And just like that, another year is in the books. I think we’re all happy the world didn’t end on the 21st, if for no other reason than that this list gets to be presented to the public. AlbatRoss and I have worked on compiling the perfect wrap-up list for 2012 in hip-hop and we’ll be breaking it down in 4 stages of 20. We had 2 guidelines we stuck to in compiling this list: 1) it had to be rap (meaning no R&B – Frank Ocean and Miguel had killer years but they won’t be found on this list) and 2) one song per project on the list. We did this (including honorable mentions, of course) to make sure we brought a good variety from the list and not to overcrowd the 80 with hits from a distinct few albums.
80. Freddie Gibbs feat. Krayzie Bone & SpaceGhostPurrp – Kush Cloud [Link]
79. The FiNaTTicZ feat. Ray J – Bang Boom [Link]
78. Nitty Scott MC feat. Kendrick Lamar – Flower Child [Link]
77. Driicky Graham feat. Moninayo – Suckerproof [Link]
76. Clear Soul Forces – Stack Yo Paypuh [Link]
Honorable Mentions from Detroit #Revolution(s): “Stick Em,” “Get No Better”
75. Jon Connor feat. Lia Mack – Don’t Wanna Be [Link]
Honorable Mention from While You Were Sleeping: “Dubby”
74. Dom Kennedy feat. Kendrick Lamar – We Ball [Link]
73. Kid Ink feat. Machine Gun Kelly – Hell & Back (Remix) [Link]
72. Flatbush Zombies – Mary, Nothing Above Thee [Link]
The Flatbush Zombies had a breakout year and rose to the forefront as one of the hottest new hip-hop acts around. They rose from relative obscurity to the cutting edge of the genre with a gritty, nasty sound largely due to their mixtape, D.R.U.G.S. In an age where radio rap is all the same, this Brooklyn duo really brings a unique sound and feel, and while they are by no stretch of the imagination refreshing, their presence is definitely a welcome refreshment to the same old same old.
Honorable Mentions from D.R.U.G.S.: “Laker Paper,” “Thug Waffle”
71. Action Bronson feat. Roc Marciano – Pouches of Tuna [Link]
Honorable Mentions from Blue Chips: “Arts & Leisure,” “Tan Leather”
70. A-Trak feat. Juicy J & Danny Brown – Piss Test [Link]
69. The O’My’s feat. Twista, Chuck Inglish, Chip Tha Ripper & Chance The Rapper – Bout A Dolla [Link]
68. The World Famous Tony Williams feat. Fonzworth Bentley & Chip Tha Ripper – Marsha Braidy [Link]
67. Aston Mathews feat. Danny Brown, ASAP Nast & Flatbush Zombies – Mini Van Dan (Remix) [Link]
66. Joe Budden feat. Ab-Soul – Cut From A Different Cloth [Link]
2012 was a big year for Joe Budden, as he put out a mixtape and album with his group Slaughterhouse and dropped A Loose Quarter, a mixtape of his own. Jumpoff really opened himself up for the tape and filled it with emotional songs about various problems. This is one of the standouts from the project and features a dope verse from Ab-Soul and a Cudi-sounding chorus. Both of these artists will show up again later at various points in the countdown.
Honorable Mentions from A Loose Quarter: “Pain Won’t Stop,” “The Helmet”
65. Rittz feat. Tech N9ne – Bloody Murdah [Link]
64. Ro Ransom – Sorry Ms. Ransom [Link]
We avoided freestyles on this list, but this one particular track from Ro Ransom was impossible to exclude. Rhyming over the classic Outkast instrumental “Ms. Jackson,” Young Coyote brings such a creative flow to the song and completes the package with some killer lyrics, as well (‘Quick assessment: your ho is weak my bitch is gold/I’m global warming even locally your shit is cold’) . Ransom tried to follow up his great freestyles with the drop of his mixtape Ransomnia, which was an unfortunate disappointment, but this verse cemented his place in the great 80 of 2012.
63. Talib Kweli feat. Curren$y & Kendrick Lamar – Push Thru [Link]
62. Pharoahe Monch – Damage [Link]
61. Logic – My Chain [Link]
60. Capital STEEZ feat. Joey Bada$$ – Talking Shit [Link]
59. Troy Ave feat. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Action Bronson, Maffew Ragazino & Avon Blocksdale – Home T.E.A.M. [Link]
58. Killer Mike – Don’t Die
Honorable Mention from R.A.P. Music: “Big Beast,” “Reagan”
57. Lupe Fiasco – Bitch Bad
Honorable Mention from Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1: “Lamborghini Angels,” “Battle Scars”
56. French Montana feat. Jadakiss, Styles P, Red Cafe, Fat Joe & Uncle Murda – Shot Caller (Remix) [Link]
55. Nottz feat. Pusha T & Dwele – You Need This (Music) [Link]
54. Pusha T feat. The-Dream – Exodus 23:1 [Link]
This song, generally accepted to be a diss track aimed at Drake, was the height of the beef between the two rappers. It prompted a wack response song from Lil’ Wayne that started ‘Fuck Pusha T and anybody that love him’ but after these two songs had the makings of a great beef, it kind of fizzled out rather quickly. It did give us this dope, hard-hitting track from Pusha though, and an equally good music video depicting Pusha chilling in his home hood.
53. Chance The Rapper – Prom Night [Link]
Honorable Mentions from 10Day: “Hey Ma,” “Brain Cells”
52. ChrisCo feat. Jon Connor & Elzhi – Straight Up [Link]
51. Trae Tha Truth feat. Big K.R.I.T., Jadakiss, J. Cole. Kendrick Lamar, B.o.B., Tyga, Gudda Gudda & Bun B – I’m On 2.0 [Link]
50. XV feat. ScHoolboy Q & B.o.B. – Aaahh! Real Monsters [Link]
Honorable Mention from Popular Culture: “Wonkavator”
49. Kirko Bangz – Help Me Out [Link]
48. Childish Gambino feat. Bun B – R.I.P. [Link]
Honorable Mentions from Royalty: “Unnecessary,” “Silk Pillow”
47. Masta Ace & MF DOOM – Slow Down [Link]
46. G.O.O.D. Music feat. Pusha T, Chief Keef, Kanye West, Big Sean & Jadakiss – I Don’t Like (Remix) [Link]
Perhaps no song explains today’s industry better than this one. Kanye West discovered the original “I Don’t Like,” a YouTube song by a relatively unknown Chicago rapper (if we can call him that) and an unknown Chicago producer, decides to get the kid on a remix featuring the rest of the G.O.O.D. Music crew, and creates a superstar rapper/superstar duo. Largely due to this remix, Chief Keef signed a major record deal to Interscope and dropped his debut album, and Young Chop’s beats are a hot commodity all over the hip hop world. Say what you want about the lyrical content of the song, the track BANGS and that’s enough to place it at #47.
45. Das Racist feat. Talib Kweli – The Actual [Link]
44. Dizzy Wright – Can’t Trust Em [Link]
43. T.I. feat. Andre 3000 – Sorry
T.I. began and ended the year with a bang. His mixtape Fuck Da City Up came out on New Years Day last year and it was filled with hits. The first we’d heard from him since he had gotten out of jail, that mixtape hinted at a promising comeback for T.I. and that dream was realized in December when he released his full album Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head. Tip recruited great features from Andre, Meek Mill, ASAP Rocky and even R. Kelly in putting together a project that ranks up there with some of his best work. It helped him find commercial success, too, as the album debuted at #2 in the country.
Honorable Mentions from Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head: “Wildside,” “G Season”
42. Slaughterhouse – Truth or Truth [Link]
41. DJ Khaled feat. J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. & Kendrick Lamar – They Ready
40. G.O.O.D. Music feat. Kanye West, Big Sean & Jay-Z – Clique
We know – one song per project. But that rule doesn’t apply to collaborative projects from a big group (such as G.O.O.D. Music) so they earn multiple spots as necessary. This beat cemented Hit-Boy as one of the legit producers in the rap game.
39. Odd Future – Oldie [Link]
38. Ca$h Out – Cashin’ Out [Link]
37. Nas – Daughters
Honorable Mentions from Life Is Good: “Lovo-Motive,” “The Don”
36. Big Boi feat. Kelly Rowlad – Mama Told Me
35. Himanshu – Womyn [Link]
Honorable Mentions from Nehru Jackets: “Kate Boosh,” “Chakklo”
34. Theophilus London feat. ASAP Rocky – Big Spender [Link]
33. Big Sean feat. Royce Da 5’9″ & Kendrick Lamar – 100 [Link]
Big Sean dropped his mixtape Detroit back in September and immediately threw it into the conversation for best tape of the year. Albums are at their best when they stick to a theme throughout, but mixtapes are best when they display variety and that’s exactly what Detroit does. There’s honestly something for everyone on the tape: An ignorant money song with French Montana, a catchy tune with J. Cole, a druggy song with Juicy J and Chip Tha Ripper, and this introspective existential one with Royce and Kendrick. With the stories added in, the tape is the total package.
Honorable Mentions from Detroit: “24 Karats of Gold,” “Experimental,” “Woke Up”
32. Meek Mill feat. Kendrick Lamar – A1 Everything [Link]
31. Future – Turn On The Lights [Link]
This was absolutely the year of new producers coming to the forefront, and this song was made by one of them: Mike Will Made It. To be honest, Future is difficult to get into, as he doesn’t really display any sort of musical talent such as a good voice or a sense of rhythm. But there’s just something about this song… it grows on you until you can’t help but admit you really like it.
30. Big K.R.I.T. feat. Anthony Hamilton – Porchlight
Honorable Mentions from Live From The Underground: “What U Mean,” “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”
29. Prophit feat. Laws – Hey Mama [Link]
28. Maffew Ragazino feat. Das Racist – Jackson Pollock [Link]
27. G.O.O.D. Music feat. Big Sean, Pusha T, Kanye West & 2 Chainz – Mercy
26. Trinidad James – All Gold Everything [Link]
Here it is… what else can be said about this song. It has taken over the rap game, with the music video amassing over 2 million views in just 3 weeks. The beat is likely what drove this song to the top, but a catchy chorus and catchy lines (“Popped a molly I’m sweating, WOO!“) keep it running through your head day after day. Trinidad James is the latest to blow up out of nowhere, entirely due to the internet. Trinidad might, however, actually have an edge on his competition. While he certainly blew up entirely thanks to this one song, his whole October mixtape Don’t Be S.A.F.E. is actually not too bad. He’s definitely not a great rapper, and he isn’t quite as conscious as… well… as anybody, but his beat selection on that tape is excellent and he knows how to ride the instrumental. Look for him to sign a megadeal in the next months.
Honorable Mentions from Don’t Be S.A.F.E.: “Tonk For The Money,” “Females Welcomed”
24. Chief Keef – Love Sosa
23. Kanye West feat. Pusha T & Ghostface Killah – New God Flow
22. Joey Bada$$ feat. CJ Fly – Hardknock [Link]
Joey Bada$$ burst onto the scene this year as a 17 year old rapper from NYC and deservedly being hailed as the new next. With Kendrick Lamar and ASAP Rocky now, hip-hop needs a new next, and Bada$$ is as good a candidate as any. His mixtape 1999 was one of the best of the year and his voice, rhymes, and flow are well beyond his years. This whole mixtape proves that, and choosing one song from this tape was one of the hardest tasks in creating this list, but the third verse on “Hardknock” might be the very best example of his talent. Watch for him to sign a megadeal soon; if he does, it will be much deserved.
Honorable Mentions from 1999: “Waves,” “World Domination,” “Survival Tactics”
21. DJ Khaled feat. Scarface & Nas – Hip Hop
20. ASAP Rocky feat. 2 Chainz, Drake & Kendrick Lamar – Fuckin’ Problem
19. Black Hippy – Black Lip Bastard (Remix) [Link]
18. Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)
17. T.I. feat. Dr. Dre – Popped Off [Link]
Honorable Mentions from F*ck Da City Up: “Harry Potter,” “I’ll Show You,” “Oh Yeah”
16. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop
Honorable Mention from The Heist: “Same Love”
15. Red Eye feat. Ruste Juxx, Reks, Reef the Lost Cauze, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Sha Stimuli, Nutso, M-Dot, Midaz – Unfukwitable [Link]
14. ScHoolboy Q feat. ASAP Rocky – Hands On The Wheel
Honorable Mentions from Habits & Contradictions: “Druggys wit Hoes Again,” “Blessed”
13. Kendrick Lamar feat. Ab-Soul & Jay Rock – The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die) [Link]
12. Slaughterhouse – Goodbye
Honorable Mentions from Welcome To: Our House: “My Life,” “Our House”
11. ASAP Mob feat. ASAP Rocky, ASAP Ant & Flatbush Zombies – Bath Salt [Link]
10. Ab-Soul feat. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko – Terrorist Threats
Honorable Mentions from Control System: “Lust Demons,” “ILLuminate”
9. Danny Brown – Grown Up [Link]
8. Elzhi – Blue Widow [Link]
7. Kendrick Lamar – The Jig Is Up (Dump’n) [Link]
6. ASAP Rocky – Goldie [Link]
5. Rick Ross feat. Gunplay, Stalley, Wale, Meek Mill & Kendrick Lamar – Power Circle [Link]
4. Rick Ross feat. Andre 3000 – Sixteen
3. ASAP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T. – 1 Train
2. Kendrick Lamar – Basically Every Song From Good Kid m.A.A.d. City But We Can Only Technically Pick One So Money Trees Is The One
Honestly, picking just one song from this album is impossible. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” was the radio hit, “Sing About Me (I’m Dying Of Thirst)” and “The Art Of Peer Pressure” are examples of the best storytelling heard in rap in over a decade, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is one of the dopest songs to vibe to… it goes on and on and on. Kendrick absolutely owned this year, and there’s no reason 2013 should be any worse for the best in the game today and already one of the best of all time. If you haven’t heard this album, you are missing out on both excellence and greatness.
1. Kendrick Lamar feat. Gunplay – Cartoon & Cereal [Link]
Who else could possibly top our list? King Kendrick sits on top, specifically with this single released back in February. This track is the total package. Produced by THC, this is one of the best-produced songs of the year, filled with samples from cartoons. The tinkering with Kendrick’s voice to lay it just perfectly over the bumping beat gives it a unique sound. MMG’s Gunplay is certainly not the best rapper around but his voice is perfect at times; this song is one of those times, and the listener gets drawn into the genuine sound he brings on the final verse. Kendrick does what he always does in his verses: rip them to shreds. The ingenuity, creativity, and originality behind this track bring it to the very top of this years list.