Even if you are a jewel thief, it is never wise to mess with a man whose name is Sgt. Larvell Jones.
25. Chamillionaire ft. Slick Rick: “Hip Hop Police”
Chamillionaire’s a good rapper. His flow kind of reminds me of Krayzie Bone had he grown up chugging syrup through humid Houston summers. And unlike a lot of Southern rappers, Chamillionaire has interesting ideas, even if he doesn’t always know the best way to implement them. “Hip Hop Police” is one of those moments where he connects, with Paul Wall’s former better half in storytelling mode, venting about the hip-hop police playing the role of both suspect and cop. But Slick Rick owns the track, rocking his eye patch, with an effortless ’88 swagger down to the fat gold ropes still clanging around his neck. It’s the sort of verse that reminds you how he got the nickname “the ruler.”
MP3: Chamillionaire ft. Slick Rick-“Hip Hop Police”
24. Consequence ft. Kanye West-“The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”
If you found Graduation a little too “Euro” for your tastes, you’d probably prefer this song off of Consequence’s debut album, Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Kanye chipmunk souls a dusty Smokey Robinson sample and steps away from the boards to show Consequence how he himself must’ve felt after “Diamonds of Sierra Leone.” You also have to like the fact that Kanye manages to spit a verse without a Luis Vuitton reference. Huzzah.
Zilla Rocca and Nico the Beast definitely had some very good songs on their debut, Sometimes There is Trouble, and on their Living in Harmony mixtape, but with “We Just Run Things” they deliver their first great song. On this cut, the first on their mixtape with World Domination Headquarters, they master songcraft, paring catchy hooks with complex lyricism, and a sharp, subtle sense of humor. It’s the difference between rappers who can put out a good album versus those who can have a career.
MP3: Clean Guns-“We Just Run Things”
Download the entire mixtape for free here (left-click)
22. Freeway-“Roc-A-Fella Billionaires”
I’ve made my thoughts on the Freeway album well-known, but however mediocre it is, I do really like a couple tracks. This is probably my favorite. Dame Grease supplies a beat full of shrill whistles and marching band horns that sounds right at home on Hard Knock Life Vol. 2, as does Jay, who pretty much lays Freeway to waste. Leaked way back in June, this was probably the first time that everyone should’ve realized that Jay-Z had decided to attempt being a good rapper again.
21. Little Brother-“Can’t Win For Losing”
Track 2 on Little Brother’s first 9th Wonder-less album, “Can’t Win For Losing” is a sort of state of the union for the group. But if it weren’t more than just that, it probably wouldn’t be very notable, considering only 14 people really cared that 9th Wonder left the group in the first place (eight of of which were probably in Phonte’s family). Tacitly answering the doubters, not only does Illmind provide a better beat than anything 9th ever gave them (“The Listening” excluded), but Phonte manages to intelligently articulate the difficulties and struggles inherent in being an independent-minded artist without sounding whiny. Which is much harder than it seems.
20. Phat Kat-“Nasty Ain’t It”
As the well of posthumously released Dilla beats grows dry, this should be remembered as one of the last great ones. A metallic, dystopian slice of ice-cold futuristic-funk, “Nasty Ain’t It” leaves one wondering if Dilla was only really beginning to enter his prime. Meanwhile Phat Kat dashes Blade Runner-like past the screeching whistles and ringing alarms of the track, roaring with a spectacularly surly lung-scorched growl and a barely contained rage.
19. Pete Rock ft. Styles P & Sheek Louch-“914″
Released by Nature Sounds in January as the single from Pete Rock’ s still shelved New York’s Finest record, “914” has inevitably become a hit among rich kids in Westchester County, stoked that Yonkers and Scarsdale share an area code. Despite capable verses from Styles P and Sheek Louch (or as they’re commonly known in Black Hebrew Circles: A Side of Lox), Rock owns the track without saying a word, with a beat full of filthy drums, muffled horns, and the grimy New York subway rattle that he made his name on.
MP3: Pete Rock ft. Styles P and Sheek Louch-“914″
18. Rich Boy-“Throw Some D’s Out On It Remix”
How about we just start by listing the bad things about this song. First, of all it has Rich Boy on it. And I know people are really into the whole, “let’s pretend that Rich Boy isn’t completely garbage” thing, but I’m not hearing it. He’s pretty awful. I even listened to his eponymous NAMBLA-enticing debut twice and both times Rich Boy’s entreaties to be a “Hustla Boy Gangsta Mack” barely lured me in. Barely. Also, the “Throw Some D’s Remix” has a verse from Murphy Lee talking about how my girl has a picture of him on her wall. This is not true. I don’t date girls with pictures of St. Lunatics on my wall. In fact, I’m willing to bet that Murphy Lee’s sister doesn’t even have a picture of Murphy Lee on her wall. On the plus side, Andre 3000 kicks off his string of awesome ’07 guest appearances, The Game rambles about Cadillacs and Jim Jones ad-libs the word, “Innocent,” while talking about his “kosher lawyers.” And sadly, this never fails to amuse me.
17. Lil Wayne-“Dipset”
Yes, I still think Lil Wayne is easily the most overrated rapper of our time and still believe that calling him the greatest rapper alive immediately discounts your opinion. However, overrated and bad aren’t necessarily synonymous. In fact, on occasion Wayne almost lives up to the hyperbole. Think of him as hip-hop’s Rob Deer. He strikes out way too much to be rightfully considered a superstar, but when he makes contact it goes a long way. [Insert Baby joke here]. Over the instrumental for “Reppin’ Time,” Wayne’s sneering stream of consciousness rant perfectly matches the beats swagger and bombast. Lyrically, it’s so knowingly absurd you can’t help but laugh. Although, I wouldn’t recommend using Wayne’s patented, “Bitch, I have a great idea…we should sex” theory, nor would I advocate only using “Cristal to pour over white bitches heads.” That’s just superfluous.
MP3: Lil Wayne-“Dipset”
16. Brother Ali-“Truth Is”
If Slug had written a single half this catchy, he’d probably have made some in-roads in the much-coveted Soulja Boy 13-year old white girl demographic. But Brother Ali has absolutely no commercial appeal. He’s a strident, fire-breathing, Albino from Minneapolis who looks like a cross between Powder and a B-boy from Wild Style. He’s also steadily improved since he broke in with Rhymesayers in 2002 to the point where he deservedly earned an opening slot supporting Ghost and Rakim on this year’s Hip Hop Live! tour. With its huge hook, Ali’s fierce preacher’s cadence and Ant’s umbrella-in-drink tropical funk, “Truth Is” is as effortless and catchy as indie rap gets.
15. Percee P ft. Diamond D-“2 Brothers From The Gutter”
Had Madlib handed these brilliant blunted beats over to Doom, you’d already be long sick of hearing about Madvillain II’s excellence. Instead, that project exists only in a rap-nerd fantasy world (excelsior) and we get Perseverance, a surprisingly strong record in spite of Percee’s one-note lyrics about how great his lyrics are. There’s a good half dozen songs that really stand out, but this might be the best. Percee and Diamond D try to impose the gravity of their anachronistic flows against Madlib’s stoned MegaMan 2 beat, full of fuzzy cheap synths, bright Mario Brothers coin clicks and after-school Nintendo nostalgia. Instead it just soars away into its own universe.
MP3: Percee P ft. Diamond D.-“Two Brothers From the Gutter”
Mental Note: Avoid guys with the nickname “Mad Dog.”
14. Redman-“Blow Treez”
Why did we have to wait until 2007 for Redman, the man who taught a generation of impressionable youths how to roll a blunt, to sample Bob Marley, the greatest blunt roller of them all? Flipping the halcyon palm-tree sway of “Sun is Shining” from 1978’s Kaya, Reggie Noble enlists Method Man and whoever the fuck Ready Roc is to create the stoner anthem of the year. It’s a bit reductive to tell you to bump this from a booming system stoned on an impossibly sunny spring day, but hey, sometimes that’s just the way things were intended.
MP3: Redman ft. Method Man and Ready Roc-“Blow Treez”
MP3: Bob Marley: “Sun is Shining”
13. Kanye West-“Everything I Am”
Let’s talk, Common. I can live with the Gap ads. I can even handle the weirdness of the B.F.F. relationship with Ari Gold, but something’s gone terribly awry when you pass up a beat like this It’s simple but soulful, twinkling piano keys, somber Southern Baptist wails, and soft trembling drums. Stir some Premier scratches directly into its heart and you get arguably the best beat on Graduation. Kanye does it justice too, rattling off a litany of his flaws, spazzing out at Awards shows, not being as black as one of the dudes in Blackstreet (?). It reads a little calculating but plays as one of the few humanizing touches that manage to make Graduation endearing in spite of its arena-sized ego.
12. Marco Polo ft. Masta Ace-“Nostalgia”
Video of the year. Not for any sort of technical complexity or originality, but for its ruthless ability to achieve its goals. With his Premier/Pete Rock homage, Polo’s beat sounds like it was made while drinking a Yoohoo and smoking a Philly at D&D. If you listen hard enough, there’s even a snippet of “Mass Appeal.” The video sketches out the idea in faded colors, a throwback to the Yo MTV Raps! days of grainy low-budget video after low-budget video, full of hooded scowls, dim Brooklyn afternoons and Bodega runs. The song’s called “Nostalgia.” It succeeds.
11. Prodigy-“Stuck on You”
I’m sure that the “Return of the Mac” will wind up pretty high on a lot of Year End Lists, but it just had too many dud tracks for me. Prodigy sounds prematurely old these days, huffing and puffing to catch up to the beat, fumbling with new ways of saying the same old things. And let’s never speak of “Blood Money” again. Yet with “Stuck On You,” Alchemist slows things down, tossing heavy sedated drums over a sample of “I’m Hooked on You.” Rapping like a clumsy, ursine, past his-prime George Foreman, Prodigy throws a haymaker and connects soundly.
10. Klashnekoff-“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised On Channel U”
You’re probably wondering who Klashenekoff is. This is because you’re probably American and Americans don’t like British rap. Unless of course, its done by Dizzee Rascal, and then that’s really just Americans attempting to like British rap because it seems strangely exotic even though it’s not very good. But you’ll probably like Klashnekoff. He released one great album, The Sagas of Klashnekoff, and waited three years to finally release a record called Lionheart: Tussle With the Beast. Needless to say, tussling with beasts wasn’t about to get any American distribution. Nor were songs about “Channel U.” I didn’t even know what “Channel U” was until Dom Passantino’s reviewed the record for Stylus. It kind of doesn’t matter. The song sounds like early Mobb Deep, stabbing strings, warehouse-big drums and rhymes simultaneously hard-core and darkly poetic. Download it, go to his Myspace, try remember this guy’s name (Admittedly, not an easy task.)
9. Hi-Tek Ft. Talib Kweli & Dion-“Time”
“People get caught up in a time and what that song represents to them at the time they hear it. Nothing I’m gonna do after that is going to match up to that time period, because they can’t get that back. So I have to realize that when I make music, that time is never gonna be back to them-Talib Kweli
In 2001, I saw Talib Kweli five times and each performance he seemed to grow closer and closer to greatness. There was a fierce hunger in his eyes then, he was young and eager, rapping in breathless machine-gun bursts as though he was trying to break out of the underground one syllable at a time. Kweli had a restless quality, moving with intensity and focus, like if he stopped paying attention for a single moment, one of his thoughts would escape and never return.
But then something happened. Quality came out and it was solid but uninspiring. A step back not forward. Time lunged on. By the time Beautiful Struggle came out, listening to it felt like how I imagine hipsters will feel in five years when they have the did-I-used-to-wear-that realization that they spent two wears in the late 00’s rocking mustaches and stove-pipe hats. Every track came with a corny, and massive R&B hook, not to mention the uneasy similarity Beautiful Struggle single “I Try” had with Quality single, “Get By.” Kweli was played out like keg stands and gravity bong rips, things things that I used to fuck with regularly in the past, but never planned to include in my post-collegiate life.
Then I heard, “Time,” easily the best track off of Hi-Tek’s recently released Hi-Teknology 3 album. Instantly, I fell back a half-dozen years, the requisite flood of memories: old mix tapes made, stoned nocturnal car rides through the lazy hills of northeast LA, Reflection Eternal as the soundtrack at some drunken party spilling into a sad gray dawn. Hi-Tek’s beat is godlike, a celestial burst of stoned soul with Kweli’s raps melding perfectly to it. These two need each other, like Pete Rock and CL Smooth or Premier and Guru. Apparently, they’re going to do another Reflection Eternal album. That’s good news. In the meantime, sure Kweli still may never mean as much to me as he did six years ago, but you know what, I’m okay with liking him again. It’s time.
7. Devin the Dude ft. Snoop Dogg, Andre 3000-“What a Job”
Yup, it would really suck to get to be a professional rapper. Take Snoop. I mean that quarter pound of weed isn’t going to smoke itself all day every day Or Andre 30,000,000, (as in sold), who is pretty much worshiped as a God on at least six continents and yet still, he’s kept up nights with worries about file-sharing (maybe he hangs out with Lars Ulrich?). Or Devin the Dude, who must be doing fine because his nickname is the Dude. He abides. (But seriously Dude, if you’re worried that your baby mama is thinking you’re “on some other shit,” might I recommend not writing a song about how girls should sleep with you because your dick goes well with broccoli & cheese.) The thing is, this is my 7th favorite rap song of the 2007. This is the job these guys were meant to be doing.
6. Aesop Rock-“No City”
It’s always sort of irritated me that people who consider themselves “hip-hop heads” invariably don’t like Aesop Rock. I understand why. He’s white. He uses a lot of big words. He rocks Che hats. I get it. But still, his career doesn’t get nearly as much respect as it should. Though I imagine if Aesop rapped over beats like this more often, the question would be moot. 8 Diagrams is good and all, but on “No City” Blockhead makes the kind of beat you hoped the RZA would be making in ’07, a voodoo cauldron of dive-bombing violins, levitating guitar lines, and New Orleans jazz pianos. Aesop kills it, letting off an surrealist jag of images of 6 billion gorillas for whom the graves yawn, waiting gates to Hades, and yachts and mansions dropping from canyons.
MP3: Aesop Rock-“No City”
5. Jay-Z ft. Nas-“Success”
These two. Thing is, this song shouldn’t be this high on my Best Of list. Say these guys hadn’t spent a decade trying to fuck each other’s baby mama’s, Sean Carter and Nasir Jones probably would’ve recorded at least a half-dozen songs better than “Success.” But at least they finally managed to get it right. Granted, neither Jay nor Nas turns in their best performance, but just hearing two of the best rappers of their generation go at it on the same track is something special in its own right–particularly when backed by seraphic church organs angling towards the sky and slow regal drums. It doesn’t matter that Jay-Z’s does a lazy flip of an old Eminem verse. It doesn’t matter that Nas tells people for the 34th time that he has the blood of a king (Hopefully, this one). It’s still a success.
4. Ghostface Killah ft. Method Man and Raekwon-“Yolanda’s House”
It’s probably cliche by now to point out how much of Ghost’s brilliance stems from his attention to detail. In theory, “Yolanda’s House” has no right to be this great. Starks has written dozens of heist stories over the years, but somehow he’s able to make each one unique, letting it breathe in its own distinct world of blood, smoke and banana nutraments.
On “Yolanda’s House,” Ironman’s on the run from the cops again. His watch is cracked, his Nikes are scuffed, his body is scratched from fleeing through bushes and backyards . He’s tired, out of breath, stoned. The sirens wail behind him. His heart bulges out of his chest, paranoid thoughts dart through his dazed mind. He thinks about quitting slanging, but knows he can’t. He needs the money. Out of options, he yells to God to strike him if he doesn’t like him. But of course, God likes him. It’s Ghostface after all. He’s the honest man living outside the law.
Miraculously, he ducks into a safe house, explains his situation, and convinces a sympathetic woman to cook him fries, fish sticks and biscuits, all while still applying her lipstick. Satiated, belly fat, he slices open a blunt and stuffs it full of weed. They smoke. One thing leads to another, Ghost is about get some “head wop” and more, when suddenly, the hiss and static of walkie talkies bleeds through the thin project walls. The cops are rumbling up the stairwell. Frantically, Ghost ducks into the next room, hiding behind a wall, spying Method Man, about to fuck the fish-stick cooker’s sister. Raw. And all this happens in just one minute.
3. UGK ft. Outkast-“Int’l Players Anthem”
This video has everything. Jokes about Rowdy Roddy Piper. Appearances from Bishop Magic Don Juan in a lime green hat. A wedding reception that looks even more fun than the Gimme-A-Keg-Of-Beer party in Teen Wolf. And of course, a great song behind it. But more than just being a pimped-out wedding fantasia, “Int’l Players Anthem” manages to capture the different sides of the male psyche. At one end, Andre plays the hopeless romantic, walking down the alter in a kilt, convinced that his bliss won’t be ephemeral. At the other extreme, an ice-draped Bun B and Pimp call other guys fairies and brag about driving Bentleys and wearing Russian Sable. The concept of settling down with one woman is unthinkable.
Big Boi plays the centrist, the pragmatic voice of reason. He’s not necessarily opposed to marriage, he’s just picky and wants to make sure he isn’t being played. Andre would call him jaded. Big Boi laughs and tells Andre to ask Paul McCartney about true love. Usually, posse cuts are just exercises for rappers to spit their most ferocious battle raps, but on this one, UGK and Outkast take it the next level, creating an an instant classic, complete in both its concept and execution.
2. El-P-“Poisenville Kids No Wins/Reprise (This Must Be Our Time)
In Poisenville, the kids walk on floors made of broken glass and sawdust. They wear silver-colored rags and eat tomatoes the size of human heads. The sun never shines and they only serve cold brackish coffee. In school, the machines drone on with all the right answers and when they return home the children watch only reality shows and ultra-violent cartoons. Garbage lines the streets. Bombs explode on the front pages of poorly reported newspapers. The entire congress consists of aging actors, and bad ones at that. It’s the last chapter in El-P’s tar-black dystopia, the world’s gone awry and all anyone can do is laugh.
1. Outkast-“Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 4″
“Da’ Art of Storytellin’” is a challenge to all-comers, a dare to the rap world to see if anyone stronger has emerged since Andre got bored with hip-hop sometime around the millennium. It’s that all-too-rare, adrenaline-racing, boombox monstrosity that whip-saws you to attention and makes you remember why you loved hip-hop so much in the first place. In an ideal rap world, this song would get at the very least as much burn on car stereos as “Soulja Girl” (notice, Andre’s bumping 100 Miles And Running). The sort of thing you’d hope would shift some teenage rapper’s paradigm from the obscene commercialism of the newest school, to the line of storytellers descended from Slick Rick and Kool G Rap, This should be required rewind listening for all aspiring rappers. Fuck being a motivational speaker, an actor, or a “brand,” rappers should want to tell stories, not be them.