5. Meek Mill – "Dreamchasers 2"
Maybach Music Group member, Meek Mill dropped a follow up mixtape to his extremely popular “Dreamchasers” project. Meek has been dominating the mixtape world for quite some time now and finally this year he dropped his debut album in the form of Dreams and Nightmares. “Dreamchasers 2” was his only free release of the year and boasted an extremely talented lineup of various artists and producers. With hit singles “Amen,” “Burn,” “Everyday,” and the remix to “House Party” dominating radio waves for most of the year, one could argue the 2nd installment of his “Dreamchasers” projects was even more successful than the first. This free project was a perfect set up to hold over fans and help build a buzz for his album which dropped later on in the year. The marriage of the heavy hitting production with Meek’s always present flow and gritty lyrics works perfectly. Meek has a track for everyone on here, something for the clubs/streets, the ladies, and more street influenced records. Throughout the project he showcases his skills on the mic, what stands out most to me is his ability to paint a picture with his lyrics. Often times he tells various stories about his struggle growing up and how now that he has money he is out there helping the community, donating jackets, shoes and other clothing items to those less fortunate in his city. Most of the project is geared towards the party life that is common throughout the hip hop scene, but when he does choose to showcase his storytelling skills it is highly impressive.
Notable Tracks: Intro, Everyday, Ready Or Not, Burn, A1 Everything, Flexing, I Get It, Lean Wit It, The Ride, House Party Remix, Real, Outro.
4. Childish Gambino – "Royalty"
Actor and writer turned hip-hop artist, Childish Gambino dropped his fourth mixtape “Royalty” under this moniker. “Royalty” is arguably his most successful piece of work as far as free music goes. The former 30 Rock and current Community actor dropped a very entertaining and unique album in the form of Camp. His only release of the year was a perfect follow up to Camp. On “Royalty” he stays true to his unique style of music in which he has many slower and smooth tracks that stand next to more gritty and upbeat sounding records. Just based off the various features and production you can see this was a very serious and album quality piece of work. Features and producers involved range from Beck, Kilo Kish, Danny Brown, Skywlkr, to RZA, Ghostface Killah, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Nipsey Hussle, and more. He even chose to include his brother “Stever G Lover” and 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live star, actress Tina Fey. Gambino stays true to his quirky and fun, yet often deep and personal lyrics that come together with the impeccable production for a nearly flawless project. Gambino continues to put out quality music and displays his skills on both the mic and as a producer. With his background as an actor and comedian before becoming an artist it seems he will continually have to prove his seriousness for music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us, just more quality music to enjoy.
Notable Tracks: We Aint Them, One Up, Black Faces, Unnecessary, Shoulda Known, American Royalty, Toxic, They Don’t Like Me, Arrangement, Bronchitis, R.I.P.
3. Big K.R.I.T. - "4 Eva N A Day"
One of the most slept on and underrated year in and year out, Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. once again blessed us with an album, and album quality music in the form of “4 Eva N A Day.” Krit stays consistent with his laidback country style as he tackles all original production with no features. Personally I think that’s how a mixtape should be structured, either no features or very few. This allows an artist to better showcase themselves, which is ultimately all that matters in the end. Krit knows this and that is why he has built quite the underground following and high praise throughout the entire blogosphere. Krit’s down south style of music combines beautifully with the live instrument laden production found on a majority of the project. Throughout the project you can feel the emotion that Krit puts into his music which is often times filled with personal stories of family, love, friendship, religion, loyalty, and various other aspects of his life. It isn’t all emotional and personal though as like many, Krit enjoys indulging in marijuana and alcohol from time to time. You can hear references to various kinds of liquors throughout. I almost feel bad for being able to download such quality music for free; I can only imagine the amount of time that went into putting this masterpiece together.
Notable Tracks: Wake Up, Yesterday, Boobie Miles, Me And My Old School, 1986, Country Rap Tunes, Red Eye, Down & Out, Package Store, Temptation, Insomnia, The Alarm.
2. Action Bronson & Alchemist – "Rare Chandeliers"
Queens, New York resident, former chef and current marijuana enthusiast Action Bronson teams up with super-producer for his second free release of the year! I didn’t think it was fair to showcase two projects from one artist and thought the more recent of the two, “Rare Chandeliers” was better. This project makes me think of an old school action movie and/or Kung Fu movie crossed with a jazz band, weed, and various delectable 5 course meals. The always present food and weed references work extremely well with Alchemist painting a masterpiece as the backdrop. Bronson has officially established himself as one of the more prominent and creative artists out of the currently budding New York City music scene. Whether he is making instructional cooking videos showing use how to make a nice seared ahi tuna or writing amazing raps, he is always displaying his creativity. Rare Chandeliers takes us back to the “golden age of hip hop,” with Alchemist old school, boom bap feeling production and Bronson’s style of music. He keeps the features limited with a few NYC favorites in Meyhem Lauren, Roc Marciano & Styles P, and two of the best out West right now in ScHoolboy Q and Evidence. The contrast of styles heard between Bronson & ScHoolboy on “Demolition Man” is amazing, combine that with a more upbeat Alchemist instrumental and you have one of my favorite tracks off the tape. Then to follow that up with the incredibly smooth and laidback track that is “Eggs On The Third Floor” was simply genius. There are so many hilarious and brilliant lines found throughout by Action Bronson it’s hard to keep up. “When you’re down the people kick you, when you’re up the bitches lick you, chill dogs don’t wanna have to Michael Vick you.”…“Kush is by prescription, prolific in the kitchen, people on my dick cause I’m vicious with the diction.” Are just two examples that should give you an idea of what to expect from Bronson on “Rare Chandeliers.”
Notable Tracks: The Symbol, Rare Chandeliers, Randy The Musical, Demolition Man, Eggs On The Third Floor, Dennis Haskins, Bitch I Deserve You, Mike Vick, Gateway To Wizardry.
1. Joey Bada$$ - "1999"
2012 has been a year where in the Hip Hop music scene we have seen various dope up and coming artists rise to stardom in a matter of months. Case in point is Brooklyn upstart Joey Bada$$ of the Pro Era crew. The 17 year old kid was quick to captivate fans throughout the entire world with his old school style of music. He hasn’t even graduated high school yet (he’ll be a senior next year) and he’s rapping circles around many fellow aspiring rappers. It’s extremely impressive how at such a young age he has developed such skills as both an artist and producer. He is in a completely different lane than most of his peers who lack the same kind of substance that Joey possesses. From being a part of three different projects this year, to performing throughout the world, his work ethic is undeniable. He has not only put out a plethora of songs, videos, and mixtapes, but they have all been quality which is a feat in itself. His release of his debut project “1999” came with a flood of attention and from everything I have seen, a very positive reaction to the mixtape. For the most part the tape is full of original production (with a few J Dilla and MF DOOM produced gems) and for the most part has a very smooth cohesive flow throughout. Joey does hit us over the head with a few grittier New York City feeling tracks in “Survival Tactics” and “Hardknock.” The consistently smooth and often times funky sounding production makes for a project you can easily play from start to finish. It makes for a great listen when on a long road trip or just cruising around your local are. He keeps the features limited to his fellow Pro Era crew members: CJ Fly, Chuck Strangers, Capital STEEZ, Kirk Knight, T’nah Apex, and a few others. Each Pro Era member is able to hold their own and also show some of their skills on the mic and as producers. The minimal amount of features allows Joey Bada$$ to really show off his steady flow, enlightened and substantial lyrics that are a refreshing change from what the majority of Hip Hop has started to sound like. 1999 serves as a reminder of the roots of Hip Hop and almost as a blueprint of how it should be done. Thank you Joey Bada$$ for restoring my faith in our generation of Hip Hop artists.
Notable Tracks: Waves, FromdaTomb$, Survival Tactics, Killuminati, Hardknock, World Domination, Funky Ho’$, Daily Routine, Snakes, Righteous Minds, Where It’$ At.