The 2011 Playback: Ponders What A Year It Was


2011 is almost a wrap, and by some standards, it was a strange year mixed with highs, lows, and epic happenings. Read on as we highlight some key moments from the year:

On the homefront, the world economy struggled along, improving for some but mostly signaling, at least here in the U.S., that tough times are nowhere near over. “The 99%” raised their voices across the globe, mobilizing “Occupy” movements to protest the vast disparities between the haves and haves nots. Even a few actors, artists, musicians, and other wealthy do-gooders latched onto the “common man’s” cause. The movement, with its good intentions, has yet to accomplish much tangibly, but has yielded thousands of arrests, some violence, and only a meager interest by Corporate America. Then, there were the natural disasters, like Hurricane Irene, that took an unprecedented toll on the upper East Coast, where catastrophic storm rarely hit.

In politics, the Republicans and Democrats continued to dook it out as the all-important 2012 election draws closer, with the country’s first Black president facing his toughest year in office yet. Skeletons were dug up by the dozens on Herman Cain, the Black, Republican forerunner in the forthcoming primary battle, ousting him in shame and indicating that the American decision in 2012 is far from certain. Elsewhere, President Obama was busy trying to gain consensus from Congress, bring home the troops from the Middle East, solve the economic problem, and craft his campaign – all while capturing and killing 9/11-conspirator Osama bin Laden, who had been on the run for an entire decade.

Sports and entertainment collided as the lengthy NBA Lockout threatened to push many basketball players into the recording studio, or worse even, into the regular workforce. Samuel L. Jackson found himself crowned the highest paid actor in film history, and Beats, Rhymes & Life, the poignant documentary about A Tribe Called Quest held its own, receiving numerous nominations and awards alongside bigger budget, bigger star films.

In Hip-Hop, there was the never-ending race to sell units and downloads, as the old industry sales model took a nosedive for good. There were several standout themes in 2011, and they all combined to make for an interesting year, to say the least.

The Year of the Collabo – there are no statistics here, but it seems as if everyone rapped with everyone in 2011, at never-before-seen levels of collaborations. Barriers between states, regions, and styles fell away, as the booth became the place to share meetings of the mind between MCs. Genre giants like Young Money, Maybach Music Group, and “The Throne” weren’t afraid to go there, mixing with others at times, and then dominating with the strength of their individual conglomerates.

The Year of the Mixtape – continuing in the spirit of 2010, the evolving sales model seems to be prompting artists to release full-length, studio-quality mixtapes in the hopes of staying relevant between album campaigns and as a way to gauge audience reaction to different sounds. Mixtapes certainly aren’t new, but these days, it appears that artists are willing (or heavily persuaded) to give away their best for free in order to keep the fans happy and prime them for paying for the real album somewhere down the road.

The Year that Bridged Generations – Rap is no baby. The genre, which has spanned nearly 40 years, has witnessed two, or nearly three, generations of fans embrace its rebellious, creative style. Some rappers joined in the notion that what’s old is new, and (as predicted by in 2010) the Old School met the New School halfway, in an effort to keep rap alive for years to come. The result was the release of some of the best rap we’ve heard in years.

The Year of the Early Demise (or Near Demise) – the good die young. Hip-Hop mourned the loss of a giant in November 2011 – the incomparable Heavy D, who died at just 44 after helping lay a foundation for several of the culture’s biggest stars of today. Comedian Patrice O’Neal, who embraced urban culture in his jokes, died at just 41. Still, all clouds have silver linings – EPMD-half Eric Sermon suffered a heart attack at 42, but is recuperating. We’re awfully glad about that. Lastly, demise came in the form of prison sentences, as we saw too many rappers take on prison as their homes (read more in our News Feature on rappers and crime in 2011 later this week).

Heavy D. Funeral Program

2011 had many more happenings worth pondering, and invites you to tune in all this week, as we take a look at 2011 – especially the Hip-Hop music and moments we won’t soon forget.