First off, rather than create a separate list for mixtapes and albums I figured I’d just pick the 10 best projects and make a list so for anyone that missed out on any of these, there wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of shit to catch up on. Also, this is a list based mostly on my own opinion, in fact since I’m writing it, it’s entirely based on my opinion. So if an album or tape isn’t listed that you feel should be on here, too fucking bad. I did, however, address a couple records that didn’t make the cut and explained why below so before you flip out that Life is Good isn’t on the list, look at my explanation as to why.
WHAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT –>
Nas – Life is Good – It’s not that this album sucked, in fact, “A Queen’s Story” is one of the best songs ever in the extensive catalog of Nas. But what keeps this album off the list is how badly it drops off after the first 6 songs. Not to mention, the majority of the solid tracks leaked before the album, so when I finally get a record, and only 1 or 2 songs I haven’t heard are actually good, it doesn’t help keep the energy up for the whole record. If this shit was an EP of the first 5-6 songs it would be #1 on the list, but the boring shit on the second half just made me fall asleep and I’m not putting this on the list just because everyone loves it mostly because it’s the first halfway decent thing Nas has dropped in a decade.
The Alchemist – Russian Roulette – The fact is, this album was on the list, until the Jeezy tape dropped. I didn’t plan on putting the Jeezy tape on this list until I listened to it for a week straight and realized that it really did deserve a spot. And so because of that, something had to drop off, and unfortunately it was this amazing effort from Alchemist which is part instrumental/part dope collaborations. Left field albums are always a favorite of critics and this was no different, and for good reason. The production alone was magnificent, and with assistance from Fashawn, Big Twins and Guilty Simpson, it easily makes this record one of the most slept on of the year.
TOP 10 OF THE YEAR –>
The diversity alone of Gangsta Gibbs makes him one of the best rappers in the game today. Simply put, he’s a rapper’s rapper. He can outflow anyone and everyone, and his maturity and style is such that he can go in over any type of beat, whether it’s laid back, hyped up, or a curve ball from Madlib. On this tape, Gibbs really showcased how versatile he is, as he tackled new styles while still staying true to what he’s best at, rapping. The intro alone is one of the hardest tracks of the year, with the first verse setting off the tape in a way that makes you wanna duct tape your neighbors until they tell you the combination to their safe. Sprinkled all throughout this smoke filled tape are jewels like “The Hard”, “Krazy” with Jadakiss and Jay Rock, the auto-tuned “Bout It Bout It” with Kirko Bangz, and quite possibly the most smoked out track of the year which easily gets my vote for hidden gem of the year, “Boxframe Cadillac (83 Deville Mix)” with Z-Ro. Too many rappers make an album filled with the same shit for 17 tracks, Gibbs delivers a collection of songs with something for everyone and he brings his A game on every track.
I spoke at length on this project already but basically these guys are like the new Diplomats. You got Maino at the head, PUSH! as the MVP and the others fall perfectly into place on this tape filled with hood anthems and bars on bars on bars. This is what New York rap is supposed to sound like. The beats are hype, the verses are filled with rawness, emotion and truth, and the result is a project that you can play from start to finish without getting bored or needing to skip a single song. Whether it’s the introduction to the Mafia where everyone sets the bar incredibly high, the deepness of “Bury Me a G”, the hypeness of “Black Batmobile”, or the harsh truth’s of the PUSH! solo joint “Black Mask”, every track is up to par. PUSH! is easily the next up in New York as his honesty and originality are such a breath of fresh air in a rap environment that’s gotten too one dimensional. His talents are put on display on this tape and alongside the rest of Maino’s Mafia, this is the album that’s gotten more spins than anything else for me this year.
It’s amazing to see the growth of Troy Ave since his first Bricks tape, where he gave us the rawest street raps possible, to a second tape filled with hopes and dreams of a sky that had no limits, to what he delivered on the third installment which displays an incredibly maturity and really functions as more of an album than just another mixtape. As he begins the tape reminiscing on past rhymes, the air is chilled and the blunt is sparked, the room begins to fill up with the scent and sound of powder. Then as the tape moves forward, street anthems emerge, over the top boasting comes about on “Coke-A-Mania”, and risks are taken on tracks like “Snow” and “Super Cool”. Troy isn’t just making street music anymore, he’s making complete songs that hit all styles of hip hop, and he does them all with confidence and skill. “R.N.S.” is hyped as fuck, “Merlot Pt. 2” is proof that sequels can absolutely be a step up even when the original is already dope, and “Red Cup” remains the absolute best summer anthem since Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince almost 20 years ago gave us “Summertime”. Troy closed out the Bricks in My Backpack trilogy in the best way possible, proving that with time and motivation, growth is possible as he raised the bar each time to deliver more and more of that gettin’ money music to an ever-growing fan base.
It’s beyond impressive that The Weeknd managed to sell almost 100K units of this considering it was 3 previously released free mixtapes with only 3 new bonus tracks attached but that speaks to how absolutely amazing this music is. House of Balloons is still the pinnacle, but Thursday is also a gem, while Echoes of Silence has hints of brilliance sprinkled throughout, even if the overall project suffers a little bit, mostly due to not living up to the perfection that is the first two (especially House of Balloons). Basically this is new wave R&B that oozes sex in every way possible while giving us crooning for days and powerful production, and after being remastered it’s clear why this is some of the best music to drop in years.
Put all your personal opinions of Chris Brown, the man, to the side, this is a great fucking album. From start to finish this record is sequenced perfectly, has hyped up club anthems (“Turn Up The Music”, “Don’t Wake Me Up”), straight up boom bap (“Mirage”) and plenty of songs for the ladies in between that still are dope enough that as a guy you aren’t embarrassed to admit you love this shit, even a joint like “Stuck on Stupid” which every mafucka has to admit they can relate to. If there was an album of the year award it would have to go to this, as even though the mixtape game was on fire this year, the proper retail album gem is easily Fortune. The artist Chris Brown has proved time and time again his ability to make great music and this album takes it to a whole other level.
Before this album dropped, I didn’t see the appeal of this young Compton MC. I had listened to section.80 and some other mixtape and just couldn’t get into his whole style. This record though, it made me realize just how much talent this kid really has and how complete of an album he was able to make. It helps that the record is basically a narrative from start to finish, but with gems like “Swimming Pools” and the epic Just Blaze anthem “Compton” along with the beautiful “Poetic Justice” track featuring Drake. This is a great album, and anyone who appreciates good music should recognize what Kendrick has done here. It may not be something you blast in the whip regularly, but when you play this straight through it’s like watching a movie that is captivating for the full duration. This record proved that you can still make thought provoking conceptual music in 2012 and it’s appreciated and for that Kendrick Lamar has achieved well deserving success with his proper debut album.
Yup, a soundtrack made the list. Combining both old school soul with real raw rap and a marriage of both with Kanye’s beautiful “White Dress”, this is the first amazing soundtrack we’ve gotten in hip hop in years (50’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin” soundtrack was probably the last). Whether it’s the reunion of the Wu-Tang on “Six Degrees of Boxing” or a solo joint from affiliate Killa Sin, or even covers of old soul songs like “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”, this eclectic mix of music forms the perfect background to a movie that more than lived up to its hype, and showcases the influence of RZA throughout the years. Wu-Tang is all over this, along with some of the biggest names of today like Pusha and Freddie Gibbs, and the diversity of the tape makes for a journey of sound that only RZA could compose, complementing what was an incredible directorial effort in the movie.
Every underground artist believes they are gonna reinvent the wheel by rapping multi-syllabic nonsense over boom bap production, OC & Apollo Brown actually made a great record by doing just that. If you like Flocka or Rick Ross then this album probably isn’t for you. But if you like to call back to the days of tims and hoodies, and you want something that actually sounds good and features a razor sharp lyricist working with one of the most consistent producers in the game right now, then this album is for you. It’s start to finish raw raps, with knowledge and storytelling at the highest level, and enough proof to remind you why O.C. is one of the best to ever do it. You can only go to the clubs at night, so when you need to ingest a heavy meal of hip hop, this is the album that meets that requirement.
Say what you want about 2 Chainz, but he makes catchy fucking music. “No Lie” was one of the best singles this year, Nicki Minaj dropped her best (only good) verse since “Monster”, and “I’m Different” was just the right amount of simplicity to work. “Yuck” was just plain dope and introduced an album full of what is now commonly referred to as “brilliant ignorance”, highlighted especially on “Birthday Song”. 2 Chainz is arrogant and isn’t winning any “lyricist of the year” awards, but he has a great personality and the result is an overall solid debut. And when you get a guest verse from Scarface, you know it’s something special, as 2 Chainz is able to run the gauntlet of not just easy ignorant club anthems but also truly deep music that opens your mind.
This tape only been out for a week, how can it possibly make a “best of the year” list? Simple, because it’s really that good. From the jump, Jeezy once again gives evidence as to why he’s the best at making intros. Then you got “Knob Broke” which sets off the tape on some crazy hype shit. Gems all over this project, and surprisingly a lot of straight up solo tracks. The guest spots work well, as 2 Chainz drops a verse on the club-ready “R.I.P.”, and 40 Water blesses “All The Same”. The hypeman work of Lody on “How It Feel” is epic, and you already know that “Get Right” is a fucking anthem. Coming off one of the best albums of his career, it’s only right that Jeezy delivered another dope mixtape, and while this has been on repeat for a week straight I doubt it’s coming out of the deck anytime soon, thus giving it a deserving spot on this list.