With the first half down, here’s the final five. No need for long introductions. Just read on to find out who made the cut.
5. Schooboy Q – Habits and Contradictions
His crushing flows aside, Q is not the best rapper in TDE. In fact, he’s probably the probably the worst one. However, he’s also the most fun and the most awesome. Nobody out right now doesn’t give a fuck the way Q doesn’t give a fuck. Try him. He doesn’t give a fuck so much that he isn’t even going to bother with you. You can either get on his level or get out of his way, and in that regard he is a completely convincing guy. The album is packed with fucking jams. “Hands on the Wheel” isn’t a top 5 song of the year? Yeah, right.
4. Ab-Soul – Control System
I know, I know. Soulo above Q? Trust me, it wasn’t easy. What it came down to was this: Q awesome and probably a lot of fun to be around. On Control System, though, Ab is a more interesting guy than Q ever manages to be. Their albums have the same major issue—neither truly merits its length—but like the other members of Black Hippy, Ab-Soul has a unique place in rap. No one else is saying what he’s saying or making the references he’s making. He’s simultaneously intimately revealing and painfully guarded. It’s in his voice. Control System might not be the most fun of 2012’s releases, but it is one of the most mesmerizing.
3. Action Bronson – Rare Chandeliers
No matter what they tell you or how they accomplish it, a rapper is selling is a character. In 2012, there was no better example of this than Action Bronson. Bronson deals fantasies. His braggadocio reaches far beyond simple drug lord, “greatest rapper alive fiction.” He rhymes about ridiculous misadventures in a grindhouse style. Have you seen the cover of this album? Rare Chandeliers wasn’t even Bronson’s only release this year, but it was his strongest. Alchemist, who tends to be hit or miss, turns out to be Bronson’s best partner yet.
Download: Sermon’s Domain
2. Nas – Life is Good
After two stale, sloppily curated albums (Hip-Hop is Dead and Untitled) Nas had us worried. His unexciting beat selection and overambitious concepts became exhausting to hear. The Don was forcing it. After his very public tax and divorce problems, he seems to have taken the opposite approach on Life is Good. With the help of No ID and Salaam Remi, he sounds almost enlightened. Nas spent his entire career trying to be the everyman. He was his own worst enemy. This year, he became the everyman just trying to be himself. Also: album cover of the year, and probably Nas’ career.
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
By the end of 2012, it’s obvious: there simply isn’t anyone in the game rapping better than Kendrick Lamar. His flows are poignant and inventive. He’s not just a fantastic technical rapper, he’s also a lyricist who isn’t preachy. That, plus he’s got an excellent ear for beats. The guy’s career is a perfect storm right now. Last year’s Section.80 set high expectations; with major backing, Kendrick delivered not only one of the best major label debuts, but albums, in recent memory.