I can’t speak for all of my colleagues, but, in my eyes, working in the media side of the hip-hop game requires a nice bit of taking-it-on-the-chin—just not in the way you may think. Take 2008, for example. My still-nostalgic tastes and I spent the entire year praising Elzhi for both his Euro-Pass promo record and his official LP, The Preface, despite being unable to do so on bigger stages than email chains and random blog posts.
For my money, The Preface was last year’s best rap album, no question. On the production end, Black Milk topped himself with each subsequent beat, from the playful organ on “Colors” to the devastating bass-rumbles of “Yeah;” lyrically, Elzhi presented some of the freshest concepts I’d heard in years, namely “Guessing Game,” with its open-ended words bleeding into unexpected bar-starters. The Preface knocked me on my ass; I thought, “Finally, an album I’ll hail that my peers will equally love. Hell, it could even be great enough to get Elzhi a magazine feature!”
Pipe dreams of a delusional hip-hop head.
As my better judgment could’ve predicted, both Elzhi and his The Preface came and went. A few bloggers—including Byron Crawford, if I recall correctly—called its superiority to attention, but more time was spent overhyping 808s & Heartbreak and shooting covers with Lil Wayne. Which, having been in this game for six years now, I understand. Kanye and Weezy sell records and magazines, because the mainstream supports them with readied wallets. Only nerdy types such as myself fawn over albums like The Preface, let alone even know they exist.
Why am I reminiscing about this today, when there’s a 50 Cent/Jay-Z tension and the South’s biggest breakthrough artist is facing the bing? Because the only two albums I bumped over this past weekend were full-lengths that invoke strong feelings akin to that of The Preface—Apathy’s Wanna Snuggle? and Fashawn’s Boy Meets World.
2009 has been a good year to my ears, and the major label trio that have been the most generous have been Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II, Eminem’s Relapse and Wale’s Attention: Deficit. This post isn’t about those albums, though, so I won’t go into them here, other than to say that all three are grade-A—Wale’s, much to my surprise, and Em’s, much to my own opinion, apparently. It seems like I’m defending Relapse once a week (and repeating the sentiment that “Medicine Ball” is one of the year’s best songs). But I’m stepping off course, now—back to Wanna Snuggle? and Boy Meets World.
Let’s first look at Apathy’s second solo LP. Much of my time in college (2000-2004) was spent digging through online hubs such as HipHopSite.com and UGHH.com, and, in those circles, Apathy’s was a name that generated love in the same way that Lil Wayne did last year in pop culture. The Connecticut native put in work as part of the Demigodz, and labored through years of Atlantic Records-issued neglect before Saigon ever did, but the Internet didn’t care. As far as message boards were concerned, Apathy was a master lyricist, capable of rewind-that punch lines and full-bodied concept tracks. And he still is, as proven on Wanna Snuggle?
Twenty-one tracks that defy skipping, Wanna Snuggle? represents an artistic growth for Apathy, a slight detour from the darkness that shadowed his Eastern Philosophy. “Run Run Away” pulsates with old Doo-Wop energy, and “Mind Ya Business” tackles guy/girl issues with accessibility (and even unearths Fu-Schnickens member Chip-Fu for its hook). These records show that Ap can pull off the radio-friendly necessities that Atlantic must’ve drilled down his throat, just as monsters the likes of the B-Real-featuring “Shoot First” (the best Cypress Hill song not produced by Muggs) and “I’m a Demigod,” on which Teddy Roxpin’s beat comes close to outdoing Just Blaze at his own firestorm-of-sample-chops sound.
“Run Run Away”
“I’m a Demigod”
Wanna Snuggle?, in my opinion, is one of the year’s most dynamic and overall superlative rap albums—yet, have any of you heard it? There’s a better chance that Fashawn’s Boy Meets World has wrangled a larger following; I’ve at least seen a slew of pro-Fashawn comments on various sites throughout ’09.
Entirely produced by the underrated Exile, Boy Meets World is a kindred spirit to Blu’s collaborative disc with Exile, Below the Heavens (aka my top album of 2007—see a theme here?). Fashawn—a Fresno, California rep—is proficient with his words; he’s quite compelling when addressing topical heft (the man versus depression battle “When She Calls”), ferocious when simply coasting above beefy boom-bap (“Freedom).
“When She Calls”
“Breathe (ft. Bravo)”
Fashawn’s flow and voice remind me of another slept-on MC, former Flipmode member and U.N. frontman Rock Marciano, which is surely one of the reasons I’m so pro-Fashawn. Similarities to other personal favorite rappers aside, though, he’s undeniably talented, and deserving of a bigger audience. If OJ Da Juiceman can guest on a Jadakiss single, why can’t Pusha T and Malice call upon Fashawn?
(Bonus fact: Fashawn’s tag-team with The Alchemist, The Antidote, is also grand.)
This may not be the finite answer, but it’s certainly worth pondering—outlets such as the one you’re currently visiting need to show these kinds of artists more love. And, for that, I take some of the blame (and more on the chin); I’m only one person, yes, but didn’t Nas say something to the effect of “All we need is one ____.”
My only mission with this post, truthfully, is to motivate at least one or two of you to seek out Wanna Snuggle? and Boy Meets World. Year-end lists are on the horizon, and I wonder how many will include one or both. Nothing says that any have to, now—we’re all entitled to our own opinions. I just hope that the lack of inclusions is the result of informed thoughts, and not general unawareness.
In closing, are there any overlooked 2009 LPs that you deem worthy of notice? Specifically from regional acts that struggle to surpass local radio. —Matt Barone