This year has been yet another massive one for music. It has progressed, digressed, matured, and been revolutionized. With major releases from many top flight artists as well as a good amount of underground artists. That is not necessarily a term I like to toss around lightly but its really the only way to put it for this situation. Music never stops, and thats what I love about it.
Generally, peoples musical taste is solely generated off of what they hear on the bullish*t radio and see on MTV. Hopefully this list of in my opinion the past years best records will persuade to delve deeper into what the wide world of music has to offer and explore something new. This list displays the immense diversity in my musical tastes more so than anything else could. Knowing that, I’d also like you to be aware of how difficult it was for me to condense and rank my “top” albums into a list of 20. Music gives us so much incredible artistry and culture year in and year out, making this ever more tasking. Either way, I hope you all enjoy my take on the best albums of 2011. Cheers.
20. The Beastie Boys ~ Hot Sauce Committee Part II
Not much need be said about this inclusion. This is the Beastie Boys nearly unparalleled eighth studio album, and they haven’t skipped a beat. The process of actually getting this album to the public actually took two years, due to Adam’s struggle with cancer. But once they got that out of the way, they got back to doing what they do best, making hit records. This features lots of really interesting samples as well as an intriguing feature from Santogold. Fans of the old Beasties rejoice!
19. Adele ~ 21
Anyone with a soul and a working set of ears fucks with Adele, so don’t try and deny it. We know you experienced that awkward moment when you are pumping “Someone Like You” in the whip and you cruise by the cute girl with your window down. Luckily she loves Adele too so its all gravy. Either way, this was a spectacular follow-up effort to her previous release, 19. Adele breaks the mold in every way possible. Lyrically, she is on another echelon, and she could give a rats ass what you think about her. With hits like “Rolling in the Deep” & “Set Fire to the Rain”, this sophomore effort produced by the legendary Rick Rubin is a must-have.
18. Tyler The Creator ~ Goblin
Having experienced everything OFWGKTA brings to the table at their live show at Sonar in downtown Baltimore about a month ago, I can honestly say that these kids are clinically insane. But thats why I love them. Tyler dropped his second studio album in 2011 and it existentially skyrocketed him to fame along with the hit single “Yonkers”. His perverse, raw lyrics over top of his gritty, homemade beats almost forces you to sit down and listen. Tyler and the Wolf Gang are no doubt a force to be reckoned with for the future.
17. Childish Gambino ~ Camp
Donald Glover may very well be one of the most diversely talented men in showbiz today. Between stand-up, a hit show on NBC in Community, writing for 30 Rock, and living the life of his alter-ego Childish Gambino, when does this dude sleep? Thats not really important, because the guy had time to make yet another quality piece of work with Camp. Those who are fans of his previous works like Culdesac and his EP will absolutely love his new record. Its the same ol’ Donald up to the same shenanigans, only now he’s signed to Glassnote.
16. Lil Wayne ~ The Carter IV
Wayne finally had some time on his hands to write some quality material. Unfortunately this quality time was spent behind bars. But in true YMCMB fashion, Weezy took his stint in stride and dropped CIV this past August. After pushing back the release date a few times, as seems to always be the case in hip-hop, it leaked. Despite the leak, it still sold 300,000 digital copies in four days, breaking Hove & Ye’s record set weeks before with an album that is slated to appear further down the list. It has a couple bangers per usual, but I honestly felt semi-disappointed. He could have done a lot more in my mind. But here’s to hoping CV is serious as shit.
15. Lupe Fiasco ~ Lasers
Lupe is another legend that makes the cut this year. Though I will admit, I thought with Lasers Lupe did go a little bit commercial. More than likely to please the blood-sucking, big brother record label he’s under. Luckily, the Chi-town representer is one of the best lyricists in the biz. He is one of the few artists in the game today who could take his “radio friendly” album and still massacre nearly every bar, and still maintain his usual substance. Lupe is still one of the best the game has to offer, and this album reaffirms that. Granted, it’s not Food & Liquor, but lets be honest here, he may never top that.
14. Das Racist ~ Relax
Time to be open minded again, and believe me it won’t be the last time on this list. Das Racist are easily the most diverse collective hip-hop has ever seen. They are unconventional, experimental, groundbreaking, and refreshing. Each one of the three artists that make up the trio have their own distinct style, and they play off one another immaculately. Relax is the first legit commercial drop from these guys, so keep your ears open for more. Oh and go download their music.
13. The Roots ~ Undun
The Roots are classic. They make classics. And they did it again with Undun. They have always set the bar in terms of intelligent, comprehensive, progressive hip-hop. This is their eleventh studio album, and the first concept album they have ever done. The fact that they are still accomplishing new feats in music enamors me. It follows around Redford Stevens, a fictional character, and makes for quite the listen. It seems as if at this point The Roots can’t lose. Legends in their own right.
12. Wale ~ Ambition
I loved pre-MMG Wale. I saw that Wale twice in concert. this past year and a half or so has really been a big transition period for him. Joining forces with Ricky Rozay really had a drastic influence on his style as an artist. Where as Wale is more of a street poet, the pairing of him with the likes of The Boss, Meek Mill, Stalley did not seem like the right fit for the D.C. artist. But as all good artists but do, he adjusted, and continued to do what he does best, and that is spit poetic, wordplay riddled rap. The sports references, cheeky puns, and clever rhyme schemes are what make Wale who he is, and its good to see him get back to that in some way on Ambition. Oh and getting Diplo on a track doesn’t hurt either.
11. Florence & The Machine ~ Ceremonials
Here’s another one of the curveballs. Ever since Drake’s first tour, I’ve been hearing about Florence and her damn machine. Well a few months ago I decided to dive in head first and see what it was all about. I suggest you do the same thing. I was mesmerized immediately and enamored by the powerful, yet subtle music. They are extremely moving in the way Coldplay is, they also have the capability to get your heart beating instantaneously. This British Indie soul rock collective is another mold-breaker, smashing barriers and making a name for themselves.
10. The Black Keys ~ El Camino
I was born and raised on Classic Rock, and it still remains in my opinion one of the true renaissances in music. Artists like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and The Doors made music what it is today. Being a Hip-Hop Head at heart, that is my true love. But the music from those days is incomparable. The Black Keys are the first “new” band to come close to recreating the type of music those legends were making. It is a soulful, blues-driven rock and roll, that still maintains the groove factor. Nowadays where many people feel as if true Rock has died, it is bands like The Black Keys that keep it on life support. They are also immensely versatile, and it shows in this album with good transitions and a very fluent vibe. It is Rock and Roll Americana in its purest form.
9. Bon Iver ~ Bon Iver
Bon Iver is different. Like a couple of the artist on this list (see #2, 4, 11, 14), his sound is extremely unique. I know when you see this type of record on the same list as Drake, The Throne, Coldplay, & Wayne you would tend to look over the lesser known artists. Bon Iver is soothing, soulful, and real. It really is an intimate, interpersonal glimpse into the artist, Justin Vernon. This is beautiful music at its pinnacle. If there is any one artist/album on this list I would most encourage you to give a try, it would definitely be this one. Trust me.
8. Coldplay ~ Mylo Xyloto
I always preach that the first (and only) time I saw Coldplay live in Washington, D.C. was more of a religious experience than a concert. But that is only because it truly was. You know you are an incredible group when your songs are powerful enough to move people to tears. Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto is yet another triumphant masterpiece from the boys from across the pond, and the world agreed. It debuted at #1 in seventeen countries worldwide. It is ironically enough a concept album through which we hear the story of two oppressed souls in a futurists dystopia. Rumor has it is even loosely based on Baltimore backdropped HBO drama The Wire. Anyway, its an incredible album as anticipated. I haven’t come to expect anything less from Coldplay. C’est magnifique.
7. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia.ultra
Over the past two years I have become immensely infatuated with Odd Future. With major releases from Mellowhype with Blackened White & Tyler dropping Goblin, it was pretty difficult to grab why spotlight within their own clique. But new-age, soulful crooner Frank Ocean undoubtedly sets himself about the rest with his debut effort Nostalgia.ultra. Dude is one of the very select few artists that had features on Watch The Throne with the likes of Beyonce & Sir Otis Redding. Stylistically Frank sounds very soulful and bluesy. His voice over the “Strawberry Swing” sample is unreal, the fact that he renaissances “Hotel California” in “American Wedding” is ingenious, and he tackles the ever-difficult MGMT beat. Frank Ocean is the best artist OF has.
6. J. Cole – Cold World: The Sideline Story
The top 10 was where the list got difficult, but the top 5 was ever more so. Strictly based on lyricism alone, Cole could have easily grabbed the top spot. He put out a compilation of some of the realest hip-hop to hit the streets in years with The Sideline Story. Under the tutelage of King Hove, its impossible to lose. But when you mix Jay’s resources with the promising talent of a young artist like J. Cole, it makes for a lethal combination. Not necessarily a “radio record” but this record is where its at for the simple fact that nobody is saying what he is right now. Cerebrally, lyrically, poetically, and stylistically the Carolina kid is on another level, and his debut album undoubtedly showcases that.
5. The Weeknd – House of Balloons / Thursday
If you’ve been listening to music in 2011, then you must likely have heard The Weeknd, whether you know it or not. He co-wrote five tracks on Take Care, produced ‘Shake It Out’ by Florence & The Machine, and even did production work on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Ever since he popped out of the woodwork earlier this year with the release of Thursday, Ethiopian Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye has been taking the game by storm. With his trippy, drug induced verses and even more spectacular instrumentals, the XO part of OVOXO is gonna be one of the most exciting artists to watch in 2011 after his explosion onto the scene. Nowadays, it seems like a co-sign from Drake is all you need, but dude is taking it in stride and running right past fellow his fellow Canadian.
4. Drake – Take Care
It was immensely difficult for me to have this album SO far down on this list. Because truthfully, this may be my favorite album released this year. But I put the drops ahead of this that I did because they brought something new to the game. Something never heard before, that is both vibrant, and refreshing. Now, I’m not saying Take Care wasn’t any of those things. Its just, it was a Drake CD. We know Drizzy, its seeing him grow and become more versatile thats compelling. For me the genius in this record is in the production value. Just Blaze, 40, The Weeknd, and company are what sets this project apart. The instrumentals are often entrancing, and you find yourself getting lost in the music. It has been really captivating watching the Toronto rapper mature from underground backpack rapper to globetrotting, award-winning emcee. He’s only going to continue to morph and improve as an artist, this is only the beginning for Drake.
3. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
I can almost guarantee that prior to about 3 seconds ago you had never heard of Shabazz Palaces…ever. But thats alright, thats what I am here for. I can also guarantee that you probably think I’m high to have even thought about putting this before Take Care. But its another one of those groups you have to experience. This Seattle collective are incomparably unique, and they produce a futuristic sound unlike anyone you’ve heard before. Combining unparalleled instrumentals and production value with gritty bars is their forté. They have the most indescribable blend of tribal beats and futuristic vibes featuring serious bars. Black Up is their debut album and it is already receiving immense praise from critics and bloggers alike. This is definitely a group worth latching on to for the future. The majority of their work is available from their website for free download as well, so now there’s no excuse for not peeping it.
2. Kendrick Lamar – Section.80
There is no doubt in my mind that “Compton’s Most Wanted” murked every square inch of Section.80. That is why it sits so high up on this illustrious list. Kendrick has brought something to the game that has not been seen since the days of Pac, and that is the essence of a true storyteller. He tells the tale of a distraught youth while rapping with such conviction and gusto it is unreal. There are few instances where an album is dropped and upon listening to it straight through, you know it won’t be topped. This was one of those albums. If you haven’t heard it yet, I suggest you do so. Because despite its position, Kendrick had arguably the years best album. It originally sat in the #1 spot, but I couldn’t deny WTT.
1. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
Since its release, I can honestly say that WTT has been close to on constant repeat everywhere I go. It is one of the few albums that you can enjoy from beginning to end without having to bother even skipping a song. So good, the day tickets for the WTT tour went on sale I snagged one up. Aside from my aforementioned Coldplay epiphany if you will, this was the greatest concert I’ve ever been to. Their charisma and camaraderie are unlike any I’ve seen before, and it really shows in the album. They swag harder than anyone on the planet, and nobody is doing what these two are doing right now. This made it impossible for me not to throw The Throne’s first collaborative effort in the #1 spot. Either way, with solo LPs on the way in 2012 from Hove and Ye, as well as another “Throne” record in the works, next year could prove to be just as stellar for two of the most powerful men in music today. They’re definitely in their zone.