20. The Ting Tings – Sounds From Nowheresville
Roc Nation signees The Ting Tings haven’t disappointed since their “That’s Not My Name” days. Their second album ‘Sounds From Nowheresville’ was more of a departure from the band’s original #chantpop roots, but edgier seems to suit them much better. The ballroom-staple “Hands” took over dancefloors nationwide for about two years prior to their sophomore release, but the rest of the album was far less commercial than anything they’ve ever done – which is a great thing. To promote the band’s new sound even further, lead singer Katie White’s been performing an acoustic version of Lana Del Rey’s “Born To Die”, which sounds eerily like my favorite song on the album “Soul Killing”.
19. Santigold – Master of My Make-Believe
Also on her sophomore set, breakout indie star Santigold endured major changes during her six year hiatus from the music industry. Court battles to change her name (“Santogold” is the name of a 1985 science-fiction film), a label change (Roc Nation and her didn’t quite see eye-to-eye), and many Twitter disagreements with longtime producer John Hill (most notably known for writing and producing Shakira’s “She Wolf” and Rihanna’s “You Da One”) caused ‘Master of My Make-Believe’ several setbacks. Although it seemed as if Diplo was the only person at her side during one point, her second album was released to lukewarm sales and critical acclaim alike.
18. Shystie – Gold Dust Vol. 2
British-raised rapper Shystie brings an interesting sound to the female rap game, despite her staying under the radar most of her music career. Born in Grenada but raised in London’s Hackney neighborhood, Shystie’s flow encompasses a distinctive reggae/British sound and makes you listen to her more attentively than most rappers. On her sixth mixtape ‘Gold Dust Vol. 2’, Shystie goes for the mainstream listeners by covering some of the most well-known rap songs on the charts. Listening to her covers of Nicki Minaj’s “Beez In The Trap”, A$AP Rocky’s “Goldie”, and Jay-Z & Kanye West’s “Niggas In Paris” makes you wonder why she hasn’t reached stateside success yet. Taking an independent route to her underground success has proved successful, with her trading features with up-and-coming rapper Azealia Banks (Shystie’s “Feel It”, Azealia’s “Neptune”) and gives promise to her future in the industry.
17. Rita Ora – Ora
The third Roc Nation signee on the countdown, Rita Ora, makes for the highest showing from Jay-Z’s label. As the Kosovo-British singer-songwriter’s debut album ‘Ora’ preps its stateside release, its showing across the ponds shows much promise for her crossover success. Unlike most new singers in the game, Rita writes and arranges a huge chunk of her own music – a rarity in music today. Rita may have been compared to Riri, and she may have even been referred to as “taking Riri’s place at the label”, but one thing’s certain – Rita’s songwriting and vocal ability combined slays Riri’s entire catalog to date. Now with her stateside release of ‘Ora’ being mentored by the one and only Beyonce’, Jay is ensuring that his latest prodigy faces nothing less than the best come 2013.
16. Passion Pit – Gossamer
Passion Pit’s first album ‘Manners’ was a breakout indie hit, spawning five massive singles that bubbled under the radar of most ears. Their second album ‘Gossamer’ features the NFL/T-Mobile theme “Take A Walk”, which has also been recently picked up by the Weather Channel and Apple, and hasn’t slowed down since. Lead singer Michael Angelakos has gone on to produce songs for Nelly Furtado and Adele, but definitely saved his best work for the band’s sophomore set. Angelakos’s vocals are angelic and powerful at the same time, and when you listen to their songwriting, it’s clear Passion Pit (the entity) will be around for many years to come.
15. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. City
Compton-bred Kendrick Lamar brought the MC to the forefront with his major label debut album late this year. Pushed by the crossover single “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, Lamar’s hard-hitting flows were heard nearly everywhere. It’s no (online) secret that Kendrick’s mixtape catalog is some of his best work to date, but to have an album just as impressive makes him even more grandeur. Songs like “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” are rarities in hip hop today, as his anti-commercialism comes off as prophetic for his somewhat stereotyped home state. With co-signs from some of the pioneers of the West coast rap game (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, E-40), the sky is the limit for my favorite pint-sized firecracker.
14. Kreayshawn – Somethin’ Bout Kreay
Coming out with “Gucci Gucci” all the way back in summer 2011, one would think Oakland femcee Kreayshawn wouldn’t have much to say eighteen months later. Following a successful mixtape release (‘Kittys x Choppas’) after her internet hit single, it seemed Kreay was on the road to success. ‘Somethin’ Bout Kreay’s three attempts for mirroring the radio success of “Gucci” proved unsuccessful, as her major label debut goes down in history as the lowest-selling first album of all times (even under Britney Spears’ ex Kevin Federline). However, a listen to the set would think she deserved much more recognition given her diverse range of genres explored. Overall, the melting pot of ideas Kreayshawn formally presents is much more enjoyable that a lot of hip hop out today, and she deserves all the press (positive and negative) that she can get.
13. Katy Perry – Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection
Slaying as the new Queen of Pop, Katy Perry’s re-release serves as more of a historical affair. The set, which also promoted her documentary film ‘Katy Perry Part Of Me 3D’ features all of the remixes and acoustic versions of her eight consecutive #1 singles, along with three new songs. The newer material may have been criticized by bloggers for being updated demo versions of songs that leaked prior to the release of ‘Teenage Dream’, but in their mastered format these three songs alone could be the songs of 2012. “The Complete Confection” gives its title a rightful ranking on the charts – sweet enough to satisfy die hard fans, while still introducing newfound fans to her impressive ‘Teenage Dream’ reign.
12. Azealia Banks – 1991
Azealia Banks has had an interesting rise to fame in 2012, filled with ups, downs, and everything in between. On her debut studio release, the ‘1991’ (EP) gives us a tantalizing preview of what to expect from her upcoming debut album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’. Every song is filled with hip hop quotables, and makes Nicki Minaj’s metaphoric flow look amateurish in every way possible. Upon its release, the EP shot to the top of the Itunes charts, causing Polydor/Interscope to allow a budget big enough for videos for each song featured. Top that with all the high fashion label designers clawing to work with Banks and you have a solid prelude to her first full-length release.
11. Alex Clare – The Lateness of the Hour
British singer-songwriter Alex Clare’s debut may have been fueled by the massive advertising attached to lead single “Too Close’, but ‘The Lateness of the Hour’ shows his true depth on a greater frame. Produced solely by Mike Spencer (notably of Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity”) and Diplo, the project is a satisfying mix of R&B, British soul, and pop, with some of the best beats in the industry today. While Clare’s live performances haven’t proven to be as exciting as his studio release, there’s lots of promise in his sincere songwriting which subsequentely propelled him to international superstardom.