Hey you guys

So recently a big new hip hop release arrived on my desk. Like most projects that are hyped to the skies I was dreading and looking forward to this album in equal measure. Even if you're not a hip-hop head you'd probably be familiar with the guy who made the album: he's left an indelible mark not just on hip hop but on pop culture as a whole. He's popped up in movies, has his own clothing line, endorses products, appears in advertisements and has the requisite crew and vanity hip hop label.

Needless to say this album must have cost a fortune to make: the producers include The Neptunes, Timbaland, Will.I.Am, Kanye West, Just Blaze and Dr.Dre and those guys don't work cheap. Perhaps not so coincidentally the album is horrifically bloated, with a running time in the seventy-minute range. With so many producers and guest rappers it's no wonder the album is all over the place thematically and sonically.

So here is my question for you, dear reader (and I'd like to apologize here for getting all precious and cutesy in my literary conceits). What album am I talking about? Now as you've probably figured out by now that's a trick question, as I could be talking about any one of about five major rap releases from the past few months. I could be talking about Diddy's "Press Play". I could be talking about The Game's "Doctor's Advocate". I could be talking about Snoop Dogg's "Blue Carptet Treatment". I could be talking about Jay-Z's "Kingdom Come" or Nas' "Hip Hop Is Dead". Some of the details are different but the broad strokes are largely the same: long, bloated albums with lots of expensive guests and little in the way of cohesion and purpose.

Some of these albums are much better than others. After all nobody's going to confuse Diddy for Nas. But because they share so many of the same elements–and producers and guests–they end up feeling fairly generic. They have similar strengths and similar flaws and while they sound good today I can't say I'll still be listening to them twenty years from now the way I'll probably still be listening to "The Unseen" or "The College Dropout" or Edan's "Primitive Plus". There's a definite one-size-fits-all quality to these albums that's a little dispiriting. It's easy to see why albums turn out this way: every major label rap album represents a colossal investment of time, money and energy so executives are likely to hedge their bets by including as many commercial ringers as possible.

This template pretty much ensures that none of the above album completely suck (even Diddy) but it also leads to a certain level of homogenization. As I write this rumor has it that Little Brother's next album will feature little of 9th Wonder's production. According to Phonte 9th just isn't coming with the heat. I suppose that might be true but I nevertheless find that enormously troubling. For me Little Brother lives and dies on the chemistry between Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th. It just wouldn't be the same if it were Phonte, Big Pooh and a bunch of dudes with beats for sale. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of my favorite rap albums (and I'm guessing yours as well) were produced by one man with a clear vision, not a bunch of dudes with beats.

What do you guys think?

I don't want to get too mushy or sentimental but since this is probably my last blog post of the year I'd just like to thank everyone who responded to my blog entries this year and refrained from spamming or calling me a brainwashed puppet of the IRS. When we established the message boards and blogs we really had no idea what kind of a response we'd get, whether people who'd post on our site would be creeps, ne'er do wells, spammers or the nattering nabobs of negativity that plague the web like an anonymous cyber-virus. We were delighted to find that our readers were none of the above. We couldn't ask for more intelligent or engaged readers/posters and I'd just like to thank everyone who humored me by responding to my incoherent ranting and ravings. Merry ChristmaKwanzukah, happy holidays and God bless us every one.

So I'm thankful for you guys. What are you guys thankful for this year? In your estimation what are some of the highlights and lowlights from the year that passed?