The final five.
5. "What a Mess" Xzibit Man vs. Machine
Xzibit has great songs. They're just spread out over all of his albums, hiding behind songs that aren't very good, unlike this one from "Man Vs. Machine." The X-man's collaboration with DJ Premier is a state of the union for hip-hop in 2002 and reminds us all that rap music has been a mess for a long, long time. X's justifiable anger and frustration are amplified by Primo's production, chock full of shredded samples and funky breaks.
4. "I Inherited The World" Mad Skillz From Where???
This song (from "From Where.") isn't some "I Am Legend," last man in the world-type stuff, as the lyrics would lead you to believe. I hear a young artist, a long way from home and wondering what's next as he began his new life alone. The Sean J. Period-produced track fuels this song about trappings of success, which keeps some people chasing their dreams and others running in the other direction.
3. "Shabba Doo Conspiracy" Chino XL Here to Save You All
Chino XL's "Here to Save You All," is an album littered with pop culture references that aren't as cool or clear as they were in 1996. But this gem of a track with Kool Keith has aged gracefully. Overflowing with vulgar punchlines and wicked wordplay, Chino and Keith curse the artistic corruption of gangsta rap using the career of dancer/actor Adolfo Quiñones as a metaphor. Unlike some of the rappers who have songs on this list, Chino and Keith still haven't gone pop.
2. "Standin' on the Korner" Young Black Teenagers Young Black Teenagers
Yeah, there was a lot wrong with the Young Black Teenagers concept. They weren't teenagers, they weren't black. But they could rap. The YBT used old school vocal techniques on this track and surrounded them with Bomb Squad production, elements I'm equally partial to. If Cold Crush had been steady making music into the 90's, it might've sounded something like this.
I'm still lookin' for a clip of this one.
1. "Gutfest '89" Digital Underground Sex Packets
Shock G voices three characters on this song (none of whom wear a prosthetic nose) and convincingly carries on a conversation with himself over manufactured mayhem. The song might be based on a fictional event, but the music is as real as good hip-hop it gets. Tommy Boy had the nerve to leave this off the initial CD release of "Sex Packets."