Now here's Randy Black, yet another dude who hasn't written about music on the SA front page since last January!

Hey rappers and rappettes! It's your boy Randy, shining a light into the darkest corners of the music industry like a helicopter searching for Ice Cube in a music video. As you probably already know, 2011 was a strange year for rap. From Drake storming the charts with his unique blend of "emo" sincerity and kingly robes, to the unstoppable party anthems and cool haircuts of LMFAO, 2011 has been as unpredictable as the second verse to "Crossroads" by Bone Thugz N' Harmony. Legends reinvented themselves. New artists popped up and vanished faster than a shot from a lyrical cannon. And, as they might say in a rap song, "the game changed."

In previous years, the best way to get music was to go to the mall and pick up a CD from your friendly neighborhood music retailer. But these days, some artists are giving their music away for free on the Internet and adopting the lifestyle of musical monks. These scrappy young rap pioneers rely on handouts from kind strangers to support themselves as they hole up in their studios and pen dark tales of shady nights in the big city where nobody is safe and nothing is what it seems. The music scene was a difficult and treacherous place to navigate for unskilled listeners looking to find fresh new sounds to bump in their earholes. Luckily, your boy Randy is here with the top albums and singles of 2011!

Kreayshawn, "Gucci Gucci"

"Wow! Who is this girl!" That is what you will probably be saying after you watch this video. Well, this honorary ghetto temptress is none other than Kreayshawn, a sassy Caucasian who isn't afraid to kick down-and-dirty rhymes with the fellas. Her music is filled with salty language and the kind of hard beats that make seasoned rap fans like myself pump their fists with excitement. And what's more, she and her sister-slash-rhyming-partner V-Nasty run the streets of Oakland with the White Girl Mob, a freestyle crew known more for their battling skills than their Fashion Bug bills... if you know what I mean. Though the inevitable comparisons to Nikki Minaj and Ke$ha might spring to mind, The Kreay Dog is a completely unique artist with a flavor all her own and amazing lyrics that you won't believe she wrote herself. If you don't yet know about Kreayshawn, then now is the time to get to hip to the blinged-out Medusa of the San Francisco Bay Area and her siren songs of street crime. (Hint: her name is pronounced "Creation" and not "KRAY-SHAWN" as you probably think.)

Mac Miller, "Donald Trump"

A new trend started in 2011 that took many old school hip-hop fans by surprise. "Mixtapes" burst onto the scene as a new way to distribute music and, before you ask -- no, they aren't actually on cassettes. Instead, these "tapes" are digital zip files, posted on websites with long names that my neighbor Rick shows me. Some of these independent self-produced albums are just as good as something shrink-wrapped that you would buy from the store. And better yet, most of them are free to download, with the artist's permission! "Mixtapes" allow you to get rad new mp3s for free, without contributing to the fall of the music industry. Take that, Metallica!

One of the biggest stars in the new "mixtape" scene this year was a young teenage rap performer from Pittsburgh named Mac Miller. While his innocent charm may fool you into think he's the lost member of '80s boy band New Kids On The Block, Mac proves time and time again that looks can be deceiving when he unleashes fresh rhyme after fresh rhyme all over his "tape" entitled "Best Week Ever," rapping with the technical fury of Eminem and the good-natured charisma of Aaron Carter. I took a chance on his album because the cover art reminded me of a PBS children's show from my childhood, but the music turned out to be far more mature than the cover appeared, and I soon I was nodding my head in time with the bumpin' bass. This song, "Donald Trump," is a standout because of Mac's amazing wordplay, and also because he manages to make a song named after a politician that ISN'T filled with pretentious lectures and preachy nonsense.

Jay-Z and Kanye West, "Ni**as in Paris"

Whoa, hold the phone! The inflammatory title of this song took the rap world by storm when it was released to a maelstrom of controversy. I happen to think the uproar is misguided, honestly -- I bought the CD from Target when I was picking up the new Storage Wars DVDs, and the song title clearly has the asterisks in it to begin with, so who actually cares anyway?

You may have heard rumors about Kanye and Jay-Z being part of something called The Illuminati. Well, that's not a rap group -- it's a secret society discovered by Dan Brown in his best-selling book The DaVinci Code. The Illuminati is a shadowy organization with goals like worshiping the devil and controlling the world's entertainment industry. Are the rumors true? Are two of America's most-loved rappers actually sinister cultists with a Satanic agenda? Who knows. But either way, this song slaps, bangs, knocks, and goes hard, and if you'd like to listen to the best rappers in the game kick serious blasts of raw lyrics over the funkiest oriental beat ever created, give it a listen. You won't be disappointed.

Shabazz Palaces, Black Up

This guy I work with named Tony told me that I should check out Shabazz Palaces if I wanted to hear some "real intelligent rap," so I listened to this album and I was really confused at first. The music is very slow, but the rapper goes pretty fast sometimes. And there's not actually a whole lot of rapping as much as there is a lot of music that sounds sort of like a heavy-metal record played at too slow a speed. To be perfectly honest, I'm still a little confused, and I'm not entirely sure that this is even rap, but Tony's about ten years younger than me and wears those super-tight pants that look like they are painted on, so he must know something about music.

In conclusion, this is a really good album that you should listen to if you are a fan of up-to-date modern hip hop and not out of touch and irrelevant like a dinosaur. I like it a lot.

Outkast, Greatest Hits

After label problems and an inevitable breakup, many rap fans thought that Outkast might never return, but Andre 3000 and Big Boi have reunited and released their most solid album yet, Greatest Hits. From back to front, there's not a single filler track, and every song on here could be a single, which is probably the reasoning behind the clever title. Showcasing a dope versatility in styles, the album sounds like a musical melting pot of rap past and present. This album will long be recognized as a fresh example of what a rap band can do when they get down with their creativity and let the slammin' beats flow.

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