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With so many good releases in the hip hop world throughout the first six months of 2012, there was no question that Rap Genius needed to poll its most revered users — moderators and some noteworthy editors — to get our favorites.
(Don’t get butthurt if you’re an editor and didn’t get asked)
The questions were simple:
1) Top 3 albums this year, so far
2) Top 3 mixtapes this year, so far
3) Who’s producing the most fire this year, so far?
4) Most disappointing release, so far?
5) What you’re looking most forward to for the second half of 2012?
Before we get into the rankings, we’ll go over the last three questions on the ballot:
Everyone seemed to collectively agree that Lupe’s “comeback” later this year is one to watch out for.
After the buzz surrounding the single ”Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)”, in May, the future is looking bright for one of hip hop’s biggest stars. Even after Lupe dropped the eyebrow raising “Bitch Bad” last month, Lupe’s comeback is still one of the most talked about stories within the Rap Genius community.
“Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. I. Take special note at my emphasis of Lupe Fiasco’s. I only needed to hear “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” to know that there will be little bullshit if any on this LP. “Bitch Bad” was just the icing on the cake. The faster pre-ordering becomes available the better”
The only other release that seemed to get more than a few mentions was the Kanye West headed GOOD Music collab effort Cruel Summer, due out September 4th, as well as Nas' latest effort, Life is Good.
When I asked this question, I was expecting to receive a variety of answers, but as it appears, RG had the same answer in mind. The answer?
There’s no debate as to whether or not K.R.I.T.’s major label debut album Live from the Underground needed to match the acclaim that his mixtape game was receiving. And it’s honestly a little sad that this was the majority of the answers. Because K.R.I.T. really did release an album worth writing home about. Unfortunately, the most it could do was maybe match the same glory as his mixtapes (KRIT Wuz Here, Return of 4Eva, 4eva N a Day). Living up to the hype is probably one of the hardest things an MC can do. J. Cole had a similar issue last year with the release of his album Cole World: The Sideline Story, after the praise he was getting for his mixtape Friday Night Lights. Luckily for K.R.I.T., many fans are sticking by him and believe that he’s still the shining star of the South.
Virtually a no brainer. El-P is the man behind two of the best rap albums I’ve personally heard in a very long time, and both managed to get released essentially back-to-back.
Other users said:
El-P – Not since Def Jux was at the height of its power (my personal favorite rap era) has El killed it this much. It seems like he might be masterminding a lot of this New York underground revival thing, which I’m very excited about. The last time he spearheaded a movement it produced my favourite album ever (The Cold Vein), as well as many other classics ~ DLizzle
Gotta go with my man El-P. Cancer 4 Cure & RAP Music are damn near flawless from a production standpoint. ~ RTJ2
El-P is killing it thus far. I couldn’t really call myself a fan before but after hearing Cancer 4 Cure and his work on RAP Music, I have to say that he’s won me over. ~ Klonopin
Our official honorable mention is Big K.R.I.T.. Even though we deemed Live from the Underground “disappointing”, the production was still very much on point. As was the case on his tape, released earlier this year, 4eva N a Day.
Now onto the important bit. Where RG ranked the first half of 2012’s hip hop:
Top 5 Mixtapes
Out of all the questions, users ranking the top mixtapes thus far had the widest range of responses. We ended up with a good number of nominations, from 50 Cent, T.I., Rick Ross and Meek Mill, to Watsky, Honors English, Jon Connor and Soul Khan. Many nominations received just one sole vote. But there were a select few that we reached a consensus on, and they are:
Mugshot Music: Preloaded by Showbiz & A.G.
While on Rap Genius chat, one of the homies, RTJ2, announced a new Showbiz & A.G. mixtape titled Mugshot Music: Preloaded. Looking at the credits of the mixtape, I decided to check it out. With features from fellow D.I.T.C. member O.C. and scratches from DJ Premier, I was excited. While listening to the mixtape, I realized the most enticing feature about this album is the production. Boom-bap drums, obscure samples, and a fresh sound. The variety in the production is amazing; from soulful horns on “Berri Love” to the divine sound on “Walk With Me,” Showbiz can still give these new producers a run for their money. While the production grabs your attention, A.G.’s lyrics are also impressive: ranging from talking about the music industry and describing how groups break up on “The Bond” to talking about where he’s from on “South Bronx Shit,” Mugshot Music shows veterans can still put out quality material. The only gripe I have about the mixtape is that A.G. used some of these lyrics on different projects, but that doesn’t take away the quality of this mixtape, hence it is a “mixtape”
Young Sinatra: Undeniable by Logic
Undeniable was my first encounter with Logic. I didn’t know what to expect when my fellow editors/moderators recommended him to me, but I obliged with a listen, because I trust their tastes and I really needed to get out of the niche of music I was already accustomed to. So, at work, I downloaded the mixtape, chucked it onto my dropbox, and eagerly awaited a listen when I got home.
Enter Logic. The mixtape started with an Inception sample, which instantly grabbed my attention. And the music throughout continued to stick with me – the beats are all interesting at the least, and hypnotic at best. Though not sticking to a definitive ‘groove’, if you will, Logic doesn’t seem out of place on a single song, despite the obvious changes in direction, and styles of music. Not every song was completely memorable, but the ones that are stay in daily rotation on my playlist. Tracks like “Dead Presidents III” really strike my ear. I’m in love with the track. The lyricism here is out of this world, and although it doesn’t quite sound effortless, it also doesn’t sound like Logic is having a hard time either. Other tracks of notable mention are: “We Get High”, “No Biggie”, “Relaxation”, and “Aye Girl”. And though others are less noteworthy, they only add to the overall sound or quality of the tape. This will likely go down as one of Logic’s best works, in my opinion, because it demands your full attention and proves to be worth every second of it.
Blue Chips by Action Bronson
While Well Done was Action Bronson’s ode to culinary delights, and Dr. Lecter manifested itself as a dark journey into Bronson’s mind, Blue Chips, Bronson’s 2012 mixtape, is an incredible mixture of both, and Bronson’s absolute opus, something all his future work will be compared to. Blue Chips has a selection of everything, from the ironic “Thug Love Story 2012”, to the extremely catchy “Ron Simmonds”. The album is peppered with references to exotic food and exotic girls, while still acting as a testament to the incredible lyrical skill of Bronson. Bronson is thoroughly interesting from start to finish, all the way from the classical opening serenade in “Pouches of Tuna” to his excellent diction over the heavily sampled “Tapas”. Adding to Bronson’s excellence on the tape is Party Supplies’ production, which adds a dimension to Bronson that hasn’t been paralleled in his earlier releases. All in all, Blue Chips is a release that is going to be a difficult for Bronson to top, and the piece of musical excellence that proves to any audience that Bronson is something to be taken seriously.
Popular Culture by XV
In 2012, the line between mixtape and album is blurred to the point of near oblivion. The only remaining difference is that mixtapes are usually free, and albums are usually (supposed to be) paid for. Artistically, a mixtape is generally unencumbered by the shackles of the modern day “album”: the label has less (or no) control, there is no need for singles, songs for the clubs, songs for the radio, and there is less risk in experimentation for the artist financially, critically, or otherwise.
On Popular Culture, XV takes full advantage of the mixtape form. Like Fabolous’ enormously entertaining There Is No Competition series, XV builds this cohesive collection of songs around a concept and has as much fun as possible with that concept. Clever and dynamic pop culture references abound in ways that fit perfectly within the gates of “too obscure” and “too broad”.
Unlike There Is No Competition, the references are not used simply for punchline fodder. Like Andy Warhol, the man whose name is used for the title of the first track on the tape, XV uses popular culture icons as a platform for greater artistic expression. Songs like “Breaking Bad” and “The Kick” use their surface references to explore greater themes, which relate to the referenced art on a deeper level. The latter is undeniably the centerpiece of the tape; over a large, epic-sounding beat that convincingly evokes the soundtrack of Inception, XV explores his relationship with his own “dreams”.
The common rap tropes of overcoming adversity and living out your dreams are all over Popular Culture. Fortunately, XV seems more positive and upbeat than other rappers, and is able to mostly avoid the staleness of those themes. In the end, I’m left with the somewhat pessimistic fear that this work so fully represents XV’s artistic vision that he hasn’t anywhere left to go for his debut album. Let’s hope we’re still talking about this artist in 20XV and beyond
4eva N a Day by Big K.R.I.T
4eva N a Day is definitely one of the best mixtapes released so far this year. Hell, I think this is better than most albums released this year. This is KRIT’s most cohesive project yet, a concept album of sorts. Most people thought that he wouldn’t be able to put out something better than Return of 4eva, including me, yet 4eva N a Day undoubtedly topped it. The production is moody yet exciting and the lyrics are more personal and introspective yet still contains typical braggadocio one expects from any Southern artist. The tape flows so perfectly, with one song seamlessly transitioning into the next. Nothing feels out of place, not even “Red Eye”, which is a huge departure from anything KRIT has ever done with him speaking on relationships over a simple drum/piano loop. KRIT still sticks to his Southern roots with dope cuts like “Country Rap Tunes”, a song dedicated to his country kin, “Temptation”, his strip club track, and “Me and My Old School”, a song dedicated to his whip complete with the chop-and-screwed hook, but also ventures a bit further with stuff like “Boobie Miles”, the aforementioned “Red Eye”, and “The Alarm”. Overall, this tape had dope production, lyrics that matched the production, and plenty of replayability. I guarantee this will end near the top of “end of year” lists, much like Return of 4eva and KRIT Wuz Here did
Honorable mention: 1999 by Joey BadA$$
Top 5 Albums
A little more defined than the mixtape world; it seems as though RG had an easier time ranking this year’s albums.
Habits & Contradictions by ScHoolboy Q
Originally when I reviewed this album, I wasn’t that big of a fan. It was the hardest review I had ever done to that point. I could tell it wasn’t bad, but initially, something seemed lacking. I was genuinely getting drained thinking about my review of it. I would write something positive, and then something negative, then think of combining. I had written 3 separate reviews before deleting them all and posting up one that ended up giving the album a 3.2/5. After I had finished the review, I shelved the album. About a month later, I had the hook from “Raymond 1969” in my head for whatever reason, so I got my iPod out and changed it to HnC, I played my track and then just left it on as background music. Then “How We Feeling” came on and the hook is what caught my ear; the “oh — oh… oh… oh… (oh)”. I laughed my ass off. I didn’t even realize how funny it was until I replayed the song immediately afterwards. After that, I decided to refocus myself on the album and look at it with a new mindset. And sure as shit, I ended up loving it. Q’s unorthodox approach to emceeing is rough at first, but something about it just clicks for me. He gives zero fuck about traditional song structure. As it stands, I’ve listened to Habits & Contradictions a total of 162 times. Even with all of the spins, I won’t argue that it’s the best release so far this year, but it’s definitely my favorite.
Trophies by Apollo Brown & OC
I was writing up my answers for this poll, and had yet to rank my album selections, when one of my fellow editors, Storm, turned me onto Trophies, a collaboration album between underground producer Apollo Brown and Brooklyn rapper OC. I had never heard of either, so figured I’d give it a shot. I downloaded it and spun it twice, and afterwards, I placed it right at the top of my list. Simply put, Trophies is phenomenal. It takes everything great about 90’s hip hop — such as its meaningful and thoughtful lyrics, and its sonically pleasing aesthetic — and puts a modern twist on it. From the smooth and cathartic “Prove Me Wrong”, to the passionate and heartfelt “Angels Sing”, to blunter’s anthem “Anotha One”, OC’s excellent flow and socially aware lyrics fit perfectly over Brown’s callback soulful beats. If you like your music sweet, nostalgic and full of substance, you’ll love Trophies.
Live from the Underground by Big K.R.I.T.
Live from the Underground, a great record to say the least, but definitely not as spectacular as KRIT Wuz Here, Return of 4Eva or 4EvaNaDay. Young Krizzle’s production has mutated into monstrous slow banging jazz-fusion beats in a short period of time. and the album’s lyrics were “just” on point, but that’s not the immensest troubling aspect. The album threw me off numerous times, let’s take “Porchlight” and “Pull Up” for example. Two relatively slow, old school sounding tracks, and then we get “Yeah Dats Me”, an up-tempo instrumentation with more of a vivid sound and accelerated, maybe even hurried, rapping; probably the most up-tempo song KRIT ever released. The change in the overall speed of the track grabbed my attention, but unfortunate, the attention wasn’t positive attention. Another example is “Cool 2 Be Southern”, the third track on the album. The intro track started off really slow and trippy in my opinion, while the title-, and second track was a little bit more faster, and ended with a slightly dizzying interlude, and then, “Cool 2 Be Southern” came on, a hard banging Just Blaze-type off jazz-fusion beat. Which threw me incredibly off because of the dimension change, I was even worried about the album maybe being painful in a sense of being unfavorable. But nonetheless, the album remains solid, it’s just not off the same quality as it was expected after the following anticipation of earlier released mixtapes. While the one hour-long album itself is definitely worth the listen, it felt like it was trying to be a concept album, but if you’d look at it that way, it’s too long. The tracks “Porchlight”, “Pull Up”, and “Yeah Dats Me” come off as filler. But still, after saying it quite a few times, I want to say it again; the album is amazing, it truly is, and KRIT can come far with this mellow jazz-fusion sound.
R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike
RAP Music isn’t only Killer Mike’s best album to date, but honestly, it’s one of the best hip hop releases in the last few years. I truly believe that in time, everyone will realize how much better this album is than most. El-P’s brilliant production fits uncomfortably too well with Mike’s flow. Throughout the album, you get the sense that these two had known each other for a lifetime and knew exactly what to create together. Mike’s “non political” side comes out a few times on this LP, and all hit a homerun. The return to gangster/social commentator leaves a hint of throwback Cube on the palate (definitely a good thing) but Mike manages to go about it in his own way, just couldn’t help comparing. “Don’t Die” is an outstanding song. The production, the lyrics, the flow, the hook, the switch up on the beat halfway through… It truly is hip hop. I recommend this album to absolutely anyone that remotely enjoys the genre.
Control System by Ab-Soul
Kendrick Lamar. His name pops up so often, it is easy to forget about his Black Hippy cohorts. K Dot’s pal Ab-Soul put out one of the rawest records of 2012 in Control System. To get an idea of Ab-Soul’s abnormal style that set him apart from the many great 2012 releases, just check out the hook to the aptly titled “Track Two”: Ab-Soul, abstract, asshole. But nothing about this album will leave you thinking “Wow, what an asshole this Ab-Soul guy is.” To prove it, just take a peek into Soul’s, uh, soul, in the painfully beautiful track The Book of Soul. Even the features (Danny Brown, Jhene Aiko, and Black Hippy companions Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and Schoolboy Q) are exceptional on Ab-Soul’s second full length album that does not disappoint lyrically or musically. Favorite tracks also include “Bohemian Grove,” “Double Standards,” and the rebel anthem “Terrorist Threats”
Honorable mention: Cancer For Cure by El-P
So there you have it. We’re looking forward to the final half of the year and we’ll just have to wait and see how the first half stacks up to the second half when the time comes. Feel free to drop a comment and discuss how bad our list was (or how good). Leave your top 5’s and enjoy what the rest of 2012 has to offer.
† Sorry to be dropping our list so far into July but with some complications with some of our moderating staff and some unforeseen events occurring, a few of the album write ups had to be placed on the back burner for a week or two. In addition, this list was polled and tallied prior to Nas’ Life is Good release