Rounding off our series looking back at the year of 2011 in hip hop is our list of ten albums that you should endeavour to get your ears around, if you have not already done so. Read on to see the dopest of the dope both under and above ground within hip hop.
“Melancholy, nostalgia, but also hope and aspiration, these are the feelings Translation Lost will inspire.”
French producer Dela showed us how he can speak volumes with little words on his sophomore album earlier in the year. Layered and emotive instrumentals formed the backbone of an exploration into his music craft which encompassed an array of styles. Taking it to that next however was a roster of MC’s of the highest order including the underground favourite Blu, and the relatively enigmatic Reach who carried the track “Go On” with lyrical finesse. In a climate of countless hip-hop producers it is a commendable feat to stand apart with a style as unique as this.
Bottom line; for any fan of Hip-Hop this is an album to appreciate highly, whether your preference is for beats or lyrics, this album excels in both and puts Dela firmly on the map as a producer to keep your eyes on.
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When people talk of great albums, they often cite continuity or “the flow” as the reason for its acclaim. With their 13th album The Roots achieve this by venturing into the concept album style to tell a compelling story through strong lyrics and impeccable production. The fact that people are calling this their best album after 12 prior is a very healthy sign for the hip hop band given the ever changing climate of hip hop itself. And it would make sense that veterans of the genre would take to developing a narrative thread through music, revolving on expert storytelling and progressive instrumentation to further it track by track, which The Roots have undeniably done on this album.
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The iconic Japanese producer’s posthumous album was released earlier this month, continuing his heralded discography of unique music. It’s nothing new to see Japanese artists achieve cross over appeal within hip hop, but Nujabes arguably achieved more than any before him with his deeply soulful arrangements accompanied by some of the best underground MC’s around. Familiar names such as Substantial and Pase Rock, who many discovered through the producers work, returned to jump on tracks and provide wisdom as articulate as the beats themselves. Enjoy this album for the fine piece of art it is.
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Willie Evans Jr. is one of the scarce few artists who can wield both the mic and production with equal skill. From start to finish this album, although relatively short, is non-stop fun. It reminds you of the playful wordplay and funky beats that got many of us into the hip hop genre in the first instance. Being technically great and hugely entertaining would be enough to keep an album afloat but what makes this excel is Evans’ personality which binds the two firmly. I could count the number of MC’s on one hand who could carry an album alone, and you can bet Willie Evans Jr. would be one of them.
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Willie Evans Jr.
Another prime example of superb lyrical and production talent comes from this black cloaked duo. Seemingly effortless rhymes reel off line after line through an ill vocabulary comparable in nature to that of some of the greatest. Providing an apt backdrop are the brooding and stark beats creating a backwoods boom bap that draws you into a ghastly realm making for a truly absorbing listen. Anyone who finds themselves stuck in the 90’s era of hip hop will be right at home with the entirety of this album, wherever these artists are headed from here is being watched with great anticipation.
Following on with the hint of a sinister nature is the fifth album by the hip hop trio. Listening to this album at times feels like a bad nights sleep, with the heavy and relentless drums creating a dense and ever changing soundscape. Rhymes as always keep things fresh and are highlighted with guest spots from Freddie Gibbs, Big K.R.I.T. and Tonedeff. What earns this joint a place on our list, and a trait attributable to many others, is its willingness to venture beyond the expectations of a hip hop album and explore some original creativity and slightly outlandish styles. If you’re looking for that something else from your listening session, pick up this and prepare for immersion.
Phonte is firmly among the ranks of artists such as Aloe Blacc when it comes to being a microphone fiend and soulful crooner. His first solo album shows the progression in perspective within the artist, and how this vision relays back stories of life, love and music. Where other albums on this list excel in evoking the fantastical, the realism of this release is what makes it a notable one. The genuine, “everyman” spirit of it makes it a refreshing listen, whether you appreciate Phonte as a rapper or a singer, you can find something to enjoy here.
8. Blitz The Ambassador – Native Sun
Another great album based on a loose narrative came from the Ghanaian-American MC early on in the year. Flawlessly pulled off with engaging and illustrative lyrics, this release felt like a score for an amazing piece of cinema. Spanning great geographical distances musically, the album employs a wide array of musical styles from Africa to America. A truly innovative MC, Blitz embodies the passion and vision that has us believing that hip hop contains some of the brightest musical minds around.
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Although we didn’t drop a formal review of this, we were most definitely listening. Arguably not considered an “album” this was nonetheless one of the best sounding projects to come around in 2011, as Kendrick Lamar followed up on his previous efforts with this solid release. The fluid flow of lyrics technically made this a no brainer for making our list, but what impressed us most was the content being put across within them – topics and perspectives that are making people call him the voice of a generation, and we cannot wait for the next offering.
10. Blu – NoYork!
An album that received a mixed response from the hip hop community this year. Love it or hate it, or even if you’re in between, this album has to be commended for its originality, of course from Blu’s lyricism, but also from the atypical beats that carry it. Fast becoming a trend setter, we wouldn’t be surprised if more projects appear in a similar vein to Blu’s release here. For us, we’re just happy to hear the man do his thing.
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•The Word Is Bond Team•