The Best of Hip-Hop 2012: Albums

10. Trophies – Apollo Brown & OC


This sounds like an album from the late 90s or early 00s. And I mean this in a good way. Without marquee names, including features, Trophies was slept on from even the most passionate hip-hop heads. Notable tracks: “The First 48” “People’s Champ,” “Angels Sing”

9. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors – Big Boi


I covered this album pretty well a week or so ago. It was certainly a departure from what Big Boi has done in the past, but there were signs of this progression in Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. In his second effort, Big Boi put out a relatively experimental record to both positive and negative results. The poppy-indie side could alienate some hip-hop fans, while drawing in some others. But overall, this is a solid album, and its highlights outshine its mediocre-to-terrible songs. Notable tracks: “In the A,” “Shoes for Running,” “She Hates Me”

8. The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis


Macklemore has been around for a while, but according to XXL magazine, was a freshman this year. Regardless, his half-frat boy, half-conscious rapper style really worked well. A surprising amount of people received The Heist well, backed by singles that were fun and danceable, and other tracks that were heavy and insightful. What’s admirable about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ efforts, is that they refused to compromise to enter the mainstream. An occasionally Jekyll and Hyde album, The Heist really succeeded in appeal to longtime and new Macklemore fans alike. Notable Tracks: “Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us,” “Wings”

7. Cruel Summer – G.O.O.D. Music


Yes, it was a disappointment in places. But when you look at the upside of this album, you can’t deny its inclusion. The second half fell flat, and the first half, which was fantastic, was played by the time G.O.O.D. Music finalyl released the album. But it was played because the songs were so catchy, and the contributors, from 2 Chainz and Big Sean to Pusha T and Kanye West, really brought it. Forget about “Creepers,” “Bliss,” and “The One,” as well as the track order. What should really be remembered about this album is how hard the singles knocked. Notable Tracks: “Mercy,” “Clique,” “New God Flow”

6. Control System – Ab-Soul


This year was a big year for the members of Black Hippy. Ab-Soul’s fourth album in the past four years quickly became the most recognized and deservedly so. Having the most attractive voice in hip-hop doesn’t mean much this year, as artists like Danny Brown have really been able to break out. In fact, a lot about Ab-Soul is unusual. Listening to any one of his songs off Control System will show how unique his flow is, but also that he is an elite lyricist. The album also benefits from solid features, including the aforementioned Danny Brown and Black Hippy’s various members. Nothing seems out of place in this concise, strong effort. Notable tracks: “Terrorist Threats,” “Black Lip Bastard,” “Lust Demons.”

5. Life is Good – Nas


Maybe it was because it came out so early in the year, or maybe it was because it was overlong, but Life is Good seemed to get overlooked, especially because it was Nas who released it. Regardless, Life is Good did get some recognition from publications like XXL mag, who gave it the prestigious (and rare) “XXL” rating. It also was ranked 12th in Complex’s top albums of the year, seeing only  the fourth and first albums on this list beat it out on that list. It’s hard to produce an entire album of really good songs when it’s 19 songs long. However, few songs are bad and their are definitely some tracks that belong in a Nas “Best Of” album. If you’re into that sort of thing that is… Notable Tracks: “Daughters,” “Loco-Motive,” “Summer on Smash”

4.  Habits and Contradictions – ScHoolboy Q


In the Black Hippy realm, ScHoolboy Q seems like Ab-Soul’s foil. His voice is a lot more smooth and his flow is more traditional and accessible. Content-wise, his material strays away from Ab’s conscious trend. But the two should not always be compared like this. Habits and Contradictions is an album that is all over the place in terms of tone, starting with an incredibly bleak track and transitioning rather quickly into “ignant” anthems. The production on the album is original, and while it may deter others, it will definitely attract others with a bored ear. Sometimes an album that is loosely connected thematically can make a for a mediocre album, but in for Habits and Contradictions, this is certainly not the case. Notable Tracks: “Sacrilegious,” “Hands on the Wheel,” “Druggys wit Hoes Again”

3. R.A.P. Music – Killer Mike


Killer Mike and El-P seemed like an improbable duo, but after R.A.P. Music dropped, it was clear they are perfect for each other. From the intro, Killer Mike sets the stage for the album to come. He never lets up, and even songs like “Anywhere But Here” go hard when he softens his delivery. With a sporadic career, Killer Mike really has right the ship with this album. Notable Tracks: “Reagan,” “Big Beast,” “Butane”

2. Jesus Piece – Game


As aforementioned, I covered this album in great detail alongside Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Game surprised a lot of listeners with this tight, semi-concept album. It certainly helps that the album is feature-heavy, with a variety of artists making it seem like every hip-hop fan will have to enjoy at least one song on Jesus Piece. Despite the ridiculous amount of name drops and features, you have to give Game credit here for putting together a thoroughly entertaining album. Notable tracks: “Ali Bomaye,” “Jesus Piece,” “See No Evil”

1. good kid, m.A.A.d. City – Kendrick Lamar


Here’s a good example of how good this album is. Prior to re-ratings, XXL magazine only gave nine albums a perfect rating. This included the best albums of the early 00s, including Late RegistrationGet Rich or Die Tryin‘, and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. In 2007, there were re-ratings of albums that fell short of a perfect rating, but deserved to get the elusive “XXL,” as well as reviews for classics before XXL was ever published. good kid, m.A.A.d. city easily earned the XXL rating. It also won the Album of the Year and Readers’ Choice Album of the Year on, was ranked number 1 in Complex’s top albums of the year, was the top hip-hop album in Rolling Stone‘s top 50 albums of 2012, and was inexplicably second behing P.O.S.’s We Don’t Live Here Anymore on AVClub’s top 25 albums of the year. Anyways, with beautiful story telling, carefully picked features, and great production, good kid, m.A.A.d. City is the easy number one choice here. A near-flawless album, and an instant classic. Notable Tracks: “m.A.A.d. City,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Money Trees”


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