BIRDAPRES Get It Done (Peanuts & Corn/Fontana North) Rating: NNNN
East Vancouver's Birdapres has ditched the apathy that characterized his 2004 Nothing Is Cool collabo album with his pal Peanuts & Corn label founder/MC/producer mcenroe in favour of a hungrier, more hellbent attitude. The excitement of Get It Done is in the tension between his brazen determination to make it and the indomitable odds (including not being trendy in any obvious way) stacked against the cutting lyricist. Working only as a producer here, mcenroe may help get Bird greater recognition with the magma-hot beats he brings to the Get It Done table. Keep an ear out for the sharp flip on an obscure spoken word sample from Jay-Z Unplugged.
BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY Thug Stories (Mo Thugs/Koch) Rating: NNN
Bone up: the group consisting of Layzie Bone, Wish Bone, Flesh-N-Bone and Krayzie Bone (whose solo career got a boost after he cameoed on Chamillionaire's summer omni-jam, Ridin') have been Bizzy Bone-less for several years now. Frankly, Bone Thugs don't sound completely N-Harmony without Biz's manic treble cry. Still, production- and content-wise, the Cleveland trio comes back in fine form after four years off, sounding comfortable in a mostly mellow mode. The beats are suited to images of rims spinning in slow motion. Their gangsta narratives and much-copied flow remain strengths of the Eazy-E proteges, and there's a subtle didactic quality in the lyrics that gives their Thug Stories a moral backbone.
CLASSIFIED Hitch Hikin' Music (HalfLife/Urbnet) Rating: NNN
Halifax's Luke Boyd, aka Classified, came out blazing with the Find Out single from Hitch Hikin' Music and its T-dot-centric video featuring everyone from Jeanne Beker to Mindbender. It's one of the best tracks on the album, matched only by the rapid line-trading of the Maestro collab Hard To Be HipHop and Beatin It, where Class rhymes about the beat he's making as he produces it. The rest of his beats are a'ight, but the MC's complaints about how he's not making it are a drag. And it's cool that he works with Tash from Tha Alkaholiks, but rapping about getting drunk is a topic more exhausted than Fat Joe after a serious workout.
DAN THE AUTOMATOR PRESENTS 2K7 (2KSports/Decon/Koch) Rating: NNN
The prospect of producer Dan the Automator conducting beats for th e miscellaneous lineup featured here (including Slim Thug, Rhymefest, Hieroglyphics, Zion I, Fabolous, E-40, Ghostface, Lupe Fiasco and Evidence, Mos Def, Chali 2na) is exciting enough to make you forget that this was commissioned for the electronic video game NBA 2K7. But if you can bench your concern over the corporate presence looming in the background, the Automator's beats provide the right backboards for the lyricists to smash on as they bust some badass basketball raps.
FAT JOE Me, Myself And I (Terror Squad/EMI) Rating: NN
Remember when Fat Joe rhymed on Ja Rule's New York that he was so on top of his lyrics game, heads thought he must have found Big Pun's rhyme book? From the sounds of Me, Myself And I, the leader of the most notorious rap crew in post-9/11 intercontinental travel the Terror Squad may have had Pun's rhyme book confiscated by airport security. Or he's just out of ideas. How else to explain his wholesale biting of Rick Ross's Hustlin' on No Drama, down to the identical flow, hook and gospel-organ-guided Runners production? Joey Crack's ceaseless posturing is getting tired; he's running low on creative ways to express his extreme thugdom. He even manages to sour the tender young-Michael Jackson-sampling ode-to-moms, Bendicion Mami, with an inappropriate It's Crack, bitch!
THE GAME Doctor's Advocate (Geffen/Universal) Rating: NNNN
It's no secret that the Game is obsessed with Dr. Dre. He references the hallowed producer throughout his second album, even in the title. But Game's public worship of Aftermath's founder is just one part of the story of a guy who's lived such a rough life, the only thing he's ever been able to rely on is California hiphop. It follows that he'd channel its essence with a scary devotion, spitting everything he's absorbed with concentrated intensity. He's like the square root of the West Coast, immersed deeply in his element here among Xzibit, Snoop, Eazy-E samples and Dre's production bravura. Unbelievably, the beats on Doctor's Advocate out-bang those on The Documentary, and the Game breathes compelling detail into the severe persona he established on his debut.
JAY-Z Kingdom Come (Roc-a-Fella) Rating: N
And the award for most unnecessary album of the year goes to the self-anointed "Michael Jordan of recordin'," whose comeback has been pretty much guaranteed from the moment he announced his doubtful "retirement" with the disappointing Black Album in 03. Post-What More Can I Say?, Jay proves that, yes, he really has nothing more to say except to state the fact that he's back ("What you want me to do? I'm sorry! I'm back"). If you care, the ornate single Show Me What You Got is the best song on the album - otherwise, the high-effort production by Just Blaze, Dr. Dre, DJ Khalil and fish-miles-from-water Chris Martin is as vapid as the rhymes. I can't believe Nas's album got delayed for this bullshit. Retire for real now, please.
DJ JAZZY JEFF Hip Hop Forever III (BBE/ Rapster) Rating: NNN
Before listening to this, I was kinda hating on it, like, Oh, DJ Jazzy Jeff, coasting on his name from the Fresh Prince days and doing the easy job of throwing his favourite hiphop tracks together. Whatever. But after a few spins, the guy Uncle Phil used to toss off the front porch won me over with his choices on volume 3. There's a strong sense of progression, and the business-like cuts keep shit moving. It's an ideal comp for anyone fixing for a classic hiphop rush that's still not totally predictable.
OH NO Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms (Stones Throw) Rating: NNNN
There's no rhyme or reason for Madlib's beatmaking baby brother, Oh No, to make an album drawn specifically from the catalogue of Hair composer Galt MacDermot, except for the fact that his shit is abundantly sampleable. Here, MacDermot's whimsical riffs intermingle with No's slushy drums and blunted bass lines, while indie rap heroes (Buckshot, Wordsworth, LMNO, Vast Aire, Murs ) parade wolflike through the proceedings, unanimously coming more correct than that guy who was on Jeopardy for 17 weeks or whatever. Exodus is a harmonious work that'd go very well with some shit that's abundantly smokable. This hotness got slept on with a vengeance; cop it and lord it over pals who think they're up on the underground.
OUTERSPACE Blood Brothers (Babygrande/Koch) Rating: NNNN
If you're a fan of Jedi Mind Tricks, then you have a sick appreciation for absurdly hostile rhymes with some kind of vague Scriptural basis spat poisonously over spectacularly emotive beats. Which means you'll also appreciate JMT spinoff group Outerspace. With yelled boasts like I go to Paris with a parrot that repeats my every word! over dark, delicate symphonic samples and mysterious vocal loops, it's impossible to take them seriously. But there's a vivid imagination at work in Outerspace's rhymes and production that has much more merit than the ocean of generic hustler raps out there.
PAPOOSE The Best Of Papoose (MTR) Rating: NNN
Fire-spitting Brooklyn MC Papoose still has a relatively low mainstream profile. His attention-grabbing mixtape appearances (he's got 16 mixtapes of his own) and numerous guest spots have made him a street-level superstar with enormous potential for chart domination now that he's hooked up with Violator management and signed to Jive. For those trying to play catch-up, The Best Of Papoose gathers a reasonably good sampling of Pap's thoroughly thuggish throwdowns with Nas, Ghostface Killah, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Remy Ma and Prodigy. It's not really his best stuff without his rep-making tracks like Alphabetical Slaughter, Thug Connection, Monopoly and Touch It, but it's a start. Papoose's debut, The Nacirema Dream, with production by Premo, Swizz Beats and Dr. Dre, is now slated for early 2007.
PETE ROCK Underground Classics (Rapster) Rating: NNNN
Everybody knows that DJ, producer and rapper Pete Rock ranks high amongst hiphop's finest beatmakers, but unless you were regularly out digging for independent and white-label 12-inch singles from the moment he split with C. L. Smooth in 94, you may have missed some of his baddest bangers. Fear not, however mixtape master Amir Abdullah (of Kon & Amir fame) has thoughtfully assembled the aptly named Underground Classics selection of Pete Rock's street-level heat so you don't need to get your fingers dusty flipping through Edo G records to hear widely slept-on joints like Situations and Stop Dat. How very convenient.
SADAT X Black October (HBD/Riverside Drive/Koch) Rating: NNNN
Expectations weren't colossally high for Sadat X's latest effort two years after his veteran group, Brand Nubian, came off like the new hiphop generation's out-of-touch uncles on their Fire In The Hole LP. But with Black October, the piercingly nasal MC offers some of his most classic-sounding solo material since Wild Cowboys. Smart, simple concepts like The Post, where he affably recounts the events reported specifically in the June 28, 2006 New York Post, or the prowling gutter bump of My Mind as an unusually freaky Greg Nice speaks on sexual temptation, make for some pretty stimulating wax. Sadat also wins here with some of his career-best beats DJ Spinna, Diamond D and J-Zone will make your head nod like you couldn't agree more.
XZIBIT Full Circle (Koch) Rating: NNN
Xzbit seemed somewhat less hardcore when he started gleefully pimping gawky teens' rustbucket rides on MTV. Admirably, his television gig hasn't diluted his studio intensity. While he won't repeat the platinum sales he generated back when he was on Aftermath, Full Circle demonstrates that Mr. X To The Muthafuckin' Z has still got it. Or at least some of it. Check the wrecking-ball bounce of the Concentrate single, timpanis coursing over what can only be a Polynesian throat-singing sample. The DJ Quik-produced Ram Part Division, where Xzibit rhymes in the distorted voice of the LAPD, scalds with its acid mockery of the force.
ZION I & THE GROUCH Heroes In The City Of Dope (Om HipHop/Legendary Music/Koch) Rating: NNNN
Two big thumbs way up for Zion I & the Grouch's collaboration LP album possessed by producer Amp Live's tidy, mesmerizing, melody-intensive beats and the Bay Area MCs' earnest verses about unambiguous, strikingly relevant topics. Excess is a theme that surfaces a few times, Chali 2na addressing it commandingly on Too Much, and a few tracks later comes Digital Dirt, where the MCs deride this instantaneous WiFi world we're entering: Round and round we go / I'm so techno / I could download the globe in a single microbe, observes the Grouch powerfully at one point, one of many hiphop quotables.