Saturday, January 4, 2014

Top 20 Hip-Hop Projects of 2013

When we reflect on 2013 in the context of hip-hop it will likely be grouped into the most progressive era of the genre in it's history. As the digital age continues to make it's mark on music from distribution, marketing, and accessibility standpoints, 2013 undoubtedly brought forth a tremendous breadth of content across the many avenues we now have existing in hip-hop. We were challenged to accept different styles and perhaps encounter concepts unfamiliar or uncomfortable to us. But as it stands, the genre is alive and well when it comes to the depth. Our list of top 20 hip-hop projects of 2013 was constructed with that depth in mind, particularly with factors of conceptual consistency, substance in content, lyrical presence or growth, strength of songs, production, and overall impact on the year. 

Given the current digital state we chose to rank a collective list, which meant albums, mixtapes, and EPs were all fair game. Everything listed from here on is worth having and remembering from hip-hop in 2013. 


  • Eminem - MMLP2
  • Travis Scott - Owl Pharoah EP
  • Meek Mill - Dreamchasers 3
  • Mac Miller - Watching Movies With The Sound Off
  • 2 Chainz - B.O.A.T.S II: Me Time
  • Fabolous - Soul Tape 3
  • J. Cole - Truly Yours 2 EP
  • Isaiah Rashad - Hurt Cobain
  • Willie the Kid - Aquamarine
  • Yo Gotti - I Am
  • Troy Ave - New York City: The Album
  • The Underachievers - Lords of Flatbush
  • Troy Ave - White Christmas 2
  • Vic Mensa - INNANETAPE
  • Bas - Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. 2
  • Curren$y - New Jet City
  • Dom Kennedy - Get Home Safely
  • Denzel Curry - Nostalgic 64
  • Prodigy & Alchemist - Albert Einstein
  • Lloyd Banks - Failure's No Option
  • Logic - Welcome to Forever

20. KA - The Night's Gambit

The 41-year-old Brownsville native is said to have been active in hip-hop since 1993. Well, with his 2013 release of Night’s Gambit, he attempted to bring 1993 to the present. As I listened to the piece all I could here is Cuban Linx Wu-Tang raps which im sure KA would take as a complement. He took the boom bap gritty 90’s rap sound and storytelling and brought it to the digital age with Night’s Gambit, bringing lyricism to the forefront.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Our Father, Jungle, Knighthood

19. Joey Bada$$ - Summer Knights

The 18-year-old Flatbush phenom brought more of his thorough Pro Era brand of New York hip-hop. Mostly sticking with production from familiars Kirk Knight, Chuck Strangers, MF DOOM, and Statik Selektah, Joey blends his 1999 roots and textures with more gritty flow concoctions. You can very well get “stuck in the 90’s” with Bada$$’ sophomore project, doing a nice job of sticking to his formula as his sound and approach continues to evolve.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Alowha, Hilary Swank, Sweet Dreams, Word is Bond, Sit N' Prey, 95 Til' Infinity, Amethyst Rockstar

18. A$AP Ferg - Trap Lord

A$AP Ferg didn’t save New York rap or anything, but he managed to put an imposing footprint on hip-hop last year. Trap Lord formalized Ferg’s unruly, disorganized approach to the trap masses. He landed “Shabba” as a monster single and one of the biggest rap songs of the year (ranked #3 best song of 2013 by Complex and #23 by Pitchfork, respectively). As a whole Ferg sticks to his street survival tactics, with wildly explicit turns, shout-a-long adlibs that echo through almost every track, and a certain darkness that concludes when babies cry in the background on the final song, “Cocaine Castle”. We applaud and enjoy Ferg’s deserved high points from last year, even though the reservations still linger when it comes to lyrical coherence and content.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Let It Go, Shabba, Work (Remix), Fergivicious

17. Tyler, the Creator - Wolf

Odd Future’s reckless leader followed up his 2011 Goblin installment with more of his misanthropic antics, although Wolf strikes fully vulnerable nerves of Tyler, the Creator. Writing and producing every song except “Lone” is a testament to his growth in both areas, delivering gentle love songs on “Awkward” and “Ifhy” (the latter a bit more forthright) with help from Frank Ocean and Pharrell, addressing his absent father on “Answer”, and mourning his grandmother alongside traveling bass lines and Neptunes-infused drums throughout. Essentially Wolf still has Tyler frustrated with fame and fake fans and encounters with his typical alter egos, but the tones and concepts are more sympathetic than you might imagine.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Cowboy, Answer, Colossus, Rusty

16. J. Cole - Born Sinner

When Jermaine first dropped his sophomore studio album Born Sinner, I applauded him for being able to put together a conceptually sound project. Born Sinner is a story of struggle, fighting sin in all forms and his rapping is based around this idea. I think that this actually ended up being why the album didn’t fully pan out. A little too dark for a rapper that doesn’t hang his hat on being so. There are some gems on this album but there are also a good deal of skippers. Hoping Jermaine steps it up on the next drop because I am still a huge fan.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Villuminati, Forbidden Fruit, Runaway

15. Danny Brown - Old

Danny Brown told Pitchfork at the top of last year that XXX was made, “with the aim of getting great reviews”. His goal with Old was to follow with something, “as good or better” (using Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A as analogies). Seeping from the oozes of this year’s more primordial yet progressive “gangster rap” was the 32-year-old Detroit native’s third studio album. The “old Danny Brown”, to whom he makes reference on “Side a (Old)” and “The Return”, is still found in his familiar frantic deliveries and sharply abrasive discourse, which essentially earned his 2012 XXX project such wide acclaim. Divided into Side A and Side B are 19 songs that tap every corner of Brown’s erratic musical psyche, from his lowest points of being abandoned by his father on “Clean Up” to his parents’ struggle for money on ”25 Bucks” to dope fiend tales on “Torture” to his electro-trap party themed songs. Old was easily one of the more forward projects in hip-hop last year, just not the overall exact appeal we admired so from, say, XXX.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Side a (Old), 25 Bucks, Lonely, Side B (Dope Song)

14. Big K.R.I.T. - King Remembered in Time

Southern rap has surely taken many forms, but Big K.R.I.T. continues to produce a poetic, poly-versed framework and punctual delivery. Aside from producing every song with the exception of “Life Is a Gamble”, incorporating samples from James Blake (“REM”) to M83 (Multi Til’ The Sun Die”) to Cody Chesnutt (“Serve This Royalty”) shows the creative flexibility to compliment the innate crunk flows. Consistently depicting narratives with “Banana Clip Theory” and “WTF” are further displays of his explicit candor, and K.R.I.T. continues to assure that his unique efforts are accounted for.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Shine On, Talkin Bout Nothing, Meditate, Banana Clip Theory

13. Childish Gambino - Because the Internet

Somehow Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) not only keeps us guessing, but also entertained. No matter that he chose to doctor a full screenplay to accompany his 19-track sophomore studio album, or the graphics interchange format (GIF) used on the album artwork to accentuate the concept, but consider Gambino’s organic textures and still experimental themes. He assorts his approach throughout Because the Internet with futuristic concepts, love songs, interludes, and attacking concepts of life and death within existential narratives. This was one of several effective projects that aimed to synthetically challenge the notions of the genre in 2013.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks : The Worst Guys, Shadows, Flight of the Navigator, Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)

12. Lucki Eck$ - Alternative Trap

You can’t rely on every young, upcoming emcee to satisfy the ear with intuitive substance and wordplay, but Chicago’s 17-year-old Lucki Eck$ made himself an exception last year with Alternative Trap. Mellow backdrop production throughout from contributors such as Hippie Dream, Plu2o Nash, Odd Couple, and Nate Fox appease Lucki’s drowsy flow. But with each intent listen you encounter the clever metaphorical schemes, an exuded sense of maturity and comfort with his project that conceptually aims to present a merger between trap and alternative molds. For a lyricist so young and raw, a lot must be said for the ability to present such an impression with sincerity and precision. You can’t help but admire how the artwork and the music flourish as representations of the desired outcome.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Count On Me II, Interest, Nicky Wilson, New Life, Everything Outside

11. Kid Cudi - Indicud

Cud made headlines early last year when he decided to set up his own shop and break ties with Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music. Shortly after this news, with little warning, Cudi dropped Indicud. To my surprise, Indicud was extremely thorough and structurally sound. Being Cudi’s first completely self-produced album, it makes me think that he may have a future on the boards as well as the mic. With his signature melodic flows Cudi addresses a variety of subjects from immortality to close friendship. In an interview I read post-Indicud, he said that he wanted to use this project to flex his producer muscles by using other rappers that were on the rise i.e. ASAP Rocky & Kendrick Lamar. Well done, Cud.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Cold Blooded, Solo Dolo Pt II, Brothers

10. Action Bronson & Party Supplies - Blue Chips 2

Queens head chef Bronson is back with more food and basketball references than any rapper you’ve ever heard. Bronson delivers once again with his second installment of he and producer Party Supplies’ Blue Chips series. To be honest, its hard for me to lock in on any Action project that hasn’t been titled Blue Chips. The sound he and Party Supplies create is part of what makes him so great. Blue Chips 2 is easily one of the most entertaining listens of the year. In listening, be prepared to laugh while ooo-ing simultaneously. His punchlines and references are all his own and that says something in today’s hip-hop. Definitely a must listen.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Practice, Midget Cough, Through the Eyes of a G

9. Pusha T - My Name is My Name

Rap’s top coke dealer hit the kitchen and surprised many with his debut solo album MNIMN. Nobody (and I mean nobody) can put together an entire album about trapping and have it be as lyrically potent as Pusha. He supplied not only more for the fiends but more for critics who may have been skeptical about his ability to put together a variety of songs that can keep a listeners attention. With production from some of the best ever, i.e. Pharrell and Kanye, Push ate and successfully made the jump from being one half of the Clipse to being his own entity. Sonically this was easily one of the best rap albums of the year.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Numbers on the Boards, Suicide, Nostalgia

8. Nipsey Hussle - Crenshaw

Progressing for his eighth official mixtape, Los Angeles rep Nipsey Hussle found a way to induct this project in an original, must-have form. His latest compilation of 21 songs, all said to be throwaways from his forthcoming Victory Lap album, was released as a limited first edition of 1,000 copies for $100 each, plus other incentives like a phone call from Nipsey if you copped the tape. Even though Crenshaw was also released free for digital download, you have to appreciate the sense of demand and onus placed on the product by the artist. More importantly, sift through the music and you not only find his common drug and gang lifestyle, but the motivational themes, messages and subplots, Nipsey’s productive, potent deliveries, and one of the more unabridged hip-hop installations of the year. 

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: U See Us, Don't Take Days Off, Change Nothing, If U Were Mine

7. Killer Mike & El-P - Run The Jewels

Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and NY producer/rapper El-P teamed up to create one of the more memorable rap tandems in the last few years. Though I am not a huge fan of El-P as a rapper, his production is top-notch and extremely progressive. He took sounds that most rap producers would not dare toy with and threw one of the south’s more aggressive lyricists to create a magical moment in one of raps most active years in some time. Run the Jewels found a way to stand out amongst some of the elite of rap and even beat out some of them. Run the Jewels is a must listen for a multitude of reasons, but it's great because of its forwardness. 

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Banana Clippers, 36 Chain, Get It

6. Jay Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail

Despite how adamantly you may or may not have stuck with Jay Z’s twelfth studio album, despite how much you loved The Blueprint or Reasonable Doubt or The Black Album, and even despite Hov’s own middle-of-the-pack placement of MCHG when he ranked his 12 solo albums for Life and Times, what the 44-year-old still managed to accomplish in this era is remarkable. Just two days before little brother Yeezus arrived we saw Jay, Rick Rubin, Pharrell, and Timbaland think-tanking during that NBA Finals commercial, and weeks later it was “Tom Ford” and “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” invading clubs and airwaves. From his ability to simply deliver the songs we want now and still be able to apply the cultural relevance to the fundamental fact that his old ass can still flat out flow, this album practically represents rap immortality.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Picasso Baby, Tom Ford, Fuckwithmeuknowigotit, Beach is Better

5. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris

Some of the albums on this list made it for the potency of its songs, some for the forward thinking of it's production and sound. OF rapper Earl Sweatshirt makes it purely because of his rapping. In 2010 Earl caught my attention, not only because of the insanity of his collective but because the kid could flat out rap. To put it simple, almost nobody puts words together the way young Earl does. He can take the most obscure of references and piece it together with elegance and potency in an almost monotone delivery. Earl is a rapper I have been and will continue to be excited about because his upside seems to be exponentially higher than most of his contemporaries. With Doris, he flexed his skill over fantastic production. My only critique is that I’d like to see him put together better all around songs. But when it comes to rapping, Early got it.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: PRE, Hive, Centurion, Uncle AL, Molasses

4. A$AP Rocky - LongLiveA$AP

Even with one of last year's earliest releases, Rocky continued his breakout 2012 campaign with anthem on top of anthem. From possibly raps biggest record of the year “Fucking Problem” to the EDM-inspired “Wild For the Night” Rocky has his finger right on the pulse of what is popular and what is needed in rap and he fills that void to a tee. Production has always been a big part of Rocky’s sound and with Long Live A$AP he even successfully gives that aspect of his music his own touch. Some may argue that there are a lot of features and this is true (especially with 37 other rappers on "1 Train") but I think that just further speaks to the fact that Rocky is doing something right and there are a lot of folks that want to work with him. Long Live A$AP will be in my rotation for a while and for good reason. It KNOCKS.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Angels, Phoenix, Goldie

3. Kanye West - Yeezus

From here up on our list, we have three albums that in my opinion could have all been the top album of the year. In Ye’s most controversial release, Yeezus is a concept album based around the idea of minimalism. Though this is probably the last thing a lot of listeners hear, the concept, to me, was executed almost flawlessly. The biggest knock on the album is that it is more of an EP in terms of length, only being ten tracks. Most of the ten tracks, though, will be with us for a very long time. I have maintained that Yeezus is about where hip-hop sonically is going and if I am correct we are in for a treat. Bringing together production from Ye himself, Daft Punk and Hudson Mohawke, to name a few, Yeezus does what no other rap album has ever done. Ye broke all of the rules on purpose and still managed to create magic. Yeezus is history ladies and gentlemen.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: On Sight, Black Skinheads, New Slaves

2. Drake - Nothing Was The Same

No matter how you look at it, Drake continues to defy the odds. His third studio album reflects every facet of the skill set we glorified from his So Far Gone inception. For a hip-hop album to have a 2x platinum record like “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is unprecedented, and even more so when you consider the effortless dual threat. It’s still uncanny the melodic, sing-rap flows, the cadences, and more intimately, the extreme candor with which he effectively delivers his music. But with Nothing Was The Same also comes the hints of attitude and arrogance that artists demonstrate at their pinnacle. Relationships and internal issues course through this album as they do every Drake project, but there's no way to ignore the catchy anthems, the deluxe production from Noah "40" Shebib and others, and the unshakeable probability that Drake will continue to reign supreme as the most versatile in the game by far.

- Martin @marley_mcfly

Notable Tracks: Tuscan Leather, Wu-Tang Forever, Worst Behavior, The Language, Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music Part 2

1. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap

Chance easily gets my nod for rap’s rookie of the year and if Acid Rap is any indicator of what is to come, we have a future superstar on our hands. I personally think that no one was able to put together a better complete project this year than Chance which, mind you, is only his second project and technically his debut album. Chance’s approach to the project was somewhat of a social commentary about what it was like for him growing up in Chicago. It has some of the most potent moments this year in music. From his riffing on “Good Ass Intro”  to his nearly unfathomable flows on “Chain Smoker”, Chance won this year in every way possible. Acid Rap, like Yeezus, will be an album that people will go back to for a very very long time.

- L. Reels @L_reels919

Notable Tracks: Pusha Man, Acid Rain, Everybody's Something

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