I kid. I have nothing to contribute in terms of White Rock journalism, which is fierce over here as of late. And that’s not to say I haven’t loved this year’s releases by screamy white-boy bands like the Japandroids, the Cloud Nothings or, say, Titus Andronicus. White Rock is in pretty good shape, and when is it not?
Nah, right here is this petulant white boy’s favorite rap tracks of 2012, in no particular order, mostly Black, in no way comprehensive, just as good as good gets.
“Jansport Strings,” Skyzoo
A perfect 9th Wonder production, which goes without saying. According to Rap Genius, Skyzoo penned this song as an homage to Music Video Box, a public television program he used to watch that documented hip-hop music and culture in the Big Apple.
For me, it was Chicago’s JBTV. And I do recall The Box, I think it was called, which was a pretty uncool 1-900 video channel back in the early 90s, and you could call in a music video request for a nominal fee. I have the vividest memory of seeing “Ice Ice Baby” for the first time via The Box and being as thrilled as any ten-year-old could be in 1991. (We didn’t have cable.) Or maybe it was Candyman’s “Knockin Boots.” Watching them now, it’s hard to tell the two apart.
Point is, for everyone there is a point of origin, and for many of us it was before the Internet. Unless you had a cool older sibling, you kind of had to be lucky (or persistent) to come across something good. So this track pays homage as much to the moment of discovery as it does to some long-forgotten rap video.
“Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick Lamar
Damn, I remember when I had bitches.
I don’t know how I feel about Kendrick Lamar. And that’s exactly why I am interested in watching his career unfold. I feel like he’s uncomfortably occupying the real estate between smart and stupid. I don’t think it’s a gap he can bridge for very much longer, no matter how lucrative it may be. Still, he seems like a real dark horse, and that I like. I’m sure he’ll cash in and the unlikely artfulness of his version of pop rap will be a distant memory. Sonically, this track is powerful stuff, deceptively minimal. Lamar really gets a head full of steam on this one. Lil Wayne could’ve rebooted/resurrected his entire career if only this track was his.
“Waves,” Joey Bada$$
Yeah, not the greatest stage name, I agree. Until you listen to his music and watch his videos and realize that this kid is very smart and very talented, so he can call himself whatever the hell he wants.
If you are scratching your head at A$AP Rocky’s success, or wondering what the hell happened to the New York sound, Joey Bada$$ seems to be the answer to all that. Joey Bada$$ (born Jo-Vaughn Virginie in 1995) is a real person, and he makes rap for real people. And I think he has a long and illustrious career ahead of him. I really, really want this kid to succeed in a bad way and I presume he will.
“Petrin Hill Peonies,” Stalley
More rap for real people. I didn’t like Stalley’s 2012 MMG-associated mixtape Savage Journey to the American Dream at all. I don’t know what happened there. His 2011 offering Lincoln Way Nights was a minor masterpiece—a raw conspectus of what it means to rap your way out of the Rust Belt.
I recall in an interview Stalley joking that he was like a rap Bruce Springsteen. This is an apt analogy. Stalley raps about Chevys and working class life, and he’s got a deep respect for the game, an unmatched work ethic and a winning smile. For now, we can only hope that he’ll have the gumption to deliver rap’s Born to Run.
“Call That Hip Hop” Craig G
Respect your elders and do your homework, young ones. Enough said.
“Niggas in Poorest,” Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)
I am a Kanye West fan, have loved every album he has released (still struggling with 808s and Heartbreak, though), but I enjoy his work with the understanding that it is some kind of spectacular pop art—not hip-hop. I think he believes he’s transcended hip-hop or something, if that word is even in his vocabulary. I cannot recall a pop star as successful as Kanye West who was so dumb and so brilliant at the same time.
So how far has Kanye West fled the parameters of hip hop? The Artist Formerly Known as Mos Def measures exactly how far with “Niggas in Poorest,” a remake/diss record of “Niggas in Paris,” which basically reinforces what everybody knows already: the poor are getting poorer; the rich are getting richer; and when you’re on top you’re probably out-of-touch. Bey ends the track with a warning for everyone, rich, poor and in-between: “Don’t get caught up in no throne.” It’s important to note that Kanye West and Jay-Z un-ironically titled their 2011 collaboration Watch the Throne, foreseeing no emperor-is-naked irony in that. Way dumb and way out-of-touch.
“Contemporary Man,” Action Bronson
Well, rap can be fun too. Action Bronson may be the funniest rapper (effortlessly so, it needs to be said) in the game. There’s not a whole lot of mystery surrounding Action Bronson. He’s a big bearded dude from Queens who is a pothead and a gourmand. I think if you like Anthony Bourdain you’ll like Action Bronson. I’m actually surprised Bronson doesn’t have his own Travel Channel series yet. Anyway, “Contemporary Man” is not a song proper—consider it an appetizer. Give his last two mixtapes—Blue Chips and the recently released Rare Chandeliers—a listen and there’s a good chance you’ll start telling people he’s your favorite rapper going. He’s also got a must-bookmark Twitter feed. T’boftë mire.
“4EvaNaDay,” Big K.R.I.T.
Big K.R.I.T.’s thesis statement throughout much of his work has been this: get up off your ass (preferably early) and go make something of yourself. And that’s a noble cause. I marvel at his optimism because, quite frankly, it eludes me. The inspiration I feel when I listen to K.R.I.T. is mostly an illusion, vicarious and fleeting. I have to respect a guy who at least tries to lift a lunkhead like me up.
So, yeah, you know, life goes on and on, but as far we know the life you live is a non-renewable resource.
Kind of reminds me of what Bertrand Russell was writing about in The Conquest of Happiness:
In fact the whole antithesis between self and the rest of the world, which is implied in the doctrine of self-denial, disappears as soon as we have any genuine interest in persons or things outside ourselves. Through such interests a man comes to feel himself part of the stream of life, not a hard separate entity like a billiard ball, which can have no relation with other such entities except that of collision. All unhappiness depends upon some disintegration or lack of integration; there is disintegration within the self through lack of coordination between the conscious and the unconscious mind; there is lack of integration between the self and society, where the two are not knit together by the force of objective interests and affections. The happy man is the man who does not suffer from either of these failures of unity, whose personality is neither divided against itself or pitted against the world. Such a man feels himself a citizen of the universe, enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joys it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because he feels himself not really separate from those who will come after him. It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.