Wow. What a year.
Hip Hop in 2013 has been expansive, to say the least. The quality has been subjective – and worthy of incessant debate – but there is no denying that everyone could have a wildly different Top 10 list this time around. You’ve had comeback records from the massive artists like Kanye West, Drake, Jay Z and Eminem, debuts aplenty from the likes of A$AP Rocky, mixtapes treats all over the shop and sophomore efforts from Big Sean, Tinie Tempah and many others.
Honourable mentions should go to Danny Brown, Ghostface Killah, Chance the Rapper, Busta/Q-Tip, Mac Miller, Tinie Tempah, Kid Cudi, 2 Chainz (well at least he tried this time) and Black Milk. In fact, there is so much stuff out this year that for once, I really didn’t get the chance to spin quite a few interesting sounding joints (Illogic, Run the Jewels…).
All in all, it’s been a particularly interesting year for hip hop – few bonafide classics, but something for everyone. And so the year 2013 gets an 8.0 out of 10 from me.
TOP TEN OF THE YEAR
10) Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Having written the review for this and listened excessively a few months back, it’s fair to say that I’ve barely spun it since. It’s not a record that compares to the imperious “Take Care” but that doesn’t mean it is without merit. The most frustrating thing is probably the chopping up of various tracks and Drake just trying to be TOO clever with it. A lot of people rate this as their favourite LP of his, and I can certainly see why, but it wasn’t the redefining record we were hoping for.
9) Swami Baracus – The Recipe
Very simple: a dope free mixtape, a variety of production genres and excellent lyrics throughout. “The Recipe” was a touch too long but after being hyped up for years, it was fantastic to even receive it. Swami Baracus probably spent about 10% of a nightly Drake bar bill on this, and clearly put a lot more thought into his mixtape too. It’s one of those little secret gems worth highlighting.
8) J. Cole – Born Sinner
The issue with J. Cole is that “Born Sinner” felt like a man at the peak of his powers – which is fine – but that summit isn’t particularly high. J. Cole will never make a classic. He will never change the game. He will never be a legend. I guarantee all of this. But that doesn’t mean he can’t sell records, make solid albums and contribute positively to hip hop. Not everyone can be the star player; you need squaddies to come in off the bench sometimes too.
7) A$AP Rocky – Long. Live. A$AP
It’s easy to forget that although A$AP Rocky’s major label debut leaked around this time last year, it did officially drop mid-January. That seems like a lifetime ago but the Harlem native did a good job putting together an astute introduction to the wider world of hip hop. Although nowhere near the level of 50 Cent’s early work, it is somewhat reminiscent in its ruthless efficiency: clever production, decent lyrics, banging choruses.
6) Pusha T – My Name Is My Name
I’ve since revised my opinion of MNIMN a touch, and have to apportion more disappointment to the project. I don’t think it is going to age particularly well (by classic standards). It’s still a record with quality, but Kanye West didn’t make the best of T’s talent, Pusha didn’t push himself enough and it’s one to occasionally spin – not a flawless classic like “Hell Hath No Fury”.
5) Big Sean – Hall of Fame
This could have been further up the list with just a few changes, as I said within the review. But it’s still going to be one of the most slept-on joints this year. If you’re looking at songs that NOBODY ELSE could have written, thus showcasing actual skill, then Big Sean has not received a fair trial. “Nothing Can Stop You” is simply genial; “Fire” is inspirational… The middle core takes the steam out but as with Pusha T’s album, if Kanye West had paid a bit more attention to his protégé then this could have been so much more.
4) M.I.A. – Matangi
I was not looking forward to “Matangi” – being an M.I.A. fan, the signs were not good BUT thankfully I needn’t have worried. Once you edit a few songs out, it’s absolutely BRILLIANT and is pretty much up there with the best of her catalogue. Yes, even “Kala” in certain ways. Change the tracklisting to this and it’s near-perfect: Come Walk With Me, Only 1 U, Warriors, aTENTion, Exodus, Bad Girls, Boom Skit, Double Bubble Trouble, Y.A.L.A, Bring the Noize, Lights. Trust me!
3) Kanye West – Yeezus
Wow. Talk about divisive. Reading my own review once again, I wasn’t expecting to agree with it – but fortunately I do. Critics overrate it, massively so – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great record. For me, it hits certain highs that made it an undoubted epic of 2013, but has deficiencies enabling justified nit-picking. “On Sight” and “Bound 2” open/close “Yeezus” with such fervour, and in-between you’ll find a whole bunch of either interesting or disgusting music. It’s incredibly subjective but once you tune out the obnoxious narrative voice, most of it is just wildly enjoyable. Although I still skip a 2-3 tracks on a 10-song album (which says a lot).
2) Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Apart from passively ingesting “Holy Grail” on the radio, it’s easy to forget that Jay Z even released an album this year. Even that song mainly sounds like a Justin Timberlake record FEATURING Jigga. Which made it all the more surprising that another veteran, Eminem, made the most complete album of his entire career – the astonishing sequel to “The Marshall Mathers LP”. Even the majority of Slim’s staunchest Stans didn’t see this coming. It’s still a shame that the great reductive work done by Rick Rubin on “Yeezus” wasn’t applied to MMLP2 as well – too many of the songs are simply too long, and that probably affected the initial reaction to it. But on a base level, the music is dope, the choruses are amazing and the lyrics are incredible. It’s an album that I already vastly prefer to the original and even if it doesn’t hit the individual heights of “Stan” and “Way I Am” the sequel is a stronger listen from start to finish. Like every single record on this list, you can pick holes in it – for sure – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still great.
1) Big Sean – Control
This is my 7th “Year In Review” list. For the first time ever, I’m including a song. You can’t actually buy it. It’s not official. It didn’t even get past sampling clearance. And yet, it’s the single greatest moment of Hip Hop in 2013. It leaked on August 14th. Within minutes, Twitter was ablaze. Within hours, the blogs went bananas. By the end of the day, it was all you could hear about: “Control”.
“¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido! I look up…”
I have listened to the seven minutes and thirty-two seconds of “Control” exactly 137 times – over 1000 minutes of my life dedicated to this song. I STILL get chills up my spine hearing THAT sample, THOSE opening words.
The initial bomb-blast of Kendrick Lamar’s epic verse where he trolls all his rivals. The Easter egg nature of Jay Electronica’s genius. The inspirational opener from Big Sean, which has arguably ended up having the most longevity of all. The beat from No I.D. The fact that it doesn’t even have/need a chorus. This is hip hop in my favourite form: sublime music, ridiculous verses, controversy, pure talent, a spirit of competition, no chorus, trying to raise the bar.
Kendrick Lamar was the clear all-round winner from the release – his carefully chosen loose words kicked the hornet’s nest into touch. It’s a tragedy that this isn’t available to purchase – yet, it does jar with the original ethos of the sample, which makes the failure to clear it understandable, at least. But that Big Sean verse… A lot of well-respected people seem to agree that it was the best one on there. And then there’s Jay Electronica… Oh, dear Reader – I could write a couple of thousand words on “Control” – and probably will do soon – but for now, well… I’m just going to go and listen to it for the 138th time.