24. Shabazz Palaces
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Hip-hop has always been about big names, big cars and bling, but in 2011 it took a turn down a more literal, independent road. Shabazz Palaces is one of the acts that drove down the indie avenue, as the first hip-hop act signed to rock-based indie label SubPop. The duo, led by former Digable Planets MC Butterfly, dropped on the scene with the critically lauded album 'Black Up,' showing that like rock 'n' roll, hip-hop can usher in different types of sub-genres.
If there's one thing 2011 taught us, it's that Lil' Kim doesn't go down without a fight. Everyone was ready to roll their eyes when Junior Mafia's first lady announced she was releasing a diss tape aimed at Nicki Minaj for jacking her wig-wearing style. All Kimmy Blanco wanted was some respect and when she didn't get it, it was off with Minaj's head. Lil' Kim released 'Black Friday' -- a rip on Minaj's debut LP, 'Pink Friday' -- for $9.99 on Valentine's Day with a cover that depicted her brandishing a sword next to Minaj's decapitated head. Fans loved it and Lil' Kim found her way back onto the hip-hop map.
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Along with rappers Lupe Fiasco and Saigon, Chicago duo the Cool Kids -- comprised of Mikey Rocks and Chuck English -- finally settled their label dispute and managed to release their long-long-awaited debut, 'When Fish Ride Bicycles' in 2011. The album was victory for the blog-hyped underdogs, getting positive feedback thanks to tracks like 'Swimsuits,' which features the high-pitched croons of neo-soul man Mayer Hawthorne, and 'Sour Apples,' which sports Travis Barker banging his drum kit.
Big K.R.I.T. had a prolific 2011, with the release of two mixtapes -- 'Return of 4Eva' and 'Last King 2: God's Machine.' The first tape grabbed attention with the single 'Country S---,' which featured Bun B and Ludacris. The Mississippi rapper and producer also found its way onto T.I.'s first post-prison track, 'I'm Flexin'' -- a big look for the emerging rapper. His debut studio album will be out in 2012 via Def Jam, and it's surely one of the most anticipated albums for the new year.
The new jack swing trio is back. Well, Bell Biv Devoe never really went away, having spent the past decade touring and performing classics like 'Poison,' 'Do Me!' and 'B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?' at shows here and there. The '90s R&B sensations flew under the radar until they promised a new EP -- their first collection of new music in a decade -- and made an appearance on 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,' their first late-night television appearance since having racing stripes shaved into your head was cool.
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Rick Ross gave the hip-hop posse thing a go this year with the first joint LP from his Maybach Music Group, 'Self Made Vol. 1.' With the success of Rozay's bestie Lil Wayne and his Young Money regime beefing up, Jay-Z busy building Roc Nation and Kanye West promising a Good Music compilation for 2012, a joint effort from MMG made sense. While it didn't herald the pop hits, it stuck true to the MMG gritty gangsta attitude. Meek Mill, Wale, Pill and Teedra Moses all got face time on 'MMG Presents: Self Made Vol. 1.'
In 2011, Rihanna broke the record for scoring 20 Top 10 hits in the shortest amount of time when her club-ready anthem 'We Found Love' notched No. 1 in October. Currently Madonna holds the record for the most chart-topping singles with 37, so Rihanna has her work cut out for her if she'd like to nab the Material Girl's spot. However, the 'Good Girl Gone Bad' is on her way with her flirty sixth album, 'Talk That Talk,' combining the global electronica scene with her sugary R&B pop, poising it for the top of the charts. By the time she's done with music, we wouldn't be surprised if she had the record for breaking the most music records.
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After his release from Rikers Island in 2010, Lil Wayne decided to take a stab at the sober life but needed some extracurricular activities to do it. Trying new things in the studio -- he croons on the 'Tha Carter IV' track 'How to Love' -- he also decided to be a daredevil out of the lab and take up a new hobby: skateboarding. Unfortunately, while in St. Louis, he busted his head open at a local skate park and received nine stitches. Could a Weezy skateboard helmet line be in the works? One thing's for sure: Mr. Carter gets credit for improving hip-hop's M.O. -- skateboarding gashes are a better look than bullet holes.
David Corio, Redferns
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13. Nicki Minaj
Move over, meat-dress-wearing Lady Gaga -- Nicki Minaj sported some of the year's craziest outfits and hair-dos. The Queens-bred MC released her debut album, 'Pink Friday,' at the tail-end of 2010, which made her a hot commodity at every 2011 awards show and allowed her to show off her wild style. At the VMAs, she wore a Hannibal Lecter-inspired face mask, and during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York City, she stepped out in an animal-inspired get-up. More evidence that she was the style beast of 2011: Minaj's name made the list of most-searched Halloween costumes on Google. Hot pink wig sales are seemingly through the roof these days.
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Last year was quite the bummer for the Beastie Boys. One second, they're onstage hyping up the crowd at Bonnaroo with songs from their album 'Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,' and the next they're fighting for life. Right before the rap trio was to release their eighth studio album, the Beasties gave the project the red light when MCA was diagnosed with cancer. But before you could blow your nose with a boohoo moment, the Beasties were back, unleashing 'Hot Sauce Committee Part Two' in April -- only eight months later -- along with a 30-minute, MCA-directed mini-film for the lead single, 'Make Some Noise.' The footage was nothing short of spectacular, featuring a pool of A-list celebrities paying homage to the Beastie Boys of the past and present.
10. Lil B
9. The Weeknd
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8. Kanye West
Two years ago, it didn't seem possible, but in 2011, Kanye West kept his cool and avoided negative publicity and unexpected award show disasters like 2009's infamous Taylorgate. Perhaps a four-month break from tweeting helped. Instead, 'Ye focused on headlining festivals like Coachella and the inaugural Lollapalooza Chile on the heels of his 2010 release, 'My Dark Twisted Beautiful Fantasy.' Then, of course, came the 'Watch the Throne' album, his joint effort with Jay-Z. While we miss the old Kanye, the 'Lost in the World' rapper seems to have found his way on the straight and narrow and deserves a big kudos for that.
Eminem and Royce da 5'9" officially put the past behind them this year with the release of their debut joint EP, 'Hell: The Sequel,' under their Bad Meets Evil alias. Led by the track 'Fast Lane,' the album really took off with the ballad-y 'Lighters,' featuring Bruno Mars. Making amends with Royce Nickel-Nine brought more good karma Slim Shady's way; apart from the EP reaching No. 1 on multiple charts, Em broke a new music industry record when his last solo effort, 'Recovery,' notched one million in digital sales a year after its release.
6. Mobb Deep
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T.I. didn't have it so good in 2010, and 2011 almost turned out the same way for the Grand Hustle CEO. After violating his parole last year, Tip was served with an additional 11-month prison sentence -- punishment that seemingly took him out of trouble's way for most of this year. But upon his release in September, T.I. was detained for using an illegal mode of transportation -- a tour bus -- to get to a halfway house where he was to spend his final month in custody. Luckily, things turned out better this time, and the rap star finished his sentence without any further problems. By mid-October he was a free man again and had appeared onstage with Taylor Swift and had two new singles under his belt, the Pharrell Williams-assisted Hear Ye, Hear Ye' and Big K.R.I.T.-produced 'I'm Flexin'.'
4. Jennifer Hudson
Almost a year after becoming the new spokesperson for Weight Watchers, Jennifer Hudson wowed at the Grammys last February with her tribute to Aretha Franklin and her new jaw-dropping figure. Once a size 16, the former 'American Idol' contestant-turned-Oscar winner reportedly shed 80 pounds and several dress sizes, surprising herself and the audience with her svelte transformation. "I didn't expect to go as far as I did," Hudson told the New York Daily News of her inspirational weight loss.
3. Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon
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1. Michael Jackson
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More than two years following the sudden death of the King of Pop, justice was served when Michael Jackson's personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The verdict put the end to a lengthy legal battle. "This is not a crime involving a mistake of judgment," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor. "This was a crime where the end result was the death of a human being." Murray faces up to four years in the slammer when he's sentenced on Nov. 29. He was denied bail, and Pastor denied a motion for new laboratory tests on evidence used in the trial. Now the famed 'Thriller' creator can finally rest in peace.