One of the more fantastical things about year end lists, is that they give people a chance to catch up on some of the year’s best releases before they truly miss out on them. As hardcore as I am about finding music on my own, there are always releases that slip through the cracks, for one reason or another. Thanks to the 100 Words or Less Podcast with host Ray Harkins, and guests Chris from No Sleep Records and Joey Cahill from 6131 Records, I was recently able to find three hip hop gems that I would have otherwise overlooked, when they went through their top 10 lists. Hip hop is a genre of music that I actually really enjoy, especially when it’s of the underground variety, but I have a hard time keeping up with who’s hot and what not. Thankfully, I pay close attention to all the year end lists and am able to find albums such as these, that I normally would have missed. So, without further ado, here are three hip hop albums you may have missed, but absolutely need to check out.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Definitely the biggest name of the three albums here, Kendrick Lamar lives up to the hype around his name – Dr. Dre, Snoop, and The Game have deemed him the new King of West Coast Rap, for starters. What good kid offers is an album’s worth of laid back jams that leave you reminiscing about a time when hip hop wasn’t all about the Benjamins, Bentleys, and bitches. I have heard people compare it to The Chronic, which I can see, but it’s more in spirit than in sound. There is definitely an old school feel to these songs, and Kendrick’s delivery is strong, yet effortless. One of my favorite aspects of good kid, is that it is a concept album that tells the complex story of a young Kendrick Lamar growing up in Compton. It’s not too often that you hear mainstream rap artists take a whole-album approach when writing their music. Sonically, the first half of the album has some good cuts, but my favorite part of the album is the second half with ‘Good Kid’ and ‘m.A.A.d city’ being the most enjoyable listens on the album. Oh yeah, and Dr. Dre is featured on album closer ‘Compton’ – ’nuff said. good kid is definitely an album that can be, and needs to be, listened to over and over in order to truly appreciate its complexity. Kind of surprising for an album that is at the top of the hip hop charts, right?
P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here
I only have myself to blame for missing out on this one. P.O.S. has been a favorite of mine since 2006, when I first heard his début, Ipecac Neat. I bought his last album, Never Better, on its release date in 2009 and it was worth every penny. I can’t give an exact reason why I slept in on his new one until now, but for whatever reason, I did. We Don’t Even Live Here picks up right where Never Better left off: with spastic beats and creative melodies. P.O.S.’s punk rock roots bleed through the music much more than on past albums, and that is a good thing. One of my main complaints about hip hop is that many of the artists fail to really define their own sound and instead settle for doing the same thing as dozens of other MC’s, but this is clearly not the case for P.O.S., as his punk rock inspired beats alone are unmistakably his. Toss in his trademark bark and you have yourself a very original sound that has gained a strong foothold in the hip hop community. If you are tired of the same old sound in hip hop – Jay-Z we’re all looking at you – P.O.S. needs to be on your short list of acts to check out.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
I saved the best for last. Of the three albums listed here, The Heist is easily my favorite, and it probably would have been my second favorite album of the year, had I heard it before I published my Top 10 List. Seemingly coming out of no where (unless you are hardcore into the underground hip hop scene), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released one of the most successful albums of 2012, and they did it without a record label. I can’t say enough about how great this album is – and not just “for a hip hop album.” From album opener ‘Ten Thousand Hours,’ to closer ‘Cowboy Boots,’ to the three deluxe edition extra tracks, every single song is a triumph. Every track is a possible “hit.” Of course, ‘Thrift Shop’ coupled with its hilarious music video, as well as ‘Same Love’ with its moving and emotional music video, could be seen as clear high points, but there are so many other great tracks as well. Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell makes an appearance on ‘Starting Over,’ a moving song about Macklemore’s struggle with drugs, rehab, and relapse. ‘Make the Money’ is one of the more honest depictions of how hard it is to stay true to yourself in today’s music industry, while ‘Jimmy Iovin’ tells their story of talking to major labels – hint, it wasn’t pleasant. One of the most endearing things about Macklemore, and The Heist in general, is his sincerity and openness regarding his personal life, struggles, and as his thoughts on important social issues. The lyrics are very real, as if he is reading straight from his diary and we are all secretly listening through the walls, glasses to our ears. Also, the importance of Ryan Lewis in the equation cannot be overstated. His beats set the mood for the entire album. While listening from start to finish, the record never stays in one place, it jumps from upbeat tempos to laid back jams and from dancy-club worthy cuts to something that wouldn’t be out of place on an Adele song. Together, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have created a masterpiece that will stay in rotation for years to come. I am instantly a fan and will be following their careers extremely closely while methodically searching their past for other gems like The Heist. I implore you to join me.
Banner image received from popdust.com
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