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TOURE, host:

So, Rolling Stone, my former employer has put out its annual list of the top 50 albums of the year and it shows the diversity of modern music.

At number five, suburban rapper from Chicago Kanye West's "Graduation," number four, the moody Canadians Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible," number three is the great Jay-Z's return to drug-rap "American Gangster," number two is John Kerry's friend Bruce Springsteen with "Magic," and the number one album of the year, according to Rolling Stone magazine, is not Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." It's "Kala" from M.I.A., who's British by way of Sri Lanka. Now Amy Winehouse, as it is, was not number one somehow…

STEWART: So for you, this is not necessarily a best of the best of list for those set in…

TOURE: This is a - it's a strange list. I want get to somebody from Rolling Stone, perhaps contributing editor, Christian Hoard, to talk about why Amy Winehouse is not number one when Amy Winehouse's album was the best album of the year.

Christian, can you explain?

Mr. CHRISTIAN HOARD (Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone): Hey guys.

TOURE: How are you?

Mr. HOARD: I'm doing well. Do you really think Amy Winehouse is the best record of the year, Toure?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: I mean, of course, I do. I mean, like I've said that to many people. I had a whole discussion at a 40-person dinner table. They're like, oh, it's a bad year in music. They filmed that album and I said remember January when we're all listening to Amy Winehouse - And they're like, oh my God, of course, that was the album of the year.

And yet, you know, the M.I.A.'s album is awesome. I want you to talk about that and why and how you guys didn't put Amy Winehouse at number one.

Mr. HOARD: M.I.A.'s record is awesome. I think it's a, it's a really good choice. I was personally really happy with that choice.

TOURE: And she brings something totally different to the table. She's bringing Asian influences, British influences, a very strange voice. I don't know - is she a singer, is she a rapper I'm not sure.

Mr. HOARD: Yeah, she's really all over the map, literally actually. I mean, she recorded this record in India and Australia and Trinidad, I think. You know, she's British, I guess singer-rapper of Sri Lankan heritage. I mean, there's all kinds of cultures represented on this record. I mean, the beats are really, really diverse.

TOURE: Let's hear….

Mr. HOARD: It's totally entertaining.

TOURE: I said, let's hear a teeny bit of M.I.A.

(Soundbite of song, "Bamboo Banga")

M.I.A. (Artists): (Singing) M.I.A. is coming back with power, power. I'm a big timer. It's a Bamboo Banga. I'm a big timer. It's a Bamboo Banga. I'm a big timer.

TOURE: Oh my God, I could listen to that all day long and I do. You know, and then you start to see this is "Bamboo Banga" song she recorded in India, inspired by a music she was hearing in the clubs. Totally different than anything we're hearing on American Radio.

Mr. HOARD: Right.

STEWART: Toure, I want to bring in Noah Shachtman. We made Noah from Wired stick around. He's a music fan because we had all these music journalists in one place.

TOURE: Uh-huh.

STEWART: As a music fan, Noah, Amy Winehouse, M.I.A., Amy Winehouse, M.I.A?

Mr. NOAH SHACHTMAN (Editor, Wired's Danger Room Blog): Ahem. I think I'm going to take…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHACHTMAN: I think I'm going to take Amy Winehouse….

(Soundbite of imitating bell)

TOURE: Correct answer.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: And the reason is because, I guess, I'm a little old school and I respect people that can really sing. And Amy Winehouse can really sing and M.I.A., well she does really cool things. She does that weird galagalagalang(ph) thing. It's not really singing.

TOURE: But it doesn't have to be real singing right? I mean, Christian, M.I.A. is really combining what it means to rap, what it means to sing and I've been waiting for the rest of the world really to get involved in hip-hop and rapping and M.I.A. is going to do it a little differently because she comes from a whole another world.

Mr. HOARD: Yeah, I mean M.I.A. can sing and rap actually. And I don't know, I like the Amy Winehouse record, okay, I just think the M.I.A. record is, like, ten-times more interesting.

TOURE: Wow, look, just because you don't love the Amy Winehouse record, let's play a little bit of it.

Mr. HOARD: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "Back to Black")

Ms. AMY WINEHOUSE (Singer): (Singing) We only said goodbye with words. I died a hundred times. You go back to her. And I go back to black…

STEWART: All right, I can see we have to actually have to agree or disagree on this one. There's 49 other albums.

TOURE: They are…

STEWART: I'm going to - I'm going to move it on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: Okay, you guys put "In Rainbows" by Radiohead at number six and I feel most of the time when people talk about the album, which is fantastic, they talk about the pay-what-you-wish issue that you could pay what you wanted to for it, to download it from their Web site. Has that issue overshadowed the quality of the music on "In Rainbows?"

Mr. HOARD: I don't think it's overshadowed the quality. I mean, the album got some significant props. I mean, like, you know, Radiohead making, you know, critic's top ten lists is about as predictable, as you know the Yankees making the playoffs and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHACHTMAN: You know, in almost every sort of major publication who put out a top 10 list, Radiohead were on there. I think the pay-what-you-want issue was just an interesting news story. You know, I don't think it, you know, distracted people from talking about how good the record is.

TOURE: Now, it's interesting you guys put Jay-Z at number three and Kanye at number five. I've had a lot of arguments with my wife and my friends. They're saying, you know Kanye's music is more accessible and there's more music to it and, you know, the lyrics are so easy to get.

And I'm like, well, no, Jay has brilliant lyrics that are difficult to decipher and you have to listen to it over and over and over to get everything that he's saying. How do you split the atom when they're so close, but so different? There's two really different sorts of hip-hop at play there.

Mr. HOARD: Yeah, definitely. I think we got it right. I do prefer the Jay-Z to Kanye by a hair. I think part of the equation was that, you know, Kanye released two world-class, absolute classic albums earlier this decade and the new one, while it was pretty great, it was as great as the other two. And I think that's just sort of to get down a notch in our mind. And whereas, you know, Jay-Z had kind of been languishing since "The Black Album."

TOURE: God, that "Kingdom Come" was dreadful huh?

Mr. HOARD: Yeah, yeah. This really was his comeback record. I think we were just so excited to hear Jay-Z sound like Jay-Z again that…

TOURE: Where do you put Jay in all time - this album in his old time pantheon?

Mr. HOARD: I think, actually I think I've said this before. I think it's his fourth best. What do you think?

STEWART: I don't know. Let's ask…

TOURE: I would…

STEWART: Let's ask Noah, you're a voice of the listener for us?

Mr. SHACHTMAN: I'm a real big fan of black exploitation movies, so anything that mixes Jay-Z plus black exploitation, good for me. Also, I mean, again I'm old school, so I like guys that can actually rap as opposed to like MTV Party, hey guys - I don't know.

TOURE: I mean, Kanye is a good rapper for a producer, but Jay-Z as you're going to hear on "Blue Magic," is one of the best of all time.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Magic")

JAY-Z (Singer): (Singing) Except I don't write on the wall, I write my name in the history books, hustling in the hall, in the hall. Nah, I don't spin on my head. I spin work in the pots, so I can spend my bread, my bread. And I'm getting it. I'm getting it…

TOURE: I could listen to that all day long too, and I do when I'm at home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: Now, look…

STEWART: We're getting a little peek into Toure's life…

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: No, you guys put Bruce Springsteen as number two. Now I've worked at Rolling Stone for many years. I know how things work. Tell me the truth, Christian.

Mr. HOARD: Uh-huh.

TOURE: Jann Wenner walked down the hall, poked his head and somebody's office and said, hey guys, I just got off the phone with Bruce, we're putting him at number two. I'm going home.

Mr. HOARD: Yeah, you know, Rolling Stone does like Bruce Springsteen, don't we?

TOURE: And when you say Rolling Stone…

Mr. HOARD: Yeah.

TOURE: …you mean Jann Wenner.

Mr. HOARD: Actually, it's not just Jann. I mean, there is pretty much across the board love for Bruce here. As far as I know, Jann had no input on the albums list at least not when, you know, Joe Levy and I and a couple of other editors were working it out…

TOURE: Bob Christgau, David Fricke, legendary music writers…

Mr. HOARD: Yes.

STEWART: Is there ever a generational risk there when you're going down this list?

Mr. HOARD: How do you mean?

STEWART: In terms of some of the folks who are writing - who are great writers, who are more in their baby boom…

TOURE: Yeah.

STEWART: …era versus folks who perhaps who have been in college in the best 10 years.

Mr. HOARD: I think that, you know, Christgau is a perfect example of a guy who has been, you know, in the music writing business for about 40 years and who is as well-informed about new music and, quote, unquote, "youth music" as, you know, anybody, any young person I know. You know, I think there's a bit of a risk, but, you know, when you have the group of writers that we have, you know, we stay pretty well-informed. So I don't think that's been a problem for us.

TOURE: Let's hear a little bit of Bruce right now.

(Soundbite of song, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Singer): (Singing) Kid's rubber ball smacks off the gutter 'neath the lamp light. Big bank clock chimes, off go the sleepy front porch lights.

TOURE: Now, before we go into the next topic, the number 50 album on your list, I want to play a little bit of it, so that people could understand fully what we're talking about here. Give me a little bit of Britney Spears.

Ms. HOARD: Yes.

(Soundbite of song, "Gimme, Gimme")

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS (Singer): (Singing) Every time they turn the lights down.

TOURE: Okay, that's enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: That was…

TOURE: I just want to do just a little teeny bit. I don't want to take them away. My goodness.

STEWART: That was an enthusiastic yes, by the way.

TOURE: Is this supposed to be a joke, Christian?

Mr. HOARD: No, not at all. That's a good record. I would've voted it higher than 50.

TOURE: Higher than 50, where would you have put it?

Mr. HOARD: You know, if I extended my list, that far, it would probably be in my top 30.

STEWART: Why? Can you tell me one thing, one thing about the record that makes you think that it belongs to the top 50.

Mr. HOARD: The beats are pretty great.

TOURE: Oh.

Mr. HOARD: You should have played "A Piece of Me." That's like the single of the year.

TOURE: Oh, Christian. Your personal number one of the year, your own personal list, was Lil' Wayne's "The Carter III Mix tape," and kudos to you sir for a fine choice.

Mr. HOARD: Yeah.

TOURE: What do you love about Wayne, or for the first time at NPR, I'm going to venture to say Weezy S. Baby.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOARD: Well, thank you, Toure. Lil' Wayne is totally unique and totally entertaining. Just about these incredibly prolific…

TOURE: Incredibly.

Mr. HOARD: You know, that's kind of why I had to put him at number one, but I listened to him so much this year. You know, he is getting weirder in his lyrics. The Beatles' "Help," the sample song that he did, is great. "I Feel Like Dying" is a totally weird song about weed. He's a totally adventurous - I mean, he gets killer beats. And he's just - he's just more fun to listen to than I think really any rapper out there right now. I think…

STEWART: Before we got, Noah, you've been staring at the floor…

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yes.

STEWART: …since we played the Britney Spears. I actually - I've liked that song since day one.

TOURE: Okay. Very kind of personal problem.

STEWART: But, Noah, you have been staring at the floor.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Britney Spears hits that tone that teenage girls hit when they're like 14 years old…

STEWART: Yeah, what's the problem with that?

Mr. HOARD: …that drives 14 year-old boys absolutely insane and it still depresses me 22 years later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: How did feel on Lil' Wayne, yay or nay?

Mr. HOARD: I like Little Wayne, but I don't know his music that much. What I know of Britney Spears makes me want to crawl up into a little ball and suck my thumb.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: Christian Hoard, Rolling Stone contributing editor, thank you so much for coming and trying to defend your choices.

Mr. HOARD: Thank you so much for having me guys.

STEWART: Noah Shachtman from Wired. Shachtman, thanks for being the voice of the people during that segment. We appreciate that.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: I appreciate it.

STEWART: Towards the people. I'm with you.

(Soundbite of song. "Back to Black")

Ms. AMY WINEHOUSE (Singer): (Singing) You go back to her and I go back to, I go back to black…

And that does it for this Monday edition of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Alison Stewart.

TOURE: I'm Toure. We're always online at npr.org/bryantpark.

This THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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