The year 2012 will be remembered as the first year that local hiphop, and not indie rock, gave Seattle its biggest acts—the year THEESatisfaction went national and Macklemore hit the big time. Furthermore, if we include Shabazz Palaces and Blue Scholars, local hiphop can claim four acts that have achieved, at different degrees, national and even international recognition. This has never happened in the history of local hiphop.
And 2012 has this in common with 2005 and 2009: It was a very strong and productive year for local hiphop. In 2011, only five solid or outstanding albums were generated, whereas this year generated 12—two of which were released by OCnotes. Then there was Erik Blood's amazing Touch Screens, which, true, is a rock record, but Blood's close association with several leading hiphop acts placed that album in 206's orbit. Gabriel Teodros, one of the founders of the new and still current school, dropped his second solo work, Colored People's Time Machine, and participated in CopperWire's Earthbound, a record that deserved more recognition than it got. Also, Fresh Espresso's rich and jazzy album Bossalona kept the Out for Stardom crew in the center of the game.
That said, let's turn to my top five hiphop tracks of the year. Conveniently, but not accidentally, the artists in my top tracks of the year are in the exact same position in my top albums/mixtapes of the year. It's nice when everything fits so well.
1. "QueenS" by THEESatisfaction
"QueenS"—one of the three tracks arranged by Erik Blood on awE naturalE (he mixed and recorded the whole album)—is not only the best hiphop track of the year, but also the most seductive. The genius of "QueenS" is how it draws you into its world. You first hear it from the outside, like a party in some house or apartment you are approaching. Upon reaching the door of this place, it magically opens for you—you enter and become a part of what's really happening. This is why the video for the track, which is also the 206 video of the year (though it was shot in Brooklyn), captures the essence or the feel of the music so perfectly. Directed by hiphop journalist and culture critic dream hampton, the video leads us into the warm core of a party in an apartment. The women in the party are all black and dreamy. This is their world. This is their music. This is how they party.
2. "A Toast to Frame & Ro" by Tendai Maraire (featuring Ishmael Butler)
This track, which is found on the brilliant Chimurenga Renaissance Pungwe mixtape, blends deep, traditional Zimbabwean sounds with that deep and moody hiphop that has defined the Northwest's post–Sir Mix-A-Lot sound since its inception in the mid '90s. Maraire's raps are at once angry, thoughtful, political, American, African, post-postcolonial, postcolonial, and anticolonial. As for Ish, Shabazz Palace's rapper, he delivers some of his most startlingly personal lines. "A Toast to Frame & Ro" is black Africa as Blade Runner.
3. "Pilgrimage" by J. Pinder
If you want to see exactly why Vitamin D is this city's all-time best producer, visit the second track on Pinder's excellent album Careless. "Pilgrimage" is a perfect piece of 21st-century hiphop. This is how I hear it: After an oneiric opening, Pinder smoothly slips into the melancholy mood provided by the deep end of the piano and echoed finger snaps. As for the beat, which never rises above the piano, it has the kick of a drum machine but doesn't feel mechanical. Indeed, one of Vitamin D's gifts is an ability to make hiphop that sounds musical without sacrificing the sample-based feel of hiphop.
4. "So Funky" by the Physics
The first track on the Physics' latest album, Tomorrow People, is, for me, hiphop in a pure state. It's spare and it has a big and chunky beat, a raw and rubbery bass, bits of scratching, and no singing or chorus—this is a rapper's paradise.
5. "Cultclass" by Dark Time Sunshine
This year, Onry Ozzborn (Seattle rapper) and Zavala (Chicago producer) released ANX and thus completed a trilogy that contains some of the most numinous and bumping hip- hop out there. (The first two albums being Believeyoume and Vessel.) The best track on ANX is not only haunting but features, at its end, the appearance of a ghost: Rochester A.P. has been dead for more than a decade, and yet his raps "sound fresher than Wonder Bread."