5. TNGHT: TNGHT
I’ll start off the list with an album that a lot of people unfortunately haven’t heard of. TNGHT, a duo of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, are making lots of headway in hip-hop and electronic music. In fact, its almost impossible to tell which genre the two fit into. Their self-titled EP is astounding, with five of the best hip-hop beats ever produced, that also happen to be 5 of the most banging dance tracks I’ve ever heard. While the EP is short, clocking in at under 20 minutes, the thrill it produces lasts much longer. Hopefully this is only a taste of things to come. Even Kanye loves TNGHT, and made an appearance at one of their shows. If there was ever a time to jump on the bandwagon, it is now.
4. R.A.P. Music: Killer Mike
Killer Mike has been in the rap game for a while now. He was essential to many Outkast songs, and had a few minor hits in his solo career. However, he has never created an album as political, as angry, and as hard as R.A.P. Music. A part of that can be contributed to El-P, who produced the album. However, Mike’s lyrics and flow can’t be looked over either. On tracks like “Reagan” and “Big Beast”, Mike drops some of his headiest and thoroughly provoking verses he has ever done. R.A.P. Music acted almost as a prequel to El-P’s own solo album, Cancer 4 Cure. The two featured dark, paranoid, and complex beats that are a staple of the producer. Yet Cancer 4 Cure lacked the ferocity of the one thing that set R.A.P. Music over the edge, and that is the man himself, Killer Mike.
3. Attack on Memory: Cloud Nothings
Rock returned in a big way in 2012. Fun. and Maroon 5 were bringing rock back to pop, Jack White and Green Day made some of the best music of their careers, and Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young proved they were anything but old fogies. However, the best rock and roll music of the year came from smaller bands that will not receive as much recognition by fans. Attack on Memory is a prime example of this. This small band from Cleveland wears their influences on their sleeves. Its clear that they grew up listening to bands like The Replacements and Nirvana, and their music sounds eerily similar to these great bands. The band also brings refreshing lyrics that separates them from the other 80’s-90’s rock copy-cat band. “Stay Useless” in particular is an amazing ode to stagnation, and an anthem for the lazy generation.
2. Celebration Rock: The Japandroids
I don’t know if I have made this clear enough. I LOVE this album. It is pure adrenaline soaked rock and roll from beginning to the end. Two man bands have dominated rock for the last decade, (ie: White Stripes, Black Keys) and this duo from Vancouver B.C. look to be the next big thing. Their guitars have more feedback than any other album in 2012, and their drums seem louder and more intense. The band is obsessed with the thrills and perils of youth, and it pervades through every second of the album, from the instrumentation to the lyrics. The songs on this album remind me of classic 70’s and 80’s coming of age classics, with odes to living free and striving to prove everyone around you wrong. Songs such as “Fire’s Highway”, “Younger Us” , and (my personal favorite song of the year) “The House That Heaven Built”, leave you full of energy and rebellious fire. If the next album on the list had not been created, this would for sure be my number one.
1. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City: Kendrick Lamar
Well here we have it folks. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City was the most hyped album of the year. Every one and their mother was excited for this release, and before the album was even released people were calling Kendrick the next great rapper. How could the album possibly live up to the hype? Apparently, for Kendrick, that was the easy part. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is nothing less than a hip-hop masterpiece. From the beginning of “Sherane”, Kendrick explores his life growing up in Compton, yet not in the way Nas, 2pac, Jay-Z, and the other gangster rappers have. Kendrick’s portrait is much more personal, with moments of compassion to go with the hardness. What Kendrick has done with this album is move hip-hop into a mature direction. Sure NWA and Jay-Z swore more, and Drake may have more overt emotions, but Kendrick practices something rap doesn’t see very often: subtlety. This is not an album to be listened to by picking out one song. If you do, then tracks like “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools” will not resonate as powerful when taken as part of the whole. Everything about Goood Kid, M.A.A.D. City is done with purpose. There are no throwaways. All of the songs are powerful. There is not one instance where Kendrick gets lazy. Even the final track, “Compton”, which many people have questioned, makes sense from a musical standpoint. In hip-hop it is very hard to make a good victory track; the songs about getting to the top are usually much more entertaining than the ones that are found there. Yet even Kendrick’s victory lap is brilliant. There has seldom been an album with as much sheer lyrical content than Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. If I had to pick just a few tracks to check out, I would suggest “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Poetic Justice”, “Swimming Pools”, and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”. But seriously, anyone who considers them self a music fan must listen to this album. It is the single best hip-hop release since Outkast broke up. As close to perfect as it can get.