Every year all of us at RapReviews.com go through everything we’ve listened to over the past twelve months and put together our annual top ten lists. Mine usually doesn’t even need my byline, as it’s known as the list that rarely features anything mainstream, and routinely has albums that are so underground their distribution is the internet equivalent of “hand to hand.”

This year I haven’t listened to nearly as much hip-hop as in previous years. Partly it’s been due to a dissatisfaction with the hype machine working overdrive on artists I find to be either mediocre, or straight up wack. Partly it’s been due to an underground scene that’s been lacking in creativity, opting to go for sounds, and topics, we’ve all heard before, rather than attempting something new. As someone who’s been listening to hip-hop for over 25 years, just being a dope emcee no longer impresses me. I’ve heard a lot of dope emcees. I want an artist to stand out.

With all that in mind, I had a few email conversations with Flash (he’s the head honcho here) about potentially only doing a top five this year, if I did a year end list at all. He was understanding, although I could sense he was a bit disappointed (his not so subtle Facebook post about people not being able to find ten hip-hop albums they like this year made sensing that disappointment REALLY easy). I then recalled a few emails I’ve received over the years from RapReviews readers. Yes, I get my fair share of “how come so and so wasn’t on your list? You must hate hip-hop!” emails, and boy do I ever love those, but I also receive the occasional note letting me know that someone first learned about an artist because of one my interviews, or year end lists. You know what, that’s what matters to me most.

The reason I write about hip-hop, and music in general, isn’t because I’m on some sort of quest to meet superstars (although I’m not gonna lie, when those interviews happen, they’re friggin great), I write because I want to help great artists who are flying under the radar gain exposure and develop a fan base.

As I noted, I didn’t listen to as much hip-hop this year as I have in previous years, but what did make its way into my personal rotation was unique, and there was some true talent that deserves to be mentioned. Because my listening was limited, I don’t want to call this a year end top ten, but what I will call this list is…

Some Dope Sh*t You Might Have Missed In 2013

Dessa – Parts Of Speech

If you’re still sleeping on Dessa, WAKE THE F*CK UP! Not only is she one of the best lyricists in the game, consistently writing with such depth, and honesty, she practically reaches into your soul and squeezes the emotions out, she’s also a fantastic singer. There’s more singing than rapping on this album, but make no mistake, it’s still a hip-hop album, and it shouldn’t be missed.

Dead Celebrity Status – The Throwaway Kids

If you’ve ever felt like an “other,” or an outsider, or you’re simply completely dissatisfied with the current trend of celebrity worship, and what society is holding up as the way to live, Dead Celebrity Status made the album for you. The title track states, “Clap for the anonymous / Cheer for the unlikely / Let the fucking world know / Who you might be,” as the Canadian duo give a voice to the voiceless, and unites those who prefer to be individuals.

Us3 – The Third Way

If you’ve paid attention to RapReviews over the past few years you already know I like Us3… A LOT. There aren’t a lot of artists, or groups, I interview every time they release a new album, but Us3 is one of them. I’ve always loved the way Geoff Wilkinson and crew have combined jazz and hip-hop, finding ways to emphasize both, while taking away the power from neither, and The Third Way is yet another example of that greatness.

Skiggy Rapz – Satellites

I inadvertently slept on Skiggy Rapz when I received his first EP, but when Satellites made its way to my CD player (yes, I still use a CD player), it blew me away. Not only is Skiggy Rapz, who hails from The Netherlands, a dope emcee, the vibe of the majority of the album is of the positive, feel-good, variety. Production-wise I was fooled quite a few times into thinking there were 80s samples in the music, but it’s all original, and has a very cool retro feel, without sounding dated at all.

Itch – Manifesto EPs

London-based emcee Itch is a POWERFUL artist. Not only does much of his music have a political lilt to it, his delivery is incredibly forceful. When I spoke with him for Substream earlier in the year, I asked him why he was so angry, and his response was that it’s all out of love. Basically, he yells because he cares, and when he yells on his two free EPs, which he released through his website, you’ll care, too, because he’s an incredibly talented artist, and a voice we should all pay attention to. (Side note: He’s also a beast live!)

Homeboy Sandman – All That I Hold Dear (EP)

Homeboy Sandman usually releases at least one project per year, and the world is a better place for that. His contribution this year was the very personal EP, All That I Hold Dear. As with all Homeboy Sandman releases, his lyrics are amazing, he switches up his flow a number of times, and you’re going to relate to at least one song. What more could you ask for?

Toussaint Morrison – Fast Times at Trillmont High

Another personal favorite, Toussaint Morrison released Fast Times at Trillmont High this year. The album/mixtape (I don’t get into titles, so feel free to choose either) is filled with classic rock samples, and Toussaint’s trademark wit, skills, and ability to work in meaningful content when you least expect it. As an added bonus, his singing is also on point, and throws some soul into the mixture of hip-hop and rock.

Louis Logic – Look on the Blight Side

When I spoke with Louis Logic last month, we discussed the opening track of Look on the Blight Side. He said of “A Day Late And A Dollar Short,” “When I wrote it I intended it to be my thoughts after becoming famous posthumously, because I spent my living career partying, and chasing women, and not making records, and being super selfish about my artistic pursuits, and confusing my audience by entering my rap career as a braggadocios drunk, and exiting it as a guy who wanted to convince you that the clown has a soul.” The entire album bears Louis’ soul, as it’s an incredibly personal project from one of hip-hop’s most interesting people.

Rabbi Darkside – Prospect Avenue

NYC veteran Rabbi Darkside released a decidedly NYC album (it’s named Prospect Avenue. Tough to get more NYC than that!) that everyone can get into. As with all of Rabbi D’s work, he shares his refreshing perspectives on art, community, and life, while not being afraid to occasionally get political. He does all of this over some truly fresh production, making Prospect Avenue a true hip-hop head’s album.

Asheru – Sleepless In Soweto

If you’ve been missing the days when there was some afrocentricity in hip-hop, Asheru’s latest album is the answer to your prayers. His multiple trips to Africa led him to want to create an album that uses hip-hop to show the unique connections between Africans and African-Americans. Not only did he accomplish this with Sleepless In Soweto, he did so with some truly funky production that’s going to make you enjoy the ride just as much as Asheru enjoyed his trips.

Kalil Johnson – Kingdom

I want to make a special mention of New Jersey emcee Kalil Johnson’s album, Kingdom. It was released in December of last year, after everyone’s top ten lists had been submitted, and I think, due in large part to that release date, it unfairly flew under the radar. Kalil is a dope emcee, and a fantastic live performer, and if you haven’t heard him before, Kingdom is a great place to start.

OK, that’s all for this year. I know I’ve probably forgotten a few folks, and if any artist reading this feels slighted, please realize it was not my intention to offend. Sometimes putting these lists together can do a number on the brain (also, a gentle reminder at the start of December, with a link to the album, wouldn’t hurt. FYI, nobody did that, but a writer can dream, right?).

Until next year, let’s keep digging to find something great!