Tu-wenty Sixteeeen in Music
As an avid music fan/nerd I generally tend to find it difficult to keep up with the flood of albums and mixtapes that permeate the internets. I also tend to listen to older music and in this year, more so than others, I have become a fan of different artists past and present. It has been a terrific year in music (or in rap) and 2011 is a great year to be a music fan. Today we have the fortuity of the greatest database of music and music information being a few clicks away. Without further a-do here are my favourite albums of the year alongside my favourite albums that I got around to listening to for the first time this year.
The Roots- Undun
The Roots’ 13th album has the collecetive embarking on a concept album centred around the life of the fictional Redford Stephens, a street urchin who becomes big time and then loses his life. Nothing unusual then? Except that this concept is executed in reverse, opening with Redford’s death and culminating in his inception which is covered in the form of the Redford Suite, a four part orchestral style score opened up by Sufjan Stevens. The Roots have become masters of subtle mood shifts and Undun largely falls in the same thematic vein as their last three releases. In short, this album is forebodingly beautiful.
Danny Brown – XXX
Danny Brown hails from Detroit, the current Mecca for the “rapper’s rapper” and a gritty and unrelenting picture of today’s blue collar America. It’s from these two primary colours that Danny Brown emerges like a crazed combination of Ol Dirty Bastard and Eminem. His delivery, initially grating, is also his greatest strength, commanding attention over some of the most peculiar collections of production in my recent memory. Danny Brown spits over everything from traditional boom bap (Pac Blood) to grime (Lie 4) with some out and out hilarious one liners (“your girl’s wet around me, around you, she’s a cactus”.
Big Krit – Return of 4eva
Krit, perhaps more than any other “freshman” emcee is who I probably want to succeed the most. Krit can be described best as a student of both Outkast and UGK, channelling the respective groups funk and soul musical sound-bed while embedding it with highly personal introspection (amid the obligatory ‘trunk rattlers’. Krit is not a phenomenal lyricist (albeit highly capable), he is however a truly excellent songwriter. Most people slept on the gems he loaded into the BET ciphers during his understated verse and it is that verse which best reveals what Krit is about, personable ruminations on life (revisit that shit please).
Kendrick Lamar – Section 80.
Kendrick Lamar is probably who most rap fans wish or thought J.Cole was. That is not an insult but it seems inevitable that Kendrick (as an emcee) is destined to overshadow Cole in the coming year. This guy, thus far, really does seem to have it all. This album follows the conceptual ark of the 80s crack babies, the ADD generation. Kendrick dissects drug use (ADHD), political criticism (Ronald Reagan Era) and religion (Kush and Corinthians) as if he has been doing this for years. Even more impressive is that Kendrick crafted Section 80 with a palpable but not overbearing crossover appeal that rarely descends into the trite. Cosigns from almost any legend worth his salt almost guarantee this guy for some much deserved success. It also helps that he had a stellar guest verse on an album in 80 of all women’s itunes (Drake’s Take Care). I cannot see how he will fail.
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
House of Balloons, many forget in their inevitable elitist backlash of The Weeknd, came out of the blue and had casual fans and pitchfork-ers raving in equal measure. This album can be described as the polar opposite to the also excellent Nostalgia Ultra by Frank Ocean. Where Frank channelled more traditional R&B and Neo-Soul elements, The Weeknd provided the culmination of the internet generation’s vices and music tastes. Debauchery is definitely the best word to describe this album. Perhaps in that sense it is fairly traditional. Either way the range of musical influences coalesced into one tailored sound is extremely impressive, indie music (the title track) sitting happily with Hip-Hop and Post-Dub (or woreva you wish to call it) influences.
Willie The Kid – The Cure 2 “Medgar Evers with the edgy letters” this guy writes prose.
Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers while I Can Smell Them This might have been album of the year if it hadn’t had dropped this week. Incredible follow up to a classic.
Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne Stadium champagne rap. Some people said it was vacuous “New Day”, “Murder To Excellence”, “The Joy” and “That’s My Bitch” say otherwise.
Curren$y and the Alchemist – Covert Coupe Stoned non-sequiturs over incredible boom-bap.
Freddie Gibbs – Cold Day in Hell The most consistent emcee of the past few years dismantles all kinds of beats with his stupendously nimble flow.
Old shit (that’s obviously not shit but very good)
Stevie Wonder- Innervisions
Many people have written about this album and they have pretty much all got it spot on. This album covers a breadth of topics over some of the funkiest most outright enjoyable music I’ve ever heard. Stevie Wonder during this period was untouchable. If you have heard Superstition and mimed along on drunken nights over the years, get this album and get all of his late 60s early 70s output. The guy deserves more than to be pinned by the general public to one “definitive” song. This album alone has songs which are all at least the equal to “superstition”.
Led Zeppelin – IV
Over the years I had stumbled across all the obligatory Led Zep songs i.e. Immigrant Song. It was not until my housemate handed me this CD that I really had an opportunity to realise what all the fuss is about. The manner in which multiple genres are handled with such expertise and with such fluidity still bewitches me. Rock, Blues and Folk music all blend into a seamless medley almost magically. Albums like this are what make searching for and being open to listening to new things worth every awful, overrated piece of nonsense you end up suffering through on occasions. This album and moments such as the transitions on “Stairway To Heaven”, which spirals to the most ecstatic height and the most melancholic outro, are etched moments intertwined with memories.
Beck – Odelay
This album is some of the genuinely coolest music I’ve heard in ages. From the outset, the deadpan “Devil’s Haircut” drips with disaffection without ever sounding close to sloppy. This album is yet another genre warper; this is due to the involvement of the Hip-Hop sampling extraordinaires the Dust Brothers. This is indie music I can get behind, unafraid of sounding nothing like indie music.
James Blake – CMYK
At this stage precisely what genre this music represents is largely an exercise in useless pigeonholing. The “instrumental” movement has such a wide range of influences (hip-hop, garage, R&B, dubstep, jungle etc.) that it’s impossible to really pin down. Either way, James Blake’s EP, which dropped last year (I think) is a great example of the potential held within the brevity of an EP. The basslines are low end thick and the R&B vocals are discombobulated into instruments of their own accord.
Cannibal OX – The Cold Vein
This album is so mind meltingly good that I’m still kicking myself to only getting round to it this year. I wish I had heard this when I was born it is so good. This gem was dropped in 2001 at the height of Def Jux’s underground hip hop dominance (that actually translated to sales!!!). El-P, the uncompromising label head, is also a terrific emcee and even better producer. The beats on this album, which are all handled by El-P channel the Rza’s penchant for the off kilter with a space themed aesthetic. El-P uses funk and soul samples and transforms them into a score worthy of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, the rhymes, courtesy of Vast Aire and Vordul Mega, are fantastic.
So there we have it, 2011 in music according to Babatunde. Any favourites you think I’ve left out? Any new artists that you have discovered yourselves?