Rock Out, Baby!

2006 Year-End Music Wrap-Up

10. Cretin, Freakery (Relapse): This entire album consists of songs that tell sensationalized tales of deformed/mentally handicapped people from isolated rural communities who do things like kidnap babies and raise them as feral animals, drag young girls into vans and climax while shocking them with tasers, etc. As the CD booklet declares, "the stories in this album are mostly true... we are everywhere." Now, in the time it takes to say gimmick, it also becomes clear that Cretin brings rickety punk energy to its grindcore. That's no small feat, considering that Cretin forgoes precision altogether for a slurring, repetitive approach that sounds as if you're listening from inside a nearby garbage can but still manages to hold your interest. With two alums from gore-grinders Exhumed and such gleefully graphic lyrics, you'd think Cretin would overplay the shock hand. With some wit up its sleeve, however, the band comes up with a rousing work of comedy/horror. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni and Niki D'Andrea

Snap to It

Comeback kids, rhymin' Limeys, and songs about partying defined Hip-Hop Nation in 2006
The Ordinary Boys' frontman Sam Preston
The Ordinary Boys' frontman Sam Preston

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 this claim, 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 fewer 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. A staple of late-night TV humor used to exploit a senior citizen's unfamiliarity with hip-hop; now you had to explain to Grandma the difference between the laid-back groove of "snap music" and old-fashioned, high-energy crunk. And the punchline was this: Her grandkids might not have been able to explain it either.

But then along came Jibbs' "Chain Hang Low," jingling like the last ice-cream truck of the long, hot summer, and a lot of those feudal, walled-city lines 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"), a G-rated lyric (the pimp reference notwithstanding), and a beat that repped the stuttering sound of St. Louis without shutting out fans from other locales, 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 16, but he doesn't sound as if he'll be satisfied hanging around the STL and disseminating new dance moves via YouTube. "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."

He might not have a choice, 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.

And now, having doled out that sage advice, we proceed to ignore it completely as we spotlight a few of 2006's other notable hip-hop trends.

It was the year of the comeback. Hov's inevitable return got 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 at last 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 seemed ready to emerge from purgatory by year's end with the sometimes-stunning Hell Hath No Fury.

The comeback moment of the year, however, involved not only Ghost but his Wu-Tang brethren. On February 7, the Clan's post-ODB era began in New Haven, Connecticut. The reunited group, plus supersub Cappadonna, were maddeningly erratic, and the club was so oversold that a dropped Zippo would have spelled another Great White disaster. Yet somehow, group leader the RZA managed to assemble all of his bandmates in the same room and even got the lackadaisical Method Man to act as if he cared. Call it the Miracle at Toad's Place.

It was the year of the mixtape. From its humble origins as a streetcorner 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.

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