In 2007, rap, much like the music industry as a whole, was experiencing growing pains associated with its boom in growth. CD sales were still very high, but illegal downloads posed serious problems that would later dismantle much of the music business as we then knew it. Once a key promo item, mixtapes were suddenly in an extremely weird, precarious space after DJ Drama got raided and arrested by the feds. MySpace was still a big deal and music lovers were changing songs on their profiles as often as they could. “Ringtone rap” was selling like crazy, which caused artists to begin shifting their focus towards creating catchy hits in order to cash in on the trend instead of pushing themselves to make cohesive LPs built to last.
Still, there were albums from a handful of artists who were either at their creative peaks or showing early signs of greatness with entries in their respective catalogs. Upper echelon guys like Jay Z and Kanye led the pack while newcomers like Blu and old faces like Sean Price started to gain strong online followings that would make them champions of the underground for years to come. With all of those things in mind, here are a handful of records that earned considerable burn in the rotation during the year that was.
Blu And Exile, Below The Heavens
In the late 2000s, Blu was poised to be the next great MC, an idea built strongly off his album with producer Exile, Below The Heavens. While the future didn’t pan out as expected, there’s still not mistaking how well loved this project was and likely still is to people who were tuning into “blog rap” around this time. Ten years later and I still say “No Greater Love” hails as the most thoughtful, slightly atypical rap love song to enter the canon in a long time.
Kanye West, Graduation
Listen, I don’t care what anyone tries to tell you: Graduation was and still is one of Kanye’s best works. We don’t even have to dig for the deep cuts because even the singles -— “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, “Stronger,” “Good Life,””Flashing Lights,” and “Homecoming” —- still stand strong today. But if we were to talk about the other tracks, just mention moments like Yeezy and Weezy trading bars on “Barry Bonds” or him examining his relationship with Jay on “Big Brother,” or even look at him starting to experiment with more with tracks like “Drunk And Hot Girls” and “I Wonder” to realize how pivotal the album would become in more ways than one.
DJ Khaled, We The Best
Before Khaled became the life coach he is today, he was still just a DJ who shouted out his greatness to anyone who was willing to listen. He attempted to prove that with his second solo LP, We The Best. The album’s two singles, “We Takin’ Over” and ”I’m So Hood,” were inescapable, from schoolyards to clubs and the record let everyone know that the DJ from Dade would be a figure in the game for some time to come due to his ability to bring together all-star collaborations that produced anthems that no one else could even begin to match.
Ghostface Killah, The Big Doe Rehab
As solo acts go for Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah’s always been the most consistent with his quality of work and The Big Doe Rehab is no exception. The project could never topple his solo debut, Iron Man, as his best work and maybe it’s as strong as the album that preceded it, 2006’s Fishscale. But, the Rehab CD got spins off attention to detail Tone Starks, Method Man and Raekwon used for “Yolanda’s House,” one of his best storytelling tracks of all-time. The same eye is applied to the hilarious “White Linen Affair,” which was the Toney Awards — remember those? — set to song. Add in additional tracks like “Rec-Room Therapy,” “Walk Around” and “Toney Sigel” with Beanie and there are enough good memories attached to this one to warrant bringing it back into the rotation now.
Little Brother, Get Back
Admit it — when Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh announced 9th Wonder wouldn’t be behind the boards for Get Back, there was a mix of anticipation and apprehension because all we ever knew was Tay, Pooh and 9th together. Still, the two MCs forged ahead by bringing on a diverse set of sounds courtesy of Khrysis, Illmind, Zo!, Nottz and others to create a project managed to be hard-hitting (“Sirens”), light-hearted (“Good Clothes”) and mature (“Dreams”) all at the same time.
Playaz Circle, Supply and Demand
Bolstered by “Duffle Bag Boy,” Tity Boi and Dolla Boy made their way onto the scene with a song that nailed the trifecta of being a club, street and radio hit. Tracks like the Ludacris-feature “U Can Believe It,” “Paper Chaser” with Phonte and “Gucci Bag” featuring Shawna were all worth repeat plays. But, the group’s fortune was damn near spelled out on the first song, “Dear Mr. L.A. Reid,” their open letter to their label boss that argued he needed to either help them grow or let them go. He opted for the latter, and we ultimately got 2 Chainz years later, so things worked out just fine in the end.
Jay Z, American Gangster
Remember when everyone first counted Jay Z down for the count? He was coming off the weed plate that was Kingdom Come and everyone was talking of how he’d lost a step. Maybe he had or maybe it was just that he needed a new challenge after running rap for so many consecutive summers. Whatever the case, he found his vigor again by diving into the concept album, American Gangster, which allowed him to leave behind the big chains, rings and things behind so he could revert back to his old hustling ways. With Just Blaze, Neptunes and more handling production, Jigga was spurred along as much by his guests — Beanie Sigel (“Ignorant Shit”), Lil Wayne (“Hello Brooklyn”) and Nas (“Success”) — as much as he was by his own hunger to reassert his position at the time. The end result was one of his best works when stacked against the rest of his discography.
Prodigy, Return Of The Mac
After Mobb Deep’s foray with G-Unit, it was almost a foregone conclusion that their better days were beyond them, especially since they were only years removed from Jigga infamously putting Prodigy on the Summer Jam screen. But, P bounced back like a champ on Return, partnering with producer Alchemist to concoct a grisly album that harked back to the menacing music from Mobb’s earlier days and ended up showcasing Al as a future force behind the boards. Revisit “Mac 10 Handle” and don’t even try to fight it when the urge to screw face people kicks in.
Young Jeezy and USDA, Young Jeezy Presents USDA: Cold Summer
Once upon a time, Jeezy ran the trap and could sell almost anything to consumers ready to buy. And sell he did with Cold Summer, the group project meant to showcase Slick Pulla and Blood Raw. Songs like “Focus,” “White Girl” and “Get It Up!” probably stuck better than Slick and Blood Raw though.
Sean Price, Jesus Price Superstar
The late Sean Price landed a mean one-two punch with 2005’s Monkey Barz and the follow-up, Jesus Price Superstar, reemerging from the ashes of his old group Heltah Skeltah. Price’s gregarious personality shined on both releases and endeared him to fans of boom-bap spiced with a keen sense of humor. “King Kong,” “One” and “Like You” all exemplify the best of Price, especially when he was honest and self-depreciating when spitting “N****s seem shocked by the way that I do thangs, Song with Destiny’s Child, I still ride the 2 train, Sometimes I feel like I’m the best in my field, But I’m not and I’m broke so I go invest in some krills.” But through it all, songs like “Mess You Made,” where the artist formerly known as Ruck reveals bits about his bouts with drugs and hardships as a reminder that “the brokest rapper you know” was also one of the realest, too.