Fresh for 07: Top Rap Albums
2- Sean Price -Jesus Price Superstar- Duck Down records has become one of the last bastions for raw, unnerved East Coast Hip Hop, and Sean Price has become their front man. From the opening intro to the Rockness Monstah-chorus on “P-Body” it is vintage Price: witty lyricism, clever metaphors, and precise flow. Check for the religious lyrical plays throughout the album. The usual Boot Camp MCs (Buckshot, Smif N Wessun, etc.) appear throughout, but hidden on the track “Da God” is a highlight verse from Brand Nubian veteran Sadat X. 9th Wonder handles a handful of production, as does Khrysis, who beautifully masters a melodic “Hearing Aid” that appears late on the album. Highlight: I’ve never really known how to “count” a “mixtape”, but Price’s Summer mixer, “Master P” was nearly as great as the official album. It offers a host of guests with Casual, Big Shug, Prodigy, and Diamond D; “Legbreakers” with Big Shug is a hardcore heavyweight hit.
3- KRS-One and Marley Marl -Hip Hop Lives- From the moment KRS exclaims “I come back/Every year I get newer/I'm the dust on the moon/I'm the trash in the sewer” on the albums title track, you know you're in for a reinvigorated Kris Parker. Yes, he still belittles those “who weren’t there” and extols his importance to Hip Hop, but isn’t he speaking the truth? This is an ode to the music and culture as a whole, and Marley finely crafts some ol’ Boom Bap beats for KRS to weave his tales. “Rising to the Top” breaks down the history between BDP and Marley’s Juice Crew, as the hatchet is seemingly buried two decades later. Other nostalgia persists on “Over 30”, as do the questions of rapper violence (“Killa Rapper) and a great appearance by DJ Premier and Black Poet on “Victory.” Highlight: “The Teacher’s Back” is KRS’ lyrics and Marley’s beats at their finest with a piercing beat and scratches reminiscent of KRS’ 1995 self titled album.
4- Senim Silla -The Name The Motto The Outcome- Half of the Detroit underground group Binary Star returns a decade later with his solo offering. On the album's first track, the catchy “Keep It Coming”, he boldly tells us, “whoever said Hip Hop’s dead never met me” and sets the tone for an edgy, perceptive, sometimes social album. Senim doesn’t pull any punches on his tracks, railing against the current state (“Breaking the Law”) and getting deep on tracks like “The Awakening,” dropping John Lennon, killing Bill Mahrer, and labeling himself “A modern day Socrates for society’s hypocrisies.” On “Less Than Capital” he breaks down his own coming of age and upbringing, with a songy chorus pimping a “20 dollar dream and a penny of time.” The production is solid, handled by a handful of lesser-knowns. Highlight: The slower tempo “For The Record”, with its quiet guitar strum and Silla spitting “don’t smoke crack in fact I never sold none/I got shot once but it was just a pellet gun.”
5- Wu-Tang Clan -8 Diagrams- From the moment of the old kung fu audio on the album’s opening track “Campfire” you just know that Wu is back. Not like they ever truly left, but RZA’s rugged beats and a reinvigorated MC lineup make this Wu edition hot. Most of the album would fit into the dreary and dark category, but a few tracks, notably “Wolves” with George Clinton amp up the electricity. The reworking of the Beatles on “The Heart Gently Weeps” features Erykah Badu and Ghostface’s classic stylings. Lyrically, Method Man really stands out, spitting perhaps his fiercest and most direct since the “How High” days. On “Take It Back” the Clan attempts to tell the fragmented Hip Hop audience that they’re still in control , Raekwon spits “Long armor, construction on, I'm pro-drama/Catch me in the wildest beefs, I bring bombers.” Highlight: Search for the non-album single “Watch Your Mouth;” a lyrical smack down making you want to lace up the boots, rock the hoody and bob along with the “Wu, we run the east” chorus.
6- El-P -I’ll Sleep When Your Dead- Def Jux’s CEO pushes away from business to give us a journey through his mind and accompanying chaotic musical madness. On “Tasmanian Pain Coaster” you are thrust into a cacophony of cymbals, keyboard menageries, and fast paced drum patterns. El-P crafts his lyrics to match: “On the train now, a caboose/In his brain now, no recluse/80 blocks to uptown spot, destination vocal booth.” This is Brooklyn hardcore meets an LSD induced trip. A prison ship on which he falls in love with a prisoner, on the track “Habeas Corpes” f/ Cage might seem hokey, but after a listen, is a welcome topic in the era. But it isn’t all out there off the map joints, the old school “EMG” blends an old X-Clan beat in which El Producto says he’ll “be drunk on the back of the train takin' a piss, bumpin' BDP through a Raheem kit.” Guests include Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock, and a spirited verse from Tame One. Highlight: The funky “Drive” gives us El-P’s “generation carpooling with doom and disease” and the MC “riding shotty with Jesus of Nascar-reth.” And in true SG fashion his “triple A card has one too many initials.”
7- Boot Camp Click -Casaulities of War- Last year’s number one spot checks in again this year with the fourth BCC banger. It has become a pretty simple formula that always works: no big chorus or hooks, tight lyrics and straight forward hard beats. The production is scattered among a few, but the Marco Polo contributed tracks are some of the highlights, mainly “I Want Mine.” On “The Hustle” Buckshot, Steele, and Tek break down the grind, puff their chests, and flaunt their indie status all over a string driven sample. The classic Meters sample from “Just Kissed My Baby” is dusted off on the Dan The Man produced “What You See” which Tek and Steele flex their lyrical prowess (they seem to be heavily featured on the entire album.) As he tends to do, Sean Price is just exact on his verses, although he’s not as present as 06’s The Last Stand, and Rock once again reminds us that he needs a solo joint soo n top let his unique voice shine. Highlight: The grimy yet and driven “BK All Day” sees the crew big upping their borough (a popular theme on wax in 07) in which- surprise- former Black Moon member 5 Ft drops a solid 16 bars.
8- Joell Ortiz -The Brick Bodega Chronicles- A MC being hailed as “the next best thing” or the “best Latino MC since Big Pun” released his debut album, and after listening, he just might be that. Ortiz paints a vivid picture of Brooklyn and creates a masterful street level album. Describing BK in all components on the piano looped “125 (Parts 1 thru 4)” that are interspersed through the album; that is 125 straight bars, no breaks, no hooks, just straight lyrics. Carhart jackets, Tims, black hoodies, living in the projects, getting love on the rooftops, gunshots, all covered on the album and also on the first single “Hip Hop” in which Joell warns all the phonies “step on your white sunglasses…we don’t do that shit over here.” We hear ya. While he may be poised for big things as a member of Dre’s Aftermath, Ortiz still features some vets with Big Daddy Kane (coupled with Maino on the “Brooklyn” remix), Styles P on a banging “Time Is Money” and Rass Kass on a “125” edition. Highlight: Another Brooklyn theme on “Brooklyn Bullshit” on which Joell makes no apologies for his grimy and gritty BK ways, over a piercing yet slowed down guitar riff.
9- Common -Finding Forever- The man the media and critics have dubbed “real Hip Hop” comes with perhaps his finest album since the days of Resurrection. The Chi-Town MC leans heavily on his Windy City brethren, most notably a certain dude named Kanye, who appears on the first track, a heavy drum laden “Start The Show” and the two big up their part of Chicago on the catchy “Southside.” West is primarily responsible for the bulk of the album’s soulful, yet sample laden production. Any Common album would be remiss without some tender jams for the ladies, but don’t discount Common as going 2007 and making those booty shaking jams, rather he enlists the vocals of Bilal, the J-Dilla “So Far To Go” track with D’Angelo, and on the best track of the suave nature, “Drivin’ Me Wild” featuring Lily Allen. Highlight: As soon as “The Game” comes blasting a the album’s mid-point, some signature scratches come through, and any Hip Hop connoisseur bobs their head and knows it’s the legendary DJ Premier. This track has that classic boom bap sound with classic Common (think “Soul By The Pound”) flow and precise lyrics.
10- Iller Than Theirs -Iller Than Theirs- The contents of this debut reveals that members Tone Tank and Krayo are pretty much just regular Joes who happen to rap...and rap very well. The duo touch on everyday subjects of Brooklyn's gentrification, pull-out sofas and futons, spoiled milk and tap water, and degrade their buddies by saying they have dandruff. The single "To Be ILL" takes a Biz sample and Krayo opens with "everybody wants ice, but nobody wants to fill the tray." Two back to back tracks feature Masta Ace on "The Same" and perhaps one of the year's finest verses from Cool Calm Pete on "It is What It Is" which he opines "my train of thought is on transit strike." The final track "Wash Rinse Repeat" features a choir-like beat that serves as the album's perfect farewell. Highlight: Check the blogspot picts and writings of the group as they traveled throughout the country on tour with Junk Science, Devin the Dude, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien.
Others receiving votes:
Evidence -The Weatherman LP- Dilated Peoples’ master wordsmith comes with his debut album. As his MO, he spits creative “slow flow” and weather-related songs. DJ Babu produces and cuts throughout and guest appearances include Alchemist (rapping and producing), West Coast underground cats Defari and Planet Asia, and Little Brother’s Phonte.
Black Milk -Popular Demand- The Detroit producer has been behind the scenes for years, but comes to the mic on his solo joint. His flow and guests run the gamut of underground heads: Binary Star’s other half One Be Lo, Guilty Simpson, and Phat Cat among others. Slum Village blesses us along with Milk on the heavy synth of “Action” and you’ll see why he’s called a young J Dilla.
Dalek -Abandoned Language- This album is dark…very dark. The sound is created by Octopus is very sparse with deep beats, static rhythms and mellowing bag pipes at times. The lyrics by MC Dalek are intellectual, gruff, almost catastrophic. Pop it in and it almost feels like you’re being enveloped by the eerie, cloaked sound.
Archtype -Bleed For Them- The Lawrence, Kansas duo craft a melodic indie sounding record with witty samples and some swinging beats and some personal introspection. Couple some old folk songs at a few track's end and you have very enjoyable album. The track “You See” could very well be 2007’s best song, as Nezbeat crafts intimate strings while MC I.D. weaves a tale of a long lost girl.
Wiseman -Wiseman Approaching- The Detroit group is headed by Wu Tang affiliate Bronze Nazareth and he’s joined by Kevlaar 7, Phille, and Salute. The Wu sound is ever-present, as Killah Priest and RZA join on a few tracks. The highlight is the rugged “Iconoclasts” with Vast Aire, who spits “And you can talk shit, but look at your lip, now it's busted/Sorta like burgundy, bubbling custard.”
Percee P -Perseverance- An apt title since Percee P has been in the game for damn near 20 years, and now is coming with his first album. Produced by Mablib, great guests include Aesop Rock, Diamond D, and a top track with Charlie 2na (“No Time For Jokes”). But the hit has to be a heady collabo with JMT’s Vinnie Paz and Guilty Simpson, “Watch Your Step.”