In the last few days I've had three different conversations with people who needed some crucial information. One person was experiencing a "hip hop rebirth" and wanted to know if anything good had come out this year. Another told me that he wanted to start "getting into rap music" but "didn't want anything too old." The last person wanted me to confirm whether not the first eight months of 2006 do indeed constitute the worst stretch of hip hop music since the days of MC Hammer. (Ironically, 2006 are also the days of MC Hammer, as the world's greatest bankruptcy cautionary tale is attempting a painful comeback.)
All told, these conversations all seemed to be driving at the same thing: an in-progress review of the year in hip hop. Since every column needs a gimmick, I decided to list the eight best rap albums released through the first eight months of 2006. So here they are (in reverse order), with a crucial disclaimer: There have been about 25 memorable mix tapes released this year, none of which I will be including here. It is simply apples and oranges, but I also think that is where the industry is heading. If you want new quality rap music, you need to start getting to know websites like hiphopgame and MixUnit.
8. History in the Making by J.R. Writer. I'm not a huge fan of Cam'ron and the Dipset, but I think the Harlem crew has finally found an ace in the hole in J.R. Writer. After throwing out a bunch of mediocre rappers over the past few years (namely Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Hell Rell), they finally produced someone worth listening to. Writer's only real problem is that he sounds a bit too much like head honcho Cam, but considering he's arguably the superior rapper he is able to overcome this pretty easily. The track "Zoolander" is ridiculous and "That's a Bet" with Paul Wall shows Writer's versatility as he rhymes easily over a Dirty South beat. I thought the best thing about the album is that despite a steady onslaught of cameos and guest appearances, Writer consistently outshines his cohorts on every track. Anyone who can dominate a Diplomats collaboration is off to a good start. This isn't a perfect album, but I thought it was better than the offerings from the likes of OutKast and Rick Ross, particularly because it presented a New York rapper who actually might have the ability to help break up the stranglehold the South has on rap music.