Rock Out, Baby!

2006 Year-End Music Wrap-Up

It Was Free Cuz I Stole It

The year in unfair shares

Now is a bad time to be a giant music corporation, but ethically challenged music fans couldn't ask for better days. Bootlegging has always been about catering directly to the fans, and the Internet breeds the best bootleggers yet: bigger and stronger and faster than ever before, the better to handle the demands of 10 million filesharers trading a billion-and-a-half songs daily.

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The Ordinary Boys' frontman Sam Preston
The Ordinary Boys' frontman Sam Preston
Lamb of God
Lamb of God
Every year in hip-hop is the year of self-promotion. Just ask Jibbs.
Every year in hip-hop is the year of self-promotion. Just ask Jibbs.

It's clear now that the CD-R bent the CD over and the MP3 player finished it off, and although the industry is still in shock, smaller and more agile labels are already accepting the inevitable and locking in a vinyl/digital-only production schedule, then using merch like T-shirts — low production cost, high sales price, lots of options to ratchet up collectibility — to plug their revenue gaps.

Since filesharing is permanent enough now that you can buy $19-per-year lawsuit insurance, it's time to acknowledge the bright side. Out-of-print doesn't mean anything anymore. If you can learn about it, you can listen to it, and if the record company doesn't want to reissue it, you can probably find it without even having to stand up. The romance is gone, but the music is cheap, accessible, and instant — that's the music industry of the future, brought to you now by Russian MP3 pirates, obsessive genre bloggers, and criminals selling albums off a blanket on the street. Highlights of a year of unfair shares:

PodTube and iTube: Once YouTube really got going, the video collectors blew open their vaults. This is footage no one ever saw from sources no one ever heard of — psychedelic small-town variety shows, supersaturated Scopitone camp-operas, unfinished punk rock docs, and student films. Watching them was good enough, but now you can illegally own them through programs that copy those videos to your hard drive. PodTube and iTube gets you screening items unseen since the day the station filmed them.

Street Meat: Don't even need a computer to play this one: If you live in one of the RIAA's 12 priority piracy cities (like Miami) you can get bootlegs hot off the sidewalk, out of the trunk, or on the bus. "A disturbing trend," RIAA executive VP Brad Buckles said. "As the pirate music trade continues to evolve, criminals are enhancing their products." Thanks for the tip, Brad! On the menu now are knockoffs of chart hits bulked up with bonus tracks, chopped 'n' screwed remixes ready right after the legit release hits stores, and the RIAA's dreaded "dream compilations" — albums that mix tracks from competing labels into albums that are too good to be legit.

Zune: Microsoft's Zune — AKA "the BetaPod" — seems destined to be a staple of thrift stores of the future. And that's too bad, because wireless file transfer without Microsoft's copyright hobbles is a seductive idea. Imagine the record conventions of 2016: a bunch of silent geeks pointing blinking black boxes at one another and going home with a billion-and-a-half new songs, and... actually, that's a little pathetic. But the fact remains that instant player-to-player wireless transfer would (and probably eventually will) be the most efficient reiteration of the old going-over-to-your-friend's-house-with-a-bag-of-blank-tapes ritual. Maybe it will become reality by the time Zune 2.0 rolls out, when Microsoft gets desperate to dig out from under the iPhone.

Sharity Blogs: Much better than the sanctioned sites that give you one brand-new track smothered in a bunch of recycled reviews. Instead, sharity blogs resurrect full albums long lost or forgotten and post them in their entirety on overseas hosting sites. It'd be almost obscenely exploitative except for the obvious love and research put into the selections. This is a scholarly crowd on an admirable mission: rescuing suppressed Japanese terror-folk, Brazilian psych nuggets, and buried golden-age hip-hop from graves where reissue labels fear to dig.

MySpaceGopher: Everyone with electricity and an instrument has a MySpace Music site, but the songs are still downloadable at the artist's discretion. Inevitably, hackers removed that discretion, and while it's disrespectful, it was an effective way to ransack exclusive prerelease streaming content. MySpace repeatedly repairs the code holes that allow these shenanigans, and the public responds by finding a new hole. At press time, the newly disabled MySpaceGopher was working on a fix, which will probably be ready by the time you read this.

Snob Torrents: Concentrated swapper sites are gonna strangle themselves with stinginess, the same way networks like Hotline and KDX sank into obscuro-lescence. Music freebooters don't like to follow rules about ratios — there's no homework among thieves — so sites like these will probably vanish as users move to free sharity blogs, friendlier messageboards, and unstumpable fileshare networks.

Premix Leaks: Lupe Fiasco may hate these — an unmixed version of his Food & Liquor came out months early — but premix leaks are becoming routine. TV on the Radio's Cookie Mountain also came out months prematurely, the Shins' Wincing the Night Away (due in January) has leaked at least twice in different versions, and Bloc Party's A Weekend in the City (due in February) hit the networks in November. The solution now belongs to the P.R. people — lucky Lupe got an early review calling him the future of hip-hop, and a correctly leveraged premix can garner a spike of welcome, unexpected publicity.

Virtual Release: If legendary 78-collector Joe Bussard could plug an iBook directly into his Victrola, he'd be making these. This is real ghostly stuff sourced from unreleased sessions, radio broadcasts, or repo'ed master tapes. That's all time-honored bootleg chow, sure, but virtual releases go straight from the source to the fileshares, skipping physical media entirely. For instance: WFMU recently popularized a Faust album that never made it past a few Virgin Records promo tapes until someone copied it up to MP3. Companion to this are homemade virtual compilations — a stack of uncomped funk 45s, say — issued direct from the collector's originals to the fileshares with some kind of searchbait name like "MY HOT FUNK 45s." These albums are aimed at audiences so microscopic that there's almost no profit in pressing up hard copies — and as such, they're usually pretty great.

Give It Away Now: Nobody can steal what you give away. A California band called Wooden Shjips put out its EP for free this year; all you had to do was ask and there was a real record in your actual hands. And it was really good too — blown-out Les Rallizes homage with vocals echoplexed to infinity. In fact, it was so good that I bought a copy with my own actual money, just for old times' sake.

AllOfMP3.com: In June, the U.S. government threatened to obstruct Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization if this site selling copyrighted MP3s at pennies on the dollar weren't shut down. And indeed, five months later, both countries agreed to shut down the site. As a bootleg site, AllOfMP3s success was baffling. The site charged by volume, not by song, like a record store with a butcher's scale at the register; it probably took less effort to get these songs for free. But it was a nice nostalgic nod to the foreign pressing plants of the '60s and '70s — music beyond the reach of international law. — Chris Ziegler

The Atlantic Divide

Ten bands that weren't singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in '06

Another year, another wave of quirky British bands pouring into the States. It's got all the makings of a new British Invasion. Well, except for one thing — the invasion. For every Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand that succeeds in North America, dozens more barely make it across the pond — and dozens of critics stand ready to lump 'em all under the same "art rock" or "new-wave revival" categories. The thing is, many of these bands come from a different lineage, one that started at the end of the '70s, when groups like the Jam, the Specials, and Squeeze were deciding what to do after punk — but without forgetting it. There are plenty of new bands with this same attitude, that post-punk doesn't have to be mopey and melodramatic. And they've got the same problem too — an American audience far smaller than they deserve.

1. Ordinary Boys: Three albums into their career, the boys from Worthing have become a household name in England — literally; frontman Sam Preston's a bona fide TV personality, starring on the 2006 season of Celebrity Big Brother. On this side of the Atlantic, though, the Boys have barely got a foot in the door, and damn it, it's just not fair. The band's 2006 offering, How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted in Ten Easy Steps, shows that its sound has evolved from a straight-up Specials/Smiths/Jam mix to one that's more forward-thinking and experimental. Yes, that does involve electronics. But the Boys' use of blips and bleeps is more of an added flavor than a primary ingredient. And Preston's lyrics are as whip-smart and chastising as ever, calling out the usual cultural suspects (fame, the music industry, etc.) while not getting too serious ("Ballad of an Unrequited Self-Love Affair").

2. Maxïmo Park: On their 2005 debut, A Certain Trigger, these four blokes from Newcastle established themselves as the band to watch... in England, of course. That's why they can get away with releasing an "extras" album so early in their career. 2006's Missing Songs is just that — a collection of B-sides and demo versions of songs from Trigger. Whereas the Ordinary Boys built their foundation on ska-driven beats, Maxïmo Park has more eggs in the new-wave basket. And by new wave, we mean XTC, not a Flock of Seagulls. Though Maxïmo Park has the danceable tunes to please the Franz/Bloc Party crowd, its style is vibrant, pop-minded, and, at times, punk. There's no reason Maxïmo Park shouldn't be next year's big import. Besides, we Americans love bands with umlauts in their name.

3. The Holloways: Having formed in 2004 and with one album under their belt, these North Londoners are still new kids on the post-punk block. But you'd never know it judging by the stellar songwriting and sharp lyricism on said debut album, So This Is Great Britain? With two-part harmonies and a heavy dose of ska and '60s pop, the Holloways are one of the few English bands that serve their songs sunny-side up. That's not to say they're at all sugar-coated — far from it. The album opens with the title track, which shows the "land of hope and glory" in a none-too-rosy light, concluding that "We're all just a bunch of slaves." But they're slaves with good taste.

4. The Pipettes: If it weren't for the occasionally randy lyrical matter, you'd swear the Pipettes' debut album, We Are the Pipettes, was written 40 years ago. Sounding (and looking) like a Phil Spector wet dream, the three birds who front this polka-dotted pop group do their damnedest to make London swing again. Backed by a band of dudes (known as the Cassettes), the Pipettes aren't post anything, just pure retro... and a nice break from the norm. You'll find no synthesizers here, just loads of strings, horns, and beats bigger than that hairdo Spector sported at his murder trial.

5. The Rifles: For all the bands that want to relive 1984, the Rifles are right there with 'em — though they're just as interested in 1964. And on their debut album, No Love Lost, they occasionally have it both ways. While the band's contemporary indie-pop influences weigh the heaviest, songs like "Robin Hood" sound like a Merseybeat band after spending a year in modern-day England — upbeat, tightly wound pop played with uncanny neatness. Still, it's songs like "Local Boy" — which falls somewhere between the Cure and the Newtown Neurotics — that populate most of the album and make the Rifles worth seeking out.

6. Little Man Tate: Not to be confused with the long-haired Californian solo act of the same name (or the 1991 Jodie Foster flick, for that matter), Sheffield's Little Man Tate knows where the party is. And, according to the anthemic, Blur-like "House Party at Boothy's," it's one that's likely to catch on. This is one band that's heavy on the pop but, thankfully, equally full of smart (and occasionally smart-ass) lyrics. And there to deliver the verbal goods is Jon Windle, whose swaggering, cocksure style makes him equal parts rock singer, crooner, and acutely observant storyteller. Oh, wait — there's the smart-ass part too, best exemplified by the self-explanatory "Man I Hate Your Band" — a song Windle probably prefers to do without an audience sing-along.

7. The View: This group from Dundee, Scotland, gained a pretty important fan early on, when Babyshambles' Pete Doherty caught a live View performance in early 2006. Of course, it was both a blessing and a curse; drummer Steve Morrison was involved in one of Doherty's many arrests — but only after Doherty got 'em the industry hookup, handing the View's demo to an A&R guy from Rough Trade. And it's a good thing too: The View is one of the few bands here that don't always have to prefix punk with post, as evidenced in "Posh Boys," a short, fast blast of minimal, two-chord fury. But it's still catchy as hell.

8. The Subways: Though not as overlooked as most on this list, the Subways are still likely to get a "who are they?" from the average Yank — and that just ain't right. This past summer's U.S. tour with Taking Back Sunday, Angels and Airwaves, and Head Automatica bolstered the Subways' transatlantic popularity. But more important, it was good for their American audience, who got to hear something different from the usual alt-rock crap it's used to. And given the Subways' blend of jagged Brit pop and thick-riffed Detroit rock, they're the right Anglos for the job.

9. Buzzcocks: Sure, they've gotten plenty of credit for pioneering the first wave of Brit punk, and we've been reading about it for the past 30 years. But that's ancient history. The thing is, the Buzzcocks from 2006 didn't need to remind you of the Buzzcocks from 1976. They've been too busy doing new stuff to get fat on their laurels. Not only did Manchester's finest release Flat-Pack Philosophy this year (their fifth studio album since reuniting and eighth overall) but their decision to join the Warped Tour proved they can still keep up with the kids — and show 'em what real pop-punk is.

10. Paul Weller: Any Brit rock band worth a shit today will cite Weller and his long-defunct band, the Jam, as an influence. Those who don't are either lying or just not worth listening to, period. And in 2006, Weller's importance to British music was codified at the Brit Awards, where he received the Outstanding Contribution to Music award (or what we in the States call a Lifetime Achievement Award). Still, America has yet to pay any real attention to the man known as the "Modfather." Maybe that'll change next January when Weller performs a three-night, career-spanning concert in New York City. Either way, it's bound to be outstanding. — Jason Budjinski

Blast Beats, Dark Harmonies, and Monstrous Melodies

The top-ten heavy-metal albums of 2006

The criterion for this list was simple: Only the hardest, heaviest metal albums were considered. Bands who play a hybrid style of metal that is not thrash, speed, death, black metal, hardcore, grindcore, or some amalgamation thereof were not included. What follows is pure f'n metal. Bang your head off.

1. Lamb of God, Sacrament (Epic): Sacrament — which surprised a lot of people by debuting at number eight on the Billboard charts this year — is Lamb of God's most technical album to date, favoring atmosphere over aggression. The band still slays us with thundering thrash and death metal, but except for a few tracks — most notably "Foot to the Throat" and "Beating on Death's Door," which assail the listener with LoG's usual jackhammer-to-the-head vibe — Sacrament is a sonic step forward for the band, employing more guitar solos, more demonic vocal dubs, and more furious fills that show off skin hitter Chris Adler's dexterous drumming. Producer Machine (Clutch, King Crimson) helped clean up the band's usually raw sound, simultaneously capturing the group's mind-blowing musical prowess in layers of dark harmonies and monstrous melodies.

2. Sulaco, Tearing Through the Roots (Willowtip): Sulaco re-creates grindcore as a fluid, forward-reaching form that will still sound vital and ultraheavy a hundred years from now. Bandleader Erik Burke has got jaw-dropping guitar chops, but it's Sulaco's imagination that yields song structures so staggeringly complex that your memory will go slack trying to grasp them. Throw in an unprecedented infusion of buzzing, darkly colored melody and the future of grindcore looks promising indeed.

3. Gojira, From Mars to Sirius (Prosthetic): Gojira's leading the latest wave of red-hot French metal bands, and one listen to this potent and progressive album shows why. This is a band that can create both extremely heavy, grinding, guttural songs ("Backbone") and gentler, technically twisted tunes ("Unicorn," "From Mars") without sacrificing either power or precision. On From Mars to Sirius, the band expresses its concerns about our environment in almost every song but takes a positive rather than an apocalyptic stance. Gojira's often compared to Swedish tech-metal band Meshuggah, which delves even deeper into experimental song structures, but Gojira's scorching compositions wrapped in optimism make the band an anomaly in a genre characterized by darkness and violence.

4. Mastodon, Call of the Mastodon (Relapse): Though press and fan anticipation was no doubt concentrated on Mastodon's Warner Bros. debut this year, the acclaimed band managed to top itself via this reissue of some of its earliest recordings (essentially the Lifesblood EP expanded to include four songs from the same sessions). If Mastodon's praise ever seemed premature, this release should give you ample pause to reconsider. Mastodon's stock in trade has always been to blend thrash, extreme, stoner, and prog varieties of metal, and here the band distills them into a seamless, compelling whole.

5. Cannibal Corpse, Kill (Metal Blade): Kill contains the same blitzkrieg of searing guitars and Cookie Monster vocals for which Cannibal Corpse is known, only gorier and more brutal than before. With song titles like "Five Nails Through the Neck" and "Submerged in Boiling Flesh," there's nothing quaint or kitschy about this kind of metal. Songs like the fast and furious "Purification by Fire" and "Brain Removal Device" (with its chaotic, crashing guitars) only further illustrate the sonic terror of which this band is capable. Every moment on Kill — with the exception of "Infinite Misery," a lurching instrumental that closes the album — is an ear-shattering, nightmare-inducing experience.

6. Celtic Frost, Monotheist (Century Media): Ambitious to a fault, Celtic Frost returned this year with its most challenging work to date. And, as fans know, that's saying a lot about a band that could never keep still. After an initial rush of energy in the first two songs that resurrects classic, signature thrash with breathtakingly modern production clarity, the reunited Frost proceeds to make short work of your expectations. It's slow and at times even plodding, but this music rewards the faithful. More than ever before, Celtic Frost captures the despair, rage, and tragedy of a human race marooned in the middle of a universe with an absent god. As if to grasp the infinite sprawl of this solitude, the band seems to reach into space itself and returns with a picture as beautiful as it is bleak.

7. Children of Bodom, Chaos Ridden Years: Stockholm Knockout Live (Universal Music): This live album from these Finns is packed with the band's melodic mashup of black metal, thrash metal, and death metal. Culled from a February 5, 2006, concert in Stockholm, Chaos Ridden Years provides a variety of songs from CoB's five-album catalog for newer listeners, including a wicked rendition of "Follow the Reaper." Some longtime fans complained that this album wasn't as intense as CoB's first live album (1999's Tokyo Warhearts), but the band was able to pull material from three more albums for this release, and the Bodom basics we love so much — the blast beats and breakneck tempos, the elaborate keyboard and guitar solos, the croaky vocals — are all alive and kicking hard here.

8. Napalm Death, Smear Campaign (Century Media): After a mid-'90s experimental period, Napalm Death returned to its straight-ahead grindcore roots, but it's only now that its return has been captured with optimal production. Any band that invents a genre must eventually come to terms with its past, and Napalm Death has found the balance to work within the terms of its legacy with dignity, renewed drive, and freshness. On Smear Campaign, Napalm is at the peak of both its writing ability and anger, thanks to the Bush administration. No other band has channeled left-wing politics into hard-hitting outrage on a par with Napalm Death's, and in our political climate, the band's caustic soundtrack to power abuse sounds reassuring.

9. Goatwhore, A Haunting Curse (Metal Blade): This New Orleans quartet manages to stay faithful to a traditional black metal style while adding ambient elements to its songs. Prime examples here are the songs "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult," which combines midtempo grooves with sadistic riffs, and "In the Narrow Confines of Defilement," which employs trippy bridges over a relentless drumbeat. Singers Sammy Duet and Louis Benjamin Falgoust II have toned down their usual high-pitched screams and opted for more howling and rasping here (the title track contains some particularly vicious vocals), and ex-Morbid Angel guitarist Erik Rutan's production is immaculate.

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

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.

Although he did yeoman's work all year and teamed up with titans like Jay-Z and Eminem, the best of Boogie came on some of his lower-profile projects. Case in point: his Mobb Deep mixtape, More Money More Murda, which shredded the album it was supposed to help promote — through some live Roots collabs and remixes filled with the New York grit that Prodigy and Havoc's G-Unit debut lacked.

For the record, the Commish would like to point out his own notable '06 trend: "The return of good albums. Hip-hop has been lacking in album quality for the last two years," he says, "but this fall has been tremendous. Great full-lengths from Jay-Z, Nas, Clipse, Outkast, Game, Snoop, and UGK are closing out the year with a bang. Who says albums are dead?"

It was the year of the British. Sort of. In fairness, 2006 can't be counted as the sort of watershed 12 months we witnessed two years ago, when Dizzee Rascal and the Streets and their grimey countrymen planted the Union Jack in hip-hop's bloated American carcass, with no intention of ever ceding territory again. And they haven't; while Mike Skinner was only at three-quarter strength on the Streets' The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, his cockney wisecracks were still more fun than three-quarters of his Yank counterparts. Anyone Skinner failed to offend, the wee, witty Lady Sovereign — Def Jam's nod to the British Invasion — took care of. Meanwhile, one of the most slept-on releases of the year came from U.K. vets New Flesh; Universally Dirty mashed up dancehall, grime, and even soca to give British hip-hop yet another brand-new beat.

It was the year of deep thoughts and the year of partying (and sometimes, deep thoughts about partying). There's room for both viewpoints now in hip-hop's increasingly diverse underground, which is good news indeed. Critical darlings Spank Rock might have merely made Too $hort safe for all the eggheads who thought they were too $mart for him the first time around, but even so, was there an album more fun in 2006 than the high-concept/low-art Yoyoyoyoyo? Didn't think so.

Both fun in their own thoughtful ways were albums from the Bay Area's Ise Lyfe, whose SpreadtheWORD suggests he might someday take over Mos Def's mantle as hip-hop's activist poet laureate, and Georgia Ann Muldrow, an adventurous L.A. artist who reassembles urban music in novel ways on Olesi: Fragments of an Earth. Both discs make great soundtracks for the parties in your mind.

It was the year of self-promotion. Well, every year in hip-hop is the year of self-promotion, but today's kids certainly have it down pat. Just ask Jibbs his favorite hip-hop trend of '06, and he barely blinks before answering.

"I would definitely say that the hottest trend," he offers, starting to chuckle, "was people that got their chains hangin' low." — Dan Leroy

For more 2006 Year-End Music Wrap-Up articles, visit our music section.

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