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by Andrew Matson & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t should be obvious to everyone that all retrospective discussions of 2006 hip-hop must begin by mentioning the death of J Dilla. Simply put, Dilla (James Yancey, Jay Dee, The Ummah) was every bit as influential as the Bomb Squad, Dr. Dre, RZA, Madlib and every other genre-defining hip-hop production great. He never made smash hits; he made classics, and throughout the course of his illustrious career developed the signature blend of organic tones and cracking snares that became his calling card. Dilla will be remembered for his impossibly consistent streak during the Native Tongues' (esp. A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul) rise to prominence, continuing into the era of Okayplayer (the Roots, Common, Erykah Badu) and eventually Stones Throw Records (Madlib, Oh No).





His catalog mines a musical vein that warms hearts among rap fans and historically encapsulates hip-hop's neo-Golden Era of the mid- to late-90s. Sadly, the weight of his passing almost overshadows Dilla's recently revealed sketchbook forays into the spastic sound experiments of 2006's Donuts. A maste of the fundamentals of beatmaking, it seems he was radically loosening his grip on musical precision during his last days, daring to incorporate an intuitive, improvisational feel into his work. I, for one, am inspired that he chose to meet cosmic indifference while gettin' loose.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; &


& lt;/span & For all the rest of 2006, what can I say? It's been real. People are saying 2006 was a bad year for rap, but they're all just haters. I'm glad to have what the oh-six gave us, so allow me to say:





Thank you hip-hop.





Thanks for another year. Thanks for opening up my eyes to Lil' Wayne. I was wrong to talk shit about him. I like how he blows his own mind when he flows. And thanks for letting T.I. dominate the game for a minute. He's so smooth I didn't even mind that he's a Napoleonic small man. And 2006 taught that if you believe in your own grandiosity, you can appear to live up to it.





Thanks for that Laffy Taffy song. It was the perfect example of artistic vacancy for Ghostface to rip on and trounce with Fishscale. Thank you for Ghostface. And thank you for Jay-Z pushing Ghostface to put out two albums in a year. The Carter Administration is doing good things for hip-hop; thanks for the revitalization of Def Jam. Thank you for the Roots and their return to relevance. Thanks for Nas' now annual return to verbal vitriol. Thanks for Snoop's return to impressive, not just expressive, rhyming.





Thanks for blurring the line between R & amp;B and hiphop in fresh, new ways. Thank you for Timbaland and his badass Justin Timberlake album. Thanks for Christina's DJ Premier cuts. Thanks for Gnarls Barkley -- they let the world sing with them. Thanks for Aloe Blacc's showing people what John Legend should be all about. Thanks for Amerie's showing people what Beyonce should be all about. Thanks for Dudley Perkins' singing like a crazy guy in the rain.





Thanks for HipHopGame.com's innovative journal section, wherein they let 9th Wonder, Rah Diggah, Poison Pen and Killah Priest expound on whatever they want. Thanks for Dave Mays' jumping his wack ass off The Source to start his own sure-fire failure. A weekly hip-hop tabloid? Forgetaboutit. Thanks for Pitchfork's expanding their hip-hop freelance base. Thanks for A Tribe Called Quest's short reunion tour. Thanks for the Rock The Bells tour (even though it missed Spokane). Thanks for giving Flavor Flav a bunch of VH1 money. Thanks for the MTV's LL Cool J Driven episode.





A bittersweet thanks for familiarizing the public with your business side. Sure, Puffy should admit that Pharoahe Monch wrote all his rhymes, but should he brag about it? Don't kids need heroes anymore? Too many rap fans in 2006 talked about SoundScan. What happens if kids lose a little faith in their favorite rapper because his first-week numbers were lackluster? I guess I should thank hip-hop for pointing out that keeping it real also means keeping it transparent, but still... just because mad rappers admit that they're pre-fab doesn't mean it's healthy for hip-hop if young rap fiends get hung up on branding.





Thanks for publicizing the hyphy movement. People dancing on cars is always fun to watch, and E-40's national recognition is a bonus. Thanks for Keak Da Sneak. Masters of foreign dialects are to be celebrated.





There was a lot more to be thankful for in 2006, but I can't think of it now. Generally, I'd say that if 2005's story was that the underground will save hip-hop, then 2006's story is that mainstream artists, by getting back in touch with original fire, are capable of bringing the vanguard to the masses.





ANDREW'S Top Ten CDs of 2006





10) Dilla, Donuts


A look into the mind of a genius.





9) The Thermals, The Body,


The Blood, and The Machine


Inspiration to get out of America while you still can.





8) Lupe Fiasco, Food & amp; Liquor


Real Muslims don't drink, they think.





7) Dudley Perkins, Expressions


The best beats of the year (ask Beck) plus life-saving vocals.





6) Oh No, Exodus Into


Unheard Rhythms


Musical history with levity to spare.





5) DJ Shadow, The Outsider


Hyphy gets the royal treatment.





4) Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury


Coke rap from rap's cleverest hellions.





3) Ghostface Killah, Fishscale


Coke rap from the rap's greatest storyteller.





2) The Hold Steady, Boys and


Girls in America


The pulse of American youth.





1) The Game, Doctor's Advocate


Gangsta rap is back.





-- ANDREW MATSON
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