Here is the first installment of my “Best of 2013” hip hop list. The new website is not the only thing notable about this list. What’s significant is that I am publishing this on time! My schedule in January looks crazy, so it was either now or February.
This is year six and you know how it goes: I rank twenty albums. I have very particular tastes, so you probably will not find Drake on my list. I do not adhere to any rating system or scientific methods. That takes too much time and evaluating music is all subjective anyways. There’s no use in hiding behind numbers. Some changes: I am trying not to cop out anymore—no ties (no listing two albums in one slot).
Some observations about 2013:
- This year was relatively weak, and solid, at best, considering the heavy hitters who dropped albums. I hesitate to deem anything classic. There were not any genre-changing, or genre-defining albums to speak of, yet. We will have to see how albums like Yeezus and even Drake’s album age. I have not listened to Drake’s album, but I have accepted the fact that I am the old man telling the kids to get off of my lawn when his name and music is brought up. When fans point to him as one of the genre’s best, I probably will not argue because I have not listened.
- I do not understand why Yeezus is receiving all of this love. A preview of my review: the first four songs = Yeezus, the rest is a mix of Graduation, 808s, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, content-wise. The only thing different is the album’s production. Yeezus is in my top ten. Kanye does what he does well. But—spoiler alert—Yeezus is this year’s best hip hop album.
- Alchemist is putting himself in the all-time great producer conversation. He reminds me of DJ Premier during the 1990s—versatile sonically and very prolific. I am not sure he has produced his “Mass Appeal” or “Nas is Like,” though.
The Second Ten
Talib Kweli – Gravitas
Talib Kweli saved his best for the end of 2013. Prisoner of Conscious was an average album. There were only a few standout tracks—Human Mic, Push Thru, and Rocketships, to name a few. Much of Prisoner of Conscious was bland musically and a reflection of Kweli trying to cater to everyone. Gravitas, on the other hand, captured Talib Kweli at his usual best over great production.
Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die
Twelve Reasons to Die was among the few most anticipated albums of 2013. Ghostface’s narrative of a crime boss on a murderous rampage did not disappoint, especially since he performed it over Younge’s funky sonic canvas.
Durag Dynasty – 360 Waves
Alchemist has had a busy year—producing all of Prodigy’s excellent Albert Einstein (in the top ten, somewhere), Willie the Kid’s Masterpiece Theater EP, Boldy James’s My 1st Chemistry Set, and SSUR EP. He teamed with Planet Asia, TriState, and Killer Ben to create 360 Waves. I kind of can’t believe that 360 Waves did not make my top ten after thinking about all of the album’s highlights like Funyons, Goon Call, Yasir Arafat, and Tender Greens. Bigger U Are the Harder You Fall may be one of my favorite Alchemist-produced tracks—soulful, yet hard.
J-Zone – Peter Pan Syndrome
I wonder if anyone knew J-Zone released an album this year. The pimp slap champ returns with his usual mix of intelligent wit and hilarity in the conceptually-driven Peter Pan Syndrome. J-Zone copes with the struggles that accompanying growing up while trying to play a youth sport (rap). He also comments on contemporary social issues such as unemployment and Jay Z (Jackin for Basquiats). Peter Pan Syndrome is the album that a secure and underground version of a Jay Z would make (because of Jay Z’s age). Peter Pan Syndrome is also an apt title considering how some of J Zone’s more problematic misogynist content feels straight out of 2001. He would not be the only hip hop artist guilty of this (Kanye). Peter Pan Syndrome does sound like it came out during the early 1990s. J-Zone’s old school samples are sick.
Rapsody – She Got Game
Rapsody’s She Got Game shows Rapsody’s growth as a lyricist since she released her debut album. There are some gems on She Got Game—“A Song About Nothing,” the Raekwon-assisted “Coconut Oil,” “Generation,” with Mac Miller, and “Jedi Code,” featuring Phonte and Jay Electronica (of course). She Got Game’s production line up is really nice—Premier, Krysis, 9th Wonder, etc. She Got Game slows down at moments. The sky is the limit for Rapsody, though. She has the potential to be one of the most versatile MCs out.
Jay Z – Magna Carta, Holy Grail
Magna Carta, Holy Grail is like the good idea executed badly. The title is a great way to capture the Jay’s stature. I can be rather critical of Jay Z’s corporatist approach to hip hop, but his Samsung commercial caught my attention. Jay Z’s proclamation of #newrules and his strategy of announcing the arrival of his new album a few weeks before it’s release date foreshadowed Beyonce’s megaton bomb this month. Some critics have been critical of Jay Z using Rick Rubin as a prop or a model or something, but that caught everyone’s attention as well. Jay is a master marketer, but many of the songs featured on Magna Carta, Holy Grail were subpar. Picasso Baby, despite the great beat, Tom Ford, and Somewhereinamerica felt forced. The rest of the album ranged from really good (Holy Grail, Crown, Oceans, Nickles and Dimes), to average, to uninspired. I guess that’s the curse of having the gift of being hip hop’s all-time great hustler.
Boldy James – My First Chemistry Set
Another Alchemist-produced album? Boldy James’s Detroit-inspired street tales compliment Alchemist’s beats well. “Traction” is one of the best songs released this year—classic smooth Alchemist beat and James and Action Bronson do it justice. “Moochie” is Boldy’s version of Big L’s “Ebonics” and you cannot go wrong when naming a song after Cobo Hall.
Joey Bada$$ – Summer Knights EP
If someone asked me to pick an artist to keep an eye on, I would choose Joey Bada$$. I would not say this because he is trying to bring back that 90s boom bap (although I am a fan), it is because I think Joey Badass has a lot of room to grow lyrically and stylistically. Summer Knights is solid, but I can only listen to it when I am in the mood (although it gets better with every listen). It suffers from a similar lack of dynamism as the next album. “Sorry Bonita” and “Unorthodox” are great.
Havoc – 13
Havoc is one of the best producers to ever get behind the boards. 13 is a decent effort. Unfortunately, decent is all I can really say about Havoc’s album. I remember trying to think about why I have had a lukewarm reaction to 13—there are only 1-2 skippable tracks, Havoc’s production ranges from good to decent, and average at worst. The problem is 13 is not dynamic. 13 is not totally flat, but its EKG does not spike too high, either.
Danny Brown – Old
A lot of critics love Danny Brown’s Old. I think Old is worthy of a mention at the end of my second ten. Do not get wrong, Danny Brown is very, very talented. Old shows his versatility (stylistic and content-wise), undeniable charisma, storytelling ability (i.e. Torture), and his technical ability. Old is a valiant effort to blend genres (hip hop, dubstep, trap, trance, etc.), but it comes off as schizophrenic at times. Maybe Old sounds more cohesive when one is under the influence?
Killah Priest – The Psychic World of Walter Reed
Earl the Sweatshirt – Doris
Marco Polo – PA 2: The Director’s Cut (Has its share of tracks. “GURU” may be one of the best songs to come out this year.)
Childish Gambino – Because of the Internet
The Mac Miller album is okay and has a few tracks. I cannot get with most of it, though.