#WHITE (LiveMixTapes DL)
1 Even when chomping Kobe steak and puffing A-1 blunts, Asaad’s furious — it’s like he’s pissed at his inability to escape the rap-life pattern. This vitriolic, “good-could-be-better” perspective fueled #WHITE, the best of the North Philadelphian’s three 2012 releases.
800 (Soundcloud DL)
2 This elegant debut tape got Grande, a teenager who pretty much came outta nowhere, signed by Fools Gold. He overdosed on A$AP Rocky’s trendy purple poison on previous singles, but with 800’s deep-smoke lyrics and ponderous beats, Grande finally became Grande.
Plateau Vision (Western Vinyl)
3 With the exception of Meek Mill, South Philly’s Lushlife earned more positive national attention than any local rapper this year. A poignant lyricist with cosmopolitan production values, Plateau Vision justified the buzz.
Yikes the Zero
A Kid and His Monsters (Bandcamp DL)
4 Yikes, the eccentric Fishtown rapper, has more in common with underground MCs of yore (Madlib, Kool Keith) than today’s mixtape herd. This debut was a bizarre voyage into the surreal galaxy of a kid trapped inside sci-fi films, comic books and fairy tales.
Jay D & Nelly Nell
The Outline (Soundcloud DL)
5 This soulful collaboration envisioned a world where rap’s still about having fun, not about record deals and Twitter followers. Even when these two young West Philly rappers growled, they did so with pure joy.
Dreamchasers 2 (DatPiff DL)
6 This tape was superior to Meek’s debut, Dreams & Nightmares. His most exhilarating work this year (“Ready Or Not,” “Flexing,” “Use to Be,” “Amen”) appeared on Dreamchasers 2, eclipsing his highly anticipated “official” album.
Wrecking Crew Presents
Wu-Tang Pulp (Bandcamp DL)
7 Tampering with Wu-Tang Clan songs is blasphemous, but Zilla Rocca, Has-Lo and Curly Castro somehow achieved an idiosyncratically re-imagined homage for their heroes. With its countless Wu references — some obvious, some esoteric — Pulp can easily become a drinking game for Shaolin heads.
The Greatest Rapper Never Vol. 1 (Soundcloud DL)
8 The Roots associate (most recently appearing on 2011’s Undun) snuck this DJ Drama-produced tape onto the Internet this summer. Even when rapping on a Fiona Apple sample, Dice remains volatile and militant.
Stupid Genius (Mediafire DL)
9 Don’t make the mistake of judging this tape by the shitty title. Like Jay D and Nelly Nell (both of whom appear here), the 17-year-old Swiper has fun when he raps. He’s introspective, too, and understands the value of celebrating the ridiculous, which mostly happened on food-related songs (see “Bacon Soda” and “Chicken”).
various songs (DatPiff DL)
10 The virtuosic street rapper Slaughter Rico didn’t release an album this year, so this is cheating. However, a few tracks appeared on a compilation called Philly Goes in for a Cold Winter Grind. Slaughter’s been on hiatus since the mid-2000s, but hopefully this means an album’s coming next year. Dear Slaughter: We’re waiting.