The Top 20 Rap Songs Of 2011

Written by The Rap Up. Posted in Lists, Spotlight, TRU Brain Trust

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Published on December 29, 2011 with 3 Comments

2011 was a year with many faces in this world of rap. We saw emo-rap rise to prominence like never before while the man partly responsible for paving it’s way towards the mainstream dived headfirst into decadent opulence, recording an album in a castle with Jay-Z. We heard a welcome resurgence of politically themed rap in these times of worldwide mass citizen protests from Tahrir square to Wall Street, while Rick Ross kept riding on top of the charts fabricating joyful fantasies of gangster life with reckless abandon. Synths blared through radio speakers but the art of sample digging remained a staple of rap production, and all in all it’d be safe to say that there was plenty dope rap this year. The Brain Trust gathered once again to present you the top 20 joints we’ll remember 2011 by.

20. Cold Rain – Talib Kweli

Mr. Greene was clearly not happy with not only the state of hip-hop, but also the state of our society and the world at large when he recorded this joint. Rather than just air out a list of complaints, Kweli offers comfort food for those hungering for better days and times. Of course, he keeps his political consciousness and lyrical excellence intact, calling out those who do wrong and serving up truth for the “trappers, other rappers, and backpackers,” among others. Kweli’s enlightening rhymes are backed by upbeat production and a gospel-like chorus. Cold rain never felt so good. — Aaron

19. Ricky – Game

Shame that he only makes one of these every three years because “Ricky” is Game boiled down to his essence. It’s a brisk walk through Compton, the anti-“Today Was a Good Day.” And unlike past records, Game is not name-dropping for kicks. The references are all part of his history, both personal and professional. “Blood of a slave, heart of a giant” is a hat tip to his idol Nas. He’s in a Stillmatic state of mind. “I’m from where niggas get murdered over stock rims, and punched in the jaw just for a cocked brim” is a nod to his other idol Jay-Z nodding to his own hood on “Where I’m From.” “Shot myself like Plaxico” is double entendre.” “With a tre-pound, forty shells bouncin’ off the ground” isn’t tough talk; it’s “how my living room sound when my brother got shot down.” Damn, I miss this guy. — Rizoh

18. Going In – Kool G Rap

Most rappers have trouble keeping it hardcore for even three albums. Kool G Rap faces no such issue. After more than two decades in the game, G Rap hasn’t forgotten where he came from. The beat is grimy enough to stand up to his vicious statements and bold metaphors, and that’s saying something. Make no mistake; he’ll still “put lead in your back like school is back.” Yeah, he definitely went in on this one. — Aaron

17. The Red Carpet – Evidence featuring Raekwon and Ras Kass

Three veterans of the game exclaiming how they build a legacy and feed their families through their craft over an expertly chopped soulful rendition of “God Save America” by Congress Alley, sounds like an (American) dream come true, right? From Evidence mentioning he “always shared pretty good for an only child” to Raekwon crowning himself “The Jack Dempsey MC” to a highly motivated and on point Ras Kass explaining how he tries to provide some means that last for his children, there’s much to enjoy on this standout-track from the already great “Cats & Dogs” album. Leave it to Alchemist to roll out a beatifully deep-red carpet of a beat for these guys to grace with their feet, they’ll surely make it a memorable night. — Jaap

16. Molasses – Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah and Rick Ross

Scarface gangstas, criminal n*ggas up in the trenches” raps Raekwon in the chorus of a joint sampling the same Ann Peebles sample Gza and Meth’s classic Shadowboxin’ was built from. Sure, that might come across as easy fan-pandering and treading well-known waters setting yourself up for disaster, but that’s only if you haven’t heard any recent Raekwon verses. Perhaps it’s a throwback, but the reinvigorated Raekwon manages to drum up the same vibrance and urgency he did in his heyday and inspires that “camouflage guerilla-shit” in his partner in rhyme Ghost as well. The only element that could still screw this up would be Rozay, but while he sounds slightly out of breath keeping up with Rae and Ghost, he puts in an admirable and ultimately succesful effort to paint these maffioso pictures along with them, nicely blending into the Wu aesthetic instead of turning it into an MMG affair. — Jaap

15. Security – Royce da 5’9″

It took five years, but the late Deshaun Holton finally got the tribute he deserved. Backed by a classically beautiful Etta James sample, Nickel Nine describes his relationship and feelings for Proof, from their legal troubles to his reaction to Proof’s death to the massive funeral which helped spark Royce’s desire for a D12 reunion.

Even though he’s a lyrical wizard, Royce keeps it simple here, speaking from the heart with honest emotion. All Eminem had to do was lend a sound-bite from a previous song. I think Marshall speaks for every hip-hop head when he says, “Proof this one’s for you.” — Aaron

14. Yonkers – Tyler, the Creator

Who knew Tyler, the Creator would go through the love-hate cycle this fast? Well, he did, and it’s now convenient to forget the song (and video) that had rap fans going pistachios at the top of the year. “Yonkers” is representative of Tyler’s ability to take the bones of an entire culture and transform it into a beast of his own design. It shares rap’s aggressive pedigree, sure, but strictly on Tyler’s terms–however unrealistic those terms. The first full-blown case of ear-raping terror we witnessed in 2011. — Rizoh

13. Scottie Pippens – Curren$y Ft. Freddie Gibbs

If I made a list of athletes to name songs after, Scottie Pippen wouldn’t make the cut. In fact, I’d consider Tracy McGrady before I consider Pippen. But that’s just me. Interestingly, “Scottie Pippens” (the plural is adorable) has absolutely nothing to do with the Bulls Hall of Famer, and Curren$y only casually namechecks him at the end of his verse. Worse, Spitta sounds bored. Gangsta Gibbs, on the other hand, attacks the cinematic Alchemist beat with gusto. Gibbs, you’ll recall, won our Eminem Murdered You on Your Own Shit award for this performance. “Fuck a million downloads,” he says, “I’m trying to make a million dollars.” I can dig it. — Rizoh

12. Outer Space – Danny Brown

This track is definitely out of this world. Danny Brown uses a spaced-out beat to help get across his out-there lyrics. No wonder the track is produced by a guy named Skywlkr. For Brown’s part, his raps about graphic sex, masturbation, and other off-the-wall topics keep things interesting and hilarious throughout the song. Need proof? “I keep your bitch wet, around you she’s a cactus.” With this track, it looks like we’ve met the future face-to-face. — Aaron

11. Doinnothin’ – Blu ft. U-God

Blu left a lot of people scratching their heads in 2011, most notably the suits at Warner Music who probably still have no inkling of an idea what to do with the idiosyncratic album “No York.” Somebody signed off on a single and a video though and I’m glad that the exuberantly trippy effort got made. Those with a more adventurous ear, unafraid of this unfamiliar intersection of jazz, hip-hop and electronics, will find plenty to enjoy as Blu effortlessly weaves in and out of this Flying Lotus beat while clansman U-God repeatedly drones “a n*gga gotta live” as if singlehandedly trying to create some ground for this joint to hold onto. They may call it “Doinnothin'” but it takes a whole lot of talent to make it look this easy. — Jaap

10. “Swerve… the reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)” – Shabazz Palaces

Black Up is full of strange twists and turns, but Shabbazz Palaces saved the biggest surprise for its closing track. After the cryptic and dark “Yeah you,” Butler shifts the blinds to let in a little sunlight. In comes the bristling drums of “Swerve…” The final ring of Black Up is the only track to ditch dystopian rhythms entirely, feature guest vocalists (THEESatisfaction), and restrain Butler’s free associative rhymes–here, he’s more direct in his indictment of “rappers that’s fake.” Above all, it’s the only standalone gem on an album that otherwise relies on interlocking parts. — Rizoh

9. Lost Ones – J. Cole

The best song on Cole World: The Sideline Story is a simple narrative that features some of the most harrowing lyrics on the album. Contained within its drippy piano is this poignant portrait of a young couple’s confusion over accidental pregnancy. “Me and you, we still kids, ourselves. How we gon’ raise a kid by ourselves?” Cole wonders on “Lost Ones.” The beauty, however, is in the movie-like presentation: Cole switches to the perspective of the girl in the second verse, high pitch and all. — Rizoh

8. The Last Huzzah – Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire ft. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown and El-P

Similair to the classic Craig Mack remix lampooned in the intro Mr. Muthafuckin’eXquire invites an all-star cast of emcees to obliterate Necro’s beat for his track “Huzzah” and make everybody think of the posse-version whenever the track is mentioned henceforth. Strong performances from all, including the Das Racist fellas, make this a blueprint for how a posse-cut is done justice. Even though eXo himself caps off his track superbly, El-Producto can’t help delivering a jawdropping feature putting everyone in his shadow for sixteen bars, by actually counting those bars from 3 to 16 with the numbers woven into the lyrics of the agressively spit verse. Technically impressive and entertaining, straight verse of the year material. Huzzah, bitch. — Jaap

7. Chewbacca – Random Axe ft. Roc Marciano

Wooo boy, those Black Milk drums. “Them bitches slap,” as Sean P so eloquently put it. They sure do in this standout joint from from the Random Axe collaborative album and even though Milk is no slouch on the mic himself he wisely sticks to the chorus and hands over further mic duties for this one to Roc Marciano. Who completely dismembers the track after it’s already been savagely attacked by “Sean The Barbarian” and Guilty Simpson. Assault and battery never sounded so good. — Jaap

6. Nasty – Nas

Every few years, Nas calls Salaam Remi and brings forth something that’s Illmatic/Stillmatic and full of the fury we wish he’d keep as a constant throughout his albums. In 2011, “Nasty” was the first heatrocket that Nas let fly. Some straight park shit, begging for you to turn the woofers up and let that shit knock. Nas’ “I guess entertainment means blatantly lyin’” lyric was a staple for the Jansport/Keep It Real set, and for good reason. Hopefully his next opus, whatever it’s called, will contain more of this, and less of the fluff. — Khal

5. HiiiPOWER – Kendrick Lamar

The sky is falling, the wind is calling. Stand for something or die in the morning” Kendrick’s distorted vocal calmly states in the intro. Refusing to be categorized into any pre-existing box Kendrick Lamar wears his hearton his sleeve and makes clear he fits in no mold but his own. The call for self-empowerment and fighting the system doesn’t mention specific issues to be fought for, it rather inspires you to form those causes independently and think for yourself. What’s eimpressive is that it does so without falling into the trap of pandering to generic feelings of pubescent rebellion. Emotional but never preachy. Heavy topics without sounding heavy-handed. It’s a delicate balance that Kendrick strongly holds in a track that could be dropped in a time-capsule to illustrate what 2011 was all about. And it knocks too. I’ll take this shit over bored millionaires any day of the week. Just call this shit HiiiPOWER. — Jaap

4. Ghetto Dreams – Common ft. Nas

To round out the backpacker’s wet dream, Common calls on Nas to annihilate a No I.D. track like it’s 1994. And annihilate is what they did. Taken from Common’s The Dreamer/The Believer, this was a great single to coax fans (like myself) who haven’t dug Common’s last few albums. Just some shit you wish had dropped back before these two tasted Hollywood dollars. We still got it, and I still knock it. You can’t really go wrong with this trifecta, and if I find that magic lamp, I’d wish that they all would do an album together. Hah, keep dreaming, right? — Khal

3. N*ggas In Paris – Jay-Z & Kanye West

This track isn’t just a cool cut to repeatedly play as an encore (and who truly wants to hear this shit 11 times in a row?), it’s almost a continuation of the “we’ve got shit we shouldn’t have, let’s toast to our success” kind of anthem. Middle finger to your complaints… from a yacht in Paris, drinking expensive wines while wearing exclusive kicks with 24K gold shoelaces. Plus, this is one of the definitive salvos into the next level of Hip-Hop that lends a lot to the burgeoning bass music craze that’s sweeping clubs in the UK and US underground. Or, you can just marvel at how this track single-handedly made “cray” an acceptable form of the word “crazy”. — Khal

2. Make My – The Roots ft. Big K.R.I.T.

It’s good to know that their late night gig on Fallon hasn’t slowed ?uest & co a bit. K.R.I.T. kicks off this gem with a bucket of water to the face: “I did it all for the money, Lord. In the world of night terrors, it’s hard to dream.” Colder than 3 AM with no blanket in sight. — Rizoh

1. Otis – Jay-Z & Kanye West

It was hard to deny the impact this track had, for good or ill. Like Jay’s “D.O.A.” showed a few years ago, Jay and Kanye are the kings of getting people talking. Opinions about this track not only hit twitter, but soaked into other realms of the Internets, radio and other media formats. Yes, many looked at using an Otis Redding sample to brag about your status is sacrilege, but isn’t that part of the whole idea of “sophisticated ignorance”, the ability to afford a sample of that caliber to speak on your wealth? The chop wasn’t even that masterful, but it worked. Otis’ raw emotion helped propel this tag-team into a game of one-up when the mic got passed. Hell, they took a saw to a Maybach in the video. This is well past rapping about money because you’ve got it. They are ignorant statements that can’t be ignored. — Khal

Words: Rizoh (TRU), Jaap D (TRU), Aaron J. McKrell (TRU) and Khal (Rock The Dub).

List compiled by: Rizoh (TRU), Jaap D (TRU), Aaron J. McKrell (TRU) and Khal (Rock The Dub), Enigmatik (Boo Goo Doo Boom), Zillz (ZS Music Blog), Barbie Bardot (The B3 Vision Group), Sketch The Journalist (Jesus Muzik/Houston Chronicle) and Nahshon Landrum (NaySchola).

TRU

3 Comments

There are currently 3 Comments on The Top 20 Rap Songs Of 2011. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. http://hulkshare.com/zrsuoajgjdrg
    Hulkshare Playlist with the songs listed above excluding.
         18. Kool G Rap – Going InYou’re Welcome.

  2. This is probably the best Top Songs list of any blog. Good job guys, solid picks.

    •  Thanks!

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