Another year has nearly passed by already, which, of course, means another twelve months worth of Hip-Hop releases have been unleashed on the rap world, whether on vinyl, CD or download format.
Whilst some heads will still say that Hip-Hop is in a state of demise, personally, I feel that 2011 has been a good year for the music and artform. Of course, the majority of music championed in the mainstream doesn’t represent the best that Hip-Hop has to offer in the present day, but, as always, if you dig deep enough you’ll find a wide array of beats and rhymes to satisfy your musical hunger.
For the record, the albums and EPs that I’ve included in my five-part “Best-Of…” obviously aren’t the only releases that deserved attention this year, but they are the ones that received the most rotation in my small part of the Hip-Hop universe.
So agree, disagree, or don’t care either way – as Black Sheep once said, the choice is yours.
The Doppelgangaz – “Lone Sharks” (Groggy Pack Entertainment) – Lurking in the shadows of New York state, grimy duo EP and Matter Ov Fact managed to turn leftfield observations of homelessness and alchohol-fuelled dark alley antics into moments of Hip-Hop brilliance on their latest release. The pair’s penchant for unpredictable subject matter and moody, boom-bap production ensured “Lone Sharks” stood-out as one of the most unique and imaginative albums of the last twelve months.
Heavy Metal Kings – “Heavy Metal Kings” (Enemy Soil) – Fresh from the success of his impressive 2010 solo album “Season Of The Assassin”, Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz teamed-up with brother-from-another-mother Ill Bill for this violent, rowdy ride through a world of conspiracy theories, religious imagery, gleeful gunplay and hardcore Hip-Hop. Featuring pounding production from the likes of DJ Muggs and C-Lance, “Heavy Metal Kings” was music to riot to.
Rashad & Confidence – “The Element Of Surprise” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – The perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, NY emcee Rashad’s chance online encounter with Boston-based producer Confidence led to the recording of this fine slice of true-school Hip-Hop with a new-school twist. Drawing inspiration from the jazzy, dusty-fingered soundscapes of 90s greats such as Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Gang Starr, “The Element Of Surprise” avoided simply retreading old ground thanks to Confidence’s undeniable production prowess and Rashad’s heartfelt rhymes. Word to Lord Finesse!
People Under The Stairs – “Highlighter” (Piecelock 70) – Almost fifteen years after their debut release, West Coast duo Thes One and Double K dropped their eighth album on the rap world, this time around mixing live instrumentation with their lyrical b-boy antics. Proving that it is possible to mature gracefully as a Hip-Hop act, “Highlighter” found the Cali homies presenting listeners with a more sophisticated and refined sound without losing any of that fun-loving PUTS spirit in the process.
Pharoahe Monch – “W.A.R.” (Duck Down) – With only three solo album releases in the last twelve years, former Organized Konfusion member Pharoahe Monch is the epitome of quality over quantity. The latest effort from the Queens, NY native contained Monch’s usual high-standard of lyrical gymnastics that touched on socio-political themes as well as rap dominance, plus a handful of choice collaborations with the likes of Styles P, Jill Scott and Royce Da 5’9.
Apathy – “Honkey Kong” (Dirty Version) – Demigodz general Apathy’s career has been full of ups-and-downs over the years in terms of label dramas and underground politics. Yet thankfully, Ap has always been able to channel his frustrations with the rap game into potent doses of raw, intelligent Hip-Hop. “Honkey Kong” found the gifted Connecticut emcee dealing with the financial instability of subterranean rap life, commenting on the fragile relationship between fan and artist, and giving props to his hometown, all via verses full of wit, passion and a genuine respect for his craft.
Styly Cee & Cappo – “The Fallout” (Son Records) – The two Nottingham natives joined forces on this action-packed collection of high-octane tracks that effortlessly bridged the gap between old-school and now-school with Styly’s hardcore Zulu beats crashing beautifully into Cappo’s spectacular multi-layered wordplay. Notts rocks the house, once again.
Oddisee – “Rock Creek Park” (Mello Music Group) – Inspired by the same Washington park made famous in the 70s by The Blackbyrds, Oddisee’s epic instrumental project captured a variety of moods from the water-calm mellow to the sun-splashed funky. The D.C. resident has spent recent years solidifying his reputation as a talented Hip-Hop beatsmith, but with this project he proved himself not only as a great producer, but also as a gifted musician with universal appeal.
Celph-Titled & Buckwild – “Nineteen Ninety More” (No Sleep Recordings) – Obviously not content with verbally obliterating a quality selection of vintage Buckwild beats on last year’s “Nineteen Ninety Now” album, Demigodz punchline king Celph-Titled dug a little deeper in the D.I.T.C. producer’s basement crates for this further collection of back-to-the-future beats and rhymes.
Elzhi & Will Sessions – “ELmatic” (Jae. B Group) – A year ago, the idea of an artist remaking Nas’s rap milestone “Illmatic” would have been viewed by many as Hip-Hop blasphemy. Yet former Slum Village member Elzhi rose to the challenge and put a Detroit spin on classics usually associated with an NY state of mind. Credit for the success of this ambitious project also has to be given to the Will Sessions band, who perfectly captured the brilliance of tracks originally crafted by the likes of Pete Rock and DJ Premier. But it was Elzhi’s personal rhymes and clever wordplay that elevated “ELmatic” above being viewed simply a tribute project.
Part Two coming soon.