Year In Review: Hip Hop in 2011

Widely regarded as an unforgiving, volatile, and sometimes bleak genre, Hip Hop experienced one of it’s brightest years in 2011. Fundamentals were kept intact while many innovations in the scene pushed the boundaries and increased potential for this culture made out of cultures. While Adele, Lady Gaga and other popular artists topped the charts, hip hop artists maintained their status in the industry by either dominating first week sales or participating in extensive touring. While there were many highlights, there is still a lot of room for the genre (which is still being hated on and dismissed to this day) to prove itself. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest moves made this year.

Collective Resonance

Hip Hop has always been about crews, but a majority of it’s existence has always been a cutthroat/every man for himself scene. This year, audiences saw one artist, Tyler, the Creator make moves to get his entire Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective to reach greater heights. A tight-knit rag tag group of Los Angeles youth, Odd Future, through Tyler, secured their own record label with Sony distribution, an original TV series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, a merch store in Downtown Los Angeles, publishing for various art ventures such as their debut photography book and much more while each artist in the group flourished with their own individual projects. OFWGKTA R&B singer Frank Ocean locking down features on Jay-Z & Kanye West’s Watch The Throne helped out a lot as well. This move was mirrored in the east coast through Harlem, NY rapper A$AP Rocky and his A$AP Mob crew who managed to get signed with a $3 Million deal with RCA Records off the strength of a few viral videos. Eminem even signed the supergroup Slaughterhouse and a distant cousin Yelawolf to build his Shady 2.0 roster. All for one, one for all.

YMCMB Dominance + The Trinity

With a deep foundation and a courage to adapt to the times, New Orleans powerhouse label Cash Money Records along with it’s fledgling label Young Money Entertainment continued to plow through the competition in sales and presence. While outshined by Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy LP in late 2010, Nicki Minaj continued to work her Pink Friday album in 2011 (with West abandoning the campaign to work on Watch The Throne) to the point where she has become iconic for her eccentric raps, blowout feature verses, and fashion style, and to this day is the top selling female rapper in the game; showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Young Money’s bidding war prize Drake continued to blend the lines of R&B and rap to commercial and critical success with his sophomore effort Take Care, which recently went platinum. The chief and former child star of the label Lil Wayne, despite having overwhelming critical backlash, had the highest selling hip hop album this year with Tha Carter IV, which even beat the mythical collaboration of Kanye West and Jay-Z. Along with recent signings of veterans Busta Rhymes and Mystikal, an investment in young r&b artist/dancer Torion Sellers, and picking up free agent T-Pain, expect YMCMB to continue making it rain in 2012.

Comeback Season

Veterans have two choices when it comes to the present: get with it or get lost. A few individuals who got with it and revitalized themselves this year were Busta Rhymes and Juicy J. Busta became the cameo king of 2011, making highly effective appearances all over other rappers’ tracks, most notably a non-rap act Chris Brown’s single “Look At Me Now”. This track, while commercial, allowed Busta to showcase his 100 mph flow, which became viral through covers of his verse. Add the fact that he was the first rapper to sign with Google Music distribution along with YMCMB has made Busta Rhymes experience a great year. Oscar Award winning Juicy J of Three Six Mafia traversed his solo career to great results; igniting the mixtape circuit with his Rubbaband Business mixtape series featuring artists from all over the scene young and old. Now a new member of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang Records, Juicy is ready to cement himself into the archives of hip hop’s memory. While not a veteran, 2Chainz, the rapper formerly known as Titty Boy of Playaz Circle experienced a reinvigoration in his career by making several cameos, mixtapes and even locking down an interview with Forbes Magazine for his “Forbes Music” track by with what seems to be a simple name change.

Rise of the Indie

The independent scene continues to be the pinnacle of creativity within hip hop and this year was no different. You can check out our breakdown of how the top 10 indie albums of 2011 helped shape certain trends and innovations. With the internet and the blog circuit dictating the influence of hip hop more than ever now, the independent scene has become wildly flooding with talent coming from every corner, and labels have their eye on the next viral hit. Expect new markets within music and the existence of several flourishing universes and pockets within hip hop in the near future. With the breakthrough success of Kendrick Lamar and his Black Hippy crew, lyricism has been brought back to the mainstream fold. That alone could be the best thing to ever happen to hip hop this year.

The New Standard

Make a controversial and/or viral hit, and you get a record deal. It sounds simple, but it really isn’t. Artists such as Kreayshawn, Tyler the Creator, and A$AP Rocky set youtube on fire with their videos and had labels running to them this year. While evening the playing field, this move has created a bigger lane for disposable rap and attempts to make viral material. While being a great opportunity for unheard talent to get attention, this can turn into a negative quick if the rewards are not utilized sensibly. As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity, so expect more strange and experimental happenings vying for your attention after this year is up.

By Mark Noisiri and Travis Phillips

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