[16 January 2008]
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
—Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
This installment of Busted Headphones is dedicated to Prince Paul. Yes, the very same Prince Paul who worked with Stetsasonic, De La Soul, and a long list of other rap acts and whose name is inextricably tied, for better or for worse, with hip-hop skits.
I read an interview in which Prince Paul said nobody really listened to his albums and, basically, his work hadn’t really made an impact. I’ve always wanted to tell him it’s not true, that his A Prince Among Thieves album is a masterpiece and hip-hop listeners are all the better for it, and even listeners who’ve never heard it are being influenced by it. There, I said it! We do listen to your albums, Prince Paul.
What follows is a list of 101 hip-hop records released in 2007, taken from a larger list of more than 200, and while they are ranked in “order”, this is by no means an assessment of albums from “best” to “worst”. I enjoyed every release listed in some form or another. I mention that because there’s something about putting albums in a numbered list that seems to make everything you write after the number, artist name, and album title translate into adult dialogue from the Peanuts cartoon, “Wonk wa-wonk wa-wonk”. So I figured my best chance would be to explain it at the outset.
Also, this list was not meant to be definitive. There are many worthwhile releases not mentioned here. Rather, my intention is to show: (1) the diversity in hip-hop tastes, (2) the wide variety of styles within the hip-hop community, (3) the presence of artists whose efforts are not “violent” or “misogynistic” and, further, that folks who paint the entire genre with such broad strokes should dig a little deeper, (4) the need for more female emcees, and (5) that the report of hip-hop’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Finally, I had a bit of fun with the format and commentary of this list, thanks to three characters who are hip-hop enthusiasts. The first is “Susie B.”, a deejay from Brooklyn, New York who takes her stage name from Susan B. Anthony. The second is “Felonious Monk”, a hip-hop head who runs a nightclub in Atlanta, Georgia. The last is “Ebenezer Scrooge”, an aspiring rap artist who says his rhymes are so good he should be considered “the biggest hater in the game”. He likes to be called “Yung Ebenezie”.
And it goes a lil’ somethin’ like this:
101 Hip-Hop Albums of 2007
1. Pharoahe Monch, Desire (SRC)
Me: I’m not budging on this one.
Felonious Monk: Desire?!. For real? I like Monch and all—except that “Body Baby” joint was kind of embarrassing—but number one? Your list is suspect, Quentin. I’m going with Lil’ Wayne’s Da Drought 3. That kid is the truth. That dude is the best thing since ears.
Susie B.: Kanye West gets my vote. Graduation is my jam. Album of the Year, from the Entertainer of the Year. No doubt about it.
Yung Ebenezie: Kanye’s cool, right, but I don’t know…A lot of this shit that’s out right now ain’t even real hip-hop. With all the singin’ on the hooks and all the synthesizers and shit. There’s more singin’ in hip-hop now than in Sweeny Todd! I don’t feel like y’all would be callin’ this stuff dope if it had come out in the ‘90s. Like that song “Stronger”. Y’all would be dissin’ it like y’all dissed Hammer and P.M. Dawn.
Me: Whatever. Who’s your top pick?
Yung Ebenezie: Hmmm…if I had to choose, it’s gotta be Cunninlynguists. Terrible name for a group, but their Dirty Acres album is a thing of beauty. Maybe UGK’s Underground Kings would be number two.
Me: Hear me now and believe me later. One day, you’re gonna go back to the Pharoahe Monch album and you’ll be like, “Wow, this was really good. Why in the world did I sleep on it?”
2. Talib Kweli, Ear Drum (Blacksmith)
3. Madlib, Beat Konducta, Vol. 3-4: In India (Stones Throw)
4. Blu & Exile, Below the Heavens (Sound in Color)
5. Zeph & Azeem, Rise Up (Om)
Susie B.: Full agreement on Kweli. He brought that fire.
Felonious Monk: Lil’ Wayne’s mixtapes are my entire top five, so forget all these cornball backpacker albums you listed.
Me: It’s a list of albums. Mixtapes are pretty much excluded by definition.
Felonious Monk: That’s because you’re a hater. You could have called it a list of “releases” if you wanted to.
Yung Ebenezie: Once again, I’m not feelin’ this. Kweli has a lot to say, but I don’t always like the way he brings it. Madlib? He’s a great producer, but this joint you listed is an album of instrumental snippets. You cannot be serious, dog. And who the heck are Blu & Exile or Zeph & Azeem?
Felonious Monk: Here we go.
Yung Ebenezie: As for Lil’ Wayne, let me just say this. Where I come from, when a dude raps over the same beat as someone else, it’s like, “All right, fine, fine, whatever.” But when you rap over the same beat and then incorporate another dude’s lyrics into your lyrics, that’s called “biting”. Seems like everybody’s leavin’ gold teeth marks in everybody else’s rhymes! Emcees are footnotin’ each other like they’re writin’ term papers! What the hell is that?
Me: You think everybody’s a “biter”! The other day, you were trying to convince me the TV show Pushing Daisies is biting its style from the movie Amelie.
Yung Ebenezie: Damn right.
Susie B.: Let’s move on.
6. Various Producers, Thisish Vol. 1, Hosted by Large Professor (Thisish)
7. Hell Razah, Renaissance Child (Nature Sounds)
8. El-P, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (Definitive Jux)
9. Brother Ali, The Undisputed Truth (Rhymesayers)
10. Scarface, M.A.D.E. (Rap-a-lot/Asylum)
Yung Ebenezie: Another instrumental album with the Large Professor disc? Damn, dog, I must be wearin’ a blindfold ‘cause I ain’t seein’ this.
Susie B.: Although I think you ranked it a little high, I like the Hell Razah album. Not feelin’ the El-P joint as much as you are. It just sounds like noise to me.
Felonious Monk: That Scarface album is right on, though.
Me: I’d say Ghostface and Scarface are my favorite storytellers. In particular, Scarface does a good job with his point of view. He comes at it from the perspective of an older dude dropping his pearls of wisdom.
11. Common, Finding Forever (Universal)
12. Saul Williams, The Inevitable Rise & Liberation of Niggy Tardust (NiggyTardust.com)
13. Jay-Z, American Gangster (Roc-a-fella)
14. Big Quarters, Cost of Living
Susie B.: I love me some Common! Finding Forever is like a tale from the pop side to me, but I enjoyed it. Now, is that Saul Williams album really “hip-hop”?
Felonious Monk: Not so much. About Common—I think he fell off on his lyrics. Big time.
Me: You guys can’t be serious.
Yung Ebenezie: Do I even need to say how wack I think this is?
Me: No. But have you heard the American Gangster remixes? Jay-Z released a vocals-only version of A.G. and people are adding beats like they did with The Black Album. I’ve heard some good mixes. I like the Jay-Z and Elvis mash-up, as well as the one with Led Zeppelin. Von Pea of Tanya Morgan really did a nice job on his.
Yung Ebenezie: I didn’t like American Gangster. Pretty sure I wouldn’t feel the rehashes.
Susie B.: I like the one by Grinehouse. It has Jay-Z’s vocals mixed with opera.
Me: It seems easy at first, just throw some beats behind the vocals. But it’s harder than that. I was only able to mix a couple of songs. My best one was a mix of Jay-Z’s “Sweet” using the music from Erykah Badu’s single “Honey”. Get it? “Sweet” and “Honey”?
Yung Ebenezie: What are you going to call your remix album, Q? “American Wackness”?
Felonious Monk: Who’s “Big Quarters”? And where the hell is Lupe Fiasco on this list?
15. Ghostface Killah, The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam)
16. Little Brother, Get Back (ABB)
17. The ARE, Dem Damb Jacksons
18. X-Clan, Return From Mecca (Suburban Noize)
19. Y Society, Travel at Your Own Pace (Wax Orchard)
Susie B.: Ya know, these albums could really have been in your top 10! Ghostface came back strong, Little Brother showed they could make quality music without 9th Wonder being in the group, and X-Clan and Y Society really hit the mark.
Me: It’s hard to narrow it down. I like everything on this list!
Felonious Monk: I’ll co-sign what Susie said about Ghostface and Y Society. Ghostface is the best at picking beats. He could retire from hip-hop and become a professional beat consultant.
Me: I didn’t like Ghost on the “Superman Lover” beat. I thought Redman flipped it better back in the ‘90s.
Yung Ebenezie: There was a lotta singin’ on that Little Brother album. I’m not sayin’ it’s bad, I’m just pointin’ out that this “singin’ on the hooks” thing got real bad around two years A.D.
Yung Ebenezie: That’s “two years After Diddy”.
20. Serengeti & Polyphonic, Don’t Give Up (Audio8)
21. DJ Jazzy Jeff, Return of the Magnificent (Rapster)
22. Joell Ortiz, The Brick: Bodega Chronicles (Koch)
23. Oh No, Dr. No’s Oxperiment (Stones Throw)
24. Sharkey & C-rayz Walz, Monster Maker (Babygrande)
25. M.I.A., Kala (Interscope)
26. Arrested Development, Since the Last Time (Vagabond)
27. Polyrhythm Addicts, …Break Glass (Babygrande)
28. A-Plus, My Last Good Deed, (Hiero Imperium)
29. SoCalled, Ghettoblaster (Jdub)
Susie B.: Well, you know how much I love Polyrhythm Addicts. Tiye Phoenix dropped bombs on that album. DJ Jazzy Jeff assembled a solid collection too, with Method Man, my girl Jean Grae, and Big Daddy Kane. Lots of good stuff there.
Yung Ebenezie: Funny ass skits on the Jeff joint.
Susie B.: I forgot about those! I despise skits.
Felonious Monk: You put Sharkey & C-rayz Walz in an interesting spot. I’m still digesting that one. I like it, but something seems a little off to me.
Me: I love it. I think it should have been longer.
Susie B.: You always think albums should be longer. You wanted All Eyez on Me to be a triple album!
Me: That’s cute.
Yung Ebenezie: That Serengeti & Polyphonic joint is flat-out weird, dog.
Me: I know what you’re going to say next. You don’t think M.I.A. or Oh No should be on the list.
Yung Ebenezie: I’m not gonna say that, although I like Arular better. But I can think of a couple of Kool G. Rap verses that would blow away your entire top 30.
30. Evidence, The Weatherman LP (ABB)
31. Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams (Universal)
32. Public Enemy, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? (Slam Jamz)
33. Cornel West & BMWMB, Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations (Hidden Beach)
34. Charon Don & DJ Huggy a.k.a. Hands Down, Art of Life (Traffic)
35. Redman, Red Gone Wild (Def Jam)
36. Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass (Definitive Jux)
37. Blockhead, Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book (Ninja Tune)
38. Stic.man of Dead Prez, Manhood (Traffic)
Me: I thought more people would be talking about how it’s been 20 years since Public Enemy dropped Yo! Bum Rush the Show.
Yung Ebenezie: Nobody cares about the history.
Me: That’s why I like the Cornel West album. Sure, it’s got some R&B on it, with Jill Scott and the late Gerald Levert, but there’s some nice stuff there too.
Felonious Monk: Props to Chuck D. and Public Enemy! This part of your list is packed. Good lookin’ out on the Charon Don & DJ Huggy album. A lot of people napped on that one. It reminds me a little of Brother Ali. But, yo, I think the Aesop Rock album is too low in the list, and the Wu-Tang is too high.
Susie B: To me, Aesop Rock raps like he’s throwing up. I can’t get with that. Wu-Tang’s album has a lot of controversy around it. I’d like to see what people think of it in a few years. Personally, I think the Evidence one is too high and the Redman album is too low. Evidence raps too slow for me.
39. Lupe Fiasco, The Cool (Atlantic)
40. One Be Lo, R.E.B.I.R.T.H. (Subterraneous Records)
41. Brotha Reade, Rap Music (Record Collection)
42. Sean Price, Jesus Price Supastar (Duck Down)
43. Jean Grae, The Orchestral Files (Traffic)
44. Raheem Jamal, Boom Box (Brick)
45. Wise Intelligent, The Talented Timothy Taylor (Shaman Work)
46. ScholarMan, Candy Medicine (Elsewhere)
47. Chamillionaire, The Ultimate Victory (Motown)
48. Hi-Tek, Teknology 3 (Babygrande)
Susie B.: Did you bump your head, Q? Lupe Fiasco puts together complex rhymes, together with a neat concept that’s well executed—and you put him this low on the list? This is easily a top album in any year.
Me: The Cool is good, I’m not saying it’s not! There was something about it, though, that reminded me of a collection of show tunes. Like the Johnny Fontaine character in the Godfather.
Susie B.: You’re kidding, right?
Yung Ebenezie: Ha! And here I thought I was the biggest hater in town!
Felonious Monk: Dang, Q, you got Susie upset! She’s not even happy you put Jean Grae on there. For me…I’m liking the Brotha Reade, Sean Price, and Chamillionaire albums.
Yung Ebenezie: I think Hi-Tek’s latest volume of Hi-Teknology is better than the second.
Susie B.: Agreed.
49. Panacea, The Scenic Route (Rawkus)
50. Various Artists, EV is for Everything (EV)
51. Yesterday’s New Quintet, Yesterday’s Universe (Stones Throw)
52. Black Panther, My Eternal Winter (Manekineko Pro/HBD Label Group)
53. Madlib & Talib Kweli, Liberation (Blacksmith)
54. Baby Elephant, Turn My Teeth Up! (Godforsaken Music)
55. Unagi & Infinito 2017, You & Eye (442)
56. UGK, Underground Kingz (Jive)
57. Marco Polo, Port Authority (Red Urban)
58. T.I., T.I. vs. T.I.P. (Atlantic)
59. Theory Hazit, Extra Credit (Supperrappin)
60. Consequence, Don’t Quit Your Day Job (G.O.O.D. Music)
Yung Ebenezie: All right, Quentin. You know you messed up, right? UGK should be way higher, son. You got ‘em down in the 50s? Wow. There are oil deposits less buried than this!
Me: How many times do I have to say this? I liked everything I listed! Don’t tell me you’re not loving Prince Paul collaborating with Bernie Worrell on that Baby Elephant project? Come on.
Susie B.: Yeah, but you ranked the albums. Which implies some kind of hierarchy, some sort of criteria for making decisions. For some people, UGK is album of the year.
Me: I understand that. But it wouldn’t be on here if I didn’t like it. I even like it the way it is, unlike a lot of people who keep talking about there’s too much “filler”. It’s funny how people can agree that an album has filler, but you can’t get them to agree on which songs to take out.
Yung Ebenezie: Yeah, that’s a real laugh fest, Quent. I gotta say I liked Panacea’s album. A lot of the songs sound alike, but it’s got an old school vibe and a jazzy feel to it. And the Marco Polo album too. It’s like what Jazzy Jeff did, but with a harder edge.
Felonious Monk: So what’s up with the T.I. album? Everybody’s okay with it coming in at 58?
Susie B.: I’m good with that.
Yung Ebenezie: It’s not as good as King. And I’m not feelin’ the whole “me-against-myself” thing.
Felonious Monk: Y’all are buggin’. T.I. vs. T.I.P. is hot.
61. Black Milk, Popular Demand (Fatbeats)
62. 7L & Esoteric, Ego Clapper (Fly Casual)
63. Def Tex, Thanks But No Thanks (Son)
64. Andre 3000, Class of 3000 (LaFace)
65. Wax Tailor, Hope & Sorrow (Decon Inc)
66. Senim Silla, The Name, the Motto, the Outcome (Infinite Rhythm Network)
67. Kanye West, Graduation (Roc-a-fella)
68. Bukue One, Intromission (Alpha Pup/FunnyMan)
69. Mr. J. Medeiros, Of Gods & Girls (Red Urban)
70. Ams Uno, Animated Stagnation (Amalgam)
Me: You know hip-hop had a good year when these albums are ranked between 61 and 70.
Felonious Monk: That, or the man ranking the albums is deaf! Kanye West at 67? That’s too much hate for one man to have.
Me: It’s not hate. In fact, I dig Kanye. We really needed him this year! He made hip-hop fashionable again.
Susie B.: Yup, yup. The Louis Vuitton Don.
Me: What fascinates me is how much leeway he gets from critics and fans. We turn his negatives into positives. Like when we say he’s not the greatest lyricist and then we qualify it with, “But that just shows how he’s not afraid to be vulnerable and put himself on the line.” Or when we admit his punch lines can make you wince, but we explain it as part of his charm. I can’t even think of another entertainer who could get away with that. I’m not mad at the brotha. We should give more artists that type of breathing room.
Felonious Monk: What fascinates me is how 50 Cent can say his Curtis album outsold Kanye’s Graduation.
Yung Ebenezie: I guess if you calculate his album sales the way you calculate dog years…
Susie B.: Well, I think 50 Cent should be on this list.
Me: How do you figure? Curtis is awful.
Felonious Monk: It wasn’t awful.
Me: I’d give it a “1” out of “10” rating.
Felonious Monk: That’s insane.
Susie B.: I’m just saying…Curtis is as significant to 2007 as Graduation is. Maybe more, because although I consider Graduation to be a superior album, we needed a foil for Graduation and 50 Cent provided it. Every Luke Skywalker needs a Darth Vader. We don’t talk about Muhammad Ali without at least mentioning Sonny Liston. It’s all about context.
Yung Ebenezie: Context won’t make a wack album good.
Susie B.: Fine. But either way, Kanye’s still too low on this list. Like I said, it’s my number one pick. Anybody else get into the album from Mr. J. Medeiros? That “Constance” song is amazing.
Felonious Monk: I’m glad to see people like Black Milk on the way up. Detroit’s in the house. You need to have Phat Kat’s album on this list.
Yung Ebenezie: Senim Silla is tight. So is the 7L & Esoteric joint. Their A New Dope album from last year was good. Class of 3000? I don’t know. Weird choice.
71. Othello, Alive at the Assembly Line (Hip-Hop Is Music)
72. Ohmega Watts, Watts Happening (Ubiquity)
73. Jeru the Damaja, Still Rising (Ashenafi)
74. Twista, Adrenaline Rush 2007 (Atlantic)
75. The RZA presents, Afro Samurai: The Soundtrack (Koch)
76. Cunninlynguists, Dirty Acres (Bad Taste)
77. Danny!, Danny is Dead (1911 Music/Badenov Records)
78. Percee P., Perseverance (Stones Throw)
79. Blue Scholars, Bayani (Rawkus)
80. Witchdoctor, Diary of an American Witchdoctor (Williams Street)
Susie B.: When I first saw the commercials for American Witchdoctor during The Boondocks, I didn’t think they were advertising a real album. I thought it was a joke, like a spoof of Soul Train or something.
Me: I thought so too. And, just so you know, there was an Adult Swim-meets-Def Jux compilation called Definitive Swim. Not a bad listen. On a different note, I’m glad to see Jeru and Twista putting out new music.
Yung Ebenezie: Cunninlyguists have the best rap album of 2007, and that’s all I’ve got to say about that, except there ought to be a law against critics comin’ up with these wack hip-hop lists.
Susie B.: Oooh! Let’s not forget Blue Scholars. Bayani is no joke. Maybe it’s not better than Kanye or Kweli, but it’s up there.
Me: Problem is, you all want to put 20 albums in your top 10. It doesn’t work that way.
81. Hezekiah, I Predict a Riot (Rawkus)
82. Bronze Nazareth presents…Wisemen, Wisemen Approaching (Babygrande)
83. Devin the Dude, Waiting to Inhale (Rap-a-Lot)
84. Camp Lo, Black Hollywood (Traffic/Good Hands)
85. Keith Murray, Rap-Murr-Phobia (Koch)
86. Boot Camp Clik, Casualties of War (Duck Down)
87. Median, Median’s Relief (Halftooth)
88. Dizzee Rascal, Maths + English (XL)
89. Killah Priest, The Offering (Traffic)
90. The Shape of Broad Minds, Craft of the Lost Art (Lex)
91. Cilvaringz, I (Babygrande)
92. Canibus, For Whom the Beat Tolls (Mic club)
Felonious Monk: I don’t know about Keith Murray or Killah Priest, but Devin the Dude is hilarious, man! That album really surprised me.
Me: I know it’s my list and all, but I think I put Devin too high. The more I think about it, the more this album feels like something you’d listen to at a Frat party while draining a keg.
Felonious Monk: You’re crazy.
Me: Never said I wasn’t.
Felonious Monk: Devin the Dude is the bomb.
Yung Ebenezie: I’m a Dizzee Rascal kind of guy myself. I’ll also give it up to Median for getting his grown man on.
Susie B.: Is that really Canibus? Same kid who got ethered by LL Cool J?
Felonious Monk: He didn’t get “ethered”.
Yung Ebenezie: The only battle you could say LL won. Did somebody line Canibus’s throat with sandpaper? What’s up with that dude’s voice?
Me: I like it! It’s distinctive. And nobody beats Canibus on grit and wordplay.
Felonious Monk: You sure? ‘Cause it looks like you stacked 91 other albums on top of his.
93. Politic Live, Adaptation (Music for Mavericks)
94. KRS-One & Marley Marl, Hip Hop Lives (Koch)
95. Timbaland, Timbaland presents Shock Value (Interscope)
96. Prodigy, Return of the Mac (Koch)
97. Prince Ali, Curb Side Service (Eye5/Hiero Imperium)
98. Freeway, Free at Last (G-Unit/Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam)
99. Tha Dogg Pound, Dogg Chit (Koch)
100. Havoc, The Kush (Nature Sounds)
101. 9th Wonder, Dream Merchant (6 Hole)
Felonious Monk: Timbaland? Really?!
Yung Ebenezie: I’m good with Politic Live being on here, but the rest of these? Come on, man! KRS-One and Marley Marl at 94? That’s wild right there.
Felonious Monk: Or Prodigy at 96? Havoc at 100? Where’s the love for the infamous Mobb Deep?
Me: Long story short—KRS and Marley Marl could have been stronger. I liked the beats on Prodigy’s album. I liked Havoc’s record more than I thought I would.
Susie B.: Okay, but there’s a lot of stuff you left off. What about DJ Khaled? Beanie Sigel’s The Solution? DJ Drama? RBX? Statik Selektah?
Me: Didn’t make the cut. Sorry.
Felonious Monk: Like I said, you’re a hater, son.
Me: Hey, this is just one man’s opinion.
Susie B., Yung Ebenezie, and Felonious Monk (in unison): Lucky for us!