You won’t find most of the year’s important or just plain entertaining hip-hop releases in any store. You’ll find them right here (in alphabetical — not ranked!order).
More From SPIN’s December 2011 Issue:
— Live from the New Underground: SPIN Celebrates Hip-Hop’s DIY Moment
— Photos: A Close-Up Look at Rap’s New Underground
— G-Side Launch a Hardscrabble, Regular-Dude Revolution
— An Insanely Obsessive Infographic Tries (in Vain) to Diagram the Hip-Hop Galaxy
01. 2 Chainz Codeine Cowboy
Member of the Ludacris-backed Playaz Circle (remember “Duffle Bag Boy”?), formerly known as, um, Tity Boi, crafts a more-diverse-than-it-needs-to-be collection of syrupy swagger.
02. Ab-Soul Longterm Mentality
Stepping out from the Black Hippy crew (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q), Ab offers stream-of-consciousness raps, switching up styles as quickly as he seems to be rolling blunts.
03. Action Bronson Dr. Lecter
An actual trained chef, the Queens-based Bronson transforms into a ferocious, Ghostface-like rapper on the Internet and streets of New York.
04. Alley Boy Purgatory
In and out of prison for years, this doleful refugee from T.I.’s Grand Hustle label gets a DJ Drama assist on one of the year’s most consistent mixtapes.
05. AraabMuzik Electronic Dream
Best known for his trance-meets-Merzbow live performances, the Dipset producer rips up Kaskade and DJ Nosferatu into little pieces on his solo debut.
06. A$AP Rocky Deep Purple
An intro to New York’s next great hope draws inspiration from screwed-up Southern rap, while exploding with the Harlem floss of his Dipset heroes.
07. Big K.R.I.T. Return Of 4Eva
Nobody belts out car anthems, strip-club raps, and conscious laments like this moving Mississippi rapper/producer.
08. Blu Jesus
A trippy, lo-fi exploration of faith, featuring eclectic, experimental production (the Alchemist, Madlib, 9th Wonder), from one of the West Coast’s most unpredictable talents.
09. Chase N. Ca$he Gumbeaux
Aptly titled stew of swag rap, New Orleans bounce, and top-flight poppy hip-hop from a producer who’s worked with Young Money, Eminem, and R. Kelly.
10. Cities Aviv Digital Lows
Begins with a noise instrumental, and ends with a Modest Mouse freestyle. In between, the Memphis outsider carves his own humble hip-hop niche.
11. Clams Casino Instrumental Mixtape
Forget witch-house, some of the most haunting electronic music of the year originated as beats for Lil B and others’ cloudy ramblings. Here they are, unadorned.
12. Curren$y & Alchemist Covert Coup
The usually blissed-out Spitta, accompanied by Freddie Gibbs and Prodigy, is awakened and toughened up, mostly thanks to Alchemist-dusted, broken beats.
13. DaVinci Feast or Famine
Comfortable and confident, the San Francisco MC switches up his usual Bay Area slap sound for a smoother G-Funk ride.
14. Death Grips Exmilitary
Imagine if Waka Flocka Flame made fuck-you-up music for anarcho-punks instead of Deep South dope boys. Somehow, Hella’s Zach Hill is involved?
15. DJ Burn One The Ashtray
Live funk from Atlanta producer’s band Five Points rubs up against his IDM-tinged hip-hop beatmaking. Notable sample: Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven.
16. Dope Head Plaid Palm Trees
Detroit MC more chilled-out than Bruiser Brigade buddy Danny Brown, but just as intensely hilarious. Ridiculous cover art by Das Racist’s Kool A.D.
17. Elzhi Elmatic
A Detroit traditionalist with the balls and goofy ambition to cover Nas’ stone-cold classic Illmatic; but he’s also got the vocal and lyrical chops to make it work.
18. Fat Trel April Foolz
Running on raw attitude, this ex-Wale affiliate provides a solid soundtrack to knocking someone the fuck out, while sneaking snatches of compassion into his sordid street tales.
19. Fiend Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos
Former fast rapper for Master P’s No Limit returns as a patient, luxurious aesthete with the totally awesome nickname “International Jones” and a rumbling, miles-deep voice.
20. Frankenstein Rappin’ Ass Nigga
Los Angeles teen upstart reveals a laid-back flow full of punch lines, odd references (a Rod Strickland shout-out!), his internal confrontations with mush-mouthed alter-ego mitchgonenorth.
21. Freddie Gibbs Cold Day in Hell
This is how gangsta rap should be done. Gibbs has an immaculate ear for beats and complements each track with the perfect featured guest.
22. G-Mane All Nite Smoke Session
Impossibly smoothed-out, crooned rhymes from a Florence, Alabama O.G. reborn with the help of the nearby Huntsville scene.
23. G-Side The One…Cohesive
Hip-hop’s feel-good story of the year, this regular-guy Alabama duo created an album of heavy hitters about personal hardship over ear-ringing futuristic Southern bangers.
24. Gunplay Inglorious Bastard
Rick Ross’ favorite goon totally goons it up over glitched-out, Lex Luger-like beats.
25. Juicy J & Lex Luger Rubba Band Business 2
The chemistry finally clicks on the follow-up to last year’s sketchy collabo, as the Three 6 Mafia member does his best drug drops (ever?) over producer-of-the-moment Luger’s mammoth synths.
26. Kendrick Lamar Section 80
Bugged-out Dr. Dre protÃƒÂ©gÃƒÂ© crafts a compelling, conceptual mixtape tying his generation’s failings to Reaganomics and the crack era.
27. Kristmas W2 Boy
This leader of Huntsville’s working-class rap movement mixes a Cosby-like “c’mon people” attitude with jovial humor and the Dirty South’s thump and knock.
28. Lil B I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
Though it copped out on its lofty, homophobia-bucking intentions, this is the sunniest, sweetest release yet from the Based God.
29. Main Attrakionz 808s & Dark Grapes II
Both disciplined and zoned-out, the prolific Oakland duo of Squadda B and MondreM.A.N. combine more refined production and relentlessly flexible flows.
30. Mouse on Tha Track Swagga Fresh Freddie
Trill Ent./Lil Boosie producer congregates his Baton Rouge buddies for some bouncy, neighborly gangsta rap. Watch out: This thing’s addictive.
31. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire Lost in Translation
Bellowing Brooklyn raps about partying, vodka shots, sketchy women, shitty food, and how it all mish-mashes into the real pain of just plain surviving. Production by El-P, among others.
32. Nacho Picasso For the Glory
Seattle weirdo with a sword-and-sorcery fetish tests the low-stakes limits of 2011 hip-hop by rapping almost exclusively about weed and Marvel comics.
33. Odd Future 12 Odd Future Songs
A stopgap, kinda-sorta “greatest hits” collection culled from their Tumblr-released mixtapes and Tyler’s Bastard album. Plus one new track.
34. Oddisee Rock Creek Park
Boom-bap traditionalist gets nostalgic and pays (mostly instrumental) tribute to jazz-funk trumpeter Donald Byrd and the Washington, D.C. park of his youth.
35. Rittz White Jesus
Working-class, double-time rhymes from Alabama-based Yelawolf pal who suicidally bemoans his day job and ridicules the corny sandals of his ex’s new boyfriend.
36. ScHoolboy Q Setbacks
On his official solo debut, the Cali MC exhibits a dexterous flow capable of adapting to anything from blunted to boisterous beats.
37. Scotty Summer Dreams
Influenced by the hardest, most deeply felt Southern rap (OutKast, UGK), this Atlanta MC hustles up his own take on spiritual street rap, produced by Burn One.
38. Shady Blaze Rappers Ain’t $#!% Without a Producer
Part of the Main Attrakionz family, Shady Blaze complements their blurry flows with his daring, clearly enunciated cadences.
39. Soulja Boy Juice
After he saw the Tupac-starring film Juice, Soulja got ‘Pac’s high-top fade from the film, and his army of Internet fans got these oddly frightening and endearing jams.
40. Spaceghostpurrp Blackland Radio
Miami-based A$AP Rocky sidekick mixes Three 6 Mafia with a dash of Odd Future, Lil B, and Mortal Kombat, for good measure.
41. Stalley Lincoln Way Nights
Always conflicted, deep-thinking Ohio gearhead MC connects DJ Magic Mike bass with A Tribe Called Quest sensitivity.
42. Starlito & Don Trip Step Brothers
Self-aware, tough-guy crack rap punctuated by gut-churning confessionals and, yes, samples from the 2008 Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedy.
43. Tabi Bonney Postcard From Abroad
D.C.-based MC by way of the Republic of Togo effortlessly rhymes along to producer Smiles Davis’ eclectically sampled beats (Lykke Li, Cults, Phoenix).
44. Travis Porter Music Money Magnums
You know that “You wanna see some ass / I wanna see some cash” song that’s on the radio sometimes? It’s called “Make It Rain” and it’s by these ATL youngsters. Here’s 19 more just like that.
45. Trouble December 17th
Named for the day the ATL rapper (and Alley Boy affiliate) left prison last year, this compilation of autobiographical gangsta gems has a to-be-expected urgency. DOWNLOAD
46. Uptown XO Monumental II
A member of D.C. group Diamond District (with Oddisee and Y.U.), this scrappy rapper attacks gritty soul beats, flirts with go-go, and partners with thug-on-the-verge Fat Trel.
47. Western Tink Hard to Keel Vol. 1
Tink doesn’t spit so much as just let words roll out of his mouth. His flow bends and melds in ear-perking syncopation with the hazy cloud-rap production.
48. XV Zero Heroes
This Kansas-based MC’s solemn mixtape begins with the Just BlazeÃ¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½”produced epic “Wichita” and never loses that grand scope. Also features J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Pusha T.
49. Young L Domo Kun
Bay Area producer/rapper Young L dropped this beast of a tape at the beginning of the year, sounding like he was transmitting from a spaceship that ran on lean and Adderall.
50. Zilla Zilla Shit
Umpteenth Huntsville-area talent twists the thuggin’-and-druggin’ formula until it sounds as spaced-out as local heroes G-Side. All of the “HuntsVegas” crew are represented here.