Best Albums 2001 (21-25)

25. Jay-Z — The Blueprint

“If I ain’t better than B.I.G./ I’m the closest one”–uh, if heads insist, though notice he didn’t drop that line on the Eminem track. But really, doesn’t anyone else wish the greatest MC of our time was a little more, I don’t know, engaging? Biggie covered more emotional ground in two albums than the G.O.O.T. has over the course of a career, if only because Jay’s all-but-exclusive subject is his own greatness. And yet, for all my bitching, this, far more than his two limp sequels or that honorable victory lap The Black Album, is S. Carter’s ’00s testament. He lives or dies by the hook, true, but he also knows to buy the best. Which makes him an artist only a puritan could strictly boycott, and a star only a Yankee fan could truly love.

24. Aaliyah — Aaliyah

Let’s not get crazy here. At twenty-two damn years old, she had plenty of growing up still ahead–not to mention plenty of time for label problems to sidetrack her, for celebrity to disorient her grounded homegirl sensibility, for shifting public tastes to reduce her to a minor pleasure like, oh, Keyshia Cole or somebody. Still, almost a decade later, her ascension to womanhood is unparalleled in its ease of ego, in the self-possessed yet unassuming fashion in which she proves herself more than just a gem for Tim to set. Straight-up modern R&B albums like this were why fools like me though we didn’t need Jill Scott and Erykah Badu to class the joint up–and why fools continue to tell themselves that Amerie or Ciara are their equals.

23. System of a Down — Toxicity

Yes, questionable motives contributed to the critical acclaim, with “we do too like metal” and “Look! Armenians!” eventually feeding into 9/12: The Quest for Significance. Still, as someone professionally compelled to weigh in before The Big Day (though a half-star light of what I should have) I can attest that Serj Tankian won me over despite the questionable pedigree of his worldbleat and his even questionabler loose talk of “self-righteous suicide.” Humanity’s answer to Frank Zappa, Serj is typically an even-headed spaz, whether spewing statistics against the prison-industrial complex or lecturing a groupie about self-respect. And whatever cultural heritage inspires their bouncy thrash, the band earns their arty plateaus.

22. Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez — Cachaito

Too bad “Cuban dub” suggests some misguided Bill Laswell project, because the most rhythmically challenging of all Buena Vista Social Club affiliates is no more “jazz” than it is descarga, and if specific tracks do slot themselves into specific subgenres, their bottoms are too busy to do so neatly. This sui generis turn from Cuba’s greatest bassist refused to point toward a tradition the way dad Orestes or Uncle Cachao once had–that would have required rappers or something. Instead, Cachaito just stretches out, with classy brass from Pee Wee Ellis and Hugh Masekela, a smokey pan-Caribbean B-3 from Aswad’s Bigga Morrison, and nary a Cooder in sight.

21. Michael Jackson — Invincible

I understand if the rancid swirl of autobiography and hype still put you off, but it’s beyond me how anyone beyond Quincy Jones’ immediate family could prefer Bad for purely musical reasons. Listen past the usual goop about The Children and The Planet and The Media (no worse distractions, really, than your standard R&B clichés) and you’ll hear a ballad master who’s finally located a hook or two sturdy enough to support his sentimentality. And the top-shelf Jerkins and Riley jams seemed a touch out of date in ’01, but time heals all anachronisms. This genius left far too little major work for me to permit tabloid scumbags or his own train wreck of an existence from claiming this minor shimmer of brilliance.

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  • JW  On February 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Call me slow, but I’m having trouble figuring out the second “o” in “G.O.O.T.” (Either way, I’m in about as total agreement re: Jay-Z as anyone could be.)

  • Alan  On February 21, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    “Greatest Of OUR Time” maybe? Wild guess.

  • usefulnoise  On February 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Yup, “our time.” Sorry for the obscurity!

  • JW  On February 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Ugh, nothing to apologize for. You use that exact phrase in the previous sentence. I’m just an idiot.

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