The months Jan-March are traditionally the least interesting months in terms of music releases, but in 2011 we've seen quite a few of interesting releases:
Here is a list (in tentative order from best to worst with a tentative rating):
1. CunninLynguists - Oneirology (9.5 out of 10)
Easily the year's best release comes from the 'Lynguists. Their current 9.5 rating could easily turn into a perfect 10 by the year's end, as I'm picking up something new with each listen.
2. Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4eva (9 out of 10)
Admittedly, I slept on K.R.I.T.'s 2010 release, K.R.I.T. was Here and that was a BIG mistake. R4 is a phenomenal release. The release displays is excellent emcee skills and songwriting ability as well as his classic southern production which gives me flashbacks of 94-96 era of Dungeon Family.
3. Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told (9 out of 10)
The long awaited Saigon debut was finally released this year, and it was well worth the wait. Top notch production from Just Blaze, and socially and politically conscious lyricism from the former Entourage star, will make this record one the year's best.
4. Reks - R.E.K.S. (8.5 out of 10)
This Boston emcee paired with top tier boom bap production from the likes of DJ Premier, Pete Rock, The Alchemist, Sean C & LV, Nottz, Hi-Tek, and show stealer, Statik Selektah make up a record that sounds like it come out in 1996.
5. Stalley - Lincoln Way Nights (Intellectual Trunk Music) (8 out of 10)
This Ohio emcee has released one of the year's most interesting mixtapes. With hard hitting production from Rashad, Stalley raps mostly about his sound system and his cars, which may sound boring and cliche, but he does it damn well.
6. Apollo Brown - Clouds (8 out of 10)
This Detroit beatsmith released an excellent instrumental album, with amazing samples and hard hitting drums. This atmospheric record is a great listen even without rymes, but I'd still really like to hear some dope emcees rip these tracks apart.
7. Chip Tha Ripper - Gift Raps (7.5 out of 10)
His latest release, Gift Raps, with producer, Chuck Inglish, is the Cleveland rapper's best release of his young career. This focused effort will probably land Chip a record deal, and the emcee is starting to fulfill his potential.
8. Scavie Scoobs (of Custom Made) - Trap Star Vol. 1 (7 out of 10)
The Custom Made emcee branches off to release his first solo project, Trap Star. Noticeably more aggressive and focuses more on gangsta rap themes than the group's 2010 release Hi-Def, Scoobs finds his own voice on his solo debut, while staying true to his Custom Made family.
Here is a list of releases that I've listened to a few times, but need to listen to more before I can give them even a tentative listen:
#. Pharoahe Monch - W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
This politically charged record has some bangers on it for sure, but I need to give it a few more spins before I can decide how I feel about it.
#. Pac Div - Mania!
The West Coast group's third mixtape in as many years, has the potential to be their best. While they're prepping their major label debut, their independent work has made them one of my favorite groups of the past few years.
#. Money Making Jam Boys - The Prestige: Jam Boy Magic
This Philly-based super group that features Black Thought, Porn, Dice Raw, STS, and Truck North released their debut mixtape this year. I've given it one or two quick listens, but still need to give it a close listen to decide how I feel about it.
#. Grynch - Timeless EP
I've only give the Seattle emcee's new EP only one quick listen but the title track and the Sabzi (of Blue Scholars) produced remix to his excellent 2010 single, "My Volvo" are two excellent tracks.
Here are two albums that I am highly anticipating but due to lack of funds I have yet to listen to:
#. Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows
#. Raekwon - Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang