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: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…

Album:Encore

Encore

Eminem

Eminem’s fourth album offers few surprises, but still enough pleasures to carry the day. As evinced by Em’s pre-election, pro-voting “Mosh,” this is not exactly the same Eminem who seemingly crapped on anything and everything. Encore finds a surprisingly mature Eminem waxing reflective about his battle with Benzino (“Like Toy Soldiers”) rather than unloading both barrels. However, it’s not all elder statesmanship: “Puke” goes after his ex-wife Kim with incredible scorn, and “Big Weenie” brings the familiar juvenile humor that made him famous. If…

Album:The Massacre

The Massacre

50 Cent

50 Cent is now a full two dollars, according to pop culture exchange rates. His sheer influence on music charts, and thugs hearts, changed things. So why then on Massacre is the ‘hood drama that one would think he’d want to leave behind even more front-and-center than on Get Rich or Die Tryin’? It’s hard to say, but 50’s developed a questionable gun fetish here. With firearms plastered all over the liner notes, and throughout most of his lyrics—on “In My Hood” he retorts “…I don’t go nowhere without my strap”—apparently his nouveau rich status has…

Album:Beautifully Human

Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2

Jill Scott

While most neo-soulsters crank out albums like their hip-hop counterparts, Jill Scott takes a more traditional approach to her craft. Four years after the release of her debut, Who Is Jill Scott, Words & Sounds Vol. 1, Scott returns with the masterful Beautifully Human: Words & Sounds Vol. 2. The album features a collection of lush and hypnotic songs that will make you want to fall in love, live life, and be a better person all at the same time. Lead single “Golden” is a prime example of this. Set to a midtempo groove made for the dance floor,…

Album:The Black Album

The Black Album

Jay-Z

If The Black Album is truly Jay-Z’s last statement before retirement, he at least goes out near the top of his game. While it probably won’t be remembered as his best album, The Black Album is his most personal to date and features some of his most compelling writing. Jay-Z is defiant and defensive here—he’s trying to make sure his legacy is properly acknowledged, although he can get a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, he’s rarely been more incisive or insightful in his rhymes, exposing his own childhood struggles on songs like “December 4th”…

Album:The DEFinition

The DEFinition

LL Cool J

Can LL still make a case for being the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time)? Well, let’s just say that this position is becoming more difficult to defend. Enlisting the talents of Timbaland to sonically sculpt most of his 11th record is a wise move. The hook-driven jump-off “Headsprung” fits perfectly into its current urban-music landscape. Conceptually, “Move Somethin’” reveals that LL can still flip nouveau rap flows when called upon. The problem is that LL Cool J long ago decided to stop being “hard as hell,” instead allowing his R&B-rapper persona to creep…

Album:Saxophonic

Saxophonic

Dave Koz

Album:Suit

Suit

Nelly

The biggest (and only relevant) member of the St. Lunatics crew fully indulges his rap-meets-R&B fixations on the enjoyable (if predictable) Suit. Whereas companion CD Sweat is geared toward the male thugs in the clubs, this one’s for the thugettes. More lyrically compelling than Sweat, Suit shows a softer, more cerebral, less flashy side to St. Louis’s favorite son. Check out “Die for You,” Nelly’s ode to youth, and the calypso-tinged, introspective “In My Life,” which reveals a more worldly rap duke underneath the band aids and…

Album:To The 5 Boroughs

To The 5 Boroughs

Beastie Boys

The hiatus is back off, again, for the Beastie Boys, and music lovers will bob their heads with insuppressible glee. With its Nice & Smooth impersonations and shout outs to Brooklyn's Albee Square Mall, To the 5 Boroughs, their first album in six years, harkens the return of the trio to the city that made them who they are today. It's an up-tempo yet surprisingly homogenous assemblage of vintage electro-style party beats, and it's a strictly Beastie affair: the Boys co-wrote and produced each track themselves, which means that it sports none of the sonic fripperies and quirky collaborations that distinguished previous classics such as Paul's Boutique. Finally jelling after two years of on-again, off-again recording, To the 5 Boroughs will appeal to those fans old enough to remember the Licensed to Ill tour. Those old-schoolers are sure to appreciate the album's mostly off-the-cuff lyrics and minimal-to-the-extreme musical landscape--even if its stripped-down sound may leave others longing for the days when the Boys were California dreamin'. --Rebecca Levine

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