2011 was a good year for quality Hip-Hop albums. Long awaited albums were finally released, super-groups were formed, and many old favorites returned to produce dope product. As always it was difficult to pick just ten albums. Several quality releases didn’t make the cut but here are the ten that did. The top 10 Hip-Hop albums of 2011…
10. Raekwon – Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang
While not on the level of Cuban Linx, Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang was a dope chamber in Raekwon the Chef’s catalog. Feeling the momentum from Cuban Linx II the Wu-Tang Clan’s slang doctor headed back to the studio to cook up a dark kung-fu influenced album with a dash of 2011 flavor. Raekwon solidified his relevance and staying power with Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang almost twenty years after we first heard him rhyme on Protect Ya Neck.
9. J Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story
Jay-Z protégé J Cole released his long awaited debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story in 2011. The album is a motivational listen about an emcee that believed and achieved. Playing the sideline for a couple of years Cole improved upon his craft and Cole World was the result. Lyrically, J Cole is the best of the bunch of the new era of emcees and he showcased various styles on his debut that made Cole World a cold album.
8. Joell Ortiz – Free Agent
While it leaked in 2010, Joell Ortiz’s sophomore album Free Agent was officially released in 2011. Free Agent is Joell Ortiz at his cocky-Brooklyn-sh*t talking best. On the flipside, Ortiz doesn’t take himself too seriously and isn’t afraid to take chances which makes him affable to listeners. Ortiz is one of the best lyricists on the planet and with help from the likes of Just Blaze, Frank Dukes, Sean C & LV, Large Professor, Nottz, and DJ Premier, Joell Ortiz made one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2011.
7. Torae – For the Record
Torae’s debut album For the Record is about as solid as it gets. Torae does not spit a wack lyric on For the Record. Each rhyme is well thought out and delivered with precision. For the Record boasts the best cast of producers assembled for any album released in 2011. DJ Premier, Marco Polo, Nottz, Diamond D, Khrysis, Pete Rock, !llmind, Large Professor, and 9th Wonder provide the landscape for Torae to paint his pictures on.
6. Game – The R.E.D. Album
After receiving lackluster reviews for his third album LAX, Compton’s finest, Game came back with a vengeance for his fourth release, The R.E.D. Album. Narrated by Dr. Dre, The R.E.D. Album bangs for the first half of the album and mellows out near the end. Game invites entirely too many guests on The R.E.D. Album but that’s standard for Game. The production on The R.E.D. Album is incredible and lyrically Game sounds hungry like it was 2005.
5. Jay- Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Two of Hip-Hop’s biggest ego’s joined forces in 2011 and warned everyone to watch the throne. Jay-Z and Kanye West put together an album that made listeners think, laugh, and dance. Watch the Throne is far from perfect but it’s an enjoyable listen from start to finish that has a little something for everybody. Boasting aside, Kanye West has a way of bringing out the vulnerable side to Jay-Z which we never get to hear enough of. On Watch the Throne Hov let it all hang out on tracks like Murder to Excellence, New Day, and No Church in the Wild. For the better part of ten years the Kanye West/Jay-Z combination has been money. In 2011 we thankfully got to hear Ye and Jay in all their glory on Watch the Throne.
4. The Roots – undun
One of the most creative acts in Hip-Hop got even more creative in 2011 with the concept album undun. undun is a short and not so sweet story of a hustler named Redford Stephens. Black Thought, ?uestlove and Co. invited a slew of guests to help out with undun and everyone sounds like crew. While undun is a somber listen you get the feeling that the recording of the album was fun. The vibe and flow of undun is undeniable. As always The Roots returned and made one of the best albums of the year.
3. Hassaan Mackey and Apollo Brown – Daily Bread
Producer Apollo Brown and emcee Hassaan Mackey collaborated on one of the best and most slept-on albums of 2011, Daily Bread. Mackey brings east coast lyricism to Brown’s soulful Midwest chopped samples making Daily Bread a unique listen. Don’t be mistaken, Daily Bread is boom bap at its best. Brown is becoming one of the best producers in Hip-Hop and Mackey’s vocal tone and delivery is on par with some of the best in the business. Daily Bread is the third best Hip-Hop album of 2011.
2. Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told
Shelved for five years The Greatest Story Never Told was finally told in 2011. Produced by Just Blaze, The Greatest Story Never Told is a cohesive album that’s reminiscent of releases from the golden era of Hip-Hop. Saigon’s conscious street rhymes combined with Just Blaze’s crystal clear yet grimy production made for a perfect marriage. Saigon rhymed for his life on his official debut album, and that’s why The Greatest Story Never Told is one of 2011’s best albums.
1. Common – The Dreamer/The Believer
Coming in at number one on the top 10 Hip-Hop albums of 2011 is Common’s The Dreamer/The Believer. The ninth album from the Chicago native finds him reuniting with former producer and friend No I.D. The two men picked up where they left off in the mid-90’s and crafted a stellar album that combines soulful hooks and choruses with boom bap Hip-Hop beats. Lyrically Common reverted back to his mid-90’s form spitting harder than he’s spit in years. The Dreamer/The Believer is nearly flawless and is the best Hip-Hop album of 2011.