I hate to kill everyone’s buzzzzz, but to some extent 2011 may very well come to be remembered as the year that hype reigned supreme in the halls of hip hop high. As much as I loved the idea of Tyler the Creator and Co. coming through and “wrecking shop”, it turns out they were just another bunch of hungry kids dying to get on. Goblin wasn’t exactly Ready To Die (let alone 6 Feet Deep), and throwing 45k in the first week isn’t really going to bust anyone’s cherry. Sorry. Odd Future was EVERYWHERE, and when you consider that Tyler’s PR and Management firm, 4 Strikes Inc, is the same team that also look after Eminem, it’s even more disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the dude, but really I wanted more from them and in a certain way to see him turn up in a video with Game & Weezy is a bit of a let down. Like, really? Was that all you wanted? A pair of sneakers and some miscellaneous award show gift bag swag?
No, the real action this year seemed to be in the genuine “underground”. For every so called “next saviour”, “next to blow” guy that came through on secretly stashed major label money, groups like Death Grips threw out free mix-tapes and shut the whole thing down. Ex Military is indeed the fuck you OFWGKTA proclaimed they were out to deliver; a harsh, loud, uncompromising, pressure point delivery of a record, with the rare quality of being genuinely, genuinely unsettling.
Death Grips – ‘Guillotine’
The underground also had help in the form of a familiar face. Digable Planets’ single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” came to define a certain aesthetic of early 90’s hip hop, so how apt that the voice behind Black Up, the debut full length by Shabazz Palaces should be none other than Butterfly himself aka Ishmael Butler (now known as Palaceer Lazaro). Legendary label Sup Pop’s first hip hop signing, Shabazz Palaces delivered a stunner; experimental and new, yet soulful.
Shabazz Palaces – ‘Swerve’
The UK- always a home to innovation, and the Glaswegian boys at LuckyMe threw some heat with releases by Lunice and Jacques Greene, as well as an upcoming 2012 release by Machinedrum (the production head behind Theophilus London’s This Charming Mixtape). Technically ‘Hitmane’s Anthem’ was released at the tail end of 2010, but the sustain on it’s Southern trunk-riding low end carried over well into 2011. Damn. Just, damn. Every MC from VA and beyond the Mason Dixon line should pay homage to this track. If there was ever a piece that deftly united the worlds of Southern hospitality bass and continental electronic know-how, this is it.
Lunice – ‘Hitmane’s Anthem’
Lunice also collaborated with Harlem MC Azealia Banks. Her previous effort ‘L8R’ was definitely certified fresh, however it wasn’t anything that would put her on the map. But this year’s ‘212’ was undeniable. It was stupid, silly, fun, clever, witty and off the cuff. Apparently she’s in the studio with UK heavy Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Adele, Florence & The Machine… list goes on), and I can’t wait to hear the results.
Azealia Banks – ‘212’
Harlem came strong this year, for the first time in a long time – Mase anyone? Another MC (and collective) from Azealia’s neck of the woods, ASAP Rocky brought that syrup covered –NYC crack rap steez, with a sprinkling of hood fashionista. Dare we predict a second Harlem Renaissance? Whatever the resulting fallout, there is no denying that the LIVELOVEA$AP mixtape was dope. Featuring spaced out, bass heavy, Mike Dean hat tipping production that sat nicely as a party starter, Sunday afternoon chill-scape and at it’s best, straight up trunk music. Listen carefully and you can almost hear the neighborhood windows rattling uptown.
ASAP Rocky – ‘Purple Swag’
So it seems that everyone is afraid of the big bad 2012, but if we’re honest with ourselves, times are already hard. Indeed, they must be if the ingenuity level has risen so greatly. Cause let’s face it, when we’re rich and fat, the music sucks. 2011 could be the beginning of our generation’s true contribution to the musical legacy of the western world. Like I said, renaissance anyone?
Published December 30, 2011.