The Best 25 Hip Hop Songs of 2011

By Bronze Johnson

Honorable Mention: Eminem, Slaughterhouse &Yelawolf “Shady 2.0 BET Cypher” – Shit, this isn’t even a song but I’ll be damned if I don’t shout out a handful of the illest lyrical performances of 2011. Yela and Crooked I come for blood with their rookie mystique intact, cool calm Budden kills it with Myagi-type acumen, while the men in charge, Royce and Eminem, show that, after a decade plus in the game, ain’t a got damn thing changed – they’re still two of the most dangerous men to ever touch a mic. Plus rocking over East Flatbush Project’s “Tried by 12” is a straight shot through the heart of any true head.

25. Shabazz Palaces “Swerve… The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)” – Peace to Butterfly from Digable Planets. Dude moved to Seattle, met some musicians, made an album (Black Out) full of weird songs with masturbatory long-winded titles, and popped back up on the college scene like E-pills and genital warts. Just playing, Ish is the man and shit’s bound to be boundless when seeking new refutations of time and space.

24. Pharoahe Monch feat. Jean Grae& Royce da 5’9’ “Assassins” – Monch is one of the greatest line-for-line emcees of all time. Despite being shackled by chronic asthma and shady label politics, the kid still drops mind-melting heat rocks. Throw in the hardest femcee ever plus the boy Royce and all sucka emcees head for the hills with their dicks between their legs.

23. Slick Rick “Need Some Bad” – Sure a Ricky D / DJ Premiere collabo would have been the lick like 18 years ago but luckily certain formulas within hip-hop are timeless, two of those being Slick Rick telling stories about his mom busting him jerking off and Primo laying snappy, buoyant tracks that never overpower the emcees they showcase.

22. Pusha T feat. Tyler, the Creator “Trouble On My Mind” – The reason this song is better than that Game “Martians vs. Goblins” joint is that Pusha Ton doesn’t bend to act and rap like Tyler. He sandwiches Wolf Haley’s baritone nightmares between two end stacks of hustled-out realism and shows young blood how it’s done. Tyler’s sharp no doubt, but the crux of this jam is that the two sound completely at home together and the verses are seamless. This is for the critics that doubted the chemistry, two different worlds same symmetry… Euch!

21. The Roots feat. P.O.R.N. & Truck North “Kool On” – I fucking love The Roots. I think Undun is their best record since Phrenology and that Black Thought is a top-5 rapper. If you disagree, you better axe somebody! I read this album is about the lifespan of a hustler told in reverse or something. Whatever, I’m not as smart as ?uestlove but I’m also not stupid enough to not include my dudes on this list. My favorite track off the new album.

20. A.Dd+ “Insomniac Dreaming” – I listened to these dudes’ album because somebody called them the “Outkast of Dallas.” While I wouldn’t step into that arena of compliment myself, these kids are pretty legit on some soulful flow shit. This track is actually off their “Loosies” EP, some reheated leftovers I guess. Reminds me of Souls of Mischief, and that’s a good thing. Black Milk on the beat!

19. ASAP Rocky “Trilla” – For one, doesn’t this kid’s name sound too close to Aesop Rock? Secondly, this is some straight up Houston sizzurp shit, but since dude’s from Harlem, I guess it’s considered at least half original. My qualms aside, this is a neck-snapping slip ‘n slide through chemically hazed sewer drains. Rocky and crew don’t force anything down listeners’ throats, they more coach them on how to spend a night getting fucked up and listening to some chill-ass music.

18. Wale “Chain Music” – The coolest thing about Wale is that his cousin played Chris Partlow on The Wire From Nike boots to Maybach Music, homeboy’s aesthetic may have changed a bit since he was hot four years ago. The Bawse Rick Ross signed ‘em up and the album is ehhh… but this shit, for all of its materialistic ignorance and fabricated slang (Geechi?) is a straight fuckin’ banger – love it.

17. Bad Meets Evil “Fast Lane” – The Bad Meets Evil record made me happy for two distinct reasons, A) Royce is finally getting the shine he deserves as one of the hardest spitters of our generation, and B) Shady shows and proves that he can still hang every inch with any emcee, be they major label or independent. The album goes pretty poppy chorus-wise (Bruno Mars? I wish Nate Dogg were here…) but there’s no denying that these two would mutilate most any hypothetical tag-team this side of 3000 and Ghostface.

16. Common feat. Nas “Ghetto Dreams” – Speaking of high-powered duos, Com Sense and Nasty Nas do their thizzle on this spit fest about hot black girls. Like the Slick Rick / Premiere jawn, this gem would have exploded in ’94 but once a legend always a legend and the two still sound fresh… for 2011 you suckaaaaaaaz!!!

15. Danny Brown “DNA” – If Sid Vicious and Kool Keith had a kid from Detroit with weird hair and a genetic disposition toward substance abuse and alarmingly honest rap tunes his name would be Danny Brown. This year’s XXX has too many impactful tracks to name here (see “30”) but I dig “DNA” because it exposes how Brown’s folks liked to get fucked up so, you know, he does too. It also pairs his harsh subject matter with a nod factor groove. D Brown is left field no doubt but, as opposed to say Tyler, his shit seems more built on actual pain and suffering than artistic imaginings. Git familiar.

14. ZillaRoccafeat. Has-Lo “Full Spectrum” – Not sure who either of these cats are but this reminds me of something Edan did on Beauty and the Beat. I heard about this track by way of another, far more successful writer’s blog (peace to Jeff Weiss, one of the best doing it) but, nonetheless, this is a hell of a song – smart, soulful, thematic, lost art type shit. Sick Asbury Park video shoot to boot.

13. Big K.R.I.T. feat. Yelawolf “Happy Birthday Hip-Hop” –If you had told me a while back that two of my favorite up-and-coming emcees would be from Mississippi and Alabama respectively, I would have slapped a band aid on your cheek and made you my Nelly. But sho’nuff, Krit and Catfish Billy hold it down for the “Twin States” on some I love rap shit over this hopped-up piano roller.

12. Yelawolf feat. Lil Jon “Hard White (Up In The Club)” – As the first single off Radioactive, and hence the first Shady-guided scud aimed at the mainstream, Hard White absolutely succeeds in exposing Yela’s southern grammar, hot-spittable lyrical style, and penchant for Jack Daniels to the mainstream. If only the rest of the album followed suit we might have had a modern day classic on our hands. Criticism for Radioactive aside, Yela’s my favorite new’ish rapper on the planet and if you don’t believe the hype, peep Trunk Muzik 0-60. Happy Birffday!!!

11. Jay-Z &Kanye West “Primetime” – Arguably the best track on Watch the Throne, an album that inspired more rap nerd, chat room controversy than a double feature of Style Wars and Menace. No I.D. does the beat something lovely, HOV rips through a numbers rap and Kanye manages to be solid enough so as to not drop the track down a notch. For an album that generally underwhelmed yours truly, this is a damn near perfect rap song.

10. Evidence feat. Slug & Aesop Rock “Late for the Sky” – Maybe my favorite beat of the year, and off an album full of solid production, so props to Ev for persisting as one of the best (current) producers on the mic.Sluggo drops a slow roll life lesson and Ase-Rizzle lends juxtaposing weirdness but really Ev is the star on both ends of this track. His straightforward baritone keeps the beat’s overwhelming soulfulness in check and reps for Los Angeles something lovely and real – no goblins necessary.

9. Tyler, the Creator “Yonkers” – Psyche, I got nothing against goblins, especially Tyler. This kid’s gotten polarizing as fuck, but until he stops being a one man stop and shop for innovative beats, rhymes, lifestyles, videos and cover art, I’m buying. How can you not dig someone who eats roaches, threatens Bruno Mars and rips off the beat from “Liquid Swords?”

8. Nas “Nasty” –Uh huh, let’s see Jay-Z, Weezy or any other major label mutherfucker outside of Black Thought do this shit here. For that matter, where the fuck is Jay Electronica? No disrespect, I love the cat’s material but I get sick of always hearing how so-and-so is gonna be the next Nas. NO! Ain’thappenin’. QB’s finest grabbed a bottle of Remi, a box of of L’s and a black wifey, said peace to Kelis for a few days and zoned out on some ’89 Daddy Kane shit for this joint. I fucking love Nas! Nasty, kid.

7. Big K.R.I.T. “Dreamin” – Return of 4eva was one of the two best debut albums of 2011, we’ll get to the other in a minute, and “Dreamin” is the best song on the record. K.R.I.T. is young, from Mississippi, and a duel threat as emcee and producer – all reasons to respect the kid’s game. You gotta love when someone’s talent transcends regional expectations. These kinds of songs used to come out of NYC; now they’re just mimicking the south (ASAP).

6. Yelawolf feat. Traetha Truth “Shit I’ve Seen” – Not sure where this track came from or whose album it’s intended for but it’s a hellified specimen of soulful southern rap done double time justice. Quick drums, quicker flows and a haunting trumpet sample over-riding the whole vibe lend it credence but it’s Yellar’s recounting of ill shit that gives him the white boy cred he needs. Yeah yeah I saw the XXL cover about rap being color blind and shit but that’s nonsense; if a white boy is gonna say “Pop the Trunk,” he best be able to recount tales of peeps doing just that. If only Radioactive had tracks like this…

5. Jay-Z &Kanye West “Otis” – This is exactly what I wanted from WTT, Kanye ripping off classic soul hooks and HOV bragging about being the coolest human on the planet. But yo, who the fuck am I? In retrospect, good for them for pushing the album into some unknown areas. That said, this is the best jam on the record and I love Kanye’s line, “sophisticated ignorance, write my verses in cursive.” Try as hard as you may, you can’t front on top billin’. Peace to Aziz Ansari!!!

4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib “Thuggin” – Freddie Gibbs is both what rap has always had and is somehow always missing, just a straight up dude who can straight up fucking spit. The kid’s been dropped from majors, resigned to others, recorded mad material over the past three years, and never budged from the corner, sort of reminds me of Rascoe… Sprinkle that on top of Madlib’s best production in recent memory and you got yourself one wonderful ass rap song.

3. Mr. MuthafuckineXquire feat, Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown & El-P “The Last Huzzah” – This shit starts by mocking Puffy, then a fat black ass in a thong shows up and a menacing Necro beat drops. Need more? Four of today’s hardest emcees kick knowledge (El-P’s “counting” to 16 in 16 bars is pure genius and gets my vote for verse of the year) and Das Racist comes through for some comic relief. Posse cut of the year and harbinger for hope of bringing rap back to some raw black and white, bitch or not bitch shit. Huzzah!

2. Lil Wayne feat. Cory Gunz “6 Foot 7 Foot” –Forget the rock album. Fuck the fact that I don’t even like Weezy that much. This is the hardest shit he’s dropped since “A Milli” – peace to Bangladesh for both beats. This is exactly how Wayne had to come outta prison, daring anyone out to out fuck with him, a la 2Pac – hard as a motherfucker. Not sure how or why Cory Gunz is on this but, nonetheless, it’s undeniably dope. Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.

1. Kendrick Lamar “Rigamortis” – You could pick at least three tracks off Section 80 for this list (High-Powered, A.D.H.D.) but, for me, Rigamortis is the perfect blend of Kendrick’s introspection, and willingness to experiment with flows and beats. I love me some IDM but I’ll take jazz any day. Love me some straight story telling but double time tastes better. This shit is so fresh and so clean, it’s the track I’ve listened to most over the past year and I feel totally cool bestowing it the crown. Chuuuuuch.