Ed. Note: Unlike The Source, Houston Press style abbreviates "microphone" as "mike."
Bun B's Trill OG has become the first hip-hop album to earn 5 mikes in The Source since 2005. In case you haven't picked up a copy of the magazine since the Clinton administration, here's a breakdown of its designations: 1 mike = Totally Wack; 2 mikes = Needs Work; 2.5 mikes =Average; 3 mikes = Worth Checking Out; 3.5 mikes = Above Average; 4 mikes = Bangin'; 4.5 mikes = Superior; 5 mikes = A Hip-Hop Classic.
That's right, 5 mikes = Classic. Back in the day, a 5-mike rating would have people going "w00t!" These days, you tell an average hip-hop fan that Trill OG got 5 mikes and they'll respond with a blank stare, followed by "The Source is still around?"
Anywho, we'll pretend that the year is 1996 and The Source is the No. 1 rap rag in the business. Now let's compare Trill OG with the five previous 5-mike albums and see how it stacks up.
The Naked Truth will go down in history as the most dubious 5-mike album ever. There were rumors that one of Kim's associates had to give up some booty to a Source editor in exchange for this rating. Musically, Trill OG is superior to The Naked Truth. This wasn't even Kim's best album. Get the fuck outta here with those mikes.
Advantage: Trill OG
Scarface is one of the greatest storytellers in the game. His heightened spiritual awareness and ominous street tales on The Fix made this a street masterpiece. Ghetto gospel for the non-believers, if you will. With Mike Dean, The Neptunes and a young Kanye West behind the boards, 'Face updated his sound without compromising those intriguingly murky rhymes.
Trill OG's uneven soundscapes sound ordinary in comparison to the shimmering production on The Fix. (Trivia: Scarface leads all Dirty South rappers with a total of three 5-mike albums.)
Advantage: The Fix
In hindsight, Stillmatic isn't quite as classic-y as The Source thought it was. Some of the beats were dated and the B-side lacks replay value. Still, it boasts one of the greatest disses in hip-hop history, as well as some of the best rhymes Nas has ever conjured.
It definitely brought back some artifacts of ol'-skool rap - BDP samples, the art of the rap battle and DJ Premier. Stillmatic is several notches ahead of Trill OG in quality of rhymes and innovation (Nas did "Rewind" backwards for fuck's sake).
This one is a no-brainer. It's impossible to exaggerate The Blueprint's cultural relevance -- an album so powerful not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top.
Blasphemy, you say? Consider this: The Blueprint launched Just Blaze and Kanye West into the stratosphere, reestablished Jay-Z as a formidable force and accidentally resurrected Nas' career. And that's not saying anything about the music itself, some of the best songs Jay-Z has never written: "Takeover," "U Don't Know," "Song Cry"... should we continue?
Advantage: The Blueprint
Aquemini showed just how much Andre and Big Boi loved experimenting with sound. Powered by space funnk, acoustic guitar and a splice of chilled-out electro, Aquemini moved the OutKast sound forward. From the wild energy of "Rosa Parks" to the campfire vibe of "Liberation," this was a well-rounded album from cover to cover.
Side Note: Big Boi jokingly complained about their first album's 4.5-mic rating on "Skew it on the Barb-B": "I gotta hit The Source, I need my other half of mike because that Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was a classic." Advantage: Aquemini
Final Score: Other 5-mike albums 4, Trill OG 1
Don't get it twisted, Trill OG is a good album. Bun B is rapping his ass off, and the production is on point (for the most part). It's undoubtedly the best installment in the Trill series. But the implication of a 5-mike rating is that an album is flawless and timeless - a tough argument to make for an album that sports two or three skippable tracks (show of hands if you like "Countin' Money All Day") and tougher to sell for one that just docked on the shelf.
People are going to say that this was a publicity ploy by The Source to move a few extra copies. We seriously doubt that. Sure, The Source anticipated some level of publicity from this, but there's something else going on here. If publicity was the sole motivation, they would've drawn a random name from a hat of bigwigs that released solid albums this year: Drake, Eminem, Rick Ross.
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Hell, by today's standards, Big Boi's album is a legitimate 5-mike contender. At the end of the day, Bun is still a major artist with underground following. That makes him an unlikely partner in a publicity dance. Besides, the attention that follows Trill OG's 5-mike rating is more likely to benefit Bun than the folks at North Star Media. No one hears that Trill OG got 5 mikes and says, "Hey, I think I'll go buy 2 copies of The Source."
The Source publisher L.Londell McMillan released a press statement touting Bun B as a master storyteller who's "contributed greatly to the streets and culture of the art form." Ultimately, that's what this thing is about - bestowing a long-overdue insignia on an elder statesman of rap.
UGK had a 5-mike album somewhere between Too Hard To Swallow and Underground Kingz. This is recompense for blatant oversight. Is Trill OG a future masterpiece? Hard to say.
Time is the true test of an album's greatness. Play it again in 2020 and get back to us.