DAR Hip Hop: Pros And Cons Of 5 Albums From 2004
2004 was an interesting year in hip hop. There were a number of albums that fell short of expectations this year and a few that exceeded them. We covered that year in hip hop in general once before on this site, but never in depth like today. Today, I look at 5 albums from 2004, similar to what we did with the 2002 article, and list the pros and cons of each project. Which albums make the list today? Well, I selected the albums that had the biggest impact for better or worse and sold well. Which albums are those? Eminem's controversial Encore, Kanye's debut The College Dropout, T.I.'s real mainstream breakthrough Urban Legend, Jadakiss and his Kiss Of Death sophomore release, and the Twista breakthrough album Kamikaze. How do these albums hold up 14 years later? Let's take a look.
*Kanye West- The College Dropout
-Of course, we have to start off this article with a look at the biggest album of the year. The arrival of Kanye hit the hip hop world in a major way and changed the game. His debut would make him a centerpiece of hip hop, as his name grew and popularity rose due to the success of the first two singles. What made this album so special really was that it arrived at a time when gangsta rap had become more dominant and the G-Unit era was still underway. Kanye carved a lane for himself and would soon be nominated for awards, earning plaques, and critical acclaim. For every classic album, there are positive and negatives. So, the question is, what are the positives and negatives? Let's see.
Pros: There are plenty of pros on this album and the positives far outweigh the negative. Kanye was in a class of his own, infusing soul samples in his production, along with his booming drums, while providing some social commentary and bravado in all of his raps. For this album, there were rumors that Rhymefest wrote a majority of it, and while no one can really know if that's entirely true, Rhymefest did write the controversial hit "Jesus Walks", which was a highlight on this album. Aside from that, Kanye tackles topics like self-esteem, self worth and self love through a different lens on "All Falls Down", pays homage to the oldies but goodies on "Slow Jamz", documents his journey through his near fatal accident on "Through The Wire", tackles an excellent Marvin Gaye sample on "Spaceship", allows Jay-Z to spit two legendary verses and steal the show on "Never Let Me Down", before closing the album with the epic "Last Call". Simply put, Kanye was able to make something special and there is no doubt that the near flawless College Dropout is not only the best album of 2004, but it is also one of the best hip hop debuts ever.
Cons: Perhaps too many skits could be the problem here, but that's the only issue I have with this album really. Song wise, aside from the slightly misguided "Breathe In, Breathe Out" with Ludacris, and MAYBE a piece of "School Spirit". Otherwise, this album is virtually flawless, with only a few songs not connecting as well, but still connecting on a smaller level. College Dropout is that rare album with minimal flaws, so there aren't many negatives here to discuss.
-If you know hip hop well, you know that Twista is a legend. The Chicago native was vital in the midwest movement in hip hop in the 90's, and his album Adrenaline Rush is a true classic. However, after multiple guest appearances on tracks over the years, he had never reached a certain level of success that many of us felt he deserved. That would change with this album. Kamikaze would be the biggest moment of his career and it would come through Twista working with one of the biggest producers at the time, Kanye West. The work they would do together was pivotal to his career and with Kamikaze kicking off 2004 the right way, it would allow Twista to have an epic year. Was Kamikaze a great album? Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
Pros: I found this album to be extremely good personally, but I also think Twista was the most motivated he had been in his entire career. This album is concise and flows very well, with Twista utilizing some different producers this go round like the aforementioned Kanye, Jazze Pha, R. Kelly, and Red Spyda. The majority of the album is handled by Toxic, and his sound helps fuel the success. Tracks like "Still Feels So Good", "Pimp On", and "Kill Us All" are vintage Twista, while "So Sexy", "Overnight Celebrity", and of course "Slow Jamz" are highlights that give him a newer sound/style. All in all, Twista delivers with an excellent album.
Cons: I actually struggled to think of some issues with this album. It isn't necessarily a classic, but there isn't much here that doesn't work. Perhaps the only songs here that don't work are the laughable tracks like the Jazze Pha produced and featured "Badunkadunk", and maybe one or two other tracks, but even those are solid songs. I only feel as if the end of the album loses luster that it built from the opening tracks, but that's a small minor issue compared to the positives here. Kamikaze is the brightest spot in Twista's career commercially and his second best work behind Adrenaline Rush.
-I was actually excited to hear this album. Eminem had managed to run off a string of great albums in the Marshall Mathers LP, The Eminem Show, and of course the 8 Mile Soundtrack, so I expected something special with Encore. He was on top of the world dominating as the Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit era was truly underway, but I'll be the first to admit that this album took their run on a path that would only get worse. Now, I'm not blaming Encore for the fall of the entire regime, I'm just saying it was the first album to suffer the effects of the eventual Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit fatigue. What were the positives and negatives of Encore? Let's take a look.
Pros: There aren't very many. I will say that there are some glimpses of a more mature Eminem, but they are blocked out by the juvenile humor and style that he employs so often. However, the songs that have features here are actually really good and my favorite tracks on the album. Em by himself however is extremely hit or miss, as only tracks like "Yellow Brick Road" and "Like Toy Soldiers" stand out in terms of his solo work. I did enjoy the 50 Cent and Nate Dogg collab "Never Enough", and the posse cut with 50, Stat Quo, and Obie Trice "Spend Some Time", but that's pretty much where it stops. Encore doesn't have a ton of highlights, but the rare bright spots gave some hope to what could have been.
Cons: There were so many negatives to this album. For one, the slightly political theme to this album doesn't work at all. Eminem is great as the brash and aggressive rapper that hates all things pop culture, but it is obviously he is out of touch with the political climate in hip hop, especially at that time. Sure, saying fuck George Bush was the thing to do back then, but Em and his attempt feels forced, just like his recent Trump musings. With that being said, the biggest issue here to me is that Em misses the mark so many times on songs that he had connected with in the past. Perhaps that's the biggest issue. Em follows a tired formula that fans were beginning to get bored with. Tracks like "Puke", "Rain Man", and "Big Weenie" are horrible jokes and really could have been left off the album. Even the singles from the album just feel pointless and flat. The controversy surrounding "Just Lose It" does not take away from the fact that it is a horrible song, and even the comical "Ass Like That" feels like a poor excuse for a joke song. That's the thing. Em jokes so much on his albums and gets a pass because of his fans, but to the listeners who aren't diehard fans, this is actually annoying. Encore misses the mark as a whole and is the first bad mark on a solid discography from Em up until that point at least.
*Jadakiss- Kiss Of Death
-I almost elected to not include this album in my list. The truth is, Jadakiss was one of the best rappers at the time when this album released, but he had yet to make an album that really moved the needle. While his debut album was solid, and garnered a platinum plaque, it still didn't provide him with that major classic that he needed to solidify himself as a true legend. The buzz around his sophomore album was that it would be a much more serious album and that it would likely be the piece that Jada needed to his legacy. It wasn't. Now, I'm not saying this album was horrible, because it isn't, but there was just a lot of balance between the pros and cons actually, leaving the album more so in the decent column than anything. Here's why.
Pros: There are definitely positives about this album. Perhaps the positives are not as plentiful as the cons, or at least they don't feel like they are. Jada starts off well with the intro and "What You So Mad At", and manages to make a decent single with Nate Dogg on "Time's Up", and of course, there was instant classic "Why" with Anthony Hamilton that took this album to the next level with the content. However, beyond "Why", there is no other growth in terms of content and in some ways, that's perfect because when Jada raps alongside Styles P on "Shoot Outs", or Sheek on "Real Hip Hop", he shines the brightest. My favorite tracks here however are the soulful back to back punch of "Still Feel Me" and the best track here "By Your Side". Kiss Of Death gives you highlights of what Jada is capable of as an artist, and the best work here is some of his greatest. It just isn't frequent enough.
Cons: I have some thoughts as to why there are a lot of cons on this album. Jada and Interscope followed a formula. It would be a winning one for some artists, but Jada just doesn't fit into said formula IMO. For one, on tracks like the generic "Shine" with Snoop and DJ Quik, or even the laughable "U Make Me Wanna" with Mariah Carey, Jada just doesn't seem like he is really in his comfort zone, and some of the production here falls short of what could have been. For me, the most disappointing songs here are the Neptunes produced "Hot Sauce To Go", the Eminem and LOX featured "Welcome To D-Block", and the Kanye West featured "Gettin' It In". These are songs with potential that just somehow manage to fall short of expectations. Overall, the cons are plentiful on the album, but this is still a decent album that had a lot of potential.... but showcases that sometimes an artist going out of their comfort zone doesn't work.
*T.I.- Urban Legend
-I was never the biggest T.I. fan honestly. I remember listening to his debut album and enjoying it, but I never thought to seek out his music. Trap Muzik came out and I definitely enjoyed it as well, but when Urban Legend came out, I had to make a choice. It was either buy the new T.I. album or the new Nas double disc project. I selected to buy the Nas album. I'm glad I did, as I feel the Nas double album was actually slept on, but a week or so later, I would finally buy Urban Legend and it was this album that actually made me see the appeal of T.I. and his music. Urban Legend wasn't better necessarily than Trap Muzik, but T.I. sounded like a more poised MC on this album and the tracklist felt balanced as well. Urban Legend is my personal favorite T.I. album because of that, so what are the pros and the cons of the album? Let's see.
Pros: This album has a number of positives. It is essentially one of the most cohesive albums from T.I., balancing his street anthems with crossover hits and tracks for the ladies. He employs producers like Mannie Fresh, Scott Storch, and The Neptunes to give him a slightly different sound, but keeps the vibe from Jazze Pha, David Banner, and DJ Toomp in tact. Whether T.I. was rapping his ass off on "ASAP" or the huge hit "U Don't Know Me", providing something with the ladies on "Chilling With My Bitch" or the classic "Freak Though", or even giving the clubs something to bounce to on "Bring Em Out" and "The Greatest", he manages to cover all bases on the album, which is something that elevates the cohesion in this project. Often times, artists get trapped in one set or style, and they never deviate from it. While T.I. isn't the most creative artist overall, he does bring differing flows and navigates his content well on this one. Is Urban Legend a classic? Maybe, maybe not, but it is definitely an important album from 2004 and one of the most, if not the most important T.I. album.
Cons: I struggled to really think of cons for this album, because it really flows so well that you won't skip anything here for the most part. However, one of the biggest issues I had with the album comes from some of the guest features and a few of the filler tracks. While Nelly is enjoyable at times, his work on the boring "Get Loose" adds very little to the album, and the same can be said for perhaps the worst song here "Get Your Shit Together" with an uninspired performance from Lil' Kim. B.G. fares slightly better on "What They Do", and so does P.S.C. on the solid "Limelight", but aside from those tracks, I don't think there is much to gripe about with this album. T.I. would break more into the mainstream with this album and receive critical acclaim for this project, so it's safe to say that Urban Legend was a win.