It's hard work representing for the hip-hop nation. So hard, in fact, that no institution seems capable of giving out awards befitting our many splendors. In the first of a periodic series, I'm handing out some less-coveted-but-no-less-real honors. Prizes will be old bowling trophies with blank "Hello, My Name Is" stickers on them.
Most Unlikely Instance of Visionary A&R, Testosterone Division
WWF Aggression (Priority)
A poor idea on paper that should have never made it to the recording studio, WWF Aggression is a largely slipshod collection of WWF wrestlers' theme songs rerecorded by rappers. Yet despite the expected bombast, a few moments prove someone with a sense of humor (or subversion) was behind this collection. No Limit's most literate soldier Mystikal teams up with the chronically underappreciated Ras Kass for "Game," the theme for Triple H (who I recently saw led through a quarter-full San Antonio convention center by a Lou Pearlman look-alike, seeming very lonely and game-free). Most inspired is Mankind's theme "Wreck," delivered overly appropriately by Kool Keith and Ol' Dirty Bastard, two birds of a feather who've never once been plucked together until now. As for charity work, whoever gave R.A. the Rugged Man another shot at the show should be given a bonus. And then flogged. It's only fair.
Multiple Personalities on a hip-hop record, past tense
Jungle Brothers, V.I.P. (Gee Street/V2)
Like hip-hop's junkyard dogs, the JBs refuse to go away, scavenging for styles that might still fit them. These new ones don't, and to add insult to insult, they let Propellerheads' Alex Gifford rap, which comes off about as well as if the JBs were to do big beat. So you see my point.
Multiple Personalities on a hip-hop record, present tense
Common, Like Water for Chocolate (MCA)
To his credit, Common is always this close to making a hip-hop classic. One Day It'll All Make Sense, his 1997 boy-to-man album, proved that in addition to starting beef and slinging rhymes, he had true soul by the pound. Like Water for Chocolate, his fourth album, adds layers onto that conscience, with Common swapping a preacher persona for that of a pimp and back again. Part of evolution is knowing that the self contains multitudes. By that measure, Common is hip-hop's most mature artist.
Multiple Personalities on a hip-hop record, future tense
Anti-Pop Consortium, The Tragic Epilogue (75 Ark)
It's not that the Anti-Pop boys are really schizoid. Rather, their music opens up the potential for so many different types of greatness, one can't help but think they've been delivered from a future time in which all is blissful in the beleaguered hip-hop nation. M. Sayyid is the cybernetic b-boy, slipping quick cadences into the subconscious. Priest, fittingly, is the abstract poet testifier. Beans, though, is the true cosmonaut, bedecked in shield glasses, head high and hitting them with the no-boundaries style—Beans in Space!
Best effort by a gaggle of MCs without a real album deal
Tie—Outsidaz, Night Life EP (Ruff Life/Atomic Pop); Missin' Linx, Exhibit A EP (Stimulated/Loud)
All these records prove is that years of toiling on the underground don't get you very far after all, no matter how tight your songs are. In the case of the Outsidaz, despite the breakout success of Pace Won, they're still known best for the success of their affiliates white (Eminem) and female (Rah Digga). As for Missin' Linx, who feature Problems, one of the best voices in the game, they're still known best for "M.I.A," the beat for which was nicked outright by Dr. Dre on "The Next Episode" from Dr. Dre 2001. Hard knock lives, indeed, but still they troop on. Maybe next decade.
Best New Order Rip-off by a Bunch of Homophobes
Bloodhound Gang, "The Bad Touch" (Geffen)
Predictably popular in Europe, the Bloodhound Gang have finally clawed into homeland charts with a track about hormones that sounds as if it came from the cutting-room floor of the Republic recording sessions. Of course, in the unedited version of the video, they clobber effete Frenchmen with baguettes. But what, you've never had the inclination?
Annual Achievement in Attempting to Mix Hip-Hop with Another Genre Award
Pharohe Monch, "Simon Says (Roni Size & DJ Die remix, JL remix)" (Raw Kuts/ Rawkus)
The Pish Posh remix of Mos Def's "Universal Magnetic" was, well, pish-posh, so Rawkus decided it best to go to the source for their drum and bass dabbling. Roni Size and DJ Die handle the task admirably, helped no doubt by the fact that "Simon Says" was already incendiary enuff for the jungle massive; doubling up the beat was an obvious next step. Unfortunately, the pair are too beholden to the letter of Monch's text, disrupting their own work to preserve his. JL, who owns the B-side, is less faithful, cutting, splicing, and rejiggering Monch so that he rides easily at over 150 BPM.
Most Guiltiest Pleasure
M2M, "Mirror, Mirror" (Atlantic)
So sue me—Hanson never sounded this good, and they're boys. Geez.