2011: The Year Of Revolt – The Underground Has Overcome
The revolution will not be televised, said the late great Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution will not be throne watching or crack slinging. The revolution will not be a Barbie wearing a chicken wing necklace. The revolution will have nothing to do with lasers or dark fantasies. The revolution will not play on the radio with its seven other songs all day long after stuffing pockets with payola. The revolution will not pander for extra mics or sell its soul and its ass for extra views. The revolution could give a fuck about a Grammy. The revolution is riotous; the revolution makes you Duck Down. The revolution will render all false prophets dun.2011 is the year that the underground finally took over and put a gritty construction Timberland in the ass of the mainstream music machine. And most of the music buying public have no clue. The indies are shut out of radio. They are shut out of MTV and most of them only truly exist on the internet. They push their albums themselves. They have listening events just to get people to come out and bear witness. They hone their craft by getting in front of people every night in cramped ass clubs that reek of beer, old wood and vomit, under dark lights and standing room only crowds.
There aren’t that many albums out there really moving units, and as such, it seems that the music has moved closer to the people. The quality is there. The heart is there. The feel is there. The shameful part is that unless you are connected, the chances are that you may never be exposed to this music. That’s how I got to hear the best rap album I’ve heard in years, L.A. Riot.
I got an email about Yannick “Thurz” Kofi’s lead single, “Rodney King.” Its release came on the 20th anniversary of the historic ass whipping that eventually led to the riots in South Central L.A. The way he told the story, through the eyes of King, along with the serious production, led me to want to hear more. The second single came with “Molotov Cocktail,” a similarly sublime guitar-fueled detonation. Then the album came and was full of crisp songwriting, flawless arrangement, range of mood, rhythm and to top it all off, the guy is screaming fuck the police, while touching on religion, race and shit that actually matters. I hadn’t heard anything like it since Cube’s Death Certificate. It is everything you could ever want from a rap album. And unfortunately, the general population, particularly those always bitching about what Hip-Hop USED to be, knows nothing about it.
I wrestled with this album for a week, much longer than usual, trying to find the flaw. I didn’t find any. And so I gave it a 4.5. I was wrong. Dead wrong, partly because the album came from left field. I cheated Thurzday out of a half mic. Here is where I tip my hat, salute him, give him that extra half mic and give his album the classic ranking it deserves. Months later and it still sounds as fresh as it did on the first listen.
That’s why we are here at Planet Ill. To get you hip to what hops. To bring you the real 2011 that will go unnoticed to all who read the same lists that come out every year. We bring you the year as it happened through our eyes from the ground up. When we tell you about this year, we didn’t have interns put this together, we did it ourselves. We’ve listened to hundreds of hours of albums in an attempt to give you the real picture of what went on across Hip-Hop, Rock, Pop, Electro, and global music.
Hopefully you will be informed by this and decide to pick up something you’ve never heard before. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted a U-N-I (Thurz’ old group) E-mail and the one time I answer it, I got blessed with L.A. Riot. It would be an honor to provide a few eureka moments for our readership so that you can fall back in love with music the way we have in 2011.
Women kicked ass in 2011, no longer resigned to second-tier musical citizenship. We’ll show you just how much they kicked. There were changes in the world of politics and in the world of sports. Players were locked out in two different sports. Wall Street was #occupied, and we saw the deaths of the polarizing (Khadaffi), the beloved (Heavy D) and the most hated (bin Laden). Revolution was present in Libya and in Egypt. This week we’ll share our vision of how it went down. Walk with us as we bring you 2011: The Year Of Revolt. The undergound has finally overcome.
It came earlier in 2011, which should have made it easy to forget, but after years of being frozen in carbonite (Star Wars fan feel me) Monch returned with arguably the most lyrically ambitious album of the last five years. Grab a glass of cognac sit back and comb through this album. You’ll be picking lines from your teeth like Crunch n Munch. Pharoahe threw Easter eggs at us by finishing off the rhyme from the ghost weed interludes from the De La Art Official album. He went bar for bar in a three-way battle royale with Royce and Jean Grae on “Assassins.” And he wrote songs. The album wasn’t a spitfest but a journey through art and expression. It was an attempt to push the music higher with no regard of dumbing down anything and songs flow even though they are filled to the brim with reference and connectivity; bent and twisted around music to Pharoahe’s every whim. Police brutality, community empowerment. Please listen if you missed it. In a word: Ambitious.
Comeback of the Year: The West Coast
The Westsiiiide finally gave up the ghost of Dr. Dre and got back to putting out tough records. Wunderkind Kendrick Lamar hit the ground running with Section 80 along with guest spots galore. Thurzday lost a group and won album of the year (more on that later). Murs dropped a superior album with the help of Ski Beats, including a song that will end up being very important to the growth of rap music. The Freestyle Fellowship got back into the game to flex their otherworldly talent for the masses and name-dropper extraordinaire Game turned in his best lyrical performance on The Red Album. Not to mention the various mixtapes by Jay Rock, Nipsey Hustle and Mistah Fab. The passing of Nate Dogg marked the end of an era. The West Coast rolls along.
A year after celebrating their 15th year in the business, the indie label that could showed no signs of slowing down. Skyzoo’s The Great Debater was a lyrically dense banger and it wasn’t even an official album. Releases for Pete Rock & Smif N Wessun, Black Rob, Random Axe and Statik Selektah all earned consistently good scores while Pharoahe Monch’s We Are Renegades attained special status. In addition, they released new albums from The Away Team, Kidz In The Hall and 9th Wonder, while consulting on the Kweli release Gutter Rainbows.
In an era of contraction and major label atrophy, Duck Down is pushing forward, not only with 90’s acts that have found new life, but young, hungry artists who create serious work. No label did more in 2011 than Duck Down.
Let the record show that I can’t get with any of his mixtapes or his imagery. But never let it be said that we couldn’t be objective and Lil Bart came from left field with an album that talks relevant societal commentary and was incredibly coherent compared to the other material he drops. The record was full of legitimate introspection, as Lil B spoke defiance in the face of those who said he’d be nothing. Sonically, there are samples of “Cry Little Siste,r” Obama’s “Change” speech and a Johnny Gill vocal among the disparate sounds used to create the mood for the album.
The attention he attracted for his provocative title was not wasted on the album, which also featured throwback production that was not overdone or underwhelming. The well-balanced album could have even gotten higher marks…if he could actually rap.
Movement of the Year: Maybach Music
Rick Ross’ 2011 was something to behold. He took Meek Mill from a Philly phenom to someone with national attention. He made people give a fuck about Wale again. Under his wing, the DC prodigy flourished and went halfway to gold after an anemic debut showing. The Maybach rolled, blessing countless songs with everyone from Khaled and Cash Money, to Busta and Styles P, Ace Hood, Monica and anyone else that needed some heat.
Let’s not forget the Bauce started the year with a bang during last holiday season with a mixtape and the Maybach dropped Selfmade. It’s one thing to go hard for yourself. Ricky already did that in 2010, surviving a fracas with 50 Cent and a lawsuit over his name (which he slickly readied for with his Rozay moniker had he lost it in court).
In 2011 it was all about the group dynamic and the idea that if everybody fell in line under his leadership, they would be better than the sum of their parts. Point blank, Rick Ross, by will, hard work and the right personnel, went from “Officer Ricky” to the coolest motherfucker in rap and he took a couple cats from the underground and a dude that the mainstream spit out and went hard for that butter. Young Money may have had the big headlines, but nobody went harder than Maybach Music.
The James Brown Hardest Working Rapper In The Biz Award: Curren$y
Rick Ross may have made moves, but nobody worked harder behind that microphone than the best rapper from New Orleans. You can have one lane Weezy or Jay” One song a year” Electronica, but my money is on Spitta. Let’s review the output of the homie for a second. Last November, he dropped the rich Pilot Talk 2. I gave the shit a 3.5 and it’s been on my phone for almost the last 6 months growing on me like grey hairs. Sorry Spitta, I owe you at least a quarter mic. Not two months later, he delivered the full length project Return To the Winner’s Circle, which blended classic tracks with original production. Three months later, he hooked up with Alchemist for the Covert Coup mixtape. Couple months later, guess what time it is? Weekend At Burnies, taking it a level higher. He closed out his work year with the impressive Verde Terrace along with DJ Drama. Oh he also had tome to help his lil homies live a bit of the Jet Life, guesting on an album helmed by Trademark and Young Roddy. I left out the first Pilot Talk just to be fair to the rest of you dudes. NOBODY works hard than Curren$y.
Those are just a few of my observations from the year that was. Common still gotta drop and Jeezy might make some noise, but in the end, chances are that neither of these guys will come close to the megaton bomb that was the L.A. Riot. Look out for Planet Ill: 2011 The Year of Revolt
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