Friday, January 2, 2009

Best Albums of '08

Ne-Yo struggles to go wrong in my book. Except when his demo tracks for girl pop groups appear. Those are in desperate need of leakage control. But every single one of his rolled-out, guaranteed hit records feel fresh and real. He also does an amazing job funneling tracks for his releases, as I have over 60 songs by him that were cut from any formal release. He's the rhythm and blues equivalent of Wayne in the booth with his amount of material that finds its way on the internet. He should control those mixtape-wise and he'd be even bigger than he is now. Musically he pushes it further than most of his genre do, which is highly welcomed. This is his best album to date and he moved away from the raunchier songs of his last release. Truly gentleman-like. It's a feel good album, but one that hits on lots of emotions and situations. Surprise track: "What's the Matter"

9. L.A.X. - The Game
Game doesn't quite have classic status yet, but he is legitimately three for three on immensely dope releases. Unfortunately I gotta put this one just barely a notch behind Doctor's Advocate & The Documentary. While it's a selfish wish, I was hoping for a part 3 song of Game's drunk flow confessionals a la "Start from Scratch" & "Doctor's Advocate" and though each track was super nice, that one never came. But Game is never short of street narratives and amazing production choice. I crown him as the best beat picker ever. Conceptually, he is a dominant rapper from track to track. Each one has a purpose and hits its mark. While all the plentiful features do fit, it still seems like Game could have carried more of the album on his home. His persona is so built up at this point that he legitimately knows who he is as a rapper, which few artists ever fully achieve or perfect effectively. Surprise track: "L.A.X. Files (feat. Shorty)"

To appreciate this album, you have to accept its purpose. If you want your fix of the real deep, introspective Common Sense that has finally gotten recognition in the mainstream, check for albums 2, 3, 4, 6, & 7 from him over the years. Or wait til '09 for his Kanye & No I.D. helmed project. This specific album is meant to be a light, musically-exploring, envelope-pushing, dance-provoking journey through the mind of a fun-loving intellectual. Some blogs have accused this LP of being a failing cop-out plea to the clubs to pump his music. Forget that. Once I saw Brooke bust a dance to every changing track of this album in my car on our way to a UK game, I knew Common achieved just that. Throw in a song with an amazing ode to 80's rap flows, a much wanted new Cee-Lo feature, and a stadium-blasting "Gladiator" banger, I definitely enjoyed it more than most blogging stiffs. Surprise track: "What a World (feat. Chester French)"

7. Evolver - John Legend
Slightly more-so than Ne-Yo, John Legend is the quintessential male R&B singer today to me. First off, "Green Light" is a whole other world of catchy with classic Andre 3K that any person could appreciate. That song met dead center between "Hey Ya" and "Ordinary People" and actually worked. Kanye, Brandy, & Estelle round up the small list of features and each match up perfect. Every Legend album, including this one, is an inevitable know-every-word-to-every-song-and-sing-along-a-lil-too-loud CD. The album jumps pretty dramatically emotionally from song to song, but it doesn't detract from the collection as a whole. Critical reviews I've read that downplay its appeal are basically complaining of a lack of monotony. I personally don't want 12 soppy-yet-comfortable tracks to lace every singer's new project just to keep continuity for album reviewers. But that's just me. Surprise track: "No Other Love (feat. Estelle)"

6. Untitled - Nas
Award for the most pointed album of '08. Nas' legacy will be a very strange, albeit legendary, one. Or maybe the other way around. His lyricism, at least at one point, is otherworldly, but his albums have always been wildly inconsistent. He's oftentimes contradictory, finds himself on the brink of nearly-incoherent musings, dabbles in inexplicably boring production, and for whatever reason just will not get that DJ Premier collab in motion. Well ... forget everything I just said for the unfortunately-titled Untitled. If you're willing to listen (actually pay attention) for 54 minutes, then you're in for an experience sonically and philosophically. Besides the radio-friendly singles "Hero" and "Make the World Go Round", none of the other songs will let you feel comfortable. But Nas must have actually listened to his producers beat tapes more than once this go around. Whether it's Jay Electronica, Mark Ronson, Salaam Remi, or any of his other contributors, the soundscape is intense and worthy of Nas' blessing. Let's hope this is his permanent forward-thinking creative direction for the rest of his legendary career. Surprise track: "Testify"

5. Tha Carter III - Lil' Wayne
For all of my slight distaste at the man himself and my slight distaste for the ridiculous hype this album got due to volumes worth of leakage, it was frickin' fire. Wayne is the master of saying something enough to simply have people take his word for it and defend him. While he never has delivered on being the best rapper alive, but he did deliver an epic experience with the third installation of Tha Carter series. Songs aren't played, they are unfolded. The musical experience is heart pounding, the choruses are larger than life, and Weezy teeters on the line of genius and junkie for the most part amazingly. If you're ever looking for quotables outside of Will Ferrel movies, Young Carter is your source. I still mumble-hum "please don't shoot me down ..." and "you can't ... blame ... me ..." randomly without knowing I'm doing it. Kanye, Jim Jonsin, David Banner, and others stepped their game up to get on here. Surprising track: "Playing With Fire"

I'm dead serious. I've rarely become an instantaneous fan mid-song with an artist like I did with brandUn's music. Checking the production credits, he produced half the tracks, too. This album is sonically like nothing I've ever heard before. I was, and still am, completely blown away. The only reason I even have ever heard of brandUn is because I frequent Charles Hamilton's blog and I like to check out commenters on his posts who seem cool. Little did I know I would open a musical genius and future collaborator's profile when I initially clicked on his name. "Music is a talent, you can't plan it like Pluto. You gotta thank God, but with more than a kudo." While I'm an avid writer and you can't beg me to freestyle, brandUn says he barely writes anymore. As long as he continues his free-thinking word association and immensely clever concepts, I want him to continue. What separates him from all other indie acts right now is that his music establishes his personality. He's abstract but relatable. He talks about all different things in his rhymes over all kinds of tracks that just feel good. He's quite liberal with his collabos (as evidence by him lending me multiple beats), but he's never outshone. Dude is the future of quality of music and you better become a fan now. Plus, he's cool as hell. I can't vouche for any of the other artists yet. Surprise track: "Guilty Finisher (feat. Aris P & Tah Sed)"

3. Staff Development [Mixtape] - Charles Hamilton & Demevolist
I really, really liked the first tastes of dude's music that I found on various blogs, but it wasn't til this third release from the Hamiltonization process that I reached Stan status with CH. This honestly could've been a list ranking Charles' top 10 mixtapes in order and it wouldn't have been too far off. But Staff Development really stood out in my mind. While it showcases all of Demevolist Music Group in its songs, CH obviously stands out supremely. The production is so incredibly busy and progressive and this is the sound that he has grown to embrace and distinctively own. Always one to claim that he doesn't rap, he just blogs on beat, it actually feels like it here. Choruses on here are permanently etched into your system. I've already extensively written up about Charles, so I won't rehash what makes him better than any other rapper you are currently listening to. You can't go wrong with any download off of, and that stands doubly for Staff Development. Plus, a track off here is my number one song of the year, as well. Surprise track: "Anti-Bullying Zone"

2. The Odd Couple - Gnarls Barkley
I thought there was nothing in the world that could possibly knock this classic disc out of the top slot once it came out. Oh well. But definitely by no fault of either member of Gnarls. The Odd Couple is absolutely something else. To me, their first effort was as classic as anything was gonna get. But this effort laps it. Every song explores a specific emotion to its furthest extent and Cee-Lo provides Danger Mouse's alternate-universe sound scape with a human's powerful cry of existential searching. Even in all the layered levels of life-exploring lyricism, every track maintains its undeniable pop appeal. Lo's retardedly nice vocal range is showcased on here and once you get yourself familiar, he'll be up there in your favorite singers ever, no matter the genre. While there's a new solo album from him as well as a Goodie Mob reunion to look forward to, I'm also non-secretly anticipating the third Gnarls incarnation. Get up on this and have a new record that you accidentally find yourself bumping on the regular. Surprise track: "Surprise"

1. 808's & Heartbreak - Kanye West
Gnarls' was my soul's album, Kanye's was my heart's. While some blogs have inconsiderately labeled this effort an "emo love note", I find it highly applaudable that a world-class rock star rapper would sidestep his designated career path for unashamed genuine heart bearing. It moved me enough as a collection that I had to create my own ode to heartbreak utilizing 808's through a three tracks series on my last mixtape. Kanye's use of auto-tune is highly scrutinized, but in the context of him trying to convey an emotion hitting certain notes accentuated by auto-tune, it's artistic. Now I'm one to write off "Pop Champagne" as a hot mess, because there's no actual reason for it to be used there. But Ye creates a vocal aura here that commands your ear by specific auto-tuning along with reverb, distortion, delay, and other vocal mechanics. I don't hear anyone complaining about electric keyboards and that anything but an original grand piano sucks. So I don't quite understand the issue here besides its over-saturation by less talented artists.  But that ain't Yeezy's fault. If you're specifically going into this album wanting to hear some straight street hop, you'll be disappointed. If you're wanting to hear a rehash of any style from College Dropout or the others, you'll be disappointed. If you're open-mindedly going into this album willing to experience aural pop art, you'll be blown away. This is one of the albums that is hailed as a masterpiece by everyone who owns it, and proclaimed as complete garbage by everyone who hasn't heard it and given it a second or third spin. Either way, it's still my album of the year. And it won't lose to Herbie Hancock this go around at the Grammy's. Surprise track: "Street Lights"

... this was whatcha all been waitin' for ain't it?

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