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With 2008 winding down, BPM is spending the week recapping the year that was. Yesterday we gave you our top ten videos of the year, on Thursday you’ll get a free gift (it’s a mix-tape…surprise ruined), and it’ll all come to a head on Friday when we unveil our top 25 albums of the year. Today, three of our writers share a few personal highlights from what was a decidedly down year for the genre.
Top 3 Shows of the Year
3) A Tribe Called Quest, Rock the Bells, Tinley Park, IL, July 19: After all the problems at this year’s festival – delays, shortened sets, high ticket prices, should I go on? – Tribe came through and saved the day with an energetic headlining set that made everyone smile. 2) Public Enemy, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18: I admit I had my doubts about this one. But PE delivered. Chuck D spit fire and Flav was funny as ever. Best yet, they kept going long after they completed the regularly scheduled front-to-back performance of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. 1) Kanye West, Lollapalooza, August 3: I know, I know. Hip hop was meant for the streets. It is at its best when it is pure, resonating from street corners and city parks. But times done changed. Hip hop is a multi-million dollar global industry and there is nothing wrong with a spectacle once in a while. And this was that. Kanye ditched his Glow in the Dark set-up after the Bonnaroo fiasco and instead treated his hometown crowd to a specialized celebration. My eyes still hurt.
It’s just not that much fun to listen to rappers spar with each other anymore. It may have seemed improbable at the time, but it seems that the “I Declare War” concert did effectively put an end to legitimate hip hop beef; Nas vs. Jay may have been the last beef that mattered. This is partially due to the fact that the feuds out there now are either inconsequential or uninteresting. But more importantly, the truly entertaining rappers have figured out that its a whole hell of a lot more fun to blindside people from outside the genre who have no idea what’s going on. Just ask Nas, whose career’s resurgence has Bill O’Reilly and the rest of Fox News to thank. But for my money, no moment left me more in awe this year than Jay-Z’s cleverly calculated dis/homage of Oasis at Glastonbury. While the rap cliche would have been for Jay to shoot back at Noel Gallagher’s barrage of insults, Jay simply dropped knowledge on hip hop’s history and the importance of respecting all genres. Opening his Glastonbury set with “Wonderwall” was snarky but respectful; basically he outclassed Oasis, something a lot of rappers could learn from. Still, Jay showed his fire when segued into “99 Problems.”
Without a doubt this award goes to No Homo. Mark my words: a revolution is coming in hip hop. It may be in 2009 and it may take a few more years, but at some point a mainstream rapper is going to come out of the closet, most likely followed by many other artists and fans. Much like the outright racism that’s bubbled to the surface over the course of the presidential campaign, hip hop homophobia is running rampant in the face of changing times. But the common use of “no homo” may be the most ridiculous anti-gay trend in the genre’s storied history of ignorance. Let’s hope that in 2009 rappers and rap fans can at least get past the need to go out of their way to tell people they are not gay.
3) The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats. An entertaining autobiography in which the legend doesn’t candy coat personal issues like his drug addiction or his distaste for Sugarhill’s business practices.
2) Somebody Scream: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power. Marcus Reeves writes an intelligent history of the genre – and the last thirty years of race relations in general – through the stories of ten prominent rap acts, including Run-D.M.C., Tupac, and Eminem.
1) Gang Leader For a Day. It’s not about hip hop but it does deal with a lot of the same issues as rap music. And it’s hands-down the best thing I’ve read all year. Sudhir Venkatesh, an Indian-American sociology student at University of Chicago who befriended a gang leader and spent the next ten years observing the inner workings of the organization and its role in the community.
Top 3 best live moments
3. Flavor Flav and Chuck D had an onstage fight at Public Enemy’s performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival this summer when Flavor Flav missed his cue, leading Chuck D to exclaim “Ladies and gentlemen … where the fuck is Flavor Flav?” They made up and performed the rest of the album mostly without incident – and then a bunch of PE standards that sent the set almost half an hour over. But best of all was Flav’s baffled dismissal of his critics in the crowd: as he began to talk about his VH1 reality show, he started receiving boos, to which he responded: “Why you booing? You a bunch of ghosts? Don’t boo me, you fake ghosts!”
2. Apparently there was one leftover track from Rhymefest’s Man in the Mirror mixtape:
1. Cadence Weapon at Lollapalooza 2008: “You know what part of the Lil Wayne album confuses me? When he says, ‘She even got her hurrr down her back like mine.’ I don’t know why that would be a good thing. Have you seen your hair? You look like… Predator or something. This is a song about a predator.” And then he launched into “Sharks.”
Top 6 features
Honorable Mention: Kanye + Wayne + Jay-Z + T.I. on “Swagga Like Us.” The fact that it appears on a T.I. album is only a technicality, it is too much of an event to qualify as a feature.
6. Pusha T, Bun B, and the Cool Kids on Kidz in the Hall’s “Drivin Down the Block (remix)”
5. Andre 3000 and Raekwon on Big Boi’s “Royal Flush”
4. Jay-Z and Nas on Ludacris’s “I Do It For Hip Hop”
3. Wale, on the Roots’ “Rising Up.”
2. Ludacris, on T.I.‘s “On Top of the World”
1. Kanye West, on Young Jeezy’s “Put On”
Best usage of Barack Obama
6. Three 6 Mafia’s Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body), which employed the throwaway line “Ride wit the man and be givin’ up the brain / little scared to ride wit ya, I don’t even know your name / There’s a whole lotta room in the front of the range / like Barack Obama said yeah its time for a change “
5. Nas’s recorded-in-a-night anthem, Election Night, in which Nas, long at war with the right-wing media, celebrates Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh presumably losing their minds.
4. Talib Kweli and Bun B finally come around:
3. Black Sheep’s revision of “The Choice is Yours” for modern times:
2. Election-focused T.I. parodies:
1. The entirety of Young Jeezy’s “My President,” which I played repeatedly on November 4th. And November 5th, and November 6th…
Best Concert: Nelly, House of Blues Chicago
While his best music may be behind him, I did enjoy Nelly’s newest album and it is mostly because of this concert. I went to hear his old songs and he hit’em hard – it was phenomenal – but he also introduced me to his newest album. And I’d have to say… there are some decent songs on it.
Best Collaboration: T-Wayne
T-Pain and Lil Wayne started the year out strong with collaborations on other albums, and they are ending the year strong together. You can’t even turn on the radio without hearing one or both of them every five minutes. Nice job, guys. I love it.
Smartest Business Move: Lil Wayne
It was smart for Lil Wayne to raise the hype of Tha Carter 3 by letting himself be featured on so many different artists’ songs. It’s proved to have done well for him.
Best Interview: T.I. on “The Tyra Show”
The rapper talked openly about his jail time, family and newest album. I think it helped show his character a bit more. He came across as a very nice man.
Jay-Z and Beyonce finally tied the knot! April 4, 2008.