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Looking Back at a Decade of Indie-Acceptable Hip-Hop Tokenism

Remember that festival line-up formula jpg that did the rounds a couple of years back? It sets out a hilarious generic line-up by categorizing the type of bands you find on every festival bill (“increasingly mainstream headliner,” “good headliner playing shitty latest album,” “fat bearded jam band,” “African tribal music everyone will clap politely for,” etc). Anyway, we got to thinking that a similar formula applies to end-of-year best album lists — and, specifically, that there’s always precisely one token hip-hop release lurking in or around pretty much every rock-centric top ten. Join us as we embark on a retrospective of the last ten years’ worth of such albums, and ponder what it all means.

2002: The Streets — Original Pirate Material

Eminem’s best days had gone by 2002, but fans in search of a rapper with a similarly dry wit (and similarly colored skin) only had to look across the Atlantic, where slyly witty Brummie Mike Skinner was getting dubbed “the British Eminem” left, right, and center in the UK press. The hype soon spread to the USA, and Original Pirate Material was by far the US indie world’s favorite hip-hop album of 2002 — Pitchfork published an apparently serious review that claimed “it should come as no surprise that the British, notorious for chewing on our music before spitting it back over the Atlantic in a shiny, new form, have also turned their sun-starved faces to the arena of hip-hop,” suggesting that the work of Roots Manuva, Massive Attack, Coldcut, etc. had never crossed the desk of Overlord Schreiber. Anyway, this fulfils a couple of recurrent criteria for indie-acceptable hip-hop: he’s credible without being, y’know, scary; he’s socially conscious without being mawkish; and his lyrics are exotic enough to be interesting to skinny suburban kids, but also relatable enough to keep everyone interested.

Honorable mentions: N*E*R*D — In Search Of…, Missy Elliott — Under Construction, Eminem — The Eminem Show