This list was compiled by guest writer and friend of Dummy Brad Rose, who runs the Tulsa-based label Digitalis Recordings, performs as one half of Altar Eagle, and spends the rest of his time on DatPiff.com.
I listen to a lot of rap, hip hop and R&B (which might be a surprise considering the label I run). In fact, it’s kind of a stupid amount, and this year it was even more insane than ever. So while at first, as I tried to assemble this list in my head, I struggled to remember the 10 mixtapes that got repeated listens, when I stood back and started writing them down the list became ridiculous in its scope. A few qualifiers here: first, I’ve only included releases on this list that are (officially) available for free, so that disqualifies a few of my absolute favorite 2012 albums (Killer Mike, Future, Miguel, etc). Second, this isn’t comprehensive – there’s just too many mixtapes coming out every week to hear even a large percentage. This reflects where my head was at in 2012. Get in it.
- Jeremih – Late Nights with Jeremih
At the beginning of the year, I would have bet good money that Frank Ocean would make my favorite R&B record in 2012 (‘Nostalgia,Ultra’ was, afterall, #2 on my albums list last year), but that simply didn’t happen. While ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’ drew a lot more plaudits (understandbly so), ‘Late Nights With Jeremih’ is right up there. I love the production on this thing and now I get to bet money that Jeremih will make my favorite R&B record in 2013 (all these bets assume that The-Dream never actually releases ‘Love IV’).
- Rick Ross – Rich Forever
For about a week this spring, I was convinced this was going to be my top overall album of the year. Seriously. ‘God Forgives, I Don’t’ was massively disappointing, especially compared to this. ‘Rich Forever’ is Rozay at his absolute best. There are few rappers around who are as consistently entertaining for my money.
- LE1F – Dark York
There’s a lot of interesting angles that the press have taken when discussing LE1F’s ‘Dark York’ – from the rise of openly gay rappers in NYC to the kickstarter backing and so on – but the thing that matters the most about it is how incredibly good it is. ‘Dark York’ is such a huge, complete statement that it’s hard to imagine what he’s going to do next. Each track is incredibly detailed, LE1F in control of every tiny aspect. His voice is just-about buried within these intricately dense sonic webs, and the combination of everything kills me every time.
- Action Bronson – Blue Chips
Bronson’s flow just seems to get better and better with each release, but the reason ‘Blue Chips’ gets the nod in my book over ‘Rare Chandeliers’ is that, somehow, Party Supplies productions fit him better. Seems like Bronson’s just barely getting started, though.
- Joey Bada$$ – 1999
It took me a minute to really take Joey Bada$$ seriously because, let’s be honest, he’s got a terrible name. But beyond that, 1999 is built on the backs of a bunch of great beats (maybe I’m a sucker for anyone who samples Doom and Dilla and anyone calling a tune Killuminati – I won’t allow myself to diverge into talking about Tupac’s album of the same name and how it’s one of my favorite albums ever) and Bada$$’ impressive skill as an MC, especially considering he’s 17. Survival Tactics would be in my top 10 tracks of the year.
- Grande Marshall – 800
Grande Marshall came out of nowhere (at least for me), and he’s only 18. ‘800’ is like being stuck floating in a viscous neon dream. Bonus points for the fact that most of these productions/beats are his own (you also can’t go wrong with getting a Silky Johnson beat in there). Big things lie ahead for this kid.
- Future – Astronaut Status
If you described Future to me without playing anything, I’d think you were insane to think that not only would be into it, but I’d be into it as much as I am. ‘Pluto’ is in my top five for the year, but the preceding mixtape, ‘Astronaut Status’, is pretty damn essential too. Future very much has his own signature sound and he’s one hell of a songwriter (that sound is polished to perfection on Pluto, to some’s dismay, but I don’t agree), but it felt like this was the release where the stakes were up and it seemed like Future had a great album in him.
- Gucci Mane – I’m Up
2012 has to be the best year Gucci’s had in a while. After a string of less-than-stellar releases (and endless claims of “he’s done”), ‘I’m Up’ is proof that he never fully lost it and that he’s still one of best rappers around. The recipe is generally the same, but for all his faults, Gucci’s up there with my favorite rappers on the planet and there’s a lot of clever and comical word play happening here. It feels like the old Gucci’s making another appearance, at least for now.
- 100s – Ice Cold Perm
Dreamcollabo made one hell of a debut last year with Mondre M.A.N.‘s ‘M A N’ EP, and stays on that roll with fellow cloud-skater 100s. Massive points go out for the production on ‘Ice Cold Perm’. It’s so minimal and well done that it floats along like a puff of smoke, while 100s splits nugget after nugget down on ice cold island. I just hope he follows a similar career trajectory as fellow Green Ova comrades, Main Attrakionz.
- Raider Klan – Rvidxxr Klvn Presents…
There’s 47 tracks on this. 47. A high percentage of them are great. 47 tracks. I’m not really sure I need to say anything else.
Honorable Mentions: Gorgeous Children – ‘Gorgeous Children’, Tinashe – ‘In Case We Die’ & ‘Reverie’, Gunplay – ’601 & Snort’, Eldorado Red – ‘Welcome to McRado’s 2’, and Deniro Farrar – ‘Destiny Altered’