For new music, 2012 has been the year of revitalization. Folks, like myself, have been complaining that “Hip Hop is dead,” that “They don’t make R&B like they used to,” that “Everything sounds the same,” but this year, there were a few artists who challenged such statements.
Before I share my list, I must admit, this is the year that I have been the most out-of-touch with that which is modernly cool. As I prepared for my Mad Men inspired wedding, which inherently causes one to reminisce on their younger, FUBU days, my soundtrack for 2012 could simply be entitled, “Nostalgia.. with Special Guests.” “Nostalgia.. with Special Guests” features timeless talent like Miles Davis, TLC, Dilla, Anita O’Day, SWV, and Astrud Gilberto, with special guests being those artists whose modern-day-talent was so big this year, that even I could get up from my black & white slumber, and recognize the making of new classics.
5. Azealia Banks. She would have made it further up the list, but I’m deducting points for not releasing a full album. Her EP, titled 1991, after the year she was born (man, I feel old!), has left many wanting more. Blending house music, with a Foxy Brown-styled flow, Ms. Banks is fighting to stay away from labels, and is defining the type of artist she wants to be. She unapologetically reveals skin when she wants to, wears Mickey sweatshirts in music videos, and makes music that makes you dance. Mad props goes to a young woman claiming, and maintaining her own agency in a male-driven industry.
4. Lupe Fiasco. I would call Food and Liquor: The Great American Rap Album Part I my theory-heavy album of the year. Fiasco released his fourth album with a plan to tell America his opinions about racism, the usage of the word “bitch” (though the n-word is continuously used without being problematized), American imperialism, and anything else that angers him. This Chicago-based rapper shares his opinions while exhibiting strong lyrical flow, against well-produced tracks. While, at times, it feels as though he’s being a bit too preachy, I definitely imagine referencing this album in future writings and teachings on examples of thought-provoking Hip Hop albums.
3. Lianne La Havas. In her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough, London based artist, Lianne La Havas brought back the beauty of simple acoustics with breathy singing. But don’t let her soft lyrics fool you. As evident in one of my favorite songs, “Lost & Found,” La Havas has a skill to match a delicate sound with heart wrenching, dig-beneath-the-soul lyrics. She has the ability to softly sing post-break up songs in a way that makes you feel like she’s going to be alright.
2. Frank Ocean. The thing I’ve enjoyed most about Frank Ocean is he’s unpredictable. From his nasally head-boppin’ release, “Novacane,” to laid-back interludes like “White,” and his grandiose track, “Pyramids,” it’s hard to say, “Frank Ocean sounds like _______.” As heard from his mixtapes and debut album, Orange, Ocean is an artist whose experimentation with compiling sound changes the way we listen to music.
1. Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Lamar is receiving accolades from every direction, and one doesn’t hate when such props are well-deserved. Like 2 Pac, and Doug E. Fresh, Lamar is a nothing less than a storyteller who happens to recite his reality in beautifully constructed rhythmic stanzas. Lamar’s talent of storying his experiences and lessons without preaching, sold me on his sophomore album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. While his songs indicate that he doesn’t usually engage in the hustle, he outlines how easily it is to get caught up. Despite the album’s name, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the two cannot be juxtaposed so neatly, thus complicating the West Coast rapper story.