Friday, December 31, 2004

Top 10 albums of 2004 #1

Hey Soul Mates,
it's a tie of sorts:
#1 The Black Album... Jay-Z; The Grey Album... DJ Dangermouse.
Both of these discs feature vocals by Jay-Z. One features work by the cream of hip-hop producers from Rick Rubin, Timbaland, Eminem, Kanye West, the Neptunes, etc. The other features instrumentation by four guys named John, Paul, George & Ringo.

Swansongs aren't usually this focused or cohesive, but like Jordan's first retirement, we've already heard from Jay-Z since this record dropped. What's extraordinary is the dual nature of this pick. I read about the Grey Album and heard it prior to hearing the Black Album. It gave me a better appreciation of Jay-Z. I immediately ran out and bought the Black Album. Of course, the Grey Album doesn't really exist. DJ Dangermouse, as an exercise in production, sampled, looped and mashed the Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's crooklyn flow. Thus White + Black = Grey. The Grey Album is not superior to the Black Album, make no mistake, but it is innovative and a companion piece nonetheless.

This was a big year in hip-hop, and Jay-Z's disc is the epicenter (apologies to Kanye West). It's loaded with great singles: Encore, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Change Clothes and the utterly massive 99 Problems (more on that in a moment). Jigga calls it a "victory lap." Oh, yeah.

Change Clothes & Allure feature great production by the Neptunes on Black. Dangermouse backs them with samples of the baroque harpsichord of Piggies and a wild bit of Bungalow Bill, respectively. The genius of Grey is that each Jay-Z track is typically matched up with a single Beatles cut rather than a hodge-podge of samples. And Grey has its own track listing making it a completely separate listening experience, giving it a different flow.

Another standout is Encore. The Black features Kanye West's smoothed out R&B sample; Dangermouse makes it harder using Glass Onion and the horn flourish from Savoy Truffle to make Jay-Z sound even more agitated. John Lennon punctuates Jigga's rap with his patented "Oh, Yeah."

Finally, there is 99 Problems. This was my favorite single of the year. It's an ingenious lyric delivered wryly by Hova. His story telling skill is brutal and his rhyming impeccable. He runs through critics and the industry, golddiggers, and a DWB where Jigga plays himself and the officer: "Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?/Well, you was doin' 55 in a 54." On the Black, Rick Rubin supplies an old school track with a powerchord sample from Billy Squier that sounds right outta 1986. Heavy. But then Dangermouse ups the ante by using a manic loop of the proto-metal riff from Helter Skelter. This is easily the best mash up to date. Which do I prefer? Which one is playing?

The same could be said for the albums. If you get your ears on a copy of the Grey Album, especially if you are already familiar with the Beatles, you'll get a kick out of it. Since it's release, the Grey has spawned a multitude of mash-ups to varying degrees of success. Don't fear the future, Dangermouse just showed us a glimpse. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of Jay-Z either.

In review:
My top 10 for 2004:

#10 To The 5 Boroughs... The Beastie Boys
#9 This Is Not A Test... Missy Elliot
#8 College Dropout... Kanye West
#7 Astronaut... Duran Duran
#6 Diary Of Alicia Keys... Alicia Keys
#5 Musicology... Prince
#4 Kish Kash... Basement Jaxx
#3 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb... U2
#2 Think Tank... Blur
#1 The Black Album... Jay-Z; The Grey Album... DJ Dangermouse

Honorable mention: Alfie (OST, we're pulling for an Oscar for Mick!); Franz Ferdinand... Franz Ferdinand; Bright Idea... Orson; Hi-Fidelity Dub Sessions Chapter 5... Various Artists.

Love, Power, Peace


Blogger Mike J said...

Hey, Norm!

Thanks for turning me on to The Grey it!

For those who haven't heard it yet...I feel bad for you, son. ;-)

2:47 PM, January 05, 2005  

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