Chicago’s Chance The Rapper has built up quite the buzz in 2013 thanks to a string of singles from his new album Acid Rap that drops today. It took me a few songs to get used to his unorthodox, high pitch sing-song delivery, and his subject matter is more youthful and lighthearted than most of the MC’s on my radar, but that doesn’t mean Chance doesn’t take rap seriously, he just has a lot of fun making his unique brand of hip hop. His latest single “Smoke Again” features an appearance from Black Hippy’s Ab-Soul and is the best Chance The Rapper song I’ve heard to this point. Check out Chance’s video for “Smoke Again” below and grab your FREE DOWNLOAD of Acid Rap.
Written by John Bugbee
2012 was an absolutely stellar year for rap music no matter how you slice it. Seemingly out of nowhere the variety and talent within the genre exploded, and it didn’t seem to be specific to any particular sub-genre or geographic region. I usually tend to favor hip hop that comes out of the NYC area, and it’s no surprise that the area is well represented on my list. The first two albums I reviewed for Thought On Tracks were from Brooklyn MC’s Ka and billy woods. I considered them album of the year contenders when I wrote the reviews back in May and they ended up fighting off a ton of tough competition to hold down the top two spots on my list. Check out my full top ten hip hop albums below, I’ve linked reviews for the albums I reviewed and wrote a few words about the ones I didn’t get a chance to review.
1. billy woods – History Will Absolve Me
Woods’ masterwork History Will Absolve Me was my most anticipated album of 2012 and it more than delivered. It’s the type of album that will only gain importance as the years go by. Woods’ style, while unorthodox, is brimming with intelligence, dark humor, creativity, and above all, pen skills.
2. Ka – Grief Pedigree
Ka’s self-produced classic Grief Pedigree is an album rooted in hip hop’s past, but with a modern sound and devoid of any throwback sentiments. Ka’s attention to detail and dedication to his craft allowed him to overcome the limitations of his monotone flow in a big way and helped him create a perfect album.
3. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
What can I say about Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City that hasn’t already been said this year? I’m not sure, which is probably why I didn’t review it. Its greatness is astounding and self-explanatory. Astounding in that he actually made THAT thorough of concept album and a major label actually allowed him to release it, and self-explanatory in that Kendrick’s rapping skill is indisputable at this point. Lamar’s album was perhaps the most anticipated hip hop album of 2012 and it turned out to be far better than it had any right to be. The back to back combo of “The Art Of Peer Pressure” and “Money Trees” is probably my favorite song transition of the year.
Roc Marciano had a big 2012. Even though his stellar sequel to 2010’s underground classic Marcberg wasn’t released until November, his name seemed to be everywhere throughout the year as he released well over another album’s worth of material through guest appearances and loosies. Reloaded was worth the wait though, it feels like a love letter to the genre, an album for the heads who love rhymes. His verses jump out of the speakers on tracks like “Emeralds” and display why many consider Roc to be the best rapper doing it. His subject matter may be limited, but Roc’s visual wordplay and raw rhyming ability make him an addictive listen.
5. Aesop Rock- Skelethon
6. Nacho Picasso & BSBD – Exalted
Habits & Contradictions was an album that I considered reviewing, but it was released so far before I began writing for Thought On Tracks that I thought its time had passed. While the time may have passed for me to review it, it stayed in my listening rotation all year long. Schoolboy’s performance on H&C is as versatile as any rapper’s performance on any album in 2012. There are a few songs I may skip from time to time on H&C, but its high points are really high and reveal an artist with boundless energy and unlimited potential. “There He Go” and “Hands On The Wheel” were amazing singles and show off Q’s fun side, but aren’t representative of the overall artistic depth and variety found throughout Habits & Contradictions. The Alchemist produced “My Homie” https://soundcloud.com/prince-k-frempong/09-schoolboy-q-my-homie and the Kendrick Lamar assisted “Blessed” https://soundcloud.com/topdawgent/schoolboy-q-blessed-ft show off another side of Q and help explain why the word versatile always seems to come up when discussing Schoolboy’s music.
8. Open Mike Eagle – 4NML HSPTL
9. Homeboy Sandman – First of a Living Breed
Nacho Picasso and Blue Sky Black Death might not have received the attention they deserved in 2012, but that’s certainly not because of a lack of effort. Lord Of The Fly was the first of their full length collabs released in 2012, and like Schoolboy Q’s album, it was simply released too early in the year for me to review it. BSBD and Nacho used Lord Of The Fly to hone and perfect the style they created on their debut album For The Glory from 2011. Their focus allowed them to craft an exaggerated concept album of sorts that established Nacho as a larger than life devious cartoon character. Ultimately I slightly preferred the level of introspection that Nacho brought to the darker follow up Exalted, but Lord Of The Fly was still good enough to crack the top ten, making Nacho the only artist to have two albums on the list. “Phantom of The Opera” and “Naked Lunch” are the standout tracks, but there’s not a bad song in the bunch.
Written by John Bugbee
With the type of year hip hop is having in 2012, it’s no surprise that the genre is opening more lanes than ever. So much so that it didn’t seem the least bit strange to me that New York rapper PremRock decided to release an album completely inspired by Tom Waits songs. While there might not seem to be a lot of similarities between Waits’s music and hip hop, PremRock and his cast of talented producers found a way to twist Waits’ words, concepts, and sounds into a cohesive collection of songs that both build on Waits’ legacy and firmly establish PremRock as one of the best MC’s in the game.
While I’m only casually familiar with Tom Waits’s music, PremRock is clearly a big fan. Every song title and the majority of the music on Mark’s Wild Years is taken from Waits songs, and it’s not just a bunch of random PremRock songs over Tom Waits samples. PremRock preserves the soul of every Waits song, simply putting his own twist on the established material. This style of composition, combined with PremRock’s intricate flow, give this project a lot of potential for replay value, from both the album itself as well as from the original Waits songs. The creative concept had me pulling up all the Waits songs I wasn’t familiar with on Youtube to hear how PremRock interpreted them. PremRock and his producers consistently manage to strike the right balance between creating something original while remaining true to the source material.
I featured the lead single “Step Right Up” in a Rapper to Watch post for Thought on Tracks last month, the song’s up-tempo feel and brilliant, straightforward use of the Waits original by Yuri Beats make it the perfect introduction to the project. Waits’s “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is flipped into “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Prague” on one of the albums best beats from Steel Tipped Dove. PremRock strips the framework from the Waits song down and rebuilds it in an eerie setting that allows him to flex his improving knack for detail oriented storytelling. “Temptation” is one of my favorite Waits songs, so it’s fitting that PremRock’s version comes with a verse from one of my favorite MC’s, billy woods. Zilla Rocca supplies one of the album’s many, great piano-driven beats and woods cleverly namedrops Brandon Weeden in his expectedly excellent appearance.
The Yuri Beats produced “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, with its sing-along chorus, is the most fun song on the project and also seems pretty central to PremRock’s live-in-the-moment message found throughout Mark’s Wild Years. PremRock shows off his versatility on “She Took All My Money”, metaphorically discussing the effects of alcohol abuse over yet another great beat from Steel Tipped Dove.
The album closes strong with possibly the two best songs in “Drunk On The Moon (Ain’t Got You)” and “Dirt In The Ground”. On the former, frequent PremRock collaborator Willie Green utilizes the melody from the Waits original perfectly and PremRock pens one of his best songs to date, sounding as comfortable on the mic as he ever has while reminiscing on lost loves from a pub bar stool. The song may be the best example of what PremRock has in common artistically with Tom Waits and shows why he thought (correctly) that this project would be such a good idea. The album closer “Dirt In The Ground” is a soulful capper to what amounts to an extremely ambitious project from the New York MC. The song and the album are both the type of music you’d expect to be made by someone more established in their craft. Even though PremRock is essentially giving this album away, its consistent quality in the wake of last year’s excellent collaboration with Willie Green. Both releases prove that he is here to stay. Listen and name your price for a digital download of Mark’s Wild Years below.
Written by John Bugbee