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AHH YEAR IN REVIEW: Who Was The King Of The East In ’08?

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While the East Coast awaits a new crop of emcees to emerge in the national spotlight, the veterans continue to hold down the fort. This year saw mainstays like Nas and Jay-Z continue to make moves on the music and business front. Although several stars didn’t release albums, many like Fabolous, 50 Cent, and Jadakiss remained on the national radar through mixtapes and various guest spots.

 

Even without a unified front due to various cliques and infighting, the East has been able to lay the groundwork this year for anticipated new projects from Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Fabolous,  and Jadakiss.

 

Nas

Nasir Jones kept his name ringing in 2008 with the novel concept of simply making a great album. The first half of the year saw the Queens lyricist polarize the Hip-Hop world by naming his album N***** and dropping a controversial video for the street single “Be A N***** Too.” Def Jam initially supported the project but pressured Nas to compromise after major distributors such as Walmart threatened to not carry the LP.

 

Nas relented and simply left the album untitled, utilizing a powerful album cover image of his back whip-scarred into the letter N to symbolize the project’s true name. The Untitled album was released in July to near universal praise from critics for Nas’ exceptional critique of race on economic, historical, and social levels. The positive buzz earned Nas his second consecutive and fourth overall album to debut #1 on Billboard, knocking off the cultural phenomenon that is Tha Carter III. In October, Untitled was certified gold.

 

Already seventeen years deep, Nas continues to prove elite emcees can remain potent without making juvenile compromises to their art to appease fleeting trends.

 

Standout Songs:

“Hero,” “Black President,” “Queens Get the Money”

 

Jay-Z

Still riding the success of his return to form on American Gangster, Shawn Carter used most of 2008 to build anticipation for the long-awaited Blueprint 3.

 

Vacating his president position at Def Jam in December 2007, Jay kicked off 2008 with a memorable headlining performance at the British, normally rock-leaning Glastonbury Festival. The Brooklyn native used the slot to take a pointed jab at outspoken Oasis front man Noel Gallagher, who criticized the Jay-Z selection.

 

Jay went on to strategically place verses onto most of the big Hip-Hop records this year: Ross’s Trilla, Wayne Tha Carter III, T.I.’s Paper Trail, and Ludacris’ Theater of the Mind.

 

In August, anticipation built further for Blueprint 3 after the summer leak of “Jockin’ Jay-Z,” and the announcement that Kanye West would serve as co-executive producer.

 

On the business end, Jay-Z further lived up to his claim of not being a “businessman” but a brand all to himself. He finalized a hundred and fifty million joint venture with concert promoter Live Nation to have the organization finance Jay’s investments and split the profits fifty / fifty. The deal is one of the richest contracts ever given to a musician and gives Jay the distinction of being the first Hip-Hop artist to sign with Live Nation.

 

In addition, Jay-Z partnered with powerhouse Norwegian producers Stargate to launch a new label, Star-Roc. The company will handle recordings in-house at Jay’s Manhattan Roc The Mic studio, and sign all new artists to three sixty contracts covering their record sales, endorsements, concert revenue, and other ventures.

 

The likely most important event this year for the Brooklyn emcee was his marriage to longtime girlfriend Beyonce Knowles. The private ceremony was made public at the end of April, and the new Ms. Carter was seen sporting a five million Lorraine Schwartz-designed wedding ring. For Jay-Z, 2008 was business and politics as usual.

 

Standout Songs:

“Brooklyn (Go Hard),” “Jockin’ Jay-Z”

 

50 Cent

Curtis Jackson again proved he’s one of the hardest working artists / moguls in Hip-Hop, first by dethroning Jay-Z on Forbes’ annual Hip-Hop list with earnings of $150 million.

 

Southside Jamaica’s favorite son lent his brand to TV, film, and video games. In September he co-starred alongside movie legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the crime thriller Righteous Kill. In November he premiered an MTV reality show entitled The Money And The Power. On the gaming front, he finalized his second multi-platform video game in 50 Cent: Blood In The Sand for release in January 2009.

 

On the international front, 50 is in the process of securing an equity stake in the mining business of billionaire tycoon Patrice Motsepe. Musically, 50 Cent spent the majority of the year laying the groundwork for this fourth studio LP Before I Self-Destruct.

 

His G Unit camp returned to their underground best with several well received mixtapes in Return Of The Body Snatchers Vol. 1 and Elephant In The Sand. In October, he released the Scott Storch produced “Get Up,” the lead single for the new album.

 

Despite several setbacks in the G Unit album flop, high-profile baby momma drama, and the infamous taped Young Buck conversation, 50 Cent shows that even in a “slow” year, he’s still too far ahead for most to compete.

 

Jim Jones

Two years removed from his biggest hit in “We Fly High,” Harlem’s own Jim Jones continues to makes moves on the microphone and behind the scenes. Jimmy kicked off the year with the Dame Dash-hosted Harlem’s American Gangster. Powered by the lead single “Love Me No More,” the album / mixtape hit number one on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums List.

 

In July, Jones put together a six-man roster and released M.O.B.: The Album, the debut studio LP from his 2006 formed Byrd Gang.

 

To conclude 2008, Jones hopped on the Ron Browz club smash “Pop Champagne,” which will also be featured on Jim’s upcoming fourth album Pray IV Reign (January 2009).

 

Even with a highly publicized and sometimes violent feud with founding Byrd Gang member Max B still ongoing, Jim Jones has learned in 2008 to put business first.

 

Standout Songs- “Love No More,” “Pop Champagne”

 

Busta Rhymes

A veteran emcee that will celebrate his twentieth year of releasing music in 2009, Busta Rhymes has been able to bounce back from a public split with Interscope / Aftermath.

 

Things looked good in early 2008, as Busta released a signature raucous single in “Don’t Touch Me (Throw Da Water On ‘Em).” A memorable all-star remix soon followed featuring The Game, Nas, Spliff Star, Reek Da Villian, and Big Daddy Kane.

 

Busta built more momentum with the Linkin Park assisted “We Made It,” which cracked the top fifty on Billboard’s Pop chart. The song was prominently featured in Madden ‘09 and served as the theme song for the NBA Western Conference Finals.

 

The work was stifled momentarily when the Long Island emcee was dropped by Aftermath / Interscope after an alleged heated conversation between Busta and CEO Jimmy Iovine.

 

Undeterred, Busta closed out the year with the controversial club hit “Arab Money.” The remix drew the ire of Muslims worldwide for using revered Islamic verses on the nature of Allah in a song emphasizing extravagant materialism. Busta has since apologized and edited the song.

 

The controversy and consistent musical output has kept Busta’s name in the mix throughout 2008, and he’ll get the chance to capitalize in early 2009 with the release of Back On My B.S..

 

Standout Songs:

“Don’t Touch Me (Throw Da Water On ‘Em)”, “Arab Money (Remix)”

 

The Verdict:

While most kept to the usual fair of big money and others lost their identity by following the trends set forth by their protégés, Nas challenged the game with Untitled. Yes the album title was changed but that did not stop him from creating a work of art that not only skillfully tackled the much argued subject matter, but also his added to his legacy.

 

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