With 2011 in the books, I think it’s time to look back on what was an extremely productive year for hip-hop music. Of course we had some memorable releases from the best in rap, from Game to Rick Ross to Weezy and Drake, the rap scene was NOT short on stars. The brightest of the stars being an historical release from arguably the two biggest in the game: Kanye West and Jay-Z.
While Watch the Throne is NOT on my list of the 15 best releases of the year, nor would it be on the list for my 20 or 30 best releases of 2011, I still don’t think you can make a list without mentioning the album. In my lifetime, I don’t think there’s ever been as successful of a collaboration of two superstars since WTT, and it’s hard to see there ever being one again. While the quality of music that resulted was less than desirable for my taste, it didn’t suck. Which is more than you can say about Best of Both Worlds, and almost every other high-profile collaboration release to date. Not only did it not suck, but it was pretty damn good.
Filled with quality songs, and even a few classics, WTT was good. Not great, and far from the best for either party involved, but certainly worth a mention as a footnote on this list.
Now, to the real list. It’s just hip-hop at this time, and I’m debating on letting out another mini-list for non-hip-hop related albums but we shall see. I based my decisions on two factors. First, obviously overall quality was one of the biggest factors. From lyrical content to beats to playability, it all factors into how good the release was. Second, I looked at how long the said release was in my rotation. Even the greatest album of all time can’t stay on repeat forever, but it can have a damn good run, so I took that into account- how long was it before I retired this? I know, there’s nothing mathematical about my decisions, nothing out of this world as far as calculations go. It pretty much all came down to what was the dopest of the dope?
So, I say all that business about collaborations above, and then the first release I highlight on my list is a collaboration from two major artists. This guy’s a fuckin hypocrite huh? Not so fast. I know Eminem is as big as they come in the rap game and arguably with more worldwide notoriety than Jigga and ‘Ye combined, but Royce Da 5’9″? Not so much. While I love Royce, and I’ve been a fan since the first “Bad Meets Evil” song off the Slim Shady LP, I’m definitely in the minority.
A Detroit legend, Royce does not back down from Em in anyway on this album. I know it’s ballsy to say, but I’d argue that Em even gets overshadowed by Royce on this release, and that’s not a slight towards Slim in anyway, it’s just an acknowledgement of how serious Royce is on the mic.
Tracks to listen to: “Welcome 2 Hell”, “Im on Everything”, “Lighters”
Kendrick’s first release since gracing the cover of XXL’s Freshman Class of 2011 issue, Section.80 is fucking GREAT. I wish I could push this up into my top 5, but I never got to dedicate the time to this album as I should have. In another couple of months, come back to me, and I might tell you this is top 5 of the year. Check my favorite song from the album below, “ADHD”:
Tracks to listen to: “No Make Up”, “Poe Mans Dreams”, “Keisha’s Song”
Classified is an artist that I’ve long been aware of, but never really listened to…until now. I obtained Handshakes and Middle Fingers and just kind of sat on it. Never threw it into my whip until early summer, when I wanted to give something new a shot. So I put the CD into my rotation, and there it sat for about a month on repeat. Dude’s got some serious lyrical talent, and you can definitely hear and feel his passion in his delivery. My favorite line of the entire album comes in the intro “Ups and Downs” when Classified rhymes “I ain’t as quick thinkin as I once was, I guess that’s what smokin J’s and blunts does”.
If you can, do yourself a favor and check out this album from the Canadian rapper, and all you Madden 2012 players, you might even recognize “That Ain’t Classy” from the game’s soundtrack.
Tracks to listen to: “Ups and Downs”, “Unusual”, “Desensitized”
I’m going to let you know right now- Lupe Fiasco is my favorite rapper ever. Not only is he my favorite, but I 100% think he’s the greatest rapper to ever live, and that’s me trying my best to be unbiased. I just don’t think anybody can match Lupe’s wordplay, flow, intelligence and just plain knowledge on the mic.
That being said, yes, L.A.S.E.R.S. is only at #12 on my list. While the album was almost near the top as far as rotation play for me, the overall quality was slightly lacking for something that’s coming from the friend of the people. I’m still trying to think of a reason that this album was shelved for so long, because it’s really a record label’s DREAM. Every song is catchy and radio friendly (for the most part), and while there is some small political posturing, nothing is offensive to the point to stymie record sales.
Great release, but see his Friend of the People mixtape for something a little better, lyrically.
Tracks to listen to: “Till I Get There”, “Beautiful Lasers”, “Never Forget You”
Just outside of my top 10 is the release from Toronto’s own The Weeknd. My first and last R&B inclusion on the list, House of Balloons plays more like a soulful rap album than it does a lame R&B mixtape. See “Glass Table Girls” below for the best track on the album.
Tracks to listen to: “High to This”, “The Morning”, “Coming Down”
THE TOP 10
For my top 10, I’m going to avoid any write-ups and just stick to the script: the music. I don’t think these 10 releases from 2011 need any opinionated explanations from me at all. They simply should be allowed to let their own quality speak for itself.
Tracks to listen to: “James Franco”, “Song for an Actress”, “Moon Bounce”
Tracks to listen to: “Her”, “Goblin”, “Golden”
Tracks to listen to: “O.P.M.”, “I Love Dom”, “When I Come Around”
Tracks to listen to: “Lights Out”, “Dollar and a Dream III”, “Nobody’s Perfect”
Tracks to listen to: “Falling From You”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Sunny Side of Hell”
Tracks to listen to: “Feel Tall”, “Running”, “Cigarettes and Perfume”
Tracks to listen to: “Palace”, “Peso”, “Trilla”
Tracks to listen to: “Shine On”, “Live on the Air”, “One” ALL OF THEM!
Tracks to listen to: All of Them!
Tracks to listen to: Seriously, ALL of THEM!
Just a word on my top two. Atmosphere’s album is amazing, front to back, every song hits like a fucking jackhammer and it easily sat in my rotation for the longest. The same reason I love Atmosphere is the same reason I can’t put them at #1- variety. If you can listen to The Family Sign and not FEEL anything, then you’re not a human being. So powerful, so emotional, the entire album is like poetry and tragedy on wax.
But, I need something more if you’re my album of the year. I need some BANGERS, I need something to play if, hypothetically, I were to be lighting up a FAT spliff to go alongside the heartfelt crooning. So, while Family Sign is probably my favorite album, I have to give the best release of 2011 to Big K.R.I.T. for his effort on Retun of 4Eva, which is by the way, not a major album release, it’s merely an independent studio album, something akin to most rapper’s mixtapes.
Needless to say, I’m beyond pumped to see what comes from Krizzle in the new year, as he stole 2011 in my opinion, with an album that was released early and still hasn’t come out of my rotation. It’s got serious bangers (Time Machine, Rotation), bluesy tales (Rise and Shine, Dreamin’), and funky rhymes (Get Right, R4 Theme Song) and like any good sports team it has its superstar, or what I consider the best song of 2011 – “The Vent”.
I’ll leave you with a part of Krit’s fucking CLASSIC first verse from “The Vent”, an expression of his approach towards music, a validation of his talent, and at times I feel like he took some of these words right out of my own thoughts:
I do this for the love, and it’s free of charge
I don’t need jail to be behind bars
This is purely art, in my Grandma’s household this was surely taught
Don’t be naive, yea these time’s is hard. In the midst of all the glamor, hope you find god
I never wished to be the burden bearer
But souls need saving and it’s now or never
Shock value is all they wanna see
It’s us against them, and it’s just you and me
Try to take heed what I say in my songs
Forgive me if I ever ever steered you wrong
Most people stop for signs, but I’ve driven through it
If it don’t touch my soul, then I can’t listen to it
The radio don’t play the shit I used to love
Or maybe I’m just growing up
I never seen a star on a red rug
If I wanna see stars I just look above
To the Heavens…