Here are my rankings for best Hip-hop albums of 2013, as ranked by a mixture of quality, how much I liked them, and how much other people liked them, in Top 7 format. RIP B.o.B.
7. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2
I wrote about MMLP2 at great length on this site, but here is the abridged version: Em is still the king of rhyming wordplay, and even though the talent is still there, the production values and content are just not. But MMLP2 didn’t ruin the first version for us, but gave us a reason for nostalgia instead, which made this album nothing spectacular but one of the best albums of the year anyway.
6. Danny Brown, Old
I really, really liked Danny Brown’s Old, and I’m not a Danny Brown fan. The album has excellent production values, great hooks, and really expresses DB’s growth since The Hybrid dropped in 2010.
5. J. Cole, Born Sinner
The poor man’s Drake, J. Cole has been trying desperately to put out music that even comes remotely close to his critically acclaimed official mixtapes The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights, the latter of which could stand alone as a top 3 album of almost any year. Cole World: The Sideline Story, 2011’s mixture of solid songs off the rapper’s mixtapes and really poor radio-friendly tracks, failed to break J. Cole as the commercially and critically acclaimed hip-hop star that mentor Jay Z probably envisioned. But Born Sinner, released this summer the same day as Kanye West’s Yeezus, marked significant improvement for the Fayetteville-born MC. Tracks like “Runaway”, “She Knows”, “Rich N****z”, and “Let Nas Down” show that J. Cole is well on his way to being a damn good artist, but we’re still waiting for that album that becomes the pop culture phenomenon that Good Kid, M.A.A.D. city did.
4. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name
Pusha T has already made it; as one half of the rap duo Clipse with brother (No) Malice, he released Hell Hath No Fury to critical and commercial success in 2006. But since Malice found Jesus, changed his name to No Malice, and began a faith-based hip-hop career, Pusha has joined Kanye’s GOOD Music label but has limited himself to features on his label mates’ releases. Since Pusha only raps about one thing (drug dealing) and questions about his ability to carry a full LP by himself cast doubt on his studio debut My Name Is My Name, nobody really ever thought that the Virginia Beach-born rapper would stand next to the debuts of other GOOD Music rappers like Big Sean, Kid Cudi, or even Cy Hi. Instead Pusha dropped his debut to massive critical success and as a result became one of the best albums of the year. Excellently produced by the likes of West, Swizz Beats, Don Cannon, Pharrell Williams, No I.D. among others, Pusha uses well-placed features by Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, Future, 2 Chainz, and others to support his growing-up-in-the-hood subject matter to great success. My Name Is My Name is the best album GOOD Music has released to date.
3. Drake, Nothing Was The Same
I don’t like Drake. I don’t like Take Care, or his radio-spray-acid-in-my-ears mega-hits, or the fact that he’s from Toronto. But whether I like it or not, Drake is now the King of Hip-Hop in regards to critical and commercial acclaim, as Kanye all but relinquished his crown in radio interviews and with the release of his latest album, and we all should recognize. Nothing Was The Same is not only a spectacularly well put together work, but also the most relatable rap record to the majority of its listeners of the year. Drake has found a subject matter, and he expresses it in an incredible tight and concise matter each bar, each verse, and each song. Trust issues, true love, and sexual desires are things all people can relate to, and Drake expresses them better than any raper alive, probably. His latest work is impressively great, whether you dig his music or not.
2. Earl Sweatshirt, Doris
Earl Sweatshirt has had quite the interesting career. He became an internet phenomenon as part of the shock-rap group Odd Future, released a critically-acclaimed mixtape Earl, got sent to a boarding school for at-risk boys in Samoa by his mother, came back to give the best verse on Odd Future’s “Oldie”, and released the incredibly impressive Doris, his debut studio album, all by the age of 19. Probably the most impressive and talented square-lyricist alive not named Eminem, Earl Sweatshirt has an immense vault of talent that has just started to be revealed in short, violent spurts. Doris is much more serious than his previous contributions, but what makes Earl so captivating is his technical ability, his socially-conscious lyrics, his f***-the-world attitude, and his potential to become the best rapper alive someday. The son of a UCLA law professor and a South African poet, Earl might be the future, as he represents the internet-saturated youth of America and is just barely hipster enough to be popular worldwide. We’ll see.
1. Kanye West, Yeezus
The rants. The Kim K marriage. The Jimmy Kimmel feud. “You ain’t got the answers, Sway!” It has been a crazy year for the musical genius Kanye West, but what year hasn’t been? Lost in all of the controversy and mixed fan reviews of his latest pushing-the-envelope album was the fact that Yeezus might not have changed the game but is the most significant and relevant album since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Family. Was Yeezus as good as its predecessor? Hell no. I don’t think anything ever will be. But Yeezus is the work of its troubled artists, the most honest and vulnerable album of the year, and what ever artists should strive for: ignoring mass appeal to make a significant contribution to the game. The result is a bizarre, awkward, and uncomfortable collection of 10 songs that actually have a helluva lot to say. No rapper has or has had a better discography so far as Kanye West, and it doesn’t seem that is going to change soon. I would write an entire review of its genius, but Lou Reed already did that for me.
BONUS: Top 10 Songs of 2013
Because I’m in a writing mood and I haven’t seen all of 2013’s movies yet, I rank the top 10 songs of 2013 of any genre.
10. Daft Punk, Get Lucky
Great beat, great party song. Daft Punk is good.
9. J. Cole, Let Nas Down
J. Cole’s ode to his inspiration and self-consciousness is an underrated best song of a good album. It spawned an even-better remix, though.
8. Drake, Worst Behavior
Good beat, good lyricism, best song on a great album. This is Drake at his best here.
7. Justin Timberlake, Mirrors
Beautiful love song from the King of Pop today. Mirrors was on the radio a whole ton, and is long, but never gets old.
6. Vampire Weeekend, Unbelievers
Vampire Weekend created a track about what we all fear: growing up and the real world.
5. Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar, Nostalgia
Best Kendrick verse of the year; yes, that includes “Control”. But Pusha T’s might be better.
4. Kanye West, Blood On The Leaves
Nobody can quite understand why a track about love, jealousy, and revenge could be laid out over Nina Simone’s lynching dirge “Strange Fruit.” But the result is so incredibly strikingly beautiful and sad.
3. Earl Sweatshirt, Sunday
Some could say that “Chum” is better, but Earl’s desperate attempt to convince his girl to stay despite his drunken rants on how she should understand his distanced attitude results in a surprisingly biting track. Frank Ocean’s verse continues to show us that the man can rap just as good as he sings.
2. Beyonce, Drunk In Love
My friends are tired of me yelling “I’ve been DRANKIN.” facetiously over and over again for the past week. “Drunk In Love,” is a great love song, the Kanye version of female pop music: funny, well-produced, honest, and of great quality. Jay Z’s verse isn’t great, but the chemistry they have on the accompanying video is amazing.
1. Kanye West, Bound 2
After 9 songs that make your ears bleed and mind spin, Kanye ends the best album of the year with the best song of the year: a throwback to his College Dropout days and an ode to his immense love for his wife Kim. It’s honest, vulnerable, funny, and surprisingly cute in a way only Kanye can be cute, and is the exact perfect end to West’s album and so-far discography. If there’s one song that describes where Kanye is at in his life, musically and personally, it’s “Bound 2.”
2013 was an absolute incredible year in hip-hop, and in music in general. Here’s to all of the great songs, albums, and debates that 2014 will bring.