Rap in 2005

2005 is shaping up to be pretty lame! I’m an optimist about this shit usually, I can’t stand it when people get all “nothing good is happening” but really, I can’t get excited about too many rap albums – plenty of mixtapes, plenty of singles. But last year had a bunch of strong full-lengths and 2005 is pretty uneven, based on the shit I’ve heard so far. Of course I’m not being fair, because I’ve heard so many more 2004 rap CDs, and I’m sure by the time this year ends and 2006 rolls around I’ll have unearthed some gold. But take a look at last year’s haul, and I just don’t see the same commitment to quality. Anyway I’m tired of writing about shit so here are some lists:

1. Three-6 Mafia, 8Ball and MJG, Young Buck – Stay Fly
2. Common, Mos Def and Scarface – The Corner (Remix)
3. 50 Cent feat. Mobb Deep – Outta Control (Remix)
4. T.I. – ASAP
5. Geto Boys – The G Code
6. Z-Ro feat. Paul Wall and Lil Flip – From the South
7. Deep feat. Lenny Lenn and Slim Thug – What Da Fuck
8. Jadakiss – Checkmate
9. Mariah Carey feat. Styles P and Jadakiss – We Belong Together (Remix)
10. AZ – The Come Up (ohhh! Random throwback neo-classic that doesn’t really deserve to be this high! But it is great isn’t it?! For real, this spot probably belongs to B.G.’s “Where Da At” or that Jody Breeze song with Slim Thug or some Jeezy-related shit. But I like the idea of having some AZ on my list! More in a minute…)

Here’s my 2004 top ten albums as of right now.
1. Trick Daddy – Thug Matrimony
2. Madvillain – Madvillainy
3. Z-Ro – Joseph W. McVey
4. Ghostface – Pretty Toney
5. Lil Wayne – The Carter
6. 8Ball and MJG – Living Legends
7. Lil Scrappy/Trillville – BME presents…
8. T.I. – Urban Legend
9. Devin the Dude – To The X-Treme
10. Kanye West – College Dropout

How can this year possibly compare?!

1. Slim Thug – Already Platinum
2. Beanie Sigel – The B. Coming
3. Three-6 Mafia – Most Known Unknowns
4. Z-Ro – Let the Truth Be Told (This doesn’t compare to Joseph W McVey though!)
5. Mike Jones – Who Is Mike Jones?
6. Kanye West – Late Registration
7. AZ – AWOL
The first verse I ever memorized, unless you count some old Kris Kross shit (I MISSED THE BUS – OH) is the same AZ verse everyone’s committed to memory from you-know-what album. AZiatic was aite, I never loved it. But after a year of dissing NYC rap music, at least in my mind if not on the internet like a nerd, I needed some lyrically-FOCUSED-man real talk and this was perfect for me. It’s not a perfect album but it is a very great one. Of course the aforementioned “The Come Up” is some retro Premier, chopped nostalgia strings and scratched “creepin’ on ah come up!” hook, hard but not 808-HARD classic Premo drums, and AZ’s detail-oriented rapping, those little images and asides that make me love New York rappers so much and miss them in my rotation. AWOL makes me want to dig out my old Cormega records! “Jails is packed, the streets is wack / its even worse when your workers tappin’ your beeper sack/ wifey’s gettin’ feisty she’s beefin’ back though it’s likely, it might be her VISA’s maxed / the coke is up so now the cushion throw’s what’s up / and the ‘ricans got the game in the cobra clutch…” That perfectly detailed written and re-written classic New York style, graphite in notebooks written past the ledger marks, working out details of NY drama in forgotten detached detailed Rakim/G-Rap/Nas/’Mega internal rhymes. The only thing that reminds you it’s 2005 and the New York rap world relies entirely on Just Blaze beats: “If you want more then log on to AZ Dot Com.”

The best song though is “City of Gods,” produced by Disco D who started with ghetto tech and moved to Nina Sky and then the beat for “Ski Mask Way” which was actually made about his fiancee before 50 turned it into the armed robbery highlight of the otherwise-mediocre Massacre. The beat to “City of Gods” knows the secret about AZ’s appeal which is the spirit of that 80s/90s NYC mythology. And it is a totally sublime rip of that sound: begins with 80s keys that you expect to slip into “Summer Madness” synths, bass melting into guitar and little hums and cut-off voices and flutes chirping in and out. It’s like Kool G Rap’s “Fast Life” with Nas or some other track circa 4, 5, 6, the blueprint of the sound of REMEMBERING 1980s rap. AZ:

“Hope niggas respect my dealings, if not
Hope not then I, catch no feelings
When you start hearin niggas left, stressed in buildings
Cold killings, old villains now surfacin’
In yo’ vicinities, enemies circlin in sin
Praise I, unfold the untold like De La,
No Soul since 12 summers old stayed high
Weed connoisseur, then rocked designer du’jours
Armanah, my persona was raw
No flaws it’s federal fucker the cells is tapped
No calls from a double due, been to hell and back
So know yours, ’cause I could never just sell you raps
This is my life laid on wax…”

And then when D lets the voice congeal into a sustained cry after the last chorus: “We all evolved from the city of gods, give me a nod and I’ma catch me a charge.”

“Street Life,” the track that follows it is embarrassingly simplistic in comparison, ‘sad’ strings and wack guest rapping. But the rest of the album has brilliant moments; Raekwon and Ghostface on a track called “New York,” the reflective personal and hardly-triumphant “Can’t Stop,” Bounty Killer on a gritty hook for “Envious,” “Bedtime Story” with a faux-Jigga rap that is more interesting than actual Jigga raps in 2005. “Still Alive” is a weird club banger with wild synths and clicks. And “AZ’s Chillin” is like “Tipsy” and “Top Billin” and that first track from Daily Operation and it sounds perfect. The beats are good to great, and usually functional, although none are as lovingly constructed as “City of Gods.”

“So understand I know from first-hand the lies of a church-man high off his first gram…” (from “The Come Up”)

New York rap is so maddening with G-Unit reduced to a hook machine, its Jay-Z void and the Jay-Z comeback is even worse: OK so I was excited when “Drop It Like Its Hot” remix leaked and it’s still so so hot but by the time “Dear Summer” came out I had it up to HERE with his annoying self-mythologizing, and forget about the “Go Crazy” remix and the Mariah remix which pales next to Jada and Styles on “We Belong Together.” New York is all history, and I think my favorite rappers get under the covers of the history books and revel in that dirty grimey nostalgia, detail-focused crime drama, reliable like an episode of Law & Order: formulaic but fucking well-written, tales ripped from the project headlines. Compare to Jay-Z’s non-specific large-scale bragging, his putting self-above-rap and it’s no contest. Appropriately enough my final word on AZ comes from Roger Ebert’s incredible review of City of God, the film about Brazilian favelas that came out a couple years ago, but it applies to AZ and why I’d rather hear him than Jay when I think of NYC.

“City of God” does not exploit or condescend, does not pump up its stories for contrived effect, does not contain silly and reassuring romantic sidebars, but simply looks, with a passionately knowing eye, at what it knows.

8. Edan – Beauty & The Beat (Psychadelic rock samples? fuck this! Oh wait, he tries to sound like O.C. and it works. Token indie rap album + retroactive props for “Run That Shit.”)
9. Young Jeezy – Trap or Die
10. Webbie – Savage Life

I still haven’t heard Dangerdoom, Lil Kim, Maceo, Keak Da Sneak, Little Brother (OK, OK I’ll bite) Paul Wall, P$C, Trae, Cage, David Banner, and a gang of other shit. Other albums I liked but didn’t mention – C-Murder, Boyz N Da Hood, Tru, Missy Elliott, Messy Marv, Game. And Bun, Boosie and Juvie have yet to release anything.

PS: anyone know if Disco D was in last week’s ep. of Law and Order? It looked kinda like him.

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