Hands on the Wheel – Schoolboy Q and ASAP Rocky had one of the year's first hits. I'm in no way advocating the message of it but it went hard. Hypnotic beat, dark hook and my first sign that TDE was more than just Kendrick Lamar.
Schoolboy Q reminds me of a harder Game and this might have been the hardest song I heard get radio play (which I still don't understand considering it was pretty profane). But either way, it definitely stayed in my head and as I've learned, big hooks hit you harder than almost anything.
M.A.A.D City – It's hard to pick the best track on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. "Art of Peer Pressure" was great storytelling. "Swimming Pools" was an unconventional pop hit. "Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst" might be the most emotional song on the album while "Backseat Freestyle" was raw Kendrick spitting.
But I'm gonna pick this song. Why? It sounded like Kendrick was on the edge of giving in to the streets. That urgency dominated his first two verses and you could imagine him surrounded by chaos on both beats. It doesn't help that MC Eiht kills his verse as a Compton OG with even more realism than he brought as A-Wax in Menace II Society.
Kendrick's final verse though. A soliloquy of pondering the descent into madness and how you perceive this good kid going bad. The voice changes make it even freakier. Incredible flow, technique, performance, production. Brilliance that summed up the message of the album.
Reagan – Killer Mike brought the heat on R.A.P. Music and this song is the centerpiece of the magic that he created. A deconstruction of Ronald Reagan and if you want to understand why some people don't like this man and his policies, listen to this song. El-P's beat is ominous and sets the mood perfectly for Mike' booming cadence.
Oh and it was genius having those two speeches break up the song. A reminder of Reagan's double talk and how Iran-Contra should never be forgotten as one of America's greatest political coverups. The video (screen shot above) is rife with symbolism and it's one of the best of the year.
As usual, Mike brings it to the present by questioning the current government policies and connecting the past to it. The first verse goes in on the Black community and questions them as well. It reminds me of a great Public Enemy/Ice Cube/Immortal Technique/Paris song and it shows why Killer Mike has been one of the most slept on MC's of the last decade.
Pyramids/Bad Religion – When I reviewed Frank Ocean's album this year, I made amends for my initial negative review of Pyramids. I thought it was too long and long-winded at first. Now? It's my favorite R&B song of the year and I still can't get enough of it. A well-written song and while I still wished Frank added more vocally to it, it's an experience. The beat changes, the connection from Africa to the present, Cleopatra being a queen and a stripper. Everything still works.
Bad Religion is the flip-side. One of the shorter songs on Channel Orange, it's Frank's best vocal performance. Naked, bleak, sad, mournful, he laid his soul bare talking about unrequited love. By the song's end, I wanted to shed a tear. Power in simplicity. Universal feelings that anybody can relate to despite it being directed towards man.
QueenS – THEESatisfaction has been doing their thing the last few years and when the duo released this video off their SubPop debut album, I loved it right away. The song by itself is a manifesto to me of what THEESatisfaction is all about. "Don't Funk With My Groove" became my motto as you get lost in the rhythm, the soul and the commands.
It's updating what George Clinton and Parliament called for 40 years ago. Stop being cool and just be funky. "Turn off your swag and check your bag. From your limbs to your Timbs. Get down" - Let the music take control and do what it tells you to do.
I also have to give some disclosure. They're also my family. Stasia - my blood cousin - and Catherine - my adopted cousin - have made music that few else are doing and I'm very proud of them. If you can't dance to this song, check your heart.
I Got This – Big K.R.I.T. has done a lot of great things in being my favorite MC besides Kendrick. This anthem became one of them as it made me feel like I was in Mississippi when I bumped this in my Volvo. That hook encouraged me to be in control and K.R.I.T. sounded as comfortable bragging as he does uplifting people or baring his soul.
The beat was funky and soulful and that bass riff during the breakdown had me nodding my head the whole time. I loved it and it was a victory lap for one of Mississippi's finest in a big year for him.
Here's the rest of my favorite songs from 2012 via Spotify.
And here are some of my favorite songs that I couldn't find on Spotify.
Kendrick Lamar – Cartoons and Cereal (f. Gunplay)
Jojo – Demonstrate (Grown and sexy from one of my favorite young singers)
The Game f. Scarface and Kendrick – Murder
BIG K.R.I.T. – Me and My Old School, 1986, Red Eye, Country Rap Tunes
Lecrae – Church Clothes, No Regret, Misconception
Gorillaz – DoYaThing (f. James Murphy and Andre 3000)
Adele - Skyfall (a victory lap after a great 2012 where she still had the biggest selling album of the year, became a mother and now added her voice to the Bond catalogue)
Next Year in Review. Best Albums and More Music Thoughts