I’ve been thinking about this list for over a week. Was tough making my selections. Keep in mind, I’m rating these tracks on the production itself, not just the lyrics. The lyrics could conceivably suck and the track would still make it on the list.
10) “Hero”- Nas (produced by Polow Da Don)- from the live-sounding drum track, the synths, the breakdown, this joint was above and beyond the hottest thing Nas had rhymed on in years. It was great to hear him on a track that wasn’t typical “Nas” beat. In retrospect, Polow should have done the whole album.
9) “A Milli”- Lil Wayne (produced by Bangladesh)- flipping A Tribe Called Quest “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” Remix and adding perhaps the simplest 808 drum pattern in the history of all recorded music made for a pretty big hit in ’08. Those 808 subs became a melody unto themselves.
8) “Circulate”- Young Jeezy (produced by Cannon)- not the most creative flip of Billy Paul’s “Let the Dollar Circulate,” but if you’re going to jack an entire track then this is the way to do it. Just rearrange and let the rapper do their thing. Sometimes I would rather hear the rapper just rhyme on parts of the original record, without a whole bunch of shit added. Months since Jeezy’s album dropped, this is the only song I listen to from it.
7) “Luxury Tax”- Rick Ross ft. Lil Wayne, Trick Daddy and Young Jeezy (produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League)- I recall being in the Def Jam office with RobthemusicEd, listening to Ross’ album and scrunching my face up like I just had to eat a whole bowl of porridge when I heard this track. It was just flat out ugly and disgusting, in a good way. More rappers should aim to rhyme on beats like this.
6) “Rising Up”- The Roots ft. Chrisette Michele and Wale (produced by… I’m guessing here, The Roots? Don’t have album credits)- this wasn’t even the hottest joint on Rising Down (that was “Criminal,” with Saigon), but as one complete production, this gets the nod from me. It was almost a go-go record, but had a certain musicality to it that kept it in the hip-hop pocket.
5) “Heartless”- Kanye West (produced by Kanye West and No ID)- great flip of a record I’ve had sitting in my closet for 8 years (The Allan Parson Project’s “Ammonia Avenue”). Short of thinking Kanye had up and lost his mind, the minute I heard this track (on the radio no less) I had a “wtf???” moment. As in, “what the FUCK is that??” I stopped dead in my tracks. Every rapper worth his spit would have wanted to rhyme on that.
4) “The Boss”- Rick Ross (produced by JR Rotem)- JR’s string of hits was ridiculous this year, but this one stood out to me the most because it wasn’t the typical first single rappers come with these days. From the reversed drum sample, the way the 808s are arranged, the eery pads, it’s a chilling production. Take Ross off it and this beat is just hard as fuck.
3) “Rider Part 2″- G-Unit (produced by Rick Rock?)- A google search is telling me Rick Rock produced this joint, though I’m not 100% sure, because again I don’t have the actual CD with the credits. It’s really just a steady bass note, a brass chord, and some hard ass drums. But damned if this track didn’t have heads nodding. And crazy enough, people actually rocked to it in the club as well, proving again that there really is only two types of music- good and bad. This was clearly good.
2) “Live Your Life”- TI feat Rhianna (produced by Just Blaze)- Of all the things someone could love about Justin Smith sampling Ozone’s “Numa Numa” for a rap record, the thing that I loved about it most was that even if you took Rhianna off this joint, it’d rock. This wasn’t some track where the hook made the whole beat. Plus it was nice to hear a bona fide hit record that actually had a snare drum in it, instead of some little bitchy 808 clap. Leave to Just Blaze to make what would ordinarily be an underground rap beat into a #1 record.
1) “Swagger Like Us”- TI feat Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne (produced by Kanye West)- First time I heard this, I thought man this is a total shit sandwich. Second time I heard it, I thought man this is even a bigger shit sandwich. I thought the beat was lame and boring. At that point I’d been only hearing it online, on blogs and whatnot. Then I ventured out into the real world, and I heard it in a car…. then a club… then a concert hall… then an arena…. then a stadium. No, I wasn’t programmed. This track just wasn’t made to play while you’re surfing the net. From the drums to the synths to the MIA-sampled hook, it’s a beat you’ve got to experience standing up, at a very loud volume. It’s a hip-hop record for god’s sake. Turn that music high-high-high-er, and you will hear what I’m hearing. Best beat of ’08, hands down. Shit, it made me wanna pick up the pen… err.. open up memo pad in my blackberry, and write a rhyme. And that’s saying something.