Well look here, Trav is done with his favorite albums, and it’s still only January. Of course I haven’t even started on my top 100 songs yet, but hell, I got the whole year for those. Without further ado…
25. Apathy – Honkey Kong!
Apathy came back hard in 2011, bringing his trademark style with him. Ap has not changed much since I first heard him back around the turn of the century, so you know what to expect with Honkey Kong, but I’m not complaining. The only thing I can really say bad about the album is that it sounds more like a collection of good songs than a solid album, but I’ll take that over a crappy cohesive sounding album any day.
24. Willie Evans Jr – Introducin’
The former member of the Asamov (aka The AB’s) collective, that nasty beatmaker Willie Evans Jr is back again for the first time. Introducin’ is Willie’s second album, after dropping a project for the failed Rawkus 50 thing back in ’07. I’ve been following Willie’s career for a while now, and dude is nice with the beats, and it’s the beats that take front and center on this project. Lots of samples and that Lo-Fi dusty feeling. Tracks like “Take 2″, “Mega” and “Sidewalk Shit” are prime examples. Then, you have the old school throw back, “Dumbtron” (named for the upcoming project him and Paten Locke have in tow) which is just Willie and fellow Asamov member Paten Locke, spitting lines and lines and will give any “old school” head the goosebumps. Willie isn’t the best emcee, but he makes it entertaining and deserves the comparisons to MF Doom, both musically and delivery on the mic. Well worth the listen…
23. Has-Lo – Conversation B
Conversation B is essentially a remix album. While I think it’s part of Mello Music Group’s plan (they also remixed Trek Life and Boog Brown’s albums from last year), there is a whole new take on Has-Lo’s critically acclaimed In Case I Don’t Make It album that was released earlier in the year. It’s important to look at this on it’s own merit, which admittedly is somewhat difficult because the cohesion and mood the listener was presented with on In Case… is totally different from what is found on Conversation B. When looked at on it’s own merit, there are some great new twists and some songs are given an entirely new life. With some of the who’s who in underground hip hop producers such as Exile, J-Zone, Kev Brown, Apollo Brown and others, lending beats, undoubtedly there are some great interpretations to be found. My only qualm is when comparing it to it’s predecessor (I know I said not to do that), some of the feel for the album, which is one of it’s great qualities is somewhat lost in the array of different producers.
22. Pseudo Intellectuals – Dope Grindwork
P.I.’s Resourceful Illery was one of my pleasant discoveries back in ’08. They are back with a new joint, Dope Grindwork that is just as good as the ’08 album. Built on dusty jazz loops that remind you of the smokey jazz halls of the 1940′s, the group brings some dope tracks and even doper instrumentals this time around. My only beef that the album doesn’t necessarily flow like an album, but it’s still better than a lot of stuff that came out this year.
21. Vakill – Armor of God
It’s been awhile since we heard from Vakill and time has been good to him. He definitely hasn’t lost anything and if nothing else, the beats found on Armor of God, are just as good as anything found on his previous two efforts. Lyrically, everything is tighter and more on point. My only real knock is the project could have shaved a track or two off of it…other than that, a great listen.
20. Atmosphere – The Family Sign
I had a hard time connecting with the music found on The Family Sign, which for an Atmosphere album is rare for me. I think it’s more the beats/music that is lacking for me. Ant went from being a master with the samples, but it seems like he has been handcuffed the last couple studio albums. I’ve enjoyed the EPs and bootleg albums more than I did this album. But it’s also worth noting than I’ve come to expect a lot out of the group, and while it didn’t live up to my expectations of them as a whole, I still did enjoy the album.
19. One Be Lo – L.A.B.O.R.
I’ll admit I’m a bit of a One Be Lo fan boy, following his career ever since first hearing Binary Star back in the day. L.A.B.O.R. starts off some what slow, but by the time you get to “Doggy-Style Biscuts”, things really pick up. The last half of the album is excellent, but of course it could have been trimmed down a bit. The beats are heavily guitar flavored, of the electric variety, but I find it dope. If that’s not your thing, you probably aren’t going to be digging a lot of the beats. I heard this is just a “warm up” before the “real” album, but this is a good start.
18. Skyzoo – The Great Debater
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I turned my opinion completely around on my views of Skyzoo’s music. When he first started, I called him Skysnooze…I found him and his music rather boring and uninspired. Well since the release of his debut album, “The Salvation”, Sky has been on a roll and quite possibly one of the top emcees in the game and for surely out of NYC at this time. The Great Debater continues that streak, as Sky drops a “mixtape”? that is better than most of the albums dropping these days.
17. People Under the Stairs – Highlighter
Highlighter is easily PUTS’ best album since 2002′s O.S.T., and it could very well eclipse that when it’s all said and done. The duo keeps that tried and true PUTS sound, but also do a great job at keeping a diverse flavor on the album. Yeah, it could’ve clipped a few songs off of it, but some fine tracks makes this one of the best albums of the year.
16. Grip Grand & DJ MF Shalam – Rewinder
Grip Grand’s highly slept on Brokelore was my second favorite hip hop album of 2008, so this album was something I was looking forward to. I must say, Grip didn’t disappoint. The main difference between Brokelore and Rewinder is DJ MF Shalem handles the production chores on this one, while Grip did most (if not all) of the production on the 2008 joint. Grip is a straight up purist in his delivery and topics and Shalem’s production backs that right up. Don’t get it twisted though, it’s old school that still sounds fresh. It’s definitely music for the 70′s/80′s b-boy’s that came up through the golden age.
15. Evidence – Cats & Dogs
Evidence does it again. My big problem with Dilated Peoples was there wasn’t much variation on the group’s sound. They were good, but it all sounded the same after awhile. That’s not an issue on Ev’s second solo venture, Cats & Dogs, as he brings a bunch of dope beats and just does his thing over them.
14. Superstar Quamallah & DeQwan – Talkin’ All That Jazz
I guess you could plaster the usual label of “slept on” on Superstar Quamallah, but it would be an understatement. Quietly doing his thing since the late 90′s, Quam has released dope release after dope release that people still seem to overlook. Talkin’ All That Jazz is definitely no different, as the Brooklyn emcee via Oakland (and maybe back to NYC again…) drops another consistent banger. This time he brought help in the form of DeQawn, whom I know nothing about, other than he sounds pretty damn good on this release. Izznyce combines some jazz riffs with some (almost) hardcore boom bap sounds and it works. Stop Sleepin’!
13. Action Bronson – Dr. Lecter
One of the more surprising releases of the year, Action Bronson brought nothing but straight up, fun hip hop to the masses with Dr. Lecter. Yes, he sounds a lot like Ghostface as far as vocal tone, but Bronson isn’t as intricate as Ghost lyrically, but is as equally entertaining as Ghost, just in different ways. The beats are a great match as well, from an unknown producer, but they match the energy and subjects from Bronson well.
12. Celph Titled & Buckwild – Nineteen Ninety More
More of an EP, with seven songs and their accompanying instrumentals, this follow up/companion release to last year’s dope Nineteen Ninety Now, does it complete justice. Nineteen Ninety More is just as dope (although shorter) than it’s predecessor and could have easily replaced songs from last year’s release and the album would have just as good or even better. Full of Buckwild beats from the 90′s, this keeps the head noddin’ and even spawns a few goosebumps. Celph Titled has improved in leaps and bounds over the years and he spits with the same passion and desire as last year’s release. Real hip hop isn’t dead…
11. The Doppelgangaz – Lone Sharks
Lone Sharks is some straight-up throwback, boom-bap NYC type shit. If you still like your beats with that dusty, scratchy flava, then the Doppelgangaz are definitely for you. For me, it’s nice to hear quality boom bap again, although it can get a little stale after too many listens. Still one of the better releases of the year though.
10. Dirty Hank – Does This Look Normal?
I have an affection for ignorant, alcohol influenced lyrics, which Dirty Hank is a pro at delivering. He sounds like he records his song at three in the morning after a night of drinking at the local dive bar. Hank is just perfect music for before the bars, at the bars and after the bars, and let’s face it, hip hop doesn’t have enough of that kind of music and it’s supplied in the form of Does This Look Normal. Coupled the zaniness with some dope beats by Falside, Mad Plaid and others and you have yourself some hip hop that will make you reach for another Natty Light.
9. Rashad & Confidence – The Element of Surprise
Surprising is a good word to describe the album, Element of Surprise, from Rashad & Confidence. Hence, it lives up to it’s name, or something like that. This is just straight up golden-age goodness. If you want some new fandangled crap that seems to be all the rage currently in hip hop, this isn’t it. If you want just beats, rhymes, from one producer and from one emcee with sounds that remind you of “the good ole days”, then this is for you. I get some people don’t want it to be ’94 all over again, but for those of us who still appreciate hip hop with no crap attached to it, this album is great. The beats are straight up dope (to keep it with those times) and Rashad, who was someone I wasn’t impressed with prior to this outing, does a great job of staying focused and dropping tight rhymes. It’s hard to pull one song from this and say it’s the best, it’s an album that is most definitely enjoyed as a whole. Happy to have found this so late in the year.
8. Qwazaar & Batsauce – Bat Meets Blaine
After a release of an excellent EP, which those tracks were left off Bat Meets Blaine, Qwazaar and Batsauce release a full fledged project. Following the path of the successful EP, the album brings the unique and dominating voice of Qwazaar and combines it with Bat’s familiar yet creative loops. This album has grown on me in the past couple weeks to become one of my favorite projects of the year. The pair have a great chemistry together.
7. Elzhi – Elmatic
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It’s official, Elzhi is my new favorite Detroit emcee. Detroit is still killing it and Elzhi should be the king of D-town. I’m not usually fond of remakes in hip hop, but I’ll be damned if El didn’t make a project that is worthy of being in the same league as it’s original, Illmatic. Elzhi just takes the tracks and turns them into his own on Elmatic, with a very creative and very original twist. I’m not saying this is better than Illmatic, but it’s every bit as enjoyable as the original, especially in this day and age.
6. Hassaan Mackey & Apollo Brown – Daily Bread
I don’t remember liking Hassaan Mackey on the Rawkus 50 promo project four years ago. Acutally I don’t remember much about that album at all to be fair. What great beats will do for you, such as found Daily Bread project with Apollo Brown, is make people remember you. Of course being backed by one of the top 5 producers currently throwing it down helps as well. Again, Apollo crafts an album that is full of melodic and hard beats that just sound lovely in the headphones. Hasaan Mackey is actually very good on the mic as he tackles a diverse list of subjects and does it well.
5. J-Live – S.P.T.A.
J-Live is something of an underground legend and for good reason. His triple threat persona (DJ, Producer and Emcee) is earned on S.P.T.A and he does all three with preciseness, even though his production credits on the album are limited to four tracks. Basically, while I’ve always liked J-Live, I wasn’t expecting just how dope this album would be. The beats are all on point, even the one or two “slow jams.” The producer line up brings the heat, with some very melodic to boom bap feel happening Lyrically, J-Live had me going back and wondering if he really said that. All in all, this is a very cohesive album that had me going back and listening three straight times, it’s just that good.
4. The Roots – undun
At first, I wasn’t even sure how I should feel about The Roots latest endevour, undun. At first, I thought the sung hooks were some what flat on the majority of the songs and the beats were ho-hum. But then I started started looking past my pigeon hole I’ve been kind of putting The Roots in and started to appreciate the music and came to the conclusion undun is done beautifully. The concept is creative and well done. Basically, the album can not be judged as pieces but as a whole. The first listen, I didn’t like it. The second listen I was amazed after I understood what it was they were shooting for. Since then it’s steadily grown on me to where it’s one of my favorite albums of 2011. Welcome back Roots (as one of my favorite groups).
3. IMAKEMADBEATS – IMAKEMADBEATS
Sometimes albums take a bit to grow on me, but when they do, I just crave listening to them. IMAKEMADBEATS’ debut self titled solo project took off for me after a week or so listening to it. IMMB doesn’t have that signature producer sound, but in some ways that’s the beauty of this project. It’s diverse, yet not too scattered. Some of the beats are straight up amazing and I really don’t have a song on here that I don’t like. The emcees, especially Midaz the Beast and J Freedom, bring their A-game to the mic, making this a great album.
2. Cunninlynguists – Oneirelogy
Cunninlynguists are about as consistent as they come. Oneirology is what you come to expect of a CL album; powerful deliveries from Deacon and Natti (with some subtle support on the mic from Kno once again) and beautiful, intricate production from Kno. What is somewhat different is the the occasional over production at times on this album. This is definitely a mood album, meaning you will have to be in a certain mood to truly get the full enjoyment out of it. Like the past couple CL albums, this will likely grow on me through out the year and it has. Oneirology is just straight up beautiful music.
1. Has-Lo – In Case I Don’t Make It
First and foremost, Has-Lo’s In Case We Don’t Make It, is my favorite album of the year because I love the album, it’s simply a dark and haunting album. Has-Lo captures life’s struggles, but does it so in a manner that is still straight up dusty and dirty hip hop. The beats sounds like they were made in a grimey basement while Has conjures up vivid images with his lyrics. The songs can be moody, but songs like “Kinetic Energy”, “Build Jewlez” and “Storm Clouds”, cause this effort to shine. Eric and I had the pleasure of hearing this album for about a year before it was finally released, so in some ways this album is like a old friend that I’ve seen grow. It’s just a great album in all it’s dusty and moody beauty.