Albums of the Year:
The Game The Documentary (G-Unit/Aftermath)
The Documentary begs the question “What if Ice Cube would have released Amerikkka’s Most Wanted BEFORE leaving N.W.A.?” Though this album may haunt fans as a precursor to one of the weirdest, and most hostile, arguably – most fabricated beefs in rap history, it remains one of the most significant releases ever in the fabric of West Coast Hip-Hop history. With less than five years under his belt as a rapper, Game’s punchlines, lyricism, and guttural delivery placed Gangsta Rap as we knew it, back on the center of the mantle. As his peers moved away from threatening records, vocal gang affiliations, and blunt criticism of other rap icons, Game bathed in it. Documentary was not anticipated to be an album that stuck to the ribs of consumers, and a year later, it’s still melting lead, lodged in the ribs of rap history. Like Kanye West two years ago, Game has painted himself into his own red corner of high expectations and monumental pressure when it comes to The Doctor’s Advocate. [Listen to "Church for Thugs" and "Hate It or Love It (remix)".]
DJ Premier: "Game. That was the best one out of everything. I kept calling him. I told him when I seen him, I wasn’t a fan of all the freestyles he was doin’ and mixtapes. The album was just crazy. Even though Dre didn’t produce that many songs, he oversaw everything."
Kanye West Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella/G.O.O.D.)
Kanye West defied any expectation of a flop in his sophomore opus. Without crutching on ‘chipmunk soul’, Kanye created an album that appealed to rap, R&B, rock, and even adult contemporary audiences. An otherwise similar guest-list to his debut, fans were pleased with Paul Wall on “Drive Slow”, and downright astonished with Nas on “We Major”. Jay-Z’s verse, along with Kanye’s on “Diamonds Are Forever” will culminate the end of the Roc-A-Fella era as we knew it. Kanye’s own lyrics were expectedly arrogant, but still served as touchstones to the millions who felt the hunger on the debut. The utilization of super-producer, Jon Brion may have given Kanye the new perspective to motivate his continuing creative explosion in part two of his saga. From Oprah to AllHipHop, ‘Ye had the game on lock. [Listen to "Gone" and "Drive Slow".]
C-Rayz Walz: "Late Registration by Kanye Mr. West. This album is crazy because it’s hater-proof. I tried to hate hard but he held it down This album is very intimidating conceptually and I love records like that to give me a target of skill to aim past. The stand he took against Bush during Hurricane Katrina will be a Hip-Hop quotable forever."
Beanie Sigel The B. Coming (Dame Dash Music Group)
While Tupac was locked up, arguably his most complete album, Me Against the World climbed to number one. It lacked the singles, but it had the truth. Beanie Mac may be able to relate. Though it lacked the spark of albums past, the honesty and sincerity on The B. Coming soared high. Beans may have had a difficult year, but his opus was therapy to those who could relate. “Feel It In the Air” was brutally honest, “Gotta Have It” kept it club, while “Bread & Butter” showed Beanie’s respect for legends Sadat X and Grand Puba. Some fans may wonder if “It’s On” will be Beanie’s last collaboration with Jay-Z, though better judgment says otherwise. Though it may’ve lacked the marketing of Beanie’s first two albums, B.Coming quietly showed a more mature, more personal, and more thoughtful Beans.
Young Jeezy Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (Def Jam)
Few would disagree that collectively, Houston reigned supreme in 2005. Though, through Young Jeezy, Atlanta managed to celebrate a new, white-burning star. Your favorite trapper’s favorite trapper became a favorite rapper. Easily the biggest success of the Carter Administration at Def Jam, Jeezy managed to create a roaring album of drug anthems, trap-hungry themes, and a savvy materialistic view similar to his executive producer, Jay-Z. With Mannie Fresh and Bun B cosigning, who could deny the Boyz N’ the Hood standout? In a crowd full of frowning snowman tees, Jeezy got his “Standing Ovation” in the form of a smashing album that will not only shape the ziplock lyrics of 2006, but may bring a counterbalance to emphasis placed on beats. [Listen to "Trap Star".]
Illseed: “Say what you want about Jeezy – he’s not lyrical – get outta here. Dude’s album smashed almost everything moving. It was so hard, I almost changed my job to weight-pusher.”
Common BE (Geffen/G.O.O.D.)
After The Electric Circus, many Common fans were left scratching their beards and braids. Since aligning with Kanye West on “Get ‘Em High,” Common decided to follow through and make another career-defining album a decade after Resurrection. Addressing backpackers on “Chi-City” and the streets on “The Corners”, Common bound his audiences together, and offered stories and truths in between. Together Kanye West and Jay Dee shaped BE for Chicago’s finest that was mostly criticized for being like Todd Shaw, too short. Whatever the case, Common proved to be the reigning king of natural, pure Hip-Hop, and he flooded the mainstream consciousness with his organic message.
T3 of Slum Village: "I really like Common’s album. It was real Hip-Hop that just happened to crossover."
Indie Album of the Year:
Sean Price Monkey Bars (Duck Down)
If 2005 was a year of decadence, Sean Price was the antithesis – proclaiming himself the “brokest rapper alive.” Also known as Ruck, the lesser-known half of 90’s act Heltah Skeltah, made an album that outshined Magnum Force from the Duck Down hey-day. Veterans Agallah, Ayatollah, and P.F. Cuttin dropped dope beats as North Carolina’s 9th Wonder and Khrysis souled things up. Sean provided vivid tales of sex, drugs, and juxin’ cats for anything he could. Monkey Bars solidified a triumphant return for Sean, his label, and the era of rugged Brooklyn hunger.This album will remain a blueprint for veteran rappers seeking to revamp their careers. [Listen to "Onion Head" and "Brokest Rapper Alive".]
Sean Price: "You know I’m gonna say Monkey Barz is the best Hip-Hop indie LP of the year can’t nobody rhyme like me hold on lemme channel another rapper…"Hey what it do, this is Paul Wall reppin’ Swishahouse and Sean Price’s Monkey barz is the best Hip-Hop album since Redman’s Muddy Waters."
Self-Scientific Change (Angeles)
Ten years ago, Self Scientific signed a production deal with Loud Records. To many outside of Los Angeles, the group remained unknown until 2005. Opening the year with a mixtape, “Gods & Gangsters,” Chace Infinite and DJ Khalil closed out 2005 with their second album, the aptly titled Change. Chace’s socio-political lyrics, mixed with catchy and welcoming production from DJ Khalil made for a surprisingly exciting album. Bun B and Planet Asia made for interesting collaborations, pulling from polar sides of Hip-Hop. Tracks like “Live N Breathe” and “Free Will” resonate with much of 2005’s attitude outside of the music. Change contains the truths of this culture that many are scared to see.
Crunk lost some of its testosterone in 2005 so Ying Yang decided to get grown and sexy with "Wait (The Whisper Song)," their smash hit this year. Unites State of Atlanta still offered shockingly poignant stories like "Live Again," a hard look at the life of a stripper, and "Ghetto Classics," where Ying Yang discuss Black America’s role in the U.S. military and pressing issues facing the community. The Atlanta duo showed their range even of the rest of the album wasn’t as much of a departure with typical tales Hip-Hop indulges in. Mike Jones, B.G., Pitbull, Lil Scrappy and crooner Anthony Hamilton play supporting roles on U.S.A. The United State of Atlanta is pretty damn good with Ying Yang on the front lines of the movement.
Two years ago, it was MF Doom and Madlib. This year, Rhode Island’s Dangermouse linked up with the masked villain for an album that was sweeter than the cereal during Saturday morning cartoons. Talib Kweli and Ghostface dropped by as funky production met raspy vocals with comedic interludes to celebrate everybody’s favorite late-night-vice, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. MF Doom remains one of the most enigmatic and versatile artists that Hip-Hop has ever seen. Two years after The Gray Album, Dangermouse welcomes the opportunity to produce an entire album from another Brooklyn MC. The only question now is…will MF Doom and Ghostface’s collaborative album be released in ’06 to be included the next Year End? Ask Master Shake. [Listen to "Old School" and "The Mask".]
Edan Beauty & The Beat (Lewis)
Baltimore by way of Boston’s Edan was another shocker. His 808-pepped debut, Primitive Plus was an intriguing record that few heard in 2002. Beauty & the Beat pre-supposed what would happen if Kool Keith jammed with The Troggs with The Dells singing back-up vocals. This gestalt of great British and American music revealed Edan’s powerful delivery, and unpredictable production sensibility. Legendary Bronx MC, Percee P and Insight stopped by, as Edan rocked tales that celebrated mid 80’s rap, 60’s Psychedelia, and the infinite pursuit of dropping science and math. If Common’s bringing back ’94, Edan is renovating ’87. [Listen to "Torture Chamber" and "Making Planets".]
Elliott Wilson (XXL Magazine): "My audience isn’t really Edan’s audience. But I can still recognize, as a Hip-Hop head, the artistry of his music. He’s dope. Eventually, if he keeps putting stuff out, and he moves units, we can sneak a small MF Doom style feature like I did. Edan is a really creative dude."
The same year Hip-Hop was formally introduced to his group, Boyz N’ Da Hood – Young Jeezy stole the show like a klepto with his solo debut. Rising up off of the controversy surrounding Jeezy’s appearance on Gucci Mane’s “Icy”, folks flossed snowmen t-shirts before they heard much more. As it would have it, Jeezy is Jay’s biggest success at Def Jam, and he gets a “Standing Ovation”.
Tony Yayo: "I liked Young Jeezy. His [album] was the hottest of the year, besides mines."
While Paul Wall and Chamillionaire were known entities to many, Slim Thug and Mike Jones made Swishahouse a household name. Already Platinum, a record that packed as much braggadocia as Lord Finesse, also featured thumping Pharrell production, and sizzlin’ guest-drops from T.I., Bun-B, and on the bootleg circuit – Jiggaman. [Listen to "What Ya Know".]
Webbie and one-time partner Lil’ Boozie had made noise throughout Louisiana prior to this year with indie muscle. However, like their Houston peers, 2005 introduced Webbie to the community that would make him a star. Savage Life was a major heatseaker of the summer, and proof that Pimp C’s not only a dope MC, but one hell of a talent scout.
Illseed: "This boy gave date rapists a theme song – ‘Girl, gimme dat!’"
Unlike the others, J.R. Writer killed it on the strength of guest-shots and mixtapes. One of the “new” Diplomat artists, J.R. tweaked away at his Koch debut while dropping impressive verses on Duke Da God and Shiest Bubz’ compilations. This is a hungry artist patiently waiting his turn – luckily, he’s carved himself a strong audience. [Listen to "The Best To Do It".]
Anybody within an earshot of ‘Fest knows he co-penned "Jesus Walks". But this year helped solidify proof that the Chicago native’s own music endures. A strong Mark Ronson mixtape, some guest work, and the first single, "Brand New" from his forthcoming J Records album shows ‘Fest to be joining Lupe Fiasco in bigging up the Chi in ’06.
Top Artists (Commercially):
Fiddy did it so big in the 2005. A smash hit record in The Massacre, a serious contribution to Game’s record, a book, a videogame, a movie, and a critically-acclaimed soundtrack. We love 50’s hustle. With Mobb Deep, M.O.P., Lil’ Scrappy, and half-a-dozens rumored [Thanks Illseed] to be signed to G-Unit, we may as well plaster this up there. If cats wanna talk sales and influence, this was 50’s year from January to December.
Juelz Santana: “I liked The Massacre better than the first one. People don’t know. That’s one of the best albums of the year. I listen to everybody – and that’s all I’ll say on that."
Young Jeezy entered the game with a momentum that cannot be fathomed. Two albums, group and solo, found their way to hungry masses. Jeezy introduced a simplistic style of rapping that’ll stick for years to come. He also planted down a thick flag for Atlanta in another year dominated by Southern artists.
Does West’s inclusion need discussion? Kanye, like Eminem, freaks his leak on pop, R&B, and rap playlists. “Gold digger” immortalized Ray Charles for the kids, and put the sugar-daddy-seekers on front street. Kanye’s work has something for everybody, and that’s just whose checkin’ for ‘Ye – everyone.
Kanye West’s love: “I like System of a Down’s album and how they use all these different forms of music and mix them together and that the are able to say whatever it is that they want to say.”
The industry might be hatin’, we’re not. Will.i.am pulled this group from falling apart in 2004, and 2005 proved it wasn’t a fluke. Fergie might’ve got her lady lumps stuck in our heads, but Monkey Business proved that BEP is forever for the people. They gathered Justin Timberlake, Q-Tip, Cee-Lo. John Legend, Talib Kweli, rock legend Sting and even James Brown the Godfather of Soul on this one. All levels, all genres, one color of money. Love is love.
Illseed: “I admit it – I LIKE B.E.P.! They are a throwback to the days when music was fun – an offshoot of the Native Tongues. So, if you are hatin,’ then you probably need to resolve your own internal, self-hatin,’ corny issues.”
One has gotta respect the gangster that Trill did for coming on Rap-A-Lot as an indie. But though his album was pretty hard, Bun-B caked up off the feature work. Previously jailed Pimp C became the “Tony Yayo” of 2005, while verses with Jeezy, Beans, Self-Scientific and ALL of Houston made Bun the million dollar man. When UGK reunites, the game is over!
Top Artists (Artistry):
Kanye took it to that other level with Late Registration. At times, the sophomore went shadowy with moments like “Drive Slow”, before turning sweet and ecstatic with, “Hey Mama”. To make an already astonishing young career even more surprising, he slipped Nas in on “We Major” for a classic verse. The tour was as artful as the album too.
Ever hear the parable of the boy who fell down the well? Under the bus, down the well, call it what you will, Common reinvented himself by not returning to Resurrection, but by updating his art to a tasteful way for the corners, the clubs, and the dorm rooms. Clever stories, concepts, and lyricism kept Lonnie Lynn sharp.
Mixing records of all sorts and rhyming in a tough vernacular was nothing surprising when Critical Beatdown dropped in ’88. But Edan’s artist ideas blossomed on this feel-good, crossover independent. Hip-Hop history was taught, science was dropped, and the bar for creative albums was raised a little higher.
Ying Yang Twins
Ying Yang in this thang! “Wait” alone shows the liberties than YYT and Mr. Collipark too in reinventing their sound, and what’s popular for radio and club rap. The United State of Atlanta did just that. ****
Mike Jones gets crazy style points for putting his phone number on records and t-shirts. Mike Jones made his name into a presidential-like campaign. By the end of 2005, everybody knew Mike Jones. Without being too threatening, too cocky, or too unapproachable, Mike Jones became “Mr. Nice Guy” of H-Town. Who is Mike Jones? If you don’t know, your dummy-smack is coming. [Listen to "Still Tippin‘".]