Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Minority Report

I was contacted several months ago by Jeff Weiss to compile a list of my 50 favorite albums released in the last decade. I did it, and today a short passage on my #1 album showed up at #34 behind an English guy they used to play on the Alt Rock radio station in my hometown. Lists are a funny thing, my whole life I ignored comp lit essays on politics of the cannon, yet when it came time for me to conjure one of my own I found myself weighing abstract concepts like impact vs. my opinion of a "solid" rap album. So far this does not seem to be a question that haunted the dreams and bar arguments of my contemporaries. Plenty of choices in terms of position on this list were arbitrary, for the most part I covered every base I set out to. Here's the list and the logic behind it that I emailed to Jeff.

You can look back at the 80s and 90s and see a kind of structure, a cohesion in the branching and forming of the Hip Hop subgenres be it political, spiritual, gangster, etc. In other words I’d argue there’s something resembling a linear narrative that composes the first twenty odd years of Rap music. Thanks to the internet, the true realization of Hip Hop as a forum with no home base, freed from the coasts and now being churned out of every nook and cranny in the country, and the fall of the major label system, Hip Hop has evolved in strange ways with no historical precedent. This should’ve been a moment which most popular genres have seen, having gained commercial dominance and been co-opted by the mainstream. It’s normally a death knell, the beginning of the end in which the appropriated music grows stale and repugnant, a shadow of its former self. Instead it seems to have signaled the end of the beginning. In this decade a kind of mutant (r)evolution, a fresh experimentalism, a pioneering courage in a genre that at its commercial height had become far too comfortable, not only caught critical acclaim but injected itself into the mainline.

The two interchangeable albums heading this list embody this unpredictability and randomness that to me epitomized the twenty first century aughts. They were released at the conclusion of the decade, the culmination of two careers that would define the generation. They differ in countless ways, New Orleans and Chicago, cities of despair and new hope respectively. One is an image obsessed megalomaniac, a perfectionist who leaves no aspect of his career uninspected, an emotional wreck who wears his intense passions on his sleeve and uses them to propel his superstardom. The other is a rock star in the traditional mold. A drug gobbling caricature motivated by pills, drank and whim who’s willfully made himself a beast, slurring and warbling over thousands of late night throwaways, each more erratically brilliant than the next. One album is tapping into the tradition of the “album” at a time when it’s never been less relevant. It’s a thesis, a center, short and concise following its self aware epic narrative while expanding definitions and challenging preconceived notions. The other eschews narrative altogether, it’s a style hammered out, fought for, realized at last after years of workmanlike mixtape drills, equal parts spontaneous and timeless. A postmodern masterpiece with no rhyme or reason, brilliant every step of the way. But it’s what these albums share that earned their place on my list. Both were courageous triumphs, unafraid to blaze trails, both are perfect, both were validated with critical as well as commercial success in a market where the very best shots brick. Both albums sound like the future, will shape the future, and will live on far longer than the decade in which they were conceived.

1. Lil Wayne- The Carter 3
2. Kanye West- 808s & Heartbreaks
3. Scarface- The Fix
4. Eminem- The Marshall Mathers LP
5. Ghostface Killah- Supreme Clientele
6. J Dilla- Donuts
7. 50 Cent- Get Rich or Die Trying
8. Reflection Eternal- Train of Thought
9. The Clipse- Lord Willin
10. The Roots- Game Theory
11. Slum Village- The Fantastic Vol. 2
12. Kanye West- Graduation
13. Jay-Z- The Blueprint
14. Common- Like Water for Chocolate
15. Outkast- Stankonia
16. Madvillain- Madvillainy
17. Cannibal Ox- The Cold Vein
18. Project Pat- Mista Don’t Play
19. Young Jeezy- Thug Motivation 101
20. Styles P- A Gangsta and a Gentleman
21. Devin The Dude- 2 tha Xtreme
22. Joe Budden- Mood Muzik 2: Can it get any worse?
23. Nas- Stillmatic
24. Lil Wayne- Dedication 2
25. Wale- The Mixtape About Nothing
26. Kanye West- College Dropout
27. Jay-Z- The Black Album
28. Dead Prez- Let’s Get Free
29. UGK- Dirty Money
30. The Game- The Documentary
31. Nas- Hip Hop Is Dead
32. Cam’ron- Purple Haze
33. T.I.- Trap Muzik
34. Joell Ortiz- The Brick: Bodega Chronicles
35. Busta Rhymes- Anarchy
36. The Roots - Rising Down
37. El-P- I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
38. 3-6 Mafia- When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6 Sixty 1
39. Beanie Sigel- The Reason
40. Jay Electronica- What the fuck is a Jay Electronica?
41. Lil Wayne- The Carter
42. Cam’ron- Come Home With Me
43. M.O.P.-Warriorz
44. Big L- The Big Picture
45. Ludacris- Back for the 1st time
46. Big Punisher- Yeeeah Baby
47. Juelz Santana- From Me to U
48. Ghostface Killah- The Pretty Toney Album
49. Lupe Fiasco- The Cool
50. Young Buck- Straight Outta Cashville

1 comment:

Trey Stone said...

really good contrast with the 'Ye and Wayne aesthetic. and with 808s i think a lot of the criticism is just about insecure rap fans generally writing stuff like that off as "rock critic bait" or whatever without giving it a chance. there seems to be a strong reverse elitist mentality with some hip-hop fans where any album that tries to move past standard four-bar loops or foregoes rapping and attracts critical praise is automatically suspect, regardless of quality.