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For months, I've sat silently on subterranean sidelines while others summoned tadpoles over embarrassing trend rappers. So in recapping 2012, I embraced the chance to parade some recent unsung hip-hop ringers. If you want to read about how 2 Chainz changed the game, check a round-up by some chump who hasn't sampled half my stash.

The always-reliable barbarians from ARMY OF THE PHARAOHS put the hurt on in 2012. Straying solo for a second time, Vinnie Paz prevailed again with God of the Serengeti (Enemy Soil), which takes some deep personal turns, but also clocks the year's most mesmerizing murder anthem in "Battle Hymn."

Other aggressive outings came from Alchemist and Action Bronson (Rare Chandeliers), Sean Price (Mic Tyson; Duck Down), and La Coka Nostra (Masters of the Dark Arts; Fat Beats). But swinging from the deepest depths was Cambridge beatmaker ARCITYPE, who teamed with Duck Down demolition man Ruste Juxx on the awesomely abrasive V.I.C. (AR Classic/Duck Down). A Brooklyn monster with a massive uppercut, Juxx is angrier than Onyx, and in Arcitype he's found a worthy, armed accomplice.

STATIK SELEKTAH's inner circle stood tall across the board, from the producer's second project with Termanology and the 1982 crew (2012, Traffic Entertainment), to relative newcomer JFK getting a proper mixtape intro (A.G.E.). Upping the ante, though, was Term's duel with Fizzy Womack on the spit-heavy Fizzyology (Brick) and a two-shot by Reks, who dropped diametrically themed diatribes in Straight, No Chaser (also off Brick, with Statik) and Rebelutionary (off Gracie, with Numonics).

While roughnecks hammered and commercial cats yammered, the fringes grew more sophisticated. Stones Throw fellow HOMEBOY SANDMAN ripped a pair of stellar EPs (Chimera; Subject: Matter), and entered new conceptual realms with miracles like "For the Kids" on First of a Living Breed.

On the spacier end of the stoner spectrum is ANX (Fake Four Inc.) by DARK TIME SUNSHINE. Onry Ozzbon has the most entrancing voice in hip-hop, and instrumental architect Zavala's latest acid-scape is every bit as catchy as an early Outkast opus. For adventurous heads, "Cultclass" could be the track of the year.

Of the many great alternative feats, BILLY WOODS of Super Chron Flight Brothers finds himself alone in the corner. The arcanely complicated History Will Absolve Me (Backwoodz Studioz) finds the equally misanthropic and pop-culture-savvy stoner soaring somewhere between brilliance and the Genius.

A lot of popular shit was worth obsessing over too — but especially EL-P's Cancer for Cure (Fat Possum) which was even doper than all of the neo-hipster blogger twerps pretended that they thought it was. The most likeable rap album of the year, in any sub-genre, is The Only Number That Matters Is Won (Raw Poetix) from PACEWON AND MR. GREEN. The Jersey boys have mastered boom bap, plain and simple, fresh and funky. And this time they brought along Lee "Scratch" Perry.

For joints as hard as they are intelligent, Midwest powerhouse the LEFT's Gas Mask (Mello Music Group) hits with didactic wit. Riding on Apollo Brown's soul snippets, Journalist 103 emerges as a political force not to be fucked with.

Of course, there's also the trusty activist standbys PUBLIC ENEMY, who returned to both form and prosperity this year with two instantly classic LPs — The Evil Empire of Everything (King Midas) and Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp (Eastlink) — and yet another world tour to match.

All things considered, it was a year of sweet rebellion. The most essential grab comes from funk-hop gods the COUP, whose Sorry to Bother You (Epitaph) simultaneously works the brain and renders cheeseball rap unnecessary. With smart and artsy party bangers like "My Murder, My Love," there's just no need for music by the suckas.

  Topics: Music Features , EL-P, rap, Homeboy Sandman,  More more >
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