THIS WEEK IN HIP HOP
Wow. It seems like yesterday the world was freaking out about Y2K, and now in the blink of an eye, it’s 2010. The past decade treated me well, and I hope it did the same for everyone reading this, but frankly, it was not too good for the majority of the world’s inhabitants. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that in the next 10 años we make major improvements in the ways in which we treat each other. Anyways, that’s enough of me being thoughtful and preachy, let’s talk about music.
Quan, our other This Week In Hip Hop man, in his unpredictable top 10 list of albums in 2009 requested that I critique his selections, and provide my own. Although I felt that there were some questionable picks to say the least (Juicy J in the top 5?!?), I think his article did a great job of letting the world know that hip-hop as a genre is tremendously diverse, as is the taste of its followers. There is absolutely nothing wrong or contradictory about a die hard Wu-Tang fan enjoying Gucci and Wayne. Hip-Hop is not dead; in fact I think it’s the genre of music most oversaturated with legitimate talent. That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to make my own list of favorite albums from 2009. While I must admit that I did hear a lot of new music last year, I still don’t feel like I even scratched the surface of the quality content that was released. I unfortunately didn’t listen to the new Souls of Mischief, Zion I, Tanya Morgan, The Clipse, UGK, De La Soul, Slum Village, etc… so without experiencing those projects, I don’t feel like I can do justice to critiquing an entire year’s worth of albums. Sorry Quan.
On the other hand, I know that there is a lot of music that I am looking forward to in 2010, so without further ado, I want to let y’all know what I will be keeping my eyes and ears open for this year.
Black Milk, Sean Price and Guilty Simpson | Random Axe
You may already know that I am thoroughly impressed with the quality of music that Duck Down Records is putting out, and from the slew of projects they have slated for 2010, Random Axe is the one that I’m the most excited about. When I first heard that Black Milk, Sean Price and Guilty Simpson were collaborating, it seemed to good to be true, but after they leaked “Monster Babies,” it was official. This group is for real. Unfortunately, Black Milk’s hard drive crashed, and with it all of Sean P’s recorded verses were lost. To make matters worse, Kimbo Price only writes his verses on his cell phone, and he purchased a new one, so the written words were gone too. So it wasn’t released in ’09 like it was supposed to be. Instead, Duck Down is hoping to make Random Axe available to the masses in the first quarter of 2010. As long as Sean kept his morale high through the hardships and made sure to persevere, this album could be one we remember in 2020.
Nas and Damian “Jr Gong” Marley | Distant Relatives
I didn’t get to see the duo perform together at Rock The Bells, so I have no idea what to expect musically, other than that both artists have confirmed that the goal of the disc is to force the world to pay attention to what’s going on in Africa. It’s a lofty goal for sure, but hey, why not try to do it than by uniting two incredibly international figures in music? Although their styles are far from similar, both artists are contemplative and progressive, and if you’ve heard “Road To Zion,” off of Damian’s Welcome To Jamrock, than you know they have great chemistry. Sometimes it seems like very few hip-hop albums have truly international appeal, but this one appears to be an exception.
Strong Arm Steady & Madlib | In Search of Stoney Jackson
This album was actually released digitally on the Stones Throw website in the end of ’09, but the CD won’t be available until the end of January, so I figure it still counts as a 2010 release. I credit Madlib with introducing me to the art of sample digging. The amount of obscure, one-of-a-kind records that he gets his hands on is mind blowing. Although I have been fairly disappointed with his most recent solo work, especially WLIB AM: King Of The Wigflip, when he produces the entirety of a rapper’s album, he always does well. From the Lootpack, to Madvillany, to his free project with Talib, he finds a way to highlight the talents of the MC’s without straying away from his own ultra stoned and abstract style. Additionally, I’ve been following Strong Arm Steady for the past five years due to their West Coast subject matter matched with their unique flows and personalities that are far from gimmicky. While the switch of mentorship from Xzibit to Talib Kweli is interesting, it’s also a little questionable, especially since Mitchy Slick has practically stopped being a member of the group since the move. Still, without the insight of Talib, they may never have looked into doing something with a producer like Madlib, so I gotta be happy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this disc makes me enjoy Madlib and SAS more, rather than playing directly into my doubts about the direction these artists are moving in.
Reflection Eternal | Revolutions Per Minute
Speaking of Talib, the next Reflection Eternal album should definitely be one of 2010’s highlights. Before I heard the first pairing of Kweli and Hi-Tek, I didn’t really understand why so many people were obsessed with Talib as a rapper. Then after listening to the first Reflection Eternal album, the clouds of doubt dissipated. When combined, both artists seem to be thirsting for excellence, and the result is feel good music that pretty much anyone can nod their heads to and enjoy. Although I have yet to give their recent mixtape, The Re:Union, a proper listen, for some reason I am very confident that Reflection’s up and coming album is going to cause a resurgence of praise for these two.
Smiff-N-Wessun & Pete Rock | Untitled
Another crazy collabro from Duck Down. Although Smiff-N-Wessun have never grabbed me as the most compelling MC’s, Pete Rock’s imprint on hip-hop is absolutely undeniable. On top of that, rarely do you find him taking on 100% of the production on a project that isn’t his own. For that reason alone I’m really looking forward to this album. Despite my earlier comment, I do think Smiff and Wessun have talent. I’m excited to see if the Soul Survivor’s instrumentals bring best back out of Tek and Steele.
The L.O.X. | New L.O.X. Order
For those of you who want to hear Scarface, “Shoot Em Up”, Juice, City Of God, and Heat all mixed together into audio form, you can now rejoice, the L.O.X. are officially releasing a new album. Although neither their styles nor their subject matter have changed an ounce since they came out with Bad Boy, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, and Styles P always seem to be a breath of fresh air in the world of hardcore gangster hip-hop. Their lyricism, emphatic delivery, and the creativity of their punchlines and metaphors allow them to stand out in a sub genre of rap that too frequently seems to be regressing in quality. With rumors of production from Swizz Beatz, DJ Premier, Dame Grease, Pete Rock, The Neptunes, and even Dr. Dre, New L.O.X. Order is shaping up to be an album that should not be missed.
Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon | Untitled
It’s hard to believe that 17 years after Enter The 36 Chambers, the people from Wu-Tang are still releasing albums that the world is craving to hear. Meth, Ghost, and Rae all released critically acclaimed projects last year, and they toured together with Rock The Bells, so it’s makes sense that they would come together to finally do a project as a trio. It should be an interesting to hear, because last year The Chef proved that he has impeccable taste in beats, while Tony Starks and Johnny Blaze have become the members of Wu with the most extroverted and entertaining personalities. Then to cap things off, despite his major lawsuit with Ghost, RZA has expressed serious interest in contributing in some way shape or form to the album. In my opinion, if you couldn’t get the entire Clan together again, this would probably the combination I’d be the most excited for.
DJ Fresh and Young Gully | The Tonight Show
This is another album that was released for paid download in ’09, but won’t be available as a tangible disc until some time in 2010. If you are at all familiar with music coming from the Bay over the past year or two, there is no way to not know about DJ Fresh. Awarded the best producer at the 2009 West Coast Hip-Hop Awards, The World’s Freshest DJ has been doing collaboration albums with a who’s who list of upcoming and established talent from Northern Califoolya. Additionally, his first solo album, also released in 2009, slapped ridiculously, and sported features from out of towners Kool G Rap, Raekwon, and Strong Arm Steady. Young Gully on the other hand, is brand new in the game, and has a truly lyrical style that is often impossible to find in Bay Rap. In my opinion, he could be one of the few artists from California who has the ability to impress a variety of hip-hop fans from across the country. While there are a lot of cats from my home soil that could sound sick with DJ Fresh, I think Young Gully is on the top of my list.
Dr. Dre | Detox
I had to include it! This album has been rumored for around eight years now, and has never seen the light. At one point it was supposed to be a hip-hop opera, where each rapper raps as a different character in a story that stretches the entire length of the CD. Another incarnation included all of the beats that Dre gave to 50 Cent on Get Rich or Die Trying. The list of possible ghostwriters, producers, and MCs to be involved in the project has been out of control. Regardless of what we have read in interviews, or been told through the grapevine over the years, Detox continues to be the most hyped album that never happens. The only reason why I think this year could possibly be different is that Dre started his comeback in ’09, with the release of his signature headphones, as well as albums by Eminem and 50 Cent that heavily featured his production. At the same time, due to the amount of unprecedented hype this album has received over the years, I honestly do not think it has a snowball’s chance in hell of fulfilling the world’s expectations. That’s why I’m interested in hearing it. Will it be filled with the minimalistic yet lush piano tracks that he’s been pushing recently? Will he bring back the synths and the other unexpected additions to the beats that defined The Chronic and 2001? Or will he once again come with a new style the world has yet to experience? Who knows, but after all of these years I just want to hear it, and 2010 seems like the first time that it could be a legitimate possibility.
That’s what I’m looking forward to in 2010. Write me a comment and tell me which albums you are excited to hear this year!
by Matt Moretti