Best of 2001

Mark Anthony Neal

by Mark Anthony Neal

17 December 2001


Best Music of 2001 Lists


Neo-Soul Pimps, Supa-sistuhs and Another Jigga Summer: A Best of 2001 Review

Bilal, 1st Born Second
Yeah, his label abandoned him and his aesthetic was too cerebral for urban audiences who think that Jada and Ja Rule are creative innovators. Still he was too graphic and stank-funky for the Neo-Soul Bourgeois who like their music middle-brow — never ghetto, but never complicated. How else do you explain the fascination with India.Arie and Musiq Soulchild (at least she CAN sing). But such is the life of a “pimp for Soul”. At 21, Bilal will be macking for sometime.

Angie Stone: Real Soul Music
Betty Wright. Millie Jackson. Nona Hendrix. You get my point. Angie don’t need no head wraps, guitar props, cosmic ideologies, and street teams. She can just flat out sing this music we call Soul. Neo-soul? What the hell is that? It’s just Soul music, and Mahogany Soul is the sweetest slice of that that this generation has seen. Grounded by the anti-Neo-Soul manifesto, “Soul Insurance”, and the “I got a nickel in my pocket” flava of “More than a woman”, with Soul-beau Calvin Richardson, here finds the balance between artistic integrity and “ghetto-fab” accessibility. You got to love a sistah who can hate trifling folks on tracks like “So Pissed Off” and “20 Dollars” and still find enough love to drop a serious head-nod to the “Brothas”.

“Damn’ Jigga Held You Down for Six Summers”: Jay Z’s The Blueprint
I don’t want to hear shit about Jada, Ja, DMX, Fabulous, Ludacris, Petey Pablo. Just peep this lyric: “and some day I slow down, but for now I get around like the late Makiavelli or Perelli 20 inches or caine and O-dog, stick up tape from menace you tell ‘em chicks if they must know my business”. Damn, that some ghetto-ass Pulitzer shit. In my mind one the best lines since Biggie talked about getting his the “ski-mask way” or Rakim talked about them “seven Mcs”. Jigga’s lines from the “remix” of “Girls, Girls, Girls” (yes, that means that shit was an afterthought). Digging in the stacks to find Jim Morrison and that old-school countrified mack Bobby “Blue” Bland (still hocking after all these years) “The Blueprint” is the best Jigga since “Reasonable Doubt” and further evidence that don’t nobody do it the way he do. All together now, “H to the izzzo . . . “

Philly’s Finest?: Who is Res? Volume One
Naw, don’t get uptight. This ain’t no dis to Jilly. Jilly the real deal (gotta book chapter to prove my commitment, hope Lyzel stepped to her with as much). But Jilly ain’t Res. Who? It’s my homie Nic J, sitting with DC and KF singing lyrics to “How I Do”, as Res opens for eventual no-show Maxwell in Albany’s Palace Theater, while the ghetto-real (naw bruh, it ain’t fabulous) loudly ask “Who the hell is this?” Res (my bad not Reece, though “Eclectic Soul” some banging shit also) is like Belinda Carlisle squeezed thru a tight, lanky-ass body of brown-skinned Philly. Still trying to freak the lyrics to “Sittin’ Back”, but damn if “Ice King” and “Golden Boys” ain’t some serious head-nodding, finger-wagging cerebellum. This is, as my Soul Mama Alexis D. would say, some “Newblack” shit.

“Now Don’t I Know You from Somewhere Long Ago?”: the Return of Mr. Biggs
Ain’t no need in calling the Isleys geniuses. They’ve always been derivative, whether covering Seals and Croft, Todd Rundgren or Chicago, as they do on Eternal. And Eternal no doubt a straight jack of the Isley’s classic 3+3 sound, but the key to the Isley’s has always been the mellifluous vocals of Ronald Isley. Mr. Biggs (aka Ronald Isley) could get panties off a mannequin singing “The Lord’s Prayer”. With a wide range of producers behind the boards including Raphael Saddiq, Jam and Lewis and Mr. Kelly (can we finally acknowledge that this man is the most accomplished singer/songwriter/producer/arranger of his generation), Eternal is the comeback of the year. Kiss the game goodbye? Naw the game on some next level shit now. Eternal moved and amazing 224,000 units in its first week. Sell-outs? Possibly, but let’s see The O’Jays, Gladys Knight, Isaac Hayes, Patti Labelle and a host of other wannabe old-schoolers try to match that. And let’s not sleep on that closer. Words to a Curtis Mayfield classic instrumental with a nod to those storefronts spaces them Isley boys came up in. Respect the game!

That Detroit Nigga, J-Dilla
Got real love for Primo, Dre., Ali Shaheed, ?uestlove, but I’m into Detroit Nigga these days like them smart-niggas Todd Boyd and Mike “Holla Back” Dyson. Even among Detroit Niggas (and honorary ones like Kid Rock, Eminem, and Madonna), Jay Dee has been slept on, even as he laced Tribe, Common, Bilal and Badu. Slum Village’s 2000 release was the best hip-hop release that nobody talked about — J-Dilla even freaked T. Monk for that joint. Welcome 2 Detroit is next level, with J-Dilla’s remake of Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” (the sample to Main Source’s “Looking at the Front Door”) as one of the best musical moments of the year.

Take Yo Praise . . . Supa Sista
It’s about the funke ass white-boys. Fat Boy Slim knew who Camille Yarbrough was. Did you? And yeah, Jilly was up there with them Blue Men (what the . . . ?) and no doubt, Moby look like a homeless crack-head from Houston street, but damn didn’t that Grammy moment confirm that sista girl is an ARTIST. Hopefully, we ain’t got to wait for another funke-ass white boy — and I ain’t talking about John Mellencamp — for Ursula Rucker to get her praise. Props for just finding a way to flow-block Jigga, lament crack mom parenting skills, and celebrate ghetto drill teams on the same project. Supa Sista was a major aesthetic moment. Go ‘head sista, take yo praise.

A Woman’s Worth
Granted, I got so sick of hearing “Falling” on Hot-this and Lite-that, and Smooth-this other. The shit was not that good. Alicia Keys, though, was a new millennium exotic. And Clive-e knew she had skills, that’s why she moved with him to J records, when Arista put that retirement clause in effect. The music will come. Songs in A Minor just scratches the rind. But you can’t give Keys love without a shout to video collaborator Chris Robinson. The video for “Falling"call it — the Kimba Smith aesthetic — was a straight feminist flip of the prison industrial complex, as in a bunch of women get incarcerated trying the protect the trflin’ thugs they “luuuuuve.” And what’s a “Woman’s worth” in the ghetto public sphere? Dig who Alicia singing to in the PJ commons. You got your answer.

Loofuh’s Back
OK on the whole, the Luther Vandross CD was booty. But “Take You Out” was the sweetest, most infectious Luther single since the first joint, “Never Too Much”. “Fancy,” the Sean Jean make-over, (the hyper-masculinity) and the air-brushed wrinkles is just gravy for critic wannabees like myself.

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