Every year offers the promise of earth-shatteringly fresh music and new faces worth keeping an eye on. 2011 is no different. While no one on this list will shift 10 billion units or become the next Jay-Z, they all make remarkable music. They all deserve to be heard. Let the show begin.
10. Big Sean
Big Sean has been patiently waiting in Kanye's wings for years now. He signed to G.O.O.D Music in 2007 but only has a bunch of guest verses and two ominously titled mixtapes to show for it. Look for Sean to expand on his Finally Famous mixtape series with the release of a similarly titled debut sometime in 2011. Pharrell, No I.D. and Yeezy are on board for his debut album.
Preemo has been bubbling under the radar for most of his career. Despite dropping a stunningly impressive album, Concrete Dreams, and a brilliant mixtape, Flight 713, in 2010, he didn't get the attention he deserves. The Texas native isn't in a hurry to compromise his sound for a shot at fame. Preemo is so proud of his work he could die a content soul. And for good reason; Concrete Dreams is enjoyable from cover to cover. It’s the kind of music Kanye was making when he first broke out – dark, raw, personal. He's going to be a headache if given the opportunity.
Preemo - Concrete Dreams [Purchase/Download]
8. L.E.P. Bogus Boys
Chicago's own L.E.P. (Lower End Professionals) Bogus Boys offers that rare blend of wild ambition, inventive videos, and creativity that's often absent in street rap. Part of what makes the duo so charming is that they continually strive to connect with the listener, even while rapping about some of the grimiest crime in South Side Chicago. Common and Lupe Fiasco may speak for the thinking man, but Count and Moonie are the voice of the streets.
7. The Niceguys
Niceguys (Yves, Candlestick, Free, and Christolph) are generous with bombastic drums but stingy with flimsy boasts. Slivers of style abound in their music, but they take a back seat to metaphor-driven rhymes, humor, and emotional depth. Their 2010 album, The Show, was a fun-filled opus that nudged them further into hip-hop consciousness. If the Houston group follows up with a strong outing in 2011, they certainly won't go unnoticed for too long.
The Niceguys - The Show [Purchase/Download]
6. Boog Brown
In a perfect world, Boog Brown would be a star. There's always an undercurrent of emotioinal nuance in her voice. One moment she's projecting a somber elegance. The next, she's singing beautifully in a calm, confident tone. Think Lauryn Hill at her most sepia-toned. Last year, Boog collaborated with Apollo Brown on the sleeper LP, Brown Study. If that album revealed one thing about Boog Brown, it's that she has a way of infusing despair with charm.
Boog Brown - Brown Study [Purchase/Download]
5. Kendrick Lamar
K.Dot tried. He really tried doing the safety dance and all he got was an empty soul. When that approach left him with an unsettling feeling, he changed his rap moniker and vowed to only make the music he can be proud of. Once he made that leap, Kendrick Lamar effectively placed himself on the path to greatness. His mixtapes bump harder than most albums. He raps like he's fighting a cold, but once your ear adjusts to his voice you're in for a hella ride.
Kendrick Lamar - Overly Dedicated [Purchase/Download]
4. Cyhi da Prynce
Cyhi da Prynce was already sitting on a Def Jam deal, but one freestyle altered his musical journey forever. Kanye West caught a whiff of the Atlanta MC's remix of Yelawolf's "I Wish" and immediately went looking for him. Ye and Cyhi later flew to Hawaii to rub minds and vibe in the studio. Three weeks later, Cyhi da Prynce entered into a partnership with one of rap's biggest royalties. The 26-year old lyricist spent much of 2010 killing freestyles and wrecking guest features. He's a classic example of seizing every opportunity to shine. Look for his GOOD Music debut in 2011.
3. Big K.R.I.T.
Close your eyes and pretend it’s 1996. UGK's Ridin' Dirty is oozing from every Cadillac in Houston. J Dilla and Outkast are dominating the airwave in Detroit and Atlanta. Now fast forward to 2010. Throw the three aforementioned acts in a blender and sprinkle a hint of 8Ball & MJG. Open your eyes. Welcome to the world of Big K.R.I.T. The Mississippi MC is the complete package. I'll be surprised if he doesn't have a big year in 2011.
Big K.R.I.T. - Krit Wuz Here [Purchase/Download]
OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) isn't for everyone. While most new artists succeed on the strength of universality, this L.A. posse succeeds by annoying the hell out of people who want nothing to do with their odious rhymes about drugs, rape and swastikas. Their 19-year old leader is the mastermind behind one of 2010's best rap songs, "Bastard." No bright stars here. Instead, Odd Future seeks to express a universal sense of recklessness. The wealth of their substance and the depth of their roster make them a force to reckon with in 2011.
1. Danny Brown
Danny Brown has a way of making the familiar sound original, whether griping about his state of penury or telling female friends to squeegee his third eye. He's also a heartbroken rapper. Where Nas once saw hope in the face of poverty and told us that "the buck that bought the bottle could've struck the lotto," Brown is scared he won't ever find an answer to the ugliness he sees in the world. "F-ck the lotto," Brown barks, "the buck's on the bottle." Forget the bottle, bet that buck on Brown.
Danny Brown - The Hybrid [Purchase/Download]