-Brad Knutson, Managing Editor - Radio Free Chicago
1. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in da Corner (Matador)
This was released in the UK in 2003, and even picked up the Mercury Prize that year. However, I didn't get my grubby little hands on this release until the fine folks at Matador released it domestically early this year. Despite being a cynical and jaded music snob, Boy in Da Corner actually made me say dorky things like "this record's hot!" as if I was some teenage girl talking about the latest Usher record. I didn't know how else to describe it...those beats, those hooks, Dizzee's insane rap style...and a Billy Squier sample. A fucking Billy Squier sample?!? Are you kidding? He seriously just cut of the hottest singles of the new millennium built around a Billy Squier song!! ...it was just all too much.
2. RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke...(Def Jux)
In 2002, RJD2 seemingly came out of nowhere to release one of the best records of that year, Dead Ringer, a hip hop-based DJ record built around old soul records. The comparisons to DJ Shadow were inescapable...but it wasn't so much that RJD2 was ripping Shadow off, it was that he had actually beat Shadow at his own game.
This year, RJD2 released the follow-up to Dead Ringer and (oh, snap!) he did it again. While there are still plenty of great beats and dusty soul groves, this sophomore effort is a bit more developed and mature. In fact, RJ even busts out a ballad and sings it himself...and it doesn't suck! (Hell, I'd have to say it's one of my favorite tracks on the album) Try that one DJ Shadow!
3. Danger Mouse - The Grey Album (self-released)
Ah, the mash-up...they're almost always amusing, but rarely do you want to hear them repeatedly after the initial novelty wears off. That's the beauty of the Grey Album, not only is the concept genius (i.e. putting of the music of The Beatles White Album behind the vocals of Jay-Z's Black Album), but the execution so good that you forget about the whole "novelty" of it, and you just appreciate the genius of the music overall. In fact, this record is so damn good that I'd have to say its preferable to the original, record-label approved, Jay-Z version.
4. The Dead Texan - Self-Titled (Kranky)
A side project from Adam Wiltzie, who is best known as one-half of the electronic drone duo Stars of the Lid. Much like his work with Stars..., this record is an amazingly beautiful collection of ambient music and subtle sonic experimentation. To be honest, I've really only experienced half of this project...besides the music CD, the release also includes a DVD containing seven video pieces from video artist Christina Vantzos to accompany each track on the album. Unfortunately, I still don't own a DVD player, but I'm hoping Santa will leave one under the tree this year so I can experience this release to the fullest.
5. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice)
It seems that people either love this guy (Mike Skinner, aka The Streets) or they hate him. I certainly fall into the former category and this sophomore effort did not disappoint. Yeah, it's not as instantly likable or catchy as Original Pirate Material, but A Grand...is neither an artistic or commercial failure. Rather than just bangin' out another quick set of geezer anthems, Skinner set out to make a concept record and absolutely nailed it. No small feat, to say the least, let alone for a hip hop album. Is it our generation's Tommy or The Wall? Probably not, but it's certainly on par with other milestone English albums like Different Class, Parklife and London Calling. You really have to listen to this album in its entirety to truly appreciate its genius, but there are also some great individual tunes (or as Skinner would say, "bangers") on here. "Blinded by the Lights" and "Such a Twat" are personal favorites, and "Dry Your Eyes Mate" scored Skinner his first number one single on the UK pop charts. Jolly good show, Mike!
(stay tuned tomorrow for my 5-10)