The Two Triple-O


Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (Razor Shap/Epic/Sony)
From the opening bars of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), it was Grey Goose clear that Dennis Cole was tough like an elephant tusk. With his 1996 solo debut Ironman, rap’s Tony Stark helped solidify his status as a Wu-Tang front runner. But it was Supreme Clientele that not only put to rest most debate about who was The Wu’s premier emcee, but also entered Ghost’s name into the discussion of best rapper alive. With production reigns handed to RZA and a cast of his disciples, the signature rugged-never-smooth Wu-Tang sound was a perfect sonic landscape for Ghost’s never ending, often outlandish verbal bombardment. As evidenced on tracks like “Nutmeg” and the album’s lead single “Apollo Kids,” Ghost Deini had really come into his own as an emcee, the customized robes and Clark’s Wallabies an obvious sign that he was more comfortable in his public persona than ever before. The “Cher Chez La Ghost” video is probably my all-time favourite party video and perfectly captures the Pretty Toney charisma. The timelessness of this album is nearly unmatched. If I popped this in the deck without knowledge the release date, you could just as easily convince me that the album was recorded in mid-nineties Golden Era or last month. I swear, I could do on for days about this gem. I need to stop. Though I still give a slight nod to The Chef’s Purple Tape, Supreme Clientele remains the only other record deserves mentioning with Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx as the pinnacle of the legendary Wu solo catalogue.

Slum Village – Fantastic, Vol. 2 (GoodVibe)
Originally put together in the mid-nineties as a collection of demo material, label drama forced the Fantastic project into the vaults and allowed Jay Dee, Baatin, and T3 to fine-tune for a widespread release in 2000. Hence the Vol. 2. And while the original version of the album became a sort of underground relic, helping garner buzz for the Detroit trio, the extra touches added to the LPs cohesiveness and allowed for a more polished final release. Though none of the three members of SV will ever be mentioned as elite lyricists, Jay Dee’s production is masterful. Whether employing his signature smoky yet snapping drum patterns on songs like “Climax,” “Get Dis Money,” and “Raise it Up” or setting new standards in sampling on gems like “I Don’t Know,” “Thelonius,” and “Players,” Dilla helped certify his growing legend and made this a milestone in hip-hop production. This shit knocks just as hard almost a decade after release.

Quasimoto – The Unseen (Stones Throw)
Throughout the past decade, Madlib proved time and time again to be the central figure in the West Coast underground scene. It was The Unseen that established his position at the forefront of hip-hop’s avant-garde. That said, I thought it was a joke the first time someone played me a Lord Quas joint. Defiantly the most outlandish of Otis Jackson’s many faces, Quas’ raised-pitch vocals are initially disorienting but work well to establish the blunted ambience. This is a different kind of hip-hop album that might be viewed by traditionalists as a pretentious inclusion. But the real reason this album works so well is that for all of Quas’ astro-travelin’ and ‘shroom binging (the album was allegedly created during a 7-day psilocybin bender), the lo-fidelity, sample-driven production beautifully demonstrates Madlib’s understanding of the boom-bap foundation of the genre he works so hard to progress. The Unseen showcases Madlib’s unmatched loop-digging skills and is a blueprint for aspiring producers on the art of sampling. Though a strong argument could be made that the instrumental version of the record has more replay value, the fictitious Quas persona allows Madlib to be at his creative best and gives us some insight into the mind of one of hip-hop’s true geniuses.

Common – Like Water for Chocolate (MCA/Universal)
For those who know Common only for his more recent work, it might sound absurd that a pre-Kangol Com once went toe-to-toe on wax with West Coast legend Ice Cube. Long before the sweater-vests and Gap, Common Sense (as he was known then) was debut as a broke, St. Ides-swigging street cat. But after unsuccessfully begging for Dollas on his 1992 debut, the Chicago native became an unofficial leader of a neo-soul hip-hop movement often tagged as “conscious.” Though arguments persist about which album represents Common’s best work, Like Water for Chocolate was unquestionably his breakthrough effort and an important record for hip-hop. Fuelled by Dilla’s funky backdrops (he was behind the boards for all tracks except the DJ Premier-produced “The 6th Sense”) and the success of Grammy-nominated single “The Light,” the album acted as a high-profile alternative to the aggressive content that dominated the charts and also shined a much needed light on progression and maturity within the game.

Outkast – Stankonia (LaFace/Arista)
By 2000, heads had long been familiar with ‘Dre and Big Boi due to a trio of critically-acclaimed releases in the nineties. Stankonia marked the duo’s transition from cult-status Southern rap pioneers to household commodities, mainly due to mould-breaking yet radio friendly singles like “B.O.B.” and “Ms. Jackson.” It is evident that Three-Stacks and Sir Lucious Leftfoot learned plenty about music and the industry while festering below the mainstream radar. This was their first attempt at taking full control of the creative direction and production of their project. With a playing time nearing 75 minutes, a plethora of absurd but entertaining interludes, and some genre-bending mindfuck moments, the album was highly atypical of those that were typically staking plaques. But it worked: on top of reaching multiplatinum status, Stankonia is rightfully revered as a hip-hop landmark for its unabashed ingenuity. Ahhhh BREAK!

Reflection Eternal – Train of Thought (Rawkus)
Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star is and arguably the most important record for the conscious/backpack hip-hop movement. Though Train of Thought didn’t have quite the same impact, it was another feather in the now-revered Rawkus Records cap. Not since Bobby and Whitney had we been introduced to a more perfect musical pairing: Hi-Tek’s smoothed out soul-clap was the ideal soundtrack for Kweli’s thought-provoking lyrics. With a respectable list of cameo’s from some of the game’s most respected (Kool G. Rap makes a surprise appearance for a show stealing verse on “Ghetto Afterlife”) and some impressive BET burn for timeless singles “Move Something” and “The Blast,” Train of Thought was a critical darling, and though Kweli’s politically-charged content has staled rather quickly, the album brought some much needed attention to the type of positive hip-hop that had often been ignored by the major media outlets.

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath)
In 2000, I was an angsty, chubby, confused, white, suburbanite teen. In other words, I was the prototype for the audience that Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre marketed this album for. But I didn’t listen to it. Not because Eminem wasn’t an incredible MC or because the production wasn’t nice, but because I was turned off by the over-the-top content and incredibly lame single selection. Perhaps I just wasn’t angsty enough. Still, if making a time capsule for the year, there is no way to leave out Marshall’s sophomore effort. This record had Stans flocking to their local HMV at rates unmatched to this day. The album sold damn near 2 milli in the first week and has gone on to sell more than 20 more worldwide. Truth is, we are unlikely to see any album surpass the success of Shady in his prime. And for better or worse, no other album before or since has brought as much buzz to hip-hop as The Marshall Mathers LP.

Freddie Foxxx – Industry Shakedown (Landspeed Records)
As ferocious as Freddie Foxxx is on the microphone, there isn’t really isn’t any doubt that his Bumpy Knuckles moniker was well-earned in the streets. After entering the game with his first solo job in 1989, Bumpy bounced around New York rap crews while having his sophomore release shelved by Epic. During a substantial milk carton stint during the latter half of the nineties, he forged important relationships with the squad of producers that would make Industry Shakedown such a memorable record. While Bumpy’s punchlines keep him afloat, the incredible beat-making keeps him from being the star of the album. It is really DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Alchemist who shine brightest here, giving the album a rawness that was the ideal soundscape for Foxxx’s aggressive delivery. Considering that Bumpy rarely lets up from his vicious vocal assault over the 72 minute runtime, the album is surprisingly repayable thanks to all-time favourite joints like “Bumpy Knuckles Baby” and “Part of My Life.” Bonus points for keeping features limited to the equally-rugged Mash Out Posse. Don’t sleep on this one.

Jay-Z – The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (Rocafella/Def Jam)
Jay-Z hadn’t quite earned God status at the turn of the millennium, he was well on his way. Though The Dynasty was originally billed as a showcase for the growing cast of Rocafella weed-carriers, Jay couldn’t help himself but to make the effort his own. “I Just Wanna Love You (Give it to Me)” remains one my choice lead single in Jay’s historic catalogue and ends off the LP’s incredible opening trio. If you can get past R. Kelly pied-piping all over our young generation, Hov’s frustrated rhymes on “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” seem to be more meaningful today, considering the astounding success he has gone on to achieve. The album also includes one of the most introspective cuts of Jay’s career, as he seems to open up about his estranged Pops on “Where Have You Been.” Looking back, perhaps The Dynasty’s greatest contribution was the introduction of a 22-year-old Kanye West, who made his major-label production debut on the Scarface-assisted “This Can’t Be Life.” This album is easily forgotten about in the discussion of Jay’s best material, but it remains a clear example of the type of material that propelled his ascent in the game.

Nelly – Country Grammar (Fo’ Real Entertainment/Universal)
Has anyone in hip-hop history ever single-handedly repped for their city like Nelly? Outside of forgettable pissants like Chingy and J-Kwon, Nelly is the only artist from St. Louis to make any sort of imprint on the game. But Nelly’s imprint, while perhaps temporary, was significant. Thanks to widespread radio and video shine for early singles like the title track and “E.I.,” Country Grammar has helped line the pockets of power-players over at Universal to the tune of 9 times platinum. Perhaps we forget that “Ride Wit Me” achieved the type of crossover success that, for better or worse, most artists would die for today. I’m sure purists will frown on this inclusion, and admittedly the record faced the test of time about as well as a Willie Esco sweater. But Nelly’s run was something that can’t be ignored when considering the period in context.

(Sidenote: I feel like I am overusing the word “context,” but it’s impossible for you to contextually understand the context of these releases without the situation first being contextualized.)

Don’t Sleep On…
M.O.P. – Warriorz
Wu-Tang Clan – The W
Prodigy – H.N.I.C.
De La Soul – Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump
Shyne – Shyne
D’Angelo – Voodoo
Phife Dog – Ventilation: The LP
Dead Prez – Lets Get Free
Black Eyed Peas – Bridging the Gap (pre-Fergie)
Jurassic 5 – Quality Control
Big L – The Big Picture
Ludacris – Back for the First Time
Various – Lyricists Lounge Vol. 2
Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030

Wrap it Up, B.
I wanna get this out of the way: adding Nelly’s coaster album to the list is killing me, especially with an incredible Honorable Mention list that includes more than a few borderline classics. Would I ever play Country Grammar if I had the choice of Voodoo, Lets Get Free, or The Big Picture? C’mon, son. Shit, outside of B.E.P., I’d bump any selection from that category before Pimp Juice got any burn. Perhaps as a diehard St. Louis Rams fan (is that worse than copping to an STD?), I was a little skewed by a rapper proudly rocking blue and gold blue and gold in his videos. But in retrospect, Nelly was inescapable in 2000. For the first quarter of the decade, really. And he was also more of a tastemaker than most of us want to give him credit for today. Considering it amongst the 12 that didn’t quite make the cut, does Country Grammar not stand out from the rest as a release on a completely different level? For that, I give the project credit.

I’m not sure whether it was fear of the apocalypse, the wave of industry success lead by boy band pop, or Suge Knight having been locked up, but day-um, something certainly had the game energized in Y2K. A big year in terms of both quantity and quality, a quick look at the list foreshadows the trend that would flourish in the 00’s: Diversity. No less than seven different cities are represented by artists in the top ten alone. If compared to revered hip-hop calendar years – say 1994 – 2000 doesn’t hold much weight. But damn near all the memorable product from past generations was making its way out of either The Birthplace or Lala Land. There is also something to be said about the quality of music videos from this period. With big budgets and skilled directors like Hype Williams and Little X in their prime, the visuals became more vital to an albums success and helped attain an artist’s desired vision for a project. Comparing clips from the 2000 to recent efforts, it is disheartening to see much how the art of the hip-hop video has regressed. Boasting an impressive string blockbuster releases, the boiling point of the conscious movement, genre-blurring releases by a new class of avant-garde, and the maintenance of traditional New York grime, the two-triple-oh was really a banner year for hip-hop’s ascension to mainstream legitimacy. Of course, it the merit of this crossover can be debated. But the diversification of important releases redefined the established limitations of the genre and created a new archetype for what is to be considered a successful hip-hop record.

On to the next one.


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