Friday, February 09, 2007

2006: Year In Downloading -- Part 6

I chose not to actually rank my favorite albums of '06 because I wanted to make something a bit more readable, not just a big old list. Whether or not any of it actually got read, however, I may never know. But regardless of whether one feels the need to place others' work in an order of excellence, and say "this is better than this but not as good that", most people with opinions likely hold one particular piece of work as being above all others. How many debates have taken place over who's, for example, the 5th greatest something of some era of time? Probably none, though I'm sure there's some very lonely people out there who have given it thought. But there's always arguments as to what is the greatest, the pinnacle, the apex, the most-highest-thing (sorry, can't find a thesaurus). For that reason, I offer what I hold to be the best hip hop album that 2006 had to offer...

Allow me to make a ridiculously-vague statement before following it up with an explanation -- Hip Hop Is Dead is one of Nas' most important albums (pretty vague, right?). It's not as important to hip hop's history as his debut Illmatic, one of the greatest representations of the genre. It's not as important to Nas' own career as Stillmatic, which brought him up to par and, depending on who you ask, possibly ahead of Jay-Z in their famous battle. Nas isn't at the lyrical peak that he was at on It Was Written. But as far as really trying to make a statement through an album, Hip Hop Is Dead is Nas' best attempt yet.

Regardless of what the unfortunately-edited title track (I guess "wreck the DJ" is a little more PC than "murder the DJ") may say, the album conveys the idea that hip hop isn't really dead as a whole, but some of it's component parts are facing more damage than repair. Nas questions the lack of unity and increasing sense of hatred between rappers on "Carry On Tradition". Meanwhile, "Where Are They Now" sheds light on the ignorance of the past largely held by today's culture, as he name-drops numerous artists who have seemingly been long-forgotten and cast under the shadows of history -- if none of these names spark up nostalgia (Ill Al Skratch did it for me, personally), then you might want to question the worth of your existence. On tracks like "Not Going Back" f/ Kelis, the buttery "Hold Down The Block", and "Can't Forget About You" f/ Chrisette Michelle (a well-done sampling of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable"), Nas walks many thin lines that most rappers stumble over -- leaving his past behind him yet also not forgetting where he came from, and analyzing his successes without coming off as braggadocios and alienating his audience.

What makes Hip Hop Is Dead that much more impressive, however, is what can typically ruin a potentially-great hip hop album -- its guest appearances. Nas appears to have found the balance between making a song that features another MC his own, yet also allowing the guest to reach their own creative peak as well. Each example is stellar -- the laid back vibes of "Play On Playa" f/ Snoop Dogg, the pulsating Dr. Dre-produced "Hustlers" f/ The Game (easily Dre's best beat in an otherwise-quiet year for the Good Doctor), the harmonious "Still Dreaming" f/ Kanye West, and finally, the much-talked-about "Black Republican" f/ Jay-Z, which lives up to any expectation one may have placed on their long-awaited collaboration.

Since I was recently reminded that I know (possibly too) much about rap and basketball, I'll combine the two to sum everything up: Nas is hip hop's Kobe Bryant. Undeniable natural talent (often hated on as a result of it), cocky when necessary, willing to play his role for the team to do well, yet also knowing full well that sometimes he's got to put the team on his back. Hip Hop Is Dead is Nas' fadeaway jumper, down by a point, with the 4th quarter buzzer sounding.


Ah, fuck it. Here's a list as well.

10. Brotha Lynch Hung & MC Eiht - The New Season
9. T.I. - King
8. Murs - Murray's Revenge
7. Busta Rhymes - The Big Bang
6. Mr. Lif - Mo' Mega
5. J. Dilla - Donuts & The Shining (dude died a year ago tomorrow, I'll allow him to get two albums in one spot)
4. The Game - Doctor's Advocate
3. Ghostface - Fishscale
2. Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor
1. Nas - Hip Hop Is Dead