During this first month of the new year, i’ve re-listened to the collection of 2012 albums and i’m picking my favourites. So here we go, in January ’12, an EP dropped by someone named Lana Del Rey. As she talked about video games and blues jeans, the beautiful 26-year old stole our hearts. On the other end of the musical spectrum, a man from Compton gradually climbed the ladder until he exploded on the scene . We were introduced to a 5-piece folk group from Iceland, as their little talks became worldly conversations. Some artists fell off the map, others regained momentum, some started beef, others squashed it, some hit the scene quick and hard, while others had their hard work finally pay off. Regardless, 2012 was a fantastic year, and it’s time for a recap.
25. Stalley – Savage Journey To The American Dream
Stalley is arguably one of the better lyricists under the Maybach Empire, and Savage Journey served as his first project under the Bawse. Signing the 30 year old Ohio native brings maturity and diversity to the group. I look forward to what this Talib-Lupe-Mos-esque rapper has in store for us.
24. Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape 2
If you’ve listened to A$AP Rocky, you’ve listened to Clams Casino. This man brought you the beats for “Palace,” “Wassup,” “Bass,” “Leaf,” and “Demons” all off LiveLoveA$AP. He has also produced a few joints for Mac Miller, and one for The Weeknd. Look out for his unique style to gain popularity in 2013.
23. ScHoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Top Dawg Entertainment as a whole gained mainstream popularity in 2012. It’s easy to say Kendrick Lamar produced most of the hype, but you can’t forget about Ab-Soul’s Control System and Q’s Habits & Contradictions. The hype for this record began with a Kid Cudi Cover sample, some A$AP Rocky bars and “weed and brew.” Favourable tracks include: “Blessed,” “Grooveline Pt. 1,” and “Gangster In Designer (No Concept).”
22. Zedd – Clarity
Anton Zaslavski created a more diverse electronic record amongst a handful of mundane compilations. This past year saw a large electronic music movement within the mainstream. The reason Zedd’s Clarity made the list is for his choice of vocal features, and versatility, as opposed to the cookie cutter trance song (i.e. Avicii, Guetta, etc.).
21. Childish Gambino – Royalty
Derrick Comedy jokester turned 30 Rock writer turned Community star, all while dropping mad quirky bars on the side. Donald Glover released his debut LP Camp in 2011, and followed it up with a classy mixtape. It features the likes of ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul on a track together, Wu’s RZA and Ghostface on separate chillers, Nipsey Hussle over a Boi-1da beat, Danny Brown over a Britney Spears sample, Beck and Tina Fey…rapping.
20. Big Sean – Detroit
Another notable mixtape of 2012 (there were a lot of them), is from G.O.O.D. Music’s Big Sean. Detroit followed up Sean’s coming out party; Finally Famous. Even while on tour, and working on the label compilation record, the 24-year old Detroit native stepped outside his comfort zone and threw together a wicked project. He put Royce Da 5’9 and KDot on a Don Cannon beat, enlisted YMCMB’s Tyga, Roc Nation’s Cole and MMG’s Wale. The most impressive perhaps, evoking something different out of both Lex Luger and Young Chop, without forgetting about his go-to man, Key Wane.
19. Mumford & Sons – Babel
After selling millions of copies of their debut record, this four-piece English folk group spun a repeat. They had already garnered so much attention, I was hoping for something a little more diverse from them. Regardless, Babel sold an astounding 600,000 copies first week in the States and has been nominated for four Grammy Awards including Album of the Year.
18. Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares
Maybach Music’s Meek Mill has truth behind so many of his stories. The fights, deaths, prison, and of course the Audemars. While the concept dipped in some areas, I really appreciate the pain and honesty in both the storytelling, and his voice. Dreams & Nightmares includes bangers, anthems, stories, ladykillers, great features and quality production.
17. Metric – Synthetica
Synthetica serves as the 5th album from the Canadian indie rockers. With a lead singer like Emily Haines, you never know what to expect; in the best possible way. The group brings an eclectic mix to the table, and this record had it all. Thought provoking lyricism, intricate instrumentals, aggression and a whole lot of fun.
16. Bloc Party – Four
With talk of a hiatus, and Kele doing a solo album/tour, the future wasn’t looking bright for the UK Indie Electronic group. However, the four years between albums seemed to create fantastic synergy within the group. Four came with aggression, ballads, and even a couple of those classic Bloc Party anthems. It appears they had a somewhat natural vibe in the studio, which translated well whilst on tour. Check out their live review HERE
15. Hit-Boy – HITstory
When Kanye West signed the creator of Wayne’s “Drop The World,” I wonder if he knew that same man would be number three on The Throne and later release a rap album. Chauncey Hollis is undoubtedly a revolutionary genius behind the keys, but you cannot dismiss the fact this man can flow, jab, spit, punch and throw a mean hook. For more info on the 25 year old head HERE
14. Game – Jesus Piece
If you had told me last year that I would put a Game album on my Top 25, I probably would have told you to keep dreaming. However, I am happy to admit (with my tail between my legs), that Jayceon Taylor reinvented his game in the best possible way. Instead of dropping two sub-par 30-track mixtapes leading up to Jesus Piece, he gave away a handful of bangers (#SundayService). Game enlisted a group of producers that were new to him, along with the usual suspects (Cool & Dre). Not to mention, the feature choice had more ammunition then a Khaled/Drama record. Call it a Boston Celtic theme on the title track (Kanye and Common), going deep on “Pray” with the emotionally engaged Cole and JMSN, and a whole lot of smooth lady loving over the D’Angelo sample.
13. Miike Snow – Happy To You
We all remember dancing like Animals when we first heard Miike Snow back in 2009. The self-titled debut is a tough act to follow, but the trio did it beautifully, and with just as much synth. Happy To You has the same fun, poppy elements, with a little more depth and dreaming.
12. D-WHY – Don’t Flatter Yourself
When I first heard David Morris (aka D-WHY) go in on Gambino’s “Freaks And Geeks” and Local Natives’ “Wide Eyes,” I knew there was something different here. But to create an album with no genre limit was bold, but my goodness does it work. Don’t Flatter Yourself is just that, you can’t get complacent in today’s music industry; it’s too diverse. This record has it’s club bangers, ballads, party anthems, reference induced hip-hop jams , and even a power-pop number. To read more about D-WHY, head HERE
11. Santigold – Master Of My Make-Believe
Santigold’s first album Santogold (her original stage name) was incredibly upbeat and party worthy. And while her follow album Master of My Make-Believe has it’s fair share of fun (“Pirates In The Water,” “Freak Like Me”), she explores some new feelings her second time around. I’m sure the world would have been happy with the John Johnson effect (pre-Continuum), but my appreciation for Santigold grew tremendously after this effort; keep it up!
10. Nas – Life Is Good
Mr. Queens, NY returns to the scene after a four year hiatus from the solo LP scene. With the infamous Untitled being a bit of a letdown, Life Is Good landed on the opposite end of the spectrum. Nas took the subway back to his roots with this record; the concept and incredible storytelling. After a cinematic intro, “Loco-Motive” is the epitome of the urban playground, and creates a throwback vibe with the perfect feature; Large Professor. The project continues with story after story (and a few bangers), paired with excellent production (Salaam Remi, No I.D., JUSTICE League) and subtle features (Miguel, Cocaine 80s, Anthony Hamilton).
9. Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Arts & Crafts latest find comes in the form of a solo act named Al Spx (aka Cold Specks). Being her debut record, she decided put it all on the line. The raw emotion and honesty shines through each story on the album. And while the openness isn’t always pretty and glamorous, it’s one hell of an entrance. Check out the full review HERE
8. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Call it what you will, but Lana Del Rey was some kind of incredible phenomenon in 2012. Maybe she wasn’t quite on the Adele/Bieber level, but I personally enjoy her music a whole lot more then the aforementioned. Her music can easily be defined as nostalgia. The choice of lyrical content, the accessibility, and that dreamy sound that throws you in a gentle haze.
7. Beach House – Bloom
Bloom is the fourth LP from the Baltimore dream pop duo. Their third record Teen Dream was critically acclaimed and seemed like a rather daunting task to follow up, but they did it without hesitation. Even in it’s extremely melancholy state, the stories and sounds differ beautifully.
6. Purity Ring – Shrines
This duo exploded on the indie scene in a matter of days. Their experimental, quirky sound is something different, but well accepted. Their instrumentation and content is unique, and incredibly graphic. Shrines is packed full of metaphors to do with the human anatomy (hence the cover) and a correlation with love. Check out the full album review HERE
5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Mr. Ocean of Odd Future probably had one of his most exhilarating years in the music industry. Prior to the release of his debut album Channel Orange, he came out of the closet in a very public way, sending the blogosphere into a mad frenzy. Some support, some shots, an early release and a major distributor dropped. All-in-all, the OF crooner crafted up a fantastic piece of art. From the slow melody of “Thinkin’ Bout You,” to the Elton John-esque “Super Rich Kids,” to the addictive “Crack Rock,” throw in a 10-minute Egyptian themed journey and you’ve got Channel Orange.
4. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
Kanye West presents us with a compilation album courtesy of his record label (Common, Pusha, Legend, Big Sean, Cudi, CyHi, etc). The record is 12 tracks long, featuring potent verses, addictive hooks, and a unique set of featured artist. One of the standout aspects of the album are the beats. West picked a variety from Hit-Boy, exploited newcomer Hudson Mohawke’s diverse skill-set, while Dan Black went with a sense of triumph, Travis Scott went grunge, and you can’t forget about the bangers from Lifted (“Mercy”) and Young Chop (“Don’t Like”).
3. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part. 1
Lu’s last record Lasers was less then impressive, this coming from a avid fan. He doesn’t strike me as someone who can half-ass something (and have it be genuinely good). FNL2 however, is impeccable. The concept and ideas behind the project are superior and incredibly intelligent. Fiasco ventured outside his usual production choices and went with 1500 or Nothin (“Hood Now,” “ITAL,” “Put Em Up”), The Runners dropped him “Heart Donor” and “Brave Heart,” along with others and one from the usual suspect; Soundtrakk. Check out the full album review HERE
2. Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal
By now, we’ve all heard “Little Talks” in all it’s folky glory. Their debut LP My Head Is An Animal is almost perfection from head to toe. Where the single is upbeat, fun and possibly reminiscent of those perfect summer daze, the project shows diversity. While the two vocalists compliment each other, Ragnar takes the reigns with the anthem “Six Weeks,” and Nanna gently swoons us with “Love, Love, Love.” One of my personal favourites, “Yellow Light;” closes the album on a sombre note in triumphant fashion. While we might get overwhelmed with Mumford & Sons, Arcade Fire and Florence, don’t forget about this quintet.
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
The first and second place was pretty much a toss up for me, but GKMC beat out the competition because of it’s sheer intellect. Kendrick Lamar has defined ‘concept album’ for our generation. Whilst the story of his come-up takes place, it’s garnished with an unprecedented mixture of production, mean flow, street bangers, the Lord’s prayer, talk of Domino’s pizza and 12 minutes of vulnerability. The young man from Compton has displayed his journey with style and grace, without straying from those same roots that molded Kendrick Lamar.
Two thousand and twelve was a phenomenal year in music, for all genres. The West Coast Hip-Hop scene received a much needed face-lift, folk music has made it’s way on to radio stations everywhere, and electronic music has moved past the over-saturating Dubstep theme. We saw the debut of many artists in the last twelve months, some fairing better then others, nonetheless it’s progression. I hope the the artists on everyone’s top albums lists have inspired the rookies to strive for better, and I look forward to what 2013 has to offer.
What were your favourite albums of 2012?