With each passing year in the new millennium, the music scene grows progressively worse. This year is no exception. Only a handful of recent artists (Wilco, Beck, The White Stripes, Kanye West, Citizen Cope, Ben Harper) can be hailed as excellent contributors to the world of music, while other “critically artists” (The Decemberists, TV on the Radio, etc.) are only gaining recognition because there are no others worthy of applaud. In other words, critics are praising sub-average artists because they sound exemplary compared to other recent lack-luster releases. I hate to sound like the stereotypical modern-day music basher, but the truth of the matter is, music just isn’t what it used to be—at least not for the past few years. Maybe I’m being too harsh on modern music, by comparing contemporary bands to the powerful music of the 1960s and 1970s. Are ideas running out? Or are artists too lazy and/or incompetent to create worthwhile music?
Even hip-hop seems to be fizzling out, as a recent NaS album title pointed out, Hip-Hop is Dead. Although I do not agree that hip-hop has completely died, its golden age has come and gone, and is long overdue for some creativity.
Nonetheless there were a few exciting and worthwhile albums that were released in 2006, and here they are.
Album # 10: Hip-Hop is Dead
In 1992, thanks to a little help from MC Serch, of the old school hip-hop group 3rd Bass, a nineteen-year-old Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, more commonly known as NaS, landed a record deal with Columbia records. Only two years later, in 1994 NaS released what many believe (including myself) to be the greatest hip-hop album of all time, Illmatic. Now, over twelve years from that release date, during the late golden age of hip-hop, NaS believes hip-hop has died. Along with many other aesthetic hip-hop artists, NaS has publicly bashed many rappers for not taking the profession seriously. With one listen to Hip-Hop is Dead, it is quite clear NaS takes his job very seriously
Having recently settled his long-standing dispute with former rapper Jay-Z by signing to Jigga’s Def Jam label, Hip-Hop is Dead has been without a doubt the most hyped album of the year. The final result is a head-nodding tribute to the founders of hip-hop, is slightly reminiscent of the former greatness displayed on Illmatic.
Listen to: Hustlers, Hold Down the Block and Money over Bullsh*t.
Album # 9: I’m not Afraid of you and I Will Beat Your Ass
Artist: Yo La Tengo
Pay no attention to the ridiculous album title because Yo La Tengo’s 16th album release over the past 21 years is anything but the title suggests. Founded in 1984 by the husband/wife indie-rock duo Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, the band has gone through numerous phases, ups and downs and changing guitar/bass players.
Despite their strange history, Yo La Tengo have established themselves as one of the most diverse and interesting indie-rock bands of our time. I’m not Afraid of you and I Will Beat Your Ass, covers an extremely wide spectrum of sounds and ideas. The opening track, “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” is a riveting 11 minute fusion of chaotic guitar verses, fuzzy bass beats and moaning vocals. The third track “I Feel Like Going Home,” could possibly be the most beautiful song of the year as Georgia sings a nostalgic lullaby over a charming piano and violin melody.
Listen to: Mr. Tough, The Race is on Again, Sometimes I Don’t Get You
Album #8: Fishscale
Artist: Ghostface Killah
With the release of Fishscale, Ghostface Killah has established himself as the most self sufficient solo act spawned from the legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. Although Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and GZA’s Liquid Swords gain the title of best solo Wu-tang productions, Ghostface has been the most consistent and original member of the nine-man crew.
Up to the point before Fishscale was released, Wu-tang member RZA produced not only every beat for the Wu-tang Clan, but for every solo album released by Wu-tang members. On Fishscale, however, Ghostface teams up with Theodore Unit and other Wu-tang artists to supply the beats, marking the first time a RZA free production was released by a Wu-tang rapper.
Surprisingly, the result was incredible. The album retained its grimy and raw that is synonymous with Wu-Tang production, despite the loss of RZA production.
Listen to: Jellyfish, 9 Milli Bros, Kilo, Shakey Dog
Album #7: Every Waking Moment
Artist: Citizen Cope
The opening track on the album, “Back Together,” and the third track “Friendly Fire” could have earned Clarence Greenwood, a.k.a. Citizen Cope, a spot on this list, but he kindly decided to add nine more to his third release Every Waking Moment.
Originally a DJ for the hip-hop group Basehead, Greenwood eventually went solo to release his self-titled debut album in 2002. After taking two lengthy years to switch labels, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings was released in 2004 and earned Greenwood a cult-like following.
On Every Waking Moment, Greenwood continues to infuse R&B, folk and blues into a unique style that he can call his own.
Listen to: Brother Lee, Awe
Album #6: Hell Hath no Fury
Four years after their debut album, Lord Willin’, hit the shelves in 2002, Clipse’s long awaited sophomore disc, Hell Hath no Fury, was released this year. Aided by the dry accordion, Jamaican and synthesized-driven beats of two of the most respected producers in the industry, The Neptunes (composed of Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo), brothers Gene and Terrence Thornton, a.k.a. Malice and Pusha-T respectively, dropped one of the best hip-hop albums of the millennium.
After Lord Willin’s release, Clipse was put on the back-burner by Jive Records, in favor to more pop oriented music. Due to constant struggles with the label, Clipse subsequently released a series of mix-tapes under their very own Re-Up Records while waiting for Jive to resume recording for Hell Hath No Fury. It was a long four years for Clipse, but boy was it worth the wait.
Listen to: Mr. Me Too (Featuring Pharell), Trill (Featuring Pharell), Ain’t Cha (Featuring the Re-Up Gang)
Album #5: Modern Times
Artist: Bob Dylan
Since his self-titled debut album was released all the way back in 1962, the world has yet to see a better singer/song-writer than Bob Dylan. In fact, it’s more than safe to say that Dylan has a greater impact on the music industry than any and every artist since the beginning of time. For over forty years now, Dylan’s gruff voice, masterful guitar riffs and powerful lyrics have spoken to millions of listeners world-wide.
Modern Times is Dylan’s perception of the world we live in now. As always, the guitar-work and song structure is simple yet brilliant. Moreover, his voice seems to be unaffected by the inevitability of aging—it remains as coarse as it ever was.
Listen to: Someday Baby, Thunder on The Mountain, Beyond the Horizon
Album #4: Boys and Girls of America
Artist: The Hold Steady
Titled after the famous Jack Kerouac line from his poignant novel On The Road, that read, “Boys and Girls of America, they have such a sad time together” The Hold Steady’s latest release masterfully captures the tormented psyche of America’s youth.
Front-man Craig Finn, whose vocals sound eerily similar to those of Bruce Springsteen, tells tales of drunken teenage stupors, bad decisions, and reckless behavior. Each track has a mind of its own and swallows the listener with its pop-hooks and catchy vocals.
Listen to: Stuck Between Stations, First Night, Southtown Girls, Massive Nights
Album #3: The Information
For a project that commenced three years ago shortly after Beck’s critically acclaimed Sea Change was released (September 2002), it’s almost surprising that The Information does not encompass a wider landscape of sound than its predecessor, Guero (March 2005). What is surprising; however, is Beck’s amazing ability to intertwine music genres by creating an oblique and endless abyss of melodious and cosmic noises.
The Information is quite deceptive when coming to terms with a classification. Having Nigel Godrich (Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A) as a producer does nothing to explain the enigmatic nature of the album either, considering the fact that the two have collaborated on both Sea ChangeMutations, both of which have extremely distinct tones. Sea Change is the musical product of a heart-wrenching break-up while Mutations is a genre-bending folk-pop masterpiece. Beck’s other albums are usually composed primarily of similar musical tendencies as well. and
What is The Information then? Who the hell knows? Who the hell cares? The Information is another masterpiece from one the greatest artists of our generation.
Listen to: Elevator Music, I Think I’m in Love, Dark Star, Strange Apparition
Album #2: Food & Liquor
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Food & Liquor is exactly what hip-hop needed. With an impeccable style, and the ability to rap about politics, lost teenage souls and how good he smells, the sky is the limit for this young talented MC.
On the track Hurt Me Soul, Lupe sings, “I used to hate hip-hop, yep/ because the woman degraded,” which demonstrates not only his boldness to make such a claim, but the unique mind-set he brings to the world of hip-hop.
Every single track on this album contains intuitive lyrics to complement Kanye-catchy beats.
Listen to: Daydreamin’, Kick Push, I Gotcha, The Cool
Album #1: Night Ripper
Artist: Girl Talk
By day, Superman’s nerdy and bashful alter-ego Clark Kent works as a lowly reporter for the fictional newspaper Daily Planet. When faced with danger, however, Kent would instantly shed his shy persona, via the closest telephone both, in favor of the confident macho-man himself—Superman. A stark comparison can be made between this year’s album of the year recipient and the most celebrated superhero in comic book history.
Like Superman, Greg Gills, a.k.a. Girl Talk, works a day-job much less exciting than that of his alter-ego. Instead of working as a reporter, Gills works as a biomedical engineer. During the night, however, Gills transforms into the head-banging, laptop mixing, shirtless sensation known as Girl Talk.
The term “mesh-up” has been coined to describe a new genre of music that has been popularized by groups such as 2 Many DJs and Hollertronix. What the genre actually does, is meld hooks and samples from other artists work, into a new life form. Essentially, “mesh-up” DJs intertwine two or more tracks from other artists, simultaneously to produce an original piece.
Gills doesn’t earn his album of the year award through this, but in his execution. The well thought out song selection, mixed with a fearless approach to a seemingly impossible project makes Night Ripper one of the most interesting and enjoying albums to be released in a long time.
I highly recommend this extremely entertaining album. You have to hear it to believe it.
Listen for a radio broadcast that will be up soon on Eastside radio.
John Mayer- Continuum
J Dilla- Donuts
Slo-Mo- My Buzz Comes Back
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Stadium Arcadium
My Morning Jacket- Okonokos
The Roots- The Game Theory
Eulorhythmics- Extended Play
Lady Sovereign- Public Warning
Rhymefest- Blue Collar