New rules, new slaves, new mobs and gangs, and more ways of soul searching. That was 2013.
There's no denying hip-hop stuck its chest out with enough bravado that would make Michael Jordan believe you were challenging his throne. Who else but Jay Z could sell one million albums BEFORE it was released? Yeah, Beyonce sold 800,000 over albums in a few hours out of no where, but that was just taken out of Kanye's playbook after announcing Yeezus a month before its release with drive-in-styled showings of "New Slaves" across the country being its primary source of marketing while doing battle with J. Cole on the same release date.
The tours? Forget it. Jay Z and Justin Timberlake. Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar. Drake and Future. A$AP Rocky opened for Rihanna. Hell, Maybach Music Group had their own weekend in Miami. And then there were the albums. Coming off the tail-end of 2012, detained by Kendrick Lamar's classic good kid, m.A.A.d city, A$AP Rocky introduced 2013 to his highly anticipated debut album, Long.Live.A$AP. Aside from the overflow of mixtapes, many of them providing album-worthy recognition (see Acid Drop) and another Lil Wayne album, momentum didn't gain much steam until the summer when artists provided charitable amounts of ear candy.
So with no further adieu, we bring you the top hip-hop albums of 2013. That's right, albums, no mixtapes on this list. Let the all out debate wars commence!
1. Kanye West - Yeezus
So brash. So disrespectful. So arrogant. So ingenious. No one saw it coming, at least not until about a month in advance. You either understood it or you didn't. With Rick Ruben by his side, Kanye gave many what they didn't want, and he knew it. Escaping the complacency of producing more "Gold Diggers" and "Can't Tell Me Nothings," the catering to the masses, he added two gracious middle fingers worth of caring in the process. Yeezus was heralded as not only the best hip-hop album of the year, but the probably the best overall oeuvre of 2013, even if the Grammys doesn't think so.
2. Pusha T - My Name Is My Name
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Today's "coke" rap is nothing without the Clipse. But after his "better half chose a better path," and what seemed like a longer wait than a line outside of Wal-Mart on Black Friday, Pusha T arrived. He evoked the bravado, street chic and Rick Flair-glamorized drug dealing lifestyle in "Numbers On The Board," contrasted fade-to-black pitfalls in "S.N.I.T.C.H." He installed the right features on the right songs and wasn't outperformed by them, not even by Kendrick Lamar on "Nosetalgia," Pusha's MNIMN made the setbacks worth the wait.
3. Danny Brown - Old
It's cold in the D. And no one made that clearer than the chipped-tooth rapper Danny Brown. Providing vivid descriptions about his first time witnessing someone smoke crack in the haunting "Torture" to sights to be seen on a trip to pick up "Wonderbread," Brown's recollections stay as consistent as the flow of the album itself even with an overt transition from gutter to dubstep halfway through.
4. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
Don't let the receding hairline and pencil frame of a 19-year-old rapper fool you. The kid who was too black for white kids and too white for black kid fulfilled the anticipation Doris garnered, proving he could do this shit all night. With production as eerie as the cover itself handled by randomblackdude (Earl's producer alias), the Odd Future rapper effortlessly disperses complex rhyming patterns about his gradual ascension into one of hip-hop's brightest newcomers.
5. Drake - Nothing Was The Same
How many times did you "Drake and drive" over the last couple months? End up back at your ex's house? These jokes may be staler than the pound cake you consumed during your listen (see what I did there?), but Drake continues to find a way to lead you back, using a surrogate formula with all the same ingredients: ex-girlfriends, trouble settling into his continuous fame, etc. These make the ladies swoon and the new generation of male hip-hop listeners soak up game. Accompanied by nothing-less-than-stellar production from Noah "40" Shebib. Drizzy lyrical growth is evident when he provides a valiant effort at attempting to one-up Jay Z.
6. El-P & Killer Mike - Run The Jewels
Aggressive is an understatement. In the last couple of years when where hip-hop has seen Jay Z/Kanye West and Eminem/Royce Da 5'9 albums, frequent collaborators El-P and Killer Mike provide an authoritative punch to the kidney with their raw, witty, and astute views on politics and religion, basically everything you don't speak of at the dinner table.
7. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
The only marketing needed, aside from his name, was the number "2" attached to The Marshall Mathers LP. Coming off an album many viewed as too mainstream, questioning Eminem's ability to create classic material, the problem is Em has changed as a man, but we haven't gotten over it. Luckily, there is still residue left over as Em questions looks for a target to destroy but finds none on "Evil Twin." And while beat selection has never been his strong suit, Slim Shady's skills find no rust on them. Em may never be the same rapper he was when he released MMLP, but at this stage of his career, who cares?
8. A$AP Rocky - Long.Live.A$AP.
It's easy to forget A$AP Rocky's January release. It is already December. By this time last year, Pretty Flacko had already announced the release date to the delayed follow-up to his critically acclaimed Live.Love.A$AP mixtape. The biggest question was if Rocky's $3 million deal invested by RCA off one mixtape would be profitable or tank. Thanks to the Sex Addicts Anonymous anthem of 2013 and the assist from Kendrick Lamar's now infamous line, "Fuckin Problems," Rocky's album debuted at number one. Despite perpetual backlash from "true New York hip-hop" rappers and fans, as well as songs like "Fashion Killa" and "Like I'm Apart," Rocky plays to the same formula that pushed the spotlight on him, with a few twists.
9. J. Cole - Born Sinner
There he was, standing toe to toe with Kanye West in one of the most anticipated album release dates in hip-hop history. Advertised as an a darker piece, Cole lived up to his promise with songs such as "Power Trip" and "Mo Money." Though he raps his ass off, to say the least, the album provided too many throwback samples with "Villuminati," "Land Of The Snakes" and "Forbidden Fruit."
10. Mac Miller - Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Yeah, we went there. It's time to throw out any misconceptions you have of Mac Miller. With all the attention steered in J. Cole and Kanye West's direction on their June 14 releases, Mac quietly entered the bout leaping forward as his potential saw the light and flourished. Leaving party tracks that mirror "Donald Trump" behind, Mac finds himself trapped in his own thoughts and coming to terms with age and success on "The Star Room" and "REMember." And while WMWTSO can do without a track like "Bird Call," Mac makes up for it with the Action Bronson-assisted "Red Dot Music."
Follow Lee Castro on Twitter: @LeeMCastro
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