By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
1. 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin' 50 Cent gets shot up, gets signed by Elvis... I mean Eminem, drops two brilliant singles ("Wanksta," "In da Club"), follows up with a way-overrated debut (Get Rich or Die Tryin'), blows the fuck up, starts beefing with everybody, rush-releases the requisite posse album (G-Unit's Beg for Mercy), gets anointed asshole... I mean artist of the year.
2. Lil' Kim, "Magic Stick" How does one of the most recognizable personalities in popular music garner only a gold disc for her latest album (La Bella Mafia), then summarily lose her album deal and boutique label, forcing her to look for a contract with another major label? Maybe because hip-hop is growing into one of the most misogynistic, antifemale cultures in recent memory, and not even a woman that calls herself "Queen Bitch" and walks around half-naked is immune to its effects.
3. Jay-Z, "Excuse Me Miss," "Change Clothes," The Black Album; Panjabi MC, "Beware" I like Jay-Z. I think he's an extremely talented rapper. But doesn't anyone remember when KRS-One rhymed, "If you were to rule or govern a certain industry/All inside this room right now would be in misery/No one would get along nor sing a song/'Cause everyone would be singing for the king, am I wrong?"
4. Various artists, Bad Boys IIsoundtrack Sometimes it seems like hip-hop is the only genre that can generate a superwack, overproduced, predictable, monomaniacal monstrosity (except for the banging 50 Cent and Biggie's "Realest Killers," natch) like the Bad Boys IIsoundtrack and still watch it go straight to number one on the pop charts.
5. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below I love my sister. She has an ability to see beyond the analytical cliches critics tend to use. Forget about all the homilies, all the sonnets writers across the land have penned to this talented duo. All she says is, "Andre's getting kind of androgynous, isn't he?" -- Mosi Reeves
1. Mars Volta, De-Loused in the Comatorium A redefinition of prog rock that pries the scene from the death grip of pasty dudes in Rush shirts, De-Loused adds some swing to the most stilted of subgenres and gets it laid for the first time. Santana, King Crimson, and Fugazi all figure into this explosion of the bounds of progressive hard core. Frontman Cedric Bixler's voice positively drips emotion -- the guy could sound heartfelt ordering a Big Mac. Backed by flame-throwing guitar, maracas, sambas, congos, and a bunch of other instruments whose names we have difficulty pronouncing, De-Loused is unabashedly ambitious and pretentious.
2. Dimmu Borgir, Death Cult Armageddon Taking its cue from the scene in Apocalypse Now where trigger-happy G.I.s gun down women and children to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkryies," Death Cult Armageddon blends incredible beauty with incredible sadism. Black metal's black sheep continue to piss off the purists here with an album that has as much in common with Genesis as Gorgoroth. The sheer breadth of this record has never been matched in black metal.
3. Cradle of Filth, Damnation and a Day Not since Japanese Dada core extremists the Boredoms became the world's loudest tax writeoff at Reprise has a band as over-the-top as Cradle of Filth inexplicably found itself on a major label. Cradle didn't miss the opportunity to fully indulge in the coffers that Beyonce's backside built, hiring a 40-piece orchestra and a 32-piece choir to fill Damnation with grandiose, haunted-house harmonies. The result is one of the most opulent metal albums ever -- the headbanger's equivalent of 20-inch rims.
4. Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won This live set is as essential to longhairs as oxygen and Old Milwaukee. John Bonham plays like a cannonball with a beer gut. Jimmy Page's solos never end, and you never want them to. His leads on "Heartbreaker" will either make you want to pick up a guitar or never attempt to play one again. Robert Plant sounds perpetually in the throes of the kind of climax that wakes the neighbors. Captured at the peak of their powers at a pair of California gigs in 1972, this package is the best thing to happen to stoners since the advent of pizza delivery.
5. Morbid Angel, Heretic Listening to Pete Sandoval's jaw-dropping drum work on Heretic, you'd swear Mountain Dew courses through his veins. Sandoval takes his craft to new heights on Morbid Angel's latest, sounding more like a hot-wired drum machine than a rubber-armed hesher. The band broadens its sound a bit with an ambient interlude and dark industrial soundscapes that sound like hell's waiting room, but for the most part, this is death metal's signature act devoid of any restraint. Wear a helmet. -- Jason Bracelin