A full calendar year offers more music than we realize. And, because the excellence and/or hype of projects like Good Kidd, M.A.A.D. City, Channel Orange and Life Is Good tends to drown out smaller, more peripheral releases, we present to you a list of 12 projects that didn’t get the attention that they deserved. Consider this an opportunity to play catch-up.
Ed. Note - Using the term "albums" very loosely here since it's hard to differentiate between what's an album, street album, mixtape, EP, FreeP, etc. in 2012.
Cocaine 80s - Express OG -- We’re still not sure about some of the moving parts behind No I.D.’s Cocaine 80s collective, but one thing for certain is that Express OG -- one in a series of EPs from the crew -- found lead singer James Fanutleroy cultivating his own voice in a way we hadn’t heard through his previous guest spots. It runs just 6 tracks deep, but Express OG has the flow and reach of a full-length album, as well as a veteran’s ease with its compositions -- understated, guitar-heavy grooves that you’re happy to find floating around in your head before too long. (Listen)
Yelawolf & Ed Shereen - Slumdun Bridge -- Yelawolf’s 2012 output has been sparse, but the bits that have trickled out of the Slumerican camp seem to have been crafted for the love of the game rather than any sort of label pressure. And good on him for that: Slumdun Bridge, a 4-track EP with British producer/composer Ed Shereen, is as hard to categorize as it is to put down. Gritty folk music and Yelawolf’s machine gun lyricism? You have to hear it to believe it, but once you do, you’ll be clearing space on your iPod. (Listen)
King Chip - Tell Ya Friends -- The artist formally known as Chip Tha Ripper’s solo career has been bubbling for years now, thanks to several strong solo mixtapes and consistent features with G.O.O.D. artists like Kid Cudi and Big Sean. His latest and strongest project to date, Tell Ya Friends hits like a Hometown Buffet, featuring a diverse array of sounds, samples and features. It isn’t the most focused project of the year, but when you fill so many lanes as successfully as Chip does, sometimes you just have to flex your lyrical muscles. (Listen)
Julian - Black Heart -- While he might have attracted more notoriety from an affiliation with a less reclusive star, R&B newcomer Julian seems an obvious fit with fellow Toronto act The Weeknd’s XO crew. His Black Heart mixtape from early this year doesn’t quite match the aesthetic slickness of The Weeknd’s 2011 mixtape trilogy, but fans of those projects should find Julian’s smooth vocals and smoky bedroom romps similarly appealing. (Listen)
Rashad - Museum -- While it was nice to see R&B garner more attention than usual this year, there remains a dearth of coverage for artists more singularly rooted in the genre. Take Ohio double threat Rashad, whose self-produced project Museum seems to have slipped under the radar despite its well handled fusion of throwback soul and contemporary knock. There are no Beach House samples here, just an accomplished work that rewarded repeated spins throughout the year. (Listen)
Oddisee - People Hear What They See -- For those looking for something to balance out some of the gold-encrusted escapist records of the last few years, rapper-producer Oddisee’s People Hear What They See is an inviting slice of realism rap. It’s an album with slight political undertones, but one that is driven mainly by more basic human musings on dreams and ambition. Oddisee maintains a workmanlike presence behind the mic, but his power remains in his production -- multilayered soul compositions that burst to life with flourishes of bright keyboards and funky horns. (Listen)
Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn - Something About April -- Adrian Younge is a perpetually busy man. In between playing multiple instruments, running a salon/record store, teaching entertainment law classes, and film editing (he edited as well as composed the score for Black Dynamite), he found time to create an imaginary vintage psychedelic soul band and put together an incredible concept album that has been criminally overlooked. (Listen)
Diplo x FKi - Transformers N The Hood -- Veteran producers FKi live up to their name and are f*ckin kickin' it throughout Transformers N The Hood. Perhaps my first introduction to the trendy marriage of trap and electronic, it set the bar quite high for everything that followed in the ensuing months. The overall vibe was equally as fun as it was wild, notable for the the perfect harmony of trappy elements fused with the multitude of electronic touches. (Listen)
Smoke DZA - K.O.N.Y. -- The title “King of New York” has fueled battles and defined careers for Hip-Hop artists from the city that birthed the genre. Many have staked a claim, deserving or not, to the title, creating an environment where a real life game of thrones gets played out every quarter. Harlemite Smoke DZA’s latest mixtape is a crowning achievement even if it does not lead him to the ever elusive forefront of the NY rap scene. DZA’s flamboyant fly sh*t is matched by equally colorful production from 183rd, Ski Beatz, and Harry Fraud. (Listen)
Domo Genesis x The Alchemist - No Idols -- You’re probably looking at this selection and wondering “How does this pick make sense?” Well, despite Golf Wang’s rabid fanbase, there are more people on the outside at least curious about their cause. More importantly, this project is among the best from the camp in exposing new ears to Odd Future. Credit Alchemist’s consistently great production throughout, Domo’s deft mic skills and a few solid features here. No Idols compels you to get off your Hip-Hop high horse and give it a fair shot. (Listen)
Ty Dolla $ign - Beach House -- Who wouldn't want to go to Ty Dolla $ign's Beach House after hearing the stories throughout his project? Whether it's because of his braggadocio ways disguised by his smooth singing, or the abundance of hoes, Ty seemingly can appeal to all. Sounding effortless over every track, most of which are produced by the D.R.U.G.$ crew, he slides between singing and rapping seamlessly. (Listen)
Klub Monsta & DJ Burn One - Separate But Equal -- Way back when - in February to be exact - DJ Burn One’s mighty co-sign fell on the laps of the Alabama trio, Klub Monsta. And, needless to say given their inclusion on this list, Kellz, J. Dotta and Air Talley didn’t drop the ball either. Armed with chemistry rare for groups these days and a message on several songs packing a proverbial punch to the gut, it’s safe to say that K.M. brought forth a project that was equal parts refreshing and underappreciated in 2012. (Listen)