By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
A decade after Spin named "Your hard drive" as the best music of its year, we're finally seeing the influence of file-sharing. We already know about Destroyer's eighties necromancy, but look: a Jamie xx-Gil Scott-Heron collaboration sampled on a Drake album! An MGMT sample on Frank Ocean's!
In 2011, it felt as if the hip-hop market was just overwhelmed with content. One of the biggest stories this year for the genre is that much of the country is coming online for the first time, outside the traditional channels of New York media and Atlanta's strip clubs. Beatmakers (like Chicago's DGainz) and rappers (like New Orleans resident and Timbaland collaborator Na'Tee) shoot and edit their own videos; in the era of the demo tape, an artist could only communicate through the music, but now an international audience has access to the artist's entire presentation without intermediary media, and the tools to make that presence felt are inexpensive. Artists can do an end-run around the entire music industry; publicity machines, PR people, and managers get on at a later stage than ever before. A side effect of this sudden shift is that the media, at a loss to manage the bottleneck at the top, seems to jump on young and underdeveloped artists because they fit into an expected template. Amateurism isn't an anathema to good music; L'Trimm weren't lyrical miracles but they still made one of the best rap songs of the '80s. But it would be nice if writers started listening to what rappers actually saying, which is where much of the change within hip-hop actually occurs, rather than focusing so heavily on the media-friendly 'movement'—whether sound, fashion or locale—that an artist is supposed to be a representative of.
I didn't obsess over it too much, and I'm not completely paranoid, but I do honestly believe that we are a little bit doomed. The national obsession with zombies, hoarding, scavenging, canning, pickling, brewing, fermenting, trapping, smoking, and self-sustaining local yokelism is half the story. Devastating storms—a foot of snow in our yard in October and a near-miss tornado that wrecked a good portion of Springfield and massive hurricane flooding all around us this summer—and general atmospheric unease abounded. I'm pretty sure I suffered from some sort of outdoor allergy all 12 months of the year this year. And, I also feel like people—not just me and mine—get sicker for longer periods of time now. Am I crazy? For years—OK, maybe I obsess a little bit—I've envisioned a world where people have low levels of environmental sickness 24/7. Kinda like in my fave movie Safe, only for real. The subtle—but real—change in the earth's temperature has to be doing SOMETHING to us, no? Throw in the economy and national and world unrest and people occupying stuff and the surreal public/political atmosphere of avoidance and denial and . . . well, you know. Kaboom. The icing on the cake – even though it was of minor significance – was a lifestyle-y article I saw in the New Yorker this year on the fad of "foraging." Foraging! Something the people on this planet have done FOR LITERALLY EVER. Since the beginning of time, to this very day, for survival!
Bon Iver, James Blake, M83, and Girls. Why aren't our heroes pissing more people off? Why are they so polite?
Brooklyn, New York
I'm now really kind of embarrassed over the just-how-fucked-up-is-Amy-Winehouse? joke I made in the 2009 Pazz & Jop; that sort of thing really stopped being remotely funny after Winehouse proved incapable of showing up in the studio to record the opening credit music for Quantum of Solace. I mean, this was a woman who for all intents had been genetically bred to sing the theme to a James Bond movie, and when she blew the opportunity, we shouldn't have been laughing.
Hackensack, New Jersey