Some of you may argue that my list is unfairly skewed towards hip-hop, but I’d like to argue that 2013 has been an absolutely incredible year for both mainstream and underground hip-hop. This year in hip-hop has been absolutely flooded with not good, but great releases from every direction. Up-and-comers have come with new styles and something to prove; old favorites have consistently shown that they’ve still got it.
8. Haruka Nakamura – MELODICA
Japanese Chillhop producer and composer Haruka Nakamura has been making solid instrumentals for years now, but MELODICA is on a different level. Featuring formerly unreleased production from the late Nujabes, MELODICA is an emotionally charged album that’ll make you believe in whatever it is you feel like you need to believe in again.
BEST TRACK – Luv (Sic) pt2 – Acoustica – feat. Shing2
7. YC The Cynic – GNK
GNK is the freshman release of up-and-coming New York rapper YC the Cynic. This surprisingly complex album covers topics like race, religion or lack thereof, celebrity worship, and the fall of the traditional recording industry. YC’s powerful imagery and solid flow work well over Frank Drake’s production and make YC feel like a force to be reckoned with.
BEST TRACK – Molotovs at Poseidon
6. Danny Brown – Old
Detroit rapper Danny Brown has seemingly reinvented himself since the 2011 release of his mixtape XXX. Old is Danny’s first full release since XXX, and it lived up to the strong precedent that was set. Old explores a great deal of themes simultaneously: Danny’s past, the history of hip-hop, Danny’s drug addiction, and the impact of his image on his relationship with his children. All of this is fit over a production ranging from classic boom-bap style to modern trap-inspired bangers. Old is a long album, but it mixes it up enough to keep you interested on the surface, and has enough substance to satisfy if you go deeper.
BEST TRACK – Dip
5. Killer Mike and El-P – Run The Jewels
Influential Southern rapper Killer Mike and New York MC/producer El-P surprised and impressed everyone when they dropped this ten-track LP of pure fire. El-P brought out some of his most driven production to date, with every track having a strong feeling of movement and stature; Killer Mike brought the perfect flows to compliment. Top it off with their synergy and comradery, and you’ve got an album that deserved a hell of a lot more attention than it got.
BEST TRACK- Banana Clipper
4. Milo – Things That Happen At Day
Things That Happen at Day is one half of a double- LP release by Nerdcore art-rapper Milo. In an all too uncommon feat, Milo makes a plethora of pop culture, video game, and internet references without letting them cloud his incredibly dense, emotional, and playful message. Milo’s odd, soft-spoken flow enhances the image and message that Milo is a flawed being trying to reflect upon and free himself from his unrelenting mistakes and errors. You may not want to blast it from your car, but if you feel like you need to reflect upon yourself, this is the album to listen to.
BEST TRACK – Almond Milk Paradise
3. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
This time last year, nobody knew who Chance the Rapper was; in April, he dropped a mixtape that has proven itself to be better than most of the full albums that came out this year. On Acid Rap, Chance takes over-represented topics like drugs, women, and guns, but manages to rap about them in a way that feels real and emotional. You can actually feel that twinge of sorrow and pain when he can’t hug his grandma because of his obsession with drugs.
BEST TRACK – Cocoa Butter Kisses
2. Melt-Banana – Fetch
In the likely case that you haven’t heard of them, Melt-Banana is a Japanese noise-punk band that’s been pushing the limits of experimental rock for 22 years now. That wealth of experience shows in Fetch, where layer upon layer of instrumentation is laid down in a way that sounds complex and busy, it never sounds bad. Fetch is not an easy listen, and a lot of people will not like it, but there’s a technical proficiency and level of emotion on this album that’s just too strong to deny.
BEST TRACK – Left Dog (Run, Caper, Run)
1. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
The return of Odd Future focal point Earl Sweatshirt came without grandiosity; there was no cheering crowd, no posee track telling Complex magazine to get shoved. What we got on Earl’s return was a dark, moody album that put us all back in our place. Earl let us all know that he’s making music on his own terms now, and his terms make a great album. Doris is crammed full of great instrumentals, powerful features, and the desperate loneliness and terrible darkness of Earl’s world.
BEST TRACK – Chum