Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top 12 Albums of 2012

2012 was a good year for music, a lot better than 2011 and here is a list of my top 12 albums in chronological order. If you're mad about an album I didn't put in here fuck you it's my list. More good music to get in 2013. Peace, love and hip hop. 

Schoolboy Q - Habits and Contradictions (January 14th)

2012 was a good year for the TDE camp with Ab-Soul's Control System and Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city both reaching critical and popular acclaim, but despite Schoolboy Q having the earliest album release, Habits and Contradictions was the last one I listened to. All it took was "Hands on the Wheel",  one of the best songs and samples of the year, and a feature from A$AP Rocky to get my attention.

The thing about Schoolboy Q is he knows when he sounds good and he knows he's not the most lyrical of the Black Hippy camp and he doesn't try to be. Where Schoolboy Q wins is his honesty which he depicts with brutal imagery, laid back cadences which can turn violent in a second (YACK!) and his ability to ease up his flow when he wants. Schoolboy Q is the balance which keeps the stars in TDE aligned.

From the opening strums of "Sacrilegious" Schoolboy admits his wrongs and asks God for forgiveness despite his hellish past, yet at many points in the song he says things like "ask God for forgiveness/shit, I doubt he heard me at all" and the last line "I've done did some things I don't think I could ever wash away" leave his broken character at odds with himself making the title Habits and Contradictions appropriate.

Most of the instrumentals on Habits are slow rising samples which allow him to drag his lines into full effect like on "Oxy Music" where he outlines his progression from cooking and selling crack to making music. Still, the album is not all dark like on "Druggys With Hoes Again" where he and Ab-Soul go back and fourth rapping about the perfect night of sexing women and popping pills (EXTRA PILLS!). "Hands on the Wheel" is a similar concept with a perfect Kid Cudi sample and show-stealing verse from A$AP Rocky. "There He Go" talks about his rising popularity and how when people see him they scream "THERE HE GO!" like he's a celebrity.

Q has the imagination of Biggie, the mood of Mobb Deep, and the dark humor of Heltah Skeltah. His dark past as a Crip still haunts him (Raymond 1969) but the music redeems him because he knows there is more to life like he says on "Blessed".

The good thing about Habits and Contradictions is that it doesn't pander to strictly underground hip hop, gangster music or party music but Schoolboy switches the content while staying consistent with his lyrics and sound and for his sophomore effort that's an achievement.

My Favorite Songs: "There He Go", "Hands on the Wheel",  "Druggys With Hoes Again", "Blessed" and "My Hatin Joint". 

Action Bronson x Party Supplies - Blue Chips (March 12th)

 Action Bronson put out two free projects this year but I saw this record on another top 50 albums list and I had to mention it. Blue Chips is the collaboration between Albanian chef-turned-rapper Action Bronson and producer Party Supplies. The production consists of elegant classical numbers and Action Bronson lays down old pop culture references, food raps, and anything else drug or sex related in his bars.

Even when he stumbles Action Bronson keeps the flow going like on "9-24-11" and blatantly keeps it in the song because he can. The imperfections are a part of Bronson's personality and Blue Chips was a perfect combination of Bronson's dirty humor and crisp beats.

My favorite tracks: "Pouches of Tuna", "Tan Leather", "Double Breasted", "Ron Simmons".

Ab-Soul - Control System (May 11th)

What I said in my review: 

"There's a lot to like about Ab-Soul. For one, he can hold his own on tracks with Kendrick Lamar, he's not afraid to experiment with his music and vocal range with other singers (Jhene Aiko & the late Alori Joh) and he has many styles which make Control System a fresh independent release resulting from an artist with full "control" of his art.

The album's high points come from his ferocious raps stemming from his disdain against the government's control of the people (Terrorist Threats), confidently bragging about why he is one of the best in the game (Track Two, Illuminate), and his vivid storytelling anthems (Bohemian Grove). His versatility as an artist is seen with different rhyme schemes, flows and homophones "I wrote like Edgar Allan, I was po' like Edgar Allan" (Pineal Gland).

I believe this album is a great start in showing his potential and...remains one of my favorite releases of 2012."

My favorite tracks: "Track Two", "Bohemian Grove", "Terrorist Threats", "Pineal Gland"

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (July 10th)

What I said in my review

"Channel Orange is a rare achievement for the R&B genre. This is an artist expressing his insecurities to the world through beautiful production and lyricism. Each song reminded me of Ocean's undeniable writing ability and vocal range. 
From a songwriting standpoint Channel Orange garners some of the most insightful narratives I've heard in R&B and Frank Ocean's artistry and brilliance are the reason."

Frank Ocean showed 2012 that he is in a genre of his own and takes pride in every lyric he writes and can sing better than most male artists. Channel Orange is nominated for 2 Grammy's and Frank Ocean is nominated for four other categories.  

My favorite tracks:  "Thinkin Bout You", "Super Rich Kids", "Pyramids", "Bad Religion".

Nas - Life is Good (July 13th)

Nas' albums are always in a stage in his life and some stages are better than others. The last material I've heard from Nas was his collaborative album with Damien Marley Distant Relatives, which I thought was one of the best albums of 2010. This time around he is divorced from his former wife Kelis, he is a father and he is pushing 40. Most artists would struggle to turn the circumstances into good music but Nas is not most artists. 

He has had conceptual setbacks in the past, and a problem with beat selection but has never sacrificed his strong lyrics. Life is Good did fail to impress me on my first listen because Nas is in a class of his own, but looking back it is still a solid effort from an artist who has been at it for 20 years. 

With production from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Salaam Remi, Noah "40" Shebib, and No I.D. the backdrop for his midlife reflections are soulful but still have the boom bap elements that Nas is known for. Consistency has never been Nas' strong suit but this album is coherent in nearly every way, aside from Swizz Beatz' obnoxious contribution "Summer on Smash". 

The phrase "real" is misunderstood a lot in hip hop but listening to this album made me realize that Nas is the REALEST rapper in the game. His lyrics are movies which move from chapter to chapter. He can talk about fatherhood (Daughters) and the loss of his wife (Bye Baby) and still show new rappers that he's still the king. "Back When"reminisces back to his childhood and his origins as a rapper and "Cherry Wine" is a flawless collaboration with Amy Winehouse about Nas' dream woman. Life is Good has a good chance of winning the Grammy for best rap album and at this point in his career I can't see an artist who deserves it more.  

My favorite tracks: "Daughters", "Back When", "Cherry Wine", "Stay", "Nasty". 

Skyzoo - A Dream Deferred (October 2nd)

Skyzoo is a young underdog from Duckdown records and an underrated rap presence in general, but his album A Dream Deferred is skilled in it's jazzy musical journey.

His single "Jansport Strings (One Time for Chi-Ali)" (produced by 9th wonder) told the story of a young Skyzoo being inspired by a Chi-Ali video and writing raps shortly after. The whole album is filled with synths and light drums which works in it's favor.  The album is not flawless but this is only his second album. The cohesive sound and creative perspectives are an accomplishment.

A Dream Deferred is one of the few influential albums to come out of 2012 and while Skyzoo knows that he has a long career ahead of him, he is still looking back at what he's accomplished and it's hard not to get a good vibe from it. (pause)

My favorite tracks: Jansport Strings, Glass Ceilings, Range Rover Rhythm, The Rage of Romello 

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city (October 22nd)

Kendrick Lamar is the most loved/hated rapper of 2012 and for good reason. He had the best album of 2012, some even calling it a classic and comparing it to Nas' Illmatic and that alone will make hip hop fans skeptical.

His bars and rhymes are unconventional, his voice reaches weird levels, and the album plays more of like an unedited movie. Many songs have phone calls or samples of dialogue and it works for the album because this is Kendrick's autobiography. From his rise to one of the top rappers and reviving the West Coast, to regressing back youthful ignorance and regretting his choices.

This album is heavy with conceptual themes like love, ignorance, justice, religion and alcoholism. Whether you're a fan of Kendrick or not, what other modern rap artist tackles these issues on their debut album? (I'll wait) The plot twists and storyline require a second listen to pick up on certain elements. 

The album made a huge impact from coining the term "ya bish" and Lady Gaga being kicked off of "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" (good move) Kendrick Lamar had every intention of making this HIS album and HIS year. "The Art of Peer Pressure" is something everyone can relate to but he brings the listener into southern Compton shrugging off his bad choices by saying "I'm with the homies". "m.A.A.d city" is a sociological look at gang violence in his hometown and "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" is 12 minutes of powerful storytelling from different perspectives which is the turning point of the album.

good kid, m.A.A.d city takes the scattered concepts of Section.80 and makes it a cohesive achievement for Lamar and for hip hop music. My favorite album of 2012 and only time will tell if it is revered as a classic.

My favorite tracks: "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", "The Art of Peer Pressure", "m.A.A.d city", "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst".

Sean Price - Mic Tyson (October 30th)

Sean Price is a prodigy in rap that is not seen in today's industry. He doesn't make singles, he has a genuine hate for rappers, and he is his biggest fan. Common artist problems don't concern Sean P because he's a regular guy before rap is involved. When rap is involved Sean Price is a terrorist on the mic and that's his job. He goes inside the booth and teaches people how to rap. If you don't believe me check out his rap clinic.

Mic Tyson was announced back in 2009 when he released his mixtape Kimbo Price which made fans anxious for the album and then Sean Price took over a year off before coming back to work on Mic Tyson and it didn't fail to deliver. The songs are each about 2-3 minutes long never leaving a dull moment, the bars are some of the most ferocious he's ever written (Fuck bein' humble I'm better than everybody/melancholy niggas get hit with a heavy shotty), and the features throw in some variety.

"BBQ Sauce" with Pharaoh Monch has some of the funniest lines of the year and a great hook, "STFU, Pt. 2" just uses samples of people yelling "Shut the fuck up" as the chorus and his bars are ruthless. This album isn't for the faint of heart or fans of R&B rap with crossover hits, Sean Price is an old rap hermit who doesn't give a fuck about your favorite rapper because he's his own biggest fan and can you blame him? ("Fuck being humble I'm better than everybody")

My favorite tracks: "Bar-Barian", "Straight Music", "STFU, Pt. 2", "Frankenberry", "BBQ Sauce".

The Weeknd - Trilogy (November 9th)

The Weeknd made my mixtapes list of 2011 and 2012 he made the leap to mainstream radio waves. While this is not always a smooth transition, Trilogy isn't new material but a re-release of his brilliant work from House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence. The songs are remastered and Trilogy contains three bonus tracks which seamlessly blend into the already provocative material. One of the new tracks, "Twenty Eight", is a dramatic downtrodden close to the first part of the trilogy about his relationship with a woman but if you look closer it's an extended metaphor about the unflattering image his music paints about him and his discomfort in the music industry.

Here's what I said about House of Balloons (My favorite piece of the trilogy):

An R&B artist in today's world does not have the balls to attempt what the Weeknd accomplishes with House of Balloons and that's because a majority of singers fail to be conceptual without being corny. Songs like "The Morning" still have me singing "all that money, the money is the motive." Comparatively the popular hip hop phrase, "Cash rules everything around me" has a similar message but I still felt entranced by the sounds coming through my ears. The Weeknd sings and slowly raps over "Loft Music", "I'm only fuckin 20 girl, amnesia, put your mind in a dream world." The Weeknd brings the listener into this dream world and never lets go.  

Murs & 9th Wonder - The Final Adventure (November 13th)

Murs is one of the best artists at capturing complex feelings of love and lust and youthfulness, all to the sound of 9th Wonder's seasoned production.

Their third and "final" collaboration, The Final Adventure, is a testament to how far they've grown in their careers. Murs is an underground legend but he still keeps his roots close on this album just like he always has. "Whatuptho" says "never sell out just to get my dollars up" to reassure his fans that he doesn't let money change him. 

"Funeral For A Killer" is one of the best beats 9th Wonder has done in a while and the concept is about the conflicting feelings people have about when a gang member, who's killed people, gets killed. The video is also in my top 5 music videos of 2012. "Tale of Two Cities" continues Murs' thoughts on gang violence and how it divides his city (Los Angeles) and raises more misguided children. 

Murs and 9th Wonder have dropped 3 great albums and a trademark sound together and Final Adventure ends the trilogy on a high note. 

My favorite tracks: "Whatuptho", "Funeral for a Killer", "Tale of Two Cities".

Roc Marciano - Reloaded (November 13th)

Roc Marciano is a throwback rapper who transports you back to the 90's. The grimy production brings to life the streets that Roc talks about. Reloaded almost plays as a soundtrack to old 70s blaxploitation films with pimps, crackheads, and hustlers.

Just take any bar from his single "76", "Treat Lamborghini's like bumper cars", "Been getting money before dinosaur" and you can see Roc Marciano has a dark imagination which he shoots into his bars. He can mention the gum under his Tim's under his feet with such detail that it draws you in and that's his strength. His sophistication of braggadocio is rare and Reloaded makes sure you take notice.

 My favorite tracks: "Tek to a Mack, "Pistolier", "76", "Emeralds"

Wu Block (November 27th)

Wu Block is another album that had to live up to high expectations in 2012. After over a year of pushbacks, Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch's collaborative album released late November to minimal acclaim. Critics time and time again have missed the mark on albums like this and because they are focused on how the artists rap about the same subjects and essentially don't make radio friendly hits. Lucky for underground fans it serves as a solid album from two veterans of the rap game. 

Most of the production is heavy hitting samples but despite the quick judgments from critics the album does switch up occasionally with lyrics and production. Ghostface Killah solidifies his return in 2012 with the opening lines "Henny bottles everywhere, smelling like 'yac/bagging crack, sitting in the kitchen wearing my mask" and it is clear that Ghostface hasn't lost a step. The collection of the best rappers in this genre all appear on Wu Block as well. Appearances from Jadakiss, Styles P, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon all keep the album well rounded with styles even though the content is similar. 

Take "Drivin' Round" for example featuring Erykah Badu, this sampled beat easily could've ended up in the wrong hands but instead Sheek Louch describes his gloomy surroundings "Hoodrats that's fresh but barely feed their kids/little kids that's killas and love doing bids/unemployment lines Mexican's will work for nothing/you pray with him but you don't know who that priest been touching".  Rappers are lazy nowadays and lose sight in simple things like imagery. 

Still the rappers on this album are masters at braggadocio even Sheek stepped up his bars on songs like "Comin for Ya Head" where he raps "Gunshots is fatal, my bars is prenatal/ I kill little niggas" and Ghostface bounces back with "Killas, skin ya ass with no contracts/and little niggas got nowhere to hide but the projects". Wu Block proves that Wu-Tang and the Lox can still produce quality street music.

My favorite tracks: "Crack Spot Stories", "Comin For Ya Head", "Drivin' Round", "All in Together".

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