Hey Young World

With the Aughts coming to a close, I’ve realized that this is the first time in my life I’ve had the capacity to sit back and analyze a decade in the categorical sense. At the turn of the millennium, I was a mere 15 years old, and while I had long been buying CDs and tapes, most of my budget for the Nineties was being reserved for annual Air Jordan purchases and Fun-Dip. Now, more than 10 years after the advent of file stealing sharing, I feel far more immersed in culture and, thus, much more qualified to comment on cultural artefacts within the proper context.

As an overly-critical fan of hip-hop (and music in general, if you can believe it), I decided it would be a good time to take a look back at the music that helped shape the decade for me. As an egotistical know-it-all, I decided that you might actually give a shit about it.

What makes me a credible source of information? Nothing, really, other than the fact I’ve probably spent way too much time listening to and hating on musical product over the last decade. And all while you were probably doing something productive. I also have a $30,000 magic paper sitting in one of my drawers, signed by some guy named Dean, that apparently certifies I have a way with words. Instead of letting said paper collect dust and my rigorous training go to waste, I concluded that this project would give me an opportunity to flex my Sean Penmanship in preparation for some potential work here in Taiwan.

What I’ve come up with what I feel to be a definitive list of the music that has helped shape not only hip-hop culture over the past decade, but undeniably pop culture as well. Coming up with fair criteria for such a list can be a difficult task, but several factors must be considered. For me, it really came down to four things: timelessness, cultural impact, originality, and of course, the exquisite taste of your humble narrator.

When I say timelessness, I’m talking about how it stands up when listening to it today and how likely it is to maintain it’s value going forward. Some shit knocks when it is released, but loses it’s replayability either gradually or because some phenomenon that overshadows any previous success. In other words, fans of Ja Rule might be disappointed. This is a somewhat subjective consideration, but I think there is a general consensus about the type of shit that has simply flamed out after a shot run.

When considering cultural impact, I’ve looked at what role these albums played in setting trends in hip-hop, as well as what kind of exposure they achieved on a larger scale. Often times, the cultural impact and quality of music don’t quite matchup. But there are occasionally records so huge that it would be criminal to exclude them when discussing the “best” of the period. I mean, would anyone be caught dead with Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em in their deck? Of course not. But after selling a ridiculous 10 million copies, you couldn’t deny the massive impact the album had if making a comprehensive list of 1991 releases.

By originality, I’m referring to… Well, if you don’t know what originality means, go read a book.

Finally, I’d like to air-out any talk of bias by giving you some insight on my personal tastes. Though I’ve tried to remain open mined in compiling this manifesto, there are admittedly times when an album was left off the list mainly because yours truly thinks it’s dripping with wack juice. While some may point out a relative lack of Rhymesayers or Definitive Jux material within the confines of this 100-plus collection, I simply wouldn’t feel right recommending something I didn’t enjoy wholeheartedly. This also allows for some shine to be given to albums and artists that caught my attention but may not have been getting much love from radio. I’d also like to this opportunity to turn in my late pass for hip-hop coming from south of the Mason-Dixie. I’ve more or less immersed myself in New York product, and kept a close ear to the left coast. If I’ve left out any early decade southern staples from Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, Miami, or Yay-Area artists, forgive my ignorance and leave word. I hadn’t grown to appreciate the entity that is the club anthem until later in the decade. Wobble wobble.

I suggested earlier that my main goal in this is getting my pen game back in order, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care if people read this. I hope this will lead to some discussion, nostalgia, bitching, hating, and most importantly, illegal downloading. If I can inspire just one act of piracy that leads to everlasting aural pleasure, then by Jove, this shit will all have been worth it.

Starting this week with the two triple-oh, I’ll be looking at the top ten releases from each year, culminating in a best of the decade list around New Year festivities. I’ve included only studio releases (not a good look for Jay-Z’s Unplugged) as well as a select few official mixtapes that either straight bang or garnered an abnormal amount of buzz at the time of release. Periodically, an album outside of the traditional hip-hop categorization has had a profound effect on not only me as a listener, but helped redefine the genre. I’ve included some of those. A project must have been released within the given year to have made the cut, which explains, for example, The Good Doctor’s absence from the list as 2001, arguably the definitive hip-hop soundtrack of year 2000, was released late 1999. (Sidebar: What the bloodclot is the deal with Detox? It’s been 10 years, Dre. The fact it doesn’t appear anywhere on this list is unjustifiable. This is beginning to get uncomfortable.) I have also included some records that didn’t quite make the cut but undoubtedly deserve to be in the discussion and will not disappoint if you are looking to get familiar. The number of these Honourable Mentions tends to vary with the quality of product in a particular year.

Mazel tov.


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