Album Of Year : This Year Was A Good Year
Kanye West The College Dropout (Def Jam)
Arguably the album that ’04 will be most remembered by. This collage of comedy, spirituality, lyricism, and just party has borrowed from so many of the great albums past. Rightly, Kanye has quietly been a part of some of the greatest albums in the last five years. For a debut, Kanye has much to live up. But without a doubt…although AllHipHop knew this would be big, nobody predicted a massive drop this amazing. Do ya thing Mr. Dropout…you don’t need no piece of paper to get a piece of the music industry’s paper.
Masta Ace Long Hot Summer (M3)
Another Indie major favorite. The last of the great concept albums. This release was the sequel to Disposable Arts, which similar support, respect, and praise. This time, there were no battles or funny White roommates, but the production on this feature was the best Ace has had since Marley Marl in the late 80’s. In an age where singles outweigh the albums, Ace reminds us why he’s an outstanding entertainer. Sorry about the retirement misinterpretations buddy, we want Ace forever.
Ludacris and T.I. The Red Light District & Urban Legend (Def Jam & Atlantic Records)
All praise is dude to the present Kings of the South, Ludacris and T.I. Call us chickens**t for putting them on this list together, but we feel they deserve special recognition for a number of reasons. First, they had beef during the course of the year, which has since been resolved. Both represent Atlanta, the current creative hub of Hip-hop. These two gentlemen represented everything we love (and that’s lacking) in Hip-Hop – creativity and authenticity. In 04, Ludacris’ ‘bows got bigger and his penchant for punchlines almost had us OD’ing with Red Light District. No street slouch, T.I.’s Urban Legend proved that shawty has a unique ability to push units like weight, but remain in good standing his bourgeoning fan base. (I didn’t hurt that these guys were backed by the finest beat maestros that rap has to offer.) With T.I. and Luda, we were blessed with the best of both worlds and they exemplified that commercial Hip-Hop doesn’t have to be pop corn beats and watered down, clichéd rhymes.
De La Soul The Grind Date (Sanctuary)
No big singles. No big label, just Beyonce’s daddy. But most critics agreed, this was the first time in eight years that De La Soul has made an album without a theme that fit into their classic catalog. Soulful production and more appropriate guests made for an audible treat that will age like merlot on Hip-Hop lovers all around. De La never really went anywhere, but as they’ve grown older, they’ve grown quieter. JBeez, LONS, Monie Love, Tribe… what’s really good?
Ghostface Killah The Pretty Toney (Def Jam)
Like the projected Lil’ Wayne move, people assume that Def Jam will compromise a special artist’s sound. The Pretty Toney proved such a notion mostly wrong. While the music quality was a little less hissy, this album proved to follow in Ghost’s stellar discography. Tons of samples, awkwardly sung hooks, rugged slang, and intricate detail gave Ghost another great album even if the equivalent sales weren’t there. Was the company in a position to handle Ghost? That’s up for grabs, but the Ghostdini has an art that stands on its own. "Run" was as strong of a single as you’ll get, and the diehard fans rejoiced.
Indie Album of Year : Independent as WHAT!
K-Os Joyful Rebellion (Astralwerks)
Last time K-Os dropped, he had a strong single…but Kweli and The Roots albums bodied his. This year, it’s the reverse. While the sales may never match, K-Os is winning over fans all over with his lightning fast but very careful wordplay, his up-tempo production, and his medicating messages. This album was a favorite around the AHH corridor, and everybody really has respect for Vancouver’s finest.
Lil’ Jon & Eastside Boyz Crunk Juice (TVT)
This was Jon’s most anticipated work, ever. Core fans might’ve felt cheated a bit, but Tuesday’s record store regulars had Jon on their grocery list. Ice Cube’s presence on the album made for a luminary classic, while Rick Rubin furthered his resurgence into Hip-Hop. This album is a time capsule for Crunk’s breakthrough into the mainstream, and who knows it better than Lil’ Jon?
Masta Killa No Said Date (Nature Sounds)
After a ten-year hold-up and label changes, Killa made his solo debut in the footprints of Ghost and GZA’s better work. Every Wu member joined the show, and RZA produced a heavy dosage of this album’s astounding beats. In roller coasters, the last seat gets the greatest G-Force. While this album lacked the sales of its Wu peers, it soared in critical acclaim. Well worth the wait.
Royce Da 5’ 9” Death Is Certain (Koch)
Some of Eminem’s scariest Stan’s might have missed Royce da 5’9” this year, but others were privy to unearth a morbid gem called Death Is Certain. Royce finally shed his overt beefs and channeled his energies into this well-balanced story backed by Carlos Broady and others. With bangers like “Hip Hop,” “T.O.D.A.Y,” “Death Is Certain, Pt. 2 (It Hurt’s),” and “Something’s Wrong With Him,” this is an epic tale of fear, adversity, reality and gangsterism. Generic G’s, please step to the side.
MF DOOM & Madlib Madvillain (Stones Throw)
This album celebrated DOOM’s renaissance to the fullest. Madlib turned in some of his best work in five years, as DOOM created a timeless character that brought in comic lovers and cosmic lyricists alike for a celebration of grimy rhymes, distorted beats, and an authentic style. Last year was kind to DOOM and promised much more, despite two other solid releases, this experiment was the bigg’un.
New Artists : Make room!
Yeah we know, Ghost stole the show on 718. But Theodore Unit gave way to a crew (if they keep the moniker) of Trife, Wigz, and Solomon Childs that kept up with any Wu offspring of the ’97-’99 years. Many argued that as a unit, the crew made a better album than The Pretty Toney Album. We don’t care. We’re just glad we got two solid Ghost albums this year. And after Ghost gave his sweet sixteens, the rest of the Unit kept it moving lovely. Solo’s anyone?
Crime Mob & Lil’ Scrappy
With ‘04 the year that Crunk affirmed itself nationally, why not add a few youngsters to the party? This ain’t no gimmick though, Crime Mob and Lil’ Scrappy made lots of noise that we expect to be heard for years to come. Scrap made it evident that he’s the Prince of Crunk and Diamond and Princess of Crime Mob proved that girls could throw bows with the best of them. Just keep these eye-candies from your pedophile uncle.
Next year promises to be the real rookie season for Sai. Still, off the strength of Warning Shots, a host of guest stops and mixtape drops, Saigon has set the stage to become the Yardfather outside the walls. Inking a deal with Just Blaze and hob-nobbing with not only the elite, but the proven greats of Hip-Hop, Saigon has already entered the game with his own blueprint. We were hard with the review because the real debut, too big to ignore.
Love her or hate her, Remy Martin of the Terror Squad came on the scene in full force in ’04. The Bronx rapper brought some heat with Fat Joe and, honestly, what would “Lean Back” have been without that female touch to anchor it? In 2005, we hope to see Remy and other females back on the frontlines of Hip-Hop.
Former Stones Throw 12" artist teamed up with Oh No to create The Plague, a gem of an album that garnered respect all over. Not much is known about Kazi, but just as the old days, the music spoke for itself. As for Oh No, he easily surpasses the expectations that go with being Madlib’s younger sibling with his precise lyricism and combustible beats.
Top Artists (Artistry): Miles of Styles
"The Thief’s Theme" is undeniably the eeriest single of the year. Whether or not you think the other twenty-five joints on Street’s Disciple measured up, Nasir’s union with Olu Dara, his free concerts, and his old-school savvy flow has made him the most talked about artist with the least tele-time. It’s your world Nas, we just send the alerts to publicize it to the people. "Suicide Bounce" demonstrates Nas’ superb flow in its finest and “Getting Married” exemplified that rappers can age gracefully. While he laid low until the last quarter, Nas extend his reputation from two years ago as the smoothest, the wisest – the street’s disciple.
Masta Ace makes better records now than he did fifteen years ago. Like Bonds, Ace has kicked it into overdrive to push the way an album is looked at, and the characterization an MC can use to enhance his message. Masta Ace continues to do what Jay-Z did with Reasonable Doubt – make records that feel like audio movies. Like Jay, Ace has also made it clear he intends to step aside to run M3 Records, and develop artists like Long Hot Summer supporting MC’s Strick and Apocalypse. A reported collaboration album with Wordsworth may also be in the cards.
For a group that never seemed to get anything but love, The Tipping Point was polarizing to audiences. It was loved or hated. Either case, the Roots crew continued to make things fun again with Black Thought getting back into the front of the band. The G Rap and Kane imitations were crazy, the messages were positive and quite relevant, and the music continues to be the top of the line. The Roots do so much for Hip-Hop. The record company just needs to fall back on dropping Common, Roots, Kweli, Mos Def, etc. so damn close together!
The unstoppable Cee-Lo continues to make albums that defy listener expectation and still get crazy love. …Is the Soul Machine followed in the veins of Outkast’s banner 2003, without radio over-play or crazy videos. Cee-Lo pushes Hip-Hop to brave new worlds, doing most of the work without crazy production. It’s all organic, and continues to provide the wise messages and colorful displays that Cee-Lo is known for – with, or without Goodie Mob. Don’t sleep.
It’s rare to see a producer in such a category. 9th had a quieter year than 2003, and 2005 promises to be. But while pumping out solid work with his extended LB fan, 9th also made magic for underground stars MURS and AllHipHop’s own Jean Grae. The bootlegged Jeanius is arguably, 9th’s finest work. Plus, our boy dropped in on projects from Masta Ace and Consequence to keep it moving. In 2005, another Jean Grae collaboration album, a project with Buckshot, and that new Little Brother (The Minstrel Show) promises to keep dude busier than Suge Knight’s attorney.
Top Artists (Commerical): Playerhater’s Ball
Still doing it – times two, this year. Suit made a fool out of Sweat, but Nelly continues to move units like they got four legs. We can’t knock the hustle, Nelly. We just wish that the records had some punch in ‘em like the old days. Oh hell, there we go hating again. Do your thing Nelly.
Like Nelly, Jay placed three albums this year. The Black Album still went fast, then there was R. Kelly (Unfinished Business), then Linkin Park . Plus, movie tickets. Dang Jay, for a dude who’s supposed to be not here, you sure did yours.
The must-have, most memorable, and longest running record of the year. Kanye moved his solo like crazy, while he was behind so many other top-selling records. 2004 will be hard to beat for Mr. West.
If you drop it, they will come. Eminem, late in the year, had immense impact on the game. Plus, D-12 had a thing going for a minute. Nobody brings them into the stores, cash-in-hand like Slim Shady.
R&B maybe, but un-ignorable when it came to the receipts. Confessions surpassed damn near everybody with Usher’s most Hip-Hop album yet. The singles created themselves, and like Kanye – it was the most talked about record of the year. When can we get that feature Ursh?
Producer : Old Friends and Some New
He didn’t invent it, but Crunk went from a Three-Six Mafia chorus to nationally accepted attitude and movement courtesy of Mr. Yeah! What! Okay! Through bangers for Usher, Ciara, and others, Jon kept R&B’s (or Crunk & B’s) chest out while making potent club pipe-bombs throughout the Hip-Hop industry. Everybody wanted him, and unlike Dre or Primo – he always seemed to have time and an open hand, with a pimp cup in the other.
While Jon stayed in predictable places, Kanye got his hands in more pies than Wilt Chamberlain. Dilated Peoples and Slum Village utilized the Chi-town sound to stay on the charts, while his own album contained jewel after jewel. Kanye also gets crazy snaps for "Jesus Walks", which lyrically stole the show from a rumbling beat that just banged from start to finish. Prediction: Next year is Just Blaze’s!
Few can afford the pristine quality of a Just Blaze or Kanye West. The soul sample price to pay can come in unique packages. Thanks to a strong Dip Set endorsement two years back, some would argue that the Heatmakerz are better at high speed vocal sampling than anybody. Although they roll with some major gangstas, these dudes also clear their share of samples to show credit and love. Without a doubt, the best kept secret since Diamond D.
On the strength of "Lean Back" alone, Storch is a beast in ’04. But through making stellar club tracks with or without radio play, Scott Storch is proving to be the next go-to guy. Like Alchemist’s Dilated & Mobb affiliations, Scott is using his love with The Roots & Aftermath together to win over a cross-section of fans from all facets of Hip-Hop. Plus, away from the beats…Scott can co-sign something that LL said way back, Kim’s got a big ole’ butt.
The year opened with the sweetest sound to many ears, "Appreciate" with Pete & CL. It ended with not a Mecca and Soul Brother album, but an LP with Edo G that received a great deal of love. In a year when Premier and RZA stayed low-key, Pete Rock came back strong with his own album, Soul Survivor II plus lots of out-sourcing. Pete is sounding as good as ever, and continues to work with the creme de la creme. We’re hoping Pete’s all over that Monch album next year!
Disappointments : Oh No!
213 Three Tha Hard Way (TVT)
Snoop, Nate Dogg, and Warren G unveiled their super-project to decent sales. Still, after all those VH1 clips and promises, this album was busted! The production was all out-sourced, and Snoop and Warren slept on their lyrics. The album had one or two joints, but this lineup could be outdone by the Cash Money Clique album, due 2007.
Talib Kweli The Beautiful Struggle (Geffen)
Kweli’s stock stood tall after "Get By", the remix, and mind-blowing mixtape. But the hype all crumbled on an album that lacked the lyrical intricacies that we’ve come to expect. Like Eminem, Kweli relied too heavily on his social changes and new status, and joints like "Black Girl Pain" and the title-cut were too little, too late. We bought four copies each of the mixtape though. Maybe it’s those damn A&R’s?
Eminem Encore (Shady/Aftermath)
Nas slipped hard with his fourth album Nastradamus. Eminem seems to have followed suit with a politically and socially charged album marred by weak hooks and less edge. Dr. Dre production has always been more available than during past years for Em releases. The complete package isn’t as needed, and dropped at a bad time for Hip-Hop records. Whatever the case, we can count on Em and his squad to make videos that polish these lackluster tracks into new understanding.
Method Man Tical O: The Prequel (Def Jam)
First a bad TV show, then a bad album. 2004 wasn’t kind to the Iron Lung. Fans craved fresh material from Meth, but received a poorly promoted, saturated concept that depended on word of mouth. The Tical series has dwindled and rans its course. Fans crave a sincere Meth to be himself, not a character and return to that individual we loved so much. We know Meth isn’t a fan of Rap journalism, but we at AllHipHop want you to succeed big brother! Add RZA to the speed dial.
Nelly Sweat & Suit (Fo’ Reel/Universal)
A double album, sold separately? History was made, but the result just seemed – Ouch. We just didn’t like the silly, ’87 Puffy sounding singles, cheap content, and relative lack of heat that re-affirmed that Nelly is for the children. Plus, the whole "Tip Drill" controversy couldn’t save a song – nice video though. In any event, Nelly’s decadent approach to 2004 hurt him real bad. The sales are good, but when the temperature suddenly drops, is it worth it. And it was just getting hot in herre, damnit!
Best Videos : Vicseral Visuals
Jay-Z "99 Problems"
Ludacris "Step Back"
Ghostface Killah "Run"
Ja Rule, Jadakiss, and Fat Joe "New York"
Kanye West "All Falls Down" (Most of West’s videos could make this list)
F**k AllHipHop.com: The Ill Community Weighs In On 2004!