time readers of this site know how much I liked him.

Honorable Mentions:

Cam'ron - Purple Haze (Rocafella/Island Def Jam) I was gonna do a whole post about how much I really loathe that whole corny Dipset sound and movement and was gonna use a good trashing of this album as the linchpin for it, but Cam confounded my intentions by actually dropping a really great album. I doubt I'll be playing it much and I'm sure I couldn't really defend it against attacks on it's lack of PC-ness but I can't front, Purple Haze was one of the best hip hop albums last year. | Ciara - Goodies (LaFace) I guess LaFace (Arista) really had perfected how to make major label urban pop (Usher, Outkast) which makes it an even more telling commentary about the music industry that they were shut down last year. Hail the new Aaliyah though? | Danger Mouse - The Grey Album (Bootleg) Don't front, as good as the hype and the best of The Black Album remix albums conceptually and musically. | R Kelly - Happy People/U Saved Me (Jive) Not quite on the level of Kels' last album, but if you took the Happy People disc as merely a steppers' concept album (thanks, Mr. Clean for that insight) rather than as a straight follow-up to his soul masterpiece The Chocolate Factory, then it made more sense why every track sounded like a variation on "Step in the Name of Love." | K-os - Joyfull Rebellion (Astralwerks) Post-hip hop alternative urban music for new millenium B-Boys who were rocking Phrenology & Speakerboxxx last year. From Canada, eh (yo)?! BTW: does this kid sound a little like Q-tip to anyone else? | KRS-One - Keep Right (Grit) The Teacher's still got it and, unlike some recent albums, finally had some decent beats to spit over too. | Oktober - Projekt: Building (Freshchest) Severely overlooked classic East Coast hardcore hip hop which you hardly ever hear nowadays. Worth investigating. | Pitbull - M.I.A.M.I. (TVT) Click here for my original comments on Pitbull's album. | Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby - The Original Jam Sesssions 1969 (Concord) Another great reissue album I was bumping around the same time as the Blue Note Revisited joint. | RA the Rugged Man - Die, Rugged Man, Die (Nature Sounds) Check out my original thoughts on this album here. | Radio 4 - Stealing of a Nation (Astralwerks) A little too techno-y and slick sounding in parts but their political hearts were in the right place and there was enough solid stuff on here to please most dance-rock, electro-disco-punk types. | Ratsicule - Un Chaud Combo (Ratsicule) Click here for more on why I was loving this album. | Shawnna - Worth the Weight (DTP/Island Def Jam) Like their Murder Inc. counterparts, most people don't care about the other MC's in the DTP crew outside of the stars Luda and Chingy which meant this decent mainstream album was unfairly slept-on. | Various Artists - Okayplayer Presents: True Notes Vol. 1 (Okayplayer/Decon) Even though I like a lot of the same groups, I've always thought of the Okayplayer movement as an online community for overly earnest college student types. That being said, I did like this album. | Various Artists - Simply Good Music (Giant Step) A solid collection for those looking for a painless intro to neo-soul, broken beat, downtempo, dub and other left-field urban sounds. | Various Artists - Sounds of Young New York Vol. II (Plant) The follow-up to the excellent first volume of electro-disco-punk which might actually surpass its predecessor. | Zero 7 - When It Falls (Elektra) Panned by many fans of their classic downtempo debut album the many pleasures of this really album only revealed themselves after repeat spins.

Disappointed by:

Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine (Arista) I loved the Timbaland lead-off single and I really tried to get into this album but it was trash despite the A-list production names and artist collabs. Members of Goodie Mob - please work out your differences and reform because this current situation is not working out for any of y'all and Outkast cannot carry hip hop on their back alone. | Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand (Domino) Loved the two singles but try as I might I never could get into this album. I know this'll be cropping up on many hipster Year End lists, but let's be clear, The Futureheads album is a lot better even if those guys don't end up getting the MTV co-sign and the keys to x-over promise land like FF. | J-Kwon - Hood Hop (Arista/So So Def) Long time readers of this site know I was an early proponent of this kid and stuck by him even after "Tipsy" became a mega club and radio smash and he started getting clowned for his simplistic rhymes and being a teen hip hop star. Unfortunately, despite a decent follow-up single "Hood Hop" and a couple other tolerable tracks, overall his debut full length didn't have the sparkle of "Tipsy" and quickly hit my sell pile. | Jin - The Rest Is History (Virgin) This kid might already be history based on this debut which falls maddeningly short considering all the talent involved. | R. Kelly & Jay-Z - Unfinished Business (Jive/Rocafella) Disasterous tour, even worse album despite some promising lead singles. This album smelled of corporate, money grubbing - why'd they even bother after a lukewarm and weak-selling first attempt? This is business that would have been better left unfinished. | Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Struggle (Geffen) is Kweli's attempt to reconcile his dreamas and aspirations of x-over, mainstream success with his natural slot and position being the king of the underground. Am I gonna be always wishing with each album release that he'd get back, a la Nas and Illmatic, to the perfection of the steez on his classic Reflection Eternal debut album? | Courtney Love - America's Sweetheart (Virgin) An incredible first single of shiny pop-rock perfection backed up by an album so bad I sold it after one play. | Mos Def - The New Danger (Geffen) I didn't end up hearing this 'til a little while after the crtical drubbing was already in so my expectations were pretty low but I actually kind of dug the album. That being said, because I expect so much from Mos, I still felt like I had to put him in this section even though, as I've said before, I see The New Danger as yet another of the albums (along with Phrenology, Electric Cricus, The Love Below and Joyful Rebellion) that are pioneering a still-developing hip hop-inspired alternative music sound. These albums will probably be looked back on by future musicians as benchmarks and inspirations the same way cats like Rage, Linkin Park and Korn all name-check Public Enemy as a key influence. Of course, if these albums end up being responsible for a new wave of dire-sounding "Adidas Rock" ten years from now (or will that be "Nike Dunk Rock" or "Bape Star Rock"?), don't blame me. BTW though: look out for a non-album hip hop banger from Mos called "Excellence" on 12" vinyl real soon. | Nas - Street's Disciple (Coulmbia/Sony Urban) Like the Mos joint, I actually liked this a fair amount but this should have easily been in my top hop hop albums of the year list since I thought all the singles ranged from at least really, really good to incredible. However, I am in agreeance (sic) with the masses of heads who say this album would have been better as a single CD rather than a double disc jumpoff and, for that alone, I have to put Street's Disciple in this list instead. | N*E*R*D - Fly or Die (Virgin) Another joint I really tried to get into after really loving their first album, diggin' the lead single (and the ridiculous Native Tongues remix, which might have been the best of the year) and being knocked out by their surprisingly strong live show at Roseland earlier this year. Ultimately though, Fly or Die ended up being a tedious slog to get through that I could never warm up to outside of a couple songs despite repeated attempts. | Pete Rock - Soul Survivor II (BBE) A mediocre album that sounded all the worse in comparison to the classic (and overlooked) volume I. | The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice) Click here for more details on why I was disappointed by this album after really being into his amazing debut release. Why this is appearing on anyone's Best of list is a f-cking mystery to me because it's horrible. | Terror Squad - True Story (SRC) One of the bigger debates in the music industry was why this album barely scraped to gold despite "Lean Back" being the biggest hip hop single of they year and (I believe) Fat Joe's first #1 pop hit. Actually listening to this album, this is an easy enough one to settle: with the exception of "Lean Back," "Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Let Them Thangs Go," this record was pretty much trash. Sad to say it but it looks like Joe is always gonna have to prove to cats that his albums are worth buying by packing them with bangers because he's never built the cult of personality or a big enough track record of hits that would let him get away with moving units on mediocre albums with only one or two decent tracks. | U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope) A great first single led me to believe this follow-up to arguably the best album in a long career of great albums would be more of the same. A couple plays through of this blandly, boring collection quickly disavowed me of that notion though. Thanks Nadine S. for taking the "L" on this purchase and saving me $9.99.

Wish I'd heard:

!!! - Louden Up Now (Touch & Go Records ) | Alchemist - 1st Infantry (Koch/ALC) Technically I actually heard this album but only at a listening party. Al's my man from way back but I never ended copping this even though I liked it when I heard it. | Brandy - Afrodisiac (Atlantic) | Destiny's Child - Destiny Fulfilled (Sony Urban/Columbia) | Diplo - Favela On Blast (Hollertronix) | Vikter Duplaix - Singles: Prelude to the Future (Studio/K7) | Eminem - Encore (Shady/Interscope) | Fabolous - Real Talk (Elektra) | Amp Fiddler - Waltz of a Ghetto Fly (PIAS America) | Foreign Exchange - Connected (BBE) | Bebel Gilberto - Bebel Gilberto (Six Degrees) If this woman is gonna be my wife and the mother of my children, the least I could do is keep up with her music. | Interpol - Antics (Matador) | Junior Boys - Last Exit (Universal) | The Libertines - The Libertines (Rough trade) | Lil Flip - U Gotta Feel Me (Sony Urban/Columbia) | M.I.A. Pircay Funds Terrorism (Hollertronix) | Ali Shaheed Muhammad - Shaheedullah & Stereotypes (Penalty) | Murs - Murs 3:16 (Definitive Jux) | Raphael Saadiq - Ray Ray (Pookie) | Jill Scott - Beautifully Human (Hidden beach/Sony) | Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters (Universal) | Angie Stone - Stone Love (j) | Strange Fruit Project - Soul Travelin' (Black Son Entertainment) | Theodore Unit - The 718 Album (Sureshot) | T.I. - Urban Legend (Atlantic) | Xzibit - Weapons of Mass Destruction (Sony Urban) | Various Artists - Rio Baile Funk - Favela Booty Beats (Essay)

A look back: 2003 Year-End Wrap-Up: the albums.

Coming soon: 2004 Year-End Wrap-Up: the singles....

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