With gas prices on the rise, the ongoing war in Iraq, and unemployment rates hitting an all-time high, good music is all we seem to have left (no more street dreaminâ€™, sorry Fab). The STD crew decided to take it easy this week (shhhh, donâ€™t tell our editor) as we find ourselves actually giving mad props to some decent albums (yeah, we were surprised too). We must be losing our touch. Hey, even Darth Vader took a day or two off. So as we bottle up the HATE this week (Side note: â€œHi Haterâ€ by Maino is quickly becoming a STD favorite at the office), rest assured that the webâ€™s most notorious wrecking crew (oh, you didnâ€™t know) will be back on our regular steez soon. Like Maino said: â€œItâ€™s cool, they even hated on Jesus.â€ Quality music in 2008. Go figure.
First Of All â€¦
What comprises a classic album? Lyrical content? A cohesive theme? Solo shine backed by polished beats? Overarching bravado? Yes and no. Then what? Context! A classic LP is always defined by the times. It fills the void in an otherwise murky, uninspired pool of emcees (yes, Lil Mama and Hurricane Chris, Iâ€™m talking about you). And west coast native Shawn Jacksonâ€™s debut installment, First of All â€¦, does just that. Itâ€™s honest, soulful, and lyrically filling (peep tracks 1-13, then press repeat). Even the most cynical hip hop heads will have reason to believe again. If heâ€™s anything like his Tres Records brethren Blu, then the game need not worry. Haters and emcees alike, take note, Shawn Jackson bout to show yaâ€™ll how do this son.
– Jason Parham
Tha Carter III
Message to the kids: Donâ€™t do drugs! Unless, of course, youâ€™re an aspiring rapper. Fueled by a healthy diet of marijuana and syrup (promethazine and codine), Weezy F. Baby has cranked out easily the most inspired work of his career. During the journey the best rapper alive does everything from paying homage to ET (â€œPhone Homeâ€) to earning his hip-hop Ph.D. (â€œDr. Carterâ€). Donâ€™t get it twisted though; Wayne has not completely gotten over his severe case of lyrical ADD. Heâ€™s often found rambling more than a suspicious girl through her manâ€™s pants pockets. And let us not even discuss that joke of an album cover. Who signed off on that one? But all negatives fly out the window when youâ€™ve finished the disc and havenâ€™t heard a peep out of the Birdman.
– A. Hugh Leonard
Here I Stand
Although heâ€™s made a solid effort to convince fans that heâ€™s still like the rest of us with â€œLove In This Club,â€ the rest of Here I Stand–the follow-up to the diamond-certified Confessions–is muddied in dreary ballads and cheesy clichÃ©â€™s about love that suggest otherwise. Themes found in previous works are still present, but the artist behind them now sounds like a tamed version of his former self. Some of the post-marriage cuts like â€œTrading Placesâ€ and â€œThis Ainâ€™t Sexâ€ show Usher still has a bit of oomph left, but overall the game done changed. Chris Brown isnâ€™t so bad, right?
– Michael Arceneaux
She was never the best singer, songwriter, or dancer, but if nothing else, Ashanti could always craft a catchy song. And with The Declaration, Ashanti can now say she can do so without the assistance of Irv Gotti and hip-hopâ€™s forgotten thug crooner, Ja Rule. Far from perfect, but far from terrible, Ashanti has made a solid album that might remind people sheâ€™s still alive. Will we miss her like she claims on the 80s-inspired â€œYouâ€™re Gonna Miss?â€ Doubtful, but she can keep pretending we will for a little longer now.
– Michael Arceneaux
Weezer (The Red Album)
Rivers Cuomo is the nerdiest musician to make it big, nerdier than Talking Heads’ David Byrne, nerdier than anyone. And that’s why he’s so good. Nerds are completely unaware of their own social status, but they also want to be as well regarded within their own social spheres as possible. Cuomo is completely unaware of how the public receives his fetish for Asian women, or his obsession with Vipassanna yoga, or his mathematical approach to finding the perfect pop song. He’s a nerd. But he’s still the biggest nerd ever to be a musician.
– Kevin Doran
Lay It Down
Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson tried to produce Al Green’s new album. And when he tried to help, Al Green told him to, in more polite terms (as any reverend would do), to shut the hell up and let him sing it the way he wanted to sing it. Thank God Al Green has one of the best singing voices ever. Thank God Al Green is a genius. Thank God ?uestlove knows enough about music that he’d recognize Al Green’s voice and genius for what it is.
– Kevin Doran