Top 15 Albums of the Decade

The 2010’s was an eclectic decade of good music. As a hip-hop DJ, I’ll assert that mainstream rap took a turn for the worst, a la Post Malone and Lil’ Uzi, but the best of the best, a la Kendrick and J. Cole, still put out sterling projects. Overall, music production evolved beautifully, while some went new age, like KAYTRANADA, and others kept it more acoustic, like D’Angelo, in his classic fashion, others went back to the future like Calvin Harris and A Tribe Called Quest. Drug rap is a dying art, but Pusha T kept it pumping in vintage fashion. Beyonce was Beyonce and SZA burst onto the scene with freshness. Chris Brown opened up his broken heart and Jay-Z and Kanye made sure we kept our eyes on the throne. Anderson .Paak grooved us and Kanye took us to a fantastical world, musically and in the press, as we all know, unless deprived of the internet.

We lost two of hip-hop’s greatest artists of all time in Nipsey Hussle and Mac Miller. I’m friends with one of Mac’s DJ’s, DJ Money, and I met Mac several times. It’s not hype. It’s true. Mac was a pure and kindhearted soul. May he Rest In Peace. And Nipsey is in the real nigga hall of fame. His music still gives me inspiration and motivation. He’s the only artist I can put on shuffle in Apple Music and just let play. May their music and souls vibrate from the Heavens forever. And, surely, all of these albums will vibrate to the cosmos for decades to come.

I just can’t wait until my artist Born I and I drop our mixtape. No hype. Just wait. He was actually the inspiration for this list because he posted on Facebook that he co-signed Billboard’s selection of Kanye’s MBDTF as the best album of the decade. Clearly, I disagree. But, that’s what lists are for. Here’s mine. Enjoy. I challenge you to make your own.

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

2. Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces vol. 1 (2017)

3. KAYTRANADA – 99.9% (2016)

4. Anderson .Paak – Malibu (2016)

5. Pusha T – Daytona (2018)

6. SZA – Ctrl (2017)

7. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

8. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

9. Chris Brown – Heartbreak on a Full Moon (2017)

10. Beyonce – Beyonce (2013)

11. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne (2011)

12. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

13. Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap (2018)

14. Mac Miller – Swimming (2018)

15. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

I used to love h.e.r.

I used to love h.e.r. By h.e.r., I mean hip-hop, as exemplified by Common’s classic record. Now, I love H.E.R., the R&B songstress. It’s funny how things change.

I used to sit in my room for hours listening to the latest tapes and CDs I bought from the record store. I would sit by my boom box all day just to catch my favorite songs on the radio and record them to make mixtapes. Artists like Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and the Wu Tang Clan permeated the halls of my suburban home from behind the closed door of my 3rd floor bedroom.

I could always relate to hip-hop, although I always felt partly removed from it. Hip-hop was from the streets. I certainly wasn’t. My interaction with the streets came from playing street basketball and going to parties and go-go’s.

During the day time, I was at private school, busting jokes with my homies at lunch and macking on chicks in the hallways. I got very good grades, but not as good as my sister’s. She went to Harvard. So, did my mom (RIP). My dad was an economist at the World Bank.

I grew up with a privileged background. It was much different than the lives of the rap stars I looked up to. But, it was still the music in my heart. Its stories were the closest I could find to my experience as a young black male in America. I was far from a nerd. Girls loved me. I was tall, handsome and athletic and filled with anger and aggression at the oppressive American system and what I saw as moral weaknesses at certain people I encountered.

In hip-hop music I found like-minded individuals who yearned for change. When I discovered Black on Both Sides by Mos Def, I had found my favorite album and my favorite song, “Umi Says.” Hip-hop music had violence, drugs and misogyny from early on. But, it had redemptive qualities. It told the truth, a truth that wasn’t being told in the mainstream media. It was a serious art form. MCs took care in their lyrics. Producers created hot beats with beautiful melodies. Hip-hop was something to appreciate.

Now the youth listen to artists like Tekashi 69, Lil’ Xan and Lil’ Uzi Vert, etc and think it’s good music. They don’t know any better. I used to be excited to rip off the plastic on a new album from a record store. Now I illegally download the latest trash records onto my laptop so I can DJ at parties for millennials and younger audiences.

I get jealous of earlier eras of music. The 60’s had Motown artists like Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. The 70’s had Soul Train, Marvin Gaye and the Stylistics. The 80’s had Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. We have Jay-Z, I guess. That’s actually somewhat laughable compared to the names I mentioned.

Call me a cultural critic and I’ll say I’m just observant. What if I told you there was a musical genre and culture that glorified murder, drug dealing, adultery, premarital sex, wasting money, disrespecting women and other crimes. You might say that music must have come from the devil. Currently, hip-hop culture, which highly influences black culture is morally bankrupt. We are in need of change, desperately. As Mos Def said on Black on Both Sides, “We are hip-hop.” We need to change our culture for the good of society and humanity, really.

Don’t get it twisted. There is good hip-hop out there. Artists from the new generation like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar come to mind. It’s just for the most part good artists like them don’t get popularized. A lot of that has to do with record label executives restricting the type of music artists can make. They think gangsta music equals dollars. But the blame doesn’t lie solely with them. It’s on us. People still support the terrible music rappers make these days.

I’m in love with a different woman now. I’ll keep playing H.E.R. songs on repeat until the original love of my life decides to come home.

Common Logic

[The day I met Logic in 2010 at WMUC]

In case you didn’t know, Logic made the song “Common Logic/Midnight Marauder” off his mixtape Welcome to Forever for me. I told him back then Midnight Marauders was the first album I ever bought, which made me fall in love with music and was probably the reason I was a hip hop head and a DJ at all. He made me a couple other songs too, which sit on my hard drive that I’ve never shared.

Most people don’t know the extent of me and Logic’s relationship. Back then, on the come up, he was dead broke. I bought him food pretty much every day. I bought him a phone and paid the bill so he could make and keep connections. I drove him to studios, record labels, shows, etc and never asked for gas money. I bought him his 1st pair of Jordans like he said in that Complex interview plus other clothing. He slept at my house when he had no place to go some nights. Basically, I was his main source of support. It was me and Big Lenbo who held him down.

I still don’t know why he cut me off entirely. I left the team because I didn’t feel the vibe. I knew they were going to blow up too but I wasn’t feeling the energy. If my heart’s not in it, the rest of me will leave soon afterwards. He offered to pay me bread but I didn’t even want money. I just wanted to preserve the connection so I could build off it.

But, he hasn’t texted me back for years and conveniently left me out of his Rapture documentary, even though we worked together and I DJ’d with him every day for about two years and was eventually named President of Operations. I still haven’t watched the documentary. I can’t explain his cold shoulder. My friends theorize but I guess you’ll have to ask him. I suppose some people don’t like to share credit or the spotlight. Keep in mind, I did nothing negative to this man.

At the end of the day, I’m happy a young man like Logic who came from nothing and worked so hard, now has something. He earned it. And I’m proud I played a big part in it, whether or not I get credit. The people who were there will never deny what it was.

The Lord works in mysterious ways lol. All the lessons I’ve learned were preparation for the team I’m working with now. I believe in showing vs. telling. Just keep watching lol. I believe God’s greatness along with mine and my team’s will be evident. My story is far from finished. I’m just beginning. No matter what happens, with God and my ancestors guiding me, I’ll be very happy with my word and honor in tact. With my infinite blessings, there is only room for gratefulness to God, no hate.

The Day I fell in Love with Music…

I fell in love with music on my 12th birthday. My dad bought me a boom box as a present. I jammed to the radio nonstop. But, I didn’t have any CDs. It just so happened this classmate Oswald was selling used CD’s the next day at school. I bought Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest from him for $5. I ran straight to my room when I got home, put the CD in and let it play. As the CD started spinning, the robotic female voice on the intro entranced me. The Afrocentric jazzy beats gyrated my spirit. I was hooked. I fell down the rabbit hole. At that moment something in me changed that I can’t quite describe. A new person was born. And, I’ve been spinning records ever since.

Top 10 Favorite Hip-Hop Albums

Rules:

For diversity’s sake, artists can only appear once.

1. Mos Def – Black on Both Sides

2. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die

3. Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

4. Nas – Illmatic

5. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

6. 2Pac – All Eyez On Me

7. Common – Be

8. Mobb Deep – The Infamous

9. The Roots – How I Got Over

10. J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Honorable mention (in no particular order):

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Scarface – The Fix

Kanye West – Graduation

AZ – Doe or Die

Dr. Dre – The Chronic

Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)

Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele

Big Pun – Capital Punishment

If you disagree, I DON’T CARE.

What Hip-Hop Is: A Manifesto

Hip-Hop is a rebel yell from the soul. It came from the Bronx, which was literally on fire back in the 70’s with slumlords burning their buildings for insurance money after the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway dropped property values.  People were poor and suffering.  They needed an outlet.  So they raged.

Hip-Hop rages against the machine.  It fights against the system and definitely shouts, “Fuck the police!”  Hip-Hop is a haven for the youth and a way out for those desperately searching for one.  Hip-Hop is the essence of speaking things into existence. We started with a trap house and now we’re living in a mansion.

Hip-Hop is real. It comes from a place of truth. It comes from the heart. Home is where the heart is and, in hip-hop, where you’re from means everything.  Whether you’re from its birthplace in the fiery Bronx, the suburbs of Washington, DC or a trailer park in Alabama, you’ve got to rep your hood.

Hip-Hop is the never ending party and the after party at that. It’s Saturday night at the hottest club with the hottest celebs or a sweat box house party where girls in tight jeans, drinks, smoke and a dope underground DJ are salvation. It’s that moment where the MC drops the music and the whole stadium raps along a capella to his or her hit song.

Hip-Hop is most definitely BARS and dope beats, battles and beef. It’s graffiti on a subway train or breakdancing on cardboard. It’s cutting and scratching on Technics and beat boxing and rapping in the streets.

Hip-Hop is snapbacks and tattoos and fitteds and jerseys. It’s Levi’s and white tees or Yves Saint Lauren and Louis V. It’s sagging your ripped jeans just to show off your Gucci belt or wearing a crisp pair of 501’s around your waist just to keep it thorough. Hip-Hop must be authentically you.

Hip-Hop is all of the above and so much more.  But, above all, it is the voice of the unheard.

One thing hip-hop most definitely is not is Pop. Hip-Hop may be a global phenomenon but, at its core, it will always be DJ Kool Herc yelling over break beats at a house party to pay the rent like that first house party back in the 70’s when the Bronx was on fire.

SZA’s In Ctrl

So, apparently, bougie Black chicks love SZA.  Well, so do big bosses because that album is fire.  SZA set the internet ablaze with her new album Ctrl, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

I had a startling moment with Ctrl while I was getting dressed in my room one day.  I was entranced by her record “Broken Clocks,” I was playing it on repeat, when I noticed it was 12:34 p.m.   I looked up 1234 in numerology and it said that means change is coming, which is ironic because I had been struggling getting over my ex.  I know.  Sad.  But, this omen gave me hope.  So, if not for anything else, thanks SZA.

Otherwise, throughout the album, her raspy and smooth melodic voice is enchanting.  There’s an edginess and a mysterious, sultry tone and a realness to it as if she were a siren beckoning one to either tremendous pleasure or eternal damnation.  Musically, on Ctrl, I’ll go with the former.

This album is intensely personal and, on the first track, “Supermodel,” SZA brings you right into her insecurities right off the gate.  She lamented her ex-boyfriend “left her lonely for prettier women” and took a trip to Vegas without her on Valentine’s Day.  So, she “banged his homeboy” out of spite.  For shame.  I thought you were a good girl SZA.

On “The Weekend” she romanticizes being the side chick.  And, she expresses her urge to revel in love which she finally found on “Love Galore” opposite the rapping of Travis Scott.

Overall the album paints a concise picture of overcoming insecurities to the triumph of self-esteem.  And demonstrates the power of being vulnerable as a woman.

G.O.A.T.

With his thirteenth studio album, once again, Jay-Z changed the game.  As he did with his previous LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Hov set new rules.

4:44 is what grown man hip-hop sounds like.  To hell with ignorance and debauchery.  Jay-Z had an intimate conversation with his listeners.

The most amazing accomplishment of the album was on “The Story of O.J.” which is a critique of the hip-hop community’s fiscal responsibility and an instruction manual for accumulating wealth.  My highlight of the record is “You know what’s more important than throwing money away in the strip club?  Credit.”

This preaching is necessary for our hip-hop community which currently tends to value the appearance of having money over actually having money, which is backwards and ludicrous.  My father is a banker and taught me the value of money at an early age.  Yet, I still couldn’t resist the urge to pop bottles in the club during my youth due to the hip-hop narrative.  Somehow, blowing money equates to balling instead of saving it.  It doesn’t make sense.  I’ve been saying this for years and I’m ecstactic that our rap god, almighty Hov, proclaimed it from his mountain top.

Maybe now Blacks in the hip-hop community will think twice about blowing money and more about making their money grow, which will ultimately increase our stake in the marketplace and the power schematics.  That conversation and that narrative switch was so necessary.  And, it had long been overdue.

Aside from Jay-Z’s references to money and wealth, the most glaring content of the album is undoubtedly him admitting to cheating on Beyoncé on the title track “4:44.”  I don’t have much to say about it except that no matter how rich and powerful he is, as we’ve seen time and time again, a man is still a man.

Jay-Z is a mogul, but in his heart he is still a true artist, which is what made him successful in the first place and part of what sustains him.  My guess is, as an artist, he couldn’t resist the urge to bare his soul on the record.  For every true artist their work is their therapy.  It was probably cathartic for him confess his infidelity.  I’m not judging him for cheating or Beyoncé for staying with him.  Those issues are solely between them as a couple.

In terms of the production on the album, No I.D. totally hit the nail on the head.  His jazzy samples were so pleasing to the ear that they made Jay-Z’s baritone voice flow smoothly on the beat in a remarkably unified fashion.  I delighted in Jay-Z’s decision to forego singles in favor of a purely soulful concise presentation like a soundtrack to the educated and successful Black man’s life.  Jay-Z’s choice to use the legendary No I.D. as the only producer for the album proved to be an excellent decision.

A highlight of 4:44 was Jay-Z’s song “Bam,” which sampled the reggae classic, “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy.  “Bam Bam” is one of the most sampled reggae songs of all time in hip-hop.  Released in 1982, a timeless record, “Bam Bam” still gets played in hip-hop and reggae clubs to this day.  No I.D. and Jay-Z’s use of the sample is my favorite utilization of “Bam Bam” by a hip-hop record thus far.  And, that’s quite a feat because there’s at least 29 other songs that sampled it.  On the track, the looping of the horns jumps out of the speakers with high energy.  It’s as if you can feel the “bam” from creation that Sister Nancy spoke of in her original record.  Jay-Z’s braggadocios baritone let it be known that his and his team’s ambition would not be denied, as it came from within as well as without.

With this album, Jay-Z earned my selection as G.O.A.T., Greatest Rapper Of All Time.  Really, the title should have already been his.  How is it fair to compare his actual body of work to Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.’s hypothetical albums had they been alive?  They’re not.  And the fact is Jay-Z has done it time and time again.  And, this is, yet again, another number one album.

Jay-Z’s ability to set trends and change the narrative and the conversation is unparalleled.  That’s power.  Guys out here quote Jigga lines like the Bible.  Forget hip-hop, who else do you know in any arena with that type of influence?  Not many.  Aside from all the categories of lyrics, flow, delivery, wordplay, hooks, content, beat selection and authenticity in all of which Jay-Z is ranked near the top, if not at the top, it’s that je ne sais quoi that something you can’t describe that makes Jay-Z the G.O.A.T.  Like Jay-Z said a while back, “It’s just different.”

And, with 4:44, Jay-Z completely switched up his content to something more positive and beneficial to the Black community, as opposed to usual trap drug dealing, shoot ’em up, banged your girl records.  It had a jazzy and mature feel.  Yet, it still appealed to the mainstream, which so desperately needed a popular voice in hip-hop saying the right things.  Content-wise mainstream rap music had become so lopsided in terms of negativity.  Jay-Z’s album 4:44 was food for the soul.

With this album, we saw the evolution of Jay-Z from the smooth hustler getting re-upped on his first album in 1996 called Reasonable Doubt to the grown man talking about his legacy with his children in beyond.  It is Jay-Z’s longevity, versatility and growth that has made him the G.O.A.T.  You can argue whether or not he is a better rapper than the Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac.  What you can’t debate is that he outlived them to make better music.