Speech Is My Hammer…’s Top 10 Major Label Releases of 2006


These Top 10 lists aren’t my thing, but I figure I should start since I’m blogging and all. Besides, 2006 was a pretty interesting year for hip-hop in my opinion, esp. this hectic fourth quarter. This Top 10 list is a great testament to how the year had so more variety than what I can remember in recent years: there are artists from all of the nation’s major rap regions (West Coast, Midwest, South, East Coast), and a decent mixture of newcomers marking new territory, sophomores avoiding slumps, and veterans keeping their spots by either treading new ground or going back to their roots. Please note these few points with these Top 10: this list is a major label list, so some amazing records like The Cunninlynguists’ A Piece of Strange, J Dilla’s The Shining and Murs’ Murray’s Law are excluded (I may make an indie list later…I’m not the type to differentiate music based on exposure, but it makes my job of putting together lists easier); I know Styles P’s Time Is Money is slated to come out this month, but frankly, I’ll only believe that once it hits stores, so it’s not counted in 2006 for me; some albums you guys have in your Top 10, will probably make my impending Top 5 Disappointments list. Some of these reviews are swiped from previous entries (I’m too lazy to review shit twice), but enjoy nontheless.
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1.) Nas, Hip Hop Is Dead – I heard this album Thursday night @ a release party in Detroit, and while I admit that release party/listening session speakers can be deceiving (my journalist homies know what’s up), what I heard potentially marked a pinnacle of Nas’ career. Nas continues his always consistent lyrical strengths, but he steps up his already-consistent delivery even more, playing with more rhyme schemes and riding beats perfectly. Most notably though, Hip Hop Is Dead‘s production is the most dynamic Nas has had since Illmatic, keeping up with Nas’ trademark dark themes while adding the polish you’d expect from a Def Jam album. While previous/recent Nas beats served as understated backdrops to link his verses together, this album’s soundscapes are just as intense and robust as Nas’ lyricism, but still manage not to draw attention away from Esco himself. Sorry I don’t have a tracklisting with titles I remember were dope or who produced what, but look on the bright side – it’ll probably leak in a couple days anyway, and it’s hitting stores Dec. 19.

2.) Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor – I’ve already written an entire entry about this album, so I’ll keep it short. With his debut album, Chi-town newcomer Lupe Fiasco suceeded by putting together a project that did everything that the rest of rap isn’t doing enough: he placed an emphasis on storytelling instead of punchline-heavy verses, limited his all-star allegiances to give more shine to his immensely talented in-house production team, and has the best track-to-track cohesion that I can remember in a hip-hop album since Jay-Z’s Blueprint.

3.) Ghostface Killah, Fishscale – (*Swiped/edited from my previous review) Bringing back the Marvel cartoon “Ironman” samples, the “Killah” surname, and the grittiness that was noticeably absent from his last two releases, Ghost sounds comfortable at Def Jam – and apparently, Def Jam looks comfortable with him. Ghost also displays long range unseen in his previous releases: while many tracks feature the street narratives and relationship chronicles fans know him for, he also emphasizes the importance of parental ass whuppins, weaves an aquatic storyline and delivers an unexpected ode to women. Add soundscapes from real production heavyweights (J Dilla, MF DOOM, Madlib, Just Blaze) and a track with the entire Wu-Tang Clan, and you have one of the best albums of the year. (see: “The Champ,” “Shakey Dog,” “Whip You With A Strap,” “Clips Of Doom”)

4.) Snoop Dogg, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment – (*Swiped/edited from my previous review) Snoop strays away from his newer poppy persona and returns to his roots, trading in Justin Timberlake, Nelly and Lil Jon for West Coast mainstays like Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, MC Eiht and Kurupt to help him get his southpaw swagger back. He’s has probably heard whispers that he’s too mainstream and too complacent, and it shows; while 2004’s R&G features a relaxed, commercially-sound Snoop, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment presents a hungry, new-and-improved Calvin Broaddus spewing nimble-tounged gangsterisms over vintage California G-Funk. As fellow canine-lover DMX said, “Every once in a while, I’ll break out in the backyard to roam/and get reckless, but I still know that home is home.” Roll out tha carpet and welcome him back. (see: “Crazy,” “Imagine,” “Think About It,” “Gangbangin 101”)

5.) Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury – With their long-awaited sophomore set, Virgnia blood brothers Pusha T and Malice give a testament to the historic “K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid” euphenism – they stick to rapping about crack, but they’re damn good at it (“I philosophize about glocks and keys, niggas call me young black Socrates”); they stick to The Neptunes for all of their beats, but Pharrell and Chad offer Clipse some of their most groundbreaking beatsyet, lacing them with a futuristic boom bap tailor-cut for their new era gutter rap. Crack music hasn’t sounded this good since Raekwon. (see: “Ride Around Shining,” “Hello New World,” “Keys Open Doors”)

6.) The Roots, Game Theory – Oddly enough for a their first effort with a new label (Def Jam), Black Thought and company made a record for themselves with Game Theory – with stellar results. In some press leading up to the album, group drummer/personality ?uestlove said there was too much stuff going on for them to ignore, and that’s definitely reflected through the music. Whenever issues aren’t directly confronted by a raging Black Thought, the production does it for him, as the album’s organized confusion ranges from turbulent and chaotic environments to moody and melancholy. Times are bad, but at least music like this can come from it. (see: “False Media,” “In The Music,” “Clock With No Hands”)

7.) The Game, Doctor’s AdvocateFuck an over-extended G-Unit beef, ugly basketball shoes, and subpar acting skills: when it comes to this rap shit, Jayceon Taylor knows what he’s doing. With his hungriest bars yet, an intensified union with other West Coast royalty, and an all-star cast manning the boards, The Game proves that he’s here to stay with Doctor’s Advocate. (see: “Compton,” “Ol English,” “Scream On ‘Em”)

8.) Busta Rhymes, The Big Bang – While two mega singles (“Touch It,” “I Love My Bitch”), it’s a shame that Busta’s Aftermath debut didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Busta’s sudden affiliation with crack rap is puzzling; but robust production, Busta’s ever-present charisma and invigorated flow, and subject matter ranging from his love for New York and ghetto soliloquies to personal trials and the fear of a decline from superstardom, The Big Bang is as good as veteran rap comes nowadays. (see: “You Can’t Hold A Torch,” “New York Shit,” “Been Through The Storm”)

9.) Ludacris, Release Therapy – I wrote a previous blog dissing Ludacris with this album, but I changed my mind. While continuing to bring the usual bag of punchline-heavy and female-friendly rhymes he’s built his career on, he gets his grown man on by speaking on topics like black incarceration, the ins and outs of the music business, child rape and the importance of family. By staying true to his bread and butter, but still fitting in some new dishes, Luda prepares a full-course meal with his fifth album. (see: “Tell It Like It Is,” “Freedom of Preach,” “Grew Up A Screw Up”)

10.) Obie Trice, Second Round’s On Me – This is probably a surprise inclusion for most people, but this album didn’t get the kudos it deserved in my opinion. With his sophomore effort, Obie sticks with his blue collar approach, but comes with more complex rhyme schemes and a variety of deliveries to convey his turbulent past, seemingly unerred from the quiet platinum success of his first album. Eminem’s production has also exponentially improved, and beatmakers like Defellow troiters The Sicknotes and Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem contribute bangers of their own. With a unique style and a hold-his-own mentality unmatched by his peers, Obie makes a mark in the minds of whoever takes the time to listen. (see: “Cry Now,” “Ballad of Obie Trice,” “Mama”)

[Tie] Jay-Z, Kingdom Come – I’ve been back and forth about this album since I first heard it. With his comeback LP, Jay-Z shines by giving hip-hop a mature, grown-up perspective by reflecting on the game, giving vivid accounts of relationships gone awry and his relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, and spitting witty metaphors instead of tired gangsterisms. Still, a rusty flow, several flat-out duds and an annoying bitterness with rap’s new jacks hold Kingdom Come back from its potential greatness. (see: “Lost Ones,” “30 Something,” “Beach Chair”)
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Honorable Mention: Ghostface Killah, More Fish; Ray Cash, Cash On Delivery; Diddy, Press Play; Young Jeezy, The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102

  • Mr. Clark

    Good post.. I’ll comment more in a bit.

  • Andrew

    I’m actually working on my biggest disappointment list and I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have Mobb Deep or Pitbull at the top (or bottom).

  • Michael J. Ganheart

    Okay, I’ve FINALLY heard “Hip Hop is Dead” and I agree that it’s the best major label hip-hop release of the year. Good top 10 list by the way. Personally, I liked the new T.I. album more than the Obie Trice and the Luda album, but I know a lot of people weren’t feeling “King” the way I was.

    MJG

  • Anonymous

    I see you’re doing top 10 albums of 2006. I agree with teh Nas review as well. I got the chance to check that out earlier this week. People are really tripping on him and his album title, but this just shows, nobody listens to anything anymore. They’re more concerned with everything but the music.

    I see you mentioned Styles P. It’s up to you, if you go the “seeing is believing route.” However, it seems as if the Dec 19 date has not wavered and it has not changed since it’s announcement. So it seems pretty solid that it will be released this time. I did get to hear clips of the CD though. I have to say, we have another must get album from him. Sad that it took this long (label politics). But, at least there is a ray of hope.

  • Serius Smack

    What the hell, man?
    Am I the only person in the world who felt that 4:21 deserves a spot in the Best Releases of 2006 category?

    Shame…shame. Meth finally gives us a good album and it can’t even be accepted.

    Oh yeah, hit up the website, son! I should be getting props for shouting you on there lol.

    ~!unO!~

  • Just Tip

    Nas did real good his first week. I didn’t even think he would. I guess Hip Hop isn’t dead after all.