I’m really sorry that I’ve neglected you this year, hip-hop. New waves of UK dance pop, PBR’n’B, and the budding chill-trap movement have distracted me from my deep roots with you. Songs by French Montana and 2 Chainz were shrug-while-fist-twisting worthy when I was at the club, but it made me cringe when I realized that this was where you were heading. But then I realized, that you weren’t defined by songs that just repeated brand names of luxury cars and fashion. Mainstream rap may be the shiniest facet of your diamond, but it’s not the most beautiful. With that being said, this is not going to be a top ten list of my favorite albums from 2013 as originally requested by my editor. It’s an uncovering of the rest of the gem that hip-hop has evolved into, broken down into ten categories noting my favorite artists.
1) Hip-pop : I remember the first time I heard a Big Sean verse. It was during a time period where I focused more on producers than rappers and would listen to anything The Neptunes, Timbaland, or Kanye made a beat for. Yeezy’s beat for Glenwood leaked unmastered and I was sold on the Detroit newcomer.
Now he’s engaged to Santana from Glee, and has an album that I consider one of the best overall of the year based on the simple fact that it makes sense. The blend of featured artists of Nas and Juicy J to Miguel and Nicki Minaj vary to display his hood credibility that goes hand in hand with his commercial appeal. He doesn’t shy away from it and that’s why this album flows organically. Plus, I really love this song. Don’t ask me why, because I have no answer for you.
Honorable mention: Drake || Nothing Was The Same : I really hate “Started From The Bottom” but this album was fairly solid. But the song with Sampha is never going to get airplay, so the songs I like aren’t really considered “hip-pop”.
2) Hood-hop: In my last month as a senior in high school, one of the best albums in hip-hop history came out. With production that was ahead of our time, The Clipse weaved over Neptunes beats with a gritty delivery to make Lord Willin’ a classic. A few years later, Jive Records brushed the brothers into a corner, causing delayed release dates of their follow-up album, eventually leading them to split up to pursue solo careers. Malice decided to take a page from Mase’s book and went towards Jesus (consequently resulting in his name change to No Malice) while Pusha T signed to Kanye’s label G.O.O.D. Music.
I’m telling you all of this because you need to understand what Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name album represents. Imagine making widely acclaimed masterpieces of mixtapes and albums consistently, only to be ignored by your label. This is Pusha’s rebirth. His chance to show us what he’s been working on after all these years. Even better, The Clipse might reunite sometime next year and Pusha’s next album is going to be entirely produced by Pharrell and Kanye.
Honorable mention: MMG Presents || Self-Made Vol. 2: If you haven’t heard it, you probably should. Great samples for hooks, legitimate verbiage, and you can estimate all of the reasons why Rick Ross is fat or why Meek Mill is so angry when he spits.
3) Beat tapes: A tidal wave of producers leading a movement called chill-trap have emerged in the past year. Whether you know them from Boiler Room YouTube videos, or surfing through Soundcloud, names like Kaytranada, Ryan Hemsworth, Falcons, and Giraffage are becoming more and more prominent. Honestly, it’s really hard to choose a favorite from this past year, because they’re all doing beautiful things. So we have a tie. Esta || Paradise and Ta-Ku || Songs To Break Up To.
Esta has emerged in a genre that truly doesn’t really have a name. On this beat tape alone, he dabbles in flowy instrumentals with “For You (& Her Too)” to slappy trap on “DOT$” and manages to touch everything in between. My favorite albums are the ones that are complete. The ones that cover all their bases and leave you wanting more. And Esta does this to perfection. You can buy it here.
The Australian producer Ta-ku has been there for us for different moments. His DoWhatYouLove EP got us grooving, but Songs To Break Up To will hold us as we cry ourselves to sleep. It’s mellow, yet emotional. Chill, yet chilling. Winter is here, so grab some hot chocolate, cozy up to the fire, and listen to this…..alone. Get it here.
Honorable Mention: JoDef || Steps: If there’s a beat tape that I can listen to in it’s entirety and get amped, it’s this one. Sade, Slum Village, and Soul For Real are all sampled and Jo Def weaves it into a head bopper of a beat. You really only have to follow Soulection or Huh What & Where to keep tabs on this movement.
4) Backpacker: Earl Sweatshirt is my favorite in Odd Future. Well, Frank Ocean is up there too. And The Internet. Ok, maybe he’s just one of my favorites in OFWGKTA, but he’s definitely my preferred rhymer. His album, Doris is perfect. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but the more I listen to it, it’s giving me a feeling that it is. From his effortless flows that exhibit a dark mind to the variety in production to a verse from Mr. Ocean where he actually raps, this might be one of my top albums of the year in any genre.
Honorable Mention: Blu || No York: Blu is her favorite color and I can’t disagree. It may be because I’m not following it as much as before, but it’s hard to find rappers that still use beats with jazz influences. Blu || No York doesn’t disappoint with features by songstress Andy Allo, slap-spitters Pac-Div, and even production by the almost forgotten Sa-Ra. I’m sure there’s a ton of winners this year in this genre, and I’m admitting ignorance due to lack of focus on the backpack movement this year.
5) PBR’n’B: It’s really hard to explain what’s going on these days with rhythm and blues. You have soulful artists from the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and even Asia, but the rules have changed. PBR’n’B is a movement of vocalists who no longer adhere to sticking to the confines of hip-hop beats, but now mix in indie, jazz, and even electro production to complement their lofty voices. Since the beginning of this year, I haven’t stopped raving about Rhye. Robin Hannibal of Quadron’s simple accompaniments to Mike Milosh’s Sade-like vocals epitomize this to perfection. The album Woman is a symphony of emotion and beauty in it’s entirety. I saw them live three times this year and I hate going to concerts. Their mission is the music, so the lights are dimmed on stage so you can’t even see their faces.
Honorable mention: Banks || London EP: She only released four official songs this year, but the LA native has us waiting for more. Deep, sultry, yet direct, Banks is just getting started.
6. Crossovers: Donald Glover is a genius of a human being. As a foster kid who started his career writing for 30 Rock with Tina Fey, he rose to recognition as Troy Barnes on the hit show Community. Using that leverage, he utilized witty puns to begin rapping under the moniker Childish Gambino and has evolved into a respected artist with two albums under his belt including multiple mixtapes. The Camp album was more indie than anything. It reminded me a lot of 808s and Heartbreak by Kanye in that it internalized anger while also giving glimpses of emotional anguish. Royalty cemented Gambino’s place in hip-hop credibility with core beats and features by Bun B, RZA, Ghostface Killah, and a surprise cameo by a gangster Tina Fey (4:58 mark). Because The Internet is a testament to all he’s been through and the variety in tracks exemplifies this beautifully.
It’s not really fair that he can sing and rap, but that’s what the crossover genre embodies. Childish has a following that ranges from hipsters to fangirls to backpackers, and it’s scary to understand the power this man holds.
Honorable mention: Chance The Rapper || Acid Rap – I remember downloading this album and forgetting to even listen to it for at least a week. My shuffle directed me to the song below (coincidentally featuring Childish Gambino) and it drew me to listen to the entire album. Someone to definitely watch.
7. Godfathers: I’m getting old but these guys are older. Kanye, Eminem, and Jay Z battled it out this year with walkers that had tennis balls for wheels, and it’s hard to say who really won. After re-listening to all three releases, I’m going to have to side with Yeezy. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is a jumble of ideas that got spread out over 21 songs and Magna Carta Holy Grail is a commercialized album that screams money at my face. For those of you who didn’t like Yeezus, I can safely assume that it was because of the cocky lyrics, and his assholish attitude throughout the album. But, that’s who Kanye is. He doesn’t care that his music video with Kim K was widely ridiculed or that you make fun of him for wearing a kilt. There’s something refreshing about his lack of a filter that I respect.
Who else can sample TNGHT while using a Nina Simone hook that talks about the lynching of blacks? Only Kanye can and it’s because he doesn’t live within the limitations of the music industry. He’s built a world that revolves around himself, and it’s hard not to get caught in orbit for just a little bit.
Honorable Mention: Justin Timberlake || The 20/20 Experience – He’s only an honorable mention because he’s borderline hip-hop but we all know how sweet this album was. Thank goodness he’s back because only he can make this type of music.
8) Queens: It was a late addition, but Beyonce is on your lips like liquor. With a surprise iTunes release earlier this month, Blue Ivy’s mother broke the internet with a visual and audible experience. At 14 tracks and 17 videos, the self-titled release was actually trimmed down from 80 recorded songs that Bey made. At this point, I don’t know if she’s human anymore.
Honorable Mention: Janelle Monae || The Electric Lady – the only woman who could potentially outperform Beyonce in a live concert released her second album with an eclectic tracklisting that matches her personality. Features from Prince, Miguel, and Erykah Badu were just added bonuses.
9. Body Rolls: There are songs that cause you to just undulate like a dolphin and you can’t help it. Unless you don’t know how to do a body roll, in which case you can’t help doing a worm having a heart attack. And there’s one obvious album that comes to mind. Ciara’s self-titled fifth album is definitely a body party. Her fiance, Future, is one lucky guy, because no one else knows how to dance sexy like Ciara. Not much else to say about this.
Honorable Mention: The Weeknd || Kiss Land: Because it’s Abel Tesfaye and he basically created this category.
10. Soul: I’m thankful that there’s still an appreciation for funk and soul with a modern twist in these times. Robert Glasper continues to fly the Dilla flag and brings Emeli Sande, Dwele, Common, and Norah Jones along for the experience. Black Radio Two is just as strong as it’s previous counterpart and it’s one of those albums that I keep in rotation weekly. It’s not easy to communicate a feeling of live music through airwaves, but the organic nature of his product is unmistakable and the listener acknowledges it.
Honorable mention: Mayer Hawthorne || Where Does This Door Go? : the Michigan crooner strikes again to keep the funk alive. Even though it’s a departure from his previous albums, it still emits soul.
That’s a wrap. Peace out 2013.