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2004: Hip-Hop’s People of the Year

MASTA ACE

Masta Ace has done it right. Just like shrimps in a fine restaurant, a little goes a long way. For fifteen years, the Masta has been grinding, yet 2004 delivered only Ace’s fifth released album. There should be at least one more. Each album has played a role in Ace’s career as well as in Hip-Hop, varying differently. One of the last great Marley Marl produced albums, Take a Look Around, shoved Ace into the spotlight with a project that mixed whimsical lines alongside acute observations of life in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Slaughta House and Sittin’ On Chrome followed, creating a legitimate East Coast interpretation of the then popular West Coast sound. With a solid character, funny yet relevant messages, and epitomizing bass, Ace quietly trucked on.

At the turn of the millennium, that’s where the story was supposed to end. Ace sat on shelves at Big Beat, got out-rapped in New York by a fledging demo-pusher called Boogie Man, and was long forgotten. This is where the story takes a turn that renders Man of Year status.

Since cutting The Inc. loose, Masta Ace dropped the most personal, most revealing, and least experimental albums of his life – Disposable Arts and Long Hot Summer. In an age relying on singles to move albums, Ace still tells stories woven together in the albums. On their own, “Beautiful” and “Da Grind” are singles, but meshed against the entire “fictional” story of a veteran rapper misled in a world of users and abusers, they are keystones to complete the picture.

2004 saw Ace appreciated, by all walks of Hip-Hop. The recognition is quiet, but Long Hot Summer continues to be talked about and revered more than most albums with a hundred times the budget. With or without Ace, artists like Jean Grae, Stimuli, Wordsworth, and countless others are indebted to Ace for some of their success, as are we. AllHipHop.com bows to the Juice Crew’s most modest MC ever.

DAVE CHAPELLE

Since Def Comedy Jam over a decade ago, Dave Chapelle has kept us laughing. Through the movie roles and talk show appearances, we still laughed – but as passionately as Chris Rock expresses his unabashed love of Hip-Hop, Chapelle uses his comedy as the voice of the Hip-Hop population. With quips about Das EFX and Arrested Development, the aged Hip-Hopper can see themselves in Chapelle’s comedy – making it distinctly ours, for others to admire.

The Chapelle Show has given the Hip-Hop community a reason to watch television again – as the expected places continue to cater to teenagers and fashion enthusiasts. Dave Chapelle will put De La Soul on his show one week, and Freeway the next. Records like “Beef” broke on the series, and performances in strange locations add color to the visual.

This summer Dave Chapelle invited Hip-Hop insiders and friends to his Brooklyn block-party, which featured great groups of yesterday and today. The free event spawned a Fugees reunion, a feat thought impossible to everybody. Dave Chapelle is generous with his love of Hip-Hop, and he is single-handedly responsible for helping deserving legends get the exposure they are due. We love to hate our own after they blow, but there’s no animosity from ANYBODY – save Wayne Brady – towards Dave Chappelle.

T.I.

T.I. has taken a page from 50 Cent’s book. Though I’m Serious had all the making of a good album in 2001, it fell despite a strong single. T.I. made a quiet label move, did a bid, and ended up with Trap Muzik a year and a half ago. The album showered T.I.’s insights and flow on the world, and a star was born.

Ever quick to follow-up, Urban Legend might not have lived up to Trap Muzik’s speed out the box – but it no doubt proved T.I.’s consistency to his audience. “Prayin’ For Help” reveals a man willing to make a difference as “Tha King” controversially made a leap towards the throne. Aside from Lil Flip, nobody has had a problem with it – not even The Geto Boys. So, it’s official.

T.I. has continued to do good for his Atlanta community, and from the untimely circumstances of his jail-time, it is clear that T.I. lives what he rhymes about. The streets respect it, the sound penetrates to the dance-floors, and T.I. might be the most talented new southern artist since Trick Daddy or Ludacris. Speaking of Luda, we gotta give it up to T.I. and ‘Cris for acknowledging the silliness of their beef, and getting past it. These are manly moves for such a young artist as the ATL spitter.

JAY-Z

Jay-Z was like an incarcerated John Gotti. We all knew he was removed from the game, but somehow that he had a hand in everything. The year began with tremendous spill-over sales from The Black Album. At the mid-section, Unfinished Business will remain a ‘what if?’ album. Sounding as strong as the first, Jay-Z killed the entire project when he refused to endorse it with the tour. Jay requires no back-story – he may be the last artist we’ll ever see create singles without radio, and the last to be remembered line for line.

Jay-Z’s impact is seen with the already noticeable Roc decline. With Jay they were a showcase. Without, the excitement was lost this past year – as was the momentum. Def Jam opened its VIP doors to Jay, making him the new shot-caller for ’05. The Roc dynasty was spit up, and now Jay will make an effort to bring the powerhouse back to their status at the top of the millennium.

Joni Mitchell said, “You don’t know what you’ve got til’ it’s gone.” While we still believe Jay has several decks up his sleeve, the adage was certainly true in ’04. From a box high above the game, Jay-Z still proved to be the wise puppet-master. We tip our hats to Jay. If AllHipHop.com was to ever walk off, we’d still run it too – ya heard!

RICK JAME, B***H – Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Rick James was as gangsta as they come. He said what was on his mind. He sold the game before he told it. He collected big when rappers tried to rob him at a time when he was broke. Rick’s entire life seemed to be heading towards order when he sat down with us this summer, an ironic foreshadowing to his untimely death.

Throughout Rick’s career, he resurrected Motown during some rough transition years. His tracks like “Give it to Me” and “Mary Jane” remain staples at the Hip-Hop party, as his guitar, vocals, and basslines remain in the cross-hairs of sampling producers everywhere. Shortly before his death, Rick had put in some work with Kanye West and Andre 3000. Fellow ‘AHH-Person of Year’ Dave Chapelle is also largely owed for a humorous and parodying look at Rick James, which gave young people a clue to their roots.

AllHipHop remembers Rick James and 2004 as unpredictable. We send blessings to your family, and we thank you for your candor and charisma in giving us one of our biggest treasures ever.

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