Ethan’s Top “Ten” Albums of 2012
Well, here’s the thing: There weren’t ten good albums this year. There were three incredibly strong albums that could have been number one practically any other year. And then two other pretty solid albums. And then a bunch of noise. So here’s the top five…
5. Nas – Life Is Good
Nas is a free man. And Life Is Good is a celebration of freedom.
Divorce can suck (I would imagine). Being Nas can ease those feelings (I would also imagine). Not a lot of dudes will record an album about their divorce with their ex-wife’s wedding dress over their knee on the album cover. Nas ain’t most dudes.
One of the greatest aspects of Life Is Good was the hearkening back to early Nas. The two best tracks on the album involved two veterans of the hip-hop game; Large Professor (who produced three tracks off Illmatic) on “Loco-Motive” and Heavy D’s last production — “The Don.” Sometimes in order to go forward, you gotta go back.
4. RZA – The Man With The Iron Fists OST
Consider it a Wu-Tang mixtape. With guests. Lots and lots of guests.
Kicking off with a janky 70’s-style track from Blakroc, and then going into hard-nosed cameos from M.O.P., Kool G. Rap, Freddie Gibbs, Pusha T and practically anybody else that matters in hip-hop.
Kanye West’s “White Dress” is his best track of 2012. Shoulda saved it for Cruel Summer, Ye.
The Man With The Iron Fists wasn’t exactly the kung-fu film RZA has been envisioning since 36 Chambers; but RZA’s never screwed up a soundtrack.
3. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Channel Orange could be the Album of the Year. A sea change in the industry. And a big leap forward for unicorns.
Hip-hop and sports are essentially the last known frontiers for homosexuals in terms of universal acceptance. Ocean’s own producer and Odd Future-mate Tyler the Creator is dropping the same f-word Eminem was dropping a decade earlier and Ice-T was dropping a decade before him. You don’t want to make the fact that Frank Ocean is gay the focal point of the album, like that’s its only saving grace; but it is a breath of fresh air in an industry that still doesn’t let a lot of like-minded people breathe.
The production, much like fellow OFer Tyler the Creator, is heavily Pharrell-influenced. A lot of mellow beats and ambient sounds. A sonic landscape that takes multiple listens to fully explore.
Channel Orange is one of the greatest albums released in the last few years, which says a lot of the best two albums of 2012.
2. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors – Big Boi
It seems like Sir Lucious Left Foot just came out; but that might just be the ever-increasing quickness of the march of time toward the impending sweet release of death. Which is kinda what this album’s about.
Big Boi’s getting old. “Rapper old,” not “real people old.” But old, nonetheless. Age gives you perspective. And perspective gives you the freedom to jump from a curb-stompin’ city-pimper like “In The A” to a navel-gazing grown-ass man song like “She Hates Me” about a lost love attempted to be won back.
Big Boi evolves with music. He doesn’t just stubbornly butt his head against it. Other rappers –ahem, KRS-One — have soured with age and just sound bitter towards the new youth entering the game. Big Boi embraces it, bringing in young bucks like A$AP Rocky along with old heads like Luda, T.I.P. & Killer Mike (aka Cappadonna South).
This album is about a man getting older in a game that stays young. Daddy Fat Saxxx can still rap circles around these young’ns.
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Outside of The Coup & Madlib productions, the west coast hasn’t mattered much in hip-hop in the decade since The Chronic 2001. And concept albums haven’t mattered since Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves in ’99. Kendrick Lamar flipped all that with one album.
Dr. Dre’s executive production is the main reason behind this album’s intimate sound. (Can i say ‘intimate’ about a hip hop album or is that not cool?) This is a personal story told in the voice of the west coast sound that still bounces like it used to. Even though nearly every track was produced by someone different, that old Dr. Dre west coast gangsta lean flavor seeps through. Detox might never happen, so at least we got GKMC.
Kendrick’s love letter to Compton isn’t The Chronic/Doggystyle-level; but at the very least it’s Dogg Food-level. A refreshing street ambiance in an industry soundscape of clone beats and clone brags.
Gonna be tough for 2013 to top GKMC, VLDR or Channel Orange. But there’s a possibility for greatness with Tyler the Creator’s Wolf; Jay Electronica’s Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn); Freddie Gibbs’ The Neck Tie Party; Gnarls Barkley’s next album; Watch the Throne 2; Wu-Tang Clan’s next album; and, shit, Detox? Maybe? Ever?