Music

The Best Hip-Hop of 2011

David Amidon, Dave Heaton, Quentin B. Huff, Mike Madden, and Dean Van Nguyen

Newcomers, giants, throwbacks, and collaborators -- 2011 was the year of diversity, in which rap fans were faced with enough variety to find whatever flavor of hip-hop they wanted.

Artist: Action Bronson

Album: Dr. Lecter

Label: Fine Fabric Delegates

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List number: 10Action Bronson
Dr. Lecter

Action Bronson must rap about food more than any MC in the history of the game. The burly Queens-based, ethnically Albanian rapper does love his grub, working as a chef when not rhyming; both worlds frequently collide, like when he put out a mixtape in 2010 titled Bon Appetit....Bitch!!!!!. That his attention usually turns to food, often describing his own favourites in delicious detail, is a fascinating quirk that's stamped all over Bronsonelli's work, even if he sometimes struggles with the obsession. For instance, his candid description of his unhappiness with his weight and lack of discipline when controlling his food intake on "Ronnie Coleman" is intriguing: "If I had a little motivation, money and a hot body / I see it now, Bronson the heartthrobby," he sighs, yearning for a picture perfect physique in a way that few rappers have ever discussed on a record. But despite drawing unusual influences, Dr. Lecter is not a gimmicky album. In fact, it blusters along with an authentic New York City corner vibe, largely thanks to its production, supplied solely by Tommy Mas. The long-time Bronson affiliate provides a rag tag selection of knuckleduster beats, built unsteadily on soul samples, horn stabs, double bass riffs, and gorgeous snares that play to the MC's strengths. Bronson's style is often compared to that of Ghostface Killah, which is apt, as his sharp tongue and energetic flow whizzes through the 15 lively tracks like an unstoppable force. Dean Van Nguyen

 
Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Album: Section.80

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment

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Kendrick Lamar
Section.80

I'll be honest with you: I'm confused as to how there could be any objection to this album. Maybe it's the west's continued struggle for national relevance? Maybe Kendrick Lamar just sounds too damn weird when he raps? I guess I'll go with the latter, but Section.80 is a great album for those who are able to look past Lamar's strange vocal quirks. Like the CunninLynguists album, it tells a loose narrative about a group of kids stranded in their Compton ghetto, struggling with image issues, drug abuse, parental control or lack thereof, and even, just every so often, love. Throughout Section.80 Lamar revives the spirit of former west coast scions like Ice Cube and pre-gangsta 2Pac, describing his reality with a decisive clarity that escapes most 24-year olds. He avoids gangsta clichés, aware of their dated nature, but he doesn't shy away from admitting his relationship with those who live the life and his ability to be considerate of both the hunters and hunted in his community only amplifies Lamar's observations. Section.80 might take a little time to reveal its appeal, but once it does there's no doubt you'll have found one 2011's most fearless records. David Amidon

 
Artist: People Under the Stairs

Album: Highlighter

Label: Piecelock 70

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List number: 8

People Under the Stairs
Highlighter

People Under the Stairs' purist approach contains a heavy dose of sweet nostalgia, not just for the era when hip-hop was constructed out of essential building blocks, but for the carefree moments of life. It consists of little glimpses of happiness: the sound of music blasting out of speakers, the pleasure of a craft beer and a home-cooked meal. When they talk about "taking it back to the streets", they're talking about returning to their old neighborhood to visit their moms. Californians to their core, the elemental air of their music is the warm sun shining on an afternoon backyard party. That mood is captured especially well on their eighth LP, which in its minimalist jazz-funk grooves and its introspective lyrics conjures up that sun-kissed life of leisure. This is not just a reminder of hip-hop's humble beginnings at street parties, but of the music's sentimental heart. Dave Heaton

 
Artist: Random Axe

Album: Random Axe

Label: Duckdown

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List number: 7

Random Axe
Random Axe

It's possible that the days of the super producer are gone. Casual hip-hop listeners just don't flock to a record like they did in the '90s and early '00s on the strength of a producer alone, even if beats have become the driving force of many a fan's listening habits lately. But if any of that old standard remains, then Detroit's Black Milk is one of the few who deserves the label. Milk's spent the past couple of years shrugging off the "Dilla clone" label with a litany of soul and boom bap production fueled by some of the loudest, most face-pounding drums you'll likely ever hear on a hip-hop record. Most of the time his patterns are so disgusting, they sound like he mixed everything down and then played the drums on top of them. So it makes sense that an alchemist of such raw materials would invite two of the gullyest men to ever spit on a microphone to join him, Sean Price and Guilty Simpson.

Random Axe is the kind of ignorant-intelligent music that's fallen by the wayside a little bit in the post-Dipset landscape. While trap rappers -- bless 'em though -- rely on ignorance for the sake of it, Guilty and Sean spew it in impressively verbose ways -- Sean through complex rhyme schemes and a Chappelian sense of humor, Guilty more by being so blunt it's almost unbelievable such ridiculous things could be said so casually. Their powers combined, the trio released one of the best boom bap albums in years, an ode to the past that makes no bones about being released in the now, reverent of what came before but wholly unafraid to pave a new path to the future. Very few albums in Random Axe's mode are capable of sounding both so comfortable with the way things used to be and so confident in the way things are going. In a decade, there's a very good chance Random Axe stands tall as the most timeless release on our list. David Amidon

 
Artist: CunninLynguists

Album: Oneirology

Label: Rbc Records

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CunninLynguists
Oneirology

Oneirology is Greek for "the study of dreams", though when discussing CunninLynguist's career prospects it might be more accurate to call them nightmares. If you happen to follow their would-be superstar producer Kno on Twitter or Facebook, you know that he has little optimism for the financial future of the group. Despite a career riddled with critical accolades dating back to 2005's A Piece of Strange, CunninLynguists have had little financial success. Despite 10,000,000+ last.fm scrobbles, the group barely sold 6,000 copies of the album we're calling the sixth best album of the year. Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Fantasy may have raised hip-hop listeners' expectations of how epic an album's scale can be, but what very few of us seem to appreciate is just how adroitly this group matched that standard on a much smaller budget.

Oneirology is a complex, sprawling work in which Big K.R.I.T. personifies any number of bloodthirsty American leaders, Freddie Gibbs raps from the perspective of crack cocaine, and Tonedeff delivers a tongue twisting verse about, well, drunken sexual tongue twisting. And that's just the guests. Kno provides exceptionally ethereal production over which group rappers Deacon and Natti deliver the most microscopic, detailed verses of their careers, tip-toeing feverishly between conscious and southern rap tropes in a way they come off much more like human beings than rap performers. Their verses act as a dialectic, constantly pitting themselves against themselves and coming up with beautiful insights into the postmodern human condition. Maybe it's just me, but that sounds like an album worth much more than a cursory glance. David Amidon

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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