Ah, 2011. A full decade ago. Gas was $3.52 on average, a stamp was only 44 cents (according to this promising factsheet, which I wouldn’t dare to question) and those Charlie Sheen autotune remixes that you’ve since pushed to the deepest depths of your brain were all the buzz.
And like pretty much any other year, 2011’s music was absolutely spectacular. Kanye and Jay taught us—scratch that, ingrained in us—what a proper collab album is capable of on both a commercial and critical level. People are still talking about it. Drake being sad let the rest of us be sad, and there’s nothing sad about that. Hell, even a couple of mystery men changed their names, released music the way they saw fit and had us wondering if they were a band or some guy from Toronto, or made our parents question if they were of any relation to Billy Ocean. No dad, please stop asking me.
Even those projects that left critics unimpressed made an impact on the future of music by opening doors for independent artists to consider topping the Billboard 200, or proving you could build a fanbase on the internet. What connects all these records—beside the fact that they were all released in the same year, of course—is the impact they had on the artists that released them and future generations of creators and fans.
In celebration of this music that turns 10 years old this year, we took a trip down memory lane with contributions from some of our favorite artists. These 12 albums are by no means the best that were released in 2011, but together they paint a picture of the decade to come.