I'm getting too old to do these lists. Think this will be the last year. There's something faintly embarrassing about a grown man being so into this juvenile delinquent music. Plus I can't listen to it around my wife or kids. Plus even though I'm not tied to the idea of "lyricism" as the be all and end all of rap, it is kinda depressing how nobody raps about anything these days, or if they do they're tedious backpacker underground rappers that I don't care about. Andre 3K is the only one holding it down. (Though, isn't that just what an old man would say! Back in MY day music was REAL music etc. etc.)
- DJ Khaled ft. Lil Wayne, Rick Ross & Drake - I'm On One
Drake gets on my nerves and Lil Wayne's bringing his C game and Rick Ross is shirtless in the vid (see worst trends below) but despite it all, this track owned summer. Miami New Times broke down the Miami-tastic video. Best bit: the chorus. "All I care about is money and the city that I'm from / I'ma sip it till I feel it I'ma smoke it till it's done / I don't really give a fuck and my excuse is that I'm young / And I'm only getting older, somebody should've told ya / I'm on one..."
- Clams Casino - I'm God (instrumental)
Year of hip hop instrumentals as music in their own right. With Lil B subtracted this is an awesome tune. I listened to the original, by Imogen Heap, "Just For Now." She's basically a new age Tori Amos, with the gimmick of doing everything herself on stage (she loops her own voice in realtime). Talented, but kind of precious and annoying, and did I mention her name is "Imogen Heap" ?! For christ's sake. Anyway I listened to "I'm God" a million times this year and it never got old.
- Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes - Look At Me Now
This and "Otis" were the two best hip hop videos of 2011. Ok there wasn't a lot of competition, but still. This tune only sounds good if you play it on a system with bass. Otherwise it doesn't make sense. I guess that applies to a lot of songs on this list. Interestingly, Diplo coproduced this. Also rapgenius to the rescue, if you're wondering what Lil Wayne's on about when he goes "What's poppin slime? Nothin five." Basically he decided he's a Blood now. Kind of bizarre but you have to admit it sounds good when he says it. BTW in the zip file I included a version of this song where I edited out Busta Rhymes, cos I find him annoying.
- The Weeknd - What You Need / Rolling Stone
Lumping these in even though they're R&B. But close enough. This is what I imagine R&B would sound like if I liked R&B. Youtube commenter: "finally, music for white people to have sex to." But The Weeknd really nailed this mysterious sleazy 3am coke party vibe, like Massive Attack with libidinous lyrics. Dude can sing. Of these two songs, Rolling Stone is the more debatable. (rolling stone = stoned + rolling on ecstasy.) Liska hates it, thinks it's super cheesy. But to me it's a gorgeous and relatable ballad. YMMV. Best bit: "Yeah I know I got my issues why you think I fuckin' flow / But I'ma keep on smoking till I can't hit anottttttther note / But until then... I got you" (cue rapturous glissando or whatever it's called that he's doing)
- Kendrick Lamar - A.D.H.D.
The chorus is annoyingly vulgar, but this tune won me over with its throwback Bone Thugz n Harmony melodicism & spaced out electronic production. (Bone Thugz n Harmony were awesome. Nobody else sounded like them) Best bits: that moment when he starts in with "I hope that I get close enough when the lights turn down," "yup, our president is black," "i'm at a house party trippin off my generation." BTW the video for this song sucks and has nothing to do with the song lyrics.
- Young Jeezy - I Got This (El-P Remix)
The instrumental's pretty good. Off Adult Swim mix tape. (?) El-P is such a great producer. I wish more A-list rappers would hook up w/ his beats.
- Lonely Island - We're Back / Threw It On The Ground
These guys are rap fans through and through and they're hilarious. Their fake rap album(s) are better than most real rap albums. Most of their songs work better with the videos, but the albums have other gems (e.g. We're Back, or from their previous album, "Who Said We're Wack?") Best bit: "This that Garfield sex muzik"
- Kanye West / Jay-Z - Otis / Gotta Have It
Another great video (Otis). That car, wouldn't you love to scrape the ground while sparks fly? Unimpressed with the model chicks in the back though. Watch The Throne was the only actual album I listened to in 2011. I feel like albums don't matter anymore. "Gotta Have It" is nice cos of the trading of vocals, very old school. It is funny how they list Otis as "featuring Otis Redding." To quote Big Ghostface, First off they need to not be actin like Otis Redding is a "featured" artist on this shit. Since when do n****s sample a dude n then call that shit a feature. Son aint even been alive for like 40 years b. Otis Redding is my dude tho...so dont get that shit twisted son. That bein said...this shit still goes nahmean. And then on Gotta Have It: This shit also got The Godfather of Soul's voice all over it...but they aint put "featuring James Brown" on the tracklist for some reason. Guess they missed that one.
- Juicy J - Who Da Neighbors
Best chorus 2011! "My mansion sittin' on 40 acres / Who da neighbors? / Kobe Bryant from the Lakers / Now that's paper" Produced by Lex Luger, the guy who produced "Hard in Da Paint" and is responsible for most of the ponderous thudding beats you hear these days. Oh I also like how Juicy J says "enormonous" instead of "enormous." Enormonous sounds bigger!
- Araabmuzik - Streetz Tonight
Another hip hop instrumental. This guy released a whole album of cheesy trace tunes remixed with hip hop drums and such. It works surprisingly well. BTW he's Hispanic; Araabmuzik is just a nickname to convey how "exotic" his sound is. Would be better if he were actually an Arab.
- Rustie - City Star
Best fake Lex Luger beat. The whole Rustie album is bizarre, I think in a good way-- combo of dubstep and video game music. Maximalist as Simon Reynolds put it. I like how the first thirty seconds of this song sound like endgame music for some JRPG, and then BOOM!
- Big Ghostface Chronicles
This dude (fake Ghostface) so completely nails what you imagine Ghostface would sound like if he blogged. His increasingly over the top insults on soft rappers (90% Drake) really crack me up. Start with: 3rd annual softest n****s in the game. AV club listed their 5 favorite big ghostface insults. I would excerpt it but you really have to read the whole things, they build and build.
- Rap Genius
What did lyrics boffins do before this site existed? Pro tip: search rap lyrics with "rapgenius.com". Skips the bullshit lyrics sites. Particularly good exegesis: Jay-Z stuff, i.e. 99 problems. This site is awesome. A real public service!
WORST OF 2011
- Fat rappers with man boobs going shirtless in their videos.
What is up with this? When did this become ok? Rick Ross is the #1 offender in this category, see his Hard in the Paint freestyle or I'm On One or anything really. But even worse is the video below. You have to watch it, it's so awful that it's hilarious. It's even funnier when you realize the chorus sounds like "I'm just stuck in my jeep." Also Gucci's gun looks like... well judge for yourself.
- Kreayshawn - Gucci Gucci
This actually isn't fair, the video was quite good (great even) and the song is catchy, which is more than most rap achieves. But she is pretty annoying and not nearly as meta as I'd hoped. And she's friends w/ the Odd Future crew and nuts to them. See bands I don't get below
- OFWGKTA. Don't really see the appeal, just a bunch of irritating obnoxious teenagers. Everybody loved Tyler's "Yonkers" and I find it unlistenable. Only good thing is that their song Mellow Hype or whatever became the backdrop for ADHD.
- Lil B. Sorry, no.
- K$sha. You know Andre 3K guested on one of her tracks? WTF moment of the year.
- Das Racist - Relax. They get a pass cos of their first two mixtapes but Relax was kinda weak. It had its moments but just wasn't the same. I still like Himanshu's twitter though. (The only Twitter I subscribe to, besides Kanye West)
CAN'T BE BOTHERED
- Freddy Gibbs
- Donald Glover (that guy from Community, can't remember his rap name. who cares.)
- Bunch of other dudes that, by definition, I can't be bothered to remember
BEST HIP-HOP BOOK
- Jay-Z - Empire State of Mind. In a nutshell explains how Jay-Z got mega rich. Quite fascinating. Read my goodreads review.
ARTICLES OF NOTE
- Slate: Fact checking "Watch the Throne": Can You Really Plank on a Million?
BEST LISTS FROM OTHER PEOPLE
- Cocaine Blunts: Best Rap 2011. In the past I would probably spend the next month or two casually trawling through this discovering things. Now I leave it to the next generation to deal with it.
- LA Weekly: Worst Rap Tracks of 2011. Pretty funny. The whole series of music blogs owned by whatever company owns LA Weekly is pretty good. (They do Miami New Times as well.).
- Best Drake sweaters of 2011. Hahaha poor Drake (aka Wheelchair Jimmy) just can't catch a break. But, he brought this on himself.