#1 - Nelly
Weeks on Chart: 5 Peak: #40 (Feb. 2002) buy it!
Without resorting to too much novelty or commercial pandering, Nelly is already one of the most successful rappers, in terms of pop hits, of all time. Nelly's appeal has partly been in his use of familiar gangsta rap tough guy imagery but the most obvious reason he's done so well is that he's a good rapper. On #1, from the soundtrack to the movie Training Day, Nelly is again fast and fluid with a good edge and personality. #1 wisely keep things fairly simple with a steady beat and a good synth riff. Having established his cred and sold millions of copies of Country Grammar, Nelly doesn't feel the need to show his love for bullets and blunts like he did on his earlier hits. But Nelly is still more appealing for his skills than for the personality his lyrics reveal. #1 is about making sure he's treated with the proper respect, boasting about how rappers want to be like him and dissing critics and less successful competitors.
03 Bonnie & Clyde - Jay-Z featuring Beyonce
Weeks on Chart: 10 Peak: #25 (Jan. 2003) buy it!
03 Bonnie & Clyde, from The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, is Jay-Zs biggest pop hit so far(yeah Im pretty sure its even bigger than that Hard Knock Life song). Not being the most knowledgable hip hop fan, I thought of Coolios Gangstas Paradise when I first heard 03 Bonnie & Clyde. Of course, the most direct influence on 03 B & C is Tupac Shakurs Me and My Girlfriend. Jay-Z reminds me of his fellow ultra successful entrepreneur P. Diddy. They both arent so skilled as rappers but get by with their spoken voice style on confidence and a forceful personality. Especially on 03 B & C, my votes with Jay-Z. His rap is fairly uninflected but it has an appealing directness and doesnt have the silliness and ego that can plague Diddy. With a good, steady beat and acoustic guitar riffs, Jay-Zs unstoppable vocal and the soft, sexy contributions of Jay-Zs real life girlfriend Beyonce Knowles, 03 B & C has an appealingly smooth, relaxed flow. The lyric paints a sweet picture of domestic bliss. Depicting he and B as the new Bobby and Whitney(an unusual choice of romantic role models), Jay-Z describes a relationship of free communication(except when Bs watching Sex and The City) where each would do anything necessary for the other and disses dudes that treat the one that you lovin with the same respect as the one that you humpin.
100 Years - Five For Fighting
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: #23 (April 2004) buy it!
John Ondrasik, the guy who made Superman a new age wimp on his 2000 hit, is back with more sentimental crap by his band Five For Fighting. On 100 Years, from Five For Fighting's The Battle For Everything CD, Ondrasik again tries to make us think. Ondrasik moves back and foward from his current age, appreciating highlights, remembering that life is short and apparently advising a 15 year old that "there's still time for you." There's nothing wrong with 100 Years' concept but, lyrically and vocally, Ondrasik isn't insightful enough to justify the smug self righteousness he projects. He's so sensitive and thoughtful and so lacking in edge or self doubt that he seems a little lame. On 100 Years, Ondrasik shifts from an undramatic voice to a high vocal that seems intended to match the tone of his piano but is annoyingly reedy. With strings and his showy but bland piano playing, Ondrasik tries for a sweeping sound but the uninteresting result makes me long for Bruce Hornsby's similar but better songs.
12:51 - The Strokes
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: #45 (Nov. 2003) buy it!
The surprising thing about Room On Fire, The Strokes' new record, is how unsurprising it is. Facing the pressure of following up their debut CD, The Strokes have made a record that is very similar to 2001's Is This It. That's not such a bad thing. Is This It was one of the best records in recent years. But excitement and freshness are largely missing on a record that is mostly fairly safe variations on a now familiar theme. With Nick Valensi's guitar recreating the icy synths of early 80s new wave rock, 12:51 is about as different as Room On Fire gets. But 12:51 and the rest of Room On Fire are still quite enjoyable. Julian Casablancas' singing has lost some of its arrogance and gained a little warmth and humanity but he is still very cool. 12:51 gets to the heart of Casablancas' charm. He seems to expend the least possible amount of energy possible but, as his croon slides around, he communicates a subtle sense of mischief. 12:51 shows The Strokes' genius for constructing a tight rock song. 12:51 is propelled forward by Fab Moretti's handclap like drums and Albert Hammond playing the kind of driving guitar line that was Is This It's trademark. The solid foundation built by Moretti, Hammond and bass player Nikolai Fraiture gives Casablancas and Valensi the space to enjoyably float. 12:51's video nicely matches the band's deadpan charm. The images, based on Tron, an impossibly hokey movie from a now primitive age of computers and video games, fit the song's cheesy synth sound and gently mock Casablancas' unemotional deportment. 12:51 is a fun song from a good but not great record on which The Strokes refuse to break much new ground. Unlike on Is This It, Casablanca's Room On Fire lyrics largely don't depict him as an aloof heartbreaker. On 12:51, Casablancas plays a teen facing a lonely Friday night who tries to convince a girl that "now I'm older", she should "talk to me", "go out" with him and "kiss me."
21 Questions - 50 Cent
Weeks on Chart: 11 Peak: #22 (July 2003) buy it!
A short time after being "discovered" by Eminem, 50 Cent has reached the kind of success his mentor took years to achieve. In Da Club is one of the biggest hits of 2003. 21 Questions, 50 Cent's second pop hit, reenforces the fact that the buzz and hype that preceded 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Tryin' CD was justified. 50 Cent has separated himself from the hip hop crowd with a style that's distinctively laid back and confident. Like In Da Club, 21 Questions has a vocal and backing track that are interesting on their own and work great together. The rap and music both create a good texture. 50's rap is natural and plainspoken but it's also sneakily rhythmic as he snakes around the already twisty track. Nate Dogg(who's worked previously with Warren G, 2Pac, Snoop Dogg and Eminem) does the singing on the chorus. Dogg fits the song's style with a vocal that's smooth but not too pretty. Like 50's rap, 21 Questions' repeated guitar like riff is a little awkward but it's more interesting because it doesn't sound like everything you've heard before. The riff punctuates the end of each of 50 and Dogg's lines, adding a little edge, taking a split second longer than it has to. 50 Cent has amassed enough cred that 21 Questions, which presents him as a kind of sensitive, vulnerable guy, is unlikely to lose him any fans. 50 is simultaneously tough and light hearted even while asking questions that make him seem needy. His soft spoken style makes it clear that 21 Questions is a request for encouragement rather than a jealous interrogation. 50 doesn't just want to know if she would stand by him if he "got locked up" or lost his fancy cars and "flipped burgers at Burger King." He also wants confirmation that she's his "soulmate" and that she wouldn't freak if he wrote her a love letter or "didn't smell so good."
45 - Shinedown
Weeks on Chart: 9 Peak: #9 (June 2004) buy it!
Shinedown are another band playing derivative neo-grunge rock. 45 is from the Florida band's Leave A Whisper CD. 45's lyric is melodramatic even by the standard of rockers about troubled young guys. Brent Smith sings about a young man who "slowly fell apart", his "heart swallowed by pain." Smith's character is an always condemned young man who thinks "nobody knows what I believe." Since he has "no real reason to accept the way things have changed", he's "staring down the barrel of a .45."
7 Days - Craig David
Weeks on Chart: 14 Peak: #13 (March 2002) buy it!
I'm somewhat surprised that Craig David has been able to replicate his British success in the U.S. With Fill Me In's reference to an answer phone and 7 Days' lyric about a six digit phone number, David is awfully English and the appeal of his music is quite modest. I guess David's easy confidence and his smooth, mild music is irresistable to ladies on both sides of the Atlantic. 7 Days, the second hit from David's Born To Do It CD, uses the somewhat hackneyed formula of reciting the days of the week to describe a fast moving relationship. After cockily bragging about how quickly he got her into bed, David spends the rest of 7 Days trying to convince her that this isn't just a one night stand. 7 Days' backing of acoustic guitar and a mellow beat is tasteful and a touch boring. David's vocal has a relaxed charm but I find his lady killer act a little smarmy.
8th World Wonder - Kimberly Locke
Weeks on Chart: 6 Peak: #43 (May 2004) buy it!
Kimberly Locke is the third American Idol contestant to make the top 50. Locke was eliminated when Clay Aiken and eventual winner Ruben Studdard made the finals but she has defeated Studdard on the charts. 8th World Wonder is a bigger pop hit than Studdard has had so far. Nothing about 8th World Wonder, from Locke's debut One Love CD, changes my opinion that American Idol is making pop music blander. Most of American Idol's successes have been competent but innocuous, appealing to the most middle American viewers by being inoffensive and familiar. Unlike Kelly Clarkson, who has tried to add a bit of edge to the squeaky clean American Idol prototype, Locke sticks with the show's safe sound on 8th World Wonder. 8th World Wonder reminds me of one of Shania Twain's lite pop hits though, to her credit, even at her most cloying and manipulative, Twain is never this boring. Locke's singing is very colorless. It's remarkable that Locke, an African-American, conveys even less soul than Clay Aiken, perhaps the whitest guy in the world. 8th World Wonder was produced and cowritten by Shaun Shankel, whose credits include work with easy listening favorites Michael Bolton and Amy Grant. There's nothing distinctive or interesting about 8th World Wonder's music. Shankel uses drum machines, synths and rock guitars but makes sure nothing gets too loud or challenging. Eight World Wonder's writers have Locke playing the swooning, adoring girlfriend. I know that a romance's early days can be intoxicating but 8th World Wonder really makes Locke seem like an idiot, raving about how amazing the guy she's known for seven days is. 8th World Wonder's lyric is overblown trying, with thunder and rising water, to achieve some sort of biblical force.