Lil Wayne Dedication 2 (Gangsta Grillz)
For a few years, Lil Wayne has been calling himself "the best rapper alive," and on his latest mixtape, Dedication 2, the New Orleans rapper takes a few moments to clarify the claim. "I don't think I'm better than anybody personally," he says. "I don't think I'm better than anybody spiritually … I don't think I'm better than anybody in any way or form or fashion. But as far as this rap thing, I think I am better than everybody." Got that? In fact, it's hard to argue with Wayne: Dedication 2 is the strongest rap record I've heard all year. The usual pleasures of Lil Wayne are here in abundance: tightly rhymed pileups of jokes and allusions—"I'm all grown, so much better with math/ I need a spread in the Forbes taking a Benjamin bath/ I'm servin' this track like Steffi Graf/ Roger Federer, there's no competitors"—delivered in an endearing nasal croak. The real stunner, though, is "Georgia…Bush." Count on a New Orleans native to come up with the most eloquent, furious post-Katrina song yet: "This song is dedicated to the one with the suit/ Thick white skin and his eyes bright blue/ So-called beef wit you-know-who/ Fuck it, he just let him kill all of our troops/ Look at the bullshit we been through/ Had the niggas sittin' on top they roofs …/ The white people smiling like everything cool/ But I know people that died in that pool."
Lupe Fiasco Food & Liquor (Atlantic)
Listen to "American Terrorist." The infectious summer hit by 25-year-old Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, "Kick, Push," opens with a feint: "I dedicate this one right here to all my homies out there grindin'. You know what I'm saying? Legally and illegally." It sounds like another song about cocaine—the current gangsta-rap vogue. But "grindin' " refers to skateboarding, not drug dealing, and "Kick, Push" turns out to be romance—an ode to "aerials and varials" and "lovers in the twilight" fleeing security guards on his-and-hers skateboards. Lupe Fiasco is an unusual MC: an earthy indie-rap type with big-time skills and a major-label deal. (He's also a clotheshorse and blogger who enthuses about street wear on the Web site Hypebeast.) Fiasco's guest verse on Kanye West's "Touch the Sky"—a typically suave and tricky performance crammed with interior rhymes—a few excellent mixtapes, and the endorsement of Jay-Z, who signed on as his executive producer, has made Food & Liquor one of the most eagerly awaited rap debuts in years. It doesn't disappoint. The music is iconoclastic, mixing Kanye-style '70s soul pastiches with blasts of rock guitar. Like lots of "conscious" rappers, Lupe takes swipes at the clichés and excesses of gangsta rap, but he's no purist. In "I Gotcha," Lupe raps, "I know you sick of them playas big car and watch ya/ Either they pimps or they macks of the mobsters" over a buoyant track by the Neptunes—the go-to beat-makers for studio gangstas everywhere.
Papoose featuring Busta Rhymes The 1.5 Million Dollar Man (Jive)
Brooklyn's Papoose built his legend with stunts like "Alphabetical Slaughter," a rap that whizzes through the entire alphabet with each verse using words beginning in a given letter. ("Alert assassins at large allegedly/ Automatic artillery angrily aimed and aggressively," etc.) He's released countless mixtapes over the last several years, spurning overtures from major labels in order to build his stock—a strategy that resulted in a massive $1.5 million deal when he finally did sign with Jive Records. (His latest mixtape is titled—surprise, surprise— The 1.5 Million Dollar Man.) Papoose is a formidable rhymer, but he's often seemed like the freestyle rap equivalent of guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani: great technique, dodgy taste, little discernable personality. Which is why the first single from Papoose's debut, The Nacirema Dream (that's "American dream" spelled backward, folks), is such a nice surprise. On "Get Right," Papoose is almost comically conversational and restrained: "What you mean let's go? Go where?/ This my city, I ain't going nowhere/ Matter fact, Bus' let's go over there/ Take all of they girls and bring 'em over here/ … Oooh I like her, shake yo' rear / You look nice—who did your hair?" If Papoose learns to hold fire like this more often, he might just turn into something better than a great rapper: an enjoyable rapper.
Bobby Creekwater Anthem to the Streets (Shady)
Bobby Creekwater, from Atlanta, is not about to blow any minds. In the rhyme-skills department, he's no Lil Wayne. (For that matter, he's no Papoose or Lupe Fiasco, either.) Nor is he one of those charismatics who gets by with a plus-sized personality (Busta Rhymes) or a world-class beard (Rick Ross). But Creekwater is a pro: a gifted storyteller with a molasses-dipped drawl and an amusing penchant for dropping as many consonants as possible. (He pronounces the title phrase of the song "Like Thiss" like this: lie deaaah.) Creekwater's debut CD, on Eminem's Shady Records, will be out sometime in 2007; his current mixtape will whet appetites for the proper album. Creekwater's subject matter is pretty standard, but he's refreshingly uninterested in sounding menacing, delivering his drug-peddling tales over the cheeriest possible dance tracks: Sesame Street sings crack rap. And " Bobby Creek" is one of the best theme songs in ages, with Creekwater casting himself both as mack ("Big mouth, big bank, big guns/ Bobby Creek") and a kind of cosmic force (Who that is?/ Bobby Creek/ What time it is?/ Bobby Creek").