Top 5 Hip Hop Releases of 2011

Although it may feel like it when tuning into the radio, hip-hop is far from being dead. Keeping the culture alive and vibrant, a plethora of creative and conceptual albums from all over the globe were released in 2011. Narrowing down a list of the five best offerings from them is a painstaking task, but giving a listen to the latest from Cuba's Obsesión or LA's earthStonez is definitely a great way to spend these last days of the year reflecting on beats, rhymes and life.


1) Obsesión – El Disco Negro de Obsesión

El Disco Negro de Obsesión is a definitive statement of Afro-Cuban consciousness both in lyrics and sound. Marking their 15th year as a group, Obsesión's conceptual album is finely constructed from its call to topple the statue of Jose Miguel Gomez in “Calle G” to the masterful blending of infectious Afro-Cuban rumba rhythms with hip-hop in “Tú Con Tu Ballet.” El Disco Negro, with clever interludes and transitions, is a seamless listen from start to finish. After touring the U.S. this past Autumn, the influential and originating group was able to coordinate digital distribution through CD Baby and Amazon of what would have otherwise been a hard to get album. Take advantage! You won't be disappointed.

2) Stic – The Workout

With The Workout Dead Prez's Stic has produced a motivational tour de force of mind, body and spiritual uplift. The beats are geared towards a rap-meets-Rocky feel with guitar riffs punctuating some of the grittier songs on the album. Yoga, sobriety, weightlifting, pull-ups and healthy eating are all extolled as virtues in this 'healthy is the new gangsta' offering. Stic's sophomore solo album is great to hit the gym with and is the polar opposite of what is overwhelmingly heard on radio stations that purport to be 'where hip-hop lives.' The Workout, as the soundtrack to the RBG Fit Club, positions hip-hop as a healthy way of life!

3) Lupe Fiasco – Friend of the People Mixtape

Released on Thanksgiving, Lupe Fiasco's Friend of the People mixtape is a feast of rhymes. Unlike the industry tension that came to largely define his third studio album LASERS (which I still vouch for on the strength of tracks like “All Black Everything”) FOTP is unfettered and free of drama. Fiasco opted for an approach of utilizing unorthodox beats from different artists and genres to layer his lyrics over. The approach, an acquired taste for Fiasco's Fahrenheit 1/15 mixtape fans, works in the end going on soapbox tirades over dubstep in “Lupe Back”, while crafting clever 'remember when?' rhymes of early 90's hood flicks in “Double Burger with Cheese.” With all the metaphors, double-meanings, and similes employed, Friend of the People is the work of an unparalleled wordsmith.

4) earthStonez – Audio Therapy

The trademark of all well made albums is fluidity. Fillers, be they interludes, skits, or half-ass tracks, will have you skipping like a school yard kid at recess. When the all-women Los Angeles/Las Vegas underground group earthStonez finally dropped their labor of love Audio Therapy for free on bandcamp it weighed in at a hefty twenty-three tracks. All the more impressive it was to discover that the album was not weighed down at all by that fact. Audio Therapy instead powers through on the strength of properly timed interludes in between all the standout tracks including “Say What You Mean,” “Beautiful Indigo,” and the seductive “Coffee, Sex, Sugar.” Current earthStonez members Fawksie 1, Youthinazia, Asa Lianess, and T.I.W.A.E.I.S have given underground hip-hop a much needed therapeutic session with a woman's touch.

5) Maya Jupiter – Maya Jupiter

A Mexican-Turkish MC from Australia, Maya Jupiter is a global village of hip-hop onto herself. She moved to Southern California, in part, to craft her self-titled album with the help of local son jarocho musicians on the scene. Favoring live percussion instruments over traditional hip-hop beats while jaranas and requintos provide the rhythm and melodies of the songs, Maya Jupiter is unlike any other other rap album you've heard. Feminist, socially conscious lyrics give food for thought as her lead single aptly proclaims, this Chicana from down under is “Phenomenal!”

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