2011 has been an interesting year for rap; it was the year Odd Future blew up and Tyler, the Creator became annoying, the year Harlem-born-but-not-Harlem-sounding ASAP Rocky signed a massive 3 million dollar deal with Sony and the year that the grinding, dissonant Zach Hill-related Death Grips smashed their way into the rap sphere’s consciousness. I guess what I’m saying is that 2011 was the year that rap got weird. It was also the year the internet really caught up with rap, partially negating the influence of region on sound — no longer did a dude from the south always sound like UGK, and no longer did a New York rapper have to strive to sound like Nas. Yes, it had been a long time coming and had been going on for a few years, but 2011 was the year the change was really felt on a large scale; innovation, experimentation and a DIY attitude were really embraced, and for the first time in a minute it felt like there was exciting new rap being created everywhere you looked. It’s been pretty good.
2011 was a pretty damn good year for music in general actually. There were incredible releases from Burial, Wu Lyf, Idaho, Real Estate, How to Dress Well, A Grave With No Name, King Krule, Zomby, Dirty Beaches, Twin Shadow, The Streets, Destroyer, Sandro Perri, Gang Gang, Julianna Barwick… too many to name really. Kind of makes me glad I only write about hip-hop here. Anyway, without further ado, TOtD’s greatest hits of ’11 baby:
Best of 2011
10. LIL UGLY MANE – PLAYAZ CIRCLE: PRE MEDITATION (THE FIRST PROPHECY) PREVIEW MIXTAPE (REAL MURDER POSSE UNDERGROUND VERSION)
The amazingly titled “Playaz Circle” is a seriously weird, dark piece of Three 6 Mafia style horror-core. It’s lo-fi as hell and was one of those albums this year that while not being the most consistently strong, was rewarding in its inspiring experimentation and DIY attitude. Also, you have to watch his “End Ya Whole Shit” video. It will disturb you, and then ROCK YOUR WORLD.
Standout track: “Puttin’ it Down 4 My Hood”
Look! Here it is for free on Lil Ugly Mane’s bandcamp:
9. Cities Aviv – Digital Lows
Cities Aviv has been posted about a little bit on SC, so I won’t repeat what’s already been said; all you need to know is that this is a great listen, enjoyable from start to finish with a couple of nice indie-rap gems along the way as highlights.
Standout track: Do I really even need to say it…? “Float On”
This one’s another free bandcamp album:
8. Danny Brown – XXX
Danny Brown celebrates turning 30! Not really. Maybe. I don’t know if that’s what this album really is, but he is 30 and pretty insane, spitting wonderfully nasty lines like: “ready to hit the studio and shit all on your mixtape, no literally. Shit all on your mixtape, wipe with the credits, leave stains on the jewelled case.” XXX is definitely a worthy follow-up to last year’s “The Hybrid”. Danny Brown might not be the “Greatest Rapper Ever”, but with “XXX” he makes a fairly decent case.
Standout track: “Monopoly” maybe. It’s hard to say. This or “Blunt After Blunt” or “Pac Blood”.
7. Death Grips – Exmilitary
I hated this thing at first, I admit it. The idea of glitchy-hardcore hip-hop (not hardcore-hip hop, but hardcore like Dischord records hip-hop) intrigued me, as did Death Grips’ bleak image, but I just didn’t like what I was hearing. Then on what must have surely been a particularly unhappy day, it clicked. Sure, he screams and rants more than “raps”, but I like to think of this as a hardcore record in disguise. Pretend this is like listening to “Still Nothing Moves You” or “My War”, except more beat-y.
Standout track: “Lord of the Game (ft. Mexican Girl)”
Look! It’s free: Download
6. Clams Casino – Instrumentals
Clams Casino has been no secret for the past couple of years, blowing up along with Lil B with incredible ambient-rap tracks like “I’m God” and “What You Doin”. This year Clams decided to share a bunch of vocal-less tracks with the world, including classic Lil B cuts like “Motivation”. Guess what? These ten tracks from today’s arguably hottest producer definitely work on their own.
Standout track: “What You Doin”
Oh, this one’s free too: Download
5. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Shabazz Palaces is the duo that have been hailed by so many as the leaders in breathing fresh life into hip-hop in 2011. Definitely one of the more genre-bending and experimental releases in hip-hop this year, “Black Up” is still a fairly easy listen despite this, and in general it’s pretty damn funky (in a space-funk echoing over a sci-fi desert landscape kind of way). Definitely check this one out, if not just for the reason that one half of the duo was in Digable Planets. That alone would be enough reason for me, but if you need more convincing, know this: “Black Up” is a very good album.
Standout Track: “Swerve… The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)”
Download here: Mediafire
4. Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Lost in Translation
No surprises here, another critically dug album. This dude seems ghetto as shit — you’ve probably heard “Huzzah!” ‘s “drunk driving on a Wednesday”-chanting chorus — and the wonderful album art definitely adds to the grimy-as-fuck feel (her purple hair and horrendous yellow… thing, somehow make it worse). Whatever though, it works. Mr MUTHAFUCKIN’ (without that, it’s nothing) eXquire doesn’t overdo it though, striking a balance between drunken anthems and reminiscences over course of the eighteen track album. He also sounds kind of like Method Man, which is always welcome because Meth has a voice that was made to rap.
Standout track: “Huzzah!” / “The Last Huzzah!” / “I Should Be Sleepin'” for the sentimental among you.
3. Has-Lo – In Case I Don’t Make It
This is definitely an album that is being horribly, horribly slept on. I don’t really know anyone who’s been talking much about this, but it deserves to be big. It’s amazingly personal sounding, a side of music that a lot of hip-hop sometimes loses — listening to it is kind of like going on a journey through Has-Lo’s mind — while maintaing that 90’s head-nod boom-bap sound. The production of absolutely on point as well, with tracks that range from almost Premier-esque classic beats to sparse ambient beats. To sum this one up, in Has-Lo’s own words: “the album has a cohesive sound that pulls the listener into a web of psychoanalytical & melancholy musings, lyrical exercises, & storytelling”. Couldn’t agree more.
Standout track: “Storm Clouds”, but just get the whole thing.
Listen and purchase, because Has-Lo deserves it:
2. Khalif Da Menace – Junior: The Legend of 8Ball
If you read my post on Khalif Da Menace’s “Junior”, you know how much I love this album. This shit is straight up fucking hot with awesome production, Khalif going hard, and a very high general bump-ability factor. A perfect country-rap banger; nothing more needs to be said.
Standout track: “Where I Live”, “My Everything”, “Run the Streetz”, “Crazy World” (this album’s pretty consistent…)
1. ASAP Rocky – LiveLoveASAP
Yes, I’m being a cliche motherfucker and just saying it: ASAP Rocky’s “LiveLoveASAP” just might be the best release this year. I don’t care how much hype it got, it deserved it. It was tough as hell choosing between this and Khalif’s album, but I just had to give it to ASAP this time. The great thing about this album — apart from how excellent the songs are — is that is really encapsulates what was so great about 2011 for hip-hop. ASAP Rocky is form Harlem, and though he’s got that Harlem swagger, you can hear southern rap, the influence of Houston and DJ Screw, as well as the sounds of new-school producers like Clams Casino (who produces a couple of tracks on the album) or Squadda B and MondreMAN from Main Attrakionz in his music. “LiveLoveASAP” is everything rad about DIY rap that made it big in 2011 and a perfect gateway into the world of artists like Main Attrakionz, Spaceghostpurrp, and of course, the ASAP crew. Basically, get this now.
Standout track: “Peso” (duh), “Palace”, “Out Of This World”
And, it’s free. What more could you want? Download
Rich Boy – 12 Diamonds
Cam’ron & Vado – Gunz N’ Butta
K-Nine – Best Kept Secret
AraabMuzik – Electronic Dream
Domo Genesis – Under the Influence
Main Attrakionz – Perfect Skies/Chuch
Coke Boys – Coke Boys II
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Thuggin’ EP
Albums I wish I’d had the time to listen to
The new Freddie Gibbs joint and Elzhi’s Illmatic redo thing. Both of those might’ve made the top 10 judging by the quality of stuff I’ve heard from these dudes before.