2007 was another solid year for music. From Pimp C’s death to 50 Cent’s $400M payday from Glaceau purchasing his Formula 50 vitamin water, there wasn’t a dull moment. Even Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat” got listeners and purists excited, albeit for entirely different reasons. Apart from employment and salary milestones for me, it was also the year that I stopped apologizing for, changing up or rationalizing my tastes in hip-hop and beyond to anyone. If I have a friend who’s in my car and changes my music without asking pitches a bitch about it, what they now get from me is the boot, no more resigned peer-pressure induced acquiescence.
Artist: Apathy & Celph Titled
Album Title: No Place Like Chrome
Label: Antidote Records
Release Date: January 30th, 2007
Producers: Apathy, Celph Titled, J-Zone, J.J. Brown, Tzarizm & Chum the Skrilla Guerilla
Though not as long as I hoped, this joint album has several official tracks. With Ap and Celph handling most of the production duties, you’d think this was a Demigodz album. The minimalist funk of “Fix Your Face” combined with the fast-paced flows of both rappers over the beat is one of two tracks that sold me on purchasing this album. The other was “Naturally Nasty” with its infectious horn sample courtesy of Bob James. Very few guests make appearances here, J-Zone is the most notable considering his chemistry with Celph Titled. Give this a listen if punchline raps and aggressive beats/flows are your schtick.
Album Title: Return of the Mac
Label: Koch Records
Release Date: March 27th, 2007
Producers: The Alchemist, DJ Muro
Looking back now, Albert Johnson bka Prodigy has a pattern when it comes to releasing quality solo albums: He’s either focused and puts out a solid product, or just doesn’t care and puts out a below sub-par release. Because of this fluctuation, I’ve been reasonably apprehensive about making his albums part of my collection. But on the Alchemist-helmed Return of the Mac, I got lucky. A friend sent me the YouTube video for the title-track and I wanted more. Although Prodigy sounding more invigorated with his hood perspective on urban NYC life is a high point, it’s the Alchemist’s Blaxpotation-era sampled production that really makes the album.
Artist: Marco Polo
Album Title: Port Authority
Label: Soulspazm/Rawkus Records
Release Date: May 15th, 2007
Producers: Marco Polo
This album was my first exposure to throwback producer Marco Polo of Canada. Before buying it from FYE in Wheaton Plaza, I actually downloaded it. When I heard that my favorite emcee, Copywrite, was featured on it, I shot to the ‘net like a fiend. More than Copy, this album was a “who’s who” of underground mic starlets spittin’ over Polo’s beats. He managed to scrounge together Kool G. Rap, O.C., Buckshot, Masta Ace, and others like JoJo Pellegrino and Kardinal Offishall. Polo’s beats, in and of themselves love letters to hip-hop’s east coast renaissance, are head-nodders that have a nuance and craft that doesn’t make them leftovers from 10-plus years ago.
Artist: Brother Ali
Album Title: The Undisputed Truth
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Release Date: April 10th, 2007
When my friends and I saw Brother Ali perform live at the 9:30 Club back in November of 2007, I didn’t fail to notice his energy and that of the reciprocating crowd. I knew who he was and had previously heard a verse or two, but never one of his full-length songs, much less a live one. I met him at the end of the show and he was a humble dude, but I was pissed. Not at him, but at the fact that I didn’t have enough cash to buy this album which was on sale at the show. And it was well-after midnight and I had mandatory training at work a few hours later. Professional obligations notwithstanding, I still bought the album from FYE at the end of the day. Entirely produced by Ant of Atmosphere, it was good to hear a thoughtful and passionate MC like Ali over Ant’s beats instead of always hearing Slug do so. With politically-charged tracks like “Truth Is” and “Uncle Sam Goddamn”, Ali evokes Chuck D and KRS-ONE in their prime.
Artist: Sean Price
Album Title: Jesus Price Supastar
Label: Duck Down Records
Release Date: January 30th, 2007
Producers: 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Tommy Tee, !llmind, P.F. Cuttin’, MoSS, 10 for the Triad and Masse
Sean Price is one funny MF. Not peculiar funny, but actually funny. With ironic humor about being a broke rapper coupled with his Brownsville leanings, his sophomore offering actually cracked the Billboard Top 200 (debuting at #196). Here, though he has several guest appearances from his Duck Down brethren, the only outside emcee is Phonte from Little Brother included on the 9th Wonder-produced “Let It Be Known”. This time around, Sean manages to cop four beats by 9th instead of just one. While no deep introspective is found, that’s fine since I don’t expect it from Mr. Price. What we get is humor, NYC street talk, and a certain rugged aesthetic that only fits when Sean brings it.
Album Title: Finding Forever
Label: Geffen/G.O.O.D. Records
Release Date: July 31st, 2007
Producers: Kanye West, J. Dilla, will.i.am, Derrick Hodge and Devo Springsteen
Common’s seventh offering came during a time when he had begin to diversify himself as an actor, with appearances in Smokin’ Aces and American Gangster. Though Kanye West produced most of the album again, his presence seems diminished due to his limited vocal contribution. But regardless, Common makes another album that remains uniquely his. A Chicago street poet with rays of positivity, he speaks of revolution (“The People”) and rails against being obsessed with fame and appearance (“Drivin’ Me Wild”). The late J. Dilla has one contribution, as does Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am. Com-Sense peppers his rhymes with hope and a trademark wit, and never debases himself to the lowest common denominator.
Artist: Aesop Rock
Album Title: None Shall Pass
Label: Definitive Jux Recordings
Release Date: August 28th, 2007
Producers: Aesop Rock, Blockhead, El-P and Rob Sonic
The title-track appeared on the Definitive Swim rap compilation sponsored by Def Jux and Adult Swim. Hip-Hop’s most verbose emcee had changed his flow, dropped his Long Island accented-rapping voice and began including more multisyllable rhymes within his complex verbal soundscapes. Turning 30 in the year prior, the need to leave certain things behind his pretty common at that age. Often abstract and disjointed, listeners tend to divine either personal or intended meaning from Aes’ lyrics. None Shall Pass is no exception, songs like “Bring Back Pluto” and “Getaway Car” respectively are about falling from grace and escaping, but disguised in abstract form. Surprised to find it on the day of release at Best Buy, little did I know that this would be Aesop Rock’s last release on Def Jux before the label went under in 2010.
Album Title: Dirty Acres
Label: APOS/QN5/Bad Taste Records
Release Date: November 27th, 2007
After 2006’s A Piece of Strange, several fans (including myself) had higher expectations for the follow-up. “Yellow Lines”, featuring Witchdoctor and Phonte of Little Brother, was an atmospheric delight of a first single which included a show-stealing verse from Phonte. But my first few listens of the album left me wondering if I was expecting too much. It grew on me eventually, and has a certain musical and lyrical maturation and progression that makes it a good album for summer rides and cookouts. Social commentary, introspection and imaginative concepts make up the lyrical portion, while Kno’s ability to sample the hip-hop soul in even the Whitest bluegrass record comprises the musical portion. Overall, the album provides another watershed moment in my perception of southern hip-hop.
Artist: Kanye West
Album Title: Graduation
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Release Date: September 11th, 2007
Producers: Kanye West, Nottz, DJ Toomp, et. al.
The hype about this album didn’t have anything to do with the hit lead-off singles (“Good Life”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”). But rather for two reasons: It was set to be released on the 6th anniversary of 9/11; the same same day rapper 50 Cent was set to release his third solo LP Curtis. The competition sparked 50’s infamous declaration of retirement should he be outsold by Kanye. Well, Kanye outsold 50 by nearly 500,000 units and 50 didn’t throw in the towel, big surprise. Beyond that, this album was a turning point for Kanye as a producer. He began including synthesizers/live instruments and expanded his sampling palette beyond vintage soul. The combination of those actions led him to create more avant-garde productions later. On Graduation, he makes a final use of the dropout bear mascot and amplifies the dichotomy of his impulsiveness and its effect on both his fame and personal life.
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Album Title: The Cool
Label: 1st & 15th/Atlantic Records
Release Date: December 18th, 2007
Producers: Soundtrakk, Chris & Drop, Al Shux, Simonsayz, et. al.
The album’s title and loose concept are expanded from a song on Lupe’s 2006 debut Food & Liquor. If the debut was the paragraph, then The Cool is a very well-done transitional sentence. “Hip-Hop Saved My Life”; “Superstar”; “Go Go Gadget Flow” were a handful of songs that proved that Lupe was neither a sophomore jinx or a flash-in-the-pan emcee. One thing that made this album the best of 2007 was Lupe’s ability to seamlessly tell stories and then broaden his narrative by introducing another critical element that ties it all together. While somewhat darker than its predecessor, in an era where the phrase “hip-hop is dead” is tossed around with alarming frequency, this album is one of many to prove that hip-hop has no death certificate (word to Ice Cube).
Sy L. Shackleford is a jack-of-all-trades columnist for Action A Go Go. A UConn graduate with a degree in both psychology and communication sciences, he is a walking encyclopedic repository for all things Marvel Comics, movies, hip-hop, et. al.