Having recently joined the RR crew, I thought it wise to introduce myself first before offering my Top Ten for 2012. I’m a Brit, 26 and recently a father. I work at a university and have presented a radio show called The Realness for five years, playing anything I think is dope. I’ve always enjoyed discovering new artists and I’ve taken that one step further by writing reviews for a blog – Underground Gems – which in turn landed me a spot writing on this very site!
2012 was surprisingly strong, with a large number of good albums released towards the end of the year. Although I enjoyed releases from Kendrick Lamar and Nas, these were the ten albums that I had in rotation the most throughout the last twelve months:
10: Pacewon & Mr Green : The Only Number That Matters Is Won
I knew it had been a good year for hip hop when 6 out of 10 albums I enjoyed most were collaborations between an MC and a producer. Pacewon is a rapper I’ve known about for a while but recently decided to explore his discography after hearing his album “The Only Color That Matters Is Green” from 2008. Mr Green has a simple yet effective sound, and Pacewon is a rapper with a similar style. He oozes charisma and after hearing a million rap songs, he is one of a select few rappers I can’t predict which rhyme he will use next. Couple that with a superb Masta Ace collaboration and a dope single featuring Snoop Dogg, and you’ve got a hip hop album that keeps things simple yet very dope.
9: Beneficence : Concrete Soul
If you grew up on Pete Rock & CL Smooth, this album is the evolution of those classic horn samples and smooth flows. Although heavy on guest rappers, Beneficence has compiled a record that has at least 12-14 hip hop bangers. At 21 tracks “Concrete Soul” doesn’t come without filler, but as one track begins to drag, your brain is hit with a crazy loop, sick scratch or voice from the past. It’s an album for fans that feels like it’s been made by fans as much as by rappers and producers.
8: Reks : Rebelutionary
Reks has been dropping consistently good music since accumulating a dream line-up to work with on “Grey Hairs”, and “Rebelutionary” has Reks activating “Chuck D Mode”. “Unlearn” is one of the year’s best singles, with a beat grimier than Nore’s dishcloth. “Say Goodnight” and “25th Hour” were incredible introductions to his previous albums, but “Unlearn” may have been the best yet. Thankfully, Reks doesn’t Immortal Technique this release by being overly political, and there are some pleasant narratives in the form of “The Jones'” and the social commentary of “Obedient Workers” (complete with George Carlin sample) . Other than Reks sounding hungrier than ever, the production is a breath of fresh air, utilising MIDI-like samples straight out of a SEGA Genesis game. Paired with throwback snares, there’s an interesting electronic sound throughout “Rebelutionary” that often stimulates neck hairs like only a MIDI sound can.
7: Guilty Simpson & Apollo Brown : Dice Game
Apollo Brown has received his fair share of acclaim lately, being referred to as the 9th Wonder of this generation, but he is his own man with his own sound. I’m a big fan of all of his projects, and although Guilty Simpson has his fans I’ve never been convinced he was that great on the microphone. But with Apollo Brown I feel he has made the best work of his career, crafting hard hitting neck-snappers with that trademark aggressive delivery we’ve come to know Mr Simpson for. Where Guilty has improved however is in his content, “Dice Game” sounds more mature and coupled with the soulful production, Guilty reflects on a variety of topics ranging from quitting drugs (“Change”) to having to accept responsibility (“Neverending Story” ) but it is the likes of “Potatoes”, “Nasty” and the speaker splitting “Dear Jane” that will have you hitting repeat most often.
6: Bumpy Knuckles & DJ Premier : The Kolexxxion
Bumpy isn’t as ferocious as he was ten years ago but he is still angry. Angry at the state of hip hop, angry at the radio, angry at record labels, Bumpy lets you know how he (and many others) feel as a rapper who has been ripping up mics for 25 years. You would think that 18 tracks of anger and nostalgic references would become tiresome, but when the GOAT is on the boards, Bumpy is blessed with some cracking production. Standouts include “We Are At War”, “Greatness” and “The Key”, as well as the return of Nasty Nas on “Turn Up The Mic (Remix)”. As Flash said in his review, it’s the continuation of Gang Starr and any album that can compare to the numerous classics Guru & Premier released, is essential listening.
5: Journalist 103 : Reporting Live
The Left released a brilliant album “Gas Mask” in 2010, which made a star of Apollo Brown. As great as Apollo Brown is, that album would have been a lesser experience without Journalist 103 dropping gems. “Reporting Live” has crept under the radar since its release a few months back, and it is a shame as this album is every bit as well-crafted as “Gas Mask”. Apollo Brown turns up for “Where Is The Love” but leaves the rest of the album to underground stalwarts The Snowgoons, Oddisee and unknowns Monkodelic, ATG and numerous others. Considering the variety of sounds on “Reporting Live”, the album still shows cohesion with Journalist’s flow reminiscent of Jeru the Damaja weaving in and out of each production. Admittedly, a couple of tracks underwhelm (“Arson”, “Dreamer”) but they are negated by the ridiculously dope “Urban Legend” and boom bap laced “Rockstarz”. It seems that even with big names such as Freeway and Saigon on board, getting quality hip hop recognised is still incredibly difficult.
Each year there is a hip hop album that gets mentioned in the same sentence as “art”. Assuming you also find Goodfellas a masterpiece of film, Roc Marciano has delivered a record that rarely falls short of rap mastery. As stated in my review, this isn’t an album that you just play in your car and there you go, head nodding, hands gesturing and rapping along to the lyrics. No, this is mood music even Joe Budden can’t create. Where an M.O.P. record would get you hyped, “Reloaded” is that late night drive through the city. There is a relaxed vibe throughout, but the true art lies within the poetic violence Roc displays on each beat. And I use the term “beat” loosely, as this is borderline soundtrack music. What you imagine Marlo listened to day-to-day in The Wire. “Emeralds”, “Pistolier” and “76” are some of the finest Mafioso-rap records ever made.
3: Professor P & DJ Akilles – The Realism
It’s not often I listen to foreign language hip hop, as quite frankly what’s the point? I know that comes across as ignorant, but unless I can understand the message or there’s a ridiculously nice beat backing the MC, there is little enjoyment to be had. Thankfully, Sweden has got a few artists that rap in English and few are better than Professor P. As a Spotify Premium user, I love discovering new artists and this album was a nice surprise when I stumbled upon it one evening. A concise twelve tracks long, “The Realism” is a self-indulgent take on the art of hip hop. Most tracks contain scratched hooks, DJ Premier-style beats and a surprisingly dope MC who understands wordplay better than many American rappers. “Mind Travel” is catchy as fuck, “Spellbound” is a European take on the classic childhood “this is where I grew up” song along with monster production, and “Sincerely Yours” has Professor P dropping ill rhymes over another banger. It’s hard to fault the album for what it is, unadulterated hip hop without the need for gun talk, profanity or club tracks.
2: Purpose & Confidence : The Purpose of Confidence
Confidence is a producer who is rapidly gaining a reputation as the underground’s finest beatsmith, thanks in part to his superb contributions on Rashad’s “Element of Surprise” album released in 2011. But on “The Purpose of Confidence” he has upped his game further, lacing the unheard of Purpose with some absolute corkers. The face melting “Vision of Excellence” is guaranteed heat (and includes a brilliant verse from Cormega) as is “The Way That I Sound”, a track that begins with a sample of Jeru the Damaja’s classic “D Original” and then flips it beautifully. To ignore Purpose would be unforgiveable, as he holds his own comfortably, although it is easy to just accept he is there rather than listen to the lyrics as the beats are so damn good. As students of the game, it’s not quite the best release of 2012 as that accolade goes to two masters…
1: OC & Apollo Brown : Trophies
This is how you make a classic modern day rap album. What can be said about this album that hasn’t already? Pretty much every beat bangs, even the slow plodding tracks like “Anotha One” guarantee a sore neck. Apollo Brown has been getting better with each release, since The Left’s “Gas Mask”, Boog Brown’s “Brown Study” and Hassaan Mackey’s “Daily Bread”, 2012 culminated in two brilliant releases for Apollo with “Trophies” his crowning achievement. OC is no slouch on the mic, but he is one of numerous 40+ rappers that was slowly falling off the map. With “Trophies” however, he stunned the hip hop world by bringing back the years to create a mature, almost sophisticated listening experience. This is grown man rap at its finest.
“For O.C. addicts, sorry for the wait
Tie off your arms, here’s another dose, a few years withdrawal
Been a bit too long, I know
Vent, talk shit, let it out, exhale
Time to let it go
From a league of extraordinary men
So what’s expected is nothing below perfection
Never lost that connection
When in doubt, life’s about chances
Wilted trees only grow new branches”