In Alphabetical Order
Now that RJD2 has abandoned instrumental hip-hop for the the world of pop and DJ Shadow has fallen into the open arms of Keek Da Sneak, this 17-year old kid from Iowa might be the next best thing. Full of dusty soul samples and vinyl crackles, “Chicago” takes it back to 96, in a good way.
Birdman and Lil Wayne: “1st Key”
Chopping up UGK’s “Pocket Full of Stones,” Wayne flow’s is monstrously confident and assured. But the beat is the real star, all swaggering horns and soulful funk. I wonder who wrote the lyrics.
Busta Rhymes ft. Raekwon-“Goldmine”
As a wise man once said, “what the fuck does Busta Rhymes know about slanging coke? Dude was on Scenario.” But I’d let that obvious fact slide if The Big Bang was filled with songs as good as “Goldmine.” I don’t believe a goddamn word Busta’s saying, but his flow is When Disaster Strikes vintage and Raekwon attacks the beat with the calm collected professionalism of a hired killer. He also rhymes “fruit loops” with “it’s all for the loot, boo.” Which I find awesome.
Camp Lo-“Ganja Lounge”
Is this the weed-smoking anthem of the year? Uh, I forget. Which in stoner-speak means yes. (Or so I’ve heard). The song is called “Ganja Lounge.” It’s about weed. I’ve never been to a ganja lounge. But it sounds like it would be a lot of fun. I imagine this is the kind of song Sir-Smoke-A-Lot would’ve written if he hadn’t been a fictional character from Half Baked.
Clipse-“Keys Open Doors”
Joey said it best: The Clipse are EP rappers (see also his epic Best Songs of 06 Post). This would be the best song off the EP. Destroying the simple drum beat, layered against an ominous Gothic choir, Pusha and Malice do what they do best: rap about cocaine while throwing in a few tired pop culture references (Maria Full of Grace, Mumia, Robert Shapiro etc.). But the beat is a beast and you can’t deny that when these guys are on, their flow can compete with nearly anyone in the game, even if their lyrics are all-too-mediocre.
Danger Doom-“Korn Dogs”
I still don’t know how this song didn’t make The Mouse and the Mask, but thankfully Danger Mouse and MF Doom were wise enough to release this B-Side. Danger stops making cartoon beats for a moment and throws Doom a gritty track that he absolutely kills, bragging that he discovered a new name for a new strain of the measles, that he’ll slash your team to make Casper scream, and he nonchalantly offers “a what up to all you dedicated dads.” Not bad.
Ghostface Killah-“Alex (Stolen Script)”
“Whip You With a Strap”
Consider it a testament to Ghost’s greatness that picking just three of his songs from 2006 was one of the toughest decisions out of the 6 trillion lists I’ve written over the past month. But these three are my favorite.
“Alex (Stolen Script)” is Ghost in full-on story mode, dropping more detail in one line than most rappers could drop in an album. It tells the story of a guy named Alex, who has close to 10 bodies under his belt” who goes out to LA and tries to peddle the Ray Biopic, but ends up getting it stolen from him at a PF Chang’s. Aspiring MC’s should study this like the Rosetta Stone.
“Block Rock” finds Ghost dropping a flow like a hammer out of the sky, swift and harsh across Madlib’s disco-inspired but still raw beat. It also has one of the best lines of the year: “If Li’l Jon can ice his cup, I’ll top that shit and ice my nuts.” Spectacular.
To realize the brilliance of “Whip You With a Strap” you don’t even need to consider J-Dilla’s staggeringly good beat, it comes from the vivid detail in which Ghost describes being a little child on Staten Island, wanting to stay up with the afro’d adults listening to the Stylistics, catching a contact high from the weed smoke, putting his shoelaces in all the wrong holes, then finally refusing to leave and getting whipped by his mom. This is the Best Short Story written in 06.
The one true gem off of Kingdom Come, “Trouble” finds Jay doing actually what you’d expect him to do when paired with a Dre beat: killing it. Forget that inane Angelina Joleezie line and focus on how good Jay is when he actually focuses.
J-Dilla ft. Common: “E=MC2″
I’m not going to lie. It’s going to take a lot for people to respect Common again after those ridiculous GAP ads. Dude, can’t Kanye loan you some money or something? But this was a good start. Dilla drops a beat full of rugged drums and eerie synths and Common recalls the days when he had the Sense attached to the end of his name. I just wish he’d stop name-dropping the Matrix. That movie came out like a decade ago. Who taught him to write lyrics, The Clipse?
Jedi Mind Tricks-“Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story”
In a year where Shawn Wiggs, Joe Scudda and the suddenly unbearably bad Eminem have done their best to convince people that white men can’t rap, this track was the rare exception. A striking portrait of the psychological effects of the Vietnam War, the members of Jedi Mind Tricks and RA the Rugged Man, convincingly take on the persona’s of Vets. The track is harrowing and thought-provoking, something all too rare in contemporary hip-hop.
Jim Jones-“Ballin’ on X-Mas”
There is a 99 percent chance that this is the worst song ever written. There is also a 1 percent chance that this is the greatest song ever written. I’m willing to take that chance. Jim Jones is either a genius or he’s clinically retarded. Probably a little of both.
Little Brother ft. Chaundon-“Speed Racing”
The best song off the severely underrated Separate But Equal mixtape, Phonte and Big Pooh eviscerate the thumping beat. But the real star is newcomer Chaundon, who name-drops Chief Rocka in the beat than proceeds to dis rap critics obsessed with cocaine references. I wonder who he’s talking about?
“Now c’mon everybody let’s make cocaine cool/ we need a few moree half naked women up in the pool, now hold this Mack 10 that’s all covered in jewels, and can you please put your titties closer to the 22’s/And where’s the champagne? We need champagne!/Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand/And now hold up your chains slow motion slow the flames/And cue the smoke machines and the simulated rain.”
The Hip-Hop quotable of the year. This is “What They Do” the sequel. And somehow Lupe manages to do what no man has ever done before, make Jill Scott sound interesting.
Masta Killa-“Iron God Chamber”
Forgive me for quoting Joey once again, but all you need to ask yourself before listening to this track is “Do you like the Wu-Tang Clan? If so, this song is for you.” Method Man kicks a buttery smooth verse. The RZA starts babbling about being born in the bowels of razor blades, right next door to hades.” Then he declares “I used to be afraid of the devil as a boy, but now that I’m a grown man, I realize he was just a toy.” Touche, Robert Diggs. Touche.
I’m surprised how much I like this song considering I don’t even like LA. I hate the Dodgers, don’t like the beach and can’t stand the traffic. But I do like Murs, who might be the most underrated rapper in hip-hop. With “LA” he’s created the best anthem for the City of Angels since 2Pac wrote “To Live and Die in LA.”
Nas ft. The Game-“Hustlers”
This is the part where you stop hating the Game and admit to yourself that the dude has become a pretty great rapper. I’m not gonna’ say he kills Nas on this verse and I’m definitely not gonna’ say he’s a better rapper than Mr. Escobar, but the two are damned near equals right here. And only about 10 people in the world can hold their own at that level.
Outkast-“The Mighty O”
When Andre stops pretending that he’s Jimi Hendrix and deigns to let Big Boi on the track, they still are the best duo in the game. This is that rare exception and unlike most of the crap on Idlewild, this holds its own with vintage Outkast.
Papoose ft. Busta Rhymes and Raekwon-“Address Me as Mister (Remix)”
I know a lot of people hate on Papoose, but I’m a fan of the dude. Like I’ve said, he’s the second coming of Big L, a literate high pitched rapper with a vicious flow and a penchant for complex internal rhyming. A solid but unspectacular MC that would’ve fit in perfectly on “Banned From TV.” This song is a perfect example of that, as Papoose absolutely wrecks Rae and Busta Rhymes.
Puffy ft. Nas & Cee-Lo-“Everything I Love”
Nas gave an early taste of his 2006 return to form with this havoc-wreaking verse on Puffy’s horrible Press Play album. Only Nas can drop Liz Taylor and Bill Bixby references in consecutive lines. Oh well, it’s still better than the time he bragged about Halle Berry blowing him a kiss at the BARBRA FUCKING STREISAND concert.
Soul Position-“Hand Me Downs”
In a just world, rappers would listen to this song and take heed of its call to step up their game. This isn’t battle rap B.S. this is a call to arms for a genre in danger of being fully absorbed by the world of cartoon pop music. Blueprint is not only an exceptional technical rapper, he is wildly intelligent, as this eloquent song attests.
Tha Dogg Pound-“Kickn N’ Pushin”
When I interviewed Daz earlier this year, I asked him why he didn’t produce the Cali Iz Active album. He told me that he didn’t make the beats because they couldn’t afford him. Needless to say, I wrote it off. But when I finally heard the sun-drenched G-Funk throwback of “Kickn’ N’ Pushin” I couldn’t stop looping the song on repeat. Has anyone heard the entire album? Is it as good as this song? People I need answers.
Weird Al Yankovich-“White and Nerdy”
What does it say about rap music that a song by a middle-aged white guy is one of the 25 best records of the year? More importantly, what does it say about dudes like Rick Ross and Young Joc that a man whose last name is Yankovich has a better flow than they do? This might be Weird Al’s best song since “Amish Paradise.” He brags that he edits Wikipedia. That’s just funny.