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12.26.11 My Top Five Mixtapes Of 201112.17.11 My Top Ten Albums Of 2011

My Top Five Mixtapes Of 2011

Separated from my longer albums list on the basis of these being released legitimately for free.
5A$AP Rocky

The main hype around Rocky this year concerned the huge sum ($3 million)
that was ponied up to secure him to a record label contract; in retrospect, it
was a strange move, especially in the current record sales climate, but was
it worth it? Well, Rocky is a classic all-form, no-content rapper, he says
nothing of real substance on LiveLoveA$AP and he doesn't even really say
what little he does (Cliff Notes: he reps Harlem, is a cool guy, possibly
imports drugs, and will likely steal your girlfriend) in a particularly new or
clever way. The reason this tape is on here is essentially down to two
things: Rocky's swaggering delivery and utter confidence, and the
murderer's row of beatmakers he assembled for this project. On the first,
Rocky has a great rap voice even if he isn't a particularly technically adept
MC, he projects laid-back cool at all opportunities, like nothing much phases
him, and that's a great voice for hooks and rhymes. Much like the early
records of Snoop Dogg, he manages to make saying nothing into an art
form. Secondly, the beats here are from a kind of alternate universe version
of Jay-Z's Black Album, with current internet favourites from DJ Burn One to
Clams Casino to SpaceGhostPurp providing ample backing. Though the
beats do vary in some ways, in particular that Burn One's drums hit harder
than the other tracks, they mostly project a sort of spaced-out melodicism
that combines perfectly with Rocky's seen-it-all low-key form. This isn't
anything thought provoking or particularly clever, but it's solid head-knock
4 Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire
Lost in Translation

Exquire's the kind of rapper who sort of went out of fashion in the late 90's:
a Wu-Tang style shit-disturber who's both funny and menacing in equal
measure and whose image cultivation is more black hoodie than blinged-out.
There's boundless sociopathic behaviour explored and evinced on this tape
from "drunk-driving on a Wednesday" to "drop-kicking your ass like Michael
Dudickoff", but it's to Exquire's credit that this stuff remains entertaining as
opposed to draining. He's witty and possesses a perverse charm at points,
from his dated references (80's wrestlers and John Woo films appear a lot)
to his New York-specific slang (he even shouts out a favourite local fried
chicken restaurant and his stop on the NY Subway system), and his bullish
flow remains an impressive instrument throughout. Though his voice can
get tiring given the tape's lack of guest rappers, he deserves a lot of credit
for confidently navigating the off-kilter, minefield-esque beats he's given
here. Overall, this is like a Def Jux release colliding head-on with a Wu-Tang
side-project, and that's a very good thing.
3Danny Brown

The title to this one is kind of a guide to figuring it out; of course, it instantly
evokes both pornography and cheap alcohol, but more subtlety, it's a
reference to Brown's age (he's 30), and that's the overall image he creates
throughout the course of the tape: a old-but-not-necessarily-wise veteran
who's seen a lot of stuff and isn't necessarily willing to give up his hard-living lifestyle, even if on some
level he knows he won't last long in it.
Brown has a voice that could best be described as "unique", or if one were
less charitable, "annoying" and I'll admit it took me a few listens to really
appreciate this tape. At first, his yelping, hyperactive flow can be deeply
irritating, and you may wish that he'd slow it down more (as he does on the
Young Jeezy flip "Scrap or Die"), but after a while your brain readjusts
slightly and you get what he's going for. That flow expertly mimics the high
achieved via the cheap synthetic narcotics he consistently reps, and really
adds to his outsider persona. Most of the time, the tape is just shock-value
shit-talk or manic joking around, but there's a real sense of both danger
and knowledge behind all of it, as well as flashes of a deeper recognition of
the bad living situation he's in. In this way, the tape serves as something of
a corrective to both the Odd Future style of consequence-free horror-show
images and the no-strings-attached drugs and sex so commonly rapped
about in mainstream hip-hop. The tape's beats are somewhat on the basic
end, but their high-pitched, constantly-moving synth-based character
perfectly compliments Brown's raps.
2Nacho Picasso
For the Glory

For all the hype that Odd Future received this year, I really only liked a few
of their songs, and their shock-act stuff didn't really amuse me all that
much; for my money, Nacho Picasso is what many people think OF are: a
seriously funny, mildly nerdy guy who makes low-key, somewhat button-
pushing music that shares some musical DNA with early Eminem but
features much more interesting production work. Picasso's raps are
consistently engaging and delivered in a slightly-pinched, nasal tone that
somehow evokes Steve Urkel without descending into parody, along with a
just-messing-around, ultimately-fun-loving attitude that sees him reference
Ninja Turtles and the Human Torch in the same breath as puking in a car or
packing a suitcase full of nukes on an airplane. Even when he does slip into
violent imagery, which is fairly often, he immediately couches it with some
silly joke or another (ex. "I stick your hand in a blender/call me Master
Shredder"). It helps that he's really given his own voice here aside from a
few brief cameos by others, because he's got an interesting perspective
that's half-way between nerdcore and "serious" hip-hop that manages to
pull that difficult trick off; what's more, though his delivery is somewhat off-kilter, Nacho is a really good
rapper, with an ability to switch flows quickly
to meet the demands of a beat and a talent for delivering his puns and
gags at just the right moment for maximum impact. The beats here, by
producers Blue Sky Black Death and Raised By Wolves, are evocative and
spacey and use surprisingly minimal percussive elements, sounding
somewhat like trance or electronica, albeit with more drive.
1Big K.R.I.T.

Big K.R.I.T. is an interesting guy in that he's that fairly-rare combination
producer-MC combo that generally produces tepid results (Kanye West
notwithstanding), and though he's, at least at this juncture, a better
producer than a rapper, he's at worst an above-average MC and his beats
are often things of beauty. 4eva has a generosity of spirit that puts it at
the top of this list, and by that I don't mean that it's particularly a work
designed with an explicitly uplifting or empowering message (though the
tape's final run of politically-aware material may qualify), but more simply
that the songs here proceed from a positive and optimistic place for the
most part. Even when K.R.I.T. is just talking about his car or how hard he
hustles, his voice retains a warm tone and his lyrics (though not particularly
clever excepting a few places) refuse to indulge in outright materialism or
negativity. In other words, it's less like he's bragging and more like he's
simply glad to have this and share it with the listener. What's more, his
skills as a beatsmith are even greater, with a perfect awareness of tempo
and texture being maintained throughout, despite a fairly wide sonic
breadth being on display here. Whether he's working with live
instrumentation, classic soul samples or skeletal 808-and-synth booms,
K.R.I.T. knows how to work this stuff for maximum impact. A late-tape run of
more socio-political material is an unexpected but entirely welcome
surprise, as the MC turns his eye towards social problems within his
community, but rather than coming off as condescending or preachy, he
retains his warmly humanist spirit by crafting careful mosaics and character
sketches to illustrate his points. Many are claiming K.R.I.T. as the heir to the
Goodie Mob/Outkast legacy of warmly-crafted Southern hip-hop; I'm not so
sure yet, but this tape is definitely provides some damn good evidence for
that theory.
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