Monday, January 02, 2012

Top 10 Of 2011

As the year comes to a close and I take a look back at all the releases that dropped in 2011 I have to say that it’s probably been the best year for hip hop albums since 2003. The productivity machines such as Tech N9ne and K Rino have lived up to expectations by dropping quality product, but it also was a year that saw long awaited solos drop from the likes of Lyrical Commission’s Trem and the debut solo from local Adelaide talent Prime. The only downside (and it’s a stretch to even call it that) is having to come up with a top 10 for 2011, so before I start here are some regretful omissions:

Yelawolf Radio Active
Tech N9ne Collabos Welcome To Strangeland
Thirstin Howl III
Natural Born Skiller
Immortal Techniqu
e The Martyr
Jay Rock Follow Me Home
Drapht The Life Of Riley
Apathy Honkey Kong
SimplexAudio Biography
KB Da KidnappaArmy Of One
The Funkoars The Quickening

#10: Lil’ Wayne – The Carter IV

So Weezy F Baby makes it into my top 10, some of you would probably think I’ve lost my mind but I can’t help but love this guy. I was never a big Hot Boys (or Ca$h Money in general) fan but I have always thought that The Carter II was a solid release, and while III had some good tracks it let me down. The Carter IV has some wack shit on it, don’t get me wrong (How To Love above all others), but it also had enough quality on it to make me purchase it within a week of downloading it. I can see why Wayne isn’t everyone’s favourite rapper, but the guy has some killer lyrics that only work thanks to his unique delivery. Numerous stand out tracks can be found on this album but It’s Good, Mirror, John and President Carter take the cake. I have to note though - if the Intro, Intermission and Outro were released as one long track as it was originally planned then it would have been my track of the year (or close to it) thanks to top notch verses by Tech N9ne, Bun B and Nas and I reckon it just turned out disjointed the way they chopped them up. All in all a far from perfect release but one that has a lot of replay value none the less.

#9: Reef The Lost Cauze – Your Favorite MC

A mainstay of Philadelphia’s underground scene, Army of The Pharaohs and JuJu Mob’s Reef The Lost Cauze teamed up with German producers Snowgoons in 2011 to drop what I feel confident in calling his strongest solo album yet. After Vinnie Paz, Reef has long been my second favourite AOTP member and on this album he shows exactly why – he can pull off street shit, pull out the braggadocio bars and most impressively get the listener to reflect on their beliefs while being entertained by Reef’s own life. The highlight of this album comes with the penultimate track, 100 Rhyme Books, which is an open letter to his son speaking on a whole spectrum of issues such as race, relationships and religion. The album closes out with another memorable addition, Fuck Rappers (Remix) which features a great verse from La Coka Nostra’s Slaine, as well as FT and some comical bars from the Chicken Man. If you’re into that Snowgoons sound you’ll love this album as they’re also at the top of their production game.

#8: WC - Revenge Of The Barracuda

This is one of those albums that show that it’s definitely all about quality over quantity. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a bit of a let down to only have a dozen new joints to enjoy, but they’re all at that standard that we’ve come to expect from the Low Profile, WC & The Maad Circle and Westside Connection legend. Another release on Ice Cube’s Lench Mob imprint, William Calhoun makes it clear that he can still hold his own with the best of them. With banging West Coast production from the likes of Hallway Productionz, Fredwreck, Jah Zilla and Trick Trick, WC drops verse after verse with his trademark dominant delivery that has made him an icon. Nothing on this album is groundbreaking or even out of the realms of what you’d expect from him, but that’s not a complaint, the dude does what he does well so he’s stuck to a formula that works for him. Cutting up Eazy E samples on the keeping real anthem100% Legit makes for an album highlight, as does Reality Show where he seamlessly namedrops a bunch of TV shows into his rhymes.

#7: Lupe Fiasco – L.A.S.E.R.S.

It’s rare to find an artist with such meaningful music making such a successful impact on the mainstream, but Lupe manages it whilst upholding his artistic integrity. His music is to me like an episode of The Simpsons, it can be appreciated by so many different people on different levels. A lot of people seem to have been let down by this album in comparison to his previous efforts, but to me, this is my favourite Lupe album to date. With the incredible Skylar Grey on the hook, Words I Never Said is the track that best sums up Lupe’s qualities. Here’s a track that a bunch of teenage girls enjoy, but at the same time the lyrics are profound and controversial reflections of the world in this day and age. I also love the irony of State Run Radio being enjoyed by so many mindless sheep when the track addresses the stations that sort of demographic listen to religiously. I hate the garbage the radio usually plays with a passion, so to be able to listen to a track like The Show Goes On while lining up to order my lunch at Subway was a breath of fresh air.

#6: Slaine – A World With No Skies 2.0

This Suburban Noize release by La Coka Nostra and Special Teamz emcee Slaine had to make it into the Top 10, but I found it really hard to decide where. If it was officially released in its original form (the version that leaked) then it would have been a few spots higher. However, on the merit of this release itself it probably could even be a couple of spots lower – so with that in mind, I balanced it out and put it in between. Really disappointed that some of the best tracks were left off of the official release, but to be fair there are a couple of memorable additions like when Slaine teams up with Son of Skam for the junkie diss Zombie and the quality personal reflection Jumpin' Out The Window with Edo G and Cyrus Deshield. To me, Slaine is definitely one of the top rappers of the current era as he combines quality (and often meaningful) rhymes with a unique delivery that is unmistakably Bostonian. Through his acting roles in Gone Baby Gone and The Town (both movies featuring Slaine’s music on the soundtracks) he has opened himself up to a wider audience and with a new LCN album set to be released soon we’ll surely be hearing a lot more from the aggressive Irish-American in 2012.

#5: Tech N9ne – All 6’s and 7’s

The one with the name of a gun has been one of my top 5 rappers for a long time now and in the past couple of years his fan base has multiplied tenfold thanks to a productivity level and work ethic unmatched by anyone else in the game. A personal highlight of mine on this album comes with Am I A Psycho? which sees the K.C. King team up with B.o.B. and the hugely talented Cali native Hopsin to create a memorable piece of demented music. The Michael ‘Seven’ Summers produced single He's a Mental Giant is another standout that allows Tech no confront his narcissistic personality with the sort of arrogance that so few can pull off without seeming like a total dickhead. Tecca Nina also draws on his more intimate side with Mama Nem, a profound dedication to his dying mother and all the other women who played influential roles in his life. The biggest disappointment for me is that that 6 bonus tracks on the Best Buy and iTunes editions are up there with the best on the album, and would have been better utilised in replacing tracks like the mediocre I Love Music and Overtime on the official track listing. As much as I love Tech’s music, in recent years the marketing gimmicks put forward by Strange Music are becoming increasingly annoying and detracting from the top draw product they’re pushing. With all that said, Tech N9ne is still one of the best rappers of all time and his product deserves to be achieving the great sales the recent times have rewarded him with.

#4: Prime – Good Morning

Hailing from the south of Adelaide, Prime made a name for himself in the local scene by honing his skills on the battle circuit. However, unlike many other battle rappers, Prime utilised the reputation he has earned and built on it as a recording artist. Having already released the 007 and 2010 mixtapes and the much successful One Way Ticket album as a member of the collective Pagen Elypsis, 2011 saw Prime turn his attention to putting out his solo project. Renowned for his punch lines and word play as a part of PE, the solo platform allows Prime to draw on the more personal aspects of his life in his music. This increase in the personal lyrics is never more evident than on the final verse of Pour It On A Page or the brutally honest self-reflection One Click. Those who got a hold of this release hoping for some ferocious punch lines would have hitting the repeat button instantly at the end of Three Men (Ft Purpose and Raven) and anyone like myself who appreciates a good story track would agree that Heaven & Hell is another of the album’s many stand outs. While Good Morning probably won’t make much noise beyond Australia’s shores, it is a release that affirms that Prime is one of our country's most talented eminent talents and a name to follow closely in the months and years to come. Oh and I forgot to mention, you can download this album for free > HERE <

#3: K Rino – Alien Baby/ The Day Of The Storm

A year hasn’t passed in recent memory where K Rino has failed to drop a release, or numerous releases for that matter. 2011 was another busy year in the career of the South Park Coalition’s leader and founder. Now, usually I would give K Rino two places in this Top 10 but as so many impressive albums came out I thought I’d cheat and place them in the same spot, also owing to the fact that I can’t decided which album I think is better. When you buy a Rino album you know what you are going to expect, there are never any major surprises. You’ll get a few lyrically advanced onslaughts ala his Flow Sessions. He will school you on political corruption and historical inaccuracies with educational efforts like Lifting The Veil and Let It Burn. You will be reassessing your life and daily actions thanks to tracks like The Fallen King, M.O.A.N. (Missed Opportunities And Negligence), Universal Author & Don’t Leave Me. Then there’s always those songs with creative concepts such as Who Is This (a tale of infidelity) and Indentity Theft. So to summarise, K Rino has a formula that he always sticks with, and as the quality is always top notch you’ll never hear me or any of his fans complaining. Another memorable year for the man who I think is the greatest rapper of all time.

#2: Brotha Lynch Hung – The Coathanga Strangla

There are very few rappers who have been holding it down for as many years as Sacramento’s Brotha Lynch Hung, and even fewer who have maintained the same level of quality as the years have passed by. Now signed to Strange Music, 2011 was the year when the cannibal rapper dropped the second instalment of his sick and twisted trilogy. Backing up from the first album on the Kansas City based rap label (Dinner and A Movie) was never going to be an easy task as it achieved cult like status amongst his hoard of fans across the globe. However, to Lynch’s credit, he came back and bettered the previous effort, all this a midst rumours he was going to be dropped from Strange due to differences with Tech N9ne. The Coathanga Strangla is not everyone’s (colostomy) bag. It is one of those albums I think is a masterpiece yet I get why others fail to see the brilliance in it. The Sac Town rapper’s rhyme style is unique, so much so that you could be forgiven for mistaking his lyrics for the psychotic ramblings of a nutcase in a mental asylum. But that’s what this trilogy (and much of his career) is all about - getting inside the mind of a psychopathic character Lynch has created (closely based on himself) and rapping about his day to day life. The production on this release is also deserving of a mention – beats by Michael "Seven" Summers and Phonk Beta create the perfect ambience for this audio journey. Like I said, not for everyone, but I’m sure there’s a few people out there who will hail this as a classic in years to come.

#1: Trem One – For The Term Of His Natural Life

Although it was hard to select placings for this Top 10 list, I never had any doubt about what album would be sitting at the top of the pile. Twenty years on the mic has allowed Trem to hone his skills before unleashing this debut on the world. While many whinged about the constant delay, few now begrudge having to wait. The Melbourne rap mainstay is the epitome of a rapper’s rapper and For The Term Of His Natural Life is a HIP HOPalbum. I am not one of those people stuck thinking that the only good hip hop came out in a certain ‘golden’ era, and I’m not a person who thinks hip hop music needs to fit a certain set of regulations – but when an album comes along and just exemplifies everything the culture has represented from its inception I can’t help but feeling a sense of nostalgia for a period that I was never even able to experience myself. The subject matter on this release is mostly relating to hip hop culture, with a notable exception being Animal Kingdom, a chilling ode to the darker side of Melbourne that had an equally amazing accompanying music video. For the most part, on this album Trem uses his wisdom to rap about a range of aspects of hip hop culture in a matter-of-fact way only made authentic by a been-there done-that stalwart of the scene such as himself. With a graffiti writers anthem Hard Yards, a bitter reflection (Omega Man) on the negative changes hip hop has made and Strips (a tale about rap groupies) Trem addresses all aspects of the culture. Trem is anything but a mixed bag. Track after track this album follows in the same vein as the track that it was preceded by. I usually appreciate (and even desire) a varying range of styled tracks on an album, but Trem doesn’t need it. Trem represents the old school. A generation jaded with the direction hip hop has headed. While I personally think the music is alive and well, I still agree with the majority of things Trem has to say and think that while a market flooded with rap albums about rap would be boring, this album says everything that needs to be said, and Trem does so in a way that is second to none on a worldwide scale.