Saturday, January 21

Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2011

Hip-hop is changing. Independent artists are making albums available much faster and available for easy download on the internet, established artists are working hard to make steps into un-ventured territory, and artists from other music forums are journeying into hip-hop to satisfy their artistic musings. It's exciting ground, however not necessarily attainable unless you are willing to look. Radio is in trouble, listeners are getting bored with Top 40, spoon-fed, cookie-cutter rap...well, at least I am. So, here's the best of 2011, for your listening pleasure.

Best Mash-Ups
Wugazi – 13 Chambers
If it wasn’t for my rules about eligible albums for this list, specifically in reference to one part of an album composition being new or authentic, in which Jamie xx and Gil Scott-Heron make the list because of new composition by Jamie xx, and in which case Wugazi does not because it’s a mash-up of two already produced works, Wugazi would be my number one album of the year. Doomtree member Cecil Otter, with assistance from Swiss Andy, combines the iconic Wu-Tang album 36 Chambers (also individual Wu member albums) and Fugazi’s 13 Songs into one of the best mash-ups since The Grey Album. I grew up on both of these artists, and although I was both excited and hesitant to see how they would sound together, my expectations where beyond met. Hearing Blueprint over O.D.B.’s Brooklyn Zoo was startling, Waiting Room over RZA’s verse from Gravediggaz’s Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide gave me chills…nearly every song has that quality. Do yourself a favor and get all these albums immediately. This is classic material.

Best Cover Album
El Michels Affair – Enter The 37th Chamber
In case you haven’t noticed, I love Wu-Tang. Combine the qualities of a live band performance and hip-hop, and yes, The Roots have been doing it for quit some time, but in the case of El Michels Affair, it’s stunning to hear such Wu-Tang classics re-interpreted in a band version. I played this album as atmosphere music at a party, funny how many hip-hop hating music fans wanted to get this album. Get it and play it at your Grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, or at your next church function.

The Top 15 of 2011

15. Childish Gambino – Camp
How many actors have tried to crossover into music? How many have been successful? Writer/actor Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, has produced a record that plays off issues of race, fame, and rap stereotypes. Heavy handed at times…well yes, but it’s during these tracks where Gambino has some of the most fun. Comedy is laced throughout the album, on the battle tracks as much as the overly mainstream ones, Gambino strides easily throughout.
Choice Cut: You See Me

14. Doomtree – No Kings
Doomtree could be the closest group this generation has to Wu-Tang. Like The Wu, Doomtree has abled lyricists with distinct personalities, clever and innovative production, and a group mentality that works to strengthen the unit first and foremost. Even standouts P.O.S., Dessa, and Sims understand the importance of cohesion since the rest of the group is equally represented throughout the album. Though some tracks might seem focused towards the strength of one individual specifically, each member is clearly capable of finding stride within the structure, and that could be their strongest ability.
 Choice Cut: Beacon

13. Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva
K.R.I.T. has been showing greater potential with every free mixtape he releases. It’s strange why he wasn’t signed to a label sooner. He nestles himself amongst the territory of other down south artists, but unlike most of them, K.R.I.T. works all the angles of the game. It would be hard to label him from the south because of the influences of west and east coast products, but through all the inspirations, the south is still heard in some regard underneath it all.
Choice Cut: Country Shit (Remix) ft. Ludacris and Bun B

12. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne
Run a verse over a Curtis Mayfield vocal, you’re bound to make this list. The “chill” song of the year, The Joy, is just one of the many interesting tracks on Watch The Throne, and it wasn’t even produced by Kanye…leave that to Pete Rock!!!
Choice Cut: The Joy

11. Evidence – Cats and Dogs
I represent Dilated. Evidence, one part of Dilated Peoples, proves capable enough to handle the mic by his damn self. Cats and Dogs is a reflection of the past and a prediction of the future. Evidence demonstrates an experience unlike other hip-hop artists, a survivor through the many changes in hip-hop, Evidence is still doing what he does best…pure and authentic hip-hop. Great one liner…“Director of photography, I shoot people”.
Choice Cut: It Wasn’t Me

10. Tyler, The Creator – Goblin
This summer the world went crazy for Yonkers and Tyler, The Creator. Best album of the year, groundbreaking, epic…all things I heard about Tyler. The funny thing, he’s been doing this for a while now. Tyler reminds me of an early Brotha Lynch Hung, and at such a young age, it will be interesting to see what direction he takes. How long can Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All continue to coexist? The future is both bright and dark for Tyler, and honestly, I’m sure he doesn’t care one bit where the future takes him. For Tyler and the rest of OFWGKTA, it’s always been about “them” verse the rest of the world. Still, Goblin was an unrestrained, free flowing, nothing is taboo, commentary of a world seen through uncensored eyes.
Choice Cut: Yonkers

9. Das Racist - Relax
How amazing would Das Racist be on Def Jux? Some critics will still doubt the credibility of Das Racist, and I assure that every move on Relax was a calculated step. Whether it’s the fact that they might not take themselves too serious or that they are actively trying to be everything hip-hip doesn’t want them to be, Das Racist is making serious moves. Recruiting Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer talent in an undocumented capacity, and El-P and Danny Brown blessing a few tracks…Das Racist is playing with matches and gasoline. Watch out.
Choice Cut: Michael Jackson

8. Eligh and Amp Live – Therapy at 3
Eligh found stride with last year’s The Grey Crow, and with the help of Amp Live, of Zion I fame and a seriously underrated producer, Eligh continues excelling. Amp Live creates an atmosphere new to Eligh’s breakneck flow, and Eligh consumes every last note, at times playing with his own style successfully. A match made in hip-hop heaven.
Choice Cut: Ego Killer

7. Danny Brown – XXX
Danny Brown might not be the greatest MC, he might not have the most polished flow, but his confidence…simply controlling. Brown is everything my inner high-school sophomore self would love. The album oozes ego and personality; his distinct high-nasal voice accommodates his awkward flow, and best of all, it seems like Danny Brown is determined to out rap himself on each track.
Choice Cut: Radio Song

6. Raekwon – Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang
Wu-Tang is back, kind of. Raekwon’s album feels like the Wu-Tang album Wu fans have wanted for a while, and it might not be advertised, but this album might have been that album in early stages. Martial arts movie snippets, Wu-Tang street life poetry, Raekwon beating the beat into submission with this flow…it’s the Wu (W in the air).
Choice Cut: Silver Rings (Listen for the O.D.B. excerpt)

5. Death Grips - Exmillitary
Confusion and chaos are elements that Death Grips utilize to evoke a hardcore meets hip-hop mosh pit. Three songs into Exmillitary and it’s perfectly clear that Death Grips operates on a different set of standards, they are a hip-hop group with punk-rock idealisms. Death Grips is what happens when mainstream media tries to dictate what hip-hop should sound like, and an artist that decides to throw the first stone.
Choice Cut: Culture Shocks

4. The Roots – Undun
Redford Stevens dies at the beginning. He’s a statistic, a life composed of familiar trappings of a man just trying to survive. Told in reverse, the listener comes to know Redford after his death, basking in the mistakes and misfortune that is found in a life seen in the rearview. The fact that Redford is a fictional character is both surprising and refreshing, you’re glad that Redford’s story was a work of fiction, because it feels so familiar and sad. It’s an accomplishment of storytelling that The Roots are able to garner such sympathy for a man who surrounds himself with criminal life and acts. The Roots consistently get better with age.
Choice Cut: The OtherSide

3. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Who remembers “Cool Like Dat” from way back in the 90’s? Well, Ishmael Butler, the silky-smooth voice behind the jazz-fused hip-hop group Digible Planets is back, front and center, with Shabazz Palaces. Still lacing rhymes fighting inequality and social injustices, Shabazz Palaces doesn’t rely on old-school technique to breach the masses. Bass drops, percussion gun beats, heavy fuzz, and on-the-fly jazzmatazz, make Black Up feel future fueled.
Choice Cut: Recollections of the Wrath

2. Jamie XX and Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Here
Gil Scott-Heron’s untimely death earlier this year made this album all the more important, however unfortunate that it took his death to make his voice heard. Whether hip-hop fans are willing to except it, Scott-Heron was a pioneer, if not, founding father of hip-hop. Jamie Smith, producer of the xx, took Scott-Heron’s 2010 album I’m New Here, added a mix of hip-hop break beats and dubstep touches, and added a joyful breath to Scott-Heron’s best, if saddest, material.
Choice Cut: Running

1. Sims – Bad Time Zoo
Inspiration from literature is nothing new in the world of entertainment, however, in the world of hip-hop, it’s unheard of. Minneapolis MC, and Doomtree member, Sims made the most ambitious hip-hop album of the year. Garnering inspiration loosely based on a Ray Bradbury sci-fi short story called The Veldt; the allegory focuses on how new technology embraced by youth will ultimately destroy older generations. Sims embraces much of the topics explored in The Veldt; themes of despair, loss, love, paranoia, and survival are journeyed. The forum for examination is vast and Sims voyages long and far into the underlying ideas and concepts. This is not radio rap, this is an example of what hip-hop is and should be.
Choice Cut: Good Times

Honorable Mentions
Domo Genesis – Under The Influence
Pharaoh Monch – W.A.R.
Kendrick Lamar – Section.80
Hail Mary Malion – Are You Going To Eat That?
G-Side – The One…Cohesive
Talib Kweli – Gutter Rainbows
J.Cole – The Sideline Story
Reks – Rhythmic Ethernal King Supreme
Lupe Fiasco - Lasers
DJ Quik - The Book Of David

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