25. “Bat Meets Blaine” – Qwaazaar & Batsauce
Even though the collaborative LP, “Bat Meets Blaine” dropped just shortly after the free release of the “Style Be The King” EP, one of the dopest producers, whom unfairly is overlooked more often than not, Batsauce and one of the most stylistic emcees in the game, Qwazaar (Typical Cats, Outerlimitz, Dirty Digital) also laced the public with an EP that I FORGOT to include on my best releases of the year list back in September *slaps forehead*. The “Style Be The King” EP was/is pure heat. Reeking of originality, this EP not only set the tone for the LP, but also gained a few “eyebrow raising” reviews in the process. However, “Bat Meets Blaine” is pure icing on the cake! One of the finest examples of how to craft a true “boom-bap” record in 2011.
24. “LA Riot” – THURZ
Never, never in a million years would I have ever expected an album this POWERFUL from 1/2 of U-N-I, THURZ. No diss intended, but THURZ’ solo debut “LA Riot” is some potent stuff, mind you! A debut that boasts a heavy dose of social commentary and potent production from the likes of Ro. Blvd, DJ Khalil & Aaron Harris, LA Riot rekindles an aggressiveness that will take you back to the days of Ice Cube’s sophomore opus, “Death Certificate”. I placed this album in one of my top 5 “Must Cops” of 2011 and I still can’t imagine how this LP didn’t generate hardly any attention at all!
It’s hard to sleep on J-Live, a man who’s responsible for one of the slickest LP’s that the underground has ever witnessed, “The Best Part”. However, I’ve never been to keen on J’s work post-”The Best Part”, yet “Said Person Of That Ability” finds a rejuvenated J-Live killing productions from the likes of Illastrate (peep the album’s highlight, “From Scratch” above), Nicolay, Diamond D, and Floyd The Locsmif. Hard to believe that this is J’s fifth (!) album release already! A great collection of styles and productions that pieces together quite nicely for an extremely enjoyable and quite surprising listen.
22. “The Money And His Fool”-City Slick
or those who continue to sleep on the Green Llama movement, Decay (a Chicago native) andFluent (reppin’ the “former” city of Lebron, Akron, OH) are the founding members of one of the illest, most slept-on underground collectives of the moment. You may recall me hyping up the duo’s first notable output “The Antique Black” waaay back in the middle portion of ’07. Also, what I consider to be one of Hip Hop’s greatest travesties ever, is that cats still continue to sleep on an LP that I consistently place in my Top 50 records of All-Time, Uncut Raw’s (Selfish on the lyrics and Fluent on the production tip) phenomenal outing “First Toke”.
Duplicating the same ill, l0-fi vibe of “First Toke”, The Money And His Fool”, while lacking the one true knock-out punch (the closest representation of a true HIT, would be the album’s first single, “Back On It”), is an LP that reeks of consistency. From the start of one of the illest “intros” that I’ve ever heard on record (“And So It Went”) to the album’s elegant closer, “A High Note”, Decay and Fluent once again deliver an LP that has “cult classic” stamped all over it. Yet, sadly, “The Money And His Fool”, much like it’s partners “The Antique Black” and “First Toke” will continue to go largely unnoticed.
21. “Red Dot Plot”-SmooVth
Digi Crates strikes again! All you need to do is enter “tha Connection” in the above right search bar to just see how long Bloggerhouse has been diggin’ the duo of Hus and SmooVth. With “Red Dot Plot” SmooVth has cats labeling the album this year’s “Marceberg”. I gotta’ admit that may be pushin’ the envelope a bit, yet “Red Dot Plot” which boasts production from fellow Digi Crate alumni, is SmooVth’s most potent work to date (the album serves as SmooVth’s 3rd solo release).
SmooVth, who shares the same stomping grounds as the aforementioned Marciano and Prodigy of Mobb Deep, achieves the same grimey, yet gritty feel of “Marceberg” and earlier Mobb Deep entries with this release. A great album for the Winter months that have already approached us so quickly.
20. “Random Axe”-Random Axe
Honestly, I had crazy high expectations for this album. Lyrically, I’ve always been one of Sean P’s biggest followers/supporters. As for Guilty Simpson? Ehh, you really can only slay so many emcees and wack rappers in an album, nah’ mean? Now, Black Milk? Love this cat man, really do, “Album Of The Year” did just that, it truly evolved into my favorite album of 2010. So, while still ahead of the game and in the top 25th percentile of albums released this year, what exactly went wrong with Random Axe? Personally, I think the expectations for this LP were entirely to lofty. Also, is it just me, or does some of the production from Milk on this album see a bit dated? Still, you can’t front, this album when compared to most of the ‘ish that dropped this year still knocks, I just wish I could put a finger on what’s missing? Still a less than stellar Random Axe release is better than the majority of ‘ish released in 2011.
19. “The Element Of Surprise”-Rashad & Confindence
After dropping another slept-on LP earlier in March, 2011 with Beneficence’s “Sidewalk Science” (which contained 6 productions from the likes of the legendary Diamond D), Ill Adrenaline Records just recently unveiled what I consider to be one of the year’s best LPs, in the form of “The Element Of Surprise”, which finds production from Confidence, who hails from Philly and the fluid lyrical techniques of Brooklyn representative, Rashad. Crafted in the form of early classics from Preem/Guru & Pete/CL, Rashad and Confidence stick to the one emcee/one DJ format as it works wonders on tracks such as “The City” and the remainder of the LP. Apparently, not to many headz are sleepin’ on “The Element Of Surprise” as it finds itself sitting atop UGHH.com’s “Best Sellers” for December.
18. “Lone Sharks”- The Doppelgangaz
Upon first listen, The Doppelgangaz sophomore release, “Lone Sharks” is one of the stronger, more consistent and yet nearly altogether overlooked hip-hop albums of 2011. If I could, I would berate people here for not having listened to this album and giving it the praise it’s due, but I myself did not stumble the duo until nearly two years after their initial decent upon Hip Hop’s underground.
It appears that despite having an early EP, a debut album in 2009 and a beat tape to open up 2011, the duo hasn’t generated an overabundance of hype for themselves. While that may be entirely unsurprising in the fast-paced Internet age we currently live in, it becomes appalling upon hearing Lone Sharks. That’s not to say that this album is something that everyone will love or should be talking about, because it is certainly an album you have to invest your attention into, but The Doppelgangaz themselves and their unique style is exactly the type of thing you expect to develop a strong cult following….eventually.
17. “Covert Coup”-Alchemist & Curren$y
So, in 2011, I made it my goal to be more “open-mided”, musically. Even though I got off to somewhat of a late start, things all began to change in mid-April with the release/leak of “Covert Coup”. Originally created as retail LP to be released on the Warner Bros. imprint, “Covert Coup” was essentially released as a free digital download. Now, I’ve never been Curren$y’s biggest fan, lyrically, dude is on some “snooze button” ‘ish. However, the production on this LP is phenomenal, of which is solely handled by the Alchemist. To be honest, this album and it’s construction was very similar to which the fashion Alchemist linked up with Prodigy to craft the “Return Of The Mac” mixtape/LP. Again, you had to average emcees as the benefactors of some ridiculous production courtesy of the A-L-C.
16. “Take Care”-Drake
Don’t front on Drake. Take it from me, when it comes to the Golden Era and my noted inability to branch out into “mainstream/overground” music, Drake’s “Take Care” is a very good listen, IMO. The album starts with a bang, with what is my favorite track from “Take Care”, “Over My Dead Body”. A brash, cinematic opener, much in the fashion of “Fireworks” from “Thank Me Later”, “..Dead Body” is simply addictive and unavoidable. While the majority of Drake’s metaphoric verses on “Thank Me Later” were lazy, unmemorable and somewhat lame, this native Canadian delivers punchlines and one-liners that are even, at times “rewind worthy”. Quite honestly, there are a ton of moments found on “Take Care” which transported me back to the days when I enjoyed one of my favorite R & B albums of all-time, Jodeci’s “The Show, The Hotel, The Afterparty”. Also, another highlight is delivered via Kendrick Lamar with his “Buried Alive Interlude”.
15. “The Earn”-yU
I thought “Before Taxes” was ill, but yU has topped his last output, which was a difficult task within itself. Make no bones about it, yU is the most overlooked, under-appreciated emcee in the game. yU’s tongue in cheek, confident delivery matches the confident swagger of the toothpick gnawing gentleman depicted in the photo to your left. Lyrically, yU’s delivery and content is flawless, couple that with production from the likes of Unknown (Jazz Addixx), Slimkat78, Kev Brown, Kokayi, Charlie Ross and yU himself, “The Earn” does the Chocolate City proud! If you long for the days when A.T.C.Q., De La and L.O.N.S. where crafting some of the best music in Hip Hop, be certain to set aside a lil’ left over X-Mas loot to cop “The Earn”!!!!!!
14. “Lincoln Way Lights” – Stalley
Native Ohioan Stalley couldn’t have been more on point when he coined “Lincoln Way Lights” as “Intelligent Trunk Music”. While the beats and production courtesy of Rashad is ‘ignant, meaning the type of rattle blasting from your trunk that forces you neighbor to call the ‘po ‘po for disturbing the peace, Stalley is the perfect emcee to lace the booming production with intellectual, poignant and valid topics. Surprisingly, Stalley has been left off a few year end list(s) as one of the year’s brightest newcomers, but dude is a force to be reckoned with, no doubt. Plus, “Pound” is undoubtedly one of the year’s most cinematic, stripped down and raw tracks.
13. “Cats & Dogs” – Evidence
Evidence, the fully capable “dual threat” released his second solo full-length, Cats & Dogs, on Rhymesayers Entertainment on September 27th after lacing us with the classic, “The Weatherman”. With lyrical contributions from Slug of Atmosphere, Raekwon, Aloe Blacc, Prodigy, Aesop Rock, Krondon and more, Cats & Dogs is a fertile demonstration of boom-bap instrumental sensibility underlain with gritty rhyme schemes.
12. “The Sender”-Median
It’s hard to believe that Median’s “Median’s Relief” is nearly four years old already, it feels as if that album just dropped last year! Regardless, Median’s most recent effort is just as potent and solid as “..Relief”. However, what “Median’s Relief” lacked, a true smash, it definitely has on “The Sender” with the Khyris-laced heat rock, “Bright Individual”. Extremely solid, Median laced us with one of the year’s biggest sleepers that turned out to be well worth the wait.
11. “Daily Bread” – Apollo Brown & Hassaan Mackey
Very similar to “Section.80″ for the fact that it took me a minute to really appreciate the collaborative outing between the likes of one highly under appreciated MC, Hassaan Mackey and one highly overlooked producer, Apollo Brown. I’ll be like Jeru and “come clean”, I spoke with fellow Mello Music Group label-mate, Has-Lo on the afternoon of Daily Bread’s release and explained to Has why I was initially underwhelmed by this release. However, after a few “flawless” spins to accompany my taxing workouts, “Daily Bread” along with Black Milk’s 2010 release “Album Of The Year” became my mainstays to pick me up on those somewhat overcast days. Nearly flawless from start to finish, “Daily Bread” actually had a chance to surpass my favorite album from 2010, another Apollo Brown working, The Left’s “Gas Mask”.
10. “Honkey Kong” – Apathy
I know a ton of cats that bitch about Apathy, Celph Titled, Demigodz, etc. All this talk ’bout, “Oh, I’m not into that type of rap” or “it doesn’t really stimulate me mentally”. Comedy, pure comedy, regardless of the subject matter found or lack thereof on “Honkey Kong”, this jawn is pure dope. The only beef that I have with “Honkey Kong” is it really plays more like a compilation than an actual album. I could only imagine how fresh “Honkey Kong” would have been had it been condensed to maybe just 12-15 cuts. This album is such a fun, refreshing listen, very similar to the feeling that Celph Titled & Buckwild’s “Nineteen Ninety Now” from 2010 gave me.
9. “Self-Titled”-Clan Destined
AmDex and DT aka Clan Destined, compliment one another very well on this outing, flashing moments of sheer brilliance on tracks such as the Illastrate-produced thumper “Livin’ Thru” (on a side note, please stop sleepin’ on Illa’s recently released instrumental LP “Eddie Coleman’s Friday Night Theme Music” in the days ahead..) and the numbing, goose bump-inducing finale “Far Beyond”, which pays homage to the deceased with a strong lyrical performance from one who was gone way to soon, Jax. Also of note, it is equally impressive that the duo also handled the majority of the production for “Self Titled”. I can’t explain in words just how much I LOVE THIS ALBUM, even 22 tracks deep “Self Titled” never grows tiresome.
8. “Classic” – MED
THIS album surprised the hell outta’ me! M.E.D. has been kinda’ wish-washy with me since the release of “Push Comes To Shove”. However, make no bones about it, labeling your album as “Classic” is quite brave and while the outing does fall short of classic status, “Classic” is undoubtedly, by leaps and bounds, M.E.D.’s finest work to date.
With a talented guest list, to include Talib Kweli, Oh No, Aloe Blacc, Planet Asia and Kurrupt, “Classic” is void of any booty ‘ish. The hands-down winner on this LP though, is theAlchemist-produced “War & Love” which features the aforementioned little brother ofMadlib (whom also handles a hefty portion of the LP’s production).
IMAKEMADBEATS? Dude is a production genius, and what’s most scary, he’s only scratching the surface, in my opinion. With an on-point selection of features, well placed interludes and most importantly, flawless sequencing, you won’t want “IMAKEMADBEATS” to end! I’ve been throwing the term “classic” around loosely the last few years (most recently, “Gas Mask” and “Nineteen Ninety Now”), but you tell me what’s up after a few listens to this LP. I assure you, my assumptions are pretty damn accurate and “IMAKEMADBEATS” is one physical album you won’t regret scooping up!
6. “The Dreamer/The Believer” – Common
With sole production from No I.D., the one producer/one emcee formula struck gold once again with highly anticipated “The Dreamer/The Believer”. Although, the LP tails off slightly near it’s close, whomever aided Common with his single selection deserves a pay raise as “Ghetto Dreams”, “Blue Sky” & “Sweet” could arguably find themselves respectively atop anyone’s Top 10 singles of 2011 list(s).
5. “undun” – The Roots
While not quite up to par with “How I Got Over” and more of an EP than an album (damn, this LP was SHORT), The Roots “undun” still captivates and continues to push the envelope of what we consider the fine line between Overground/Underground. There’s no denying that the triumvirate of “Make My”, “One Time” & “Kool On” is one of the finest three song stretches of 2011.
4. “Introducin” – Willie Evans Jr.
Speaking of “dual threats” (see Has-Lo below), Asamov’s Willie Evans Jr. crafted what was one of the more “slept-on” LPs of the year. I’d actually classify “Introducin” in a similar fashion to Has’ “In Case I Don’t Make It”, yet another future “cult classic”. One word that best describes “Introducin”? QUIRKY, but not similar to say some of Doom’s earlier work, less dreary and certainly more playful, “Introducin” is filled with unexpected twists and turns both lyrically and on the production tip as Evans effortlessly completed one of the year’s most cohesive outings. Again though, at only 35 minutes in length, “Introducin” is no “Illmatic”, but definitely worth copping based on originality alone.
3. “Elmatic” – Elzhi & Will Sessions
I may regret saying this sometime in the future, but as you know “Illmatic” is hands down my favorite LP of All-Time, slightly edging out “Mecca & The Soul Brother”. Yet, would I be ashamed to say that Elzhi’s (with the help of Will Sessions) renditions of “Halftime” and “Memory Lane” eclipsed the original masterpieces from one, Nasir Jones? Not at this moment in time, no way. “ELmatic” is gold, simply flawless, and awe inspiring. So next time you think of taking a stab at a remake, ode, rendition, etc., please revisit “ELmatic”, take notes and please reconsider. To quote the legendary Rakim, “This is how it should be done”. Elzhi, Will Sessions, hats off…SALUTE!!!
2. “In Case I Don’t Make It” – Has-Lo
The most honest, direct, innovative and vulnerable piece of work to emerge from 2011. Take the best of “I.C.I.D.M.I.” and intertwine it with “Conversation B” and you have one of the best albums of the last decade. Yes, said the brown cow, it was “I” who introduced Mello Music Group label-head, Mike to the lyrical musings of Philly’s finest Has-Lo with his otherworldly “In Case I Don’t Make It”. A dark, haunting and forward-thinking LP, athe first few listens to ”In Case I Don’t Make It” had my calling Has on some “damn, you need a hug Has?”. Having this album in CONSTANT rotation since mid-2010, “In Case I Don’t Make It” will go down in history as a “cult” classic and Has’ true introduction to the world.
1. “Section.80″ – Kendrick Lamar
Let it be known, I’d written Kendrick Lamar’s past workings off as “hipster music”. However, I couldn’t be more wrong, subtract a cut or two from “Section.80″ and you have an unexpected classic. Never, in a million years could you have told me that Kendrick Lamar’s first official LP, “Section.80″ would become my favorite ‘ish of 2011. I mean, yeah (O)verly (D)edicated was iight. Yet, this album right here, B? On point like a ginsu. Lyrically, dude is out there at moments, however, there’s not too many heads out there messing with dude’s wordplay, delivery and just overall lyrical structure today. While tracks like “Tammy’s Song” nor “The Spiteful Chant” definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, even admittedly, they weren’t mine at first. Simply put, “Section.80″ never grows tiresome. One of the most original, unexpected outings in recent memory.