A look back on hip-hop in 2011
Published: Thursday, February 9, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 9, 2012 23:02
Reviewing the entire year in hip-hop is a task more appropriately tackled by a playlist than a newspaper article. Music is often a conquest of sounds over words, feelings over thoughts and experience over entertainment. Pressing play on a favorite track from February can surround you in a dorm room of your closest friends during a snow day. Replaying your best song from July can take you back to the beach with your summer fling. Your October jam will make you feel like you're sipping on your favorite brew in the Rentschler Field parking lot as you throw the long ball to your best friend. My year in hip-hop really is uniquely mine, and though I can't promise that it'll be remotely similar to yours, I'll do my best to review 2011's best artists and songs. Here goes nothing.
Kid Cudi started off the Grammy calendar year with his November 2010 release, "Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager." Cudi's second album was a pleasant sequel to his debut, but ultimately failed to meet the massive expectations created by his first album.
Christmas came early when Kanye West released the Grammy year's best album, and perhaps the most creative and polished hip-hop album in many, many, years, with "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Flowing from the first to last track with epic production, brutal honesty and stellar guest performances, Kanye's fifth studio album is a future classic.
Harlem rapper Saigon quietly released a debut in February that would have been a classic five years ago with its hard beats and sharp lyrics. Though it sounds a little dated, "The Greatest Story Never Told" is a tight and coherent concept album made excellent though both lyrical brilliance and stellar production.
The year in hip-hop fully took off in the month of March. Lupe Fiasco released his long awaited and highly anticipated third album "Lasers." "The Show Goes On" made the album a smash hit at the cash-registers, but "Lasers" disappointed Lupe-loyalists and was largely a one or two time listen for hip-hop hardcores.
Big K.R.I.T's mix-tape "The Return of 4Eva" single handedly saved the month of March as KRIT's powerful lyrical punches and soulful samples brought the Mississippi rapper/producer widespread praise and a greater presence in mainstream hip-hop.
In April, Wiz Khalifa (who will be at UConn next month) released his commercial debut "Rolling Papers." While "Black and Yellow" blasted in stadiums and club dance floors, tracks like "The Race" satisfied Khalifa's long time fans.
Though it was released in March, Canadian singer The Weeknd's first free album "House of Balloons" had created a strong buzz by April. Regarded as 2011's best album (in any category) by many music critics and publications, including Complex Magazine, "House of Balloons" takes listeners on a surreal, nine-track journey marked by intense music, fresh themes, and incredible vocals.
Another quietly self-released debut came from Def Jam R&B singer Frank Ocean. After three months of relative obscurity, Ocean's mix-tape "Nostalgia, Ultra" was finally recognized and publicized in May by Ocean's label and became popular by mid-spring. "Nostalgia, Ultra", like "House of Balloons" was a heroic attempt to re-invent R&B. Though not as radical or polished as The Weeknd's work, "Nostalgia, Ultra" is definitely fresh.
This past summer was a G.O.O.D. one... Joking aside, Big Sean's "Finally Famous" and Kanye West's collaboration with Jay-Z dominated both the sales charts and iPod playlists. Boosted by the hit single, "My Last" ft. Chris Brown, Sean's debut pleased fans and critics alike. Quirky, fun, and energetic, songs like "Marvin & Chardonnay" ft. Kanye West gave the album a unique tone and feel.
Between two G.O.O.D. Music releases, Kendrick Lamar released "Section.80" on iTunes on July 2. Though quiet on the commercial front, Lamar's lyrics and themes impressed critics and his debut received high praise.
"Watch the Throne" began its reign immediately following its release. The CD slid into thousands of car stereos on Aug. 12 and listeners were instantly charmed by the heavy, aggressive, baseline followed by Frank Ocean's haunting hook and later, Jay-Z's intense flow on "No Church In the Wild." As they say, the rest is history; it took less than two weeks for "Watch the Throne" to sell a million copies.
Fast forward to October, when out of the blue, Sony/RCA records announced they had singed the little known A$AP Rocky to a $3 million dollar contract. Days later, "LiveLoveA$AP," an oddly wonderful mix-tape debut with slow, haunting sounds and delivery reminiscent of Bone Thugs n Harmony appeared on the internet.
In November, Drake released "Take Care," his highly anticipated studio album. Some hated it, some loved it, but any way you look at it, "Take Care" was a commercial success that showcased Drizzy's growing skills as both a rapper and singer.
Common's "The Dreamer/The Believer" and The Roots "undun" closed out the year for rap genre on a positive note with critically acclaimed December releases, while The Weeknd released his third album of the year "Echoes of Silence." The album's first track "D.D." eerily sounds like an unreleased Michael Jackson track. The album, building on "House of Balloons" and August's "Thursday," cemented The Weeknd's place among hip-hop artists as the man with 2011's most impressive resume.
Look back at 2011 with fond musical memories, it was an exciting year. Keep reading, listening and living, but remember to look back every once and while to review, to re-live your best moments through the sounds and songs that alone can evoke them.