What's up with hip-hop

Last year, Baltimore-based rapper Kane Mayfield, along with a handful of other MCs from around the country, received an unusual invitation from the National Institute of Health in Bethesda. There, the rappers freestyled while inside an fMRI machine, so that their brain activity could be studied during the act of improvisation. The resulting paper, "Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap," was published in the revered scientific journal Nature in November. The study and more information on the project and Mayfield's involvement are available at FreestyleScience.com.

Los (pictured) headlined Baltimore Soundstage on Dec. 19, with a celebratory concert in promotion of the highly anticipated mixtape Becoming King, which will be the rapper's first disc since signing a new deal with Bad Boy Records in early 2012. The mixtape is slated to feature some big names like Wiz Khalifa and French Montana, but Los chose to highlight his city on one of the first leaks, "Baltimore," which features fellow hometown favorites Smash, Starrz, Caddy Da Don, Travis Davon (formerly known as Bossman) and Dboi Da Dome. The team of MCs performed the song during the Baltimore Soundstage show, just before the studio track debuted online. In related news, Los announced over the holidays that he and girlfriend and fellow rapper, LoLa Monroe, are expecting their first child: Congrats to them.

City Paper already weighed in on what we felt were the best local hip-hop releases of 2012, but what rappers were racking up download numbers online? We checked in with Ogun, a veteran of the scene and one of the folks behind the popular mixtape hub AllBmoreHipHop.com, and he gave us a list of the top five most-downloaded mixtapes on the site for 2012: 1. Smash, Block Work: King Jaffe; 2. Funkregulata Celo & DJ Jabril, DMV on Lock Vol. 1; 3. Skarr Akbar, The Beautiful Mind: Block Work Bootleg; 4. Jay Supreme, Liberia the Mixtape; 5. Rico Reed, Duffle Bag Season

The must-read blog Baltimore's Very Own (bmoresveryown.blogspot.com) had its own year-end countdown, ranking its top 100 favorite songs of the year. The No. 1 spot went to Al Great for the track "It's Automatic" from his Summer Nights mixtape.

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