You know, it’s funny. Typically, we at Popular Opinions used to post all of our year-end Chaz’s Arbitrary Top Ten List Extravaganza retrospective pieces in January because, let’s face it, the month is largely a cultural dead zone where absolutely nothing happened. But this month, we’ve already had major album releases, hot singles and dis records. It’s been an unusually eventful January, but to deny the past year in wake of such events wouldn’t be fair to the year’s biggest songs. While 2012 was the first year in a long time that there were probably more memorable rap albums than memorable rap singles, a handful of absolute gems made the choice cuts some of the best tracks in recent memory. It is with them in mind we look back at the ten best rap songs 2012 gave us!
10 ) T.I. featuring Lil Wayne – “Ball”
Easily the best T.I. song in about five years, “Ball” is not only a “Triggerman Break”-based throwback to traditional bounce music, but the most energized both T.I. and Wayne have sounded in quite some time. As seen in the Marc Klasfeld directed video, both T.I. and Wayne seem to genuinely be having a blast, lending itself to one of the year’s most enjoyable party records.
9 ) Kristoff Krane – “Birthday Song”
Twin Cities hip-hop artist Kristoff Krane has been most known for his more experimental outings, making his surprisingly conventional Fanfaronade album one of the year’s most welcome surprises. The lead single, “Birthday Song” using the metaphor a lamenting a lonely birthday party for the frustration found in the under-supported moments of being an independent artist.
8 ) Aesop Rock – “Zero Dark Thirty (Blockhead Remix)”
As great as it was to hear Aesop Rock return with his entirely self-produced Rhymesayers album Skelethon, contributions of his frequent collaborator Blockhead were missed. Fortunately, the album’s bonus tracks included a remix by the cult hero producer that not only recaptures the classic Aesop-Blockhead vibe, but flushes out different elements of the lyrics, allowing the song to be appreciated in a wholly new spectrum.
7 ) Nikki Minaj – “Stupid Hoe”
A lot of people hate this song for the dreaded one-two punch of being the worst video of Hype Williams’ career and its obnoxious chorus, but once you divorce the uninspired unfitting visual component, you’re left with a tribute to numerous regional dance musics all masterfully combined into one unrelenting machine gun of a single. More avant garde than most of her contemporaries are willing to give her credit for, “Stupid Hoe” is pulse-pounding razor-sharp fun.
6 ) Odd Future – “Oldie”
The Odd Future movement took an interesting turn in 2012. Still wildly successful, the crew’s projects have become successful enough to turn their devoted fanbase somewhat insular, allowing themselves further freedom to do whatever they want. Also, their television show is great. But their biggest contribution to the year was “Oldie,” an extended posse cut playing to the absolute strengths of the entire rosters and capturing the fun and inventiveness of their movement in a single track, punctuated by an absolutely excellent homecoming verse by the returning Earl Sweatshirt.
5 ) Future f/ Diddy & Ludacris – “Same Damn Time (Remix)”
Probably the most fiercely debated hip-hop artist of the year, Atlanta’s Future’s persona/abilites/talent were all the subject to a polarizing, intense divide over the course of 2012. But if there’s one aspect of him that can’t be denied, it’s his incredible ability to write hooks. “Same Damn Time” is not only the year’s most infectious catchphrase, but the remix brought us the single greatest moment Diddy’s ever had behind the mic.
4 ) The Underachievers – “Gold Soul Theory”
The most promising new rap group of 2012, The Underachievers’ “Gold Soul Theory” was poignant, catchy, well constructed and everything one could hope for in a breakthrough rap single. With a production that uniquely heightens the exotic otherworldly elements of the lyrics, both members’ deliveries slice through the soundscape with an undeniable charisma, making their forthcoming 2013 debut mixtape among the year’s most anticipated.
3 ) A$AP Rocky – “Goldie”
Diverting slightly from the spacey Clams Casino soundscape that helped him first breakthrough, A$AP Rocky’s “Goldie” simply added more layers of his favorite influences to create an entirely new sound uniquely his own. Sleek, thunderous and brimming with cool rooted in the Harlem hip-hop tradition, “Goldie” helped bring the A$AP vision to the next level.
2 ) Mystikal – “Hit Me”
While 2012 gave us the James Brown biography The One, among the greatest music books ever written, it also gave us Mystikal channeling the “Godfather of Soul” for his single “Hit Me.” While Mystikal’s had a few songs since his return from prison in 2010, “Hit Me” has been far-and-away his most blistering. Wildly fun, “Hit Me” is proof Mystikal’s not only still got it, but he remains the man right ‘chea.
1 ) Kendrick Lamar – “Swimming Pools”
As I wrote here, Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” is special because it’s not just a song that mentions drinking, but rather uses the social activity as a deeper exploration of peer pressure. Along with presenting a social message in a way that respects its audience’s intelligence enough without having to painfully spell it out, every single other aspect of the song is executed in a manner of absolute mastery. With Lamar’s tight narrative and wonderfully varied arsenal of flows, his performance alone would make for one of the top songs of the year. Fortunately, the track’s production courtesy of T-Minus is every bit as nuanced and painstakingly lavish as Kendrick’s rhymes.
So until next time…let’s agree to agree!