With approximately 200 albums reviewed on HipHopDX in 2013, we present our annual list of the 25 best Hip Hop albums of the last 12 months, as voted by our editorial staff. With two dozen impressive retail releases from the mainstream and underground, respected veterans and long-awaited solo debuts, these are our best (or “favorite”) albums.

Editor’s Note: This list is presented chronologically, in the order the albums were released. This is not a ranked list.

Long.Live.A$AP by A$AP Rocky

Released: January 15, 2013
Label: Polo Grounds Music, RCA
Highest Charting Position: #1
Producers: Finatik & Zac, Jim Jonsin, Hit-Boy, T-Minus, Nikhil Seetharam, Clams Casino, Soufien 3000, C. Papi, Noah “40” Shebib, Birdy Nam Nam, Skrillex, Hit-Boy, Friendzone, Hector Delgado, Lord Flacko, Danger Mouse, A$AP Ty Beats, Hector Delgado, Lord Flacko, V Don, Amsterdam, Amanda Ghost, Emile Haynie
Guests: Haim, ScHoolboy Q, Santigold, Overdoz, 2 Chainz, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, A$AP Ferg, Gunplay, Florence Welch  

Harlem’s latest Rap superstar started 2013 on a high note with the release of Long.Live.A$AP. With production by “40,” Hit-Boy, Clams Casino and more (including EDM producer Skrillex, who assisted on the popular crossover track “Wild For The Night”), Rocky’s pretty-boy flow helped create some of the year’s most memorable tracks, including “Fuckin’ Problems” and “1 Train,” each of which contained verses from nearly a half dozen of Hip Hop’s biggest emcees. With the rising success of the A$AP Mob and Rocky’s continued success as a featured artist, the “Fashion Killa” made his mark on 2013 thanks to the success of his first full-length retail project.

What We Said Then:

“One spin of Long.Live.A$AP., and it’s clear why A$AP Rocky didn’t break a sweat when the album leaked. Debuts this good just don’t come along very often, and it all comes down to the precocious Harlem rookie’s vision. He’s all over the place with the subject matter, but the topics are tied together by Rocky’s personality, which informs his genuine interest in waxing about them.” 

CZARFACE by CZARFACE (Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric)

Released: February 19, 2013
Label: Brick Records
Highest Charting Position: #36
Producers: DJ 7L, Spada4, DJ Premier
Guests: Roc Marciano, Oh No, Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson, DJ Premier, Mr. MFN Exquire, Cappadonna, Vinnie Paz

What do you get when you combine the Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck with Boston hardcore Hip Hop duo 7L & Esoteric? A verbal assault worthy of a Mike Tyson rant. With hard-hitting beats by 7L and Spada4—with a lone production by legendary producer DJ Premier—CZARFACE was a lyrical masterpiece that allowed Inspectah Deck and Esoteric free reign to diss, insult and gloat for 14 tracks. Aided by verses from New York emcees like Roc Marciano, Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson and Mr. MFN Exquire, CZARFACE makes for an entertaining listen, one that harkens back to Rap’s Golden Age while simultaneously reminding listeners that a select few emcees have made it their sole purpose to carry on the legacy left by the rappers that dominated the ‘90s.

What We Said Then:

“For an album that pays homage to pop culture references and an ethos from nearly two decades ago, CZARFACE is refreshingly progressive. Make no mistake; this is very much insular, headphone music. Esoteric and Deck treat rapping as an art form, as each verse plays out like verbal calisthenics. And 7L may very well be the MVP of the trio, with production that makes everyone involved bring their best bars.”

Niggas Is Men by Quelle Chris

Released: March 19, 2013
Label: Mello Music Group
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Quelle Chris, Messiah Musik, Sifu
Guests: Tanya Morgan, Denmark Vessey, DJ GroWeyez, Chay, Bwameeks

In a perfect world, HipHopDX would have proudly co-signed Quelle Chris before catching a late pass on 2011’s Shotgun & Sleek Rifle. But such a world doesn’t exist, and thankfully, that world provides great subject matter for Quelle. He’s jaded enough to ditch inferior rappers in favor of smoking, but not so delusional that he can’t question the point and rewards of rapping (“Addiction Cycles”). The everyman vibe carried through on tracks like “We Eat It” and “Hot n Crusty.” Due to a flood of other projects—and us missing the fact that it was a free mixtape later packaged for retail as an iTunes album—we missed reviewing Niggas Is Men. But, unlike us in 2011, you shouldn’t let that prevent you from discovering some great music.

Wolf by Tyler, The Creator

Released: April 2, 2013
Label: Odd Future Records
Highest Charting Position: #3
Producers: Tyler, The Creator
Guests: Hodgy Beats, Frank Ocean, Laetitia Sadier, Pharrell Williams, Casey Veggies, Mike G, Domo Genesis, Earl Sweatshirt, Jasper Dolphin, L-Boy, Lee Spielman, Left Brain, Lucas, Na’Kal, Taco, Coco O., Erykah Badu, Tallulah

On 2011’s teen angst anthem “Radicals” Tyler, The Creator’s internal monologue spoke through his character Dr. TC, advising, “All this rebellion, you’re getting too old for this shit.” No longer needing shock and awe tactics to separate himself from competition, Wolf was Tyler’s most grown up effort to date. Developing into a fully realized production mastermind, he somehow tied a summer camp story in with his usual themes of relationships and the struggles of fame, not to mention the ghetto’s crack epidemic and bullying leading to school shootings. Left with an unfettered imagination, Tyler also got Pharrell, Erykah Badu and the lead singer of Stereolab to play musical roles under his direction on Wolf, his third tour de force.

What We Said Then:

“No longer reliant on shock value to carry him, Tyler, The Creator has thrown a series of curveballs putting his craft first and foremost with Wolf. The album follows the story of its lead character shunned at music camp for being different (a theme reflecting Tyler’s struggle to be taken serious in Rap), ultimately winning the favor of his nemesis Sam’s girlfriend Salem. Similar to a stage play of sorts, Tyler makes songs from the perspectives of both Wolf and Sam, perhaps tying both to different parts of his bizarre artistic personality.”

Twelve Reasons To Die by Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge

Released: April 9, 2013
Label: Soul Temple
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Adrian Younge
Guests: Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Scratches, DJ Mark Luv, Cappadonna, William Hart, Mekalek, Killa Sin, U-God

The leader of the Black Dynamite Orchestra and the man who’s been rocking tan wallabies since ‘93 join forces on an album based around the potboiler-style plot of deceased mafia enforcer Tony Starks being brought back to life through the playing of 12 records as the Ghostface Killah. Yeah. If you’re in the habit of giving Yeezus an A-plus as an art-house Rap project, listen to how well-crafted and professionally executed this album is and reconsider your grading scale. Master craftsmen deliver masterful craftsmanship (and yes, Wu fanatics, even Masta Killa gets in on the act).

What We Said Then:

“In the archives of Ghostface Killah’s catalog, Twelve Reasons To Die should place somewhere above his most recent releases. Unless an artist is approaching Illmatic territory, it’s difficult to glorify a project that clocks in under 40 minutes, with a third of the lyrical efforts dispensed to guests. Still, the album is a satisfying glimpse into the minds of Younge and Ghostface. Experimental is a tag few artists at his age would attempt, and yet Ghost does it with immeasurable confidence.”

Capture the Sun by Illogic & Blockhead

Released: April 16, 2013
Label: Man Bites Dog
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Blockhead
Guests: Slug, Taylor Francis, Blueprint, Zero Star, Abstract Rude, Kristoff Krane

Illogic & Blockhead’s Capture the Sun couldn’t be categorized as easy listening, but it was filled with quality material through and through. Illogic displayed the type of rhymes you would expect from someone who has been penning bars since the age of 16—equal parts battle-ready bars, spoken word, deeply personal introspection and social commentary. Much like other dynamic emcee and producer duos, such as Gang Starr, Blockhead provided the perfect soundbed for Illogic and a small group of featured guests. For those who took the time to peel back its multiple layers, the third installment of Illogic & Blockhead’s Capture… series was one of 2013’s most rewarding musical experiences.

What We Said Then:

“Overall, Illogic and Blockhead collaborated on a strong release here. Detractors may complain about Illogic’s flow being unorthodox. Others may criticize Blockhead’s instrumentation for also being unconventional. However, both artists bring some of their most inspired work to date to the table with this offering.”


The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant by Rittz

Released: April 30, 2013
Label: Strange Music
Highest Charting Position: #25
Producers: Track Bangas, Five Points Music Group, M. Stacks, Lifted, Kasper Brightside, Coop Take Off On Em, Snake And Bat Music, Matic Lee, Mike Posner, Jonathan McCollum
Guests: Big K.R.I.T., Mike Posner, Suga Free, Krizz Kaliko, Tech N9ne, Yelawolf

Rittz forces us to reckon first with his double-time flow, inspired by his hometown’s fast-talking street anchor Big Boi. But in this debut, his flow exists to show why, before his 2012 signing to Strange Music, his dexterity alone wasn’t enough to garner artist-to-watch status. It pushes him to tick off dumb reasons–pale skin, red frizz–as if irritated to repeat himself and inhale deeply before he lists harsher ones, how his peers have cars and credit cards and he doesn’t. It also adds heft to confessions of how rejection made him restless, showing that despite his self-deprecating streak, he’s now refusing no for an answer.

What We Said Then:

“While Rittz hasn’t yet reached his recording pinnacle, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant provides a thorough impression of his abilities as well as what he can strive for in the coming years. Going on nearly two decades since he first grasped the notion of becoming an emcee, it may have taken longer than expected, but Rittz is finally seeing the fruits of his labor flourish.”

Indicud by KiD CuDi

Released: May 7, 2013
Label: Universal Republic
Highest Charting Position: #2
Producers: Kid Cudi, Hit-Boy
Guests: King Chip, Father John Misty, Kendrick Lamar, Too Short, Haim, RZA, A$AP Rocky, Michael Bolton           

In a manner akin to Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil to become a magician of a bluesman, Kid Cudi also clearly sold his soul to the demons that once claimed it in order to craft this album. There’s no singles here, just an intense and very listenable journey. It’s entirely arguable that a radio station or mass marketer hasn’t cared about Kid.Cudi since Italian electro duo Crookers remixed “Day N Nite.” Indicud is Cudi finally having the social capital and creative freedom to give a middle finger salute to them, the labels, and his many naysayers.

What We Said Then:

“Sustaining an imaginative disposition, it’s fitting that the first words uttered on the album are, ‘Once you realize you can do anything, you’re free.’ Indicud is an ambitious project that KiD CuDi took a blind shot at, and while by no means does he completely exemplify his immortal identity, he certainly makes a compelling case nonetheless.”

Kool Herc Fertile Crescent by Homeboy Sandman

Released: May 14, 2013
Label: Stones Throw
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: El RTNC (aka Rthentic)
Guests: N/A

Homeboy Sandman is such a consistently technically precise emcee, that it’s easy to take for granted the difficulty involved in making his sound palatable. Rappers with no aspirations of making retail albums get free reign to experiment with various cadences and flows, but the age of replaying parts of a song to clearly digest what a rapper said is by and large done. Sandman married style with substance, integrating the type of “what did he say?” bars into structured songs about real issues like our own prejudices—all over disco and funk inspired loops.

What We Said Then:

“With previous releases characterized by a diverse but sometimes scatterbrained aesthetic, Kool Herc Fertile Crescent benefits from a solitary producer throughout. The relatively unknown beatsmith Rthentic RTNC—who has pulled a production credit on all but one of the rapper’s recent releases—provides a backdrop of simple but deftly chopped loops and breaks that feel pleasantly bareboned without being stripped down.”

Saaab Stories by Action Bronson & Harry Fraud

Released: June 11, 2013
Label: Vice/Atlantic
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Harry Fraud
Guests: Big Body Bes, Wiz Khalifa, Prodigy, Raekwon

Classic Rap aficionados should stop trying to get their early adopting homeboys to believe that Action Bronson sounds like Ghostface. Instead, just accept that what Bronson and Fraud are doing is trying to make the classic Rap aesthetic into a timeless notion. In excelling at that gambit, “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” sounds like it should only be played by Red Alert at the Tunnel or when hollering at shawties at the Albee Square Mall. Saaab Stories is a prayer from the streets being answered—a real Rap album in real Rap’s most dire of times.  

What We Said Then:

“Overall, Saaab Stories is the meeting of two artists who push the old Hip Hop formulas to new places unlike other ‘90s era revivalist types who would rather cling on. The last entry in the EP, ‘Seven Series Triplets’ is evidence of that as Harry Fraud provides that darkness while Action raps nonchalant among two New York legends.”

The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me by The White Mandingos

Released: June 11, 2013
Label: Fat Beats
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Daryl Jenifer, Sacha Jenkins SHR, Noah Rubin
Guests: Josh Eppard, Nick Overhauser

The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me succeeded where other Rock/Rap hybrids fail because few vocalists embody the punk aesthetic as well as Murs. The proverbial elephant in the room is immediately pumped full of tranquilizers as Murs dispels any notions of three black men performing in a largely white genre by making race relations and socioeconomic issues the project’s dominant theme. Daryl Jenifer oversaw the proceedings, and while the project bears Bad Brains’ signatures sound, it’s also evident Murs and Sacha Jenkins had plenty of room for cross-genre experimentation. What’s more Hip Hop (or punk) that that?

What We Said Then:

“The Punk Rock backdrop allows the trio to break convention, while being independent theoretically shields them from having to kowtow to a label in hopes of reaching the coveted 18-24 demographic. Ultimately it’s an educating, challenging and informative listen that provides addional hope for the likes of ¡Mayday! BlackRoc and others in Hip Hop with Rock sensibilities.”


Albert Einstein by Prodigy & Alchemist

Released: June 11, 2013
Label: Infamous Records
Highest Charting Position: #175
Producers: Alchemist, Adrian Younge
Guests: Roc Marciano, Domo Genesis, Havoc, Raekwon, Action Bronson

With a bravado greater than his below average height, Albert Einstein found Prodigy razor sharp on the cusp of entering his third professional decade. Giving credence to the on and off rumors of Mobb Deep’s dissolution, the project was completely produced by Alchemist who is generally considered a replacement for Havoc’s role behind the boards at this point. Enlisting the help of Domo Genesis and Action Bronson, Prodigy uses Al’s frequent collaborators as good foils to comfortably fit in with today’s scene. While he doesn’t break new ground with his trademark servings of gun talk and rapping prowess.

What We Said Then:

“Sharing his first name with the famed genius, Prodigy breaks his advanced expertise down to a science on Albert Einstein. Mediocre moments occur far and few in between quality tracks, as ‘Dough Pildin’ is outweighed by the strong composure and focus contained within ‘Breeze’ and ‘Say My Name.’ Though his synergy with Alchemist hasn’t quite matched that of his former duo, and the album is repetitive in nature (a sure complaint for anyone highly critical of his solo work), Prodigy continues his largely consistent reign as a still thriving pioneer of New York’s once thugged-out era.”

Yeezus by Kanye West

Released: June 18, 2013
Label: Def Jam
Highest Charting Position: #1
Producers: Daft Punk, Kanye West, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, Kanye West, Lunice, 88-Keys, Arca, S1, Ackee Juice Rockers, Travi$ Scott, Eric Danchick, No ID, Noah Goldstein
Guests: Chief Keef, Justin Vernon, Assassin, King Louie, Charlie Wilson

Love him or hate him, Kanye West came out on top in 2013, capturing nearly as much attention as his fiancée Kim Kardashian thanks to the release of a new album (Yeezus), more than a few rants (“You ain’t got the answers, Sway!”) and some questionable fashion decisions. And much like the rest of his year, Yeezus saw the continued transformation of ‘Ye, providing us with some much-needed insight into his thoughts on race, high fashion and classism via an album that is as dark, moody as it is electrifying and polarizing. It may not be the easy listening Kanye of old, but tracks like “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” prove that West is still the preeminent producer of our era, while his lyrics prove that there’s still more to this Chicago rapper than girls, cars and clothes.

What We Said Then:

“At 40 minutes and six seconds, Yeezus is by far his shortest LP (Graduation follows at 51:12 minutes). Gone are the scenic bridges and angelic choirs littered lushly throughout his previous work. This one’s an exercise in minimalism—right down to the minute. That’s fortunate. Anger overkill rarely equals replay value. Precisely when the rage is about to spill into repellent, quintessential Kanye returns.”

Born Sinner by J. Cole

Released: June 18, 2013
Label: Roc Nation / Columbia
Highest Charting Position: #1
Producers: J. Cole, Ron Gilmore, Jake One, Ken Lewis, Elite, DJ Dummy, Nate Jones
Guests: Miguel, Amber Coffman, Kendrick Lamar, TLC, James Fauntleroy

From “letting Nas down” to baring his soul about his “Crooked Smile (while TLC back him up so he won’t feel similar to being “so damn ‘Unpretty’ too),” J. Cole’s sophomore studio album found the North Carolina emcee growing into his unique creative voice. Miguel duet “Power Trip” may actually be one of the best radio-friendly Rap songs of the last five years, goes far in discovering where he excels as an artist and deserves multiple spins. Not quite still on his mixtape swag but yet still not entirely mainstream, the album’s true victory is in Cole beginning to discover his lane.

What We Said Then:

“Despite the layered production and varied rhyme cadences employed at times, it’s not a particularly dynamic listen. Cole’s repertoire now includes commentary about how race, power and wealth are all connected—particularly for those in his chosen field. It’s an improvement from earlier efforts (see his reference to the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787 on ‘Runaway’), which adds up to an improved, but not quite superior album.”

Watching Movies with the Sound Off by Mac Miller

Released: June 18, 2013
Label: Rostrum Records
Highest Charting Position: #3
Producers: Mac Miller (as Larry Fisherman), Earl Sweatshirt, randomblackdude, Flying Lotus, Clams Casino, ID Labs, AdoTheGod, Pharrell, Alchemist, Chuck Inglish, Sap, J. Hill, Diplo, Tyler, The Creator
Guests: Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Loaded Lux, Schoolboy Q, Tyler, The Creator, Vinny Radio

If you genuinely assumed Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park would be followed by a weirdly enjoyable album featuring Flying Lotus, Pharrell, Diplo and production by Mac himself, give yourself a hand. You’re obviously capable of predicting the future. Or lying. Mac Miller went far left for his 2013 effort. He credits a lot of the sonics to his own personal tastes, growth and a lot of time with Odd Future offshoots, The Internet. He mixed the same early bravado and experimentation from his debut into an album that didn’t so much push the envelope as rip up the envelope and throw all of his influences in a blender.

What We Said Then:

“Whatever adolescent deficiencies Mac Miller dealt with throughout his prodigious rise as Rostrum’s second brain child, Watching Movies with the Sound Off genuinely keeps him grounded for a calculated performance that will earn him the respect he’s craved since his Easy Mac days. Miller doesn’t pander for a clear cut radio single, nor does he let the fear of Internet backlash obstruct his experimental approach.”

Run The Jewels by Run The Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P)

Released: June 26, 2013
Label: Fools Gold
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: El-P, Little Shalimar, Wilder Zoby
Guests: Big Boi, Prince Paul (as Chest Rockwell), Until The Mirror Breaks

Rap veterans El-P and Killer Mike recording music together is the Rap equivalent of NBA Live ‘98s “Roster Player” and Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson combining talents in the ultimate gaming experience. “Banana Clipper” is the kind of single that you give young people to make them aspire to be legendary emcees and producers. As a whole, the project creates such a level of euphoria in the listener that the album feels like it’s over before you’ve settled in to enjoy it. Clocking in at roughly 40 minutes in length, It’s entirely possible to listen to this album a tidy 25 times in one day. 

What We Said Then:

“If there’s a knock on Run The Jewels, it’s that it won’t be particularly accessible to those who have been desensitized by hours of dumbed-down radio and television programming. This is especially true during the summer months when most singles feature heavy doses of molly, Ciroc and bullshit lyrics. If anything, Killer Mike and El-P may have raised standards (and expectations) incredibly high last time around. Either way, one has to think the pair will once again find themselves on more than a few Album of the Year lists with Run The Jewels.”

3ChordFold by Terrace Martin

Released: August 13, 2013
Label: Empire Distribution
Highest Charting Position: #43
Producers: Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder, Craig Brockman, Focus…, Robert Glasper
Guests: Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Neka Brown, Problem, Musiq Soulchild, James Fauntleroy, Robert Glasper, Focus…, JaVonte, Neka Brown, Brevi, Wiz Khalifa, Tone Trezure, Ty Dolla $ign, Lalah Hathaway, Snoop Dogg, Punch, Tiffany Gouche

Known for letting music capture his plight in the search for true love, producer and saxophonist Terrace Martin set the pace for adult contemporary Hip Hop with 3ChordFold. Using an all-star cast of friends including Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg (both of whom sung hooks and let Terrace handle emceeing) along with more niche artists such as Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway, Terrace staked his claim as one of the West Coast’s secret weapons. Paying proper homage to the ensemble album style of his mentor Quincy Jones, Terrace Martin has proven he can one day graduate to a star in his own right outside of his strong affiliations.

What We Said Then:

3ChordFold is surprisingly Martin’s proper debut despite a slew of shorter, original projects already under his belt. Within today’s more relaxed acceptance of the term, the record might be considered a “concept album” in its adherence to a single topic and idea all the way through. To be a little less congratulatory, 3ChordFold is a relationship album with a little added nuance. Martin’s main idea, and the source of the project’s narrative and sequencing, is that a significant other can be neatly packaged into one of three identities: a freeloader, renter or buyer.”

Doris by Earl Sweatshirt

Released: August 20, 2013
Label: Tan Cressida / Columbia
Highest Charting Position: #5
Producers:  randomblackdude, BadBadNotGood, Christian Rich, Frank Ocean, Matt Martians, Michael “Uzi” Uzowuru, The Neptunes, RZA, Samiyam, The Alchemist, Tyler, The Creator
Guests: SK La’ Flare, Vince Staples, Domo Genesis, Frank Ocean, Casey Veggies, Tyler, The Creator, Mac Miller, RZA

It would have been incredibly easy (and profitable) for Earl Sweatshirt to craft a shocking retail debut that catered to his adolescent raps about rape and being a misfit. Given the events that led up to the release of Doris, he had no shortage of subject matter. Yet Earl chose to create a project that was left of field even for an Odd Future member. Doris is largely lo-fi and filled with dissonance. And Earl vacillates between spilling his feelings, focusing his dark aggression and playing the background so Vince Staples can shine.

What We Said Then:

“Where obsessing on the strength of each creative decision could spiral into insanity, Doris contains little calculation and false pretense on the part of Earl Sweatshirt. Having rid himself of the once unbridled psychosis and violent fantasies that paid homage to Eminem’s most deranged moments, Earl invites listeners to accept an honest and vulnerable epiphany: his current instinct isn’t to be a fabled Hip Hop savior or to even necessarily make good on his prior potential.”

Stay Trippy by Juicy J

Released: August 23, 13
Label: Kemosabe/Colubmia
Highest Charting Position: #4
Producers: Juicy J, Marz, Crazy Mike, Young Chop, Lex Luger, Baby-E, Cirkut, Dr. Luke, Mike WiLL Made-It, J-Bo, Timbaland, ID Labs, Ritz Reynolds, SAP
Guests: Pimp C, Project Pat, Trey Songz, Wale, Yelawolf, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, Jeezy, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky

Recently the subject of Wale’s angry comparison, Juicy J’s Stay Trippy marked a formal return to the spotlight following the success of his major smash hit, “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” No stranger to debauchery, the Memphis legend stuck to his guns with catchy, repetitive hooks about sex, drugs and violence, rendering him nearly iconic to today’s turned-up generation. Any thought of his older age working against him was disqualified as the likes of Big Sean, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown and A$AP Rocky helped him smoothly make the transition from Three 6 Mafia’s reign to a modern solo cult figure. Though Juicy J is no lyrical genius, his affiliation with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang extends the shelf life of his indulgent escapism. 

What We Said Then:

“From the outset, Juicy J makes a few things clear. He’s making money, fornicating with women, and can’t be bothered with haters because they don’t affect his ability to achieve the first two things. If you’re not into it, it’s probably best to listen to the title of the first cut and ‘Stop It’ right there. The subject matter doesn’t stray much throughout the 16-track album. But that can be a plus if you enjoy rhymes about backstage rituals that include fellatio and moving weight like Jenny Craig. It’s really a preference thing.”

Age Against the Machine by Goodie Mob

Released: August 27, 13
Label: Right Records
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Zeferiah Gonzalez, Cee-Lo, The Grey Area, Jack Splash, Get Cool, QRock, YoungFyre,  Kawan Prather, Malay, Big Fraze, Floyd The Locsmif, Caviar, OZ
Guests: Big Rube, T.I., Janelle Monáe, Big Fraze, V

Goodie Mob terrified fans when it stormed “The Voice” in gold armor and glowing teeth, but then they surprised them with a seismic comeback effort. Fueled by brute force and personal vengeance, the group barks orders at the Dirty South to shape back up, while it refuses to steer anywhere near the gospel overtones and Old Testament-informed grit of its 1995 debut Soul Food. Well, mostly. In “Pinstripes,” T.I. growls slightly through a nod to “Cell Therapy”—“Don’t fuck with me ‘cause I’m mental / Like, ‘Who is that at my window?’”—proving that whether pictured in sweats or armor, Goodie Mob are heroes.

What We Said Then:

“When Cee Lo rhymes, ‘I’d rather die than to not be distinguished,’ on ‘Special Education,’ it essentially serves as a mantra for the album. Despite all the futuristic synths and dissonance, the message remains the same. Race, sex, the group’s overall take on the music industry (‘State Of The Art’) and especially how Goodie Mob view themselves in relation to these elements (‘Pinstripes’) are all addressed in a frank but stylish manner. Most listeners will quickly forget Cee Lo was on a network television stroking a white cat named Purrfect by the time ‘Nexperience’ rolls around.”

Highway Robbery by Guilty Simpson & Small Professor

Released: September 23, 2013
Label: Goliath/Coalmine
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Small Professor
Guests: Boldy James, Statik Selektah, AG, DJ Revolution, Euclid & Castle

Highway Robbery plays out just like its title—brief, expertly executed and violent when necessary. Guilty Simpson is as brutal as ever, with the pedigree, discography and raw skills to back up the tough talk he displays across 10 tracks. Small professor peppers in just the right amount of melodies and brolic basslines. There’s no wasted effort as he re-imagines the pair’s own “Get That Pay” and keeps the guests to a minimum.

What We Said Then:

“Together, the two meet on this highway as outcasts within their own genre; once hometown heroes now turned local criminals. Simpson’s lyrics, voice and persona fuse with Professor’s instrumentals perfectly, resulting in a natural product that is not afraid to be what it is.”

Old by Danny Brown

Released: October 8, 2013
Label: Fools Gold
Highest Charting Position: #18
Producers: Paul White, Corin Roddick, Oh No, SKYWLKR, Rustie, A-Trak, JMIKE, Darq E Freaker, Badbadnotgood, Frank Dukes
Guests: Freddie Gibbs, Purity Ring, Schoolboy Q, Scrufizzer, Ab-Soul, A$AP Rocky, Zelooperz, Charli XCX

Detroit has produced its fair share of oddball emcees, but its most recent rising star, Danny Brown, has got to be the weirdest of all. Sporting a gap tooth and a hair style that is as creative as the mind it sits atop, Danny Brown is a character worth paying attention to, if not for his on/off stage antics, than simply for his lyrics, which are often overlooked due to his seemingly out of control personality. But make no mistake, Brown can rap, and the Hip Hop world has finally taken notice thanks to Old. Few can push creative boundaries quite like Brown, who raps about topics ranging from the sub-cultures of hipsters and drugs to his own mind-bending experiences, which often touch on his impoverished youth. Old may not be for everyone, but thanks to a successful 2013, the world will be hearing more Danny Brown in 2014.

What We Said Then:

“The double-edged sword of fame has brought Danny Brown into a world of inescapable demands and a ‘turned up’ lifestyle that ultimately risks being detrimental despite boosting his creativity. As true fans have come to revere his transparent penchant for getting wasted, he is rarely concerned with judgmental naysayers easily made to feel discomforted by his antics. Blending the newer wave of EDM with Hip Hop, he channels the delivery of Triple 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul on the intense ‘Smokin’ And Drinkin’,’ also paying homage to one-hit wonder Freaknasty’s memorable dance hook on the molly anthem ‘Dip.’ Proving himself one of today’s most flexible emcees, Old’s back end is Brown’s furthest departure from straightforward Rap to date, with him successfully adapting to faster 4/4 tempos reflective of the more erratic subject matter.”

No Poison No Paradise by Black Milk

Released: October 15, 2013
Label: Fat Beats
Highest Charting Position: N/A
Producers: Black Milk
Guests: Melanie “Mel” Rutherford, Black Thought, Quelle Chris, Dwele, Robert Glasper, AB, Tone Treasure

How does producer-emcee Black Milk follow up an effort titled Album of the Year? He releases the album of his career. Through an everyman voice, he tells a loss of innocence story inspired by his own Detroit childhood, stressed by his back-stitch approach to wordplay, and R&B and soul-jazz grooves that warp, erode and cave under the stakes. A vintage gospel sample prompts him to trace through his growing cynicism toward Sunday sermons, an event he punctuates with gunfire and foreshadows two songs prior: “Looking for that light ahead, days got dimmer, staring down that dark tunnel hoping that you see a glimmer.” In reality, he shines.

What We Said Then:

“With No Poison No Paradise, these aren’t beats per sé; instead, these feel like carefully crafted compositions that unfold under a cinematic veil of electronic vapor. Milk stays in full control by scaling back the rhymes. He isn’t so eager to rap; rather, he withdraws occasionally to let the music breathe. These visual arrangements set a scene for the words to follow.”

My Name Is My Name by Pusha T

Released: October 28, 2013
Label: G.O.O.D. / Def Jam
Highest Charting Position: #4
Producers: Kanye West, Sebastian Sartor, Don Cannon, Swizz Beatz, Hudson Mohawke, Pharrell Williams, The-Dream, Rico Beats, Glass John, Mano, Twilite Tone, Bobby “Beewirks” Yewah,  No I.D.
Guests: Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Ab-Liva, The-Dream, Kevin Cossom, Jeezy, Kelly Rowland, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Future

The prime of the Thornton brothers’ successful collaboration may be behind them, but for Terrence “Pusha T” Thornton, a rebirth is in the making. Two years after releasing his first solo album, Fear of God II: Let Us Pray, in 2011, the G.O.O.D. Music signee dropped My Name Is My Name, the much-hyped album produced by Kanye West, 88-Keys, Don Cannon, No I.D., Swizz Beatz and Pharrell. Unfortunately, even though Pusha T played his part—putting forth an impressive set of verses—the album’s production team failed to push My Name Is My Name into the public’s consciousness, forcing fans to rely on Pusha T’s contributions to the album (think “Nosetalgia”) rather than the album’s tracks as a whole.

What We Said Then:

“The thin line that separates glorifying a life of crime from reflecting on it has usually been decided by Pusha’s ability to talk about the mind state that goes into consciously choosing the street life. At his best, he’s done this, articulated how vapid the spoils can be or had Malice to balance him out. This time around, Pusha reflects on his escape from the drug game and its often-inevitable imprisonment on the Kanye and Hudson Mohawke produced ‘Hold On.’”

The Marshall Mathers LP2 by Eminem

Released: November 5, 2013
Label: Shady/Aftermath/Interscope
Highest Charting Position: #1
Producers: S1, M-Phazes, StreetRunner, Vinny Venditto, Eminem, Rick Rubin, Luis Resto, DJ Khalil, Emile, Alex da Kid, DVLP, Filthy, Frequency, Alias, Jeff Bhasker, Sid Roams
Guests: Skylar Grey, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Nate Ruess

Eminem was once a national threat who alarmed the FCC. In his eighth album, he’s his own biggest threat. No one in Rap spits like him still, from a notepad that maps out every bit of assonance in each packed punchline. And no one dared to be as self-destructive either, as the “Rap God” rewrote skits, lines, and verses to shrug off some past targets (Christina Aguilera), tearfully apologize to others (his mother, Debbie Mathers) and wryly confess that some next-generation Slim Shady spat on his onion rings. He eats his words from a revered and career-defining album, and it’s impossible to look away.

What We Said Then:

“It’s almost as if Shady is trying to be preemptively self-aware of the fact that calling this album MMLP2 may scream moneygrab—and he’s absolutely right. A few lyrical references to previous songs, an extension of an old skit and a few played Insane Clown Posse references do not a sequel make. In all honesty, MMLP2 suffers as a project when Eminem asks it to be compared to his best release. Sure, it may be one of the better LPs you hear in 2013, but make no mistake: The Marshall Mathers LP2 only serves to tarnish the original’s legacy, whereas titling it something else could’ve just meant another passable addition to Eminem’s night-and-day catalogue.”

7 Days of Funk by 7 Days of Funk (Snoop Dogg & Dam Funk)

Released: December 9, 2013
Label: Stones Throw
Highest Charting Position: TBD
Producers: Dam Funk
Guests: Bootsy Collins, Steve Arrington, Kurupt, Tha Dogg Pound

Since the early ‘90s, Snoop Dogg has (sometimes simultaneously) worn the hats of a gangbanger, pimp, family man and a Rastafarian. His latest phase is 7 Days Of Funk, as he’s come together with California throwback producer extraordinaire Dam-Funk to honor George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic movement and other heroes cut from a similar cloth. “Let It Go” places a current spin on Patrice Rushen’s classic “Feels So Real,” sure to go appreciated by the audience who has grown with Snoop over time. A large proponent of bringing outdated sounds back to prominence, Dam-Funk is a relatively less heralded but no less talented enigma who took elements from Auto-tune, Tha Dogg Pound and Slave’s Steve Arrington to pull off another critical win here for Stones Throw.

What We Said Then:

“In fact, 7 Days Of Funk is oddly romantic—much more so than one would expect from an ordinary Snoop project. But this isn’t an ordinary Snoop project, largely due to Dam’s stellar production and song arrangement. Their musical chemistry is exceptional, with their mutual love of ‘the funk’ being the bond.”

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