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Grammy countdown: Can anyone upset Lil Wayne for best rap album?

November 28, 2008 |  2:52 pm

This would seem to be Lil Wayne's year. With his "The Carter III" becoming the first album in more than three years to break the 1-million barrier in its first week, there's no denying his cultural impact.

By and large, the album received mixed-to-positive reviews. Regardless, he's a charismatic rapper, with some of the oddest, weirdest wordplay around, and "The Carter III" is all about versatility, hitting on multiple genres and trends over the course of its 16 tracks. There's no one Pop & Hiss has spoken to who doesn't think Lil Wayne all but has the Grammy for best rap album sewn up, but there are still four other albums that must round out the category.

Two will likely come from late 2007. Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool" was released too late to be considered at this year's ceremony -- and the late December release also missed most critics' top-10 lists -- and though not a superstar, "The Cool" was still a top-20 debut. It was also consistent, having remained on the top 200 through the summer.

Additionally, Lupe Fiasco has a bit more to say than Lil Wayne. "The Cool" was a concept album of sorts, an entertainingly heady examination of corporate hip-hop, fast food and poverty. Check the war-meets-video-game imagery of "Little Weapon," a thrilling cut that opens with a hymn-like backdrop and boasts a rhythm that comes off as a military processional as played by toy drums. "The Cool" should snare him his second rap album nomination.

Expect Jay-Z's "American Gangster" to also garner a nomination. It's a stronger album than "Kingdom Come," which was nominated at this year's ceremony, even if it tells a familiar tale. A companion piece to the film of the same name, Jay-Z proved he still has the ability to be a massive storyteller, and it toned down the boasting of some of his recent work. However, "American Gangster" was big entertainment news last holiday season. Jay-Z has the name to get nominated again, but will his album have the momentum to win?

That still leaves room for two more in the field. Here are the best bets for best rap album:

Lil Wayne's "The Carter III"
Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool"
Jay-Z's "American Gangster"
Nas' "Untitled"
T.I.'s "Paper Trail"

Reasoning: With Nas and T.I. in the mix, the best rap album field wouldn't look all that different from last year, and the known and the consistent are always safe bets come Grammy time. Both interesting artists, and both far from perfect albums, but Nas' work has plenty of controversy and headlines, which will be enough to register it as important to Grammy voters. Likewise, "Paper Trail" hints at what T.I. is capable of. Written while the rapper was under house arrest for pending gun charges, "Paper Trail" promises reflection but fails to carry it out through the course of the album.

And now here are some potential nominees:

Flo Rida's "Mail on Sunday"
Snoop Dogg's "Ego Trippin'"
The Roots' "Rising Down" 
Young Jeezy's "The Recession"
Plies' "Definition of Real"

All of the above stay toward the mainstream side of the spectrum. The Roots offer a less hardcore route and have been nominated in the category multiple times. Snoop Dogg is a safe and unadventurous choice, and Flo Rida, while having some massive singles, didn't generate the same heat for his album, so he could be left out. Plies was a hot seller, especially early in the year, and the brutal Southern rapper seemed to win over some doubters with this album. Young Jeezy might be rewarded for mixing things up with a more political record.

Better alternative: It'd be easy to to write about Rhymefest's "Man in the Mirror," a terrific tribute album to Michael Jackson and a working-class reaction to fame and celebrity. Or even Saul Williams' industrial hip-hop opus "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!" Or any of the fine indie hip-hop albums that will always be looked over -- Atmosphere's "When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That [Explicative] Gold" or The Cool Kids' "The Bake Sale." But the most deserving album will likely get nominated: Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool."

--Todd Martens

Photo credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times