Archive for the ‘Best of 2012’ Category

No end of the year list is ever quite as dubious as a “Best Songs of the Year” list. ¬†Sure, even one’s list of favorite albums or mixtapes is entirely subjective, but there are millions of songs released on an annual basis, and to try and pare down that much music to a list of a hundred “best” songs at the end of the year is an impossible task, even for a committee. ¬†For an individual it’s laughable. ¬†Please acknowledge that there are easily a couple hundred songs I probably heard this year and have since forgot, and that there are probably a few thousand others I didn’t hear at all. ¬†Nevertheless, here are the Undisputed Best 100 Rap Songs of 2012 (unless you were to ask me or anyone else again tomorrow). ¬†I broke them into tiers rather than numbering them or putting them in entirely random order.

100 songs from 2012

Tier 1
Future (prod by Mike Will Made It) – Neva End
Young Giftz featuring Tree (prod by Tree) –¬†Nino
SL Jones (prod by DJ Burn One) –¬†Per Say
Kendrick Lamar featuring Gunplay (prod by THC) –¬†Cartoons & Cereal
ScHoolboy Q featuring A$AP Rocky (prod by Best Kept Secret) –¬†Hands On The WHeel
Curren$y (prod by Cardo) –¬†Showroom
Future (prod by Mike Will Made It) –¬†Turn On The Lights
Mikkey Halsted (prod by Traxster) –¬†Butterfly Effect
Meek Mill (prod by Boi-1da) –¬†Traumatized
GOOD Music (prod by Lifted, Mike Dean, Kanye West, & Hudson Mohawk) –¬†Mercy
SpaceGhostPurrp & Robb Bank$ (prod by SpaceGhostPurrp) –¬†Bend Ova Like That
Kendrick Lamar (prod by T-Minus) –¬†Swimming Pools (Drank)
King Louie (prod by C-Sick) –¬†Val Venis
2 Chainz (prod by DJ Mustard) –¬†I’m Different
SpaceGhostPurrp (prod by SpaceGhostPurrp)¬†–¬†Tha Black God
Meek Mill featuring Big Sean (prod by Jahlil Beats) –¬†Burn
Big K.R.I.T. (prod by Big K.R.I.T.) –¬†Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Ka (prod by Ka)¬†–¬†Vessel
2Chainz –¬†Crack
Lil Ugly Mane (prod by Shawn Kemp) –¬†Throw Dem Gunz
Tree (prod by Tree) –¬†All
Future featuring Diddy & Ludacris (prod by Sonny Digital) –¬†Same Damn Time (remix)
Nas & Scarface (prod by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League) –¬†Hip Hop
Amber London (prod by SpaceGhostPurrp) –¬†Low MF Key
Kendrick Lamar featuring Dr. Dre (prod by Scoop DeVille) –¬†The Recipe

2012 was a really great year for rap producers, probably a better year for producers than rappers, which seems to have been the trend for the last few years. ¬†It is notable that 2012’s list sees the inclusion of several producers who work through primarily sample based means, several who work primarily in the field of original composition, and several who are equally adept in both fields or use interpolation to recreate previous compositions. ¬†This strikes me as notable as I cannot think of a year where there was quite so much balance between the various modes of production. ¬†2012 was also a tough year to select just 10 producers for this honor, as admittedly Roc Marciano, Ka, Harry Fraud, Willie Green, Aesop Rock and others had some very noteworthy production in 2012, but didn’t make the final cut. ¬†As with the rappers, this is in no particular order.

Key Nyata “Suicide Capital” produced by Blue Sky Black Death

Blue Sky Black Death

It’s kind of amazing that it feels like this collective is still “proving themselves” in the industry given the number of years and dope projects they have to their name. ¬†In 2012, BSBD dropped the final two pieces in the trilogy of projects they released with Nacho Picasso over a very tight time frame. ¬†They then quickly retooled and put out projects with the new group Skull & Bones as well as Deniro Farrar before the end of the year. ¬†They’ve got a ton of new material in store for 2013 as well, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to garner some more major label placements like they did on eXquire’s EP this year. ¬†Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but it would be amazing to hear BSBD do a full length project with a vocalist who could really float amid the ether of their production the way an Ethelwulf, Future, or Chief Keef could. ¬†Future and Keef seem like a bit of a stretch, but an EP with Wulf seems like it could happen if the two sides came to the table. ¬†Laptop A&Ring aside, there really weren’t many producers who were on BSBD’s level in 2012 so as always it will be interesting to see where they take their game in 2012.

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There have never been more divergent definitions for what makes a rapper good at rapping than there have been in 2012. ¬† HB’s formula is made up primarily of technique (originality as well as execution), writing (complexity as well as relatability), and the degree to which a rapper can draw you into his or her own world. ¬†None of this is a science, but there’s no doubt that the work of these 10 individuals stood out in 2012 (in no definite order). ¬†Happy New Year.

Roc Marciano “76”

Roc Marciano

Roc Marcy’s ascension from the trenches to the parapets was pretty meteoric. ¬†In hindsight, the ease with which he executed this transition over just a two year period has to have a lot to do with the decade plus he had in the game before ¬† he really blessed the world at large with a proper solo debut. ¬†Training alongside the likes of Busta Rhymes & Flipmode, developing his craft with the U.N. & Pete Rock, and polishing his solo skills for a few years before releasing¬†Marcberg¬†had a huge impact on his end game. ¬†Roc’s and partner Ka’s journeys are the type that makes one chuckle at the plight of young rappers who have been at it for 12-18 months and complain that they are being slept on. ¬†Come back and say that in a decade or two. ¬†Regardless of the journey, Roc’s craft is just on a different level than all of his contemporaries at this stage. ¬†He unloads vivid imagery and slick talk at a pace that even makes Ka seems a bit out of place alongside him at times. ¬†In some ways it’s easier to compare Roc at this point in his career to Iceberg Slim or Donald Goines than it is to compare him to Meek Mill, Future, or Chief Keef. ¬†It ain’t checkers it’s chess.

Emeralds,” “76,” “My Persona,” “We Ill

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The¬†distinction¬†between albums, LPs, EPs, and mixtapes was at it’s cloudiest point to date in 2012, and there is relatively no chance that any of those distinctions¬†crystallize¬†into something meaningful ever again. ¬†The reality is that these days most rappers put together “projects,” and those projects either get released for free or they get released for a fee. ¬†Among the projects that get released for free are those where a rapper raps over other people’s instrumentals or samples he or she has no intention of trying to clear. ¬†There are also projects labeled as mixtapes or given away for free, that have entirely original production that get released for free and some of those projects ended up on Hardwood Blacktop’s Best 15 Albums of 2012 list. ¬†To be honest, I’m not overly concerned with those¬†distinctions¬†anymore other than the fact that those of us who like to write about rap like to have a way to differentiate between certain types of releases for the purpose of end of the year lists and things like that. ¬†So here are my picks for best mixtapes of 2012, by my own current loosely defined understanding of that term, which does not necessarily take into account whether a rapper deemed something a mixtape or not (but it might). ¬†In general these projects are not of nearly as high quality as the top albums of 2012, otherwise they would’ve made that list, as you can see from that list there are a couple of “albums” that made the cut that most would classify as mixtapes (Sunday School, Paraphernalia,¬†God of Black¬†EP,¬†MMM Season). ¬†If you’re keeping score at home, those projects¬†would have been at the top of this list.

Meek Mill featuring Big Sean – “Burn”

1. Meek Mill –¬†Dreamchasers 2 –¬†Download

Sometimes a rapper’s (Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Joe Budden just to name a few) game just translates a little bit better to the mixtape circuit than it does to album making. ¬†Whether that has to do with them being better situated to making “street singles” than it does to them making tracks for the club or radio, or whether it has to do with the lack of record label oversight in the mixtape process, or whether the DJs they work with in the mixtape process are actually better A&R’s than their record label A&R’s, the end result is a consistently better free product vs. fee product. It’s too early to say that Meek Mill will always fall into that category as his major label debut¬†Dreams & Nightmares¬†certainly showed promise and contained some great individual songs (“Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” and “Traumatized”). ¬†There is no doubt though that in 2012, Meek dropped another mixtape (he’s done this a few times before) that was better than a vast majority of the albums that came out in the same year. ¬†Perhaps the most interesting part of Meek as a mixtape artist is that he’s not just someone who drops a flurry of battle-ready sixteens over a bunch of other people’s instrumentals. In fact, some of his best radio singles have been the result of his mixtape work over the last couple of years, hits like last year’s “House Party,” “Tupac Back” and “I’m A Boss”¬†and this year’s “Burn,” “Amen,” and “Flexing” all came from his mixtapes or from the MMG compilations. ¬†By contrast ¬†only ¬†from the first MMG compilation (a mixtape-like project) has really garnered the same buzz. ¬†And while his label has pushed the hell out of “Young and Gettin’ It,” there’s just no way that’s a better direction for Meek than any of the¬†aforementioned¬†tracks. ¬†Dreamchasers 2 was Meek’s most complete offering to date, bringing tracks suitable to almost every type of rap listener and packing plenty of that V-12 energy we’ve come to expect from Philly’s brightest star.¬†While it does drag on a bit as songs begin to run together a little bit after the first nine or ten tracks on the mixtape, there may not have been a better example of hungry street-oriented rapping in 2012.

Choice Cuts: “Burn,” “Amen,” “Ready Or Not,” “A1 Everything

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2012 has been an exceptional year for rap music. ¬†It’s hard to think of a year over the course of the last half a decade that saw the release of so many excellent rap albums. ¬†Remarkably ten of the albums that made the Hardwood Blacktop Top Fifteen for 2012 were produced by just one producer, in three cases (Grief Pedigree, Mista Thug Isolation, and¬†Skelethon) the albums were entirely self-produced by the artist. ¬†Also of note, only two of the top fifteen this year were released by Major Labels, granted there were a few major label releases that were on the cusp of this list (Live From The Underground, The Game’s¬†Jesus Piece, Big Boi’s¬†Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors, Nas’s Life Is Good,¬†and Mr. MFN eXquire’s¬†Power & Passion), a few others of some note (2Chainz, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Self Made Vol. 2, Cruel Summer), and there’s still major label releases from TI and Chief Keef to contend with before the year is out.¬†¬†That said, at this point we can be reasonably confident by the sheer excellence of these fifteen albums and by the recent batting averages of the two remaining contenders that in all likelihood this list will stand-up as HB’s Best of 2012 even after the release of¬†Trouble Man, and¬†Finally Rich. ¬†What this tells us more than ever is that some of the best rap music these days is released for free (six of the list’s fifteen albums were at least at one point available at no cost), without major label financial or promotional backing (thirteen of fifteen), and that nothing beats the artistic clarity and vision of a rapper sitting down with one producer (or all by himself) and pouring his heart and soul into a project. ¬†May 2012 bless us with as many substantial rap albums as 2012 did.

15 Most Noteworthy Rap Albums of 2012:

Ka “Vessel”

1. Ka – Grief Pedigree

It’s hard not to root for the underdog and Ka certainly qualifies as that given his interesting, but unheralded career as a non-central member of 90’s NYC underground favorites Natural Elements, and as a solo artist with a sparse guest spot discography, and one promising, but underdeveloped solo album. ¬†It seems that he must have been galvanized by the success of close friend and collaborator Roc Marciano, who took him under his wing a bit on the production tip a bit during the creation of Grief Pedigree. ¬†Interestingly enough though as we look back at the year, Ka championed the nearly drumless gritty sample without the boom-bap production aesthetic at a time when Roc reportedly told him “you might be in for some quiet shows,” and yet Roc ended the year by releasing an album where his own utilization of that rebellious percussion technique stands as the lone criticism from many purists on his excellent¬†Reloaded. ¬†Although Reloaded may have been a more polished and ultimately more musically stunning album, like good kid, m.A.A.d city,¬†Grief Pedigree earns some points for it’s unusual vantage point. ¬†Ka¬†provides the unique perspective of an aging rapper, a veteran of the drug war’s trenches during the NY crack era, but who never made enough as a rapper or through other means to move out of Brownsville. ¬†With¬†Grief Pedigree, Ka¬†combines Rakim’s approach to rhyming by using his words to craft complete rhythmic structures and patterns that you can almost visualize – like architectural designs or seismograph print-outs – with Nasty Nas’s ability to describe his surroundings so intricately that the listener begins to feel and smell the world being narrated around them. ¬†The whole album is connects with the senses in a way so little music manages to do these days. ¬†And then there are¬†the bars. ¬†A lot of rappers claim to be lyricists, and a lot of critics spend times trying to debate the merits of certain types of lyrics or punchlines over others. ¬†That said, those who invest an engaged listen are rewarded with lyrical gemstones:

“I own the night, the heat’s my receipt”

“Stayed in hell all my life, I need heaven’s visa / Know it’s right, but can’t change over night, like Ebenezer”

In Kings county where the Queen never faked a jack/ ¬†the mac-10, and a 9, and my Ace is strapped”

In case you missed it: Here are the two pieces of the interview I did with Ka this year on the making of Grief Pedigree (Part 1: Track-by-Track, Part 2: Additional words)

And here is the entire album in video form in one place, like the rhymes and production, all of the videos are directed by Ka himself.

Ka –¬†Grief Pedigree (the complete video collection in long form)

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