Five discoveries that made 2012 better

 This year seems to be the year my midlife crisis came early. I caught myself enjoying a newfound love for rap again (much to the despair of my girlfriend), my Sunday morning FT Weekend has been replaced by a thoroughly enjoyable convict-approved American publication (more on that shortly) and, to the delight of my mother this time, I’ve been rekindling with my Indian origins – musically that is. That’s right, I’m that confused bratty little teenager all over again, the one who listens to 2Live Crew and Ice T just to egg his parents on. I’m the hopelessly suburban wannabe who thinks a subscription to a gangster bible will increase his street credentials, the 30 year old who now collects records because, let’s face it, they have a certain edge about them right? Whichever way you see it, this year brought about five things that made my 2012 that much better. 

1. Don Diva magazine

When a magazine boasts such cover stories as ‘Generations of pimping,’ ‘Homo thugs – Prison homosexuals kisses and tells’ and, my personal favourite ‘It’s robbing season – Where to hide your stash’, it’s no surprise that it’s subscription package comes with the following notice: “Please review our customer service policies thoroughly before ordering for an inmate.” Self-proclaimed as ‘The original street bible,’ Don Diva magazine features conspiracy theory stories (“Jerry Lewis-Bey: Gangster or government target?”), tips on how to avoid getting arrested (“How to tell if you’re being bugged?”) and lots of misogynistic nonsense (“9 tips on how to give great brain”). Basically, it’s hip hop on paper circa 1995.

2. Borat’s Discogs store

I’m probably the last record-enthousiast on the planet to have discovered Discogs but, looking back, that’s probably a good thing seeing the dent it’s put in my wallet. One store that’s been particularly hurtful to my bottom line is Borat’s, a Ghent-based online record store. With nearly 6,000 items for sale, the store stocks everything from Silver Apples and Stubborn Heart to obscure Turkish psych-rock compilations (Turkish Freakout 1 and 2).  A good starting point for novice crate-diggers such as myself, and a good way to avoid steep delivery charges.

3. Cy Twombly’s Polaroids

Bozar’s exhibition of Cy Twombly’s Polaroids revealed a little-known fact about the American master: he was a prolific photographer, capturing everything from still-life images of plants and flowers to close-ups of his own paintings. Consisting primarily of a carefully-curated selection of over a 100 prints ‘generated’ from Polaroids, the exhibition’s main achievement was the way in which it made obvious Twombly’s consistency of vision and interpretation: even a simplistic close-up of paint brushes take on the aura and urgency of one of his paintings. Through the exploration of the artist’s compulsive need to photograph everything, the show managed to deepen the context of his oeuvre, giving a stronger point of reference to understand his narrative.

4. Turkish and Indian psychedelic rock from the 70s

Hearing The Gaslamp Killer’s ‘All Killer‘ mix for Finders Keepers Records back in 2009 was, and this is no exaggeration, a transformative experience for me. Released to coincide with the label’s 20th anniversary, the 64-track mix’s open-ended selection – an ode to the lesser-known folk heroes of the alternative underground – introduced me to a whole new world: psychedelic funk and rock from the 70s. First my new obsession was limited to Turkish psychedelic rock (Zafer Dilekm, the 3 Hur El brothers, Mustafa Ozkent and the likes), although it quickly grew to encompass Indian psych-rock (The Mod Trade, Atomic Forest), Iranian folk-rock (Kourosh Yaghmaei) as well as Hungarian funk (Omega). I’ve since then been pressing one too many times on the ‘Add to cart’ button on Discogs.

5. My return to hip hop

2012 was the year my faith in rap music was restored. On one hand you had new albums by the established class of rappers I’d been following over the years: EL-P and his Cancer4Cure, Doom and his collaborative JJ Doom as well as Geoff ‘Portishead’ Barrow’s super-album Quakers (probably the year’s most underrated release). On the other, you had strong new releases by younger acts: LA’s entire TED crew (Schoolboy Q’s down and dirty Habits and Contradictions, Ab-Soul’s Control System with the Danny Brown-featuring banger Terrorist Threats as well as Kendrick Lamar’s near-perfect Good Kid, M.A.A.D city), Miami’s SpaceGhostPurrp (Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp) as well as Chicago’s Katie Got Bandz (the darkest female rapper I’ve heard since Foxy Brown and Trina). 2012 was also definitely the year ‘quirky’ became cool in a world that takes itself just a tad too seriously. Rappers Mykki Blanco and Zebra Katz made being gay (finally) acceptable in rap cyphers, whilst the overly-flashier side of hip hop culture was brought into the 21st century by rappers such as baby-faced Harlemite ASAP Rocky and Queens-native Action Bronson. 2012 was a good year for hip hop.