Mixtape Monthly #9: Best of 2012

On December 28, 2012

Big Sean- Detroit

This year proved to be another monumental one for rapper Big Sean. After dropping his debut album, Finally Famous, in 2011 and gaining enormous buzz because of his label, the ground was firmly set for Big Sean to drop his 2012 mixtape, Detroit.

Big Sean released three tracks from the mixtape before its release, the most notable being "RWT." Although Big Sean's first major track, 2007's "Getcha Some," held the same context as "RWT," the surge in lyrical talent from the 19-year-old rookie who still hadn't found his niche to the confident 24-year-old man we hear today is undeniable.

"Everything I rock, I designed it/realer n***a, won't find it/ OK, I be stackin' that cheddar, bet that s**t won't expire/Got me ballin' so hard, I need me Jerry Maguire," Sean raps.

The boisterousness in tracks like "RWT," "Mula," featuring French Montana, and "Higher," wasn't the only method heard on Detroit. Big Sean balanced the audacity with more poignant moments - such as "100," featuring Royce Da 5'9" and Kendrick Lamar, "24K of Gold," featuring J. Cole, and interludes by rappers Common, Young Jeezy and Snoop Dogg, who each recanted their experiences in Big Sean's hometown.

Detroit is a major stepping stone for Big Sean. His raps no longer sound like they are mimicking his mentors or peers, and his content strays from strictly materialistic to relatable. Big Sean's sophomore album, Hall of Fame, is slated to drop in Feb. 2013.

Childish Gambino - Royalty

There are no more jokes and the regular harping on being different is now near non-existent. Donald Glover's identity as Childish Gambino has come into full fruition in his breakthrough mixtape, Royalty.

It was clear that Gambino had talent, but it was also obvious he was still figuring himself out. It took him two play-play mixtapes, a semi-serious project in Culdesac and an album in Camp for him to figure his identity out. Everyone knew Royalty was going to be real when "Eat Your Vegetables" and the first version of "Unnecessary" - which demonstrated his word play and how well he can work with popular features like ScHoolboy Q - were released.

After a Blake Griffin introduction, Gambino jumps in with "We Ain't Them" and talks about what he's begun to experience and what he's gone through to get where he is today. It plays on his constant theme of how he separates himself from everyone else, but instead of outright saying "I'm different" a la 2 Chainz, he puts it in as many words a three-minute track can hold.

There are many hits on this mixtape that rely on great lyricism. "One Up" (feat. Steve G Lover) signifies when Gambino really starts spitting over a bass heavy beat with no rest:

"These other n***as lame/These n***as used to hate me/I guess ain't nothing change/Shotgun in the Porsche/She don't know where we going/American royalty on that Yolo Ralph Lauren," Gambino raps.

There aren't a lot of features in Gambino's previous projects, but they're in full force in this effort. They weren't needed, but the partnership of respectable artists such as Nipsey Hussle, Danny Brown, Chance the Rapper, ScHoolboy Q and RZA shows Gambino's level of respect in the game has increased.

One line shows how lyrical Gambino can be while simultaneously letting other artists know he's better. On the Danny Brown featured track "Toxic," Gambino raps: "Midas is your highness and you horrible (Haribo) like gummy bears."

This one line informs his audience that he is royalty and no one else is close. The pun on the word "horrible" is excellent and most likely went over the head of many. Haribo just happens to be a brand that manufactures gummy bears.

Gambino also made artists like Gonage, or "Cody Beanz," relevant. "The Arrangement" is a favorite and there's a little taste of Donald the comedian included:

"If you ain't talking cash/Don't say s**t/Bank account looking like when little kids break s**t/'oooooohhhhhhh,'" Gambino raps.

Royalty is Gambino's best music to date. Maturity is prevalent and Gambino's newfound ability to harness his raw talent will be a problem for anyone trying to step to him.

Joey Badass - 1999

Bada$$' debut mixtape, 1999, was easily ranked as one of the top bodies of work for 2012 and still remains in heavy rotation in the winter even though it was released in June. What stands out about Bada$$ is his extensive vocabulary, real life awareness and his '90s flow. He commands the respect that comes his way because he displays the world through his eyes instead of a fabricated illusion.

Bada$$ garnered attention when the track "Hardknock" (feat. CJ Fly) started buzzing through blogs and music stations. "Hardknock" was featured on MTV Jams and fulfilled its potential of being a million-hit song on YouTube after being posted as "Jam of the Week." The song is clearly one of the best on the mixtape:

"This is for my n***as, killers/$100 billers/On the block/On they rock spot glock cocked watching out for cops/All about they cheddar/Young guns know nothing that's better/Like f**k a prison letter/Those berettas led us to the lettuce," Bada$$ raps.

The thing about Bada$$ is his appeal to those who grew up in the '80s while representing the wood-pushing youth from Brooklyn. The structure of the lyrical lines from "Hardknock" looks like something that was produced in 1994 instead of 2012.

He also represents the Brooklyn-based PRO ERA collective, artists who appear individually throughout the mixtape and as a collective on the last track "Suspect." The guest appearances have increased the group's popularity, which is evident in fame on Twitter.

1999 progresses with old school production and samples from '90s television shows such as Pinky and the Brain.

"Daily Routine" gives listeners a better look at Bada$$ the person while he levitates over the beat and speaks on his current situation:

"Only thing that changed now is we ain't running out of stock/Used to beg mom dukes for lunch money/Honey's used to run from me when pockets were dust bunnies/Now what's funny is we done came up and conquered, even the future looking bonkers," Bada$$ raps.

The tape transitions smoothly from one track to another, allowing for an easy listen that engulfs the listener in vivid imagery painted with words. The young Brooklyn artist isn't to be slept on - his age fuels his extravagant talent and the quality of 1999.

Meek Mill - Dreamchasers 2

Dreamchasers feels like an odd name after listening to the mixtape because Meek Mill is not sleeping.

The previous Meek Mill felt like an underdog who was under the tutelage of the then larger-than-life Rick Ross. He had a few solid verses - most notably in 2011's "Tupac's Back" and "Ima Boss" - but never really arrived as a star.

On Dreamchasers 2, Meek Mill is front and center as a force in hip-hop. The mixtape doesn't show the rise of a star; it's the exhibition. At its worst, Dreamchasers 2 relies too much on Mill's raw energy to overcome the clichés of the rags-to-riches story and the "trust no female" mantra. At its best, the mixtape is a victory lap for an artist poised to have a few more.

Is there a better time to do the victory lap than just before the start of summer, when fans are looking for the ever-important summer hit? Fortunately, Dreamchasers 2 has quite a few of those. The listener is treated to hit after potential hit without much room to breathe.

These aren't minor smashes either. "Amen" and its church-inspired beat were blasting on many sound systems. "Burn" featuring Big Sean was exactly what the title suggested - two emcees rapping blistering bars of varying threat and panache.

About half of Dreamchasers 2 is single worthy: "A1 Everything," featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Flexing," "Ready or Not" and "Racked Up Shorty," featuring Fabolous and French Montana. The album drags on a bit in the second half - like in the overly generic "Big Dreams" - but there are still some gems. "House Party (Remix)" shows House Party references will forever remain relevant.

And so will Meek Mill for the foreseeable future. Dreamchasers 2 isn't perfect and neither is his debut album, Dreams and Nightmares, but who's going to be upset if there's this much energy radiating from releases?

Rick Ross - Rich Forever

Rich Forever was supposed to be a teaser for Rick Ross' then-upcoming album, God Forgives, I Don't. It was released back in January, but it still remains relevant now in December. A teaser doesn't last this long. No, Rich Forever is a blueprint.

God Forgives, I Don't turned out to be an average album at best, and Maybach Music Group consigliore Meek Mill's Dreams and Nightmares had its momentum drained by being released a week after Kendrick Lamar's masterpiece, good kid, m.A.A.d city.

What made Rich Forever so notable is how it was basically an over-the-top preview of what we would experience this year - which artists would capture our attention (Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz), the trends and the "floss now, pay later" theme that thrilled listeners.

Rich Forever's continued relevance is more impressive because of the faults emerging in the Ross the Boss character lately. God Forgives, I Don't made the high-rollin' life a drag to listen to and his alleged troubles with the Gangster Disciples made it very obvious Rick Ross is just an image.

Ross' previous two albums, Teflon Don and Deeper Than Rap, drew praise because of his lyrical personality. But on Rich Forever, it feels like attention is drawn away from Ross' character and is redirected toward straight thrills.

 It's hard to pinpoint just why exactly this works so well. One part of the reason is undoubtedly the excellent guest verses, particularly Nas' show stealer in "Triple Beam Dreams." It can also be because of the production, which ranges from the lullaby keys of "Mine Games" and the nightlife washout that's "Party Heart" to the Southern stomp of "F**k Em."

Whatever the main reason is, a lot of the tracks succeed in how they draw the listeners beyond their rationale and thrust them into Rich Forever's ecstasies and ambitions. The best part is how the feeling still resonates long after the tracks are over. "Keys To The Crib" still sounds grandiose months later, while "MMG The World is Ours" still feels triumphant. The whole mixtape feels like a celebration, even though we didn't know exactly what we were celebrating when it was released.

Plus, how many rap songs in 2012 were more crucial than "Stay Schemin'" with French Montana and Drake? It was one of those few songs that felt like it accidentally captured precisely what audiences wanted to feel and hear. Part of it is because of Rick Ross' ridiculous nonchalance ("F**k, I don't wanna go to court/F**k it, got a budget for the lawyer, though"). Then there's Montana's horribly sung but galvanizing hook.

The Drake line is at the center of it all: "Kobe bout to lose a hundred fifty M's/Kobe my n***a I hate it had to be him/B***h you wasn't with me shooting in the gym." An extreme few of us have to deal with such monetary issues, but the line connects with those young adults working hard only to see it discounted by haters. It was an outrage that inspired camaraderie.

The line was the central motto in a mixtape full of manifestos for the year.


Email: arts@ubspectrum.com

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