Jeff’s Top 10 of 2012 List
Posted by jeffwbaird on January 17, 2013
Back in September when I wrote the editorial “In the Rubble of Hip-Hop…”, I never intended to write a post like this—paying tribute to so many fantastic releases, and the current state of hip-hop. I’ve spent much of the past few years in fear that the kind of substantial, lyrical hip-hop that I cherish so much was on its way out—surely headed to the doldrums, with hip-hop publicly recognizable as one-in-the-same as pop music by the masses. Surprisingly enough, I’ve been proved wrong by a handful of emcees who have gained popularity through creating authentic, powerful music. The majority of the songs on this best of 2012 list (and the impeccable full-length projects that they were selected from—I elected to only choose one song per artist) were released in the final quarter of 2012, and as a result I look back on 2012 as a rather impressive return to vigor for a deteriorating genre. The following songs are just a selection of music I assiduously enjoyed this past year—an amalgamation of hip-hop’s two primary worlds: the blogosphere and the mainstream. Hopefully this introduces you to some new favorites, and helps you feel reinvigorated by this collection of artists we have supporting our beloved genre in 2013. Note: These songs are in no particular order.
10. Captain Midnite — Ashes Rising (feat. Kyle Lucas & OnCue)
I first heard this song back in October when it was released as a single from Captain Midnite’s EP, and was immediately attracted to it. Rarely do I hear a hip-hop song without recognition with such powerful and rich opening chords. I remember hearing that beat drop right before the 1:00 mark for the first time, and knowing right then that Captain Midnite was something special. Don’t let me forget the phenomenal features here by two terrific emcees, Kyle Lucas and OnCue, whose charismatic performances are largely responsible for making this song have the lasting appeal that it has.
9. B.o.B — Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)
Though I am a longtime B.o.B fan, I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of Strange Clouds. It felt like (and really was) an abandonment of his early sound in favor of the electro-pop style that his new fanbase had grown to embrace him for. Regardless of the unimpressive singles, I got the album on release day and listened through looking for something to catch my ears. Luckily enough I waded through to the album closer, a fantastically unfitting track for this pop-oriented LP. “Where Are You” is an introspective, piano-driven track in which he touches upon many perceived bitter emotions that his friends, fans, and family may have towards him at this point in his career. His acknowledgement of the departure of his sound shows maturity, but it doesn’t really make up for the album being what it is, and doesn’t give any insight to his thought process behind the album’s direction—but it is a reminder of just how talented he is. Hopefully, as the last piece of writing we receive on the album, it also serves as an acknowledgement that the B.o.B of old isn’t gone for good.
8. Sol — 2020
It’s already been a year-plus since this track was released, but that in no way means it is less deserving. Sol is not necessarily the most gifted lyricist on this list, but he has this incredible presence that few can replicate. It’s one of those tracks where you’re convinced that no other rapper could take this beat and make a better song. Look out for him to make some big moves in 2013…
7. Terence Ryan — Alan’s Right
This is another January release, and probably the most left-field of my selections. I heard this song for the first time on this site actually, though I didn’t post it—or even write for FNT at that point. Rarely in my years have I heard a hip-hop song with such a creative and unique sound. Terence has a particularly earnest and moody sound, and “Alan’s Right” has this tremendous feel of tranquility that has stuck with me all these months. He’s quite the talent, too, as he provided the vocals and production—as well as serving as his own engineer. He has another project on the way in 2013, and I can only imagine with the quality of work he creates that he’ll be back on this list by year’s end.
6. T.I. — Sorry (feat. Andre 3000)
This is definitely the most mainstream track on my list, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not here because I love Tip. Andre has been one of my favorite emcees since the first time I heard Aquemini, and this is the most honest and gripping verse I’ve heard from him in practically a decade. Over a top-shelf Jazze Pha beat (who knew that would ever be a proper sentence), Andre ruminates on some of his life’s biggest conflicts, and even divulges some information on the nature of OutKast’s split (“I hated all the attention so I ran from it”). The verse spans over two minutes and may be the most exciting one I’ve heard this year.
5. Accent — The Warming
This mid-December release blessed the blogs as a part of Acc’s new EP, Sight & Sound, which was entirely produced by Kid Vision. “The Warming” is the EP’s sharpest and most lyrically-proficient showcase, as he rips through three verses somehow managing to effectively enunciate such complex phrases at furious speeds as, “Now scorching holding me motionless, smoke & organs/my bones become stones on a faulty course or the road of the poor and hopeless.” Pay close attention to the third verse, where—in addition to some sparkling One Love keys—Acc spends almost its entirety perfectly rhyming each bar.
4. Dylan Owen — Ghosts
This track appears by way of D.O.’s phenomenal EP, Keep Your Friends Close, which came out in January. By the time I wrote of hip-hop’s apparent demise in September, his project was still one of those most commonly on my iPod. That’s how much of a lasting impression Dylan’s music will make on you. He writes the kind of songs that you listen to just once before immediately recognizing the gift that he commands. He has this innate ability to take ideas and emotions and make them resonate with others, and is always genuine and authentic in doing so. When I interviewed him a few months ago, he stated that in writing his music he rarely finds himself listening to or being influenced by other rappers—a quality that I sensed in his work but couldn’t quite explain. “Ghosts” is here because of its introspection, intricacies, and thoughtfulness. I promise you that if you give his music a listen you’ll never turn back.
3. Kinetics & One Love — I Am a Computer
I’ve been a fan of Kinetics & One Love for some time—and every time I hear a new record I’m amazed by how much they continue to improve. Their sound is always progressing, with One Love’s production and Kinetics’ rapping becoming increasingly refined, engaging, and powerful with each release. 2012’s You Are Not Alone was a major milestone in their career—a true depiction of how far they have come, and how much they have to share. “I Am a Computer” was the album’s opener, which set the album’s concept in place, and showcased their abilities at their best. There are few auditory experiences more appealing than hearing Kinetics’ aerial perception of society, accompanied perfectly by One Love’s ardent, melodic synths and stiff drums. Check out the full album review here.
2. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — Starting Over (feat. Ben Bridwell)
This is maybe one of the least expected songs I could’ve picked from this album, which—to those unfamiliar—seemed to come from nowhere and simultaneously propel “Thrift Shop” onto every major radio station across the country. Though I’ve always enjoyed their more playful work, Macklemore is at his best when he heightens his awareness and critically reflects on something powerful. There is maybe no song on their debut album, The Heist, that is as powerful or personal as “Starting Over,” where Macklemore confesses (publicly for the first time) his drug relapse, delving into his thought process afterwards and how he has coped with it—especially those fears that his sobriety was an important part of his image. It’s reputable and honest and all those things, yes—but at the heart of its greatness is just his ability to put the listener in the story, as great writers do. When I listen to this song I picture him in the back of that AA meeting, and that heavy fan interaction, and that’s not because of the power of my imagination. Macklemore is an incredibly gifted writer and emcee, and this is just one song that highlights this truth.
1. Kendrick Lamar — Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
To be honest, practically any song off Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city could’ve made this list. That’s how unblemished the final product was. Rarely have any of us heard an artist with such a true command of both cadence and language, and with a powerful story to tell as well, he was destined to achieve great things with this debut LP. You could certainly argue for other songs being more deserving, but when it comes down to those inherent qualities that make Kendrick the rapper he is, no song seems to accentuate that more than “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” The track lasts a full twelve minutes, rapping over two separate productions, with the former being my favorite moment of the album. Though it definitely works to his advantage on tracks like “Swimming Pools,” this album actually has a ton of top-notch, distractingly-impressive production. At few points are Kendrick’s vocals really in the complete spotlight, except for—I’d argue—on this track, where a laid-back, soulful beat provides the perfect backdrop for Kendrick’s astute and reflective verse, filled with the typical complexities of structure and cadence, and total command of words.