Artists of the Year

"The club went from feeling empty to feeling like the whole world was all around us," says my friend. "It was a good thing for me, and New Orleans."

There are plenty of punk samples on the second album from P.O.S., Audition (Doomtree/Rhymesayers), but the punkest thing about him is the way he engages his audience directly, with urgency and an insistence that he and they are a part of something. The MC's extended Doomtree crew has the ebullience of the 2006 Saturday Night Live, another cast emboldened by radicalized times.

The erotic noir video for P.O.S.'s duet with Slug, "Bleeding Hearts Club (MPLS Chapter)," is a local breakthrough all around, directed by Minneapolis photographer Bo Hakala, edited by rapper Träma, and starring any number of people you would see at the Dinkytowner or the Triple Rock. The music is a moody bastardization of drum 'n' bass and "Hand Clapping Song" by New Orleans greats the Meters—produced by Lazerbeak, a.k.a. Aaron Mader from the Plastic Constellations. "I've been your ride the last few years/I've seen you through when no one's there," P.O.S. croons to his private club gone national. Thanks, man.

Gary Taxali

Peter S. Scholtes is a staff writer at City Pages.

David Simon

BY LAURA SINAGRA

From the first moments of The Wire's first season, it was clear that this cop show-slash-love letter to Baltimore's mean streets was no Law and Order. Largely devoid of hooky episode arcs and emotional shorthand, it banked on structural bravura, a deft twinning of police and drug-economy hierarchies, timely tangles with issues of surveillance, and a giddy fluency in the arcane jargon of its two very different bureaucracies. But even after Season Two's brilliant dissection of post-industrial union corruption, and Season Three's blood-soaked tragedy of organizational implosion, creative kingpin David Simon had trouble getting re-upped for a fourth on HBO. Thankfully, the Baltimore reporter behind TV's Homicide and The Corner, working closely with former Baltimore police detective and public school teacher Ed Burns, convinced the brass to go two more rounds.

This fall, Season Four's look at Baltimore's schools and the nuances of caretaking and "paternalism" put a devastating twist on the Stand By Me conceit, tracing the miseducation of four kids: one living in gangland privilege secured by his jailed street-soldier dad; one whose safe foster home gives him courage to hustle; and two on the margins—one with a drug-addicted mom and the other with no family at all. Their journey from prankish innocence to hard-knock, shell-shocked experience is woven through the matriculation of a new teacher, the success and squashing of an alternative education program, and the city's mayoral election, with all its racial wrangling, quid pro quo, and promises of reform.

The emotional punch, and there is one, comes from the ways in which characters chafe against definition by station, their desperate efforts to reach across and redraw the lines. Some even seem to exist in a magical realm: the laconic young drug lord who holds meetings in a wooded ravine; free agent thief Omar, who somehow survives to uphold his quasi-noble killer's code; and the show's most fantastical stroke yet, a Rosencranz and Guildenstern duo of assassins who deserve their own horror flick. Such flirtations between sociology and the surreal only bode well for the season to come.

Laura Sinagra is a New York-based writer.

Ghostface Killah

BY NATE PATRIN

There isn't much precedent for Ghostface. Most MCs don't peak in their mid-30s, and fewer still can claim the kind of artistic persona he has: a fusion of comic-book iconography, martial-arts mythology, Nixon-age R&B, and the last two decades of crack-damaged project life. He's breached the ghetto hustler/geek-culture backpacker divide more deeply than Kanye did; anyone who can get underground heroes MF DOOM and J Dilla production credits on a Def Jam release and then take that record to #4 on the Billboard album charts must have something going for him.

And that something going is the skill to hook you in eight bars. As writer, director, layout artist, and forensics examiner of his own four-minute epics, Ghost is one of those microphone auteurs who demands you hang on every carefully chosen turn of phrase. He doesn't just toss out a bunch of metaphors and punch lines and call it a day; his verses are breathless, rattled-off strings of breakneck narrative. When he spins a story—the coke-stash holdup in "Shakey Dog," the Hollywood backstabbing in "Alex (Stolen Script)," the psychotropic pilgrimage to Atlantis in "Underwater"—he delivers it in this "oh-shit-didja-just-see-that?" wail. Traditional beat-riding takes a back seat to sheer sensation; listeners who try to parse his flow wind up feeling like passengers in a speeding getaway car.

Amid lyrical information overload, Ghostface still manages to emphasize small, sometimes-ancillary details that sell his scenarios to the listener. Including a punished child's sobs in "Whip You with a Strap," breaking down the coke-cooking process on "Kilo," providing play-by-play for a doomed crap game during "Outta Town Shit"—it's like Ghostface has spent the last decade collecting vivid memories for future reference. Can't wait to find out what he'll sound like when he's 50.

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