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Top 10 Rap Albums of 2012

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Here they are, the 10 best rap albums of 2012.

10. Meyhem Lauren - 'Respect the Fly Sh*t'

There's plenty to love about the criminally slept-on Respect the Fly Sh*t. It's an orgy of grub rap, pulsing production, and sewage-raw rhymes. And when Queens-bred Meyhem isn't professing his love for culinary delights, he's nodding to his city's hip-hop heritage, kicking it with hometown dinner guests like Roc Marciano, Action Bronson, and Sean Price. I wonder if he knows he can actually charge for this stuff.

9. Schoolboy Q - 'Habits & Contradictions'

© Top Dawg Entertainment
2012 was the year of Black Hippy. The group's hip-hop hegemony started with the January release of Schoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions. The first TDE album out the gate was also the most fun of the three, thanks to highlights like "There He Go," "Druggys wit Hoes Again," and "Hands on the Wheel," which really should've been titled "Hands off the Wheel." Habits & Contradictions is at once menacing and unassuming -- an hourlong soundtrack to the underdog lifestyle.

8. Action Bronson & Party Supplies - 'Blue Chips'

If you still believe that Action Bronson is a Xerox copy of Ghostface, then you should definitely download Blue Chips. Seriously, do it now. It's free. Bronsolini has never sounded so defiantly distinctive as he does on Blue Chips. Over spontaneous, sample-heavy production, Bronson spews forth his trademark gourmet rhymes, incorporating just about any topic that pops into his head.

7. Freddie Gibbs - 'Baby Face Killa'

Imagine if Ice Cube moved to the midwest, swallowed a frog and became a Pimp C disciple. That's Freddie Gibbs in a nutshell. Gibbs hews to the old school tradition of spewing grimy hood tales over hardbody beats. The gangsta-rap tropes on Baby Face Killa may ring familiar, especially if you've been keeping up with Gibbs' unparalleled mixtape run since 2010. But his commitment to songcraft is out of this world. Actually, that's also a relic of the bygone eras Gibbs subscribes to: "Good enough ain't enough in my town," he tells us on "Stay Down." Gangsta Gibbs is a unicorn.

6. Ab-Soul - 'Control System'

If Schoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions showed a lighter side of TDE, Ab-Soul's Control System knuckled up with a more militant side. Over the course of 60 minutes, Soul drops jewels on a bevy of issues, ranging from politics and music to life and health. Control System gives you plenty to chew on after the music has ended.

5. EL-P - 'Cancer 4 Cure'

Cancer 4 Cure bears an overwhelming sense of chaos and paranoia. It succeeds in part because El-P doesn't posit himself as some kind of messiah waving a magic wand at societal ills. He simply offers a place for the disillusioned to convene.

4. Roc Marciano - 'Reloaded'

Roc Marciano moves to the sound of his own drum, and sometimes that drum is a violin. Reloaded, his tightly wound sophomore album, ignores all trends and calendars, opting instead for a timeless sound. It's chock full of lo-fi beats, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, Tarantino-esque plots, and not a single filler.

3. Nas - 'Life Is Good'

Nas Life is Good
© Island Def Jam
Nas' 11th album in 18 years retains his knack for 3D storytelling, while adding the musical direction that had been lacking from previous works. The production is slick and sun-dried, the lyrics vivid and robust, the perspective stubborn and self-aware. It's easily Nas' most focused album in a decade.

2. Killer Mike - 'R.A.P. Music'

It probably seemed like a crazy idea on paper: Killer Mike and El-P Make an Album. Brooklyn's El-P is known for beats that sound like alien drones trying to invade earth, while Killer Mike's bread and butter has always been southern-fried rap. I'm happy these two were crazy enough to give it a go, because R.A.P. Music is a well orchestrated tour de force. It's got politics, soul, blues, drums, and the potential to put heads in a neck brace. Killer Mike and El-P were meant for each other.

1. Kendrick Lamar - 'good kid, m.A.A.d city'

© Top Dawg/Aftermath
Good kid, m.A.A.d. city gives voice to every good kid undone by a mad city. Gender and hood are irrelevant. After all, the stories on Kendrick's Interscope debut aren't his; consider it a survey of the jungle through the eyes of the prey. Characters are vividly limned but never judged. Above all, it's a testament to one man's subversion of the album-making process in 2012: 12-minute songs, obscure production, shrewd cameos, and a laser-focus approach to concepts. Hip-hop won.
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