Hi, 2013, but before I can fully dive into you musically, I have to talk about the best rap and hip-hop albums and mixtapes of 2012. I'll cover everything from potential classic mixtapes, the undisputed album of the year and even my favorite ratchet tunes throughout. Also, if you're not familiar with my work, I like to rank albums, but more so put them in tiers. Sure, you can argue with me that one album is better than another in the same tier but may have a lower ranking. However, if one album is in the top tier (Penthouse) and another in a lower one (midrise), you missed the whole argument buddy. With no further or due, lets break down the criteria first. Meet the Pinnacle.
Imagine a city full of clubs, bars, restaurants, movie theatres and buildings, etc. In this city lies one lonely skyscraper-sized building fill of hungry, underground and established rappers. The name of the apartment is the Pinnacle. Here at the Pinnacle, rappers housing is determined by their album and/or mixtape. The better the mixtape, the higher you live. The Pinnacle is broken down into four levels.
Before I set up the levels, let me tell you more about the Pinnacle. Its leasing manager is the Internet, who’s boss is the developer and investor of the building, The Suits. The Suits never visit the Pinnacle but keep their eyes close on it through the Internet. At the Pinnacle they have a 24-hour concierge front desk which rotates between your favorite DJ. Whether, it’s Funkmaster Flex, DJ Drama or the ever annoying DJ Khaled. The janitor and custodial work is handled by The Streets. They know all the inner workings to the building and its little dirty secrets. The Streets and the Internet have a close relationship. Internet just happens to receive more credibility. Now, that you know the setup and people working inside the Pinnacle, let’s head to its floors.
READ MORE AFTER THE JUMP
Lowrise: This is the place that’s right above the lobby. Rappers on this floor had a slight buzz before their mixtape was released, but the project either quickly fizzled out or didn’t capture me like I thought it would. This floor could also be renamed the Disappointed Floor, but in the same respect these guys had good projects. Every up-and-coming artists has its highs and lows. Maybe in 2013, they will climb higher.
- Album/Mixtape was decent at best.
- Some buzz, never met expectations.
- Only a few memorable songs and bangers.
- Has more than a few missing: standout track, overall flow of tape, not enough memorable verses or boring hooks.
- Not too much replay value and short shelf life.
- Album/Mixtape was well put together.
- A few bangers and memorable songs, but more than a few songs to skip.
- Expectations were on the borderline of met and not.
- Missed two or more of these things: standout track, overall flow of tape, not enough memorable verses or boring hooks.
- Replay was par. Longer shelf life than low rise.
- Mixtape could’ve been an album. If it was an album, it was worth your money.
- Had a few skippable tracks.
- Met or passed expectations.
- Made a slight impact upon release.
- High replay value and long shelf life.
- Missed one thing; standout track, overall flow of tape, too many features, not enough memorable verses or boring hooks.
- Mixtape should’ve been an album. Album was worth purchasing for car and home.
- Two or less skippable tracks.
- Completely surpassed expectations.
- Created or added a huge new fan- base and impact to the game.
- Tape was continuously in your ears for at least a month. These are the albums/mixtapes that if you could only put 5 discs in your CD changer, these are it.
25. Troy Ave's Bricks in My Backpack 3 & Yo Gotti's CM7To start the list, let's begin with two of my favorite drugdealers/ trap rappers. If you had to make a "Hey These Guys Could Actually Be Selling Dope" list, these two are clearly in the top 3 (Pusha T being the king of cocaine). Both love to talk about the game from different yet similar perspectives. Both love to talk about the ups and downs of the drug game just with different stories. Brooklyn up and coming rapper Troy Ave speaks from the New York point of view while Gotti loves to talk about the rugged ways of the Memphis dope scene. Gotti, a season vet, who released another mixtape earlier in 2012, January 12th, and album, Live From The Kitchen were both slightly disappointing and weren't good enough to make this list. As far as Troy Ave goes, his BIMB3 caught my ear and received multiple spins though and through. Troy didn't blow like I wanted him to but I respect his grind and se big things coming from him in 2013.
24. Big Boi's Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
23. Chief Keef's Back From The Dead/Finally RichNo new artist was more talked about, blogged about or tweeted about than Chief Keef. Whether it was for his malicious demeanor towards rival rapper JoJo dying, him missing his own video shoot with 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa or his overly braggadocios Instagrams, Keef pretty much won in 2012. It started with the trunk rattling, Young Chop (Producer of the Year nominee) crafted Back From The Dead. A pure 12-track ride through the eyes of an 18-year old Chicago kid. Add his gun toting lyrics to hundreds of senseless murders in the same Chicago area, Keef became a symbol of what Chicago kids are and might grow to be if not guided in the proper way by elders. Nonetheless, next comes "I Don't Like" which is probably one of the biggest club records of the year and Keef gets an immediate assist from Kanye with the GOOD Music Remix featuring his fellow GOOD Music members. The record blows up and Chief Keef becomes hip-hop's newest poster child. A few months later, Interscope signs Keef and Finally Rich comes to life by December. Sad part about it, Finally Rich didn't live up to the hype nor had the same amount of heat as his latest mixtape. Luckily enough, Keef is still has a lot to know and grow from. Keep picking great beats and making catchy hooks kid.
22. Childish Gambino's RoyaltyDonald Glover or better know as Childish Gambino is one of the most diverse rappers today. He can rap, sing, entertain and make you laugh during his live show, which not too many rappers can say. Hey, he might even end up hosting an award show one day. However, compared to his last album, Camp, this was more of a letdown. Not only did he over-rap (Rap too much), he gets overshined many times on Royalty. The mixtape contains 18 tracks with 16 features, which is not a good ratio and was bound to happen. On the next project let's hope Gambino gives up more Camp than Royalty. More versality, less features, just Donald.
21. Rockie Fresh's Driving 88In Driving 88, Rockie Fresh takes up back to the future in his version of a DeLorean and shows and proves what this Chicago native is made of. The newest member of the Maybach Music Group, leads with a groundbreaking project. With a laid back delivery and a "Hey I'm not cocky, but I am, but I'm humble" approach Rockie is cool with it. Driving 88 is a smooth ride and is obviously something worth downloading if it can catch Rick Ross' ear (insert Pill & Stalley serious face) through the mass amounts of mixtapes that are made each and every day. You're next question might be, "well why isn't this mixtape higher?" Well even though Rockie caught Ross' ear he didn't boom like others in his rookie class (Keef, Bada$$). His next mixtape, Electric Highway is due out January 2013.
20. Wale's FolarinThe youngest project on the list (released on Christmas Eve), the DC-native and MMG artst combines his mixture of club rattling jams ("Get Me Doe"), songs for the ladies ("Bad") and his impeccable wordplay tracks ("Fa We We") to create Folarin. Wale is actually a gem in the rap game today. Not too many rappers can do those three styles of rap and do it well. Where he falls off is that, the sequencing is off terribly and I can do without 5-6 tracks. I think Wale gave his fans a little more than they can handle and hopefully he doesn't suffer from it. His third album is to be released in 2013. Sidenote: Mixtape About Nothing turns 5 years old in May 2013.
19. Rick Ross' Rich ForeverFrom Reebok to courtside at Miami Heat games, MMG's Commander-in-Chief, Ricky Rozay was everywhere in 2012. To start the year he gave us this gem of a mixtape on January 6, Rich Forever. With so much hype and buzz leading up to it, I expected it to be more than what it was. Jampacked with 19 features, Ross went overboard and he is faulted for it. His beat selection is Grade A as usual but the entire mixtape missed a flow type feel to it. Rich Forever just felt like a lot of songs crammed together and not meshing sonically like previous works. Ross later released God Forgives, I Don't in the summer. We will have to see if it made the countdown. Sidenote: Without Rich Forever, we don't have the best verse of the year, Drake on Stay Schemin'.
18. Big K.R.I.T.'s Live From The Underground/4Eva N A DayWhen looking at 2011, aside from Kendrick Lamar, no other underground artist had a bigger buzz than K.R.I.T. Coming off the well crafted Return of 4Eva, I expected more from the Mississippi native. First he released 4Eva N A Day which was well put together, but just sounded entire like the same two mixtapes. Then released, the album which had the same vibe, content and feel as the previous mixtapes. I don't know if it was the self-produced music, the expectations or maybe K.R.I.T. just gave us too much music in such a little time frame, 54 songs in a 15-month span and that's not included the enormous amounts of features. Hey, who knows. I know K.R.I.T. can and will do better in 2013.
17. Future's Pluto 3D & 2Chainz's Based on a T.R.U. StoryAtlanta's two breakout stars share the 17 spot and for good reason. Not only are both from the A and notably new to the big stage of hip-hop, but both provide us with the club banger. Whether its Future's "Same Damn Time" or "Tony Montana" or 2Chainz's "No Lie" or "Birthday Girl", the two do their job well. 2Chainz took the buzz from his 2011 release, T.R.U. Realigion, and formed it into a deal with Def Jam and a co-sign from Kanye West into the GOOD Music family. Not too bad. Album is full of songs where he gets outshined by the features but it does its job and give us cri-nack. As for Future, following his Astronaut Status mixtape, Epic Records re-released his debut album, Pluto 3D, with more bangers and better remixes from his initial songs. Future's album lacks flow throughout and 2Chainz's album has one too many skipped tracks for me. Nonetheless, both are an acquired taste but a taste all club goers love to get lost in.
16. Mac Miller's MacadelicIf you read my Best Mixtapes of 2012 column, I had Mac Miller's Macadelic in the Top 5 (So was 4Eva N A Day). Pretty amazing drop if you ask but it just shows how many good albums (wasn't considered at the time) and mixtapes came out after the halfway point. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh's other favorite rapper gave us a trippy ride past the disappointment of his debut album, Blue Slide Park. In Macadelic, Miller shows off his more drug-friendly side and uses his features well by calling Cam'ron, Lil Wayne and Juicy J (who all gave Grade-A performances) for assistance. Overall, the mixtape is a pretty damn good. Good beat selection, song concept and sick wordplay. Only thing keeping this mixtape from being at a higher level is that, it didn't have the impact like I thought it would. There's always 2013 though. Keep the good music coming, Mac.
15. Wiz Khalifa's ONIFCWiz had a pretty swell 2012. Impending baby with fiancée Amber Rose, incredible masterpiece with Taylor Allderdice mixtape and even this super swagged out album cover to cause an uproar (picture above). ONIFC is surely an improvement from Wiz's debut album, Rolling Papers, (Deal or No Deal doesn't count to me) but still has songs that you will skip for forever (i.e. "Got Everything") but it rides throughout for the most part. From the Pharrell produced "Rise Above" to the sexual innuendo of "Up In It", Wiz shows what his "first" album should've sounded like. Great year and wish nothing but more weed-infused tunes from Pittsburgh's star of a son.
14. T.I.'s Trouble ManHonestly, I wasn't expecting nothing from T.I. really. His latest album, No Mercy, was beyond a disappointment and I saw him weekly on VH1 being the best father he could be to his kids. That's not really what you expect to see or hear from one of the 2000's best down south rappers. Surprisingly, Tip Harris delivers with his eighth studio album. Maybe it was the fact he was off of probation for the first time since Paper Trail and could actually get back to the real Tip. Along with classic Tip-adrenaline rush songs like "Trap Back Jumping" and "Addresses", T.I. is back. Another defining part is the skits. Yes, I said it, skits. Those haven't been a significant part of albums since the 90's. In the skits, T.I. makes an audio replay of the car ride when his best friend dies, the event when purchasing guns and even a wild car chase with cops. Very entertaining. In my opinion the back half doesn't match the same intensity and song structure as the front. Nonetheless, this a very good project.
13. Joe Budden's A Loose Quarter & Fabolous' Soul Tape 2 (tie)Another tie! Joe Budden gave his fans, listeners and haters a preview of his upcoming album, No Love Lost, with his latest mixtape, A Loose Quarter. You can say the New Jersey rapper had a tumultuous year, but hey what's new? From him "killing Eddie Murphy" on Twitter, forever engaging in word warfare with Budden haters to the ultra seductive pictures of him and girlfriend, Kaylin Garcia, it was just a typical year for Joe. With Slaughterhouse's very underwhelming album, Welcome to OUR House, being a blunder, Budden had to give his fans something new to listen to. ALQ provides a deep and introspective journey as Joe openly talks about his father on "Momma Said" and Kaylin Garcia's path to him on "More of Me." Along with that, his SLV partner, Emmany, laces his R&B vocals on a numerous amount of songs to produce some sultry tracks to say the least. Very solid project through and through. Since 2009's successful Loso's Way, Fabolous has yet to release an album to follow it. The disappointing mixtapes, Soul Tape and There Is No Competition 3, were okay, but not enough to get the Harlem rapper back on the right track. In 2012, he gives listeners the Soul Tape 2 and gets back to what he does; Rapping. With a slew of Grade A features from Joe Budden, Wale, J. Cole and Pusha T, Soul Tape 2 rides through and through. I definitely expect an album from Loso in 2013. Why the tie between the two you might ask? Both are 30+ year old rappers from an era of heavy rap lyricism that both gave a solid project around the same time just to set up for an album later down the road. Let's call it even for now.
12. Big Sean's DetroitClearly the most improved rapper in the game took a leap forward this year with his latest mixtape, Detroit. After being one of the shining moments on GOOD Music's Cruel Summer, Sean took the music scene on its own and gave his fans more music to play. Whether it was the bass-rattling "Mula" with French Montana or the life perspective "24K of Gold" featuring J. Cole, Detroit stands out from the pack. Another dope part to Sean's mixtape was the beloved testimonials he received from Common, Jeezy and Snoop as all spoke on their undeniable love for the city is from. Expect his second album, Hall of Fame from Big Sean in early 2013. I'm pretty sure it won't be nothing short of G.O.O.D. BOI!
11. Game's Jesus PieceI have a problem with Game. If the music industry consisted of nothing but music, Game would be a household name, have plenty of endorsements and have more than a few platinum plaques. But he doesn't. His outside the studio antics, controversial album cover and consistent diss records keep California's own in the semi-popular corridor of the rap world. In Jesus Piece, Game calls on 23 features (Lil Wayne 2x) on 13 songs to give us a Chronic-like project. Of course it's not a classic like Dr. Dre's 1993 masterpiece, but Game surely knows how to get the best out of an artist and mesh others together. Along with Kevin Hart's hysterical skits, Jesus Piece flows effortlessly. From the storytelling track with J. Cole "Pray" to the D'Angelo-sampled "All That" (with a slew of artists), Game (and company) delivers. Honestly, this album should be higher on this list but I can't get past the amount of features. My main question is, how does Game perform this album while doing a show? Eh. Nonetheless, this is a great piece of work and worth your money.
10. Meek Mill's Dreamchasers 2Such a bittersweet year for Philly's finest. It was sweet because he had one of the hottest mixtapes of the year, one of the biggest records with Drake on "Amen" and held his own on MMG's Self Made 2. However, with a shaky single like "Young & Getting It" with Kirko Bangz, an album pushback, then the album to be released one week after Kendrick Lamar's amazing Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, Mill's debut album, Dreams & Nightmares was a huge disappointment. However, DC2 gave me nearly the same feeling as its predecessor, Dreamchasers, did. While getting help from Big Sean, French Montana, Rick Ross and more, Meek Mill proved himself again. Yes, Meek loves his money, women, cars and guns but what rapper doesn't? DC2 could've been higher on the list but Meek decided to save "Tony's Story Pt. 2", his more introspective storytelling track, for his debut album. In my opinion, if Meek creates more of a balance in his music between the club bangers and thought provoking records, he can regain the spark and buzz he once had.
9. Dom Kennedy's Yellow AlbumWas it an album or a mixtape? Did he really have a deal with Rick Ross and passed on it? Can Dom Kennedy even really rap? I can't give you a legit yes or no to any of those questions, but what I do know is that Yellow Album is incredible from start to finish. Following 2011's From the West$ide With Love II and Original Dom Kennedy, the California representer tells you everything from how he likes to party ("My Type of Party"), what he likes to wear ("Gold Alpinas") and even his favorite type of female ("PG Click"). Sure, Yellow Album doesn't give you a grim look at like on the streets of Leimert Park, but that's not what Dom Kennedy is here for. Equipped with some of the smoothest lines (and very tweetable as well) and perfect beats for your car, Yellow Album shows improvement and maturation from Dom. W$GT$.
8. Schoolboy Q's Habits & ContradictionsI'll be completely honest with you. When I first heard Habits & Contradictions, I hated it. Every feature I felt like Q got murdered on, people only like him because he was on TDE and played Kendrick's Scottie Pippen and there was really nothing else to listen to at the time it was released. Go figure. Nearly a year later I can say this is one of the most complete records to drop in all of 2012. Q takes us on a journey as he shows us his life with the influence of drugs ("Druggys With Hoes Again"), women ("My Hatin' Joint") and his perspective on life itself ("Blessed"). Pretty incredible followup for a guy who last year released, Setbacks, which wasn't as critically acclaimed but now is getting more love since H&C. Funny how music works. I feel like Schoolboy Q is going in the same path as Kendrick Lamar. So, if Setbacks is his Overly Dedicated, H&C is his Section 80, does that mean Oxymoron(his next album) will be his Good Kid, m.A.A.d City? I can't wait to see and tell you about it next year.
7. Ab-Soul's Control SystemAnother album that surfaced through the TDE camp this past year was Ab-Soul's Control System. Being the “Dennis Rodman” of the crew, Soul takes aim at socially conscious issues like the government’s reign over the free world on “”. Also featured on Control System is Ab-Soul’s love for drugs (Marijuana and Promethazine-Codeine mostly) on “Mixed Emotions”. Soul shows a softer side on the screwed up “Empathy” and the love story of him and passed away lover/friend Alori Joh on “The Book of Soul”. At the end of the day, this was the second best project to come out of the TDE camp. I wonder what was #1? Ha.
6. Nas’ Life Is GoodThe buzz for Nas’ eleventh studio album was there. “The Don”, “Nasty” and “Daughters” really had hip-hop listeners on edge to hear what he had to offer, but skeptical til they heard it. If you’re familiar with Nas’ career and catalog, he is famous for releasing strong street records and singles then only to give us an album that’s composed of filler, terrible beat selection and just plain ol “that’s a wack track, man” tracks. However, Life Is Good is the total opposite. From “A Queen’s Story” where Nas calls out a various amount of street legends to the Ross-fueled “Accident Murderers” to “Cherry Wine” featuring the late great Amy Winehouse, Nas wins. Calling on the genius of Drake’s in house producer, Noah “40” Sheibb on “Bye Baby”, 40 samples Guy (specifically Aaron Hall) for Nas to spit lyrics about his tumultuous relationship with ex-wife and R&B diva Kelis. The album overall impacted the hip-hop community drastically and showed that rappers over 40 (aside from Jay-Z) can make quality hip hop albums. Also Life is Good is on the better half of Nas’ discography. Better than Hip Hop is Dead and Street’s Disciple. Not better than I Am or Stillmatic. Salute Nas.
5. Joey Bada$$’ 1999The young Brooklyn rapper made a serious splash in 2012 with his unforgettable project, 1999. In 1999, Joey Bad and his Pro Era Crew rap circles around the jazz-influenced and 1990′s-inspired beats of Chuck Strangers, MF Doom, J. Dilla and Statik Selektah. With the help of the late Capitol Steez, “Survival Tactics” is a stand-out track because it was nothing but pure, unadulterated hip-hop. Not too many rappers on this list have tracks like that and Young Joey has several. What separates this mixtape from the countless mixtapes below it is just the overall quality and distinct sound. It’s almost as if he made a concept project, but no that’s his sound. Amazing. I can’t wait to hear more from him in 2013. By the way, he’s 18.
4. Rick Ross’ God Forgives, I Don’tRick Ross can’t miss and 2012 was proof of that. His ear for music and lavish lyrics coupled with his vivid imagery makes God Forgives, I Don’t everything it was supposed to be. A great rap album. With star features from God MCs like Hov and Andre 3000 to his MMG affiliates like Meek Mill and Wale to the numerous amount of R&B hooks, Ross gives us two albums in one in GFID. He gives you the super-rap side with songs like “Sixteen”, “Hold Me Back” and “Amsterdam”. Then towards the end of the album gives us his smoother side with “Touch’n You” featuring Usher, “Diced Pineapples” featuring Drake and more. Now granted, earlier in the article I ragged on Game’s Jesus Piece and Ross’ Rich Forever for having too many features. One can argue that to this album too, but his features are more so hooks than anything else. Rozay searches for a certain sound and his adlibs (even though they are great) can’t always cover it. GFID is a complete masterpiece and is definitely in the conversation to being one of Ross’s best work. RUH!
3. Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor AllderdiceEarlier in the year, I deemed this as the best mixtape of the year at the halfway point. Thanks for that, Fred. Nonetheless, Taylor Allderdice was like a homecoming of sorts for Pittsburgh’s finest. Coming fresh off the underwhelming and unsatisfying Rolling Papers, this mixtape gave Wiz fans a feeling of “Okay. My guy is back. ” Laced with in-home production of Cardo, Sledgren and Jerm, and features from Rick Ross, Juicy J and even his fiancee Amber Rose, Wiz takes us on a ride. Compared to his greatest work, Kush & Orange Juice, Allderdice can’t compete but is definitely shows that Wiz still has it and still will be Wiz.
2. Freddie Gibbs’ Baby Face Killa (BFK)Right now you’re either agreeing or saying who the fuck is this? I’m guessing the latter, so let me explain. Freddie Gibbs is a ganster rapper from Gary, Indiana who was signed to Jeezy’s CTE Records for the past year but left. Gibbs reps “GI”, Chicago (which is very close to Indiana) and the Midwest in full with his brass and intuitive lyrics. Gibbs is a rare artist in today’s ficitional world of rap for many reasons. To name a few he has actually has lived through this life of crime and hustle (think Gucci Mane), doesn’t pose a fake/corny type (think Nas) and can actually rap his images in a non-coon vernacular (think Scarface). So take a bit of all three of those rappers, sprinkle in some Midwest flavor and pops out Freddie Gibbs. Pretty nice, right? Now to the tape, coming off the underrated, yet successful, Cold Day in Hell, BFK is a continued journey but adds more power to his punch. Features including Jay Rock, Dom Kennedy, Young Jeezy and Pharrell, Gibbs gives a complete eargasm for us all to listen. Gangsta Gibbs for President.
1. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d CityIs this a surprise? I think we all seen this coming. Compton Kendrick really gave us a gem with last year’s independent album Section 80 and I thought there was no way he could top that. Guess what? He did. Only featuring label-mate Jay Rock, Drake and his mentor Dr. Dre, West Coast legend MC Eiht, GKMC is a story unfolding right before your eyes. From the intro’s “Sherane” where he describes his love for one particular girl to the climatic “M.A.A.D City” where he describes his living environment, its an amazing masterpiece. Not since Notorious B.I.G.’s 1993 debut album Ready to Die can I remember a rap album flowing altogether at once like this to tell a story. No filler, all killer. Inside of the tracks you will find skits with soundbites to tell the story as an audiobook. The homeboys who are looking for trouble and actually find it to his mother who just wants her car back to his father who just wanted to play some Dominoes, the skits play perfectly into the album. Question now is, where does GKMC rank against past Best Album/Mixtape of the Year. Better than Drizzy’s Take Care or his own Section 80? Yes. Better than K.R.I.T. Wuz Here or Kanye’s MBDTF? Tough call, but sure. This is a classic album ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy this. They don’t come around often. Last question now is, how does Kendrick follow this?
Well that’s it. Was I bias towards Freddie Gibbs? Did I overrate Joey Bada$$? Was I little too harsh on Wale and Big K.R.I.T? Maybe, maybe not. Will Drake, Hov, Em or Kanye take next year’s title? Can Kendrick repeat? What about J. Cole? We will just have to see. Until next year my friends.
Terry Mundell is a freelance blogger who writes about sports and music.
He can be reached on Twitter (@commenturry) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).