DAR Hip Hop: Pros And Cons Of 5 Albums From 2002

By @TrueGodImmortal

The 2000s were a great time in hip hop. There were moments that captured our attention and albums that truly made us happy as fans and listeners. What I wanted to do over the next few weeks is pay homage to the 2000s and every year in hip hop during that decade by looking back at 5 albums from each year and reviewing them briefly with the pros and cons of each project. This allows me to give attention to detail for every album selected, while providing an analysis of the highlights and the mishaps. Today, the year I'm starting off with is 2002. I've selected albums from legends to kick this series off, and those legends are Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Common, and The Roots. All 5 of those artists released important albums during 2002, so selecting their work was an easy decision. Now, are any of those albums classics? Does the good outweigh the bad? Did any of those albums disappoint and why? I take a look at all of those questions and then some here today. Let's get into it.

*Common- Electric Circus 

-One of the most maligned albums of Common's career, this album to me, was slept on overall. Many seemed to forget that Common had begun a journey to step outside of the box and as a result, they wouldn't appreciate his new direction. While the critics and fans alike seemed disinterested in the new direction Common was going in, I found myself enjoying the music a lot more than expected, especially now. So, what made this album special and what did it lack? Let's look at the pros and cons.

Pros: The best part of this album is the experimentation. Hands down. The lyrics on this album aren't as amazing as one would hope, and it is a slight departure from the style of Like Water For Chocolate, but one thing about this album that sticks out is the production. Ranging from soulful to electric (of course) to eclectic to even slightly hard rock, the sounds are varied and sometimes they complement Common and his style well. While this could be a deterrent from some fans on this album, for me, tracks like the mega posse gospel inspired cut "Heaven Somewhere" (which features an all star cast of Mary J. Blige, Bilal, Cee-Lo Green, Jill Scott, and more), the Cee-Lo featured gem "Between Me, You, And Liberation", and "Star 69 (PS With Love)" really worked within this new concept. The highlights are plentiful on this album and I feel as though this project never got the proper credit it deserved.

Cons: Well, some of the worst parts of the album is the experimentation also. As far as the cons go, there aren't too many surprisingly, but for some reason, Common thinks he can try his hardest to sing his heart, for better or worse. Common is not a vocalist, yet he provides vocals on multiple tracks, but perhaps the worst example of this is on the slightly cringeworthy song "Jimi Was A Rock Star". Other tracks like "I Am Music", "I Got A Right Ta", and "New Wave" slightly fall short of the standard set by the best songs here. Common may be inspired by Prince and Jimi Hendrix, and that's great, but walking in their footsteps musically was not the smartest decision. This isn't a terrible album, but it is too middle of the road to really be considered amongst the best projects from Common. It's at the end of his solid discography, but regardless, Electric Circus still manages to bring a few highlights to dispel the myth that it is a terrible album.

*Eminem- The Eminem Show

-After selling over 2 million copies in two weeks with his previous album, The Marshall Mathers LP, we watched Eminem make his triumphant return with the more honest and personal album, The Eminem Show. While Em was enjoying the stardom and pop star life (Em was essentially a pop star who hated pop stars), his inner demons and problems seemed to consume him and eat away at him. The result? This album. Was The Eminem Show a classic? That's something to debate, but regardless, it was an impactful album for Eminem and his career, and still remains the most personal in his discography. Let's take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros: Anytime a legendary artist makes an album that is personal, you can consider this a win as a fan. For Eminem, his life was a big source of his own material, but previously, Em had always spoken on problems in his life in more of a comedic and aggressive way than anything else. That slightly changes on The Eminem Show and that was for the better. Whether he speaks directly to his biggest audience on "White America", or to his mother and family on the excellent "Cleanin' Out My Closet", or even the pitfalls of fame on the raw "Say Goodbye Hollywood", Em doesn't miss a beat on any of these tracks. If you throw in his brutal honesty on the gem "Superman", his determination on "Till I Collapse", his vulnerability on "Hallie's Song", or even the aggression on the Jermaine Dupri diss "Say What You Say", this album shows us the most dimensions of Marshall Mathers the man and Eminem the artist. Is The Eminem Show his best album? Maybe. To me, it is, but MMLP has a claim as well. It all depends on which Eminem you like better. The maturing and introspective Em searching for something or the loud, abrasive Eminem who didn't give a fuck about anything. The Eminem Show is a mix of both of those, and there isn't another album in his catalog that accomplished this nearly as well.

Cons: There will always be a negative to any album. That is essentially the balance. However, this album has minimal issues, which considering how Eminem and his albums turned out in later years, this is a shock. For me, when Eminem deviates away from the personal nature of the album, he loses the listener some. While "Business" is a decent song, it somewhat feels out of place on the tracklist, and the same could be said for the Canibus diss "Square Dance". I should point out that neither song is bad, but they just feel out of place, especially in sequencing. Even though "Without Me" was a big single, as a song, it didn't really work for me, so that would have to be another con for this album. All in all, The Eminem Show is a really good album, and the negatives are minimal, which ranks it pretty high compared to other albums from that year.

*Nas- God's Son (2002)

-If you know me, you know that Nas is one of my favorite rappers ever. I've always been a big fan of his work and after he experienced a resurgence career wise with Stillmatic and the excellent Lost Tapes, I was happy to see him release another album within a year. After the tragic loss of his mother, Nas would set out to make an album that she would be proud of and that all of his fans could enjoy as well. That album would turn out to be God's Son, one of his most personal albums to date. Anytime an artist takes the personal route with an album, it usually works pretty well. Did Nas execute his personal and mature album the right way?

Pros: There are a lot of positives to this album. Easily. Was this album better than Stillmatic? In some ways, yes. An album with depth, grief, and honesty definitely trumps anything else, and while this album wasn't perfect, Nas showcased his ability to navigate between the hip hop style that made him famous, as well as the personal direction his life was going after a huge loss. There are moments on this album that show a side of Nas we had never really seen before, as the poignant track "Last Real Nigga Alive" is like his own musical biography, and unlike any other track from his catalog at the moment. He takes us through a journey and his writing process on "Book of Rhymes", delights the hip hop purist crowd with the hit "Made You Look", brings a classic storytelling track on "Get Down",and even manages one of his most somber yet introspective tracks on "Heaven". For the most part, Nas navigated through this album with precision, adding another gem to his solid catalog.

Cons: Despite the greatness he displays on this album, he misses the mark a few times, and it's only when he deviated away from the personal theme that worked so well. While one could consider "Hey Nas" a personal track, it is a cheesy attempt at a love song essentially for Nas with an extremely corny hook. The same could be said for "Zone Out", which is pretty much a Bravehearts song, and well.... that can't be good at any time. Though I love Alicia Keys and especially loved her during this era, the slightly out of place "Warrior Song" just feels very generic, and the same could be said for the hit record "I Can". It was treated as a motivational single for the kids of the world, and that's noble, but the song is subpar for so many reasons. Still, God's Son manages to have far more positives than negatives, making this album a great listen for the most part.

*The Roots- Phrenology

-One of the greatest groups in the world, The Roots, would release one of their best albums in 2002. After the Grammy nomination (and award) and the critical acclaim for Things Fall Apart, they had a job to do next and that was to make their follow up album just as good, if not better. This is a slightly more experimental album for the group, and considering they are a part of the Soulquarians crew with Common, it isn't a shock that both artists released albums that year that tested their normal sound and creativity. The question is, did Phrenology manage to avoid the same problems that made Electric Circus a failure? I think so. Here's why.

Pros: This album is very good. It's one of my favorites from the legendary group. However, what makes the album so good is the cohesion in the sound and how well Black Thought executes his rhymes on every single track. Lyrically, Black Thought is one of the greatest ever and he showcases that skill on this album at every turn. Those are the expected pros and positives of any Roots album, so there has to be more to it than just that, right? Yes, of course. Whether venturing into hit single territory with "Break You Off", providing a slightly out the box track on "The Seed 2.0", or even giving one of their smoothest tracks ever on the Jill Scott assisted "Complexity", The Roots never miss a beat on this album. I believe Phrenology is a classic and for the most part, it is a flawless album that has so many pros, any con would just be an extremely minor problem. Speaking of which....

Cons: There are NOT a lot of cons on this album. At all. If anything, the only con I could find is that a few of the tracks don't hit as hard as the best of the best. I personally found the Nelly Furtado featured "Sacrifice" to be subpar, and then there was also the Talib Kweli featured "Rolling With Heat", which isn't a bad song, but it just isnt one of my favorites. Outside of that, I can't seem to find an actual con on the album. The guest features are well done, the production is solid, the lyrics are amazing, and everything just flows together nicely. The Roots had a winner with Phrenology. Period.

*Jay-Z- The Blueprint 2 

-The last album I chose is one of the most important of the year. For one, it marked a landmark moment in the career of Jay-Z. He released his first sequel to an album, and his first double album. This was special for Jay, as he joined the short list of artists to release a double album, and he did so in remarkable fashion. Following a heated beef with Nas, a failed collab album with R. Kelly, and the perceived loss in the aforementioned beef, it felt as if Jay had his back against the wall slightly, and he would respond with this double album. Was The Blueprint 2 really a success? Let's see.

Pros: For the most part, the first disc of the album has a number of highlights. Over the nearly 2 hours worth of music, Jay shines bright with his flow seeming tighter than ever and more conviction in his delivery. The first disc is a balance of hit songs and lyrical exercises and it works well. Jay takes over on "The Watcher 2", spits some solid rhymes on "A Dream" while killing the competition on the classic "Hovi Baby", while stunting on songs like "Poppin' Tags", and the smooth hit "Excuse Me Miss". The surprisingly soulful "All Around The World" is an underrated highlight as well as "The Bounce". Now, for the second disc, Jay spends a lot of time getting introspective, with tracks like "Diamonds Is Forever", "Meet The Parents", "Guns & Roses", and "Some How, Some Way". Jay also shines on tracks that showcase his lyrical ability on disc 2 like the remix to "U Don't Know", "Some People Hate", and the title track. Blueprint 2 isn't classic by any means, but the highlights are absolute some of the best work from Jay.

Cons: The only con for this album is the clutter. Some songs were unnecessary and have no place. Despite this, Jay seemed hellbent on dying his fans what could have been the best Jay album had a few songs been taken off. Tracks like "Fuck All Nite", "As One", "Nigga Please", and a few others are really bad tracks that serve little purpose. The biggest con is the overkill on the tracklist, but Blueprint 2 has more highlights than negativity, and that's great. Will BP2 be remembered in a favorable way? That remains to seen even now. It is a good album, but missing something special that takes it over the top like the best of the best in Jay's catalog. 



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