Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.
It's sort of a self-gratifying luxury for music writers to pick a top 10 list. Basically, it's composed of the albums that were personal favorites through the year, the ones that stayed in rotation on the CD player or iPod.
However, once they're published, the arguments begin over who got it right and, more often than not, who got it wrong.
As a relative newbie to the music writer fraternity, I will further this indulgent tradition with my own list. Just go ahead and start writing those argumentive comments right now:
10. Keak da Sneak - That's My Word: Although not an official release (it was thrown together to capitalize on his summer-time popularity in the Yay) it did feature the monster-single "Super Hyphey," which is making a serious argument for my pick as song of the year. Despite the rush job, Keak proved that even a phoned-in effort is not only servicable, but engaging. Can't wait for his official release on Thizz Records in '06.
9. The Game - The Documentary: Game is getting recognition nowadays as the greatest fall-off in hip-hop history. Still, this album had the anticipation of both "Doggy Style" and "Get Rich or Die Trying," and when it hit, the streets was watching - for exactly two months (or at least until 50's mediocre "The Massacre" was released). This album featured some of Dr. Dre's best production work in years, and singles like "Dreams" and "Hate it or Love it" made strong arguments for gangsta rap's relevance in pop music.
8: Paul Wall - The People's Champ: Paul Wall is quite possibly the first white rapper ever who has not been scrutinized on any level (streets, music industry, media) for being white. His album was also the only one out of the '05 Houston invasion (which included Bun B, Slim Thug, Mike Jones and Chamillionaire) that stuck exclusively to the H-town sound: slow, bumping bass with church organ synthes and thick southern drawl. Plus, he pulled it off without being overlty misogynistic (aside from a few b's and h's) or prone to violence (he didn't kill anyone on his songs).
7. Fort Minor/DJ Green Lantern - We Major: The major label, Jay-Z executive produced release "The Rising Tied" was a snoozer. But Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park fame) brought the goods on this mixtape, filled with irresistable samples that would have been impossible to clear, even for a multi-platinum rock star like Shinoda. Plus, the song "SOBGz" features not only a killer Guns n Roses riff ('Sweet Child o' Mine') but the oddest lyrical triple-threat of the year: DemiGodz, Linkin Park and DipSet!
6. Zion-I - Tru and Livin': NYC hipsters turned their collective backs on backpacker rap this year in favor of DipSet and Lil Wayne. It's a shame that they missed out on one of the counter cultures best album's in a while. MC Zion is a beast on the mic with a voice that sounds like he sucked in one too many Co2 cartridges, while producer Amp Live is doing DJ Premier better than Primo these days. Oh, and they're reppin' hard for Oaktown, which is set to blow nationally in t-minus 3, 2, 1...
5. DangerDoom - The Mouse and The Mask: MF Doom has been carrying underground rap on his already heavy shoulders for the past three years. This time out, he got an assist from white-hot producer DangerMouse, the most brilliant hip-hop producer of the 21st century (yeah, I said it). Together, they made the producers of Adult Swim seem like the hippest animators in the world, while reviving Talib Kweli's underground relevance and giving Cee-Lo something to do with his robust talent. A coup on all levels.
4. Little Brother - The Minstrel Show: Was there a more controversial hip-hop album this year? The editor-in-chief at The Source resigned over the magazine's 4-mic rating (he felt it should have gotten a 41/2 mic rating, which it eventually did). Texas rap legend Bun-B was perplexed: he loved it, but wondered aloud if they were talking about him. Ultimately, The Minstrel Show was an indictment of mainstream hip-hop, but a celebration as well. It's dope beats and dope rhymes, so what more do you want?
3. Felt 2 - A Tribute to Lisa Bonet: Murs of Living Legends and Slug of Atmosphere teamed up to create the most underappreciated hip-hop album of the year. Their alliance was like Ice Man teaming up with The Human Torch for a night on the town. Producer Ant is also the most slept on beat-maker in hip-hop, period.
2. Common - Be: For all the pre-release hype, this was not Common's new resurrection as much as it was a re-introduction to those who thought he had fallen off. And Com didn't sound rejuvenated so much as he sounded re-focused over Kanye West's beats. The album proved that he didn't need to bring the fire, just the earth and wind that he was grasping for on his previous efforts. Folks can argue all day whether or not he has an actual classic with this album, but "The Corner," "They Say," "It's Your World," and especially "Testify" all qualify as classic material.
1. Kanye West - Late Registration: For my final trick, I'mma go ahead and say that Kanyeezy has surpassed his mentor Jay-Z in terms of sheer talent and material (and Jay's my favorite MC!). He's also on a clip to match A Tribe Called Quest in terms of releasing three -straight classic albums (he's still way off from reaching Outkast, who have, in my opinion, five-straight classics).
'Late Registration' is a throwback to the days when us hip-hop nerds would argue about which album song was our favorite, which verse was our favorite, and which beat was our favorite. There is no real filler on this album (the singles are hot, the album tracks carry weight, even the song with Brandy gets play in the whip). The fact that he added rich orchestration, collaborated with a non-hip-hop producer (Jon Brion, Fiona Apple's former svengali) and snuck in some social commentary (Diamonds from Sierra Leon talks about the blood diamond trade in Africa), makes it an instant classic.
Oh, and if you're keeping score at home: my favorite song is "Gone," my favorite verse was from Cam'ron, also on "Gone," and my favorite beat was "Heard 'em Say."
Happy New Year, y'all!
*Tune in tommorrow when I release my year-end awards list. You don't want to miss it!