“Great rap should make you think,” SPIN wrote in 2006, “and kick your ass.” The magazine’s September 2005 review of cultural polymath Kanye’s second album dropped references to De La Soul, Pharcyde, and Fiona Apple, celebrating an album that was essentially a chest-thumping song of self. It’s “a follow-up as ornate and bloated as West’s ego. There’s hardly an ounce of humility here — every track aims for the anthemic.” Why be modest when you’re on top? “No artist in any genre has ever argued so assiduously for his place in the canon, and perhaps no artist has been more oddly equipped for the position.”
99PJ HarveyStories From the City, Stories From the Sea
The battered banshee who once urged you to lick her legs because she was on fire scored a solid review from SPIN in 2000: “It’s her return to the down’n’dirty. Polly Harvey has made a career of balancing the fucked-up human and the mythic monster — a balance her soul brother Kurt [Cobain] couldn’t maintain.” Harvey (who owes more than a subtle debt to Patti Smith) also echoed other alt-femme firebrands, like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, on the explosive and confrontational “Big Exit.” Yet such songs as “Place Like Home” were melodic — pretty, even — proving that Harvey contained multitudes.
Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, was Johnny Cash, the Legendary but Largely Forgotten Man in Black when he teamed up with producer Rick Rubin for a serious resurrection in 1994. The duo kept things raw and simple in a pared-down set that paired covers (of Leonard Cohen and others) with originals, and focused on what SPIN called Cash’s “dark mineshaft of a voice.” It also shined new light on what the magazine later called, after the singer’s death in 2003, an old familiar face marked by “rough pocks and weathered lines Cash seemed to be born with.”
This buzz band’s second album was named after an obscure novel and recorded in a church while high on the fumes of Springsteen. “Neither a timid repeat nor a knee-jerk departure,” SPIN wrote in 2007, “the bigger, bolder Neon Bible better captures what Arcade Fire achieve live.” The magazine paired The Boss and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler together in a dual 2007 interview. “There’s a furious aspect to the performance,” Springsteen said of the young Canadian band. “That’s why people come out — you’re recognizing the realities of people’s emotional lives and their difficulties, you’re presenting these problems, and you’re bringing a survival kit.”
Philadelphia’s purveyors of serious hip-hop changed the scene with cerebral lyricism and a focus on live instrumentation. Drummer ?uestlove told SPIN in 1998 that this album strove for a combination of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the Beatles’ Abbey Road, and Sly and the Family Stone; he wanted it to “really throw people.” Whether those comparisons hold true or not, it worked. “Warping R&B into locked-groove robo-funk (‘Next Movement’), throwing jazz into the depths of dub-space (‘The Spark’), attenuating hardcore beats into pure silence (‘The Realm’),” SPIN wrote in 1999, “the Roots have created perhaps rap’s first melancholy masterpiece.”