Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Best Hip Hop Albums Of 2008

Lamont's Lists
December 2008
The Top 10 Hip Hop Albums Of 2008

I can't front. I had a hard time coming up with my Top 10 Albums for 2008. Maybe it's because I just don't listen to as many albums as I used to given the singles-driven world we live in, or maybe it's just that there weren't that many great albums out there to choose from. But anyway, here's my obligatory posting of the best of 2008. Enjoy.


1. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III - No surprise here. Weezy ran circles around the competition again in '08. C3 validated his ability to focus in on a full-length, coherent record and he delivered in spades. The rhymes are manic, breathless and upon repeated listenings, largely brilliant. The guest appearances, including a stunner from Jay-Z on "Mr. Carter" were uniformly excellent, as collaborators labored to keep up with Wayne's twisted musings. By summer, Wayne was dominating the streets, the clubs and pop radio like no rapper has been able to do in recent memory. This was a throwback to the days when one artist could rally the entire culture around one seminal performance. 

2. T.I. - Paper Trail - With Paper Trail T.I. kept the hits coming with some truly monster singles. Radio friendly and commercially minded for sure, but that didn't stop us from bobbing our heads and singing along.

3. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool - Released in mid-December 2007, The Cool was another high-quality effort from my pick as the best rapper alive. Standout tracks like "Superstar"  and "Hip Hop Saved My Life" (with its ultra-clever "stack that cheese" sequence) fueled his run deep into '08 and brought him a broader fan base. But check out the slept upon cuts like "Little Weapon" and "Gold Watch" for further evidence of Lupe's impeccable wordsmanship.

4. Q-Tip - The Renaissance - Few things were more refreshing to aging hip hop fans like myself in 2008 than seeing Q-Tip finally make make his triumphant return . And while we missed Phife's naughty bits of street wise slang, as a solo effort, The Renaissance is still an impressive piece of work. The production is vintage Quest; organic, sparse and subtle, but still filled with neck-snappin' goodness. Tip is effervescent over songs largely about love and loss. During these troubled times, he sounds joyous and genuinely happy to be here. The sentiment is contagious. 

5. The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale - The Cool Kids were the most captivating of a series of contemporary hip hop kids obsessed with the 80's. They were also the most fun to listen to. Their trippy, 808 fueled tracks and catchy braggadocio instantly proved to be irresistible to the college and alternative crowd. But it took the thumpin' base of "Mikey Rocks" to finally start to pull in the hard core hip hop dudes.

6. Kidz In The Hall - The In Crowd - On their sophomore effort, Kidz In The Hall prove they've got staying power. Riding the retro hipster wave, they delivered a crisp set full of vibrant word play and expansive instrumentation highlighted by the scintillating "Driving Down The Block". It's a wholly pleasing effort and a definite sign of more good things to come.

7. J-Live - Then What Happened? - J-Live returned in '08 with another gimmick-free album full of bangin' beats and fresh lyricism. The lead single,"The Upgrade", featuring my other favorite unsung hero, Posdonus, sets the mood off right. But there is plenty more to enjoy here, including the Mexican flavored "Ole" and the blistering "Simmer Down". For his entire career, J-Live has done nothing but make excellent records that nobody buys. Then What Happened? is no exception.

8. The Roots - Rising Down - At this point, The Roots have distinguished themselves as one of the best bands working in music today in any genre. On Rising Down, they do nothing but add further credence to that claim. The entire set here is tight. Darker and more grimey than recent efforts, it's dense, layered arrangements have no designs on broad commercial appeal and "do not apologize" for challenging convention. This is strictly for the listeners.

9. Nas - Nas - After much angst over the title of his '08 opus, Nas's "Untitled" finally appeared in mid-July amidst a firestorm of controversy. Worth all the drama? Not really. The production value was willfully lackluster. Lyrically however, Nas was as eloquent as ever, spitting uncommonly complex narratives that were chocked full of insightful political commentary. He's a transcendent street poet for our generation, and at 35, he might just be getting nicer. 

10. 9th Wonder & Buckshot - The Formula - As an exercise in well-crafted, true-school east coast hip hop, The Formula is nearly flawless. 9th Wonder's meticulous, sample-driven production work is pretty fantastic. And when paired with the legendary Buckshot's subtle, sublime lyricism it makes for a full-on mid-90's revival. It's dope, if you're into that kind of thing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Recession Playlist

Lamont’s Lists
December 2008

The Recession Playlist

I read an article recently in the New York Times that discussed how, during tough economic times, pop music tends to adjust itself accordingly. Ballads and bluesy numbers sell more during downturns as opposed to the up-tempo, party tracks that prosper during periods of growth. Think about Young Jeezy’s recent release “The Recession” or Kanye West’s “808’s & Heartbreak” and you’ll get the picture. With that in mind, I consulted my ipod to create a hip hop playlist that would be appropriate for our current meltdown. It turns out there is a lot to work with given rap’s love for a good rags to riches (or should I say ashy to classy) narrative. Below are the ten favorite songs that I came up with, along with a bunch more that seemed to fit the mood. I’m sure I missed quite a few great ones so please hit me back with the zingers that I forgot. And don’t worry, next month I will follow up with a list that will hopefully motivate us all to overcome the hard times and get our swagger back (think Tupac “Keep Ya Head Up” and Kanye’s “Wait ‘Til I Get My Money Right”). For now, enjoy wallowing in the misery.


The Top 10 Rap Songs For Hard Times

1. The Message – Grand Master Flash And The Furious Five – The mother of all hard times songs. Melle Mel paints a bleak portrait of an early 80’s New York that is rotting from within. “Rats in the front room / roaches in the back / junkies in the alley with the baseball bat”…eloquent, moving, unforgettable.

2. Everyday Struggle – The Notorious B.I.G. – Biggie’s morbid chorus “I don’t wanna live no moe’ / sometimes I hear death knockin’ at my front doe’…” was matched by his vivid lyrics describing “a true G’s” losing battle to beat the odds on the front lines of America’s urban wasteland.

3. Hurt Me Soul – Lupe Fiasco – Lupe’s in rare form here, even by his lofty standards. On this ambitious effort he pretty much works his way through “all the world’s ills” – from poverty to domestic abuse to the lack of clean water in 3rd world villages. “They bombed my village / they call us killas / took me off their welfare / can’t afford their healthcare”. Somehow he manages to show how all these global problems are interrelated and connected to his own everyday life. It’s a fluid, graceful performance from one of the great talents in the business today.

4. Don’t Feel Right – The Roots – Black Thought is in a foul mood and with good reason. He’s pissed off at THE MAN who’s F’d up his City of Brotherly Love and poisoned our planet. He’s also kind of mad at you too for standing idly by, scolding that “if you ain’t sayin’ nothin’ you’re the system’s accomplice”. That’s harsh, but at least he appreciates that we are all broke…”If you ain’t got no paper then steal this CD / Listen man, I’ll let you know how it feels to be me”.

5. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – Naughty By Nature – Treach’s hopeless depiction of the life and times of a typical “ghetto bastard” makes for a disturbing contrast to this song’s uplifting chorus. “How will I do it? How will I make it? I won’t that’s how.” Real talk.

6. C.R.E.A.M. – Wu Tang Clan – “It’s been 22 long hard years and still strugglin’ / survival got me buggin’”. Wu Tang’s signature track sounds every bit as urgent today as it did when it was released 15 years ago. It’s simply not possible to capture on record the hunger for success against unfathomable odds any better that Raekwon, Method Man and Inspector Deck did on this raw, unflinching classic.

7. Satisfied? – J-Live – “They say to eat good you got to swallow your pride / But dead that game plan, I’m not satisfied.” J-Live surveys post 9/11 America and delivers a blistering attack on the mess that greed, political corruption and the rat race has created. “Whoever told you it was all good lied”.

8. Good Times – Styles P – Again, don’t be fooled by the title. Here Styles posts the most convincing argument to date for why getting high is the only sane way to face the stress of the daily grind. “And I’d rather roll somethin’ up / ‘Cause if I’m sober dog, I just might flip, grab my guns and hold somethin’ up”. If you’re easily tempted, I suggest you avoid this one.

9. Cheesy Rat Blues – LL Cool J – LL’s career hit the skids in ’89 after a prolonged battle with Kool Moe Dee and the poorly timed release of his third album, “Walking With A Panther”. “Panther” was a self-indulgent brag fest that came at the height of rap’s afro centric period, led by groups such as Public Enemy, X-Clan and The Jungle Brothers. Before he made his triumph comeback with “Mama Said Knock You Out”, he penned this gem about a down-on-his-luck former big shot. “Used to have a girl that was on the ball / when the cash flow got low, so did her calls”. Funny, self-deprecating and spectacularly well-played. That’s why LL is a GOAT.

10. Down ‘N Out – The Nappy Roots – The Nappy Roots do for hip hop + the blues what A Tribe Called Quest did for hip hop + jazz. That is, meld the two genres together seamlessly. Here they enlist Anthony Hamilton to amp their soulful southern fried formula. “Have you ever been down and out? / Not a penny left to your name / Broke down on the side of the road / Is anybody going my way?” Makes me want to take solace in a plate of fried chicken and collard greens.

15 More To Help You Wallow In Your Sorrows
11. Drink Away The Pain – Mobb Deep – “I think the whole world is going insane / I fill my brain up with liquor and drink away the pain”. Enough said.
12. So Many Tears – Tupac – Pac brings the pain on one of his dreariest, darkest confessionals.
13. Po Folks – The Nappy Roots – More bluesy moping from Kentucky’s finest.
14. Life’s A Bitch – Nas - The lyrics are hopeful but the chorus is without redemption…”Life’s a bitch an then you die / that’s why we get high…”
15. Gasoline Dreams – Outkast – “Don’t everybody like the smell of gasoline? Well burn mutha F*#?$, burn American dream” Dre and Big Boi set fire to the promise of the American dream, making the case that it is well out of reach to their fellow youth who are “full of fire and got nowhere to go”.
16. 8 Million Stories – A Tribe Called Quest – Nothing is going Phife’s way on this one, but at least he keeps his sense of humor.
17. All Falls Down – Kanye West – Kanye bemoans materialism as the root of so many of our problems. You gotta love that he doesn’t excuse himself from falling victim.
18. It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp – Djay – Not even pimps are spared when the recession hits hard.
19. I Wish – Skee-Lo – Like LL’s “Cheesy Rat”, Skee-Lo makes light of his D-list status. “I wish I was a little bit taller / I wish I was a balla / I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat / a 6-4 Impala”. Being ass-out never sounded so breezy.
20. Hard Times – Run-DMC – Truth be told, this one doesn’t hold up to modern times, but it’s Run-DMC after all, so they get a pass.
21. Can’t Do Nuthin’ For You Man – Public Enemy – When even Flava Flav feels the need to tell you to get your act together, you know things are bad.
22. This Can’t Be Life – Jay-Z – Sig keeps it real as usual, but Scarface really lays it on thick on this collabo that features Jay-Z taking a rare break from toasting the good life.
23. Prayin For Help – T.I. – “Asking somebody else to give me a hand / I’m tryin’ hard but I’m only a man.” T.I. is eloquent and poignant here as he fights with his inner demons.
24. Streets Of New York – Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – World class lyricism from G Rap providing further, heart-breaking evidence of what life is like for New York’s poor and disenfranchised.
25. Hard Times – Baby Huey And The Babysitters – Talk about the blueprint. This is the heavily sampled masterpiece that spawned a thousand “it’s hard out here” urban folktales.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hip Hop Is Dead

Lamont’s Lists
November 2008

The Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Dead

So last month I wrote about how hip hop is “Alive And Well”, opining that, despite a few ominous signs, we really shouldn’t worry about rap music’s future as a cultural force. Well, truth be told, those ominous signs might be more troubling than I let on. Below I give to you “The Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Dead”. Depressing? Maybe just a little bit. But look at the bight side, that leaves more time to finally check out other types of music. I hear that dude who sings on Kanye’s “Homecoming” record has his own group and I’ve been meaning to figure out why this Radiohead band is all the rage. As always, please enjoy responsibly. Apologies to anyone who’s offended or mildly annoyed. Your feedback is still welcome.


“Where were you the day hip hop died? Is it too early to mourn? Is it too late to ride?” (Talib Kweli).

1. The Best MC’s are getting old –
Ask the average hip hop fan to name the best rappers in the game right now and you will invariably hear names like Jay-Z, Nas, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Eminem, Common, and Jadakiss. The common thread? All of these guys are over 30 years old and that’s a big problem for hip hop. Even the relative young guns who always appear near the top of those lists, Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco and T.I., are all north of 25. Music in general, and rap music in particular relies on the fuel of “Youthful Expression” (as A Tribe Called Quest noted on their blissful 1990 hit). It thrives on spontaneity, the restless need for reinvention, and the kind of unbridled energy that is typically in abundant supply only from teenagers and those in their early 20’s. It’s just difficult to stay hungry or to be fearlessly creative when you’re a middle-aged dude with kids to shuttle around all day and a suburban McMansion to maintain. Are you worried that a new generation has not emerged to push the old guys on the list above aside? You should be.

2. Producers rule, not poets – In my last post I commented on how the great composers of our day, Timbaland,, Just Blaze, etc. make magic with Pro Tools, keyboards and their vivid imaginations. Their achievements in booty shaking urban symphonies continue to amaze me everyday; but somehow I know that we are all worse off because of their advancements. It’s just too easy for the MC’s, the heart and soul of hip hop, to disappear behind all that studio wizardry. Rap is about rhythm AND poetry, so when rhymes take a back seat to the beats we miss out on the potential to be transformed by our beloved MC’s wit, humor, pain and sometimes disturbing insights. The symbiotic whole is ruined and the entire culture is diminished.

3. Southern rap is dominant, and not very good – “If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. That don’t mean that I’m hatin’”. I agree with Common, who spoke out about his dislike for southern rap on his 2005 banger “The 6th Sense”. I try to appreciate all types of music, but with only a few obvious exceptions (Outkast comes to mind), the dirty south stuff is just bad. It’s not just that the lyricism is lacking, with no apparent interest in story telling, verbal dexterity or unique subject matter, but also that too many of the area’s front men (Soulja Boy comes to mind) represent regrettable stereotypes of rappers as clownish, over-the-top caricatures. Some region out there needs to break the south’s stranglehold on hip hop….and soon.

4. itunes distorts the value of music – itunes has now become the world’s #1 music retailer. This is bad for rap because it puts such a heavy emphasis on singles which sell for a paltry 99 cents each. While it may be good for consumers in the short run to be able to cherry pick the best songs from an album without fully committing to it, the whole 99 cent thing does not bode well for the future. For one thing, it devalues the power of a great song by selling it for less that a buck, the same price as for a crappy single (shouldn’t Nas’s “One Mic” cost more than Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina”?). Worse yet, it creates a disincentive for artists to create great, coherent long-form albums. Don’t you feel cheated?

5. Commercial radio sucks – Radio programmers are right up there with Washington lobbyists, IT help desks representatives and AIG executives when it comes to my 10 most hated professionals. These guys have spent the last several years destroying a critically important media outlet by serving up a steady diet of 40 awful songs per day in every town in America? It’s impossible to listen to urban radio and not come away thinking that rap music is nothing more than a bunch of fake gangsta, auto-tuned, bling obsessed garbage. Quality of the product be damned, radio programmers only care about satisfying their shrinking pool of advertisers, hoping to save their jobs while they still can.

6. There are no female rappers –
The decline of the great female voice in hip hop is not just sad, it’s also irreparably damaging. When an entire gender drops out of the creative process, things tend to decline quickly. Imagery and perspectives become one-sided and access to talent is severely restricted. I can only surmise at this point that a generation of potentially stunning Goddess MC’s has simply moved on to other artistic pursuits. We are now left with a bunch of loud-mouthed dudes (some gifted, some not so much) running unchecked throughout the industry, without access to our better halves.

7. Ringtones are like crack – Nothing kills the momentum of a promising new artist like a mega-selling ringtone. Why is that? Because they are the hip hop equivalent of crack; fast acting, addictive, and providing of an ultimately unsatisfying high. Once you and your moms share the same ringtone, Mr. hot-like-fire MC is toast. There’s just something about this cheesy form of quick-buck commercialism that has cheapened the art form.

8. Talent follows the money – If 99 cent singles are deemed to be not worth very much, then what about free tracks that are pirated from the internet? Not good right. As rap sales continue to plunge, one can only bemoan the impact of an endless supply of free music. It’s a vicious cycle. If music is free, then no one can make a profit. If no one can make a profit, the attraction of the potential for fame and fortune disappears. Once the money goes away, great talent soon leaves with it. The truly brilliant will find another creative outlet and another dream to chase.

9. Our souls died with Biggie and Pac – Before hip hop lost The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac during an ugly 6 month stretch between fall ’96 and winter ’97, rap ruled the pop charts, and American popular culture in general. Since then hip hop seems to have lost its way, with no one stepping in to carry on their charismatic way of articulating disenfranchised youths’ struggle to capture the American Dream at all costs. Sales have steadily declined and rap no longer passes as legitimate social commentary. Instead, it’s now viewed and exploited for what it is…a commercialized entertainment commodity. As a result, the cultural impact of hip hop has shrunk immensely in the void left by Biggie and Pac’s prophetic, blood-stained deaths.

10. Conscious rap no longer matters – Even I have to admit that I was a little bored by Nas’s latest “Untitled” album. It’s not that it wasn’t outstanding. Nas’s sweeping analysis of racism and institutional corruption in America is a poignant, moving opus. It’s yet another testament to his breathtaking poetical gifts and “Street’s Disciple” moniker. But for some reason, I either couldn’t or wouldn’t let myself be drawn into it. Maybe it’s just that I, like most current hip hop fans, claim to want depth, but lack the patience to slow down long enough to appreciate it. Maybe it’s a sign of our hyper-speed times or that all we really want deep down from our music is brief escape from the real world. Either way, if this one didn’t grab us, it’s a pretty safe bet that nothing that is labeled as conscious rap ever will. That’s a shame because when art becomes too shallow, it surely is no longer worth our attention, admiration or hard-earned dollars.

15 More Reasons to Despair:
11. The Recession –
What are you going to cut 1st? Groceries, gas, or your itunes habit?
12. New York lost its swagger – Jigga man aside, the region is largely confused and frustrated.
13. Record company people are shady – We’ve suffered greatly from Industry Rule #4080.
14. Even at $5, most mix tapes are a rip off – Peddling half-baked, crew-loyal table scraps.
15. Misogyny is out of control – I’m glad I don’t have a daughter. Who’s approving this stuff?
16. The use of Auto-Tune is a bad idea – Seriously, can somebody come up with a new idea?
17. NY hip hop fans are closed minded – Still bitterly clinging to the ‘90’s and hatin’ on Weezy.
18. Hip Hop journalism is sketchy – Beware the culture that lacks journalistic integrity.
19. Rock Kids have moved on – The resurgence of Indie and now traditional rock spells doom.
20. Wal-Mart is the #1 traditional music retailer – Censorship rules everything around me.
21. Hollywood is a distraction – The allure of movie stardom is stealing our best and brightest.
22. There’s no tolerance for the unproven – Record co’s can’t afford to invest in young talent.
23. The Native Tongues left a massive void – We really miss Quest, De La and the JB’s.
24. Rap beefs are boring PR stunts – Does anybody still care about this nonsense?
25. Jadakiss is paling around w/ NKOTB – As sure a sign of the apocalypse as any I’ve seen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alive And Well

Lamont's Lists - October 2008
The Top Ten Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Alive And Well
Every time I look up these days, I hear some lame music critic or glass-half-empty old timer mouthing off about how hip hop is dead. Albums don’t sell anymore, the music all sounds the same, there’s no real emcees, yada, yada, yada, the yammering never stops. Fear not, I say. Rap music is just fine and it will endure throughout the 21st century. Sure, the days of platinum plaques may be over, and the industry will indeed have to dream up some new ways to make money and break new artists, but there is just too much access to too much good music for me to believe the art form will simply dry up and go away. To prove my point, I offer you below, the "Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Alive And Well". Enjoy the list and I hope you sleep a little easier tonight knowing that the future of our beloved culture is secure. As always, comments and concerns are welcome (as long as you agree with me J…just kidding). And look out for next month’s Lamont’s List “The Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Dead”. Peace Out.


1. With YouTube We’re All Almost Famous – Thanks to YouTube, vintage Run-DMC concert footage is just as accessible as the hot new T.I. video. So what, you say? Well, for starters, this absurdly powerful reference tool provides 24 hour inspiration for would be copy cats while schooling young and old on just about everything that’s ever been done in the world of hip hop. But it’s the irresistible pull of YouTube’s instant distribution outlet (“Look at Me…I’m on the internet”!) that really ensures that aspirating rappers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds will continue to try to show off their skills for years to come.

2. Generation X Is All Grown Up – Twenty years ago, as rap entered its golden age, most of Generation X was struggling through high-school in the crack-addled Reagan 80’s. Characterized as the “slacker” generation, this group has defied expectations and moved on to become perfectly well-adjusted cubicle-dwelling, child-rearing, SUV-driving grown-ups. What’s remarkable here is that hip hop never left this group’s blood, even as they’ve inherited a country to run and a planet to save. Gen X has kept rap with them as an important shaper of their world view and has passed along the cultural significance of this art form that they invented to their off-spring – ensuring that today’s youngsters know that there would be no Lil Wayne or Lupe Fiasco without Rakim and KRS1 to pave the way.

3. Lil Wayne Is Tupac For A New Generation – Lil Wayne is providing hip hop with something it desperately needs right now…a living, breathing Rock Star. Sure Jay-Z and Kanye are big icons, but Wayne is a whole different animal. Like Tupac in his prime, Wayne offers more than just talent and charisma. He brings with him an air of excitement and danger that leaves an indelible mark everywhere he goes. Plus his age makes him decidedly more relevant to young kids out there who are too young to remember when Biggie was the man and are just now starting to become hip hop junkies. In short, he represents our white hot present and our future.

4. Mix Tapes Are Cutting Out The Middle Man – As record sales continue to plummet and the last of the great record stores close up shop, it’s gotten increasingly difficult for an MC to make an honest living cranking out major label CD’s for mass distribution every two years. So what’s a big-mouthed rapper to do to keep his caddy on D’s? Take it back to the streets. Mix Tapes, a long-time staple of the industry, have become big business, not just on street corners, but also across the web – from the websites of enterprising DJ’s seeking to cash in on their hard won local fame to the sanitized, label sanctioned itunes store front. Mix Tapes and their ready availability, provide on-going access to new music for consumers and an outlet for creativity (and profit) for artists, free from the bureaucracy of big budget label releases. Thank goodness.

5. Madison Avenue Loves A Good Hip Hop Track – When Sprite used hip hop music as an integral part of their urban-youth targeted “Obey Your Thirst” campaign in the 90’s it was groundbreaking. When Volkswagen dropped a Roots track into a Beetle ad years later it was downright shocking. Nowadays, Gatorade jacks A Tribe Called Quest, 50 Cent hocks Vitamin Water and Budweiser hooks up with Jay-Z for a glossy, fully-integrated campaign and no one bats an eye ( not even the conservative protectors of Middle American Values or the cranky hip hop purists who are always itching to cry “sell out”). As long as advertisers crave a little bit of borrowed coolness, hip hop will have reason to keep cranking out hits and hitmakers.

6. Chicago Is En Fuego – Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, Common, The Cool Kids, Kidz In The Hall, Rhymefest, No I.D…Chicago is on fire. Forget about NYC VS LA VS the South, Chi-town is the new heart of hip hop, churning out some of the best MC’s and producers in the world right now. What’s great about these guys is the fact that they are all putting out smart, accessible music with both mass appeal and street cred…challenging the rest of the country to step up their game.

7. There Are Some Seriously Talented Producers Out There – There are a handful of producers out there -- Kanye, Pharrell, Timbaland,, Alchemist, etc. who are so gifted and so prolific it’s hard to appreciate. I mean seriously, these guys are flat out great composers…the Quincy Joneses and John Lennon’s of our day. Somewhere along the way, all the talent and creativity in hip hop shifted from DJ’s and rappers to producers and the industry hasn’t been the same since. Yes, they have amazing technology at their disposable and there’s an unfortunate sameness to some of the beats on the radio for sure, but if you really listen closely to the music when it’s at its best, it’s stunning. More encouraging is that fact that there’s already a new wave of hot shots with names that are not as big who have taken over the reigns and are doing some sick, state-of-the-art work; another good sign that hip hop’s future is secure.

8. MC’s Have Discovered The Art of Live Performance – Unless you came of age during the 80’s like I did you probably don’t remember Fresh Fest. Twenty thousand strong packed into a coliseum in some small town somewhere watching the likes of Run-DMC, Whodini and Dougie Fresh work the crowd into a frenzy with showmanship and style. Fast forward to the 90’s and rap concerts were nearly obsolete. Not only were they too violent, they were also dull. A bunch of dudes who were otherwise wildly charismatic on record and in videos yelling into a mic alongside a posse of hoodlums for 45 minutes or so. Luckily, thanks to increasingly inept record sales, today’s rappers have decided to actually take the art of performing in front of a live crowd seriously, working to hone their craft and to actually be entertaining. They know it’s one of the few ways they can actually make money, so over the last few years they’ve suddenly become much more enjoyable to watch (funny how that happens, right?).

9. MTV2 Is Cranking Out Some Dope Programming – Last April, MTV2 celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Yo MTV Raps by re-airing endless episodes of the iconic show from during its 1988-1996 run. It was a pretty friggin’ good show during its day and thus the re-runs were totally addictive to watch. Thanks to MTV2 and its steady stream of authentic, well-produced programming centered around hip hop (My Block, Sucker Free, etc), real rap still has big-time outlet for aspiring artists to shoot for.

10. Indy Rockin’ Hip Hop Chicks Rule – Remember the days when Queen Lafifah and MC Lyte ruled the world? Me neither. The decline of the great female voice in hip hop is indeed a shame but there is a surprising group of offspring that has finally emerged to re-ignite the flame, just not in the way we expected. With a style all their own, part rap, part rock, part vintage R&B, a new group of bad-ass babes such as Santo Gold, Lily Allen, M.I.A. and Estelle are starting to make their mark. It’s refreshing, imaginative music of a new generation with a broadly influenced global perspective, but deeply rooted in Hip Hop.

15 Other Reasons To Keep Hope Alive
11. Jigga Man – Because we are witness to the Michael Jordan of mic recordin’
12. MySpace Music – Another death blow to album sales and labels but a boon to new music fiends
13. Hollywood – Tinsletown continues to reward rappers who make hot records with movie deals
14. Pro Tools – The democratization of beat making…the only limit is your imagination
15. Ipods/Iphones – 24/7 instant access to music, video and gossip has us listening more than ever
16. My 5 Year Old – Equally comfortable with Lil Wayne and the Jonas Bros – a brave new world
17. Video Games – Yet another outlet for exposure, integration and money making.
18. The NBA – From Iverson to Lebron, the NBA continues to reflect hip hop in all its glory
19. Japanese Denim – Hip Hop’s embracing of high fashion has saved us from death by wackness
20. Andre 3000 – His skills are still razor sharp and will soon be applied to a new Outkast album
21. Suburban Teenagers – Jeezy and Jack White are both all good, and nobody’s even frontin’
22. Mercedes Benz – As long as the Germans keep making cars, we’ll keep making hit makers
23. Generation Y – They’ve all got rhyme books, business plans and thousands of online connections
24. Blogging – If it happens in hip hop, it’s blogged about by somebody somewhere…immediately
25. The Underground – With the help of the internet, the underground is more vibrant than ever

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Barack Obama Playlist

Lamont’s Lists
June 2008

The Top 10 Hip Hop Songs For The Barack Obama Campaign Playlist

At the conclusion of Barack Obama’s speech on June 4th in Minneapolis, the night he clinched the Democratic party nomination for president, his organizers blasted Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” throughout the arena. It was a nice touch, a very powerful song, from a great American songwriter with boundless appeal among white, middle class voters. As a strategic choice that was a brilliant song to queue up, but I couldn’t help thinking: is this really the tune we need right now to fuel the 1st ever run by a black man for the white house? Absolutely not, we need a kick-ass hip hop track to get everyone appropriately fired up for this historic run. So, to make sure this does not happen again, I have compiled a playlist of the Top Hip Hop songs to support the Barack Obama general election campaign. Think back to that speech and imagine how great these tracks would have sounded. Feel free to hit me back with suggestions for additions to this list that you think would help to keep the fire burning. I will re-publish a new list later with the best of the new submissions. Until then, enjoy.


1. Hate It Or Love It (The Game Ft. & 50 Cent) – “Hate it or love it, the underdog’s on top…”. From 30 points behind Hillary to a stunning upset victory. This one gives the finger to all the haters (that means you Bob Johnson) and let’s them know they will now have to endure years of jealousy.

2. How Ya Like Me Now (Kool Moe Dee) – Another scorchin’ rebuke to those who talked smack and said it couldn’t be done. How you like me now Andrew Young?

3. One Nation Under A Groove (Funkadelic) - No description necessary. He has to break this one out at the inaugural ball right? That would be just about the flyest thing ever done. Picture the whole country singing “…One Nation and we’re on the move…nothin’ can stop us now”. Damn that would be hot.

4. We Right Here (DMX) – A little something for McCain and the GOP to let them know they’ve got a street fight on their hands. DMX is the go guy for getting anyone hyped for a battle. ”Bring it! What!? We Right Here…We’re not goin’ anywhere…”.Yep, we’re ready, let’s do this.

5. If I Ruled The World (Nas) – Kurtis Blow did the original but I prefer Nas’s version with his more politically-minded and gangsta take on the utopian world he’d create; “political prisoners set free, stress free, no work release, purple M3’s and Jet Ski’s.” Imagine that. Barack can you make that happen?

6. Touch The Sky (Kanye West) – Kanye has an album’s worth of epic jams that could apply nicely to Barack’s improbable run for the white house. But this one, with its sweeping horns and celebratory feel is my top pick. Another great track to break out at that inaugural ball. I gotta figure out how I can get a ticket to that party so I can "Come up in the spot looking’ extra fly”.

7. Lost Ones (Lauryn Hill) – “Lost ones”, a seminal tale about karma striking back against those who behave badly, remains as one of the great lyrical performances in rap history. Recontextualized against this year’s democratic primary race, it makes for a nice stiff-arm from Barack to Hillary. Yo HRC: “You might win some but you just lost one”.

8. Number One Spot (Ludacris) – “Keep it goin’ it won’t stop / I’m comin’ for that #1 spot”. This one would be good to get Barack amped as he makes his way to the convention stage for his acceptance speech at the DNC in August or before his 1st debate with McCain.

9. Hypnotize (Notorious B.I.G.) – Think Biggie and Barack couldn’t possibly have anything in common? Think again. Both are gifted wordsmith’s who rose above humble beginnings based on the strength of their vision and magnetic charisma. Not since Biggie was in charge has anyone’s words had such power to “hypnotize” a generation.

10. Brothers Gonna Work It Out (Public Enemy) – P.E. was definitely ahead of its time with this monster cut from Fear of A Black Planet. When Chuck D called on brothers, from street corners to boardrooms, to come together with the line “United we stand, divided we fall, together we can stand tall” I wonder if he envisioned a world less than 20 years later when the fruits of our efforts would have the power to send one of our own to the white house.

Keeping The Party Going (10 More Worth Noting)
· I Can (Nas) – A little sappy but it gets the kids involved
· Make It Rain (Fat Joe ft. Lil Wayne) – You know Barack & Michelle crank this one up at home
· Dirt Off Your Shoulders (Jay-Z) – B.O. has already adopted this one as shown in that YouTube video
· The Next Movement (The Roots) – Repin’ the changing of the guard for a new brand of leadership
· Hey Young World (Slick Rick) – It’s the voting power of this group that is going to win it for Barack
· The Boss (Rick Ross) – Picture Barack Big Pimpin’ in the Oval Office
· Bring ‘Em Out (T.I.) – More trash talk for the GOP
· 100 Miles And Runnin’ (NWA) – A fitting anthem from NWA
· B.O.B. (Outkast) – Dre and Big Boi dispensing rapid fire truisms for the today’s Iraq mess
· Family Affair (Mary J Blige) - Offering an opportunity for HRC to put aside the hate & join us

The Extended Playlist (10 More For the After Party)
· My Drink 'N My 2 Step (Cassidy) – The very 1st jam at the after-party
· Champion (Kanye West) – Another anthem from Kanye that could have been written for Barack
· Gz And Hustlas (Snoop Dogg) – Yep, this is for them too. We can’t forget that Barack reps all of us
· Outta Here (KRS One) – The great warning from KRS. I bet Billary never saw their demise coming
· Mosh (Eminem) – Serious venom from Eminem. This one should definitely help to Barrack the vote.
· Mama Said Knock You Out (LL Cool J) – To blast in the car on his way to the McCain debate
· Chief Rocka (Lords Of The Underground) –”Boom shaka laka here comes the chief rocka;”…sweet
· I Got The Power (Chill Rob G) – This one is all about the song title
· Party Up (DMX) – Barack to congress…“Yall gon’ make me lose my mind up in here, up in here”
· We Takin’ Over (DJ Khaled) – Blast this one in your car on Nov 5th

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lamont's Lists February 2008
The Top 10 Rap Love Songs
1. I Need Love - LL Cool J (Bigger And Deffer 1987)
Yeah, I know, you saw this one coming. But come on, who doesn’t love “I Need Love”? None of LL Cool J’s lengthy collection of accolades and awards is as impressive as his invention of the rap ballad with this little ditty in 1987. That simple piano loop was cheesy but irresistible and I’m pretty sure everyone still remembers those opening lyrics. Come on, sing them with me...”When I’m alone in my room, sometimes I stare at the wall and in the back of my mind I hear my conscience call. Telling me I need a girl who's as sweet as a dove. For the 1st time in my life I see I need love.” Yep, good stuff.

2. You Got Me - The Roots (Things Fall Apart 1999)
"You Got Me" represents a particularly harmonious blend of rugged and smooth. ?uestlove's meticulously layered production here is melodic and state of the art. But the groove is mightily enhanced by Black Thought's liquid vocals as he delivers a whip smart and fully engaging narrative. Cameos from both Eve and Erykah Badu further enhance the already mesmerizing experience.

3. Me And My B*tch - The Notorious B.I.G. (Ready To Die 1994)
Try not to be deterred by the song title or the filthy lyrics in "Me And My B*tch". Make no mistake about it, this is a love song of genius proportions from an epic talent. Expressing love is not something that comes easy to disenfranchised urban youth, but Biggie captures their voice with pitch perfect honesty .The raw, unfiltered lyrics are utterly necessary to convey the right sense of authenticity and discomfort with the subject matter. As with all of "Ready To Die" Biggie goes balls out on "Me And My B*tch", using his peerless sense of rhythm to infuse every rhyme with a torrent of emotions...anger, joy, fear, frustration, it's all in there and it's all powerfully articulated. That's what I call love.

4. All I Need - Method Man (Tical 1994)
Method Man’s performance on “All I Need” is so spot on it still amazes me. No sappy choruses or soul crooners necessary. Just a skilled MC speaking from the heart about the love of his life. It’s ghetto love, Wu Tang style, expressed without an ounce of sentimentality…as real as it gets.

5. Bonita Applebum - A Tribe Called Quest (People's Instinctive Travels…1990)
Bonita Applebum is the story of every horny teenage boy's lust for the hottest girl in school, set to a bangin' beat. Most of hip hop still treats women as objects to be conquered to show their manhood, so you gotta love Quest for fearlessly breaking ranks early on. Their willingness to show vulnerability and genuine awe for the opposite sex was truly refreshing as was their refusal to take themselves too seriously.

6. One Love - Whodini (Back In Black 1986)
Whodini was always a more mature kind of rap group. So they were given some slack when they decided to take the subject of love seriously in a hip hop song. The phrase "One Love" itself has become an enduring catchphrase because of this track and the song remains as one of the genres all time feel good tunes. Nas jacked the chorus for his 90's classic of the same name, but for my money you can't beat the original. If you want to put yourself in a better mood right now, go to YouTube, dial up Whodini's "One Love" and let Jalil, Ecstacy and Grand Master Dee brighten your day.

7. The 4th 3rd J - Live (All Of The Above 2002)
On "The 4th 3rd" J-Live reminisces over lost love against a relaxing, mid-tempo jazz track. What makes the song stand out is the world-class lyricism J-Live showcases. His verses are artfully crafted and packed with depth and captivating poetry. No doubt the woman he is rapping about must have been really special to inspire such a heart-felt trip down memory lane. As the saying goes, the best art comes from pain.

8. Now That We Found Love - Heavy D And The Boyz (Peaceful Journey 1991)
If I were making a list of Hip Hop's all time most under-appreciated rhyme slayers, Heavy D would be very near the top. The guy was as smooth as he was clever. On this one, that came at the height of the New Jack Swing movement, he hooked up with Guy for a re-working of the classic from Third World and brought down the house.

9. The Light - Common (Like Water For Chocolate 2000)
For all of his considerable talents, Common sometimes suffers from his tendency to come off as more sappy loverman than dope MC. "The Light" from his uneven 2000 disc "Like Water For Chocolate" is one of those songs that you don't really want to like, It's corny, obvious and heavy-handed in its attempt to woo the ladies. But his mic skills ultimately prove too impressive to be denied, breezy, effortless and just playful enough to save Common from himself (this time).

10. Beautiful - Snoop Dogg (Paid The Cost To Be The Boss 2002)
I don't want to speculate on why, but for some reason Pharrell seems to save his best material for Snoop Dogg. And "Beautiful" is no different. No disrespect, Snoop's sticky drawl is in fine form here, but let's face it, the hook is the real star on this one. I'm sure even I would sound pretty great rapping over this lovely, sun-kissed crowd pleaser. Here's a smart investment tip, spend $2.50 on this ringtone and set it for your wife or girlfriend. Trust me...HUGE props will follow.

Ten More Worth Noting:
Renee - Lost Boyz: A sad tale of Ghetto Love from the fantastic trio
Ms Fat Booty - Mos Def: Mos Def falls hard for a self-absorbed hottie and pays the price
Love Language - Talib Kweli: Hi Tek and Kweli on the smooth tip
Song Cry - Jay-Z: Jigga Man showing regret for his big pimpin' ways
Black Coffee - Heavy D: Another smooth one From Heavy D. A shout out to the sistas'
Electric Relaxation - A Tribe Called Quest: Another horny but harmless tribute to the ladies
Number One - Pharrell Williams: P and Kanye hook up for a glossy shoutout to their sweeties
Teenage Love - Slick Rick: "Don't Hurt Me Again" a cautionary tale about love + inexperience
Luv U You Better - LL Cool J: By the time this one hit, LL could do these ballads in his sleep
All I Need Is You - Hi-Tek: Who Knew Cormega was such a sensitive, loving guy