Various Artists - 2k6 (the Tracks)
Every sport has its allocated sound; football has its marching bands, hockey wouldn't be the same without that organist up in the nosebleeds, soccer has hooligans chanting in the stands and then maiming each other afterwards, and baseball has its hot-dog vendors.
Basketball, however, is probably the only sport to have an entire genre behind it, in hip-hop; understandable, given the argument that hip-hop is an entire culture unto itself, and that basketball is an important part of that culture's make-up, along with graffitti, breakdancing, etc. (What, you haven't seen 'Style Wars' yet? What's wrong with you?)
'2K6 (The Tracks)' is a perfect example of how intertwined hip-hop and basketball are, and I honestly don't know if there'll ever be one better. In attempting to assemble a decent soundtrack to 2KSports 2005 video game, the producers of this cd have created something that transcends its promotional origins and shows just how comfortable the two realms are together. Right off the bat, Lyrics Born's bombastic 'Big Money Talk' sets the tone, and from that point on it's a series of trash-talking, ankle-breaking love songs to the game, with full-force contributions from, well, everyone; check out this roster: Blackalicious, The Roots, Redman, Ghostface, Little Brother, Aceyalone, Hieroglyphics, Common, Jean Grae, Zion I, Aesop Rock, and Skillz - the entire thing bookended with short pieces by dj-wunderkind RJD2. Even if there are a couple names on there thet you haven't heard of yet, I guarantee that by the time you get to the end of this disc, you'll have a few new names that you'll be adding to your own library.
Of course, as top-notch as every track is, high honours go to Jean Grae and Aesop Rock, who somehow manage to stand above the rest of the talent. Grae's 'The Jam' presents a sing-along melody that conjurs backyard BBQ's and block parties, while Jean herself maintains that balance of vitriol and humour in her rhymes that makes her the meanest spitter around; and Aesop Rock's surreal masterpiece 'Junkyard' defies description, as Rob Sonic's signature beats provide precise acompaniment to imagery that surely rivals Tom Waits at his weirdest.
Still, to focus on one or two songs here is to lose sight of this album as a whole, and I cannot sing high enough praise for this collection. While I'm not sure if the intentions on the part of the producers was to present a gem of this quality, the end result is not only a great hip-hop album, but a reflection of the essential symbiosis of the sport and the rhyme that help constitute hip-hop as a way of life.
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