By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
Meanwhile, over in the hip-hop nation that supplanted rock, it was business as usual with Eminem selling more than eleven million records this year alone. Ringing cash registers aside, though, it's hard to argue with Eminem's playfully inventive "Without Me" and "Lose Yourself" -- but just try to wade through the rest of the filler-clogged albums, The Eminem Show and the 8 Milesoundtrack, which spawned those singles.
To be sure, 2002 was filled with memorably sharp hip-hop songs. But lasting albums were in painfully short supply. The margins failed to offer much succor either. Full-length outings from "underground" rappers such as Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, and the Anticon crew may have been ceaselessly championed by their backpacker fans (a milieu that not coincidentally recalls the aesthetic ghetto of early-Nineties college-rock in both its tone and demographic composition), but the actual hip-hop they fashioned sounded much more interesting on paper than on headphones: all weak beats and torrents of ill-shaped confessional verse. Clearly these are rappers who have suffered for their art. Now it's our turn.
Little wonder then that industry-wide sales were down nearly nine percent from 2001 -- which itself showed steep declines from 2000. Record companies blamed piracy, particularly illegally burned and sold CDs. As far as Kulchur is concerned, they're right. The best hip-hop CDs of the year were DJ-created mixtapes that put the focus on the genre's true auteurs, its producers -- the most skilled of whom, such as the Neptunes, could take even 'N Sync boy toy Justin Timberlake and make him, if not black, at least funky.
One personal fave, Fast Lane, came courtesy of New York DJ Funkmaster Flex, who dropped several of the Neptunes' signature grooves under a host of freestyling up-and-comers, further proving that with the right track, literally any fool scooped up off the corner could sound like a hitbound MC.
As Brooklyn's Bad Seed took his turn at the microphone, Funkmaster Flex spun the Dr. Dre-produced "Addictive," which boldly sampled an obscure 1982 Indian film score, complete with lilting flutes and Lata Mangeshkar's exotic Hindi chanting. Bad Seed promptly launched into the familiar litany of money, Moët, and machine guns, running out of braggadocious steam just as Mangeshkar's looped voice came around again.
Bad Seed paused, sounding downright awed by the otherworldly syllables forming around him: Thoda resham lagta hai, thoda sheesha lagta hai.
"If you all know what the fuck this bitch is saying, sing along," he marveled.
Kulchur would phrase it a bit more delicately than Bad Seed did, but the general idea holds. This past year's pop pleasures came in strange places, from resuscitated New Jersey dinosaurs to Bollywood chanteuses. Best to keep your ears open.