Best of the Year (So Far)

By: Danny Sedlazek
2012 has been a rather disappointing year for hip hop, especially when compared to the surprisingly eclectic and exciting climate of 2011. Last year was all about independent artists breaking to the mainstream; this one is all about digging through the crates.
There haven’t been any notable newcomers this year, and many freshly established artists, such as Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar, and A$AP Rocky, have released disappointing follow-ups. However, there are more and more collaborative efforts that manage to keep the scene fresh. It’s a year that puts new spins on old favorites, not a year of breakout stars.
However, the good music that has come out this year is amazing. I can only think of one or two average releases – almost everything has been clustered around opposite ends of the spectrum.
Normally I wouldn’t condone a mid-year review, but since so much of the quality material has flown beneath everybody’s radar, I’d rather point out the diamonds before they are forever lost beneath the ruff.
Best Album: Oddisee- People See What They Hear
Oddisee is Sudanese/American rapper and producer hailing from PG County. He has been grinding out instrumentals for half a decade and has gotten some local acclaim for his beat-tapes, but his debut LP, People See What They Hear, finally puts him behind the mic. And it blew me away. I hate throwing around the word “classic,” but I’d very tempted to bestow that title upon this.
The beats are some of the best I have ever heard. Oddisee draws major influences from legendary producers Timberland and J Dilla, creating these extremely lush, soulful, and powerful instrumentals with upbeat and snappy drums. I couldn’t pick out just one as my favorite, but the way the horns and vocals so drenched in reverb they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon meld create a background for some beautiful strings on “Ready To Rock.” It is a definite stand-out.
But Oddisee’s already proved himself as a producer, so I was a little nervous to hear him actually spit. I don’t know why I was. He has a thick southern drawl and a flow that is something of a hybrid between old school Kid Cudi and Andre 3000. Lyrically, he paints vivid emotional pictures about everything from government corruption to family tributes to the vicious cycle of lower class living. He likes to sprinkle his verses with subtle wordplay. While he’s far from the greatest to ever do it, he’s no slouch either.
His strongest strength is his songwriting. In a genre plagued by songs that lack clear concepts, Oddisee really knows how to put a song together. His beats always blend extremely well with his lyrics and emotions to one complete experience.
Some people may have gripes with the length, since the project flies by in 43 minutes, but I prefer my albums on the shorter side. There is no room for error, but there’s also no room for filler.
If you’re a fan of Cudi, soulful beats, or rap that is about so much more than bragging about amenities, People See What They Hear is a record you have to hear. You won’t regret it.
Honorable Mention: Blu & Exile- Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them
Best Mixtape: Action Bronson and Party Supplies- Blue Chips
Action Bronson has to have the best background of any MC currently in the game. He’s this short, obese, Albanian red head who used to be a 4 star chef. The man cooked for the New York Yankees. That’s talent. However, he came from a fairly hard part of Queens, New York. Then, when a broken leg rendered him bed-ridden and unable to cook, he decided to focus on his hobby: rapping. He’s been one of the best rappers in the game ever since.
Bronson weaves these stream of conscious raps littered with references to gourmet food, obscure ‘80s celebrities, and street living. He takes you on a journey, and practically every line requires a rewind just so you can try to process how he came up with it. He’s been grinding extremely hard these days, having put out four projects in under two years, and his latest, a mixtape with up-and-coming producer Party Supplies is his best yet.
Party Supplies gives this background of ‘70s rock and, of all things, and ‘50s vocal-pop. As un-traditional as it sounds, it totally melds with Bronson’s off the wall rhymes. Even when Bronson is honing in on a specific topic, such as young love or Thanksgiving day, he keeps his signature style intact.
Anyone who wants rawer or offbeat sounding hip hop should definitely check this out. I mean…it’s free.
Honorable Mention: Big K.R.I.T.- 4eva n a Day
Best Song: MadGibbs- “Thuggin”
A critically acclaimed west coast producer famed for his experimental and abstract sampling teams up with an active gang member? It doesn’t sound too good on paper, but Madlib and Freddie Gibbs (or MadGibbs as they prefer to be called) make one heck of a team.
They’ve only put out a handful of songs, but “Thuggin” is by far the best. Gibbs spits unfaltering and extremely believable hardcore street raps reminiscent of the best ‘90s gangsta-rappers over some sort of stringed instrument, probably a sitar (with Madlib, you never know exactly what you’re hearing), that seem to echo in the background for days.
You can bump it in your car; you can bump it walking down the street; you can bump it at your grandma’s funeral. It’s a surefire heater with something more if you want to look a little deeper.
While it’s not for everyone, if your taste is a little bit off the beaten path, there is no reason for you to not download this.
Honorable Mention: Oddisee ft. Oliver Daysoul- “You Know Who Yo