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2004: A Look Back

By Matt Barone   /   Published 12/28/04

No matter what your outlook on the present state of rap music may be, both optimists and pessimists can't deny one fact: 2004 was one hell of a ride.

From the all-too-early passing of the underappreciated Ol' Dirty Bastard, to the debacle that was the Best of Both Worlds Tour, and to the now infamous VIBE Awards altercation, the past 12 months have seen their fair share of drama. Beef cooked steadily, as T.I. and Lil Flip battled for Southern supremacy while Ludacris momentarily intervened, and 50 Cent and G-Unit newcomer The Game entertained numerous competitors (like Joe Budden and Yukmouth).

However, amidst all the controversy and negativity emerged several positive forces that further advanced the hip-hop culture with innovation, artistry, and refreshing maturity. Rap's underground scene flourished with one incredible album after another, as artists like MF DOOM, Masta Ace, and Necro kept the independent heat coming. Kanye West broke through with his brilliant The College Dropout, bringing consciousness to the record-buying public. Jay-Z proved that he truly is a blueprint for success by taking over the ranks at Def Jam, releasing a feature film, enjoying hit singles while in retirement, establishing ownership of an NBA franchise, and saving a botched tour from complete disaster, all with the game's toughest dimepiece by his side. Injecting hip-hop with new life, Lil Jon brought the fun back to rap, making rowdy club anthems acceptable on all coasts as he collaborated with artists ranging from Mobb Deep to Trick Daddy.

However, when all is said and done, the essence of this culture is the music. After listening to damn near every compact disc being made this year, the following lists have been selected with care as a representation of one hip-hop lover's opinion. With high hopes for 2005 intact, here is a reflection on 04's audio highlights, followed by a glimpse into the future.

Artists of the Year
Kanye West
Jay-Z
Lil Jon
Outkast
MF DOOM

Breakthrough Artists of the Year
Kanye West
Twista (finally got his long overdue time to shine)
T.I.
Lloyd Banks
Jadakiss (now a worthy household name)

Album of the Year
Kanye West - The College Dropout
(Honorable Mention: Jean Grae and 9th Wonder - Jeanius)

Commercial Albums of the Year
Nas - Street's Disciple (Sony Urban/ Columbia)
Kanye West - The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
T.I. - Urban Legend (Atlantic)
Young Buck - Straight Outta Cashville (G-Unit/ Interscope)
Lloyd Banks - Hunger For More (G-Unit/ Interscope)
Ghostface - The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
Jadakiss - Kiss of Death (Interscope)
De La Soul - The Grind Date (Sanctuary)
Young Gunz - Tough Luv (Roc-A-Fella)
The Roots - The Tipping Point (Geffen)
Slum Village - Detroit Deli (Capitol)

Underground Albums of the Year
Masta Killa - No Said Date (Nature Sounds)
Madvillain - Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
MF DOOM - MM..FOOD (Rhymesayers)
Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer (M3)
Jean Grae - This Week (Babygrande)
Goretex - The Art of Dying (Psycho Logical)
Ill Bill - What's Wrong With Bill? (Psycho Logical)
Foreign Exchange - Connected (BBE)
Royce Da 5'9 - Death is Certain (Koch)
Murs and 9th Wonder - Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (Definitive Jux)
Wordsworth - Mirror Music (Halftooth)

Remix Project of the Year
Danger Mouse and Jay-Z - The Grey Album

Most Disappointing Albums of the Year
Method Man - Tical 0: The Prequel
Eminem - Encore
Fabolous - Real Talk
213 - The Hard Way

Producers of the Year
Necro
The Alchemist
Scott Storch
Kanye West
9th Wonder

New Artists of Year
Kanye West
Lloyd Banks
Young Buck
Foreign Exchange

Artists to Watch in 2005
The Game
Saigon
Papoose
Grafh
Copywrite
Slim Thug
Bump J
Rhymefest
Twip
L.G.
Stat Quo
Chamillionaire

Anticipated Albums for 2005
Common - BE
Little Brother - The Minstrel Show
Non Phixion - Nuclear Truth
Styles P. - Time is Money
The Game - The Documentary
50 Cent - Valentine's Day Massacre (tentative title)
Dr. Dre - Detox
Raekwon - Cuban Linx 2 (tentative title)
Outkast - 10 The Hard Way (tentative title)
9th Wonder - The Dream Merchant
Beanie Sigel - The B-Coming
Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told (tentative title)
Immortal Technique - The Middle Passage