2012: A Landmark Year in L.A. Hip-Hop
L.A. hip-hop hasn't seen a year like this one since 1992, when the word G-Funk was (re)defined and art-rap was steadily making noise in and around Leimert Park. Twenty years ago saw, of course, the release of The Chronic, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, The Predator, Spice 1, and Way 2 Fonky, among others.
Decon Records The Alchemist
Two thousand and twelve has similarly been a year of game-changing commercial releases and overlooked avant-garde gems. As a bonus, though, there's been a healthy amount of ratchet ridiculousness. In any case, it's been a landmark year that will likely merit discussion 20 years from now, and here's why.
Let's start with Top Dawg Entertainment, the label responsible for three of 2012's best hip-hop albums. First, they released Schoolboy Q's Habits and Contradictions, the conceptually and sonically heavier -- and more introspective -- follow-up to his 2011 album, Setbacks. Then Ab-Soul delivered the slew of sativa-fueled sociopolitical rants and playful unpacking of language that is Control System.
The culmination of the TDE trifecta came with the release of Kendrick Lamar's critical/commercial success, good kid, m.A.A.d city. It is a concept album that takes many risks -- it's light on the radio singles, for starters, and it features melancholy and ironic undercurrents that threaten to consume the record. All of this is quite rare for a big budget hip-hop debut.
See also: Kendrick Lamar's Mood Music
In between TDE releases, blog-darlings and Fairfax Ave. pop-up shop proprietors Odd Future released their first official commercial release, The OF Tape Vol 2. The unfocused -- yet highly-charged and entertaining album -- was primarily produced by Tyler, the Creator and Left Brain, and features all 12 members of the group, including the onetime Samoan exile Earl Sweatshirt. Earl's verse on "Oldie" essentially served as a prelude to his recent solo single, "Chum," among the most poignant and lyrically dense cuts from an OF member yet. His album is something to be on the lookout for in 2013.
Meanwhile a crew that deserved more notice nationally was Alpha Pup Records collective Hellfyre Club, helmed by resident Low End Theory veteran MC Nocando. Most egregiously overlooked was The Kleenrz from Freestyle Fellowship's Self Jupiter and producer Kenny Segal -- think art-rap meets Tarantino, Raymond Chandler, with a dash of Darren Aronofsky claustrophobia. Also, Open Mike Eagle's 4NML HSPTL (Fake Four Inc.), one of the most intelligent and forward-thinking records of 2012. It's an amalgamation of the ethos of Office Space and the comedy of Hannibal Buress, if you can imagine that.