On Da Corner Worldwide

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

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

KEN GIBBS
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?

BRETT SOKOL
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.

OLIVER WANG
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.

SCOTT WOODS
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.

CHUCK EDDY
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.

MICHAEL FREEDBERG
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."

BRETT SOKOL
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.

HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA
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.

SCOTT WOODS
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.

GREG TATE
Manhattan

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.

GEOFFREY HIMES
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.

FRANKLIN PAUL
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.

JON CARAMANICA
Manhattan

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

HILLARY CHUTE
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."

NELSON GEORGE
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.

RAQUEL CEPEDA
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.

TA-NEHISI COATES
Brooklyn, New York

"Beware of the Boys" features Jay-Z, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.

SCOTT WOODS
Toronto, Ontario

Given the post-9/11 zeitgeist, 50 Cent flying off the Kmart shelves makes perfect symbolic sense—shot down in a vicious sneak attack he rose, a cock-diesel lyrical sword-swinging Phoenix, come to feed the repressed national hunger for revenge fantasies against phantom menaces and get the people shopping like Giuliani.

GREG TATE
Manhattan

Why didn't parents' groups and Fox pundits fuss over 50 Cent like they did over Eminem? Because Eminem stages cartoon violence that threatens to spill into real life, while 50 writes songs where real life gets vacuumed into a cartoon—Get Rich or Die Tryin'was like Kill Bill, so bloody it was bloodless. It compressed gangsta carnivorousness into a Darwinian cliché and capitalist tool, its nihilism more silly than spooky. Forget that it's not really that good: It's an escapist masterpiece, and not only for bored white boys. Inner-city black kids who switched on 50's cartoons en masse didn't see something painful about their own lives confirmed, elaborated, and ennobled like with Tupac and Biggie, but rather confirmed, flattened, and swept away with a grin and a gush of fake blood.

JONAH WEINER
Brooklyn, New York

Get rich or die tryin'? OK, you got rich. Now what?

RICK MASSIMO
Providence, Rhode Island

Who's the leader in da club that's made for you and me? F-I-F T-Y-C E-N-motherfuckin-T!

ROB SHEFFIELD
Brooklyn, New York

Fiddy went from dealing and almost dying to starting his own clothing line within a year; he is hip-hop's current obsession with crossing over and movin' on up made animate. We love him like a fat kid loves cake. He is conspicuous consumption sliced and sweetened, but most importantly, made instantly, from ill-gotten scratch.

NICK CATUCCI
Brooklyn, New York

A friend told me, "Atmosphere could be a huge star if he was signed to a major label. Or if he got with Pharrell, that would be hot." Did he ever figure that Atmosphere doesn't want to be a hip-pop asshole like everybody else?

MOSI REEVES
Oakland, California

North Carolina's Little Brother aren't pop rap—more like rap your pops might dig.

CRAIG SMITH
Bethesda, Maryland

The thing about Andre 3000 is that he is profoundly black. This is not a "positive" blackness—Dead Prez raising a fist, Talib Kweli getting by. This is a personal and accidental black-ness. This is describing the entire experience—the way we walk on sunny days when it's raining inside—when you meant to only write a song. This is "Her from the city, so her got to be witty." This is an attempt at new-world multiculturalism—"now all Beyoncés and Lucy Lius" betrayed by Southern slurring of that last syllable.

TA-NEHISI COATES
Brooklyn, New York

I wish Big Boi and Andre 3000 were gay, and a couple, and advocates for gay marriage.

SMITH GALTNEY
Manhattan

Missy is the new Dylan, as in Dylan 69, so wired in to the great humming generator in the stars that even her lesser efforts are better than anyone else's best.

JOSHUA CLOVER
Berkeley, California

Fellow crits—the dutch has been passed. If you want to hear Timbaland scavenge the subcontinent and Missy's paeans to the late Aaliyah, keep on keepin' on. But don't be mad when the rest of the country—even those lethargic screwheads—zip right on by.

JON CARAMANICA
Manhattan

Be r*al! If somebody else stepped up with the beat from Cee-Lo's "I'll Be Around" or Missy's "Wake Up" or Timbaland and Magoo's own "Indian Flute," you'd have a heart attack and start pitching features.

SASHA FRERE-JONES
Manhattan

If rap is about voices-as-drummers, dancehall might be about voices-as-guitarists, or voices-as-horn sections: singers working repeated melodic hooks against sparse beats. In the case of Sean Paul, though, voice-as-symphony orchestra is more like it.

SCOTT WOODS
Toronto, Ontario

Don't underestimate this child of Jamaica's middle class: Sean Paul is genuine, dutty Jamdung rock, bred on Planet Reggae's gritty soil. After this, how can dancehall be relegated to support for someone else's rhymes?

ELENA OUMANO
Manhattan

In 2003, Dizzee Rascal led the league in almost every statistical category: Best Flow, Most Consistent, Realest Stories, Most Charisma, just for starters.

JODY ROSEN
Manhattan

Bubba Sparxxx has "The New South" tattooed on his arm, and Deliverancedefines it: comfortable integration. Between rural and urban, worldwide and home-repping, shotgun-shack broke and mansion paid, humble and boastful, rap and country.

NATE PATRIN
St. Paul, Minnesota

Mark my words, vato—soon hip-hop and r&b won't be just a black thing no more. White people? Nah. With the browning of America, somebody better be signing Fat Joe's son about now.

JON CARAMANICA
Manhattan

The most interesting figures in hip-hop for me over the past two years have been the Streets, Northern State, Dizzee Rascal, Bubba Sparxxx, and Slug. Not an African-American among them. Can it be that each artist's otherness relative to hip-hop proper is bringing new styles, new impulses, and new concerns to a genre that's 25 years old?

CHRIS HERRINGTON
Memphis, Tennessee

I've been trying to figure out why crunk has caught on. It's nothing more than Miami booty bass wed to '80s synthpop, right? With a healthy dose of dancehall thrown in, with house-music chants and sea-shanty growling. And it's smarter than anyone notices, and its artists are all work- aholic freakniks who pump out two or six albums a year and guest all over. So yeah, some big mystery here. Holy hell I love this stuff.

MATT CIBULA
Madison, Wisconsin

Who put that crunk in my trunk? Well I'll be dipped and dunked like a deep-fried skunk. Hey, does New York even make rap music anymore? Ha ha, just kidding. Don't shoot. But it is kinda hard to remember. Come to think of it, I'll listen to just about anything that takes my mind off that mumblemouth Fiddy Cent and his soggy bottom boyz.

SCOTT SEWARD
Tisbury, Massachusetts

"Get Low" gets me going for the first few seconds, but then the boyz ruin the fun by telling all the women to crawl. Party poopers!

LALENA FISSURE
Woodside, New York

Lil Jon says bend over! Lil Jon says touch your toes! Now shake ya tailfeather! Ho, Lil Jon didn't say to shake no tailfeather!

KEITH HARRIS
Bordentown, New Jersey

Ying Yang producer Beat-In-Azz has found a way to use large sounds without driving everything else out: spooky whoo-whoos, Ennio Morricone whistles and horn blasts, and Euro-operatic synth-orchestra accompaniments all at once, along with whatever the rhythms and rappers are doing.

FRANK KOGAN
Denver, Colorado

From a rapping perspective, the exciting thing about grime is that it reveals the MC is in a process of becoming, transforming before our eyes from a message-free dancefloor showman/ shaman into a fully fleshed character. I'm not sure if I actually want the MC to reach the point where lyrical content assumes primacy: it's the instability and undecidability of the incomplete totalisation process that makes it thrilling; the way MCs seem to teeter between pure aural effect and discernible meaning.

TIM FINNEY
Melbourne, Australia

Jay-Z's retirement makes perfect sense: hip-hop has entered a post-MC phase. Rhymes are passé. Turn on Hot 97: it's all about Diwali, the new Jus' Blaze beat, the latest Neptunes songlet. The world's biggest MC is 50 Cent, a rapper who can't be bothered to open his mouth. Dancehall is blowing up, even though American listeners don't understand a single word.

JODY ROSEN
Brooklyn, New York

The Love Below confounds the pundits by being more personal, psychedelic, confessional, whimsical, eclectic (not to mention more ungangsta, unblinging to boot) than anybody thought the nation's young conservatives would accept. Everything critics thought would be a problem—Dre's voice, his hit-or-miss songcraft, his Prince knockoffs—has proven a non-issue with the consumer. This is a good thing for the public and for music criticism. Because anytime some brilliant oddball shit hits for which there is no answer, music that matters starts coming out of the woodwork again.

GREG TATE
Manhattan

We may be "black and ugly," but we still here: covering books from The Faceto The New York Times Magazine, all over cable (not just BET), hijacking Beatlemania for ourselves (see "Hey Ya!"), losing our status as Number One Minority, putting out shitty records that still blindly sway millions, and having our own valiant, Frodo-like Son of Africa in Kofi Annan to save the Earth from the Forces of Evil.

KANDIA CRAZY HORSE
Manhattan

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