Welcome to the 2011 HipHopDX Year End Awards. For the last decade, this is when we acknowledge the year, honor its triumphs and uglier moments, and begin our own celebrations leading up to another exciting year giving you the best in Hip Hop.
From December 19 to December 23, the editors at HipHopDX will update this every day with new category winners. Congratulations to the winners and runners-up and may all of our readers have a safe and happy holiday season.
Emcee of the Year
Nobody in 2011 deserved to win this honor more than Kansas City veteran Tech N9ne. Tech released two acclaimed albums this year and appeared in several high-profile places, with All 6's & 7's proving to be his magnum opus. As Rap drifted towards limp lyricism and swagger over substance, Tecca Nina's "chopping" was a rude awakening that it should take precision to be an emcee. Meanwhile, the subject matter on Tech's two releases, as well as profiled features with the likes of Lil Wayne, Jay Rock and Travis Barker was both personal and inspirational to his hundreds of thousands of "technicians." With the traditional label system is in limbo, Tech N9ne's 20 years of grinding have scraped the face off the industry as we knew it.
Kendrick "penetrated the hearts of good kids and criminals" with his verses.
Among his peers, Freddie Gibbs single-handedly keeps lyrical Gangsta Rap alive in the skinny-jeans era.
Trend We'd Like To See Die
White People Justifying Their Use
of the N-Word
Honestly, it's kind of embarrassing to have to write this. But it's entirely possible that a whole generation missed Q-Tip's treatise on this matter on Midnight Marauders' "Sucka Nigga." With or without an "er" at the end, this word carries a ton of negative history with it. Whether or not you see a grilled-out white chick mouthing the word in ASAP Rocky's "Purple Swag" video or even secretly say it in your car alone while singing along to Jay-Z & Kanye's platinum hit, have the common sense not to pull a V-Nasty and assume you have license to use it yourself. Even if you have black friends that address you with this word (another matter entirely), it's still probably not cool. Because at worst, you might get beat the fuck up, and even at best, you'll look like more of an idiot than the kids on the Clayton Bigsby skit from the now defunct Chappelle's Show. Hi, Vanessa!
Tom Hanks and Tommy Hilfiger, come pick up your sons. The only Sam Adams we care about is seasonal.
"It comes off as tacky, unsophisticated, and it's just not G."
Slept-On Album of the Year
Action Bronson's Dr. Lecter
As 2011 comes to a close, Action Bronson is finally on the brink of fame. The Queens burly-man with a Ghostface twang had a slow build throughout 2011. There is no question about it that 2012 will be Bronson's year. Before that happens though, it's important to remember that his debut project Dr. Lecter started it all. An admitted foodie and chef, Bronson handles his Rap with food-inspired cuts like "Brunch" and "Shiraz" while mentioning top-dollar eats like truffles. If 'Ye and Jay can mention Margiela, then Bronson responds with foie gras. It's not all food talk though; Bronson toughens up with perverse lyrics about the ladies, the streets, and everything in between over-the-top '90s-minded production from Tommy Mas. As much as he makes us hungry with his verses, these rhymes also feed the Hip Hop soul.
Thurz's L.A. Riot
The former U.N.I. emcee channeled the anger, hurt and hate of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and made them tangible to everybody with speakers or headphones in 2011.
Producer of the Year
As one of the year's most impactful emcees, Mississippi native Big K.R.I.T.'s production equally astounded us this year. Soulful chops, hard bass and scribbled scratches show K.R.I.T. is influenced by Organized Noize, Pimp C and DJ Toomp. Moreover, in addition to his second album-worthy masterpiece in ReturnOf4Eva, Krilzle stepped in to assist T.I., Ludacris and Smoke DZA with sounds that made outstanding marks in their catalogs. J. Cole, Blu and Kanye West aren't the only talented '00s emcees who are also sought after for their sounds.
Tour of the Year
Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch The Throne Tour
While the best records of 2011 may have been about everyday life, the best shows were theaters of escape. Without opening acts and entourages in the wings, Jay-Z and Kanye West stole the stage with a stripped-down show of beats and rhymes, and royal declarations. As some performances reportedly had multiple displays of the same song, along with a massive marketing campaign like the days of old, the decadence was still in effect, as two of Rap's blazers hit the trails once more.
Rock the Bells
Rock The Bells' classic album-sets created the nostalgia of yesteryear with key Hip Hop pairings like Nas and AZ, Black Moon, and Black Star. The tour also featured performances by Lauren Hill, Mobb Deep, GZA, Raekwon, and Cypress Hill.
Hip Hop & Love
Murs and the Blu Roc crew brought their own smoked out basement party to 52 cities across the U.S. of A. with an array of sounds, all held together with Ski Beatz and the Senseis' masterful instrumentation. The tour featured performances by Murs, Ski Beatz, tabi Bonney, McKenzie Eddy, and Da$h.
Comeback of the Year
After the letdown of 2008's Universal Mind Control, Common made the album that fans had been yearning for in The Dreamer, The Believer. The full reunion with No I.D. honed Comm's range, and let the lyrics elevate for the Chicago icon. Comm made a major comeback, just as he has before (Be) and proved why he deserves to be considered as one of the greatest emcees of the last 20 years. Sometimes going back to the blueprint that made you meaningful to listeners is the best move an artist can make after 20 years of album-making.
Royce Da 5'9
Eminem and Royce Da 5'9 finished what Bad Meets Evil started in the late '90s. The Shady Records CEO helped the one-time major label castaway earn a gold plaque and reach the mainstream masses with his brand of arrogant lyricism.
Verse of the Year
Kendrick Lamar in "HiiiPower"
"Who said a Black man in the Illuminati? / Last time I checked, that was the biggest racist party." Lyrical smart-bombs from Kendrick Lamar made this J. Cole-produced single a true benchmark of excellence this year. The post-racial America themes, and finger-on-the-pistol imagery at play on this Section.80 single helped bring many listeners to the album, along with its brooding beat and charged chorus. Additionally, K-Dot's mixture of hope and paranoia was very parallel to the zeitgeist of 2011. As the songwriter said, "I won't sugar-coat it / You'd die from diabetes if these other niggas wrote it." Food for thought, bitches.
Non-Hip Hop Album of the Year
Frank Ocean's Nostalgia, Ultra
Having written songs for artists like Beyoncé, John Legend, and even Justin Bieber, Odd Future's lead songbird had his own debut project shelved by his label. Once his disgruntled demeanor turned to full-on anger, Mr. Frank Ocean put the album out on his Tumblr page. Nostalgia, Ultra is everything a project should be for a man who endured a terrible breakup, has self-diagnosed synesthesia (the ability to see sound in colors), and can write lyrics from the deepest walls of his heart. While "Novacane" was a track about begging for numbness, Ocean's fan base felt everything he was saying. Even Hip Hop's vets joined the movement, as Ocean appeared on Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne, and Ocean is working with Nas on new music as well. Of course, there are the collabs with his OFWGKTA constituents, but for a guy who sings abstract Soul, Frank Ocean gets the major Hip Hop cosign.
Adele's heartbreaking work impressed everybody at HipHopDX, bringing vocal power back into the mainstream.
TV On The Radio's Nine Types of Light
This was another melodic masterpiece for the veteran Brooklyn group who's veered into Hip Hop before, courtesy of El-P, Beans and Wale's debut.
Disappointing Album of the Year
Lupe Fiasco's Lasers
Lasers isn't so much an inherently bad album, as it is a bad Lupe Fiasco album. Hearing the emcee we marveled at as he flipped double entendres, similes and alliterations on "Go Go Gadget Flow," resort to mailed in verses with Trey Songz hooks was rather confounding. Perhaps the only thing worse was watching Lupe change course by blaming this collection of watered-down singles on Atlantic Records, only to later celebrate the moderate commercial success Lasers achieved. But between the reception of Friend of The People, and his Grammy nomination concert performance alongside Common, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and Scorpio, and his efforts in the Occupy Wall Street movement, we're pretty sure the dude who found something to rhyme with Zach Galifianakis is still around and more than capable. It's just a damn shame he was rarely found on Lasers.
Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV
Weezy F. kept us all waiting a little too long for too little for C4. Despite being 2011's best-seller Rap album with a bullet, this work was all over the place, figuring out "How To Love."
Rising Star of the Year
As new movements have popped out of the West, South and even in New York, Action "Bam Bam" Bronson was a pleasure to watch and listen to for fans of '90s Big Apple Hip Hop, and just gritty music in general. The Queens native made two albums this year and rose the ranks to becoming one of Hip Hop's most desired collaborators. To hear Dr. Lecter or Well Done is to love Bronson. His culinary skills and self-deprecation may draw comparisons to others before him, but this likable figure of Rap was a welcomed anchor to what we've always loved about the genre in a wind of change.
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator's unpredictable show antics and say-anything freedom felt refreshing this last year, along with a jaw-dropping video.
Flint, Michigan's Jon Connor built a movement before our eyes, and mobbed his way into the ears of many with hard-nosed raps at a pace that would make Tupac Shakur jealous.
Story of the Year
The Unexpected Passing of Beloved Hip Hop Artists
Death in Hip Hop led the headlines again this year. The morning of March 16 proved particularly shocking, as 213's Nate Dogg died from stroke complications. The former Death Row Records singer who had been involved in so many classic singles had been battling health issues for years. As Hip Hop embraces the health movement, Nate's passing, the untimely death of Heavy D and Rick Ross' seizure were wake-up calls to action.
Collaboration of the Year
Lil Wayne featuring Tech N9ne, Andre 3000, Bun B, Nas, Shyne & Busta Rhymes on "Interlude"
Weezy’s Tha Carter IV was met with a lukewarm response, as fans and haters alike expected more from the fourth installment of Lil Wayne's "Carter" series. However, woven throughout the album are these interludes that take some of the heaviest hitters in Rap and drop them in the midst of this hookless cypher that hooks anyone who listens.
Someone from Tech N9ne's camp as an act of genius, put all of the interludes together as one song. And voila! It became the best song on the album. While Wayne opens the deconstructed interlude, Tech N9ne joins in with his signature ferocity, Andre 3000 proceeds and the others follow suit for what can arguably be 2011's first classic track. See? Lil Wayne gets the glory and only did half of the work.
Pusha T featuring Tyler, The Creator on "Trouble On My Mind"
Skateboards and Ziplocks work together, when you have two dope emcees who both seemed to actually make this far-reaching collaboration feel authentic.
Album of the Year
Kendrick Lamar's Section.80
For the first time in HipHopDX history, a digital album topped our yearly nod. Compton, California's Kendrick Lamar made a summer smash in Section.80 that rocked right through December. Lamar's lyrical versatility and smart-while-seeming-apathetic style made him a staff and reader favorite in 2011. Tracks like "Fuck Your Ethnicity," "HiiiPower" and "A.D.H.D." were soundtracks to the movements of the last 12 months. The social commentary found in these songs resonated with the hearts and minds of many - including early supporters in Tech N9ne, Game and Drake. In the face of big budget albums from Jay-Z and Kanye West as well as Drizzy and Lil Wayne, this indie project's honesty and fledgling cast of features and producers made it a charming, energetic and informed listen. At just 24, K-Dot is wise beyond his years and transmitted that knowledge with some incredibly dope stylings from the Top Dawg Entertainment family.
The Roots' undun
Black Thought, ?uestlove and the gang made a conceptual masterpiece that scored a perfect rating from DX and proved to be an appropriate soundtrack to many of the year's headlines and attitudes.
Phonte's Charity Starts At Home
Phonte's skillful solo debut, Charity Starts At Home, also affirmed that 2011's finest albums were not about wealth and prestige, but about self-empowerment, struggle and the everyman lifestyle.
Readers' Choice Album of the Year
Game's The R.E.D. Album
By a margin of over 500 votes, another Compton rapper, Game, made the reader-favorite for 2011. R.E.D. was a star-studded album, that attempted the concept and executed the blueprint that the onetime Dr. Dre protege is known for. Dre's narration on the album, along with Game's odes to Hip Hop, his street gang and extra-terrestrials made this a stylized listen, with some timely recognition of Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator. Just under 15,000 voters participated in this year's election, and an album that staff also championed took this year's honor.
Tech N9ne's All 6's & 7's
The Kansas City kingpin may be known for his underground status, but his biggest-sounding and best-selling album to date resonated with readers, especially with its emphasis on powerful songwriting and delivery.
Kendrick Lamar's Section.80
Readers agreed with the staff: K-Dot stays "overly dedicated" to his craft and was among the best of the best in a year of transition.
Video of the Year
Tyler, The Creator's "Yonkers"
Getting to know Odd Future in '11 was enhanced so much by the video for Tyler, The Creator’s single “Yonkers.” Like the good ol’ days of Yo! MTV Raps, the self-directed video only brought the lyrics' attitude to the screen, with splashy visuals to complement the hard bassline: vomiting, cockroaches and even the Los Angeles emcee hanging himself. This video got DX all kinds of excited about Goblin, and like last year's “Earl” vid, affirmed that anything-goes attitude that has made OFWGKTA so fun to watch, and so essential to bringing some excitement back into Rap.
Beastie Boys' "Make Some Noise"
The Beasties made a star-studded return that not only poked fun at the Rap pioneers' earliest visuals, but upheld their reputation as music video masters of concept.