As I try to knock out the rest of the year in review before the end of the month, we’ll kick it off with MY favorite (note I didn’t say best, but my favorite) albums of the year. Overall it was a cool year. Some new blood on the lists, some old favorites and some stuff I would have never thought I’d be listening to. Here is the fifty through twenty-six….
50. Hus – Cognac Fruit
One of the hardest working emcees in the game, Hus is back with probably his best solo release, in Cognac Fruit. It does contain some remixes of past songs (like most of his projects do) but the new stuff is exactly what you would expect from Hus or Tha Connection which he is apart of with SmooVth.
49. Joell Ortiz – Free Agent
There was some confusion with Joell Ortiz’s Free Agent. It wasn’t supposed to be officially released until this year, although it was accidentally released for a short time during 2010. In a way, I think it kind of hurt it, I really didn’t listen to it much this year, but it was a good release none of the less. Free Agent is a strong effort, with some good tracks, and further cements Joell as one of the top emcees coming out of NYC. Not as good as his 2007 release, The Brick Bodega Chronicles, but still better than a lot of the junk out there these days and makes listeners realize that NYC isn’t completely gone from the hip hop scene.
48. Smoovth – Red Dot Plot
We’ve already seen his fellow Tha Connection partner in at #50 on the list, which says much about SmooVth and Hus. SmooVth dropped Red Dot Plot toward the end of the year, which means it might have gotten lost a bit in the year end hustle and bustle, but the album is what you come expect from SmooVth, dark and dusty boom bap beats coupled with his slow and deliberate flow. Not quite as good as last years Little Boy Blue, but still incredibly dope.
47. Phonte – Charity Starts At Home
Charity Starts at Home isn’t a bad album when Phonte is spitting lyrics and we don’t have a bunch of cheesy sing song hooks, but when there is, it tends to bore me. Being a big fan of Little Brother and Phonte in general, I was hoping for the “Rip a fool to shreds” Tay, and while we get that on a few songs, the quiet storm Tay is a major force on this album. None the less, I do enjoy a good portion of Charity... The handful of great songs make this a worthwhile album and kept it in regular rotation for a good month or so.
46. Blue Scholars – Cinemetropolis
If you picked up Blue Scholars Cinemetropolis expecting a Bayani part 2, then you will be sorely disappointed. The production taken a 180 degree turn, as Sabazi comes with a more synth/electronic sound with his beats. Once one gets past the fact that this album is totally different than Bayani, then you can concentrate on the quality points of the release and there are plenty. Different vibe, but still a quality release.
45. J. Rawls – The Hip Hop Affect
J. Rawls comes correct on The Hip Hop Affect as he drops some of the better beats he has done in some time. What really shines here is the diversity he shows. My one knock with him in the past is while he had his sound and he was good at it, sometimes his production didn’t vary enough. That’s not issue on The Hip-Hop Affect.
44. Med - Classic
Lumped into that whole Stones Throw movement with Oh No and Madlib, MED is probably slept on the most. His album Classic makes it known that people should stop pushin’ the snooze button. While it may not live totally up to it’s name, the album is more than good enough to get some spins on the ole iPod.
43. Strange Fruit Project - A Dreamer’s Journey
I haven’t always been a big fan of Strange Fruit Project. In the past, I have found their music rather boring and monotonous. That changed with A Dreamer’s Journey. With beats that match the album’s title quite well, the dreamy backscape make for some interesting songs and a cohesive and enjoyable album. It was an album that grew on me with more listens, sort of in the way that The Roots undun did for me. Too bad I didn’t hear this until way late in the year, because it would probably be higher up the list the more I listen to it.
42. Thurz – L.A. Riot
This is the same dude that was/is part of U-N-I? Not that they were a bad group, they just didn’t cover topics like Thurz displays on his album, LA Riot. Very “in your face” with both beats, rhymes and topics, Thurz reminds me of artists like KAM over Bomb Squad like beats, pissed off and not going to take it anymore. Some songs come of great, others don’t quite work, but the cohesiveness of this album is very good and one of those that is better to listen to as a whole.
41. Trek Life – Wouldn’t Change Nothing
While I slept on the original version of this project, the list of producers I enjoy that appeared on Wouldn’t Change Nothing, led me to giving this a few spins. As a separate project, there is some good things to be found. I can’t really compare it to it’s a original and the number of different producers doesn’t really promote a cohesive sound, but the strong joints on this more than make it up.
40. Count Bass D & Insight – The Risk Takers
Count Bass D is an acquired taste in hip hop, sort of like a fine scotch. Beginners won’t care for him too much, but the experienced listeners will know that this dude is as creative as they come. Throw in Insight, who is one of the more slept on emcees hip hop has ever seen and that makes em>The Risk Takersis a damn good album. It’s just straight up raw hip hop, with no special voice effects, corny R&B hooks or any of that crap. Would love to see these two release another album together in the future.
39. The Away Team – Scars & Stripes
After a somewhat dismal offering on their last going around, The Away Team brings Scars & Stripes to the table this time out and this time they got it right. Khrysis offers some hot beats, and while Sean Boog may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he holds his own on an album that offers a nice variety of material for the listeners consumption.
38. Random Axe – Random Axe
Random Axe’s self titled project had high expectations and for the most part it lived up to it. It pains me to say that some of the production is the weakest part. A lot of these beats are not Black Milk’s best work. Not that it’s all bad, just inconsistent. Tracks like “The Hex” show how great this album could have really been. That said, it’s still a great listen and Sean P and Guilty Simpson sound great together.
37. Action Bronson & Statik Selektah – Well Done
Once again, Action Bronson cements why he should be “Rookie of the Year” in the hip hop game. After already dropping a very good release in Dr. Lecter, Action Bronson comes back with the busiest producer going in Statik Selektah. Usually Statik can be hit and miss with me on the beats, and is so on this release. The good is damn good, the bad isn’t all that bad, just sort of “ho-hum”. Still, Bronson is an animal on the mic and just rhymes his ass off, which will come off as too much sometimes. Still, this album clicks on all cylinders and keeps both artists streaks of solid releases in tack.
36. Malcolm & Martin – Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
A very solid album if nothing else, Malcolm & Martin’s (aka KB iMean and Styliztik Jones) Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is one of those albums that doesn’t have a lot of those “wow” tracks on it, but the whole LP is a good listen. It has that early 90′s golden age feel to it, which is alright in my book. Lyrically, both emcees are straight and tackle a variety of subjects. KB iMean has one of the cooler voices I’ve heard in awhile that adds to the whole package. This is nothing that is going to alter your existence, but it’s a good hip hop album that follows the blueprint for quality hip hop.
35. Constant Deviants – Amongst Friends
What’s being touted as an unreleased project that was recorded between 97-99, Amongst Friends is filled with what would have been some of the best independent hip hop during that time. Constant Deviants were a favorite of mine during that time, with some dope 12 inch singles coming out in those years. Some of those tracks such as “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”, “8th Wonder”, “Hustler’s Prayer”, and “Fed Up”, all show up on this album and all saw the single treatments back then. The rest of the tracks found on Amongst Friends possess that same dopeness. Good hip hop toward the tail end of the golden age.
34. One Be Lo – Laborhood Vol. 1
Always good to hear One Be Lo back on the scene. The Michigan emcee is one of the more consistent artists in the game and he doesn’t disappoint on this mixtape/compilation. Laborhood was a two volume “preview”/street album of sorts, with Vol. 1 being the better listen. Lots of guests line Vol.1 (and two for that matter), but it’s still a good showing for a mixtape (or whatever they call it these days).
33. E The Real & Forth Star – Don’t Be That Guy
If you’ve been a longtime follower of mine on either WYDU or Bloggerhouse, you’ll recognize E The Real (aka EtheReal Plains), who was part of the group, Nite People. I’ve been a big fan of E’s, as he usually comes correct with whatever he puts out. This time he teams up with a somewhat unknown (at least to me) producer in Forth Star and drops the very dope Don’t Be That Guy. The beats are straight up hip hop beats, drums, a funky bass line and all the good ingredients needed. E is also hungry on the mic as his no nonsense delivery is a perfect match. Just a solid album that should remind cats that E is that dude.
32. yU – The Earn
The Washington DC area has been on the rise for the last few years and yU is one of the artists behind that movement. Dropping The Earn, yU brings his signature sound of smooth beats to back up his even smoother rhymes. His Diamond District bandmates all make appearances keeping things running good.
31. MarQ Spekt & Kno – Machete Vision
Machete Vision sounds like nothing else out there really. It’s like Kno got a whole bunch of old psychedelic rock records from the late 60′s and got busy. Sonically this is an excellent album, instrumentals anyone? It’s the sound that really stand outs on this album. MarQ Spekt, who I wasn’t all that familiar with him before this, and he takes some getting used to vocally, but once you do, he works well with the tracks. The originality is just pouring out of this album.
30. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80
When a hip hop artist starts getting shine on sites/mags like XXL, I usually tend to just completely shy away from said artist. Throw in a thing like said artist is a product of the “new” west coast “gangsta hipster” scene (which I tend to ignore more or not these days) and chances are I’m not even going to give said artist the time of day. But after seeing numerous opinions from cats that I respect (a certain partner on this site had this his favorite album of the year) and I figured I’d give Kendrick Lamar a chance. I’m glad I did. Beatwise, there are some beautiful and touching beats to be found on Section.80. They perfectly match Kendrick’s laid back and almost lazy flow on most tracks. Kendrick takes some getting used to as far as style and tone, but once you do, most of the stuff he conjures up is smooth like butta, back in the day west coast bbq music. It did take me multiple listens to warm up to this project, but I can really appreciate the album. The only thing I can fault about it, is it could use some trimming of some “ehhhh” quality of tracks that tend to drag it down toward the end. All in all, a very surprising and quality album…
29. Jay-Z & Kanye West (The Throne) – Watch The Throne
While it would be pretty easy for me to not like this mainstream mammoth, truth of it is, I like Watch the Throne for the most part. Yes, there are some tracks I could really do without and some tracks I wasn’t feeling the first time through it, but it’s an album that has grown on me over the past month or two. I should shit on this, but I’m too busy noddin’ my head to it…
28. Clan Destined – Clan Destined
Clan Destined returns with what will undoubtedly be an overlooked self titled release, which is unfortunate because the two man crew brings southern flavor with the classic hip hop swag. Songs are well crafted with great beats, memorable hooks and just an well done album from start to finish. It is somewhat of a concept album, that flows well throughout the whole thing. Yes, people may sleep on this, which is their loss.
27. Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Gonna Eat That?
Once again, Aesop Rock continues to impress me (minus his production on the Felt 3 album), as he teams up with Rob Sonic to form Hail Mary Mallon. Are You Gonna Eat That? is full of those off the wall beats and Aesop’s abstract rhymes and gruff delivery. Honestly I wasn’t even in the loop of this group until I heard the album. It’s turning out to be one of my favorite albums of the year.
26. Co$$ – Before I Awoke
Before I Awoke from west coast emcee Co$$, is one of the more surprise albums of 2011. Combining different styles and flavors from the traditional west coast sounds to a more traditional lyrical east coast stylings, Co$$ brings a strong debut album that will probably be slept on by the masses.