Criminally underrated, Aceyalone is probably the most exciting rapper in the West. His latest album, "Accepted Eclectic," is a premium mix of brilliant rhymes and splendid beats, and it's a great introduction to the man's many lyrical styles.
"Scorpion [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
As the only woman in the Ruff Ryders' clique, Eve clearly knows how to hold her own on the mic. On her first album, "Ruff Ryders' First Lady," she included the song "Love Is Blind"--a potent, personal attack on domestic violence. The Philly rapper also traded verses with Black Thought on the Roots' beautiful "You Got Me." Her sophomore set is one of the most hotly anticipated titles of the month, and features unlikely guest stars such as Gwen Stefani and Rohan Marley.
"The Professional Part 2 [PA] [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
DJ Clue returns with another one of his prescient mix tapes. This one features established acts like Method Man, Rah Digga, and Snoop Dogg, as well as young guns like Royce Da 5'9."
"Laid In Full, Chapter 2"
M-Boogie's latest compilation includes ace underground tracks from the likes of Jean Grae and Pri the Honey Dark (two of the finest female MCs in the game) and Born Allah and Mykill Miers. As usual, it's one of the best underground compilations on the market.
"Take It Or Squeeze It [PA] [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
This New York crew, with its combo of amazing beats and ridiculous, kinda dumb lyrics, is back with its fourth full-length album. After the success of last year's summer jam "Watch Out Now," the Nuts are more poised than ever to take their place in the spotlight that has eluded them thus far.
FREE DIGITAL MUSIC
To tip their hats to Duke Ellington, the Roots (with D'Angelo on keyboards) take a big bow to one of the most famous tunes in the bandleader's repertoire. They use "Caravan" as a time to boast and as a time to pay homage to Ellington, with big, laconic beats and a slinking guitar framing the unforgettable melody. Download "Caravan" from the Ellington tribute "Red Hot + Indigo"--a Red Hot benefit CD for AIDS awareness and relief.
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"Like Water For Chocolate [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
Common's fourth album is a musical revelation. Filled with luscious, bass-heavy Jay Dee beats and Common's own amazing wordplay, this album simmers like water for chocolate. The hit song "The Light" was nominated for a Grammy; it didn't win, but this album is still worth checking out.
See complete list of Grammy winners
"Fear Of A Black Planet [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
After the urgent militancy of 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy returned with a vengeance. "Fear of a Black Planet" is doubly dangerous because it's so funky. The Bomb Squad was at its peak with pummeling tracks like "911 Is a Joke," "Brothers Gonna Work It Out," and "Fight the Power." Chuck D continued to deliver his impassioned raps, while Flavor Flav added a healthy dose of humor. This is political rap at its best--a good lesson for modern groups like Dead Prez who have the message but are missing the medium. To paraphrase George Clinton, free your ass and your mind will follow.
Though Latinos were heavily involved in the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx, New York City, their voices were seldom heard on the mic. With Mexican-American rapper Kid Frost's "La Raza," a nation of bilinguals had their experiences both validated and chronicled on wax. Kid Frost is probably the most important Latino MC ever: he was the first really famous Latino rapper, and he paved the way for such bilingual groups as Cypress Hill and the Terror Squad. On this greatest hits collection, tracks like "Lowrider (on the Boulevard)" and the landmark "La Raza" illustrate Frost's ability to tell L.A. stories.
"From The Darkness Into Light"
Mellow Man Ace
Mellow Man Ace's "Mentirosa" was one of that era's biggest crossover hits. The brother of Cypress Hill's Sen Dog, Ace is back with a tight new album, "From the Darkness into the Light." It includes hectic production by the likes of DJ Muggs, and features quality, righteous rhymes in both espanol and English.
GRAMMY WINNERS 2001
The Recording Academy's desire to seem hip led them sadly astray in the rap categories. The second year of their stomach-turning Eminem love-in has generated a lot of publicity for this increasingly irrelevant awards show. In honoring Eminem and his patron saint, Dr. Dre, the academy ignored all the 2000 rap releases that really mattered: Blackalicious's "Nia," Ghostface Killah's "Supreme Clientele," Common's "Like Water for Chocolate," and many more. The logic seems to be that legions of drooling critics (who know nothing about hip-hop and praise Eminem's "original flow." Hello? What about real innovators like Aceyalone and Talib Kweli, celebrity apologists, an $11-million marketing budget, and multiplatinum sales just can't be wrong. In the process, the academy has proven how out-of-touch and nepotistic it is.
BEST RAP SOLO PERFORMANCE
"The Marshall Mathers LP [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
"The Real Slim Shady": This is one of the more annoying singles of the year, with an irritating chorus that wears thin in one listen. Though Eminem's sharp rhyme skills are clear, even that and the tight Dre beat are not enough to save a grating, repetitive sonic structure. Ironically, in this song he raps, "You think I give a damn about a Grammy?" Strike one for the academy.
"Like Water For Chocolate [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
"The Light": This cut is a diamond in the rough, dealing with the least popular four-letter word in hip-hop: love. While most of the tracks nominated in this category are thugged-out gangsta drivel, albeit well-produced drivel (especially Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass"), "The Light" shimmers with rhythm and romance. On one of the few sincere, poetic rap serenades, topnotch MC Common captures the glow of love in full bloom over a lush Jay Dee beat. In the macho world of rap, it takes guts to be a lover, and Common's risk-taking pays off. Shoulda been a shoo-in.
BEST RAP PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP
"Dr. Dre 2001 [PA] [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
"Forgot About Dre," featuring Eminem: This has got to be a record: two songs with irritating Eminem choruses winning awards in one category. Dr. Dre is one of the best producers in the business, and "Forgot About Dre" features a vintage g-funk beat. But even with ghostwritten lyrics, he should really step away from the microphone. And even if it had to be Dre, couldn't the academy have chosen a song without Eminem, just for the novelty value? Was it in the contract that he had to sweep rap in order to keep the industry happy? Strike two for the academy.
"Art Official Intelligence..."
De La Soul
"Oooh," featuring Redman: Though Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin," a bouncy little slice of ignorance, gives these elder statesmen a run for their money, it's gotta be De La, whose sassy summertime jam does right by both body and mind. It's impressive that the academy managed to figure out that De La existed after 10 years of genius, genre-defining records. After that unlikely feat, the strain seems to have been too much for them to consider actually handing over the award to a rap group with (gasp) artistic integrity.
BEST RAP ALBUM
"The Marshall Mathers LP [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, the academy came back with another installment of their patented "controversy creation" plan. Yes folks, Eminem does have skills. And Dr. Dre is a great producer. The rapper is smart, and acutely aware of his status as a resident alien of rap. Women and gays, however, have no clout in Rapland, making them easy targets. According to his supporters, Eminem is a revolutionary musician fighting against oppressive political correctness. Yeah, right. He's the worst kind of bully: a spineless one. Strike three for the Grammys. And they're out.
"Vol. 3... Life & Times Of S. Carter [PA] [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
Since the academy nearly managed to avoid nominating any quality music in this category, our pick is the least mediocre of the bunch. In fact, Jay-Z is one of the most talented rappers in the game today. His nimble tongue embellishes beats with the skill of a master craftsman. And many of the rhythms here are lycra-tight. DJ Premier's bangin' "So Ghetto," and the wonderfully minimalist "Come and Get Me," are both fabulous. So why isn't this album excellent? Because of its corny retreading of clichéd gangsta subject matter. Because it lacks soul. And mainly because Jay-Z doesn't give a damn. Yeah, he's a gangsta, but the greatest gangsta rappers reveal something about themselves amid the murder murder murder, kill kill kill. Jay-Z doesn't.
GRAMMY NOMINEE COLLECTION
"Grammy Nominees 2001: R&B/Rap [PA] [EXPLICIT LYRICS]"
In its own words, the Recording Academy is "a visionary group of music professionals and label executives." Unfortunately, as is made painfully obvious by this uninventive collection of the Grammys' R&B and rap nominees, the academy's collective eyesight is myopic. If you're a fan of mainstream R&B and rap, though, all the usual chart-topping suspects are here. And not much else.
You'll find more great music, articles, and interviews in Amazon.com's Rap
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NEW AND NOTABLE
The Wu-Tang's taut new collection recaptures the magic of "Enter the Wu-Tang." With RZA producing the finest of sinister rhythms, the rest of the Clan rises to the occasion with equally bracing lyrics. One of the best releases in recent memory.
"Tha Last Meal"
Snoop may be an elder statesman in the hip-hop game, but he ain't resting on his laurels. He continues to pimp with ease, keeping his West Coast Gee schtick and laid-back drawl enjoyable.
"Dead Man Walkin'"
Suge Knight's attempt to capitalize on outtakes from Snoop's "Doggystyle" and "No Limit Top Dogg," "Dead Man Walkin'" is better than one would expect. But it's a must-have only for the Snoop completist.
Mobb Deep's Prodigy continues his street-corner reign with this solo debut. Queensbridge's finest proves that when it comes to talking thuggery, few can match him, and he invites many of QB's finest to join in the fun.
Youthful Cash Money millionaire B.G. takes some of the bling out of his rhymes on this release. Now he's back to straight gangsta music, which he delivers with panache, using his baritone drawl to intimidate the listener into submission.
"Seven Eyes, Seven Horns"
Originally released in 1999 on a small New York label, Scaramanga's full-length debut certainly deserves national attention. Its excellent production has an exotic, Middle Eastern flavor that matches Scaramanga's (a.k.a. Sir Menelik, a.k.a. Kool Keith's many-monikered sidekick) slick abstract flow.
Genius lyricist Aceyalone returns with another classic. Since revolutionizing hip-hop as a member of the influential Freestyle Fellowship, the gifted rapper has been bubbling through the underground, consistently blessing the mic whenever he flows. With the appropriately titled "Accepted Eclectic" he demonstrates his lyrical superiority over a backdrop of juicy beats.
LYRICIST OF THE MONTH: TALIB KWELI
"These cats drink champagne to toast death and pain / Like slaves on a ship talkin' 'bout who got the flyest chain" --"Africa Dream" from the album "Reflection Eternal" by Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek
Hot damn! With every listen, "Reflection Eternal" reveals more
lyrical depth. Talib Kweli uses his rhymes to illuminate the
absurdities of life in Amerikkka. The Black Star's deft lyricism
unites the personal with the political in a captivating way. And
DJ-producer Hi-Tek's soulful beats perfectly complement Kweli's
supple skills, making "Reflection Eternal" one of 2000's best albums.
Just like there will always be poptastic flavor-of-the-month rappers, there will always be folks who take risks with their music. They're the courageous fringe-dwellers who push music forward with their innovations. Check 'em out:
Atlanta's Micranots are among a crop of lyricists who recall the early '90s golden age of hip-hop, when rappers (the Freestyle Fellowship, Blackalicious, and KMD) took the art form to the limit. MC I Self Divine's commanding flow is complex, like a Technicolor Rubik's cube of rhyme that invites the listener to solve it. And the beats, provided by DJ Kool Akiem, are dense and heddy, a perfect balance for I Self's Afro-Futurism.
Quasimoto is the helium-huffing alter ego of the Lootpack's Madlib. On "The Unseen," one of the oddest hip-hop albums around, Madlib and his high-pitched alter ego share space with a combination of dirty jazz loops, spoken word, and Melvin Van Peebles samples. Somehow, in the midst of all this insanity, Quasimoto manages to create fabulous songs, loaded with goofiness in the "Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde" tradition.
Los Angeles DJ-producer Nobody creates an intricate musical universe that eshews hip-hop convention. Instead of slicing and dicing old funk and soul records, Nobody pillages psychedelic rock, esoteric jazz, and acoustic guitars to make a beautiful, personal musical collage. Guest spots from underground legends Medusa and the Freestyle Fellowship make the album even stronger.
CRUISIN' DOWN MEMORY LANE
"Cydeways: The Best of the Pharcyde"
The Pharcyde made funky, experimental, hilarious hip-hop. And their work proved that rappers didn't have to be humorless thugs, even if they were from Los Angeles. This best-of collection is a great introduction to their work, including tracks culled from their first two albums and a great booklet written by hip-hop scribe Soren Baker. But "Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde" is still a must-have.
"The Best of Biz Markie"
The portly Biz was one of Cold Chillin's most unlikely secret weapons. With his hilarious, laid-back flow, he created classics such as "Vapors," "Nobody Beats the Biz," and "Just a Friend." In the process he added a lot of humor to the hip-hop mix. If you're not familiar with hip-hop's classic clown and his funky fresh beats, you're in for a treat.
Thump Lowrider Jams List
When you're "cruisin' down the street in your '64 Impala," as Eazy-E used to say, you've got to have some good music. And Thump Records' catalog includes great compilations of old-school rap, freestyle, and bass classics that would make any boy or girl in the 'hood proud.
GOTTA HAVE THAT FUNK!
Wanna know where that succulent sample came from? Hip-O's excellent "Funk Box" will school you on the music that inspires so many hip-hop producers. From Dr. Dre's pillaging of the Parliament-Funkadelic catalog to everybody's use of James Brown samples, hip-hop wouldn't exist without funk. And this superlative collection chronicles the different strains of funk, from political to poetic to downright nasty. But it's more than just a museum of musical history--it's a party in a box. A perfect written companion to "The Funk Box" is Rickey Vincent's "Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One." In his exhaustive study of the rhythm that never fails to move, Vincent looks at players such as George Clinton and Dr. Dre, and gives a great overview of key funk releases. According to Vincent, funk isn't just a rhythm, it's a way of life.
"The Funk Box"
"Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One"
AMAZON.COM'S RAP & HIP-HOP ARTIST OF THE YEAR: OUTKAST
With "Stankonia," their latest, Atlanta's Outkast outdo themselves. The album is brave, stained with honest emotions. It portrays the ghetto in living color instead of relying on rap's stock-in-trade stereotypes. The dynamic rhyme duo of Dre and Big Boi tells tales with juicy eloquence, from love to rage to lust, exposing their souls with fearless finesse. Not just thematically creative, "Stankonia" is a musical wonder. It's full of fuel-injected rhythms that devour many influences, from p-funk to Hendrix to heavy drum & bass, and in a way that no other hip-hop album has before. As the act that put the dirty South on the musical map, Outkast have consistently amazed. And with every listen of "Stankonia" it becomes increasingly apparent that they have created a millennial masterpiece.
THREE TO WATCH
Rah Digga's debut, "Dirty Harriet," is tight, just like her rhymes. The heiress-apparent to MC Lyte, Digga unleashes a true battle sensibility on every track she attacks. Her debut is a confident collection of bangers, and illustrates a relentless commitment to rawness that puts her in the league of revered underground heroes such as Redman, M.O.P., and Xzibit. Putting to rest the misconception that female rappers want soft, pop-friendly beats and R&B hooks, Digga's production choices are rough and rugged, and they work perfectly with her strong-enough-for-a-man-but-made-by-a-woman flow. She's a hardcore lyricist who happens to be female, a refreshing change from the skin-selling femmes who seem to become rappers accidentally, and rule the charts in their designer thongs. She rhymes: "Hos might oppose / but most chicks happy I can rock / without taking off my clothes." After years of working the underground circuit, Digga joins the likes of Bahamadia, (whose excellent "BB Queen" also dropped this year) Heather B, and T-Love as an A-list female lyricist, one who sells her skills--not her skin--to succeed. Digga's made it in the mainstream on her own terms. Her single "Tight" is one of the best of the year, and "Dirty Harriet" is definitely worth celebrating.
Producer Jay Dee of Slum Village is the future sound of hip-hop. Whatever you think about Q-Tip's "Amplified," you've gotta admit that Jay Dee's "Breathe and Stop" beat was Cadillac-style deluxe. Sumptuous. Decadent. Surprising, given that the rhythm is a simple one: it somehow adds up to much more than the sum of its sparse components. That's Jay Dee for you: minimal treble, thick bass, and warm, sonorous drums that blend into a sound rich like butter. Slum Village's long-awaited debut is chock-full of those fat, bottom-heavy beats. SV were pegged as A Tribe Called Quest's heirs by Q-Tip in '98, and Jay Dee is certainly a proponent of ATCQ's "Low End Theory": his swollen breakbeats make "Fantastic Vol. 2" one of the best-produced albums of the year. In fact, Jay Dee also produced much of Amazon.com's best hip-hop album of the year, Common's "Like Water for Chocolate," which is also loaded with organic percussion and subtle, luscious samples. On "Fantastic Vol. 2," MCs Baatin, T3, and Dee use their diverse flows to punctuate the beats: though none of them are profound lyricists, their playful approach to the rhythm adds to Jay Dee's supple sound. This album is high-class party music with no strings attached.
Freddie Foxxx a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles
Freddie Foxxx certainly isn't "one to watch" in the conventional sense. He's no newcomer--in fact, he was supposed to be Eric B's rapper. He couldn't make it to the studio on that fateful day, and a teenaged Rakim replaced him. The rest is history. Foxxx's cameos are legendary, often outshining the rhymes of the host artist. This rapper is worth watching because he's one of the most dangerous in the biz. The Jah Rules and DMXs of the world may talk murder, but in a dark alley, Foxxx could take both of them. But it's not his physical strength that makes him significant. He's an intelligent thug, a social critic whose mission, on "Industry Shakedown," is to expose the racism behind the fast cars and expensive dentistry of the hip-hop factory. He's seen a lot and he names names on this album, likely sending many a label exec into hiding. Foxxx doesn't use the mic to work out his self-esteem issues: his clear, confident delivery and preacher-like charisma command attention. And the production on this album is high-grade hardcore, combining joints from Foxxx himself, Pete Rock, Diamond D, and DJ Premier. This is hip-hop to strike fear into the hearts of "the man."
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