It's been another big year in Bay Area hip-hop, with one huge collaboration album from two local greats and lots of strong releases from young local upstarts. So before the world ends, let's round up the 10 best Bay Area hip-hop/rap records (including albums, mixtapes, etc.) of 2012.
Bossalinis & Fooliyones
Cloud-rap chit-chat aside, with their full-length studio debut Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B simply conjured up a breezy and funky set of rap songs. With beats handled by a whopping array of producers (including Zaytoven and Harry Fraud), the duo's slurry, freestyled flows seep into the tracks and gel just beautifully. And with "Do It For The Bay," featuring Fillmore's finest DaVinci, Main Attrakionz can claim a modern hometown anthem. -- Phillip Mlynar
Zion I's seventh album (and ninth overall if you count the two full-lengths released with The Grouch) is quite possibly the most self-assured effort from the East Bay duo yet. While hip-hop is the undeniable foundation of Baba Zumbi and Amp Live's work, Zion I has always flirted with the fringes of electronic music as well. The boxing motif carries across all of the cuts, and is most directly highlighted on the title track, "Buck Em" (which starts with sounds of fighting), and in the buzzing bass and urgent beats of "Joe Frazzzier." But it's not all bravado; Shadowboxing balances mature and even romantic songs ("Life's Work" featuring local soul singer Goapele) with raw reflections of growing up on the streets of Oakland ("Trapped Out"). -- Tamara Palmer
End of Earth
With his running-back physique and throaty vocal cadence, San Jose rapper Antwon warrants every comparison he gets to the late Biggie Smalls -- or to current kingpin Rick Ross, for that matter. Antwon shares Ross' enthusiasm for luxury goods and Biggie's penchant for introspection, though at the end of the day, he's neither a plunderer nor a classical brooder. He spends much of End of Earth dwelling on his dissolute lifestyle over a series of stylishly spare beats. Antwon's aesthetic is based on nostalgia for the '80s and '90s, and he's perhaps the only local rapper with the gall to filch a Suzanne Vega sample. --Rachel Swan
The MOEna Lisa
The best rapper from San Francisco's Fillmore District cheered up a bit in 2012, following last year's excellent Feast or Famine with larger (free) set of songs that has DaVinci sounding more confident than we've ever heard him. This is rapper's rap: Smoky (if one-dimensional) vocals, elastic rhyme schemes, and forceful beats courtesy of SWTBRD's arsenal of great producers. The subject matter doesn't vary much -- instead of DaVinci bemoaning the changes taking place on his home turf, he's now celebrating his place it -- but he remains a vivid portraitist and a grin-inducing storyteller. Even without its gorgeous black-and-white video, "In My City" is a towering San Francisco anthem, the best bit of hip-hop hometown boosterism we heard in 2012. -- Ian S. Port