THE END OF THE YEAR HIP-HOP POST


I was on WNYC’s Soundcheck again last Friday, talking about hip hop in the ’00s. Part of what I was asked to do, ahead of time, was submit my 3 top hip hop albums of 2009 and I’m not going to lie: I couldn’t come up with three actual albums. In fact, none of the three I submitted were, technically, albums.

To be sure, I can’t remotely claim to have heard much of what was released this year and the stuff I did hear just didn’t move me to really admire them as albums. Sure, I liked some of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 but overall, I found the album overly long and kind of anemic for it. I admired Jay’s Blueprint 3 but more for its calculated choices than anything inherently pleasurable about the CD as a listening experience. I jumped in and listened to about 50 Gucci Mane songs in a row (his Cold War mixtape series + the new album) just to see what the deal was and while I get his appeal, I’d rather re-listen to individual songs rather than trying to sit through any of the mix-CDs/albums as a whole. I’m not going to put this on hip-hop (well, not entirely). I could do a lot more to “stay current” but now that my writing has become more personally-driven (what I like) vs. professionally-driven (what I should be writing about), I just don’t find much about today’s hip-hop that speaks to me. People in my demographic aren’t really who today’s young rappers are aiming at. Either way, I’ve learned to catch my pleasures when I can, usually in single-servings, and I’ve learned to moderate my expectations as I recognize that the older I get, the distance between contemporary hip-hop and my tastes grow.

But for all that, I still leave myself open to crave those moments when a song will absolutely knock me on my f—ing ass, demand my attention and compel me to keep coming back to it. If you had told me that would be Jay Electronica, with a radio rip that skips, I would have laughed you out of the room but that’s before I actually heard the song and once I did, all I could think was, “wait, this is that same dude who made this?” I was never checking for him before this song but after it? I’m thinking “Third Coming“.

So yeah, this made my Top 3 even though it wasn’t an album because frankly, I found the experience of listening to this more profound than most of the albums I actually did hear this year. And who knows – maybe his album (if it ever comes out) won’t live up to this moment but I actually want to hear what he has to bring and that sense of anticipation is like water to the desert of my expectations.

So what’s so good here?

Begin with the fact that it’s the first unqualifiably incredible Just Blaze production I’ve heard in at least two years. There’s the loop itself of course (more on this in a moment) but listen past just the actual sample. The added string arrangements don’t just play off the main melody but they’re also used to build tension as a second set of strings tick upward in a crescendo effect – all in key – so that by the peak moment, everything is aflame…only to start all over again for another 10 bar cycle (the 10 bar loop is also unusual since it plays against where you’d normally expect the progression to go). Pure intensity.

And yeah, Just was brilliant in playing with this Billy Stewart song:

Billy Stewart: Cross My Heart
From 7″ (Chess, 1967). Also on The Best Of…

I confess that I had never heard this before but damn, what a great Stewart song, no? It opens like “Sitting In the Park” (I mean, exactly alike) but then when you get to hook – “lord, why don’t you, send her to me?” is some magic, especially when followed by, “this fat boy is gonna love her!” Not a lyric you hear every day.

And speaking of lyrics – maybe it’s just the acrobatics of it, but I can easily say that Jay’s “call me Jay Electronica, f— that, call me…” verse is probably the most jaw-dropping thing I’ve heard all year (except maybe for that Tiger Woods’ voice mail message) and what leads up to there is pretty damn good too (loved the verse that immediately precedes it – it’s not often you can hear Run DMC, Marcus Garvey and Nikola Tesla name-checked within three seconds of one another and it all makes sense.

Now where’s the damn album?

As for my other favorite hip-hop moments of 2009, here’s a sampling of Top 10 in reverse chronological order):

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C
Edan: Echo Party
Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
Lupe Fiasco: Fire
Lil Wayne: Death of Autotune freestyle
MOP: Bang Time
Raekwon feat. Method Man and Ghostface: New Wu
The Cool Kids: Popcorn
Bambu: 2 Dope Boyz
Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z: My President Is Black (remix)

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