Honor roll: Rap/Hip-Hop albums

Each of these Rap/Hip-Hop albums has received at least one award nomination. 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:Ashanti

Ashanti

Ashanti

These days, R&B girls are a dime a dozen, but Ashanti Douglas is a step ahead of the pack. Youthful appeal and a pleasantly dreamy voice complement the 21-year-old singer/songwriter’s ability to pen her own radio-friendly verses. However, Ashanti’s young’un status shows itself through her treatment of the usual R&B-girl subject matter: love standing strong, love gone bad, and the search for love of self. Songs like “Foolish,” “Happy,” and “Baby” are as simple and agreeable as their one-word titles suggest, while “Call,” “Movies,” and “Over” take a slightly more…

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:Songs in A Minor

Songs in A Minor

Alicia Keys

She may be beautiful, but Alicia Keys is a musician first and foremost. She plants herself firmly behind the piano keys on her debut, unlike many of the booty-waggin’ junior divas who are crowding the R&B videoscape these days. Though many of the tracks on Songs in A Minor are embellished with adolescent angst, this 20-year-old’s substantial, gorgeously soul-drenched alto putties the cracks between notes with astonishing ease. “Fallin’,” the album’s first single, showcases Keys at her best. She wails plaintively and passionately over rolling blues chords,…

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