Exclaim!'s Best Albums of 2012:
Hip-Hop Page 3
Keys to the Kuffs
It's not very compassionate to take pleasure in the misfortune of others, but when the brilliant Key to the Kuffs is the result, it's impossible not to be thankful that MF Doom was trapped in the UK due to visa issues in 2010. The trickster MC whose career has so far functioned as an ever-mutating myth effortlessly shifts into yet another new guise with producer Jneiro Jarel providing a diverse array of cinematic soundscapes for Doom's masterful flow to run wild over. Much of the production drips with frustration and paranoia — the insistent serpentine throb of "Banished" being a prime example — but there is still plenty of the playful undercurrent one would expect from a rapper famous for blowing minds with crafty couplets about cartoons and food. Though Key to the Kuffs is a relatively serious-minded affair with moments of surprising tenderness, Doom hasn't let exile sober his sense of humour. His clever wordplay is packed with as many witticisms as insights, but even when he gets sucked into goofy tangents, it's with the stunning aplomb of a restless virtuoso cutting loose and revelling in the pure possibility of his craft. High profile guest appearances by British musical royalty, Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons, are used as subtle hints of local colour rather than the gimmicky thematic signposts they could have been — much like Doom's multiple references to cockney slang. He's a visitor still — no signs of being assimilated by the tea and crumpet Borg — and not one who sounds content to settle down. While we're confident in the future fruits of his freedom, Doom's temporary discomfort is our gain.
Scott A. Gray
10. Azealia Banks
In a year fraught with internet celebrities attempting to break out into the larger consciousness, Azealia Banks was the rare case of an artist able to overcome the buzz generated by her initial burst of online fame. Granted, the four-track 1991 EP looked light on the surface, but its brevity belied the staggering strength of each of its songs. "212," her late 2011 foul-mouthed ode to her native Manhattan, positioned Banks as the heir apparent to Lil' Kim, its sexually explicit lyrics teeming with attitude. But paired with tracks like "Liquorice," or the street-wise haute-couture loving character of the title track, it was clear there was more at work here than just another boastful female MC. Despite a half-dozen producers and songwriters taking credit, the record is a surprisingly cohesive effort. Her machine gun, reference-laden rhymes were perfectly matched to the bouncing beats and '90s dance flourishes strung throughout, suggesting that Banks' assertion that she's no longer interested in being "a rapper" might not be as detrimental to her career as it seems. Time will tell; her full-length debut, Broke With Expensive Taste, is currently slated for release early in the new year. Regardless, with 1991, Banks proved she's far more than the street-wise Nicki Minaj many dismissed her as.
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