[EDITOR’S NOTE] Got a special treat this year! In addition to our normal end of the year lists, my talented girlfriend Alyssa, author of “Watch the Throne: Framing Black Artistic Success in America” has created a Top 10 videos of the year list! Hit the jump watch some of the best videos 2012 had to offer and let us know what you thought were the best!
10. Azealia Banks – “1991”
Banks brings up the rear this year with her fun, head-bopping video to “1991.” The video is one of a wave of polished follow-ups to her 2011 video debut, “212”. At just 21 years of age Banks was born in 1991 and in this track she announces that her time has finally come. Ironically (as well as intentionally, I assume) the video is decked with 90’s vibe in keeping with the decade’s current fashion comeback. Banks stunts in her trademark purple lipstick, a bustier top, high-waisted trouser pants, and even ditches bug-eyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s sunglasses for the chicer, sideways ovals of rap’s golden era. The girl knows what’s up, and this video shows it.
9. Freddie Gibbs – “The Hard” ft. Dana Williams
As if the track’s title didn’t lend any clue, Gangsta Gibbs is, of course, one of the hardest in today’s rap game. “The Hard’s” gritty visual tells the story of a snitch’s fate in the ruthless world of the crack hustle, where “by any means necessary” assumes a dirtier meaning and lives can quickly become collateral. The video is suspenseful and raw, making for an excellent backdrop to the haunting track itself.
8. Flatbush Zombies – “Thug Waffle”
The concept to this video is just ridiculous, in the best way imaginable. Crew members Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice blaze L’s and face down fat stacks of waffles while rocking lacy gold grills and half-bleached hairdos, amongst other dope shit. And I must say, the lengthy monologue shots in this visual rival Les Miserables’ in their intensity. Props go to third crew member Erick Arc Elliott on the production of this thoroughly entertaining and well shot vid.
7. Ab-Soul – “Pineal Gland”
DMT is a hell of a drug. Or so I gather from watching this video. Controversial hypotheses claim that DMT occurs naturally in the human Pineal Gland, a sub-organ of the brain, and that it is massively released at death. Regardless of whether this claim is true, it is surely the namesake of Ab-Soul’s track in which he “might be trippin off that DMT.” The reality-challenging video is a psychedelic voyage through space and time, in which what you see and what you hear don’t always agree. TDE’s Ab-Soul and A+ Films did an excellent job capturing what must be a wild and immaterial experience.
6. Kanye West – “Mercy” ft. Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz
Kanye has an impeccable eye for aesthetics, which is probably why he appears on this list twice. The star-studded visual for Mercy is shot entirely without color, in a low-ceilinged car garage featuring the song’s namesake, a Lamborghini Murcielago. The rappers are clad in what must be some kind of couture version of Arab dress, in order to match the hook’s unintelligible Middle Eastern shrieking. As each rapper spits his verse the camera pans dramatically across the narrow scene scape while some people seamlessly disappear and multiple versions of others magically enter the shot. The concept of this video is straight original, and the execution somehow manages to feel sleek and grimy at the same time. A video is good when it leaves you wondering, “how the fu*k did they do that?”
5. Mac Miller – America ft. Casey Veggies & Joey Bada$$
This video epitomizes the mentality behind 2012’s patriotic fashion obsession with American flag and camo print. A swinging, smoky party scene in which rappers fire blunts against a backdrop of the stars and stripes accompanies the swaying, drunken beat. The slightly eerie but captivating cartoon augmentations grant the visual originality and carry it into a new stylistic dimension. Cameos from Flatbush Zombies, Harry Fraud and others are icing on the cake.
4. A$AP Rocky – “LONGLIVEA$AP”
The video to the title track of Rocky’s new album demonstrates how far he’s come since the viral unleash of Purple Swag in 2011. I compare Rocky to Kanye in that he’s the kind of artistically talented person who just has a gift for knowing what looks, sounds and feels good—be it fashion, art, music (in the broader sense), or of course, rapping. Work from his latest album is no exception. This visual depicts Rocky holding down the throne of a creepy castle, while he spits on his meteoric success in the industry, and how he’ll keep it. With this kingly track and video A$AP contests the assumption that “the quicker you’re here the faster you go” (shouts to Wiz) by insisting that despite predators and paranoia, his reign on top will be a long one. And if he keeps on delivering this kind of quality, I don’t doubt it.
3. 2 Chainz – “Birthday Song” ft. Kanye West
One could have expected the video for this song to feature the usual Louis Vuitton, Gucci, demure strippers, piles of cash, luxury vehicles, etc, etc. But instead, the internet and the rap world received a very special gift. The concept of this video is essentially an adult version of the classic childhood birthday party. Thrown at an average house in a rundown neighborhood, the party includes a degenerate clown, cake shaped like a woman’s badonkadonk (complete with candles), Yeezy on a tricycle, and the gratuitous addition of several certifiable “big-booty hoes”. Oh, and you know they didn’t forget the slip-and-slide. The equation is hilarious, sexy, sinister, and ultimately genius. Though I love 2Chainz (and believe me I do, as much as 2 BITCHES!!!), I am positive this was Kanye’s doing. Thanks again, Kanye.
2. Drake – “HYFR” ft. Lil’ Wayne
HYFR by itself is a good song, but this video treatment makes it exceptional. The video opens with a beyond adorable shot of young Drake, tuxedo clad and already stuntin. The video’s premise is introduced—adult Drake has decided to get re-bar-mitzvahed in order to commit once again to the Jewish religion. The bar-mitzvah ceremony follows, in which Drake raps his verse while reading from the Torah, facing a crowd that includes DJ Khaled, Birdman, Trey Songz, and many others. Afterwards, partying ensues as characters in the video alternately mouth words of the hook. While the song alone feels somewhat tentative and worrisome, the video lends the lyrics a triumphant, “fuck you I’m winning” vibe, as people laugh, chairs are lifted and bottles are smashed. The visual is so original and fun, it even has old folks getting down on the dance floor. Props go to Director X for this one.
1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “Same Love” ft. Mary Lambert
Number one is definitely not the most fun video of the list, but it is inarguably the most important. Macklemore transcends the label of a “conscious” rapper. Instead, rapping about what he believes in just comes along with the authenticity of his music—it’s part of the Macklemore package. Take it or leave it. This video depicts the life of a homosexual man, gradually coming to terms with his sexuality as he discovers himself, love, and the acceptance of his family. The visual story, paired with Mackelmore’s dialogue about how he grappled with the idea of homosexuality and Mary Lambert’s poignant vocals (she herself is lesbian), makes for a powerful package. The video was used to support Referendum 74 in Washington State, a government measure to approve gay marriage. The referendum passed and the video caught the attention of Ellen Degeneres, who invited Mackelmore and Mary Lambert to perform on her show. The video also gets our number one spot for best of 2012, because this beautiful message deserves all the shine in the world.