I don't know about you guys, but I've been balling out of control in 2013. Not so much in the financial sense. But my spirit is rolling on diamond-encrusted, 26-inch, platinum rims with Joker's face spinning in the middle. Breathing is what's hot on the streets this year.
But before we go another month into celebrating 2013, what's up with 2012? Infinity Gauntlet seemed to be on some sort of creative high, producing two of the best projects of the year, Vernon Bridges' Wrought of Chaos and Odessa Kane's Cuetes & Balisongs EP, not to mention dropping his own quality album under his rapper moniker Scatter Brain. Parker & the Numberman revived the art of the rap skit/interlude while churning out music at an alarming rate. Youngkind's Oso Ocean came out of nowhere and tore instrumentals to shreds. And the Gaslamp Killer kinda killed a lot more than the Gaslamp District.
So here's a list of pretty great local hip-hop songs. Are they the best? Eh, maybe not. But they're the best I managed to get my ears on, and hopefully you can discover something for yourself in the mix. Some rules about the list:
The songs are in no particular order, except for that Aki Kharmicel joint -- my current favorite jam.
There's only one song per artist, unless an artist is only featured on a different song or part of a different group/act.
Aki Kharmicel "Ursmilingface":
The warmest song I heard in 2012. Aki doesn't try all these lyrically lyrical verbal gymnastics which would've killed the vibe. Instead, he comes off real cool, kinda like Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. Bump this on Valentine's Day in a couple weeks.
Trackwide "Late Night Creep":
This beat's just too gorgeous, so spacious and ephemeral.
Vernon Bridges "The 6th World of Consciousness": Stuntdouble said: "Paranoia and self-righteous, grandiose self-reverence contrasted with a personal comparison to worms, enlightenment and violence, all aspects of a proud self-portrait, maintaining dignity in the face of 500 years of conquest. The song serves as a rejection of the contemporary material world and present state of Chicano/a assimilation."
Beatsmith Resist "Wretched of the Earth":
rangerbob says: "Movie clips, drunken-sounding horn and woodwind arrangements, a head-nodding beat and games with the timing. It's awesome to hear."
Oso Ocean "MILF":
Though I was late to the party, Oso Ocean really killed it on his mixtape, The Whole 9. "MILF" puts his hilarious storytelling ability on display over the instrumental to TLC's classic "Creep."
Monkey Beezness (Dubble-O-Beez & Young Sau) "Have You Ever":
Guess who sampled ill video-game music without rapping about mana points and polygons and chocobos? Instead, Dubble-O and Young Sau rap about smoking trees over the theme to a mystical forest, appropriately enough.
Scatter Brain & V-Rock "FEMA Camp Scripture": Stuntdouble said: "the sample’s low-hitting afterthought of a drum allows the vocals to set the cadence. Scatter Brain, being a beatsmith himself, has excellent timing as an emcee and, coupled with V-Rock’s well-paced bassline, carries the song through rather well."
Autopsy "Seppuku": These drums are so dirty. And what's harder than telling someone to go commit Japanese ritual suicide?
Lil Spank Booty "5 by 11":
Spanksta grabs your attention with the mind-blowingly depressing fact that he "spends 23 hours in a 5x11 prison cell. Then he raps like his lyrics could set him free.
The Gaslamp Killer, featuring Dimlite "7 Years of Bad Luck for Fun":
rangerbob says: "It's got a bunch of layers and a good mix of everything on the record. If someone can't get into that track at all, I wouldn't foresee them getting into that album, period."
Black Resume "Hey Girl (My House)":
There's so much going on in this beat, from the squelching synthesizers to old school Space Invaders-ish tunes to what might be some steel drums and maybe something else that sounds like Optimus Prime transforming into a truck. And somehow it crashes together to make for an extremely fun song.
Regg Henny "Consider the Raven":
Street knowledge as expressed through pro-black poetics. Just so you know, I'm not one of those dudes that goes around arguing with people that hate rap, trying to prove to them that rap is poetry. Dr. Dre is a legend but he's no poet. This song, though, is honest-to-God poetry.
Soooooo hypnotic. I haven't heard this in months, and I still have it stuck in my head.
Real J. Wallace & Godlee Barnes "Bu!!s---":
A loose, refreshing song that quickly and unexpectedly cycles through different stages of jazz.
Parker & the Numberman "Just Jump": Stuntdouble said: "By the time I got to the hook, I was sold by the usage and content, allowing myself to imagine 'dollar bill appointments' and their implication. The song purposefully invokes setting, action and desire to inspire a mood that envelops you the same way that the party can."
Mr Mista (Mr. Brady & Moka Only) "That Mr Mista":
Plodding, punishing, unrelenting drums from in the red. It's like an outtake from the J-Dilla x Madlib collab, Champion Sound.
Bazerkowitz & Black Mikey "B.B. King Kong":
Paradoxically, Black Mikey's nonchalant delivery makes his lyrics sting so much harder. He sounds like a sultan smoking his pipe while ordering your execution with the slightest wave of the hand. Bazerkowitz, by contrast, knocks s--- down like King Kong.
Dag Savage (Johaz & Exile) "Dag Sav":
My. God. What a banger. Johaz (of SD's Deep Rooted) hooks up with L.A. beatsmith-extraordinaire Exile for this monster.
Emphasize & Edgar IsReal "Balance": Stuntdouble said: "With a melodic sing-song hook, [Emphasize] enables the listener to enter the project with a relaxed and open mind. Normally I would begin to throw up inside my mouth at this type of notion, but Emphasize delivers without corn nor Autotune. The sample usage is a dreamy, guitar twang with a drum break that makes one think of Biz’s 'Just a Friend'."
iD The Poet "I Love the Way You _____":
iD The Poet tries his hand at the poetry of sonics with what appears to be his first instrumental project, Thanatos. The sample on this song could form the basis for a dope, rappity-rap beat. Instead, iD uses it to freak some lasers. I'll take it.
Odessa Kane "Pancho Bonifacio":
Although Kane's politicism isn't quite as pronounced here as on some of his other songs, this is the best marriage between vocals and instrumental off his Cuetes & Balisongs EP. His flow fits with the drums so perfectly, you can't help but admire the craft. And if you can help that, you can still enjoy the wild lyrics he spits in a combination of English, Spanish and what is either Arabic or Aramaic.
The Awful Great (Makeshift & Piff PCH) "Truthers":
Piff is the truth. I ain't mad at Makeshift, either.
Left Handed Scientists (Orko Eloheim & Bazerkowitz), featuring Mr. Ridley "Never Die":
I basically just like Orko screaming in my ear. I gotta hear him make a punk record someday.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.