Best of 2011 – A Year in Hip-Hop: Changing Faces and DIY Success

Our last of the Best of 2011 series gives us Blake Kirpes’ picks for best in Hip-Hop (put the kids to bed…consider yourselves, warned).

“While people were busy watching the throne, ‘we’ stormed the castle”
Sage Francis

And storming the “castle” is exactly what the new faces of Hip-Hop did.  The sheer abundance of new artists, break–out albums, and future classics crammed into 2011, is something of which hip-hop has never seen. In 2011, the hip-hop scene burgeoned with fresh faces and break-outs boasting styles unlike any heard before. Diversity reigned supreme.

Das Racists and Danny Brown mixed personal and social consciousness with humor. Here’s a video from Das Racists for Michael Jackson.


Shabazz Palaces and Death Grips stretched the boundaries of the art form. Sims (Doomtree) and Tyler, the Creator (Oddfuture) released critically acclaimed solo projects alongside collaborations with their respective crews. Action Bronson put a fresh spin on an old sound, while the more established DJ Quik and The Roots turned out some of their most impressive work to date.

With a steady stream of promising new talent and accompanying diversity creating the theme in 2011,  the past year may also be remembered for its preponderance of Free Album Mixtapes; fully produced and realized albums, released for free under the alias of a “Mixtape”.  And while the free albums may be free, they are anything but throw outs with several garnering coveted spots on year-end lists in Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, and Stereogum.

In a year marked by immense talent and diversity, choosing favorites is no easy task, but it must be done. Rounding out the top three albums on my list; Kendrick Lamar (Section 80), Big K.R.I.T. (The Return of 4eva), and Danny Brown (XXX). All three artists have used the ‘Album as Mixtape’ format to its maximum capacity. Starting the year as “independent artists,” Big K.R.I.T and Kendrick Lamar have since signed to major labels (Island Def Jam and Aftermath Records, respectively), while Danny Brown joined the supreme indie label Fool’s Gold (Chromeo, Cool Kids, Lil B)  — Speaking on the influx of new & innovative hip-hop artist, Danny Brown said, “We’re the guys trying to end hair metal in rap”, and on his track XXX, Brown echoes the sentiment of Sage Francis with the line, “I’m strategizing, plotting on the throne”. Given all of the promising acts brought to us in 2011, it’s likely some will have the chance to “take the throne”, the real question is who, and are they interested?

Want free Albums/Mixtapes by the Artists mentioned above? Click on any of the links below (they’re free!):
Danny Brown – XXX
Big K.R.I.T –The Return of 4eva
Sims – Wildlife (EP)
Das Racist – Sit Down, Man
Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude
Death Grips – Exmilitary
Odd Future

Other notable FREE Albums/Mixtapes from 2011:
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Lil B – I’m Gay
Mr.Muthafucking eXquire – Lost in Translation
Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
Milo – I wish my brother Rob was here
THURZ – La Riot
Logic – Young Sinatra

Blake Kirpes, Music Supervisor