Music Features

50 Degrees of Separation: Best New US Hip Hop

Alas, sadly enough, like it or not, it really is all about the Kevlar poster boy from Queens, NYC - the thugable, club-loveable 50 Cent. But here is a collective shout to other lyricists hoping to save the stagnant world of hip hop in '03. You better get ready.

50 Cent got his start on wax a few years back with the underground mix tape anthem How to Rob, a fictional journey in which 50 jacks other rapper for their goods, and one of the addressed was none other than Wu-Tang Clan's most prolific wordsmith, Ghostface Killah, who struck back on his 1998 modern-day classic Supreme Clientele. Check out the final track where a distorted Ghost woofs at 50 ("Yo, to that nigga 50 Cent, when I see you I'm gonna have 100 wolves on you"). Ghostface Killah's vernacular is cult legend in the streets, an addictive (sometimes ridiculous), code-cracking rhyme scheme that would give the guy from A Beautiful Mind an ill migraine.

Ghost himself has been quoted as saying that spraying his space-age lexicon to the numb, radio-fuelled hip hop heads was akin to "feeding a T-bone steak to a baby." True indeed. For further evidence do yourself a favor and pick up the newly released Shaolin's Finest: The Best of Ghostface Killah, the greatest of all Wu compilations to date across their 10+ years in the rap industry. It will mark the end of Ironman's contract with Epic, and Wu-Tang HNIC the RZA has been telling anyone who will listen that the next Ghostface release (slated for summer after recently signing with Def Jam) will once again save the world of hip hop. Amen.

And speaking of Wu-Tang veterans, acclaimed stoned actor and deodorant pitchman Method Man will also make a loooong awaited return with a third solo effort, following up the scattered Judgment Day. Meth's wordplay has been on an infinite incline since sharpening his lyrical incisors on the highly slept-on Wu-collective Iron Flag from two summers back, and most recently dropping verse on the GZA's excellent Legend of a Liquid Sword.

Meth's older cousin Cappadonna is out of exile and out of the RZA's dog house after a mysterious hiatus, following some questionable career choices with a horrendous sophomore album (The Yin and the Yang), then releasing a greatest hits disc, which was basically the first half of each of his two albums. The RZA is back behind the boards and anything offered can be considered an improvement. The days have long passed since Cappa got his start on the Ghostface debut as well as Raekwon's coke-fueled, Tony Montana-inspired debut Cuban Linx circa '96, a disc that some of us have yet to remove from the five-disc changer. His last appearance was serving as the unofficial 10th man on The W and the two-disc opus Wu Tang Forever.

The original king of Queens Kool G Rap, just dropped a best of disc as well, once again proving that pioneer-era hip hop (circa '86 - '93) can stand the fickle test of time. Tracks such as Streets of NY and the cult classic Road to the Riches reaffirm G Rap's pivotal role in the game. The Queens native has influenced all of the Gambino wanna-be shoot-em-ups from fellow Queensbridge natives Nas and of course 50 Cent.

50's Midas touch mastermind producer Dr. Dre makes a return to the mic this year with another solo gem sure to move the masses (as well as longtime rumors of NWA co-conspirator Ice Cube hitting the studio), and in the meantime has assisted in the highly anticipated return (again) of the lyrical G-O-D Rakim, who recently penned a deal with Dre imprint Aftermath Records. This time around Rakim is in good hands all around, getting help from the best of both coasts. Dre works the boards for one half, and DJ Premier will lend production credits on the other. Dre and Premo are hands down the two most important hip hop producers to ever grace the rap landscape.

Premier has also regrouped with Guru and the legendary duo Gangstarr will release The Ownerz, which has once again been pushed back to May 6th. Check out Em's 8 Mile Soundtrack for the Gangstarr joint Battlez (including a classic chop socky Audio 2 sample) perhaps one of the best ever in their thick catalog. The Full Clip double-disc compilation doesn't even do them justice; also pick up ol-skool classics Step in the Arena and Daily Operation for further evidence that Gangstarr's pioneer status in the game should be carved in stone. Devoted hip hop heads recall the days back in '88 when Fab Five Freddy dropped Words I Manifest every week on Yo! MTV Raps. Gangstarr cohorts M.O.P (the most highly touted remixers in hip hop today) will also strike again in mid-'03 with a collection rumored to feature rarity remixes as well as new tracks.

No, none of the aforementioned have been shot and struck nine times, and no, none of the above will grace the cover of every entertainment periodicals in the free world, but most importantly they are all more than worth the trip to the record shop.