I was asked if I thought 2012 was a “good year for hip-hop” though I’m not sure what that question means anymore. Commercially, hip-hop has become semi-marginal again relative to the heights of its commercial dominance but was that ever a meaningful metric? You could debate the merits of how “classic albums” came out during the year…except that classic-ness isn’t something you can decree in the present moment. For me, I’m simply happy if I can squeeze hours of enjoyment out of various songs and in that regard, 2012 was indeed, a good year for hip-hop.
The following list wasn’t meant to be a top 10 in any formal sense. Just happened to net out that way.
Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music
From R.A.P. Music
I could have pulled off almost any song off of this album. Killer Mike + El-P = a remarkable collaboration and they provided a 1-2 punch to the gut on their album. “Political hip-hop” has gotten a bad rap partially because some artists fall short on trade craft, assuming polemics alone will get the job done. Mike and El-P understand it differently: your message is only as good as the music empowers it to be. This is church, barbecue, amen, pulpit.
Pac Div: Automatic
With Kendrick Lamar soaking up so much of the attention this year, Pac Div’s quality GMB may have gotten overlooked but I enjoyed the hell out of it. The crew favors a timeless use on 808-powered beats to back their Cali-specific slang and sensibility. I’m not always a fan of hyper-minimalist tracks that deliberately withhold a heavier snare crack but this was one case where the stripped down sound works perfectly.
DJ Khaled feat. Scarface, Nas and DJ Premier: Hip Hop
From Kiss the Ring
A perfect collabo featuring Scarface and Nas murdering their respective bars plus DJ Premier doing his thing on the scratched chorus. I’m not a big fan of Khaled but I’m a huge fan of this specific song.
Freeway feat. Jakk Frost, Mailk B and Tana Da Beast: Beards R Us
From Freedom of Speech
This very well might have made my list on the strength of a single line by Jakk Frost: “leave ’em like Pete Rock/over you/reminiscing.” Beard game, er’day.
Meek Mill feat. Drake: Amen
From Dreams and Nightmares
Honestly, I can’t ride for either Meek or Drake on this song, lyrically but take the chorus + the track and I can’t resist it. More gospel piano please.
Flying Lotus feat. Earl Sweatshirt and Captain Murphy: Between Friends
From 2012 Adult Swim Single Series
I love the thicket of sound happening here: the atmospheric electric piano, the impossibly deep-toned vocals by both MCs, the surprise “bonus” beat that tails the end. I still can’t tell if it’s all quite simple but sounds dense or quite dense but sounds simple. Even trying to untangle my thoughts of the song makes me appreciate it all the more.
Amerigo Gazaway: Runnin’
From Bizarre Tribe
I know including this song paints me as a hopeless ’90s romantic. Guilty as charged but I still think Gazaway does a sublime job of pairing the Pharcyde with his recreations of Tribe tracks. You knew this would probably sound pretty good but this good?
Blu and Exile: O Heaven
From Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them
Each artist is talented on their own but their partnership produces something even greater. I love hearing how they work together and “O Heaven” is the latest in a line of songs where Exile’s knack for twisting up soul samples synchs up beautifully with Blu’s distinctive flow and voice. I could have picked any number of songs off their latest album but maybe I like the nod of this tune to their previous album, Below the Heavens.
Mystikal: Hit Me
What’s so great about this song is that it took a idea that might have subconsciously occurred to most of us – Mystikal as James Brown – and then makes it so apparent that it’s amazing we hadn’t been thinking it all along – MYSTIKAL AS JAMES BROWN.
Kendrick Lamar: Sing About Me.mp3
From good kid/m.A.A.d city
What, you think I forgot Kendrick? This is another case of simply picking one from many potential options. Lamar was dumping out the roof (do do do do do) with tracks in 2012 but besides “His Pain II” (which I already wrote about), I don’t think any song by him will haunt me as much as “Sing About Me.” It’s a remarkable feat of literary lyricism backed by a track that literally hits the right notes of melancholy. May we all live forever in song.