Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 25 Best Songs Of 2009

What a year.  I spent a lot of time agonizing over this list, and after two days I've arrived at one with many faults, but one that I'm relatively happy with.  The diversity of rap in 2009 creates many problems for developing a comprehensive list like this.  How does one properly compare and determine the rank of a Mos Def song and a Juiceman song, when they're such different beasts?  For this reason, my personal enjoyment of a song played as large a role as my critical examination of it in determining a rank.  Gucci Mane alone could have a top 25 list this year, but an artist was only allowed to appear once on this list outside of features.  Choosing a single Gucci song to be representative of his entire output in 2009 was extremely difficult.  The song I ended up choosing I found to exemplify the characteristic sound that Gucci and Zaytoven established.  It's also interesting to note that almost half of the top ten this year originated on mixtapes or free albums.

1. “Do You Know” -DJ Quik & Kurupt
2. “Better Believe It” -Lil Boosie Ft. Young Jeezy and Webbie
3. “Doing Just Fine” -Z-Ro
4. “Purse Come First” -UGK Ft. Big Gipp
5. “Popular Demand (Popeyes)” -Clipse Ft. Cam'ron
6. “Womb 2 The Tomb” -Freddie Gibbs Ft. Pill
7. “Feel The...” -G-Side Ft. 6 Tre G
8. “Trap Goin' Ham” -Pill
9. “Shine Blockas” -Big Boi Ft. Gucci Mane
10. “Weird” -Gucci Mane
11. “Cold Outside” -Raekwon Ft. Ghostface
12. “Hussle In The House” -Nipsey Hussle
13. “Gazzillion Ear” -DOOM
14. “Diamonds & Maybachs Pt. 2” -Triple C's
15. “City Lights” -Method Man and Redman Ft. Bun B
16. “Exhibit C” -Jay Electronica
17. “Life In Marvelous Times” -Mos Def
18. “I Got This (Don't Worry)” -Young Jeezy
19. “Make The Trap Say Aye” -OJ Da Juiceman Ft. Gucci Mane
20. “In The Night/While You Slept (I Crept)” -J Dilla
21. “D.O.A.” -Jay-Z
22. “Georgiavania” -Willie Isz
23. “Pop The Trunk” -Yelawolf
24. “On Dat Other Shit” -Playboy Tre
25. “O Let's Do It” -Waka Flocka

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Til the Casket Drops

The third album from the Clipse, Til the Casket Drops is also their worst. Of course, this isn't necessarily a significant comment on the quality of the album, given the critical acclaim for their previous two. The truth is, Til the Casket Drops is by and large a great album, and from any other group it would be considered a substantial success. But for fans of the Thornton brothers, it's hard not to notice that a little something is missing from this newest effort. It may simply be that a series of album delays, and almost half of the album being released as singles dampened the impact upon arrival, but certainly a bit of the edge is gone.

Hell Hath No Fury was such a dramatic and innovative departure from the contemporary hip-hop landscape, that to attempt a recreation on the third go would have been a commercially poor decision, and more importantly an artistic mistake. So it's no surprise when the Clipse add a new dimension to the identities they've created. Right from the start, the Clipse set a new paradigm with the reflective opening “Freedom,” produced by Sean C & LV. The song signals a departure even down to the production lineup, and it's an excellent opener. Whereas Hell Hath No Fury was a brilliantly detached portrayal of the coke game, their newest is far more self-aware, with references to music criticism, the state of hip-hop, personal shortcomings, and most significantly a little bit of guilt begins to creep in. Pusha T's first verse on the album captures this new dimension perfectly.

The next song finds the Clipse in familiar territory with the exuberant arrogance of “Popular Demand (Popeyes).” It's a good transition, but even here the stylistic changes are still present. The song was the last single released prior to the album hitting store shelves, and remains one of the best. Aside from the mediocre, but enjoyable “I'm Good” and “Eyes on Me,” the singles slipped easily into the Clipse canon and are highlights of the album. In truth, everything sounds good to great until the Kanye-influenced trifecta of soft edge mediocrity consisting of “Eyes on Me,” “Counseling,” and “Champion.” They're not bad songs, they just are not up to par with the rest of the album's content. Luckily the album picks up in dramatic fashion with the DJ Khalil produced “Footsteps.” Driven by a moody organ vamp and hard rock drums, the song is the best on the album, and one of the best of the duo's career.

The decision to go with production outside of The Neptunes for the first time seems to have been a good choice. Sean C & LV and DJ Khalil make good contributions, and in fact produce some of the best songs on the album. I would love to see the Clipse work more with Khalil in the future. That being said, The Neptunes were also behind some great tracks even though they produced the lesser ones as well. Ultimately, the album falls flat when it reaches for commercial appeal. It is an understandable move given their history of label troubles, and sale numbers not matching their proven excellence. It's too bad college kids don't buy albums. But as first-week sales reports come in today, it's clear that Til the Casket Drops didn't do it for them either. Perhaps the brothers just aren't meant for the pop market. They're at their best as too-clever D-boys; unashamed rap villains that are hard not to love. If sales drop precipitously next week they may lose their home at Columbia, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them picked up by L.A. Reid and Def Jam. Til the Casket Drops is a good album worth purchasing, but they are capable of much better.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hello, December

I'm foregoing the usual posting today to take a look ahead.  December will be a busy month, with a lot of positive changes hopefully being made.  I'll be trying to attract more regular readers and growing my viewer base, as well as expanding the content a little bit and developing new regular columns.  I also might put a little work into redesigning the page, but we'll see how that works out.

Being the end of the year and the end of the decade as well, there is going to be a slew of best-of lists that will be interesting and probably infuriating too.  I'll join in a little with my top 25 albums of the year, and what I believe to be the single best hip-hop album of the decade.  Hopefully I will avoid the sort of righteous indignation that arose when Passion of the Weiss unveiled their album listings.  I will also attempt to start doing some more in-depth articles regarding history and culture.  All of this will manifest over the next few months, but a lot will start happening around the middle of December.

The Labels Tryin To Kill Me

Freddie Gibbs returns with a new mixtape referencing the classic Master P cover art.  The 81-track mixtape is a collection of Gibbs' best work, including freestyles and seven new songs, all mixed and kept moving at a rapid pace by DJ Skee.  I haven't even gotten through a quarter of it yet, but it's great as expected.  This tape really just puts Gibbs out there, showing his versatility and his work ethic, as well as his extremely technical rapping skills.  It's a middle finger to labels, a thanks to fans, and a compelling introduction for new listeners.