The Year in Music
But, as usual, the whole year-of thing is a deceptive yardstick. In the case of the past 12 months, single-common-denominator theorizing (or understandable dwelling on Topic A) might obscure one of the largest outpourings of instantly memorable hip-hop and R&B singles in recent history. If anything defines the Year in Pop, that's it. In one sense, that's nothing new; Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two" recalls 1988 as easily as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" brings to mind 1989. But both hits represented relatively isolated instances in pop's big picture. In 2001, hip-hop/R&B singles were pop's big picture.
Other songs held the No. 1 spot on the charts (and for longer periods of time), moved more units, and enjoyed more radio/MTV airplay, but the hop-hop/R&B singles quite simply packed more instant pop pleasure. Don't just take my word for it. Which of the following do you remember most readily--Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment," the No. 1 song on Billboard's year-end Hot 100 singles chart (which takes into account weekly data from both SoundScan sales figures and the Broadcast Data Systems' radio airplay tracking) or Missy Elliot's "Get Ur Freak On," No. 35 on the same chart?
The entire year was chock-full of such goodies. 2001 kicked off with the rhythm-quake shakedown of QB's Finest's "Oochie Wally." "Take It to Da House" put Trick Daddy on the map, but he really scored with "I'm a Thug." R. Kelly started the year with a "Fiesta" and ended it "Feeling on Your Booty." Aaliyah's "Rock the Boat" survived her untimely death. Mary J Blige's chalked one up with "Family Affair." Destiny's Child faltered somewhat with "Survivor," a slab of Mariah Carey-esque vocal acrobatics, but the bouncing "Bootylicious" made up for that single's shortcomings. Jagged Edge and Nelly wondered "Where the Party At?" Young gun Alicia Keys had everybody "Fallin'" for her voice. Petey Pablo got North Carolina to "Raise Up." Shaggy won over fans with his charming "It Wasn't Me." And the last few weeks of 2001 have witnessed a flood of hot tracks from Ghostface Killah, Mystikal, DMX, Ludacris, and G-Dep.
But Jay-Z remains the form's most formidable force. His slicker-than-a-duck's-butt cut "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)"--a late-coming single from his 2000 album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia--ignited his bountiful '01. His rep's so tight he didn't even blink at being Missy's "One Minute Man," a player who's a little too quick on the bedroom draw. And then he pulls the gangsta equivalent of heresy by eschewing the usual ho boasting and flat admitting he loves "Girls, Girls, Girls."
Problem is, no one hip-hop or R&B artist cut an album that's as solid start-to-finish as his or her singles, which may be why both forms are scarce on year-end top 10 lists. Perhaps that's because hip-hop/R&B albums are increasingly an hour or more long, leaving a lot of fat around the choice morsels. Comparatively speaking, the White Stripes' White Blood Cells, City Paper critics' collective choice as album of the year, clocks in at around 40 minutes, whisking by so quickly and mirthfully that as soon as it ends you're ready to spin it again.
The roster below reflects the results of polling a half-dozen CP editors and writers--Lee Gardner, Rjyan Kidwell, Michaelangelo Matos, Daniel Piotrowski, Shelly Ridenour, and myself. Voters were asked to name their top 10; the scoring system was swiped from the venerable Village Voice Pazz 'n' Jop poll: 100 points to divide among the 10 albums, with no more than 30 points for any one. Here's how it all played out, with each record's loudest amen chorus doing the blurbing honors:
White Stripes White Blood Cells (Sympathy For the Record Industry) The good ones borrow, the great ones steal. With their third album, Detroit-based putative siblings Jack and Meg White take from anyone they can--including, but not limited to, the Kinks, the Beatles, Black Sabbath, and the MC5--and do it to perfection. (Daniel Piotrowski)
Cannibal Ox The Cold Vein (Def Jux) While television pumped much chaos and destruction from New York, the Harlem duo of Vast Aire and Shamar portrayed another reality of the city: drugs, crime, and vermin. With scary sci-fi rhymes and shuddery production from Company Flow's El-P, Vein emerged as hip-hop's most original album of the year. (DP)
Daft Punk Discovery (Virgin) Daft Punk's sophomore disc is the Amelie of albums: It makes you feel so good, only the most stone-hearted contrarian would tell you you're wrong for loving it. If you could have only one CD on which to build a hot dance party, this is it. (Rjyan Kidwell)
John Oswald 69 Plunderphonics 96 (Seeland) This exhaustive document collects more than 25 years worth of unissued or hard-to-find cut-and-paste pranksterism from wry Canadian (re)composer Oswald--Dolly Parton undergoing an "aural sex change," Carly Simon doing a hair-metal band, and the theme to The Andy Griffith Show recast as the theme from Alien. Get it while you can, before the copyright lawyers catch up. (Lee Gardner)
Basement Jaxx Rooty (XL/Astralwerks) "Where'd it all go?" lamenteth Kele Le Roc on lead track/single "Romeo." The answer: right here, where block-party ragga plays laser tag with giddy Latin house, skips rope with old-school rave synth-blat, and rubs sensuously against Prince at his purplest. Life-affirming. (Michaelangelo Matos)
Clinic Internal Wrangler (Domino) Another static-cling world: Singer Ade Blackburn channels Thom Yorke as a 14-year-old garage punk, his help mates pile on juiced-up Ennio Morricone guitar riffs and Zombies organ, and for 31 perfect minutes they thrash this mess around, slowing occasionally for drones that swoon just as hard. (MM)
Lighting Bolt Ride the Skies (Load) Just when you thought Crom-Tech took the free-jazz duo head trip that was John Coltrane's Interstellar Space to its guitar-rock logical extreme, along comes this Rhode Island bass-and-drum combo to raise the bar and raze the competition. (Bret McCabe)
The Strokes Is This It? (RCA) Born to save rock 'n' roll? Leave the religious fervor to the British press. These Upper East Side prep-school boys-turned-Lower East Side scenesters managed to stand boot-to-boot against the hype machine. Is This It? encapsulates all that is great about New York with a romantic slouch, scruffy sophistication, bristling energy, and a real appreciation for ghosts and dinosaurs (in this case, Andy Warhol and Lou Reed). (Shelly Ridenour)
The Microphones The Glow, Pt. 2 (K) Combining experimental recording techniques, excruciatingly sincere vocals, and an energetic and naive charm, Phil Elvrum may be the only thing keeping the brand of lo-fi indie rock that K pioneered from falling off into irrelevance. (RK)
Squarepusher Go Plastic (Warp) Tom "Squarepusher" Jenkins returns to his drum 'n' bass roots for his latest sliced-and-diced rhythm kick and reinvents the genre in the process, distilling a treat tastier than his more conceptually ambitious works. Plastic's impossible beats are implausibly pleasing not despite its angular edges, but because of them. (BM)
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