It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we compiled our last list, but although 2012 has sped by, there has been no decrease in the quality of releases that came our way. Rather than our selections competing with each other, we hope you see this list for what it is, a way to honour the albums which stuck out most in our mind by the end of the year. In terms of titles to pick, we could have trebled what’s on show here, but the selections laid out below are the best mixture of gems we could collectively come up with. Each album has it’s own unique identity with one all encompassing theme – an elevation of the arts. Take your time to research each one and we promise you won’t be disappointed.
- The Word Is Bond Team
This year, Germany’s most inebriated producer gave us a handful of releases on his home label Melting Pot Music, which also celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary. Whilst these records, and those of other artists on the label, reminded us why Europe has long been upholding progressive Hip-Hop music, it was his 29-track second full length LP that delivered the grandest sound Germany had to offer. The overarching impression is that Suff Daddy has a real love of hip hop and has correctly recognised the best bits and distilled them into the seeding ground of his own compositions It’s almost like a retrospective of hip hop styles. If one were feeling churlish one might accuse Suff Daddy of showing off but it’s likely that one will be too busy head nodding to care. 2012 was the year you should definitely have gotten wise to Suff Daddy.
When it comes to instrumental Hip-Hop, Fat Jon is unarguably a legend; a stylistic patriarch who has inspired a generation of Bandcamp beatsmiths. His second outing as Maurice Galactica plays like a lot of his previous art, but that’s no bad thing at all. The album is still far from predictable. With so many styles presented over the years, some more experimental than others, Fat Jon has a wealth to choose from at this point. Diversity is almost always a good thing, and this album is perhaps his most diverse yet. An essential instrumental release from Fat Jon at his “synaesthasia-inducing best”.
Silencing that voice that constantly proclaims Hip-Hop is “dead” or has “lost its ways” was Statement Of Intent; an excellent piece of work that will cement DJ Format’s reputation as a hip hop composer, in the grand tradition of DJ Shadow. The ease with which he handles everything from boom bap classical to jazz fusion horizons is impressive, and he sure knows how to pick great guest artists. He’s already proven that he can do the super-producer gig as well as anyone, but this album shows him stepping out of the shadow of his influences and defining his own sound. This is a headphone masterpiece, this is a perfect party album, and this is a great compilation of international hip hop, too. You want this. You do.
Arrested Development celebrated 20 years since their first album this year, but despite that, when listening to this album you’ll wonder why they aren’t the ones sitting near the top of the hip hop table instead of the current “heads” of the family. Standing At The Crossroads’ intelligent lyricism and creatively constructed beats are a joy to behold. It might be a little too poppy (musically speaking) for some but give it a chance and you’ll see that that sugary pop sound is just disguising the bitter lyrical pill at the core of this album. Excellent stuff, and an album that might well have unfairly gone unnoticed.
Homeboy Sandman had a lot to live up to prior to the release of his album First Of A Living Breed. Most fans will remember that 2010’s The Good Sun set the bar for lyricism. Yet, thankfully, this year Sandman went even one better. The album marks his first release on the legendary indie label Stones Throw, but stylistically he remains the artist we all know and love. More than any other emcee in 2012, Sandman’s personality and character shines through his music, with songs like “Not Really”, adding a personal touch to proceedings. The project sees him in a reflective mood, with social commentary subtly laced within songs that are also notable for their lyrical technique. Homeboy Sandman is a favourite with critics for his adherence to hip-hop principles, the rhymes take centre stage on each song, which makes for a refreshing LP over all. The album takes many twists and turns thematically throughout, taking the listener on an ever changing journey. Simply a vital album for 2012.
Blu & Exile are the type of act that make me proud to be a hip-hop fan. The mixture of Blu’s introspective lyrics and Exiles exceptional beats form a powerful mash up of skills and imagination. Yet it is hard to discuss their 2012 album Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, without mentioning the duo’s previous work Below The Heavens. Much like Jay-Z had all his albums compared to his classic debut Reasonable Doubt, Blu & Exile are met with the constant expectation that everything they do will somehow recreate Below The Heavens. Whilst Give Me My Flowers… is certainly not that, it is however a great album in its own right. It’s the type of work which will only be appreciated with time, once the hype and expectations cease. Lyrically songs like “Seasons” and “The Only One” showcase just how talented Blu is. For a so called ‘alternative’ emcee, Blu can convey a message in a relatable fashion, he spits poetry in a manner only the greats possess. The entire project is also blessed by the vision of Exile who shapes samples in clever and unexpected ways to create an ambient aesthetic. A worthy inclusion for our top ten.
Brother Ali seems to be cosigned now by every major hip-hop icon in the business including Public Enemy and Dead Prez. A listen to Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color will showcase why. Not only is there a poignant appearance from Cornel West, but the beats are provided by stellar producers such as Jake One and Ant of Atmosphere. Sonically this is a step above many political rap albums, Brother Ali chooses a sound which borrows from the Soulquarians era to great effect. No subject is deemed too sacred, and almost all of America’s ugly side is brutally dissected by a passionate Ali. The consistency of quality is there for all to enjoy, as the album never dips or veers off topic. Ali’s lyrics are clearly well researched and his enthusiasm ensures he never deviates from his mission. The urgency in which Ali delivers his message makes for an enthralling listen. Keep this in rotation and you’ll find yourself quoting the many insights Brother Ali drops throughout, probably to the detriment of your social life, but that’s another story.
The second release on Stones Throw Records to make our list came with the union of Geoff Barrow, 7-Stu-7 and Katalyst as the supergroup Quakers; something radically different. There was a tremendous amount of effort put into this project — most artists would have broken this up into an entire years worth of releases and promotion. Instead, the Quakers team created a monumental album, an album that makes pretty much everything else since Wyclef Jean’s sprawling mess The Carnival look very, very half-assed by comparison. The difference here is that Quakers is tight, every minute of every track. A lot of reviewers talk about this as experimental, or even electronic music, but that’s assinine: this is hip hop, plain and simple. And it’s damn near perfect.
If 2011 was the year Kendrick Lamar consolidated his status as a bright and emerging star, then 2012 saw him fulfill his potential and become one of hip-hop’s biggest talents. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” feels like a defining moment for Kendrick’s career and perhaps even more importantly, a new direction for West Coast hip-hop. Some people have described him as the “West Coast Nas”, but truthfully Kendrick is a unique force within hip-hop. His penchant for story-telling, plus his razor sharp wit and ability to sing a catchy hook has encapsulated more than just rap fans. His cross over appeal has restored some much needed credibility in a rather depressing age of mainstream mediocrity. It’s not that the underground isn’t thriving with similar talents, it’s just that very few artists with the same loyalty to artistry receive the kind of love that Kendrick has. Therefore it feels like one of our own has made it, Kendrick is living proof you don’t have to compromise integrity to reap success.
Keys To The Kuff may not have grabbed the attention previous DOOM releases have, but hardcore fans will not have been disappointed with DOOM’s latest effort as he remains true to his brand of lyrical complexity and experimental beats. Hip-Hop has long being producing classic duos such as Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and with this album JJ DOOM can take their place alongside the great collaboration albums of the past. The dedication DOOM has to his lyrics is sure to inspire a generation of emcees to come. Although the album may have gone under the radar of many music publications, it is a shining example of Hip-Hop at it’s creative best. DOOM creates a World as zany as any comic book and just as vivid, in a time of macho posturing within rap music, DOOM replaces ego with humour and intellect. The Word Is Bond’s first 5-star rating.
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D City
Homeboy Sandman – First Of A Living Breed
Brother Ali – Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color
Open Mike Eagle – 4NML HSPTL
Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them
MidaZ The BEAST – LOOPS
Labtekwon – Hardcore Labtekwon And The Righteous Indignation
El-P – Cancer For Cure
Aesop Rock – Skelethon
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Quakers – Quakers
Melanin 9 – Magna carta
Jeremiah jae – raw money raps
L’orange – Mad Writer
Hashfinger – June 12
Roc Marciano – Reloaded
Mars jr – Gems
Tor – drum Therapy
Wun Two – Whale EP
Robert Glasper – Black Radio
Action Bronson – Blue Chips
Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers
Apollo Brown and O.C. – Trophies
El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
Suff Daddy – Suff Sells
JJ DOOM – Key To The Kuffs
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D City
Fat Jon – Rapture Kontrolle
Lupe Fiasco – Food and Liquor II
Alchemist – Russian Roulette
Supreme Sol x Handbook – Higher Manifestation
Luviia – HypnosisJoint
Hy-Definition – The Voices
The Broken Orchestra – Shibui
MYK & Shirosky – Adaptation
Le Premier Sens – New Beats On The Clock
Thomas Prime – The Night & Day EP
Ohbliv – UP
Kero One – Color Theory
Jukebox Champions – Jukebox Champions EP
Will C. – Eli’s Prism
Self Jupiter & Kenny Segal – The Kleenrz
Fat Jon – Rapture Kontrolle
Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers…
Soundsci – Formula 99
Dj Format – Statement Of Intent
Damu The Fudgemunk – Kilawatt v1.5
Mattic – The Abstract Convention
JJ DOOM- Keys To The Kuffs
El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
JJ DOOM-Key To The Kuffs
Monster Rally – Beyond The Sea
Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought – Attractive Sin
Dirty Art Club – Hexes
Suff Daddy – Suff Sells
Shag – Beats About People
THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE
Flatpocket – Geldfundphantasyen
Karriem Riggins – Alone Together
Ngajuana – Section One
Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
Kool Krys – Listen to Your Art
The Book Thieves – In Spote of Everything
Murs & 9th Wonder – The Final Adventure
Apollo Brown and O.C.- Trophies
Symmatree – The Balancing Act
Journalist 103 – Reporting Live