The Top 10 Hip-Hop Releases of 2012

It's been a great year for hip-hop. Nas, RZA and GOOD Music have all made the cut but there's a stone-cold modern masterpiece at number one...
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10: Big K.R.I.T – Live From the Underground

2010s K.R.I.T Wuz Here led to universal acclaim for the Mississippi native and it seemed that while Outkast's indefinite hiatus rumbled on, the South had a new sophisticated troubadour tasked with extending the musical palette of southern rap. Probably victim of releasing one mixtape too many before this, K.R.I.T still delivered a brilliant but ultimately under appreciated, entirely self produced debut.

9: Rick Ross– God Forgives I Don’t

By the latter stages of the year, the MMG promo machine had gone into overdrive and might have just soured opinions towards the most confident and rounded LP from Rick Ross to date. Rozay's ear for storming beats remains unrivalled and the continued ascension of Meek Mill and Wale add strength behind his boasts of being "Berry Gordy to the streets".

8: RZA – The Man with the Iron Fists OST

With input ranging from the likes of The Black Keys, Kanye West and Raekwon, the lording presence of RZA was necessary to blend this ‘martial-arts-meets-hip-hop soundtrack’ together. With development of the movie beginning as far back as 2003, RZA was not about to be let down by its soundtrack, and rightfully so.

7: GOOD Music – Cruel Summer

The initial reaction to Cruel Summer was pretty subdued but apart from the early leak, cos who doesn’t leak early these days anyway? The blame must be placed at Kanye's childlike desire to immediately share his genius (no debates, he is, amongst other things) leads to the release of tracks, days, sometimes even hours after completion. Ignoring the fact half of the tracks were already deemed 'old' in Internet terms; on reflection, come the end of the year, on terms of overall creativity not many LPs stand up to Cruel Summer.

6: Curren$y & Harry Fraud – Cigarette Boats

Singlehandedly reversing the lazy stoner myth, Curren$y, as well as the most underrated, is arguably the most hardworking rapper of recent times. After years of solid independent grind, the Jet Life general finally struck up a deal with the suits and dropped his major label debut in 2012. While The Stoned Immaculatewas also of a high standard, just a month later the EP collaboration with producer Harry Fraud was vintage material. “Strictly for the lifers”.

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5: Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

Ok, here’s the black sheep pick. I can accept it’s primarily Experimental Electronic or maybe even Electronic Jazz but I refuse to acknowledge a genre called "Chillwave" exists. A self confessed student of J Dilla and hip-hop aficionado first and foremost, I think its safe to say FlyLo’s roots are in Hip-Hop. The irregular drums patterns and scale shifts in production across UTQC help to push the boundaries of contemporary genres and that goes down positively with me every day of the week.

4: Schoolboy Q– Habits & Contradictions

Habits & Contradictions is a purposeful haze of a trip throughout the influences of a man determined to not be defaulted the ‘Tony Yayo position’ in undoubtedly the most talented crew in the game right now. Yet another stellar release from the Black Hippy camp.

3: Joey Bada$$ 1999

Apart from the whole ‘name that’s only pronounceable in an American accent’ thing, nothing else is holding back the 17yr from Brooklyn from being a heavy presence for years to come. Proclaiming “It’s been a minute, since they seen a style with no gimmicks”, the Brooklyn teenager emerged harking back to the last classic boom bap era, dropping1999. With a sensibility well beyond his years, the kid told tales over underrated instrumentals from the likes of MF Doom, J Dilla and Statik Selektah.

2: Nas – Life Is Good

On announcing the details of his 10th studio album, even after overlooking the uninspiring title, the slew of underwhelming releases from Nas in years gone by meant nobody really knew what to expect. As the singles crept out, tensions were relieved as it seemed the musical direction was falling into place but the cynic in me reminded myself of Nas’ lengthy track record of delivering street singles bang on the money and floundering all the promise away. Not the case on this occasion, Life Is Goodeventually delivered in pretty much every way. With Nas as open and introspective as we’ve heard in over a decade, he simply reiterated just how important he is to hip-hop.

1: Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid m.A.A.d City

Simply the only hip-hop record of the year that can be regarded a masterpiece. GKMC works as a concept album, weaving around an autobiographical coming of age narrative, masterfully executed over the course of 15 tracks. While Dre continues to hold out on us and Snoop remains in the throes of a mid-life crisis, King Kendrick (backed up by the remaining quarters of Black Hippy) is upon the throne of the West Coast and for the time being, it’s in very good hands.