I don't make it a secret that The Roots are my favorite hip-hop group of all my time, nor do I try to hide the fact that Black Thought is by far my favorite emcee. It then goes to reason that the best song on what is one of their best albums would be holding down the number one spot on my top songs of 2011 list. "Make My" is an instant classic; beautifully nihilistic, it perfectly expresses the thoughts of somebody who is ready to be done with it all. The liner notes say that Khari Mateen had a hand in producing the song, and I think that really shows. I've been a fan of the kid's music since he was playing bass for Nouveau Riche.
2. Tyler The Creator - Yonkers (buy)
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is a pretty divisive collective. On one hand, the kids are talented as hell. Their production, lyricism, and creativity is on par with any one in the industry at times. On the other hand, they're still pretty young, and as such can come off as abrasive, annoying, and sometimes downright offensive. This song was my real introduction to the RZA of the crew, Tyler the Creator, and was more than enough to have me going back to check his (and the rest of OFWGKTA's) material. I had to throw the actual video in there for this one since it's really well done.
3. The Mean - Dragon Blues (site)
I've been a big fan of this group for a while now. I think I first saw them back in 2007. I was at a Hezekiah show at Silk City and the band's lead singer, Aaron Livingston, did a short solo set. I was impressed with his music, and became even more interested after finding out he was the guy singing the hook on The Roots' "Guns Are Drawn". I saw a ton of their shows throughout the next few years, and had nothing but good things to say about them. "Dragon Blues" is not only one of the best songs on Zero Zero, but one of the best songs in the group's catalogue (which is no small praise considering how much I enjoy their music). Since I tried to mix it up with the artists I've included in this list, I had to keep my other favorite track from that album off the list, but "Keep Time" is another excellent song worth checking out. Really, just get the whole album already.
4. King - Hey (buy)
Well, would you look at that! Not everything I like is depressing or violent. I absolutely fell in love with this group and their three song ep, The Story. Despite being named "King", they're actually a trio of women (and very talented ones, too). They impressively handle both the vocals and the production on this project, with fantastic music and beautifully sung melodies. I strongly recommend checking the EP out. The only knock against it is the length; at 13 minutes long and will have you desperately waiting for a full length from the group.
5. R.E.K.S. - 25th Hour (buy)
I love hip-hop, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better straight up, no-gimmicks hip-hop track than "25th Hour" in 2011. Despite the fact that I never heard of him before this song, R.E.K.S. definitely caught my ear with this one. The second verse is probably the illest I've heard this year. That coupled with production from the greatest hip-hop producer of all time (a.k.a. DJ Premier) makes this an easy choice to round out my top five.
And now, for a few honorable mentions:
Aeon - One For Rob (from Beta Max) - Excellent instrumental from one of Philly's best producers.
Writtenhouse - Cigarette Smoke (from While You Were Sleeping) - Dope track from Philly hip-hop trio (now duo), the House).
Pharoahe Monch - Clap (from W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)) - My favorite track off of Monch's 2011 release.
Illvibe Collective - 80 Days (from All Together Now) - Fantastically soulful song featuring Ne'a Posey.
Elucid - Fuck The Dumb (from Super Chocolate Black Simian) - "Nobody's asking questions. They just want a job."
Dumhi - Paramount (from The Whole World Is Watching) - Great production from Haj and dope verses from Random, Ethel Cee, and Reef the Lost Cauze.
Curren$y - #Jetsgo (from Weekend at Burnie's) - Not my normal thing, but this is undeniable.
Tanya Morgan - Together (from You & What Army) - I personally was not aware Exile could rap.
Random Axe - Understand This (from Random Axe) - Cricket noise in the background. Sick.
Small Professor - Long Island (Iced) (from Elderly Jawns) - I heard an early version of Small Pro's upcoming album in 2011, but it doesn't release until later this month. You should get that.
Thanks for reading. If you like any of the music, please buy it and support the artists.
The Sound of Philadelphia
Despite the number of shows and artists I've seen and shot over the years, I don't think many can compare to the man in the photograph above. That's Mr. Kenneth Gamble, part of the world famous song writing duo, Gamble & Huff. He helped pioneer the "Philly Sound" and shaped the landscape of American music for decades. He's worked with some of the most talented singers and musicians to ever press an LP, and he continues to create great music and spread positivity through Philadelphia and across the globe.
There's already a great video over at PMM of Edward Sharp doing his thing on stage (as well as a ton of other excellent videos).
#nowplaying: Outkast - Reset (Speakerboxxx. 2003).