Honor roll: Grammy Award for Best Rap Album

Each of these albums has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. They are ranked by honors received.

Album:Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

OutKast

At a time when experimentation is taboo in most overground rap, that’s all Outkast seem intent on executing. Firstly, this double CD has no cohesive link, other than the fact that it sounds like a pair of solo albums stitched together to demo exactly how Andre’s yin works to augment Big Boi’s yang. Andre 3000’s Love Below disc rates as the more eclectic of the two, given that he’s turned in his emcee credentials to become a full-on funk-soul-jazz vocalist who mostly sings about items of love (“Happy Valentine’s Day”), carnal lust (“Spread”), and female…

Album:Late Registration

Late Registration

Kanye West

For haters eager to see Kanye hit a sophomore slump—no such luck. Late Registration can’t replicate the novelty of last year’s College Dropout, but otherwise, this is an impressively more mature and labored-over album. Lyrically, Kanye’s only improved a notch but musically, the album sounds incredible, especially with co-producer Jon Brion helping polish the songs to perfection. Tracks like “Heard ‘Em Say” (featuring Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) and “Hey Mama,” are richly textured in their soulfulness while the flint-edge of “Crack Music” and “Gone”…

Album:The College Dropout

The College Dropout

Kanye West

This debut from the most sought-after hip-hop producer not named Pharrell delivers the unthinkable: West magically sledgehammers home his opinions on taboo topics over beats that are equally daring. The envelope-ripping beats shouldn’t come as a surprise given that he’s supplied the soundscapes to monster singles by everyone from Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”) to Talib Kweli (“Get By”). What is freakish is that in West’s world, rhymes about strippers, God, college life, and guns can co-exist tidily and not undermine each other. On “Breathe In Breathe Out”…

Album:The Eminem Show

The Eminem Show

Eminem

Any lingering doubts as to the depth of Eminem’s skills or his potential for raw yet compelling honesty are dispelled on The Eminem Show’s first track. Armed with a quicksilver flow and a thundering rhythm track (the record was exec produced by longtime mentor and partner Dr. Dre), “White America” finds Eminem ferociously mauling the hand that feeds him, lambasting his critics, the industry, and the racism that, in many ways, helped make Marshall Mathers more than just another rapper. “Let’s do the math,” Em sneers, “If I was black I would have sold half/…

Album:Stankonia

Stankonia

OutKast

Big Boi and Andre 3000 make a monumental mothership connection on their utterly stupefying fourth album. At a time when the hip-hop “album” seems to be sadly declining in significance, Atlanta’s finest deliver a classic package of space-case imagery, curbside poetry, and delicious experimental funk. While the boys still celebrate their big pimpin’ lifestyles, “Gasoline Dreams” and the breathtaking “Humble Mumble” overflow with striking images of dashed American dreams and urban frustration. Stankonia’s most beautiful moments come in the name of love, whether it’s…

Album:The Marshall Mathers LP

The Marshall Mathers LP

Eminem

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? On Eminem’s sophomore album, he can’t decide who he wants to be: the deranged pseudo-psycho of the Slim Shady LP, or a nice guy who just likes to rhyme about slicing and dicing his girlfriend (“Kim”). Of course, according to Eminem, he’s just kidding. He refuses to take responsibility for the misogynistic, homophobic bile he spews, whining that he’s the victim of people who don’t get his unique sense of humor. It’s good old America’s fault if the kids aren’t alright (Eminem blames bad parenting), and he’s just…

Album:Under Construction

Under Construction

Missy Elliott

Attention B-girls and boys: Missy Elliott is officially over it. Like her homegirl Mary J. Blige, the rap diva declares, “no more drama.” Time to get back to the essence. To that end, Under Construction bubbles over with a combination of ridiculously slamming beats and clever old-school references—not to mention a slew of guest stars. Based on the rhyme schematic from UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne” and featuring Ms. Jade’s tight-laced drawl, “Funky Fresh Dressed” draws on several classics, including the Beasties’ “Paul Revere.” Missy croons and Jay-Z namedrops…

Album:Nellyville

Nellyville

Nelly

When your debut album scans 8x platinum, why mess with the formula? That’s what Nelly must have been thinking on Nellyville, as he virtually carbon-copies the Country Grammar template on his follow-up. This time around, though, unusually large chunks of his rhyme schemes are fixated on tales of his rise from rags-to-bitches. On tracks like “Work It” (which sadly features Justin Timberlake of toy band ‘N Sync) and the title track, hip-hop’s materialistic excess hits a fever pitch. Still, “bling, bling” never sounded so good over St. Lunatics in-house…

Album:Be

Be

Common

Though heralded as an instant hip-hop classic by some, Common’s Be doesn’t quite live up to the hype, though it is still has several strengths going for it. Compared to the esoteric themes and production of his last album, Electric Circus, Be is far more grounded in street-level beats and rhymes, especially on songs like “The Corner” and “Real People”—Common’s odes to personality and places ‘round the way. At only 11 songs, this is a very compact album, both a blessing and curse by keeping the pacing brisk but it also amplifies weaknesses…

Album:The Cookbook

The Cookbook

Missy Elliott

With The Cookbook, the innovative Missy Elliott proves to the masses she is a musical mad scientist whose artistic abilities are unparalleled and without peer. Elliott is a quadruple threat: rapper, singer, songwriter and producer; add that to her woman-empowered lyrics and Missy’s ability to be a musical and mental role model is inarguable. As a producer, Missy Elliott knows how to build a great project by incorporating the best talent available, an easy task since so many want to work with her. Not surprisingly, The Cookbook is filled with a…

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