Welcome to the 2012 HipHopDX Year End Awards. For more than a decade, this is when we acknowledge the passing year, honor its triumphs and uglier moments, and begin our own celebrations leading up to another exciting year of giving you the best in all things Hip Hop.
From December 17 to December 21, 2012, the editors and staff at HipHopDX will update this every day with new categories and winners. Congratulations to the winners and runners-up, and may all of our readers have a safe and happy holiday season.
This Year’s Schedule
Day 1 – Monday Dec 17
Emcee of the Year
Trend We’d Like to See Die
Slept-On Album of the Year
Day 2 – Tuesday Dec 18
Producer of the Year
Tour of the Year
Comeback of the Year
Day 3 – Wednesday Dec 19
Verse of the Year
Non-Hip Hop Album of the Year
Disappointing Album of the Year
Day 4 – Thursday Dec 20
Rising Star of the Year
Story of the Year
Collaboration of the Year
Day 5 – Friday Dec 21
Album of the Year
Readers’ Choice Album of the Year
Video of the Year
Emcee Of The Year
Last year’s HipHopDX Album Of The Year winner with Section.80, Kendrick Lamar expanded his repertoire in 2012 with versatility and poise. In addition to his show-stopping good kid, m.A.A.d city major label debut, K-Dot played critical roles assisting artists ranging from Gunplay to Rapsody to Dido on a plethora of projects. Compton’s latest displayed many voices, tones and lyrical styles along the way, making an album that attracted multiple generations of Hip Hop fans. Moreover, the 90-plus minute sets for the BET Music Matters Tour shocked fans as an artist whose stageshow required no special effects or standard surprise guests. Kendrick mastered the ceremony in every single way possible, by restoring Hip Hop with a message in the mainstream.
Mike Bigga made a substantive album with El-P in R.A.P. Music that had fans claiming was not only the best of the veteran’s career, but 2012 as whole. Moreover, with a handful of tours, the leader of the Grind Time Rap Gang showed that great albums are even greater when delivered in the flesh.
Ab-Soul brought racial, social and Hip Hop commentary to his tour de force, #controlsystem. Meanwhile, the Carson, California sensation simply flipped the BET Music Matters Tour on its head with performances that truly felt top-billin’.
Trend We’d Like To See Die
Anti-Press Rap Stars
Just ’cause Kanye West “don’t do no press, but he get the most press” doesn’t mean it’s the proper modus operandi for everybody trying to get to that ‘Ye level. Everybody with a recorder and a list of questions felt discouraged this year as artists like Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole and Drake largely gave the Hip Hop media the silent treatment. Even Dr. Dre and Andre 3000 seemed more open to interviews than some of the fresh-faced chart sensations of recent years. If Hip Hop truly is a culture, the discourse has to continue.
The Ratchet Movement
…after a year of it, that’s the shit we don’t like.
Y.O.L.O. (You Only Live Once) without context is hazardous to your health.
Slept-On Album Of The Year
Trophies by Apollo Brown & O.C.
During the last three years, as golden-era alum O.C. has been on hiatus, Detroit’s Apollo Brown has become of the most exciting producers in the underground Hip Hop community. Mello Music Group flew O.C. to Michigan and the pair made a modern marvel in Trophies. The soulful album was a return to form for the man who made enduring indie classics in 1994’s Word…Life and 1997’s Jewelz. Apollo provided a more subdued, but still sample-driven sound than heard on his previous works, and this was a prime backing for a subtle concept album that earned its trophies from us, even if the charts somehow missed the greatness.
Russian Roulette by Alchemist
Al’s complete vision and ability to execute a solo album came alive on this mosaic of Cold War sample sources, ruffneck rhymes and careful orchestration. Somehow Decon was the one of the brightest sources for music in 2012, even if this flagship release went under the mainstream radar.
The Idea Of Beautiful by Rapsody
On her studio debut, Kooley High valedictorian Rapsody tackled big issues on gender in Hip Hop, with some assistance from high-profile peers who champion her sound. 9th Wonder’s latest protege made a beautiful album, that you can’t find next door.
Producer Of The Year
Alchemist has grown remarkably over the past decade, enhancing his sound from left-field, sample-based loops to complex musical confections. This year, “Alan The Chemist” cranked his output up a notch, spreading his genre-bending sound across the Hip Hop landscape. With Action Bronson, the longtime Mobb Deep affiliate and Gangrene member produced some of his darkest fare yet – Rare Chandeliers – and held the reins as mad conductor on the ambitious, sorely underrated Russian Roulette. In addition to his other sharp releases (Vodka & Ayahuasca with Gangrene and No Idols with Domo Genesis), Al is already shaping up to have an even stronger 2013, planning projects with Prodigy, Evidence, Boldy James and Durag Dynasty.
After years in the underground, New York’s Harry Fraud supplied A-list acts with mixtape gold, but he lit it up on Curren$y’s Cigarette Boats and garnered a lot of props on Rugby Thompson with Smoke DZA.
Tour/Concert Of The Year
Drake’s Club Paradise Tour
With songs from 2011’s Take Care still soundtracking much of this year, Drake presented his catalog like a vet on his Club Paradise Tour. Ever the showman, the Canadian rapper/singer captivated fans with an immaculately designed gallery of entertainment. Drizzy also brought along a who’s who of opening acts on various legs of the extensive run, including J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Waka Flocka Flame, A$AP Rocky, L.E.P. Bogus Boys and French Montana. Club Paradise was a hallmark showing of some of the more important faces of the 2010s in mainstream Hip Hop.
BET Music Matters Tour
Led by Kendrick Lamar, BET’s Music Matters Tour was a display of bare-bones lyricism in club venues across North America. Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Stalley and Fly Union provided stellar support on a tour that even frequent unannounced guest ScHoolboy Q couldn’t miss.
Comeback Of The Year
Juicy J was ratchet before the term was ever coined. As a founding member of Three 6 Mafia, he’s been making shamefully addictive, yet raunchy tracks like “Slob On My Knob” longer than some of the people reading this have been alive. And having survived every Southern Hip Hop sub-genre from Crunk, Snap to Trap, it was almost some sort of profanity-laced poetic justice that he rounded up three generations of artists from below the Mason-Dixon Line for a remix to 2012’s go to strip club anthem, “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” It’s 2012 and people are just now discovering Juicy J, even though the man inexplicably owns an Academy Award. Pole-dancing is becoming a mainstream fitness exercise, and you’ve probably heard the instrumental to “Bandz A Make Her Dance” at an NBA game. Maybe the Mayans were right about the world ending this year.
In addition to his superb production, El-P’s signature sarcasm and precise lyricism came alive on Cancer 4 Cure. Well beyond Company Flow and his Def Jux movements, this fiery veteran made 2012 a true end-to-end burner.
non-hip hop album of the year
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
Building his career’s backbone on a stellar free album (Nostalgia, Ultra) and as an auxiliary member of Odd Future, Frank Ocean is one of the few artists to match his hype in 2012. After releasing a controversy-sparking open letter confirming his relationship with another man on July 4th, the butter-toned singer-songwriter dropped his wholesome debut Channel Orange, an album packed with darting melodies, creamy harmonies and top-shelf songwriting. It’s a deeply personalized diary of standalone singles threaded over the course of a near-hour long LP, with romance – both troubled and euphoric – coursing through its veins. Not only did Frank procure life lessons and put them on wax, but he did it gracefully.
Black Radio by Robert Glasper
Glasper brought together an eclectic mix of artists such as Lupe Fiasco and Musiq Soulchild to push the boundaries of both Jazz and Hip Hop. Add in the tributes to Sade and Nirvana and you end up with a high-quality, fusion album that hit almost every demographic without truly crossing over.
Pineapple Now-Laters by BJ The Chicago Kid
Heard in recent years on albums from Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs, BJ carried a Soul message that echoes the greats of the ’60s and ’70s, with a delivery and production completely in his own time.
verse of the year
“Reagan” (second verse) by Killer Mike
Truthfully, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music is loaded with Verse Of The Year-worthy stanzas. But “Reagan” reigns supreme because it exhibits some of the resolute qualities of Hip Hop’s most timeless rhymes. Bigga brought a Public Enemy-type message to this one, dismantling the record of the modern Republican party’s Golden Calf in laymans terms, connecting President Ronald Reagan’s legislative legacy to some of society’s worst sins. For example: “But thanks to Reaganomics / Prisons turned to profits / ‘Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics / ‘Cause slavery was abolished / Unless you are in prison / You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment.” You can actually learn from these lyrics. Plus El-P’s beat is magnanimous – and it’s unintentionally hilarious (the second Reagan snippet especially). We just wish Fox News would invite Killer Mike on air a la Lupe Fiasco last year. Where is Bill O’Reilly when you need him?
“New God Flow” by Ghostface Killah
Somehow Ghost’s “old school like Redd Foxx” approach made “New God Flow” sound fresher. But what else is expected? He’s had his Jesus piece since ‘94, after all…and his eagle.
“m.A.A.d. City” (third verse) by Kendrick Lamar
As if the first two verses and MC Eiht’s appearance didn’t make the song, K.Dot delivered a poetic monologue in verse to close one of his title tracks. The “angel on Angel Dust” gives his thesis on what it’s like to grow up around street treachery and with the insights to want more.
disappointing album of the year
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded by Nicki Minaj
When Nicki Minaj released Pink Friday back in 2010, it was met with mixed reviews. H.B. dropped an album that proved she was transitioning out of Hip Hop before really transitioning in. Still, the lyrical component was present, and the hope was that once Nicki attained a modicum of fame, she might return to the same stairwell to spit the heat she did on The Come Up DVD. That day never happened, and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded further propelled Nicki Minaj into Pop royalty, mainly because of one little track: “Starships.” They’re meant to fly after all, and that’s exactly what Nicki did – right up the hell out of Hip Hop. It was met with heavy sighs from the Rap world (just ask Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg), but the Pop kids OD’d on it. Even though she somewhat returned to Rap roots on the Re-Up, we’ve still lost our pink-wigged Barbie to the Top 40 gods.
Strange Clouds by B.o.B.
Bobby Ray’s guitar gently weeps, and so do his early fans. One of Hip Hop’s most versatile artists was shockingly predictable on his sophomore outing.
The OF Tape Vol. 2 by Odd Future
As much as we love Odd Future’s boorish rambunctiousness, Cartoon Network forays, and “fuck the industry” approach, is being more compelling off wax than on ever a good thing?
rising star OF THE YEAR
Joey Bada$$ served multiple functions within Hip Hop in the year 2012. For the fans of the golden age, Joey and his Pro Era crew adopted traditional Rap formulas with an updated flow, evident on Joey Bada$$’s 1999 mixtape. It was something that Hip Hop hadn’t seen coming – at least not from a teenager who was born around the time the golden era was packing its Timbs away and breaking out the shiny suit. For the new school Hip Hop aficionado, Bada$$ is a reference point – a marker if you will – that represents a time in Hip Hop that most youngsters never experienced. You’ll have the old heads complain that Rap doesn’t sound like it used to, but Joey is delivering that very Rap that fans miss. So to package that in a way that teenagers can embrace is very necessary. His old soul will undoubtedly carry him for years and years to come.
9th Wonder’s wunderkind made a name for herself the old fashion way: by rapping good. Funny how that works, right? Release a quality project filled with dope beats and dope rhymes, and the fans reply with respect. What a novel approach.
If Joey Bada$$ and last year’s winner, Action Bronson, aren’t not enough to convince you that Hip Hop’s new New York-era is in full swing, then try a side of Flatbush Zombies. Three words: “Thug Waffles,” anyone?
STory OF THE YEAR
Mobb Deep Breaks Up, On Twitter
Weeks after Havoc allegedly dissed Prodigy in April, the indefinite hiatus of Mobb Deep still doesn’t make sense. Or does it? Legendary Hip Hop groups rarely have amicable splits. See N.W.A., EPMD, and Little Brother for further examples. You can argue that the only surprise here wasn’t the breakup of Mobb Deep, but the way that it happened. Hav and P provided a brand of Hip Hop that helped give New York its lyrical and sonic identity for the better part of the two decades. Their split played out like lost cutting room floor footage from the movie Mean Girls. Sadly, there’s a good chance some of us will remember the “start of their ending” more for the Twitter beef, subliminal shots, and handful of lame excuses before owning up to the fact that they split. Party’s over; tell the rest of the crew.
Tupac Reappears As A Hologram
Meek Mill and Rick Ross spent 2011 screaming about bringing “Tupac Back.” At Coachella 2012, Digital Domain made it happen…hologram-style.
collaboration OF THE YEAR
“Mercy” by Kanye West, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Pusha T
It was more than the semi-chopped and screwed hook. “Mercy” was a call to action. Kanye West had been bragging about G.O.O.D. Music for years, and he finally had his ducks in a row. It was time for ‘Ye to present his posse to the planet. This particular track brought Kanye’s bravado, mixed with Big Sean’s Pop sensibility, Pusha T’s slick threats, and 2 Chainz’s irreverence. The result was an all out party where every woman and her ass was invited. Nobody could deny terms like “assquake” and “asstate,” along with musings about thirsty women and Lambos. It was also arguably, 2 Chainz’s breakout verse. “Mercy” was the level of arrogance and ignorance that no one can deny smirking about, and we all have Kanye to thank for it.
“m.A.A.d. City” by Kendrick Lamar featuring MC Eiht
This one had Compton “torch-passing” written all over it. Fortunately for all of our iPods, the legend and the phenom both rose to the occasion.
album OF THE YEAR
good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d city’s universal acclaim wasn’t some overhyped instance of mainstream ball-tickling. It was justified. The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 sales chart, it went Gold in less than 2 months, and its anti-alcohol lead single (“Swimming Pools”) improbably surged to #4 on the HipHop/R&B chart. The Good Kid won in a mad industry. With a gaggle of flows overflowing with imagination, a contextual perspective relevant across generations, and an ear for sublime soul and ratchety madness—OutKasticly speaking—Kendrick Lamar creatively represented for a culture overrun by Soundscan addicts. It’s difficult to find people in modern music. It’s usually about the brand, the persona, and the profit. Too many caricatures. Not enough character. G.K.M.C. is now a manual for commercial and critical success while maintaining indie artist credibility, and the Compton Kid did it simply by leaning on what he knows best: Himself. What’s even better? It only took 12 months for K.Dot to make at least one type of history. Section.80 received our top honor in 2011. In 2012, Kendrick does it again, becoming the first artist to win back-to-back HipHopDX Album Of The Year awards.
R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike
2012 may be remembered as the year of the Ratchet, but edu-taining albums went H.A.M. as well. Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music fits nicely in both playlists.
#controlsystem by Ab-Soul
Reason #4080 to listen to Ab-Soul’s pristine #controlsystem: Hearing him flip the name of the Illuminati’s supposed secret layer into a sultry swoon song (“Bohemian Grove”).
readers’ choice ALBUM OF THE YEAR
good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar
We simply love when our readers agree with us.
Life Is Good by Nas
Nas’ 11th album was an outstanding testament to the evolution in the once rugged rapper’s personal and public life.
Trophies by Apollo Brown and O.C.
This Brooklyn-Detroit collaboration was simply “Fantastic.”
video OF THE YEAR
“Daughters” by Nas
We’ve heard Nas name-drop his daughter, Destiny, since “The World Is Yours” from his 1994 classic, Illmatic. And, thanks to the magic of Instagram, she was re-introduced to our collective consciousness by sharing a pic of a condom collection with the world. In a year where a bunch of topics Nas would have preferred to keep private (skyrocketing alimony payments, tax debt, etc.) were put on Front Street for everyone to see, this youthful indiscretion made for a heartwarming visual. Chris Robinson directed the video first-person style through the eyes of Destiny Jones at various ages. And, what would usually be a parental facepalm—or at least a good cussing out behind closed doors, if we’re keeping it real—turned into a series of moments most fathers can relate to.
“Grown Up” by Danny Brown
Director Greg Brunkalla took a page from Biggie’s “Sky’s The Limit” video, finding the grade schooler with the most swag to portray young Danny Brown in this coming-of-age single that made us all feel warm and fuzzy inside.
“Big Beast” by Killer Mike featuring T.I. and Bun B
Vintage car chases, strippers feasting, and axe-weilding O.G.’s made “Big Beast” one of the most compelling NSFW visuals that Hip Hop has ever seen. Big-budget beastin’ through the lens of director Thomas C. Bingham.