2012 was a good year in hip-hop. Some even claimed it was the best year in hip-hop for a decade. Between Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Nas’ Life Is Good and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music—the seed from which Run The Jewels was born—as well as the emergence of Chance The Rapper, Joey Bada$$ and Vince Staples, there might be some hard truth to that hot take.
Amongst the critically acclaimed albums, high-profile mixtapes and wave of future stars—not to mention the debates surrounding Chief Keef, Trinidad Jame$ and Iggy Azalea—it’s easy to neglect the mass of quality music that didn’t make a huge splash in 2012 but still deserves to be recognized five years later.
From Rapsody's The Idea of Beautiful to Pac Div's GMB, here are five of the most overlooked albums that turn five this year.
Domo Genesis & The Alchemist — No Idols
Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt—and to a lesser extent, Frank Ocean—were always going to be the stars of Odd Future. Domo Genesis seemed more interested in getting baked than basking in the spotlight. However, when he linked up with The Alchemist for No Idols—a collaboration that came about during the producer’s “rap camp” sessions that summer—Domo Genesis stepped out from his kush cloud and emerged as OF’s secret weapon.
No Idols was a departure from the spacey, lo-fi sound of Domo’s 2010 debut Rolling Papers that had Tyler’s fingerprints all over it. Instead, the mixtape was more focused, more assertive and more evidence that Domo Genesis was a rapper first and a stoner second. “Feelin’ like a villain in the city / Puffin’ sticky, sippin’ sizzy / Word to Juicy bitch, I’m trippy / The exclusive bitch that’s with me, making sure my drink ain’t tippin’ / While I’m hangin’ out in the back like the n*gga that killed Biggie,” he raps on the bouncy “Fuck Everybody Else.”
No Idols was mostly blunted beats and braggadocious bars, but songs like “Me and My Bitch”—inspired by Biggie’s Ready to Die track—and the reflective “All Alone” proved there was more to this stoner spitter than meets the eye. Boasting guest appearances from Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs and Action Bronson, No Idols felt like a turning point in Domo Genesis' career. But for whatever reason, he never took that turn.
O.C. & Apollo Brown — Trophies
Detroit producer Apollo Brown thrives on collaboration. He’s built a career on creating albums with underground favorites like Ras Kass, Skyzoo and Guilty Simpson. But Trophies, his 2012 joint project with D.I.T.C. member O.C., is arguably his best.
Melding crisp drum loops, lush strings and crashing percussion, Brown’s production was smooth and soulful, yet steely enough for O.C. to sharpen his pen against. “The Pursuit” kicked things off with a high-speed car chase, “Anotha One” was a mid-album smoke break and “Options” offered an OG’s advice on how to navigate this crazy world. The formula was simple: one rapper, one producer, dope beats and dope rhymes.
Apollo Brown and O.C. may not have been after accolades, but Trophies was worthy of gold.
Oh No — OhNoMite
Oh No kickstarted 2012 with the release of Vodka & Ayahuasca, a collaborative project with The Alchemist (the pair are collectively known as Gangrene) that was as intoxicating as the title suggests. For his solo album OhNoMite, however, the prolific Oxnard producer turned to a different kind of influence: the archives of Rudy Ray Moore, the mastermind behind blaxploitation films like Dolemite, The Human Tornado and Petey Wheatstraw.
In similar fashion to what his brother Madlib did on Piñata—his classic collaboration with Freddie Gibbs—two years later, Oh No used the blaxploitation samples simply as a launching pad, taking that ’70s sound into a new decade that’s beyond the one we’re in right now. “Time” sounded like post-apocalyptic chaos while “The Hitmen” felt like a glimpse into the near future when traditional genres are barely recognizable. Let’s not forget about the smooth, horn-laced soul of "Dues N Don’ts" either.
With a solid supporting cast that boasted everyone from MF DOOM and M.E.D. to Erick Sermon and Evidence, OhNoMite was as colorful and captivating as the album cover itself.
Pac Div — GMB
Pac Div may have been at the forefront of the so-called “New West” in the late ’00s, but by 2012, the group found themselves overshadowed by newer, louder crews like TDE and Odd Future (a fruitless deal with Motown didn’t help). Still, their sophomore effort GMB is everything you want from a West Coast rap album.
“The Return,” “Truth” and “Can’t Help It” were the soundtrack for summer in Southern California while “Fuck Y’all” (featuring Kurupt and DJ Battlecat) and “Cross-Trainers” (featuring Kendrick Lamar and Blu) briefly revived the speaker-smacking sound of the old West. Pac Div was never restricted by their region, though, as “Bank,” “Black Acura” and the bonus cut “Savages” knocked as hard as anything in 2012.
GMB was an album made for a top down trip down Crenshaw Boulevard. Even if you were a million miles away, the music would transport you there anyway. Good news: Pac Div will finally drop the follow-up to GMB this year.
Rapsody — The Idea of Beautiful
The beauty of Rapsody’s music is how it's both cerebral and visceral. It breaks down stereotypes, makes you challenge societal norms and urges you to recognize your own worth, even if others don’t. Long before songs like “Hard to Choose,” “The Man” and, of course, “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” Rap was carrying out this mission on The Idea of Beautiful.
Backed by soulful, delicate production from 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Eric G. and AMP, Jamla’s First Lady unearthed all the beautiful things about hip-hop she felt were being buried at the time: the storytelling (“In the Town”), the positivity (“Celebrate”), the love of rhyming (“Precious Wings”). Not only that, Rapsody also embodied her own definition of beautiful by representing those who don’t fit the traditional definition of the word, but possess beauty in soul and spirit—just like Rapsody herself.
Looking back, The Idea of Beautiful feels like Rapsody’s The College Dropout: in 2012, she was a raw talent keen to impress (“I wanna meet Jay and just play a rhyme for him,” she raps on “Destiny”); in 2017, she’s a polished diamond with a Roc Nation deal.