Girls Got Kicks by Lori Lobenstine

Did you ever wish those Jordans that your brother and boyfriend are rocking came in your size? Did you ever get mad that the kicks you could find in a women’s size 5 were pink? Did you ever look at a pair of six-inch stilettos and ask “but how am I supposed to ball in those?” Lori Lobenstine understands. After falling in love with basketball and sneakers as a kid, Lobenstine pursued her passion for sneakers by founding the site Female Sneaker Fiend, a space for women and girls who view their sneakers as an extension of themselves and hip hop’s fifth element.

SigNif - Embracing Rejection

In a search to both expand my knowledge of Wisconsin hip hop and to find more female artists that released albums in 2011, I was extremely fortunate to come across SigNif. One listen to the Milwaukee-born and New York-based emcee, and it was clear that this was a talent that I need to know. After releasing her debut EP in 2009 and her first album in 2010, SigNif came right back in 2011 with an EP and a full length album.

Kool Krys - Listen To Your Art

At some point, hopefully sooner than later, it will no longer be noteworthy to come across talented female emcees. That’s not to say I’m surprised when I do, but more to say that I am very aware of the lack of women on our Top Ten of 2011. And while I’ve grown to enjoy a lot of Canadian hip hop, my biggest concern to this point has been that for all the talented men rapping and producing that I have come across, the only woman on the scene that I knew of was Eternia.

LMNO - Overtime

After the ambitious project of releasing ten albums in 2010, it would be completely understandable if LMNO took 2011 off. The Long Beach emcee wasn’t content to rest on his laurels, though, and dropped Overtime right at the end of December of 2011. Produced entirely by LD, they team up to bring us yet another collection of solid hip hop in the Visionaries member’s catalog. The title of the record is a play on words, both referencing the fact that LMNO has been put a lot of time in in the studio in recent years, and that he’s been on his grind for a long time.

Two Fresh - Air Mail

Two Fresh is the Asheville, North Carolina production duo of twin brothers Kendrick and Sherwyn Nicholls. The two quickly made a name for themselves after their debut album, The Bakers Dozen, made the rounds in 2009. They have spent time on the road and in the studio, continuing to develop their sound. The effort paid off, as the growth is notable on their sophomore effort, Air Mail. There aren’t as many duos working in the fields of instrumental hip hop as their are solo artists, since it’s a field of music that naturally lends itself to insular artists.

MIRANDOM - The Memorandum

In case you didn’t know, Mega Ran, who dropped his latest album of video game-inspired hip hop last month, has also been performing under the name Random for years before he developed this alter ego. The Philly artist recently teamed up with Phoenix emcee Mr. Miranda to form the duo of MIRANDOM. The pairing might be new, but they sound so comfortable trading verses on the mic, it sounds like they’ve been doing it for years.

IV the Polymath - New Vs. Old

2011 has been a good year for IV the Polymath, having already released a solid instrumental EP in January, and then an excellent collaboration with emcee Jondis as in June. If that wasn’t enough, he’s giving us a full length collection of instrumental hip hop to close out the year, and it is some of the best work he’s done to date. The Indiana-based producer, working with a combination of sample-based hip hop beats and live instrumentation, has given us a varied album with a wide scope of sounds and solid grooves.

KingHellBastard - The War Room

Despite being geographically located in between strong hip hop scenes in Chicago and Minneapolis, hip hop hasn’t taken hold in Wisconsin in the way you might expect, or at least the way that I would like it to. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t anything good happening, but you have to search for it, and the support system isn’t where it needs to be to keep interesting artists going. I knew about KHB from their EP Remember the Name before I moved up to Wisconsin, so I knew I could at least look forward to this Milwaukee crew.

Ark Arsenal - In Those Shoes

In Those Shoes is latest work from musician Mark Dowdell, who began releasing self-produced EPs under the name Ark Arsenal last summer. In the course of a little over a year, he has shown noticeable growth. With more of a rock background, his first EP found a territory somewhere in the prog-rock/post-rock area. It showed promise, but wasn’t especially interesting or unique. Fast forward sixteen months, and the leap forward in quality is noteworthy.

Boog Brown - The Brown Studies Remixes

Last year, Detroit emcee Boog Brown teamed up with producer Apollo Brown to create the full length album, The Brown Study. She had released a few mixtapes previously, but this served as her first proper album and an introduction to a larger fan base. While her notoriety has grown, a lot of people still haven’t realized her talent yet. To re-introduce herself before her next album is ready, we get a full length remix album of The Brown Study.