It's that time of year where every website you go to is putting together their "year-end lists", well, TOTR is no exception. Oh except for the fact that these lists only include free releases from the artists. I was on hiatus for a few months so there's a good chance I missed some great releases. If you feel like I left something off the list, please leave a comment. Well, with no further adieu, I present Top Of The Roof's Top 7 (because why not?) Free Releases of 2011.
Freaks & Geeks was actually my introduction to Childish Gambino's (aka Donald Glover) music. I was absoultely blown away. The production was impeccable, the lyrics were on point, and on top of all of that, it really gave the listener of sense of "this is who Donald Glover really is". Ludwig Göransson is also due a ton of credit for the beautiful backdrop to Glover's vocals. Great production can really help set you apart from everybody else. I can't tell you how many times I listened to this whole EP on my way to work and then get off work and listen to the whole EP again on my way home. This came out in March (at least that's when I found it) and it never got old throughout the course of 2011. I had trouble narrowing down this list however, I had no trouble figuring out that Freeks & Geeks would be #1. If you've been living under a rock and still haven't heard it, check it out HERE.
Canadian singer-songwriter Abel Tesfaye dominated 2011 releasing 3 full length FreeLP's with each one being met with critical acclaim. None, however, garnered quite as much attention as his debut, House of Balloons. Teaming up with fellow Canadian producer, Noah "40" Shebib, The Weeknd delivered what was easily the most unique, and yet still, top shelf releases of 2011. Breaking the norm for standard R&B, The Weeknd crafted epic 7 minute tracks that didn't stick to any standard song structure and definitely broke the profanity barrier rarely crossed in todays R&B scene. There's no better album (retail or free) that is better suited to be played in it's entirety while driving at night, and driving in the rain. If there was a "Sexiest Music of 2011" list, this would be #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5. Check out House of Balloons HERE.
TOTR All Freshmen Team representative continued his strong showing releasing yet another great FreeLP with Zero Heroes. When I first heard Zero Heroes, I didn't expect it to end up being one of my favorite releases of 2011. But as I continued to listen to it, I continued to be more and more impressed by the sheer awesomeness of XV. Vizzy made some great moves by enlisting long time collaborator, Seven to handle a large portion of the production. Nobody knows how to help the Kansas native shine quite like Seven does. He's come a long way since 2006 and with Zero Heroes, he only further solidified his spot as one of my favorite "up-and-coming" artists. "Pictures On My Wall" literally gives me goosebumps everytime I listen to it. Check out Zero Heroes HERE.
The Toronto duo followed up their great 2010 year by delivering one of the years best relesaes in Where've You Been. They're really in a league of their own and this release really showcases the group's unique sound and identity. I don't feel like you can listen to them and go "Oh yea, these guys sound like..." because nobody is doing what they're doing. NOBODY. I'm usually not even a fan of hip hop groups because often times you have one quality emcee surrounded by mediocre ones. That's not the case with The Airplane Boys. Time and time again, they manage to deliver memorable verses with each member taking turns with spotlight. Where've You Been really provided the group with an opportunity to show off their range and versatility and they totally capitalized on it. I think my 3 favorite tracks on this are "Sleep", "Escape", and "Gold Ribbons". Check out Where've You Been HERE.
DMV representative Phil Adé led into his LP by releasing a track every Friday as a part of his #PhilAdeFridays series. Genius move on his part. The problem most artists have with a weekly song series is their inability to put out that much quality music. Not a problem for Phil consdering he manage to drop all of those tracks and then still put out a full length FreeLP that was better than you favorite rappers album this year. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Phil Adé is the emcee Wale should have been but never will be. At the time of writing this, "Second CHance" is likely the favorite to win Song Of The Year. Easily the most played song of the year for me. I love how Phil Adé manages to write amazing bar after bar without ever dipping in the quality. My only knock against A Different World is the guest appearances. I'm sorry but nobody hold their own on tracks with Phil. Check out A Different World HERE.
Hands down my favorite release from the former Drexel students, Chiddy & Xaphoon Jones. Peanut Butter & Swelly saw Xaphoon Jones at his best production wise and Chiddy at his best on the mic. In short, PB&S is the result of when it all goes right. The groups last big hoo-rah before they release their debut album next February, Chiddy Bang pulled out all the stops and gave us one of the most enjoyable albums of the year. The music really speaks for itself with this one. Check out Peanut Butter & Swelly HERE.
7. QuESt - The Reason: A Defense Mechanism
The Reason was actually the first FreeLP TOTR posted in 2011. Prior to it's release, I had zero exposure to QuESt so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I managed to stumble into was mix of Lupe Fiasco and Kendrick Lamar. That should really be all I have to say about this to make you want to check it out. Track 2, "In My Defense" was a song I played literally every morning on my way to work at TSA for the 3 months that I worked there and yet, I never grew tired of it. There are quite a few tracks on here so I'd be lying if I said I loved all of them, but truthfully, this release was probably better than 90% of the retail hip hop albums that came out this year. I love when an emcee can be super lyrical and yet still craft songs. It seems to be a lost art to balance the two but Miami's QuESt acts as if there's no alternative. Check out The Reason: A Defense Mechanism HERE.