'03, Oh My!

Our critics weigh in on a questionable yearís best music

 Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.

As 2003 dies out, the year isn't suggesting any easy epitaphs for itself. Trends continued -- another Strokes album, another Britney Spears debacle, etc. Trends died out -- goodbye, rap metal! (We mean it this time.) However, the Zeitgeist sort of laid back in the cut this year, in a very un-Zeitgeist kind of way.

But that's the big picture. If you knew where to look, there was some great music in the '03. Here's some of the best.

Joe Rocco
Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch

Top Five Bests of St. Louis Hip-hop

St. Louis rap had its most successful year to date in 2003, what with Nelly still reigning supreme, his boy Murphy Lee getting a boost and, best of all -- and most surprisingly -- Chingy proving to be more than a one-hit wonder with his infectious (if sophomoric) debut, Jackpot, going platinum on the strength of two Top 5 singles. What follows are a few Lou highlights -- and embarrassments -- of 2003 hip-hop and R&B.

1. Best Crunk Mix CDs DJ
C-Note: A mix-show DJ on Q95.5, C-Note has released, at last count, nine mix CDs that highlight the best of both local and national crunk -- the lowdown, scream-and-panic hip-hop subgenre of which Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz are kings. The mixes are a great way to keep in touch, and, even better, they'll get you versions of both the All Stars' "So Serious," which has become a local anthem, and the lesser, but still impressive, "Skip to Da Lou" by Young Beano, a track that celebrates Our Fair City.

2. Best Wake-Up Call
Nelly, "Iz U": His track "Iz U," from the gratuitous, unnecessary Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention, bombed, the first track of his to do absolutely nothing on the charts in his three years at the top. And it serves him right; not only was Da Derrty an absolutely transparent cash-in that required nothing of Nelly other than to look cool on the cover, he released it only two months after posse-mate Murphy Lee's Murphy's Law came out, overshadowing his boy's debut album and drawing sales away from it.

3. Best Cameo Line That Never Gets Old
Ludacris, "Holidae In": The king of rap in 2003, Ludacris made St. Louis cutie-pie Chingy a household name when it seemed like he'd only be a one-hit wonder ("Right Thurr"). Luda, who signed Ching-a-ling to a deal, recruited the big Snoop-dizzle to join in on "Holidae In," and the three of them threw down a great party anthem about renting a room, getting loose and making sweet, sweet love to various chickies. And while Chingy deserves kudos for that smoov, smoov rhyme style of his, it was Luda who owned the song with one He-Man command: "Stop, drop, kaboom, baby rub on your nipples!" he insisted, and girls everywhere did indeed stop what they were doing and get to work. Hell, the first time I heard it, I ground my Escalade to a halt, pulled up my shirt and started rubbing: "Yes, sir, Mr. Ludacris, you want that I should pinch them, too?"

4. Best Redundancy in a "Quiet Storm" Fuck Song
Pretty Willie, "Lay Your Body Down": It's a melody that you can't shake once you hear it, for better or for worse: The local hit "Lay Your Body Down" is a slow burn of a song, a song that nestles itself in your consciousness with its cascading vocal melody, one that saves the song from its bland rhythm track. Lyrically, though, the song is infuriating to those of us who value precision: "Lay your body down, and let me touch your body," croons Pretty Willie, a.k.a. P. Dub. Come on, man. Somewhere along the way, someone should have nudged Pretty Willie to expend one or two brain cells to find another word for the first or second "body." Really, Willie, "lay your body down and let me touch your body"? How about, "Lay your body down, and let me touch your booty." Or, "Lay your sweet self down and let me touch your body." Or, "Park your ass on the floor, and let me touch your body." Something, anything, Willie; you ain't gonna make it nationally with that work ethic.

5. Best Hope for 2004
J-Kwon: J-Kwon is a St. Louis rapper signed to Jermaine Dupre's So So Def label, and his first single, which has yet to be released nationally, is the TrackBoyz-produced track called "Tipsy." It's a totally catchy barefoot jungle stomp, à la Clipse's "Grindin'" and bodes well as the next big hope for St. Louis rap.

Top Ten Twang

1. The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music: A pretty-as-spring, largely acoustic record that could have been yet another sickly exercise in unplugging. Instead, the Jayhawks sound revived, in love again with what made them indispensable to begin with: the immediacy of songs worth their gorgeous harmonies. Realizing, finally, that he isn't Brian Wilson, Gary Louris has found the pop masterpiece he's been searching for.

2. Gillian Welch, Soul Journey: Welch calls this record her "sunniest," but the light stings as much as it soothes. She pillages old-time music, cops a loose drum sound from Harvest and squeezes a song like "Wrecking Ball" -- the strange tale of a musician who trashes her life for the hell of it -- from nowhere but the black humor of her soul. Her fourth album is sunny -- in that brilliant, blinding sense.

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