Overlooked Albums of 2011: Starlito and Don Trip

As the year comes to a close, Hive asked some of our favorite music writers to talk about excellent 2011 albums that went unrecognized.

Earlier this year, when I interviewed Nashville rapper Starlito he mentioned his then-forthcoming project with Memphis' Don Trip, who he described as "My best friend in rap." "Best friends" aren’t the first words that come to mind when discussing a collaboration between two street-minded and introspective Southern rappers, but it'd be hard to call them anything else after listening to their Step Brothers tape.

Borrowing their title (and a liberal supply of vocal samples) from the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly vehicle of the same name, Lito and Trip echo those protagonists in bonding over the joys of chest puffing machismo and the simple act of rapping together. Their chemistry and shared love of craft is palpable, even as they seethe threats like Trip's "kill a n**ga and his confidence ... two caskets / plus I'm fresh to death, the mortuary's too happy." Both emcees operate with a persistent, growling intensity -- Lito's voice is a slow hiss while Trip is more gravely explosion -- but they tag team tracks with complete conversational fluidity, literally finishing each others sentences on "Hot Potato." (For the "4th Song" video they visualize this relationship quite charmingly, by swapping roles and lipsyncing each others' entire verses.)

It's a real credit to how much room for entertainment there still is in just making a rap album. The hooks are sparse or non-existent, the production is tight but forgettable, the ideas infrequently go any deeper than thoughtful braggadocios with drug/guns/women punchlines, but the energy of the actual rapping pulls everything else up to the line of excellence. In a year where dumb shit like event records and blog buzz and non-musical scandals fueled the discussion, and where higher profile collaborative albums -- Jay and Kanye, Gucci and V-Nasty -- collapsed under either their high ambitions or their complete indifference, Step Brothers is evidence that it only took one thing in 2011 to make a great rap record: great rapping.