25 Songs That Should Have Blown Up in 2012

Records that didn't get the massive exposure they deserved this year.

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Image via Complex Original
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The Internet has created a multitude of outlets to discover music from across a wide variety of regions and styles. It's become more and more difficult to process what's released, and as a result, songs with the potential to become bigger or even major hits can end up on the wayside while labels push whatever artists have Tumblr buzz or well-connected management.

But a great song is a great song, and 2012 had a surplus. Some of these are tracks from established artists who've been discounted or had off-years; some are from rising stars who could be much bigger in 2013. Many are artists who've had some regional fame, but lack the connections to attract the attention of radio programmers and industry.
The one thing all the songs have in common is that they should have gotten more attention, were there some justice in the world.

Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp) and Ernest Baker (@newbornrodeo)

RELATED: The 50 Best Songs of 2012
RELATED: The 50 Best Albums of 2012

Wiz Khalifa f/ The Weeknd "Remember You"

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This was supposed to be the song that Wiz Khalifa's O.N.I.F.C. could rally behind. But it sadly, and almost inexplicably, wasn't. It's strange. "Remember You" has all of the elements necessary for success, and even those not particularly fond of it would be hard-pressed to call it a bad song, but perhaps it just wasn't engaging enough. Not enough to be a massive pop smash, at least, and Khalifa probably knew this was a sacrifice that he'd be making. The song features acclaimed but reticient phenom The Weeknd, and in some ways, it's he who owns the record, which is already reminiscent of his previous output. Wiz's verses serve as an excellent complement, but for the general public, they likely weren't bombastic enough for the guy who made an NFL team's Super Bowl anthem.

Big K.R.I.T. f/ 8Ball & MJG "We Buy Gold"

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While he has some great moments of personal revelation as a rapper, Big K.R.I.T.'s best skill, by miles, is his ear for production. "We Buy Gold" is the perfect sequel to 2011's "Money on the Floor," which also found K.R.I.T. uniting with Memphis legends 8ball and MJG. The beat's spaceous atmosphere is reminiscient of classic Suave House producers like T-Mix, while the bass has a warm percussive snap that suggests a hint of DJ Premier's more classicist boom bap. But what makes the track so distinctive is K.R.I.T.'s ear for detail, the little timbres and pointillistic touches that give it such an open, immersive feel.

Game f/ Chris Brown, Tyga, Wiz Khalifa & Lil Wayne "Celebration"

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"Celebration" is largely culled from Game's long list of influences. The record itself--from chrous to production--is a reappropriation of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony classic "1st of the Month." Then there's what some would call feature overkill, with Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Tyga, and Wiz Khalifa all making appearances. But somehow it works. The song is just too fun and good-spirited to hold a lasting grudge with. Yes, there's a lot of biting and lifting, but Game's intentions are pure, and the record is clearly more of a homage than a rip. That it was only a modest success is the real surprise.

WZRD "Teleport 2 Me, Jamie"

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Artists who get their start in rap are often criticized for making the jump to another genre, and Kid Cudi was no stranger to this when he began making psychedelic rock as WZRD. But the experimental side project with Dot Da Genius yielded some fantastic results, one of the being long-distance love anthem, "Teleport 2 Me, Jamie." The song is built on a sample of Desire's "Under Your Spell," which was popularized by Ryan Gosling action thriller, Drive. Cudi recaptured the heartbreak-meets-infatuation appeal of the original record to great effect, but the indie origins of the production likely kept it rooted in a mood to esoteric for the general population to latch onto.

Waka Flocka Flame f/ Nicki Minaj, Tyga & Flo Rida "Get Low"

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Many consider Waka Flocka's debut a classic album. Because of that, expectations for his follow-up were exceedingly high. After mainstream success with previous singles, and knowing that the pressure was on to deliver bankable new ones, Flocka went for the gusto, most notably on feature-heavy, pop-pandering effort "Get Low." "O Let's Do It" and "Hard In Da Paint" were street records that caught on with a mass audience, and as far as the average listener was concerned, Flocka was out of his lane aiming directly for that crowd. It's unfortunate, though, because "Get Low" is actually a pretty enoyable pop record. If any of the guests--Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Flo Rida--were the top-billed artist, the track probably would have found much more success.

Ty Dolla $ign "My Cabana"

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Ty Dolla $ign had a great year. His Beach House mixtape made waves, he signed with Atlantic, and "My Cabana" brought him a legitimate level of acclaim and attention. But not enough. It's fairly obvious that Ty's career has a promising future, but for those hooked on the oddball charisma of "My Cabana," it seemed like his ascent would be a dramatic explosion rather than a slow burn. The record has no doubt made him a person of interest in the music community, but some of (perhaps delusionally) expected to see it tearing up the Hot 100.

Gunplay "Jump Out"

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Few rappers can muster up the character in verse that Gunplay manages in a single silent on-camera cameo. The "human L.A. riot" is a livewire in both music and, unfortunately, life. But while we patiently wait for the rapper's fate to be determined by the U.S. justice system, there are plenty of 2012 tracks to explore that best capture his particular brand of exuberance. "Jump Out" does all the things that earn parental advisory stickers and then some.

Punctuated by screams, ringing gunshots and screeching sound effects, the track is as much about creating an environment of chaotic adrenaline as it is in one of musicality. Few rappers could successfully tame a track like this, and Gunplay is one of them. Packed with quotably visceral lyrics ("he thought I raised the floor!") and boundless energy, "Jump Out" pushes Gunplay's rubbery Redman-like flow to a new outer limit.

Birdman f/ Rick Ross "Born Stunna"

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Admitting to enjoying Birdman's raps is the average hip-hop head's deepest, darkest secret. Sure, he's no lyrical wizard, but he has an incredible ear for beats and a roster of talented pals with which to dress them up. Plus, Birdman delivers his verses with a cold, calculated nonchalance that any fan of stark-minded, cash-hungry narrative can appreciate. Single "Born Stunna" is the epitome of all of those aspects that make Birdman an occassionally great artist, and if that's not enough of a sell for most people, Rozay's infectious "money baaaaaaaags" earworm should have been.

Ca$h Out f/ Wale "Hold Up"

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"Cashin' Out" was a big record, but with lines like "riding with a hoe named Keisha smoking on Keisha," many wrote it off as a gimmicky fluke. In short: Ca$h Out has almost prematurely been relegated to one-hit wonder status. This would be fine if he didnt quietly have another fire single under his belt. "Hold Up" employs the same chorus-driven tactics of "Cashin' Out," features an awesome guest verse from Wale, and a subtle but captivating instrumental. We know that no one wants to give Ca$h Out another chance, but he deserves. "Hold Up" is simply a good song.

Gucci Mane f/ Rocko "Plain Jane"

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2012 was unquestionably Mike WiLL Made It's year, and while it wasn't Gucci's, it would be fair to say that the rapper regained his footing after various legal and V-Nasty-related entanglements. Mike WiLL's career initially started out with Gucci-the producer was responsible for much of the work on the latter's seminal No Pad, No Pencil-so it only made sense that as his star rose, he'd shine some of the light back on his former rapping partner. "Plain Jane" wasn't the producer's most distinguished track in 2012, but it did find him using his trademark frequency filtering in a new way. (Frequency filtering involves turning down the volumes of certain frequencies, particular in the high range, which in Mike WiLL's case often gives the impression of the music suddenly diving under water.)

Typically, WiLL uses this technique in an almost decorative fashion; his beats are all about an eye for these kinds of details. On "Plain Jane," though, he used the trick more blatantly, much as dance producers have for years, creating a spare canvas for Gucci to strut: "I pull up in a 'what the...fuck I don't know was it.'"

King L "Val Venis"

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Underrated producer C-Sick provided the thundering beat for Chicago rapper King Louie's "Val Venis," a track named for former WWE superstar wrestler and current libertarian twitter personality Sean Morley. Initially, King Louie's "Val Venis" was not a song but a dance invented for his YouTube channel, based upon the moves of the wrestling counterpart. He later turned the background instrumental into a song of the same name, one that highlights his sense of humor and a dynamic rap style that is at once densely written and effortlessly casual. It also managed provided a regional catchphrase for the moment (a particular King L talent) in "I'm the man/ littledidtheyknow."

Angel Haze "Werkin Girls"

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This year, classic early Timbaland has been the spiritual forefather of a pair of tracks that, objectively, don't have derivative qualities of any specific Timbo song, but when glanced from a subjective angle, seem like the producer-God's spiritual descendents. The first was Hit-Boy's casually-complex funk on "Clique." The more underrated was Angel Haze's "Werkin Girls." Like many of Timbaland's greatest cuts, it is interested in playing with groove first and foremost, letting all of its sonic showboating feel like icing on the cake. The rhythmic unpredictability, balanced by its tonal repetition, made the track the perfect playground to wrangle Angel Haze's prodigious technical exercise.

Ice Burgandy f/ Sean Mack "PMBB"

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2012 was a low-profile year for most of the members of Waka Flocka's Brick Squad label. The steady stream of material continued, but the shock-to-the-street-rap system the crew supplied the two previous annums subsided, and absent a few major-label Waka singles, reverted to the regional die-hards (Bo Deal, Haitian Fresh). But maybe the most consistent of them all was Ice Burgandy, a Los Angeles-based rapper who released three mixtapes in 2012. The best was the first, Progress Involves Risk Unfortunately, and "PMBB" was an easy highlight.

Unlike earlier Brick Squad releases, Ice Burgandy's approach was slicker, more laid-back (more California?) and reliant on smoother (though still muscular) production style of 808 Mafia producer Purps. The beat blends laid-back LA history with a distinctly Brick Squad paranoia; this tension gives the song a gangster film-noir vibe. Ice Burgandy is a more technically-adroit rapper than the typical Brick Squad hardhead, letting his words unwind in a dense chain of syllables that gives Gucci Mane's diction ("On my Harley higher than Chris Farley and my nigga Marley") a more traditional lyrical orientation.

Kevin Gates "Satellites"

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Kevin Gates remains one of the most underrated lyrical talents in hip-hop, a subtle writer with a gift for smart wordplay and harrowing survivalist stories. His music retains an edge, but has an adult approach; mature and conflicted, he has an ear for nuance and is capable of making love songs ('songs for the ladies'? please) that are as well-crafted as his street-oriented work. Perhaps most tellingly, rather than indulging in naive one-dimensional fantasies, something feels at stake.

"Satellites" is a perfect example; Gates is a sublime songwriter, crafting a memorable hook and kicking a double-time verse to close out the song. He seems to recognize that truth is felt more strongly in contrast, that uncertainty underlying it all only rachets up the song's inherent drama.

Spree Wilson "Right One, Wrong Time"

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Spree Wilson has been working along the margins of hip-hop for several years, a part of the post-Andre 3000 diaspora of experimenters interested in blurring the edges between hip-hop and other genres. His latest single, though, draws its strength by reimagining a particularly undermined era of music history, at least in recent times.

Like its Miami counterpart, Atlanta bass music has had an unfathomable impact on the music's history, from Kilo Ali's influence on modern rappers like Gucci Mane to the obvious production debts of Lil Jon (who contributed to So So Def Bass All Stars compilations in the mid-1990s). But it's seldom referred to explicitly (with a few exceptions) in modern rap, even if it remains a regional mainstay. Wilson's "Right One, Wrong Time" transforms Atlanta Bass into a classier, restrained and intimate track, appropriate for the song's earnest concept.

Young Giftz f/ Tree "Nino"

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Tree was one of Chicago hip-hop's big secrets in 2012, an old soul and man-out-of-time with impeccable lo-fi production chops and a distinctive rapper's rapper voice. Young Giftz, on the other hand, is a technical virtuouso crack rapper with East Side Chicago origins. Together, the two made a dynamic tag-team on "Nino," with Tree's chopped-church music production and unforgettable chorus balanced by Giftz's dense syllable play.

King Chip "Out Here"

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January's Chip album Tell Ya Friends included a late entry in the reign of Lex Luger. While 2012 found the producer's profile somewhat diminished, "Out Here" showed some of the dimension in the beatmaker's bag of tricks many still have yet to acknowledge. With a gently cycling beat and a hypnotic, relaxed ambience, Chip dipped into a throwback double-time flow that complemented the track perfectly, proving a highlight in both Chip and Luger's respective catalogs.

Young Scooter "Fake Rappers"

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Since Gucci's star dimmed in the wake of repeated bouts of incarceration (and V-Nasty collaborative CDs), his primary collaborator Zaytoven has seen his profile dip a bit as well; Zay's eccentric sidestep was initially overtaken by Lex Luger's bombast, then Mike WiLL's crafted precision. But "Fake Rappers" proved the beatmaker still had tricks up his sleeve. While "Colombia" became upstart Atlanta street rapper Young Scooter's signature, "Fake Rappers" was a significant entry of its own.

With Zaytoven's organs jabbing at right angles to the beat, an unpredictable kick drum pattern beats underneath eerie layers of keyboards and melodic elements, all carefully woven together into an effortless construct. For Scooter, it's a stament of purpose that helps set him as one of Atlanta's more promising upstarts; for Zaytoven, it's proof that he's as gifted as any current producers in his lane.

Alley Boy f/ Kief "Know Bout"

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Alley Boy's roughneck appeal is evident in his blunt rap style: it's all about force over dexterity, bulldozing through tracks while disregarding anything resembling deftness or subtlety. As evidenced by the oddly artsy cover art to his recent The Gift of Discernment mixtape, from which "Know Bout" was culled, this single-minded aesthetic can require some unexpected maneavuering. In order to garner attention, Alley Boy has developed some unexpected skills along the way, and the beat selection and songwriting of his latest mixtape suggest he's become more and more conscientious of how he is perceived.

"Know Bout" has an unexpected... well, not grace exactly, but there is a delicacy of approach that suggests he's found a healthy balance between the all-hard-edges of his style and the more memorable songcraft necessary to frame it.

Sasha Go Hard "Tatted"

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WIth help DGainz searing, "Photo Shoot"-sampling beat, a young Chicago-based rapper had a sudden modest viral hit with "Tatted," and it should have been much more. In addition to providing proof that Gucci's vocals are an underutilized resource for sampling, the anthem seemed all the more dramatic because of how its star's slight frame seems offset by her lacerating vocals. Catchy and muscular, the track supplies its artist with a heavy, grinding canvas, which she deftly fills with nonchalant bite.

Johnny May Cash f/ Rampage "Codeine"

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With the recognition that this is coming from a non-codeine user, "Codeine" doesn't sound like my conception of the codeine drip; it isn't particularly narcotized or sluggish. Instead the track is all euphoric highs, the giddy excitement of realizing that yes, she does want to fuck, and there's maybe a hint of molly-infused earnestness in its caffeinated enthusiasm. It's almost more a song about the idea of codeine, before its addictive qualities grab on, prior to the lethargy and intoxication; instead, it has the rush of youthful naivite that suggests a world of possibility opening for the first time, the feeling of a great weight being lifted.

Riff Raff "Deion Sandals"

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If Riff Raff has ever walked the line between self-aware prankster and legitimately competent rap artist, it's on the barely two-minute banger "Deion Sandals." Yes, the record isn't laden with Riff Raff's signature humor, but there's still so much to be taken seriously here. The beat has a creepy, atmospheric bounce that gets used to its fullest potential. For two choruses and one long verse, Riff Raff slithers around the instrumental, accentuating its every nuance. He does this with language that affirms his larger-than-life personality, but more importantly, a precise flow that shows how his records can be more than one elaborate joke.

Clyde Carson f/ The Team "Slow Down"

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California's success story in 2012 was the South California production style helmed by DJ Mustard, the commercially (and confusingly)-labeled "rachet" sound. Meanwhile, North California crew The Team (which includes Clyde Carson, although he's the featured solo artist here) made their names in the hyphy era. Hyphy, much like rachet music, was heavily dancefloor-oriented. Unlike rachet music, though, hyphy often flirted with spasmodic, cacophonous textures; DJ Mustard's signature sound has a smoother, gliding thump.

The Sho Nuff-produced "Slow Down" reinvents The Team for a more groove-oriented, svelte era. Between the calmly-delivered hook and the delayed kick-drum--notice the full groove doesn't even really kick in until the :45 mark--the track is all about simmering tension and denied release, the use of space to build anticipation. For its part, the video reinforces that even though the music may have shifted to the minimal, the hyphy predilection for dangerous car stunts continues unabated.

Feva f/ Husalah & Franchise "Handsome"

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And now for something completely obscure: in 2012, the "Handsome" production style might seem alien to hip-hop heads outside of the Bay Area and musical satellite regions like Kansas City, at least if they've never owned a Too $hort CD. (The Bay and Kansas City have a long-running musical connection, going back to the days of Mac Dre, who was killed while on tour there in 2003).

Despite its somewhat retro vibe to non-Bay rap fans, the extravagent personalities ("of course, for sure / I put all my whores in Italian couture,") and hilarious hook ("never move ugly 'cause my mama said I'm handsome") give the song a compellingly singular character that should appeal anywhere. And frankly, a retro imitation-Ant Banks (look him up) movement would be a nice change of pace from the 90s New York / Memphis niche underground internet rappers have been sucked dry for the past few years.

Lil Debbie f/ Dolla Bill Gates "2 Cups"

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"2 Cups" is a bunch of particular cultural touchpoints and lazier lyrics, just barely yawning past the bar of minimal work required. Absolutely nothing about this is exceptional on the performative level, and this only seems to make its catchy, trash-culture insoucience even more effective. Sure, it's the anthem of summer unemployment, of smoking too much weed, of letting your days waste away. But even a modicum of effort would disturb its effortless langour; this is a song about moving as little as possible, to avoid leaving any sweat marks on your clothing, to do nothing and to look as fresh as possible doing it.

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