2012’s Song of the Year

5. ScHoolboy Q & A$AP Rocky – “Hands on the Wheel”

Prior to releasing Habits & Contradictions, the album on which said song appears, Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky had collaborated on the latter’s song, “Brand New Guy.” It was here that listeners were first introduced to the two’s undeniable chemistry. “Got it jumping like Kriss Kross / Mismatching no jigsaw.” The line fittingly reflects the dynamic duo: the life of any party, and a partnership that just naturally goes together.

Fast forward to 2012 and the two have collaborated on Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel.” Folk-rock singer-songwriter Lissie simultaneously provides the hook and steers the wheel, as passengers Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky create an ode to late night debauchery.

“Am I over-faded / Hell yeah it’s true” proudly proclaims Schoolboy on the first verse, his night of unrestrained ratchet-ness increasing drastically through the song’s three minutes.

Then comes Rocky: “With a little bit of crack, little bit of dope, little bit of smoke, little coke, little weed, when they on them pills.” Logically, combining several illegal substances just sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Schoolboy and Rocky are on the pursuit of happiness, and they’ll be fine once they get it (hopefully).

Hooks, blunts, brews and a heaping pile of other indulgent pleasures–this is “Hands on the Wheel.”

–Elijah Watson

4. Nicki Minaj – “Come on a Cone”

Nicki sold out. Blame misogynistic double standards, or the marginalization of black radio, or artistic laziness — whatever you want, really — but the fact remains that Nicki went full “Starships” on the sequel to her saccharine Pink Friday. I’m talking Rebecca Black “Friday” status — vomitrocious neon four-to-the-floor teeny bop. Sorry Barbs — and I do consider myself a hardcore Barb — but it’s true.

Nicki bisected Roman Reloaded into that shameful bullshit and a solid first half that leaned decidedly towards hip-hop. Incredibly, Nick Minaj verse-hook rapped on half of her album, and it was some of the greatest rap that came out this year. Most of the beats were crafted by the more and more talented Hit-Boy, and Nicki shredded them with the same ferocious flow that got her to where she is in the first place.

“Come on a Cone” sticks out because it self-consciously addresses the poppy nonsense that its creator embodies. When Nicki got that $12 million Idol check, we all rolled our eyes. But on “Cone,” she mocks the whole pop star stereotype, belting in a caricatured vibrato: “Dick in your face, put my dick in your face!” This is Lil Kim’s “Suck My Dick” sung in the style of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This,” a brilliantly ironic and funny moment on an otherwise depressingly upbeat LP. Here’s to hoping Nicki’s actual appearance on the singing competition is anywhere near as subversive.

–Nick Harwood

3. Kanye West, Big Sean & Jay-Z – “Clique”

Kanye West and his very close friends made the word clique cool. After September 6, 2012, it wasn’t about rap crews, groups or collectives. It was about being in an exclusive clique.

And if we didn’t believe it already, this clique wins. From Big Sean’s young and uninhibited sense of humor, to Jay-Z’s continued insistence that nobody is even close to as good as him to Kanye’s thrilling and emotional closer—This song moves. These rappers, their friends and affiliates are quite obviously the rawest in the game. The song becomes like a well-written story or the perfect movie. The listener is constantly on their seat, waiting for the next amazing line, but at the same time enjoying the moment. It’s like you want to be on repeat and move forward at the same time because the juicy goodness is both coming and going.

That’s before I even mentioned the beat–a beat that comes to define 2012, a year of incredible production. Hit-Boy’s operatic creation becomes an almost overwhelming experience for the body, capturing every fiber and cell and making it vibrate and buzz. The body comes alive to the music.

This song is a celebration in the best way possible. It’s an ode to one single crew whose lyrics and beat made it cool for everyone else to refer to their friend group as a ‘clique’ too. It’s the best of Kanye and when Ye is at his best, he makes one of the best songs of 2012.

–Lauren Schwartzberg

2. Kendrick Lamar & MC Eiht – “M.A.A.D. City”

K. Dot was a little late for a Grammy nomination but not too late to get props from us. Cheers to the dude who was able to form great production into a template for telling an intricate story and still make the world want to listen. Kendrick’s good kid m.A.A.d city penetrated the hearts of inner-city kids, while still saving some bass for our good southern folk. In addition to the beat provided by Tha Bizness, his flow demanded our attention, and  on “m.A.A.d city” he even went back and brought O.G. MC Eiht along for the ride. Some rappers don’t know when to quit yappin’ enough for the beat to breathe. Kendrick manages to do so, while following the rhythm of the track so perfectly, we thought it was 08’ Wayne.

–Ryan Lyons

1. Kanye West, Pusha T, Big Sean & 2 Chainz – “Mercy”

Back in 2010, through the amazing G.O.O.D. Friday series, Kanye showed us the magic of collaboration. Each Friday between August 20 and December 17 was spent in anticipation: everyone knew something monumental was in store. In 2011, in the aftermath of his masterful fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye continued with the killer collaborations, but they were mostly with one other artist: Jay-Z. This year, on the strategically chosen day of April 6, Good Friday, Kanye went back to his 2010 formula.

The result was “Mercy,” an ambitious track featuring the lyrical skills of Pusha T, Big Sean and 2 Chainz, and the technical skills of Mike Dean, Lifted and Hudson Mohawke. With its obscure dancehall sample and dark, throbbing bass, “Mercy” was destined to be a banger. But what really captured our collective ear was the 2 Chainz verse at the end of the song. Like Nicki Minaj on “Monster,” 2 Chainz unleashed in a way that we had never seen before.

But beyond the lyrical contribution of Atlanta’s number one True Religion evangelist, “Mercy” is just a solid track. After 8 months of consistent plays and purchases (It went double platinum) it may have had its run, but there’s no doubt: it ran a marathon.

–Stephen Kearse