Thanksgiving has rolled around. For the remaineder of the week, most Americans will stuff their faces with slaughtered fowls, and blow paychecks on shopping sales. The actual idea of “giving thanks” has been lost on many in this commercial age. For a few minutes, I take a look back on some of the things that have made me thankful to be a music and boxing journalist over the past year.
10. The 140 Pound Division
Ricky Hatton’s demise at junior welterweight signaled the emergence of several young, hungry, and talented fighters. Right now, there are three title holders looking to claim division supremacy in Amir Khan, Devon Alexander, and Timothy Bradley. Below them are dangerous contenders like Marcos Maidana, Victor Ortiz, and Andriy Kotelnik. Next month, Khan and Maidana do battle for Khan’s WBA title. In January, Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley unify their belts. For the remainder of 2011, boxing fans can expect several more clashes to determine who the man is at 140 pounds.
After a near decade album drought due to label issues, Bilal came back in September like he never left with Airtight’s Revenge. Showing that wisdom and maturity has come during that nine-year gap, Bilal’s latest is not just a love album. It’s a musical tome on spirituality, economic hardship, and other social issues. It’s arguably the best work of his career.
8. Sergio Martinez
I always enjoy seeing someone who’s put in the work see the fruits of their labor. At 35 years old, Martinez has become a star courtesy of his 2010 dismantlings of Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams. Not only has this man secured the Knockout of the Year, but also the Fighter of the Year. And at an age when most fighters see retirement looming, Sergio Martinez may just be getting started.
7. J. Cole
Nas recently referred to Cole as one his “sons” in Hip-Hop. As an artist whose debut is still pending, J. Cole couldn’t receive a higher compliment. Cole has been keeping his name afloat with various guest spots, and the recent album-quality mixtape Friday Night Lights. Instead of sitting around and waiting for that Roc Nation push, Cole is taking a cue from his mentor Jay-Z and creating his own lane. If Friday Night Lights is what he can deliver with a mixtape, just imagine what the album will sound like.
Without question, Showtime has been the network this year to think outside of the box in regard to its boxing programming. Instead of cluttering their roster with overpriced exhibition fights, Showtime execs put together the ground-breaking Super Six Boxing Classic last year. Despite the tournament being hampered by the pitfalls of modern boxing (questionable injuries, complaints on purse splits), Showtime has proven to be flexible and savvy in salvaging the round-robin tournament.
Next month, Showtime will bring their experience with the Super Six to a streamlined bantamweight tournament. And in early 2011, Showtime will bring attention to yet another overlooked division with a cruiserweight tournament. Boxing struggling? Not on Showtimes’s watch.
5. Nas and Damian Marley
When Nas and Damian Marley first announced Distant Relatives, many were highly skeptical. Sure, “Road to Zion” was good. But an entire album?! Nah, couldn’t work. What the pair delivered was an album that’ll enrich both of their musical legacies. Marley handled the beats. And Nas, who had no reggae background, was able to still maintain his lyrical chops in an entirely foreign environment. For most of the year, the pair has toured to critical acclaim with 2 hour plus sets that combines their solo material. Look out for Nas to return on the solo tip in early or mid 2011.
4. Big K.R.I.T.
The next generation of the southern emcee has arrived. The Mississippi native surprised many by seemingly coming out of nowhere with his K.R.I.T. Wuz Here mixtape. With flows that hint at older influences like Pimp C, K.R.I.T. still carved his own unique identity by detailing his life and struggles to make it in the industry. To boot, he handled all the production on the project. Now that he’s with Def Jam, expect bigger and bigger from K.R.I.T. in 2011.
3. Manny Pacquiao
He hasn’t been able to secure the fight we really want, but Manny Pacquiao has been a great ambassador for boxing. For his last two fights, he’s competed at Dallas Stadium in front of over 40,000 people. In addition, his latest pay-per-view numbers have exceeded 1 million buys, tying his total tally with Mike Tyson. While his pound for pound rival Floyd Mayweather wallows in legal issues and head-shaking comments, Pacquiao has done the majority of his talking in the ring. In 2011, we’ll see if Pacquiao spreads his opponent list beyond his Top Rank stablemates.
2. Janelle Monae
It’s in vogue these days for artists to try to make their albums an amalgamation of multiple music genres. Most are admirable, but ultimately flawed projects due to the artist’s limited understanding outside of their “home” genre. That’s not the case with Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid, which seamlessly blended pop, R&B, soul, Hip-Hop, and big band orchestral arrangements. Sadly, the album and Monae are still flying under the national radar. But she’s continuing to make phenomenal music that’ll hopefully begin to catch on .
1. Kanye West
Yes, he’s still occasionally obnoxious. He’s prone to putting his foot in his mouth if he talks any longer than five minutes. His victimhood complaints about the Taylor Swift incident are downright nauseating at this point. With that said, no one has worked harder this year musically than Kanye West. His G.O.O.D. Friday series had a simple but fool-proof strategy; deliver album quality songs weekly leading up to the actual LP release. Most artists can keep that up for a month, but Kanye took it further. G.O.O.D. Fridays started in August, and will continue throughout the end of the year. The guests have included some of the industry’s biggest names in Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Ye’s G.O.O.D. Music camp.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was very good as well, and shows West experimenting with melody and rhythms not normally associated with a Hip-Hop artist. Look for Ye’s G.O.O.D. Music team to take center stage in 2011.