It's February, so I decided to quit sitting on this Best Albums of 2006 list and pretending I would write trenchant, astute observations for each selection. In whittling it down to twenty-five, (Last year I had a top seventy-five.) I re-listened to a lot of music I loved to determine whether or not number twenty-two was actually just a little bit better than number twenty-one, and I realized it doesn't matter. Hopefully, my recommendation will help you to check out something you weren't really up on before. I doubt you'll grab all twenty-five.
Rather than link to mp3s, I've rigged this handy-dandy flash player with a song from each album on the list. Most of the time it's a deep cut with which I hoped to broaden your collective horizon, but sometimes it's a single and sometimes it's the only track that would work in the player.* As Terry "Hulk" Hogan would say: "Whatcha gonna do?" In other news, that might be the first time I've ever used the term "deep cut" unironically. I can feel myself becoming less cool. And on the note of becoming less cool, here's a list of things I like...
Mr. Lif- Mo' Mega
Mastodon- Blood Mountain
Lupe Fiasco- Food & Liquor
The Game- Doctor's Advocate
The Decemberists- The Crane Wife
Band of Horses- Everything All of the Time
Bob Dylan- Modern Times
LCD Soundsystem- 45:33
The Roots- Game Theory
Sunset Rubdown- Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Thom Yorke- The Eraser
Nas- Hip-Hop Is Dead
Hot Chip- The Warning
Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds
Peter Bjorn & John- Writer's Block
Islands- Return to the Sea
TV on the Radio- Return to Cookie Mountain
The Hold Steady- Boys and Girls in America
Justin Timberlake- FutureSex/LoveSounds
Tapes 'N Tapes- The Loon
Clipse- Hell Hath No Fury
Ghostface Killah- Fishscale
It's not often that anyone uses the word "consistent" to describe a hip-hop album. As a matter of fact, negative reviews for rap records always mention the i-word, whether it relates to gratuitous skits, unnecessary intros and outros, or one-note retreads. But 'Face delivers, top to bottom, one of the most consistently great rap albums I've ever heard. The twisty narrative cut? Pace. The posse cut? Pace. The drug song? Pace. Furthermore, he supplements those expected jabs with uppercuts only he could land, like the bizarre bus stop come-on "Beauty Jackson" or the resolute parenting screed "Whip You with a Strap." Firmly in his late-thirties, Ghostface seems to be getting better. If Jay-Z is Popeye's Boss Sauce, Ghostface is the Polynesian Sauce from Chick-Fil-A. The reason I love him? Not only would my boy get that reference, he would say something like, "Word is bond, can't fuck with that Wendy's honey mustard." No, sir. You can't. (What the hell am I talking about?)
Ghostface Killah- "Whip You with a Strap" (mp3)
Lil' Wayne- The Dedication 2
On any of the work that constitutes latter-day Wayne, the cut-off point probably being between The Carter and The Carter, Vol. II, he sounds bored, laconic, nonsensical, goofy. And it's just as awesome as it sounds. Almost every rapper claims to improvise his rhymes on the spot, but Wayne is totally convincing--if only he weren't so good. His style, the tentative lacing of words, the misplaced punchlines, the interjections to catch up, is more than exciting: it's significant. This might be a reach, but his flow sounds impressionistic, in the true sense of the word.
So far rap has been built by classicists--Rakim's or Tupac's internal rhymes and thematic consistency being something like Rembrandt's detail and rich composition--or expressionism--most other rappers subbing for Pollock's action painting. But Lil' Wayne paints in light colors and short strokes, trying to cram another line in before sunset, striving to give us the feeling, if only that, that we're in the room and he's trying to make us laugh. Dude's a few moves away from drinking absinthe and chilling with underaged ballerinas. In every track, there are mistakes that Wayne leaves in, and there are moments with the palpable danger that he might fuck up the whole thing. But he never does. You can like it or not, but it's hard to deny that this is something special. I guess there's just one thing left to ponder: Does this make Birdman Emperor Napoleon III?
Lil' Wayne- "Sportscenter" (mp3)
Girl Talk- Night Ripper
If you read this blog enough, you might suspect that I think a lot about the acceleration of culture. Generally, I see it as a disturbing development of our times. The shortening of our attention spans, the invasion of advertising at every level, the dilution of reflection with the illusion of progress. The best compliment I can throw at Greg Gillis, the mind behind Girl Talk, is that he makes me think the acceleration of culture might not be so bad.
I've tried to count the samples he layers and re-contextualizes on Night Ripper, and I give up every time. It's in the hundreds. But just because I can't take note of each one or appreciate them all individually doesn't mean they aren't there or that they matter any less. It's better that I can't. This album is so richly and densely layered that I'm still hearing new stuff. And I've listened to Night Ripper more than any other album this year. Other people might tell you differently, that other mash-up DJs are doing similar things, or that there are albums of this ilk that are even better or deeper. Don't believe them. Immediately, Night Ripper is a blast to listen to, and sometimes that's enough to achieve greatness. For anyone who doubts that a DJ can be an artist and a genius in his own right (are there any of you ignorant blowhards left?), listen to this.
Girl Talk- "Smash Your Head" (mp3)
BEST MIXTAPES OF THE YEAR (OR SO)
1. DJ Drama & Lil' Wayne- The Dedication II (obvs.)
2. Lupe Fiasco- Fahrenheit 1/15, Part I
3. 50 Cent et al- G-Unit Radio 22: Hip-Hop Is Dead
4. DJ Green Lantern presents Alive on Arrival
5. DJ Drama & Pharrell- In My Mind: The Prequel
6. DJ Smallz presents Southern Smoke Special Edition
7. Young Buck- Welcome to the Trap House
8. Diplomats- Who Else But Us?/Diplomats- The Title Stays in Harlem, Pt. 1
9. Clinton Sparks presents Touch the Sky
10. Lil' Wayne- Lil' Weezy Ana
BEST RAP INTROS OF THE YEAR (with accompanying quotations for support[anyone halfway coherent was disqualified])
1. Diddy- Don't Call It a Comeback: "Y'all remember 'ten years from now and we'll still be on top.' Y'all remember when I told you that shit, right? Y'all remember that shit! Come on, man! Now when you drive down Broadway, you see that fifth- sixty, seventy-seventh feet in the air! (?) I told y'all muthafuckas!...Put the light back to where it deserve to be. You muthafuckers...You see what I'm doin' out here, muthafuckas! I'm hittin' you in every area! I'm gettin' that money out the south! We got white girls! We got pretty mutha--y'all, y'all like the way Cassie look, right? Y'all niggas dicks is gettin' hard off that shit, right? Yeah! B.I.G., nigga!"
2. Jim Jones- M.O.B.: Members of Byrd Gang: "What don't kill you only makes you stronger. You niggas been takin' shots, but you missed me, mu'fuckas. It's Dipset--Byrd Gang. In God we trust; it's all about the money, motha-fucka. Niggas betta stand up for somethin' or fall for nothin'...We don't wear open-toe sandals, mu'fucka--we get money! We own cars, big jewelry! You understand? And if you niggas want drama, then it ain't a muthafuckin' problem. Ya dig? Because we mobbin'. Money over bitches. M.O.B.! Members of Byrd Gang. Let's ride."
3. Jim Jones- Look Both Ways Before You Cross Me: "Happy new year, mu'fuckas...This Jones, your boy capo status, New York's rider, man, one-eyed Willie and still ridin' with the Goonies...Byrd Gang, we will swoop down and come get you, nigga. We got our wings, we was born to fly...Harlem: double-up, muthafucka...We the streets, muthafucka, so you gotta look both ways 'fore you cross us. Part one! 'Cuz you know Harlem niggas don't do one of nothin', muthafuckas."
4. Ghostface Killah- Internet Invasion: "It's Green Lantern and Ghostdini...I want you to get your labtops ready. Y'know what I mean? Plug in your fuckin' iPods, man. And log on, mothafuckas. No doubt. It's big Ghostface all up in your area. All up in your stomach right now."
5. Young Jeezy- Can't Ban the Snowman:
Jeezy- I do this shit! What the fuck wrong with these niggas, man? Lemme talk to these niggas.
Drama- Do you.
Jeezy- Niggas got me fucked up. Bitin' my muthafuckin' style, my slang, my delivery. Nigga, be you, nigguhhhh. Niggas tryin' to make trap or die mixtapes. Man, it's a fuckin' wrap like the song, nigga. Like the song, nigga! And all you mu'fuckas out there with the sneak-dissin', nigga, listen up: I don't care if the po-lice listenin', nigga. I ain't doin' no more mu'fuckin' rappin', nigga. Shoot the shit out you bitch-ass niggas. That's my word, nigga.
Drama- Third time's the charm, homie.
Jeezy- Let's go.
MOST OVER-RATED ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
1. The Knife- Silent Shout
2. Joanna Newsome- Ys
3. J-Dilla- Donuts
4. Liars- Drums Not Dead
5. Destroyer- Destroyer's Rubies
6. Lupe Fiasco- Food & Liquor
7. Junior Boys- So This Is Goodbye
8. Rick Ross- Port of Miami
9. Yo La Tango- I Am Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers- Stadium Arcadium (Seriously, Rolling Stone? It's the second best album of the year?)
1. The Strokes- First Impressions of Earth
2. DJ Shadow- The Outsider
3. Built to Spill- You in Reverse
4. Outkast- Idlewild
5. The Rapture- Pieces of People We Love
6. The Walkmen- A Hundred Miles Off
7. Cam'ron- Killa Season (I still liked it, bitches.)
8. Jay-Z- Kingdom Come
9. Ben Kweller- Ben Kweller
10. Neil Young- Living with War
* - In the case of LCD Soundsystem, 45:33 is a one-track album commissioned by the copyright-coveting Nike, so it's pretty much impossible to find anywhere online. In the player is my favorite song of his, from the early naughties.^
^- Naughties. Yep. That's the designation for the '00s that I'm sticking with. Let's pick one and mobilize, people. The decade's damn near over.