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Between Drake, Lil Wayne and Kendrick Lamar, hip hop songs tend to blend together on mainstream hip hop radio. It takes a lot of talent and ingenuity to set yourself apart as a hip hop artist. These rappers not only set themselves apart, they blew the competition out of the water. Here are CU Independent‘s picks for the 12 best hip hop albums of 2012.
12) Death Grips – “The Money Store”
“The Money Store” is one of the most high-energy albums of the year of any genre. The punk-rap fusion duo packs a lot into the blast beat drums of Zach Hill and Andy Morin’s glitchy keys and heavy bass shout-singing. Although the album art is highly disturbing – a chubby woman scantly clad, smoking a cigarette and leading her leather-masked sex slave by its leash – it oddly fits Death grips’ peculiar take on death punk hip hop.
11) Why? – “Mumps, Etc.”
Why? uses instrumentation more suitable for an indie rock band than hip hop. Regardless, the combination of indie piano and guitar with hip hop drum beats and spoken word lyrics make for an atypical and fascinating rap album. “Mumps, Etc.” may be preferred by hipsters over hip hop fans, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
10) Nas – “Life is Good”
The 23rd album by veteran rapper Nas proves that age is nothing but a number. Nas maintains the same strength and skills demonstrated on his debut, “Illmatic,” from nearly 20 years ago. “Life is Good” is 18 tracks of solid hip hop goodness: a mix of rap, R&B and beatbox influences with a talented musician at the helm.
9) Kanye West Presents – “G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer”
This album brought together not two, not three, but 23 of hip hop’s best-known names for a collection of infectious rap and R&B songs. “Cruel Summer” features two of the year’s biggest singles, “Clique” and “Mercy.” West and the G.O.O.D. Music crew mix R&B, hip hop, blue and reggae for a motley collection of some of the year’s catchiest rap hooks.
8) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “The Heist”
This was a year of major change in hip hop’s attitudes toward LGBT culture and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love” was instrumental in pushing that movement forward. Slipping the song, “Same Love,” amid odes to thrift shops, the music industry and night cruising allowed Macklemore to make a powerful point about society’s lingering discrimination without being overly preachy.
7) Lupe Fiasco – “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1″
The mouthful of an album covers more topics than most rap albums, touching on everything from social issues in songs like “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” to women’s issues in “Bitch Bad” and the genre-spanning emotion of love lost in “Battle Scars.” Fiasco integrates a wide variety of samples with contemporary hip hop beats and rhythms. The albums features many guest artists, including Casey Benjamin, Poo Bear, Bilal and more, which adds to the diversity amidst the songs.
6) MellowHype – “Numbers”
“Numbers,” released through the Odd Future label, is more mature than MellowHype’s first two releases. The growth is apparent in the sonic variation through the album. Where previous MellowHype albums can come across as a solid hour of anger and hate, the songs on “Numbers” can be differentiated through the changes in Left Brain. Tyler, the Creator’s production and Hodgy Beats’ tone and lyrics. Even with this growth, MellowHype still holds true to its origins.
5) Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music”
The Georgia rapper’s eighth album tackles the emotional problems of “Real African People,” or R.A.P. Over traditional hip hop drum beats and a glitchy keyboard, Killer Mike addresses the issues and stigmas that African Americans still face, like drug use and dealing, while also showing the positive side of black America. The lyrics of the title track demonstrate the importance of this album, and hip hop in general, to African American culture: “This is jazz/this is funk/this is soul/this is gospel/… This is church.”
4) I Self Divine – “The Sound of Low Class Amerika”
“The Sounds of Low Class Amerika” is a hip hop opera covering the struggles of low-income American citizens of all races. I Self Divine wrote the most politically charged hip hop albums of the year, yet it slipped under the radar, much like the social issues the L.A. native discusses. The album’s heavy content deserves more attention than it received – if not for the lyrics, then for its beautifully constructed instrumentals.
3) Aesop Rock – “Skelethon”
It had been five years since Aesop Rock put out an album. His rocky experiences during that hiatus fueled his highly personal return. Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the album are the collaborations: “Hail Mary Mallon” members Rob Sonic and DJ Big Whiz, as well as Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts, Kimya Dawson and more . The tracks range from emotionally dark to comedic, and the instrumental intricacies and clever lyrics make for one entertaining album.
2) OFWGKTA – “The OF Tape Vol. 2″
“The OF Tape Vol. 2″ sticks to what Tyler, the creator, and crew know best: angry – and often violent – lyrics, wordplay and unceasing rhymes over high piano, low keyboard, heavy distorted bass and snare drum beats. The album features nearly every member of Odd Future excluding Earl Sweatshirt, who finally emerged from his maternally imposed exile this summer. The album is loaded with tracks by Tyler and Domo Genesis, but the other MCs are integrated throughout the self-produced tracks. The album isn’t as high energy as a live show, but the chill beats are still enjoyable.
1) Cadence Weapon – “Hope In Dirt City”
Rollie Pemberton, the Canadian MC known as Cadence Weapon, released one of the most musically diverse albums of the year, in hip hop or any other genre. The only other group on this list that comes close is Odd Future. Where Odd Future features multiple MCs and producers on each track, Pemberton goes solo in both performing and producing. Samples of cackling, guitar, old-school jazz orchestras and ’60s style R&B mix through the album with instrumental sections featuring horns, saxophone, guitar, strings, bass guitar, electronic keyboard and piano. Each song combines these varying sounds for an aesthetically and audibly pleasing album that has a song to reflect almost any mood. “Hope in Dirt City” is an impressive feat for a solo rapper and is one of the best albums of the year overall, not just in hip hop.
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.