The Year 2001 in Review
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Since the RapReviews.com "Year 2001 in Review" was posted on December
28th, we've received a lot of questions about how the list was compiled
and why certain albums received the rating they did -- or in some cases
not on the list at all. I can't account for every single album reviewed
on the site but in the case of Jay-Z vs. Nas I did write both reviews and
can easily clear up any confusion about the list. Jay-Z's release date
for "The Blueprint" was September 11th - a date few of us who live in
the United States will EVER be able to forget. While attempting
to move on in the face of such tragedy was a healthy exercise for me
as a writer, the insignificance of new albums actually caused me to
give Jay-Z a much lower score than such a quality album deserved.
I have a website policy of not rewriting album scores, even when I
think contributors rate an album too high or a lot of readers find
themselves disagreeing with the score. Nevertheless, I felt Jay-Z's
album as a whole had a LITTLE less weak material than the Nas
album - so in this case the true scores for both albums are at least
equivalent but Jay-Z would still nudge out Nas for the top spot just
the same. As for other questions about the Top 15 list, you'll find
that we have revised the list slightly, and as such this page now
has a "Top 5 Runners Up" for best of the year list as follows:
* v/a: "Fishin' in Troubled Waters"
* 7L & Esoteric: "The Soul Purpose"
* D.P.G.: "Dillinger & Young Gotti"
* Gravediggaz: "Nightmare in A-Minor"
* Redman: "Malpractice"
#15. v/a: "SoleSides Greatest Bumps"
This may be the best album that 99% of people never heard of in 2001.
It's hard for a compilation album of already released material to make
a list like this (which is why OutKast didn't get in) but this package
was so well presented and stocked with bonuses that it was undeniable.
If you never checked out any of the SoleSides artists like Lyrics Born,
Gift of Gab and DJ Shadow, this superlative double disc is your late
pass for some of the most imaginative rhymers and beatmakers in hip-hop.
#14. Cypress Hill: "Stoned Raiders"
Though it once seemed that their career was resigned to releasing
marginally acceptable albums and endlessly touring off the strengths
of their hit singles, Cypress Hill proved that after eight full
length albums they can STILL rip the roof off the mother
with a CD just as well as they do in concert. "Lowrider" is already
making waves on the carts even in the cold winter months, and the
other songs on the album will warm up more than the ends of the
numerous spliffs they still proudly light and smoke.
#13. Dilated Peoples: "Expansion Team"
Were it not for the vocal detractors who simply can't stand the
voice of Evidence, this album would probably chart much higher on
the list. Personally, your editor thinks he has a unique and funky
vocal tone that sets him apart from the pack - but then again I
get in constant arguments with people that Guru is a great MC too.
Even if you can't dig Ev, Rakaa Iriscience rips tracks to shreds
and is given good material to rip by the likes of Babu and Premier.
Clearly this album is everything "The Platform" was, squared.
#12. Ghostface Killah: "Bulletproof Wallets"
It's strange to see how the standard-bearer of the Wu-Tang Clan imprint
has moved slowly over time to Ghostface. While GZA and Inspectah Deck
are often voted the Clan's best MC's, and Method Man and RZA are the
most visible members of the group, Ghostface is the one whose solo
albums consistantly sell the best. If it weren't for the screw-ups,
mistakes, and left-off album tracks of this LP, Ghostface could have
been in 2001's top ten. Even so, this is still a high quality album.
#11. Dungeon Family: "Even in Darkness"
What happens when you put the collective soul power of Goodie Mob,
OutKast, Cool Breeze, WitchDoctor and Slimm Cutta Calhoun together
with a whole slew of funkdafied miscellaneous personnel - THEN
put them together with the production values of Organized Noise and
ET3? Pure uncut dope. Bubbling up from the pot, and just as sticky
and hot, this wicked mixture will leave you higher than any raw you
can sniff or inject. The review says it best: "Dungeon Family jam, jam on."
#10. Wu-Tang Clan: "Iron Flag"
It was actually quite a shock to see hip-hop's most beloved Clan
drop two albums in two successive years running, but there's no
reason to fear this watered down the quality of their output. In
fact, charting four positions higher than last year's "The W" shows
that a newly re-energized Wu-Tang learned from their mistakes and
improved on their strengths in ways not seen since the pioneering
days of "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx." The lead single "Uzi (Pinky Ring)"
makes the definitive statement about their return: "You dudes is wack,
face it, the Wu is back."
#9. Ludacris: "Word of Mouf"
A comically plastic face and spastic vocal delivery - if you like
movies I'm talking about Jim Carrey, but if you like dope Southern
rap music I'm talking about Luda. He's got more than just hoes
in different "Area Codes" on this CD, he's got jokes aplenty and
the beats of songs like "Growing Pains" and "Rollout (My Business)"
to back them up. While some perceive this album merely as a
sequel to the excellent "Back For the First Time" debut, it's
also a sophomore release that improves on it in many ways. Clearly,
no slump here.
#8. Timbaland & Magoo: "Indecent Proposal"
If you're wondering why this late in the year entry charted so high,
blame it on the strength of Timbaland's beats. Sure, he produced a
dozen or so chart bangers for every MC known to man this year (and a
few who weren't) but the man managed to even one-up himself with
tracks like the soulful "People Like Myself", the anthemic club hit
"Drop", the humerous "Considerate Brotha" or the truly bizarre and
funky "Indian Carpet." A few of his crazy ideas are duds, but with
genius like Timbaland's success only comes at the expense of failure;
a lesson even the much improved rapper Magoo seems to have learned well.
#7. Pep Love: "Ascension"
Count on the Hieroglyphics to catch the nation unaware when our
collective third eyes are turned blind. After years of dope cameo
appearances and sporadic singles, nobody expected Pep Love to come
out of the woodwork with a fresh solo album. The only bad thing
any hip-hop or rap fan could possibly say about this release is,
"Why didn't he do it sooner?" With fresh Hiero beats and words
that are both outro and introspective, the most slept on
member of the Hiero crew proved two axioms true: great things come
in small packages, and expect the unexpected.
#6. Sticky Fingaz: "Black Trash"
It's a well known and sad curse that rap albums which are experimental
or conceptual in nature tend to fail commercially. Still, when the
grimiest rapper in hip-hop took a break from holding up Def Jam employees
at gunpoint to create an autobiography, heads sat up and took notice.
Besides having great songs which can be enjoyed on their own merits,
the structure of the track order and accompanying skits forms a complete
story which is as tragic as a Mario Puzo novel or as cinematic as a
Francis Ford Coppola film based on the same book. Far from being
black trash, this album was in fact white gold -- maybe someday
sales figures will reflect it's true accomplishments.
#5. Lone Catalysts: "Hip Hop"
The album's title makes a bold yet simple statement - it is hip-hop.
More than the pretentious egotistical claptrap of KRS-One, or the shiny
suits of P. Diddy, or the screaming and yelling of Fred Durst. Through
the complex yet completely accessible beats and rhymes of producer
J. Rawls and rapper J. Sands, the fabulous J brothers create a sonic
earthquake that leaves mere mortals in their dust. Perhaps these
words about the album's bonus tracks sum up the album best: "each of
these extras is not really extra at all but just another helping of
mashed potatoes and biscuits to fill that hunger for dope hip-hop."
#4. Ursula Rucker: "Supa Sista"
Most people think of her as "that woman who reads poetry at the end
of albums by The Roots." She is, but she's also a "Supa Sista" too
who has a lot of profound things to say in her OWN right. Given
the spotlight and the chance to shine, she proves that she never needed
a helping hand in the first place. Take John Book's word for it:
"How she says the words, her delivery, and the words themselves, how
they come out one by one as if this was her master plan, is what makes
people keep coming back for more."
#3. Nas: "Stillmatic"
Considering that this album was only released on December 18th, charting
this high on the list is pretty dramatic. Nevertheless, "Stillmatic" is
easily not only one of the year's best, but the best CD that Nas has
released in over five years. A few alternate versions of the CD that
have been bootlegged online and on the streets suggest that with wiser
choices by Columbia Records, it might have been pushed up even HIGHER
on this list. Taken for what it is though, it's not only Nas' biggest
return to his "Nasty" rapping days (including a vicious Jay-Z diss) but
proof that he still deserves his honorary title as Rakim's true heir.
#2. Masta Ace: "Disposable Arts"
The loquacious Ace has long been a proponent of what Big Rube once
described as "being an OutKast." Within the circles of the so-called
knowledgable on rap, Ace is credited as being a pioneering hip-hop artist
whose catalogue extends back a decade and often cited for his LP
"Slaughtahouse" as a hip-hop masterpiece. Critical acclaim has failed
to yield the kind of sales to a rapper who even made such trendy
boom bash songs as "Born to Roll." This album may ironically be his
next greatest masterpiece and go down as the least well selling.
With this album Ace digs even further into his own mind and through
a series of ironic skits ponders why indeed most rap music today has
become so "disposable." By and large it may be, but if you're lucky
or smart enough to purchase this album you'll find it's worthy of
being considered an exception to the rule.
#1: Jay-Z: "The Blueprint"
Osama Bin Laden may be able to knock down tall buildings in New York
and cackle gleefully at the "poor infidels", but with both ironic and
fortuitous timing Shawn Carter gave us 'The Blueprint' to rebuild.
September 11th, 2001 may be the one release date I never forget in my
entire lifetime, but Jay-Z gives us all at least ONE good thing
we can attribute to that fateful day. The review itself reflects
a lot of my emotion and sorrow, and is haunted by images of smoldering
rubble - but in this darkness still shines bright the words of Hova:
"No lie, just know I chose my own fate/I drove by the fork in the road and
went straight." Hope, like new Jay-Z albums each year, springs eternal.
Originally posted: December 28, 2001 (updated 1/13/02)