This is our favorite time of the year, when we look back upon the last 365 days of music and evaluate who made the biggest impact in many different areas in 2011. So rather than merely publishing a list of the best songs and a list of the best albums, we’ve compiled a handful of fun features that will keep you reminiscing about the music of 2011 — and hopefully finding some great tunes that you didn’t even know existed — for the entire holiday season and longer.
Sure, we’ve got your regular Top 100 Songs of 2011 list — head over here to read it. We’ve also got the Top 30 Albums of 2011, which you can read about and listen to here. But in addition to these normal lists, we decided to make a few Editors Pick playlists to introduce you to some of the great 2011 songs that didn’t quite make it onto the Top 100 (or fit better on these lists); they include the Top 25 Cover Songs, the Top 20 Hip-Hop Songs, the Top 15 Instrumentals, the Top 25 Most Fun Songs, the Top 25 Dance Numbers, and 50 Random Songs That Didn’t Make Any Other List but Deserve to Be Heard. All of the lists are mutually exclusive, meaning that if a song appears on one list, it won’t appear on any others. And since we’ve embedded streaming audio for every track, that means you’ve got your music listening cut out for you. Get started!
-Jordy Kasko, editor
Top 25 Cover Songs of 2011
25. Phantasmorgia – “Heart of Gold”
[Neil Young cover]
An electronic interpretation of the 1972 Neil Young classic that twists the original into a bass-heavy dreamer.
24. Kingsley and Perdomo – “Stayin’ Alive”
[Bee Gees cover]
The seminal disco hit reinterpreted as a freak-folk stomper à la Mumford & Sons with a little more American in them.
23. Alex Clare – “When Doves Cry”
22. Damien Rice – “One”
A beautiful, tender interpretation of a sky-high song that brings it down to ground level — perfect for a quiet, contemplative evening.
21. Birdy – “Skinny Love”
[Bon Iver cover]
Though I’m honestly a much bigger fan of the original, and would rarely choose to listen to this cover over Justin Vernon’s acoustic strains, 15-year-old pianist Jasmine van den Bogaerde (a.k.a. Birdy) impressed many with this cover, so it makes the list.
20. Washed Out – “Wicked Game”
[Chris Isaak cover]
While this is one of the most-covered songs ever, chillwave artist Ernest Greene (a.k.a. Washed Out) created the only version that I like anywhere near as much as the original with this tender, sexy electronica-based cover.
19. Trent Reznor – “Immigrant Song (ft. Karen O)”
[Led Zeppelin cover]
First teased in June, the full version of this hard-driving cover of the Led Zeppelin hit features carnal screeches and an industrial rock sound, and it’s even more fun than the original.
18. Mrs. Bishop – “Hate to Say I Told You So”
[The Hives cover]
Did you ever think you’d hear the 2000 garage rock hit done this softly and lovingly? I sure didn’t.
17. The Flying Batteries – “I’ll Make a Man out of You”
Of all the cover songs from 2011, this one probably made me laugh the hardest.
16. The One AM Radio – “A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours”
[The Smiths cover]
15. Hugh Laurie – “Battle of Jericho”
[Folk song / Elvis cover]
The star of House does a spectacular job turning the 19th-century negro spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” into a modern blues-rock song, with a little assistance from Elvis’ version. Love his throaty vocals.
14. Toro y Moi – “Saturday Love”
[Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal cover]
13. Tennis – “Tell Her No”
[The Zombies cover]
While it isn’t vastly different from the original, the Denver husband-and-wife duo add a 21st-century pep to the 1965 pop hit, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
12. Scala & Kolacny Brothers – “Everlong”
[Foo Fighters cover]
The name of this “group” is misleading: Scala & Kolacny Brothers are actually an all-female choir from Belgium that perform piano-and-vocal covers of pop and rock songs (the Kolacny brothers conduct and arrange). This is one of their newest, as well as one of their best — a haunting interpretation of the Foo Fighters song. Watch for a playlist dedicated to these women in the near future.
11. Appetite – “Fiery Ring”
[Johnny Cash cover]
California artist Teddy Briggs, a.k.a. Appetite, makes Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” so different that it needs a different name. It utilizes synthesizers and vocal depth to construct a Mediterranean sound, something like Greece. Give it a try!
10. Kitten – “Panic”
[The Smiths cover]
The second Smiths cover of the playlist is a friendly, female-led version of “Panic,” the song that gave us “hang the DJ!” But wait… we’re not done with The Smiths quite yet.
9. mewithoutYou – “In Bloom”
If it weren’t for the lyrics, this scratchy, morose, and acoustic Nirvana cover wouldn’t be recognizable.
8. Dum Dum Girls – “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”
[The Smiths cover]
Our third Smiths cover of the Top 25 sees noise poppers Dum Dum Girls confronting the most iconic Morrissey moment — and succeeding in turning it up to 11. Definitely one of the best Smiths covers ever.
7. Twin Shadow – “Changes”
“Changes” is an updated, reworked version of a 1982 rarity called “Circus Is Gone” by the Italian band Bagarre — you can stream the original over at YouTube. I’d listened to “Changes” 40 times (seriously… my iTunes keeps track) before I figured out that the song was a cover during my research for its Song of the Day article, and it made me appreciate the track on a whole different level. Twin Shadow has turned an obscure, unknown track into an indie pop anthem for 2011.
6. 2Cellos – “Smooth Criminal”
[Michael Jackson cover]
Our only instrumental cover on this list, this version of “Smooth Criminal” sees Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hause, two sensational Croatian cellists, face off in a large room as they turn the MJ pop hit into a dramatic, tense, beautiful piece with just their two cellos. Chills run down my spine every time I watch the video.
5. Tennis – “Is It True?”
[Brenda Lee cover]
Denver husband-and-wife duo Tennis gets a second spot on our list, smack dab in the top 5, thanks to yet another mid-’60s song that they interpret even more smoothly than “Tell Her No” (#13). It doesn’t come catchier than this.
4. James Vincent McMorrow – “Higher Love”
[Steve Winwood cover]
Taking a clue from Bon Iver’s piano-and-falsetto covers, this Irish singer-songwriter turns Steve Winwood’s 1986 soul/dance hit inside out to create one of the most beautiful pieces of music that I’ve ever heard.
3. Derek Allen – “Spirits in the Material World”
[The Police cover]
You won’t find too many people out there who dislike dubstep more than I do, but even I can’t resist producer Derek Allen’s flawless interpretation of “Spirits in the Material World.” The song seems built for 2011 electronica, and Allen’s version is (IMO) the definitive Police cover.
2. William Shatner – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Ever wanted to hear Captain Kirk sing (well… that’s debatable) “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Probably never entered your mind. And now it’ll never leave. On his new album of space-themed covers, William Shatner provides a dramatic spoken-word cover of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” as well as other classic songs like “She Blinded Me with Science,” “Iron Man,” and “Spirit in the Sky.” But it’s the Queen cover that’s one of the most epic moments in the history of mankind. We should put this in a time capsule so that people in 3000 A.D. will understand the culture of early 21st-century America.
1. Bon Iver – “I Can’t Make You Love Me / Nick of Time”
[Bonnie Raitt cover]
Justin Vernon’s 2008 debut as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, was huge for a number of reasons: sorrowful and profound lyrics, songwriting that saturates the soul, and intimate production that helps the album feel personal, like you and only you are hearing it. Arguably Vernon’s biggest asset, however, was his tender, unaffected voice, recalling both Thom Yorke’s falsetto for Radiohead and Elliott Smith‘s honest confessional charisma. And on this year’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver (review), Vernon stretched his voice even further, employing its natural soulfulness and achieving amazing results.
What happened next shouldn’t surprise anyone, and yet it’s totally unexpected. Vernon has shown a love for ’80s and ’90s ballads, even writing one — “Beth/Rest” — for Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and hell, Bon Iver and Bonnie Raitt are right next to each other in your iTunes, if not in the local record store. So maybe it was inevitable that Vernon cover Raitt’s 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and 1989 song “Nick of Time” in a medley of unstoppable beauty for the B-side to his “Calgary” CD-single. But if you don’t believe in fate, then it was just a remarkably wise choice on Vernon’s part.
The cover utilizes the entirety of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” before adding the end of “Nick of Time” as a coda, and the juxtaposition itself is beautiful — Vernon has never sounded as melancholy as he does when he croons “I’ll close my eyes, then I won’t see/ The love you don’t feel when you’re holding me,” and yet when he finally asserts, after six minutes, that he’s “found love, darling, yeah/ love in the nick of time,” he is rapturously joyful. Alongside the vocals, the jazzy pop of the originals is (thankfully) eliminated in favor of a solo piano all the way through, which echoes the originals but doesn’t imitate them. Raitt may have sounded bluesier, but white-guy-with-a-beard Vernon sounds more soulful — he’s so perfect for the songs that you might start to believe that they were written specifically for him.
Top 15 Instrumentals of 2011
15. Com Truise – “Polyhurt”
14. Anna Calvi – “Rider to the Sea”
Electric Biblical blues that could’ve brought down Jericho’s walls by itself.
13. Girls – “Martina Martinez”
A warm-weather instrumental that would sound about right at a classy luncheon for aged hippies.
12. The Glitch Mob – “Warrior Concerto”
Imagine something like an epic score for a martial arts movie done with pulsing synths.
11. Pinemarten – “DX Jam”
10. Terracotta Blue – “Healer”
Yet another composition that could be paired with a video game — though this one would be a mystery game with some action in it, judging by the subtle tension and tantalizing melodies. Though there are a few words sung in the background, they are nearly indistinguishable and are more part of the ambiance than actual lyrics — so it’s still an instrumental.
9. Ladytron – “Ritual”
There are a handful of instrumentals on the newest release from darktronica masters Ladytron, Gravity the Seducer, but it’s “Ritual” that consummates the seduction by pulling you towards the center of its whirling, Masectronica (Masonic + electronica… or masectomy + electronica, haha) core. While it may not be used for actual rituals, it invokes a similar aesthetic.
8. Active Child – “Ivy”
I’m slowly becoming convinced that an integral part of a great instrumental is a suitable name. Like many others on this list, Pat Grossi (a.k.a. Active Child) couldn’t have chosen a better name for this electronic climber.
7. Danger Mouse + Daniele Luppi – “Roman Blue”
Though the Gnarls Barkley member and Italian composer/producer’s spaghetti western, Rome, contains more instrumentals than it does vocal tracks, “Roman Blue” stands out because of how little it seems to depend on the other songs to tell its languid story.
6. Clams Casino – “Fakest Year Ever”
Overly repetitive? Nah, it’s almost trancelike in its calming, affable loops.
5. Four Tet – “Locked”
If you get impatient with this 8.5-minute loungey instrumental, just wait for the 2-minute mark, when the keyboard starts to emit one of the most beguiling melodies of the year. Then a warped synth has its turn, then another, then two at once… and it just keeps going over the backbeat, as different elements are added and taken away like an electronic jazz piece.
4. James Ferraro – “Adventures in Green Foot Printing”
With bright synths, catchy video game-esque keyboard riffs (can you tell I like those?), and great backing choral vocals, this instrumental will keep getting airtime from me for years.
3. Fleet Foxes – “The Cascades”
This heartbreakingly gorgeous song is a mere two minutes long, but its au natural instrumentation does more in that space than most songs can in twice the time. Listen to this one while walking in nature.
2. Mogwai – “Get to France”
This Hound of the Baskervilles-esque pianofied instrumental (also all too short at 2.5 minutes) presents itself like the difficult-decision scene in a Hollywood drama, and it’s both graceful and elegant.
1. Rodrigo y Gabriela – “Juan Loco”
¡Madre de Dios! Even though this song came out at the beginning of December, and the album, Area 52, isn’t due until January 24 of 2012, I couldn’t resist naming “Juan Loco” the #1 instrumental of the year. The latest from Mexican acoustic-axe specialists Rodrigo y Gabriela is quite amazing. If you haven’t heard of the duo, they play spastic acoustic instrumentals that draw from flamenco, a few different countries’ folk sounds, and multiple other sources. “Juan Loco” invokes Seville as easily as Guadalajara, with a spectacular horn intro and dual acoustic guitar melodies that titillate the senses.
Top 25 Dance Numbers of 2011
25 of my favorite wiggle-worthy songs from 2011 that didn’t make it onto our Top 100 Songs list. I purposefully avoided remixes (blech!) and most popular songs or club hits, with a few notable exceptions.
25. Weatherhouse – “Diamonds”
Love that bassline.
24. Mungolian Jet Set – “We Are the Shining”
Balearic beats and vibrating bass will get you bobbing your head — if not everything else too.
23. Body Language – “Falling Out”
You probably heard this a lot in 2011, but… a Brooklyn dance group rocks a funky bass line and turns into an indietronica track with a great groove.
22. Eli Escobar – “Desire (ft. Nomi Ruiz)”
Disco arose from a combination of four-on-the-floor beats, soul music, and funk pop, and this near-disco tune sounds like an updated version of the mid-’70s. Plus it’s sexy as hell — featured artist Nomi Ruiz showing off her nipples in the promo pic for the song, shown above, only serves to make it even sexier.
21. Spank Rock – “Energy”
20. Friendly Fires – “Live Those Days Tonight”
A little electr0-driven pop-rock from a fast-rising British band that you should get to know now.
19. That Work – “Secret Lover”
Cults made “mystery bands” popular, and fellow NYCers That Work are close behind with this funky electronic track.
18. Lady Gaga – “Judas”
It may sound like a rip-off of Gaga’s own “Bad Romance,” but it’s so much fun that I don’t even care.
17. Escort – “Makeover”
Let’s see… a swampy disco beat, heavy breathing in the background, a fragile-yet-assertive female voice… yup, it’s a NYC group. ”Tell me what to do,” she sings. This one just kept growing on me with every listen.
16. Hercules and Love Affair – “Step Up”
15. New Build – “Misery Loves Company”
Members of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, and Planningtorock focus their talent into this excitable, carbonated track with slick vocals — check out that outro.
14. Bluejuice – “Act Yr Age”
Insanely fun pop-rock with a dancebeat, hailing from Australia. Also check out Bluejuice’s “Can’t Keep Up,” another favorite of mine.
13. New Look – “Janet”
A disco-house track that mourns “he doesn’t even know that I’m alive,” but turns that trite phrase into the hook for a slinky 6.5 minutes of great electronica.
12. Princeton – “To the Alps”
Probably the gentlest, sweetest song on this playlist — and perhaps the most sincere, as well — this one is dancey in a different way: it’s a slow, sexy, grinding groove for two.
11. Raphael Saadiq – “Radio”
Obviously, the majority of the songs on a dance playlist will be electronic-based, but this is some great ol’ timey rock ‘n’ roll that makes me want to shimmy and shake.
10. Yelle – “Safari Disco Club”
9. Araabmuzik – “Lift Off”
Hip-hop beats and a couple of memorable synthesized riffs show why Araabmuzik excited so many critics in 2011.
8. Radiohead – “Staircase”
A bass-driven B-side from Radiohead, “Staircase” is probably my favorite track from the band in a decade — I definitely like it better than anything on The King of Limbs, despite ranking that as my #3 album of the year. ”Staircase” features a little of Thom Yorke’s trademarked wiggling, gorgeous watery riffs, and a tone straight off of In Rainbows.
7. Blaqk Audio – “The Witness”
Sinec 2007′s CexCells, the debut album from Blaqk Audio, the EBM/darktronica side project of Davey Havok and Jade Puget of AFI, fans of the project (like myself) have been waiting impatiently for a second release. We haven’t gotten one, but “The Witness” is the best track that the duo have dropped since CexCells, and it runs on a Cimmerian (adj., living in perpetual darkness) dance beat as Davey wails, “Smile tonight/ For you have arrived/ Arrived to bring the heavens down.” It all is so lurid and sexy that it’s hardly surprising when Davey sings “I hold your final submission/ You never looked so good before” on the bridge. Likewise, Davey.
6. Bon Homme – “Mother”
Midnight disco from Denmark, this plays like The Rosebuds’ “Night Of The Furies“ spiced up with some Freud. Check out the hilarious video here. I haven’t stopped listening to this on a regular basis since I found it in March.
5. Jessica 6 – “White Horse”
“Let me see you dance/ Let me see you groove/ Put me in a trance” — no problem.
4. Rihanna – “We Found Love (ft. Calvin Harris)”
The #1 hit moves with a very Europop/disco feel thanks to the production by Calvin Harris, the rising Scottish producer, and it’s just about as perfectly-suited to 2011 pop radio as you could possibly ask for.
3. Maroon 5 – “Moves Like Jagger (ft. Christina Aguilera)”
2. Datarock – “Catcher in the Rye”
“Catcher in the Rye” steals the title of the famous J.D. Salinger novel, as well as borrowing the character in order to speak from his point of view. The lyrics represent Holden Caulfield rather well: “I don’t want to be no hero/I wouldn’t care to wear a halo.” Musically, the track runs on a disco beat, a playful bass, and synths that invoke a mixture of White Lies, Hot Chip, and Pnau. It’s a wholly addictive and danceable three and a half minutes. When you want to shake your ass, you might as well do it in the name of English literature.
1. D.A. & the Supa Dups – “Too Cool (ft. Vybz Kartel)”
So, let’s see here… we’ve got a producer of Chinese-Jamaican-African descent, a stomping, big beat dancehall number with irresistibly wiggly melodies, chants you might’ve found on a The Police record if they made 2011 club music, and a guest appearance from a guy who was just charged with murder. On top of all that, the track is called “Too Cool.” I have no self control when I hear this song — I would dance to it anywhere, no matter how embarrassing.
Top 20 Most Fun Songs of 2011
The songs that I had the most fun listening to in 2011, none of which made it onto the Top 100 Songs of 2011.
20. Sublime with Rome – “Murdera”
Sublime haven’t released a song this good in 19 years. Fun as hell.
19. Iron & Wine – “Monkeys Uptown”
18. tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”
The woman with what may be the worst hair in the history of music is a bit of a whacko, but that’s okay… the song is ridiculously fun because she’s such a whacko. It’s eccentric, it’s memorable, and it’s goofy — which is why it’s on this list.
17. JP and Jayce – “Fuck Up California”
This California-dissing song (“show ‘em we’re from New York!”) takes its clues from ’90s one-hit-wonders, especially “Summer Girls” by LFO.
16. Incubus – “Switch Blade”
15. My Morning Jacket – “Holdin’ on to Black Metal”
Big band, pop-rock, and an anthem to the much-maligned genre of black metal make for a hell of a fun time. Blast it loud.
14. John Maus – “Matter of Fact”
“Pussy is not a matter of fact,” sung oh so drearily in lo-fi — this one is fun not for the beat but rather for the message.
13. My Brightest Diamond – “There’s a Rat”
12. Emil & Friends – “Ali Baba”
“Ali Baba” opens with a folky acoustic riff and layers of vocals singing “Cheshire Cat likes licking his lips/ Far away place with a landing strip.” The mix is strongly reminiscent of Elliott Smith‘s stylings, but the chorus is a little too cutesy for a Smith song: “Ali Baba and them 40 thieves/ Lootin’ for gold like you wouldn’t believe.” A strangely-placed electric guitar keeps the listener on his toes until he realizes that it actually works well in the song, which runs on whimsy like “C’est la vie, no underwear!” and the closing line, which suitably states “There isn’t much more we can say about that.” Too true. Altogether, it is a folk/pop-rock track that is simply too charming to pass up.
11. Marianas Trench – “Haven’t Had Enough”
Tempering the rock guitars of Masterpiece Theatre in favor of a cross between Maroon 5 and Foxy Shazam that will likely be stuck in your head for weeks, the lyrics speak of a couple who “got the start wrong”; despite this, the narrator insists that “you haven’t had enough,” and that “you must admit you want it” again. The song is circular in nature, beginning negatively (“you and I might not be the best thing”) and ending positively (“you and I might just be the best thing”). You can almost hear singer Josh Ramsay wrongly convincing himself of this fact as he rips through the song’s 3.5 minutes…and it’s entrancing. This is pop music that pops.
10. YACHT – “Utopia / Dystopia”
YACHT combine the polar opposites of “Utopia” and “Dystopia,” two of the best tracks on their most recent release Shangri-La, into one music video. In the first part, the band programs a rainbow-and-prism-filled utopia which promptly causes a “fatal error,” bringing about the dystopia of floating through space with a lounge chair and treadmills. Yeah. I think you gotta be stoned to understand this. But it’s awesome either way.
9. Jens Lekman – “An Argument with Myself”
Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman has crafted out a home for himself in the U.S. scene thanks to his orchestral pop music — 2007′s Night Falls over Kortedala features tongue-in-cheek tales with titles like “Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo.” Four years later, he’s varied little from his formula — “An Argument with Myself” describes just that with hilarious lines (“fuck you, no you fuck you!”) and joyful, peppy tones. It’s playful, it’s catchy, and for rocking the line “the backpackers are pouring out like a tidal wave of vomit,” it makes the Top 10 Most Fun Songs of 2011.
8. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – “There Is No God”
Honky tones, a gospel choir singing “there is no god” in the background, and lyrics about “cocks and vaginas” — and yet this song doesn’t feel dirty or blasphemous. Strangely enough, it feels more honest than most. Plus it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun.
7. Is Tropical – “The Greeks”
Love love LOVE that riff that opens the song. There is not a more addictive one — or a better ringtone — from all of 2011. After the catchy, staccato guitar riff and lyrics, the faux-disco beat kicks in; packed full of upbeat tempos, expressive synth lines, and decorative embellishments by the guitar, this track is the ultimate dance party.
6. Butch Walker – “Summer of ’89″
August 30 marked the release of The Spade, singer-songwriter Butch Walker’s sixth album in nine years, and the first single is part Bryan Adams heartland rock and part ’70s radio anthem. Butch always finds a way to sneak in hilarious lines, and this song goes “back to where I was a winner” like Charlie Sheen during the bridge: “steal a beer, gettin’ fucked by a girl twice my age, makin’ minimum wage.”
5. Arctic Monkeys – “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair”
“Bite the lightning and tell me how it tastes,
Kung Fu fighting on your roller skates,
Do the Macarena in the devil’s lair,
But just don’t sit down cause I’ve moved your chair.”
4. Lloyd – “Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)
[ft. Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne]“
2011’s “Fuck You” didn’t see Cee-Lo Green putting his signature under it, but rather Lloyd, a young R&B crooner. “Dedication to My Ex” is a glossy, catchy, happy, and vintage R&B tune that will keep listeners company this summer – but it’s much more than just that. An elegant groove, a retro organ, and André 3000’s cameo construct a relaxed tune with great wordplay and a doo-wop style that will have you singing the backing vocals over and over after the first you hear it – I know I couldn’t stop singing them. Lloyd bemoans his ex-girlfriend who cheated on him, and while he does so, the background singers keep repeating “I miss that pussy, that pussy, that pussy, that pussy!” R-rated and oh so much fun.
3. King Charles – “Bam Bam”
Many people who saw Mumford & Sons during their North American tour last year probably got a taste of King Charles, a British musician who opened on many dates. No, I’m not talking about the historical figure King Charles II of England — merely his lookalike, a man who makes hook-laden, tongue-in-cheek BritPop with frequently comedic lyrics and dresses like the king onstage (complete with what looked like a codpiece, as my fianceé pointed out).
His song “Love Lust“ is particularly irresistible, and you should check it out — but also give a listen to “Bam Bam,” King Charles’ newest eccentric, fun, fist-pumping track and first official single. You might hear a little Vampire Weekend here, a little Blur, and a whole ton of “Barbara Ann.” Give it a go below. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
2. Man Man – “Piranhas Club”
The wonderfully odd “Piranhas Club” (“Think about it he might destroy you!/ Tear… his… limbs… off…!”) gets a wonderfully odd video where a young boy is bullied by some high school dudes, creates a biker gang — composed of middle-schoolers, incidentally, goes on a “crime” spree, and takes his revenge on the bullies. I love it.
1. The Lonely Island – “I Just Had Sex”
I really, really, really don’t need to explain this #1. Just watch the video below.
Top 20 Hip-Hop Songs of 2011
My 20 favorite hip-hop songs that didn’t appear on our Top 100 Songs of 2011 list.
20. Bad Meets Evil – “Fastlane”
Eminem and Royce da 5’9″ churn out some great pop-rap on this driving song.
19. Gucci Mane – “Up My Alley”
I love Gucci’s flow on this song, even if it’s not one of his best-known or most listenable tracks.
18. Jet Life/Jet World Order – “Excellent
(ft. Curren$y, Trademark Da Skydiver & Young Roddy)”
I love stoner rap.
17. MC Lars – “History’s Greatest Assholes”
Nerdcore is one of the most overlooked genres in the music biz, and the best track from MC Lars’ newest deserves to be on this list. Lars lists the biggest assholes in history, from Cain right up to the #1 spot — George W. Bush, of course. He also manages to diss Michael Vick and Wall Street bankers, so what’s not to like?
16. Childish Gambino – “L.E.S.”
15. Chiddy Bang – “Ray Charles”
The Philly rap duo is gearing up to release their debut album on Feb. 28, and this swingin’ anthem to Ray is a blast of gospel-infused hip-hop. It’s hard not to believe that “Ray Charles” took influence from Jay and ‘Ye’s “Otis,” but it’s still a great song that’s one of the most purely enjoyable hip-hop releases of the year.
14. Jay-Z + Kanye West – “H•A•M”
While the grandiose, epic, overblown production from Lex Luger can certainly overwhelm the listener, the first song dropped from Jay-Z and ‘Ye’s collab project was an earworm with some great lyrics, heavy on the braggadocio.
13. Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa – “OG (ft. Curren$y)”
“If there is a marijuana-ology, I be a mentor” — hell yeah. The three biggest potheads in the hip-hop industry can’t go wrong when they collaborate on a single track.
12. Drake – “Headlines”
Throughout the song, Drake discusses fame and the luxuries that go along with it: “I might be too strung out on compliments/ Overdosed on confidence/ Started not to give a fuck and stopped fearing the consequence/ Drinking every night because we drink to my accomplishment.” But he also wants to make clear that he no longer cares about the critics and about people who don’t believe in him: ‘The realest is on the rise/ Fuck them other guys/ I even gave them a chance to decide/ Now it’s something they know/ They know, they know, they know.” ‘Drizzy’ seems happy to be back, and this first single from Take Care hinted at the beginning of a new era, offering a different Drake from the one all of his fans got to know on his first album and on his latest mixtape.
11. Grieves – “Bloody Poetry”
One of the best new rappers in the game lays down a thoughtful, memorable track with a horn section and everything.
10. Atmosphere – “Just for Show”
9. Jay-Z + Kanye West – “Murder to Excellence”
The climax of Watch the Throne — as well as its epitome, arguably — is “Murder to Excellence,” a well-balanced triptych which features a ‘Ye-centric eulogy for “black-on-black murder” on the A-side and a Jay-led “celebration of black excellence” on the B-side, before ‘Ye breaks it down and preaches “savoring the moment” and using the “pain” to reach ever higher: “Yeah, it’s all messed up when it’s nowhere to go/ So we won’t take the time out til we reach the T O P.” It is a heartbreaking song — and one for the ages.
8. Down with Webster – “Royalty”
A sextet from Toronto delivers one of 2011′s best hip-hop performances on this conscientious, arena-sized anthem.
7. Lil Wayne – “Blunt Blowin”
“I’m a blunt-blowin, polo-drawers showin / I-don’t-give-a-lovely-motherfuck-ass nigga”… yeah, it’s my theme song. One of the best Weezy tracks ever.
6. Childish Gambino – “Sunrise”
“One and two, bitch/ Why these other rappers do shit stupid?” I don’t know, Donald, but you sure don’t. My favorite pun of the year: “I’m lookin’ at her butt/ That’s that 20-20 hindsight.”
5. Astronautalis – “Dimitri Mendeleev”
He ”won’t be held back, won’t be tied up” — it’s the perfect theme for this Minneapolis alternative hip-hop artist, and it might become your theme too.
4. Common – “Ghetto Dreams (ft. Nas)”
The word around the net at the time of its release was that “Ghetto Dreams” represented “real rap” like it was “in the ’90s”… but I don’t think a hip-hop track as addictive and well-crafted as this should be used as a hate machine. Instead, just enjoy Common, back in form with one of the hardest tracks on his recent release The Dreamer/The Believer.
3. Theophilus London – “Last Name London”
Theophilus London was labeled “hipster rap” by much of the music community, and his debut album Timez Are Weird These Days wasn’t quite the smash hit it was hyped up to be. But the album’s best track was the introductory “Last Name London,” which featured both Theophilus’ best wordplay (“The whole city covered in white, she discovered the light/ Yeah, and she gettin’ naked on Skype and now she wear my Nike Airs”) and chilling catcalls. It showed the promise of London’s flow, a promise that went unkept on the rest of Timez. Oh, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I can’t stop listening.
2. Jay-Z + Kanye West – “Otis (ft. Otis Redding)”
An Otis Redding sample (“Try a Little Tenderness”) loops on the first Watch The Throne cut we heard that actually appeared on the album (January’s “H.A.M.” was relegated to bonus track status). ‘Ye and Jay half-freestyle, and they’re nearly at their best rhyming “stuntmen” with “Phillip Drummond ‘em,” “summer in,” and “dumb again.” See? Great rap songs don’t need hooks.
1. Lil Wayne – “Green and Yellow”
and Wiz Khalifa – “Black and Yellow”
When Pittsburger (heh heh) Wiz Khalifa wrote a song in support of his hometown teams, all of which wear the colors black and yellow, it quickly became a Steelers anthem as they headed to Super Bowl XLV. But their opponents, the Packers (GO PACK GO!) had their own outspoken rapper to support them in song, Lil Wayne, and he freestyled “Green and Yellow” over the “Black and Yellow” beat. I think that “Green and Yellow” is a much better song, but I’m quite biased, being a huge Packers fan. Let’s just call it a tie and agree to love both songs.
Stream: Lil Wayne – “Green and Yellow”
Stream: Wiz Khalifa – “Black and Yellow”
50 Random Songs That Didn’t Make Any Other List but Deserve to Be Heard
Lastly, there were 50 songs that didn’t make any other list — the Top 100 Songs of 2011 or the previous lists in this article — that I feel deserve to be heard by everybody. No pictures or blurbs this time, people… just some great music. I threw a genre label onto each one to assist you in choosing which songs to listen to; also, the songs are ordered alphabetically rather than by my preference. Enjoy!
1. Alex Clare – “Relax My Beloved” Electro-soul
2. Atlas Sound – “Terra Incognita” Experimental / Alternative
3. The Bandana Splits – “Sometimes” Indie Pop / Motown
4. Best Coast – “Gone Again” Surf Pop
5. Blood Orange – “Sutphin Boulevard” Indie Pop / Funk / Soul
6. Bon Iver – “Beth/Rest” Soft Rock / Ballad
7. The Cars – “Too Late” New Wave
8. Cass McCombs – “A Knock upon the Door” Baroque Pop
9. Charlie XCX – “Nuclear Seasons” Synthpop
10. Childish Gambino – “That Power” Hip-Hop / Spoken Word
11. Class Actress – “Weekend” Synthpop
12. Coldplay – “Princess of China (ft. Rihanna)” Pop-Rock / R&B
13. Cults – “You Know What I Mean” Indie Pop
14. Death Cab for Cutie – “Stay Young, Go Dancing” Pop-Rock
15. Death in Vegas – “Your Loft (ft. Katie Stelmanis)” Electronic
16. Dredg – “The Thought of Losing You” Alternative Rock
17. EMA – “Grey Ship” Noise Rock / Folk
18. Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe” Hard Rock
19. Gold Motel – “Leave You in Love” Indie Pop-Rock
20. Heavenly Beat – “Suday” Indie Pop
21. Hellogoodbye – “Killin’ Time” Pop-Rock
22. Hooray for Earth – “Sails” Synthpop
23. Iron & Wine – “Rabbit Will Run” Folk-Pop
24. Kaiser Chiefs – “Cousin in the Bronx” Indie Rock
25. Ladytron – “Ace of Hz” Synthpop / Darktronica
26. Man Man – “Life Fantastic” Alternative Pop-Rock
27. Maria Taylor – “Matador” Folk-Pop
28. Mayday Parade – “Oh Well, Oh Well” Alternative Rock / Pop-Punk
29. Memory Tapes – “Sunhits” Electropop
30. Noel Gallagher – “The Death of You and Me” Pop-Rock
31. Panda Bear – “Last Night at the Jetty” Electronic / Choral
32. Patrick Wolf – “The City” Baroque Pop
33. Portugal. The Man – “All Your Light (Times Like These)” Indie Rock
34. S.C.U.M. – “Whitechapel” Synthrock
35. Smith Westerns – “All Die Young” Indie Rock
36. Summer Camp – “I Want You” Indie Pop-Rock
37. Thrice – “Promises” Alternative Rock
38. Toro y Moi – “Elise” Synthpop
39. Total Babes – “Be So True” Lo-Fi Pop-Rock
40. Urban Cone – “Freak” Electropop
41. The Vaccines – “Post Break-Up Sex” Pop-Rock
42. Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys – “Soldiers Came” Lo-Fi Experimental Rock
43. Wilco – “Art of Almost” Alt.-Country / Indie Rock
44. William Fitzsimmons – “The Tide Pulls from the Moon” Folk-Pop
45. The Wombats – “Jump into the Fog” Power Pop
46. Yellowcard – “For You, and Your Denial” Pop-Punk
47. Young Galaxy – “Phantoms” Indie Pop
48. Yuck – “Milkshake” Indie Rock
49. Ziggy Marley – “Wild and Free (ft. Woody Harrelson)” Reggae
50. Zola Jesus – “Vessel” Darktronica / Gothic Pop