Credentials: Take Care, non-album cuts like "Club Paradise" and "Dreams Money Can Buy," guest spots like "I'm On One," "Tony Montana (Remix)," and "Round of Applause."
Bill Simmons once called LeBron James the car wash "everything" package, saying, "You see an athlete get handed the 'everything' package maybe only five times in your life." Drake is like the LeBron of rap (albeit with more hair): he can seemingly do anything: rap, sing, craft projects, create a soundscape, and drop meme-worthy lines.
When Drake emerged on the scene in 2009 he was more than just a rapper with crossover potential—just like LeBron is more than a 6'8" dude with a jump shot—he was a rapper with superstar potential. So Far Gone put Drake on the map in '09, and his 2010 debut album Thank Me Later was released in a stacked hip-hop year. But Drake didn't claim his championship ring until 2011 rolled around.
After the dust of 2010 settled, Drake unceremoniously started rolling out songs on his OVO blog. Every release, from "Dreams Money Can Buy" to "Club Paradise" to "Marvin's Room," instantly became an event—and some of the most discussed songs of the year. So much so that end-of-the-year Best of lists had to leave off Drake cuts, lest he overwhelm the lists by the sheer quantity of his quality output.
Drake was so hot he gave away that year's summer anthem and one of his best songs ever to DJ Khaled ("I'm On One") and it didn't even hurt the quality of his album, Take Care. Coming late that year, his sophomore set showed that Drizzy had many skills but his greatest gift was his ability to internalize his struggles and make them universal. Call it "emo" if you like, but feeling regret over a lost lover, feeling proud of your accomplishments, and feeling like you're the best but still have 10 years left is what we ought to expect from brash young men. With Take Care, we finally got to witness the full breadth of his undeniable talent. Suddenly, the throne was no longer for the taking.
Honorable Mentions: Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Kanye West
After ascending into the Best Rapper Alive conversation (to everyone's surprise) the year before, Rick Ross became a powerhouse in 2011. Similar to 50 Cent in 2004, Ross didn't put out a ton of solo material but his Ashes to Ashes mixtape was released in the closing days of 2010 and carried into 2011 as he prepped Maybach Music Group's Self Made Vol. 1.
And yes, it is still Jay before 'Ye because even as Yeezy handled much of the Watch the Throne aesthetics and delivered some great verses, Kanye stepped aside as Jay bodied tracks like "Love You So," "Welcome To The Jungle," and "Who Gone Stop Me?" on his own. —Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)