Ambrosia For Heads’ 2011 Best Hip-Hop Albums/Mixtapes of the Year: Here’s a look at our picks for the best of the best in 2011. You’ll find words on each as well as samples of the music. Tell us your picks for 2011.
It’s that time of year again, when you’re hit with a ton of year end, best of lists. We’re going to keep it simple. We have 2 lists: best hip-hop albums/mixtapes of the year and songs of the year. First up, here are our picks for the best hip-hop albums/mixtapes of the year (in no particular order). For each album/mixtape, we’ve also included a couple of songs to give you a taste of its sonic texture. You can click on each album/mixtape title to buy/downlad each one. Hit us back with your favorite albums/mixtapes of the year.
Kendrick Lamar – Section.80: This was hands down our favorite album of the year. Kendrick Lamar had a break out year with this concept album that paints a master portrait of what has become of the generation born in the 80’s–the era of crack, gang wars, HIV/AIDS and Reaganomics. There is not one song on the album that requires a skip. That’s unheard of these days. The tracks are lush and often brooding and Kendrick’s storytelling and word play are on a different level. If Section.80 is any indication, Kendrick is poised to be one of the greats.
Poe Man’s Dreams
Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva – Big K.R.I.T.’s follow up to K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was highly anticipated and lived up to that album and then some. Return of 4eva had songs for the club (Country Ish remix), songs for the soul (Dreamin’ and The Vent) and everything in between. No matter the subject matter, K.R.I.T. always kicks songs of substance, southern style, following in the footsteps of his forefathers like Outkast and Scarface. Many were disappointed that his official “album” didn’t drop in 2011, but Return of 4Eva was definitely OFFICIAL.
Made A Lot
Common – The Dreamer, The Believer — Common is unquestionably a legend. And, after nearly 20 years in the game he re-teamed with producer No I.D. to make some of the best music of his storied career. The Dreamer, The Believer is another album that can be played from front to back without touching the skip button. From his street records (Ghetto Dreams featuring Nas and So Sweet) to his aspirational records (Blue Sky, The Dreamer, The Believer and The Cloth), Common is truly one who walks with crowds and talks with kings equally comfortably. This album will take its place next to Like Water for Chocolate and Be as one of his best.
Drake – Take Care — Say what you want about Drake: He’s too soft, he sings too much, blah blah blah. Reality is Drake is REALER than 95% of the MCs out there. Dude is not talking about slinging drugs and killing people because that’s not his life (nor is it the life of most rappers–real Gs actually do move in silence…). Drake talks about relationship troubles, family issues and trying to live life to the fullest. What’s realer than that?? Beyond the substance of his lyrics, with Take Care, he put together an album that is an incredible aural experience. It’s filled with engaging melodies, complex chords and music for your mental. There was not a trace of the sophomore slump with this album. There’s a lot of hate on mainstream rap…but some of it’s popular for one simple reason: it’s good music.
Look What You’ve Done
Curren$y – Weekend At Burnie’s — As the title of Curren$y’s album suggests, he often has a singular focus: the medicinal. Despite the uniformity of the subject matter, he keeps it fresh with his clever wordplay and offbeat flow which is always in the pocket. He also has an ear for some of the most soulful tracks in the business. Weekend At Burnie’s is another album to press play and let it ride.
This is the Life
Elzhi – ElMatic — What ElzHi did with ElMatic could have easily been blasphemy. He attempted to remake Nas’ Illmatic, one of the best albums in hip-hop history. Who does that??? The expectations alone would be enough to kill any hopes of producing something most heads would like or respect. Yet, against all odds, ElzHi did the unthinkable: he made another classic album. It’s bananas on a few levels. First, ElzHi matched Nas’ flow on each song, nearly syllable for syllable. Crazy. Next, he opened up the classic tracks on Illmatic by having them re-played with a live band, instead of using samples. The result is the tracks stayed faithful to the originals but added crispness and even more boom bap. Salute to ElzHi for having the stones to tackle this and the skills to pull it off.
Detroit State of Mind
Murs – Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation — Murs is another legend who has been in the game for a minute. Like Common, 2011 also brought one of Murs’ best albums to date and the entire project was produced with one producer (Ski Beatz, in Murs’ case). He created a new hip-hop anthem with Hip-Hop & Love and told several vivid stories (67 Cutlass, Animal Style, Eazy-E). He also took on subjects typically taboo in hip-hop, like same sex relationships. Murs continues to march to the beat of his own drum and we march with him.
Hip-Hop & Love
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne — Did this album live up to the hype? Probably not. That would have made it one of the best albums EVER. Hov and Yeezy made this album not for clubs and not for the radio, but strictly for their love of music. In doing so, they created one of the more challenging albums of the year (No Church in the Wild sets the tone and the album never lets up), complete with dub step breaks and haunting melodies. They talk about fatherhood, Soctrates, and the lack of Black faces in the 1%. Not your average raps. Not your average rappers. Despite it all, they managed to still make one of the biggest club records of the year (N*ggas in Paris) and again expanded the hip-hop lexicon. That shit Kray.
No Church in the Wild
N*ggas in Paris
Murder to Excellence
The Roots – undun — undun was not the best Roots album…but it was probably their most daring. Like Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, undun is a concept album about the ills that face this generation of twenty-somethings. Their album starts with an untimely death and works its way back trying to make sense of it all. Despite the nihilistic topic of the album, after listening to it, one can’t help but think undun is the beginning of a new chapter for The Legendary Roots Crew.
Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told: This album was literally nearly 10 years in the making and, despite the extended process, it was worth the wait. Saigon has never gotten his proper credit as a street philosopher. Rather than glorify his time in prison or the lifestyle that got him there, Saigon weaves tales of fighting through the daily struggle to find a better way. Those are stories worth telling.
The Greatest Story Never Told
J. Cole: The Sideline Story: It would be an understatement to say J. Cole had the most anticipated debut of the year. After dropping 2 legendary mixtapes (The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights) and carrying the distinction of being Jay-Z’s first signee to Roc Nation, Young Simba had the world on his shoulders. Amidst all the pressure, he delivered a solid album. Was it as good as The Warm Up or Friday Night Lights? Most fans of those mixtapes likely would say no. There was a hunger in J. Cole’s voice that was not as ever present on The Sideline Story. The album, however, had a lot of range (from the party of Can’t Get Enough to the pain of Lost Ones) and, like Drake, J. Cole stayed true to who he was (not who we wanted him to be). Those are the kinds of ingredients that when combined with just the right heat will produce a masterpiece in the future. Still, J. Cole’s good enough was better than most MCs’ best in 2011.
Stalley – Lincoln Way Nights — Before signing to Maybach Music Group, Stalley dropped a full album in the beginning of 2011. That album, Lincoln Way Nights, created a whole new lane for hip-hop: intelligent trunk music. The music is soulful with deep bass lines and bold horns and Stalley spits wisdom for the streets and beyond like a new age revolutionary. With his recent signing to Maybach Music Group, Stalley is poised to have one of the most anticipated major label debuts of 2012. If that album is anywhere close to being as good as Lincoln Way Nights, Stalley will be on this list again next year.
Evidence – Cats & Dogs: Evidence, of the mighty Dilated Peoples, dropped his second solo album in 2011 and it was STRONG. Though he is one of the illest producers around, he didn’t monopolize the boards. DJ Premier laced him with a dope track (You), and The Alchemist, Statik Selektah and others also got in on the action. The end result was a cohesive, soulful body of work that firmly established Evidence as a dope solo artist (not to worry, Dilated Fans–another Dilated Peoples project is already in the works).
The Red Carpet