For the better half of 2007 Blu & Exile’s “Simply Amazin” sat atop my playlist peering downs at all attempts to dismantle this “masterpiece” of a track. Sad thing is, I pretty much beat a dead horse with “Simply Amazin”, meaning, I rocked this track so much…. nowadays when I listen to “Below The Heavens” it’s nearly considered as fast forward material. However, there’s no denying that “Simply..” is bananas one of the more “uptempo” cuts on the album. A helluva’ beat laid by Exile, and on the mic, the self-proclaimed “So. Cal residential, lyrical monster” spit verbal darts that truly set him apart from the rest of the pack as an emcee in 2007. If you haven’t purchased the album as of yet, shame on you! Quite possibly, “Below The Heavens” finds itself as one of the top 3 albums released in the last decade!
From my choice for “Album Of The Year”, Ill Poetic’s “Ride Thru It” was one of…if not the most soulful track that I enjoyed in ’07. To truly capture the feel of this track you need to play it in the headphones or in the whip (that is if you have a decent “system”). Ill Poetic handled all of the production on the album, with the exception of one track, and what sets him apart from other producers is his “basslines”. Yep, I said it….basslines. Not just your regular 808 kick, the bassline within each and every Ill Poetic song is nearly a whole notha’ track. Crisp, sharp hits punctuate Ill’s thought-provoking lyrics on “Ride Thru It” such as: “I ain’t worried bout’ the Snowman/I’m worried bout’ the kid that think he a grown man/Holla’ at your old man if you want to/Grab your gun if you want to/But he knows what you gon’ do/And we know what you goin’ thru”. Accompanied by sultry vocals on the hook along with a….I don’t wanna’ call it a sped up sample, but listen and you’ll get the picture. One of the only tracks that gives me “goosebumps” everytime I rock it. “The World Is Ours”? Nah, the world was your’s in ’07 Ill Po!
Marco’s album “Port Authority” has gotta’ be one of the dopest compilation albums ever released, if not thebest. Featuring a slew of “proven” emcees, “Port Authority” showcased not only the individual talents of it’s guest but also Marco’s penchant for churning out dope, innnovative beats. Propers go out to Marco and Ace for also releasing one of the dopest videos of the year for “Nostalgia”. A true “B-Boy anthem” this cut was yet another victim of the “overplayment factor”. In my “Mid-Year” special I’d stated that “Nostalgia” was my single of the year to date and in one blog I stated that it was quite possibly the “best single released in the last two years”. Lord knows I’ve been know to jump the gun a little bit. Nonetheless, another goose-bump inducing track, there’s just something that gives me the chills after Erick Sermon’s “This might be my last one”……
While I do have mixed feelings when listening to Freeway’s latest offering “Free At Last”, the Bink produced heater “When They Remember” was pure fiyahhh! Mostly known for his contributions to Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” (”The Ruler’s Back”, “All I Need” & “Mamma Loves Me”), Bink really hasn’t been making that much noise as of late…most recently crafting productions for the likes of Amerie, Jahiem, Memphis Bleek & Beanie Sigel to name a few. “When They Remember” should get his name back out there earning an even higher price tag for his services. Lyrically, the biggest “beef” that the average Hip Hop fan has with Freeway as an emcee will always be his voice. On “Free At Last” there were moments such as the album’s opener “This Can’t Be Real” where Free’s vocal tone sounded a little less “strained” even when discussing the details of the Roc’s demise. The thing that hindered “Free At Last”, and more than likely….the majority of the forthcoming releases from the future of the Roc (Bleek, Young Chris, Tru Life, etc.) is undoubtedly going the poor timing of their actual releases. Confused? Let me expound…for example, we first heard that Jay was working on a solo joint (the recently released “American Gangster”) when? Not too terribly long ago, right? So the point I’m trying to make here is that Jay rushed to get his new shit out (just as with “Kingdom Come”), in the meantime, we’ve been waiting on a new album from Freeway for nearly 3 years! So when “Free At Last”, everyone (including myself) is just left in limbo…..like ehh, “I’m not really checkin’ for Freeway anymore”. So, not only are Free’s sales going to plummet but I’d also be highly surprised if he even releases another album. It’s a damn shame too, because honestly…..I can say that I enjoyed “Free At Last” waaaay more than I did “American Gangster”. Even though it may not light a match to Free’s debut “Philadelphia Freeway” (woooooooo! that was the JOINT in Iraq), “Free At Last” was still a nice album that I wouldn’t hesitate to give a 7 outta’ 10. Hell, I even found the 50 Cent assisted “Take It To The Top” to be a “guilty pleasure”. By the way, speaking of Def Jam artists that’ll probably never drop an album, is Joe Budden still on their roster?
This track won me over right after the “GO!” hit my headphones! In what was a perfect match for Evidence’s “slow flow”, producer Sid Roams hit a home-run with his “beautiful noize” on this one! Loud, boisterous organs overlapped a muffled, fuzzy bassline to create a cut that is perfect for “creeping” on those warm summer nights. Lyrically, E-V isn’t going to be showing up in any “hip-hop quotable” or “rhyme of the month” columns anytime soon, but he is incredibly “steady” with his jewels that sort of creep up on you. The hook on this joint is key, the cleverly picked samples from Jay-Z (“I slow flows ya’ll to death”) and Parrish Smith (“Another rapper was hit, by mr. slow flow”) along with the razor sharp cuts mesmerize you, as the fader switches between your left and right earpiece. Another entry from one of the “top 5″ albums of 2007.
I know that in the review I’d done with Trav for Soulstice’s “Dead Letter Perfect” late last year I stated that the whole “sped up sample thing” was tired…..but fuck it!!! Kno laces “Wonderful” with one of the most soulful tracks that I’ve heard in a minute, and the clarity of this track is almost breathtaking. Lyrically, Deacon & Devin (who also blessed Special Teamz with a dope hook on “Long Time Comin” succeed masterfully in creating a….no shit, 2007 “Around The Way Girl”. Not to often that someone’s lyrics can give me a laugh, but Devin has some funny ass one-liners on “Wonderful” such as: “Been starin’ at you at the club for like an hour and a half/And it smells like you just took a shower and a bath” and “Don’t get me wrong girl, I don’t wanna’ offend ya’/But I sure wanna’ put my thing in ya’. This track totally caught me off-guard when I first heard it, being that I usually associate Cunnin with darker more introspective type Hip-Hop. However, “Wonderful” was a nice change of pace from the Kentucky crew that not only was my “Most Played” track for the year but ultimately one of the best “feel good” joints of 2007 as well. Anyone noticing a theme here? It just so happens that the majority of the tracks that made the “top 10″ came from some of the best albums of the year.
Taken from Ohmega’s phenomenal “Watts Happening” (what in the hell is David Chapelle doin’ on the album cover?), “Model Citizen” is one of those joints that won’t immediately grab you upon the first listen, but be prepared….it’ll soon grown on you like a bad fungus to the point where it’s difficult to take off “repeat”. Defining the word “artist”, Ohmega sets out to make a difference on this track while shooting down all posers who glorify the “cars, guns & bitches” lyrics constantly. With that being said, it’s been real hard for me to hold my in my affection for this album, cause’ I highly doubt you’d want to read about it twice. “Model Citizen” is simply AMAZING, Ohmega’s lyrics aren’t too complex but the beat is just the opposite. With a beautiful horn section and soothing background vocals, this track hits it’s apex near the 3:30 mark when all the beautiful sounds in the record come crashing together leaving you wanting more from this talented emcee/producer. All I’ll say is BUY THIS RECORD! I liked it enough to go and purchase Ohmega’s debut “The Find” as well. I don’t know if my two little girls are softening me up at my old age or what, but I’m just lovin’ “musically inclined” shit like ”Watts Happening” as of late. Can you guess what I’ma say next? You betcha’, “Watts Happening” was also one of the best releases of 2007.
If it wasn’t for Ill Poetic’s “The World Is Ours”, Blu & Exile’s nearly flawless collabo “Below The Heavens” would be my hands-down favorite for “Album Of The Year”. I can sit here and honestly state that Blu is without a doubt the most talented emcee in Hip Hop right now. If you’ve been sleeping on “Below The Heavens” please do yourself a favor and cop this album….matter of fact, pick up two copies! It’s that dope! It’s quite a rarity nowadays in Hip Hop where you can let an album “ride out” from jump-street without hitting the “next track” button on your CD player or your Ipod, “Below The Heavens” is that type of album. Not only is Exile’s production top-notch (sick of hearing that yet?) but Blu displays a lyrical maturity that exceeds his age in years. Touching on subjects such as religion and finding your own peace on this earth, “The World Is…” is…at the end of the day, the most uplifting and empowering track on ”Below The Heavens” that will have you reachin’ for a neckbrace from all the “chicken necking” you’ve done. When I first reviewed “Below The Heavens” last Summer, someone left a comment that Blu “reminded me of Nas on “Illmatic”. “Yeah right!!”, I thought to myself, little did I know that I’d be sitting here in 2008 pondering that comment and it’s accuracy. Are we witnessing a legend in the making? Only time will tell, but if Blu keeps delivering his lyrics with the realness and raw as he did on “Below The Heavens” , it’s not to far-fetched to believe that one of the “greats” is right before our eyes!
First off, let’s examine Geo’s opening lyrics to “Loyalty”: “It’s more than just a hobby or pastime/For 24-7 I’m representin’ a mass line/Daily grind, 85/wonder why, maybe I’m/way behind late/even occupying my mind/with the…possibility/this means we’ll all end/with two albums/and a handful of people I call friends/And friends I call my comrades/and comrades who’s fam/together write a book till’ it ends/Indeed as we be headed in directions/gettin’ hometown’s on the rise/either love or leave it/indeed I’m givin’ credit to the the fam who believed it/precedin’ the hype or the hyper role of the media/Even though some people abandoned ship/”. Now, keep in mind that I tried to translate Geo’s lyrics as well as I could, being that I couldn’t find the published lyrics to “Loyalty” anywhere on the net’. Sabzi flipped the sample that Nicolay supplied for “All That You Are” and gave it that extra “umph” to include the morocas and the Roger Troutman ”synths”. Lyrically, Geo delivers his best performance on “Bayani”, you can feel his emotion in his heart-felt lyrics. I don’t want to come across as a raging homo when I say this but “Loyalty” is just a very emotional, moving track. It’s hard to explain why I’m so very passionate about this song, but I’ll try. Simply put, “Loyalty” is Hip-Hop, and we all can relate to the lyrics within this track. Hip-Hop is 24-7, we love it and we breathe it…it consumes us, it makes us fell good. Even though, there are times..particularly after listening to Soulja Boy or Mims or some other fly by night “flavor of the month” who has a strong hold on the urban market for the time being, that you wanna’ say “Fuck this shit!” Whatever the case, we keep coming back for more. It’s “Loyalty” to the music, it’s “Loyalty” to the art-form, and it’s “Loyalty” to the culture. Most importantly, it’s the struggling rapper, the artist with no commercial backing, the artist who works a 9 to 5 and makes music til’ the wee hours of the morning. It’s cats like Geo & Sabzi, whom I’d never heard of until the attractive artwork of “Bayani” caught my eye and I decided….let’s keep it real…to download the album (at which I later purchased), that you can’t help but root for. It’s albums like “Bayani”, “Dirty Acres”, “Pure”, “The World Is Ours” and a few others that captivate you with no forewarning and instantly find themselves as mainstays in your Ipod.
“Loyalty” is the most fitting track to wrap-up our year end lists here at W.T.R., because Hip Hop indeed will ”stand-up or fall-down” in ’08. Why the underground outweigh all the bullshit we here on the radio everyday? Who knows? 2007 was an amazing year for Hip Hop indeed! In my opinion, one of the best years in Hip Hop since the Golden Era. There were countless releases this year that deserve mention amongst the top 30 albums of 2007, however, I nearly pulled out my hair just giving the following albums their proper ranking. Let’s only hope that 2008 will be half as good as ’07 was when it comes to quality Hip Hop. With that being said, below is a listing of my “Top 30″ albums of ’07:
1. “The World Is Ours”-Ill Poetic
2. “Below The Heavens”-Blu & Exile
3. “Bayani”-Blue Scholars
4. “Dirty Acres”-Cunninlynguists
5. “The Weatherman”-Evidence
6. “The Scenic Route”-Pancea
7. “Oxygen Refreshed”-Jazz Addixx
8. “First Toke”-Uncut Raw
9. “Watts Happening”-Ohmega Watts
10. “Port Authority”-Marco Polo
11. “Get Back”-Little Brother
12. “Pure”-Buff 1
13. “Write Hear”-Educated Consumers
14. “Free At Last”-Freeway
15. “Crooklyn Gangster”-Small Pro f. Jay-Z
16. “Graduation”-Kanye West
17. “None Shall Pass”-Aesop Rock
18. “Travel At Your Own Pace”-Y Society
19. “Of Gods & Girls”-Mr. J Medeiros
20. “Dream Merchant 2″-9th Wonder
21. “Ear Drum”-Talib Kweli
22. “Bleed For Them”-Archetype
23. “Finding Forever”-Common
24. “Stereotypez”-Special Teamz
25. “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead”-El-P
26. “Popular Demand”-Black Milk
27. “Desire”-Pharoahe Monch
28. “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”-Consequence
29. “The Brick:Bodega Chronicals”-Joell Ortiz
30. “Median’s Relief”-Median