Best of Lists’ are tricky and ultimately personal choices. It’s also hard keeping up with so many genres all demanding equal attention. But 2012 saw a minor-rap renaissance (thus the rap-centric picks) as well as a reemergence of dance music in the mainstream, both of which have been underway for the last two to three years but perhaps peaked this year.
Most of these tracks were released as singles that were bolstered by equally amusing videos; after all, in 2012 the entire package should be taken into account and a killer youtube video never hurts. It’s important to note that while these are my top 5 singles of 2012, it certainly wasn’t a list without close contenders.
Menahan Street Band “The Crossing”
Quietly released on a 45 through Dunham Records, this track illustrates the band’s wide strengths through beautiful guitar plucks and deep, moody horns. Known mostly for Jay-Z’s use of their song “Make The Road By Walking” (for “Roc Boys”) Menahan is in fact one of the best pure instrumental troupes around. With lively arrangements and compositions anchored by melody and a penchant for understatement, “The Crossing” is one of this year’s most gripping instrumentals. Everyone should own this LP this on wax.
Nas “The Don”
Nas’ pinnacle came very early on and he’s spent his subsequent career trying to outdo Illmatic. 2012’s Life Is Good is a reminder of his natural gifts and “The Don” finds him flexing cadences he hasn’t touched in decades. The entire album could’ve been a bit trimmed but one thing’s for sure: his voice still sounds strong and with the right guidance and production, he’s unmatched in terms raw talent. Like the song suggests, he’s still rap royalty (especially in New York) and could out-rap any 20 year-old emcee who thinks he’s the next coming of Nasir Jones.
Solange “Losing You”
Easy on the eyes and ears, Beyonce’s sister Solange is a stunning Brooklyn hipster who surrounds herself with gifted, young songwriters like Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange) and Theophilous London. Though she falls into the r&b category, her EP, True, is a throwback to late ’80s-early ’90s danceable pop that ruled radio. For someone with terribly huge resources at her disposal, Solange (and co.) have made solid tracks without major radio play or huge marketing pushes. I’m not a huge modern r&b guy, but 4 of the EP’s 7 tracks certainly come correct and are way too catchy to ignore.
It’s nice to see national outlets giving proper respect to Antwon, a young rap star in-the-making who’s criminally slept-on–even in his own hometown of San Jose. Dude gets play on MTV2 and Spin Magazine dubbed his “Helicopter” video “One of the Year’s Best.”. His beat selection is wise beyond his years, teetering between underground boom-bap basics, to throwback production, to left-field shit. In addition to punk-rock design aesthetics and superior music videos, 2013 should see Antwon go from local South Bay rapper to a (quite deserved) forefront position. He’s prepared too, as quoted from “Helicopter”: “We in the kitchen eating on a full stomach / I hear your tummy growling / I’m thinking nothing of it.”
Action Bronson “Steve Wynn”
This year saw Action Bronson go from rap’s best kept secret to major label signee. It’s understandable given his propensity for entertaining raps coupled with a prolific recording spree most rappers with decade long careers have yet reached. “Steve Wynn” is in fact off a mix tape called Blue Chips, an internet only release that shows Bronson’s vulgar humor and dextrous mic skills. Add a catchy Aaron Neville sample with drums along with a goofy video and you have one of the year’s best rap cuts.