Diamonds in the Rough: 20 Strong Songs on Weak Albums

Without naming names, there are really wack rappers out there who put out really wack music.  That isn’t news to anyone.  Every once in awhile though, a great rapper puts out a set of music that, for the most part, is bad.  A real letdown.  It’s the album(s) that lowers the bar for which all other work by that artist or group is judged.  If any future project comes in below that line, it may  even be the point of no return and signal the beginning of the end.

Great artists are great for a reason though.  And in the messes that they make, they are still able to sometimes create stuff on their worst days that can hold its own alongside their best work.

In recognition of this, AllHipHop.com has created a list of 20 great songs that appear on widely regarded album upsets (the list goes in descending order by albums).  These songs may not have saved the albums they’re featured on, but they definitely kept them from being a waste.  And for that, they deserve to be acknowledged.

20). “Resurrection (Paper, Paper)” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony from BTNHResurrection: This album was not only too one-dimensional for a Bone Thugs album (lots of R&B focus, not much hard stuff like their early work), but, and more importantly, for a “resurrection” project – it was weird that some members only appeared on about half the album.  Nevertheless, the LP’s first single was dope and atop a string arrangement and nice piano chimes- everyone came together and proved that the group still had it – even after a nearly three year absence.

19). “Meet the Parents” by Jay Z from The Blueprint 2: Jay’s sequel to his classic, The Blueprint, is a bit of reach.  On The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse, a GOAT contender makes a double album with only a single album’s worth of good music resulting in a cluttered collection of tunes.  And because of that, gems get overshadowed by unnecessary filler.  One track not to be missed though is “Meet the Parents” – a song that showcases how Sean Carter’s storytelling skills are capable of competing with those of Slick Rick and Biggie.

18). “Pause” by Run-DMC from Back From Hell: The kings from Queens sounded a bit behind the times leading up to their fifth album, so they incorporated New Jack Swing into Hip-Hop on this record the way that they’d done with rock music on their earlier hits.  And while their then-updated sound wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t them.  But for what it’s worth, the song had a positive message and Jam Master Jay held his own on the mic!

17). “Déjà Vu” by Eminem from Relapse: What made Eminem “offensive” in the late 90’s was that what he said was shocking, but still grounded in reality (i.e. “my mom does more dope than I do”), but his comeback a decade later and after five years off had him killing his cousin, pushing him into a tub, and then drinking the bath water.  It was so out there; it came across as ridiculous.  And that, for the most part, sums up Relapse.  But near the end of the album he  did get serious and explain the details his addiction in vivid detail.  It was worth the wait.  “Déjà Vu” isn’t just the best record on this album, but one of the better ones in Em’s iconic catalog.

16). “Kingdom Come” by Jay Z from Kingdom Come: About a year and a half ago, Jay Z ranked his own solo albums from best to worst.  Sitting at the bottom of the pile of the 12 discs was 2006’s Kingdom Come.  His analysis read, “First game back, don’t shoot me.”  However, this is Jay Z, and so even amidst a rusty comeback, there are still moments of greatness.  One such moment is the title track where Just Blaze flips a Rick James record for the beat and Jigga reclaims his throne.

15). “Going Back to Cali” by LL Cool J from Walking With a Panther: LL Cool J started his hit-single “Mama Said Knock You Out” by saying, “Don’t call it a comeback.”  One reason for this was the fact that his previous album, Walking With a Panther, didn’t meet the standards that his previous material had set.  However, “Going Back to Cali,” Panther’s first single, was the exception.  Rick Rubin’s unique instrumental gave it a memorable sound and LL sounded as cool as ever giving props to California living.

14). “Mockingbird” by Eminem from Encore: “Them last two albums didn’t count / Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing ‘em out,” Eminem proclaimed on the Recovery standout, “Talkin’ 2 Myself.”  But even amidst his problems, he still managed to make some great music that was truly compelling.  Case in point: “Mockingbird.”  Eminem even said in 2004 that it’s probably the most emotional song he’d ever written.  And that’s really saying a lot.

13). “New National Anthem” feat. Skylar Grey by T.I. from Paperwork: DJ Toomp was not alone in being displeased with T.I. ninth solo effort, Paperwork.  The fact that it was rush recorded, according to Toomp, does help explain why the album missed the mark.  An album in a small window of time is a tall order and, in this case, it came up short.  Yet, “New National Anthem” is a noteworthy record and its social commentary shouldn’t be overlooked.  It’s needed now more than ever.

12). “Pearly Gates” feat. 50 Cent by Mobb Deep from Blood Money: Producer Exile crafted a real bright beat.  So the way Fif rapped about people wanting him locked up and Prodigy put down God made for quite the juxtaposition.  All things considered, it served as a great equilibrium for the mass public that 50 catered to and that core street audience that Havoc and Prodigy didn’t want to abandon by aligning with G-Unit at a time when the brand couldn’t have been bigger.

11). “Lord Give Me a Sign” by DMX from Year of the Dog…Again: DMX is an amazing rapper, but the flaw with this album is that he seemingly became complacent.  The passion he has was (and still is) unrivaled, but the song topics are nothing we haven’t heard from him before – anger, faith, pain, despair, crime etc.  Yet, the album’s closing track, “Lord Give Me a Sign” is so honest and powerful that it transcends that fault.  DMX is one of the most hardcore emcees ever, and so to hear him ask for help from a higher power like he does makes quite an impact.  A greater example of art imitating life would be hard to find.

10). “Nothing Like It” by Beanie Sigel from The Reason: Parts of this album are very unoriginal (see “I Don’t Do Much” and “Beanie [Mack B***h]” ), but the album’s opening song is a lyrical gem and Kanye’s soulful beat is worthy of Sigel’s words.  “The young n****s never learn ‘til they doomed / Try to tell them ‘you can burn young punk without smelling the fumes’ / Make you shiver in the middle of June / Paint a picture so vivid, you can hang it up in your room.”

09). “I Get Money” by 50 Cent from Curtis: “I Get Money” was the smash-hit that 50 Cent wanted at a time when he couldn’t have needed it more.  Unfortunately, it appeared on Curtis, an album that even he referred to as a “dud.”

08). “Vapors” feat. Charlie Wilson and Teena Marie by Snoop Dogg from Tha Doggfather: Dr. Dre’s absence was definitely felt on his protege’s sophomore effort and it suffered because of that.  Snoop’s cover/adaptation of Biz Markie’s classic “Vapors” though didn’t disappoint and kept his tradition of paying of homage to the old school going strong.

07). “911” feat. Mary J. Blige by Wyclef Jean from The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book: Clef has proven to be a genre-bending artist who has the ability to infuse musical different styles in a way that few others can.  And when it works, it really works (see The Carnival), but with this album, it backfired.  Thankfully, Mary’s soul-stirring feature on this record kept the album from being a lost cause.

06). “The Best of Both Worlds” by Jay Z and R. Kelly from The Best of Both Worlds: On paper, this had the potential to live up to its name.  Yet in reality, it didn’t even come close.  The title track / album opener did the duo justice.  But after that, everything just went downhill.

05). “Phone Tap” feat. Dr. Dre by The Firm from The Album: Because they’re both innovators in their own right, it was odd to see Dr. Dre and Nas piggyback on the mafioso themes that were so prevalent in mid-90’s Hip-Hop in 1997.  Nevertheless, one bright spot in the otherwise much hyped ,but underwhelming release was “Phone Tap.”  Sampling 1958’s  “Petite Fleur” to create an instrumental worked perfectly for the incriminating call that was laid down over it.

04). “Journey Through the Life” feat. Nas, Beanie Sigel, Lil’ Kim, and Joe Hooker by Diddy from Forever: Diddy’s second album was the Hip-Hop equivalent of  a summer blockbuster movie that tanked at the box office.  Meaning it pulled out all the stops, but still didn’t connect with an audience.  All that being said, there are still some tracks that don’t disappoint on an album which makes the classic mistake of trying to please everyone.  “Journey Through the Life” is one of those tracks.  Puff.  Nas.  Beanie Sigel.  Lil Kim.  Joe Hooker.  They all play their positions well, and the end result is a song that can’t be denied.

03). “Been There, Done That” by Dr. Dre from Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath: This release proved Dr. Dre was interested in more than just gangsta s**t which wasn’t all bad.  The problem was that his new artists weren’t bringing anything new to the table, plus with Dre only behind the boards on four tracks and in front of the mic for two, the album title was misleading.  His single, “Been There, Done That,” was a descent song though that did do a good job of positioning himself as businessman taking his career into his own hands.  And even if that’s all it’s remembered for, it’s still legit.  Because in just a few short years, he’d be on top again, thanks to a White kid from Detroit, Michigan, and Dre’s own proper second album, 2001.

02). “Project Windows” feat. Ron Isley by Nas from Nastradamus: Widely regarded as Nas’ weakest effort, Nastradamus was not just a critical failure, but a collection of music that probably would’ve ended the career of a lesser emcee.  But not all fifteen tracks bomb.  The Ronald Isley-assisted “Project Windows” with its dreary piano keys finds Nasir Jones painting a bleak picture of the surroundings he came up in with mesmerizing detail.

01). “Drop the World” feat. Eminem by Lil’ Wayne from RebirthWhen Lil’ Wayne joined Kid Rock on stage at the 2008 CMAs and pretended to play guitar, it should’ve let all concerned parties know that a Lil Wayne rock album was a bad idea.  Apparently, that still wasn’t enough to stop Rebirth.  The only praiseworthy joint on the album is “Drop the World” which features Eminem.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Mathers doesn’t disappoint.  And Weezy leaves listeners with a great example of what could’ve been if the rest of the project was as on point as this one 3:49 cut.

What do you think?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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