Hip-hop, Year Two AJ

Still no Jigga, but Kanye, some lovable limeys and a great Beyoncé substitute held it down

8. Various artists, Run the Road (Vice): Last year, the Streets and Dizzee Rascal showed British hip-hop had not only come of age but had, in some ways, surpassed its American ancestor. This collection of greatest grime hits from the UK is proof that there's plenty more where those two came from, if stateside listeners will ever be ready for grime's Cockney slang, cell-phone electronica and an enthusiasm that's all too rare on this side of the hip-hop pond.

9. Muggs and GZA, Grandmasters (Angeles): Just because nearly every reviewer who liked this bicoastal collaboration called it "the best Wu-Tang album in years" doesn't mean that description isn't true. Muggs expertly adapts his blunted beats to the spooky Staten Island soundscapes favored by the GZA, a truly great MC who had been MIA for far too long.

10. why?, Elephant Eyelash (anticon): This spot could have been filled by Edan's Beauty and the Beat, the Woodstock rock-rap fusion Common's Electric Circus should have been. So why give it to why?, now a full-fledged band with a harmony-filled album that has as much in common with Apples in Stereo as Aesop Rock? Because it's a great record that deserves to be on some "best of" list this year -- why not this one? -- Dan Leroy

Thunder, Lightning, Strike: The Go! Team's 
antidote to hip-hop cynicism.
Thunder, Lightning, Strike: The Go! Team's antidote to hip-hop cynicism.
East meets West on "the best Wu-Tang album in 
East meets West on "the best Wu-Tang album in years."

Hip-hop Trends in 2005

On the surface, 2005 was another banner year for hip-hop. There were at least a couple of classic albums (Beanie Sigel' s The B. Coming and Kanye West's Late Registration) and a slew of great ones (Madlib's The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, Young Jeezy's Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 and the Game's The Documentary) and a steady procession of club-banging singles (Trina's "Don't Trip" and Ying Yang Twins' "Wait [the Whisper Song])" as well as weepy ghetto ballads (G-Unit's "Hate It or Love Ut" and Damian Marley and Nas's "Road to Zion").

But beneath the surface there was an underlying restlessness, a cultural and an aesthetic agitation that was both hidden and violent. The nation's crumbling political situation added a certain postmillennium tension, but there was also a collective desire for the genre to move beyond 2004's crunk and pop-hop template. Some looked to hip-hop stepchildren such as grime, one-drop reggae revivalism and reggaetón, while others banked on the emergence of the new and exciting scene in Houston to liven things up. In this spirit, let's examine the three major trends that shaped this year in hip-hop.

Still Tippin': The emergence of H-town rap. Yeah, "Still Tippin'" is two years old and (at this point) more played out than R. Kelly's last girlfriend. But when hip-hop historians look back at 2005, chances are that it will be remembered as the year that H-town rap broke. Sure, our fair city's hip-hop scene was poppin' long before the Geto Boys put the South on the map with 1991's "My Mind's Playin' Tricks on Me," but though great and even innovative music had been coming out of the region from artists such as DJ Screw and UGK, Houston rap was viewed as too insular, too esoteric and just too Southern.

But all that changed with "Still Tippin'." The song introduced Houston's new rap vanguard -- Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Mike Jones -- and though it wasn't technically screw music, its austere synth swells and simple yet menacing beat did seem to announce the arrival of a new hip-hop aesthetic. The corresponding video was the icing on the cake. The video's grainy, low-budget look and communal focus seethed an unearthed, underground vitality that was reminiscent of Dr. Dre's 1992 classic "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang."

The promise of "Still Tippin'" went largely unfulfilled. Unlike Dre's early-'90s Cali revolution, Houston would neither largely reconfigure how hip-hop sounds nor produce any genuine superstars. Sure, Bun B's Trill was great, but it paled in comparison to his earlier UGK material. And Mike Jones's Who Is Mike Jones was little more than a series of marketing gimmicks disguised as an album. Though Slim Thug's Already Platinum was decent enough, with most of the production duties handled by the Neptunes, it wasn't exactly an H-town album. And after all the excitement and hype that followed Paul Wall, it was disappointing to discover on The People's Champ that he was merely a mediocre rapper with a shiny grill. In the end, Houston felt like more of a pleasant diversion than a genuine transformation.

Stop snitching! Hip-hop goes to jail. In 2005, it seemed as though every week another hip-hop figure was getting arrested, going to jail or whining to the hip-hop press about the bias of judges or the unfairness of his parole hearing. Philly MC Cassidy celebrated his first Top Ten hit -- the infectious early-summer jam "I'm a Hustla" -- by allegedly going on a killing spree in his old neighborhood. After foisting the noisome "So Icy" on an ice-saturated public, Atlanta MC Gucci Mane was arrested not once, but twice -- first for murder and later, in Miami, for aggravated assault. And while Beanie Sigel's The B. Coming may have been criminally overlooked by fans, he certainly wasn't ignored by the law. By the time his album dropped in March, he was in jail for a litany of charges too extensive to list in just one edition of this paper.

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