With approximately 200 albums reviewed on HipHopDX in 2012, we present our annual list of the 25 best Hip Hop albums of the last 12 months, as voted by our Editorial staff. With two dozen impressive retail releases from the mainstream and underground, respected veterans and long-awaited solo debuts, these are our best (or “favorite”) albums.

Editor’s Note: This list is presented chronologically, in the order the albums were released. This is not a ranked list.

Habits & Contradictions by ScHoolboy Q

Released: January 14, 2012
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Highest Charting Position: #98
Producers: Rune Rask, Sounwave, Best Kept Secret, THC, Mike WiLL Made It, Alchemist, Dave Free, Tae Beast, DJ Dahi, Lex Luger, Willie B, Nez & Rio, A$AP Ty Beats
Guests: Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Curren$y, Dom Kennedy, A$AP Rocky, Jhene Aiko

ScHoolboy Q set it off in what would become Black Hippy’s year. Habits & Contradictions was the first major discussion piece for Rap fans in 2012. The album was a mesh of trippy explorations (“Sacrilegious” and “Druggys wit Hoes Again”) and some modernized Gangsta Rap that had the heart of its predecessors (“NigHtmare On Figg St.” and “Raymond 1969”). Like Kendrick Lamar a year ago, Quincy’s second independent album gave the Los Angeles native mainstream recognition without radio play. Everybody from 50 Cent to Mac Miller seemingly took heed to the words from the Hoover Crip who drove the Q1 conversation with this indie juggernaut of an album.

What We Said Then:

“There’s no shortage of the requisite Hip Hop fare – drugs, crime, hustling – on Habits, and Q does a fine job of espousing it as his own. The grimy ‘Oxy Music’ oozes with tales of peddling pills and heroin while the standout ‘Hands on the Wheel’ with Hip Hop’s reigning king of the ‘purp A$AP Rocky is a delicious mess of weed, ‘shrooms and getting all-around fucked up; the stuff frat boy anthems are made of.”

Vodka & Ayahausca by Gangrene

Released: January 24, 2012
Label: Decon
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Alchemist, Oh No
Guests: Kool G Rap, Prodigy, Roc Marciano, Evidence, Roc C

In benchmark years for both Alchemist and Oh No, the duo hinted at what was to come just three weeks into 2012. The pair of Cali beat kings unloaded this gestalt of Psychedelia, hardcore Hip Hop and weed-scented raps under the radar of too many. Vodka & Ayahausca was an ensemble of the burgeoning collective’s longtime homies, taking this trip with Alan and The Disrupt into the unknown. Both would release equally strong solo projects in the next 11 months, but this Decon effort could be the type of album that gets more potent with time.

What We Said Then:

“Underground Hip Hop in the right and literal sense of the term, Vodka & Ayahuasca is an uncompromising listen that dwells in the underbelly of an increasingly saccharine Rap scene. It’s music not afraid to embrace the grubby and grimy side – it brings to mind the idea of two mad rap degenerates holing themselves up in a dank basement and embracing their disturbed inner thoughts.”

Take Me To Your Leader by ¡Mayday!

Released: March 26, 2012
Label: Strange Music
Highest Charting Position: #86
Producers: ¡Mayday!
Guests: Tech N9ne, Ace Hood, dead prez, Murs, Krizz Kaliko, Jovi Rockwell, Liz Suwandi

Strange Music’s first band has been a heralded stage act for almost two years with the Missouri label before their full-length came out of the cannon. After a decade of underground prominence, ¡Mayday! made good on their breakthrough third LP. Take Me To Your Leader was Rap-Rock done in a way that didn’t feel divisive or corny. Instead, the sextet carried a message about the world around us on an album that had both purpose and jam-ability. Wrekonize and Bernbiz are two of Hip Hop’s most seasoned emcees, rarely getting individual credit as ¡Mayday! – the sum has always been bigger than its parts. This album was a groundbreaking release both for the South Florida vets and an ever-diversifying Strange.

What We Said Then:

“It’s thought provoking, extremely well written, relentlessly challenging propaganda swallowers at every turn – a rarity in an industry resembling an overcrowded kiddy pool where everyone is giddily swimming in piss. ‘This is the people’s message, now, rips Wrekonize towards the end of ‘Everything’s Everything.’ Thankfully someone is speaking up.”

Trophies by O.C. & Apollo Brown

Released: April 24, 2012
Label: Mello Music Group
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Apollo Brown
Guests: N/A

Few emcees have an ability to be as introspective and soulful at once as Brooklyn, New York’s O.C. The Diggin’ In The Crates alum made nobody question the quality of his production partner when he synced up with The Left’s Apollo Brown. The resulting album, Trophies, was a lesson in how effective simple can be. Apollo provided some subdued beats as compared to Gas Mask and Daily Bread, as O.C. provided both conceptual exercises (“Nautica”) and compelling autobiographical revelations (“Fantastic”). This is the best one of our favorites has sounded since Starchild.

What We Said Then:

“As a whole, Trophies succeeds where albums by many ’90s vets fail. It’s made in the classic style that mashes the gritty and soulful, yet doesn’t sound dated. When you listen to O.C., he’s letting you know: I’m from a place and time where this is how we rhymed, this is what we rhymed about, and this is how we get down.”

#controlsystem by Ab-Soul

Released: May 11, 2012
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Highest Charting Position: #86
Producers: Sounwave, Dave Free, Tae Beast, King Blue, Nez & Rio, Skhye Hutch, Curtiss King, Willie B, Aahyasis, Tommy Black
Guests: Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, Danny Brown, Punch, Ashtrobot, Jhene Aiko, BJ The Chicago Kid, Alori Joh, JaVonte

Following ScHoolboy’s first quarter dominance, Ab-Soul’s own sophomore release bulldozed the ears of many new listeners in Spring. Carson, California’s biggest pride since Ras Kass delivered an album dense with understanding and opinion on society, with an emcee bravado calling back to the days of Kane and KRS. Ab-Soul’s “ILLuminate” was as unique in its rawness as it was in its bold proclamations, as other moments honored fallen friends, living life to the fullest and gettin’ all the way turnt up.

What We Said Then:

“Ab-Soul’s talent is to be cherished as that of a quintessential emcee, his particular skill set running in sharp contrast to that of his thriving L.A.-based peers whose raps are largely devoid of lyricism and introspection. With #controlsystem he shows great promise having gone from his crew’s underdog to a present spotlight.”

R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike

Released: May 15, 2012
Label: Adult Swim Records
Highest Charting Position: #77
Producer: El-P
Guests:  El-P, DJ Abilities, Bun B, T.I., Trouble, Scar, Emily Panic

This year we saw Killer Mike at his peak. With R.A.P. Music, the Southern emcee has dropped his most pressing and defiant work yet, and while the record is his first with El-P behind the boards, the result is an album where Mike has been able to come into his own more completely. El-P’s production is warm and menacing at once, and, given Killer Mike’s booming voice and clear diction, it serves as a perfect backdrop for his storytelling, social commentary and channelled anger. R.A.P. Music is an easy pick for the album-of-the-year title and may rightfully define the rapper’s legacy going forward.

What We Said Then:

“With El-P as its catalyst, R.A.P. Music puts Mike on display has he doles out unheard levels of indignation, fury, and passion.”

Cancer 4 Cure by El-P

Released: May 22, 2012
Label: Fat Possum Records
Highest Charting Position: #61
Producers: El-P, Nick Diamonds
Guests: Killer Mike, Despot, Danny Brown, Mr. MFN eXquire, Nick Diamonds, Paul Banks

Cancer 4 Cure bangs and rattles all the way through. After quietly putting down the reigns to the Def Jux label a couple years ago, El-P has returned with another well-thought out sound bomb (released just days after his collaborative effort with Killer Mike dropped) brimming with a grim cynicism characteristic of the rapper/producer. Sonically the record is dense and if El’s lyrics make you lean in to decipher the words the synth sounds may make you jump back once or twice. And with a cleverly lifted sample of Camu Tao’s (R.I.P.) “When You’re Going Down,” El-P seems to sum up the album’s credo in the lead single’s
refrain: “You should pump this shit, like they do in the future.” Indeed.

What We Said Then:

Cancer 4 Cure‘s essence seems to present itself more as an album for people who’ve swaddled their lives in the liner notes of Hip Hop music. Elitist as it might seem, it’s a Rap album that sounds better if you can name most of the Gang Starr Foundation. Shrug.”

Live From The Underground by Big K.R.I.T.

Released: June 5, 2012
Label: Cinematic Music Group/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position: #5
Producers: Big K.R.I.T.
Guests: Ludacris, 2 Chainz, 8Ball & MJG, Devin The Dude, Big Sant, Bun B, B.B. King, Anthony Hamilton, Melanie Fiona, Ms. Linnie, DJ Wally Sparks

Krizzle had three albums under his belt under the guise of mixtapes simply because they were free. On his retail debut, Big K.R.I.T. maintained his reputation for trunk-jamming wisdom and quality song structures. Live From The Underground contained some bigger treats, such as B.B. King appearances and yet another slammin’ Ludacris collabo. In between talking about race relations and aspirations, Meridian, Mississippi’s own still kept the strip club and bowling ball paint factors strong for a delicately balanced debut by Wiki standards.

What We Said Then:

“The album is brimming with peerless content and an enlivened ambience that is manifested from his Spoken Word introduction to his grandmother’s parting words on the closing track. Simply put, it’s Krizzle at his finest.”

Skelethon by Aesop Rock

Released: July 10, 2012
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Highest Charting Position: #21
Producers: Aesop Rock
Guests: Rob Sonic, Kimya Dawson, Hanni El Khatib, Allyson Baker

Aesop Rock started exciting the kids (again) on last year’s Hail Mary Mallon group effort. By the time it came to releasing his first solo album in the Rhymesayers chapter of his career, the veteran lyricist bounced back with an edge that called back to the groundswell of the early ’00s. Self-produced, Skelethon was a dense listen, seemingly inspired by changing tides in both the music scene but also society at large. It sounded great, and the former Weathermen member regained his status as premier, not-to-be imitated emcee within the Hip Hop landscape.

What We Said Then:

“Throughout the project, Aesop does an outstanding job in accentuating certain words and lines for optimum effect with a marriage between the production and delivery. The sounds here are smartly put-together, so even if Aesop’s music isn’t necessarily accessible, it is always intelligent.”

Life Is Good by Nas

Released: July 13, 2012
Label: Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position: #1
Producers: No I.D., Salaam Remi, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Swizz Beatz, Da Internz, Heavy D, Buckwild, Noah “40” Shebib, Rodney Jerkins, DJ Hot Day, Nas
Guests: Large Professor, Rick Ross, Swizz Beatz, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige,  Miguel, Anthony Hamilton, Victoria Monet

Nas made good on his follow-up to 2008’s Untitled. Known for album concepts throughout the last decade, Nas used Life Is Good to chronicle his post-divorce era. Now nearly 40, the once-Nasty emcee no longer drinks 40s, but he channeled his ’90s roots with Large Professor, DJ Hot-Day and Heavy D supplying beats for this championed album. A master of the introspective verse, Nas’ single “Daughters” through to his “Bye Baby” closer were Pop-tinged songs that hit Nasir Jones from all eras on many levels. Life Is Good, and Nas is great.

What We Said Then:

“The complete package displays an obvious maturation from the veteran that is effectively in tune with a focus many have considered missing for some time, as ‘A Queens Story’ (honoring deceased hood legends and Rap talents from Nas’ borough) and ‘No Introduction’ are adventurous moments sure to please original subscribers and younger fans alike.”

Russian Roulette by Alchemist

Released: July 17, 2012
Label: Decon
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Alchemist
Guests: Evidence, Fashawn, Action Bronson, ScHoolboy Q, Roc Marciano, Guilty Simpson, Danny Brown, AG Da Coroner, Mayhem Lauren, Durag Dynasty, MidaZ, Chuuwee, Boldy James, Big Twins, Willie The Kid, Mr. MFN eXquire

Alchemist could not have slept much this year. In the commotion of a second Gangrene album and two fully-produced mixtapes, the veteran producer raised the stakes with Russian Roulette. Inspired by Soviet sample sources, this orchestral creation was built with movements, instrumental and featuring guest vocals. In a vein both Dr. Dre and Madlib could appreciate, Al made his best album to date with his name on the CD spine. R.R. had lots in the chamber, and combined a crate digger’s cause with a producer’s polish.

What We Said Then:

“With Russian Roulette, Alchemist joins Dr. Dre and Kanye West by having an ensemble project that properly shows the producer’s cohesive vision and dynamic evolution. For liner note illiterates, this is an album that sums up Alc’s range and understated ability.” 

welcome to: OUR HOUSE by Slaughterhouse

Released: August 28, 2012
Label: Shady/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position: #2
Producers: Eminem, Alex Da Kid, Hit-Boy, T-Minus, No I.D., StreetRunner, Baron “Sarom” Diaz, Zukhan, Black Key Beats, Mr. Porter, Boi-1da, Matthew Burnett, Kane Beatz, JMIKE, Ashanti “The Mad Violinist” Floyd, The Maven Boys,
Guests: Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Cee Lo Green, Swizz Beatz, Skylar Grey

Now with a major label budget, the quartet was able to polish the sound first heard in 2009 on this year’s welcome to: OUR HOUSE. Joe Budden, Crooked I, Royce Da 5’9 and Joell Ortiz may have channeled a Pop sound in production, but the lyrical displays were still rooted in the bar-bullying sound that made this group form in the first place. Eminem took a dedicated role behind the boards and on two cuts to complete the Shady Records upgrade of one of the Internet’s favorite sources of music. The album didn’t garner any gold plaques, but it played a significant role in what many believe was a bounceback year for fundamental emceeing.

What We Said Then:

“With welcome to: OUR HOUSE, Slaughterhouse has somehow managed to improve upon its already-absurd skill set. The delivery is clearer, the bars flow tighter—perhaps being challenged by Eminem in the studio daily has that effect on emcees that hate to be outshined.”

The Idea Of Beautiful by Rapsody

Released: August 28, 2012
Label: Jamla Records
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: 9th Wonder, Khrysis, E. Jones, AMP, Eric G, Ka$h
Guests: Kendrick Lamar, Phonte, Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, Big Remo, The Cool Kids, BJ The Chicago Kid, Big Rube, Raheem DeVaughn, Nomsa Mazawai,

9th Wonder found a worthy pupil in Snow Hill, North Carolina’s Rapsody. Like Skyzoo, Rapsody has a knack for squeezing personal messages into her songs, without compromising an accessible sound. Following years of standout appearances with her Kooley High clique and mixtape work, The Idea Of Beautiful possessed a completely polished sound. Rap has a confidence in her craft and a message that you can’t typically find from a male emcee. Without being tokenized, Rapsody just took hers.

What We Said Then:

The Idea Of Beautiful meticulously strings together stories of heartbreak, triumph and a love for Hip Hop in a sincere manner that will have the listener completely engaged from beginning to end. Whether the connotation of being a female lingers throughout her career, Rapsody has established herself as an emcee that has the presence and momentum to remain in this Rap game for the long term.”

A Dream Deferred by Skyzoo

Released: September 18, 2012
Label: Duck Down Music / The Faculty
Highest Charting Position: #163
Producers: !llmind, 9th Wonder, Black Milk, Jahlil Beats, Eric G., Focus…, Tall Black Guy, Best Kept Secret
Guests: Freeway, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Raheem DeVaughn, DJ Prince, Jessy Wilson, Jared Evan

Few artists show the type of calculated growth in their music that Skyzoo has since his debut album The Salvation in 2009. And while each step has produced a memorable mixtape or album, it’s clear that they have all led up to A Dream Deferred. Along the way, the Brooklyn-proud emcee forged a signature sound and working relationship with producer !llmind, with this latest album they’ve refined and fully realized their presentation in one of the finer moments of the year. So while Sky has garnered a cult following of lyric-hungry fans, A Dream Deferred may be the ultimate reason for the sleepers to wake up.

What We Said Then:

“After a series of mixtapes and worthy-if-not-spectacular albums, A Dream Deferred finally confirms Bed-Stuy Sky’s arrival as a fully-fleshed artist.”

First Of A Living Breed by Homeboy Sandman

Released: September 18, 2012
Label: Stones Throw Records
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Oddisee, Oh No, Jonwayne, J57, 6th Sense, 2 Hungry Bros., Howard Lloyd, Invisible Think, rthentic RTNC, Reality
Guests: N/A

In the year of the Ratchet, Homeboy Sandman released two EPs and an LP to celebrate the positives in life. First Of A Living Breed was an informed album that really had Hip Hop in mind with its subjects (“Cedar and Sedgwick”) to its message (“4 The Kids”). Whimsical and unpredictable, BoySand followed up 2010’s The Good Sun lovely with a thoughtful album that showed some forward steps taken in his own life (“Not Really”), but a purpose one step closer to actualization.

What We Said Then:

“He’ll release songs with no hooks, deliver three verses in the short attention span era, rhyme about societal ills without pause, paying no mind to a radio format. In a sense, he’s an Original’s original. With his Stones Throw Records debut, First Of A Living Breed, The Good Sun continues to rebuke convention.”

Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 by Lupe Fiasco

Released: September 25, 2012
Label: 1st & 15th/Atlantic Records
Highest Charting Position: #5
Producers: Soundtrakk, 1500 Or Nothin’, Simonsayz, B Sides, Famties & Bullit, The Audibles, Jason Boyd, Mr. Inkredible, Julian Bunetta, The Runners, Severe, Pro-Jay, Guy Sebastian, Infamous, King David
Guests: Poo Bear, Bilal, Guy Sebastian, Casey Benjamin, Jason Evigan

Following last year’s Lasers misstep with many of his fans, Lupe Fiasco dusted off the Food & Liquor franchise and ingredients. Six years after his breakthrough debut, F&L 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 was long on titles, but short on things to complain out. Lu evaluted the merits of the word “bitch” on “Bitch Bad” as he bemoans our economy on “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free).” The intricate writer also played with third person tales and driven narratives in what may be one of his final albums – so he says. Longtime fans like us are glad that Lupe Fiasco returned to form on his fourth LP.

What We Said Then:

“To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, [Hip Hop] must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Lupe’s ironically been branded with both since his ’06 bum rush. But there remains something noble about Chi-town’s Guevara relentlessly waving his beliefs without fear of backlash. Someone has to shine a light on all the world’s ills, right? If not Lu, then who?”

The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Released: October 9, 2012
Label: Macklemore, LLC
Highest Charting Position: #2
Producers: Ryan Lewis
Guests: ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Ray Dalton, Wanz, Buffalo Maddona, Mary Lambert, Allen Stone, The Teaching, Hollis, Evan Roman, Eighty 4 Fly, Ben Bridwell

After a handful of EPs and a previous 2005 LP, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis broke out bigtime with their sophomore full-length this year. With grassroots buzz, this Seattle, Washington emcee/producer combo unloaded nearly three years of curated music with The Heist. The album shook down the charts with a #2 debut, backed by both lighthearted odes to fashion “Thrift Shop,” and commentaries on same-sex relationships “Same Love.” With by label, appearance or subject matter, Macklemore marked the changing norms of a Hip Hop artist in 2012. Fans welcomed it.

What We Said Then:

“He and Ryan Lewis may not be your stereotypical Hip Hop duo, but that’s just another case of these two Seattleites breaking the industry norm. 10,000 hours later, Macklemore is definitely feeling like gold.”

good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar

Released: October 22, 2012
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position: #2
Producers: Tha Bizness, Sounwave, Hit-Boy, Tabu, Just Blaze, DJ Dahi, Scoop Deville, Pharrell, THC, Terrace Martin, T-Minus, Likewise, Skyhe Hutch
Guests: Dr. Dre, Jay Rock, Drake, MC Eiht, Anna Wise

The 2012 HipHopDX Album Of The Year was a blend of beautiful storytelling, varying deliveries, booming beats and originality. The Black Hippy year closed out with Kendrick’s major label debut. Backed by Dr. Dre, K.Dot required no Dre beats to enhance an album that upheld the legendary Aftermath brand. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” became a catch-phrase for the year, as “good kid” and “m.A.A.d city” showed the dynamic master of the ceremonies that is Mr. Lamar. With the greatest of expectations, few artists since 50 Cent and Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ have delivered the kind of album that muffled nearly every skeptic. Fans of lyricism, Gangsta Rap and the Pop heard in the recent mainstream gathered at the same table, all finding something to love about this one.

What We Said Then:

“With good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Compton’s flag bearer unveils a group of songs equally potent individually and collectively, meeting the mainstream and rabid fans in the middle, improbably touching that thinnest slice between mass appeal and mass respect.”

Mic Tyson by Sean Price

Released: October 30, 2012
Label: Duck Down Music
Highest Charting Position: #58
Producers: Alchemist, Evidence, DJ Babu, 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Stu Bangas, Wool, Eric G, AMP, Beat Butcha
Guests: Buckshot, Ill Bill, Torae, Pharoahe Monch, Ruste Juxx, Ike Eyes, Pumpkinhead, Realm Reality

Sean P’s long-awaited third solo album was a career best commercially for the Brownsville bully. As the scans came in, the fans came in. The Heltah Skeltah co-founder displayed his humor and irrevererance to the changing trends of a culture he’s been immersed in for decades. Throughout the charm and candor, Sean’s wordplay has only sharpened since he smacked naysayers from left field seven years ago with Monkey Barz. This was one of hardcore Hip Hop’s best albums in 2012, with a true showman versed in the art of [lyrical] skullduggery.

What We Said Then:

“With Mic Tyson, the artist formerly known as Ruck steps back into the ring to deliver a series of haymakers that’ll sate the most bloodthirsty of fans.”

MHz Legacy by MHz

Released: October 30, 2012
Label: Man Bites Dog Records
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: RJD2, Harry Fraud, !llmind, Stu Bangas, J. Rawls, Surock, Marco Polo, Jason Rose, D1, Rob Stern, Playdough,
Guests: Slug, Blu, Danny Brown, Oh No, Ill Bill, Slaine, Dom, Steve, Aaron Livingston  

In the midst of his own personal and creative comeback, Copywrite rallied the troops to finish what Columbus, Ohio’s Hip Hop pioneers started in the mid-1990s. The MHz lineup of Copy, RJD2, Jakki Da Mottamouth and Tage Future re-formed, complete with some unheard Camu Tao moments to make a proper legacy album to follow up the crew’s Table Scraps compilation of jaw-dropping singles. The group’s sound received an update that tracked both evolutions in RJ’s arsenal, but also the overall direction of Hip Hop. “Columbus Diss Patch” says it all, complete with a face-melting Camu verse, as why this group not only matters in history, but apparently in the present too.

What We Said Then:

“While each individual member has gone through a series of life’s peaks and valleys, the group has also suffered the loss of Camu Tao. ‘We’re here,’ Copy says as ‘Mass Temple’ begins. ‘Fashionably late, by only 14 years…. Meanwhile, we lost a brother.’ With such a pronounced loss, the group managed to pick up the pieces.”

The Final Adventure by Murs & 9th Wonder

Released: November 13, 2012
Label: Jamla
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: 9th Wonder
Guests: Rapsody

Few, if any ’00s-era collaborative series ever have stood out as much as the five-parter from Murs and 9th Wonder. Years removed from Living Legends and Little Brother respectively, the pair of thirty-somethings capped off their run with an exhibition on wisdom, love and social encouragement. Murray and Pat have come a long way personally and musically since the Def Jux debut eight years ago, but the Final Adventure is one of the most crucial and great-sounding moments in the catalog.

What We Said Then:

“It’s clear that Murs and 9th Wonder had a task here: finishing their saga as strongly as they started it. With The Final Adventure, the duo does just that, crafting an album that speaks on a variety of topics over soulful instrumentation, much like on 3:16. This time, they managed to tie up loose ends, showing the growth of the boy who once hustled recyclables (‘H.U.S.T.L.E.’) now proudly acknowledging that he is behind Paid Dues.”

Reloaded by Roc Marciano

Released: November 13, 2012
Label: Decon
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Roc Marciano, Q-Tip, Alchemist, Ray West, The Arch Druids
Guests: Ka, Pirate

Roc Marciano’s sophomore release is another solid exercise in sedated coolness. The minimalist approach to production, handled almost entirely by Roc himself with exceptions made for appearances by Alchemist, Q-Tip, Arch Druids and Ray West, is built simply out of obscure loops and punched-up drums. Reloaded’s sinister beats serve as the perfect backdrop for Roc’s laid back and conversational street tales and gangster braggadocio. The album may not break much new ground for Marciano but it makes a strong argument for an artist doing a single thing exceedingly well.

What We Said Then:

“Marciano’s outright refusal to relinquish his old school ways and broaden his reach results in enjoyable glorified crime fiction that could render him archaic sooner rather than later, but for right now it’s perfect.”

Diamond In The Ruff by Freeway

Released: November 27, 2012
Label: Babygrande Records/Team Early
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Just Blaze, Bink!, Jake One, DJ Khalil, The Incredible Stro, Mike Jerz, Needlz, Sonny Dukes
Guests: Wale, Neef Buck, Nikki Jean, Marsha Ambrosious, Vivian Green, Musiq Soulchild, Miss Daja Thomas, Alonda Rich

Freeway’s fourth studio album charted his growth as a man and a songwriter. Still, the growl and fervor that made Freezer a household name in Rap families was deeply present on Diamond In The Ruff. The album possessed an a la carte offering of a man understanding his place in the Rap community (“Right Back”, “Early”) while still trying to push the envelope (“Sweet Temptations”). Freeway is often praised for his voice and his energy levels, but the West Philly vet has hardly wavered when it’s come to consistency with studio albums. The diamond still shines.

What We Said Then:

“Freeway has stitched together a decade’s worth of quality full-lengths, all while weathering the breakup of Roc-A-Fella Records, the trials of life, and a new free agent status. Creatively and contextually, for the most part, Diamond In The Ruff continues that streak.”

Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors by Big Boi

Label: Purple Ribbon/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position: #33
Producers: Big Boi, Organized Noize, Chris Carmouche, Cy Fyre, Mr. DJ, Phantogram, Showdown, DJ Aries, C-Bone, Sharif Wilson, Royal Flush, Jeron Ward, John Hill, Nathan Williams, Arthur McArthur, Bosko, Andramadon, Gary Fly
Guests: Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky, Ludacris, T.I., Killer Mike, B.o.B, Wavves, Mouche and Scar, Little Dragon, Kelly Rowland, Sleepy Brown, Phantogram, Bosko

Big Boi’s second solo album in three years swapped out the Funk for spacier EDM themes. With bands like Little Dragon, Phantogram and Wavves as his muses of the moment, Antoine Patton made a party-to-go just like last time, just with a new sound. In the wake of a fresh crop of Atlanta faces in Rap, Big Boi also stamped down that he’s still a pioneer leading the troops “In The A.” Like all Outkast/Big Boi products, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors was a colorful journey in sound.

What We Said Then:

“What is technically Big Boi’s third solo outing (if we’re counting Speakerboxxx), is a calculated risk that pays off for open-minded fans. General Patton walks a fine line between putting his troop of featured artists in their place, while still showcasing his own five star pedigree.”

Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head by T.I.

Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records
Highest Charting Position: TBA
Producers: DJ Toomp, No I.D., Rico Love, Pharrell, Jazze Pha, 1500 Or Nothin’, Cardiak, T-Minus, Planet IV, Sanchez Holmes, Lil C, Nikhil Seetharam, Sir Clef, Po Johns, DJ Montay, Mr. Jonz, Jamezz Bonn, Earl & E, Brian Kidd, Chinky P, Travis Sayles, Tommy Brown, K Tracks
Guests: Lil Wayne, Andre 3000, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill, R. Kelly, Akon, P!nk, Cee Lo Green

T.I.’s atonement album was one-part apology, one-part assertion. After failing to make much of an impact with No Mercy – and then getting into trouble again, it was only right that T.I. would come out with an album that acknowledged his wrong turns, as well as a slap a ruler to the wrists of anybody who questioned his overall impact. “G Season” says it all, as T.I. hopes to find middle-ground as the husband/father that’s made him so endearing on television with the rap sheet that the headlines have regularly brandished. This album knocks, and follows Paper Trail and King in a series of T.I. comeback albums.

What We Said Then:

“[Whereas] No Mercy felt like a rushed commissary deposit, and a pair of mixtapes dissipated as quickly as they hit DatPiff servers. Fortunately, Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head sees T.I. reclaiming his spot as a force to be reckoned with.”

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