Saturday, December 31, 2011
HipHopDX: Zaytoven Explains Producing Young Jeezy's "Trap Or Die 2," Lessons Learned From JT The Bigga Figga And DJ Quik
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By: Paul Meara and Brandon Roos
What a year it was for hip hop in 2011. So many great projects came out ranging from the refreshing smooth-ridding riddles of Big K.R.I.T.'s Return of 4eva to a straight return to 90s street harmonies with a classic Pete Rock and Smif N Wessun collaboration in Monumental.
It was hard choosing the best 25 albums/mixtapes/EPs/whatevers. Actually, it was so hard that I had to enlist my homie and HipHopDX colleague Brandon Roos to help me with the list. All summaries ending in "PM," I wrote obviously. All ending with "BR," he wrote. Pretty simple.
Before we get to the list, all those expecting to see The Carter IV or Take Care on this one, please consult the top 25 pop list that I am creating never.
The projects were judged on the following:
- Production and how it flows with the project
- Undercurrents in the process of the creation of the project
Also whenever possible or appropriate, I have incorporated quotes from different interviews I did with the artists on the list during the past year. I feel it’s something I can do and it’s different so I did it.
So without further a due, I give you Paul Meara’s top 25 albums/mixtapes/EPs/whatevers of 2011.
Album: Thank H.E.R. Now
Release Date: 6/21/11
Summary: A pleasant surprise surfaced early summer when Rapsody, one of the newest members of the Justus League, dropped Thank H.E.R. Now. A 9th Wonder produced gem, Rap's second career release showed off the more polished skills of young woman trying to make it in a male-dominated profession.
Young on in her career, Rapsody has been fortunate to work with a wide array of talented artists and Thank H.E.R. Now features many of them. From new guys like Big K.R.I.T. and Mac Miller to legends like Raekwon, Rap Diddy has been able to cross off a large amount of bucket list collabos only two years into her solo stray.
In a HipHopDX interview a week after the release, Rapsody said Thank H.E.R. Now, "Exceeded my expectations because I didn’t expect to get the features I got. I didn’t think Raekwon, I didn’t think Estelle, you know just to be working with her and Marsha Ambrosius - I never expected that."
For those who like good emceeing, this a drop you need to scoop up. And to those who think females are soft and can't spit and then go listen to Drake, (sigh) (and then shake my head). -PM
Favorite Song: Black Girl Jedi
Album: Now or Neva
Artist(s): L.E.P. Bogus Boyz
Release Date: 10/31/11
Summary: For those who believe gangster rap is on its way out, peep out L.E.P. Bogus Boyz and cop Now or Neva. Often times considered "the new Mobb Deep," L.E.P. has not only been creating buzz in Chicago, they've been quenching the thirst of everyone who's been parched for a resurgence of the hardcore street movement.
Now or Neva is a street album but is not limited to the archives of the grumpy gangster. The project features many samples of actual newscasts from Chicago in which the newscaster reports incidents of Chi-town's harsh subculture and the music follows up perfectly.
With multiple tracks produced by the Justus League and emcee features like Meek Mill and Lupe Fiasco, Now or Neva shows versatility but gives the listener enough of an introduction with the duo as they continue to build on a solid 2011 release. -PM
Favorite Song: Claim My Shit
Album: Raw Forever
Release Date: 9/27/11
Summary: A unique decision made by the QB kingpin, the creation of Raw Forever was perhaps the perfect hold-me-over until Mega's 2012 heat.
Featuring a mix of classic Cormega tracks, a live band remix of some of those fan favorites along with a few new releases, Raw Forever gives the fans more than just a traditional greatest hits while its double CD feature makes the purchase all the more valuable.
"Raw Forever is actually just a 'Best of Cormega Tape,'" Cormega told The Mearablog Podcast. "So I wanted to give the fan an incentive to buy it and an incentive to add that to their catalog."
And that they did Mega. Great concept! -PM
Favorite Song: XI (New track)
Album: Thug Matrix 3
Artist: Tragedy Khadafi
Release Date: 9/20/2011
Summary: A really slept on effort from the former Juice Crew associate, Thug Matrix 3 could have been the best episode of the trilogy put fourth by Tragedy Khadafi. The Intelligent Hoodlum did an exceptional job of integrating neo hip hop sound while maintaining a traditional Queensbridge modulation; Free Thinkers and Narcotic Lines are prime examples of this association.
Tragedy also integrates a political loop in this work, something not uncommon from the QB fixture. If anyone is wondering what Queensbridge sounds like in 2011, TM3 is a perfect answer.
Trag takes no leave from bringing his classic hardcore lyrics on this one and the instrumentals complement his street poetry perfectly. Perhaps a few years behind bars did him some good (unsure if it is doing his other QB counterpart any good...). -PM
Favorite Song: Narcotic Lines
Album: Violence Begets Violence
Artist(s): Jedi Mind Tricks
Release Date: 10/25/11
Summary: Upon first run-through of this album one may not be able to tell that Stoupe was not a producer on the project.
Violence Begets Violence sounds very similar, yet slightly different to other JMT releases but still keeps the traditional raw element of Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah emceeing.
The group famously split ties with their longtime producer Stoupe after creative differences and work-related emotions had the trio parting ways. Jus Allah told The Mearablog Podcast that Stoupe's heart wasn't into Jedi Mind Tricks any more and said, "If you're not a part of the project, then you're not a part of the project, that's what's up and me and Paz gonna keep moving."
Stoupe or no Stoupe, VBV is just another successful notch to add to the JMT belt. -PM
Favorite Song: Carnival of Souls
Album: The Great Debater
Release Date: 8/30/11
Summary: Skyzoo has always been one of those dope emcees whose voice has been lost in talent laden jungle of the Brooklyn Zoo.
A very slept on effort, The Great Debater may have also followed its creator and stayed out of the limelight but Sky's consistent flow and solid lyricism, displayed on TGD, are certainty nothing to sleep on. The Duckdown dope-man doesn't try to please listeners with far out gimmicks or strange instrumentals, he just hits them with the hardcore raw that fans have come to expect.
Shortly after the release, Skyzoo told The Mearablog Podcast about what the title meant. Sky said, "With the title The Great Debator pretty much a lot of people felt like would it be something where I'm the Great Debator, would it be political, things like that but that wasn't the case at all. More so the tape was the Great Debator."
No debate with this release. Solid and definitely worth copping. -PM
Album: All 6's and 7's
Artist: Tech N9ne
Release Date: 6/7/11
Summary: Often striving to be strange and out of the ordinary, Tech N9ne strikes again on All 6's and 7's. With a variety of flows and a range of features, most fitting in with the album, this project doesn't do much disappointing... Until you hear Weezy's voice.
All 6's and 7's is a very impressive effort but it is definitely not striving to be one thing, underground. This album makes little effort to remain in the dungeons of hip hop's subterrestrial. While his flow is not typical of those among the realms of the mainstream, it sounds nothing like any independent album that has been released in 2011. Calling this album underground is like calling Big Sean: MF DOOM.
A commercial musical style and the Lil Wayne feature aside, All 6's and 7's does bring listeners on a journey through different musical genres often changing even in the same song; this is evident in tracks Cult Leader and Strangeland.
One thing is for certain, this is the number one bizarre album of 2011 Hands Down. -PM
Favorite Song: Cult Leader
Album: Black Up
Artist: Shabazz Palaces
Release Date: 6/28/11
Summary: Behold a blast from the past released from a very unlikely corner of the musical universe – Black Up, the full length release from former Digable Planets frontman Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, released on indie darling Sub Pop. Jay & 'Ye may have toyed with dubstep on Watch the Throne, but Black Up's sonic explorations make a track like the Throne's Can't Stop feel simply like musical dabbling.
This is an album constructed for multiple listens, with each teasing out a few more layers of the project. Black Up may only last 36 minutes, but its impact is bountiful and lasting. At times, it sounds like Shabazz Palazes are simply getting back to the basics, building beats out of little more than heavy lows and brash highs. At other moments (sometimes in the same song) they seem to be striving to see just how far they can stretch the boundaries of a given track.
This won't be the easiest listen, but if you want to hear Hip hop that thrives on the fringes, this is the album for you. -BR
Favorite Song: Are you . . . Can You . . . Were You? (Felt)
Album: From The Westside with Love II
Artist: Dom Kennedy
Release Date: 6/28/11
Summary: Dom Kennedy isn't the most lyrically gifted rapper in the game, but his charm comes more from his charisma and great ear for beats with a West Coast bounce than his bars. On his first retail release, Dom plays his own hype man, recounting the highs and lows of being the guy girls want and dudes hope to be.
From the West Side with Love II is further proof of the rap resurgence happening in So Cal, and Dom is at the forefront of it, echoing the breathless fun and carefree attitude many have come to expect from the West Coast. -BR
Favorite Song: Grind'n
Artist: Fly Union
Release Date: 4/26/11
Summary: In what can be considered an organized debut by the hometown homies at Fly.U, T.G.T.C. offers a swagger-filled journey with fabulous production by the groups MnkyWrench team of Jay Swif and Iye.
In a HipHopDX interview over the summer with Fly U, Iye explained, "When we dropped The Greater Than Club, it was a lifestyle thing too, which is where the title comes from. But just the expectations of it were we just wanted to put a quality album out versus a mixtape. It went through the mixtape channels and circuit but in our eyes, we put it out as an album."
And while T.G.T.C. is considered a mixtape in the eyes of the media when it was released, the project definitely comes full circle like an album. The mechanical melodies with unique drops definitely make the group's sound unique. Songs like Long Run and Look Up To The Sky show the group's potential as the future brings big things for them. While they have a long way to go, T.G.T.C. is definitely a solid launching pad for the trio. -PM
Favorite Song: Hard Sell
Artist: Action Bronson
Release Date: 3/15/11
Dr. Lecter presents listeners with a variety of flows and also, provides them with a variety of themes, food being the most obvious. 2011 provided a glimpse of New York in a different lens whether it be in a southern feel with Smoke DZA or a trill feel with A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson pleased traditional New York hip hop fans and kept it NY. Songs like Shiraz and Barry Horowitz give listeners a wide range of Action's New York influences. It is no wonder why he said 36 Chambers "Brought everything to a different light."
What kept Action credible as not only an independent artist but one that respects his craft was his absence of high profile collaborations on the album.
Dr. Lecter can be credited as one of the best debut albums of the year and you can tell Action was hungry this one out. Pun intended! -PM
Favorite Song: Ronnie Coleman
Album: W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
Artist: Pharoahe Monch
Release Date: 3/22/11
Summary: While the mainstream continues to be dominated by the simple hook and the viral dance, Pharaohe Monch, a mainstay in the underground scene, decided to deliver a release for hip-hop heads that makes us remember what makes Hip Hop so powerful in the first.
On W.A.R., Monch spits about the relatable, and sad, realities of modern day living. It serves as a call to arms for the new rap generation, one that reveals our shortcomings while pointing out that we still can change.
Pharaohe Monch once again makes a solid case for why he deserves much more respect in the game. -BR
Favorite Song: Black Hand Side
Artist(s): Pete Rock & Smif N Wessun
Release Date: 6/28/11
Summary: What would it be like if a legendary hip hop producer linked up with a legendary hip hop duo? Monumental would happen.
Laced with fabulous production from producing legend Pete Rock, Monumental became one of the most solid releases of 2011 and a great way to kick off the summer.
The album starts off strong and let's the listener know exactly what they are about to get back to in not only the intro, but the second track Monumental as well. Even The Chocolate Boy Wonder jumps in with a few bars!
Monumental is a great relief for those displeased with the current status of hip hop as the record returns to the traditional helms of street lyricism and hard hitting instrumentals.
Favorite Song: Monumental
Album: The Greatest Story Never Told
Release Date: 2/15/11
Summary: Before The Greatest Story Never Told finally dropped early this year, Saigon was running the risk of his brief television arc on Entourage actually eclipsing his once-promising rap career. When it finally dropped in February, Saigon showed that he'd been saving the best for his album, silencing all the negative hype that tends to litter the c-section when you become known more for delays than actual music.
Just Blaze plays just as much into the album's success as Saigon himself, with his drops and beats driving the album's storyline along with all the force we've come to expect from his instrumentals.
Saigon's long-awaited debut proves that not all endlessly-delayed albums fail to deliver on their promise of great music. -BR
Favorite Song: Clap
Artist: A$AP Rocky
Release Date: 10/31/11
Summary: A$AP is one of the most interesting artists in hip-hop music today. Known for his infamous Texas trill sound, the Bronx emcee integrates the trilla south in the heart of the cold, hardcore streets of New York. Live.Love.A$AP takes listeners on a journey but does not completely remove them from the east coast. A$AP Rocky's latest mixtape also answers the question of, "I wonder what would happen if Clams Casino actually worked with an artist actually trying to be for real in his rhyme scheme."
Besides the obvious headliners of Purple Swag and Peso, Live.Love.A$AP does offer numerous quality cuts making this mixtape one to remember in 2011. Get Lit and Keep it G are joints to have on your playlist for sure. Peso is definitely the song that is most memorable. It is the best example of the mixing of New York melodies with the trunk bumping bass of Houston Texas.
A$AP Rocky has assembled his clan and if this is only a mixtape, just think of what an album will be like? -PM
Favorite Song: Peso
Artist: Cats & Dogs
Release Date: 9/27/11
Summary: If you like your West Coast with some great soul samples and heavy drums, you've found your winner. Evidence spits like you've come to expect from the LA native and member of Dilated Peoples, gaining some help from long-time friend and collaborator Alchemist, among others.
Cats & Dogs also features collaborations with New York hip hop legends like Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Raekwon adding to the queue of quality talent on one of the year's most slept on projects.
This may only be Ev's second solo release, but his skill on the mic and ear for great records (even when they're his own) show that he can ably carry an entire record on his own. -BR
Favorite Song: The Red Carpet
Album: The Div
Artist(s): Pac Div
Release Date: 11/8/11
Summary: The Universal hookup had Pac Div in a vice with the major label and thus out of the spotlight for a few years. What did they need? The Div.
Pac Div's latest release put them back in the national spotlight with popular tracks like Top Down and Posted and showed that the young trio isn't going anywhere. With interesting features such as Asher Roth, Casey Veggies and Skeme, the album wasn't overloaded with a bunch of extras; only those that complemented the Div three and the wonderful production provided.
In an Interview with HipHopDX, Pac Div spoke on the project and creative control with Universal. BeYoung said, "I mean on Universal, we still had our control and everything but there was certain things that you had to agree with them but this is like it always is, all the way Pac Div but it’s more so now that we’ve got our freedom and all of that." -PM
Favorite Song: Posted
Album: For the Record
Release Date: 11/1/11
Summary: For the Record is everything progressive hip-hop heads want; great emceeing, limited features and production from older cats combined with some of the best of what today has to offer from behind the mixers.
Torae enlists leaders of new school hip-hop sound in board masters and Jamla associates 9th Wonder and Khrysis while also featuring legends of the game in DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Large Professor. What makes this album different from others that stack super producers in order to pull in listeners is it actually flows as if these songs were supposed to go together. This combination makes picking a favorite song difficult while requiring the listener to comprehend the full project; always a great trait when judging an album's quality.
Versatility is also very notable as Torae is able to throw on some classic spitter joints such as Shakedown and For the Record while including softer songs like Over You and Imagine with no fear of contradiction. Everything on 'For the Record' flows together, a credit to Torae for selecting the perfect amount of features and the right production team for an LP that lives up to the true description of ALBUM. -PM
Favorite Song: For the Record
Album: The Sender
Release Date: 8/16/11
Summary: The most slept on project of 2011, The Sender took listeners on a journey through smooth, distant-sounding tracks chopped by beat master 9th Wonder while they were treated to emceeing that provided the realness few rappers spew in today's hip hop game.
While Median is well introduced in all of The Sender's cuts, the project almost feels like a mini Justus League release (which makes it even better!)
Songs like Open My Thoughts show him as a smooth-flowing spitter while the production seamlessly flows with the emcee. The track "The Sender" also voices Median's realness side, explaining that he isn't anybody other than who he is. -PM
Favorite Song: Hi Five
Album: The Wonder Years
Artist: 9th Wonder
Release Date: 10/14/11
Summary: As you would expect, 9th Wonder's warm soul production is front and center on his fourth album. Guests range from Erykah Badu to Warren G and Kendrick Lamar. This compilation has enough guests to satisfy nearly everyone's taste in rap while 9th's consistently satisfying instrumentals keep the party on his terms.
Little Brother fanatics will be pleased to know that 9th teams up with Phonte on “Band Practice pt. 2,” just as 9th helped with Phonte's solo debut Charity Starts at Home. LB may still be defunct, but two-thirds of a reunion on a handful of tracks is still enough to get excited. -BR
Favorite Song: Enjoy (West Coastin')
Album: Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
Release Date: 3/8/11
Summary: The sword sharp lyrics of Shaolin definitely met the Wu-Twang slang in this one. Unlike the modern classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, Raekwon's latest endeavor ditched the mafioso style of a traditional Rae drop in favor of a return to the temples of Shaolin and it's easy to say this change really payed off.
Not unlike other solo projects, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang maintains a theme through out the album. Samples of the martial arts film, entitled with the same name, are present through out the album, a trademark of every Wu affiliated release.
While the theme remains constant, the instrumental array is as diverse as the album features. From traditional Raekwon counterparts like Ghostface Killah and Killah Priest to random yet surprisingly well-fitting modern constituents such as Estelle and Jim Jones, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang illuminates every one of Staten Island's 36 Chambers and reminds listeners that Wu-Tang is still in full force even in 2011. -PM
Favorite Song: Snake Pond
Album: Return of 4eva
Artist: Big K.R.I.T.
Release Date: 3/28/11
Summary: If there was anything southern hip hop music needed, it was Big K.R.I.T.
Return of 4eva integrates every characteristic of what classic southern hip hop albums have featured in the last 20 years into one project without biting any style and makes those craving a quick RETURN to the smooth-operating days smile FOREVER. For those tired of Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy representing the south and yearning for a restitution of classic Outkast, Goodie Mob and Triple 6 , Return of 4eva should be on repeat through your 16-inch subs.
Big K.R.I.T. makes it no secret who his influences are in this one sampling everyone from Outkast to Three Six Mafia and oh yeah, it's exclusively produced by K.R.I.T. himself only enhancing the syncing of soulful melody and MCing flow. Return of 4eva doesn't just show off Big K.R.I.T.'s versatility as a producer, it also exposes his adaptability as an emcee as well. Soulful songs like Lions and Lambs and Dreamin' are offset by classic trunk bumpers like Rotation and My Sub.
Most impressively could be how K.R.I.T. can take classic southern samples and make a completely new sounding song out of them. R4 Theme Song is a perfect example of this.
But perhaps Return of 4eva does more than just give listeners another great southern hip hop album. The cut that most explains this project and K.R.I.T. himself is "Time Machine." Time Machine isn't just another song that pays respects to those before him. It's not another joint that explains his life or struggles. Time Machine is the definition of what Big K.R.I.T. is all about. It brings those who lived in that time and in that region back to those days and helps them relive those moments. Thank you K.R.I.T. -PM
Artist: The Roots
Release Date: 12/6/11
Summary: What do you do when haters start claiming that taking a gig as a house band is making you soft? You go down the creative rabbit hole and produce an “existential re-telling” of a character's life.
A Hip Hop concept album sounds like an easy way to get flogged by critics, but when it's handled by the Infamous Roots Crew, it's executed to perfection, enough for HipHopDX and other publications to call their latest a classic. When you listen back, it's not hard to see why.
13 albums into a storied career, The Roots still sound like trailblazers pushing the creative boundaries of a genre they've inhabited for well over a decade. With live instrumentation that makes programmed loops sound sonically skinny, undun serves as another testament to Black Thought's rhymes being among the best around, as well as a claim for the Roots to be considered one of the best bands out, rock, rap or otherwise. -BR
Favorite Song: Kool On
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Release Date: 7/2/11
Summary: Everyone knew the kid had talent and that he would be a force to be reckoned with in years to come but Kendrick Lamar's mid-summer surprise pleased audiences of all types. From the old-school head craving crazy flow to the teenager dealing with social problems, Section.80 told the story of many, black and white; Fuck Your Ethnicity.
While the album and its tracks flow very well, it's hard to actually listen to the whole thing and say exactly what the message was. From the problems of the streets in songs like Poe Mans Dreams to the problems of the world in tracks like Hiiipower, K-Dot's message is as diverse as his flow.
For a kid at the young age of 23, Kendrick Lamar voices the devastation of his surroundings during the 1980s, like many, calling it the Ronald Reagan Era and referring to himself as a "crack baby." Perhaps a kid before his time?
Kendrick also limits the features on his latest LP, which gives listeners a more intimate introduction of the artist who they will be hearing classic after classic from for years and years to come. Don't agree? Take it up with Dr. Dre. -PM
Favorite Song: Rigamortus
Album: Charity Starts at Home
Release Date: 9/27/11
Summary: Charity Starts at Home sounds like a 1988 TDK tape that one would find in their basement updated to the sound of 2011. With classic production by 9th Wonder, Phonte's latest effort has received rave reviews all over the web and with great reason.
No tricks, no gimmicks, Charity Starts at Home is just another successful solo endeavor from the Little Brother camp and may alone be proof why the trio had good reason to split.
While the album features a wide arrange of features including everyone from the soulful smoothness of a Big K.R.I.T. to the stripped down spitting of Justus League affiliate Median, the seamless flow of beats and emceeing made every guest on the album obviously appropriate.
If you are a fan of true emceeing, Charity Starts at Home is the album for you. -PM
Favorite Song: Not Here Anymore
Honorable Mention: Random Axe (Random Axe), Joell Ortiz (Free Agent), Watch The Throne (Jay-Z & Kanye West), Lincoln Way Nights (Stalley).