10. Mr. Wired Up (Oh Boy), Inside My Mind
Maybe it was because this tape didn't carry any sort of real buzz or hype behind it beyond what (Oh Boy)'s camp was selling, but it thoroughly overachieved. It glows with fun. You know that thing where the snakes jump out of the can? That's kind of like what this album is, except instead of snakes jumping out, a gigantic fucking party jumps out. IMM is the fabled insta-party, and the power in that can never be overstated.
9. OG Ron C and DJ Candlestick, Chopped Not Slopped version of Frank Ocean's nostalgia, Ultra
Traditionally (or historically), only the most earthbound Southern rap and R&B have been acceptable options for Screwed music. However, OG Ron C, co-founder of the SwishaHouse label, which, oh by the way, helped give Southern rap its current unmistakable sound, is not bound by the restraints of tradition. He and his Chopstar camp have spent the last year or so reinventing Screwed music, making it accessible to a trendier, more youthful and energetic crowd. To wit: this brilliant version of blog heartthrob/extra-indie singer Frank Ocean's nostalgia, Ultra.
8. Dante Higgins, Rhymes for Weeks
Here's what you need to know when consuming Rhymes for Weeks: The purpose of the album isn't to be an actual album, it's to show that Higgins can rhyme any and every thing for as long as he pleases, regardless of the nonlinearity of the narrative. The biggest success from here is his redo of J. Cole's "Blow Up," which has become a live show staple for Higgins. But the best example of his ability is a song about a bicycle he received as a Christmas present. Fa'real, fa'real.
7. hasHBrown, Relationsh*t
As a general tale, hasHBrown has been nominally praised as a rapper but exalted as an underground producer. He's just so much better at the former seemed to be the common account. Relationsh*t seemed like maybe his response to all that. It was big and smart and creative in its crookedness, and "Forgive Me Not," the tape's haunting standout, has settled firmly into the rarefied Fuck You If You Don't Think This Is One of the Very Best Songs of the Year category.
6. AndyRoo, Welcome to the AndyRooniverse
A growing portion of the music that I listen to is heavily influenced by my twin sons, which means more and more non-rap enters my e-discography each year. I mean, those little guys absorb everything, and funny as it'd be, I just can't risk one of them going to school and telling his teacher to "bust it wide open, let me see you bring it back." Welcome to the AndyRooniverse is the debut album from AndyRoo, the kid-friendly alter ego of Andrew Karnavas, a folk singer who wasn't altogether kid-hostile in the first place. It is a heartfelt and substantial project, remarkable considering Karnavas spends a fair amount of time advocating proper dental hygiene. This is children's music that will not make you want to put your head under a truck tire. Totally recommended for parents.
5. Le$, Settle 4 Le$ Vol. 2
You know what Le$ did here? He nearly rebranded the whole nouveau, weed-smoking, jazz-influenced, sunny-day-charmed rap genre as his own. Nobody in Houston — or the southern United States, for that matter — made an album as dedicated to the ideals of this sudden subgenre as Le$ did here. He is an aesthete, and that is wonderful.
4. Trae, Street King
Trae's mixtape last year ranked number one on the Houston Press's Best Houston Rap Albums of 2010 list. This year, he won the official Houston Press Music Award for Best LP with Street King, a gigantic street-toughs album that bested efforts from rappers and country musicians alike. The guy's just good. There are no two ways about it.
3. Jack Freeman, Lynnie's Juke Joint
Jack Freeman/Jack-O/Lynnie Free/Black Frank Sinatra represents more than himself: He represents the growing class of young, creative, philosophically neat soul singers (it's a small class). LJJ feels like an embodiment of the jumble in his brain. There are blues cuts, D'Angelo-esque experimental R&B tracks, disco (!) bits and meta-sexual tangents. The album isn't perfect, but that might sort of be the point.
2. Killa Kyleon, Candy Paint N Texas Plates 2
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Killa Kyleon was super-heroically cool on CPNTP2. The timing just feels right. And sometimes, that's all you really need.
1. Delo, Hood Politics Vol. 2
Delo has always been a good underground rapper; on HPv2, he was great. He introduced a new character (the hyper-effective, furiously unhinged Angry Delo), stayed true to the sonicism that complements him the best (anything earthy and/or soulful and/or rock-tinged) and generally just beat the shit out of everything that stood in front of him. Really, the only time he slowed down was in a song about his daughter (which still was pummeling, incidentally). Just good, good music here.
Keep up with the Houston Press Rocks Off blog this December. We'll be posting a comprehensive list of the 25 Best Songs From Houston Rap's Glorious 2011, as well as the annual 10 Best Albums from Houston Rap's Glorious 2011 list. http://blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks