1. Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Watch The Throne”
It’s hard to compete with either of these rappers as solo artists, and when they teamed up for “Watch The Throne,” they easily won my vote for album of the year.
2. The Roots – “undun”
The Roots’ first-ever concept album, “undun,” is the year’s most unique body of work. The legendary group that now serves as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon earned the No. 2 spot on my top albums list.
3. Drake – “Take Care”
Drake’s sophomore effort, “Take Care,” is a big improvement from his debut. He focused in on his sound and successfully created a complete album that 631,000 people purchased during the week of release.
4. J. Cole – “Cole World: The Sideline Story”
J. Cole’s debut was one of the most impressive in recent memory. As a rapper and producer, Cole shined on “The Sideline Story,” and I am eagerly anticipating his sophomore album, which is said to be coming in the spring.
5. TiRon & Ayomari – “A Sucker For Pumps”
If you haven’t heard of these two, go back and read my article from Oct. 7. Their collaborative album, “A Sucker For Pumps,” has an incredibly unique sound and concept. TiRon & Ayomari are two of the most talented unsigned rappers, so be on the lookout for them in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Kendrick Lamar – “Section.80”
1. Pusha T – “Fear of God”
After signing to Kanye West’s label G.O.O.D. Music and eventually Def Jam, Pusha’s solo career took off as he delivered the year’s best mixtape, “Fear of God.”
2. The Weeknd – “House of Balloons”
With the support of fellow Toronto native Drake, The Weeknd’s career took off overnight. In 2011 he delivered two amazing projects, “House of Balloons” and “Thursday.” His third mixtape, “Echoes of Silence,” is due out soon.
3. Wale – “The Eleven One Eleven Theory”
Wale’s career got back on the right track in 2011 after a disappointing debut album in 2009. His pre-album mixtape was one of the year’s best and featured 20 new songs.
4. A$AP Rocky – “LIVE.LOVE.A$AP”
A$AP Rocky signed a $3-million record deal before ever releasing his first mixtape. Then he dropped “LIVE.LOVE.A$AP,” and now he’s one of the most talked-about MCs in the industry.
5. Cocaine 80s – “The Pursuit EP”
Another act that came out of nowhere this year was Cocaine 80s, led by producer No I.D. and songwriter James Fauntleroy. Their first effort, “The Pursuit EP,” received a lot of attention and features seven great songs. Also check out their second EP, “Ghost Lady,” which I reviewed earlier in the fall.
Honorable Mention: Lupe Fiasco – “Friend of the People”
1. Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Otis”
Amazing sample? Check. Incredible punchlines? Check. Even better music video? Check. Hands down the song of the year in hip-hop.
2. Meek Mill – “Ima Boss (Featuring Rick Ross)
Maybach Music Group dominated 2011 and delivered the song of the summer with Meek Mill and Rick Ross’ “Ima Boss” off of the label’s collaborative album, “Self Made Vol. 1.”
3. J. Cole – “Rise and Shine”
On his debut album, J. Cole delivered his best lyrical performance to date with “Rise and Shine.”
4. Drake – “Lord Knows (Featuring Rick Ross)”
The Just Blaze-produced banger is the biggest song off of Drake’s sophomore album, “Take Care.”
5. Adele – “Rolling In The Deep”
I know it’s not hip-hop, but how can you not love this song?
Honorable Mention: Big Sean – “Dance (A$$)”
What to look for in 2012:
1. Rick Ross – “God Forgives, I Don’t”
After suffering from two seizures in October, Rick Ross’ highly anticipated album was pushed back from its original December 13 release date. Also be on the lookout for Maybach Music Group’s second collaborative album, “Self Made Vol. 2.”
2. A second Black Star album
On Black Friday, the legendary Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) released two new songs as Black Star for the first time in 13 years. They are working on a new album, which is set to release next year.
3. Nas – “Life is Good”
Nas hasn’t released a solo album since July 2008. From all of the songs he’s been featured on and dropped lately, expect this to be one of 2012’s best.
4. KiD CuDi and Dot Da Genius – “WZRD”
CuDi teaming up with producer Dot Da Genius for the “WZRD” album has been in talks for a long time. The project will finally see the light of day January 30. The single “Brake” is out now.
5. LOTS of sophomore albums
J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Nicki Minaj and Big Sean have all announced that their sophomore albums will be coming out in the first half of the year. Get ready for a ton of new music.