With 2012 almost out the door, it’s about that time for magazines, websites and blogs to take the customary look back over the last twelve months to highlight those releases most worthy of recognition for really hitting the sonic bullseye during the course of the year.
Whilst the usual debates concerning the state of Hip-Hop have continued to rage on street corners, social media sites and everywhere else music fans may congregate, inbetween the vast amount of mediocre and downright terrible music that’s come from the mainstream / underground rap worlds during 2012, there’s also been a decent number of impressive album and EP releases from various corners of Planet Rock which have all delivered in terms of quality, creativity and overall dopeness.
As I always say when putting a list like this together, the projects and artists included in this 2012 round-up aren’t the only names and releases that were worth checking over the last year, but they are the ones that spent the most time booming out of my headphones and speakers.
So, in no particular order…
Roc Marciano – “Reloaded” (Decon) – With the release of 2010’s “Marcberg” album transforming Strong Island’s Roc Marciano from respected underground emcee to Hip-Hop cult hero, the former UN member refined his Rotten Apple sound even further on this sophomore solo shot, delivering a relentless barrage of vivid wordplay over melodic, minimalist production.
Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam) – Arguably Queensbridge’s favourite son’s most cohesive and consistent body of work since 1994’s timeless “Illmatic”. Nas might not have chalked-up another universal classic with his latest album, but he did sound more comfortable in his own skin on this project than he has done in a long time, as he reminisced about 90s New York, dealt with parental responsibility and reflected on his recent marriage problems.
Mystro – “Mystrogen” (Don’t Bizznizz) – Having started 2012 amidst rumours of retirement, veteran London emcee MysDiggi laid any such talk to rest with the release of his long-awaited debut full-length, lacing a varied selection of up-beat production from the likes of Mr. Thing and Black Einstein with his witty verses, leftfield life observations and sharp humour.
DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – “Kolexxxion” (Gracie Productions / Works Of Mart) – The infamous Freddie Foxxx teaming-up with hardcore composer DJ Premier for a full-length project was always going to result in something memorable and “Kolexxxion” definitely lived up to expectations. Bumpy proudly displayed his OG stripes, schooling upcoming artists on the rules of the game and giving his opinion on the state of the culture, whilst Premier crafted an impeccable selection of thoroughbred bangers tough enough to crack concrete.
Keith Science – “Vessels Of Thought Volume II” (Central Wax Records) – A polished collection of instrumentals from the New Jersey-based producer, this album encompassed a number of different musical vibes and emotions, ranging from jazzy optimism to aggressive boom-bap, with each track maintaining its own unique sonic personality thanks to Science’s mastery of true-school Hip-Hop production.
Apollo Brown & OC – “Trophies” (Mello Music Group) – Having built himself a solid reputation as the go-to man for drum-heavy underground production, Detroit’s Apollo Brown tested his talents to the limit by joining forces with legendary D.I.T.C. emcee OC, resulting in a quality concept-driven album full of head-nodding beats and lyrical jewels that contained enough creative chemistry to make the uninitiated think the pair had been recording together for years.
Timeless Truth – “Brugal & Presidentes” (Timeless Truth) – Steeped in Rotten Apple heritage, Queens, NY brothers Solace and Oprime39 paid homage to their city’s traditional boom-bap sound on this EP unleashed at the top of 2012 without sounding like they were simply chasing the musical ghosts of a lost era. The duo’s intense, sample-heavy style and ferocious verbal artillery kept heads salivating all year for the release of their recent full-length “Rock-It Science”.
Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought – “Attractive Sin” (Parallel Thought Ltd) – Ice Cube’s cousin has faced criticism in recent times for being just a little too off-the wall on some of his solo material, but whether it was a conscious decision or just natural creativity, on this Parallel Thought-produced project the Hiero emcee sounded more focused than he has in a long time. Backed by beats ranging from anthemic West Coast funk (“On Momma’s House”) to breakbeat-driven old-school flavour (“1520 Sedgewick”), Del delivered a potent lession in lyrical excellence that recalled the brilliance of his early critically-acclaimed work.
DJ Format – “Statement Of Intent” (Project Blue Book) – A rejuvenated Format returned to burn on his third album, pulling together musical influences that ranged from old-school New York block parties and 80s electro to golden-era greatness, creating a diverse but ultimately-satisfying musical mosaic featuring the likes of Edan, Mr. Lif and Phill Most Chill holding down microphone duties. An entertaining sonic journey back to the future.
House Shoes – “Let It Go” (Tres Records) – A close friend of the late, great Dilla and a talented producer in his own right, Detroit’s House Shoes pulled together an impressive line-up of Motown talent such as Black Milk and Guilty Simpson plus a few out-of-towners (Roc Marciano, The Alchemist etc) to ensure his official debut album was something to remember. Clearly feeling he had something to prove to the non-believers out there, “Let It Go” wasn’t just the sound of a producer putting together a typical compilation-style album, this was the sound of a man on a musical mission.
Part Two coming soon.