Stereogum's Top 40 Rap Albums Of 2012

If I’d made a list like this last year, probably 80% of the albums listed would’ve been free-download mixtapes. There are still plenty of those in the list you’ll find below, but there are more actual commercially-available albums than anyone could’ve expected — four of the top five, as it happens. Somehow, some way, despite an ongoing music-business apocalypse and a core audience that can barely ever be assed to pay for music, a whole lot of great rappers figured out ways to put music into actual stores this year, and some of them even sold a bunch of copies. More importantly, many of them figured out ways to knock out cohesive, compelling full-lengths — albums that completely explored a brand-new aesthetic, or paired simpatico rappers and producers, or smartly explored their formative teenage years. Every one of the albums listed below is worth your time. Some of them are even worth your money — even the ones where nobody asked for it. (Also: Sorry in advance that I don’t like Death Grips as much as you guys.)

ST 2 Lettaz - R.E.B.E.L.40 ST 2 LettazR.E.B.E.L. (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 

Deniro Farrar & Shady Blaze - Kill Or Be Killed39 Deniro Farrar & Shady BlazeKill Or Be Killed (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 

Le1f - Dark York38 Le1fDark York (Greedhead)

[Download here.]
 
 

Waka Flocka Flame - Salute Me or Shoot Me 437 Waka Flocka FlameSalute Me Or Shoot Me 4 (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Gangrene - Vodka & Ayahuasca36 GangreneVodka & Ayahuasca (Decon)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Ty$ & Joe Moses - Whoop!35
 Ty$ & Joe MosesWhoop! (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Death Grips - The Money Store34 Death GripsThe Money Store (Epic)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Action Bronson - Rare Chandeliers33 Action BronsonRare Chandeliers (Vice/Warner)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Big K.R.I.T. - Live From The Underground32 Big K.R.I.T.Live From The Underground (Def Jam)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Big Boi - Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors31 Big BoiVicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Boldy James - Consignment30 Boldy JamesConsignment (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Nas - Life Is Good29 NasLife Is Good (Def Jam)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Odd Future - The O.F. Tape 228 Odd FutureThe O.F. Tape 2 (Odd Future/RED)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded27 Nicki MinajPink Friday: Roman Reloaded (Young Money/Universal)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Meyhem Lauren - Mandatory Brunch Meetings26 Meyhem LaurenMandatory Brunch Meetings (Mishka/Greedhead)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Lushlife - Plateau Vision25 LushlifePlateau Vision (Western Vinyl)

[Purchase here.]
 
 
 

Gucci Mane - Trap Back24 Gucci ManeTrap Back (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Killa Kyleon & Mouse - Welcome To The Fish Fry23 Killa Kyleon & MouseWelcome To The Fish Fry (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Death Grips - NO LOVE DEEP WEB22 Death GripsNO LOVE DEEP WEB (Self-released)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Himanshu - Nehru Jackets21 HimanshuNehru Jackets (Greedhead/SEVA)

[Download here.]
 
 
 

Various Artists - The Man With The Iron Fists20 Various ArtistsThe Man With The Iron Fists Soundtrack (Soul Temple)

RZA’s directorial debut was a fun, sloppy mess, but its soundtrack album, which matched grainy Wu-Tang mythological calisthenics with psychedelic flare and expertly curated old-school soul groans, may have been RZA’s real achievement of the year. Best Wu-Tang-related album since Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. [Purchase here.]

Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death - Lord Of The Fly19 Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black DeathLord Of The Fly (Self-released)

More of the drugged-out horror-movie threats and icy synth textures that made last year’s For The Glory such a left-field blast. Nacho and BSBD have now recorded three full-lengths without varying their sound one iota, and it hasn’t lost its punch yet. [Download here.]

Iamsu - Kilt!18 Iamsu!Kilt! (Self-released)

The warm heart of the cold, controlled ratchet-movement sound, Iamsu! raps about sex and partying like someone who really enjoys sex and partying. Su and his cadre of producers also know how to do amazing things with synthetic handclaps. [Download here.]

100s - Ice Cold Perm17 100sIce Cold Perm (Self-released)

This Main Attrakionz affiliate does vicious pimp-rap as something prim and controlled, rapping with chilly force about hair activator and furiously porny sex acts, picking out sharp, minimal beats that mirror his ice-blooded style. In the Main Attrakionz cloud-rap tidal wave, his precision was a revelation. [Download here.]

Meek Mill - Dreams & Nightmares16 Meek MillDreams & Nightmares (Maybach Music/Atlantic)

For the past two years, Meek Mill, a Philly mixtape-scene veteran, has cut through his Maybach Music boss’s puffed-up regality with freaked-out angry-puppy urgency, veering all over tracks with a shouty and high-pitched flow that can be a marvel to behold. On his own official debut, he starts out sprinting and barely ever slows. [Purchase here.]

Ab-Soul - Control System15 Ab-SoulControl System (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)

Black Hippy’s most frantic and freaked member refuses to be overshadowed, diving full-on into super-scientifical existentialism and conspiracy-theorizing, while at the same time remaining shameless enough to swipe hooks from old Black Eyed Peas singles. [Purchase here.]

Gunplay - 601 & Snort14 Gunplay601 & Snort (Self-released)

Thug-rap so deranged and over-the-top that it becomes immediately apparent how much fun Gunplay had making it — Wu-Tang beat interpolations and all. But then, near the end, there’s “Bible On The Dash,” a stark reminder of what’s at stake in everything Gunplay’s rapping about. [Download here.]

Future - Astronaut Status13 FutureAstronaut Status (Self-released)

This street mixtape foreshadowed the brilliant gurgle of Pluto by showing exactly how Future could turn the time-honored Atlanta rap banger into something eerie, half-melted, barely holding itself together. Here, you’ll find some of rap’s catchiest mantras of the year. [Download here.]

Joey Bada$$ - 199912 Joey Bada$$1999 (Self-released)

Pure retro style-exhumation, done by a kid Chief Keef’s age who couldn’t possibly have experienced the genuine article first-hand. But Joey’s cerebral, emotive take on ’90s rap has real heart; it’s a past era as done with the zealousness of a young convert. [Download here.]

Chief Keef - Finally Rich11 Chief KeefFinally Rich (Interscope)

Muscular dead-eyed threat-music that strikes some as America’s life-hating chickens coming home to roost. But this is also a teenager cathartically yelling at the mirror, turning animosity into party music like every half-decent punk ever. And those Young Chop beats just annihilate. [Purchase here.]

Meyhem Lauren - Respect The Fly Shit10 Meyhem LaurenRespect The Fly Shit (Greedhead)

A hard-nosed Queens head-buster plays host to a party’s worth of internet-rap weirdos — recorded in what must’ve been something like an actual party, during a weekend-long SXSW rap bender. Tommy Mas and Harry Fraud’s beats keep the pretzel bowl full. [Download here.]

Mouse - Millionaire Dreamzzz09 MouseMillionaire Dreamzzz (Self-released)

Rapper/producer Mouse is effectively the last standing member of the once-dominant Louisiana crew Trill Ent. But with his sproingy, insanely fun blues-bounce yammer and his dizzy rubber-band beats, he’s more than OK on his own. [Download here.]

Schoolboy Q - Habits & Contradictions08 Schoolboy QHabits & Contradictions (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)

I like to imagine that the Kendrick Lamar/Schoolboy Q relationship is something like the one in the movie My Bodyguard. But if Schoolboy is a bully, he’s an uncommonly smart and hedonistic one. His threats are cartoonish, fun, and his party songs have more than an undercurrent of menace. [Purchase here.]

Rick Ross - Rich Forever07 Rick RossRich Forever (Self-released)

Way more than his actual commercial LP God Forgives, I Don’t, this mixtape captured Ross’s mercenary-mogul panache in full flower. Grunting triumphantly over monolithic stomps like “Holy Ghost” and “Fuck ’Em,” he was great, but he was even better on synth-streaked laments like “Stay Schemin’.” [Download here.]

Roc Marciano - Reloaded06 Roc MarcianoReloaded (Decon)

A veteran New York hard-rock learns that there are so, so many ways to talk about how tough he is, and his production — a spare and snare-free crackle — further pushes what could be rote boom-bap revivalism into something zonked and impressionist. [Purchase here.]

Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music05 Killer MikeR.A.P. Music (Williams Street/Warner)

It took a New York skronk-rap producer to help this Atlanta titan cohesively bridge the divide between his firebrand side and his affable rap-dork side. The fact that T.I. has now rapped on an El-P beat is one of those little things that keeps me going. [Purchase here.]

El-P - Cancer 4 Cure04 El-PCancer For Cure (Fat Possum)

The reigning paranoiac ranter of the late-’90s backpack-rap underground hits new levels of ferocity, paradoxically enough, by giving his 808 attack a new direct simplicity and by remembering how to have fun on the mic. [Purchase here.]

Action Bronson & Party Supplies03 Action Bronson & Party SuppliesBlue Chips (Fool’s Gold)

Two weed-heads rebuilding the scarred wreckage of Champion-hoodie New York rap out of YouTubed pro-wrestling clips and perfectly seasoned lamb shanks. An absolute triumph of halfassery. [Download here.]

Future - Pluto02 FuturePluto (Epic)

In which an Auto-Tuned hook-singer becomes a ghost in the machine, a sad specter wandering through space. On Pluto, Future turned hypnotic robo-chants into the most emotive rap sound-effect we’ve heard in years, rendering his love songs desperate and his bangers exultant. [Purchase here.]

Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City01 Kendrick LamarGood Kid, m.A.A.d. City (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)

As a simple, straight-up rapper, Kendrick Lamar is exemplary — an energetic, tourettically precise hurricane of percussive consonants and damn-right-I’m-good grunts. But Good Kid is the moment he also became a fearless, sprawling youth-in-crisis memoirist, forcing the world to lap up his dizzy flashbacks of close calls and sad reveries. The secret: All these songs still work as rap songs, not just as pieces of a tapestry. [Purchase here.]

//

Check out Stereogum’s Top 50 Albums Of 2012 here and Stereogum’s Top 40 Metal Albums Of 2012 here.

Comments (98)
  1. This is good. Has Stereogum ever considered running a list of Producers of the Year? I think Mike Will and Young Chop would definitely have to be on the top.

  2. Joey Bada$$ not being in the top 10 is a tragedy

  3. No love for Aesop Rock? Tragedy.

  4. I really liked the Captain Murphy project too

  5. I love this list. I have most of em, but I’m more excited about the ones I don’t have, cos I know I’m gonna really enjoy them. Thanks for all the download links.

  6. Stereogum made this list just for copy_paster_cat.

  7. Blue Chips is just incredibly fun. I wouldn’t call it the best of the year, but it might be my favorite.

  8. Trini James? Don’t Be SAFE is fun as fuck, even if it’s only 30 min long, skits included.

  9. You guys.

    ANGEL HAZE

    Come on.

  10. yeah Death Grips not in the top ten….right….

  11. Future has become my favorite over the past few weeks. Changed my entire perspective on auto-tune spit gurgles.

  12. This is what I like to see. Stereogum has such good hip-hop taste it’s crazy.

    Also, where’s that cat motherfucker? I’m sure his “time to leave a stupid comment” alarm went off the moment this was posted.

  13. Kinda cool that most of my favorites are covered here, mine would probably sub some out for…Captain Murphy, The second Kool AD, the second Heems, Big Baby Gandhi, the Hot Sugar EP. Guess what I’m saying is I really like(d) Das Racist.

  14. The Coup made a great album too!

  15. Thanks for this. I probably listened to less rap this year than I have the previous 5 years combined. No reason for it really, but I have a ton of catching up to do.

  16. This is so awesome, Tom. Although, Nehru Jackets I think deserves to be in the top ten, everything else is fire.

    ‘CEPT DEATH GRIPS NEEDS TO BE HIGHER.

  17. My top 2 hip-hop releases were both incredibly expansive and fairly brilliant (and, as far as i can tell, got glowing press when they did get press) but neither made the list.

    There was the enormous hip-hop collective experiment that Geoff Barrow produced, the Quakers s/t and the score/soundtrack that Plan B did for Ill Manors. Both were 2xLPs I think as well. Sad to not see them crop up on more lists, this one included.

    Ah well. Glad to see a lot of my other favorites on here, though,

    • Adding a few others to this list o mine: Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio, Big K.R.I.T. – 4Eva N A Day, and Aesop Rock – Skelethon.

      Related: I can’t have been the only person who was expecting to see Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Fiona Apple in the top 3 slots because fuck specifics.

  18. In a semi-related note, the PRO ERA group mixtape has just dropped.

  19. How is Nas #29, but Rick Ross is #7? Jesus Christ……

  20. would be tough between clams and hit boy. probs gotta give it to hit boy. so many goddamn hits

  21. I’m pretty surprised Taylor Swift didn’t make the list actually. I figured you’d find a way.

  22. Angel Haze should absolutely be on this list. I’d put her mixtapes in the top twenty ALBUMS of the year, hip hop or no.

    Also, “Cruel Summer” is mediocre, but at forty albums, it’s probably worth a slot, especially if the equally mediocre “Roman Reloaded” is. Or you could do what I did and make a playlist of the good halves of each of those albums, call it “Pink Summer,” and end up with a MONSTER of a singles comp (pun intended).

    And as far as producer of the year, I’d say it pretty unequivocally goes to Hit-Boy. Think about it: Goldie, Backseat Freestyle, Clique, Come on a Cone, 1Train, it goes on…

  23. There’s a lot of mediocre stuff on this list that an Angel Haze project (or two) and GrandeMarshall’s 800 could have easily replaced.

    That Big Krit album was some doodoo butter too.

  24. Well they got all my faves in…but then again how many rap albums did I listen to this year? I would imagine the P.O.S. album should’ve made it somewhere in the lower end, that was pretty good.

    Agree on #1, and Cancer 4 Cure & R.A.P. Music definitely belong up there. I’d have put Big Boi higher, even if the fall-off from Sir Lucious Leftfoot was considerable. There’s just very few rappers as skilled and charismatic as him, and he himself didn’t exactly fall off. Still need to check out that Ab-Soul.

  25. Francesco Pesce  |   Posted on Dec 22nd, 2012 +1

    Nas <3

  26. Money Store > No Love Deep Web. Aesop Rock’s Skelethon? Also, I’d put Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on any best of hip hop list (but I’m from the pacific NW, so I’m a little biased).

  27. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  28. How is Gibbs’ Baby Face Killa not on this list? Aesop Rock’s Skelethon was one of the best releases of the year as well.

  29. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  30. I wish someone would give SmokeDZA some love, Rugby Thompson and K.O.N.Y. were in my top 15

  31. not a nicki fan or a hater, but roman reloaded was not good at all. a few good singles, but very inconsistant.

  32. absolutely disgusting that the money store is that low. top ten at least

  33. Little ridiculous that Action Bronson is #3 and Kool AD isn’t even on the list. Joey needs to be higher, cmon.

  34. With 40 picks, Captain Murphy’s “Duality” and Aesop Rock’s “Skelethon” should have definitely earned a mention!

  35. How about “No Idols” by Domo Genesis/The Alchemist? In a great year like this I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the top, but surely it deserves a mention.

  36. alright stereogum, fess up, do you (a) actually dislike Blu, or (b) not even bother to listen to him?

  37. I can’t imagine Macklemore is very well-liked amongst the commenters but I’m disappointed The Heist didn’t crack this list. Had some down moments, but Roman Reloaded is also on this list…

  38. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  39. Some albums should switch places. Death Grip’s Money Store was much more complete than NO LOVE DEEP WEB; Chief Keef and Meek Mill should be waaaay lower. They were not *that* good aside from their hit songs. I really think that Jay Rock’s Follow Me Home should be on this list somewhere. Also as others have said, Captain Murphy is a legend and Aesop Rock’s album was nothing to shake a stick at.

    • Actually take out NO LOVE DEEP WEB completely, that band is more than hip hop and as a consequence it just wasn’t a top “hip hop” album this year. Looking through the list again I feel like a lot of these are fillers.

  40. Lupe’s album isn’t on here and I’m not even mad. It’s sad how much he’s fallen off.

  41. Again, Fiona Apple and Perfume Genius get ignored.

  42. This is a really good list. There are the obligatory disagreements over where people are placed but I agree with most everyone on the list. Only one thing that I really think should be different.

    I think Heems’ Wild Water Kingdom was a significantly better album than Nehru Jackets. Both are solid but Kingdom seems miles ahead of its predecessor.

  43. Lil’ B God’s Father? Top 5 for me.

  44. Captain Murphy’s /Duality/ ???

  45. Sheesh. I figured main attrakionz would be on here. Plus riff raff “birth of an icon” and “hologram panda” mix tapes

  46. This is a solid list, however I would love it if there was space for The Heist, Rugby Thompson and Dark Time Sunshine. Macklemore made a huge impact with a grass roots fan base and a 7 year album drought. Smoke DZA and Harry Fraud is a dope duo. DTS needs some recognition for having a killer sophomore release. Scrap one of the Death Grip albums, Chief Queef, Meek Mill and make room for real independent artists

  47. Freddie Gibbs – Baby Face Killa

  48. Alt J???

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2