In which we conclude our list of 25 albums overlooked by Passion of the Weiss‘s Top 50 Albums of the Decade. As before, albums are listed chronologically by year. Previously:
Turf Talk — West Coast Vaccine (The Cure) (Sick Wid It/3030, 2007)
Listen: “Holla At You” ft. Rick Rock
On his sophomore effort, E-40’s younger cousin showed incredible growth over some of the best production of any Bay Area album, period. The strongest full-length to come out of the short-lived “hyphy movement,” West Coast Vaccine breaks new ground with almost every track, pushing the micro-genre to its spaced-out extreme while also reflecting Turf’s years spent growing up in Southern California. Producers Rick Rock and Droop-E contribute the most inventive tracks of their careers, while Turf constantly experiments with his delivery, his flow complementing each instrumental in often unexpected ways (check his whisper-rapping on the otherwise punishing “Broke N*ggas!”) Poorly promoted upon its release, the album has since achieved a sort of cult status, with Turf recognized as one of the strongest representatives of the Bay’s new generation. It’s a reputation he deserves, having crafted an album that, for excitement and originality, rivals any American rap release of the last ten years.
Jay-Z — American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella, 2007)
Listen: “Say Hello”
Shawn Carter’s return to hip hop, 2006’s Kingdom Come, was largely a disappointment, but he more than made up for it with this gem. American Gangster, an alternate soundtrack to the film starring Denzel Washington, takes the listener on a trip to the gritty streets of 1970s New York, as Jay vividly narrates tales of the gangster lifestyle over lush, beautiful production. Jigga has come a long way since his classic debut, and here he is at his most lyrically mature and focused. I’d even venture to say that this is likely the closest Mr. Carter will come to ever making another Reasonable Doubt. With its absence of a real radio single or cheesy R&B hooks, American Gangster is that rare hip hop album made to be digested in full, and trust me — it goes down easy.
Ghostface Killah — The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam, 2007)
Listen: “Yolanda’s House” ft. Raekwon and Method Man
While he appears several times on the original list, Ghost’s seventh(!) solo effort is difficult to overlook. The Big Doe Rehab solidifies Tony Starks’s rep as the Wu member with the most solid and consistent solo career. Every one of his albums has been no less than stellar, and Ghost’s energy, storytelling skills, and impenetrable slang are largely unmatched in hip hop. Furthermore, the man never fronts on production choices, always selecting beats (both soulful and hardcore) that fit his style like a glove, regardless of who’s producing. Supreme Clientele, The Pretty Toney Album and FishScale are all classics, no doubt. But The Big Doe Rehab ain’t too far behind — if at all.
Wu-Tang Clan — 8 Diagrams (SRC, 2007)
Listen: “Unpredictable” ft. Dexter Wiggle
The Clan’s fifth album dropped amid public complaints from Ghostface and Raekwon that RZA had become a “hip-hop hippie” (Rae) and was “fumbling the ball” musically (Ghost.) In fact, Ghost, due to a monetary disagreement with the Abbot, originally planned not to appear on the album at all (ultimately he contributed to a handful of tracks.) While such internal strife seemed to bode badly for the music, in fact 8 Diagrams is anything but wack. Challenging, yes, and very different than the traditionalist boom-bap of, say The Big Doe Rehab (which dropped a week prior). But what Rae and Ghost seem to have forgotten is that Wu-Tang was always pushing boundaries, and that RZA at his best (think 36 Chambers) was weird, unpredictable, and very left-field. The production on 8 Diagrams is dark, dusty, and even more cinematic than prior Wu releases, with live instruments featuring throughout and surprise changeups bringing out the best of each emcee. For all their complaining, Rae and Ghost sound as good as ever (as does a particularly reinvigorated Meth), and each member of the clique has his scene-stealing moments (yes, even U-God). Dirty’s presence is certainly missed, but on the emotional “Life Changes,” the remaining members (sans an inexplicably absent Ghost) pay fitting tribute to his life and the endurance of his spirit. How can hip-hop be dead…if Wu-Tang is forever?
The Jacka — Tear Gas (Artist Records/SMC, 2009)
Listen: “Summer” ft. Rydah J. Klyde and Matt Blaque
When hyphy briefly brought national attention to the Bay’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, rappers like The Jacka were understandably overlooked. With his sing-song drawl and trademark sneer, the Jack makes music that is neither fun-loving nor high-energy, instead depicting the harsh realities of street life over often melancholy production. With Tear Gas, the former Mob Figa creates his most accesible release yet, which despite its host of guests and upgraded production, manages to stay true to Jacka’s roots in the Bay’s underground “mobb music” scene. For an album with 19 tracks (and, refreshingly, no skits) there is virtually no filler, and the Jack holds his own with fellow Bay Area emcees (Cellski, Andre Nickatina, and others) as well as out-of-towners (Freeway, Cormega, Paul Wall), all of whom seem genuinely honored to participate. While the lyrical content never strays far from the block, The Jacka remains far more reflective than the average street rapper, and even his boasts seemed tinged with guilt and regret. Hardcore yet deeply emotional, Tear Gas is a brilliant artistic statement from one of the Bay’s most original voices. It deserves a wider audience.