The 11 Best Rap Albums of 2011

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

Published on January 01, 2012 with 2 Comments

All that’s left for listapalooza 2011 now is the top one, the album list. Since none of us could actually tell what constitutes the difference bewtween albums and mixtapes nowadays (more on that here) we’ve decided that this year we’d ditch the increasingly irrelevant distinction all together and count any full-length project, wether an actual DJ mixed it, simply shouted over it or was nowhere to be found, wether it was only available online, in selected stores or if it was barcoded and wrapped in plastic at a suprmarket, eligible for this list.

So the BT members casted their votes, tallied them, let loose a top secret algorithm and had some barely non-lethal swordfights. That’s just how we roll. Here’s what we came up with.

11. Random Axe, Random Axe

The most interesting thing about Random Axe’s self-titled debut is the music. Guilty and Price have already established themselves as nimble poets with the ability to turn any random string of words into an event. So, no surprises there. The revelation, however, is Milk (fitting, since he conceived the album, assembled the gang, orchestrated the whole she-bang). And it’s not just his work on the boards; Milk has, apparently, busied himself with whatever producers busy themselves with when they’re trying to gain respect for mic skills. As Album of the Year and Milk’s occasional vocal turn on Random Axe affirm, he’s now expanded his rhyme sequence to include margin crashers and sophisticated terza rimas. — Rizoh

10. Cats & Dogs, Evidence

Evidence’s Cats & Dogs finds the Venice native expanding Dilated Peoples’ tapestry with his best solo effort to date. Capturing the L.A. aesthetic and then some, Cats & Dogs features a slew of accomplished (and like-minded) producers and emcees who deliver filler-free contributions to this arguably flawless project. As the star of the show, Evidence is as honest as they come, offering reflective lyrics with just the right amount of lightheartedness and braggadocio when needed. Cats & Dogs is pure, unadulterated L.A. hip hop at its finest. — Ivan

9.Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, Raekwon

You may be forgiven for thinking that the Chef emptied the pantry on Cuban Linx II. On this wildly underrated 2011 standout, Shallah Raekwon whips up more treats that taste like “Molasses” and bang like “Chop Chop.” Rae keeps things interesting by mixing up familiar names (Ghost, Nas, Deck) with some surprise guests (Rick Ross, Estelle) while keeping Wu stans satisfied with the gritty sound that just seems to never go out of fashion. Above all, this album gave us the most important rhyme of the year: “Twitter thug, I’m the timeline strangler.” — Rizoh

8. undun, The Roots

When you’re a late night talk show band and all your albums have been critically acclaimed for years, when you’ve toured all over the world to perform for a loyal fanbase that’s consists of one of the broadest demographics of that of any rap act, what’s really left to achieve? A concept album was a bridge they hadn’t crossed yet though, and so the Illadelph caravan sailed beautifully across the looming structure they came up with. The downfall of Redford Stephens is not the most obvious of narratives but its chapters contain an astonishing haunting melancholy to bask in until the story fully unveils itself. They did it again. — Jaap

7. Return of 4eva, Big K.R.I.T.

I don’t rap, I spit hymns,” Krit boasts on the 2011 standout Return of 4eva. Indeed, the Meridian, Mississippi MC backs up his boasts with ghetto gospel, trunk music, and wildly cherished verses. Among Krit’s multifaceted talents is the ability to marry melodic hooks with memorable raps. Listen closely and you’ll hear your mind being blown. — Rizoh

6. The Dreamer/The Believer, Common

After an uncharacteristically dissapointing album and a role starring in a romantic comedy beefing up his IMDB profile many started to wonder if Common had possibly lost. Had he gone soft, or even worse, Hollywood? Finally facing a challenge again Common sounds more reinvigorated than he has in a long time and fully sets out to prove he’s still as hungry as when he first dropped albums with fellow Chi-town native No I.D. behind the boards. A great emcee with an axe to grind and a talented beat creator with his own signature sound joining forces for an entire album still proves to be a winning combination. Warm samples and slapping drums, insightful rhymes brimming with confidence, feel free to call it a comeback. — Jaap

5. Cole World: The Sideline Story, J. Cole

These days, there’s so much exposure and hype for new rappers that some of them don’t even make it to their first album. This isn’t the case with J Cole; Jay-Z’s lyrical protégé crafted one of the best

hip-hop debuts in years. Dense drums and lush piano music back rhymes and tales of dreams, abortion, family dynamics, and relationships with women, among other things. With enough tracks for both hip-hop heads and radio DJs, and production that is both catchy and authentically hip-hop, Cole World: The Sideline Story is a great crossover album. It is also one of the best releases of 2011. — Aaron

4. Watch The Throne, Jay-Z & Kanye West

Whether you love them or hate “The Throne”, Jay-Z and Kanye, had the streets, the Internet and the critics talking when they released Watch The Throne. The 2 rapped about what and how they live now, in wealthy opulence that most of us will never attain and can only dream about. But they also managed to speak about political and socioeconomic topics in a way that the average person could easily understand and relate to. Sparking countless internet debates about which-one-bested-who, Jay and Kanye went toe to toe and gave the public what they wanted – unapologetic shit talking and thought provoking lyrics, while still maintaining their trendsetting status and giving the world new slang. This was one of the top albums of the year simply because their chemistry and musical talent was undeniable. That shit cray, indeed.
Barbie Bardot

3. XXX, Danny Brown

Truth be told, I’ve never been the kind of guy to fuck with someone solely for hype. I’d seen and listened to a number of Danny Brown posts, for good reason, on a number of sites. 2010’s The Hybrid truly brought his flavor to the forefront, bridging his wild bars about sex, drugs, rock & roll and more drugs with a slappin’ soundbed. And no diss to that project or it’s producers, but his 2011 free release, XXX, encapsulates the next chapter, and really helps bring out the oddball appeal of his persona. The stoned ranger breaks down his use of drugs, which is apparently an inherited trait, to the point of wanting to die like a rockstar. He is quick and plentiful with the sexually-charged one-liners, and the beginning of every track always has such a vivid image from the first bar (for the most part). He collected beats from a number of cats who might not have been known of before, but definitely are in the light, and his Fool’s Gold affiliation sits perfectly with this project’s hybrid appeal (no pun intended). In the end, the confusion of leaving your 20s while your mind has been corrupted and enlightened by narcotics and street life is delivered perfectly, with some humor, some shock and some awe(some). — Khal

2. Black Up, Shabazz Palaces

Every once in a while, as much love as you may have for it, it’s easy to become tired by rap. Or to a degree, even music in general. The constant tug-of-war between genre traditionalists and pop-confection enthousiasts sidelined by shrugging observers curmudgeonly stating “everyting’s been done before anyway” can become grating. While the third set might seem to have a point, it’s one that’s only relevant until someone comes along and does something that hasn’t been done before. Not out of a forced drive to be inventive or some pretentious genre-bending manifesto, but simply because that’s their sound. Enter Shabazz Palaces, one of those rare acts to treasure and listen to again and again because their sound is so fresh it defies becoming stale. They don’t sound like brand X meets brand Y with a dash of Z’s aesthetic mixed in; they sound like Shabazz Palaces. And they sound good. — Jaap

1. Section.80, Kendrick Lamar

With the wide array of acclaim-garnering music being pumped out of the Golden State, Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 will be looked upon as a primer of sorts on the so-called “New West” renaissance. Sharing Eazy-E’s Napoleonesque stature and Compton-bred pedigree, Kendrick Lamar could be a gangsta rapper at will if he felt like it. Instead he chose the path of the Black Hippy, kick-starting a new movement of street conscious raps, soulfully stirred up with some hazy, neo-Souls of Mischief eccentricity. Kendrick Lamar could be described as an iron fist in a velvet glove, pairing his laid back delivery and nasal voice with thought-provoking lyrics that hit hard and hit home. Section.80’s got some remarkable highlights with tracks like “Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils)”, “A.D.H.D.”, “HiiiPoWer” and “Rigamortis” – all of which earned praise by the blogosphere in 2011. But what’s most beautiful (yes, beautiful) about Section.80 is its conceptual congruity and continuity. Overall, this is a project which is better than the sum of its parts and that’s a big reason why it is the hip hop album of the year. — Ivan

Honourable mentions:
Phonte – Charity Starts at Home
eLZhi – ELmatic
Hassaan Mackey and Apollo Brown – Daily Bread
Killer Mike – Pl3dge
Tyler, the Creator – Goblin
J.Rocc – Some Cold Rock Stuf
Bad Meets Evil (Eminem & Royce Da 5’9″) – Hell: The Sequel
Brotha Lynch Hung – Coathanga Strangla
Game – The R.E.D. Album
Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire – Lost In Translation
Lupe Fiasco – Friend of the People
Heath McNease – Straight Outta Console: The Nintendo Thumb Mixtape
Sintax the Terrific and DJ Kurfu – Prince with a Thousand Enemies

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).



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  2. Excellent list!

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