Track 18 Wins Again
From Rockstar Mentality (Universal Republic)
A catchphrase that somehow became a band, the Shop Boyz (those "Party Like a Rockstar" guys) should've turned their novelty fluke into a crunk-rock blueprint: 13 equally irresistible riffs/ringtones ready for Kids' Choice Awards bumpers and Guitar Hero IV. Instead, there's not nearly enough crunk or rock on Rockstar Mentality (the title track doesn't even have guitars on it), but track 6, the beach-blanket B-boying of "Rollin'," deserves its own Red Bullsoaked puddle in the gimmick-rap aquarium. With a descending Ventures wheedle and some "Hey Ya" drums, it's easily the best surf-rap track ever, if not the least embarrassing. Certainly it's less cloying than the Fat Boys' "Wipeout," and way less Pauly than Pauly Shore's "Lisa Lisa (The One I Adore)." (Surf MCs' "Surf or Die" just all-around sucked, but at least its "r-r-r-radical" hook was a spiritual heir to the Boyz' own "T-t-totally dude.") Brand-new cars and bad girls in tow, our heroes ignore the speed limit on their way to . . . Mississippi? How do you surf there?
UGK featuring T.I.
"Hit the Block"
From Underground Kingz (Jive)
Floating around in BlogLand and MySpace for the better part of 2007 ("better" meaning "when you heard 'Throw Some D's' every five minutes"), "Hit the Block" is now the completely inconsistent 29th track on one of the most consistent hip-hop albums of the year (naturally, by hip-hop's most consistent duo, UGK). Producer/fucker-upper Swizz Beatz makes sirens and yowls and claps and toms all gasp for air, each noise clipped into baffling little shards like he's Kid 808apoplectic, epileptic, and t-t-totally bonkers, more Dizzee Rascal than the Underground Kingztrack that Dizzee Rascal actually appears on. Swizz did the Biggie duets album for a paycheck, but at least he got to cannibalize the MJG verse for this spliced-out new hook that makes even the spazziest of the producer's recent cocaine finger-drum fare (Fabolous's "Return of the Hustle," Eve's "Tambourine," Busta's "Watch Yo Mouth") look flaccid. Plus, it was recorded in that one week in 2006 when T.I. and Bun B were the two bestest MCs on Earth.
"What It Is"
It's heartening to watch Monch pick up where the mighty Mos Def left off: being our hip-pop polyglot, confronting glitches in the Matrix, complaining about record companies, doing a quasi-ironic Elvis impersonation, rapping from the perspective of a sentient gun. But when he plays it straight six tracks into this fan-appeasing throwback to 1999's Internal Affairs, produced into a Detroit death drone by Black Milk, he can still astound with just one line: "Today's n----s do skate-by hits/Run in your crib on some Queer Eye for the Straight Guy shit."
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