2012 has been a pretty eventful year in music. Lots of promising new acts and artists, a few (but not nearly enough!) long awaited projects finally surfacing, and the continued promise of new and more exciting music in the months to come. Here are some of my favorite album and song discoveries from this past year.
My Top Albums of 2012
1. JJ DOOM – KEYS TO THE KUFFS
The Villain has returned. The rapper known as DOOM has long been a staple of the alternative Hip-hop scene, and this album marks his first following his conditional expatriation to Great Britain. Key to the Kuffs is not a successor to the collaborative masterpiece of Madvillainy, but still exudes the signature Jack Kirby-esque personality and lyrical surrealism of DOOM at his best. Between audio samples from “Regular Show” and pulp crime drama quips, DOOM is still the same lyrically dexterous rapper he’s always been. I mean really, who else could pull off lines like, “Catch a throatful / From the fire vocal / Ash and molten glass like / Eyjafjallajökull”?
Recommended Tracks: Guv’nor, Banished, GMO, Winter Blues, Retarded Fren
2. JOEY BADASS- 1999
Have you ever heard an new artist that was so promising that you just immediately wanted to see them succeed? That’s how I feel about Joey Badass. Brooklyn native Jo Vaughn Scott has been making huge strides in his rapping career since the release of his debut mixtape 1999 earlier this year. Resonating with a maturity beyond his years, with lyrical skills pitting him alongside the very best of his peers, 1999 is a throwback to the sound and content of its namesake era that has for the most part been absent in mainstream hip-hop as of late. If this is what he’s capable of paying homage to the past, I can’t wait to see where he goes moving forward into the future.
Recommended tracks: Waves, Hardknock, Survival Tactics, World Domination, FromdaTomb
3. FLYING LOTUS – UNTIL THE QUIET COMES
“…Listening to Until the Quiet Comes is like walking into a dark forest of disembodied voices and orphaned sounds, each of them trying to help guide you on the long way back home. There’s an almost ethereal quality to all of the tracks, compelling the listener to probe deeper into the aural landscape that Flying Lotus has expertly crafted…”
“…both a departure and a natural progression for Flying Lotus as a musician….[Until The Quiet Comes] represents a necessary and significant step forward in this artist’s already sterling career.”
Recommended tracks: Getting There, All the Secrets, Putty Boy Strut, See Thru To U, Electric Candyman, DMT Song
4. CAPTAIN MURPHY – DUALITY
Ever since his first major appearance alongside Rapper Earl Sweatshirt on Flying Lotus’ track “Between Friends” back in July, the online hip-hop community has been playing a collective game of guess-who pouring over this enigmatic rapper’s comically malevolent lyrics and known associates in trying to deduce his true identity. But who is Captain Murphy? Is it Earl Sweatshirt? Is it Tyler the Creator? Could it be producer Flying Lotus himself; his own rapping alter-ego, à la Quasimoto? All I know is that this mysterious rapper(s) is responsible for some of my favorite rap lyrics of 2012. With verses like, “So unorthodox / Chillin’ with a shaman / eating ramen in a parking lot” and “I’m like Periwinkle Blue/ Manzee like who the […] is you, man / I’m like Ken – I punch you Shoryuken or Hadoken“, it’s not hard to tell why. With an all-star powerhouse of top-shelf producers contributing beats ( Just Blaze, Madlib, Flying Lotus, Clams Casino, TNGHT, Samiyam, and Teebs), Duality is easily one of the most exciting hip-hop projects I’ve heard this year. I look forward to what this anonymous rhyme-sayer has in store for listeners next.
Recommended Tracks: The Killing Joke, Gone Fishing (ft. Jeremiah Jae), Between Friends (ft. Earl Sweatshirt), Hovercrafts and Cows, The Prisoner, Innocence
5. KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID, M.A.A.D. CITY
“good kid, m.A.A.d. city” is one of the best hip-hop albums to come out this year, hands down. Compton-born rapper Kendrick Lamar has crafted a momentous capstone to the beginning of his mainstream ambitions, a tremendous start to an already promising rap career. Although “gkmc” has a number of stand-out singles and tracks worthy of individual attention, the strength of this album is in how it stands confidently as a whole more than the sum of its parts. “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” is Kendrick Lamar’s most thematically cohesive, consistent, and captivating release to date. It’s albums like this, musically diverse and creatively complex, that make the genre of hip-hop one to remain hopeful about.
Recommended Tracks: …Don’t Kill My Vibe, The Art of Peer Pressure, Swimming Pools, Poetic Justice, Sing about Me I’m Dying of Thirst, Real, The Recipe
My Top Songs of 2012
1. Lianne La Havas – Don’t Wake Me Up
I first heard Lianne La Havas on the second single ‘Forget’ off her first album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, but it wasn’t until I heard this track that I truly gave pause and attention to this promising up-and-coming songstress. ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ is a love-ballad, otherwise conventional if not for its sound production. Utilizing samples by La Havas herself, the background chorus shifts back and forth between the foreground to create layers of strange and compelling new vocal harmonies. ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’ is a song that makes Lianne La Havas an artist to remember.
2. Ultraista – Bad Insect
Ultraista is an electronic rock band fronted by Nigel Godrich, known most famously as the long-time producer for the band Radiohead and other high-profile performers such as Beck and Gnarls Barkley. ‘Bad Insect’ is the first single off the band’s self-titled album. A persistent snapping drum and snare line, wonderful and visually provocative lyrics courtesy of Laura Bettinson, and the occasional discordant guitar riff popping in and out inharmoniously between the warmly rising synth effects create a track that sounds like a lush patio party jamming out in the eye of a thunderstorm.
3. Lorn – Weigh Me Down
This track is as haunting as it is cathartic. The rasping distorted refrain peering through the spindling synths building up before crashing down, the twinkling melodic sound bites climbing up before phasing out alongside the relentlessly pounding off-tempo drum hook. ‘Weigh Me Down’ feels like a song that’s caught in a perpetual cycle of collapse and reconstruction. I feel like I’ve been transported inside the middle of a Castlevania boss fight every time I listen to this track.
4. Toro Y Moi – So Many Details
‘So Many Details’ is the first single from Toro y Moi’s forthcoming new album, Anything in Return. A fantastic, sparse lo-fi love ballad with a number of strange quirks and wonderful folk-electronic twists. From the short and simple twanging guitar sample interspersed between the flourishing waves of drum bass and warm synths, ‘So Many Details’ is true to its name and an effortless lesson in the careful art of seductive dance-pop music.
5. Flying Lotus – Getting There
Clocking in at less than two minutes, ‘Getting There’ is an elegant summation of Until the Quiet Comes’ ethereal sound and almost impermanent nature. Nicki Randa is an adept vocalist, her sparse crooning voice hangs like a gossamer shroud over the exquisite body of sounds that compose the track tying it together as a whole. Samples of wind chimes, twinkling bells, shakers, and tambourines pushed forward by a thumping background base make ‘Getting There’ a destination in itself and an experience that as poignant as it is ephemeral, tip-toe traipsing across the peripheral edge of audible sound.
5. Jean Grae – Kill Screen
Jean Grae is at the same time one of the most talented and one of the most under-recognized hip-hop artists ever, female or otherwise. Her densely packed lyricism and biting personality, not to mention her prolific catalogue of past collaborations and solo work, establish her as the standard for which modern female MC’s should aspire to. But don’t take my word for it; you need only look at the first verse from her newest track “Kill Screen” to see what I’m talking about,
6. Joey Badass- Enter The Void (Feat. Ab-Soul)
I was already sold on Joey Badass’ talent from his 1999 mixtape, but this track off his newest single “Waves” is just further proof of this young rapper’s raw potential for greatness. Collaborating with California-based rapper Ab-soul, a member of “Black Hippy” rap group and musical cohort of Kendrick Lamar, these two young artists spit verses that are both braggadocios and contemplative. Waxing on the plight of a society ever more dependent on technology, along with the crisis of just growing up and getting older, Joey Badass and Ab-soul are proof positive that hip-hop is not only alive, but conscious.
7. Xploding Plastix – Shakedown Shutoff (2003)
I first heard this track on Little People’s “For Rosie” Wedding Day mixtape. Probably one of the strangest and oddly enough, romantic songs I’ve heard this entire year. Something for slow dances and quiet conversations. Xploding Plastix is a progressive, experimental, entertaining music group with a lot of creativity and not nearly enough well-deserved publicity. This song is the reason why I listen to Xploding Plastix, and you should too.