Looking back on this year’s music, it’s safe to say that 2012 was a good year. Courageous newcomers, revitalized vets and unexpected fusions of contradictory genres resulted in some of the best songs produced during the decade thus far.
Pop reigned supreme thanks to the continued successful induction of dubstep and European DJs to the United States. Rihanna’s recent hit “Diamonds” matched the expressive lyrics and soaring resonance also heard on Usher’s “Climax,” Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids,” and Drake and The Wknd’s “Crew Love” (which technically dropped in 2011, but was inescapable this year.)
Despite the many D.O.A. declarations made about hip-hop in recent years, rap proved naysayers wrong by delivering fresh talent like Dr. Dre protégé Kendrick Lamar (“Cartoon and Cereal“), A$AP ROCKY (“Goldie”), Schoolboy Q (“Hands on the Wheel”) and Angel Haze (“Werkin Girls.“) There was also Nas, whose “Bye Baby” reminded listeners of rap’s past, present and future. Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music family (not to mention lingering shockwaves from last year’s Watch the Throne) arguably beat out Lil Wayne’s Young Money Cash Money Millionaires and Rick Ross’s Maybach Music for best coterie with monster singles “Mercy” and “Clique.”
Black girls unlikely to fit into stereotypical boxes left their eclectic marks on music with audacious singles this year. Among them: Azealia Banks’s “Liquorice,” Santigold’s “Big Mouth,” Njena Reddd Foxxx’s “Ima Read” (with longtime collaborator Zebra Katz) and THEESatisfaction’s “QueenS.”
And then there was R&B. Several artists breathed life back into a genre that had somehow slipped further into pop and away from soul. Foreigners Cold Specks (“Hector”), Lianne La Havas (“Is Your Love Big Enough?“) and Emeli Sande (“Next To Me“) proved that Adele isn’t the only contemporary songstress capable of getting by on outstanding vocals. Even listeners eager for the good ol’ days of 1990s R&B were also catered to with former American Idol contender Leah LaBelle’s “Sexify” and Miguel’s “Adorn.”
Each of these songs deserves a good, distraction-free listening. So log into your iTunes, load your Spotify, or head to your local record store—whatever your method is—and get to business. All of these tracks exemplify not only the brilliant results of fusing unconventional sounds and styles, but also the bright musical future of 2013.
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Patrice Peck is a writer and journalist whose work explores the intersection of race, culture, and identity. Her work lives at www.patricepeck.com.