Here we are at the last day of a calendar year once again and only a few months removed from the The Intermission and the first 75 songs we loved. When we started years ago, who knew we’d even see this many Decembers together, as writers and readers?
But we’re here and, as usual, we wanted to share the songs that gave us joy (and job security) for yet another year. As a staff, we gathered up the titles, sans rhyme or reason or any logical cohesion, except that we played these records on repeat so often they deserve mention as the key tracks that stood out from our personal playlists.
As always, there are no rankings here. We couldn’t do that if we wanted to because, as a Crew, every member stands strong behind their choices and blood would be spilled trying to crown one tune above the 100+ others. These are simply our favorites; feel free to add a few of yours in the comments.
1. Kendrick Lamar – “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst”
Let’s face it – every track on good kid, m.a.a.d. city deserves praise. But we’ll give a special shout out “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst,” a confessional/rally cry that sheds more light on the Kendrick Lamar backstory while lamenting Compton’s dog-eat-dog mentality.
2. Big Boi Ft. Bosko – “Tremendous Damage”
Big Boi has been in the game long enough to feel like extended family. So when the braggadocios emcee comes off as hurting – a clear theme of Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors – we offer an ear. “Tremendous Damage” is one of the most personal songs of Mr. Patton’s career, sharing the emotional struggles that have come with the passing of his father. Hard to imagine that there are still layers of Big to peel away, even at 37. But here we are.
3. A$AP Rocky – “Angels”
His patented Bone Thungs-N-Syrup style over a beat that can only be described as whimsical? Anyone else and we’d be laughing, but A$AP has made a career of churning out great leftfield sounds, a category that “Angels” calls home.
4. Rihanna Ft. Future – “Love Song”
The 2012 “Fire & Desire” this is not, but chances are this will be belted out at the loudest possible decibels at any random New Year’s Eve party.
5. Frank Ocean – “Crack Rock”
The singer’s all-too-real breakdown of crackheads would be a much harder pill to swallow if it weren’t presented in such a got damn catchy manner. Whatever floats your boat, Mr. Ocean.
6. Fun. – “Some Nights”
Fun. brought sing-songy stadium rock all the way back in 2012. Don’t get pissy because you’ve heard from them too much; if a song can get stuck inside your head as frequently as “Some Nights” can, melodically speaking, they’re doing something right.
7. T.I. Ft. Meek Mill – “G Season”
Tip at his trapping best or closer to it than any of us could have hoped. Trouble Man was a late-season highlight, harkening back to a day when the King Of The South moniker wasn’t in dispute.
8. Freddie Gibbs – “BFK”
A warrant has been issued for Freddie Gibbs’s arrest for what he did to that fire M-80 beat.
9. Chief Keef – “3 Hunna”
10. Toro Y Moi – “Rose Quartz”
Toro Y Moi still hasn’t released a studio, CDQ version of “Rose Quartz,” but that’s totally cool. Chaz’s live rendition of the cut from Lollapalooza 2012 is so funky that we’ll subsist until it (hopefully) appears on Anything In Return in January.
11. Petty – “Song Like This”
While the vast array of emotions displayed on his Petty Presley mixtape are what made us appreciate the project in the first place, it was the parched poetry reiterated on tracks like this somber silhouette that really helped us get inside the Nashville MC’s head and appreciate his music even more over time.
12. Jeremih – “773 Love”
Most of Mike Will Made It’s major hits this year came in the form of club-killing rap jams. Yet, when you combine this futuristic wave he cooked up for Late Nights With Jeremih with the Chicago singer’s sultry swagger, this may have been his most unappreciated assist.
13. IamSu! – “Mobbin”
In 2012, this multi-faceted Richmond rapper/songwriter/producer went from writing hits for other Cali rappers to keeping them for himself, with this slumping dedication to rolling deep in every aspect of life.
14. Mayer Hawthorne Ft. Snoop Dogg – “Can’t Stop” (Dam-Funk Remix)
If the string-infused original from Mayer’s How Do You Do debut wasn’t enough, the vintage synth genius Dam-Funk added to this trance-inducing remix was bold enough to reignite the overall sound of the song and extend it’s staying power even further.
15. Freddie Gibbs Ft. Kirko Bangz – “Bout It Bout It”
Freddie was feeling very Percy Miller on BFK and we weren’t mad about it. Between the project’s grimy intro and this should’ve been single, the Gary gangster somehow had us willingly revisiting sayings from 1997 with his thugged out crossover capabilities.
16. Kids These Days – “Bud Billiken”
Named after a fictional character that idealizes bettering Chicago youth and featuring an awesome Crucial Conflict interpolation, this energetic single from Kids These Days’ slept-on Traphouse Rock project showed these Windy City youngsters have the style and talent to become the Roots crew to a new generation.
17. Danny Brown – “Molly Ringwald” (Prod. by AraabMuzik)
Even though we question where Fool’s Gold came up with the title for their Loosies rap compilation, this turned-up quick-hitter from the MPC master and Detroit’s prettiest rapper was ill enough to justify both endless plays and randomly yelling the name of this former ’80s actress.
18. Chels Ft. Paige Allyn – “Out My Window”
Backed by floating pads and whimsical organ blips, this track from NOLA MC Chels’ True School For The Moon Children puts listeners into the mindset of a young old soul who’s seeing the world around her develop at a pace that can be hard to keep up with, unless you’re as calloused as she is.
19. Trinidad Jame$ Ft. Spook, Coop & Snake – “Team Vacation”
What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there. Trinidad and co. vividly retell what happens in a few nights spent under the flashing lights of Sin City.
20. Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music”
Seeing and hearing God in our music.
21. Lupe Fiasco – “Bitch Bad”
One of the most important songs of the year. Form, function and fashion meet and a discussion began allowing Lupe to add another positive stripe to his legacy as an artist who continually stirs the pot.
22. Kendrick Lamar Ft. Jay Rock – “Money Trees”
Kendrick didn’t get out-rapped by his TDE cohort. But, lord have mercy, Jay Rock’s delivery and details are second to none. Bonus points to K.Dot for making a quick slang term without even attempting to.
23. Flatbush ZOMBiES – “Face Off (L.S. Darko)”
Give them time and the ZOMBiES could be invading more iPods.
24. Jessie Ware – “Running”
Jessie Ware’s rocking with a Neo ’80s sound with a dash of Sade? We’ll have all of that; thank you very much. Her departure from dance music served her well here and on the rest of Devotion, her debut album.
25. Grande Marshall – “2-3 Shidd”
Philly’s got talent that’s floating right below the radar but ready to blow. And when it pops, Grande’s name will be one of the first mentioned.
26. Lake Street Dive – “Bad Self Portraits”
We’ve heard a lot of music. A lot. However, we can’t recall falling head over heels for any bad quicker than we did Lake Street Dive. The only thing we can request from this quartet is that they please release more material in 2013. Did we say “please”?
27. Nas – “Loco-Motive”
Many thanks are in order for Nas’ direct acknowledgement of the “trapped in the 90s n*ggas.” Descriptive, vivid, and unmistakably New York, “Loco-Motive” is Nas doing what he’s done better than every other rapper for the past 20 years.
28. Frank Ocean – “Lost”
There are few things worse than corrupting something, or someone, you hold dear. Sullying something as pure as love is akin to adding baking soda or lactose to the snow white stimulant Frankie’s gal whips up in the kitchen on this bouncy standout from Channel Orange.
29. A$AP Rocky Ft. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T. “1 Train”
Every rapper that bloggers used to like before they gained national fame gets busy on this one, and Hit-Boy shows that he has more than stadium-ready, glossy beats in his diverse arsenal.
30. Shy Glizzy – “Money Problems”
From the simple, earworm, hook to the naked honesty, the Southeast DC youngin’ defines the well-worn phrase “keeping it real.”
31. Kingpen Slim – “Dead”
Slim and The Ghost commit double homicide over Mark Henry’s sinister guitar lick and a bassline that sinks to the lower registers like a mother’s heart upon witnessing her child outlined in chalk.
32. Gucci Mane Ft. Future – “F*ck The World”
A by-product of Gucci Mane’s prolific year, “F*ck The World” saw him link up with Future who provided one of his better hooks, out of a lot of great hooks, from the year. Future raps, “I put my heart in every verse,” but both he and Gucci offer up a fairly deep song disguised by the flippant “F*ck The World” title.
33. Blue Sky Black Death & Nacho Picasso – “Public Enemy”
With the help of partners in crime/production duo Blue Sky Black Death, “Public Enemy” is ultra slow, and so drugged out that one can nearly catch a contact high from Nacho Picasso. Deeper than the sh*t talking, bragging, and weirdo raps that have carved his lane, Nacho’s inclusion of the Seattle Police Department makes this song all the more relevant and chilling.
34. The Jealous Guys – “Love and Other Drugs”
Over Jay Curry’s heartstring-tugging, sad violins, The Jealous Guys bemoan the perils of “Love And Other Drugs.” While the song is a little melancholy, the duo mixes their flow up and work beautifully with the instrumental to make love and drugs sound more than appealing.
35. Pink Dollaz – “No Makeup”
From the stellar Pink Drugs tape, the rambunctious, self-assured “No Makeup” was one of the highlights from Pink Dollaz. Oozing self-confidence, the song was equally part sassy and equally part dance inducing, a perfect introduction to the all-girls crew.
36. Ab-Soul – “The Book Of Soul”
Ab’s elegy for Alori Joh will tug at the emotions as a man explains his love for a woman.
37. T.I. Ft. Juicy J & Trae The Truth – “Fightin’ Words”
“As the title suggests, everything about the song laughs in the face of the weak at heart. Tip’s venomous hook is complimented by an ill-tempered verse. From there Juicy J’s tales of trippy living comes off additionally catchy as his flow appeared to integrate with the instrumental damn near flawlessly.”
38. Two9 Ft. Key!, Curtis Williams, & Jace of Retro Su$h! – “They Love It”
Two9 members Key!, Curtis Williams, and Jace craft a hopelessly catchy song with “They Love It.” The entire Two9 crew has had a breakout year, and they seemed to foreshadow it with cuts such as this, rapping about how everyone loves them. Despite that, their laid back cadences and ability to ride nonchalantly on the back side of the beat overshadow give people a reason to love them.
39. Scotty Ft. Playboy Tre & SL Jones “Too Cool”
Besides making music that anyone can relate to, Scotty demonstrated that his hook game was second to none, with “Too Cool” being almost too cool for its own good. So cool, in fact, that he had to grab Playboy Tre and SL Jones to up the ante in the remix.
40. Trouble Ft. Gucci Mane, Rocko, & Travis Porter – “U Don’t Deserve Dat (Remix)”
2012 taught me that Trouble is an excellent rapper, with him broaching touchy subjects like creepin’ women and domestic violence, and still spinning it into a song worthy of repeat play. For the remix of “U Don’t Deserve Dat,” Gucci Mane, Rocko, and Travis Porter all contribute worthy verses, but Radric steals the spotlight. Say what you want about the guy with the ice cream tattoo on his face, but there are rare glimpses to his hilarious humor, and this is one of them.
41. Domo Genesis & Alchemist – “F*ck Everybody Else”
The Alchemist had an amazing 2012, and his collaborative project with Domo Genesis was a big part of it. Young Doms flexes a lean and stripped down lyrical approach in this quick but effective gut punch from the No Idols mixtape.
42. Adele – “Skyfall”
One word: EPIC
43. Miguel – “Do You”
“Adorn” received much of the praise from Miguel’s immaculate sophomore LP, as it should. “Do You,” however, was yet another example of buddy’s propensity to produce not only a radio smash, but high-quality R&B in the process.
44. Dom Kennedy – “1:25”
Dom managed to make a record providing the ideal soundtrack for whatever one can imagining happening at 1:25 in the morning.
45. Game Ft. JMSN & J. Cole – “Pray”
Nas should act as if that “Black Girl Lost 2” track never happened, and give the title to this song.
46. Big Sean – “RWT”
“I’m perverted as fuck, got a pole in the house
Got your girl and her girl and they hoein’ it out
But you standin’ outside cause no hoes is allowed
If you work like I work, you would throw in the towel
Once you get in this life, man, there’s no comin’ out
And haters look at me like snow in the south
Sean spazzed THE hell out here.
47. Freddie Gibbs Ft. Problem – “On Me”
Freddie may be from Gary, Indiana, but this offering found on Baby Face Killa has 75 degree, clear sky weather while riding down Sunset Boulevard written all over it.
48. T.I. Ft. Akon – “Wonderful Life”
T.I.’s father and his slain-best friend, Philant Johnson, reach out to Tip from the grave reassuring him even through all the trials and tribulations, life is, indeed, wonderful. It almost felt like Tip needed to make this record to cleanse his soul.
49. Dizzy Wright – “Can’t Trust Em”
Don’t let Dizzy get in his zone. Weak rappers will suffer the consequences.
50. Nas Ft. Amy Winehouse – “Cherry Wine”
No prisoner of the moment here, but from the afterlife, Amy helped Nas deliver one of the best and most vulnerable tracks of his career.
51. Ab-Soul Ft. Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, & ScHoolboy Q – “Black Lip Bastard (Remix)”
Name a crew that had a better year than TDE. That’s right, I’ll wait.
52. Big Boi Ft. Killer Mike, & Little Dragon – “Thom Pettie”
The active half of OutKast put out an album that meshed the best of several genres, none better than this cut from Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Killer Mike is spunky rapper with a loud personality, both embodied explosively on his verse.
53. Starlito Ft. Robin Raynelle – “Mental Warfare”
When Star and Burn One get together, magical moments happen.
54. Joey Bada$$ Ft. Chuck Strangers & Statik Selektah – “FromdaTomb$”
New York’s young badass is the perfect throwback to rap’s golden age with his aptly titled standout project, 1999. His unique voice and ability to dazzle over minimalistic beats that instantly take you back in time. If he was around back then, he’d probably have given the best of them a decent run for their money.
55. Kanye West & Big Sean Ft. Jay-Z – “Clique”
The G.O.O.D. Music roster may very well be rap’s paper champions but Hov isn’t any slouch either. Everybody showed up over Hit-Boy’s standout production but Jay came in and put on a lyrical massacre.
56. Starlito – “Produced By Coop”
If you don’t understand why Starlito is such a gripping figure after hearing this track, there may just not be any saving you. Over a soaring backdrop, Starlito reflects on his career failings and search for acclaim while keeping his ten toes firmly in the streets.
57. ScHoolboy Q – “Raymond 1969”
Every wondered why Q capitalizes his H’s? It’s because he’s a Hoover Crip, duH. See exhibit A, “Raymond 1969,” his dedication to the founder and birth year of the Los Angeles street gang.
58. Quiz – “Stay”
His Dope Kicks, Fresh Hats mixtape was feature-heavy, but young Quiz showed he can hold a record just fine on his own. The man’s lyrics are meaningful and his flow improves with every verse he lays on wax. 2013 will be kind to him.
59. Rittz Ft. Tech N9ne – “Bloody Murdah”
What do you get when two of the fastest rappers in the industry decide to collaborate together? You get an annihilation, and that’s exactly what these two do here. The TSS shoutout was just icing on the cake.
60. Action Bronson – “It’s Me”
Half glass of Cabernet on the Hoboken PATH train? F*cking right we’re trying that. Put drugs inside the crack of our asses and then do a squat? F*ck no we’re not trying that. But kudos to Action Bronson for all of the various fun, time-killing suggestions.
61. A$AP Rocky – “LVL”
Yeah, we’re excited for “LVL” producer Clams Casino’s next instrumentals mixtape, too.
62. Father John Misty – “Nancy From Now On”
“Oh, pour me another drink and punch me in the face. You can call me Nancy,” FTW. But please, if you see us at the bar, don’t deck us or call us Nancy. Another drink will suffice.
63. Big Sean – “Guap”
Big Sean’s infuriating. First, you think you’ve figured out his whole “boi, boi, boi” gimmick, and then he transforms himself into this aggrandized G.O.O.D. Music hypeman on tracks like “Clique” and “Mercy.” Next, he teams up with KeY Wane, develops an unreal chemistry that catapulted his Detroit project and “Guap” single into our heads (both of which we still can’t get out) and commands that we take him seriously again. Damn you, SEEEAAAAAANNNNNN!
64. AlunaGeorge – “Just a Touch”
Another gem in a wave of hybrid-R&B talents emerging from the UK, singer-producer duo AlunaGeorge have a knack for churning out infectious singles, and this mix of mutating bass and youth submerged vocals was no different.
65. Elle Varner – “Not Tonight”
On her debut album, Perfectly Imperfect, R&B chanteuse Elle Varner finds herself juggling the various emotions, contradictions, and complications that are often wrapped up with young love. Laying her vulnerabilities bare, the soaring ballad “Not Tonight” is the apex of an endearing first release.
66. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Ft. Schoolboy Q – “White Walls”
Certain MCs who prioritize worldliness like Macklemore tend to avoid most materialistic mainstream themes, backing themselves into a corner that can dry out their music. But, with this light-hearted track about fulfilling his dream of buying a Cadillac from his impressive debut The Heist, the Seattle rapper shows he’s not afraid to boast a bit and is indeed the complete package.
67. Big K.R.I.T. Ft. B.B. King – “Praying Man”
Rap’s history may be young, but it’s still rich. And now, thanks to K.R.I.T., we can now point to the support of one of music’s legends in B.B. King.
68. Mikkey Halsted Ft. Pusha T – “Momma in My Ear”
Taking his claim of being “the common denominator between Chief Keef and Common” to a winning conclusion, street-wise Chi-town MC Mikkey Halsted linked up with frequent Keef collaborator Young Chop for this anxious rumble of a track. Pusha T, who can only affect this type of seething ferocity on his G.O.O.D. Music tracks, delivers the real thing here.
69. Katy Perry – “Wide Awake”
Understand a few quick things and accept them as proven facts. Katy Perry makes hits. Big, Billboard-topping pop hits. And Dr. Luke’s work – both production and writing-wise – are what propels KP (and many artists) to the peak of success.
70. Jessie Ware – “Sweet Talk”
Following a string of terrifically sultry singles from her finely tuned debut album, Devotion, Jessie Ware’s final single of 2012 found her letting her hair down, if only slightly. Like the character at the heart of the song, “Sweet Talk” sweeps you away with little chance of protestation.
71. Rochelle Jordan – “Shotgun”
Keeping with RJ’s seamless ’90s throwback style, this highlight from her sophomore mixtape P R E S S U R E also took a cue from her contemporary peers, masking a potentially dark subtext under sweet melodies and affecting production.
72. Roc Marciano – “The Man”
The perfectly titled, organ-driven closer from Reloaded is five minutes of Roc Marciano stuntin’ on another echelon. He takes on the caricature of a mafia head honcho (“silk shirt, half open with the chest hair”), and proceeds to do what he does best — fill it out with punchy, poetic bursts of colorful detail.
73. Black Spade – “Nobody’s Fool”
Another genre-blending masterpiece from the perpetually overlooked Black Spade. The crooning, rapping and production are all on point as always, and the video manages to keep pace as well.
74. Game Ft. Cool & Dre – “Black Jesus”
The Game does his thing as usual here but Dre’s beat and hook on this are some feel-good vibes, blasphemy though they may be.
75. Mystikal – “Hit Me”
In this James Brown interpolation, Mystikal and his band “go together like stanky and smelly. Tummy and belly. Peanut butter jelly.” Hit him!
76. The xx – “Sunset”
This song was fitting with its title. Coexist as an album was full of mellow and emo tracks. But they placed the most upbeat and best song right in the middle to let you know the album did have a pulse.
77. G.O.O.D Music – “The Morning”
Some tracks get replayed over and over because of the beat. This is that. And some of those tracks, after many repeats, gain a newfound appreciation towards the lyrics. This is that as well. The chill inducing bass aside, those verses (minus 2 Chainz) will have you reciting them in the back of your mind and you’ll actually love them.
78. Ab-Soul – “Nibiru”
The hook has been criticized for being too obtuse but damn that–Black Hippy’s resident deep thinker makes the ancient ways of Sumerians jam.
79. Freddie Gibbs Ft. Dana Williams – “The Hard”
We may not have The Wire on Sundays anymore, but all is well as long as we still have Gibbs crafting street tales in audio.
80. Grande Marshall – “GODBPM”
Initially, hearing Grande Marshall on “GODBPM” reminded me of Buckshot, Black Moon and Da Beat Minerz during their ‘90s heyday. Grande’s proclamation of being a “young nigga with an old soul” never rings truer than here. The horns. The gruff flow. The in-your-face attitude. The future’s bright and in good hands.
81. Kendrick Lamar – “The Art Of Peer Pressure”
Kendrick’s flair for storytelling shone through with a great tale here. The song does a good job in exemplifying how the company you keep gets you out of your comfort zone in a flash. Yet acceptance is a big deal for many so you have to wonder if K. Dot’s fans got the message or simply dug the record.
82. Flying Lotus – “The Nightcaller”
Picks up where “Do the Astral Plane” left off.
83. Meek Mill – “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)”
Regardless of where you hold the Maybach Music Group, most can agree that it was good to see Meek Mill get the chance to see his dreams unfold with a major labor debut. And when he got the chance, Meek screamed on the game to announce his formal arrival.
84. 2 Chainz – “I’m Different”
A masterfully dumbed-down song with one of the catchiest beats of the year, 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different” belongs at or near the top of any 2012 party playlist. Be honest with yourself: you still randomly blurt out “PULL UP TO THE SCENE WITH MY CEILING MISSING,” months after you first heard the track.
85. Major Lazer Ft. J. Cole & Amber Coffman – “Get Free ColeWorld”
Coming off a career year, J. Cole had a relatively quiet 2012. If nothing else, his remix of Major Lazer’s warbling, melodic “Get Free” showed that he had his ears to the right tunes. The addition of a couple potent verses to the song didn’t hurt either.
86. Killer Mike – “Reagan”
Fiery as ever, Mike put the former President and his policies in the cross-hairs and hit the bullseye on behalf of the babies born during the War On Drugs.
87. Ab-Soul Ft. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko – “Terrorist Threats”
Rappers and the world at large are in danger.
88. Lupe Fiasco – “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)”
I’ve learned over the years that listening to Lupe is kind of like listening to an alcoholic preacher. He’s the man with so much wisdom and knowledge. Still, half of what he spews is chastising, judgemental, and hypocritical. But you have to sit and listen because he speaks the truth and it’s the right thing to do… once a week and only on Sundays.
89. Arctic Monkeys – “R U Mine?”
The Arctic Monkeys wasted no time and went right for the jugular on “R U Mine.” It’s one of those records that makes an impression on the first few chords and doesn’t hold back.
90. Rochelle Jordan – “Make Me Wanna”
Few R&B duos work as well together as Rochelle Jordan and K L S H. Such is especially true on “Make Me Wanna” where the pair masterfully complement each other’s sounds.