Tag Archives: hip-hop

Best of 2011 – A Year in Hip-Hop: Changing Faces and DIY Success

Our last of the Best of 2011 series gives us Blake Kirpes’ picks for best in Hip-Hop (put the kids to bed…consider yourselves, warned).

“While people were busy watching the throne, ‘we’ stormed the castle”
Sage Francis

And storming the “castle” is exactly what the new faces of Hip-Hop did.  The sheer abundance of new artists, break–out albums, and future classics crammed into 2011, is something of which hip-hop has never seen. In 2011, the hip-hop scene burgeoned with fresh faces and break-outs boasting styles unlike any heard before. Diversity reigned supreme.

Das Racists and Danny Brown mixed personal and social consciousness with humor. Here’s a video from Das Racists for Michael Jackson.

Shabazz Palaces and Death Grips stretched the boundaries of the art form. Sims (Doomtree) and Tyler, the Creator (Oddfuture) released critically acclaimed solo projects alongside collaborations with their respective crews. Action Bronson put a fresh spin on an old sound, while the more established DJ Quik and The Roots turned out some of their most impressive work to date.

With a steady stream of promising new talent and accompanying diversity creating the theme in 2011,  the past year may also be remembered for its preponderance of Free Album Mixtapes; fully produced and realized albums, released for free under the alias of a “Mixtape”.  And while the free albums may be free, they are anything but throw outs with several garnering coveted spots on year-end lists in Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, and Stereogum.

In a year marked by immense talent and diversity, choosing favorites is no easy task, but it must be done. Rounding out the top three albums on my list; Kendrick Lamar (Section 80), Big K.R.I.T. (The Return of 4eva), and Danny Brown (XXX). All three artists have used the ‘Album as Mixtape’ format to its maximum capacity. Starting the year as “independent artists,” Big K.R.I.T and Kendrick Lamar have since signed to major labels (Island Def Jam and Aftermath Records, respectively), while Danny Brown joined the supreme indie label Fool’s Gold (Chromeo, Cool Kids, Lil B)  — Speaking on the influx of new & innovative hip-hop artist, Danny Brown said, “We’re the guys trying to end hair metal in rap”, and on his track XXX, Brown echoes the sentiment of Sage Francis with the line, “I’m strategizing, plotting on the throne”. Given all of the promising acts brought to us in 2011, it’s likely some will have the chance to “take the throne”, the real question is who, and are they interested?

Want free Albums/Mixtapes by the Artists mentioned above? Click on any of the links below (they’re free!):
Danny Brown – XXX
Big K.R.I.T –The Return of 4eva
Sims – Wildlife (EP)
Das Racist – Sit Down, Man
Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude
Death Grips – Exmilitary
Odd Future

Other notable FREE Albums/Mixtapes from 2011:
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Lil B – I’m Gay
Mr.Muthafucking eXquire – Lost in Translation
A$AP Rocky – LIVELOVEa$AP
Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape
Milo – I wish my brother Rob was here
THURZ – La Riot
Logic – Young Sinatra

Blake Kirpes, Music Supervisor
PlayNetwork

SXSW in Perspective – First Time Around

2011 was my first SXSW experience. Based on the reports from friends and artists I know that had attended, I never thought of SXSW as a festival that catered too deeply to electronic music or hip hop. Though there was a very obvious focus of blues, rock, folk and guitars in general (they were everywhere) this year’s SXSW boasted in an impressive line-up of quality underground electronic music and hip hop, including the likes of Richie Hawtin, Boys Noize, Diplo, James Blake, DJ Premier, Trentemoller, Mount Kimbie, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Marco Carola, Talib Kweli, Switch, Moby, Housemeister, Daedelus, Big Boi, Afrojack, Addison Groove, Skrillex, De La Soul, Starkey, MSTRKRFT, Spank Rock, Jamie xx, EPMD, Baths, Shabazz Palaces, Pharoahe Monch, Beats Antique, Eskmo and Gold Panda to name some standouts. Though it was a pleasure to see so many familiar artists, the real joy for me came from new discoveries like soul singer Charles Bradley, folk-rock singer Sharon Van Etten and electronic crooner Jamie Woon, all of whom delivered stunning sets.

Part of the charm, and sometimes annoyance, of SXSW was the rapid fire pace and sheer magnitude of the performances (89 stages featuring over 2,000 acts with an average set length of 30 minutes). In total, I was able to catch over 30 performances at the 2011 SXSW Festival. Here are a few of the most memorable performances I caught and why.

1. James Blake – Live at the Central Presbyterian Church


The combination of fatigue, the venue and the brilliant programming (James closed out the night at a gorgeous Church) made this a magical performance. The British producer/singer performed with a trio, which included Ben Assiter on drums & Rob McAndrews on guitar. They played most of the 2011 self-titled album, which sounded even better live.  What James is doing is truly original, emotive and innovative, which I really can’t say about any other artist at the moment.

2. Charles Bradley – Live at the Cedar Street Pavilion


As a Motown native, classic soul is simply part of my DNA. When I heard that Charles Bradley’s album was mixed at Daptone Records’ internationally revered “House of Soul” Studios, I knew that the dude had chops. What I didn’t know is just how incredibly well it would translate live. The second Charles hit the stage, he had the entire audience in the palm of his hand and he never let go. What I enjoyed most about his performance was there was no doubt in my mind that he lived the life that he sang about. Charles Bradley is the real deal.

3. Trentemoller – Live at La Zona Rosa


It’s been interesting watching Trentemoller evolve over the past decade. From house to techno to electro pop to downtempo to shoegaze, in many ways Trentemoller represents the backlash to the often stagnant world of electronic dance music. Trading in turntables for guitars and drum machines for a live drummer, the current six-piece, live incarnation offers a wide spectrum of analog sound, all of which is balanced beautifully with Andreas Trentemoller’s gifted sound design and arrangements. Much like his own music, the groups’ performance was dynamic and at times dark (think Radiohead meets Twin Peaks).

4. Jamie Woon – Live at ND


Though I’d heard a few of Jamie’s songs before, I really didn’t know what to expect. Much like James Blake and Trentemoller, Jamie Woon is an electronic music producer that understands the importance of the performance, which included an incredibly tight quartet assembled for the stage. A talented vocalist, Woon deftly surfs the line between soul and pop, without losing the inherent subtly that makes him such a unique talent. Musically, he offers shades of Massive Attack, Jamie Lidell and Tracey Chapman, the combined effect of which is a dark, atmospheric take on soul.

5. Datarock – Live at The Parish


Probably the most entertaining performance I witnessed at SXSW, this Norwegian quartet hit the stage adorned in matching Datarock tracksuits and grandma shades. You could tell from the first chord that they were seasoned musicians and performers, who had their routine down pat. The solos, breakdowns, dance moves and the inevitable crowd participation all brought their music to vivid, sweaty life. I was pleased to find their lesser known material to be even more infectious than hits like “Fa-Fa-Fa” and “Give It Up”.

6. Sharon Van Etten – Live at the Central Presbyterian Church


I was not at all familiar with Sharon Van Etten and had it not been for a co-worker, I would have missed this memorable performance. Sharon’s voice, songwriting and lyrical sensibilities made her a standout among the hundreds of singer/songwriters performing at SXSW this year. What was remarkable about this particular performance was her voice was so strained from excessive use, that she could barely utter a word between songs. It was like the only way she could communicate was through her music, which I found enduring and in some ways profound.

7. DJ Jazzy Jeff – DJ set at Red Bull Thre3style Stage


As a long time fan and DJ of hip hop, I have to give it up for Jazzy Jeff’s set at the SXSW. Like any good party rockin’ DJ, Jazzy Jeff played the hits going back to the 70s. What was remarkable about his set was just how much he was able to cram in without losing the crowd for second. The end product was a 45 minute homage to hip hop’s most inspiring moments. I will admit, seeing thousands gathered together in unison in what was the largest and most elaborate stage configuration I saw at SXSW was exhilarating. During the event, the crowd outside of the fenced-in area grew so large that they had to close the street!

Sean Horton – Director, Creative / Producer, Branded Music / Tech Advisor – PlayNetwork