The year 2005 was one that hip-hop heads everywhere will remember. The emergence of artists like Paul Wall and Mike Jones solidified that the Dirty South has become to hip-hop what New York was in the early 90’s, while the West Coast mounted a comeback of their own with strong records from The Game, DJ Quik and Ras Kass, along with The Game’s and Snoop Dogg’s public pleas for a truce between Bloods and Crips. NY wasn’t completely out of the mix, though — whoever 50 Cent didn’t publicly diss, he signed to his G-Unit label. Kanye West continued to keep the Midwest buzzing with another classic LP, and he brought fellow Chi-town native Common along for the ride, making the underground hip-hop God a household name as well. Meanwhile, North Carolina-bred Little Brother took the industry by storm by defying Dirty South stereotypes with an album high on flavor, high on quality hip-hop, and low on filler — if only BET and The Source agreed.
The writers with BallerStatus voted on this year’s awards, and here they are. Some of the winners are expected, but you’ll also find a few surprising inclusions — just to keep the change of pace going into the New Year. On behalf of the rest of the BallerStatus staff, thanks to all of the readers and visitors for their support in 2005. This New Year should be full of more articles, more trends, and most importantly, more hip-hop. Here’s to an even better 2006.
Album of the Year of the Year: Late Registration (Kanye West)
Radio station drama, ghostwriting allegations, and anti-George Bush sentiments aside, Kanye West delivered the goods this year. College Dropout was a crossover hit, but he took all the necessary steps to make sure that his follow-up wouldn’t only be worthy, but better than its predecessor: he employed producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion to assist him with the album’s layered backdrops, made songs with two of the best rappers alive in Jay-Z and Nas, and capitalized on the Dirty South explosion by featuring Paul Wall and a screwed twist on the ending of “Drive Slow.” He also touched hearts with considerable storytelling skills (“Drive Slow,” “Roses”), raged against the machine (“Crack Music,” “Diamonds of Sierra Leone (Remix)”), and dropped some of the best instrumentals of the year — all while finding the time to show love for moms dukes (“Hey Mama”). Here’s hoping he does it again next time around.
Honorable Mention: The Minstrel Show (Little Brother); The Documentary (The Game); BE (Common); The Carter II (Lil Wayne)
Underground/Indie Album of the Year: S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (One.Be.Lo)
Nashid Sulaiman had already made a name for himself as OneManArmy, one half of the Pontiac, MI-based hip-hop duo Binary Star. But things changed: Binary Star split up, Sulaiman changed his name to One.Be.Lo to avoid a possible lawsuit from a rock band named One Man Army, and he inked a deal with Fat Beats to release his sophomore solo set. S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. has One.Be.Lo using an extensive vocab, dexterous flow, and acute perceptiveness to touch on corruptive media outlets (“Propaganda”), life in poverty (“The Ghetto”), love (“E.T.”), internal conflict (“Evil of Self”), and still spew deadly battle verses (“Unparalleled,” “enecS eht no kcaB”). The kicker is, instead of sounding preachy, his casual tone can make you believe that you’re capable of thinking and spitting the same things — but don’t think for a second that you can.
Honorable Mention: Hell’s Winter (Cage); Grandmasters (GZA & DJ Muggs); The Black Market Militia (Black Market Militia); Put It On The Line (Ghostface Killah & Trife Da God)
New Artists of the Year: (Tie) The Game, Young Jeezy
The record of profitable Dr. Dre protégés that began in the 90’s with Snoop Dogg and Eminem continued with The Game in 2005. While The Documentary was packed with production from nearly every A-List beatmaker in the industry, The Game’s NY-inspired delivery, proud poses with Los Angeles staples like low-riders and Converse All-Stars, and namedropping that demonstrates a knowledge of the game that would make Eric Dyson blush, are what boosted this album from a banging compilation to an auspicious debut. Additionally, holding his own after his ousting from 50 Cent’s crew with his G-UNOT campaign, getting his own shoe deal with 310 Motoring, and creating a buzz for his upcoming “Stop Snitchin, Stop Lyin'” DVD, have helped him establish a name of his own. … Young Jeezy was one-fourth of Boyz N The Hood, but it was evident early on that he had plans beyond Bad Boy’s gangsta rap collective. His sluggish flow, spontaneous adlibs, and blunt punchlines helped him gain the admiration of rap fans and trap stars alike. Controversy from his Snowman shirts and backing from rap’s industrial powerhouse doesn’t hurt, either.
Honorable Mention: Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Mike Jones
Breakthrough Artist of the Year: Common
Common has always been a gifted lyricist, but his career has seen him getting props from some fans while getting shunned by the others. Radio listeners slept as classic albums like One Day It’ll All Make Sense and Resurrection earned him recognition as one of hip-hop’s elite, and although his single “The Light” gave him more name recognition, his album Electric Circus had hip-hop heads and new fans alike scratching their heads. In 2005, his album BE still packed the lyrical complexities that fans have grown to love, while uniting with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West gave Common the commercial boost he needed to saturate mainstream outlets like MTV and get casual consumers to take notice.
Honorable Mention: Lil Wayne, The Game, Little Brother, Juelz Santana
Most Disappointing Album of the Year: All Or Nothing (Fat Joe)
With the huge crossover success of Terror Squad’s “Lean Back,” a brewing beef with 50 Cent, and major label backing by Atlantic Records, it seemed like 2005 was the year for Fat Joe to blow up. While he got off to a good start with a Just Blaze-helmed single, many fans saw the track with Nelly as conclusive evidence that the D.I.T.C. veteran had abandoned his hardcore roots, and his diss track toward 50 was too apprehensive to earn those rights back. Even though All Or Nothing had plenty of Fat Joe’s boasts and street soliloquies, along with production from some of the industry’s A-list performers, the results were the most disappointing. While Fat Joe is now a household name, record sales didn’t reflect it.
Honorable Mention: Young, Fly and Flashy Vol. 1 (Jermaine Dupri & So So Def); Brothers From Another (Young Gunz); Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon (Tony Yayo); 534 (Memphis Bleek)
R&B Mover and Shaker of the Year: Mariah Carey
After a few lackluster efforts to close out the decade, a highly-publicized emotional breakdown, and numerous disses from Eminem and his camp, Mariah Carey came back like Jordan wearing the 4-5 with her eighth LP, The Emancipation of Mimi. Equipped with Jermaine Dupri-laced club hits (“It’s Like That,” “Shake It Off”), high-class ballads (“We Belong Together”), and her trademark eight-octave range still intact, she showed listeners everywhere why she was the highest-selling female artist of the 90’s.
Honorable Mention: R. Kelly, Keyshia Cole, John Legend, Lyfe Jennings
Producer of the Year: Kanye West
Kanye West turned sped-up sampling into his trademark between 2001 and 2004, but after impersonators began to employ the same techniques, he began to use brand new tactics to formulate his soundbeds. The minimalistic knock on Common’s breakthrough hit (and the hardest single of the year), “The Corner,” the shuffling handclaps on Keyshia Cole’s “I Changed My Mind,” the stuttering drums on The Game’s “Dreams,” and the 40-piece orchestra on “Gone” show that Kanye’s level of innovation surpasses that of his peers.
Honorable Mention: Swizz Beats, Just Blaze, Scott Storch, Lil Jon
Most Anticipated Album of 2006: Untitled (Mase)
Mase could also receive the award for Most Confusing Career Move of 2005. Bad Boy’s post-B.I.G. poster child left the rap game in 1999, at the brink of his success, to go to college and start his own ministry. Five years later, he returned with Welcome Back, an album filled with the upbeat, feel-good rap that earned him his fan base, with a Christian twist. Problems with Diddy, however, prompted him to leave Bad Boy and join a slew of other hip-hop heavyweights by signing with G-Unit Records. Mixtape appearances and a verse on the “Get Rich Or Die Tryin'” soundtrack show that Mase still has the skills to pay the bills, but hip-hop heads wonder how much his newfound partnership with gangsta rap’s renaissance man will conflict with his alliance with the Man upstairs.
Honorable Mention: The Greatest Story Never Told (Saigon); Untitled (Ghostface Killah and DOOM); Only Built For Cuban Linx II (Raekwon); Killa Season (Cam’ron); Time Is Money (Styles P); The Growth (Joe Budden); The Dream Merchant (9th Wonder)
Artist To Watch In 2006: Saigon
Even Newsweek magazine had to find out what the deal was with Saigon, the first artist on Just Blaze’s Fort Knocks Entertainment label. The Brooklyn native has the gangsterisms of a Styles P or old school Ice Cube, but combining that with the awareness and opinionated flair of Talib Kweli and 2Pac make him one of the premier MCs in hip-hop’s new breed (he named himself Saigon after reading about blacks fighting in Vietnam — do your research). Underground appearances with Talib, Inspectah Deck and Kool G Rap; a recurring role on HBO’s “The Entourage”; and his Whoo Kid-helmed Abandoned Nation earning props as one of the hottest mixtapes of the year should have heads everywhere fiending for his debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told.
Honorable Mention: Papoose, Cee-Lo (two albums coming in 2006: one with DJ Danger Mouse, the other with Jazze Pha), Alias (Lansing, MI), Glasses Malone (Watts, CA), JR Writer (Harlem, NY)