HIP HOP: 2004 YEAR IN REVIEW - WHAT HAPPENED???
Hey, Funkmaster Flex, are you there? Hot 97, Power 105, Mr. Pharrell, Mr. Timbaland, Mr. Manny Fresh, Mr. Nas, anybody out there? Can somebody please tell me what's the matter with hip hop? If it's ill, or injured, or otherwise indisposed, please do let me know so I can try to do something to help it back to its feet.
2004, I'm sorry to say, has been a mostly forgettable year for mainstream American hip hop. A general degree of mediocrity has marked most of what gets played on hip hop radio lately, with producers coasting by on old formulas, and MC's droning on in a post-50-Cent slumber. Really, the MC's score the most disgracefully low marks in my book. I can't even think of a rhyme worth remembering all year.
The aforementioned Mr. 50 spent the better part of the year with his over-hyped G-Unit in the same R&B territory over which he neutered Ja Rule the previous year. And poor Ja and his Murder Inc. were nowhere to be found, which I might not have minded if his and Ashanti's sugary pop hooks from the previous year weren't feeling so much better than most of what passed for hits this year.
Lil Jon and his legions of crunk had a little something to offer, I'll concede. But let's face it: Mr. Jon's Hoover basslines and Dirty South syncopations - not to mention his signature "What"s and "OK"s - were stretched pretty thin in the absence of anything else to get excited about in '04.
The reasonably catchy "Laid Back" - a decent Middle-Eastern tinged beat with Fat Joe and his "Terror Squad" delivering calculated commercial hooks - was probably the most-frequently-banged-at-loud-volume-in-the-Escalade this year. Which wouldn't be a terrible thing if Joe wasn't slaying sucka MC's with some of the craziest flows this side of 139 and Lenox back in the 90's with D.I.T.C. (that was Big L's crew and you need to check that if you don't know). I have this freestyle with Big L absolutely slaying
Jay-Z in embarassing fashion around 94/95, so one could only imagine what Big L would be up to if he was alive today.
Jay meanwhile has been in the process of reminding us of his supposed retirement all year. I will give him credit though for the bangin Rick Rubin-produced "99 Problems" and especially for putting Rubin in the video. That beat is straight Run DMC flavor, if biting a little on Dizzee's "Fix Up Look Sharp" from a year ago.
Respect also to Mobb Deep and the Alchemist for "Got It Twisted," a Thomas Dolby-sampling slice of lovable darkness which is probably my favorite tune of the year. Mobb Deep are like rap's Technical Itch: consistently evil, never quite breaching the upper echelon, but consistently delivering the goods when everybody else starts slacking. Moreover, "The Infamous" still stands as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
I can't talk about hip hop in 2004 without mentioning Kanye West, whose signature helium vocal samples and motown-mining beats were everywhere this year. Kanye had a certified missile in "Slow Jam," which reintroduced Jamie Foxx to the world in R&B singer form, and which also debuted lightning-fast MC Twista. Kanye's "College Dropout" LP was one of the few full-length hip hop albums worth mentioning this year, although the Kanye West formula, like most everything else this year, was already feeling tired by year's end.
The year dancehall took over kinda petered out towards the end of the summer with the ubiquitous "Move Ya Body" by one-hit-wonders Nina Sky. Sean Paul of course had a few memorable tunes earlier in '04 with "Like Glue" and "I'm Still In Love With You," and the Beyonce collaboration "Oh Boy" or whatever it's called, but that feels like a long time ago and dancehall seems to have receded somewhat from mainstream airplay.
What else? Let's see. Of course Pharrell and Snoop Dogg teamed up late in the year to deliver the massive-for-a-lack-of-anything-else-to-get-excited-about "Drop It Like It's Hot." The Snoop-Pharrell linkup is admittedly always deadly, and Pharrell doesn't disappoint on the beats for this one, if only hinting at possible directions for his sound to move into 2005.
The Bone Crusher / Sizzla mashup of "Never Scared" was pretty ill (was that this year?), but a distant memory seemingly from another era. Same goes for the reggae remix of Alicia Keys's "You Don't Know My Name."
Oh, and I have to give a shout out to the Puerto Rican dancehall / Latin / hip-hop hybrid genre known as REGGAETON for making inroads on hip hop radio this year. More to come on that soon, but for now, let's bid 2004 an unrepentant "Sayonara!"
And lastly, final respects must go out to the one like Old Dirty Bastard, who died this year and who I hope is getting himself some nasty nasty in heaven.