Jonathan Cunningham

Mr. C gives us his rundown of 2011 albums, Detroit hip-hop, ex-pats, and mixtapes

Jan 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

Jonathan Cunningham



1 Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop): Lead singer Robin Pecknold ascends to a higher level of songwriting. 


2 Shabazz Palaces Black Up (Sub Pop): The former Digable Planets frontman and crew focus on making unapologetic and futuristic black music. 


3 Adele 21 (XL): Power-lunged Adele has come straight from the U.K. and unleashed an album so powerful and soul-jarring that the six Grammy nods her record received actually make sense.


4 Dennis Coffey Dennis Coffey (Strut Records): Arguably Detroit's most legendary guitarist re-emerges with new songs and spins on old classics.


5 Elzhi with Will Sessions Elmatic (The Jae. B Group): Re-creating one of hip-hop's most revered albums of all time was challenging enough; however, witnessing Elzhi and Will Sessions outdo the original should make every Detroit music fan proud. 


6 Onra Chinoiseries Pt.2 (All City): The Parisian producer follows up on his Chinoiseries album of 2009 with a well-crafted instrumental project that captures the sounds of Vietnam, China, France and American underground hip hop all at once. 


7 Danny Brown XXX (Fool's Gold Records): Of course. 


8 Big K.R.I.T. Return of 4Eva (self-released): You love Big K.R.I.T. even if you don't love the music itself. 


9 J DaVeY New Designer Drug (Illivator Records): The Los Angeles duo returns with a futuristic dish of blacktronica and soul that deserves far more listeners and accolades than it has garnered thus far. 


10 Das Racist Relax (Greedhead): The joke's on everybody as three of the most underappreciated figures in today's ever-changing hip-hop world get wide play.


Jonathan Cunningham

Best Detroit Hip-Hop Albums of 2011


1 Elzhi with Will Sessions Elmatic (The Jae. B Group): Technically this was a free mixtape, but the work is too superb and tedious to be dubbed as anything less than a proper album. 

2 Danny Brown XXX (Fool's Gold Records): One of the most eclectic and savagely creative releases to ever come out of the Detroit hip-hop canon. 


3 Random Axe Random Axe (Fat Beats Records): This was one of the most anticipated underground albums of the year and it exceeded expectations.


4 OneBeLo LABOR (self-released) The veteran Michigan emcee pieces together a banger of an album with top-notch lyrics and beats that compete to outdo one another throughout the entire project.


5 Will Sessions Real Sessions (Fat Beats/self-released): A full album of their best live sessions backing up Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, Elzhi and Phat Kat that immediately makes one think of the term "Filthy McNasty."


6 Black Milk and Danny Brown Black and Brown (Fat Beats): It's a short and sweet 22-and-a-half minutes, but features enough comedic punch lines and frenetic beats that it easily deserves a spot on this list.


7 Bad Meets Evil Hell: The Sequel (Shady): Two of Detroit's razor-sharp emcees on a combo album so good it made Royce an international star, and the 313 a place to be. 


8 Big Sean Finally Famous (GOOD Music): Despite its overly commercial appeal, Sean's swag raps and lyrical talent coupled with Detroit pride earned him a no-brainer spot on this list. 


9 Ro Spit The Glass Ceiling Project (self-released): A perfect mix of flashiness and grit. 


10 Apollo Brown Clouds (Mello Music Group): The rare instrumental album that covers various moods and sentiments while still feeling coherent. 


Jonathan Cunningham

Best 2011 Music Releases By Detroit Ex-Pats


1 Quelle Shotgun and Sleek Rifle (Synergy Works): Now based in California, this former Detroiter put out a winner. 


2 Mayer Hawthorne How Do You Do (Universal Republic): L.A.-based crooner raised his stock considerably with well-polished soul. 


3 Chief Assuming Power (self-released): The Redford native (now in Florida) found his truest voice on Assuming Power with honest raps.


4 Boog Brown The Brown Study Remixes (Mello Music Group): Former Detroiter Boog Brown re-releases her stellar album full of top-flight remixes from some of the best underground producers in the country. 


5 DJ House Shoes Constellations: The A to Z of Dennis Coffey (Strut Records): The L.A.-based based ambassador of Detroit music, DJ House Shoes pieces together an encyclopedic breakdown of Dennis Coffey's career. 


6 Mayer Hawthorne Impressions: The Covers EP (Stones Throw Records): This was meant to be a preview of sorts for Hawthorne's full release, but classic covers by ELO, the Festivals, Chromeo and others aren't to be taken lightly. 


7 Jack White and Black Milk "Brain" / "Royal Mega" (Third Man Records): With White in Nashville and Black Milk living on the road, this unlikely session features jazzy instrumentation and a rock 'n' roll edge. 


8 Zo! ... Just Visiting Three (Chapter 3hree Verse 5ive Music/The Foreign Exchange Music) Based in D.C., the Detroit-weaned keyboardist Zo! took time off from playing with Foreign Exchange and released the third chapter of his covers series in which he puts a melodic touch on songs that's so definitive you forget the original. 


Jonathan Cunningham

Best EPs/Mixtapes 


1 The Weeknd House of Balloons (self-released): Yes, Abel Tesfaye comes off as a deplorable young man but his signature production and crooning about his sex, drugs and ego-filled lifestyle somehow works. 

2 Hudson Mohawke Satin Panthers (Warp): Scottish producer/DJ Hudson Mohawke knows how to craft orchestral compositions that satisfy dance music lovers the world over. 


3 ASAP Rocky LiveLoveA$AP (self-released): If ASAP Rocky is the most-talked-about new rapper of 2011, it's all due to his true-to-life mixtape and ability to bestow relevancy upon New York rap. 

4 JYoung the General Black History Year: Installment Two (Blat Pack): This could be a manifesto for politically astute rappers nationwide and knowing that it comes from a Detroit native makes it even sweeter. 


5 Dum Dum Girls He Gets Me High (Sub Pop): Easily one of the best pop-punk releases of the year, second only to their proper album release, Only in Dreams.


6 One Be Lo Laborhood Part 1 (self-released): It was meant to be a run-up to Lo's full-length but between the rapping and the guest features, Lo actually put out a mixtape that competes with his own album. 


7 Jon Connor Season 2 (self-released): The Flint native offers a polarizing plate of polished grittiness that showcases what a hungry rapper sounds like while he's in the process of making it. 


8 Spoek Mathambo Afrika 21 The Mixtape Vol. 3 (Society HAE): This is an ongoing series and Johannesburg anti-pop star Spoek Mathambo only curates this version, but all the songs resonate like some African renaissance soundtrack. 


9 Tecla The Thank$giving Mixtape (self-released): New York City art-brat Tecla is creative and musically stylish enough to make a late night bumping mixtape with the likes of Das Racist, Gordon Voidwell and Fat Tony all guesting. 


10 T3 3illa Madness Mixtape (self-released): This long-awaited mixtape reminds listeners that ex-Slum Villager T3 is still lyrically astute and Detroit flashy.