The Top 10 Hot Joints Of 2003
01. OutKast :: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Hip-hop is about an emotional and musical experience. To listen to Andre 3000's The Love Below is to flash back to three decades of classic soul ("Hey Ya"), cross that with the melodic balladry of Steve Wonder, and then embrace the rich grooves of Earth, Wind & Fire ("Prototype"). The Love Below is a shock to the system that successfully fuses Andre's R&B recall and his hip-hop sophistication. He can make the ladies swoon on the Paisley funk of "Spread" and showcased his lyrical ingenuity on "Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre" where he raps for 6 minutes without a pause. Andre is sexual chocolate.
On the flipside, Big Boi's Speakerboxxx is downright stankalicious. The futuristic b-boy fullfills his music around the atmosphere of celebratory crunkiness. For example, there's "The Way You Move," a doo-wop-meets-crunk dance-floor trembler. There's "Church" a gospel-esque crunk fusion with Pastor Boi spitting introspective testimonials. There's "Bowtie," a player's anthem that gives a nod to George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic. And Boi shows that a big-time player like himself can have a social conscious on the anti-conflict sentiment "War."
There are a few idiotic music critics who have questioned whether or not Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a true hip-hop recording. They also criticized OutKast for being too experimental. Whether 'Kast's double-LP is considered an R&B album; or a rap album; or an experimental album, or even a "crossover" album, it was simply dead on the money. OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a hip-hop masterpiece.
02. Little Brother :: The Listening
Whether you love or hate what has become of hip-hop, one thing is clear: Hip-hop is the leader in artistic innovation in popular culture. Little Brother is on the forefront of that artistic movement. And their debut CD The Listening is a wonderful aural experience. The old-school hip-hop motif and production value featured on The Listening had some critics calling it a novelty record, but it's not. In fact, it's an essential album, and a long overdue evolutionary (revolutionary?) step into "classical" rap music. Drawing inspiration from the old-school -- A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Prince Paul, Pete Rock and EPMD -- the North Calackie trio (aka the Justice League crew) are modern-day hip-hop fusionists who have reinvented the lyrical and beat improvisations that once made rap music such a personal and musical experience. (Listen to the group's hip-hop ode "The Listening").
Threaded through a somewhat unoriginal skit -- we are listening to WJLR (BAAM! The Future of hip-hop music!) a fictitious Justice League radio show -- LB takes listeners on an endearing musical ride. A standout on the disc is the beautiful "Love Joint Revisited," where over a sound bed of fluttering acoustic guitars and a back-snapping snare, rappers Big Pooh and Phonte profess their undying devotion to hip-hop. The duo also takes the lingo "Yo" and utilizes it for a hooky record called "The Yo-Yo." But the disc's centerpiece is "The Listening," a 6-minute epic, featuring the two rhyme-slingers exploring hip-hop's past and future over a nicely placed sample of Pete Rock & CL Smooth's elegiac "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)." The group's beatmaker 9th Wonder (who recently blessed Jay-Z with "Threats" on The Black Album) has all the makings of becoming the next Kanye West on the production boards. The Listening is cohesive recording that yields greater rewards after repeat listens.
03. Kem :: Kemistry
There were plenty of sexy soul men that released great albums in 2003. Anthony Hamilton's Comin' From Where I From, Javier's Crazy, Jahiem's Ghetto Soul and Donnie's The Colored Section (which was actually a 2002 release but was re-issued by Motown Records this year) all released noteworthy collections. But Kem's Kemistry CD was simply divine. Heartfelt, touching, romantic and upbeat describes this wonderful disc full of well-written bedroom ballads. "Say" is a tear-jerker; "Love Calls" is an aphrodisiac, and "Inside" is a perfect song to play while having a bedroom romp with your lover. In 2003, Kem has sucessfully placed himself as one of R&B's elite love balladeers. Bravo!
04. Jean Grae :: The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP
05. Seal :: Seal IV
06. Zion I :: Deep Water Slang
Zion I's second CD Deep Water Slang came out in January 2003 and was totally slept on by the critics. This Bay Area, Calif. duo -- poet MC Zion and beatmaker Amp Live -- have created organic music for the soul. Music that is tangible -- not too preachy or overindulged in musicality. One of the disc's standout cut is the benevolent rap ballad "Flow" (featuring soul newcomer/songstress Goapele). Also, check out "Sorry" and the anthemic "Rock, Rock Y'all."
07. 50 Cent :: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
08. CunnyLinguist :: Southernunderground
CunnyLinguist is another southern group with a New York accent (much like Little Brother) who produced a top-notch rap CD rich with sharp rhyming, sampling and b-boyism that are as witty as they are sometimes world-weary. The group seems to be preoccupied with stories of cheating ex-girlfriends that plagued their lives (listen to the melodramatic downer "The Rain"). Girl trouble aside, the group tackles other topical issues like politics, war and the music industry. CunnyLinguist have established a mature sound that is blessed with honesty and creativity that will take these guys to higher and richer musical plateaus.
09. Dwele :: Subject
10. Jeffrey Gaines :: Toward the Sun
6 (or more) "Honorable Mentions" that should have made my "Top 10 Hot Joints of 2003" List
1. Black Eyed Peas :: Elephant
BEP are a wonderful hip-hop group that finally broken the mold and secured themselves a top ten pop hit "Where's The Love." Unfortunately, urban radio refused to support the group thinking they sold out because they hooked up with Justin Timberlake on the track. It's a damn shame that most of the urban programmers at local black radio stations are so narrow-minded.
2. Jaylib :: Champion Sound
This project from producer-rappers Madlib and Jay Dee was thisclose to making it on the list. It's not a bad CD at all, in fact, I think this collection was the best thing to come out of Los Angeles this year.
3. The Souljahz :: The Fault Is History
I don't listen to gospel music. I really don't care for it because it can get downright sanctimonious and boring. That is, until I heard The Souljahz's second CD The Fault Is History. The spiritual trio are indeed the Fugees of gospel. With a little more work on the lyrical and production end, this group has a great chance to explode onto the R&B/pop market.
4. R. Kelly :: Chocolate Factory
Chocolate Factory is the guilty pleasure of 2003. If he didn't have child-pornography charges hanging over his head, the R. would probably be the toast of American popular music right about now. His workaholic pace this year on the production end (blessing tracks for B2K, Isley Brothers, Nick Cannon and others) was mind-boggling.
5. Smokie Noriful :: I Need You Know
6. Meshell Ndegeocello :: Comfort Woman
7. Jay-Z :: The Black Album
8. Freeway :: Philadelphia Freedom
9. Madlib :: Shades Of Blue
The Top 10 Bangers & Ballads of 2003
- "Hey Ya" -- OutKast
- "You Don't Know My Name" -- Alicia Keys
- "Find A Way" -- Dwele
- "Touch" -- Seal
- "My Crew" -- Jean Grae
- "The Yo-Yo" -- Little Brother
- "Say" -- Kem
- "21 Questions" -- 50 Cent
- "I Need You Know" -- Smokie Norful
- "No Letting Go" -- Wayne Wonder
6 (or more) "Honorable Mentions" of songs that should have made my "Top 10 Bangers & Ballads of 2003" List
- "Flipside" -- Freeway (Featuring Peedi Crack)
- "Far Away" -- Kindred The Family Soul
- "It's All Real" -- Pitch Black
- "The Red" -- Jaylib
- "Seenit You" -- Anthony Hamilton
- "Rain On Me" -- Ashanti
- "More And More" -- Joe
Also, check out Stink Zone's list of the Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2003. It's a very interesting survey.
And if you don't like any of the Top 10 lists, then click THIS to read a cornucopia of "Year End" Lists in films, music and television by writers from various music/entertainment magazines all over the world. [Spotted at Oliver Wang's blog]