On Da Corner Worldwide

Hip-Hop, R&B, Dancehall, Crunk, Grime, er, Music by Black People

Ten songs by young black artists dominated the Billboard Top 10. What more can I say?

Boston, Massachusetts

Hip-hop hasn't just crossed over to the mainstream. In 2003 it was the mainstream. How else to explain the appearance on soccer moms of, gulp, velour track suits?

Miami, Florida

In our paranoid prognosticating, we were worried that hip-hop would dissolve into pop. We couldn't see what is obvious now—it's pop that's begging for hip-hop's blessing.

Oakland, California

Declaring hip-hop creatively dead has been a critics' sport since at least 1981, and this year the chorus repeated, but I'm amazed at just how unusual commercial rap could get.

Toronto, Ontario

I actually think hip-hop is getting better nowadays, mainly because of Southern crunk pulling music from all over the place and remembering Bambaataa and Mantronix and dub space and Delta crossroads and discovering bluegrass and goth metal and oi! chants and winding up way more beautiful and sad and joyful than songs commanding women to do tricks with their vaginas have any right to be.

Brooklyn, New York

Hip-hop means loving the 'hood, staying in the 'hood, talking the 'hood talk. Staying with the 'hood—or even just preferring the 'hood—means limiting oneself, confining. IN LIFE, YOU GOTTA WANNA!!!—GET OUT OF THE 'HOOD.

Salem, Massachusetts

Forget about signifying boychiks in the 'hood. Jay-Z himself cut through all the sociology by visiting Manhattan's WQHT-FM, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, and addressing his radio audience on his endless media sallies with Nas: "I want you all to really understand. It's wrestling."

Miami, Florida

I swear when Snoop and Pharrell's "Beautiful" came out, crime dropped to an all-time low in South Central L.A. Gangstas were seen all over town crooning like bitches. They dropped their gats and bought floral arrangements for their 'hos. Yeah boiiii.

Sherman Oaks, California

In its eagerness to occupy every inch of genre space available to humankind, hip-hop has been curiously bereft in one crucial area: Quiet Storm raps. I hope 50 Cent's "21 Questions" is a portent of many more to come.

Toronto, Ontario

2003 will be remembered as the year rhythm and blues came back swinging a fighter-jet titanium bat. To a small extent this is because corporate hiphop has so little left to offer in the way of novelty, surprise, or charm. That co-rulers Jay-Z and Andre 3000 both retired from the game formerly known as an art form speaks volumes. Who you gonna call?—Nelly? Chingy? But if you're Black in American pop—hell, American music, including jazz—that's where you can be the most expressive, experimental, and even eccentric. Real singers welcome here: Beyoncé, Anthony Hamilton, that chocolate piss factory R. Kelly. And by real I mean those who can carry a note found on the piano and tell a blues story. Pharrell Williams, Musiq, and Alicia Keys all have melody in their borderline voices and memorable hooks to make up for their pitch-shifting shiftiness.


Anthony Hamilton is no revivalist or preservationist. He's a modernist who uses the lean beats of hip-hop and the embellishments of smooth jazz to give his songs muscle and atmosphere without clutter. But he rejects the adolescent fantasies of rap and the adult escapism of pop-jazz. The title track's well-meaning, blue-collar protagonist, for example, sits in a jail cell and tries to make sense of how his life has gone so wrong.

Baltimore, Maryland

What kind of 62-year-old man can warble "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" alongside Burt Bacharach and team with R. Kelly to sing "Go upstairs and get your shit and get the fuck up out of here"? Ronald Isley needs some extra-strength, Tony Soprano- style counseling.

Yonkers, New York

Before they broke up, B2K were the most successful boy band of 2003 and the biggest black male pop act since New Edition and Boyz II Men. And does anyone care? No, and not because they have dumb hair. That never stopped Chris Kirkpatrick. It's be-cause they got their start on BET, not MTV, and that's just wrong.


Justin Timberlake's falsetto singlehandedly ushered me back into loving the Top 40.

Brooklyn, New York

R. Kelly is party to a long tragicomic tradition. Johnny Ace lost at Russian roulette. Sam Cooke was shot in a low-rent motel. Otis Redding's plane crashed. Jackie Wilson had a stroke onstage. Al Green had steaming grits tossed on him. Marvin Gaye was assassinated by his cross-dressing father. Sly coked away his career. Bobby Brown married the queen and lost his kingdom. And then there's Michael Jackson. If you're the pre-eminent r&b loveman of your era, you are destined to be a huge fuckup. As Sly said, "You see it's in the blood."

Brooklyn, New York

What makes Beyoncé the most irresistible siren of her generation transcends her bonita applebum—it's that honeyed voice she belts in perfect pitch, unlike the other jolly ranchers, that makes her milk shake supreme. You simply can-not hate on her.

Brooklyn, New York

"Threat" is Jay-Z at his best because it's Jay-Z at his most malicious, with the sort of fratricidal, "killing every nigger in sight" malice that makes me reach for the Garvey tricolor done poorly but is sublime done right. Jay-Z bends concepts off the corner with ivory-tower techniques, a high school buddy snapping on whoever while recognizing no borders between nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

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