By Daniyall Qazi
2013 was a great year in Hip-Hop.
Some of the biggest and best artists put out some great projects and so now it’s time for a countdown of the Top 10 Hip-Hop albums that came out this year. Rap has come a long way since the dark ages of the mid-2000’s.
10. Pusha T- My Name Is My Name
Pusha T’s debut solo album was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated projects of 2013 and ends up one of the years very best. The album, executively produced by Kanye West, proved yet again why the G.O.O.D. Music emcee, also one half of legendary Hip-Hop duo the Clipse, is considered by many to be the very best gangster rapper alive today. Sporting some stellar production from the likes of Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz and Yeezus himself, Pusha’s first solo effort is as true to who he is as a rapper as his fans hoped it would be. With songs as hardcore as ‘King Push’ and the Don Cannon and Kanye West produced ‘Numbers On The Boards’, one of the best Hip-Hop singles of the year, serving as the first two songs on the album, Pusha starts fast and never slows down. Yeezus and King Push clearly make a very good team.
9. Wale – The Gifted
Wale has been one of the best lyricists of the new rapper generation for years now and his third album might be his best body of work yet. Since signing with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music imprint in 2011 Wale has been relentless in putting out albums and mixtapes that prove he is bar-for-bar one of the very best in the game today. He pulls off radio singles like ‘Bad’ featuring Tiara Thomas and ‘Clappers’ with Juicy J and Nicki Minaj, with ease, while at the same time tackling topics like racism and materialism on tracks like ‘Black Heroes’ and ‘Golden Salvation’. And then there’s Jerry Seinfeld. How many other rappers can say they managed to get a Jerry Seinfeld feature on their album? Case Closed.
8. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP
A$AP Rocky ushered in what would turn out to be a great year for Hip-Hop with the release of his debut album in January. With huge posse cuts ‘1 Train’ and ‘F*****g Problems’ tearing up the airwaves in a big way this year, Harlem’s own Lord Flacko brought New York rap back in a big way in 2013, and promised the creation of a new star in the Hip-Hop game. As with a lot of new stars in rap music, Rocky wasn’t content to launch his own career, and instead put on his whole crew, the A$AP Mob, to make sure that there’s plenty of emerging talent from the birthplace of Hip-Hop, regardless of what Trinidad James says.
7. J. Cole – Born Sinner
When J. Cole announced that he was going to drop his album on the same day as Kanye West’s, there can’t have been too many people out there that saw it as a smart release date. In the end though, Cole proved all of us wrong by not only putting out another great album, but by outselling West’s album, Yeezus. That’s a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that this is only his second album. With Born Sinner being so strong top to bottom, both lyrically and sonically, it’s not difficult to understand why Cole was the first artist signed to JAY Z’s Roc-Nation label, why he was the first name on Kendrick Lamar’s Control verse hit list and why Nas referred to him as “the one”.
6. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Drake is one of the biggest names in rap music today and Nothing Was The Same does nothing if not show you why that is. With songs like ‘Started From The Bottom’ and ‘Pound Cake’ he proves his skill as a straight up rapper to all the doubters, while at the same time making sure to tell everyone he knows how good he is too. This album showcases a Drake that is at his absolute best behind the mic, in complete control of every minute of every song, and when you mix that with typically excellent production from Noah ‘40’ Shebib you get what sounds like his most coherent album yet. ‘Too Much’, ‘Wu-Tang Forever’, ‘Paris Morton Music 2’, this album has some of the best music Drake has ever made, and if it didn’t have just a couple of low points it would be much higher on this list.
5. Dom Kennedy – Get Home Safely
With the release of his second album, Dom Kennedy has proved that he is a master at making laid back, feel-good west coast music. The production on this album, handled for the most part by The Futuristiks, is undeniably amazing, with every song on the project carrying that vintage LA sound. Dom flows over these beats with ease, telling stories about life in Los Angeles, not coming at it from the typical street life perspective but from somewhere brighter and a little more fun. The west coast is in the midst of a huge resurgence right now and Dom Kennedy bridges the gap between the classic and new west sound like no one else. If you love west coast Hip-Hop this is an album you simply can’t miss.
4. Childish Gambino – Because The Internet
Actor, stand-up comedian, writer and rapper, Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino, put out an album that is every bit as ambitious as we have come to expect from him. In the lead up to the projects release Gambino stated his desire to make something that was more than just a rap album and Because The Internet, which is accompanied by a short film and a screenplay, definitely fits the bill. On this album we hear songs that sound very much like vintage Gambino with ‘Pink Toes’, ‘Sweatpants’ and ‘Worldstar’ giving fans the type of tracks they know and love. At the same time though, we hear him experiment with beats in a way we didn’t on his first album, Camp, or on his most recent mixtape, Royalty. The latter half of the project sounds like a decidedly darker affair than any of his past work, and he sings far more often too. This is a rap album that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before and it’s all the better for it: Donald Glover isn’t your typical writer/actor/comedian/rapper. After all, as he said himself, “Gambino is a mastermind”.
3. Kanye West – Yeezus
When he isn’t going off on one of his now infamous rants, Kanye West spends his time crafting great albums and this year’s Yeezus is no exception. As soon as the first song, ‘On Sight’, starts to play it becomes obvious that this isn’t going to be your run of the mill rap album. The project may be only 10 tracks deep but West makes every second count with songs as relentless and uncompromising as ‘New Slaves’, ‘Black Skinhead’, ‘I’m In It’ and ‘Blood On The Leaves’. Yeezus sounds distinct from every Hip-Hop album that has come before it. The production on the project as well as Yeezy’s rhymes and delivery make this album sound like some kind of electronic-punk-rap, or some such genre that hasn’t been given a name yet because no one has been crazy enough to make an album that sounds like this before. The fact that Kanye, who is now 6 hugely successful albums into his career and one of the biggest stars Hip-Hop has ever produced, is willing to take this kind of a risk is a testament to his creativity and artistry. Could you ever imagine JAY Z making an album like this? What about Eminem? Or Snoop Dogg? The fact of the matter is no one but Kanye could have pulled this off and no one but Kanye would have even tried. Hip-Hop could do with more artists like Yeezus.
2. Tyler, The Creator – Wolf
This is a great album that is better in every way than Tyler’s previous effort, Goblin. That isn’t to say that Goblin wasn’t a good album, but rather that Tyler, The Creator has come leaps and bounds both as a producer and a rapper since that first album was released in 2011. Though he’s still OK with having the same kind of fun he has on his projects in the past, gone are the songs about rape and serial killing, replaced with songs like ‘Answer’ where he addresses never knowing his father and the death of his grandmother. He tackles these more mature topics with the same insane attitude that drew people to him in the first place, making them sound genuine as well as interesting. It’s his production though which is the real standout here and it’s stellar throughout, with ‘IFHY’, ‘48’, ‘Colossus’ and ‘Treehome95’ being the perfect illustrations of how far Wolf Hayley has come. There is a reason why musicians as great as Frank Ocean, also an Odd Future member, and Kanye West say that they look up to Tyler. Listen to Wolf and you’ll find out.
1. Mac Miller – Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Even as late as the end of last year there can’t have been many people in the Hip-Hop world who expected very much from Mac Miller. He released his debut album Blue Slide Park near the end of 2011 to great commercial success but to a mixed critical response. His music at that time was fun but throwaway, something that real Hip-Hop fans didn’t latch onto. It was after that the Pittsburgh native packed up and moved himself to Los Angles, with the results being immediately apparent in Watching Movies With The Sound Off. He aligned himself with the new generation of west coast artists, linking up with the Odd Future and TDE crews, and his art is all the better for it. From a writing standpoint Mac has clearly evolved from his days as a party rapper, going toe to toe with underground stars like Action Bronson and Jay Electronica and with mainstream stars like Earl Sweatshirt, SchoolBoy Q and Ab-Soul, holding his own throughout. Then you have ‘Objects In The Mirror’, one of the songs of the year, with Mac semi-singing over an amazing beat produced by the legendary Pharrell Williams. In fact this whole album features brilliant production with Mac’s new LA surroundings clearly playing a part in the sound of the project. Producers like Flying Lotus, The Alchemist and, as mentioned, Pharrell Williams all lend a hand behind the boards and come together to make sure the album’s production is as consistent, cohesive and strong as Mac’s writing is. Miller also put some work in as a producer on this album too under the moniker Larry Fisherman, showcasing yet more skills he’s picked up since we last heard from him. The muted response to his debut album clearly lit a fire under Mac Miller and pushed him to recreate himself as an artist. Watching Movies With The Sound Off is a success in every way with great production, features and a new and improved Mac Miller all adding up to form what is the best Hip-Hop album of 2013.
In a year where many of the titans of Hip-Hop put out new albums, narrowing down the list to a Top 10 was extremely difficult and so it’s time for some honourable mentions. 3ChordFold by producer Terrace Martin is a star studded mix of Hip-Hop and R&B infused with Martin’s signature Jazz-influenced style. No Poison No Paradise by rapper/producer Black Milk showcases his amazing production talents yet again as well as proving that the Detroit artist still doesn’t get enough respect for his skill on the mic. Czarface by Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric carries a classic east coast vibe and is relentlessly hardcore Hip-Hop. Odd Future produced yet another star this year as Earl Sweatshirt put out his excellent debut, Doris. Ghostface Killah put out one of his best albums in years with 12 Reasons To Die. And finally, JAY Z linked back up with Timbaland for Magna Carta Holy Grail, his 13th consecutive number 1 albumin the states.
All in all 2013 was a great year for Hip-Hop, but this is just our list, let us know what you think in the comments below.