Last year, one rapper stood victorious: Kendrick Lamar. Things are a different this year. There are trap lords and jewel thieves; acid rappers and black skinheads; born sinners and snow slingers. Competition is strong, but there can only be one. Peep the 15 best rap albums of 2013.
© Creative Control
Chicago rapper Tree takes us to church on Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out
, an album inspired as much by 60s soul as his Christian upbringing. The mixtape blends beautiful soul samples with gritty street tales to yield a powerful contrast. Tree offers only sprinkles of his street pedigree, sidestepping the blacktop route that fueled his fellow Chicago native Chief Keef to success. Instead, the gravel-voiced rapper gets lit and invites us to meditate over warm melodies and dirty drums. Think Curtis Mayfield meets David Banner.
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His dope boy past is hyperbolic fantasy. His global takeover is reality. High-minded yet highly listenable.
This is Mac Miller's "look ma, no hands" move. His debut, Blue Slide Park, marked him as a goofy white teenager. So, he moved out west and divorced most of his old identity in search of underground-rap lore.
© Roc Nation
Born Sinner's landmark moments are minor, but the implications -- that hip-hop can be a positive force for respecting cultural vanguards, interrogating conspicuous consumption, and acknowledging its own hostility towards women -- are substantial.
A$AP Rocky's lil' homie came out the gate with a bang. And because of that, I have now done something I never would've predicted years ago -- include albums by two people named A$AP Something in one Best Of list.
Although this one dropped too early in what ended up being a busy year, a revisit shows that it's durable. A$AP Rocky is really good at blending disparate ideas and upending hip-hop traditions. It's a skill most...whatchacalllit, lyricists don't possess.
Strange but true: No member of the Odd Future collective--not even Tyler, the Creator--has fielded an album as good as Doris. The group's best lyricist sidesteps traditional album structures and puts the focus on his tightly wound lyrics and the throbbing bass beats. Doris rewards multiple spins.
The real Albert Einstein loved to sail. The only thing Prodigy is sailing on is Alchemist's icy beats. The way Bandana P vows to "beat you till you're lavender" on "lmdkv" just makes you want to drop everything and show him your heels.
© Def Jam
It was stupidly maligned when it first arrived, but I suspect that unbelievers have now warmed up to the Gospel According to Yeezus
. "New Slaves" is one of the year's best rap songs
, and the two preceding tracks ain't half bad, either. Seriously, give this thing another whirl.
This is what happens when that kid everyone teased in high school finally decides to knuckle up. Nothing Was the Same is Drake at his worst behavior. It's also as vulnerable as any Drake album, thanks to songs like "Too Much" and "Hold On, We're Going Home." Authentically and epically Aubrey.