WHITNEY HOUSTON

The evening of February 11, 2012 is one many hoped wouldn’t arrive so soon, but unfortunately didn’t shock much either. A day before the 54th annual Grammy Awards, iconic vocalist Whitney Houston was found unconscious in a Beverly Hilton Hotel room, submerged in a bathtub, dead at 48. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office would later reveal that cocaine was in her system at the time, as well as marijuana and a slew of other drugs. Again, no surprise.

Houston’s career began in the mid ‘80s. Her self-titled debut album fittingly came out on Valentine’s Day of 1985. Her biggest hits—and there were plenty—focused on love. With Miss Universe beauty and a soul-powered voice, Whitney warmed the pop charts with jams like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “How Will I Know,” and enthralling ballads like “I Will Always Love You.”

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But even though she enjoyed a great deal of time in the limelight, adorned with six Grammys and heralded acting roles in The Bodyguard and Cinderella (which she earned an Emmy nom for), Houston did her fair share of dark things in the shade.

Heavy drug use with ex husband and R&B bad boy Bobby Brown damaged her voice. It was a habit that made a once faultless singer a shaky live performer towards the end of her life. Touring for her 2009 album I Look to You, one that should have marked a triumphant return, proved to be too much for her. Stints at rehab apparently weren’t much help. Though those who had seen Whitney claim that she was in good spirits when they’d seen her on the eve of that Grammy weekend, she had obviously relapsed. On Sunday, February 19, 2012 Houston mother Cissy and family buried her in Westfield, New Jersey next to her father, John Russell Houston, the end of a marvelous career and a troubled life.

RIHANNA AND CHRIS BROWN

Time heals all wounds, no? The bruises and knots Chris Brown put on then-girlfriend Rihanna’s gorgeous face years ago on the eve of the 51st Grammy Awards in 2009 didn’t take long to disappear. But the time it took to mend their relationship, at least publicly, lasted a bit longer.

In August 2009 Brown was sentenced to serve the probation and to spend more than 1,400 hours in “labor-oriented service” for his felony assault conviction. He was also had to complete a 52-week domestic violence program.

As Brown made progress serving, things apparently got better with his ex flame as well. In California Judge Patricia Schnegg lifted her “stay away” order that prevented Brown from being near Rihanna, in February 2011. Gossip blogs gleefully fed on images of the two canoodling in nightclubs, seemingly confirming rumors that they’re together again.

Rihanna and Chris gave their listening audience and bloggers more to feast on this year. It began in the spring, when the two pop stars hopped in each other’s singles for remixes, releasing them within days of each other. Brown’s “Turn Up the Music” featured a sultry Rih’, while an aggressive Brown leapt on Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.” “I wanna f**k you right now,” he sings at the top of his verse, clearly not holding anything back. It was the first time they worked together since the ’09 controversy.

Throughout the summer the twosome peppered their Instagram timelines with pictures of them hanging out all over the world. Then after feeding the Internet all of that, they made a statement on their latest collaborations. Playing off of the conclusion of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” Rihanna invited Brown on her Unapologetic track “Nobody’s Business.” They take turns yelping that their relationship “ain’t nobody’s business.” Whatever.

Whether they’re in a relationship again or not is anybody’s guess. But they are back in business. That’s for sure.

CHIEF KEEF

Chicago is on pace to crack 500 homicides by year’s end. Not one person can be blamed for them. But a rap upstart, Chief Keef, has done a helluva job almost buoyantly crafting anthems that soundtrack Chi-town’s miserable year.

With loud cuts from his spring mixtape Back from the Dead, Keef burst onto the hip-hop scene with obnoxious bangers, hypnotically catchy if not basic. Its marquee single “I Don’t Like” is a club-quaker simply listing things he doesn’t like. Sneak dissers? Snitches? Men that act like women? They all stay on his bad side.

His raucous lyrics even baited music site Pitchfork into taking the then 16-year-old Keef to a gun range to pop a few rounds off. Never mind that he spent a chunk of 2012 under house arrest in connection with gun charges or that his Chicago hometown was suffering through a murderous, cruel summer. After feeling the heat from their angry audience, Pitchfork pulled the piece from their site.

Now 17, Chief Keef is still a problem child. His debut album Finally Rich hit stores recently, featuring the same gang-related bravado of mixtapes past. How responsible a kid this young should be held for the villainous actions of his neighbors is up for discussion. What’s for sure is that he certainly hasn’t been helping the cause.

Brad Wete is a New York-based journalist. He’s written for Billboard, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, and Vibe amongst others. You can follow him on twitter at @BradWete.