Top 20 Rap Albums of 2013
The entirety of Flatbush Zombies’ sophomore effort BetterOffDEAD can be summed up by one track: “Death 2”. It represents a manifesto of sorts for the trio, splattering a terrifying sample of an interview with Charles Manson and some violently drugged-out lyrics onto producer Erick Arc Elliot’s trademark grim landscape. On the surface, the Zombies have barely progressed from being the intentionally-insane jack-of-all-drugs zombie-obsessed members of the burgeoning hip-hop force the Beast Coast. However, once you enter into their world on BetterOffDEAD, they quickly whisk you away into a hazy realm of ethereal beats, harshly smooth flows, and a plethora of topics the two MCs trade bars on. Released on 9/11/13 at 9:11 P.M., the political content immediately struck as more evolved and polished. The 19 tracks seem to warp into a continuous stream that allows each song to stand out on its own while not deviating from the general concept of the tape. In this sense alone, the group reveals a massive amount of musical growth since their eccentric debut mixtape D.R.U.G.S..
A Wale album wouldn’t be a Wale album without criticism, controversy, and, well, haters. About six months after dropping Folarin, Wale blessed us with his third studio album entitled, The Gifted. The album had already received reproach when the artwork for the album cover dropped, but Wale had a response for the nonbelievers. The Gifted is a classic “DMV-style” record with stories that touch on drugs, sex, and growing up in an environment with a “crabs in the bucket” mentality. It contains music as diverse as its features with club bangers like “Clappers” to more profound songs like “Black Heroes”. The musicality of the records make it clear that Wale’s focus was on big production this time around. Wale might feel he didn’t get proper recognition, but the RG community certainly was feeling him!
Therapy is an EP with 11 tracks, 4 of which are skits, but as Tech N9ne assures you early on, it is not something he threw together and put out carelessly. Instead, the EP has a very distinct feel, with Tech spitting and doing a bit of singing over what amounts to rock and roll tracks produced by Ross Robinson and Seven. Tech tackles a range of emotions with topics like the failings of the school system to relationship issues. When paired with the unorthodox production, it is strangely effective in getting its message across. By the end of Therapy, most listeners are going to be wishing the EP was longer
El-P and Killer Mike both dropped extremely dope albums in 2012, so when they decided to come together as Run the Jewels, and release an album this year, everyone was rubbing their hands together like Birdman. El-P’s trademark production lays the framework for the two rappers to go off, and they do, spitting with the intent to outdo each other and everyone else in rap on each song. The result is an album that doesn’t mess around with fancy hooks or excessive features. Instead, it’s rappers simply rapping, and doing so extremely well. Did I mention they released this album for free?
Over 3 years after his first independently-released album Raw, Hopsin presents us with another indie release Knock Madness. The album featurs fellow Funk Volume members including SwizZz, Jarren Benton, and Dizzy Wright, along with fellow independent artist and Strange Music Mogul Tech N9ne. What’s more is production was handled entirely by Hopsin himself. Momentum for the album was fueled by aggressive releases like “Hop Is Back”. During the weeks leading up to the release date for the album, Hopsin appeared to go through a rough patch with all the pressure of releasing another album and touring at the same time, leading to somewhat of a breakdown via his twitter. However, Hopsin bounced back, released the album on November 24th, and received fairly positive reviews. #StillMovin’
Summer Knights is the follow-up to Joey Badass’ acclaimed debut mixtape, 1999. The tape featurs his fellow Pro Era members and boasts strong production from DJ Premier, The Alchemist, and MF Doom. Much like 1999, the tape exudes a ‘90s feel. However, Summer Knights carries a much darker tone, perhaps because of the passing of Joey's close friend, Capital STEEZ (who is honored on the penultimate track, “#LongLiveSteelo”). The tape had several standout tracks, including his debut single, “Unorthodox”, which was laden with wordplay. Overall, Joey produced another solid mixtape effort, solidifying himself as one of hip-hop’s most promising MCs
Dropping at the top of the year is always a risk; you never know what’s coming, who’s coming, or how your major label debut is going to hold up against the competition. However, for Lord Flacco, that ain’t a problem. Leaking a full month before the release date saw the industry condemn Rocky’s album to poor sales, yet to much surprise, he moved 139,000 units in the first week. The LP spawned multiple hits, most notably the Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick assisted ”Fuckin’ Problems”, earning Rocky 2x platinum status and almost 5 million views on Rap Genius. The other most notable song ”1 Train” featured a host of young MC’s, with the cypher starting the 6 minute song trend of 2013. Long.Live.A$AP functioned as necessary: it spawned multiple hits, presented Rocky to the masses, and cemented the ASAP Mob as New York’s newest clique to watch in the coming years
INNANETAPE is a trip through your emotions guided by a narrator who seems to be mature beyond his years. From infectiously feel-good songs like "Orange Soda" and "Lovely Day" to introspective and serious ones like "Holy, Holy" and "Fear & Doubt," Vic is always honest in detailing his observations and experiences. He hops on and off the beat at will, effortlessly delivering bars from the humorously playful to the intensely sobering. Vic’s nimble performance is underscored by production ably spearheaded by the likes of Cam, Peter Cottontale, and Vic himself
They want that old Danny Brown. XXX was a complicated, dark album about life in Detroit where Danny Brown’s voice and frame of mind could change wildly depending on the song. There was also a bunch of sex and drugs. Old, its follow up, grapples with the success and misconceptions of XXX--”The return of the gangster/ fuck a hipster squeeze a trigger/You got me fucked up I'm a hood ass nigga.” Old front loads songs about drug addiction and poverty on Side A, while saving the festival ready bangers for Side B. It's an interesting conceptual approach that rewards multiple listens, whether your favorite track is the gritty “25 Bucks” or the druggy, energetic “Dip.” Danny Brown has matured in a way that gives his music layers while not compromising his unmistakable pace, personality and provocation
On 2011’s Watch the Throne, Jay Z set out to ask a very serious question, and one that he was uniquely well-equipped to weigh in on: what does it mean to finally have a black elite class in America, given the country’s long and sordid history of white supremacy, and of black resistance? While WTT attempted to delve into that question on a macro level, this year’s Magna Carta Holy Grail looked at the same issues, but from a micro, personal perspective
The album’s repeated evocations of Ali are telling. As with The Champ, Jay no longer has the option of going out in a blaze of glory like his pal Chris Wallace, whose epic public funeral he evokes on “F.U.T.W.” Instead, he’s determined to set up a legacy -- to turn the “new blacks with new stacks” into a lasting societal force. And if he’s as successful with that as he was this year in talking about it, we’ll be in pretty good shape. #FactsOnly
Tyler told us Wolf was coming all the way back in 2010 and on April 2nd, the OF general unleashed his 3rd full length body of work, complete with 3 album covers, socks, and a track with his idol Pharrell. Presenting a heavy conceptual storyline set in Camp Flog Gnaw, the album takes you through the trials and tribulations of the main characters: Tyler, Wolf, Sam, and Salem, weaving intricately between the narratives we’ve heard on his albums prior. Serving as a prequel to those projects, Wolf is not only a conceptual masterpiece, but an evolution of Tyler’s music. The production took an alternate direction and featured a different set of sonics. With heavy influence from The Neptunes, Tyler crafts around the drums like a seasoned vet. Standout tracks include “IFHY”, “Treehome95”, “48”, and “Rusty”, and with dope features from his Odd Future brethren, “Wolf” was one of the years best. The album, story and sonics resonate despite a dozen releases that came after it, and luckily we still have a movie to look forward to
Watching Movies with the Sound Off affords the listener a rare glimpse into the maturation process of both a man and an artist. Mac's exploration of different philosophies and perspectives is expressed through denser rhyme schemes and more diversified features than ever before. The introspection on tracks like "REMember" and "Objects in the Mirror" evokes emotion from the audience, while the dichotomy of playfulness and surrealism on tracks like "Avian" effectively captures the album's essence as a whole. The album's airy production matches Mac's experimental tone, packaging his best release to date
This album is light years ahead of J. Cole’s previous album release, 2010’s Cole World, and shows a unique style and voice that wasn’t there before.This album may be just enough to liberate Cole from the stigma of being “Diet Drizzy” as music reviewer BigGhost once called him, because it also has a diversity in tone, from morose confessional tracks like “Let Nas Down” to R&B rave-ups like “Power Trip”, which was assisted in part by another up and comer, Miguel. Cole finally came out from under the shadow of Jay Z and “Work Out”, to deliver a solid album
Earl Sweatshirt came through looking extra clean with the release of Doris in August of this year. Thebe’s album debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200 with 49,000 sales in the US. With that fuckin’ flow that so belittles men, it’s understandable that this album got a ton of love on Rap Genius. Doris has over 2.6 million combined pageviews, most of which are on standout tracks “Hive”, “Chum”, and “Whoa”. The album includes production from RZA, The Neptunes, and Tyler the Creator. Technically and sonically this album is truly a masterpiece; Earl killed them all with this one
After the countless rumors and delays, the hip-hop world was questioning if Terrance Thronton could really compete with the major players minus older brother Gene. King Push put the gossip to rest on October 7 when the 36 year old released his highly anticipated debut solo project; My Name Is My Name. Without an ideal rollout, Push relied on the streets and Internet to hype the record. Raw, dark and sometimes described as “disgusting” records hit the hood; ”Numbers On The Boards”, “Nosetaliga” and “Suicide” were 2013’s ghetto anthems. The G.O.O.D Music golden child was also popular on Rap Genius, with 2 songs featuring in the top 10 of our best 100 songs as well as managing to find a spot on our MVP list; taking the #10 spot. My Name Is My Name captured the essence of hip hop with it’s standout production and menacing wordplay - will it go down as a classic debut? Only time will tell
Drizzy shook up the rap game when he dropped one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Nothing Was The Same, the follow up of his highly successful sophomore LP, Take Care. The album featured Jay Z, Jhené Aiko, 2 Chainz, and others. Production was mainly handled by his right-hand man, Noah "40" Shebib, with help from additional OVO sound producers. Propelled by the successes of the smash singles “Started From The Bottom” and “Hold On, We're Going Home”, Drake debuted #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart, moving an impressive 658,000 units in the first week and was certified platinum just one month after its release. With over a combined 15.6 MILLION pageviews on Rap Genius, it's clear NWTS was one of the most popular and acclaimed albums of 2013
It seems ludicrous that anyone would give up the relative security of a TV paycheck to perfect and promote their musical projects (amongst other things). Yet that is what Childish Gambino did, and his sacrifice bore great fruit in Because the Internet. The album showcases greatly improved hooks and flow whilst maintaining the stellar production of the D-Money/Ludwig Görransson team (who BTW doesn’t feel the need to stick his name alongside Gambino’s). This LP expands on many of the themes Gambino has previously addressed: emotionally dissatisfying relationships, questions of identity/authenticity; but they’re framed within the new contexts of his life, namely the technologies (the internet and other new media) that have arguably propelled him to musical stardom. To that end he wrote an 76-page screenplay and filmed a 25-minute prequel short (Clapping for the Wrong Reasons) and uploaded them to the web to accompany the album. People might still argue that Gambino’s lyrics aren’t “serious” enough, but no one can argue that he doesn’t take his work seriously, and it shows
There was a lot riding on this album. A flop would transform Em from a respected veteran to a 41-year-old sellout that still has to dye his hair blond to move records. Not to mention the fact that its title would draw natural comparisons to the original Marshall Mathers LP, one of the most brilliant, successful, and controversial albums of all time. Luckily, instead of trying to recreate the original, Em simply revisited it. The themes of the two are still similar: family issues, trouble dealing with fame, and the difference between his alter-egos. But the sequel showed sides of Em that we’ve never seen and did enough to differentiate itself from the original to merit its title. Critics praised it as his best work since The Eminem Show, and standout tracks like “Bad Guy” and “Rap God” prove that the King of Controversy still has plenty to say
Acid Rap finds Chance coming into his own lane and gaining a huge audience for it. He is high-energy and on the ball from the very start, only slowing down to vividly paint a picture of Chicago gun violence and remind us what love is. Despite categorically bomb features from the likes of Bronsolino, Soulo, Gambino, Twista, and Vic Mensa, Chance’s now-signature sportive flow holds the attention of the listener throughout the whole mixtape. This set of songs effectively blurs the line between mixtape and album, and has led Chance across the country and onto the cover of multiple magazines
Kanye’s 6th solo album, Yeezus, stunned many due to Ye’s all-around unique creation and promotion of the project. The whole concept around this creative masterpiece was minimalism, and Kanye definitely hit the nail on the head, starting with the promotion of the album. The only big promotional tools used by Ye were posters and the infamous projections of the 4th song on the album, “New Slaves.” Other than these two methods, there was not much outside promotion to really put a light on the potentially culture-changing album delivered in Yeezus. Speaking of minimalism, Ye really took it to the next level, by only releasing 10 songs and having Rick Rubin come in to minimize (yes, MINIMIZE) the album
Content-wise, the 10 tracks that were presented were all so, so, sooooo good. Beginning with the bombastic and Earth-shattering “On Sight”, Kanye truly proved that he “does not give a fuck” and is willing to do whatever in order to make sure that he gets the best sound possible. That best sound? It ranges from the soulful flashback that is “Bound 2” to the banging “Blood on the Leaves” to the outstandingly synthesized “I Am a God.” In addition to the production, which was handled by a terrific team of producers, Kanye lyrically brings a lot to the table, rapping about everything from Hedi Slimane to metaphorical religious journeys up mountains to having sex with Kim Kardashian
In all, the process, creation, and content delivered in Yeezus was revolutionary in multiple aspects. It's no wonder it made the #1 spot on our list of top 20 rap albums!
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