Friday, January 4, 2013

Top 5 Mainstream Hip-Hop Albums of 2012

Back in 2012 it seemed like every other week there was a new hip-hop album dropping and, more often than not, the album was a blast to listen to. Of course, there were a handful of disappointments (most notably Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded and Wiz Khalifa's O.N.I.F.C.), but for the most part I was overwhelmingly satisfied. Enough to craft this handy-dandy top five list.

5) Meek Mill - Dreams and Nightmares

Meek Mill did the right thing when it came to building hype for his debut album. Despite being Rick Ross's protege (in a manner of speaking), the Philly rapper opted to drop the track "Amen" featuring Drake as his first single rather than any of the three songs featuring Ricky "Humdrum" Rosay. The song is catchy, funny, and it has Drake, so you pretty much can't go wrong. It was enough to get me interested at least. 

So, intrigued, I gave the whole album a listen and I wasn't disappointed. Meek Mill kicks it off with the title track on which he starts slow before going off which sets the pace for the rest of the album. Despite the obligatory Maybach Music collaborations with other label artists (the aforementioned and interminable Rick Ross, Louie V, Sam Sneaker), Meek shines here and doesn't let his album get bogged down with too many featured artists. For the most part, those who are featured are done so in good taste (Kirko Bangz, Drake, Mary J. Blige, Big Sean, etc.) and the solo tracks remain impressive.  

A solid debut from a talented rapper. 

4) Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. I 

Having loved The Cool, I was severely disappointed when Lupe dropped Lasers in '11.  Gearing up for another album in '12, I assumed the worst: a rushed effort that would try to mirror Lasers and ultimately fail.  

I was wrong.

This album is the return to form that fans of  the old Lupe were craving. You won't find a ton of radio-friendly tracks, but you will  get an earful of socially aware rap songs by a discerning artist who makes no concessions with production value. From "Bitch Bad" to "Unforgivable Youth" and everything before, in between, and after, Lupe delivers a quality album that, while not up to snuff with The Cool IMHO, is still a formidable addition to his oeuvre and proof that the rapper is far from falling off.  

3) G.O.O.D. Music - Cruel Summer

If you're like me, you've become so inundated by Yeezy's prolific career as a rapper that you totally forgot he started out on the scene as a producer. Well, if that's the case and you are like me, then shame on us both. But at least Cruel Summer is here to remind us that 'Ye can still kill it on either side of the track. 

This album includes the G.O.O.D. Music label artists you'd expect like Big Sean, John Legend, the criminally underused Cyhi, Pusha T, and more, but doesn't stop there. Mr. West has gone all out on this collaboration including the opening track ("To the World") which features none other than R. Kelly himself and obliterates any doubts you and I may have had right off the bat (R. Kelly, seriously?!? Yes, seriously). We're also given appearances by West's mentor Jay-Z, fellow Chi-town rapper Common, and the obligatory 2 Chainz appearances (as well as so many more). 

This album may be a vehicle for G.O.O.D. Music artists to further their names, but more than that it's Kanye continuing to operate at the top of his game ("Mercy" can attest to that) both verbally and behind the scenes by putting out a killer album that can stand up with the best of what 2012 has to offer. Polished, professional, and a blast to listen to. 

2) Slaughterhouse - Welcome to: Our House 

Since their 2009 self-titled debut album I've been championing Slaughterhouse and for whatever reason they still don't seem to get the credit they deserve.Gone are the '80s and '90s when groups like N.W.A and Public Enemy gave way to Wu-Tang and Bone Thugs. There are so many individual rappers popping up, it seems like there's no place for the rap group any longer which makes it especially refreshing to see one composed of such high talent. With Royce da 5'9", Crooked I, Joe Budden, and Joell Ortiz on hand, this group is strong and they let you know it on every track.

Granted Welcome to: Our House is clearly influenced by Eminem (you may recall Em's friendship with Royce in the 90's which gave way to beef and has since been reconciled) which, depending on your tastes, is either a good thing or a bad thing. But it still doesn't detract from the group's skill-set with their so-good-you-have-to-listen-to-them-twice lyrics and layered deliveries.

On the whole, the album is strong throughout with a couple appearances by more popular names (Cee-Lo Green, Swizz Beatz) to generate interest, but it's Slaughterhouse's show and they run it. 

1) Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, MAAD City 

Outrageous. Compton has provided the world with another unbelievable voice to stir up hip-hop and get the rap scene away from the dance floor and back to where it started.

Kendrick Lamar has come out with a concept album that blows everything else 2012 had to offer away. We're not only treated to the old-school, rap-savvy spitting of this new talent, but the story this album tells as well which, as a means of cohesion from track to track, just serves to prove how much of a success this effort is. The title Good Kid,  MAAD City perfectly sums up the album's contents, but can in no way prepare you for the talent and brilliance contained therein. 

For example, while "Swimming Pools (Drank)" has been tearing up the radio, by contextualizing that song with the rest of the album it takes on a whole new meaning allowing you to develop an even deeper appreciation for Lamar, an artist who's clearly capable of putting out songs that not only smash the airwaves but also fit perfectly into his concept. 

It's obvious that this isn't just another rapper who's stumbled on to the scene to try and put out club bangers and make an easy buck (thank goodness). He's also a student of rap as evidenced by his sparse but expertly utilized featured artists. This album is no collaboration effort, you're not going to see random names springing up to drop the hook of every other song. We're given a couple mainstream talents (Drake, Dr. Dre, and Mary J.), but also some sleepers like Jay Rock and MC Eiht who carries enough West Coast cred alone to demonstrate that Lamar isn't messing around.

This album owned the world of hip-hop in 2012. If you take nothing else away from this blog post, at least listen to "Backseat Freestyle" below and then pray that Kendrick Lamar has a long, long career ahead of him. Enjoy!

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