12. Three Loco EP – Three Loco
If you would have told me a few years ago that MTV star Andy Milonakis would go on to put out one of the best hip-hop releases of 2012, I would have laughed in your face. But here we are, and Andy has teamed up with former porn star Dirt Nasty and the white Gucci Mane RiFF RaFF to put out an EP with some of the funniest one-liners I’ve heard in a while. Throw in production from people like Diplo and DJA, and you have a well-rounded release that is the perfect soundtrack to any party.
11. The Man With the Iron Fists Soundtrack – RZA
When RZA announced that he’d be directing a kung-fu movie starring Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, lots of people got very excited about the idea, but as a hip-hop head myself, I was more intrigued by the soundtrack that was sure to follow. It boast a huge tracklist of names, including Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan, Danny Brown, and many more. RZA took this expansive list of features and combined rap, R&B, and neo-soul perfectly , creating one of the most diverse hip-hop albums of the year.
10. Cruel Summer – G.O.O.D. Music
If I were writing this based on the strength of an album’s singles, Kanye West and co. would absolutely have the number one spot. “Mercy” and “Clique” were undoubtedly two of the biggest hits of the year, with “New God Flow,” “Cold,” and “I Don’t Like (Remix)” also on heavy rotation. But as a cohesive album, it falls short of the high expectations that Kanye has set for himself; it is a bit difficult to get through the entire album without skipping a song or two. Still, as it is, one could argue that that Kanye West was responsible for some of the year’s beast tracks without even putting out a solo release, and for that Cruel Summer is one of the 2012’s best.
10. Cancer 4 Cure – El-P
2012 was an amazing year for Brooklyn legend El-P; not only did he produce unique, innovative beats for Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, but he released a solo LP that might be the best in his expansive discography. He samples everyone from Das Racist to Billy Joel in the production and spits hard, meaningful lyrics alongside friends Despot, Danny Brown, and more. The album is amazing start to finish and El-P proves with his first solo LP in four years that he’s going to be around for a while. I couldn’t be happier about it.
8. 1999 – Joey Bada$$
Seemingly out of nowhere, a 17-year old kid from Brooklyn dropped a mixtape with his Pro Era crew that easily could have been sold as an album. He immediately drew comparisons to Nas, and rightfully so–this is a tape that sounds like it was put in a time capsule in the 90s. But this isn’t a kid biting Nas’ style, this is a high-schooler that was just a toddler when the reigning East Coast king Biggie died, and grew up in a new era of hip-hop. Joey Bada$$ has proven with 1999 that the boom-bap style of hip-hop isn’t dead in a time when popular rap has taken on an entirely new face. The future looks very bright for this young star.
7. R.A.P. Music – Killer Mike
While we have all these new-comers proving that a new age of rap is upon us, 2012 also featured some legends showing that they’re still relevant. Most notably, Killer Mike, who has been releasing southern bangers since the early 2000s–but he waited until 2012 to put out his best album.
El-P’s production is incredibly on-point as always, and if you are the kind of listener who wishes OutKast was still around (who doesn’t, though) then this is absolutely the album for you. He’s got everything from political hip-hop to chopped & screwed syrup jams on this LP. While everyone’s talking about Black Hippy from the West and A$AP on the East, Killer Mike makes sure we’re not forgetting about the south.
6. D.R.U.G.S. – Flatbush ZOMBiES
A$AP Rocky might be the biggest out of Harlem right now, but fellow New Yorkers Flatbush ZOMBiES have emerged and created an entirely new sound of acid-rap. Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice are no strangers to drugs, and they make that apparent with their debut mixtape. The first video that caught our eye was “Thug Waffle” which featured copious amounts of weed and showed the uniqueness of the two with their strange looks and crazy voices. The entire mixtape lives up to this standard, with the two spitting about how much they love Sour Diesel over chilled-out beats courtesy of third member Erick Arc Elliott.
5. Dangerous Lies & Vicious Rumors – Big Boi
I’m not quite sure what got into Big Boi these past few months, but I absolutely love it. His first solo album showed that he can do fine without Andre 3000, while his sophomore LP proved that he’s in fact better on his own. Someone must have introduced him to Pitchfork because he enlisted the help of Little Dragon and Phantogram for the majority of the album, making this more indie-electronic than a southern rap release. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great thing–for one, I never thought I would get to see Little Dragon and Jai Paul collaborate on a track together. But on top of that is a rapper who can make a hit out of any type of song and shows an incredible range on the album.
Sometimes he sings (“Descending”), sometimes he makes breezy summertime songs with a punk-rocker (“Shoes For Running”), and sometimes he’s going HAM over a southern beat alongside Bun B and Big K.R.I.T. (“Gossip”). I can see why this album could get some hate, as it’s a huge departure from the ATLiens days of Outkast. But Big Boi is an old dog who is learning new tricks, and it’s amazing to see a legend so far ahead of the curve in the current hip-hop trends.
4. Duality – Captain Murphy
The first time we–or anyone, for that matter–heard Duality, we didn’t know who Captain Murphy actually was. And that was an incredible feeling. In the Internet age of 2012, we seem to know things the instant they happen, but here we had an artist making serious waves without ever revealing his identity.
Captain Murphy first released his mixtape through an insane, brainwashing 35-minute short film. But the music behind it was amazing; Flying Lotus produced some of the best beats I’ve heard since the J Dilla days, and the pitched-down deep rapping voice was unlike anything I have ever heard. When it was revealed that Captain Murphy is Flying Lotus, it made the mixtape that much better–a trippy, downtempo artist releasing hit albums year after year actually could rap this whole time.
(Side note: Between Friends feat. Earl Sweatshirt is my #1 song of the year).
3. Habits & Contradictions – ScHoolboy Q
At the time of its January release, ScHoolboy’s first official album was LA’s Black Hippy crew’s best yet. Everyone always knew Kendrick Lamar was going to be rap’s next big superstar, but many didn’t know that his crew would put out albums that could arguably be better than 2011’s Section.80. The step between Setbacks and Habits & Contradictions is monumental, and brought ScHoolboy out from the shadows, going as far as to releasing one of the biggest hits of the year with A$AP Rocky in “Hands on the Wheel.” The rest of the album features top-notch production and defines ScHoolboy as the Real Puff Daddy: crazy, out-there, and perfect to listen to while you’re blunt crusin’.
2. Control System – Ab-Soul
Control System took some time to grow on me–I was taken in by the singles “Terrorist Threats” and “Illuminate,” but Ab-Soul’s conceptual style and deep, thoughtful lyrics were a lot to digest at first. But each time I listened to it, I found a new favorite song than the time before, and after multiple listens I couldn’t get the album out of my head.
The rest of Black Hippy has always said that Ab-Soul is the genius behind the group, and now it’s clear why. He is one of generation’s best lyricists and spits in an oddly intriguing way, making it easy to overlook at first. But if you listened to this album once and then shoveled it away under Kendrick’s, I urge you to give it another listen and pay attention to his flow, lyrics, and delivery. They are matched by just a few in the game today.
1. good kid, m.A.A.d. city – Kendrick Lamar
At the beginning of the year, I already had a feeling that Kendrick Lamar’s debut album would make the top of this list, but what I didn’t know is that it would be an instant classic and immediately become one of my favorite rap albums of all time. Kendrick had a lot to live up to this album: I can’t think of another release in my lifetime that was surrounded in this much hype. But fuck the hype, Kendrick made an album to convert even the biggest skeptics, and found a way to dance the fine line between a successful, commercial album and an underground classic made for true hip-hop heads.
The story behind the LP is amazing; it makes it nearly impossible not to listen to the album from start to finish, even when he released some of the biggest singles of the year. I have listened to this album almost every single day since its release and its novelty has not worn off one bit. I still find something new to love about it upon each listen, and I think that is the true test of an album becoming a classic.
Life is Good – Nas
The Money Store – Death Grips
Blue Chips – Action Bronson & Party Supplies
Mysterious Phonk – SpaceGhostPurrp
Fantasea – Azealia Banks
Baby Face Killa – Freddie Gibbs
Priest Andretti – Curren$y
Dark York – Le1f