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Hip-hop -- the year in review

By Alex Pappademas

JANUARY 3, 2000:  Much as I love his "Debra" and the L'Trimm-does-Kraftwerk sound of "Get Real Paid," if you relied on likely critics'-poll-favorite Beck Hansen for hip-hop flava this year, you shafted yourself. And while rap-rocker Kid Rock made up for a lifetime of wack rhyming with one mindbogglingly brilliant line in "Cowboy" -- "Start an escort service, for all the right reasons" -- hip-hop still had this year's flyest slow jams and dirtiest bastards. And I haven't even heard the supposedly phenomenal Goodie Mob joint yet. Below, my top 10 plus:

1. Prince Paul, A Prince Among Thieves (Tommy Boy); Handsome Boy Modeling School, So . . . How's Your Girl? (Tommy Boy). Thieves ripped every street-hustlin' cliché known to rap without belittling the longing for recognition those clichés express; the Handsome Boy album, co-produced by Paul and crack comic foil Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, is an ego-trip-hop celebrity cruise, and everyone from Alec Empire to Brand Nubian stops by to pose in its funky funhouse mirrors.

2. Ol' Dirty Bastard, N***a Please (Elektra). The kind of gripped-by-uncontrollable-forces rock and roll you normally look to comically challenged types like PJ Harvey for, crossed with the type of pathos you find in Richard Pryor's wino routines, minus the comforting certainty that what we're witnessing is mere performance. My girlfriend, the psychology major, says ODB's stuck at the anal level of development; George Clinton once said that a man could either rise above it all or drown in his own shit. There's plenty of shit on N***a Please, plus pussy-stankin' burps, cocaine nose jobs, stray bullets, fear & self-loathing, and a jazz-standard butchering that connects Dr. Wu and Dr. Demento. But still Big Baby rises.

3. The Roots, "You Got Me" (MCA). Scrub/pigeon face-offs notwithstanding, this duet (between the Roots' Black Thought and Ruff Ryders it-girl Eve) was '99's best and saddest song about how pride and paper break relationships. Erykah Badu's time-freezing hook is shaped like a question mark; the junglist outro spells "We're in this together now."

4. Method Man and Redman, Blackout! (Def Jam). Baby momma-class heroes go bananas, with party-crashing beats and cleverly stomping lyricism that rained loogies, pepper spray, and paintballs on your parade.

5. Peanut Butter Wolf, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton (Stone's Throw). The title is vintage Public Enemy gun-talk the Jungle Brothers once flipped as a dick joke, re-flipped by Northern Cali producer and Douglas Coupland look-alike Chris Manak as both of the above, referencing vinyl as both a DJ's manhood and his arsenal (and pointing out that record crates are really heavy). The music's a late-night freestyle session in Wayne Campbell's basement, only here the headbangers do helium and thrash to EPMD's "Headbanger," James Brown holds court in the corner, and the turntables hot-wire your heartstrings.

6. Mos Def, Black on Both Sides (Rawkus). I wish he could write a love song to another person that's as heartfelt and unsentimental as the ones he pens to hip-hop ("Hip-Hop") and Brooklyn ("Brooklyn"), and that he'd dissed Mike D instead of skeet-shooting Kenny G. But no indie rapper blew up behind a better album this year.

7. BG, "Bling Bling" (Cash Money/Universal). Pundits appreciated Juvenile's "Back That Thang Up" more, because his Hoochie Dancer State Finals video objectified so much female "azz" it kept their hands wringing all year long. But my pick from the self-motivated Brasso-garglers at Cash Money is BG's ode to the sound of his spectacle. It represents all four elements of hip-hop: dookie gold chains, crews bigger than major-league ball clubs, Space Invader noises, and gangsta-slouchin' through Humvee sun roofs. Best ode to fuck-you money since Jay-Z's spectacularly redundant "Money, Cash, Hoes."

8. Blackalicious, Nia (Quannum Projects). From showboat alpha-beta-funkin' ("A2G") to poignant late-afternoon meditations ("Shadow Days"), this is the best all-around hip-hop album of the year, tempering intergalactic yarn-spinning with an insistent head-bob evocative of both Too $hort and Hieroglyphics, with whom Blackalicious' Gab and Xcel now share an area code.

9. Mobb Deep, Murda Muzik (Loud/Columbia); Raekwon, Immobilarity (Loud/Columbia). When people describe CDs as "cinematic," they usually just mean "soundtrack-y," so I'll qualify: Raekwon and the Mobb are rap cinematographers, slinging dramas as condensed as crack rocks and burning through triggerman existentialism with descriptive flair.

10. Various Artists, The Funky Precedent (No Mayo/Loosegroove). Scholars in advanced Cold Crush (West Coast division) meet turntablist class cut-ups; hippies strum on breakdance mats; Divine Styler and some ex-Freestyle Fellowshippers flip curricula. A music-education benefit CD full of positive messages, my favorite being "Don't blow the Tec, blow a clarinet!"

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