2012 was definitely not without its great hip hop. To see a complete list of some of the best released last year I recommend you check out the HipHopDX’s Top 25 Albums list. I think they’ve done a good job distilling the hip hop from the rap and the substantial from the formulaic. (Spoiler alert: Seattle’s own Macklemore and Ryan Lewis make the list.) So this post is not intended to serve as a complete rundown of what’s out, but rather my personal reflection of my favorite three. I am not listing them in any particular order.
Life is Good by Nas
The man who forever changed hip hop with the release of Illmatic and later proclaimed that “hip hop is dead” has proved that he’s still on top of his game. With a mixture of jazz, bass-heavy, and club style beats there is very little missing from Nas’ latest work from a production standpoint. All the while he never loses focus of what he’s trying to say: It’s okay to grow up. In this album, Nas expresses that he is maturing without drenching the songs with the clichéd, “I got rims, I got money” stuff so prevalent right now. Lyrically, I would say this is one of the most accomplished personal reflections he has ever produced. One of my favorite lines from the album is “I’m not a whack performer standing with corny hype men, I got the donnism in me I’m here to enlighten.”
Cancer For Cure (C4C) by EL-P
Definitely one of the most depressing albums I’ve heard in a while, I appreciate how EL-P is able to evoke an appreciation of life in the face of death. As a person who has dealt with a quite a bit of both literal and figurative death in 2012, this album serves as a reminder that, in the face of death, we can find our greatest inspiration to truly live.
Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color by Brother Ali
This one was a surprise purchase for me. I probably picked it up at least four times on four different visits to the record store before I finally decided to walk out with this masterful album. With this piece Ali restores my faith in the idea I have long held that real hip hop can make you want to be a better person. With guest appearances from Cornell West, Amir Sulaiman, Choklate, and Tone Trezure, is a collection of tracks that tell a story of not only struggle, but the role we can each take to make the world a better place. Throughout it all, Brother Ali maintains a humbleness that lends to his credibility and ultimately my appreciation and admiration of this album. Where Nas focuses on his personal journey, Brother Ali takes on national and international societal issues.
Man On The Moon II by Kid Cudi
I almost left this off of the list—partly because it’s really difficult to categorize this album in any one genre. It almost sounds like rap. It almost sounds like alternative. It almost sounds like rock. But probably the real reason I almost left this album off of the list is because it hits so close to home. I feel an affinity with this album because of the way I can truly relate to this artist. His talks of goals, determination, and the feeling of loneliness and being lost are things I identify with more often then I’d like to admit. In Man On A Moon II, Kid Cudi picks up where is first solo effort leaves off, pours his heart and soul into his work, and completes to build one of the most fully resolved albums of the year and one that is uniquely him.