Best Hip-Hop 2012: The Albums

My top 20 albums/mixtapes of 2012 from are all recommended listens.  This is the first year in my end of year lists when I loved all 20 of them so if you have a day give them all the real treatment.

0-10: absolute garbage, 11-20 terrible, 21- 30 bad, 31- 40 passable, 41-50 okay, 51-60 good, 61-70 great, 71-80 amazing, 81-90 classic, 91-99 legendary, 100 ILLMATIC!

Honorable mention: Folarin-Wale

Album Download

The first release from DC native, Wale, after his sophomore album Ambition and I liked it.  It was decent someone pointed out to me that we should stop waiting for the Wale of More About Nothing to return because that is likely never to happen.  But Folarin is certainly worth a listen it’s a more uptempo Wale but as a DC native I like to see his unique flow and DC swag still going strong.

Favorite Track(s): Change Up, The Right One ft. Hit-Boy

Least Favorite Track: The Show ft. Rick Ross & Aaron Wess

Best Instrumental: Chun Li ft. Nipsey Hussle (Prod. by Cardo)

X-Factor: Wale’s signature DC style really comes through in this more uptempo release

Rating: 59/100

Must Listen Rating: 5/10

 

20.  Cruel Summer-G.O.O.D. Music

Album Download

Dope beats dope rappers, clearly some odd choices on here but all together a really good listen.

Favorite Track(s): To the World ft. R. Kelly & Kanye West, I Don’t Like ft. Pusha T, Kanye West, Chief Keef, Big Sean, Jadakiss, Bliss ft. John Legend & Teyana Taylor

Least Favorite Track: The One ft. 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Kanye West, & Marsha Ambrosius

Best Instrumental: I Don’t Like (Prod. by Kanye West & Young Chop)

X-Factor: Kanye West and John Legend

Rating: 65/100

Must Listen Rating: 4/10

 

19.  No1 2 Look up 2-Big Baby Gandhi

Album Download

Heems found Meek Mill and they had a baby and his name is Big Baby Gandhi. And that baby embodies the heart and soul of NYC hip-hop.  No1 2 Look Up 2, his only 2012 release is weird lo-fi and hot fire on top of it all.

Favorite Track(s): American Experience, Lurkin ft. Fat Tony, Been a Villain

Least Favorite Track: All Over These Titties ft. Chippy Nonstop

Best Instrumental: Stack City (Prod. Gandhi)

X-Factor: Hella weird but in the best possible way.

Rating: 67/100

Must Listen Rating:  8/10

 

18.  Dreamchasers 2-Meek Mill

Album Download

Bangers, on top of bangers, on top of mother fuckin’ bangers.  That is the best way to describe Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers 2.  It’s not lyrically or production wise the best mixtape on here but as a unit is the most hype and party ready album of the year.  It’s on this list because hip hop has many facets and Meek Mill has mastered one of the most popular of them, maybe not my favorite but I do like the way Meek Mill makes hype ass shit.

Favorite Track(s): Burn ft. Big Sean, Flexing, House Party Remix ft. Fabolous, Wale, Mac Miller

Least Favorite Track: The Ride

Best Instrumental: Face Down ft. Sam Sneaker, Trey Songz, Wale (Prod. by Sam Sneaker)

X-Factor: If you have an 1.2 hour party or a long car ride you need to stay awake during you don’t really need any other music.

Rating: 67/100

Must Listen Rating: 2/10

 

17.  Mourning in America & Dreaming in Color- Brother Ali

Album Download

Ahh Brother Ali.  If you don’t know who he is you have been missing out for sure.  Brother Ali is a legend of Underground hip-hop and has been for a very long time almost 15 years by my count.  Brother Ali is at his most political and possibly most disappointed in the government on this album (and this from a man that had to cut his 2007 tour short because Verizon withdrew due to over political themes).  Mourning in America & Dreaming in Color is the most thought thoughtful release from Ali and if you’ve read a newspaper in the last decade or even turned on the news once you’ll get a few thrills out of this and if you haven’t (you really should) you’ll love Ali’s flow and his instrumental choice.

Favourite Track(s): Only Life I Know, Stop the Press, Say Amen

Least Favourite Track: Won More Hit

Best Instrumental: Mourning in America (Prod. Jake One)

X-Factor: The most lyrically proficient rapper to drop an album this year and its one the only albums on here with the potential to change the world.

Rating: 70/100

Must Listen Rating: 6/10

 

16.  Stoned Immaculate- Curren$y

Album Download

Curren$y isn’t about to get any new fans with this feature heavy “debut big budget release.  But as a Curren$y fan this is right up my alley.  The beats are slow and smooth just like Curren$y’s flow and the guest appearances rarely disappoint.  While Curren$y doesn’t bring the lyrical prowess we saw on some of his earlier albums there are some fun moments in that aspect as well.

Favorite Track(s): Privacy Glass, What it Look Like ft. Wale, Showroom

Least Favorite Track: Armoire feat. Young Roddy & Trademark da Skydiver

Best Instrumental: No Square ft. Wiz Khalifa (Prod. by The Futuristiks)

X-Factor: Almost every instrumental on this album is amazing

Rating: 75/100

Must Listen Rating: 6.5/10

 

15.  Control System- Ab-Soul

Album Download

Ab-Souls flow is by far the best part of this album.  His lyrics are nothing to write home about but the production on Control System and the strong list of features boasting names such as Danny Brown, BJ The Chicago Kid, and the rest of Black Hippy.

Favorite Track(s): Track Two, Terrorist Threats ft. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko, Black Lip Bastard [Remix] ft.. Black Hippy

Least Favorite Track: Showin’ Love

Best Instrumental: Bohemian Grove (Prod. by Tae Beast & Dave Free)

X-Factor: Ab-Soul oozes swag, and with the rest of TDE behind him this is a great listen.

Rating: 77/100

Must Listen Rating: 7/10

 

14.  Young Sinatra: Undeniable-Logic

Album Download

Maryland rapper Logic is one of the hardest working young rappers in the game, not quite Curren$y but he puts his Visionary Music Group cohort, Tayyib Ali, to shame (let’s be clear I do mean in shear hard work, Tayyib Ali is sick in his own right).  Logic’s Undeniable is not an improvement on Logic’s 2011 release Young Sinatra mixtape in fact it may be a little worse it is a testament to Logic’s abilities and prowess as a rapper that a release not that the peak of his skill can embarrass most of the established rappers in the game today.  Young Sinatra: Undeniable is very smooth and fun while still being very real and heartfelt.  Undeniable is, much like channel ORANGE and 1999 a conceptual work connected by a similar theme in each song, Logic’s Young Sinatra series is very clearly about overcoming obstacles.  Some people might be bothered by the cliché or simplistic nature of the chosen theme, I think if you rap about something you care about and you can truly speak on there is nothing cliché and no one expresses the trials and tribulations of the rap industry and life like Logic.

Favorite Track(s): Dead Presidents III, Numbers, Tic Tac Toe, We Get High, Do Ya Like

Least Favorite Track: Relaxation

Best Instrumental: Disgusting (Feat. C Dot Castro) (Prod. Dr. Dre)

X-Factor: Clever lyrics, more clever than any other young rapper, plus a unique perspective on things you thought you knew already.

Rating: 80/100

Must Listen Rating: 9/10

 

13.  Live From The Underground-Big K.R.I.T.

Album Download

K.R.I.T.’s Live From the Underground is a follow up to his 4Eva N a Day mixtape.  Both were excellent but Live From the Underground has really solidified K.R.I.T. as one of the best rappers and producers to come out of the rap in a long time.  I’m so sick of the awful trap rap that the South has been shitting out for the past few years I miss Outkast and Goodie Mob.  One of the best things on the album is that while it distances itself from the infamous name of Southern rap it reminds us of how great the South really can be with features from people like Bun B, Ludacris, and Devin the Dude (also B.B. King? What?! Props for that Big K.R.I.T.).  Yes because this is an album you’re going to get some tracks like Money On The Floor and Porchlight but I can’t fault him for trying to sell records.  Despite its few pitfalls, which it more than makes up for, Live From The Under Ground is an excellent an album and a MUST listen for any Deep South rap fans out there.

Favorite Track(s): Rich Dad, Poor Dad, , Yeah Dats Me

Least Favorite Track: My Sub, Pt. 2 – The Jackin’

Best Instrumental: My Sub, Pt. 2 – The Jackin’

X-Factor: GOOD Southern rap… thank fucking god.

Rating: 82/100

Must Listen Rating: 5/10

 

12.  Save.Our.Souls-Add-2

Album Download

Woah!  What happened Add-2 I’ve been hooked on Add-2 since my friend played me Luxury in high school but I have only seen glimpses of this side in him in earlier years but nothing like this.  Not that his albums and mixtapes pre-SOS were bad by any stretch of the imagination.  But the biggest difference in Save.Our.Souls was how real it felt this album grabbed you down deep and didn’t let you go till all 19 tracks were done with you.  The Chicago rapper has been putting in work for a long time but if you ARE going to start listening to him it should be now because it seems like he’s made a big change and is only going to get better from here.

Favortie Track(s): Losing Me ft. Nida Nasheeda, Watermelon, Modern Day Coons,

Least Favorite Track: Yellow Light

Best Instrumental: Bring Em Out

X-Factor: Sounds like the legendary Common if he had been a member of A Tribe Called Quest

Rating: 83/100

Must Listen Rating: 8/10

 

11. Seven EP- The Group Called HR

Album Download

Our friends across the pond are here to kick ass… and I don’t think I mind.  This is the first full length EP from the Group Called HR British rap duo with a light jazz-rap flavor and knack for interesting rhyme schemes, and… that accent, every flow sounds dope with that accent.

Favorite Track(s): A Song For Melody, Intro (Seven)

Least Favorite Track: N/A

Best Instrumental: Questions

X-Factor: The music is deeply emotional and and instrumentals almost take you to another place entirely.  The hole EP is ethereal in a way I never knew music could be.

Rating: 85/100

Must Listen Rating: 10/10

 

10.  AmeriKKKan Koruption- Capital STEEZ

Album Download

Capital STEEZ… what can you say about the young New York Rapper?  Nothing that he won’t tell you himself.  STEEZ was one of the most real and honest rappers out and it was one of the worst things to see him go.  But besides his work with Pro Era before his untimely passing Capital STEEZ released AmeriKKKan Koruption which got over shadows by Joey Bada$$’s 1999 but this was an excellent CD.  STEEZ lilting flow and hard hitting lyrics are only matched by his clear musical genius with beat choices like Diary on the track Free The Robots and Sound of Vibration on Vibe Ratings.  It is great as well as very rare to see a mixtape that really celebrates the diversity and vast history of hip-hop like AmeriKKan Koruption does.  This is my number one recommendation on this album because unfortunately hip-hop lost Capital STEEZ this year and if you’re going to get hip to one rapper this year it should be the late great member of Progessive Era.

Favorite Track(s): Vibe Ratings, Free The Robots, 47 Piiirates ft. Dirty Sanchez, HYPE Beast ft. Uno Hype, Dead Prez

Least Favorite Track: Dead On Arrival

Best Instrumental: Doggybag

X-Factor: Crazy flow, even crazier lyrics over some of the most diverse beats to be compiled on an alum in a long time.

Rating:  87/100

Must Listen Rating: 10/10

 

9.  Peep the APROCaplypse- Pro Era

Album Download

Two Pro Era mixtapes in a row…. that’s right… suck it (AND there’s more to come).  Pro Era’s second collaboration album and it’s a real New York hip-hop at it’s best.  With 90’s beats and a variety of flows and styles that complement each other like no other crew manages to do this is one of the best albums of the year.

Favorite Track(s): Like Water, Run or Fly, F A Rap Critic, K.I.N.G.S.

Least Favorite Track: Wrecord Out

Best Instrumental: Start To Finish (Prod. By Chuck Strangers)

X-Factor: There isn’t a crew in history whose styles are both so diverse and complimentary and that comes through clearly on this Mixtape.

Rating: 88/100

Must Listen Rating: 8/10

 

8.  Nehru Jackets-Heems

Album Download

Heems was (hopefully is) a member of New York rap group Das Racist.  Two years ago you (and I have to admit even I) thought Heems and Kool A.D. were jokes but Heems has something to say about that on Nehru Jackets.  Heems’ most consistent theme throughout his work is race relations despite being a rapper who is neither black nor white.  Nehru Jackets also tones down the humor that was so obvious on the first two Das Racist mixtapes (Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell anyone?).  Jackets is not only more serious than Sit Down, Man and Shut Up, Dude it is better produced and more tightly made.  Nehru Jacketss feels like an album and if you like Heems you will be excited about this because Heems does Heems to his fullest potential.  It is also great to see the return of gritty NY hip hop (this was released before 1999).  While the return of NYC hip hop can be most attributed to the young guns Heems and the rest of Greedhead have been holding it down strong since before Joey Bada$$.

Favorite Track: Womyn, Womyn 2 ft. Childish Gambino, NYC Cops, You Have to Ride the Wave ft. Danny Brown, Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, Juveniles Detained at Guantanamo Bay, Coca Cola Freestyle

Least Favorite Track: Desi Shoegaze Taiko

Best Instrumental: Jason Bourne (Prod. Mike Finito), Bangles ft. Fat Tony, Big Baby Gandhi (Prod. Mike Finito)

X-Factor: Unlike anything you’ve heard or will hear at least for the foreseeable future.

Rating: 89/100

Must Listen Rating: 9/10

 

7.  channel ORANGE-Frank Ocean

Album Download

Frank Ocean is better than The Weeknd.  Good.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way I can talk about channel ORANGE.  I will admit experimental R&B isn’t my thing and I wasn’t an Ocean convert after Nostalgia, Ultra but channel ORANGE has changed my mind.  It is not that any one track really stood out to me as they did on the other albums on this list, but the entirety of channel ORANGE was impressive.  Whether you agree with Frank Ocean’s lackluster and disappointed view on love or if you agree with The Weeknd that love is painful, depressing and loathsome, if you’ve ever been in love these two speak will speak to you.  And THAT is what channel ORANGE is about it is at times depressing and at times happy but it is clear Ocean’s view on love and the world is a bleak one, but what music worth listening to isn’t nowadays?  If you haven’t heard channel ORANGE, there isn’t much more I can say about it because more than any other album I heard this year it evokes a visceral response; I don’t know why I loved channel ORANGE and I don’t care: it’s not catchy, it’s real.

Favorite Track(s): Pyramids, Super Rich Kids ft. Earl Sweatshirt, Crack Rock, Pink Matter ft. Andre 3000

Least Favorite Track: Lost

Best Instrumental: Monk

X-Factor: Frank Ocean was the only place to get listenable R&B from this year and he made an album that keeps getting better every listen so I don’t have to worry about running out.

Rating: 89/100

Must Listen Rating: 6/10

 

6.  The Money Store-Death Grip

Album Download

Death Grip’s The Money Store is loud, violent, noisy, and will be almost unrecognizable to hip hop traditionalists and is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.  This follow up to Death Grip’s Exmilitary took everything we loved about the Exmilitary and doubled it.  The Money Store takes all the stereotypes about hip hop: raging masculinity, over the top sexuality, and extreme violence, and turns them to the max making them cartoonish and depressing.  I could really only get through about two or three listens of The Money Store before it really became too much for me though as art  music it doesn’t need to be enjoyed in the classic sense (Schoenberg would certainly agree with me).  Even so, I would not recommend Death Grip to the faint of heart or even to those who can’t take the harder rappers in hip hop– think Danny Brown times ten– but if you can get past the comically exaggerated aspects of the music The Money Store, and even Exmilitary, are worth a listen.

Favorite Track(s): Get Got, Blackjack, Hacker, I’ve Seen Footage, System Blower

Least Favorite Track: Punk Weight

Best Instrumental: Hustle Bones

X-Factor: Challenging as fuck, probably the hardest listen I’ve had in a while.  But if you manage to get out of it what Death Grips wants you to its a hell of a listen.

Rating: 90/100

Must Listen Rating: 0/10 (I’m not going to say anyone HAS to listen to The Money Store… it’s incredible but I warn you especially if all you’ve been doing is listening to Drake and Lil Wayne you might not want to listen to this the sheer polar nature of the two artists might give you whiplash)

 

5.  Royalty-Childish Gambino

Album Download

Was Royalty Camp?  No.  Was Royalty better than Camp? No, and it wasn’t worse either.  Royalty was Gambino at a very different version of his best.  Camp was Gambino’s soul and struggles in the form of music.  Royalty was much closer to the Gambino we met in Culdesac– lyrically proficient, nerdy, and above all cocky.  If you know me you know Gambino is my favorite rapper and Royalty clearly shows why, much like Wale’s More About Nothing it plays through well.  It’s not a narrative like GKMC but is a cohesive idea throughout the whole album.  Gambino’s tongue-in cheek style and his utter disregard for our opinion is refreshing in a rap industry where everyone takes themselves so damn seriously and where rappers so clearly contort themselves into pretzels for album sales.  Royalty is not the best album/mixtape on this list but it IS my favorite.

Favorite Track(s): We Ain’t Them, One Up ft. Steve G Lover, Black Faces ft. Nipsey Hu$$le, Unnecessary ft. Schoolboy Q & Ab-Soul, Shoulda Known, R.I.P. ft. Bun B, Toxic ft. Danny Brown, They Don’t Like Me ft. Chance the Rapper, Arrangement ft. Gonage,

Least Favorite Track: N/A

Best Instrumental: R.I.P. (ft. Bun B) (Prod. by Childish Gambino), Toxic ft. Danny Brown (Prod. by skywlkr)

X-Factor: Listen to this then Camp then this again it’s like seeing two sides of a really dope coin.

Rating: 90/100

Must Listen Rating: 10/10

 

4.  Good Kid M.A.A.d City-Kendrick Lamar

Album Download

Yes that’s right rap fans FOURTH: Oh no how could he rate it so low? Shut the fuck up! I put Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.d City above Childish Gambino, which was really hard for me, and I stand by my decision to put it fourth.  On this album Kendrick, has proven himself one of the greatest rappers not only of 2012 but of modern hip-hop.  My favorite thing about Good Kid M.A.A.d City is that it is a story, one the best stories I’ve heard in a long time.  I thought that on XXX, Danny Brown’s ability to create a cohesive piece of music in one album wouldn’t be matched for a long time.  Ever since the shuffle setting came about albums have become less and less a single piece of work and more a collection of tracks.  Good Kid is the story of a kid growing up in Compton and like everything Kendrick Lamar does it is deeply personal and heartfelt which comes across powerfully.  My biggest issue with GKMC is that while Kendrick is very talented– the writing is superb and the connections between tracks– are genius– the problem is that while the elements (lyrics, instrumentals, concepts) of every song change, Kendrick stays stagnant not only throughout this work but throughout his entire career.   Kendrick Lamar doesn’t develop in the way you’d expect of an artist.

Favorite Track(s): Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe, Backstreet Freestyle, The Art of Peer Pressure, Money Trees (Feat. Jay Rock), Swimming Pools

Least Favorite Track: N/A

Best Instrumental: Compton ft. Dr. Dre (Prod. Just Blaze)

X-Factor: The greatest story ever told in song since John Henry.

Rating: 93/10

Must Listen Rating: 10/10

 

3.  R.A.P. Music-Killer Mike

Album Download

First off let me say I haven’t ever been too enamored with Killer Mike.  Not because he’s not a perfectly decent rapper.  Because he seems very simplistic, or at least he did until R.A.P. Music.  Mike is one of the more dynamic rappers in the game.  R.A.P. Music boasts some of this year’s best gangster, love, AND conspiracy rap songs (most notably Reagan, one of my favorite tracks of the year).  The album’s dynamism is not only attributed to Mike’s ability, but also to the collaboration with underground hip hop’s greatest producers, El-P.  El-P’s appearance as the lead producer was unusual.  I thought that it was an odd decision and wouldn’t work well in the end, but these two proved me wrong.  Killer Mike and El-P complement each other with their equally hard hitting styles.  This was the biggest surprise of the year.  That being said, R.A.P. Music did have its pitfalls.  If I had complain about something it would be that while Mike has proved that he is not simplistic in content and lyrics his flow is still elementary and is one of the only flaws on the album.

Favorite Track(s): Reagan, Big Beast, Don’t Die, Southern Fried, R.A.P. Music

Least Favorite Track: Ghetto Gospel

Best Instrumental: R.A.P. Music

X-Factor: Best producer-rapper duo to release an album since Pete Rock & C. L. Smooth.

Rating: 94/100

Must Listen Rating: 8/10

2.  1999-Joey Bada$$

Album Download

I don’t get this album it sounds like it was released in 1995… the same year Joey was born.  Joey brings modern hip-hop metaphors and wordplay to the appealing 1990 style of rap we missed so much.  1999 is the first real exposure hip hop has had to Joey.  Survival Tactics, Hardknock, and Waves alone set the album apart from the rest of 2012’s rap.  This kid is so young and so talented I can’t wait to see what he and the rest of Pro Era continue to produce in the coming years.  Of all the albums on this list, if you have heard none, listen to this one first.

Favorite Track(s): Waves, Survival Tactics ft. Capital STEEZ, FromdaTomb$ ft. Chuck Strangers, Killuminati ft. Capital STEEZ, Hardknock ft. CJ Fly, World Domination,

Least Favorite Track: Funky Ho

Best Instrumental: World Domination (Prod. by MF DOOM)

X-Factor: If you like NYC hip-hop and miss The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, good Nickelodeon Shows, your Tamagotchi, and Goosebump books.

Rating: 94/100

Must Listen Rating: 10/10

 

1.  History Will Absolve Me-Billy Woods

Album Download

Billy Woods’ History Will Absolve Me is not only my number one album of the year it is also the least famous on this list and because it is by far the most alienating album I heard this year even accounting for the two albums dropped by experimental hip hop monster Death Grips.  The reason History Will Absolve Me is number one both because Woods’ angry flow and controversial view on the world and because it is the best produced album of the year even when G.O.O.D. Music, The Alchemist, and GBE (Young Chop) dropped SOOO many albums.  History Will Absolve Me is good the first time around because you hate Billy Woods and love the beats, it’s great the second time around because you worship the beats and tolerate Billy, and amazing the third time through because you worship Billy and the beats.

Favorite Track(s): The whole fucking thing

Least Favorite Track: Hahaha Riiiight

X-Factor: This nigga is from DC and as a DMV resident it makes his ability to string provocative lyrics over destructive beats makes me very happy (take notes Wale then maybe you’ll make it back on to my top five list).

Rating: 95/100

Must Listen Rating: 7/10 (not nearly as hard a listen as The Money Store but still not a hip-hop purists wet dream, but if you’ve ever heard anything you didn’t like the first time and eventually fell in love with this is an 11/10)

 

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