While most of these lame ass blogs were rushing their “best of…” lists in the final months of 2009, I kept mine on ice. You know, just in case Detox 2 was to secure a prosperous December 31st release date or something. But now that the 00s are a distant memory of crunk, emo and rappers not wanting to be rappers, it’s the perfect time to take a hindsight look over the best 5 releases of the decade.
Please note: the opinions herein do not represent a consensus from Steady Bloggin’. Nay, it’s just me bluffing my way through 10 years of hip-hop history and pretending to know things through a delicate mixture of disjointed hyperbole, speculative thought and advanced cliche. Enjoy!
1. Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001)
The flawless production from Just Blaze and Kanye. The thumping juggernaut that was “Takeover.” The swagnificent delivery that tied it all together. Take your pick from the myriad of reasons as to why this album not only tangibly transformed rap music upon its release, but has ostensibly stood the test of time. Granted, a large portion of props should be directed towards Kanye for bringing back the sped-up soul with a spot of polish – wait a second, is it rap taboo to bring up the notion that Just Blaze shamelessly ripped off West during this time? It’s not like he was a slouch with the style and they’ve both grown into their own distinctive sounds, but how did he not receive more criticism for this? In 1999 he was making monophonic ring tones, then he works with West on the Dynasty album in 2000 and suddenly is pushing identical beats? Answers in the comments section please. Either way, this was the album that restored Jay as a darling of the underground. Backpackers discontent with their post-Rawkus landscape becoming unbearably vanilla (and as a hilarious consequence, off-rhythm) latched on with glee as he paraded around MTV in a Che Guevara shirt with a ?uestlove cosign. The lyricism may not have been as spectacular as his efforts on subsequent releases like Blueprint 2 or the S. Carter Collection (in no small part due to him being surrounded by a new crop of hungry emcees, specifically Young Chris), but tracks like “Lyrical Exercise,” “Girls, Girls, Girls rmx” and “U Don’t Know” are a clinic in wordplay and metaphor. Then there’s “Renegade,” the joint where he was supposedly “bodied” on his own shit – a ridiculous notion considering two things: 1. I never heard ANYONE say that until Nas said it somehow making it gospel and 2. the only line most people even remember from it anymore is a Jay-Z lyric. As close to a perfect album we’ve had this decade.
2. Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)
In 1997, The Wu-Tang Clan dropped their landmark sophomore LP Forever selling 2 million units in the US alone. It was a year that capitalized on the clasisc-after-classic build-up of the group’s solo debuts, but the year also marked the end of RZA’s “5 year plan.” He instantly stopped overseeing all Wu-Tang material and as a result, the market was flooded with a plethora of Clan-related releases, mostly from unmemorable affiliates. The brand, once renowned for its quality output, had become woefully over-saturated. As Melody Maker magazine succinctly put – “another month, another Wu-Tang side project.” Even releases from core members were lacking. Immobilarity, Tical 2000 and Uncontrolled Substance all failed to rekindle the spark. It got to the point that by the end of the decade, critics genuinely began to ponder whether the Wu was dead. Re-enter Starks Enterprises. Initially delayed due to a robbery bid, Starks bitchslapped rap into 2G with a dose of acerbic wit and Stapleton swagger. His stream-of-consciousness style, spread heavy over the fantastic production provided by Mathematics, RZA and Juju, turned the sophomore jinx theory on its head. The Wu was back. Packed with memorable performances, from the prepubescent story-tale on “Child’s Play” to the ill poetics of “Mighty Healthy,” Supreme Clientele became a reference point of recovery. So much so that even Freddie Foxx had to say “I’m about to save hip-hop like Ghost saved the Wu.” I mean he didn’t, but still.
3. Nas – Stillmatic (2001)
It seems that with every Nas release following It Was Written came an expectant return to the style and sound of his debut, Illmatic. I Am became an over-hyped microcosm of the mediocrity that reigned in rap circa 1998/99. Nastradamus barely merits a mention. And QB’s Finest? Well, that’s more notorious for transforming a whispering disagreement into a full-fledged conflict. By 2001, Nas’ reputation had become so tarnished that he had in fact “went from top 10 to not mentioned at all.” Obviously Stillmatic in no shape managed to duplicate Illmatic, but rather than merely a return to formula, it was a return to form. Nas’ rhymes, revitalized by the adrenaline of battle and matched with the production of DJ Premier, Large Pro and LES gave Stillmatic a cohesive sound with minimal skips. The conceptual storytelling of “2nd Childhood” and “Rewind,” transcendent lyricism of “You’re Da Man” and social analytics of “My Country” reminded everyone as to why Nas should be a permanent fixture in GOAT conversations. The album’s flagship track, “Ether,” shell-shocked the seemingly undaunted swagger of Jay-Z to the point of a crucial misstep in their formerly cold war of words. Perhaps the greatest honor was that “Ether,” or “ethered,” gained a victorious entry into the vocabulary of rap, much the same way the liberal suffix of -gate has in political scandal post-Nixon. Those that gave rotation to this album when it dropped still love it to death. Those that didn’t are still coming up with half-assed reasons as to why it’s not a classic. Do yourself a favor and revisit it, you’ll be surprised how well it’s aged.
4. Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)
What Kanye started with Blueprint, he effectively ended with College Dropout. The three year dominance of sped-up soul was given its last rites by its re-inventor’s debut. During the initial period of the craze, West was remarkably unable to secure himself a recording contract. It took a near-fatal road accident and the surging buzz of “Through the Wire” for Jay-Z (aka one of the worst ears for talent in hip-hop) to agree to sign him. The uncertainty of the debut release allowed West to hit the mixtape circuit with I’m Good, a project that contained teaser snippets of what would be on the forthcoming album. His followers were not let down. Featuring alongside ready-made hits like “Jesus Walks” and “Slow Jamz,” Kanye showed off his billionaire backpack styles flippin’ from the conscious “All Falls Down” to the BET-accessible “New Workout Plan.” With this, West provided the missing link between what was considered jiggy hip-hop and the declining neo-soul rap movement. Working with, and in some cases pairing off, artists like Jay-Z, Mos Def, Ludacris, Common, Dip Set and Little Brother, Kanye helped blur the lines between the culture’s sub-genres, providing successful examples and precedents that would bridge the gap with great music. And yet, despite the obvious vulnerability to barbs decrying hypocrisy, the album comes across as surprisingly unpretentious and sincere. More than what could be said about his subsequent LPs. I still don’t understand how anyone puts Graduation even close to this. Not even in the same league, stratosphere, universe, comparative exaggeration etc.
5. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003)
Music moves in cycles. Action-reaction. In 2002, the dominant sound in hip-hop was the R&B-driven, catchy-hook with semi-sang rhyme of Ja Rule. In the inevitable backlash, 50 Cent was the answer. Gritty, gangsta rap with a blaxploitative invincibility, his mixtape buzz afforded him a debut album cosigned by Eminem and executive produced by Dr. Dre. Ironically, Get Rich or Die Trying ended up being a soundclash of his sidewalk style and the R&B sound of his defeated nemesis. The gun-in-your-face braggadocio both captivated and shocked mainstream America in a fashion unseen since the glory days of thug life. For better or worse, the album took Jay-Z’s gangsta rap Blueprint and dumbed it down to pre-pubescent levels. 50 in turn, watched the money pile up. In some ways, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ would grow to be his own personal Illmatic – a grandstanding obelisk that would overshadow each successive release. Unable to out-gangsta his last efforts, his formula became as repetitive, sterile and predictable as Ja’s before ultimately suffering his own public embarrassment at the hands of Kanye West.
— Snoop Bloggy Blogg