Listed in no particular order. Some mainstream, some underground, some new guys.
KILLER MIKE – R.A.P MUSIC
What’s the most revolutionary album that’s openly critical of the Amercian government’s political and economic policies?
Think Public Enemy’s Fear of A Black Planet, or Ice Cube’s Death Certificate on a slightly reduced notch and you get the picture.
El-P’s experimental and adventurous production is matched with Killer Mike’s abrasive vocals and the result is a RAP record which is completely rapping.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few hooks and chorus littered here and there, but for those who aren’t familiar with Killer Mike and El-P, it may take some adjusting.
The social commentary is not preachy, neither does it delve too much into the realm of conspiracy theory.
Essential Tracks: Reagan, Anywhere But Here, Don’t Die, Untitled, R.A.P Music, Willie Burke Sherwood, Southern Fried.
APOLLO BROWN & O.C – TROPHIES
When the cleanest, brassy/organic beats in hiphop meets some of the best rhymes by one of the respected vets in hiphop, the product can only be a classic record.
Apollo Brown has a signature sound.
Whether he’s producing for Skyzoo or Guilty Simpson; Planet Asia, Ghostface Killah or Joel Ortiz, the sound is easily identifiable. Of all his collabs with rappers, I rate Trophies highly.
It is not just the beats that shoulder this record. O.C has bars that would leave you nodding your head.
I like him more on the social commentary on tracks like We The People. It’s an eargasm.
Essential Tracks: The Formula, Anotha One, Prove Me Wrong, We The People, The First, Just Walk, Options.
KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID MAAD CITY
One of the best rap albums this decade, period.
I remember buying a physical copy in uni from the local campus cd vendor.
Took it home and copied it on the pc, converted it to mp3’s and listened on my phone.
Memories. A classic record.
Production stellar, lyrics are 5/5, stories told with such a clear-eyed detail you practically immerse yourself in it.
‘Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst’ has been known to evoke a few tears.
That song is so brilliant, multi-layered and has unfathomable depth. Some of the bonus tracks are my favorites – Black Boy Fly, and Mary J’s vocals on Now or Never is glorious. Anna Wise’ hook on ‘Real’ is unreal.
Good Kid, The Recipe, Swimming Pools, the extended version, damn.
Jay Z jumped on a remix of Kill My Vibe but when I heard Kendrick’s verse after Jay, I pitied Jay for jumping on the track.
It was like the aftermath of a nuclear attack. An annihilation. My favorite album of 2012.
Essential Tracks: Sing About Me, Good Kid, Black Boy Fly, Swimming Pools, Now or Never.
NAS – LIFE IS GOOD
Imagine pressing play on this album and No Introduction comes on, to my surprise, Nas is rapping on a Kirk Franklin sample of the gospel song “Don’t Cry” with heavy bass drums provided by Justice League.
But they’ve made the beat expansive and sprawling like a Rick Ross type beat. For a church boy like me, that was evidence of the greatness of the album already.
The ability to identify a sample is so fulfilling for me, and Nas did not let down.
‘Locomotive’ comes on and it has military marching beats provided by No.ID. Salaam Remi turns A Queen’s Story into a cinematic adventure. No.ID again on ‘Accident Murders’ is flames.
No.ID again on Daughters and you start wondering, 5 tracks in and no skips yet… But the best parts of the album are saved for last – Roses, Trust, Where’s The Love, Nasty.
I advise you to get the deluxe and itunes bonus tracks edition. Steeped in retro, 90’s, jazz-rap and soul samples, album is a gentle reminder that he’s still got it – Back When, Bye Baby, Cherry Wine, Stay, World’s An Addiction, The Don… I see why Nas Stans are quick to call it a classic. Abeg lemme go and listen to it again jorh
Essential Tracks: The whole album except Summer On Smash and it would have been a classic.
RICK ROSS – GOD FORGIVES I DON’T
In 2012, Rick Ross was giving away an album’s worth of material and records as a free mixtape – Rich Forever.
That tape was so good it’s even stronger than some albums on this list.
But he was at the height of his career then, guesting on R&B singles and blessing other rap albums like Life Is Good and Game’s Jesus Piece with his trademark grunt.
When he finally dropped GFID, it even sounded better than Rich Forever. This album has Rick Ross living a lush, unimaginable, expansive, magnificent lifestyle on record.
The highs which Teflon Don achieved, GFID sought to triple it.
Dr Dre and Jay Z are on 3 Kings, Andre 3000 had a verse of the year contender on ‘Sixteen’, Usher laced ‘Touch’N You’ with his romantic vocals, Wale and Drake turn ‘Diced Pineapples’ into another classic Lotus Flower Bomb, Nas’ storytelling verse turns heads on ‘Triple Beam Dreams… Neyo on Maybach Music IV, Stalley on 10 Jesus Pieces, Meek Mill on So Sophisticated and John Legend on Rich Forever add so much flavour and colour to this album.
Criticize Rozay as a wack one-dimensional rapper, he knows what works for him and he sticks to it.
Essential Tracks: All the tracks are essential.
RAPSODY – THE IDEA OF BEAUTIFUL
What’s your earliest memory of discovering hiphop?
Falling in love with your first crush?
This album to me was like listening to Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album for the first time.
Rapsody makes allusions that elicits a lot of memories here.
From throwbacks of hearing Jay Z’s verses on ‘Feelin It’ to playing basketball, and having teenage dreams.
First song on it I heard was ‘Believe Me’ on Eldee’s rap culture and it was so beautiful it makes you want to cry.
This album embodies everything in its title – The Idea of Beautiful.
I wanted to write a review of it sometime in August and I shelved the idea.
I would do it on its 10th anniversary.
‘Non-Fiction’ is my favorite track.
Ab-Soul delivers a fire verse that is would make you dig him. 9th Wonder and the Soul Council laced this record with soulful boombap beats that is so emotional it tugs to the heartstrings.
Rapsody – one of the best femcees to ever do it.
Essential Tracks: Non-Fiction, The Drums, Believe Me, Kind Of Love, Good Good Love, The Cards.
AB-SOUL – CONTROL SYSTEM
2012 was the year TDE effectively took over Hiphop.
Kendrick dropped. Schoolboy Q dropped, and Ab-Soul dropped one of the best albums of the year.
A dynasty was birthed. Ab-Soul is my favorite TDE member.
At various times, he has been described as a ‘human dictionary’ and a ‘wizardish genius’ by his labelmates.
He is blessed with an appreciable portion of Dot’s lyricism and Q’s crazy versatility, but he stands out first, as a technical lyricist very adept at wordplay and metaphors.
He’s like an alternate version of Lupe (whom he highly looks up to) the manner he overthinks and stacks every rhyme with double entendres. Control System is his testament to the age and times.
He rails against the system, showcases his intelligence about the USGov COINTELPRO, attempts to prove that conspiracies are not just entirely theories, breaks down the double standards in issues affecting both gender.
Ab-Soul mourns Alori Joh on The Book of Soul, one of the deep cuts here. The album is not all about heavy stuff.
There’s fun to be had and soul satisfies everyone.
Essential Tracks: Soulo Ho, Terrorist Threats, Track Two, Double Standards, The Book Of Soul, Black Lip Bastard, Illuminate, Bohemian Grove, Pineal Gland
LUPE FIASCO – FOOD & LIQUOR II: THE GREAT AMERICAN RAP ALBUM
After dropping what was perceived to be a lackluster album, this was a return to form.
It lived up to the heights of the original Food & Liquor. Lyricism is 100 percent.
I like the way lupe allows his sister do the intro to his albums with a spoken word piece which summarizes everything to expect on the album.
There conscious songs here (ITAL Roses), with a social context (Bitch Bad, Unforgivable Youth), overtly political records (Strange Fruition, Around My Way), songs about loss and death (Cold War), Relationship Struggles (Battle Scars), deep cuts (Lamborghini Angels) and songs filled with imagery (Form Follows Function).
Essential Tracks: Around My Way, Bitch Bad, Battle Scars, Cold War, Form Follows Function.
EL P – CANCER 4 CURE
Usually, in the business of rap, there’s always been two lanes.
Producers produce while rappers rap.
It keeps things simple.
Think Guru/Premier and Eric B and Rakim.
But over the years, lane-switching has crept in.
Rappers now jump behind the boards and producers want to have a taste of the mic.
El-P is a producer that effectively juggles both. And boy, can he rap. Heck, he raps better than some of these Lil’s and Young’s.
Cancer 4 Cure is explosive.
His beats are dense, funky and fascinating, with a mélange of electro, booming drums and abstract rock influences.
It’s like he throws everything into the melting pot.
The music is revolutionary and angry.
Essential Tracks: True Story, Touher Colder Killer, Drones Over Brooklyn, The Jig Is Up, Sign Here, The Full Retard, Oh Hail No.
SCHOOLBOY Q – HABITS & CONTRADICTIONS
An everyman. A versatile artist, half gangster, half philosopher. Imagine the cool flyness of Snoop Dogg mixed with The Game’s sometimes ratchety demeanor.
Its amazing how this is such a polished, well-put together album. The beats are funky, hardcore, groovy and banging.
He doesn’t stray much from the title because Q raps about his bad habits here, as well as his contradictions.
Is it possible for a self-avowed Crip to have moments of clarity where he moralizes?
Yes. And indeed he does that here. Two songs which embody this theme are ‘Hands On The Wheel’ and “Blessed” – which has the ability to make you cry.
TDE have discovered a money-maker in Schoolboy Q. They don’t call him Groovy Q for nothing.
Essential Tracks: Blessed, Hands On The Wheel, Nightmare On Figg Street, Sacrilegious, Raymond 1969.
JOEY BADASS – 1999
Joey Badass was born in 1995. That means as at 2012 when he dropped this tape he was only 17.
He had not even attained the legal age to drink liquor, or have s…
Yet his aptly titled mixtape is a throwback to the last year of that decade in which he was born, a year which birthed classics like Things Fall Apart, Black On Both Sides and Soundbombing II.
This tape embodies everything one loves about 90’s hiphop – boom bap drums, jazz rap, sampling, emceeing.
Joey’s lyricism is matured and exposes him to be a young kid with an old soul.
‘Hardknock’ is brilliant. ‘Suspect’ is reminiscent of Big L’s ‘8 Iz Enuf’.
He puts on members of his Pro Era collective, of which CJ Fly and Kirk Knight are the most outstanding. 1999 was the best mixtape of the year, period.
Essential Tracks: Survival Tactics, Hardknock, Suspect, Waves, Snakes, Funky Ho$, Righteous Minds.
THE GAME – JESUS PIECE
The album cover to this tape generated a lot of controversy.
A painting of a black Jesus on a red stained, church glass window, sporting a red bandana with Jesus pieces on his neck.
But besides the controversy, this album is quality.
Game is philosophical and gets in tune with the moral and religious questions in a thug’s life.
‘Can’t Get Right’ sees him asking existential questions and evaluating his position in rap; ‘Pray ’ which feature’s J.Cole sees them praying for the women society has wronged; ‘Name Me King’ with Pusha T has an excellent sample of a Florence + The Machine song; ‘Hallelujah’ sees him having a variety of unseemly church fantasies; Common has an outstanding verse on the title track, while he adopts the Bone Thugs flow on Celebration. ‘Ali Bomaye’ is the banger here.
Album has a lot of religious references.
Essential Tracks: Pray, Name Me King, Hallelujah, Church, Jesus Piece, Heaven’s Arms, Blood Diamonds.
LARGE PROFESSOR – PROFESSOR @ LARGE
First song I heard on this album was the title track and it was such a fulfilling experience I decided to get my hands on the whole album.
One of the first producers who stepped into the vocal booth to record. Known mainly for his work with Main Source and on Nas’ Illmatic, Large Pro besides being first a producer, is one of the few producers with actual mic skills.
His style of production is similar to Pete Rock’s, with jazz samples and use of bass drums.
Album is nice with some grown man raps.
It is acknowledges the golden age of hiphop and features rappers from that era like Busta Rhymes, Cormega, Fame of M.O.P and Tragedy Khadafi.
Essential Tracks: Professor @ Large, Focused Up, Straight From The Golden, MARS, Kick Da Habit.
AESOP ROCK – SKELETHON
How do you introduce Aesop Rock to someone who has never heard him before?
Hyper-intelligent raps of the abstract type. If you think Lupe is a difficult listen, try Aes.
Aesop Rock does not set out to please you or, have something for everyone.
The production here is assorted and varied with experimental, industrial rap sounds reminiscent of El-P.
He delves into storytelling on ‘Ruby 81’ where a dog saves a baby that almost drowns in a pool.
For a moment, the story almost goes sideways; ‘Crows 1’ is necromantic, ‘Racing Stripes’ stands out lyrically, the last verse of ‘Gopher Guts’ is pure honesty while ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, is the highlight of the album.
Album is a difficult listen for the uninitiated, but it is always nice to try something new.
Essential Tracks: BMX, Leisureface, Crows 1, Ruby, Zero Dark Thirty, Gopher Guts
MASTA ACE – MA DOOM: SON OF YVONNE
The corridors of hiphop knows Masta Ace is a seasoned vet with a respected pen game.
It’s not just his lyricism that shines, his flow too. Which is why he’s influenced the likes of Eminem.
This album is a dedication to his mother, a single woman who raised him and the music she introduced him to, and upon which he grew up on. The 70’s and 80’s black music, jazz and soul influences which are heavily sampled on this record.
The beats are from MF Doom instrumentals.
This is a thematic concept album and Ace’s lyrics and technique explore the theme to the max.
A time travel to the 70’s and 80’s through hiphop.
Essential Tracks: Son of Yvonne, Nineteen Seventy Something, Me And My Gang, Slow Down, I Did It.
APOLLO BROWN & GUILTY SIMPSON – DICE GAME
The second Apollo Brown collab alum on this list.
This time he teams up with Guilty Simpson for an album that sounds as good as Trophies.
Guilty Simpson makes you understand that life is like a dice game.
He simply tells hood stories of his life, experiences, relationship with hiphop, death and mortality, crime and unemployment in the city of Detroit as could best be presented from someone on the underground scene.
There is an honesty to the lyrics, a steady flow and boisterous vocals.
A lot of brassy, church organ type choral soul samples here, well complimented by the rhymes.
Torae and Planet Asia are the only guests.
Essential Tracks: How Will I Go, Reputation, Nasty, Neverending Story, Truth Be Told, Ink Blotches, Dear Jane.
BROTHER ALI – MOURNING IN AMERICA AND DREAMING IN COLOR
Brother Ali’s stock in trade is the socio-political.
The kind of artiste who does an expose of the American foreign policy impact and the effects of the war on terror while contrasting it with human rights infringements.
He is not all preachy. Coming from a disadvantaged background as someone who suffers from albinism and is legally blind, he is competent enough to address injustice, using his personal life struggles and experiences as a background.
The album title sums up the theme, but that’s not what its all about.
There’s commentary on the state of hiphop, and he does it so well.
Essential Tracks: Letter To My Countrymen, Stop The Press, Only Life I Know, Need A Knot, Say Amen.
SEAN PRICE – MIC TYSON
Hard-hitting, grimy bars and clever lyricism.
That’s Sean Price in a wrap.
First time I heard him was on Talib Kweli’s Palookas from the Gutter Rainbows album.
So Talib and Sean got into an argument about who’s the nicest Brooklynite.
Sean told Kweli that he’s a nice lyricist and doesn’t want this smoke; Talib said they would have to do a joint together to see who’s better, and when the song came out, it was flames.
You’d have to check it out to find out who won.
Essential Tracks: Bar-Barian, STFU Pt. 2, BBQ Sauce, Frankenberry, Straight Music, The Genesis of Omega, Bully Rap.
BIG K.R.I.T – LIVE FROM THE UNDERGROUND; & 4EVA N A DAY
His debut album and the third instalment of the mixtape series which he started in 2010.
Both tapes are very solid.
He plays to his strengths. Sticking to what he knows works best for him.
Stays true to the underground, continues with the soul samples and production, collabs with established southern artistes and has the late great guitar maestro, B.B King here.
Album Essential Tracks: Porchlight, Praying Man, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Don’t Let Me Down.
Mixtape Essential Tracks: Boobie Miles, Red Eye, Yesterday, 1986, Handwriting, Insomnia Guitar
MEEK MILL – DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES
Meek Mill’s debut album.
Energy, hunger for fame, I had dreams of being here and now I am actually here… type of raps pervade this album.
His rapid fire, almost shouting his lyrics at you flow is quite obvious.
Meek feels very much at home on the MMG roster and Rick Ross’ shadow is seen towering all over this album.
They crafted a solid one.
Essential Tracks: Traumatized, Maybach Curtains, Dreams & Nightmares, Young & Getting It, Believe It, In God We Trust, Polo And Shell Tops.
Written by Epsi Gabriel