Producer of the Year:
Swizz Beats reinvented reinvention this year. While he had it at T.I. and Cassidy, Swizz continued to help his fellow man by rescuing Bone Thugs & Harmony, and feeding fire to Joe Budden, Young Gunz, and Memphis Bleek. The sound is brand new, and arguably better than ever! Swizzie.
Two years ago, only Jansport rap fans were checking for 9th. Today, he’s damn near household status. The Minstrel Show had that punch, and 9th livened up Buckshot’s sound on Chemistry. Guest work with Sean Price and Memphis Bleek was crazy. That 9th solo album in the ’06 is gonna smash on ‘em.
This name is likely to be glued in this category for the next decade. Kanye was unstoppable this year. While he outsourced a lot less than in 2004, his album had everybody checkin’ for organic, catchy beats as well as rhymes. AllHipHop.com gives a subsidized shout to Jon Brion for keeping it funky alongside Kanye in the ’05 as well.
Elliott Wilson (XXL Magazine): "Kanye, I give it to Kanye. Some people like the first album better, but with all the pressure and the ego that he has - he delivered. I give him his props. He put more pressure on himself than anybody. The Jon Brion thing was a real bold move."
Ja Rule’s “New York” might’ve set it off, but “Hate It Or Love It” made the "rubberband" snap. This is the most exciting duo since… well, you know. These Miami dudes raised the heat levels across the board. And they managed stay tight with Fat Joe, his adversary 50 Cent and his adversary The Game. With Dre signed to Jive as an artist, next year could be an even cooler year for this production supreme team.
Organized Noize and Lil’ Jon have held down the “A” for ages. The man some may remember as DJ Smurf brought his Collipark Music production company to the forefront with Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait” and “Play” by David Banner. Previous work with YYT was quiet platinum successes, but this year earned Collipark homegrown hits plus work with Twista and Jeezy.
Little BrotherThe Minstrel Show (Atlantic/ABB)
Phonte, Pooh, and 9th Wonder astonished fans when they signed with Atlantic after Indie-smash, The Listening, last year. The prospects of seeing a major-label backing their creative vision seemed like a breath of fresh air to Hip-Hop. In the days leading to The Minstrel Show, BET allegedly pushed “Lovin’ It” video to the back, and TheSource's editor-in-chief quit over a ratings dispute. But when the album hit stores, tumbleweeds blew by. A great album indeed, but equally a baffling marketing moment to industry types of all kinds. But the album’s still reaching people, and even Bun B digs LB. Perhaps this will be the equivalent of Big L’s Lifestylez of the Poor and Dangerous to Sony a decade ago, a slow-seller, but bonafied sweet music! [Listen to "Lovin' It".]
Needlz: Little Brother's The Minstrel Show is something I can appreciate.
CassidyI’m a Hustla (J)
Sadly, Cassidy’s personal life in 2005 may’ve pulled the plug on his seemingly unstoppable sophomore. After criticism for a tweeny-bopper, R&B-hugging sound on his debut, Cassidy and Swizz Beats brewed an album that dominated the airwaves with singles, “B-Boy Stance” and “I’m a Hustla”. Serious collaborations with Nas, Lil’ Wayne, and Fabolous made this album serious to the streets, while pokes at 50 Cent raised a few eyebrows. Cassidy not only made himself a formidable young star in the game, but he made his best album.
Lil Flip: My boy Cassidy, he was locked up, a lot of people overlooked his album, but he got one of those albums you can bang all the way through. Cassidy got a nice album. Jeezy came out; I did a song with Jeezy on his first mixtape back in the game. When I heard him I knew, yeah this dude, he going to make it too. As far as that, that's probably it, because I like albums that make you think and are creative.
Reef The Lost CauzeFeast or Famine (Good Hands/Eastern Conference)
Beanie Sigel made a mammoth of an album, but so did fellow Philadelphian, Reef The Lost Cauze. Feast or Famine swung for the fences, and proved to be a successful transition from battle-rapper to artist. “Coltrane” chronicled the history of Black music, while “Eyes of My Father” was a personal revelation. Fiery lyrical delivery with beats made of frozen Soul chops make for a pleasant journey. This record just might be the best thing carrying an EC logo since Smut Peddler days. [Listen to "Sound of Philadelphia".]
Pimp CSweet James Jones Stories (Rap-A-Lot)
Everybody screamed, "Free Pimp C!", but who really checked for the best of the album he dropped in March? Dirty leadbelly guitars and crunk collided for this southern brand of ill street blues. Pimp C's stories are complex, while his hooks are simple to digest. Guests like Z-Ro, Devin, and UGL brother Bun B held down heavy guest appearances as Mike Dean offered veteran beat smarts. If you dug Trill, you gonna love this! [Listen to "Get My Money".]
AZA.W.O.L. (Quiet Money/Fast Life)
Eleven years after “Life’s a B*tch”, AZ delivers his most complete album. Few listeners expected AZ to soar in going independent. But with purist-minded collaborations with DJ Premier and CL Smooth, AZ thrived in this lyrically visual, and energetic album. Independence may’ve given AZ his artistic freedom, but some fans still remain unaware of this diamond in the rough. Years after The Firm, AZ and Cormega have both carved a niche for themselves that major label peers will forever envy.
Trends We’d Like To See End
Stop saying "No Homo!" Hip-Hop has long been homophobic, but this just feels childish. Cam’ron started this now-classic Ebonic mess! Everything can be taken as gay if you look at it a certain way… so lets drop this one. Furthermore, saying it too much...sounds kind of gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Keeping Stickers on New Era Caps
It feels like yesterday when we were keeping tags on our caps, and that played itself out in ’95. So why... ten years later, are people tripping over these stickers? Some keep ‘em where they were. Others go under the bill. For ’06, do the world a favor, and put yours in the trash with the receipt.
Promotional Rubberband Bracelets
There are good causes out there. Don’t get it twisted, Hip-Hop has a heart. But when rappers started stamping album releases and logos on rubber bracelets, it went too far. It is with hope that in the ’06, promotions departments get this memo, as well as trend-whores looking to start convo with their promo "insert rapper here" bracelet.
When it trickles down to the talk show hosts and the soccer moms, it is time to kill that noise. B.G. and company set it off, but that was over five years ago. Call yourselves “Icy, drippy, jew-elled up, whatever,” but do not feed the ugliest crossover lingual monster since, “You go girl!” Hip-Hop, keep on movin' - don't stop!
News Flash: The ladies are not feeling the dudes who look like they’re in pajama shirts. Not only does the tall tee look ill-fitting, but it looks extra ill-fitting on short gentlemen. Leave these tees to the frames they were made for- Shaq.
Raising Hell by Ronin Ro
Journalist/author Ronin Ro returns with a vengeance to chronicle the real story of Run DMC in Raising Hell: The Reign, Ruin, And Redemption Of Run-DMC And Jam Master Jay. The book is exceptionally gripping and reads like a punch in the chest. While other accounts have held back, Raising Hell is a must read for anybody interested in the madness behind rap’s original super heroes.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang
Jeff Chang has been writing for a long minute. This book chronicles Hip-Hop history with both wisdom and appeal. This great piece of archival history is smart enough for the classroom, but colorful enough to be a conversation piece.
Rakim Told Me by Brian Coleman
Another respected rap journalist, Brian Coleman, uncoils the history behind 20 of the best albums of the 80’s. With interviews spanning the likes of Too Short, Kool Keith, KRS-One, and Ice-T, this time-capsule supplies fans with the liner notes they never had.
A Time Before Crack by Jamel Shabazz
This photo-journalism display chronicles the five boroughs and Philly in the years leading up to the crack epidemic. Early Hip-Hop styles blend beautifully with pics celebrating the innocence and splendor of the Black and Latin communities. Bring it back!
Queens Reigns Supreme by Ethan Browne
Right on time for the Brothers Gotti trial, Ethan Browne stories the history of Queens’ modern day G’s and the real gangsters like Fat Cat who paved the way. This is a must-read to not only understand the logistics of what 50 Cent and Ja Rule speak about, but an engaging True Crime non-fiction read.
Mixtape of Year Award:
Clinton Sparks, Clipse & the Re-Up Gang “ We Got It 4 Cheap” Volume 2
This was a classic for the ages. Clinton Sparks played the biggest beats of ’04 and ’05, as Pusha T and Malice rocked savvy lyrics of bravado and street life. A major surprise was the Re-Up gang who kept neck and neck with their mentors. The only guest was Skateboard P, and this mixtape proved that The Clipse are missed, but unforgettable. 2006, bring ‘em out! When Boston meets Virginia, goodnight! [Listen to "Zen".]
DJ Dirty Harry “Living Legends Volume 1: Nas”
While DJ’s fancy honoring the dead, Dirty Harry, like J-Love and J Period, paid homage to the living. While a plethora of fresh blends, new mixes, and rethought classics, Dirty Harry kept Nas hot in a year without an album. This played end-to-end, and introduced some new material featuring everybody from Z-Ro to Big L.
DJ Envy & Joe Budden “I’m Back”
As Joe Budden patiently prepared his Def Jam sophomore album, he made a bully of a mixtape with fellow Desert Storm fam, DJ Envy. With beats jacked from everybody ranging from Jay-Z to MF Doom, Budden broke fool with this. This mix deaded the Bleek beef, while revealing Joe’s new level of skills - “Sound Bwoy Buriell” is classic Jumpoff Joe. Without relying on beef, this mix made its way to the top. Also, be on the look for Stack Bundles, a talented supporting MC on this.
DJ Skee “You Know What It Is” Volume 3
DJ Skee made national, if not global fame for hosting the “G-Unot” movement. On shock value alone, the Hip-Hop community flocked to this Summer tape to hear “300 Bars” and stayed for a buttery mix featuring West Coast veterans Dr. Dre and WC, while premiering some of Black Wall Street’s new artists like Eastwood and Techneic together as M.O.B. Skee is one of the most significant mixtape DJ’s stepping to the ’06.
Mick Boogie & Joey Fingaz “God’s Gift: The Nas & Jay-Z Project”
Ohio’s Mick Boogie and Joey Fingaz collided with heat from Jigga and Nasty Nas to commemorate their on-stage unity. Taking sometimes unlikely work from each, the DJ duo put Brooklyn and Queens’ finest together. If this is any indication of an actual collaboration on Nas presumably Def Jam album, lookout! “In Between Us” is worth the price of admission.
Will Smith Lost & Found(Interscope)
It might be default that Jigga didn’t “sell more records than Will Smith” in ’05, bit Will Smith deserves this slot. Lost & Found buried the 2002 misfire, Born to Reign. The Mary J. Blige collabo, “Tell Me Why” proved Will’s got more than partying on the mind, while the music proved that you can be pushing 40 and still rock well. Hitch wasn’t thaaat bad either.
Sean Price Monkey Bars (Duck Down)
He said it himself, everybody expected Rock to be the accelerator in the Heltah Skeltah solo era. But Ruck, now “Sean Price” pulled ahead with this honest album. Not only did Sean Price stir up his fanbase, but he proved that Duck Down’s success does not begin and end with Buckshot and Smiff N’ Wessun – who also dropped reputable records this summer.
Cage Hellz Winter(Definitive Jux)
After listening to Weatherproof, Cage appeared to be a decaying, drug-addicted misogynist – and content with it. Two years later, El-P and Cage crafted an honest, therapeutic album that challenged the Middletown MC’s vices and his past. DJ Shadow and RJD2 joined to make the music as fresh as the lyrics. Sometimes we all gotta grow up, and Cage’s audio maturation is proof that turnarounds can be made. [Listen to "Hellz Winter"and "Stripes".]
Lil’ Kim The Naked Truth(Queen Bee/Atlantic)
In her darkest hour, Kim made The Naked Truth, her most poignant record since Hardcore. This album whirled with the turmoil of Kim’s life this past year. Party anthems filled the gaps, and Kim finally addressed some of her haters. As Kim’s career has long been soaring with sponsorships and celebrity status, this gem reminded us why Kim is revered by some, as the best female to ever do it. Hold ya head up, Kim! [Listen to "Quiet" and "Shut Up".]
Slum Village Slum Village (Barak)
Slum Village’s rotating roster humbles Destiny’s Child. After super-producer J Dilla left, [followed by Baatin] many counted Detroit’s beloved group out. Instead, Elzhi and T3 made a stellar record in a year that confused fans with three SV releases. BR Gunna held down the beats and the duo got noticeably gangster in discussing ex-members, fickle fans, and all the listeners that screamed “sellout” at last year’s Kanye single. Independence day is good for some. [Listen to "1,2" and "Can I Be Me?".]
Sausage Award For Bad Hip-Hop Beef:
Slim Thug/Lil’ Flip
Just as the initial dust settled on the T.I. beef, Lil’ Flip and Slim Thug started a little war. While “I Ain’t Heard of That” seemed aimed at somebody, this just felt stupid. 2005 is about Southern unity.
Why did “300 Bars” push around the Young Gunnas? 50, naturally; Bleek, predictably – but Neef and Chris seemed to just be minding theirs. If there was an answer, nobody heard it, but was the controversy needed – unless Game was trying to get Jigga to take “the jacket off,” eh?
How in the hell did 50’s problem with Jadakiss sprinkle down to Tony Yayo calling out D-Block like that? Whatever it was, this entire circus show took a backseat to the Game and 50 conflict. This was an uninteresting under-card to the main event.
Cassidy's album was too good to mix in some controversy. Crawl before you run! 50’s got his hands full – as we can see above. As it turned out, this attack wasn’t well founded, as 50 was too busy to answer, and Cassidy had more pressing issues in the ’05.
D4L/Dem Franchise Boys
Doesn’t it look silly when field goal kickers do the trash-talking? D4L and Dem Franchise Boys did Hip-Hop a favor by not bleeding their issues onto wax, but why air each other out at all? They are both making money, meanwhile parents are fighting to keep their daughters off the pole.
Sean Price on Beef: I wanna reflect on these rappers attacking each other. I wanna say cut it out. Nobody is gonna do nothing to nobody, it's just words rappers are sensitive like b*****s nowadays. Its like the Hip-Hop world is a soap opera like "One Life To Live" and the 50 versus anybody beef is like an episode of "Dallas" - "Who shot Jr?"
If seeing Jay in concert wasn’t reason enough to get out in the ’05, Jay and Nas appeared publicly together. With talk of Nas swinging to Def Jam and working exclusively with DJ Premier, things appear extra large. The biggest beef since ‘Pac and Big is officially deaded, and the icons of the 90’s set an example for today’s hate-mongering rappers. New Jersey hasn’t hosted something this big since the Nets were in the finals.
Game and 50 might shake hands in Harlem, but nobody expected Daz and Kurupt to ever extend anything but malice again. Snoop’s Peace Conference in Los Angeles this Spring may be short-lived, but it brought one of the hardest movements in history back. A rushed DPG album quickly followed, tailed by a another sloppy Snoop project. Dat N***a Daz and Kurupt the Kingpin ought to listen to Dogg Food again, and go slow-cooked in the ’06.
Former Bone Thugs & Harmony wild child Bizzy Bone get a lil' extra out there in an interview with H-Town radio with host Matt Sonzala. Bizzy told DJ's all his thoughts on God, the group, and whatever else was on his mind. This led a campaign that concerned fans, Bone brothers, and everybody who owed Bizzy money. When it was all said and done, Bizzy got booted from the group [at least, today] and released latest solo, [perhaps aptly titled] Speaking in Tongues. AllHipHop even jumped on the bandwagon and co-hosted Bizzy's online reality show.
Nobody, I mean nobody has ever stepped up to Suge Knight that we know about. In Miami, somebody got a shot off. Now, Suge was shot before in ’96, but this felt different. Some considered it to be a publicity stunt – but for what? Others claimed that Game was involved. On the surface, two brothers from Compton seem to be a part of the same movement. Whoever it was, it stirred things up. If Suge can get shot…then nobody’s safe. Put down the guns.
50 Boots Game from G-Unit
At the start of an interview, G-Unit seemed to have two of the biggest three stars in the game right now. Afterwards, Game was ousted and shots rang out. Not since the Death Row days has publicity threaded its way through a camp. In early spring, this action helped propel fans to compare The Massacre and The Documentary and opinions and numbers rolled in. Whatever the case, like Blueprint and Stillmatic, this comparison will truly be defined by what happens this coming year. Increase the peace.
Things You Can Expect To See in '06
Diplomats vs. G-Unit Grudge Match
Trust me, Mase's move to G-Unit will not forget the hostility prompted from Jim Jones and Juelz Santana last year. Though it probably pales to 'Pac's moving to Death Row, Mase has an axe to grind with some - though he and Cam seem to be fine. 50 loves beef more than that Japanese hot-dog eating champion, so you can expect to see Harlem and Queens play a backyard bowl. We got other feeds already coming in on this. But wait for it... you heard it here, first.
Nas Give Def Jam a Facelift
As Young Jeezy and Santana paid Def Jam's bills this year, we think the Carter Administration will try to create a Hip-Hop renaissance. Nas will set it off, completely. But with The Roots, DJ Premier, Redman, MF Doom/Ghostface all in the building, expect to see some hardcore beats and rhymes. Oh yeah, that Jumpoff Joe Budden album will bring back the realness too. Def Jam works in phases, and we think a storm's brewin'. For those about Hip-Hop, we salute you!
Somebody Big Will Fall the F**k Off
Everybody expected Kanye to fall right on his D&G's this year. Newsflash, he didn't - he probably had the biggest smile in '05. But as hype already mounts for major projects from The Game, Cam'ron, 50, Mobb Deep, Nas... somebody in the highest echelon of rap will fall -- hard, and fast. Cats are ego trippin' like Posdonous, and they better walk it as they talk it... or else.
Koch Will Release Every Rapper's Album
Nobody in the industry releases as many albums as Koch in '05. This year, Jim Jones, Sheek Louch, and AZ actually brought critical acclaim and major sales to indie-giant. Well, if you haven't been checkin' the news... Koch has continued to sign every rapper in East Coast Hip-Hop from five years ago. This will not end. They now house No Limit, Diplomats, Death Row, and other troops. 2006 will offer at least three dozen albums from familar names and faces. Major labels, be very concerned, if not afraid.
Hip-Hop Will Be Shocked AGAIN
It would appear that Hip-Hop has seen it all. Its main players get shot, killed, federal cases, raids and other aggressive activity. Expect 2006 to be no different that the preceding years. But, what will be the shocker in 2006? Only time will tell and we know we haven’t seen the last of the madness.
14:59: The Cash In Your Fame Right Now! Award
The Ill Community has opted to take on this dubious award. Click here to read if you dare!