An album released by hand. A church-inspired mixtape. A highly experimental LP. Here are the five best hip-hop albums of 2013 so far.
(See also: Best Rap Songs 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.
© Def Jam
Yes, this one turned out to be a grower. Despite being stupidly maligned when it first arrived, I suspect that the unbelievers will warm up to Yeezus
by the time we flip the calendar. "New Slaves" is one of the year's best rap songs
, and the two preceding tracks ain't half bad, either. Seriously, give this another whirl.
Chicago's Chance the Rapper embodies the sheer range and breadth of hip-hop as an art medium. His second mixtape, Acid Rap
, finds him awakening to a wide range of influences across different eras and time zones. It's this range that keeps Acid Rap
exciting, free flowing, and memorable.
© Iron Works
Ka is not in a hurry. His flow is crisp, his poetry potent. He gives you time to process the lurid details in his hood tales. At a time when everything is rushed off the music industry assembly line, Ka takes his sweet time, even releasing this the old-fashioned way -- by hand, on the same street corner where Fat Beats once stood. The Night's Gambit
is an album that rewards repeated spins.
© Fool's Gold
After dropping two of last year's best rap albums in R.A.P. Music
and Cancer 4 Cure
, Killer Mike and El-P prove they still have plenty left in the D-E-F tank on Run the Jewels
. That means filthy beats and witty raps that will surely elicit laughter and adoration. Group chemistry done right.