It’s a testament to the strength of hip-hop, as the medium enters its third decade, that 2006 would see such a wide range of sounds so well represented, from commercial anthems to abstract beat tapes. But what was most promising about 2006 was its geographical diversity. Although New York and LA continue to lead the way, great artists are no longer confined even to acknowledged hot spots like Houston. England is coasting into the middle of a golden period for its take on the genre, and under-the-radar domestic locales like Miami and Kentucky are proving the universality and adaptability of hip-hop here at home.
THE GAME: Doctor’s Advocate is a personal best, and it beats 50-Cent with a stick.
1 Clipse | Hell Hath No Fury | Jive | With a back story that could fill a book, the Neptunes-backed Clipse’s sophomore album finally found its way into stores this fall. It was worth the wait. Hell Hath No Fury is a stunning display of the best coke rap has to offer: dark crime tales, sharp humor, and some of the dirtiest beats ever turned into 1’s and 0’s.
2 The Game | Doctor's Advocate | Geffen | The Game’s follow-up to his multi-platinum The Documentary is even more packed with singles, and thanks to his improved lyric-writing skills, it’s far superior to rival 50 Cent’s G-Unit output over the past two years.
3 Z-Ro | I’m Still Livin’ | Rap-A-Lot | Another fine release from the best rapper in Houston, I’m Still Livin’ takes Z-Ro’s usual sing-rap style flow and puts it to some unusual ’80s-ballad-drenched beats. The result is compelling and heartfelt.
4 Sway | This is my Demo | All City | Don’t call it grime: Sway makes British hip-hop and he makes it well, with a rapid-fire delivery and diverse beats that add up to a powerful presence in the UK. Even next to great releases from Akala, Wonder, and Lady Sovereign, This Is My Demo can proudly represent England circa 2006.
5 Ghostface Killah | Fishscale | Def Jam | Although it can’t compare with the Wu-Tang MC’s classic, Supreme Clientele (2000), Fishscale continues Ghostface’s innovative streak. Unlike anything else released in this or any year.
6 Pitbull | El Mariel | TVT | Miami’s clubs, like England’s, are much better known for dance music than for hip-hop, but Cuban-American Pitbull has been using the booty-shakin’ traditions of his home town to add Latin flavor to Southern-style hip-hop. El Mariel is his most consistent record, a mix of social statements and party slogans, all thrown over dirty dance beats
7 Nas | Hip Hop is Dead | Def Jam | Nas records are often maligned for their beats, which never measure up to the Queens-born rapper’s skills on the mic. If it were any other, less-talented MC, that might matter.
8 Cappablack | Facades and Skeletons | Scape Germany | This Japanese duo turn out the kind of excellent glitch-hop instrumentals that Prefuse 73 used to make, and Facades and Skeletons is all clicks and cuts, blended and strained into a hip-hop mold for maximum portability.
9 Rhymefest | Blue Collar | Alido/J Records | The co-author of Kanye West’s monster “Jesus Walks,” Chicago-born Rhymefest, released his debut to little press. It’s a shame, because Blue Collar announces the arrival of one of hip-hop’s best new lyricists. And he samples the Strokes.
10 CunninLynguists | A Piece of Strange | L.A. Underground | CunninLynguists have made a near-perfect underground hip-hop record at a time when that scene seemed stale and repetitive. That they did it in the middle of the Bluegrass State is the best demonstration of hip-hop’s power and domination in this banner year for the genre.