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Although it was somewhat of an underwhelming year for music, 2012 still brought in it’s fair share of projects that stood out among the rest. The last few weeks we’ve spent debating what deserves to be on here and what doesn’t. This proved to be rather complicated (even for an underwhelming year) as we factored in a lot of things from the music, to the projects impact and the artists success throughout the year. Continue reading for UPC’s Top 25 Hip-Hop/R&B Projects of 2012.

25. Casey Veggies – Customized Greatly Vol. 3

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Los Angeles rapper Casey Veggies knows how to deliver solid project, and in 2012 it was no different, as Customized Greatly Vol. 3 was one of the better solo mixtapes we saw this year. Continuing to improve on his unique flow and inspiring wordplay, Casey added some prolific features and producers to make this project his most accomplished to date. Veggies has found his niche as a young emcee who rhymes with the purpose of giving his audience food for thought and CG3 is a perfect example of that.

Notable Tracks: PNCINTLOFWGKTA, Life Rhymes ft. Jhene Aiko, Roses

24. SpaceGhostPurrp – Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp

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Though this project didn’t present too many new tracks from the mysterious dark shadow that is SpaceGhostPurrp, it did serve as a gritty introduction for a lot of new listeners. His straight-out the 90’s style and eerie production effectively sucks listeners in like a black hole to Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp. Despite some beef and multiple talks of an early retirement, SPG still had an impressive 2012 highlighted by work with Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, and, of course, this project.

Notable Tracks: The Black God, Get Ya Head Bust, Mystikal Maze

23. Game – Jesus Piece

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One of the more underrated pieces of the year, Game comes back with a strong album from top to bottom. Mostly known for his gangster style raps and not really having shown too much diversity, he answered those lingering questions about his talents with Jesus Piece. With some help from Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Meek Mill, J. Cole and many other big names, Game has great tracks for any kind of rap fan.

Notable Tracks: Jesus Piece ft. Kanye West & Common, All That (Lady) ft. Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Fabolous & Jeremih, Church ft. King Chip & Trey Songz

22. Pro Era – PEEP: The aPROcalypse

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With the rumors of an apocalypse approaching, Brooklyn’s rap collective Pro Era decided to run with the idea and ended up with one polished rap project. PEEP: The aPROcalypse was released on December 21st, receiving praise from critics and fans. Unfortunately those same listeners were met with sad news the following day when word of Capital STEEZ’s passing, at the young age of 19, was released. STEEZ’s promising abilities, as well as the rest of the crews, are shown off on this tape from front to back. RIP Capital STEEZ, thank you for blessing this world with your talents and may your music live on.

Notable Tracks: Like Water, F A Rap Critic, Vinyls

21. Rockie Fresh – Driving 88

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This past year was a big one for Rockie Fresh and the Chi in general. Upon the release of his Driving 88 mixtape, Rockie established himself as a force to be reckoned with. The project served as a sampler of his versatility and ability to build good chemistry with other artists, such as Casey Veggies on “Driving 88.” Rockie’s success in 2012 reached it’s height when he signed with Rick Ross’ MMG imprint. This year should hold much in store for the young and aspiring emcee as he’s currently prepping the release of his upcoming album, Electric Highway.

Notable Tracks: You A Lie, Twenties, Driving 88 ft. Casey Veggies

20. Mac Miller – Macadelic

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Though it was initially subject to criticism for being drastically different from his older material, Mac Miller‘s Macadelic was as great as it was trippy. The mixtapes finest moments aren’t when Mac’s in his regular upbeat mood, yet, when he’s unsure and introspective. His success and fame came faster than even he could have expected. The honeymoon with money is over and in Macadelic we hear what all that has resulted in. Miller must have received some tips on hooks from fellow Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa as well, as some of the best he’s ever recorded are on there, in addition to some harder beats courtesy of Lex Luger and Clams Casino to name a few.

Notable Tracks: Loud, The Question ft. Lil Wayne, Lucky Ass Bitch ft. Juicy J

19. Kids These Days – Traphouse Rock

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The Chicago band Kids These Days released their first full-length project and with that, solidified a promising future. Properly titled Traphouse Rock, the album rocks from beginning to end as 8 Chicago kids take listeners on a ride, showing off their multiple talents of incorporating different instruments and sounds, as well as rapping and singing. And on top of everything, they gave it away for free download.

Notable Tracks: Doo-Wah, Don’t Harsh My Mellow, L’Afrique

18. Dom Kennedy – Yellow Album

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You won’t see too many rappers who can make the laid-back Cali lifestyle raps entertaining on every track. Dom Kennedy‘s intelligent humor is obvious throughout many verses and the flow is what sets him apart. “We Ball” featuring Kendrick Lamar is one of the harder hitting songs on the tape with great verses from both Cali rappers. He brings back the slow flows with a party tune in “My Type of Party” that got praise all year, along with “Gold Alpinas” where him and Rick Ross show off some of their story-telling talents. Dom Kennedy grabbed our attention this year with Yellow Album being one of his more polished projects to date.

Notable Tracks: We Ball ft. Kendrick LamarMy Type of PartyGold Alpinas ft. Rick Ross

17. Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips

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How can you not love a fat white dude dropping nonstop gourmet food references? All jokes aside, Action Bronson shined on Blue Chips, and Party Supplies hand-crafted the beats perfectly for Bronson’s heavy New York flow. He brought something that the rap world desperately needed and topped it off with his hilarious personality.

Notable Tracks: Steve Wynn, Nordic Wind, Hookers at the Point, 9-24-11

16. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream

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Following his debut album, All I Want Is You, many people didn’t know what to expect from Miguel‘s sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream. While the first album showcased his talented voice, the album lost its excitement as the album progressed. Miguel returned with a highly improved release in 2012. In addition to a follow up smash hit with “Adorn,” Miguel utilized multiple styles of R&B while putting together a much more cohesive album.

Notable Tracks: Adorn, Do You Like Drugs, Where’s The Fun In Forever ft. Alicia Keys

15. Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva N a Day

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Big K.R.I.T.ʻs Def Jam debut was set on the proverbial back burner last fall due to sample clearances. So he took it upon himself to preserve his stature with one more mixtape before Live From The Underground surfaced. 4 Eva N a Day, K.R.I.T.ʼs last free mixtape before his debut, was another collection of soulful and jazzy hip-hop that at times achieves the impact of its predecessors. The mixtape mirrors a 24-hour day in life of K.R.I.T., complete with his doubts, fears, and deficiencies; 4 Eva N a Day themes K.R.I.T.ʼs resilient self motivation. Sticking to his already successful formula, he gives us more soul samples and southern rhythmic beats, evident on strip-club joints like “Temptation.” His lyricism is arguably at an all time high on this closely knit project as he takes shots at boast label execs, reminisces on his childhood dope-boy aspirations, and tells tales of his grandmothers life. It’s not just a mixtape, itʼs a time machine.

Notable Tracks: Me And My Old School, Temptation, 4EvaNaDay (Theme)

14. Chance The Rapper – 10 Day

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As the rest of Chicago was buzzing around the drill movement, Chance The Rapper, while serving a school suspension, crafted one of the most musically accomplished tapes of the year. The dynamic tape caters to many hip-hop audiences, and features Chance rapping and singing. 10 Day immediately grabbed the attention of various bloggers and even other artists, most notably Childish Gambino, who featured him on his own tape and invited him to tour together. After a series of impressive visuals, Chance has established himself as another up and comer with his variety of flows and charisma on the mic.

Notable Tracks: Fuck You Tahm Bout, 22 Offs, Juke Juke

13. Big Sean – Detroit

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Big Sean found himself in high demand this past year, and the release of his Detroit mixtape was a perfect release considering where he’s at in his career. It found him catering to his fans as they await the release of his sophomore album Hall of Fame in 2013. Despite the fact that it sounds like a compilation of songs that didn’t make the album, it presents a wide variety of tracks featuring other artists to compliment Sean’s braggadocio raps that fans have fell in love with. Like Kanye did before him, Big Sean is looking to surpass his predecessor in the coming year.

Notable Tracks: RWT, Experimental ft. Juicy J & King Chip, How It Feel

12. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

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Atlanta’s own Killer Mike brought us back to 1995 ganster rap with R.A.P. Music. Although he tended to remain under the radar with his music throughout the years, R.A.P. garnered the respect of many with its dominant demeanor and poignant politicism. R.A.P., an acronym meaning “Real African People,” embodies much of the concepts of this album, painting a portrait of his experiences growing up in Atlanta. The album was entirely produced by El-P and parallels his flow perfectly, demanding the listeners attention through his articulate story-telling ability.

Notable Tracks: Big Beast ft. Bun B, T.I., Trouble & El-P, JoJo’s Chillin, Reagan, Butane

11. Meek Mill – Dreamchasers 2

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In a year marked by MMG further solidifying itself as a major force in the hip-hop industry, Meek Mill set himself up as their voice on the streets. Although Meek dropped his debut album afterwards, Dreamchasers 2 stood out as his most polished work. “Amen” and “Burn” were some of the year’s highlight tracks, demonstrating his tenacity as an artist and his ability to dominate on any beat. Featuring Wale and Rick Ross from MMG as well as most of the Club Paradise crew, Dreamchasers 2 illustrates the best of the current young guns of hip-hop.

Notable Tracks: Amen ft. Drake, Burn ft. Big Sean, Lean With It, Str8 Like That ft. 2 Chainz & Louie V

10. Future – Pluto

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Too much autotune? Clubs & dance floors across America didn’t seem to mind. Future‘s breakout album included some of this year’s biggest hits. While purists may argue about the validity of “ringtone rap,” it’s difficult to argue against the success Future had with his breakout album Pluto.

Notable Tracks: Same Damn Time, Turn On The Lights, Magic ft. T.I.

9. Ab-Soul – Control System

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This was the year of TDE. Following ScHoolboy Q’s album, Ab-Soul stepped up and matched the level of quality in production, theme, and lyrics with Control System. Soulo sends us on a thought provoking journey through his mind, tackling peculiar subject matter. He showcases his lyrical abilities and his wide range of diction while also providing us with catchy hooks. The “genius idiot” kept the TDE streak going through 2012 and proves that he can rap right along side of Kendrick and ScHoolboy Q.

Notable Tracks: Illuminate ft. Kendrick Lamar, SOPA ft. ScHoolboy Q, Terrorist Threats ft. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko

8. Chief Keef – Back From The Dead

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Chief Keef is Chicagoʼs latest bad boy, hailing from the low-end, 64th Street and King Drive. Upon dropping his mixtape Back From The Dead, Keef became one of the most talked about names in hip-hop last year. As sociology, the mixtape reinforces just how and why violence is rooted in underclass communities. Back From The Dead also evokes an undeniable energy. Hard hitting base drops and drill-like drum patterns gives the tape an organized yet chaotic flow. Choppy verses and simple word play from Keef doesnʼt win many listeners over; its his ability to mellow out his raps and flow over his turnt up beats. The nondistinctive mumbles and ad-libs under his over-hyped melodic beats make his sound very catchy and charismatic in a sense. He may just have one of the most singular flows in rap, a bouncy cadence that often finds him trampolining on the last syllable of his lines. However that flow thrives on his regional hit, “I Dont Like.” His success also gave way to producer Young Chop, who’s track was then remixed by Kanye West and other members of the G.O.O.D. Music clique. Signing to Interscope and inking a deal with Dre Beats are only a sign of the things to come from the 17 year-old hitta.

Notable Tracks: I Donʼt Like ft. Lil Reese, 3Hunna, Trust None ft. Johnny Maycash, Monster

7. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

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Macklemore and Ryan Lewis finally debuted their full-length LP The Heist in Novemeber of 2012, and did not disappoint. Macklemore’s lyricism engages the listener, whether he is discussing his struggles with sobriety in “Starting Over” or commodity fetishism of the shoe industry in “Wings.” The pinnacle of this album is “Same Love,” offering hip-hop its first sentimental and vulnerable acceptance of homosexuality. Ryan Lewis’s production adds depth on this album by using unconventional instrumentation and gritty hooks. Every song, Macklemore delivers with passionate and well-thought concepts. Considering the project was released independently, The Heist is truly a great album that demonstrates the artistic ability of the duo to create meaningful and organic music.

Notable Tracks: Thift Shop, Same Love, Wings, BomBom

6. G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer

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“Can we get much higher?” A then rhetorical question Kanye posed to his group G.O.O.D Music posse on the intro of his last solo production, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Despite the criticism, some listeners of G.O.O.D. Musicʼs Cruel Summer album thought they could. The album brought together a plethora of rappers and producers, new and old. Ma$e, featured on “Higher,” had arguably one of the best rap lines on the tape with, “I bumped into Loon he like / “Well, as-salami alaykum” / You know I ain’t Muslim my nigga, I’m about my bacon.”

Individually, each track hold itʼs own. The cohesiveness of the album was questionable. Cruel Summer seemed to be scattered, and more so a compilation of the crews best verses and beats. Timing didnʼt play well with the release either, as it was released in early September and most of its singles were from the early summertime. It’s not hard to imagine how much of a bigger impact the album would have had if listeners had heard “Mercy,” “Theraflu,” “I Dont Like Remix” or “Clique” upon purchasing the album. We can’t judge it based solely off the songs we havenʼt heard already and not take into account the magnitude and success of the singles. Kanye is a benevolent host though, letting each member of the clique show off their skills while still tooting his own horn on “New God Flow;“ “Hold up, I ain’t trying to stunt, man/ But these new Yeezys jumped over the jump man/ Went from most hated to the champion god flow/ I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know/ I’m living three dreams: Biggie Smalls’, Dr. King’s, Rodney King’s…”

Notable Tracks: Mercy, Clique, Creepers, The Morning

5. Nas – Life is Good

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After going through a difficult divorce with singer Kelis and receiving criticism that he may have lost his ability in rap music, veteran Nas decided to let everyone know that Life is Good and released one of the top albums of 2012. Featuring the menacing flow that has made him one of the best rappers to touch the mic, along with fresh production, the Queens representative delivered a project that had something for every hip-hop fan.

Notable Tracks: Locomotive, Nasty, The Don

4. Joey Bada$$ – 1999

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Joey Bada$$ jumped on the scene and shined a light on himself and his Pro Era crew with his debut mixtape, 1999. The tape speaks directly to the 90’s hip hop fan base and he says it best in the first line of the tape, “It’s been a minute since they seen a style with no gimmicks.” With a combination of actual lyricism, strong internal rhyming, and a hoarse Brooklyn voice, the 17 year old rapper quickly put himself as a front runner of the next generation of rappers.

Notable Tracks: Waves, Survival Tactics, Pennyroyal

3. ScHoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions

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TDE’s own ScHoolboy Q came out with Habits & Contradictions and made noise by bringing in some heavy hitting lyrics and beats as well as features that compliment both artists. “Hands On The Wheel” is an upbeat party tune that sees a feature from A$AP Rocky, furthering everyones wish for a collaborative project from the two. In “How We Feeling” Q shows the diversity of his raps by putting a signature twist on a weed anthem. ScHoolboy’s stoner tendencies mixed with his deep insights on the world helps him appeal to a wide variety of listeners and also creates a memorable piece that solidifies his place on the music scene with TDE.

Notable Tracks: Hands On The Wheel, How We Feeling, Blessed ft. Kendrick Lamar

2. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

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For those who have been following him since Nostalgia Ultra in 2010, Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE not only is the culmination of his extremely hard work, but a testament to his talent as an artist. Frank first appealed to mainstream audiences upon working with Kanye and Jay-Z on “No Church in the Wild” and “Made in America,” and since then it has only been an upwards progression. Despite Kendrick Lamar’s crowning achievement and brilliance with good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Frank Ocean’s soft melodies and heart-wrenching vocals wandered into our ears and captured our attention. Head to toe, channel ORANGE provides lush song concepts with deceivingly complex melodic development. This album’s panoramic view of the existentialist dilemma of teenage luxury finds some way to relate to all of us.

Notable Tracks: Thinking Bout You, Crack Rock, Bad Religion, Pink Matter ft. Andre 3000

1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

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We’ve already said it before, but we should reiterate, so: 2012 was the year of TDE. Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar all stood at the forefront of the music scene this year. However, Kendrick found himself leading the way. Having garned a large following from his mixtape circuit run, he finally got his chance to shine and have everyone watch with good kid, m.A.A.d city. The album gave listeners everything they were hoping to get from K-Dot: a classic album that lived up to expectations. It’s hard to argue against that fact when everyone seems to have a different favorite song. Not only does he shine on every track, but together they tell a story unlike any other for listeners to follow as they’re listening. In a year that was rather underwhelming came Kendrick Lamar, giving the music world what it desperately needed.

Notable Tracks: Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe, Money Trees ft. Jay Rock, Poetic Justice ft. Drake

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts? Leave your comments below!

Also be sure to check out our Top 25 Electronic Projects of 2012!