The month in hip hop...

Hip-hop in 2011...hmm. Where former tough guy emcees or rappers of promise were found mostly chatting over Euro-house and eulogising about morning-after apocalypses should anyone not dance the right way (Foreign Beggars can be pardoned for their exploits with a third rate dressing up box), it’s hard to describe the year as anything other than ‘meh’ with a capital M. Forget exciting internet-driven times, again it was up to ears to go digging and discovering away from the dreck and dross.

In the UK, you could argue that hip-hop had one of its brightest years for some time, what with grime graduates Tinchy Stryder, Wretch32, Tinie Tempah (the biggest winner of them all what with Stateside success), Chipmunk etc and one-time ‘proper’ rappers Example and Professor Green, playing human Copydex (both in stickability and smell) when it came to occupying the pop charts. If all of these were a teensy bit traumatising and you fiended instead for those leeching below the radar, the independents more than fought back. Among them, Verb T, Styly Cee & Cappo (both separately and as a raging tour de force), Rewd Adams, Cyrus Malachi and Jehst all released long-player goodness, with Dubbledge (‘Dubbledge vs the Boondocks’) dropping late-in-the-year entertainment and The Criminal Minds reissuing a proper old skool shock to the system. Look hard enough and you were also able to relive crucial moments in history from Blade, MC Duke and Silvah Bullet.

Paul White developed into a collaboration specialist, Roots Manuva did Roots Manuva, Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee showed other beatboxers a clean pair of tonsils, and acts like Dels, Sound of Rum, DefDFires and Riz MC took up positive column inches, while brat rap was still high on hoodlums’ agendas, with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Tricky Micky rubbing their filthy mitts all over mics. As a quick sidebar, if you want to make someone’s yuletide, put the Associated Minds ‘Hidden Thoughts’ mixtape on their mp3 device. Much better than giving a pair of comedy socks.

Disputing the theory that hip-hop nowadays is very much a young man’s game, ‘old’ hands Eminem and Lil Wayne spent most of the year running things, the latter posting ridiculously large first week sales for ‘The Carter IV’ to match the former’s units sheet from the year previous. Like or loathe their latest, the stats were hard to ignore. Fellow codgers Jay-Z (now a university course in Georgetown no less) and Kanye West got together and surprisingly, didn’t trip over each other’s egos on what could’ve been a real gobby mess. Even if ‘Watch the Throne’ still sounds like a euphemism for ‘clean the toilet when you’re finished’.

KRS-One and Showbiz came together in a real veteran’s day clash of the titans, representing a seemingly ailing old guard what with Fat Joe going on an enforced health kick, Erick Sermon suffering a heart-attack and Kool DJ Herc having to appeal for fans to pay his medical bills, not to mention Rick Ross’ seizure episodes and the ill health of Akrobatik. Raekwon and the Wu-Tang Clan still kept on with the Class A and kung-fu (both through new material and classily packaged reissues), the Beastie Boys successfully put off applying for pensionable status for another year, and of course, Snoop Dogg was most places you looked, as unavoidable as motormouth harlequin Nicki Minaj coming from the opposite direction.

Pharoahe Monch, Atmosphere, Talib Kweli and The Roots dropped albums showing there’s still call for talking sense and taking care, and Saigon finally seemed to get the big foot up he’d threatened to deliver after several false starts. Wiz Khalifa nailed arguably the most hummable hip-hop track of the year – no mean feat considering it was made by one-time S Club 7 producers Stargate - although DJ Khaled’s Drake-anchored ‘I’m On One’ ran it close. Big Sean and J Cole were other ascendant names getting a lot of love, while Tyler the Creator showed that hip-hop still needs a #1 (admittedly highly skilled) gobshite in its system, rivalled by Lil B stirring up all manner of placard-waving hullabaloo. How about some hardcore? Jedi Mind Tricks’ ‘Violence Begets Violence’ is just the skullcrasher to accompany your Christmas dinner, following Vinnie Paz sparring with Ill Bill earlier in the year. The concept of the supergroup or mega hook-up similarly wasn’t wasted on Gangrene and Necro making known his move-making with Kool G Rap. Death Grips became Clash favourites, and even MoP popped up with an album just before 11 became 12.

Ras G and Shabazz Palaces took charge of hip-hop/instrumentalism’s continued shape-shifting into weird and far flung angles and dimensions, and that’s before we’ve got to all the numerous Brainfeeder releases seeming to mutate the hip-hop hierarchy on as weekly basis. The Electric and Beans resumed with more left-leaning balance and J Rocc kept block partying (as well as selling point secrecy) nicely dusty.

Having said goodbye to some illustrious hip-hop personnel – Nate Dogg, Gil-Scott Heron, Sylvia Robinson, Heavy D - 2011 will no doubt hand over to a new year in the clutch of the usual players, who if nothing else are showing the stubbornest of staying power, while a handful of promising hotheads and those bearing more YouTube hits than noteworthy lyrics, squirm through for five minutes to break the monopoly and monotony.

Words by Matt Oliver

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