For: production work by: Blockhead, Madlib, El-P
Byline: 2010's first great hip-hop album. Welcome back to my life.
Sadly, hip-hop in 2009 was pretty much neglected on the TOME, in 2010 I have resolved not to let it slip through the tracks. I don't have any real excuse, some great albums came out in '09 DOOM, the "Blueprint 3 "(I liked it, ok), Raekwon "Only Built For Cuban Links II". Kicking the year off right is 13 Stories by Canadian producer Factor. The Canadian producer responsible for work behind artists as varied as Aesop Rock and Xzibit (remember him!!), gives a pretty coherent thesis of 13 stories by 13 MCs. Like most concept albums with various contributers some stay close to the script, others apparently didn't read the e-mail header. Regardless of the vocal contributions, Factor's production work takes a scattershot concept and shuffles through genres enough to give it some breathing room. The album hits early with the always incredible Anticon founder Sole giving one of his most memorable lines of his career with "Elliott Smith put a knife through his heart/now, that's gangster/ask Michael Jackson/there ain't no such thing as painkillers" on "Don't Jock the Dead". If the lyrical allusions haven't tipped you off, this is Factor treading some pretty deep and murky water, his understated beat, bowed strings, and tortured blues sample keep the track plodding forward with its head down. It speaks to a great producer that this contemplative posit on mortality can be bookended by two old-school hip-hop rave ups. This is par for the course for the entire album, "Black Fantasia" with Living Legends' Sunspot Jonz, has a positively addictive hook (the reappropriated theme to Miami Vice, Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City") while Jonz counters this with a depressing tale of loss and vice. In terms of production work, Factor never does anything to draw attention away from the collaborative nature of this album, allowing the MC to hold court over his classical samples, vocals rooted firmly in the blues and soul, and gritty, lo-fi atmospherics. The fact that his production never imposes itself lends creedence that 13 Stories is in fact a concept album proper, and not a producers vapid excuse to get some lime light by producing the album under his own moniker. Regardless of the range of talent flown in, 13 Stories is still very much the unique vision of Factor, and his name deserves top billing.
P.S Why is this called the prelude? Because Factor is dropping pt. 2 in March. Stay tuned!