Label: Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope

Proving that a major label deal doesn't always result in compromising your sound, Kendrick was able to build on the creative foundation of Section.80 while delivering an entirely different concept, focusing on his childhood in Compton instead of the Tammy and Keisha characters.

Over the course of the album, we hear a teenage Kendrick navigate his way through the mean streets of the CPT, aided by a spaced-out cosmic slop of beats and cadences. Well-selected guest spots combine new school voices (Jay Rock, Drake) with seasoned veterans (Dr. Dre, MC Eiht), adding strong performances to the dusted cinematics that K-Dot delivers.

The simple fact that such an ambitious and well-executed release can still have a major impact in 2012 bodes well for the future of hip-hop.