My Decade In Rap, Pt. 2 [2003-2005]
Picking up from where we left off yesterday, here’s the next chapter of the past decade of music as I remember it.
Hands down, 2003 was the best year of the decade for me. Still West Coastin’, I was starting to feel a certain kind of way about missing out on some monumental happenings back East. Dipset was on Roc-A-Fella and I was hearing rumors that beef was brewing between Jay and Dame. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson had started his rise to the top of hip-hop’s food chain back in 2002, but I couldn’t feel the full effects given that I was on the Left Coast.
Add to that the fact I took myself out of the loop of mainstream happenings by hunkering down with a very exclusive playlist of albums from ’02. I only enjoyed “Wanksta” in passing, but all that changed on February 6, 2003. I purchased Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ at Rasputin Music in San Francisco and by the time I hopped off the Bart on the Oakland side, I was a changed man. I had a newfound passion for hip-hop. I was hyped! I felt like I had discovered the illest rap album ever and no one was up on it yet. The only other time I felt that was in 1995 with Big’s Ready to Die and Nas’ Illmatic in 1993.
Needless to say, GRODT was in heavy rotation, but it wouldn’t stand alone in my 6-changer CD. Jay-Z and Dame Dash had put together a nice roster of acts with the State Property guys from Philly and the addition of Harlem’s own Diplomats. In the span of a month I was listening to Freeway’s soulful debut Philadelphia Freeway and dumbing out to the Diplomats ignorant raps on Diplomatic Immunity. While I’ll admit I was slumming on my usual lyrical standards I was really feeling Juelz Santana’s debut From Me To U. The Dip’s off the wall unapologetic approach was only keeping in step with what them crazy dudes down South were doing.
Lil Jon’s 808 heavy tunes kept the party crunk, Three 6 Mafia had me feeling like a pimp, and Ludacris was def proving that he could hold his own lyrically with the cats up North, but I was most impressed with the skinny cat with unforgettable verse on Bonecrusher’s “Never Scared.” (“Noooooo, I ain't bad, just don't kiss no ass or take shit/And I'm a grown man, find you somebody to play wit.”) T.I.’s Trap Muzik was an instant hit with me. It wasn’t long before I was dropping the Jay-Z of the South comparisons to sell Trap Muzik as a classic album (in the South at least).
While Tip was a harder sell to the homies back East, Outkast’s double album Speakerboxx/Love Below was welcomed with open arms (well, Andre 3000’s offering more so than Big Boi’s). I was back home from Cali just in time to experience the G-G-G-G-Unit frenzy and say farewell to Brooklyn’s finest, Jay-Z. As the rap giant embarked on his retirement tour (not before trying to slip the Blueprint 2.1 by us), I was sad to see him go, but proud that he was going out on top. The Black Album was going to be his jumper to win it all. Grand opening, grand closing—or so we thought.
At this point I was back in Brooklyn and I was definitely on my NY shit. Ghostface’s The Pretty Toney Album, Jadakiss’ Kiss Of Death, Fabolous’ Real Talk, Talib Kweli’s The Beautiful Struggle, Mobb Deep’s Amerikaz Nightmare, Infamous Mobb’s Blood Thicker Than Water, Vol. 1, and Nas’ Street’s Disciple was the type of home cooking I was craving. Little did I know this would be my last supper with the cats from New York.
Hip-hop was expanding. It was getting bigger and the Big Apple would no longer be the boss of it. Those crazy kids down South were making all the right moves. Lil Jon was the king of crunk and anything he touched was gold. A party wasn’t a party until the DJ played a Southern set. Lil Scrappy’s “Head Bussa,” Trillville's “Neva Eva,” Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck,” and Petey Pablo’s “Freek-a-Leek.” Their sound would cause Fat Joe’s rap crew Terror Squad to lean back. Even better, their shit started to make sense. T.I. was now on everyone’s radar and when he delivered Urban Legend, featuring the smash “Bring Em Out” blessed with the Jay-Z sampled hook, which I saw as a co-sign from one king to the next, he was on his way to ruling over more than the South.
Between Tip, Luda, Andre 3000, and Killer Mike the region was building a respectable stable of lyricist to balance out the crude nature of crunk music. However, they would still need more people to make it stick. In comes Lil Wayne. Coming off the bling-era, which he helped give birth to, the Cash Money rapper had been on the low for much of the decade. 2002’s 500 Degreez was okay, but on Tha Carter, Weezy was spittin’ hotter than 500 degrees. This would mark the beginning of his ascension to the title of “Best Rapper Alive.”
Another rapper who would make his mark in 2004 was Kanye West. The producer-turnt-rapper finally got his chance to shine and he didn’t disappoint with his debut, College Dropout. I had a hard time convincing some friends that ’Ye made a classic album. They kept throwing “he can’t rap” arguments in my face. I knew he wasn’t on par with the best, but homie’s earnest approach and soul-stirring production were undeniable.
In my eyes, this was the year hip-hop’s hierarchy changed. 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and T.I. would establish themselves as the cream of the crop, while previous unknown talents like New York’s Jim Jones and Atlanta’s Young Jeezy rose to the forefront in their respective regions. With Jay-Z technically retired, and the rest of New York lost as to what to do to get back to the top, the Dipset Capo dropped what I consider his best album to date, Harlem: Diary Of a Summer. The title was possibly another clever shot at Jay-Z, who couldn’t shake the urge to rap and put out a song “Dear Summer.”
Down in Atlanta a trap star was born. Jeezy had the streets on lock with his ubiquitous mixtape Trap or Die. Then, the Snowman made good on his buzz with the classic Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Seasoned with catchphrases and infectious ad-libs, (“Yeeah!”) the brazen rapper came across as a credible source of life in the trap. Sure it helped he was connected to infamous BMF crew.
While life in the trap was more interesting to me, the South was still making those hits that made you snap your finger—literally. With the crunk movement slowly dying out, ATLiens introduced the Snap movement. The dance-happy, finger snappin’ grooves were much lighter than the aggressive crunk, but they still kept the club poppin’. D4L and Dem Franchize Boys were the faces of the new sound with hits like “Laffy Taffy” and “I Think They Like Me.”
The success of this movement would only draw the ire of frustrated New York rappers. To add insult to injury the one Big Apple MC that was making any noise, 50 Cent was out West co-signing Cali’s next big thing, The Game. The newest member to G-Unit put the West on his back with his dope debut, The Documentary. East meets West and it was success, but the harmonious times wouldn’t last long. The two rappers would quickly begin their long-standing beef.
In the midst of following all the other pointless rap beefs of the year, I found time to enjoy some off-the-radar gems like, Little Brothers’ The Minstrel Show, Cage’s Hells Winter, and Danger Doom’s The Mouse and The Mask. Back on the big stage them Houston boys, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug Chamillionaire, came through to chop & screw the game.
I was a big fan of Thugga and Cham, but I didn’t see lasting success for Jones and Wall. Plus, it was dope to see Bun B get his just due. In fact, I have Bun to thank for inspiring me to buy Webbie’s Savage Life, Bun’s verse on “Gimme That” was one of my favs of the year, and Savage Life turned out to be one of the albums I played heavy.
At the end of the day, Common’s Be, Lil Wayne’s second installment of Tha Carter, and Kanye’s Late Registration were some of the best albums 2005 had to offer, but Jezzy’s Thug Motivation was my favorite of the year. Hands down.
Playlist Of The Year
1. Young Jeezy feat. Akon – “Soul Survivor”
2. Mike Jones feat. Slim Thug & Paul Wall - “Still Tippin”
3. The Game feat. 50 Cent “Hate It or Love It”
4. Kanye West feat. Lupe Fiasco - “Touch The Sky”
5. Tony Yayo feat. 50 Cent “So Seductive”
Log in tomorrow as I run through the rest of the decade in part three. —Rondell Conway.