The Showdown

    Areal music critic might tackle critiques with a
    sit-and-listen session. But the common listener considers an artist’s whole package.
    A bit tasteless, sure, but pop culture demands different parameters than
    professional musical criticism: dance ability, fashion sense and fine-ness are
    the guidelines for slapdash reviewers like me. I mean, jeez, who solely relies
    on talent anymore?

    1. Diva of the Year — Rihanna vs. Beyonce

    Beyonce stumbled into 2007 after a well-publicized episode
    of “Dreamgirls” drama. Co-star Jennifer Hudson outshined and out-sang the Texan
    darling all the way to Oscar stardom before Beyonce, along with her R&B stock,
    took a literal diva-sized dive onstage during her global tour. Rihanna has
    shown more finesse than that this year, especially on tabletops, where she put
    the fattest cherry atop Chris Brown’s rowdy performance at the MTV Video Music
    Awards. From table to table, the dancehall diva looked damn fine trotting and
    grooving to “Umbrella”: those lace-trim baby shorts, off-center hat and
    nude-color fishnets sealed a Good Girl Gone Bad image that had every DJ
    screaming “-ELLA, -ELLA, -ELLA.”

    Verdict: Rihanna, for not eating stage pavement.

    Up Next: Watch that rear view, Rihanna. Beyonce’s third
    studio album is slated for 2008, with several tracks backed by producing
    credits from the untouchable Timbaland. If he does for Knowles what he did for
    Justin Timberlake, a veteran like Beyonce should rip her 19-year-old rival with
    a comeback.

    2. A-Town Rap Refrain — Yooou! (Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em) vs.
    Aaaay! (The-Dream)

    Up from the South come a couple of 2007’s most shamefully
    addictive buzz-sounds. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em and The-Dream, both Atlantan
    musicians, made their pop-radio hits infectious, the former with “Crank Dat”
    and the latter with “Shawty is Da Shit.” As expected, there were no musical
    epiphanies to be had: The songs were either overly silly (See: “Crank Dat” dance)
    or borderline insulting (The-Dream sings: “If she fix you eggs and grits in the
    morning/ Man, you should tip her”). Nah, these songs’ biggest draws were their
    relentless refrains, weaved in, out and through both artists’ albums:
    The-Dream’s “Love Hate” and Soulja Boy’s self-titled effort. What’s a song
    without a hard hook for every car-riding fan to stupidly imitate?

    Verdict: Aaaay!, for sounding slightly less annoying.

    Up Next: If The-Dream can make the “-ella, -eh, -eh” of
    “Umbrella” somehow charming, he works more miracles than Moses. Expect another
    miraculous saying in the coming year, considering he has penned ditties for
    every artist from Rihanna to Mary J. Blige.

    3. R&B Royalty —
    The-Dream vs. Ne-Yo vs. T-Pain vs. Chris Brown

    If 2006 saw the musical rise of the South, 2007 is claimed
    by a new-age, four-way court of R&B royalty. But this set of crooners has
    seen major problems this year, from T-Pain making off-color comments about
    Ray-J’s penis to The-Dream starting a spat with Chris Brown to Ne-Yo suing
    music’s most prominent pisser R. Kelly for ousting him from a tour.

    But away from the scandals, all four have gifted R&B
    with some ripe talent: Ne-Yo and Rihanna formed one of the year’s most electric
    boy-girl pairings with “Hate That I Love You,” Chris Brown’s “Exclusive” showed
    sexy-fied maturity and The-Dream’s writing credits were as ubiquitous as
    T-Pain’s guest spots. But toward 2007’s end, it was only by the grace of Chris
    Brown and T-Pain that the year’s hottest dance track was born: “Kiss Kiss.” It
    has permeated airwaves with swift abandon, proving that even the
    self-proclaimed “nappy boy” and “pretty boy” can dig out a pleasurable hit from
    a string of keyboard notes.

    Verdict: Chris Brown & T-Pain, for partnering to make
    the ridiculously danceable “Kiss Kiss.”

    Up Next: Usher comes to reclaim his rightful crown as king
    of R&B with a March album release.

    More to Discover
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