2006: The Year in Music

Week of December 28, 2006

Thom Yorke, The Eraser (XL): Thom Yorke's seduction technique with Radiohead has always revolved around mystery — so it's no surprise that The Eraser, his solo debut, also explores misty vistas. Although built on a foundation of repetition and detailed sonic atmosphere, Eraser derives its power from Yorke's feathery falsetto. He croons half-formed phrases and whispered slogans like an otherworldly siren, creating an eerily romantic song-cycle full of enigmas that stir the heart and brain.

Jennifer Silverberg
Tom Waits hopes you'll adopt Orphans.
Anton Corbijn
Tom Waits hopes you'll adopt Orphans.

Snap to It
Redefining hip-hop nation in 2006

It was, according to no less an authority than the New York Times, the year rap went regional.

There was plenty of recent evidence to support the Times, beginning with the suddenly paltry record sales racked up by some of hip-hop's heaviest weights. There was lots of historical evidence, as well: Ever since the Dirty South shook off the bicoastal stranglehold of the mid-'90s, hip-hop had developed burgeoning scenes in no less than a dozen major markets.

By 2006, most of those cities had mutated the music and culture beyond the recognition of all but the most dedicated hip-hop fan. These towns had their own sounds, their own slang and even their own subgenres. St. Louis was no exception, as the Midwest swing set into motion nearly a decade earlier by Nelly continued strong.

Jovan Campbell and his older brother Derryl Howard, however, didn't buy the idea that their music had to stay at home. Better known as Jibbs and producer DJ Beats, the pair unleashed "Chain Hang Low," which jingles like the last ice-cream truck of the long, hot summer — and a lot of those feudal, walled-city lines the Times reported seemed to fade. With a melody familiar to Grandma (it was drawn from the children's song "Do Your Ears Hang Low," which in turn took its melody from the traditional "Turkey in the Straw"), and G-rated lyrics (the pimp reference notwithstanding), it was a reminder of hip-hop's power to unify.

In person Jibbs isn't shy about expressing his ambition. He might have just turned sixteen, but his taste of success beyond St. Louis has made him hungry for more in a hurry. "I'm trying to hit every market, man. I mean, every market," he says earnestly. "I wanna get everyone involved, and not just try to sell my album to one particular group of people."

Of course, now that the effects of leaks and digital piracy are hitting the ill-prepared industry full-force, gold albums are starting to look great, and even going "wood in the hood" isn't quite the admission of failure it used to be. But as much of the fractured hip-hop nation gathered itself in November for another event that cut across party and geographic lines — the return of Jay-Z — it was worth remembering that trends can be as fleeting as the music that often drives them, even hip-hop's current trend toward smaller-is-better.

Here are a few of 2006's other notable hip-hop trends.

It was the year of the comeback. Hov's inevitable return received most of the ink, but it wasn't the most notable. A couple of veterans who'd been on cruise control for a while finally awoke, and these sleeping giants turned in two of the better albums of '06 (as well as of their careers). Snoop Dogg's Tha Blue Carpet Treatment worked because Tha Doggfather finally applied himself. On Fishscale, Ghostface finally found some topics and tracks that matched the intensity of his high-pitched, borderline-crazy voice, and emerged with a coked-up, weirded-out winner. And Virginia's long-MIA Clipse emerged from Purgatory by year's end with the drug-running, sometimes-stunning Hell Hath No Fury.

It was the year of the mixtape. From its humble origins as a street-corner hustle, the mixtape has become an even more vital part of the hip-hop artist's arsenal. Filled with rare tracks, remixes and exclusives, mixtapes don't just build anticipation for an upcoming album anymore — they deserve consideration on their own merits. And no one puts them together like Cleveland's Commissioner, Mick Boogie, who oversaw some of 2006's best and brightest mixtapes. Although he did yeoman's work all year and teamed up with titans such as Jay-Z and Eminem, the best of Boogie came on some of his lower-profile projects. Case in point: His Mobb Deep mixtape, More Money More Murda, which shredded the album it was supposed to help promote.

In St. Louis, DJ Trackstar continued to produce mixtapes like they're going out of style (at last count in 2006, he released six) — and more important, he didn't skimp on highlighting local artists both old-school and new: Rockwell Knuckles, Bits N Pieces, Midwest Avengers, Altered St8s of Consciousness, Family Affair, Nite Owl, Black Spade and Spaide R.I.P.P.E.R. (who reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop singles sales charts with "Always").

It was the year of deep thoughts and the year of partying (and, sometimes, deep thoughts about partying). There's room for both viewpoints now in hip-hop's increasingly diverse underground, which is good news indeed. Critical darlings Spank Rock might have merely made Too $hort safe for all the eggheads who thought they were too $mart for him the first time around, but even so, was there an album more fun in 2006 than the high-concept/low-art Yoyoyoyoyo? Didn't think so. Both fun in their own thoughtful ways were albums from the Bay Area's Ise Lyfe, whose SpreadtheWORD suggests he might someday take over Mos Def's mantle as hip-hop's activist poet laureate, and Georgia Ann Muldrow, an adventurous LA artist who reassembles urban music in novel ways on Olesi: Fragments of an Earth.

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