2011 has been a banner year for music. It was the year of Odd Future. The year of Watch The Throne. The year of artists not giving a fu*k. As someone who has pushed for the recognition of “urban alternative” culture, music has surpassed even my wildest expectations. From Jay-Z talking about Little Dragon, to Tyler, The Creator winning an MTV Award, artists are finding their lane and making money doing it.
So as of now, the term urban alternative is dead. It’s not needed any more. The kids in the next generation don’t think of themselves as “alternative.” As for the term “urban,” artist like G-Side and Toro Y Moi prove that you don’t need to live in Brooklyn or LA to make groundbreaking music.
We’re living in an age where nobody can tell you “no.” Def Jam tried to tell Frank Ocean “no,” and he put out a mixtape anyway to critical acclaim despite Def Jam putting him on a shelf. Emerging artists like Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr are repackaging blues and soul to a new younger audience.
So yes, 2011 brought a lot of fluff. It’s brought over 200 daily emails into my inbox from people looking to “get on.” But it’s also made me optimistic for the future.
The Top 10
10.) Katy B – On A Mission
Katy B is just more than a pretty face. She actually has the chops to back it up. On A Mission plays out like a weekend in the life of London’s underground dance clubs. But what distances her from pop-star compatriots is her authenticity. Like many Brits, she has an understanding of the culture that sometimes far exceeds her age.
9.) Toro y Moi – Underneath The Pine
Last year Toro y Moi became the king of “chillwave,” a genre he didn’t invent. So in order to distance himself from his “signature” sound, the South Carolina musician completely flipped his sound. The result is psychedelic goodness, and it’s safe to say that Toro might have found his lane for years to come.
8.) SBTRKT – SBTRKT
Whatever this “post-dubstep” movement is, I like it. SBTRKT (aka Aaron Jerome) has emerged to be one of the most talked about projects of 2011. Fusing traditional house, R&B, dubstep, 2-step, and everything in between SBTRKT’s self-titled debut is a dance album that goes way beyond the dance floor.
7.) G-Side – Island
Every rapper is trying to rap over indie beats to be “cool,” but G-Side and the Block Beataz production team out of Huntsville, Alabama is the first I’ve seen to make it organic and authentic. Their uses of samples from Toro Y Moi to Joy Orbison might perk a music blogger’s ear but it’s ST 2 Lettaz and Clova’s authentic Southern delivery (talking about their new found fame and travels) that push this album over the top.
6.) Metronomy – The English Rivera
Sure, this band looks like they’re straight out of a Starbucks/Apple mashup, but for some reason their lo-fi mod rock appealed to me. The revamp of Metronomy produced indie goodness. Their deadpan delivery an self-aware lyrics paired to a 4-4 beat is simply gold.
5.) The Weeknd – House of Balloons
In a world where everyone has a soulful voice (check YouTube), you must change the game to make yourself stand out. And the The Weeknd has done just that. Combining lo-fi indie with that traditional R&B crooner sound, House of Balloons is more than worthy of the praise (and even disdain) that it garnered this year.
4.) Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Time will tell if the Odd Future collective will be as enduring as the Wu Tang Clan or the Dungeon Family. However, the collective journalistic love fest that revolved around the group this year is more than justified. Spanning from R&B, to hip-hop, to punk, these young LA kids flipped the script on what Black music should sound like in 2011.
But it was Frank Ocean who might have the most lasting legacy out of the collective. The R&B crooner (and Def Jam refugee) dropped one of the more elegant pieces of soul music, eschewing the traditional neo-soul or radio-friendly trappings for a Coldplay and Eagles influenced indie vibe. Great production and songwriting make Nostalgia, Ultra stand out.
3.) Tune Yards – w h o k I l l
Merrill Garbus’ Tune Yards isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but for those who understand it, w h o k i l l is a masterpiece. Armed with more money in her budget, her follow up album expanded her one woman band concept pushing the depth’s of where her stripped down, African influenced concept could take her. w h o k I l l is a sounds like nothing else you will hear this year, and with a string of collaborations set for 2012, who knows where this music will take her.
2.) Kendrick Lamar – Section 80
Hip-Hop won in 2011. It was the year that we got everyone from streetwise Action Bronson to ironic comedians like Childish Gambino and brilliant minds in between. But it’s LA upstart Kendrick Lamar who brought the best hip-hop release of 2011. Grounded in the boom bap of the past, Section 80 pushes it further, creating a unique piece of work that “old school” hip-hop heads can’t even hate on.
1.)Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne
Has there ever been an album so audacious? With the global economy is reeling in a recession and the Black unemployment rate at double digits, Kanye West and Jay-Z produced an opulent ode to wealth. Even though the album was ignored by most of America (it’s barely gone platinum and their Maybach smashing video has less views than even Tyler, The Creator) it set the standard for any album—hip-hop or otherwise released this year, inserting new memes into our culture (“Cray,” What Would Hova Do?”) and spawning one of the biggest arena tours in hip-hop history.
The Best of the Rest.
30.) The Roots – Undun< 29.) James Blake - James Blake 28.) Danger Mouse and Daniel Luppi - Rome 27.) Iggy Azalea - Ignorant Art Mixtape 26.) Daley - Those Who Wait EP 25.) DTMD - Makin’ Dollas 24.) TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light 23.) Common - The Dreamer, The Believer 22.) Drake - Take Care 21.) Foster the People - Torches 20.) Radiohead - King of Limbs 19.) Amy Winehouse - Lioness 18.) Childish Gambino - Camp 17.) Alabama Shakes - EP 16.) Liane La Havas - Live in LA 15.) Stalley - Lincoln Way Nights 14.) Danny Brown and Black Milk - Black and Brown 13.) Oddisee - Rock Creek Park 12.) Shabazz Palaces - Black Up 11.) Little Dragon - Ritual Union