Yesterday we shared our Top 10 Pop/Rock albums of 2012, and now we bring you our favorite electronic, hip-hop, and R&B. Stay tuned as we share our favorite Experimental, Ambient/Post-Rock, Punk and Metal throughout the week before unveiling before revealing the hands-down Best Albums of 2012.


Top 5 Electronic Albums of 2012

With "electronic" being a ridiculously wide genre of music (almost more of a tech spec), there are a lot of slants we could have taken on such a short list. Rather than providing lip service to the EDM craze, we've brought you some of the year's more relaxed, artistic offerings.


1. Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes [Warp]
Los Angeles-based artist Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) has been putting out glitchy electronic offerings since 2006. This writer started paying attention with the release of 2010's excellent Cosmogramma, and this year's Until the Quiet Comes has propelled Ellison even further as a composer.

Until the Quiet Comes opens with the percussive "All In," which includes bass from Brainfeeder (FlyLo-owned label) virtuoso Thundercat, who also contributed to Cosmogramma. Two interlude-length numbers, "Getting There" and "Until the Colours Come," come next, the former of which features a vocal contribution from Niki Randa. Ellison has said that this album draws a lot from dreams and the human subconscious, and the quick "Until the Colours Come" is a perfect example of that calming ether. On this release, FlyLo has come to reign in the more sound collage-y aspects of Cosmogramma into something more accessible. "Tiny Tortures" boasts a Jonny Greenwood-like guitar lead, which is interesting as his song "Guitar 12" is incorporated into the album's 15th track, "Hunger." Speaking of Radiohead, Thom Yorke provides vocals on the blip-filled "Electric Candyman." Until the Quiet Comes, is such an essential listen for all as it jumps from dubstep ("Sultan's Request," "The Nightcaller") to hip hop ("Putty Boy Strut") to experimental jazz ("See Thru to U").
--Zach Pollack

2. Squarepusher: Ufabalum [
Warp]
Shapeshifting artist Squarepusher (aka Tom Jenkison) has been with electronic music refuge Warp Records since 1996. He welcomed his 15th project, Ufabulum, this year; an album that is purely programmed. It was an interesting choice for the bass virtuoso, but he's pulled it off with a great collection of songs to showcase. Where his previous releases have fused organic instruments with programming, Ufabulum incorporates sketches from past albums into its compositions.

The LP opens with the Aphex Twin-like "4001," which includes some of the tightest hi-hat work I've heard all year. Granted, THIS hi-hat work is programmed, but he still had to map it. "4001" builds into a synth-laden climax that screams "action movie soundtrack" to me. There are synth pops and clicks within that track that remind me of the slap bass methods Jenkison initially became popular for. "Stadium Ice" seems like an ode to the 80s, with synth voices and early-video-game sound effects. Ufabulum continues in that fashion for quite some time until "The Metallurgist" hits and straight up scrambles your brains, making his bassist frame of mind very clear. Though I very much enjoy the earlier Squarepusher releases for their marriages of organic and programmed instruments, Ufabulum has carved its rightful place into Jenkinson's catalog.
--Zach Pollack

3. Holy Other: Held [TriAngle]
First emerging in 2010 on Transparent records, Holy Other has carved out a delicate yet brilliant musical style. Both daring and vulnerable, his use of distorted vocal elements and cavernous bass bring together one of 2012’s most unique albums. His debut album Held recalls the sounds of Burial while fusing elements of garage, pop, and R&B. 

While the album is much more vocally-oriented than his previous work, the sound is still one that embraces listeners and blankets them in a cloud of heavy thought. Tracks such as “(W)here” and “Tense Past” make Held a strangely uplifting album despite the element of darkness that surrounds it. Holding a special kinship with artists such as How to Dress Well, Mount Kimbie, and Jamie xx, the sensual and introspective elements of Holy Other’s music offer up something completely unique new to the world of electronic music.
-- Cristina Mendoza 

4. TNGHT: TNGHT EP [Warp/Lucky Me]
Although TNGHT is not an American rap concept, everything about the production duo and their stellar first release echoes what is trending in hip-hop scenes throughout the US. Comprised of Montreal's Lunice and Glasgow's Hudson Mohawke, the production duo's sound lends heavily to their UK bass and US trap influences. On their own both producers are known for having a very maximalist approach, courtesy of big layered synths and multiple percussive sounds, on any given track. However, TNGHT is a chance for both producers to strip down both of their sounds and let them intertwine with each other within a genre known for its simplicity. The summer release of their TNGHT EP caught the ears of heavy hitters Diplo, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West. With Kanye West enlisting Hudson Mohawke to perform production duties on "Bliss" from GOOD Music's Cruel Summer album and Lunice collaborating with Diplo it's safe to say the TNGHT EP marks the beginning of a new era of hip-hop and electronic music for the mainstream.
--
Nathan Loria

5. Ricardo Donoso: Assimilating the Shadow [Digitalis]
Inspired by the days-long outdoor dance parties he attended as a youth in Brazil, Ricardo Donoso’s Assimilating the Shadow is one of that rare breed of electronic albums that is as intellectually captivating as it is spiritually sublime. Donoso relies on subtle shifts in shade and time to propel his music. He strips beats away in order to create the illusion of automatic flux, reflecting the way the body reacts when music and dawn combine as twin energies to raise flagging spirits and cast fresh light across a formerly familiar scene.

Indicative of the way in which Digitalis Recordings has broadened its repertoire, Assimilating the Shadow ably crosses genre boundaries and is likely to please fans of the new wave of kosmische synth music as much as it does techno and dance lovers. With the stirring drones and sampled psychology of "Intro" and the deep groans pulsing through "The Bow and The Lyre" and "Equivalence of the Thirteen," there's an omnipresent sense of unease too; yet another layer to an already fascinating and hugely accomplished album.
--Steve Dewhurst



Top 10 Hip-Hop/R&B of 2012

It's been a hell of a year for hip-hop and R&B. 2012 saw a number of signed and unsigned artists re-defining the genre. From debut LPs to underground mixtapes, there was so much to listen to that even the most unlikely urban music fans found something to love. Here are our top ten favorite hip-hop and R&B albums of the year.


1. Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music [Williams Street]
"Hardcore G shit/ Homie, I don't play around" is the opening line of Killer Mike's 2012 masterpiece R.A.P. (Rebellious African People) Music. Ya know something, he's telling the truth; he really doesn't. On his sixth studio album, Mike fuses his Southern sensibilities with the bombastic production of El-P (aka Jamie Meline), who also welcomed a winner of a solo LP this year. The Atlanta champion uses his resonant voice to spit political manifestos and spin tales of keeping it real. 

It's very rare to find a hip hop album on which every single track hits just as hard as the one that came before it; with Jamie's assistance, he most certainly has achieved that. R.A.P. Music has no lull; Mike delivers sharp and hard-hitting lines throughout. After spending over a decade in the game Killer Mike offers up his most cohesive body of work yet. -- Zach Pollack

2. Joey Bada$$: 1999 Mixtape [Cinematic / Creative Control]
At just seventeen years old, Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ (real name Jo-Vaughn Virginie) is possibly the most exciting young rapper to have burst onto the scene this year. Unashamedly in thrall to the early- to mid-nineties "Golden Age" boom bap groove, using beats by Dilla and Doom, he’s a throwback to an era he’s too young to remember with a refreshingly laid-back attitude to match. 

1999 dropped gratis back in June and has grown in stature ever since, marking out Joey and his Progressive Era crew of rappers and producers as serious contenders. Tracks like "Summer Knights" and "Waves" lament growing trends for style over substance, and "FromDaTomb$" demonstrates his desire to bring ‘real rap’ back from the grave. There’s no overbearing ADD aggression to overshadow the purity of JB’s talent; the potential is huge and you get the impression he’s grounded enough to see it all through. 1999 could be the start of something very special indeed.
--
Steve Dewhurst

3. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city [Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg]
Hip-hop concept albums are rarely as deep or personal as Kendrick Lamar's second studio album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. As the title suggests, this epic album follows a "good kid" in Compton, searching for guidance and struggling to survive the streets. Lamar works wonders as a storyteller throughout the album, narrating intertwining stories of navigating the hectic city and touching moments of being "saved" by family and religion.

Good kid, m.A.A.d. city combines themes of reputation, romance and doubt into a striking tragic tale backed by heavy beats produced in part with N.W.A. legend Dr. Dre, who appears on "Compton," an anthem for the hometown: the old and the new faces of West Coast hip-hop. --Bill Ross

4. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange [Def Jam]
Every great artist has an album that defines his/her career. For Frank Ocean, Channel Orange is that album. His debut studio album quickly proves that he is one of the most talented singer-songwriters of the past decade. One could easily imagine Ocean as a younger version of Terius Nash a.k.a. The-Dream, but with all the same sentiment and then some. With R&B/Hip-Hop roots, songwriting credits on pop hits such as Beyonce's "Single Ladies" and Justin Bieber's "Bigger", and equally revealing albums of heartbreak and turmoil it's easy to draw the connection.

Back in July, Frank Ocean released a beautifully penned note that was originally intended to be included in the album liner. In the note Ocean reveals that his first love was with a young man when he was 19 years old back in his hometown of New Orleans. At the time, this unknowingly gave us a context for the masterpiece Ocean was slated to release a week later. Ocean took a big risk in becoming an exile within a genre that prides itself on masculinity, but his talent and scope of creativity was able to supersede all norms. Channel Orange is a soundtrack to young love and the growth of an individual through recognizing what once was, but will never be again.
--Nathan Loria    

5. Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions [Top Dawg]
The problem with first-quarter releases is that by the end of the year they're often forgotten. However, Schoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions is not a 2012 release to forget. One of the more re-inventive hip-hop albums of the year, the release shows that West Coast hip-hop has progressed beautifully past the glory days of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. 

Habits & Contradictions undoubtedly has some fairly moody lyrical content, but this matches perfectly with the grainy, dark beats the album is laced with. With tracks such as "Oxy Music" revealing a gloomy life dealing oxycontin with a long time friend who eventually sold him out, and "2 Raw" displaying remorse for his actions as a Hoover Crip -- it's easy to look at this as an album full of despair and pain. Yet one of the most profound things about Habits & Contradictions is Schoolboy's ability to always keep the mood light and play off everything as if it's all a joke. This is in part due to his humorous personality and almost sarcastic like flow. With fellow Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar gaining the majority of the press attention this year, Habits & Contradictions may conversely be the strongest album released by the collective this year.
--Nathan Loria
 

6. Le1F: Dark York [Greedhead / Camp & Street]
Having emerged from New York's ball culture, Le1f (real name Khalif Diouf) spearheads the queer rap movement alongside Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz and others. With Dark York he made its most compelling statement so far. Producers Boody, Nguzunguzu, Matt Shadatek and C¥bergiga cram Dark York so full of detail it often threatens to overwhelm the rapper, whose languorous flow bubbles menacingly beneath the beats like so much oozing lava. His personality, which is paradoxically flamboyant, is the key; his videos show him vogue-ing, dressed in see-through tops and female wigs showcasing a willful desire to shove whatever nonsense the insecure 'no homo' artists have been spouting back down their throats. 

There are bangers – 'Fresh', 'Infinity' and 'Gayngsta' are all potential club classics - but for the most part the beats onDark York are thrillingly avant-garde, forcing Le1f into ever more inventive rhyme schemes and vocal twists. “Straight rappers about to hate me 'cause I'm so good at this,” he groans on the gloopy 'Bubbles' as an artillery of scatter-gun beats rains down around him, and the amount of pleasure he takes from the idea is gleefully palpable. --Steve Dewhurst

7. Death Grips: The Money Store [Epic]
Death Grips are easily 2012’s most controversial group, and they happen to be pretty talented as well. I criticized their behavior and decision-making in addition to comments made by the fans and media in my editorial "The Death Grips Saga", where I also entertained the idea that the self-release of No Love Deep Web was a marketing ploy. Now we know that their team at Epic Records was fired and they were left without a reliable contact. Features at Spin and Pitchfork helped finally clarify what kind of people MC Ride and drummer Zach Hill are, and what really led to the self-release of the album. As a result, I am much more empathetic to their vision, though I still think the dick art is stupid.

The Money Store, Death Grips’ one release for the major label, features song after song of highly innovative electro and industrial beats by production team Hill and Andy Morin. MC Ride’s distinctive raspy rapping and yelling keeps The Money Store aggressive, but it has a much lighter vibe overall than No Love Deep Web.
--Parker Langvardt

8. Chance the Rapper: #10Day Mixtape [Self-Released]
If only all high school suspensions could create something that sounds this good. Chance the Rapper established himself as one of Chicago’s most exiting new faces in the city’s flourishing hip-hop scene with his debut mixtape #10Day. With a few unexpected samples (Beruit?!) and irresistible hooks, you’ll have tracks like “Hey, Ma,” Juke Juke,” and “Brain Cells” stuck in your head for days. But it’s the hard-hitting and experienced flow on “Fuck You Tahm Bout, "“22 Offs,” and "Long Time II," that truly showcase his lyrical diversity. 

Since the mixtape's release Chance has been one very busy MC. He soon landed an opening slot on Childish Gambino’s tour and is currently playing shows to support his upcoming AcidRap mixtape. Shhh... do you hear that in the distance? It’s major labels shouting Chance’s name! 2012 was a great year for Chance the Rapper but we have a feeling 2013 is going to be his best year yet.
-- Cristina Mendoza 

9. Action Bronson/Party Supplies: Blue Chips [Fool's Gold]
Action Bronson raps about fine fare like most rappers rap about weed and women, but he won't waste any time in rapping about those vices, as well. Food is to sex as sex is to food, is the Bronson philosophy. With cohort Party Supplies lending production duties on the Reebok-sponsored mixtape Blue Chips, it's surely a standout release for the duo this year. With the majority of the album's samples coming from 64khz quality YouTube clips, Party Supplies is still able to paint a flowing soundscape for Bronson to flow in and out of. Clearly Bronson has an ear for artistry in loops.

Blue Chips also proves that Bronson is much more than a Ghostface Killa sound alike, yet his sound is so evocatively New York that it's hard not to draw the connection. However, with a food vocabulary of a Chef de Cuisine, Bronson proves that he is more than your average New York emcee. Within a scene that has grown increasingly more avant garde over the past few years, with rising emcees such as queer rapper Le1f and Houston-influenced A$AP Rocky, Blue Chips pays homage to Bronson's New York roots while showing his standalone ability.
-- Nathan Loria

10. Legit: Feliz Sabado Mixtape [Self-Released]
Step aside Chief Keef, we have a real lyricist in the building. Whether on his own or with his 2008ighties crew, Legit brings some of the most intuitive and socially conscious lyrics to come out of Chicago. The MC spent this summer releasing new tracks every Saturday and by then end he had one hell of a mixtape put together. Following up 2011’s Coloring Outside the Lines, Feliz Sabado shows an extensive growth in Legit’s talents while staying true to the sound he perfected on his prior album. 

Most noticeably, nothing sounds repetitive; each track is material suited for a featured single and leaves absolutely nothing to be tossed aside. “Such a Thing” gets a little help from other Epitonic favorite Chance the Rapper for the perfect head-bobbing track. “Nevermind” has that coveted 90s flow to it, while “Parashoot” offers up an edgier side of Legit that we haven’t heard before. With his vast talent and flawless flow Legit has undoubtedly proved himself as one of Chicago’s hottest artists to watch for 2013.
-- Cristina Mendoza

Honorable Mention
BadBadNotGood: BBNG2 [Self-Released]
Burial: Kindred [Hyperdub]
El-P Cancer 4 Cure [Fat Possum]
Jon Connor The Peoples' Rapper [DatPiff Exclusive]