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The Best of 1997
The year of the comeback? Not quite, but almost. 1997 saw the return of hip-hop's most precise lyricist: Rakim. Will Smith took a break from blowing up on the big screen to cut an album. L.L. Cool J never really left, but he continues to make a regular strong showing, making him a phenomenon for the '80s and '90s. After the breakup, the two halves of EPMD kept recording separately, but, as predicted, reunited in '97 for a comeback album. And artists weren't the only thing to return in '97. A whole album full of classic cuts reflowed by current top MCs added to the comeback pile. Although many of the top names of the '80s made a return in 1997, the year belonged to Puff Daddy. Taking what was once considered selling out and making it widely accepted, Puff made a name for himself by jacking beats from the days of wayback and concocting crossover dance hits that -- with apologies to the RZA -- sold more copies than Kinko's. Puffy's label, Bad Boy, released three albums this year -- Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death, Puffy's own No Way Out and Mase's Harlem World -- all of which generated major sales without compromising Puff's credibility in the hip-hop world. Here is what The 411's Mason Storm and The W consider to be "The Best of 1997."

The good
Best albums
Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death
Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can't you see? You took over the world with your double-CD. What a tragic loss for the hip-hop world.
EPMD, Back In Business
As prophesized in The 411, circa July 1994, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith reunited for an album titled Back In Business, and they did not disappoint. If y'all don't know, you better recognize. Look it up.
Rakim, The 18th Letter
It's been a long time, but guess who's back? The R returns in time to put the new hip-hop world in order
Honorable mention: MJG, No More Glory, if only for the album cover.

Best singles
Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy and Mase, "Mo Money Mo Problems"
With the Diana Ross sample and bangin' beat, this song would have been the money even without Biggie on the mic spittin' his premier rhyme flow. Mase and Puffy hold their own as well.
Busta Rhymes, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See"
The true rhyme animal's first single from his second album is the polar opposite of "Woo-Hah," the debut track from his first platter. The flow is calmed down, but the skills still shine through. It's a good thing.
Erick Sermon, Keith Murray and Redman, "Rapper's Delight"
But where's the 15-minute version?
Honorable mention: Wyclef Jean, "Guantanamera," if only for the fact that it brought back memories of high school Spanish class.

Best videos
Nas, Foxy Brown and AZ, "Firm Biz" (MTV version)
Dollar, dollar bill, y'all. It's all about those two strategically placed Benjamins... or were they Grants? Or Lincolns? Who cares? Can you make change?
Missy Elliott, "Sock It To Me"
Although her video for "The Rain" got more attention, you can't front on a video that's inspired by the Mega Man video game series.
Puff Daddy, Mase and The Lox, "Honey"
Mobb Deep, "The Roof"
Bone, "Babydoll"
OK, so maybe these weren't exactly hip-hop videos. OK, maybe these were actually Mariah Carey's songs. But they were definitely a pleasure to watch.
Honorable mention: Puff Daddy, "Been Around the World," if only for Jennifer Lopez.

The not so good
Trick Daddy, Based on a True Story
Never heard the album, but anyone who has to offer a one dollar mail-in rebate with proof of purchase must be trippin'. Plus the album cover looked like Ol' Dirty's.

Queenpen, "Man Behind the Music"
After a nice cameo debut on Blackstreet and Dr. Dre's "No Diggity" (which, by the way, came out almost two years ago just in case you were disillusioned by the fact that it still gets a lot of airplay), the Queen comes through with a first single that does nothing but talk about her producer, Teddy Riley, who had a bad enough ego problem before this song. But then again, he probably wrote it.

Bone, "If I Could Teach the World"
Four thugs bouncing around wearing apocalyptic outfits and garbage cans while singing a '90s version of "I'd like to buy the world a Coke." Watching it brought more pain than Method Man.

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