It's funny to me how cats are putting out 'best of the year lists' right after Thanksgiving...the fuck are you, a supermarket shifting your holiday decorations stock? The year is 12 months long fam. It's also funny how anyone can claim their best of the year list is objective, because ain't no way you listened to ALL the records that came out this year, unless you're a brain in a jar or some shit.
Finally, it's funny to me, but also great, that Armand Hammer's Paraffin is making so many year-end lists, because I've been shouting about those cats literally all decade and no one was listening. Also because a lot of lists put them up next to Cardi B. (I'm still trying to parse what this means, but I don't wanna listen to Cardi B.)
I see a lot of these youngbloods firing off with no knowledge or respect for where hip hop came from, and that's fine, but they don't last. They come and go. You can't have light coming from everywhere. You need to learn the shadows. The gods who earn respect are those who master the basics, then go disco.
This year wasn't about best albums anyways. I like how y'all argue about what's an album, what's an EP, what's a mixtape--as if these things still existed. The best of this year was groups of projects, flexing musical range; and also projects that were whole, like an egg, perfect and cohesive from start to finish.
1. The Elucid Globular Cluster
Armand Hammer :: Paraffin / Elucid x Haj of Dumhi :: No Edge Ups In Uganda / Elucid :: Shit Don't Rhyme No More / Nostrum Grocers :: Nostrum Grocers
There were cats that released 31 albums this year; cats who dropped 300 songs. That's not range, that's industry. Elucid wins the year because of his range, the stretch of his output, and the growth in his art. There's cacophony, doom, prophecy, world-weariness, irony and resistance. Knowledge of all the Babylon A.D. tricks that RZA taught him in the vampire bar. He's the cat who can get you past the checkpoints, but a hero ain't nothing but a chopped cheese. Solo and teamed up with high calibre MCs and producers, these four releases were different powerful stones loaded into one iron mic. Chuck D wrote his messages billboard-and-protest-sign ready; Elucid, along with billy woods and milo, twist 'em up cryptic and secret, slip them into fortune cookies made of sandpaper and dark syrup. If I can make you really feel it, I won’t have to explain shit.
In the cold vein of February he dropped Shit Don't Rhyme No More, with the glimmer of hope in "Hyssop" and the O Superman, Blade Is On Drugs of "All of a Sudden We Were in a Vampire Bar." In June we got his collabo with Dumhi, no snakes allowed, with those Romare Bearden type beats. Hurricane summer brought the team up with milo for Nostrum Grocers: illuminated, a jazz cookout, two free-association masters in a cipher behind the cellar door. There's grace and peace here, shelter in the pervading menace of 2018 Amerikkka.
Last year's ROME saw Elucid and billy woods burn the empire; Paraffin throws more fuel on the fire. Only came back to tell 'em 'bout them fuckin' flames. As always, darker than midnight, deeper than Mariana, Finnegan-deep with the references--they'll drop Jenny Holzer, Killah Priest and Rumsfeld quotes all up in the same track ("Black Garlic"). 'No such thing as halfway crooks' be the mantra. '100 Miles & Running' be the treatise. I nominate 'Nature of the Threat' as the new Black national anthem. Woods' verses on "No Days Off," "Dettol" and "Fuhrman Tapes" are some of his best--service weapon in my face, all I could see was his lips chapped: that's some Richard Price shit right there. The beats picked from their deck of producers groan, corrode, wheeze, kick, vibrate, snap, fill the unframed sky. It's rightly tipped for album of the year all over. At some undisclosed location woods and Elucid have been anointed Rappers Most Likely To Be Sanctioned By Drone Strike.
The Metrocard machine asks you the big life question: what do you want to do? Do you want to add value? Or add time? You can't have both. The veil has been lifted, are you listening? You can only ride those rolling pages after you make that choice. Spare change for drugstore sushi?
2. DJ Muggs :: Return of the Dark Star
Soul Assassins :: Dia Del Asesinato / DJ Muggs x Roc Marciano :: KAOS / Cypress Hill :: Elephants on Acid
There's that thing where movie franchises have a couple good ones at the beginning, then they reboot the whole thing and shitcan all the crappy sequels, like Halloween and hopefully Terminator. Actually Terminator Halloween is a pretty good description of what Muggs came back with this year. The dubstep record, the last bad Cypress Hill records--let's say they never happened. Muggs came back with some of his strongest, heaviest, ponderous and slamming beats across all three projects. Soul Assassins built G. Rap, Raekwon and DOOM dark cathedrals to preach in. You know that scene in Fear & Loathing where they're in the Circus Circus and can't get off the merry go round because they're too high? That's the lysergic big top Muggs Barnum'd up for Elephants. No one expected in 2018 to get a Cypress Hill record that's a true followup to IV, but there it is. Last but best, Kaos was Marci's best of his 2018 suite, rolling his whip down a dark road on the edge of town. Taking Marciano away from the cool, minimalist blaxploitation loops into Muggs' rave-beside-the-Ganges gave his rhymes a larger and sweeping quality, rallying the armies of dead homies.
Oh yeah, there was that exactly-two-songs Muggs x DOOM thing too, which was...released.
3. Roc Marci :: Quartet in G Major
Rosebudd's Revenge 2 / Behold A Pale Horse / Pimpstrumentals / assorted loosies
What Marci does is to reduce that old style gangsta/pimp shit to its essential elements and build it back up in small, sharp shards, carving with that essence, so every line could be an end-to-end burner or carved on a tombstone (yours, not his). It's Japanese calligraphy, each track a single character that says "Across 110th Street," painted with a musk-ox hair brush in blood (yours, not his) on Fendi mulberry paper while he's wearing a tangerine silk kimono and a bad bitch rubs his shoulders and makes him rare jasmine tea. There's an intense simplicity, a harmony and focus that charges every joint. It's velvet draped on concrete. It's a hand-tooled Mexican leather holster for a gold-plated .45 with mother-of-pearl inlaid handles. Cutting the garlic paper thin with a razor for those jailhouse meals type beats. It's Meditations on Pimpstaism. He slides into guest verses, drops bodies and slides out, assassin style. Comparisons with those he's influenced are pointless and spurious: "you can't compare a goldfish to Moby Dick."
4. Knife Knights :: 1 Time Mirage
I can't grasp why the fuck this was so slept on. It's a Shabazz Palaces side project that sounds like another dope-ass laser beam, electrogalacticfunk, zoned out neon glide Shabazz Palaces record. Everybody likes Shabazz Palaces, so what the fuck? Did the name confuse you idiots? Did it not show up in your goddamn Spotify algorithm? I bet it didn't show up in your fucking algorithm. Y'all got They Live'd up by that thing fam. I mean, I could understand if it sucked, if it was Ishmael Butler reading from his Big Book of Aliases over the sound of, I don't know, ketchup bottles emptying, but this record went Afrofuturist Space Disco Praxis Metastasis in the best way.
5. Nickelus F :: STUCK
This one came outta nowhere on some crusty, heartfelt, spit-out-the-side-your-mouth, sipping cough syrup in the parking lot, one sweatpant leg rolled up, Parliaments tucked in the top of the tube sock. It's growly South, it's scrub brush and dirt weed, cracked pavements and yo open the window, that AC ain't working. There's something really wonky and weird about it I love, what the fuck kinda drugs they got down there fam? It comes from a place where you're sweaty and tired and the Devil is trying to hustle you into a new phone plan. It's a deep dive into personal struggle but with a fuck it, let's get down too, let's tag up on the moon.
6. SHIRT :: Pure Beauty
Oh so now y'all down with Armand Hammer, that's cool and all, maybe you should check out another cat I been hyping for a few years that you still sleep on. SHIRT's still got that big heart, that hunger, that love for the game, the court, the gallery, the world. Baldessari's 'Pure Beauty' is text on canvas. SHIRT's text is written on pure energy. He's taken Baldessari's 'TERMS MOST USEFUL IN DESCRIBING CREATIVE WORKS OF ART' and infused his album with--all of them. Keeps on playing with the dreams. Do-rag in the MOMA--it's his time.
7. Henry Canyons :: Cool Side of the Pillow
Canyons' album is light on its feet but not frothy; mellow but not narcoleptic; harmonic but not soft; it's got a Tribe/Native Tongues/Digable vibe but much more...French. It's introspective and imperturbably chill, but you and your girl could cut a rug to it. It has that old-wood, buttery tone. It's a record for that bar with the good pool table and live jazz and the bartender who knows what kind of scotch you like. It vibes. An accomplished, polished and complete work.
8. Hermit & the Recluse :: Orpheus Vs The Sirens
Ka once again cements his rep as the best writer in rap--and a great writer in any format. Calling himself Orpheus on this one isn't hubris: the name comes from the roots of slave, rebel, darkness, orphan. Like Roc Marciano, Ka knows street rap is the crafting of epics, of legends--honor and betrayal, heroes and monsters, journeys and battles. So the homie went Homeric, reached back to the Greek myths to infuse the struggles, and makes a whole album of contrast, metaphor, allusion and comparison. That golden fleece was North Face. That cyclops, a crooked cop. That weight on your shoulders? We're all Atlas out here son. Animoss' beats maybe don't grab me as much as Preservation's on Yen Lo or Ka's own on other joints, but they're lighter and bring the Harryhausen and Dionysus panpipes. It's another volume in Ka's discography that rewards close study and multiple listens. He's the poet, prophet and musician who went to hell and made it back. "Jinxed to be the man deciphers life riddle or get killed by the Sphinx."
The Greeks had two words for time: kronos, for quantitative time--hours, days, years--and kairos, meaning the right time. The right moment to convey the right message, with symmetry and balance--the moment to release the arrow so it'll hit the target. That's what Ka does. He knows that just because strippers know all the words to your song, it's just money on the clock. He writes for the ages.
9. The Griselda/Kuiper Belt
Once again, a swirl of cold ice rocks was way out there in the dark. The ratio of output-to-quality was down; bound to happen given the output, with WSG losing on Supreme Blah-intele and Really? Still With The Hitler Thing? Part 71. But there was a grip of loose bullets in all calibers; Conway stayed solid on Everybody is F.O.O.D. 1 & 2, Death By Misadventure with Sonny Jim and Untitled Drums with Imported Goodz. He's got the best luck or ear for beats in Griselda, and the world-weariness is one of the most earned ever--listen to him intone "cocaine paid my mama's bills" for thirty seconds straight on "Cocaine Paid"...it's not an adlib or a hook. It's a celebration, a hard fact, a regret, a disbelief in our wack economics.
I didn't ride for Benny's Tana Talk 3 as hard as everybody, but joints like "Rubber Bands & Weight" definitely brought that '94 Raekwon feel. Mach-Hommy kept putting in work with random asteroids peeling in from all directions...you can't possibly keep up with it, there's a vigilante mystique to that I like. Juju Gotti hooked up Dump Towers, a best-of his relentless output with Tha God Fahim that also goes for the unprecedented-for-those-guys low price of $11.11--definitely worth copping before they move the decimal point.
10. Gone Beyond & Mumbles :: Notes From The Underground
Legendary beatmaker Mumbles (A Book of Human Language) and Gone Beyond took hundreds of classical recordings of composers who lived under Stalin and created this incredible instrumental album. Their drumwork is complex and multilayered and they've taken the art of sampling to a new height, painting in winter watercolors with this bleak Soviet pallette. You gotta trust me on this. It's a work of beauty.
I know I said I retired and shit, whatever. This mix is a selection of some of the best joints of the year, the ones that go hardest, hottest stars in the firmament, where the light is coming from everywhere, all over the dogs, that fucking go disco.
The Diss Co. - Odd Nosdam (feat. the Dannemora School of Painting) / Put Em in the Ground - Cypress Hill / Blue Horseshoes - DJ Muggs (feat. Mach-Hommy) / White Dirt - DJ Muggs x Roc Marciano / Bundles - Royalz (feat. Conway) / 42nd Street - A.M. Breakups / Oyahytt - The Coup (feat. Lakeith Stanfield) / Corrupt Novelist (SP's Revenge Mix) - Career Crooks / No Edge Ups In Uganda - Elucid x Haj of Dumhi / No Days Off - Armand Hammer / Hands - Nickelus F / Quiet Tongues - Henry Canyons / My Dreams Never Sleep - Knife Knights (feat. OCnotes, Marquetta Miller & Shabazz Palaces) / Snowbeach - SHIRT / Constant Struggle - Ghostface Killah (feat. Killah Priest & Bishop Lamont) / Gnashing Of The Teeth - Tha God Fahim / Companion of Artemis - Hermit and the Recluse / sanssouci palace (4 years later) - milo