the year in 2004... and the panel says...
Another day another Award Show. I hope you gave up all the knives at the door and yes, the chairs are screwed to the floor. But actually this is not an award ceremony. Sure, this is some kind of a 'best of 2004' wrap up. However, we don't call it that. It's just counting how often a 150 (or so) people panel identified an album or rapper as their favorite of 2004. Sure they all work in the field and others would call it a panel of 'experts', but uhm… let's not.
None the less, let's have a look at what all these people considered to be the highlights of the year they called 2004. And as we've done the same in 2003, we actually have something to compare this year to; and comparing is always fun.
best albums
- De La Soul The Grind Date 32
- Madvillain Madvillainy 29
- Kanye West The College Dropout 28
- Ghostface The Pretty Toney Album 22
- Masta Ace A Long Hot Summer 15
- Nas Street's Disciple 15
- Murs 3:16 - The 9th Edition 13
- MF Doom MM..Food 12
- The Roots The Tipping Point 11
- Masta Killa No Said Date 10
- Rob Sonic Telicatessen 10
- The Foreign Exchange Connected 10
- Qwel & Maker The Harvest 9
- Mos Def The New Danger 8
- Jay-Z The Black Album 7
Wow, who would have thought? Those old geezers from De La Soul take the top spot. Come on, seriously now, who - after all these horrible lukewarm 'don't call it a comeback' albums - would have thought that De La Soul will please one fifth of our panel into giving this album the nod? It's not like the competition wasn't fierce. Remember this is the year where everybody thought Ghostface will save the world, and where Nas actually released something worthwhile. And both these albums make the list. However only after MF Doom and Madlib's effort "Madvillainy" and Kanye's "The College Dropout". So the next generation is not yet throwing them old rascals from the throne; Masta Ace also gives a strong showing with his "A Long Hot Summer" album.
It stands just a notch above another MF Doom ("MM..Food") album and above groups and artists that will take over the world soon enough: Murs, Qwel & Maker, Rob Sonic and The Foreign Exchange. But with Kanye, Ghostface, The Roots, Nas, Mos Def and Jay-Z, the major label artists actually show a raised fist to the indie guys. And speaking of Jay-Z: his album came out in 2003 (and took last years top spot), but still sneaks into the top fifteen. Oh, and last year we had a non-rap album amongst the top ten (Mars Volta). This time TV On The Radio "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes" gets the most mentions (6), and almost makes it on this year's top fifteen. Jill Scott "Beautifully Human: Words & Sounds 2" follows sharply behind too, with 5 nods. And yes, overall, people named 344 different albums. Collect them all.
tadah's five cents: Foreign Exchange should have been listed higher. That album is too damn good. And Thaione Davis should be on this list too.
best songs
- Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell Drop It Like It's Hot 18
- De La Soul feat. MF Doom Rock Co.Kane Flow 13
- Terror Squad Lean Back 10
- Fabolous Breathe 8
- Ghostface feat. Jadakiss Run 8
- Jadakiss feat. Nas, Common, Styles P Why (Remix) 6
- Kanye West feat. Consequence, GLC Spaceships 6
- Masta Ace Good Ol' Love 6
- Nas Thief's Theme 6
- Alchemist feat. Prodigy Hold You Down 4
- Common The Food 4
- Jay-Z 99 Problems 4
- Kanye West Jesus Walks 4
- M.I.A. Galang 4
- Twista feat. Kanye West Overnight Celebrity 4
Last year we complained that underground rap does not have hits. Not much has changed really, if we ignore the fact that De La Soul feat. MF Doom "Rock Co.Kane Flow" dropped on an indie label. We ignore that factotum, because "The Grind Date" gets pushed by BMG in some places. So it's not that indie. Nevertheless, De La almost takes top spot, but the tongue action of The Neptunes secures them the number one position with their Snoop Dogg song "Drop It Like It's Hot". Last year's list belonged to Kanye. This year he gets on here with his own "Spaceships", with Common's "The Food", again with his "Jesus Walks" and with Twista's "Overnight Celebrity". Heck, maybe he took this year's list too.
There's less R'n'B in 2004 though, but with M.I.A.'s "Galang" an obscure title makes it into the top fifteen. However, with only four mentions, that's only almost an accomplishment. Well, again there's very little agreement between our panelists, considering that 499 songs were named. That's a whole lot of music folks. Also interesting is the rather poor showing of über-hit "Lean Back" and "Run" would have certainly done better too, if people would have taken it as a valid pick this year. Oh, and Fabolous "Breathe" got a lot of extra mentions as 'best beats'. But that's of no relevance here, so it's stuck where it's stuck.
tadah's five cents: I'm very happy that Sektion Kuchikäschtli "I han" got three nods. However, if that song would be from the States and in English, it would have left every other song on this list in a cloud of dust.
best producers
- Kanye West 40
- Madlib 36
- 9th Wonder 20
- Alchemist 20
- J. Dilla 17
- Just Blaze 17
- The Neptunes 17
- Timbaland 16
- Scott Storch 15
- Jake One 13
- Dr. Dre 12
- Pete Rock 12
- Lil Jon 11
- MF Doom 11
- J-Zone 10
- Nicolay 10
So lets see: last year's winner was Kanye West. This year's winner is: Kanye West. Okay, I guess dude is popular. He also gets 40 nods; almost every third panelist put him on his list. What is actually fewer than last year, but he still takes the top spot. See, we didn't rob you, Kanye. Be happy now. Madlib is breathing down his neck though. And that is after 'lib only got fourth place in 2003. But The Neptunes fell back many a place, leaving room for Madlib and 9th Wonder to move on up. But again, considering that the third spot, occupied by 9th Wonder and Alchemist only got half as many mentions as Kanye did, he really reigned this one here.
Also to note are that some people fell totally off the scale, like RJD2 (he got 8 nods). And the panelists re-picked those old 'legends' again: Dr. Dre, Pete Rock and DJ Premier actually all make a decent showing, with the last of the three getting 9 mentions. And this here is a good mix of mainstream and underground producers, considering that Lil Jon rubs shoulders with MF Doom, and J. Dilla gets as many mentions as Just Blaze. All in all, 302 different people were mentioned. Heck, you gotta wonder who all these super producers are, considering how many wack beats we have to endure all the time.
tadah's five cents: Nothing really. After the reigns of Karoake Rap, Swiss Beatz and The Neptunes, it's good to have someone that can actually do a proper beat reign rap for a little while.
best emcees
- MF Doom 37
- Nas 33
- Ghostface 20
- Black Thought 14
- Jay-Z 12
- Jadakiss 10
- Murs 9
- Posdonous 9
- Masta Ace 8
- Mos Def 8
- Talib Kweli 8
- Immortal Technique 7
- Ludacris 7
- Supastition 7
- Aesop Rock 6
- Busdriver 6
- Common 6
- C-Rayz Walz 6
- Devin The Dude 6
- Dizzee Rascal 6
- Eminem 6
- Jean Grae 6
- Phonte 6
As you can see, this list is a little longer, but that's because so many people get six nods. The top spot was achieved with 37 nods, which is good, but only kinda good. None the less, MF Doom boots Jay-Z from the peak (he shared it with him last year) and leaves the competition a couple of ladder steps behind. Heck, even Ghostface couldn't take MF Doom this year, and Ghostface even gets beat by Nas. Interesting. But who else do we have on here? Jay does another strong showing while Black Thought appears out of nowhere and Brother Ali (5 nods) disappeared into nowhere. Posdonous of De La Soul rubs shoulders with Masta Ace and even though Mos Def and Talib Kweli got a ton of 'most disappointing' mentions, they still get onto this list, just ahead of Immortal Technique and the next big superstar rappers: Supastition and Aesop Rock.
The latter gets one less mention than he did last year, even though there's twice as many people in the panel. Anyway, we also got the usual suspects Eminem and Jadakiss, but also Dizzee Rascal, Busdriver and everybody's favorite female rapper Jean Grae. And again, 272 people were named. So there's no excuse for wack lyrics anymore. There's plenty of good rappers out there.
tadah's five cents: Qwel should be on this list, but he only got 5 nods. He's better than many of those overrated, steroids rappers.
best artwork
- MF Doom MM..Food 12
- De La Soul The Grind Date 11
- Eminem Encore 3
- Rob Sonic Telicatessen 3
- The Presence Members Only EP 3
- Beans Shock City Maverick 2
- Diplo Florida 2
- Goretex The Art Of Dying 2
- Ill Bill What's Wrong With Bill? 2
- John Gill   2
- Kanye West The College Dropout 2
- Masked Avengers & Maylay Sparks So Wonderful EP 2
- Offwhyte Bow To The Sceptor 2
- Pilot Balloon Ghastly Good Cheer 2
- Prince Po The Slickness 2
- Robust Potholes In Our Molecules 2
- Rondo Brothers No Time Left on Earth 2
- The Procussions ...As Iron Sharpens Iron 2
- Typical Cats Civil Service 2
- Waxfactor The Gameface EP 2
We didn't really do this last year, but the panel's contribution allowed us to make a little more sense this time around. Even though the actual numbers are rather small. Heck "MM..Food" by MF Doom and De La Soul get named by less than 10% of the panel. Nevertheless, good art shall be honored. Over 120 different somethings were mentioned.
tadah's five cents: No, just putting a black and white picture of your ugly mug on the cover doesn't cut it anymore. At least take a color picture of a bag of 'no it's not weed.' Thank you.
best labels
- Stones Throw 25
- Roc-A-Fella 9
- Big Dada 8
- Definitive Jux 8
- Rhymesayers 7
- Aftermath 6
- BBE 6
- Domination 6
- Lex 6
- Ninja Tune 6
- Quannum 5
- Galapagos4 5
- TVT 4
- Day By Day Ent. 4
- Def Jam 4
4
Everybody knows that labels suck. But Stones Throw apparently doesn't. They were fourth in line last year, but blew past everybody to take top spot with a margin. Looking at last year's list, and how much Definitive Jux and even more so Day By Day dropped, Stone Throw's good showing might be partially due to the week showing of all the other labels though. Other than these three companies, the names are still quite similar to last year's, even though BBE and Domination show up out of nowhere. While the first eventually might have to change its name, the latter still has at least another year to prove itself. And yes, 123 different labels made it onto the lists.
tadah's five cents: To all the labels that died in 2004 - like Third Earth - we're going to miss you.
books we read
- Dan Brown The Da Vinci Code 12
- The Bible   7
- Dan Brown Angels & Demons 3
- Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show: America (The Book) 3
- Scratch Magazine   3
- Al Franken Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them 2
- Bobbito Where'd You Get Those 2
- Cheo Hodari Coker Unbelievable: The Life, Death & Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G. 2
- David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day 2
- George Orwell 1984 2
- Hunter S. Thompson Hell's Angels 2
- J.D. Salinger Catcher In The Rye 2
- Mark Bowden Killing Pablo 2
- Martha Cooper The Hip Hop Files 2
- Michael Moore Dude, Where's My Country 2
- Paul Beatty The White Boy Shuffle 2
- Paulo Coelho The Alchemist 2
- Richard A. Clarke Against All Enemies 2
We also didn't do this last year, and considering that only few books get mentioned a couple of times, it probably does not make too much sense to do it this year either. Overall 308 different books get named and only two books were named more than three times. The first two, ha, quite an ironic coupling, considering the content of Dan Brown's über-success "The Da Vinci Code". But maybe all those Dan Brown readers did some fact checking in The Bible. Not the worst of ideas. Other than that the selection of books includes a couple of classics, like J.D. Salinger "Catcher In The Rye" and George Orwell "1984", but also some highly enjoyable insider's tips like Paul Beatty "The White Boy Shuffle" and David Sedaris "Me Talk Pretty One Day".
tadah's five cents: Don't believe the hype: Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is a decent book at best. Read "The White Boy Shuffle" instead.
movies we saw
- Fahrenheit 9/11 33
- Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind 19
- Kill Bill 2 19
- Ray 17
- Spiderman 2 16
- Hero 15
- Napoleon Dynamite 14
- The Incredibles 11
- Man On Fire 10
- Supersize Me 10
- City Of God 7
- I Robot 7
- The Bourne Supremacy 7
- Collateral 6
- Dodgeball 6
- Troy
6
Interesting, there's also 308 movies that get mentioned; same number as books. Here however, there's a couple of more movies that seem to have impressed several folks; even though the question was 'movies I saw' not 'best movies.' Now, considering the million ways the panel spelled "Fahrenheit 9/11" - the most watched movie this year - you can only hope that they paid closer attention to the content of the film than they did to how it's spelled. But that's not even of relevance here. With "Supersize Me" another documentary makes it on the list, while the rest goes from super blockbusters "Spiderman 2" and "The Bourne Supremacy" to foreign movies "Hero" (which is actually a couple of years old, but none the less worth watching) and "City Of God", to even some not that popcorn material "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" who secured second place, along with "Kill Bill 2".
tadah's five cents: Considering that "21 Grams" is not on this list either shows that our panel should stick to judging music, or that they haven't watched the best movie of 2004.
websites we visited
- urbansmarts.com 35
- myspace.com 15
- galapagos4.com 11
- hiphopsite.com 11
- philaflava.com 11
- allhiphop.com 10
- dominationrec.com 9
- daybydayent.com 8
- okayplayer.com 8
- ughh.com 6
- espn.com 5
- nba.com 5
- pitchforkmedia.com 5
- birthwriterecords.com 4
- hollertronix.com 4
- la2thebay.com 4
- sandboxautomatic.com 4
- thejustusleague.com/lawn 4
- turntablelab.com 4
- uncommonmusic.net
4
Okay, this is no real surprise: of course people would pick this very site for the top spot. If anything, it must be a surprise that only 35 people named it. Right? Right. But anyway, with myspace.com we get a non-rap website right smack on second place, while the first label website comes in third (Galapagos4.com) and after that it's a couple of expected ones like hiphopsite.com, allhiphop.com and even okayplayer.com, and then there's a couple of sites mentioned for their message board, like philaflava.com and thejustusleague.com/lawn. Nothing wrong with that. Overall 316 different websites are named, and not all of them suitable for your 12 year old cousin.
tadah's five cents: I'm like so, so, so flattered. Thank you, thank you. I haven't even prepared a speech…
So after all things are said and done, the educated rap fan listened to De La Soul's album, liked "Drop It Like It's Hot", enjoys the beats by Kanye West and the lyrics by MF Doom. Likes to look at the latter's "MM..Food" cover, bought every Stones Throw release, read "The Da Vinci Code", watched "Fahrenheit 9/11" and visits urbansmarts.com at least three times a week. Now, give yourself a score of 1 to 9 and if you score eight or higher, you're a potential smataleck. Congrats.
Before we go though: thanks belongs to all the many people that took the time to answer our intrusive questions. And a little less thanks goes to the several folks that helped us nag all these 150 people into contributing. So basically thanks to everybody and we'll see each other next year.

for the urbansmarts team
tadah

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