As 2012 comes to a close, and we enjoy the holiday season, alive and well (yup, we made it, Mayans!), its time to take a look back at the releases this year and select the best of the best. As with last year, since the focus of this site is always live music and we’re discussing studio albums, we’re providing a live song from each artist who made the list.
1. ODDISEE – PEOPLE HEAR WHAT THEY SEE
Always known as an upper echelon producer, Oddisee really stepped into his own realm in 2012 with the release of People Hear What They See. Easily his most complete effort to date, his greatly improved rhymes, flow and subject matter are nearly as good as his lush, immaculate production on the album.
2. SENE – BROOKLYKNIGHT
Always an underground favorite, Sene stepped into the spotlight with the release of Brooklyknight this year. He’s always been one of the most slept on rappers in New York for some time, and whether he’s rockin with The Clubhouse as Recess, writing duets with Denitia Odigie or spittin sharp raps solo, Sene is a force to be reckoned with.
3. NAS – LIFE IS GOOD
Its rare that an artist at this late stage of their career can put out an album that even some folks were bold enough to say is better than Illmatic. We wouldnt go that far, but its not too far behind it. His pen has always been sharp, but Life Is Good is full of great production- something generally lacking with his releases. Life is Good, indeed.
4. RESTORING POETRY IN MUSIC – KINGDOM OF FIREFLIES
Its been 5 years since RPM last released an album, and with Kingdom of Fireflies, the band has ventured further out into left field. One of the most experimental releases of the year, the album explores the outer boundaries of hip-hop, mixing in blues, rock, electronica and trance. While that may be hard to imagine, they pull it off effortlessly. Raw Poetic (who’s better known for Panacea, or his incredible collaborations with Damu The Fudgemunk or DJ K-Def) is is sinfully slept on as an emcee and truly desrves more acclaim. Kingdom of Fireflies demands your attention.
5. MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS – THE HEIST
Don’t be fooled by Thrift Shop, which is a hilarious and brilliant song in its own right, but the album is far more serious than fashion styles. While Macklemore will certainly be compared to Slug of Atmosphere and labelled as “emo rap”, he’s deeper than that. The content on The Heist is groundbreaking as few hip-hop artists dare to go where the album takes you. The Heist is a breath of fresh air, albeit a somber one, among releases this year.
6. KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID, M.A.A.D. CITY
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is the most critically acclaimed hip hop release of the year, landing at the top spot on many year end lists. A few respectable artists and journalists have even dubbed it the Illmatic of this generation. There’s a lot of validity to those statements, too. The album tells a cohesive story of young Kendrick growing up and the narrative is never lost on the listener.
7. ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT – BLACK RADIO
There was little doubt this album would disappoint. The band is insanely talented, so musically it delivers a strong punch and when you line up guests like Lupe Fiasco, Bilal, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway and throw in some incredible covers… its the album you expected it to be, so there should be no surprises to see it on our Best of ’12 list
8. HOMEBOY SANDMAN – FIRST OF A LIVING BREED
One of the most unique talents in the game, Homeboy Sandman is almost too clever and gifted for his own good. He can rap circles around anyone, and his wordplay takes multiple listens to fully absorb. Sandman is one of those weird anomalies where he may actually be too advanced for his own good when trying to achieve a mass appeal. Regardless, hip hop heads just need to press play, nod along and smile.
9. HIDDEN ORCHESTRA – ARCHIPELAGO
Archipelago is filled with moody grooves that is difficult to classify. At times its funky, industrial, jazzy, orchestral and everything in between. Similar in sound The Cinematic Orchestra, Hidden Orchestra have crafted a fantastic musical journey that is well worth taking.
10. THE FUNK ARK – HIGH NOON
The band’s sophomore release, High Noon, brings afrobeat front and center while keeping the tones doused in funk. The Fela-inspired rhythms are heavily layered, but amazingly, no member ever seems to outshine another, creating a consistent vibe from front to back. The 8-piece ensemble have created the best afrobeat release of the year- and thats a bold statement considering that the legendary Antibalas released an album in 2012 as well.
- Theory Hazit – Thr3e
- ScienZe & King I Divine – Divine ScienZe
- EL – Something ELse
- Rocket Juice & The Moon – Rocket Juice & The Moon
- Gary Clark Jr. – Blak & Blu
TOP 10 MIXTAPES / FREE RELEASES:
- Big K.R.I.T. – 4Eva N A Day
- Chris Faust – VILLAIN (Issues 1 & 2)
- Peep: The Aprocalypse (Pro Era)
- XV – Popular Culture
- Joey Bada$$ – 1999
- Wiz Khalifa – Taylor Allderdice
- Logic – Young Sinatra: Undeniable
- Wale – Folarin
- B.o.B – Fuck Em We ball
- Slaughterhouse – On The House