If the main criterion for a good year in hip-hop is a high
volume of dope albums, I'm not really sure how 2007 could be regarded as weak.
Hip-hop's established vets dropped many quality releases, and the good sleepers
flew under the radar and into my headphones. So, given it's that time of year
when hacks like myself reflect on the 12 months that were and somehow
consolidate all the stuff we were feeling into arbitrary listmania, discussion
turns to the matter of 2007's best albums. Before I reveal my selections, there
are some ground rules.
First, this is all stuff I dug initially and then returned
to later. Relistenability and originality are the hallmarks of the greats.
Second, I'm omitting all unofficial releases, i.e., no Lil Wayne, Cam'ron or
whoever. There was a plethora of mixtapes in 2007, but that's a different
article entirely. Third, if you haven't heard of something on this list, and
you enjoy raps and beats, chances are you're going to enjoy it. So cop that.
Anyway, without further ado, here's what I was feeling in 2007.
5. Black Milk —
Popular Demand (Fat Beats Records)
The best Kanye West album of the year didn't exhaust Vice
City synths or Daft Punk samples. It was a collection of irresistible, booming
cut-and-paste soul from Detroit's latest prodigal son producer/MC, Black Milk.
Milk laced tracks for Pharoahe Monch, Guilty Simpson and Bishop Lamont this
year, but in true Kanyesian form, kept the best for himself. But don't get it
twisted: Milk has a distinct sound all his own, capitalizing on blue-sky Motown
grooves and sputtering electro fuzz to distance himself from his other
sample-crazy peers. The rapping on Popular
Demand is by no means groundbreaking, but the lyrics do cover a range of
fly-guy assertions ("So Gone"), microphone assaults ("Action" featuring Slum
Village) and flat-out spooning soundtracks ("U"). Just as West got people to
overlook his glaring weaknesses with feel-good jams, Black Milk provides a
variety of aurally pleasing fare that'll keep listeners revisiting Demand.
4. Devin the Dude —
Waitin' To Inhale (Rap-A-Lot Records)
They don't come more likable than Devin Copeland. Hip-hop's
greatest anti-hero is a nymphomaniac stoner from Screwston, and his fourth solo
album, Waitin' To Inhale, continues
his quest to win listener's hearts and sofas. While the rumors are true (yes,
his rhymes rarely deviate from pot and chickenheads), a one-trick pony he's
not. His goofy lyrics set him apart, like the faux-slow jam "Just Because" or
the muddy blues of my personal favorite, "She Want That Money." "What a Job,"
an ode to recording studio life co-starring Snoop Dogg and Andre 3000 is a
remarkably well-executed track-of-the-year contender. It's tempting to laugh
off the Dude, but those who stick around will meet rap's most charming everyman.
3. Ghostface Killah —
The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam)
With the catalog Tony Starks has put together over the past
few years, it's hard not to single him out as one of the most consistent MCs of
the decade. The James Joyce of hip-hop, he balances esoteric and dope better
than any rapper on the scene. It becomes obvious on The Big Doe Rehab that his Slick Rickian storytelling skills are
still on-point (the hilarious embarrassment on "Yolanda's House," the paranoid
grit on "Walk Around," the comical nerves on "Yapp City"), and he still has a
great ear for beats (the menacing "Toney Sigel A.K.A. The Barrell Brothers,"
the schizophrenic "Rec-Room Therapy," the nostalgic "Shakey Dog Starring
Lolita"). The Big Doe Rehab satisfies
longtime Pretty Toney fans, but it's also a great introduction for those not
already familiar with the Wally Champ — the charismatic face of contemporary rap
beyond the top 40 singles.
2. UGK — Underground
Kingz (Jive Records)
One of 2007's crowning moments came when Houston's UGK, or
Bun B and the late Pimp C to you, improbably debuted atop the charts for the
first and only time with their self-titled seventh album. Underground Kingz was two hours of Southern-fried bliss, rap
legends affirming their legacy with the unabridged UGK album. But where other
double CDs tend to run in circles and employ plenty of filler, Underground Kingz is unrelenting,
thorough and most importantly, consistent. Pimp and Bun wax on the state of
hip-hop ("Gravy," "Quit Hatin' The South"), the harsh realities of the streets
("Shattered Dreams"), the value of freedom ("Life Is Too Short 2009"), even a
history lesson on trap-rap's glorified currency ("Cocaine"). This is a layered
album that may be an acquired taste, but you could certainly do worse than two
hours of quality, stereo-ready jams.
1. Scarface — Made
The latest and perhaps greatest work by one of hip-hop's
most known unknowns, Made is Scarface
at his most somber and, at times, funniest. Though the album artwork suggests a
Godfather veneer, Facemob is more
Tony Soprano than Michael Corleone. His life isn't a cartoonish gangster
chronicle, but a relatable tale of grown-man interiority (anxieties of
marriage, the suicide of a friend, lack of trust in government) cast against
the backdrop of bleak street life (the remorseless "Burn," the apathetic
"Dollar"). His rhyming is careful, concise and clever — he may not have the
flashiest wordplay, but Face speaks his mind with an honesty and conviction
you'd have a difficult time matching in any artistic medium. Timely, dark and
free: Made is the state of the union
for hip-hop in 2007.
Dan Sullivan ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history.