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The Secret Handshake

Check it, City Weekly Doesn't Hate Hip-Hop: 2011's Best Albums

by Colin Wolf
Posted // 2012-01-23 -

Over the past couple of weeks, people have been asking me, “Wolf, why the hell didn’t City Weekly do a top-10 hip-hop albums list for 2011?!” and the answer is simple--I don’t know. Perhaps I was supposed to do it, and if that’s the case, I apologize. But one thing is certain, 2011 was a golden year for hip-hop and there was barely a whisper of any rap albums in the CW year in review. However, it’s not CW’s fault. I imagine the majority of people who work here do this whenever they hear anything that remotely sounds like rap (that link may have just cost me my job). So if it’s not too late, I'd like to stitch this thing up.

Don’t let SLC fool you -- people here like hip-hop, besides the fact that 90% of the kids you see out at the bars look like this guy. In fact, Salt Lake City has a discerning appreciation for rap music, and the evidence can be found in past shows like DJ Abilities and One-Be-Lo at Wasted Space, the How the Grouch Stole Christmas tour at Urban Lounge, and the advent of upcoming shows like the Cool Kids, People Under the Stairs and Flying Lotus.

So in an effort to remedy the situation, I’ve whipped up a pretentious, self-serving list that should no doubt make me sound like a know-it-all arrogant hip-hop turd … and with that, I give you the Secret Handshake’s top-10 hip-hop albums of 2011. Let the angry comments start … now:

10. Clams Casino- Instrumental Mixtape [Self Released]


A pioneer, if not spearhead of the “based” hip-hop sub-genre, Clams Casino’s free album is an ample serving of sub-woofer meatloaf. This glitch- filled collection begs to be rapped/spoken over, which is perhaps why Clams Casino has been busy producing for such artist as Lil B, A$AP Rocky, Toro Y Moi and James Blake. This album is such a melodic head-nodder that I like to imagine Jay-Z playing this album for his daughter when it’s nap time.

9. Tyler, the Creator- Goblins [XL]


Tyler and his crew, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), have been quietly making fun of rap music for the past couple of years and have finally gotten affirmative nods from the Internet fish tank. To them, rap music is shit, and everyone involved in the industry is the butt of their inside jokes. So far this approach has been working out pretty well. I think it’s safe to say that Tyler’s 2nd studio album, Goblins, is the reason why John Cena needs to stop rapping.

8. Shabazz Palaces- Black Up [Sub Pop]


This is an album that needs to be played in your car for the next 3 months. No one is doing anything remotely close to this Seattle duo. Shabazz Palaces consists of Palaceer Lazaro (of Digable Planets) and producer Tendai Maraire (son of famed Zimbabwe musician Dumisani Maraire). At first listen, it’s hard to place their music into any one category. I suppose their music aligns with rap, but take that element away and you’re left with the rhythms of a blunted David Bowie. This album is a glimpse into what I imagine rap will sound like to the fucking Jetsons.

7. Wiz Khalifa- Rolling Papers [Atlantic]


Last year, I interviewed rapper and producer Eligh (of Living Legends). During the interview, we must have spent half an hour discussing how dope Khalifa is. At one point Eligh said, “Man, I don’t know what it is … but there’s something about Wiz Khalifa.” I think he’s right. Khalifa isn’t necessarily a lyrical genius, but he knows how to put it all together. What's funny to me is how much flack he gets from the hip-hop elitists. They need to lighten up and just enjoy what this guy is doing.

6. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib- Thuggin’ EP [Stones Throw Records]


It seems like the pairing of Gary, Indiana, native Freddie Gibbs and rap-producer-god Madlib was probably inevitable. Freddie Gibbs may very well be the hardest rapper who’s not from Brownsville, NY, and though seemingly menacing, he delivers his message with a calculated, intelligent approach. Gibbs is the anti-Drake, and he reminds me of the time when Talib Kweli had a fire in his belly. Try listening to this album while reading the New Yorker and sipping on a Kombucha; it’s ridiculous.

5. Big K.R.I.T- Return of 4Eva [Self Released]


Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. raps like a seasoned blues player. He has the uncanny ability to sew soft hooks with punishing lyrics. Oftentimes, the term “Conscious Rap” is over-used and aimed at anyone rapping in a hand-knit beanie. But K.R.I.T. is able to spit his Southern rap message without sounding like a know-it-all trust-fund baby. Return of 4eva is free for download so there is no reason you shouldn’t own this album.

4. Common- The Dreamer/The Believer [Warner Bros./Think Common]


When this album dropped, the first thing that my friends and I said was, “Finally, Common is rapping again!” For the time being, Common has decided to shake the shitty Tyler Perry acting bug and spent some time in the studio with childhood friend and producer No I.D. The result is an album dripping with slap-happy ghetto anthems. The first single, Ghetto Dreams, is a testament to way back when Common put out quality albums like Be. Welcome back to rap Common.

3. Kanye West & Jay-Z - Watch the Throne [Def Jam/Roc-a-Fella/ Roc Nation]


More often than not, all-star parings will fall flat. Just look at those Pizza Hut/Taco Bell hybrids. This is not the case with Watch The Throne. But before I get into how great this album is, I should mention that I’ve never been a huge fan of Kanye West. Seriously, I feel that you could pair a California Raisin with Jay-Z and it would still sound tight. Maybe that’s too hash. But Watch The Throne, despite Kanye’s douchyness, is still an unbelievable album.

2.Kendrick Lamar- Section 80 [Top Dawg Ent]


At the impressionable age of eight, Kendrick Lamar was on the set of Tupac Shakur’s video California Love, a moment that he says changed his life forever. As a Compton resident and member of the celebrated rap collective Black Hippy, Kendrick Lamar rhymes like he’s the lost son of N.W.A. However Lamar does not, by any means, resemble a “gangsta rapper,” but more specifically he’s a West Coast fusion of Tupac wit and Aceyalone pedigree. Section 80 is why we should listen closely to rap music.

1. Action Bronson -Dr. Lecter [Fine Fabric Delegates]


Queens native Action Bronson takes a style of rap once found in mid ‘90s Wu-Tang and reshapes the old formula into something fresh and tangible … like food. Shit, he raps about food non-stop. This may be due to that fact that he was actually a culinary student in Tuscany. But as much as his subject matter sounds ridiculous, his delivery and lyrics are smart, fast and thoughtful. To me, listening to this album is like eating a cold pack of hot dogs while driving an El Camino at five mph. In other words, Action Bronson reminds us that rap doesn’t need to be that damned serious.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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Post a comment
Posted // January 27,2012 at 15:39

@Bill, Yes, Yes. Let the butthurt flow through you. 


Posted // February 3,2012 at 17:56 - @Bill, I believe Dwayne was referring to the show "A Different World," featuring the character Dwayne Wayne. Wooooooosh.


Posted // February 2,2012 at 14:41 - Dwaybne, Lots, but since I'm just a turd and seemed to have upset the party, I'll keep it to myself. Too many geniuses on this thread. Spin that vinyl, boys and girls. RIP Don Cornelius!


Posted // January 30,2012 at 15:50 - @Bill, whatchu know 'bout a different world?


Posted // January 30,2012 at 13:36 - Okay, Jimmy, that was funny, thanks. I don't hate on people different than me or who live in different neighborhoods than me or wears different clothes colors than me. That's all digusting, retarded, stupid bullshit. It's racist for a guy wearing a blue bandana to hate on someone wearing red. It's not racist for me to point out the shallow hypocrisy of an art form that lost it's reason for being a long time ago when the 'Benjamins' replaced purpose and pride. I'm a supporter/fan of Malcom X and the Black Panthers, the core of what produced LA gangs before they were perverted with drugs and money and violence against each other. You guys just seem to wanna know who's record sold the most last year. A different world.


Posted // January 27,2012 at 16:39 - @ Bill: Okay, you're not a racist. However, here is a definition that more accurately defines you, check it out on your iphone dictionary app.. Turd: 1.) a piece of excrement. 2.) a mean, contemptible person.


Posted // January 26,2012 at 11:01

Well it ia about damn time City Weekly took some of their precious time & effort on Hip Hop! People just need to open thsir eyes, respect and realize that Hip Hop is more than just music it is a culture and is will be around FOREVER!


Posted // January 27,2012 at 15:22 - The length of Bill's "I am not a racist" comment is too damn long!


Posted // January 27,2012 at 14:33 - Yeah. . .I'm a racist because you worship talk-sing-percussion, a form of aboriginal communication. Oops! That was racist, wasn't it? No, not really. It's anthropological and historical and cultural. Here, from the dictionary (it's that icon on your smartphone screen that you never use)"Racism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others." First, I can barely 'rule' myself, so you are not going to get adopted by me any time soon. I simply said that hip-hop artists and their culture of 'getting over on someone before they get over on me' isn't an art form that breeds much respect. I mean, shit guys, it's not like I walked down the street wearing a red shirt or a blue bandana. Put your 'nines' away and chill. Racially, you'd laugh your asses off at my mix. Let's just say it's big chunks of Greek on one side and American Indian on the other and the indian side had African-American mixed in from the 1800's. So, sadly for you who use the word 'racist' to describe anyone who doesn't approve of your shit, that dog won't hunt with me. Been there and so done that. My deal is this: The only hip-hop and rap people I see making an effort to imporve the plight of their fellow humans made their zillions making music that preached death, killing the police, drugs, bitches and material wealth. Now, like Russell Simmons, they're all sorry and rich and stuff and they want to help undo some of the horrific damage they helped create in society over the years. Mona, go listen to vintage Chuck D/Public Enemy and NWA right now! That was some damn fine work and they were rapping about real life's struggle in the 'burbs, not about installing the front bumper from '48 Buick in their mouths or how many Bejamins they have in the bank. Then, Obama. Now, Mitt Romney. That's how I see current hip-hop, it's all about the Benjies-nothin' else matters. So, how do I find 'respect' in that? I don't.


Posted // January 27,2012 at 12:57 - @ Bill: You are a racist turd. I'm curious, what are your top ten favorite albums of the year 2011?


Posted // January 27,2012 at 12:50 - The racism in Bill's comments is too damn high!


Posted // January 27,2012 at 12:16 - @Bill, it's okay that you don't like rap music. People always fear what they don't understand. You have to remember, you shouldn't base your judgement for a genre of music (or anything for the matter) solely on the lowest common denominator. It's like me saying, "all people from SLC are racist assholes," after reading one of your comments.


Posted // January 27,2012 at 09:40 - Yup, that's just what I was thinking, that hip-hop and rap are about 'respect.' Like, 'Thugs don't work! Only sucka's work! I take what I want!" Yup, that's 'respect.' Or, let's all dress in athletic team shirts that are ten sizes too big, wear kids' tennis shoes, place the cap on your head just so and keep talking/rapping about how important YOU are to the world somehow, although you've contributed absolutely nothing to its well-being. Oh, and never forget to rap about these things in every goddam tune you foul the air with: Your Bentley, your 'crib,' your drug usage, your Mama, your wife, your mistress, your white record label owners, your bling, your tennis court in Beverly Hills, your clothing line, your movie contract, your high-profile, affluent, mostly rich, white existence. At best, hip-hop is an excuse for people who can't sing to get some 'respect,' I guess. And sell product.


Posted // January 24,2012 at 21:17

Big fan of Khalifa


Posted // January 24,2012 at 18:45

while I have no doubt that the eclectictness of your selections is an entirely accurate portrayal of your complete lack of conformity, I have to wonder if giving OFWGKTA a higher position (i was thinking like #4) would have given your list just a touch more credibility than say a list of a random assortment of hip-hopish albums put together by someone who spent an entire afternoon listening to 10 second samples of songs on every music blog that poped up on google? just wondering. #swag


Posted // January 25,2012 at 09:28 - Earl!


Posted // January 24,2012 at 19:31 - Right! This guy's an idiot! I can't believe he didn't put these artists in the exact same order I wanted 'em in. What a jackass. What's eclectic mean?