COMPELLING: Between his own remarkable Big Doe Rehab and his feud with his Wu-Tang mates, Ghostface Killah had our attention in 2007
As it always has, hip hop evolved with the times this year. Although their industry continued to be hit by sales losses due to illegal file-sharing, these rappers bore down and released solid works that played to their strengths. These nine CDs – and one digital download – show the genre to be still vital, and still fun.
1. Kanye West | Graduation
A rare big-name rap release this year that eschewed gangster posturing, Kanye West’s third effort (Roc-A-Fella) is as vulnerable as it is bombastic, as catchy as it is groundbreaking. Although most of the coverage focused on his release date “showdown” with 50 Cent, the real story here was West’s beautiful collaborations with everyone from Elton John to Daft Punk to Mos Def.
2. Lil Wayne | Da Drought 3
Wayne was the most prolific man in hip-hop this year, and he didn’t even release a traditional album. Da Drought 3, like the Miami-transplanted rapper’s legions of other mixtapes, is a totally illegal Internet leak and completely a gas. It features Weezy rapping over other people’s beats, and the punch lines are ridiculous. (“Fly like an eagle but no I’m not Donovan. Boy you better go eat some soup with your mom and them.”) Say what you will about Radiohead — Wayne is at the forefront of changing music technology.
3. DJ Khaled | We The Best
Something was strange if you didn’t have T-Pain, Akon, or Lil Wayne on your rap album this year, and DJ Khaled’s sophomore effort (Koch) has all three — not to mention just about everyone else in the rap universe, from Young Jeezy to the Game to Fat Joe. What’s more, the Miami producer coaxed memorable verses from all of them. It helps that his hooks are so huge.
4. Wu-Tang Clan | 8 Diagrams
5 Ghostface Killah | The Big Doe Rehab
The Staten Island crew seem irrevocably shattered after 8 Diagrams (Loud/SRC), Wu-Tang Clan’s fifth album and first in six years, with Raekwon and Ghostface famously upset about RZA’s softer, guitar-and-piano based beats. Still, almost everyone is in fine form — Method Man especially — and the album succeeds by taking chances. Almost as compelling is Ghostface’s latest solo album (Island Def Jam), which continues the MC’s decade-long run of grisly, remarkable works. Although not quite as complex as last year’s Fishscale, The Big Doe Rehab satisfies by offering more of Ghost’s famous black humor and twisted narratives.
6. Serengeti & Polyphonic | Don’t Give Up
Out on micro-indie Chicago label Audio 8, Don’t Give Up is the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching album this year, in any genre. Anchored in DJ Polyphonic’s understated electronic chirps and noise-pop beats, it somehow stays optimistic, despite its focus on bleak themes of personal change, immaturity, and loss.
7. Pharoahe Monch | Desire
8 Little Brother | Getback
On their latest albums, Pharoahe Monch and Little Brother both speak to career growth. Whereas Monch on Desire (SRC/Motown) is working within the system (“Slave to a label, but I own my masters,” he spits on “Desire”), Little Brother has broken free from Atlantic Records (Getback is on ABB Records). Both address their situations without getting preachy or repetitive, and the wordplay, sharp flows, and great ears for beats on display ensure that they’ll have long and memorable careers, no matter who’s putting out their music.