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by kenn on 1/01/2004 06:09:00 PM

Top Ten Moments of 2003


10. Any and Everything 50 Cent.

If you Google Jay Z it takes almost double the time to come up with half as many entries as it does if you Google 50 Cent. What more can I say? Except that maybe it's a miracle a dozen or more New York record label execs haven't been put on suicide watch. After 50 Cent was blacklisted by the NYC-based record industry because of his infamous "How to Rob" track, Eminem christened 50 his favorite rapper, plucked him from the battlefield that is Queens and, along with Dre, made him the years' biggest star. While his nine bullet wounds and almost southern drawl played their part in making 50 a star, it was his bonafide hustler mentality that made him a phenomenon. From being smart enough to recognize that LL doesn't have a monopoly on the hip hop hard body, to having sense enough to get his own sneakers, a clothing line and record label before his 15 minutes are up, 50 is as self-made as millionaires can come. But the real trick will be to see if he's able to avoid the sophomore jinx — and run-ins with would-be assassins — in 2004.

9. Beyonce's Solo Destiny
It's amazing how a simple hit record with Jay Z and an amazing display of sex appeal can silence a nation of doubters. With "Crazy In Love" Beyonce Knowles proved that she was a first-rate entertainer and that daddy Mathew Knowles was crazy like a fox. It may have taken two incarnations of Destiny's Child and a wack MTV hip hopera to get her here, but in 2003 Miss B officially arrived. Dangerously In Love, her platinum solo debut, didn't miss a beat either, proving that the Knowles know what they're doing when it comes to music. The hip hop crowd was secured with "Crazy In Love," the fair-weather reggae fans with the Sean Paul-assisted "Baby Boy," and the independent women with "Me, Myself, and I" — and there was a video for each one. Now that her talent has been tested and approved, the only remaining uncertainty is her relationship with Jay Z. Young, sweet, religious R&B hottie gets with a rough and tumble talent from the streets — knock on wood, but if Hov and B turn out to be the next Bobby and Whitney remember that Mark Anthony Neal said it here first.

8. The South Rides Again
Kissing cousin jokes aside, southern rappers kept it all in the family in 2003 and took the hip hop world by storm. David Banner, Lil Flip, OutKast, Lil Jon and the Eastsidaz, and the Yin Yang Twins among others, finally finished what the Geto Boys started in 1990 by dominating the charts and dictating what was cool, oops, I mean crunk in 2003. Southern artists were also responsible for five of the ten songs that marked the Billboard Top Ten's first all-black line-up. But the real lesson to be learned from these good ole boys has got to be their unity, which was the highlight of this years' Source Awards. Nearly all of the aforementioned artists are platinum and there's still no talk of who is king. And with the retirement of Jay Z leaving a vacant thrown, Empire state emcees might want to take note.

7. Eminem vs. The Source Magazine
While this may still very much be a war in progress, The Source has fallen on its sword several times throughout the fray. What could have been the beginning of a groundbreaking dialogue on American race relations was squandered, amidst the rants of a mediocre emcee turned hater, bitter because his career as a true to life gangster turned rapper couldn't hold a torch to a scrawny white boy's from Detroit. It didn't help that said gangster was also a co-owner of The Source, or that he was threatening editors from rival mags. But just when everyone had totally dismissed Raymond "Benzino" Scott and Dave Mays as the industry's biggest haters they were delivered what would have been a silver bullet under any other circumstances: a tape of Eminem's racist raps from the past. Awkwardly enough, Eminem simply apologized, was blessed by Russell Simmons and no one seemed to bat an eyelash, giving strength to the argument that the hip hop generation is as apathetic about racial issues as many longtime critics have claimed. We'll see what happens when The Source bundles a disc of the audio with an upcoming issue. (Note to hip hop: Trent Lott and Rush Limbaugh have been publicly persecuted for saying much, much less.)

6. Scorsese Does the Blues
It's hard to tell if this series was done out of genuine love for the blues or the need for the music industry to squeeze revenue out of a genre other than hip hop. Either way, it didn't work. Aided by some of the most creative directors in the business and a congressional declaration that made 2003 the year of the blues, Martin Scorsese's effort to resuscitate blues music must have had jazz rolling in its grave. Complaints came from blues children like Zakiya Hooker, and ranged from disappointment at Charles Burnett being the sole black director involved to the series' failure to reach out to contemporary blues artists. And what was touted as a multimedia revival, with DVD and CD box sets on deck, turned out to be a multimedia reburial.

5. Billboard Top Ten Blackout
Why this hasn't happened before is beyond me. But if it doesn't happen again in the next five years the pro-black conspiracy theorists will have a field day. And that nine out of ten tracks are by rappers only further cements 2003 as hip hop's breakout year.

4. Michael Jackson Tells All, Again
When the chips are down go with brown! Amidst another scandal Michael Jackson finds his blackness and interviews with Ed Bradley, and only Ed Bradley. The racial aspect wasn't advertised, but it didn't have to be. After being edited to look even more maniacal than we already assumed he was when he tried this tell-all stunt the last time with Martin Bashir, Michael reached out to one of the most respected black journalists on television, alleging that he was roughed up by the police and locked in a filthy bathroom and verbally taunted for 45 minutes, and that he would rather slit his little white wrists than touch little boys. (He still thinks it's cool to sleep in the bed with them, but only if they love him.) What was most interesting about the interview was Jackson's mention of a conspiracy against him here in the states — the only country where his latest record hasn't topped the charts. Perhaps he needs to collaborate with the Yin Yang Twins.

3. A Rapper Retires
Forget the incredible string of successful albums or the legendary battle with Nas, Jay Z made hip hop history in 2003 by being the first rapper to end his career before fickle fans, a prison sentence or a drive-by did it for him. Although he'd been criticized for flaunting a money/cash/hoes mentality for years, on "Moment of Clarity" Jay broke his formula down for the masses by explaining that he couldn't have sold five million albums rhyming like the ultra-conscious Common, though he would have preferred to. And while the Black Album capped 2003 for Jay, this year he also opened Club 40/40, came clean about his relationship with Beyonce, and entered a bid to purchase the New Jersey Nets. Getting his grown man on, so to speak, Jay emerged as the ultimate hip hop role model by being stable, responsible and mature — everything rappers were once thought to be incapable of.

2. The Double Disc Done Right
Since hip hop caught onto the double disc tactic fans have been force-fed filler that could have easily been cut or condensed into a single CD. And ever since fans first heard OutKast there's been speculation as to how long it would take for the group to split up so that Andre could do his own thing. But in 2003 OutKast made history with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Never before in rap music had a group simultaneously settled their desire to express themselves and separately and satisfy their fans so successfully. Nor had the face of the music been given such a dramatic facelift by two artists at once. With "The Way You Move" and "Hey Ya," the respective singles from each, Big Boi and Dre broke the monotony of G-Unit's gangster reign and presented a nice alternative to the South's strip club-inspired sound.

1. ODB
Russell Jones is an American icon. He's changed his name from the Old Dirty Bastard, to Dirt McGirt, is renowned for being a deadbeat dad, has been shot at several times, and even hit once or twice. He was incarcerated for nearly two years on drug charges and probation violations. And he's spent months as hip hop's Where's Waldo, with reported sightings coming in from state to state while he was on the run from his two-year sentence. Yet his release from prison was celebrated by hip hoppers like Nelson Mandela's and he was greeted with a diamond-encrusted platinum chain that made him a member of the Rocafella family, hip hop's number one label. Jones embodies the epitome of Americas' fascination with — and celebration of — the dysfunctional, our love for the slow-motion train wreck. Unfortunately, what seems to make him entertaining is that he is a poster-boy for the real life problems plaguing the black community.

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