Best Hip-Hop of 2012
January 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Three albums and three mixtapes for your listening pleasure. If you missed my top ten, check it out at the Mockingbird blog.
good kid, m.A.A.d city-Kendrick Lamar
Really, I can’t offer Kendrick Lamar many more accolades than the ones he has already gained last year (this was my favorite album of 2012). His major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city is unlike any other hip-hop album that came out in 2012, balancing emotion and technical mastery perfectly and asserting itself as something new in a crowded hip-hop culture. Lamar is an immensely skilled emcee, and he shows off his many different modes of rapping throughout the album, varying his voice and cadence to suit each song. Moreover, this is an album in every sense of the word, as Lamar tells a story of living in the streets that ends with unexpected redemption. Don’t miss this one, kids.
Best Songs: “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Money Trees,” “m.A.A.d City,” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
R.A.P. Music-Killer Mike
R.A.P Music opens with easily my favorite hip-hop track of the year, “Big Beast,” a driving, forceful explosion of a song that stakes Killer Mike’s claim to the best straight-up hip-hop album of the year. With great production from El-P, Killer Mike effortlessly weaves his way through a variety of topics on the album, never afraid to speak his mind, especially on tracks like “Reagan” and “R.A.P. Music.” In many ways, this album is a throwback, devoid of any Drake-like crooning or the variety of production tricks on good kid, m.A.A.d city, and this stripped down approach lends credibility and brutal honesty to Killer Mike’s scathing lyrics. You probably won’t agree with everything he says, but you’ve got to respect the way he says it.
Best Songs: “Big Beast,” “Go!,” “Reagan,” “R.A.P. Music”
Cancer 4 Cure-El-P
Dark and atmospheric, Cancer 4 Cure blasts its way through its twelve song running time, replete with booming bass and fractured percussion. In both his production and rapping, El-P seems one step from the edge, the virtuosity of his technical skills belying the rage that simmers just below the carefully constructed madness of his music. Like label-mate Aesop Rock, El-P’s lyrics are a conundrum, a maze of wordplay that obfuscates more than elucidates, yet repeated listens eventually reveal his preoccupations; for instance, “The Full Retard” offers up a somewhat satirical look at hip-hop and politics, while being the most radio friendly track on the whole album. It’s contradictions like this that mark Cancer 4 Cure as one of the more compelling hip-hop releases of 2012, and one to be listened to on high volume with utmost attention.
Best Songs: “The Full Retard,” “Drones Over Bklyn,” “Tougher Colder Killer,” “True Story”
Probably my second favorite hip-hop album of the year, BBU’s mixtape is an exercise in not sacrificing style for content, with music that is a perfect complement to the group’s politically charged lyrics. Hailing from Chicago, the group tackles a number of issues plaguing inner-city Chicago, yet they manage to approach those topics with some lightness, keeping the mixtape from becoming too weighed down. BBU knows how to create a hook, and they rap the heck out of every track, ensuring that their message gets embedded in your consciousness. The group also has a wicked sense of humor, most obviously present in the album’s interludes, where they make fun of mainstream hip-hop and record labels, just to name a few of their targets. The constant interplay of the three members keeps each track fresh, and the serious issues they bring up in their lyrics are worth thinking about, if purposely controversial at times. A wonderful blend of craft and consciousness, bell hooks is everything a mixtape should be.
Best Songs: “The Hood,” “Jumpers,” “The Wrong Song,” “Please, No Pictures”
4eva N a Day-Big K.R.I.T.
After showing up on two of my favorite hip hop albums of last year (Undun and Oneirology) as well as releasing a mixtape, Big K.R.I.T. made his mark on 2012 with another mixtape and his major-label debut, Live from the Underground. While Live from the Underground has its moments (particularly “Cool 2 Be Southern,” “Porchlight,” and “If I Fall”), 4eva N a Day is far more consistent and thoughtful throughout, making it the best Krit album to arrive in 2012. 4eva N a Day delivers more of what we’ve come to expect from Krit: silky smooth flow, consummate production, and a keen awareness of the problems in hip hop culture and his own place in that world. Tracks like “Package Store” and “The Alarm” speak eloquently to the struggles Krit sees all around him, accenting the album art of a young child stuck in between a church and a liquor store. Another great mixtape from a perennial overachiever.
Best Songs: “Boobie Miles,” “4EvaNaDay Theme,” “Package Store”
Attack the Block-Talib Kweli & Z-Trip
Unfortunately, Kweli’s new official album was delayed until 2013, but Attack the Block, named after a fantastic film from 2011, is more than enough to tide me over until P.O.C. gets released. Complete with an incredible list of guest spots (Black Thought, Jay Rock, Killer Mike, etc.), Attack the Block is a surprisingly consistent effort from Kweli, especially considering the mixed bag that was his last album, Gutter Rainbows. The best moments on Attack the Block are the unexpected ones: “The Corner” sampling R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”; the five killer guest spots on “That’s Enough”; and the slow-burning closer, “Fly Away.” To me at least, Attack the Block shows that Kweli still has something to prove, and it makes me even more excited for P.O.C. this spring.
Best Songs: “That’s Enough,” “The Corner,” “Getting to the Money,” “Fly Away”