Adam B’s Top Hip-Hop Albums of 2012

Picking ten albums to round out the year is damned near impossible. Just take a look at my list. My top ten is actually eleven, and I have half a dozen honorable mentions, as well. To go with that there are stacks of other nominees that just missed the cut. All that being said, I have a list this year that includes some old favorites, someone you love to hate, and quite a few grown folks talking about grown folk issues.

As a bonus, I’ve linked to two songs per album for my top ten-plus one, so there’s plenty to listen to. Now let’s get to the list!

Honorable Mentions

Bill Ortiz – Highest Wish

Copperwire – Earthbound

Ecid – Werewolf Hologram

Gypsyphonic Disko – Nola-Phonic Volume Two

Mickey Avalon – Loaded

Roc Doogie – Roc Paper Scissors

Top 10 (+1) of 2012

10 – tie) Illus – Family First

There’s a large segment of the hip-hop community that grew up on hip-hop and are now full grown adults. This doesn’t mean they love hip-hop any less, but being that it’s a youth oriented culture, some of the music isn’t as relatable for this sect. This is what makes Illus’ Family First such a great album. It’s grown up hip-hop for a grown up audience. With songs about family, fatherhood, and everyday heroism, Illus manages to connect with hip-hop’s adult audience, and he has an impressive array of guests joining him, including Ill Bill, J Live, Esoteric, and Apathy, among others. This is an album the 30 and up crowd can relate to AND blast with pride.

10 – tie) Klokwize – Hood Hippie

Good hip-hop bands are hard to find, which is why Klokwize, with his gravelly vocals, and his talented group of musicians, was a nice highlight of 2012. This is hip-hop with a soulful vibe to it, and Klokwize is great at telling a story with his music. He’s a bit of a throwback in that some may consider him an old soul, but that kind of emotion, and approach to music, is something that’s been sorely lacking in hip-hop. With Hood Hippie, old soul makes a welcome comeback.

9) Substantial – Home Is Where the Art Is

Substantial is so consistently great that I think sometimes listeners take him for granted. He’s hip-hop’s equivalent of a sports team that people know is going to make the playoffs, so they don’t think about them during the regular season, they only pay attention when something goes wrong. You know what happens when people do that? They miss a lot of great plays. Home is Where the Art Is is perennial all-star Substantial’s latest great play, and it’s one worth playing over and over.

8) Cookbook – The Smell Of Success

With The Smell Of Success, LA Symphony’s CookBook hits listeners with a little bit of everything. This strikingly honest album covers life, faith, and even has a few party songs thrown in for good measure. CookBook’s deliberate flow makes it so that listeners can understand every word he’s saying, and that’s a very good thing on songs like the extremely deep “Show Me The Light.” Like any good emcee, CookBook always has a braggadocios rhyme at the ready, but he’s also humble enough to joke about Chino XL ripping him on his own song on “Musica Grande.”

7) Kreayshawn – Somethin Bout Kreay

The fact that RapReviews posts my RR email address in the Contact section means I’m probably going to get a few angry letters about this one, but if you put preconceived notions of Kreayshawn aside, and listen to Somethin Bout Kreay as the party hip-hop album it’s intended to be, it’s a really good time. There are obvious pop sensibilities to Something About Kreay, as Kreayshawn toes the line between hip-hop and pop, but there’s also a wicked sense of humor thrown into the majority of songs, and quite a few nods to the old school with songs like “K234ys0nixz” and “The Ruler.” I think with Somethin Bout Kreay, Kreayshawn hit the target she was aiming for, and that’s the sign of a good album.

6) Sum – Dragon, Volume 1

Sum is one of the most wildly creative people in hip-hop. Spinning an album of his is almost more encompassing than simply being a listening experience. He puts together complete, thematic, pieces of work, and his latest achievement is Dragon, Volume 1. There’s so much going on with Dragon, Volume 1, from the subject matter, to Sum going to the furthest reaches of numerous musical landscapes, that just one listen isn’t enough. The album runs the emotional gamut, and does so with an adept musical marathoner at the helm. It’s no surprise Sum does so much on Dragon, Volume 1, though, as he notes on the song “Timeless,” “in a circle of leaders, you don’t need an angle, just be well rounded.”

5) Vinnie Scullo – Velcro

“You oughtta quit being such a friggin Abercrombie-Aeropostale-Ed Hardy-Hollister zombie” is how Vinnie Scullo opens the song “Grizzind,” and the line is a perfect illustration of Vinnie’s feelings regarding what has become of our increasingly name brand label obsessed society. As per norm, Vinnie pulls no punches on Velcro, but what longtime fans will notice about this album that’s a little bit different from his previous releases is that musically he’s meandering, and I’m sure this is intentional, into some waters previously charted by only the most daring of artists. His production is, at times, completely undefinable in a way that is slowly moving him towards being the Frank Zappa of hip-hop. This one’s tough to find, but worth the effort.

4) Homeboy Sandman – First of a Living Breed

Homeboy Sandman’s first full length Stones Throw release is exactly what those of us who’ve followed his career expected – one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. Normally I’m not a fan of artists working with an extensive list of producers for an album, but Sandman makes it work as his voice ties everything together nicely. While Sandman has his usual array of spirited songs that will get anyone hyped up, one of the coolest efforts on First of a Living Breed is “Not Really,” a slow song about how he views his life as not being all that different than it was before the world tours. Everything Homeboy Sandman says is dope, and intelligent, and listening to him is like having a conversation with a really good, really smart, friend.

3) P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here

P.O.S. has always been a hip-hop artist with punk rock sensibilities. In recent years he’s been leaning even more to the punk rock side of things and the results have been in-your-face classics that swing knockout blows, taking on everything from the current state of society, politics, and consumerism, to issues we deal with on a more personal level. We Don’t Even Live Here might be P.O.S.’ most caustic release to date with songs like “Fuck Your Stuff,” and “Lock-picks, Knives, Bricks and Bats,” and it positions him as a rare modern day artist that could have easily been at home on the CBGBs stage back in punk’s heyday. This album is yet another standout in P.O.S.’ impressive catalog.

2) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in hip-hop that made a bigger impact than Macklemore and Ryan Lewis did this year. Coming from out of nowhere (OK, Seattle, but that’s pretty close), this duo set the world on fire with songs about everything from same sex marriage, and Macklemore’s early questioning of his own sexuality, to battles with drug and alcohol addiction, to ballin out at thrift stores, and it was all done in such a way as to make you want to listen to it all. “Thrift Shop” has impacted Top 40 radio, and if you don’t get the same feeling from this as you did when Eminem hit Top 40 radio with “My Name Is,” you’re crazy. The Heist has gone where few have gone before, making it a must hear.

1) Toussaint Morrison – Toussaint Morrison Is Not My Boyfriend

Toussaint Morrison, the owner of last year’s #1 album (Toussaint Morrison Is Not My Homeboy), clocks in at #1 for a second straight year with his latest release, Toussaint Morrison Is Not My Boyfriend. What makes this album so great is the way Morrison embraced Motown soul, and seamlessly blended it with his open, honest, pop/fringe culture reference filled, brand of hip-hop. There’s significantly more singing on this release than his previous albums, but he can really pull it off, and just when you start to wonder if this guy was born in the wrong era, he drops a verse of rhymes that make you realize, yes, he’s both a dope singer AND a dope emcee. Toussaint Morrison may not be your boyfriend, but he should be one of your favorite artists.