My Decade in Rap, Pt. 4 [2008-2009]
Welcome to the homestretch. After taking you guys through 2000-2002 in part one, 2003 to 2005 in part two, and 2006-2007 in part three, it’s time to close out my personal trip down memory lane. Here’s the final chapter in my musical journey through the past decade of rap... as I remember it.
We all know in 2008 hip-hop was Wayne’s world. The self-professed Martian became the undisputed “best rapper alive.” Despite a bootleg version of Tha Carter III floating around, Lil Wayne still came away selling over a million copies in the first week. To do those numbers in a climate of declining sales was a colossal achievement by the Cash Money rapper. But the task was made easier thanks to monster singles like the auto-tune- assisted “Lollipop,” “Got Money,” featuring T-Pain, and the infectious “Mrs. Officer,” with Bobby V. He even got Jay-Z to contribute some bars to the soulful “Mr. Carter.”
With Wayne nabbing all the mainstream headlines for his musical dominance, T.I. was in the news for more than his music. The “King of the South” was facing federal jail time on illegal gun charges. (You know the story.) Amidst the legal trouble and an ongoing beef with fellow Bankhead rapper Shawty Lo, Tip put out his most personal effort to date, Paper Trail. His big single “Swagger Like Us,” featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne, helped spawn the term of the year, “Swag.”
For his part, Shawty Lo put himself on the radar with what I considered the first hit of 2008, “Dey Know.” The former D4L rapper shed his snap music character to take on the life of a trap star. Another early hit coming out the A was from the Young Jeezy-lite rapper Rocko with his street banger “Umma Do Me.” Jeezy, himself, was in the picture as well with the release of his third album, The Recession. With the country literally in a recession, the Snowman lifted sprits with joints like, “Who Dat” and “My President.” Then when Jeezy’s president, became Barack Obama the DC-mix to the song with Jay-Z was crazy. Even Bill O’Reilly had to take note.
Jeezy wasn’t the only rapper on the political tip during the 2008 elections. West Coast underground rapper Murs dropped Murs for President. Rap vet Ice Cube got at the outgoing Bush administration on the fiery Raw Footage, and Nas delivered the anti-establishment Untitled, which was originally titled N*gger. Though I knew the original title would not stick, the album stuck around in my iPod longer than I expected. At the time I didn’t think an album of political rants would work for Nas, but I was pleasantly surprised with what he had to say. “Testify” was slick and “Sly Fox” was a straight banger. And you can’t talk politics without mentioning Immortal Technique’s 3rd World.
On a much less serious note, ’08 provided good music across the board. This wasn’t one of the years where you could honestly say nothing really good came out. I officially signed on to the Rick Ross movement after listening to his sophomore album, Trilla. I realized the big guy could really spit.
Another personal favorite of mine came from the underground rap collective eMC. Comprised of Brooklyn’s own Masta Ace, Mid-west wordsmith Strick, LES’s Punchline, and Brooklynite Wordsworth, the crew put out a cohesive effort, The Show. Full disclosure, I grew up with Wordsworth, so listening to him do an album with Masta Ace one of the MCs we idolized as kids in BK was surreal to me.
But not everyone I looked up to as a kid made me proud in ’08. LL Cool J delivered his last album on Def Jam, Exit 13. Oh, what an exit it was. The cringe-worthy performance was not the way I wanted to see Uncle L go out. Luckily, GZA gave me reason to smile with his satisfying release, Pro Tools. Again, full disclosure, this album had a personal connection to me as GZA featured another of my best friends, the Brownsville, Brooklyn rapper KA, on the eerie cut “Firehouse.”
Though I have met him a few times, there was nothing super personal about my allegiance to ATL’s Killer Mike, but I was 10 toes down with his album, I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II. Scarface’s Emeritus, The Roots’ Rising Down, and Bun B’s II Trill were solid joints for their loyal fans to rock to, as well. Another vet, Q-Tip, quietly put out a stellar album in The Renaissance. The hipster newcomers Cool Kids got a quick listen from me on their EP, The Bake Sale.
Meanwhile, the face of the hipster movement, Kanye West, took a break from rapping to release the auto-tune-inspired 808 & Heartbreaks, which saw him do more singing than rapping. I wasn’t one to criticize ’Ye for his experimental effort. In fact, I loved the album. It was a nice change of pace, but I did not endorse the auto-tune craze that ensued. Seems like going into the next year T-Pain’s signature style was going to dominate the music we heard. Luckily someone stepped up and said something.