Top Picks 2012

Lots of good music this year! Lots. The following are albums that I enjoyed and listened to again and again in 2012. Most of these are Hip Hop albums, that’s not all I buy, I’m just a bit of a Hip Hop Junkie. This is just me sharing what I liked and listened to. Yes, Kendrick Lamar dropped a might-one-day-be-classic album. Yes, Roc Marciano is making the world love New York Hip Hop again. These albums are not included in this list, not because they weren’t great albums (will revisit this statement at a later date), but because they weren’t albums that got serious burn around my household.

1. Nas

For about 2 months this was the only album I listened to on my way to and from work. Not really by choice but because my car CD player is finicky. Thus, of all the albums on this list Life is Good is the album I am most acquainted with and have a more complete connection to. It does have a few hiccups along the way but for the most part it really is a must have for all of us “stuck in the 90’s” heads that still bump Illmatic and Breakin Atoms. Lyrically he’s still slick as ever, always the rap Olympian. I was really hoping this album would be dope, though there was probably some serious doubt in the back of my mind when my cursor clicked the purchase button. Praise be the Hip Hop gods, though because I felt like a Juan Manuel Marquez fan by the end of the first listen.
In 1994 I was a little Hip Hop geek anxiously awaiting an album that was getting serious hype in between the pages of the Source. When I finally copped Illmatic I was immediately a believer. Sure, he’s let me down a few times since then but this last time was a lot like the first. Nas, thank you for not letting me down.

A beautifully sad track

2. Homeboy Sandman

I feel like I’ve spoken at length about the skill and musical quality you get when you purchase a Homeboy Sandman album. And then he went and released First of a Living Breed and completely proved my theory. This was one of the most lyrically sharp albums to come out this year. The word play, intricate patterns, and theme based tracks were well-crafted with a totally fresh delivery. There isn’t anyone else out there like Homeboy Sandman. He is an unequivocally unique artist, which is a breath of fresh air in this carbon copy age.

3. Oddisee

Please don’t tell me you haven’t heard People Hear What They See. Please. Look…
Beats = A
Lyrics = A
Content = A
I recommend his whole discography. His production is top notch. He is phenomenal with the writtens. It’s pretty much a given that this album is going to bang like pots and pans. My only regret is not getting the limited edition vinyl. Highly recommended. Extremely grateful to have had the chance to chop it up with this dude and find inspiration in that conversation. Do yourself a favor (if you haven’t already) and find inspiration in this album.

4. Substantial

Man, Oddisee and the rest of the good folks at Mello Music Group have been turning out such high quality goods this year, you’d think they discovered some secret alchemic formula. I gotta admit though, that I overlooked this one in a Jeremy Lin kinda way. I gave this one a once over, hearing it through my laptop speakers as I graded papers. It didn’t reach me that day. Fortunately for me a good friend suggested that I go back and give Home is Where the Art Is a second listen, do it justice. And I’m still thanking him for that. Haven’t stopped listening to it since then. Executive produced by Oddisee so…

5. Bambu

I was recently commenting on how good Bambu’s “One Rifle Per Family” is. It’s LA to the Bay to the fullest, a sound and style I’m a sucker for. It’s Lapu-Lapu, Cesar Chavez and Huey P. activism to some west coast slaps. I cannot deny this album. Note – I gotta hear this one without the kids around, tho. If you liked Dead Prez Let’s Get Free or Zion I’s Break A Dawn, then this is for you.

6. First Serve

2/3 of De La Soul transformed themselves into fictional characters to give us First Serve, the story of 2 rappers’ journey through the music biz. The music complements their style (and the story of the fictional characters they play) so well. This album takes Hip Hop back to it’s fun phase of the late eighties and early nineties. The only drawback would be not wanting to hear a story accompany the music. But how could you not when you have Plug 2 playing both a fictional rapper AND his mother? This is a fun concept and a fun listen. Must be the music.

7. Denitia and Sene

In all fairness, I should have Kid Koala’s 12 Bit Blues in this spot. Denitia and Sene’s blah blah blah EP is just that, an EP. Not even a complete album. I can handle those terms. This. Music. Is. Nice. For those that don’t know, Sene is something special behind the mic. He even dropped a great SOLO RECORD that deserves a spot on this list, earlier this year. With denitia he takes the roll of producer and sometimes songwriter to create a downtempo electro-acid-jazz-hip-hop-r’n’b collage that drips freshness. You can blah, blah, blah or stop and listen…

8. Pep Love

Pep is one of the most slept on members of the Hieroglyphics Crew if you ask me. I’ve been following this guy over the years and have always tried to get people to give him a listen. His latest album Rigmarole is a good showing of what he brings to the game. Honestly, I didn’t hear this album mentioned at all this year. Crickets. In the meantime, I was bobbing my head and taking care of business to this full length. I really like it and think you will to. Show it some love. West coast stand up (especially you Oakland).

9. Masta Ace

MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne was a sleeper. If you like MF DOOM or Masta Ace…you’ll agree that this album was a match made in Hip Hop heaven. Are you kidding me, Ace over DOOM beats? The only caveat is that none of these beats are original, we’ve heard’em all before. But we haven’t heard Masta Ace going in on’em. His flow is perfect for the beats. The cherry on top is the fact that it’s a concept album/memoir based on Ace’s life (and dedicated to his mom, Yvonne). I fell asleep with headphones on listening to this album more than a few times. And that’s a good thing. Get it!

10. Typical Cats

The third album from TC is everything I wanted to hear plus some. If you don’t know Typical Cats, I urge you to go back and listen to their first album at some point. All 3 MC’s in this group are incredible. Qwel, is the wordsmith and witty make-a-point-with-a-punchline MC. Qwazaar has the super dope flow and delivery. Denizen Kane is the melodic poet. When these 3 come together, good things happen. I really enjoyed the feel and vibe of this album. As usual, each emceee gets the opportunity to get their individual shine. DJ Natural did good job supplying the beats, as well. It’s feelgood music with substance. Anything but typical.

Maybe you’ve heard all of my top picks for 2012 but if not, I hope I got you curious enough to give at least one of these a listen. I love discovering new music on my own…but always appreciate a good lead. Musically, this has been a great year (if you know what to listen out for). I only hope that 2013 brings us music that’s on par with what we were given this year. Cheers to the music. Cheers to the new year. And cheers to everything that inspires us!

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