ALBUM of the WEEK: Jean Grae – Jeanius

This week we feature the brand new long awaited album from one of the few female emcee’s out there just rappin. Jean Grae. When I say just rappin I mean not selling how freaky she is, or name checking designers, or even singing for half the album. Jean is just rappin. If you don’t know Ms. Grae she’s been around for a minute doing her thing on the underground. In fact it’s been kind of a mystery as to why she has not been bigger than she is. Almost everybody agrees she’s got some skills on the mic, nice flow and in this modern music environment (unfortunately) she’s even easy on the eyes.  Now being cute SHOULD NOT be a requirement but it’s only mentioned to prove that Jean is the complete package.  ANYway her album Jeanius actually was made 4 years ago but was leaked and then got caught in that matrix that we will simply call “music industry politics”. Jeanius has finally seen the “official” light of day courtesy of Blacksmith Records, you might know the head of Blacksmith, a dude by the name of Talib Kweli.  Beats courtesy of 9th Wonder.  By the way the albums covers you see to the right are not the actual cover or covers that Jeanius is packaged in these are inside pics that Jean and 9th did to recreate some classic album covers from the past.  It gives an idea of where she is coming from. The actual album cover is all black and simply says jeanius on the front in letters that look like a child has done them.  Check the interview below Jean did with Village Voice to get some more insight. As always, these are not the complete songs, just 90-second clips to give you a feel for the music. If you like what you hear, buy the CD. We’ve gotta support if we want real hip hop to flourish.


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The Trials of Jean Grae

by Rob Harvilla for The Village Voice

Jean Grae once had two different albums leak on the same day. That is really hard to do. This Week, the official follow-up to the brash, volatile, riveting New York City MC’s 2002 debut, Attack of the Attacking Things, saw official release as scheduled, in September 2004. That’s also when Jeanius, a superior effort to This Week, began a horrifying four-year odyssey of neglect, abandonment, and (very) gradual evolution. Some of this ludicrous delay goes down to sample issues: Helmed by former Little Brother producer 9th Wonder, it’s a mesmerizing ghost-town of classic funk/soul echoes—easy to love, hard to clear. But darker calamities have plagued our heroine, too, which explains, as we near Jeanius’s long-awaited official release on Blacksmith Records (co-founded by Talib Kweli, overseen by Warner), why Jean herself is now threatening to retire via her MySpace page.

Her initial salvo, dated April 26, had the unmistakable ain’t-we-had-fun wistfulness of a breakup letter. (“It’s been a wonderful and awful journey all at the same time. Mostly leaning towards the wonderful part . . . lol.”) It freaked people out. And though she continued to post, the content ranged from the suspiciously frivolous (a swarm of gnats sticks to her over-glossed lips) to the directly confrontational. There’s a video for Jeanius’s first single, the obscene-phone-call sex jam “Love Thirst,” in which Jean frolics sexily in the back of an olde-tyme taxicab. She has disowned it. (“I think that shit is wack.”) But even bloodier battles await: Though the record is by turns hilarious and vicious, there’s an anguished insecurity at its core: “Don’t Rush Me” is mired in frustration and self-doubt, while “My Story” recounts Jean’s experience getting an abortion at 16 in brutal, vivid detail. Now her label wants to make a video for that one. Without her. Jean’s not having it. And she might walk away still. But not quite yet.

Here are some excerpts from our chat.

So, I take it you didn’t actually retire.

[Sighs.] I’ve never done anything for the sake of a publicity stunt or anything else. But I was genuinely, really just like, “OK, I’ve had it.” For many reasons. And I get that, being disenchanted with the industry—who’s not disenchanted with the industry at some point? And especially after that many years?

Age-wise, kind of wanting to do other things, including changing careers. Been about 15 years. Wanting to have a family, wanting to be a mom. That, and not getting enough champagne in my room at all times. Always upsetting. Delayed product. I could come up with tons of ’em. It really did come from a really honest place. I definitely meant it. And at this point, it’s kind of: “This is my job for better or for worse right now.” And I do have a responsibility to do something I think is really important. Sometimes it feels like a real huge burden, but, yeah. [Sighs.] That, and—well, we can get into the other things later.

“My Story” mentions a heart murmur, an abortion, a miscarriage, and an attempted suicide. Is anything there even remotely embellished?

No. No. No. “My Story” is a really important song. It took me about 10 years or so to do. There’s an energy that happened around that Jeanius album. With that specific song, it was just myself and 9th in the room. We have a very good chemistry working together. We never have to ask, “Go in and do this,” or “I feel like this should happen here.” It was just really natural and pure.

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HOT 5: What If’s

What if? It’s the eternal questions everybody has asked. What if I had been on time? What if I hadn’t come home early? What if the Portland Trailblazers had picked Michael Jordan instead of Chicago? It’s the question that makes you say Hmmmmm. Well, we asked that question and came up with five Grownhead brainteasers.

1. What if Eazy E had paid Dr. Dre and Ice Cube?

Real History:  After the phenomenal success of Straight Outta Compton and a successful summer tour, NWA was riding a wave of popularity. Everything was good in the hood. Well, almost everything. Ice Cube, who was doing the heavy lifting as far as rapping and writing for the group, was to first to take notice.

Despite high sales and the fame, Ice Cube said all he had was a “Suzuki cheap jeep and a gold rope,” while manager Jerry Heller and Eazy (who owned the label) had big houses in the Hills. “I was still stayin’ with my Mama,” Cube said in an interview years later. Cube called a group meeting to discuss, but nobody came. He got so disgusted he left the group to go solo. 

Several years later Dr. Dre, the producer and sound architect of the group, finally caught on, too. With a little help from a guy named Suge Knight, who according to urban legend shows up to the meeting with bats, pipes and big fellas, Dre persuaded Eazy to sign his release from Ruthless Records. Dre and Suge then started Death Row Records, launching a new epoch in hip-hop.

Alternate Reality: First off, the obvious ramifications. No Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (as we know it), no Death Row Records (as we know it), no Chronic (as we know it).  Ice Cube still does a solo project at Ruthless, and heck, even calls it Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. But instead of featuring classic production by the Bomb Squad (basically Public Enemy), it’s produced by Dre — and it’s pretty damn good. It’s angry, raw, and righteous, but missing the historical political bent that could only have been the product of many late night talks with Chuck.

MC Ren, NWA’s second-best rapper, has a real solo career with Dre on his beats, and goes on to lauded collaborations with the likes of Scarface and Kool G Rap. Warren G still gives Dre 213’s demo featuring Snoop Doggy Dog rapping and Nate Dogg singing, but now Snoop is on the Ruthless roster. Even more intriguing: when Dre’s sound morphs in the G-Funk era, the albums of Ice Cube, Ren, Bone Thugs and Harmony, and Above The Law all have those beats.

And since he’s making great money just producing, Dre never feels like he has to rap to eat, one of the reasons he put out a solo album. The Chronic is never released and hip-hop as we know it is totally different.

Suge Knight still starts Death Row Records, but without Dre behind the boards, he never becomes much of a player in the industry. You see how well Death Row did after Dre left — no offense, Suge. Since Suge never hits it big, he doesn’t clown at The Source Awards and the East Coast-West Coast beef never gets rolling. With no Death Row juice, Suge doesn’t have the money to get Tupac out of jail. Pac serves out his sentence, or somebody else (perhaps Puffy) gets him out. But since he’s not rolling with Death Row, he’s free to examine the spiritual lessons he learned behind bars in his rhymes, eschews the whole Thug Life and never gets shot. Things that make you go hmmmmmmmm.

2.What If The RZA’s 1st project blows up

Real History: In 1991, Tommy Boy signed an artist named Prince Rakeem and tried to market the rapper as a lover boy MC. Ohh, We Love You Rakeem is a flop, and Prince Rakeem is dropped by the label. Rakeem goes back to Staten Island to lick his wounds and retool his sound, and returns in ‘93 with a few friends: the GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard,  Inspektah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, Ghostface Killah and the M-E-T… you know the rest.

Alternate Reality:  Well it’s kind of obvious—if Prince Rakeem never failed, there would be no Wu-Tang Clan. It ain’t broke, he doesn’t fix it and the signature RZA sound is never born. The aforementioned members of the Wu remain his boys from the hood, running capers and slowly going under. Rakeem puts his cousin ODB on, but his wildin’ out side is too much for Tommy Boy. Without the stability of a group to hold him down, he’s dropped pretty quickly and never fucks Mariah. The group gets some shine dropping into the studio, but are relegated to underground status, with a couple promising B-side guest spots and maybe a legendary mixtape floating around. They certainly wouldn’t occupy their current place in hip-hop history. The RZA is proof-positive that sometimes before you succeed, you have to lose.

3. What if Scott La Rock doesn’t get shot

Real History: Formed in 1985, Boogie Down Productions first came to the public ear with the underground release Criminal Minded. The ranks have swelled and shrunk, but the original main crew consisted of KRS-1, DJ Scott La Rock and beat boxer D-Nice. Before NWA, before Ice T, before 50 Cent, BDP were putting out truly hardcore rhymes on wax. These weren’t just commentaries about the street life; they were active participants in all manner of illegalities (on record at least). Just as their buzz getting traction, Scott La Rock was shot in the neck and killed when he tried to intercede on the behalf of D-Nice in a neighborhood fight over a girl. 

From great pain came great art, and BDP did a 180-degree turn on their major label album By Any Means Necessary. Kris has said that he and Scott planned to be less violent and more responsible on their next release. He said that the violent imagery of the first album was a ruse to garner the ears of the audience they wanted to reach, kind of a musical “bait and switch.” Instead of killing folks with his 9mm, KRS was now espousing the virtues of stopping the violence and knowledge of self.

Released in 1988 with the lead single “My Philosophy,” the record today is a certified Hip-Hop Classic. Coupled with Public Enemy’s It takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, it was the 1-2 punch credited with blowing up political consciousness in rap. Black nationalism, positivity, and Five Percent lingo would be hip-hop touchstones for the next five years, until The Chronic blew onto the scene and started a sea of change in 1993.

Alternate Reality: No diss to Kris, but as for all that “bait and switch” talk, WHATEVA MAN. If Scott were never shot, the logic probably would have gone like this:

“Hey! The shoot-‘em-up is getting a buzz—let’s really kill up some stuff on the next album!”

BDP then goes on a drug dealing, murderous rampage unheard of on wax before. Public Enemy still releases It Takes A Nation, but by itself it’s just an anomaly. A popular record, but without BDP’s synergy, the whole too black, too strong thing never catches on and hip-hop goes straight from party music to thugging, with no period of political or philosophical articulation. Sad hmmmmmmm.

4. What if Biggie doesn’t get shot

Real History: In 1997 the Notorious BIG was sitting on top of the world. He was hailed as the savior of East Coast Hip Hop, his debut album was (and still is) considered a classic, and his chief rival from the West Coast was dead, which many hoped would signal an end to the East Coast-West Coast beef. But on March 9, leaving a Vibe party for the Soul Train Music Awards, Biggie was shot and killed.

Once Biggie died, Puff Daddy’s next big release was his own record, which he had been recording before Biggie was shot. No Way Out becomes a hit with the heartfelt lead single “Missing You.” This launched Puffy, a flashy but behind-the-scenes record exec, into stardom, but he was never able to find another star as solid as Big to get behind and some questioned his star-making skills. Remember, all the folks who dropped immediately after Biggie over the next two years were signed to Bad Boy before Biggie died, and the majority of artists he signed after Biggie have been unspectacular (Loon, G. Deep, and The Lox) or downright terrible (Danity Kane).

For a couple of years following Big’s death, there was an enormous power vacuum left on the East Coast. Weak releases from established rappers and newcomers had most hip-hop fans frustrated and disgruntled. New York was dead. Then Jay-Z stepped onto the scene, proclaimed himself heir to the East Coast crown and puts a little spark back in the game, but not enough to prevent the East Coast from slowly succumbing to the rise of the South.

Alternate Reality: Jigga Who? Biggie recovers from the mishap to wax a young upstart trying to take his throne, but not before said upstart lands enough blows to gain a few fans. Jigga Man gets big, but never grabs the ring (NOTE: My brother and I discussed the “what would Biggie be doing now” thing once and he came to the conclusion that all the stuff Jay Z had accomplished probably would have been Biggie’s). However, Foxxy Brown, Jay’s protégé, grinds hard and forces Lil Kim, under Big’s tutelage, to up her game and put out a record that actually realizes her lyrical potential.

Meanwhile, Bad Boy records is putting out hits. Puff’s energy is put to good use, pushing his biggest star and his biggest paycheck. Diddy’s own eventual release is a minor deal, shined up by Biggie’s guest verses, but Diddy’s focus is more on being Sean Combs, record exec. He builds a lasting legacy of success at Bad Boy Records, and diddles with fashion design on the side. Hmmmmmmmmm… 

5. What if the Beastie Boys stay a punk band

Real History: In 1983 three wealthy Jewish kids from New York got together and picked the dumbest name they could think for a band, the Beastie Boys. Originally punk rockers, they made the move to the burgeoning hip-hop scene, signing to a small label named Def Jam and releasing Licensed to Ill in 1986. It was HUGE. The Beasties were the first white rap group and they were pretty good for the time. Up until that point, rap was entirely a “black thang” that white folks wouldn’t understand. It wasn’t that they weren’t allowed; they just didn’t know what was going on. MTV was all about rock back then, and had a strict white artist policy. MTV even initially refused to play Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video—it took his record label threatening to pull ALL of their videos before MTV relented.

The Beasties’ first single “New Style” was a hit on black radio, but they didn’t make a video for it. The second single, “Fight For Your Right To Party,” was an across-the-board smash. Run-DMC had mixed rap and rock before, but there was a big difference with the Beastie Boys: they were white.  MTV put the video into heavy rotation and the Beastie Boys racked up the most sales for a rap record in the 80’s. 

License exposed a whole lotta kids, WHITE kids, to this “new thing” called rap and made them want more. Their portrayals of partying and drinking hit the demo square in the nose. Because of the Beastie Boys’ popularity, MTV was a bit more comfortable with the idea of rap by the time Run-DMC dropped Raising Hell later that year. So when Run-DMC’s collaboration with almost forgotten rock stalwarts Aerosmith was released, MTV played it again, again, and again. All these new fans bought Raising Hell. It was so big, the Grammy’s decided to add a rap category and MTV backed a show called Yo! MTV Raps. The first episode was hosted by none other than Run-DMC themselves. 

Alternate Reality: Beastie Boys as punk rockers make a little noise, and even get a video or two in rotation on MTV, but the music network never gets a taste of hip hop. White kids miss their first hip-hop heroes that they can identify with. When Raising Hell drops, MTV loosens up enough to give “Walk This Way” a little play, but the audience is a lot smaller since it’s such a brand-new sound. Although Run-DMC blows up, their crossover success is limited and there is no seminal rap show to bring hip-hop to the ‘burbs.

Hammer’s phenomenon is a little smaller and a lot more funky, and without a white rap group to give him some hope, maybe a guy from Detroit named Eminem doesn’t try his hand at this rap thing. Now, you might say these are mostly bad things but think about it: If hip-hop didn’t blow up, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten so commercial. It might be a little more authentic today. Hmmmmmmmm

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MIX of the WEEK: Digable Mix

 

 Hi ho another mix of the week for all y’all.Courtesy of Dj A-See.

TRACK LISTING

1.9th Wonder – Digable Planets
2. Big Beat – instrumental
3. Make Room – Alkoholics
4. Royal Flush – Outkast
5. Lightworks – Busta, Q-Tip,Talib Kweli
6. Bluntz – instrumental
7.I’m Goin Do Ya – Jungle Brothers
8.Do You Know What Time It Is – Kool Moe Dee
9.Criminal Minded – instrumental

10. Work the Angles – Dilated Peoples
11. Express Yourself – instrumental
12. Phantoms of the Opera – All Natural
13. The Bridge – instrumental
14. My Melody – Eric B, & Rakim
15. Mutha Funkin Groove – instrumental
16. Is It Live – Run – DMC
17. I’m Not Playin – instrumental
18. Get Busy – The Roots



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Why Is There No “Classic” Hip Hop?

by Alan Light for MSN Music

 Let’s compare two recent sales charts in Billboard magazine. The “Top 200” list of the week’s best-selling albums indicates that although hip-hop might not be quite as dominant a commercial force as it has been in recent years, things still look pretty healthy. Diddy, Jibbs, Ludacris and Lil Boosie (Li’ Boosie? Did I miss something?) are among the seven urban artists in the Top 25.

Turn back a few pages — or scroll a little further down the screen — and you’ll find the Pop Catalogue chart, which tracks sales of releases that have been out for at least two years. It’s not quite a typical week, because as soon as the calendar hits October, the onslaught of Christmas records starts taking over. Still, the list is mostly representative: rock icons (the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Doors), heartland favorites (Bob Seger, Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd), some younger acts whose old albums are goosed by a new release (the Killers, Evanescence, Rascal Flatts).

Notice anything conspicuously absent from that Catalogue Top 25? Not one album by a hip-hop act. In fact, a closer look reveals not a single listing for a recording artist of color among these older releases. It’s a glaring distinction and reveals a longstanding split between rock and urban audiences. Rock listeners constantly look back, grounding themselves in the music’s history and core artists. Meanwhile, in practice if not in actual definition, hip-hop is about looking forward, with occasional glances to the side — trying to take the music into new directions, while keeping a clear sense of popular tastes and styles.

Consider the terminology: The radio format that plays the Beatles, the Stones, and Led Zeppelin is called “classic rock.” Classic — meaning timeless and eternal. The lunchtime or late-night radio shows that play Slick Rick, Run-D.M.C. or even Biggie Smalls, however, say that they celebrate the “old school.” Old meaning, well, old. Great, unforgettable, revolutionary, but still — old.

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Hip-Hop,Politics, and White Kids

by Mark Anthony Neal for the New Black Magazine

Bakari Kitwana is of that generation of African Americans that became adults in the late 1980s as blight and economic depression overtook American inner cities and the fiery rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan and a cacophony of black nationalist rap (like Public Enemy and KRS-One) conspired to reclaim the legacy of 1960s-styled black power politics.

A child of hip-hop, Kitwana found his own political grounding working closely with author and critic Haki Madhubuti, eventually becoming the editorial director of Madhubuti’s Third World Press. Kitwana later became executive editor of The Source, in what was arguably the “golden-era” of the magazine’s political commentary.
 
With the publication of his book ‘The Hip-Hop Generation’ in 2002, Kitwana established himself as one of the most important commentators on race and hip-hop culture. His new book, ‘Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and the New Reality or Race in America’ explores the telling reality that hip-hop perhaps represents the best chance for cross-racial political mobilization.
 
There’s a lot of nostalgia these days for the era when groups like Public Enemy, X-Clan, and Boogie Down Productions seemed to be on everybody’s boom-box.
 
I think that there is a nostalgia that people have for what they call the golden era, which is why I hate the term. I used to say that the only thing that was golden about it, was that the marker of success was the album going gold (500, 000 units). If you look at the evolution of the hip-hop political movement you have to place people like Chuck D, KRS-One, X-Clan and others in that conversation, but at the same time if we are serious about politics, we have to acknowledge that the politics [those artists] were espousing, in those days, was a 1960s politics.

It was a mouthing of 60s rhetoric — sound-bites from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Khalid Muhammed and Farrakhan. We were in the midst of a holdover of the early 70s movement. Those early artists weren’t yet articulating a hip-hop generation specific politics. Ironically enough, I think that it was NWA that was one of the first groups to start to articulate a hip-hop specific politics, even though they didn’t frame it like that. I think that the evolution of a hip-hop politics in the music comes about haphazardly, not consciously.

So what does hip-hop specific politics look like?

 The younger artists that we have emerging now are articulating more of a hip-hop specific politics — people like Immortal Technique, Zion-I, even Jay Z. They are talking about the changes that we’ve gone through as a generation of young people. The fact is: These guys (artists like Eminem, Nas, Jay Z and 50 Cent) are high school dropouts, talking about their lives as young people who are locked out of the economy, who found another way to still make it in America. That is the economic political story of our generation.

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IMO: Madd Rap Fan – Stonecold Ranting

Hey it’s me, MAD RAP FAN. The lost art of MCing is being forgotten like Sanskrit. Flavor in your ear is looking for Crazy Love in New York as we Hype the Power. As a fan, it feels like hip-hop has been in a coma since ‘95. Wack rappers are like the walking dead, eating the brains of the youth. The radio is infested with rappers that can’t rap. Beefs are judged by sales, not skills.

This came to light when one of the best MC’s got dissed by one of the worst. KRIS vs. Nelly, what the fuck!! Ring tone rappers must die!! MC Buttwhistle, a.k.a. Download, oiled in the video. Question: If Nelly looked like Biggie, would he sell? And why do women always say, “He ain’t talking about me” when they shake their ass to a ho song in the club? It can’t be about no one; somebody’s got to be the ho.

Why do rappers drop three CD’s and then bounce out for TV or movies? Why did one of the hardest rappers make the best comedies? When did swagger overtake skill? In the ‘90s MCs had equal amounts of both (see LL, KANE, ICE T and CUBE). WHY don’t women support female MCs? I’ll get at you next time. MAD RAP FAN out!!!!!

(EDITOR’ NOTE – the above picture is not the Madd Rap Fan. the guy pictured above is mad about something entirely different)

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ALBUM of the WEEK: Lifesavas – Gutterfly

This week its the group the Lifesavas hailing from Portland OR consisting of group members  Vursatyl, Jumbo the Garbageman, and Dj Shines.  The group’s first album Spirit in Stone dropped in 2003, we are featuring the second release Gutterfly. Guterfly is sort of a concept album with the two emcees making a soundtrack for a never completed blaxpoitaion film of the same name, this is just to make the album intersting its not true.  Anyhoo, take a listen.  Don’t forget, these are not the complete songs—just 90-second clips so you can get a feel for the music. If you like what you hear, go out and buy the CD.  Quality hip hop grows when we support the artists.


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The Greatest of All-time: KRS-One vs. Jay Z

by DavyD for davyd’s hip-hop corner

A long held favorite past time within Hip Hop circles is to debate the skill set of our favorite icons. It’s part and parcel of the culture as many of us have spent countless hours analyzing and over analyzing someone’s rhyme flows, dance moves, album concepts, artwork etc.

Within these debates there are some universally held beliefs that rarely get challenged unless someone is deliberately trying to cause controversy and strike a nerve by going over the top. One such universal truth was broached this weekend, but this time the folks who presented it were serious which resulted in an all out heated debate unfolding. The topic centered around the issue of Hip Hop’s all-time best emcee.

For years it didn’t matter what brand of Hip Hop you embraced. When it came to discussing the best emcee, KRS-One and Rakim always held the top spots. Names like Nas, Jay-Z, 2Pac and Biggie to name a few, were usually in people’s top 5 or 10, but rarely did anyone come close be comparable to the God and The Teacha. They had things on lock-hands down.

What I found over the years is that; the older the participant in these discussions, the more underground oriented people were and those who identified with New York style Hip Hop from the Golden era, tended to be more resolute about the universal acceptance of Rakim and KRS being Hip Hop’s all-time best emcees.

There’s no denying that both have changed the game. When it comes to KRS, his skills as a scar tested battle emcee and incredible performer has been unrivaled. A KRS show could go on for hours with him delivering hit after hit after hit that would leave the crowd exhausted because he just brings so much energy to the stage.

Rakim while not having the same hyped up stage presence, gets props because he has epitomized the essence of cool. His writing and his delivery is akin to the greatest of jazz players. Like I said those two emcees always held the top spots.

But as they say, nothing lasts forever, and so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself involved in a heated debate this weekend with a hardened New Yorker and long-time Hip Hop head who were both insistent that the top spot now belongs to Jigga Man aka Jay-Z.

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