First off, just a reminder: I don’t do semantics so I don’t want to get into it with anyone complaining that their street album was grouped with the mixtapes and the FreEPs blah blah blah. If you gave your music away for free, I put it in one category, if you charged then it is in the other. That being said, at this point, we are absolutely spoiled with the free music that gets released every day. Both in terms of quantity, because not a day of 2012 passed where free music wasn’t put out by somebody, and quality. Before I get into the list, I also need to say that there are way too many free projects out there to really narrow it down to just 10. In addition to the ones I will mention, I also loved Young Roddy’s Good Sense, Talib Kweli’s Attack the Block, Luck-One’s Beautiful Music 2, Add-2′s Save Our Souls, Mickey Factz’ Mickey Mause, Big Sean’s Detroit, Yelawolf & Ed Sheeran’s The Slumdon Bridge and many many many more. Hit the jump where I will highlight 10 particular projects that got my attention from 2012.
10. Stalley - Savage Journey to the American Dream
While I was not a huge Stalley fan before this project, he was definitely on my radar. After hearing this well composed, solid body of work, I am eagerly anticipating his next full project. The MMG afterthought has relatable rhymes and a nice casual flow that provides a calming break from some of his group mates. This one could have, and probably should have, been packaged as his debut album and gotten a bigger push but instead it is lingers as the only thing we have to hear from him for the foreseeable future.
9. Action Bronson & Alchemist - Rare Chandeliers
If nothing else, this has got to be one of the best hip hop covers we have seen in a long time! But there is more, it is also jam packed with all kinds of dope tunes. Bronson really burst onto the seen this year (more of that in the coming days) and put out a lot of quality music. I am choosing Rare Chandeliers for its cohesivness and the fact that it is more professionally crafted. Action never disappoints in the bars department, nor the witty humor one either, but RC found him making complete songs with interesting concepts to go along with disgustingly impressive metaphaors.
8. Wale - Folarin
It is always tough to make these lists because things that come out at the end of the year are fresher in our minds. I truly believe that if Folarin had dropped Jan 1st it would be here though. Wale is really coming into his own under the umbrella of Rick Ross and MMG. There are big beats that have become synonymous with Ross’ grunting but the ones on this tape are much more musically developed and aren’t trying to make me deaf. Wale has always been a talented emcee that can touch on real life subjects and dope wordplay even at the same damn time. Sure he can be a little emo but this is a project that will be getting spins in my headphones well into 2013.
7. Eighty4 Fly - Colors
While Macklemore is out introducing the World to the sounds of the Pacific Northwest, he quietly didn’t have the best project in the region. Eighty4 Fly killed Mack’s “Gold” track which is fitting after he killed Colors in its entirety. The production is top notch and there aren’t really any skippable songs on here; after each listen, I have a new favorite. The whole synethesia aspect is awesome. If you aren’t familiar with Eighty4 Fly yet, here’s a chance to get acquainted.
6. Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva N’ a Day
Krit really just can’t do any wrong. All of his “mixtapes” leading up to the stellar Live From the Underground were chalked full of real-ass original production and great story telling from one of the best up-n-coming story tellers. How can Krit talk about things that anyone can relate to… His productions skills are improving and his standard repeat-a-phrase chorus is not getting old. You can pick up any of Krit’s projects and get a great glimpse into he is as a person or an artist as well as a real slice of what it was like for him to grow up in Mississippi. 4eva N’ a Day is just the latest installment in one of the most consistent and collectively great bodies of work by any artist in recent memory.
5. Wiz Khalifa - Taylor Allderdice
Wiz seems to have split himself into multiple personalities and each one of them put out a project in 2012. There are similarities to all of them obviously: they all smoke weed, they all dress very strangely, they love to boast about how much money they have… But they all have a slightly different sound too. The Rolling Papers, megastar Wiz Khalifa put out a doper follow up in O.N.I.F.C. The hard-hitting, bass-pounding, Lex Luger-friendly Wiz Khalifa dropped Cabin Fever 2. But I think everyone’s favorite Wiz is Kush & OJ Wiz; melodic and clever with a knack for catchy verses and catchier hooks. The one that helped him breakthrough the blogs onto into everyone’s home and that Wiz released Taylor Allderdice. Named after his high school in Pittsburgh, this one had something for any of Wiz’s fans no matter their preferred personality of his.
4. Hit-boy – HITstory
After wrecking it for the latter half of 2011 and most of 2012, Hit-Boy stepped out from behind the board to prove he could hold his own on the mic too. The comparisons and parallels to Kanye West are undeniable for the G.O.O.D. producer as he gave dope beat after dope beat away until he finally decided to lay some wax of his own. The overall production on this Hitstory is its greatest asset but he certainly does his music justice. He also keeps most of the features in house with a nice verse from Big Sean, dope chorus by John Legend and a highly coveted KiD CuDi feature. He has a laid-back flow and a lot to say. This is anther one of those projects that you can hit play and listen start-to-finish with no problem.
3. King Mez - My Everlasting Zeal
Whoever says the South can’t rap just doesn’t know who to listen to. King Mez is an emcee from North Carolina who can really spit. After holding his own with Skyzoo and Fashawn on 9th Wonder’s 2011 album, Mez put out his most thorough project this year in My Everlasting Zeal. It is jam packed full of rappity-rap-rapping but it is much more than that. Mez really took his time to make each piece fit into place and provided a real proper backdrop for the bars that we have come to know and love. Even still, I am catching so many lines and references that went over my head. This is not something you can only listen to once.
2. Curren$y - Cigarette Boats with Harry Fraud / The 1st 28 with Styles P
You’d think someone who has established themselves as an underground mainstay, runs their own label and tours as much as Curren$y wouldn’t put out that much free music. But you would think wrong. Curren$y continues to be one of the most prolific artists out there with Ep after mixtape after album after mixtape after compilation after EP. It is tough to choose which release was really the best so I am combining 2 short ones into the #2 spot of best free projects. He hinted at Cigarette Boats for a long time and it did not disappoint. Harry Fraud had an amazing year (more to come in following days) and his sound meshed extremely well with Curren$y’s all over the place flows and actually, with pretty much anyone that smokes weed. Curren$y also forged a friendship with the legend Styles P who lent a verse on the best track from SB. He is also in the process of releasing a video for each track while giving us 3 Piece Set, Priest Andretti, Jet World Order 2 and prepping Live In Concert… Speaking of Styles P, that was quite the pleasant surprise. The Ghost is not someone who comes to mind when I thought of artists I wanted to hear Spitta collab with but their affinity for weed, rap music and money led to some great music. Over Monsta Beatz soundtracks, the two trade off dopeness after dopeness. I can’t decide which EP is better, can you?
1. Joey Bada$$ - 1999
How does a teenager reproduce the sound of an era her can barely remember? Ask Joey Bada$$ because his 1999 is everything that all those grumpy hip hop heads, that say “Hip Hop just ain’t what it used to be…”, have been asking for. A real 90s vibe, Joey spits bars wise beyond his years that have don’t feel manufactured or forced but natural and authentic. In fact his whole Pro Era camp seems to be on a mission to bring New York back to what it has been and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it. 1999 does not get old.