Have you ever in your vivid imagination wondered what the always charismatic and lyrically inclined Blu would sound like atop a breezy Pete Rock production? What if that same production, as a bonus,was also was layered with the “ever so popular” usage of sleigh bells? Which, by the way is always a winner when it comes to Golden Era beats. You mean Blu actually did a track with the “Soul Brother #1″ (*gasp*). Ehh, not quite, but we quite possibly had the next best thing in 2008. Matter of fact, the MAJORITY of the beats for producer Presto’s “State Of The Art” LP will instantly take you back to the days when we had to patiently wait for “The Main Ingredient” to drop nearly three years after “Mecca & The Soul Brother”.
Oh, and did someone mention CL Smooth? What a coincidence!!! Fortunately, CL Smooth also made an appearance on Presto’s “compilation” of sorts on the elegant “Part Of Greatness”, another true banger. Man, I can already see Jaz & Trav (old headz, much like myself) salivating over the production that supplied the backbone for “State Of The Art”. Not only is the production a true “throw-back” (damn, I hate that word!) to the days of 1995, but lyrically with appearances from the Pharcyde’s Fatlip, Sadat X, O.C., the aforementioned CL Smooth and the always sharp, Large Professor (who also remixed “Conquer Mentally”, damn that CL vocal slice was slick!) the album in general makes you wanna’ dig out your Karl Kani and your Triple 555 Soul skullies. This album may not play out so well with the younger crowd, but if you’re in your late 20’s ta’ early 30’s then State Of The Art” was right up your alley!!
After nearly a nine (!) year wait it’s safe to say that Q-Tip’s follow-up up to the dismal “Amplified” (from 1999), “The Renaissance” didn’t disappoint in the least bit. Boasting posthumous production from the legendary Jay Dee on two of the album’s 13 tracks (the other 11 produced by Tip), “Life Is Better” which featured a somewhat odd inclusion of the gazillion-album selling Norah Jones, was laid to waste in favor of tracks like the neck-snapping (and Dilla-produced) “Move” and the first single “Gettin’ Up”. Matter of fact, I’ve read on numerous occasions that many people felt that “Life Is Better” was the weakest track to appear on “The Renaissance”. Ehh, no matter…I just couldn’t stop playin it’, even though at moments one could tend to wonder, “is this a Q-Tip track featuring Norah Jones?” or “a Norah Jones track that features Tip?”. The slick, bouncy, studder-step production was simply addictive as the soulful vocals of Miss Jones paired up nicely with a “run down of who’s who in Hip Hop” by Tip.
Little…non “Lil” Vic deliered one helluva’ album with the long-awaited “Each Dawn I Die” in 2008. I had actually written this album off for the longest, being that the DJ Premier produced banger, “The Exorcist” dropped a few years earlier, figuring that “Each Dawn I Die” was a compilation of Vic’s earlier leaks thrown together for a quick “album”, I couldn’t have been more mistaken. “Each Dawn”, which featured production from the aforementioned Preemo, and a guest spot from the legendary Kool G Rap, was filled to the rim with potent lyrics, Jeep-worthy beats and enough flavors to appeal to any underground Hip Hop head. The album’s crowning moment came via the trippy and hypnotic “Sister Morphine”. Featuring a dreamy, echoing hook, Little Vic slayed all naysayers with a venomous lyrical barrage over a track that came outta’ leftfield when in comparison to the rest of the production on the album. Vic took a big chance with the variance of “Sister Morphine” and won BIG TIME!! Can’t wait to hear more from this cat in the near future!
“This is grown man B.I., B.I….Beeyatch!”. The first track to set off the “Preservation” mixtape, Shawn Jackson delivered a HUGE knock-out punch with “Maan Up!”, which also was the last track to appear on Shawn’s very impressive debut, “First of All…”. Featuring a slew of bangers, “First Of All..” was one of the better albums to drop in 2008 from an emcee who originally hails from Providence(!), Rhode Island. With the assistance of Big Tone and Ta’Raach on the vocals and production tip, “Maan Up!” was one of the catchiest, funkiest and most neck-snapping beats of the year. It didn’t hurt matters when you also had an ill lyricist such as Shawn Jackson sprinkling hilarious one-liners and metaphors throughout the track with his own very distinctive delivery.
Blaow! Really though, how long will it take before cats stop sleepin’ on W.Y.D.U/W.T.R. fav Has-Lo? Ever since Trav hipped me to this cat via Has’ debut EP, “Fu*k Has Day”, I’ve been in awe of the lyrical wizardry displayed by this Illadelph product. To top things off, Has is actually a very potent double threat as well, producing a wide array of heat-rocks to satisfy the most die-hard Hip Hop fan’s palate. Peep Has’ take on Ghostface’s “Mighty Healthy”, with his title cut from his follow-up EP to “..Has Day”, “Small Metal Objects”. Utilizing one of the most “go to” breakbeats in Hip Hop history (“Substitution”), Has went for broke lyrically over a block-shaking track with cleverly placed bass stabs and a dusty sample (editor’s note: Damn, did Ragz cut this track to pieces on “Preservation” or what?). I’m soo impressed with Has’ vocals and word-play on “Small Metal Objects” that it takes the cake with very little competition as W.T.R.’s verse of the year. I mean, as you know, I’m all about the beats….however, Has had me rewinding back to the first verse of his title cut on countless occasions like a crackhead fiending for another rock. No sh*t, off all the emcees in the game right now, Has has gotta’ be in my top 3..this cat has everything you look for in an emcee…delivery, clever wordplay, smarts, charisma..and he produces!!! Wake up ya’ll, for real!!! This cat is gonna’ be big, remember where you heard it secondly (You got me on this one Trav!). Oh, and peep the technique below, the opening verse from “Small Metal Objects” and W.T.R.’s “Verse Of The Year”:
“I’m the small metal object that enters your brain/
after being shot screamin’ out a tunnel of flames/
enter my zone and space, I animate a phrase/
quick as Xav’ manglin’ brain wave/
you hear me airin’ the beat, I make moves/
look into my light, you can see a saint carryin’ me/
very deep in the formation/
throw my cd in the tray up in the 4 door layin’/
4 lanes on the interstate, you imitate/
a ni**a taste, to hijack when Has rap/
it’s real. stayin’ paranoid/
that’s why I be a step ahead of ya’ll like the eyes on a clairvoyent/
declairin’ war on anybody/
flow is water like Paul Giamatti, rap antibody/
I move virally inside of your network/
spreadin’ the word to check my text excerpts/
html, lace heaters/
mp award, see me on, may be your belt/
the sick and the poor regale me/
I show ‘em the sign to behold the pale steed/
now feast with the king/
you gon’ sling 10 on “Fuck Has” or a fee from a shrink?/
I’ll leave it up to you to decide/
when I rap, I chop thru a beat like a bullet in flight/
full speed from the pipe in a blink/
in route to you in your last seconds of life/
get open. trapped on the planet earth frozen/
caught up in the smoke and the mirrors of the moment/
Lo, I’m wise beyond my features/
the fetus, conceives a word to birth speeches/
defeatin’ us is like fightin’ close demons/
I keep a closed cap for the hearin’–”
Seriously, was there another track in Hip Hop this past year that truly captured the essence of that raw, grimey, dusty, New York-circa the Beatminerz era quite like “Outta’ Control” did? Shoot, I remember first sampling this on Dan Love’s “From Da Bricks.Com” and my mouth literally hit my keyboard, not long after Roc uttered: “We tell stories by the campfire”. I’d never even heard of the P Bros. prior to this joint, but you better believe in less than 48 hours I’d scooped up the duo’s entire discography. Not only was “Outta’ Control” one of the the best songs of ’08, “The Gas” was one of the best albums of the year, no diggety. The production that fueled “Outta Control” also carried on throughout the majority of “The Gas”, truly taking you back to the days of butter-suede timbs, Carhartt hoodies and Philly Blunt smoke. Also, did the P Bros. pick a winner when they scooped up the UN’s Roc Marciano for “Outta’ Control” or what? Take about a match made in heaven! Damn, this track was great! I think I might fall asleep to this album tonite..yeah, that’s a good thing, trust me.
Whew! Man, it was truly tought to pick just one favorite from my album of the year, Buff 1′s “There’s Only One”. Solid from start to finish, Buff avoided any instance of a sophomore slump with this amazing follow-up to ’07′s “Pure”. You know an album’s got some sh*t for that ass when you find a “new favorite” each week. Upon hearing this album for the first time, I leaned toward the catchiness of “Dream Streets”. Although, for the better half of the year (since the album’s release) I’ve been killin’ “Numbers Can’t Measure” f. Now On. With about 40 seconds remaining this track catapults to another level as the drums disappear paving way for an emotional outro. Buff, you got a near classic on your hands kid!! Is there any doubt that Detroit, with outstanding releases from Elzhi,14KT, Black Milk, Buff and Guilty Simpson have absolutely held down this Rap sh*t in 2008? Man, Dilla would be proud!! Seriously, is Detroit the NEW, New York in Hip Hop standards or what? It will be interesting to see if the “D” can carry that same momentum into 2009, for listener’s sake let’s hope so!
For those of you that have been under a rock for the past year of so, one half of Common Market is Blue Scholars’ producer extraordinaire Sabzi, while the microphone duties are more than aptly handled by the ecletic RA Scion. Criminally slept-on, Scion (whose beard makes Drew Gooden’s look “weak” by comparison) in my opinion is one of the deepest, lyrically potent emcees on the “market” right now! Equally as potent, is Sabzi’s bass heavy, melodic prodution that is very easy on the ears.
For a prime example of Sabzi’s continued production wizardry, peep the way that he flipped the Mic Geronimo classic “Masta I.C” (from Mic G’s ‘95 classic “The Natural”) which provides a thumping backdrop to “Slow Cure”. Don’t snooze, while RA’s lyrics may fly over your dome piece at times, this is a truly heart-felt track paired with production that is as far from the heart of Kentucky as you can get. But, you know what? It works! You can’t help but give yourself whiplash as RA preaches about unity within the community over what I feel is Sabzi’s best produced work ever, behind “Loyalty”….and maybe..just maybe, the recent leak, “Cofee & Cold”.
I’ve heard on more than one occasion from a select few big names in the underground that Now On’s “You Never Knew” wasn’t only their favorite track of 2008, but in some instances, their favorite cut EVER! Damn, that’s serious bizness! Although most of the production on Now On’s “Tomorrow Already” was handled by the Lab Techs and Haircut, producer Astronote pitched in with a beast of an instrumental for “You Never Knew”. The layers of this instrumental are simply addictive as Now On’s spits life lessons over a track that was as colorful as the crew’s individual personalities. As big as I am on the Lab Techs and their innovative production, I’m just as amped to hear what Astronote has to offer in 2009. Lucky for us, we’ll all get a taste this Monday morning as ‘Note drops his Notorious B.I.G. remix-tape “Bigger And Better”. Judging from the first two leaks “Ni*gas” and “Young G’s”, the future is indeed very bright for this highly slept-on beatsmith.
Yessir…”You can tell by the bass, that’s A-L-C/Ask E-V, I’m on my J-O-B”. Let’s face it, underground fav the Alchemist has laced his fair share of bangers over recent years, but in my opinion, none rocked harder than Evidence’s “The Far Left” (from E-V’s “The Layover EP”). Ever since I witnessed the clever, and very cost efficient I might add, visuals of the flip-card heavy video for this track, I couldn’t wait to get this joint on MP3. If you recall, leading up to the days of the EP’s release, Evidence seemed to leak every track from the EP but “The Far Left”. Needless to say, there would be no leak for “The Far Left”, I’d just have to wait this one out. Woah, was it well worth it!
Alchemist’s production on this track is energetic, catchy and clever all in the same breath. The lyrical performances from each of the emcees featured on “The Far Left” aren’t exactly mindblowing, the track is basically a “sh*t talkin’ free-for-all. However, A-L-C, Fashawn and Evidence deliver their words in a very “pronounced” manner, hammering each lyric into your skull. Seriously, I’ve listened to “The Far Left” over a hundred times or more, each time I hear the track I get a serious case of the goosebumps. What’s even crazier, of all the “year-end” lists I’ve read over the last few weeks I haven’t seen “The Far Left” mentioned even one time. Am I the only one feelin’ the track this much? Oh well, no matter, “The Far Left” wasn’t just the top track of 2008, but also one of the better tracks over the last decade!