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01.03.14 Top 10 Hip-hop Albums // 201312.26.13 Top Five Most Disappointing (But Still
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Top 10 Hip-hop Albums // 2013

The top 10 releases from last year, as told by me. Full piece over at: ten-hip-hop-albums-of-2013
10Action Bronson
Blue Chips 2

Coming in last on the list is one of the most effortlessly witty, larger-than-life, and downright lovable personas in hip-hop: Action Bronson. ??With Blue Chips 2, Bronson and Party Supplies find a balance between progression and consistency that allows Bronson to bless us with verses about anything and everything while sounding like he?s god?s gift to earth. On the fluttering and energetic ?Pepe Lopez,? for example, Bronson takes his ?bam-bam? personality into overdrive, which, in his very capable hands, gives us relentless passages such as:? ?I got the '89 Firebird?Guns like Wyatt Earp?Before I do business?I want to know the buyer's worth?Fast forward '98, Mark McGuire shirt?I eat dessert while your bitch flirt (Uhh)?Ship work to a Mick out in Pittsburgh?When you're focused, strict terms are never misheard?Shift gears, schhherrp?Twist Earth?Lift the Nerf?Shit, I got a lot of nerve?Catch me on the run with a Nevada nurse?Rambo knife in the Escada purse?Lestor Diamond in the face, chase?I'm in the gray 8?Restaurant, I order rabbit like a Playmate?Suede snake, crocodile silk?Barely legal Brazilian mami all on the quilt?I twist a bitch like Wilt, built?I spit the shit the people feel, uhh, yeah? There?s something enigmatic about his relationship with rap, but there?s no denying his sharp tongue and talent for stringing words together to specifically match his cadence. The content itself strives off a self-assured high that keeps propelling itself towards the stratosphere - not stopping once to question or wonder what?s happening (even when Bronson himself breaks down laughing while recording his fantasies, or spits something as shocking as ?my mother wrist?s so cut it looks like a shark bite?). In reality, giving a rapper such samples (that are part nostalgic and part even borderline tacky) and the freedom to do whatever over them, is a recipe for disaster. Good thing Bronson used to be a chef. ?Shooting guns with my daughter on the weekend/Smoke the butter same color as The Weeknd?
9Chance the Rapper
Acid Rap

Chance the Rapper?s Acid Rap is, ironically, more of a shrooms trip. ??Laced with eccentric vocal tics and soaring yet understated melodies, this album weaves an extremely cartoonish soundscape where the rapper?s delivery and cadence are just mere instruments in constructing a specific atmosphere. From the various references to hallucinogens from Chance at any given opportunity to even the featured rappers (?Music and tabs of lucy, take your chance with this rapper? harmonizes Ab-Soul, doing his best to mimic Chance?s strained yet endearing crooning) it may all seem a bit too disingenuous or try-hard on paper. However, Chance excels at execution and his strongest quality, his songwriting, shines through on almost every track. Whether it?s the deeply personal ?Cocoa Butter Kisses? (hooks such as this one and the one on ?NaNa,? where he sounds like a little kid, add to the overall hallucinatory and animated aesthetic) where he spits ?Put Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me? or the effortlessly timeless single, ?Juice,? Chance showcases a great appreciation for technical rapping while being wholly true to himself and his vision. It?s a record that's unabashedly true to the rapper's personality and that itself makes it endlessly entertaining. ?Lot of niggas wanna go out with a bang/But I ain't tryna go out at all/...Got a lot of ideas still to throw out the door?
8Delusional Thomas
Delusional Thomas

Almost no other rapper has had a better year than Mac Miller. After crashing onto the scene straight out of high school with an enjoyable mixtape, Kids, he had a series of progressively improving releases that garnered positive public reception and yielded a few hit singles (such as the over the top ?Donald Trump?) but were critically dismissed as retreads. Truth is, Mac was slowly trying to develop a sound of his own as he perfected his production as well as his own vocal talent (from finally leaving behind the very familiar cadence he used to rap with repeatedly in the past to even learning how to sing). He began releasing beats under the alias Larry Fisherman, a Jazz EP, and freestyles/random tracks that were noticeably much more confident in their associative thought processes and drug-induced stream of consciousness style writing (as well as just being rapped better). From the hilarious ?He Who Ate All the Caviar? to the hypnotic single ?Watching Movies,? there was a new aura of artistic vision that surrounded him. It?s the same confidence Chance already has, and it ultimately led to the release of the pitch-shifted, inner monologue/therapy- esque Delusional Thomas persona and album that featured his most creative, witty, and engaging writing to date. On Watching Movies With the Sound Off he?s relatively much more straightforward, and in hindsight, it serves as a stepping stone for his transition into Delusional Thomas, but it?s also an undeniably solid release featuring brilliant drug-addled odes such as ?Red Dot Music (ft. Action Bronson)? (?Think I can see a halo...I?m Kennedy on ecstasy? Mac spits) or simple yet smooth melodic songs such as ?Objects in the Mirror.? He?s trying very hard to be taken seriously as artist and not a gimmick by, well, adapting what?s seemingly another gimmick; but, as always with hip-hop, it?s about the execution. And with Watching Movies..., Delusional Thomas, and his first ?live album? that he released in December, Live from Space, he clearly deserves your attention. ?You had a girl, I kinda wish you knocked her up/So I could meet your son and talk you up?
7Armand Hammer

Almost no other rapper has had a better year than Mac Miller - ?cept billy woods. woods has only recently been on my radar, but in that short period of time he?s released two of my favorite albums of the year and has poised himself to be one of the most engaging storytellers in the last decade. RACE MUSIC, however, isn?t solely a billy woods showcase (that comes later on in the list) and he?s supported in equal parts by Elucid as they weave stories that may seem straightforward due to alarmingly placid punchlines or just observations (?Memories fade like Momento/When someone threatening your kinfolk?), but are ultimately testaments to dizzyingly good writing. It would be a slight on the record to subject it to any sort of ?underground? labeling and all the negative connotations associated with that specific niche, because, above all, billy woods - and Elucid and RACE MUSIC as an extension - is ultimately so confident in his cadence that rather than beg for you to listen, he shoves the thudding syllables into your brain and lets them float freely till you piece together the tale. I find woods to be much more compelling on his own, when he maintains full artistic rein over the execution of his craft (there?s a reason why ?Duppy? is so hard-hitting), but him and Elucid find a space in this futuristic, gritty, atmosphere to effectively share the stage.
6 L'Orange & Stik Figa
City Under the City

As a last minute addition to the list, I need to thank a few friends over at StudioLeaks for getting me acquainted with L?Orange & Stik Figa. ??After mere minutes of listening to City Under the City, I was beating myself up for having missed a release so up my alley. There?s the elaborate backdrop to the album that tells the tale of a man as he discovers the city ?above? and ?below,? the two halves of the same home he thought he knew, which drives the narrative forward. There?s the slick-tongued rhyming from Stik Figa that effortlessly breathes life into L?Orange?s sample and jazz-laced fantastic production, turning it into a surreal, cartoony, circus. And there?s just such a refreshingly crisp yet seemingly timeless twinkle to many of these short songs. L?Orange embodies a simple yet piercing style that?s immediately recognizable, unique, and even elegant. And even though this is clearly a very carefully considered collaborative effort, L?Orange provides a completely freeing canvas for Stik Figa to string together enticing passages such as:???As I, wax poetic over past aesthetic?Craft a legend of a time before the apathetic?Let?s start a tab, what will you have is that cash or credit?How about a glass of purgatory with a splash of heaven?Watch your language if you ain't off in the speakeasy?To speak freely on mechanisms in streets see we?Draw the weapon freehand call em artiste really?Paint the block into a motif of grief bleeding? Speed reading making educated guesses???Or flip various conventional styles like:???Work reveals diligence, words reveal real intent?Can?t kill the spirit won?t kneel before ignorance?Just want to heal, that appeal to the militant??Conceal cold steel, blood spilled for the innocent?Hang by the filament, against these casts of characters?Assassinate the booth, John Wilkes blast derringers?Laughing at my barriers amidst the mass hysteria? There?s plenty parasites that bite, pass along malaria?Fair enough, but that ain't who it?s written for?Suckers dissing from a distance wishing' they would visit more?Porch politician from east Memphis to Pigeon Forge?Had a good day but my mama still fixing pork?Raw, spit something, Hacksaw Jim Duggan?Crack jaws, snap bras, slap box, push buttons?Smack yall with padlocks, yall ball on a budget?Beamer, Benz, Bentley? We Regal, Caddy, Cutlass???This is a layered record that?s somehow extremely easy to listen, and will most likely put a smile on your face for no reason. Just go ahead and download it. ???Follow paper trails though; yea I need some more of that/What you see is what you get, sort of like a Rorschach????Are you ready on the right? Are you ready on the left??
5Kanye West

With Yeezus, Kanye?s officially pissed off more people than ever before; maybe even more than after the Taylor Swift incident. ??Because not only do onlookers consider him rude and unnecessarily outspoken, just like they did after the VMAs, this time around even his most loyal fans can?t seem to muster up a word in defense of this guy who?s been comparing himself to Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Jesus, and Nelson Mandela - yes, Mandela - outside of his music. In actual interviews and public appearances. In his own mind, Kanye West is a force much greater than hip-hop. He?s an ever- morphing powerful entity that does us the favor of grabbing us by the straps of our leather jogging pants (do leather jogging pants have straps? what the fuck are leather jogging pants?) to remind us that he had the idea years ago. Because like it or not this is the same man that has one of the most impressive discographies in hip-hop history, spanning from the soulful perfection found on The College Dropout and Late Registration to the genre-shaping 808s & Heartbreak to the most recent release prior to this hard left turn, and one of the most acclaimed hip-hop albums of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In his own mind, he?s an artist, an innovator, an entrepreneur, a staple of modern culture, one of the lone, true, geniuses of our time. And you know what? That?s FINE. Let the man breathe. He isn?t hurting anyone (maybe except the paparazzi that keep asking for it). That is to say, leave the man out of the music. Even when he bares all his most crude and unattractive aspects on Yeezus like never before. Yeezus is an unfinished, at its worst, rushed, attempt at leaving his imprint on modern rap and ushering in a new wave of genre evolution, but as he takes staples from various lesser known genres or incarnations of industrial, trap, or drill-hop, he manages to mash them into something wholly Kanye West. And despite its jarring and disjointed nature, this is a 10 track experiment by West that is definitely worthy of its place in the (big-headed) man?s exceptional discography. It?s an angry record, and that might not be for everyone. It?s an overtly sexual record, almost depraved at times, and that might not be for everyone. It?s a blunt record, rarely allowing for any understated moments (save for a few sequences on ?Hold My Liquor? or ?New Slaves?), and that might not be for everyone. But it?s also a completely honest record, and if you embrace the aesthetic, you?ll have more fun with this release than with almost any other album on the list. ?You see it?s leaders...and then there?s followers?
4Childish Gambino
Because the Internet

At this point in time I?ve talked way too much about Gambino and his multi-platform performance piece - Because the Internet. ??Multi-platform because it spans an album, (with a leaked ?troll? version that Glover himself gave to the public and a regular version for iTunes) a script, and short silent movie clips. A performance piece because, as much as it?s based on Glover?s actual life the past few years, it?s a work of fiction and he?s carried this persona (once again confusingly (successfully) muddled between reality and fiction) through lyric videos, interviews in person, freestyles, Instagram videos and pictures, trending topics (#roscoeswetsuit) and the like. The mixed reception has gotten to the point where people are forgetting how to remove personal impressions or ideologies from the actual music, and, when it comes down to it, this is definitely an unbelievably huge step in the right direction - almost feels as if this is all that?s left for the ?Gambino? side of Glover?s personality to offer us. It?s gotten to the point where I?ve written a (lengthy) strategy guide of sorts (a track by track review) just to help connect the dots between the album and the script. This is one of the most ambitious releases in a year full of ?em.? The only other way I can describe this album, without treading the same ground over and over again is this:??It?s like his previous album, Camp, meets Frank Ocean?s Channel Orange meets complete randomness.??Do with that what you will.???Gut niggas, so Kurt Vonne?
3Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels

EVERYTHING about Run the Jewels is a reflection of hip-hop itself in 2013. ??From sporting some of the hardest bangers of the year to the sheer confidence and control Killer Mike and El-P (?fuck boys think about it?) have over their rapping, this is a short ten track album that builds on the innovation that producer/rapper El-P has been nurturing and perfecting for many years (most recently on his 2012 LP, Cancer 4 Cure and Killer Mike?s R.A.P. Music). This seems to draw comparisons to Yeezus, seeing as how West has clearly attempted to borrow from artists such as El-P. And as much as I love Yeezus, RTJ is just fucking free of any restraints whereas West seems to be constantly battling a multitude of restrictions head on. This would leave the selection of one album over another to preference, as they possess two very distinct atmospheres, but I believe just about everything on Run the Jewels is better done than Yeezus. The rapping (the contrast between Killer Mike's almost free form single syllable bravado and El-P deliberate, multi-syllabic tirades), the (experimental, innovative and just brilliant) production and the cohesiveness - all superior. The records called fucking Run the Jewels, and there isn't supposed to be a broader thematic link between the tracks or their content but somehow it STILL manages to be an immensely more coherent release than MANY of the records that came out this year.?? Understated moments like when Mike spits ?drones over Brooklyn? and you can hear tiny hums in the background on ?DDFH?, the switch ups on ?Sea Legs? or ?No Come Down?, the guitar solo on ?A Christmas Fucking Miracle? and many more nuances littered throughout are what keep me coming back so often. Yeezus, which I love, has Kanye trying so hard with his "minimalistic" approach to haphazardly combing a bunch of influences while Run the Jewels sees El-P sitting in his studio on a number of various drugs and just doing it so much more seamlessly for the most part. And that?s not a slight at West - it?s more a frustration with his insistence on releasing a work in progress as the ?next big thing.? All he ends up doing is creating a stark contrast with more fleshed out releases such as RTJ or Danny Brown?s Old. Even if a majority of the tracks supplement the fantastic, almost ethereal, production with ?battle rap? verses, there are moments littered through - from Killer Mike on ?DDFH,? or both of the rappers on A Christmas Fucking Miracle and so on that make a pretty lasting impact when a record is only 33 minutes long. ???I get so high, I close my eyes, like I may die...and I won?t come down?
2Danny Brown

Tyler, The Creator can eat as many fucking cockroaches as he wants, but in 2013 Danny Brown is the true ?walking fucking paradox.? ??Flipping the structure of his fantastic 2011 release, XXX, Brown kicks off Old with a much more subdued, nuanced, and even humble ?Side A,? leaving the molly, coke, weed and pill-laced half of the record, interestingly, for ?Side B.? On XXX we were introduced to the maniac and the addict first, as the more reserved personality crept through as the tape reached its end. On Old, we are instead presented with all the downsides - all the struggles, isolation, hangovers and withdrawals (?Hotel rooms crushing pills and menus/Daughter sending me messages saying "Daddy I miss you"/But in this condition I don't think she need to see me...?) - before reverting right back to the same habits that got us there. This is most brilliantly exemplified by the transition from getting ready to ?Clean Up,? to frantically wondering if ?anybody[?s] worried? on ?Red 2 Go? as the previous tracks promises and resolutions fade away in a drug-induced haze. There are plenty more fantastic moments on this LP, but this dynamic specifically illustrates the careful thought and consideration Danny Brown places in his craft - from having one of the most versatile deliveries in rap to the actual expression on his content. Despite his appearance, his history, or his frenzied persona on many tracks, Brown is one of the most focused artists in rap at the moment. ??Now is this release flawless? ??No, not entirely. When compared to the sheer ferocity and hypnotic quality of the production and even the performance by Brown, ?Side A? begins to pale in comparison to the second half of Old. Brown wants us to believe one can?t exist without the other, but he leaves us wanting more when he isn?t really trying to be as remarkable on the more mellowed out tracks. It?s purposeful, but it also detracts from how engaging songs like ?Torture? or ?Lonely? may be when compared to the dizzyingly intense ?Side B? tracks such as ?Dip? (?SUH!?) or ?Smokin? & Drinkin?? or ?Handstand.? Speaking of ?Handstand,? this is also the only album in my life where there?ve been two songs about twerking in a row (?Break It (Go)? followed by ?Handstand?) and I haven?t deleted either of them. In fact, I love both of them for unique enough reasons to listen to them on a regular basis. ? Whether it?s the middle-eastern vibe on the incredibly succinct, nursery rhyme inspired, ?Wonderbread,? or the rhythm and pace on ?Dope Fiend Rental (ft. Schoolboy Q)? or the clever backdrop to the over-the-top, thudding ode to his ?last dope song? but not his last ??DOPE? song? - this is an extremely well crafted powerhouse of a record. ? ?On my way to get Wonderbread...I swear I just want the bread?
1Billy Woods
Dour Candy

??billy woods is an anomaly. ??Rather than beg for the listener?s attention, his booming, commanding and deliberately paced cadence, tosses one-off straight faced punch lines (?Pleasantly surprised like moms gave me the car keys?), precise and carefully articulated vignettes, and seemingly caviller contradictions into the air and lets them crash down onto the listener?s skull - as he walks away into the night (woods actively strays from press photos or even showing his face in music videos). How can someone so commanding and in control of their presence be so enigmatic in real life? ?? Whatever the answer may be (and it certainly isn?t clear to me), woods leaves it all up to the music, and, with the previously mentioned style of disjointed and almost anecdotal, layered, storytelling, he manages to create pieces of the puzzle that ultimately mesh together impeccably on Dour Candy. The soundscape, solely credited to the immensely talented Blockhead, is masterclass in creativity on its own, but it?s ultimately a testament to woods? vision as he bears the brunt of the album?s most pivotal narratives (the ?Taxi Cab Confessions? inspired ?Hack? to the bus ride inspired take on the legend of ?Gilgamesh?) and carries it with such ease that it?s actually sort of alarming. It becomes inaccessible for a bit, if only for the absolute assurance that woods tackles every track with, but as his concise yet intricate process of storytelling starts to peel away, the common themes of evolution, timelessness, and self- fulfillment are urgently waiting to be explored.??Now is this release flawless???Well, yeah. Pretty much. ??Dour Candy is a tour de force in hip-hop songwriting and production, from the seamlessly incorporated yet piercing samples on many of the tracks, such as ?Manteca,? to even the hooks (?The Wire? inspired ?You want it one way, but it?s another? being a fan-favorite). From the rapping to the poetry. The deliberate statements to the subtle melodies. No one track is misplaced or misused, no understated pause or break is unnecessary.??It?s the best hip-hop album of 2013.???I can't call it, "Amadou Diallo", why I don't carry a wallet????I take that like a kiss from a whore?
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