Only ten days into January we jokingly picked the year's top rap albums of 2012. But it turns out that 2012 has in fact shaped up as a pretty amazing year for hip-hop full-lengths — arguably one of its best since the '90s. Here then, are the best 2012 hip-hop albums through July. (Note: No mixtapes or EPs have been included.)
5. Kristoff Krane
A Minneapolis underground staple and frequent collaborator with deceased icon Eyedea, Kristoff Krane has spent years pushing the boundaries of standard rap conventions, live performances and intimate subject matter. Fanfaronade may be his most conventional hip-hop project, showcasing how knowledgeable he is about his craft and how talented he is at executing his ideas.
Misunderstood and overlooked by many because of its lead single, “Tony Montana,” the rest of Pluto is legitimately innovative in a way that's matched by few in mainstream rap today. Pushing the envelope through vocal patterns that clash with effects — it's almost avant garde — you would also be hard-pressed to find an album with such honesty (and infectious hooks) on store shelves this year.
3. Blue Sky Black Death and Nacho Picasso
Seattle's Nacho Picasso sounds detached. It's not that he doesn't care, it's just that he's making stream of consciousness — and stoicism — cool. With his sharp wordplay and a knack for subtle references that function as sly winks to his listeners, Exalted is the high point of his continuing partnership with celebrated producers Blue Sky Black Death.
2. Billy Woods
History Will Absolve Me
Billy Woods' digital age mystique is intriguing, and History Will Absolve Me fulfills promises made by the New York underground a decade ago. A frustrated, sarcastic and incredibly smart album, it tackles modern struggles with nuance that warrants repeat listens. While his flow may be an acquired taste, Woods' tremendous timing makes his music fulfilling.
1. Killer Mike
Entirely produced by El-P, whose Cancer4Cure album is also excellent, Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music is the outstanding album longtime fans always knew he had in him. With unrelenting energy, Mike's street sermons meet El-P's crunching synths to create an arching soundscape that's as faithful to Atlanta's gospel roots as it is to El-P's post-apocalyptic Brooklyn underground.
Honorable Mention: Devin the Dude
Seriously Trippin EP
We didn't feel right ranking Seriously Trippin among the year's best albums since it was only an EP, but Devin the Dude's return to form was so refreshing that we had to give it a shout.