Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006: Year In Downloading -- Part 1

Hello! Hello! Hello!

Is anybody out there! out there! out there!

As you can probably tell, I haven't put much effort into maintaining this fine piece of internet real estate -- shit, you'd have to be retarded to have not noticed, although knowing the people who are likely reading this, I wouldn't put that past y'all. (JOKES!) Anyways, having a 5-day-a-week job, getting my law school applications ready, and trying to have some sort of life outside of all that (emphasis on "trying") has forced me to eliminate either the time I'd previously alloted to updating this blog or the time I'd previously alloted to playing the latest version of Madden. And for the record, my franchise in Madden NFL '07 is on the verge of defending its back-to-back Super Bowls behind the strength of recent USC legends Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White -- it's a face-spittin' good time!

However, in an attempt to maintain some sort of tradition, I'll be doing an end-of-the-year recap of what 2006 has offered as far as hip hop albums to purcha, er, downlo... let's just say "obtain". I had actually started putting a list together a few months ago, but then I realized that most of the albums I was really looking forward to (Jay, Nas, Snoop, Game, among a few others) hadn't even come out yet. Thus, instead of trying to put everything in a list of best to worst, I'll just throw my thoughts out there in some type of order, in as many posts as it takes me to cover everything that deserves being mentioned. To start things off, two artists (actually three, one solo and one duo) who had taken a few years off a piece before returning to record store shelves in '06, and something I like to call the "Taco Bell Theory". [Does linking to a company's website protect from copyright laws? Fuck it, let's hope so!]

Taking a three-year hiatus since the eclectically-likable Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Outkast released Idlewild, which doubled as the soundtrack to their feature film of the same name (a movie which I didn't see in part because no one I knew was as interested in seeing it as I was, and also because I wasn't even that interested in seeing it in the first place). Maybe seeing the movie would've helped me like this album more, as it isn't "bad", but is Outkast's worst album yet -- but, trust me, those statements mean two very different things.

For starters, calling an Outkast album "bad" would officially revoke my "Caucasian hip-hop fan" card, which I don't want to do. And furthermore, with the high quality of Outkast's entire catalogue, their worst album could more reasonably be considered their "6th best". Considering the relevance of the film (set in the 1930s) to the album, the sound of Idlewild is seeped in a combination of jazz and swing, blues and church choirs, Vaudeville and lounge acts, all of which ultimately limits the production, causing some tracks to sound fairly interchangeable. To Outkast's credit, they're still willing to try new things, as Big Boi's still making rap records differently from any other rappers out there today (most of which is heavy on Sleepy Brown's crooning, like "The Train" and the still-catchy-to-this-day "Morris Brown"), and Andre's still making whatever-you-wanna-call-it music differently from anyone anywhere (like "Life Is Like A Musical" and the twangy "Idlewild Blue"). But that ultimately leads to another issue -- too many solo tracks (think Speakerboxx/The Love Below made into a single CD) when their chemistry is still as good as it's ever been. "PJ & Rooster" nicely blends Dre's singing with Big's rapping, but when both are rapping, on "Mighty O" and "Hollywood Divorce" f/ Lil' Wayne & Snoop Dogg, the album is at it's best. Unfortunately, moments like these are sparse amongst a fair amount of solo tracks that find both Dre and Big running out of ideas ("Makes No Sense At All" couldn't have a more fitting title) and skit after skit after skit which I can only presume was actual movie dialogue (which I doubt convinced anyone who hadn't seen the movie to actually see the movie).

Fortunately for Outkast, though, they were wise enough to not stage a retirement during their hiatus.

Jay-Z often likens himself to Michael Jordan, and now he can do so with complete honesty, as Kingdom Come plays like MJ's 2-year stint with the Washington Wizards (that is, assuming Jay doesn't have any more albums planned, and we've been duped about that before). In fact, the downsides to Jay's comeback album are easily comparable to Jordan's mistakes with the Wizards. Receiving 25 beats from Dr. Dre (the proof is in here somewhere) and choosing what would become "Trouble" was like taking Kwame Brown with a #1 draft pick (except that that dull beat isn't going to help anyone else a few years from now... GO LAKERS!). Throwing weak disses at Cam'ron on "Dig A Hole", the only diss track I can ever recall having an R&B chorus, was like trading Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, giving up a lot (a reputation for ending careers) for a little (did Cam's rhymes about Jay's open-toe sandals really warrant a response?). Alloting valuable album space to a duet with girlfriend Beyonce on "Hollywood" was like giving the starting point guard spot to a yes-man like Tyronn Lue (Jay, you help Beyonce sell records, not vice versa).

If all of that sounded harsh, it's only because it hurts me the most to admit this. To me, The Black Album was the perfect way for Jay to step aside and leave the game that he helped make great -- in a day in age where rappers can make a fortune off of overstaying their welcome, it served as the proper swan song to an immaculate career. If Jay really wanted to make a worthwhile comeback, he would've waited until he had something truly special to offer, and Kingdom Come is no such thing. It does have its high points -- the chemistry between Jay and Just Blaze (who's better than Kanye West now, if you hadn't heard) shows strong in the consecutive trio of "Oh My God", the title track, and the lead single "Show Me What You Got"; Jay's ability to reveal himself (no homo) through his music is still strong, as seen in the Dre-produced "Lost One" and the Kanye-produced "Do You Wanna Ride"; shit, he even makes growing older sound fresh on "30 Something", another Dre production. However, these 6 songs make up tracks 2 through 7, and after that, it's all kind of downhill from there, until the pleasant surprise of "Beach Chair", an incredible collaboration with Coldplay's Chris Martin that closes out the album well, and also serves as the best-produced song on the whole album (which says a lot, good and bad).

Most college students (whether current or former, especially at UCSB) should be able to relate to the following: a homie is making a run to Taco Bell, and you throw some money his way to get you your usual three items, which you personally rank from best to worst (and if you're like me, #1 is a Cheesy Gordita Crunch, #2 is a Double Decker Taco, and #3 is a Chicken Soft Taco). Unfortunately, due to some miscommunication, likely between your homeboy and the cashier, or the cashier and his/her brain, one of the three is forgotten. Ultimately, you have a right to be pissed about it, and if you wanted to, you could go back there to complain... but by the same token, you've got some of what you wanted, you've been waiting for it and anxiously anticipating its arrival, and besides, it is Taco Bell, some of the greatest fast food of all time.

Basically, Idlewild is like them forgetting the Chicken Soft Taco, and Kingdom Come is like them forgetting the Double Decker Taco. I don't know about the rest of y'all, but to me, that makes too much sense.

[Part 2 coming soon]