My list of favorite records reflects a few things about how I listened to music in 2011. For one thing, several of these records were available as free downloads. The record industry is in some serious trouble when some of the best, most inventive music is being given away. I also made a conscious decision not to try to listen to every major release of the year. I know there are many excellent records that came out in 2011 that I didn’t get a chance to listen to, which is why Shabazz Palaces, Saigon, and a lot of others aren’t on this list. I also broadened my musical horizons a lot in 2011, digging deep into old jazz and reggae, and even listening to more electronic music. That said, here are seven hip-hop records I listened to in 2011 that made the biggest impression on me.

1. Danny Brown, “XXX”
This has stayed in my iPod since it came out. Danny Brown can be as unhinged as he wants to be, but spends the last half of the album describing the poverty he grew up in, the aftermath of his partying lifestyle, and coming terms with turning thirty.

2. Death Grips, “Ex Military”
This album disturbed me so much when I first heard it that I waited a few months before giving it another spin. Featuring production by experimental musician Zach Hill and an MC who sounds like he should be fronting a New York hardcore band,” Ex Military” is one of the craziest albums of the year. It samples everything from Jane’s Addiction to Black Flag, and is an all-out aural assault.

3. Has-Lo, “In Case I Don’t Make It”
A quiet album with Has-Lo laying out his doubts in God, love, and life. It’s not the most exciting album, it has stuck with me.

4. Random Axe, “Random Axe”
This super group with Sean Price, Guilty Simpson and Black Milk didn’t push any boundaries, but they did offer the perfect combination of grimey raps over hard-hitting beats.

5. Pusha T, “Fear of God II”
Pusha T is my favorite anti-hero rapper, a cold-blooded drug dealer who only thinks about the damage his product has caused when he is alone in his hotel room in Vegas late at night.

6. J Rocc, “Some Cold Rock Stuf”
Stones Throw’s resident DJ lays down song after song of trip hop, funk, soul, and hip-hop.

7. Tanya Morgan, “You and What Army?”
Tanya Morgan recover from losing a member by releasing yet another solid EP of laid-back hip-hop.

I listened to a lot of stuff outside of hip-hop this year. Here are three of my favorites.

Sugar Minott, “Hard Time Pressure”
This was my introduction to the late Sugar Minott’s work. He was a soulful reggae singer in the vein of Horace Andy who could sing just as well over 80s digital riddims as he could over heavier roots riddims. This is reggae at its very best.

Fucked Up, “David Comes To Life”
A punk rock opera about love, loss, and acceptance.

The Field, “Looping State of Mind”
The Field make electronic music that is built on repeating loops and patterns, and this album is their best yet.

Honorable Mentions

These are some of the records I really enjoyed but didn’t quite make it into heavy rotation on my stereo.

Deadverse Massive, “The Takeover”
Oyoshe, “Bring Da Noise 2”
Serge Severe, “Back On My Rhymes”
Greneberg, “Greneberg”
The Aztext, “Who Cares If We’re Dope? Volume 1”
The Aztext, “Who Cares If We’re Dope? Volume 2”
The Aztext, “Who Cares If We’re Dope” Volume 3″
The Aztext, “Who Cares If We’re Dope? Volume 4”