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
This is not a review. This is a call out.
It is time for the Indianapolis hip-hop fans to come out of the woodwork. Where have y’all been hiding and what have you been doing? Some serious opportunities have been missed in recent weeks and it is raising reason for concern.
On August 30th, I attended Rock the Bells featuring veritable legends Raekwon, Ghostface and Mobb Deep. The Egyptian room was half-empty at best (half-full if you’re into that sorta thing.) The group put on a helluva performance despite the mediocre attendance. It may have gone down as one of the shows of the year had it been held at The Vogue with a near capacity crowd.
The lackluster attendance at the first Rock the Bells installment was followed by a postponement and eventual cancellation of the Mos Def / Talib Kweli Black Star performance. I know this tour struggled across the country, but unfortunately, Indianapolis was no different. Maybe tickets were a tad on the costly side, but we are talking about some of indie hip-hop’s strongest acts.
Last night brought one of underground hip-hop’s hottest up-and-coming acts, Das Racist, to town for the second time this year. The trio played to a sold-out crowd at White Rabbit Cabaret earlier this spring. The stellar performance, followed by unparalleled buzz surrounding their release Relax, prompted last night’s billing at The Vogue in Broad Ripple. Unfortunately, once again, Indianapolis’ hip-hop fan base fell short.
The Das Racist show felt more like a raucous house party than any concert worthy of The Vogue. If you care about hip-hop and would like to see Indianapolis play host to major acts in the future, these recent turnouts should serve as cause for concern. Das Racist will be featured on the cover of next week’s Spin magazine. Collectively, the Rock the Bells crew accounts for some of hip hop’s founding fathers.
If you can’t show up for these shows, what will you show up for? That’s the question I keep asking myself and I can promise that promoters are thinking the same. I hope hip-hop isn’t dead in this region, but attendance proves otherwise. The next time a decent lineup comes to town, get to the box office or we’ll be relegated to a life of Weezy, Jeezy and worse.
Written by Rob Peoni