Veterans showing they still matter, rappers becoming the subject of movies, artists mastering the balance of singing and rapping, and rhyme slingers altering their approach helped make for the most compelling rap moments from 2011:
5. Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik Show Gangster Rap’s Staying Power
Although their new material didn’t hit platinum status, Snoop Dogg and DJ Quik released potent albums in 2011 with “Doggumentary” and “The Book Of David,” respectively. Snoop’s release was a rock-solid collection that featured funk-drenched production from Los Angeles stalwarts Battlecat, Fredwreck and DJ Khalil, among others, while Quik’s LP featured his signature blend of funk, soul and sonic innovation.
The lyrics on both albums remained rugged and raw, of course, proving that there’s still room for G’d up rhymes and attitude. Although the death of gangster rap has been a long-discussed topic by rap critics and fans alike, Snoop Dogg and DJ Quik showed in 2011 that gangster rap isn’t dead. It’s just evolving.
4. Rap Documentaries Become Movie Events
High quality documentaries on rappers and rap groups have been few and far between, but in 2011 at least two major rap acts got legitimate movie treatment. “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest” opened in New York and Los Angeles July 8. Directed by filmmaker and Tribe fan Michael Rapaport, the film drew the ire of group members Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi, and earned support from Phife Dawg.
Regardless of what the group felt about the film, it gave fans an intimate look into the inner-workings of one of rap’s most respected outfits. The relationship between Q-Tip and Phife, in particular, was strained and the movie gave fans their first real look into the drama that destroyed the group. Young Jeezy also got the big screen treatment with “A Hustlerz Ambition,” a 44-minute documentary about his life narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. These films show that stories about rappers can be as entertaining as the music they make.
3. Cee Lo Green Shows That Rappers Can Sing
He started out back in the mid-1990s as the high-pitched rapper-singer in the politically charged rap quartet Goodie Mob. His subsequent solo albums afforded him the opportunity to explore his wide-ranging musical interests and his work with DJ Danger Mouse as one-half of Gnarls Barkley transcended genres. By 2011, riding the heels of his smash “**ck You” single, his appearance on the high profile television show “The Voice” and his entertaining 7Up commercials, it’s clear that Cee Lo Green was able to successfully straddle the fence between rapping and singing without losing his credibility.
Cee Lo said in multiple interviews in the last year-plus that he’ll focus on rapping on the forthcoming Goodie Mob album, but in the interim, he seems to have found a perfect balance between belting out tunes for the masses and rapping for his die-hard fans.
2. Game Earns Another No. 1 Album
After years of delays, the removal of several songs and last-minute changes, Game had several reasons to have a bad attitude surrounding the release of his latest album, “The R.E.D. Album.” Instead, the Compton rapper used the extra time between albums to reevaluate his life, improve himself and rededicate himself to the things most important to him: his family, his friends, his body, his mind and his soul. He talked about this time extensively when we interviewed him in on the set of his “Pot Of Gold” video this year and it was clear that Game was focused on being successful. The rededication paid off, as Game’s “The R.E.D. Album” was the No. 1 album in the country upon its release. Game also took another major step this year, proposing to his long-time girlfriend. He won in music and in life.
1. Tech N9ne Becomes An Overnight Success, 10 Years Later
It was a long time coming, but 2011 marked the year that Tech N9ne broke through on a national level. The pioneering Kansas City rapper has been making music since the mid-1990s, yet it wasn’t until this year, with his blockbuster “All 6’s And 7’s” album, that the Strange Music mogul earned his first No. 1 Rap album on the charts.
Of course, Tech’s appearance on Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV,” his relentless touring, his acclaimed Tech N9ne Collabos albums and his extensive merchandise have all helped the gifted rhymer become somewhat of a cult-leader among his throngs of devoted fans. Tech will release another studio album in 2012 and has a number of other major projects in the works, so next year may be even more remarkable for one of rap’s premier talents.