Monday, April 09, 2007

Why Hip Hop Sucks in '07

... because there is none.

Actually, saying that hip hop "sucks" in 2007 may be a bit harsh. Truthfully, my intention with this post title was making a tongue-in-cheek reference to DJ Shadow, which I thought might make me appear hip, though by pointing out said reference, I likely accomplished the complete opposite. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is hip hop releases so far this year, and probably for the first time in the past few years, are lowering more in quantity than in quality.

This is certainly due in large part to the mass rush to release albums in time for 2006's holiday season. Maybe it's because I'm Jewish and thus don't make as big of a deal out of the holidays as your typical Christmas tree-purchasing gentile, but I personally don't understand the justification behind stockpiling album releases in the later months of the year. I mean, are people really buying hip hop CDs as stocking stuffers? Are people really buying hip hop CDs period?

As far as notable hip hop releases thus far in 2007 go, here are a few, of which I have the following opinions...

Some unidentified, clever internet user recently mentioned that Rich Boy (whose album is self-titled, so I'm not going to type out his rap name any more than I have to) has a striking resemblance to Timmy from South Park, and since reading that, I haven't been able to look at his album cover without at least slightly giggling. Dude has a big head, and I don't mean that as in, his ego is big. I mean, his head is fucking HUGE. It can't even fit on the damn album cover!

Anyways, everyone has heard "Throw Some D's", and for good reason -- it's catchy, and the well-produced Polow Da Don beat sounds tailor-made for Rich Boy's flow. And if you haven't heard the overloaded remix, it's worth a listen solely for Andre 3000's opening verse, and/or to hear Jim Jones say that he's "got a chest cold" and "might sneeze on a bitch". This album is as much a showcase of Polow as a producer, of which his other biggest highlight is the thumping "Boy Looka Here", the album's 2nd single and almost a polar-opposite of "Throw Some D's" as far as its sound. By the end of the album, you'll likely come away more impressed with Polow's beats than Rich Boy's raps -- quite frankly, Rich Boy's Alabama drawl is very difficult to decipher, and makes T.I. sound like Winston Churchill in comparison. While there are some moments of clarity where Rich Boy is able to separate himself from the "stereotypical Southern rapper", like on "Role Models" f/ David Banner and the anti-establishment rantings of "Let's Get This Paper" (where he shines some much-needed light on the tragic Martin Lee Anderson controversy from a year ago), there are just as many moments where he fits that very mold perfectly, such as on "What It Do", "Hustla Balla Gangsta Mack" and "Touch That Ass" (all horrible song titles, if you didn't notice). All in all, Rich Boy has its moments, but then again, so does a lot of mediocre shit.

[As an aside, I find it somewhat humbling that Southern rappers' "message" songs tend to have such generic, uninspired titles, like the aforementioned "Let's Get This Paper", or Juvenile's "I lost it all in Katrina"-song and video "Get Ya Hustle On". Maybe I've got it all wrong in my semi-ignorance of Southern rap. Perhaps these dudes are deeper than they appear, but just don't care/aren't smart enough to come up with unique song titles and choruses?]

[As another aside, I'm not quite sure what to think about the fact that, since the last Outkast album, Andre 3000 has done as many songs (2, to be exact) with Jim Jones -- the "Throw Some D's" remix and Unk's "Walk It Out" remix -- as he has with partner-in-rhyme Big Boi -- who also appears on the "Walk It Out" remix, as well as on UGK's "International Players Anthem", which can be heard here. Should I be proud that Jim Jones has moved up so much in the world that he's making music with Andre? Should I be sad that 'Kast so rarely puts out music together anymore? Should I be sad that Jim Jones has moved up so much in the world that he's making music with Andre?]

I have a hard time deciding whether or not I want to root for Young Buck. 50 Cent and G-Unit haven't been all that likable since they were the underdogs going after Ja Rule, back when he was popular (heh, remember that?), and their recent slump has indicated a sizable loss to their fanbase, and has brought many, even 50 himself, to question the crew's long-term future. Despite all this, Buck has retained an enjoyable personality that extends beyond his loyalty to 50 and G-Unit. While Buck The World isn't on the same level of his debut, Straight Outta Cashville, it's not too far of a drop off. Part of the trouble with Buck The World is that there's nothing interesting going on until the Polow Da Don-produced (popular guy, ain't he) lead single, "Get Buck", at track #5. After the album's slow and rather-generic beginnings, Buck shows his personal side on "Slow Ya Roll" and the title track, on which Buck relives his child custody drama. Other highlights include the 50 Cent-guested "Hold On", a Dr. Dre-produced track which sounds like nothing he's done before (in a good way), "Haters" f/ Kokane, a West Coast-flavored track that shows Buck's song-making versatility, and "4 Kingz" f/ T.I., Young Jeezy and Pimp C, which is a quality posse cut despite lacking originality in both its concept and its hook.

Now on it's second go-round of album releases, 50 Cent's G-Unit kingdom seems to be facing the same sort of backlash that the Wu-Tang Clan did back around 1998-2000 -- the sophomore releases from the likes of Raekwon and GZA paled in comparison to their incredible debuts, while the debuts of Wu members like Inspectah Deck and U-God, who didn't put out solo albums in the mid-'90s, went largely unnoticed. In G-Unit's cases, 50's, Banks' and Buck's sophomore albums were definitely not as good as their firsts, and Mobb Deep's and Tony Yayo's first G-Unit releases were pretty much terrible. The main difference here, though, is that Wu-Tang had a strong-enough reputation and fanbase to maintain some sort of popularity, plus a richer history in and out of music to keep something like commercial failure from tearing them apart. As far 50 and G-Unit, well... let's just say that that's where the similarities end.

Much like his often-times-partner Method Man, Redman has put out his best work in years (though also, his only work in years) in Red Gone Wild, yet no one is noticing. Besides the obvious lack of promotion, another reason for this is Redman's lack of catchy choruses here -- case in point, Red's repeating of "Put It Down" as the hook for his Timbaland-produced lead single of the same name likely isn't causing much radio buzz (I wouldn't know, as I don't really listen to the radio anymore). But lyrically, Redman sounds refreshed, his verses as clever as they ever were, and his flows equally refined. Standout tracks on Red Gone Wild include the Def Squad reunion "Walk In Gutta", which unearths Biz Markie for a rare appearance, the Pete Rock-produced "Gimmie One", the previously-released-yet-still-dope "Gilla House Check", and both of Red's weed songs with a few of his smoking buddies, "Blow Treez" f/ Method Man and "Merry Jane" f/ Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg (even though the Rick James "Mary Jane" sample used in the latter song has been done to death, almost as badly as "I'm Rick James, bitch!" has). The only time the album falters is when Red tries to give some shine to his Gilla House crew members, not so much because the MCs themselves are lacking, but because the beats they're given to work with, on "Sumtn 4 Urrbody" and "Get 'Em", are straight godawful.

And here are a few more notable releases which I don't have the desire to talk about at length...

8Ball & MJG - Ridin' High
You'd be best to just stop listening after track #7. Or at least before Puffy's verse kicks in toward the end of track #7. It's all downhill after that.

Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) - Return Of The Mac
Prodigy will never return to being the elite MC he was in the '90s, but if Return Of The Mac is the best we can get out of P, then hope is not lost just yet. And producer Alchemist, who produces the whole thing, and most notably "Stuck On You", proves that the art of speeding up vocal samples (a.k.a. "chipmunk soul") is not dead yet either. Easily the best Mobb Deep release this century, which is actually a bit unremarkable considering that this is just a "mixtape". Could this be a sign of good things to come, or does the Mobb just not have their priorities straight? [I could take this opportunity to shit on Blood Money, but I think I've already done that in this post and I'm trying to cut down on that.]

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
I actually haven't heard this yet, as El-P is one of the few artists for whom I'll put up my hard-earned money, yet with Tower closing its doors and Borders' hip hop section being barren, I'm running low on places where I could make this purchase. And don't tell me about buying music from iTunes -- if I don't have neatly-folded liner notes in front of me and a plastic case that took me 10 minutes to get the shrinkwrap off of, then it just ain't right. I'm sure this album is quality, though, and hopefully one day I'll be able to verify that.