A sickness of the bubonic mediocre strain has descended on the houses of Hip-Hop and TSS. In the case of Hip-Hop, artists are chronically regurgitating albums slightly better than listenable, and in the case of TSSâ€¦ wellâ€¦ TC is forcibly bleeding the lot of them of their 3 Cig just desserts.
A plague on both our houses.
To brighten team morale, the TSS crew opened a discussion of albums worthy of the perfect 5 Cig rating. We tried to stay away from the conventional Illmatics and Aqueminis of the world, and dug into our visor CD-holders to pull out OUR top picks (Read: Personal favorites). These are the albums that deserve all the superlatives we could muster, all the accolades we could award and all the “yadamnrights” we could hurl in defense of their excellence.
Ladies and Germs…
Crew Love: The 5 Cig Edition
Chris “Preach” Smith
Few artists can follow up a great debut album with an even stronger sequel. D’Angelo succeeds with this album, running the gamut from sensual love ballads (“Untitled/How Does It Feel”) to head-nodding Hip-Hop infused songs of reflection (“Devil’s Pie”), to wistful odes to the Motherland (“Africa”) all with an ease of a master showman. From the Zora Neale Hurston inspired album covers to D’s impeccable smoky voice, Voodoo is an album that lives up to its name literally and figuratively.
Language barriers aside, Puisqu’il faut Vivre is everything to expect from a Hip-Hop album today. Instead of succumbing to the trends set by Booba and other 50 Cent-like, anger-management-needing rappers dominating the scene, Soprano stayed true to his definition of what an artist should be, resulting in a heartfelt, intellectually stimulating, insightful, exciting and enjoyable chef-d’oeuvre. He exhibits unparalleled cadence, especially on the profound intro to “Tant Que Dieu (Remix)” and outstanding thematic consistency in every single track, earning each and every cig that this album gets, and setting the bar extremely high for his sophomore effort. I doff my hat to you Mr. Soprano, and congratulations on the birth of the little one.
Telling the truth never worked for me in relationships. But considering the awesomeness in writing and real-life storytelling on Get Lifted, I can keep on lying because this is telling it all. An excellent raconteur, John Legend (and co.) put together a comprehensive fuse of rhythmic soul and quiet storm sounds with love lyrics that would make Marvin two-step in his grave. Impeccable production and a variety of sounds make for an impressive debut, and a timeless display of rhythm and blues at its best.
Cee-Lo Green is a poet, lyricist, motivational speaker and musician all at the same time. He blends these skills into an album that seamlessly moves from Hip-Hop to gospel to soul and R&B. Goodie Mob fans don’t fear, â€˜cause homie absolutely goes in every few songs to remind you why he has always been a renowned MC. “Country Love” gives insight into the heart of an insecure and self-deprecating man in a relationship who’s amazed that he is lucky enough to have his wife. Cee-Lo bears his soul on each song and the discovery is fascinating.
With A Piece Of Strange, Southern rappers Cunninlynguists did the impossible — amidst group turmoil and personnel changes, they made a concept album with strong religious overtones that made sense musically. Group member Kno handles the production throughout, leaving the majority of the lyricism to Deacon The Villain and Natti. The end result is a haunting album that grabs hold of you from the first bar and never lets go.
Marvin Gaye planted the seeds of Hip-Hop’s fundamental rule before its inception: give a voice to the underrepresented. He stepped out of the Motown bubble to address the issues facing a nation divided by war, class, and raceâ€”with one mission and melody creating a mental space for reflection in the form of 11 tracks. He also paved the way for the luxe Hip-Hop sound (Jay-Z’s American Gangster). Released in 1971, What’s Going On preserved the message of a generationâ€” and although the messenger is gone, his words ring true to this day.
Say what you will â€“ he name drops too much, he manufactures beef, he bears some of the worst impulse face tattoo purchases since Mike Tyson â€“ but The Game knows damn well how to assemble an album. After the armor-plated song list of The Documentary, Doctor’s Advocate reinforces him in a completely new context. Even in missing the two people who were credited most for the success of The Documentary, Game made an even better sophomore album by having an ear for beats (the first three bangers on the album are produced by no-names we haven’t heard from since), getting the most from his guest spots (how about that Busta Rhymes cameo where the Dungeon Dragon goes biographical rather than flaunting his assets with a double-time flow?) and turning the drama in his life into complex fodder that makes for a fascinating listen.
In Aesop’s Fables, there’s a proverb I dig: “He who tries to please everybody pleases nobody.” It’s real talk because in an attempt to cater to every type of audience many rappers release disjointed, incoherent albums with no theme. But Mobb Deep was always a group, like Wu-Tang and Cypress Hill, that had a signature sound. Before a verse dropped you already knew it was their shit. Mobb perfected their sound with Murda Muzik, an ingenious work of brutal art not unlike John Woo’s violent but lovely bullet ballets. Before his head-on collision with Jay-Z, Prodigy was one of the best lyricists in the game and this was his crescendo. As proof, I offer the end of P’s verse from “Streets Raised Me:” “The sunset looks beautiful over the projects/what a shame, it ain’t the same where we stand at/if you look close you can see the bricks chipped off/sometimes niggas miss when they lick off, don’t get clipped off”. Come on, son.
The production on I’m Still Livin’ is solid all the way through, with southern producer Mike Dean holding down 8 of the albums 15 tracks, with others such as Mr. Lee, Z-Ro himself, and Enigma taking care of the rest. The thing that makes this a 5 cig album however, is the depth of Z-Ro’s contradictory lyrical showcase. We hear a man trying to become a better member of society, while questioning the people he surrounds himself with and trying to rise above the criminal past that he has grown accustomed to. The brutal honesty put on display is Z-Ro opening all sides of his heart, whether it be dark or hopeful, while at pulling it together with beautiful melodies and hard-hitting flows that stick with you long after the album is finished.
With radio-ready Trinity and sometimes confused Detroit Deli, the question headed into 2005 was whether Slum could shine in its post-Dilla incarnation. But when the self-titled album hit, it back-handed the industry and upper-cutted the streets with oxymoronic, polished-tarnish delivery from MCs T3 and Elzhi, and equally smooth grit from beat makers Black Milk and Young RJ. At the release party in the D, the crowd was so unprepared for the first cut Slum performed, “1,2,” that the rabid mob foamed at the mouth for Slum to run it back. And they did â€“ an action now synonymous with and worthy of the album.
Back in ’99 when the separation between underground and mainstream was a little closer than it is today, Internal Affairs dropped behind the unconventional club banger “Simon Says.” Pharoahe was able to make an album that was accessible to many while still delivering top-notch lyrics. He shows he’s equally adept at making songs for the club/radio: “The Light,” storytelling: “Queens,” and concepts: “Rape” and “Official,” while picking production that ties them all together. His breath control and ability to vary his flow show he’s a master at his craft, making it seem effortless at times. On top of all that, it’ll always be remembered as the album that forced Rawkus to close its doors due to the un-cleared Godzilla sample.
Few MCs are capable of claiming a spot in the 5 Cig pantheon on rhyming skill alone, but Reggie Noble, one of the most underappreciated artists in Hip-Hop’s history, is one of them. Whut? Thee Album features a young Redman delivering rhyme after rhyme with the perfect blend of wacky humor and street grit that would become his calling card. “Time 4 Sum Aksion,” and “Tonight’s The Night,” got heavy rotation, but tracks like “Rated R,” and “Jam 4 U,” feature the Funk Doc at his best. Erick Sermon’s remaking of Clinton classics act as the perfect background for Red’s ranting, even if it’s doomed to stand in posterity behind Dre’s work on The Chronic the same year.
If there were ever a debut album that was indictitive to a storied career, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly would serve as key , map and legend. Stepping out their “writer’s block” and going into business for themselves, Missy and Timbaland created a project that threaded the lines of Hip-Hop and R&B with consummate precision, spawning radio standards like “Sock It 2 Me” and “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).” And with Missy’s ability to bust a flow and switch to a high note in the blink of eye over Timbo’s ingenious production, they showed the world what they already knew—Virginia birthed superstars capable of creating a masterpiece.