2012 was a great year for rap music. Even better than 2011, and arguably just as good as 2009 and 2010. Lots of polarizing new figures revealed themselves, and some even became legitimate stars by year’s end. Old favorites found their footing yet again, and new favorites solidified themselves as the ushers of a new generation. These are the singles, as well as albums and mixtapes that I enjoyed most this year. Please enjoy.
1. Chief Keef – Love Sosa/I Don’t Like (feat. Lil Reese)
2. Kanye West – Mercy (feat. Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz)
3. Future – Turn On The Lights
4. Gucci Mane – Get It Back (feat. 2 Chainz)
5. Khalil Nova – Vaporizers
6. ScHoolboy Q – niggaz.already.know.davers.flow
7. Nicki Minaj – Beez In The Trap (feat. 2 Chainz)
8. Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)
9. Lil B – Tiny Pants Bitch
10. Ab-Soul - Terrorist Threats (feat. Danny Brown)
11. Riff Raff – Lil Mama I’m Sorry
12. Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares
13. King Louie – Bars
14. Zebra Katz – I’ma Read (feat. Njena Reddd Foxxx)
15. Rich Kidz – Kool On The Low
16. ASAP Ferg – Choppas On Deck
17. Lil Reese – Haters
18. Waka Flocka Flame – Triple F Life Intro/Outro
19. Yung Gleesh – Skrong
20. Odd Future – Oldie
21. Fat Trel – Devil We Like
22. Frank Ocean – Pink Matter (feat. Andre 3000)
23. TKO Capone – 3rd Gear
24. Rick Ross – Holy Ghost (feat. Diddy)‘
25. Juicy J – Bandz A Make Her Dance (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)
26. 2 Chainz – Dope Peddler
27. Spaceghostpurrp – Tha Black God
28. Darq-E Freeker – Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine) (feat. Danny Brown)
29. K.A.P. – Tatted Like Amigos (feat. Chief Keef)
30. Danny Brown – Witit
31. Wiz Khalifa – My Favorite Song (feat. Juicy J)
32. Earl Sweatshirt – Chum
33. Vince Staples – Lord
34. Trouble – Molly World
35. ASAP Rocky – Freeze (feat. Jim Jones)
36. GrandeMarshall – GODBPM
37. Dominic Lord – Pierce
38. Tabi Bonney – T.O.H.L. (Time Of Her Life) (feat. Fat Trel)
39. Sasha Go Hard – Tatted
40. The Game – Holy Water
41. Big Sean – Guap
42. Chill Will – No Manners
43. Tyga – Faded (feat. Lil Wayne)
44. 50 Cent – Definition Of Sexy
45. Soulja Boy – Kim Kardashian
46. Childish Gambino – Unnecessary (feat. ScHoolboy Q & Ab-Soul)
47. Fredo Santana – Wild Niggas (feat. Lil Durk)
48. Lil Wayne – No Worries (feat. Detail)
49. Pusha T – Higher (feat. Ma$e & The-Dream)
50. Young Scooter – Esse (feat. Future)
1. Chief Keef – Finally Rich: In 2010, I was caught at a crossroads when I had to choose my favorite album for that year. It was a ridiculously close call between two albums that were both very fresh in my memory, both game changing in their own ways. Those two albums were Flockaveli and My Beautiful Dark Twisted fantasy; at the time, I rated the latter just a little bit higher than the former. In the end, though, I ended up listening to Flockaveli throughout 2011 without ever growing tired of it, while Kanye’s magnum opus was a grandiose album that I’d never revisit as much as its simpler, more visceral competition. I talk about this now because the same thing happened two years later with Chief Keef’s Finally Rich and Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.a.a.d City. This time I think I’m making the right choice. Chief Keef’s album is ridiculously replayable; even the songs that nearly clock in at a year old, with literally hundreds of listens to their name, still sound as impactful here as the day they were released. “Love Sosa” is the greatest rap single of the year, “I Don’t Like” is the biggest. Rarely do these two songs come from the same artist, yet Keef did it in 2012, and there is still an endless supply of readily available singles in tow. I’m not even counting my favorite mixtape of the year, Back From The Dead, or the loosies that’ve spanned from the time of that mixtape’s drop until now.
Keef maybe the new kid on the block, but over the last few years, this literal boy has been crafting his own sound amongst a group of his closest friends and peers. In 2012, he’s perfected it, and no matter how much Finally Rich may share sonically with its competition, Keef sounds like no one else on the market.
2. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, m.a.a.d City: This has topped most year end lists, and deservably so. Kendrick Lamar has been rapping for the better half of the last decade (originally going by the moniker of K. Dot), though he’s only caught attention as an artist since going by his government name and hooking up with Dr. Dre. This is the first artist to release his commercial debut on Aftermath since The Game’s Documentary, and the first Compton rapper of true reverence since then as well.
I was never really sold on Section.80, an album that at times felt far too conceptual for its own good. It didn’t help that Kendrick was starting to sound like a member of Kanye’s entourage on half the tracks off that album, and the production was far too consistently laid back for an album that was trying to make such a grand statement. The intensity found on earlier Kendrick records, some of them only a year prior like the highly acclaimed “Look Out For Detox”, that broke him out of the “real hip-hop” blog mold he’d been pigeonholed into was almost entirely missing. Good Kid, m.a.a.d City corrected all those problems. From the most danceable anti-drinking song I’ve personally head, to the aggressiveness of songs like “Backseat Freestyle” and “maad city”, Kendrick was finally able to fit all of his dynamics into one complete package. Even the concept of the album is interesting enough to make the skits littered throughout entertaining, if not slightly unnecessary. This album didn’t need to have a concept to be great because the music contained within already tells its own story; the coming of age of the next classic era in hip-hop.
3. Future – Pluto: I think the reason I can’t rank Pluto higher is because his best project already exists. True Story is the superior Future, and it’s hard to say if Nayvadius Cash can ever top a record as unfuckwithable as last summer’s breakthrough mixtape. Even two of that mixtape’s singles re-appear here, albeit in “remixed” form with industry heavyweights Drake and T.I. (on “Tony Montana” and “Magic”, respectively). Though Pluto wasn’t as groundbreaking as I had hoped for, it was still a great commercial debut Atlanta’s last great son, and helped other bloggers see what we’d already known; Future is, undoubtedly, one of the best song writers of his generation.
“Turn On The Lights” alone would put this album in the top five, but between all the ballads and the previously released street singles, as well as some fantastic new additions on the album’s re-release Pluto 3D (including the polarizing “My”), Future’s Pluto solidified him as a force, not only in rap, but in the broader spectrum of all music.
4. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions: Sean Price used to call himself the brokest rapper alive, and he rapped like it. Schoolboy Q may not be the brokest rapper alive, but on “Nightmare On Figg Street,” he makes sure to let us know he’s not getting that Forbes list article anytime soon. For an entire album, really, he lets us know that. If he’s not the brokest rapper, he’s certainly the most hungry, and even when he’s rapping over the gleeful “Sexting,” he still sounds like a rapping xenomorph is about to burst out of his chest at any moment. The dude’s got the Holy Ghost in him throughout the entirety of H&C; and by “Holy Ghost,” I’m pretty sure I mean that he’s trying to score with Lilith by showing her just how malicious and frightening he can be.
It’s hard to choose Kendrick’s GKMC over H&C, as they’re both flawless albums. Though Q may not have the polish yet, or the pop sensibilities that Kendrick does, he certainly makes up for that in the rawness of this album. As the darkest member of Black Hippy, and arguably the most visceral rapper out right now, Habits & Contradiction showed just what Q is capable of.
5. Gucci Mane – Trap Back: Gucci came back in a big way in 2012, after what was a very rocky year in 2011. Although Trap God is being widely regarded as his comeback to public consciousness, and I’m Up showed how much pull he still has in the industry, Gucci started the year off with his most consistent mixtape. Trap Back, though not a return to his prime years of 2007-2009, found Gucci going back to the chicken talk of his 2006 breakthrough mixtape called, well, Chicken Talk. It’s very much a spiritual successor to that classic double disc, including the return of “walking lick” references (this time the phrase gets its own Mike Will produced banger) and junkies that finger fucked his rims. The combination of Gucci and Mike Will is as formidable as its ever been, and from the gorgeous “Plain Jane” to arguably this year’s funnest song “Get It Back,” Gucci proved he still had it. Again.
6. Khalil Nova – The Black Layne Staley: Khalil Nova is a favorite here at No Jumper, and he’s had a wondefully productive. Perhaps no more though than on The Black Layne Staley, a mixtape that helped kick off this year with some of the most abstract rap music heard all year. The underground Georgia artist manipulated his vocals to almost alien-like extents, and produced some of the hardest-hitting (and simultaneously soothing) beats of his career. He may not be as widely recognized as he should be just yet, but Khalil is certainly on his way to a long and fruitful career. With Tumblr favorites like “Vaporizers” and “Puma,” The Black Layne Staley serves as a genesis of what’s to come.
7. Lil B – White Flame: Lil B started the year off right, even though it’s been as inconsistent as ever since then. As many throwaway mixtapes have been released in the time since, White Flame stands as the Based God’s most enthralling statement this year, a project which found B at his most absurd and vulnerable yet again. “Tiny Pants Bitch” is one of the greatest singles this year still, and “BasedGod Fucked My Bitch” is the best single that never happened. “Poppin’ V” finds B celebrating the joys of popping grandpa pills, while “Tank Of Propaine” finds B literally blowing his haters to pieces. White Flame was the first sign of a great year that only sporadically occurred for the Based God, but at least we had this tape to keep us entertained while B continued to disappoint.
8. 2 Chainz – Based On A T.R.U. Story: The release of Based On A T.R.U. Story was a summer event, and although the music within as entertaining as expected, Tity 2 Chainz could never hold up to the hype he was given with label restraints and crossover desires. He certainly made the leap to mainstream like few rappers have in recent years, from appearing on the remix to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” and the upcoming “Gangnam Style” remix of all things, but he continued going for that appeal on his mixtape. It didn’t always work – the Mike Posner assisted “In Town” is horrendous, and although it’s not as bad as it could’ve been, the Chris Brown featured, dub-step lending “Countdown” could’ve been done without. But when Tity does what Tity does best, that is, make dad jokes and trap anthems, he does it as well as anyone else in 2012. “Crack,” which features Tity speaking guaponese, the creepy, piano-laden “Dope Peddler”, and the rest of the this album’s first half is pretty incredible. Plus, on the current single, “I’m Different,” Tity forges a relationship with DJ Mustard that is truly beautiful, and continues to this day.
9. Riff Raff – Hologram Panda: Riff Raff didn’t have the best year of his career, musically, as the transition to EDM hasn’t been the smoothest patch in recent memory. There’ve been some absolutely great singles, like “Lil Mama I’m Sorry” and “Deion Sandals”, but no definitive statement as far as full projects have been concerned. That was until his collaboration with New York producer extraordinaire, Dame Grease, finally came to fruition. This is Riff Raff at his very best, rapping his signature brand of absurd punchlines and pop-culture references over some of the best production of his career. “White Silk Pants,” “Versace Lies,” “Can We Chill,” and especially the soulful “Peppermint Tint” find Riff Raff making the type of music that only he can.
10. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange: This maybe an unusual pick, if you’re expecting nothing other than rap from us here at No Jumper, but it’s impossible to overlook the impact that Frank Ocean and his Channel Orange had on the community at large. An excellent crafted debut, Frank provided some of the most emotional, genuine, brilliant written music of any genre this year. From “Thinkin Bout You” all the way to the Andre 3000-assisted “Pink Matter”, Channel Orange encapsulates a time and frame of mind like few albums can.
11. Waka Flocka Flame – Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family
12. Ab-Soul – Control System
13. Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2
14. Rick Ross – Rich Forever
15. Wiz Khalifa – Taylor Allderdice
16. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
17. Fat Trel – Nightmare On E. Street
18. Yung Gleesh – Cleanside’s Finest
19. King Louie – Showtime
20. TKO Capone – Duck Season
21. Vince Staples – Winter In Prague
22. A$AP Mob – Lord$ Never Worry
23. Big Sean – Detroit
24. Chill Will – Real Shit
25. GrandeMarshall – 800