2011 has been an awesome year for hip hop. On the nationwide field there’s been a lot of new faces who’ve grown to recognition out of their local scenes (A$AP Rocky, ScHoolboy Q, L.E.P. Bogus Boys, brandUn DeShay, etc). Within the local scenes, there are names who are beginning to buzz beyond it: Fat Trell out of DC, Ghostwridah out of Florida and Gods’illa out of the DMV are some prime examples.
The hip hop scenes in both North Carolina and South Carolina are no exception to growth. Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the revival of the RDU hip hop scene. RDU (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) is my homebase and over the past year it’s like somebody pressed the restart button.
NC and SC hip hop has had an interesting year. While each state’s respective scenes combined still don’t stack up to an Atlanta or New York, the artistry and creative output in the Carolinas is undeniable. There has been some extremely high quality hip hop music that has been released from our artists.
Out of all that has been put out, there are a few projects that are both stellar releases and absolute favorites. I’m the type of hip hop fan that when I come across a mixtape, EP, or album that is totally jamming, I’ll "play the mess" out of it.
As a disclaimer Phonte’s Charity Starts At Home is my favorite release from a Carolina artist in 2011. The album also happens to be one of my favorites hip hop releases of the year.
However with Phonte’s position in the game, he’s already well known on both the indie and mainstream. The artists on the following list are all independent, signed to an indie label and/or may not be well known outside of the Carolinas.
So without further ado here are my top Carolina hip hop releases of 2011. These are records I "played the mess" out of. This list is in no particular order.
1. Ron O’Neal (EP)
Artist: Wreck-N-Crew (@Wreck_NCrew)
Release: July 2011
Hometown: Durham, NC
Wreck-N-Crew are a two man duo consisting of Trie and Fresh. Over the summer they released the Ron O’Neal EP, a project themed after the man who played Youngblood Priest in the blaxploitation film Super Fly.
Ron O’Neal is a super soulful hip hop project. There is just enough soul/R&B mixed in with the hip hop to provide the listener a good balance of both. Soundbites from Super Fly throughout the EP keeps the theme going and there are also references to Durham landmarks (i.e. the infamous McDouglad Terrace).
The EP includes features from fellow Bull City artists J. Gunn (who also happened to appear in the July 2011 XXL magazine), B. Stacks and R&B artist Kejon. Production on Ron O’Neal was exclusively handled by The C.O.M.P.O.S.E.R.S., one half of which is Trie.
Releases aside, Wreck-N-Crew puts on an energetic live performance. After seeing them live several times in 2011, it’s clear they have that piece down pact. For 2012, I’d like to see them elevate their digital game, release more videos, update their website regularly, and for The C.O.M.P.O.S.E.R.S. to produce other artists’ projects.
2. My Well Smokes Good (Mixtape)
Artist: Oxymoron (@OxyXMoron)
Release: May 2011
Hometown: Bamberg & Florence, SC
Oxymoron are a three man group composed of Pedro English, MENT Nelson, and Tony London. At the top of the Summer they released My Well Smokes Good, a title that is creatively illustrated by the mixtape artwork. And don’t be fooled by the title or the artwork, this project is not all about weed and the joys of smoking it.
My Well Smokes Good covers love, friendship, good times, weed stories, breakups, depression, suicide, enjoying life, feeling good, and being yourself all on one project. I’d consider it a complete release in that there’s coverage of just about every emotion and reaction to it that a young person experiences as they’re coming into their own. There are no features and production is handled exclusively by Danny Dee and Joel Brown.
I’ve never seen Oxymoron perform live. The fellas just released the title of their new project, The Woods, on Christmas morning. A release date has been set for February 2012. In the new year, as with Wreck-N-Crew, I’d like to see Oxymoron elevate their digital game, release videos, and perform more.
3. Clouds Are My Everlasting Memories (Mixtape)
Artist: SkyBlew (@HeySkyBlew)
Release: March 2011
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC
SkyBlew is an Alabama native who’s resided in North Carolina for the past couple of years. In March of this year he released Clouds Are My Everlasting Memories. I’d been listening to SkyBlew’s music for the past year and with this project, I could hear his growth as an emcee.
SkyBlew’s music coverages a range of topics, from extremely personal stories about his childhood to struggles trying break through in the industry. One of SkyBlew’s greatest assests on Clouds Are My Everlasting Memories includes his choice of producers and beat selection. Asonhi, Commissioner Gordon, and U’Nique Music all provide top notch sounds which complements SkyBlew’s lyrical ability very well.
As far as live performances, I’ve seen SkyBlew several times. He has great stage presence and crowd control. Within the RDU hip hop scene, he is well known and respected. For 2012, I’d like to see SkyBlew perform more outside of NC, plus build up a web presence via his own branded website.
4. The Millie Tape (Mixtape)
Producer: Millie Vaughn (@MillieVaughn)
Artists: V/A (Lazurus, Tucson, Sarah Kaboom, Liion Gamble, Chris Millz, Marc Law + more)
Release: October 2011
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Maliq Millie Vaughn is a producer based out of Raleigh, NC. In the Fall of this year he released The Millie Tape, a compilation project that consists of some of the best emcees and singers in RDU.
Millie Vaugn handled all of the production on The Mille Tape. There are both hip hop and R&B tracks on the mixtape. It is also a very versatile project in that there’s a few commercial radio-ready records as well as a gospel (but not preachy) track, "Praise His Love", which is also one of my favorite records on the whole mixtape.
RDU artists who show up for features on The Millie Tape include Azon Blaze, Lazurus, Drique London, S. Dot Gold, SkyBlew and J. Capri, all of whom are considered by many to be the area’s best lyricists. With top notch production and quality emcees on every track, The Millie Tape is without a doubt one of the best hip hop projects to come out of the Carolinas in 2011.
Earlier this month Mille Vaughn won first place in the 808’s & Heartbreaks beat battle, a producer’s event that takes place monthly in Raleigh. More recently he competed in Greensboro, NC’s Dirty South Beatdown, which is held quarterly. Although he didn’t win, Mille Vaughn was a crowd favorite.
For 2012, I’d like to see Millie Vaughn continue to work with a variety of artists—at the Dirty South Beatdown he played a couple of beats which were definitely pop artist ready— as well as take a trip down to Atlanta to compete in the ATL Beat Battle, which is the #1 producer’s event in the A. With these moves, a good team, plus consistent great beats I’d predict Mille Vaughn to see bigger placements in 2012.
5. For Everything (Album)
Artist: Rapsody (@RapsodyMusic)
Release: November 2011
Hometown: Snow Hill, NC
Rapsody is signed to 9th Wonder’s It’s A Wonderful World/JAMLA record label. She got her start in H2O, NC State’s hip hop organization. It was there that she met the other members of Kooley High (which happens to be my favorite hip hop group out of NC).
For Everything is Rapsody’s third solo release in less than a year, and is the follow up to Thank H.E.R. Now, which was released over the summer. For Everything is a feature light project. Out of 14 tracks, there are only four guests: Kendrick Lamar, Freeway, GQ and Bluu Suede. Production is handled exclusively by The Soul Council, 9th Wonder’s six man producer camp.
I’ve been listening to Rapsody’s music for a long time. For Everything is her best release to date. Previous projects have been decent, but this one excels because you can hear her growth, her lyrics are complete plus we get to know who she is as an artist.
In 2012 I’d like to see Rapsody appear on the XXL 2012 Freshman cover. I’m still trying to figure out what the folks over at Harris Publications were smoking on when they left her name off the list of 50 nominees for the XXL People’s Choice candidate. Kreayshawn and V-Nasty over Rapsody? Really XXL?
LoKeys, The Green Hornet (Mixtape). Hometown: Fayetteville, NC
Righchus, Sweetgrass & Supras (Mixtape). Hometown: Charleston, SC
King Mez, King’s Khrysis (EP). Hometown: Raleigh, NC
LeLe aka Bad Bad, Loyalty (Album). Hometown: Columbia, SC