THE BLOG
01/08/2013 09:02 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

The Music of Our Struggle: Celebrating the Hip-hop of 2012

As we celebrate the changing of years this is a good time to look back on the momentous year we endured. And to rejoice in the hip-hop music of 2012 that provided the soundtrack on our journey to hard-fought victories, and helped us cope with tragedy.

It was a banner year of achievement for artists Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Childish Gambino, Freddie Gibbs, Fashawn, Wiz Khalifa, and Meek Mill.

Another crowing year for Lupe Fiasco, MF Doom, Saigon, Sean Price, Rick Ross, Big Boi, Slaughterhouse, El-P, Curren$y, and a resurgent T.I., and a breakout year for emerging talent like O.C. & Apollo Brown, Azealia Banks, Angel Haze and Lute.

Those tunes were certainly needed in the depths of those twelve months. We had just settled into 2012 when a young man named Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Florida. The rest of the year was a rollercoaster ride of historic highs and unbelievable lows.

The attempt to defend the rights of working men and women and recall Scott Walker faded in an avalanche of outside money, meanwhile the catastrophic effects of climate change came crashing against the Eastern seaboard in the form of Hurricane Sandy.

But 2012 was also the year a movement of young people and people of color organized to reelect President Barack Obama to a second term in the White House; a diverse coalition coming together to support the politics of social justice and civil rights.

The Respect My Vote! campaign helped to fuel that coalition of new voters by energizing and mobilizing thousands of young people of color to exercise their individual right to vote.

We couldn't have done it without the help of campaign spokesman 2 Chainz, who perhaps had the biggest year in music, which earned him Man of the Year honors from The Source magazine.

It is the intersection between art and activism that defines the work of Hip Hop Caucus and the culture of hip-hop as a whole. So today we celebrate the best music inspired the efforts of our members.

In 2012, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks came out with God of the Serengeti and reminded listeners why he is one of the most underrated MCs alive, and Large Professor's Professor @ Large album recalled the classic days of '90s rap. And we saw the release of modern-day classics like Ab-Soul's Control System, Gangrene's Vodka & Ayahuasca, and ScHoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions.

We heard the fresh and airy maneuvering of Kingdom Crumbs on their self-titled album, and the jump-inducing jams of P.O.S. on We Don't Even Live Here, the exploding flow of Marcus D on Melancholy Hopeful, the developing ambitions of Oddisee on People Hear What They See, the clever good times with Riff Raff on Birth of an Icon, and the diabolical orchestrations of The Alchemist on Russian Roulette.

We bore witness to the raw storytelling of Rapsody, which came bursting out of her soul on The Idea of Beautiful. With the gaudy imaging and often incomprehensible lyrics of some major female rappers today, Rapsody's clarity and conscious deserves recognition.

In 2012, we heard the insanely powerful words of Billy Woods on History Will Absolve Me, the lyric game supremacy of Aesop Rock on Skelethon, the unified ruggedness on Ohnomite, and the winning origination of Chiddy Bang on Breakfast.

We noted the indisputable greatness of The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, where tracks like "A Wake" tackled modern issues of prescription drug abuse and how new technology fails to bring us closer together, and "Same Love" dealt with gay rights in a noble and enlightened fashion.

And we became aware of burgeoning rappers of the future like Torae, Ecid, Clear Soul Forces, King Chip, Madchild, Homeboy Sandman, Substantial, WZRD, Pluto, Tyga, King I Divine, Blacastan, Sene, Sir Michael Rocks, Young Roddy, Stalley, Blaq Poet, Wordburglar, Children of the Night, Kutt Calhoun, and Ricky Radar.

And the critics will argue as to which particular album was better, but it is undeniable that Life is Good by Nas, good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar and R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike were a class amongst themselves at the top of 2012 releases.

From the start of the opening track, Killer Mike dominated his listeners with up-tempo beats and relentless rhyming, and even used the song "Reagan" to utterly dismantle the legacy of the Gipper. While Lamar's studio debut on GKMC was as fresh and complete as anything the industry has seen in years.

Certainly hip-hop has come a long way since it began as an adaptation of the streets to cope when funding for music and the arts was cut.

We have come a long way from being scapegoated as the villain of society in Sister Souljah moments, to a point where the president holds fundraisers with Jay-Z.

A unique transition from being the escapism music of the forgotten cities to being a broad influence on lifestyle, fashion and even language. And with this power comes responsibility, not only to the music or the industry, but to society as a whole.

A responsibility to use the microphone not only to create art or to make money, but to wield power and give voice to those who don't often have one.

Which is why it was important that Immortal Technique visited Occupy Wall Street, and that 2 Chainz reached out to felons to educate them on their voting rights. That Frank Ocean was met with acceptance and praise from his fans when he admitted to being gay. And that artists like Lupe Fiasco engaged in conversations about the state of our culture.

Given that we live in an imperfect world full of pain, there was plenty of hip-hop that referenced and represented our struggle for something better. A Filipino rapper named Bambu provided edgy observations on One Rifle Per Family that preached organizing and mobilization and nobler rap endeavors above the petty beefs of modern rap.

And for anyone standing in opposition to the injustices of the world today, Reks' REBELutionary album, I Self Divine's The Sound of Low Class Amerika, and Reporting Live by Jurnalist 103 are essential listens.

dead prez returned to game, and despite the flashier beats on "A New Beginning", their rhymes were as prescient as ever:

Stock market crashing daily, they say that times are scary /
They dollar's losing value, but the hood knew that already /
The price of gas been rising, at times we can't afford it /
The oil supply is leaking, facing a global shortage /
According to news reporters, every year it's getting warmer /
These violent weather patterns, some say it's just nature's karma

M-1 and stic.man sum up it perfectly by saying, "If we gon' get free we got to change that lightbulb in our head."

Brother Ali captured the mood of our times and the need to unite on his inspiring track "Gather Round" which even sampled the words of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Says Ali:

The weak keep crying and the innocent dying /
And these are the times when the real freedom fighters gather 'round /
I said the cities catch fire and the flames grow higher /
And the poor and the pious get inspired and decide to gather 'round"

With economic inequality mounting, poverty becoming permanent and gun violence tearing out the heart of America, our champion Public Enemy returned with two albums Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything, at a time when we needed them the most.

Chuck D spells it out on "Get up, stand up":

Got so much to shout about /
What the 1 percent is gettin out /
Recession depression desperation due /
Never have so many been screwed by so few /
Cheapest price is to pay attention

Hip-hop is paying attention, and hopefully in 2013 so will the people in charge.

Subscribe to the Black Voices email.
Stay plugged in with the stories on black life and culture.