Major Label Albums of the Year:
King by T.I. (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)
After two successful albums and a debut flop, T.I. crowned himself with his fourth full length in early 2006. Bolstered by the synthed out Roberta Flack sample for “What You Know and Crystal Waters-inspired "Why U Wanna" T.I. songs asked many questions, that were already answered. After Jeezy strangled the South in 2005, ATLs veteran returned to ice the cake a year later. With B.G., Common, and U.G.K. as guests, Tip showed a lot of respect for the past, while pushing trap musics grittier side into the future. The first and almost last platinum album of 2006 is one that played year round. * T.I. received a Year End Award in 2004 for Urban Legend.
Hip Hop is Dead by Nas (Def Jam/Columbia)
This album had the biggest title and theme since Makavelis Seven Day Theory a decade ago. Whether or not he saved it, Nas did give Hip-Hop one of its best albums of 2006, and a definitive album for his Def Jam era. Like his business partner Jay-Z, Nas slacked on guests, got premium production, and executed a theme that had everybody from Young Jeezy to KRS-One talking. As this album gets burn well into 2007, well all be asking Who Killed It?
The Doctors Advocate by The Game (The Black Wall Street/Geffen)
With all the drama that has conspired since The Documentary, it was nearly impossible for The Game to sit back patiently. This album began as a promised collaboration entirely between Dr. Dre and Jayceon Taylor, but then evolved into a project that did not even bare Andre Youngs touch. Instead, Game utilized relative newcomers J.R. Rotem and Reefa, plus Scott Storch, Will.I.Am, Just Blaze, and Kanye West to further his catalog. Surprisingly, the effort was short on G-Unit disses, but featured a plethora of ego-tripping from the Wests resurrector. Fans can argue which album is better, but cant nobody say that Game isnt batting 1.000 when it comes to hit records. * The Game received a Year End Award in 2005 for The Documentary
Hell Hath No Fury byThe Clipse. (Re-Up/Zomba/Star Trak)
Perhaps released a year or two too late, a lot of listeners expected stale product from Pusha T and Malice. However the first brilliant thing The Clipse did was keep The Neptunes on as producers. Secondly, they came with an entirely new sound, few guests, and really ran with the acclaim from their We Got It For Cheap mixtape series. Wamp Wamp is the new slang, while the Re-Up Gang reminded us that keys still open doors. * The Clipse won a Year End Award in 2002 for Lord Willin.
Food & Liquor by Lupe Fiasco (First & Fifteenth/Atlantic)
Not since Large Professor has there been a four-eyed MC this dope. Lupe Fiasco showed a new side of Chicago with his sneaker and skateboard lovin swagger, mixed with his common man themes and simple subjects. Kick Push was a whole new kind of single, as Real gave the kind of personality that few rappers are willing to share anymore. The largely in-house production on this album will influence the way new artists pop off in the future, trust us.
Independent Albums of the Year:
Murrays Revenge by Murs (Record Collection)
Recorded as a sequel collaboration with 9th Wonder, Los Angeles Murs followed up his Murs 3:16 on a West Coast Indie Rock label. The album, clocking in at under 40 minutes, featured 10 amazing tracks built on gender studies, street reflection, and a celebration of Murs growth as a man. 9th Wonder met the album with an evolved sound that soulfully cried, laughed, and boasted alongside the Living Legends crew alum. A skateboarder, gangbanger, and ladies man, Murs represents Hip-Hops 2006 consciousness brilliantly from a secured independent lookout.
Restless by Trae (Rap-A-Lot/Asylum)
Former Screwed-Up Click member Trae delivered his first distributed album with a bang. With a diverse guest-list featuring Jim Jones, The Outlawz, Mya, and the late Fat Pat and Big Hawk, Restless was a Houston album that was accessible to a wide array of listeners. In an era of the slow drawl, Traes fast delivery created his own lane. Now with Z-Ro released from prison, Trae, Z-Ro, and Devin the Dude will carry Rap-A-Lot into the next generation.
Donuts (Stones Throw) and The Shining (BBE) by J Dilla
Sadly, Hip-Hop lost James J Dilla Yancey to Lupus this past February. In his wake, two brilliant and distinct albums emerged. Donuts featured over 30 small compositions from the former Slum Village mastermind. These beats inspired MCs and pleased listener ears alike. Later in the year, The Shining arrived, pairing Dilla with longtime collaborators such as Common, DAngelo, and Madlib. Though the project was completed by Kariem Riggins, The Shining lived up to its name, shedding new light on one of Hip-Hops most respected producers to ever freak the drum machine.
(Love featuring Pharoahe Monch, Geek Down)
Listennn: The Album by DJ Khaled (Terror Squad/Koch)
Not since the late 90s Funkmaster Flex and Clue days have DJ compilations been this powerful. Khaled gave Koch their first non-Dipset hit in the Looking for the Perfect Beat inspired Holla at Me, and the G.O.O.D Music team made a braggodicious classic out of Grammy Family. Khaled, who produced a bulk on the album, also made great peace headway when he aligned Beanie Sigel and Jadakiss on Problem. No problem here, this compilation was a key component in Miamis biggest year in Hip-Hop history.
Laugh Now Cry Later by Ice Cube (Lench Mob)
Ice Cube has never failed to go at least gold, and even his eighth solo album is no exception. Though there were talks of Lil Jon dropping it on BME, Ice Cube resurfaced on the revamped Lench Mob label with a smash. Swizz Beatz, Scott Storch, and Green Lantern all provided Da Wickedest with beats on this lengthy effort. Nobodys laughing at Cube, and well only be crying if Ice Cube ever decides hes too Hollywood to make albums.
Producer of the Year:
In 2004 and 2005, Will and The Black Eyed Peas had been subject to sell out criticism and bubblegum blame. In 2006, the former Ruthless Records artist responded by quietly producing bangers that were more rugged than Rawhead Rex. The Games Compton, Nas Hip-Hop is Dead, and Too Shorts Keep Bouncin were just a few of what the doctor ordered, in terms of gagging the haters. Next year, a lot of the artists that sported mean mugs while BEP snagged the awards will be calling their dread-headed leader for joints.
Another reinvention. Although hes been quietly producing for Snoop, G-Unit, and Xzibit, Hi-Tek received his biggest recognition as the hitmaker behind Rawkus in the late 90s and early 2000s. In 2006, Hi-Tek pulled out all the stops with his album, Hi-Teknology 2, featuring Jadakiss, Bun B, and Nas plus former Reflection Eternal partner Talib Kweli. That, on top of Old English on The Games album made Hi-Tek one to watch this past year. With that kind of versatility, anything truly is possible for the Cincinnati beat butcher.
After punching in where Kanye left off for Commons BE last year, Dilla made his major rounds in 2006. Ghostface, The Roots, and Busta all courted Detroits biggest producer for hits on their albums. Dilla also held true to his underground following, placing joints with The Visionaires, Frank-N-Dank, and Guilty Simpson projects. After over a decade of advancing the way Hip-Hop sounds, Dillas loss echoed throughout the industry, leaving behind a hard silence to fill.
(You Cant Hold the Torch by Busta Rhymes featuring Q-Tip, Whip You With a Strap by Ghostface Killah)
South Florida swerved to DJ Screws Houston style in 2006 when the duo The Runners combined pounding percussion with chopped and screwed scratches for their hits. None was bigger than Rick Ross Hustlin, which pulled Jay-Z from the office to hop on. Meanwhile, Jim Jones (Reppin Time), Fat Joe (No Drama), and Ludacris (Slap) noticed enough to utilize Dru and Mayne on their albums. When Cash Moneys next gun, Currency drops in 07, expect more of the same.
Dr. Dre has laid low on the beats, unless theres an Aftermath artist, or a debut on Shady or G-Unit. This year, Andre Young stayed in the cut avoiding Mobb Deep, Lloyd Banks, Obie Trice and others, only to bring out the big guns for Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, and Nas. Though he brought a slower, more pensive sound than the radio might be used to, Dre still shows his Midas touch, no matter the style.
Two years since hooking up with Dr. Dre, questions started to rise about whether or not Busta would fizzle like The Firm or get shelved like Rakim on his California vacation. As fate would have it, neither proved to be true. Instead, Busta Bus rolled over the game as he balanced the mainstream Touch It, the throwback "New York S***," and the street Goldmine. This album followed the script that The Game used for his The Documentary debut, only the guests (Rick James, Stevie Wonder, Q-Tip, Nas, Raekwon) were bigger, and more surprising. Ten years after The Coming, Busta Rhymes continues to be a leader in the new school.
Hip-Hops most famous game-spitter raised some eyebrows when he landed on Warner Brothers a few years back. But 40 Waters Ghetto Report Card came home with good marks, and championed the burgeoning Hyphy Movement to new heights. Tell Me When To Go and U And Dat were a party anthems that did a lot more than sprinkle us. But while the singles mayve been sugar-coated, 40 worked hard with Lil Jon and Rick Rock to boil quite a few powdered anthems that kept it true to his meaner demeanor.
("Tell Me When To Go" featuring Keak Da Sneak, White Gurl featuring UGK & Juelz Santana)
Since the split of Gang Starr, street Hip-Hops king has been largely reduced to rugged b-sides and salvaging the careers of early 90s rap stars. That all changed suddenly when Christina Aguilera ordered an album from the scratch-chorus king like there Aint No Other Man for the job. With a redesigned style, Premo stepped up in a big way with a big stage watching. On top of his mainstream success, Premier stayed grounded in his work with AZ, Royce Da 59, and Termanology.
("The Format" by AZ, Slow Down Baby by Christina Aguliera)
Since 2003, The Clipse were yearly alums of the Year End Award for Artists We Expected to See, But Didnt. With each year, the buzz temperature dropped significantly as label woes and pushbacks hindered Malice and Pusha T. What looked like a failure in Hell Hath No Fury became a critical favorite of 2006, and the radio and video markets gravitated towards the singles. The Clipse reclaimed their position without being forced into independence, smaller budgets, or anything less than they deserved.
No Way Out reigned nine years ago, but then again, why shouldnt the CEO of the biggest label of 97 walk tall? Did anybody expect that Diddy can pull Bad Boy up by its bootstraps? Well, with Play, he sure wasnt playing. This colorful, energetic, and deeply honest album, whether written by Diddy or not, is his most revealing work to date. Speaking of, we tip our hats to Pharoahe Monch, for penning some of the best verses Diddy ever spit. Take that, take that, take that!
("Everything I Love" featuring Cee-Lo & Nas, Hold Up featuring Angela Hunte)
Slept On Albums
One Hunid by Scarface and The Product (Underground Railroad/Koch)
For as often as hes cited as an inspiration, few rappers seemed to even be aware of Scarfaces latest venture, The Product. Joined by The Bays Willie Hen and Mississippis Young Malice, this delegation had one of 06s finest offerings of hood politics. However, without a strong single, plus Rap-A-Lots release of several dated Face projects, and this one was lost in the shuffle. If Scarface retires exclusively to production, its nobodys fault but our own.
Fishscale by Ghostface (Def Jam)
Though Back Like That was bubblegum compared to 2004s Run as a single, Ghostface returned to a Supreme Clientele mind-state of overt drug references, old school percussion, and his charged up delivery. On top of that, the GFK utilized production from Pete Rock, MF Doom, J Dilla, and the almighty Just Blaze. Tony Starks Enterprises puts out great product, and Fishscale lived up to its name, despite its candy-coated single.
("Kilo" featuring Raekwon, Shakey Dog)
Game Theory by The Roots (Def Jam)
The Roots came with arguably their most complete album since Things Fall Apart, but did the immediate announcement of Nas and Jay albums steal the thunder? It Dont Feel Right was a hard-hitting single, and Malik B was back in the fold and over the water. Peedi Peedi and The Roots also showed The Roots greatest inner-city collaboration to date. Hopefully it wont be a Long Time till the hardest-touring group in Hip-Hop returns with more classic material.
("Long Time" featuring Peedi Peedi, Game Theory)
Worst Fears Confirmed by Vakill (Molemen)
Though hes never had the significant push behind him, Vakill one of the most respected voices from Chicago. After his 2003 The Darkest Cloud continued to get praises from critics and fans alike, he returned with his Molemen production team and Royce Da 59 and Ras Kass assisting on tracks. Somebody needs to distribute this guy better, because even with sparse availability, this record managed to burn into the 2006 consciousness.
(Man Into Monster featuring Vizion, "No Mercy")
School Was My Hustle by Kidz N The Hall (Rawkus/Major League)
MC Naledge and producer Double-O upheld the Rawkus tradition for making strong-willed independent albums that spoke to the intelligent. After all, both men are University of Pennsylvania graduates. But the Chicago MCs mixture of street savvy politics and academic introspection made this album a delightful treat, in beats and in rhymes. Mentored by Just Blaze, dont be surprised if this group rises up the ranks to the forefront of headphone Hip-Hop.
(Dont Stop, "Wheelz Fall Off")