This was a tough one. Partly tough in that I was struggling to come up with more than 10 albums I have listened to that came out this year and partly because of those 10 they are all pretty good but none really stand out above the others.
Anyway i think i'll go with Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told.
This album has been anticipated for years - the mix tapes that made Saigon an underground hit go back almost a decade, his record deal with Atlantic almost as long. He recorded most of the tracks on the record 6 or 7 years ago - Just Blaze produced and there were guest vocals by hip hop royalty like Kanye West, Faith Evans, Jay Z and Q-Tip. Saigon even appeared as himself on HBOs Entourage for a few episodes. About 4 years ago the hype was going into over drive, he had underground credibility but also the big names guest and high crossover appeal...but the record remained in limbo. He had arguments with the label and took them to court, quit the record business, came back, fell out with his producer, became friends again. This carried on for years. Sort of like all the circus around Chinese Democracy by Guns n Roses, the only difference being Guns n Roses had once been a world famous band who sold millions of records, not some guy from Brooklyn who learned to rap and rhyme while in jail and who had never released anything more than a mix tape. Eventually Atlantic relented and releaed him from his contract and the album was picked up by a Suburban Noize Records (a small indie label) and released at the start of 2011. It did well for an independent release with total sales of about 20'000 over the course of the year, but just a drop in the ocean compared to what everyone thought 5 years.
So was it a bad record that didn't live up to expectations? Not at all. It is a long album, at about 80 minutes long. With a more ruthless selection of songs then there could have been a real classic album, as good as something like Illmatic by Nas or It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. But there is just a little bit of filler, a couple of songs that go on a bit long and a skit that could be done without.
But then that is a common fault that classic hip hop albums suffer from too. Even the greatest of all, It Takes a Nation of Millions, has its moments it could do without - do we really need Dave Pearce telling the Hammersmith Odeon to make some noise? The air raid siren and "London England, consider yourself warned" does just fine on its own.
If I bust a gun in the hood I get Attica or the Cat
I bang a gat in Iraq I get a pat on the back
Best believe I know better than that
This a lesson for all my listeners this shit ain’t just regular rap
It’s the greatest story that ever been spat
OK it may not quite be the greatest ever but it is still good and a bit of a throwback to the golden age of hip hop before all the misogyny and materialism got out of control.