2010 through 2012 was a three year span of hip-hop that could rival the golden age in the 90s; a recap of stuff that happened: Kanye West, mixtapes being taken seriously (A$AP Rocky, Big K.R.I.T.), Kendrick Lamar, etc. If you couldn’t tell from the fact that I’ve given a lot of the following albums B-scores, 2013 doesn’t compare. Regardless, here’s my top 10 hip-hop albums of that year:
10. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
It’s a disappointment because both Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music and El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure from the previous year were better, but at the end of the day, this is solid rapping over solid beats and that’s what we came for, right?
9. J. Cole – Born Sinner
I hated him for hopping on OutKast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)” for “LAnd of the Snakes,” but upon re-listening (and re-listening), I realized that J. Cole actually managed to make a new, great song of the old, great beat. Elsewhere, “Power Trip” is added to the long list of great J. Cole ballads and the jazz rap of “Let Nas Down” shows he’s learned some new tricks, production-wise.
8. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
It’s unfortunate Earl Sweatshirt yawns a lot, lets Tyler get too much screentime and creates beats that induce yawning, because “Burgundy” and “Chum” are some of his most powerful lyrics – it turns out when he’s not rapping about rape, he can be really introspective. Elsewhere, Frank Ocean spends an entire verse sodomizing Chris Brown, because fuck Chris Brown.
7. Danny Brown – Old
Side A focuses too much on rapping while side B focuses too much on beats and it’s a shame he couldn’t consolidate the two together into a shorter album. But “Handstand” is probably responsible for taking someone’s virginity and you gotta give a man props for daring to rap over witch house and grime. Or at least knowing what those two things are.
6. Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die
Ghostface Killah has always been my favorite Wu-Tang Clan member, even though he hasn’t done much of interest since 2006’s Fishscale. Thankfully, Twelve Reasons to Die changes that, because Adrian Younge gives one of the best storytellers in hip-hop 12 strong beats to create his most cohesive narrative out of.
5. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP
People hoping for more cloud rap beats a la LiveLoveA$AP will be disappointed. But I’ve always been proud of myself on knowing that cloud rap was a genre that didn’t have much to go as soon as it started – it was a hopelessly limited aesthetic that gave poor rappers free rides because of gorgeous beats. A$AP’s rapping still sucks here, but the beats on “Goldie,” “F**kin’ Problems” and “1 Train” bang so hard, they’re probably banging someone you love right now.
4. Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Drake can’t seem to please anyone: he gets a lot of flak for dropping n-bombs because he’s half-white; flak for singing as a rapper even though that’s clearly where his talents lie (see: “Hold On, We’re Going Home”); flak for namedropping the Wu-Tang Clan (see: “Wu-Tang Forever”); flak for pretending he’s hard (see: “The Language”); flak for being too soft (see: “From Time”). But he pleased me, because Nothing Was the Same was a great album.
3. Pusha T – My Name is My Name
I’ll concede that it’s flawed, that it doesn’t know if it wants to revive Wu-Tang industrialism or embrace pop rap cliches, so it proceeds to do both, sometimes half-assedly. So ignore the weaker stuff and focus on the great stuff, like “Numbers on the Boards”‘ beat (courtesy of Kanye West) or “Suicide”‘s beat (courtesy of Pharrell), or Pusha T’s performance on “Let Me Love You” or successfully going toe-to-toe with Kendrick Lamar on “Nosetalgia.”
2. Kanye West – Yeezus
Quotable lines over some of the most interesting beats ever by a mainstream hip-hop artist. The people who keep complaining about the lyrics missed the important bits like the backing vocals under Charlie Wilson’s hook on “Bound 2” or how “New Slaves” managed to reach its climax without drums.
1. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
Haven’t been able to give this a proper review, but if you want my thoughts on it, I’ve typed up a blurb for popmatters about why Chance the Rapper was one of the best artists of 2013 (link) and why Acid Rap was one of the best albums of 2013 (link).