1. Killer Mike - “Big Beast” (feat. Bun B, T.I. and Trouble)
2. Kendrick Lamar - “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
3. Nas - “Bye Baby”
4. Flying Lotus - “Getting There” (feat. Niki Randa)
5. El P -“Tougher Colder Killer” (feat. Killer Mike and Despot)
6. TNGHT - Goooo
7. Ab Soul - “Terrorist Threats” (feat. Danny Brown and Jhene Aiko)
8. Kanye West - “Mercy” (feat. Pusha T, Big Sean, and 2 Chainz)
9. Big K.R.I.T. - “Boobie Miles”
10. A$AP Rocky - “Goldie”
11. Frank Ocean - “Thinkin Bout You”
12. Big Boi - “In the A” (feat. Ludacris and T.I.)
13. Juicy J - “Bandz a Make Her Dance”
14. Rick Ross - “Sixteen” (feat. Andre 3000)
15. Roc Marciano - “Thread Count”
16. 2 Chainz - “Birthday Song” (feat. Kanye West)
17. The Gaslamp Killer - “In The Dark”
18. Miguel - “Adorn”
19. Santigold - “Big Mouth”
1. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” - Kendrick Lamar
After Mr. Lamar’s 2011 effort, I’m not surprised to see this album topping a lot of 2012 lists. Kendrick not only has stronger bars, but a stronger vision and voice. The end result is a record that leaves a singular impression, without losing the versatility that made Section.80 so special.
Choice Cut: “Backseat Freestyle”
2. “R.A.P. Music” - Killer Mike
This veteran of the Dungeon Family crafted one of the best political statements in years. But more than the message, what stands out to me is how it sounds: as powerful as KRS and Ice Cube, as crunk as anything ten years ago, as hard as the 90s New York underground, and as smooth as the classic south. Killer Mike channels 30 years of hip hop history, and yet it sounds unlike any rap record I’ve ever heard.
Choice Cut: “Big Beast”
3. “Life Is Good” - Nas
Esco still has a few tricks up his sleeve. To state the obvious, Nas managed to rap dope tracks about grown subjects like fatherhood and divorce. But this record also adapts to the twitter generation, where rap artists talk more about celebrity life than street life. Mr. Jones seems almost hesitant to air things out like his younger peers. But the balance of raw honesty and wise intelligence makes for another batch of classics.
Choice Cut: “The Don”
4. “Until the Quiet Comes” - Flying Lotus
Still drawing influences from the greats of jazz and the mad scientists of electronic music, Flying Lotus creates an an album that’s more dreamy and nocturnal than Cosmogramma. While it’s hard to top his last effort, this album shows he’s still got it, and is unlikely to fall off any time soon.
Choice Cut: “Sultan’s Request”
5. “Control System” - Ab-Soul
Ab-Soul dives hard into topics of spirituality, revolution, and hard drugs. The extremes come together surprisingly well, giving this album a strong signature style. Along with his other Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar, it’s scary how much talent is coming out of one crew. This is the new West Coast.
Choice Cut: “Terrorist Threats”
6. “Cancer 4 Cure” - El-P
El-P came back and produced two of the best records of 2012, “R.A.P. Music” and this. A guy who is already known for a futuristic sound somehow reinvents himself, and the future with it.
Choice Cut: “$4 Vic/Nothing but You+Me (FTL)”
7. “channel ORANGE” - Frank Ocean
Critics love trying to describe what new brand of R&B Frank Ocean represents. Whatever it is, Frank Ocean stands out as the best doing it right now. Period.
Choice Cut: “Thinkin Bout You”
8. “Reloaded” - Roc Marciano
An odd thing happened in 2012, where the golden age of 1990s New York rap found new buzz with critics, embodied by artists like Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$. “Reloaded” stands out as the best in this vein, in part because Marciano has lived that style for years. But mostly cuz he’s a beast on the mic and behind the boards.
Choice Cut: “Thread Count”
9. “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors” - Big Boi
Since going solo Big Boi has maintained Outkast’s tradition of brazen, outrageous artistry. Big Boi still innovates more than a lot of these “new” rappers, and easily out raps pretty much all of them.
Choice Cut: “In the A”
10. “Breakthrough” - The Gaslamp Killer
Besides giving us one of the year’s best DJ sets, this electronic producer and hip hop aficionado gives us one of the best instrumental albums. One hell of a debut, “Breakthrough” just about describes it.
Choice Cut: “Impulse”
1. Killer Mike - Big Beast
2. M.I.A. - Bad Girls
3. Danny Brown - Grown Up
4. Killer Mike - Reagan
5. Action Bronson - The Symbol
6. Eats Everything - Jagged Edge
7. Earl Sweatshirt - Chum
8. Kanye West & Jay-Z - No Church in the Wild
9. Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
10. Frank Ocean - Pyramids
We’re halfway through 2012, which is a great time to look back at the music from this year so far. In no particular order, here’s a few that I recommend you check out. (Follow me on twitter and let me know what you’re into.)