Rap It Up 

Calmly regarding the good, the bad, and the Black Eyed Peas of 2005.

It's that time of year again, when columnists fly south for the winter like Canadian geese, dropping hastily assembled "Year-End Wrap-Up" pieces in their wake. Who has time for meticulous investigative research when the Henny-and-eggnog is flowin'? Thus, let us now riff on the best and worst urban music had to offer in 2005. Don't hate the player -- hate the game.

Best National Trend: Hip-Lit. A plethora of authors reclaimed hip-hop intellectualism with a slew of informative, educational, and entertaining books, among them Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop, S. Craig Watkins' Hip Hop Matters, Bakari Kitwana's Why White Kids Love Hip Hop, Adam Mansbach's Angry Black White Boy, Scott Poulson-Bryant's Hung, Kevin Liles' Make It Happen, Adisa Banjoko's Lyrical Swords Volume 2, Brian Coleman's Rakim Told Me, and Tamara Palmer's Adventures in Dirty South Hip-Hop. Want more substance from hip-hop culture? Whoop, there it is.

Worst National Trend: Hick-Hop. Dooky rope chains never replaced giant belt buckles in America's heartland, but that didn't stop newfangled C&W artists from co-opting hip-hop style into redneck chic. First Nelly duets with Tim McGraw. Then Trace Adkins cuts "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" (sample lyrics: Got it goin' on like Donkey Kong, and whoo-wee, shut my mouth, slap your grandma, there oughta be a law). New Country cheesemeisters Big & Rich couldn't leave well enough alone either, producing Cowboy Troy's album with enough sonic overkill to make Jerry Bruckheimer wince. What's next -- Keith Urban: Chopped and Screwed? Repeat after me: Wal-Mart and Wallabees don't mix.

F-F-Freshest Hip-Hop Movie: Forget 50 Cent's tired biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin' or Usher's equally lame In the Mix. Instead, get with Michael Wanguhu's Hip Hop Colony, an enlightening and festival-award-winning documentary on Kenya's indigenous rap scene.

Sexiest Top 40 Single: Kanye West's "Gold Digger" was so well constructed -- a perfect synthesis of hook, beat, and verse -- that you actually didn't mind hearing it three times an hour on commercial radio. Go 'head, 'Ye, go 'head, get down.

Most Topical MP3 Download: K-Otix' "George Bush Doesn't Like Black People" borrowed the "Gold Digger" melody and West's infamous telethon statement for its hook, articulating the struggle to survive Hurricane Katrina's aftermath with all real talk, no bullshit.

Crunkest Dirty South Rapper: A lot of people were feeling blatant self-promoter Mike Jones, diminutive firebrand Lil' Wayne, and ice-grill salesman Paul Wall, but the smart money is on Slim Thug, who not only enlisted the Neptunes to produce half of his album Already Platinum, but drove a Rolls-Royce before his record deal.

Hyphiest Bay Area Anthem: Duh. Keak da Sneak's "Super Hyphy" easily lived up to its title, though Mistah FAB's "Super Sick wid It" and Mac Dre's "Feeling Myself" packed a plethora of "mackin' words" of their own. Also worth noting: Lyrics Born's "The Bay," Zion-I's "The Bay," Frontline's "The Rich," Casual's "Oaktown," and Company of Prophets' "O.A.K.L.A.N.D." Notice a pattern here?

Most Grindin' Entrepreneur: JT tha Bigga Figga put out a three-year-old album he recorded with Compton rapper the Game (West Coast Resurrection) before the latter's major deal, which promptly sold more than a hundred thousand copies (that's Ghetto Platinum, incidentally). Then, after dropping his twelfth and final solo album, Who Grind Like Us? (which shamelessly pillaged his own catalogue), JT promptly announced his retirement and went out on top. Feel free to ask for a loan when you see him.

Incredibly Overrated Rap Album: 50 Cent's The Massacre is too obvious of a choice -- the joke is on the almost five million people who helped finance Fitty's home remodeling projects. No, Ying Yang Twins' United State of Atlanta was a far worse offender, rising to #1 on the strength of the ribald, juvenile "Wait (the Whisper Song)," but sucking otherwise. Okay, "Shake" (featuring Pitbull) was bangin', but why include six lame skits unless you're trolling for filler?

Incredibly Overrated Producer: A two-way tie between Danger Mouse -- who used some awfully tinny drums on his MF Doom team-up The Mouse and the Mask -- and Madlib, whose attempts at blunted free-jazz fusion on Sound Directions' The Funky Side of Life were more blurry than visionary.

Hottest Album by an Incarcerated Rapper: C-Murder's The TRU-est Shit I Ever Said proved that Master P's brother ain't exactly Rakim, but in between gym workouts and cell-block riots, he somehow found time to record his most ominous work to date, mixing Calliope Projects attitude with minimalist gangsta gumbo-funk.

Hottest Album by a Dead Rapper: Continuing his proclivity for inventing new personas, late Vallejo don Mac Dre -- as Andre Macassi -- teamed with Mac Mall for Da U.S. Open, collaborating with former rival E-40 on the radio hit "Dredio." Unfortunately, Dre never got to hear it played on the air (Romp in Peace, cuddie). Runner-ups include ODB for The Definitive Ol' Dirty Bastard Story, and Eazy-E for Eternal E -- Gangsta Memorial Edition.

Most Inspirational Genre: Dancehall. Junior Gong, I-Wayne, and Sean Paul enjoyed mainstream breakthroughs. New faces like Gyptian, Josie Mel, and Anthony Cruz stepped up. And still-bubbling old stalwarts like Sizzla and Bounty Killer held it down as dancehall took another step forward in '05, trending back toward roots and culture and moving away from slackness. The crucial-est artist, however, was Richie Spice, who stayed red-hot with "Youth Dem Cold," a plea for societal responsibility and education in the face of poverty, crime, and violence.

Wackest Rap Artist or Group: A toss-up between the Black Eyed Peas (self-explanatory), Cowboy Troy (who caused my editor, an admitted country music fan, to shout "Turn that shit off!"), and Hot Karl, the nerdy owner of a Los Angeles art gallery who attempted to make a irony-drenched comedic album (The Great Escape) about the mundane exploits of a totally uncool suburban white guy. Note to Hot Karl: When you're not, you're not.

Blatant Beat-Jack of the Year: C-Bo's "Westcoast California" sampled "Hotel California," transforming a tired classic rock hook into a tough-as-nails lyrical exposition of Cali thugisms. It's so bold, so ballsy, and so damn gangsta, you'll listen to it again and again, even if you don't like C-Bo. Or the Eagles.

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