Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 - Something About Hip Hop and R&B

I don't get a lot of music, but I really don't get much of modern hip hop. I thought Lil Wayne's effort this year was garbage, I find Drake to be boring, and Rick Ross to be less than engaging. That said, I listened to some pretty amazing hip hop and R&B this year. So maybe I shouldn't complain too much.

There was the outsized egos of Jay Z and Kanye pairing up for Watch the Throne , and album so conspicuous in its excess and grandeur it was almost impossible to see this album for what it was: two guys having a ton of fun. It wasn't the most brilliant album this year, but by forgoing any restraint, Kanye bookended last year's MBDTF with a masterpiece that had Jay around for polish.

On the flip side was The Roots with Undun , proof that ?uestlove is the hardest working man out there right now. A perfectionist to the utmost limit, he and the Roots have used their time as Jimmy Fallon's house band to make sure every note and every tap is in its right place. He's evoking pure 70s Philly era soul on this album, and it works. every track feels labored over; you just want to roll around in it for awhile.

And between those two you have two remarkable, must owns from the next generation. First is Frank Ocean's Nostalgia/ULTRA, and album that I simply ADORE. Here we have someone nimbly fusing real love problems over A+ major producer beats with an astonishing voice, to incredible effect. From enhancing Coldplay's Strawberry Swing to reinventing The Eagles' Hotel California as some sort of young urban love and divorce story, Frank Ocean is want you want playing when you're solo or lounging with company.

The second is Childish Gambino's Camp . Here we have a guy rapping about getting laid, getting drunk, and getting paid. But he's also speaking about the duality that millions of middle and upper middle class black kids are growing up with. It's a universal them of non-inclusion to be sure, but that double consciousness speaks more potently to them. And it's that awareness that elevates Donald Glover from just another rapper to the big leagues.

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