Posts Tagged ‘Hip-Hop’

We’re Not Dead: The Five Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2008

December 24, 2008

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We apologize for the gaping hole our absence has undoubtedly created in your lives. Surely you understand that we are college students. Which means that work piles up as finals approach, and once they’re over, we promise never to write another word again outside of AIM and Facebook. Now we’re free and about a week into break. I imagine this is what it’s like to be released from a maximum security prison; I had almost forgotten what it feels like to wake up on a Monday and decide for yourself what to do with the day. So while Troy and Hollis are probably actually doing shit right now, I hope that an early Christmas gift (or a late Hanukkah gift) can begin to soothe your pain.  Without further delay, in lieu of an actual blog post, I present yet another year-end list:

5. Nas: Untitled

“The people will always know what the real title of this album is and what to call it.”

This album’s original title raised countless eyebrows and ires. But few of his detractors recognized the conditions that led to the proliferation of that word. And even fewer of us expected that Nas would target those conditions by turning in his best lyrical performance since Illmatic. Not one of the tracks on this album is skippable, each is at once poignant, challenging, and anthemic. Nas goes after everything from slavery to Fox News, even to the N-word itself and America’s obsession with it. I’m still not sure whether the proposed title was a marketing tactic, a clue to the content of the actual songs, or whether that even matters. But what I do know is that this is one of the best albums I’ve heard in along time. I like to think that Jeremiah Wright rode out the summer bumping this in his car.

Nas, “Sly Fox

4. Danny!: And I Love H.E.R.: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
And I Love H.E.R.
Enter Daniel Swain, relatively unknown and underrated rapper from South Carolina. According to Wikipedia (the only research tool I use) he’s been laying fat tracks since 2004, but I had never heard of him until this year, and not a moment too soon.You could call his music “hipster rap,” but his rhymes are so emotionally honest and witty that they lack even the slightest simulacrum of the pretense that people associate with hipsters. And I Love H.E.R. isn’t actually a soundtrack, but an album that chronicles the artist’s relationship with hip-hop music, as the reference to Common’s classic single suggests. The beats are somber and mellow at the same time. Don’t sleep on Danny!; this is perhaps the best concept album since A Prince Among Thieves.


Danny!, “The Groove” 

3. The Roots: Rising Down

The Roots are not going anywhere. After eight studio albums, they’re still one of the most consistently tight acts in all of music, much less hip hop. Few hip-hop troupes (De La Soul coms to mind) have enjoyed the artistically longevous career The Roots have. Rising Down continues their long line of dope albums, giving voice to the forgotten ghosts of American history with dope beats and dope rhymes. Any album that brings the Mighty Mos out of the grave, even for just a few minutes on the title track, also gets bonus points.

The Roots featuring Dice Raw, Peedi Crakk, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, “Get Busy

2. Wale: The Mixtape About Nothing

I waited for years, and it never happened. No producer sampled the loop that, if reconstructed properly, would garner approval from all critical corners. Just wacky enough to be considered alternative, and just popular enough to be instantly recognizable. If they could sample the underground theme from Super Mario Brothers, then why not this? The sand news is, until 2008, nobody sampled the theme song from Seinfeld.

Wale is a big fan of Seinfeld. His Mixtape About Nothing is at once an homage to the decade-defining “show about nothing” and a well-crafted mockery of a staple of hip-hop: the mixtape. The beats, handled mainly by the Best Kept Secret production crew, knock hard, and Wale comes off as a better-educated Lil’ Wayne, though he’s not nearly as “experimental” with his flow as Weezy F. Baby is. The album itself progresses like a Seinfeld episode. It begins with a free-flowing stand-up routine delivered in rhyme. It moves through a series of seemingly unrelated songs. It ends with a shout-out session, similar to the end credits every show has. But the real genius of this album is that beyond the songs themselves, the format brings out Wale’s beef  with most current hip-hop music: that it is, in fact, about nothing.

Wale, “The Opening Title Sequence
Download, The Mixtape About Nothing

1. Rhymefest: Man In The Mirror

Yes, it was released at the very end of December 2007, but it still sons pretty much everything released in 2008.

It doesn’t bode well for the hip-hop industry that the two best albums I heard in 2008 were intended to be free. (The only one I actually bought was Untitled, but that’s another post for another day.) While The Mixtape About Nothing re-defined the mixtape as a genre, Man In The Mirror takes it a step further. While it technically is a mixtape, in the sense that it escapes the laws of sample clearance, ‘Fest says it best when he calls it a “Michael Jackson tribute album.” But it’s not your typical tribute album either. Rhymefest does not relegate himself to weak renditions of Jacko’s greatest hits, instead, he rhymes in his usual impeccable style over beats that sample Jacko’s greatest hits. Just like The Mixtape About Nothing, the editing is fantastic, as Rhymefest cuts up old Michael Jackson interviews to make it seem as if the King of Pop was in the room. As a rapper, Rhymefest is something of a Chuck D for the 21st century, and he rides a beat effortlessly, slow or fast. If you get one album from this list, let it be this one. You have no excuse not to. It’s free.

Rhymefest, “Can’t Make It
Download, Man In The Mirror

Gary Edwards is  a staff writer at GHB Up In This Motherfucker. He recognizes that there may be typos in this post, but it’s Christmas Eve, so fuck you. He wants you to stop reading here, look at the picture below, and enjoy the rest of your holiday break while you still can. Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year’s!