This is good hip hop. And how can I avoid posting a record featuring guys with names like Big Baby Gandhi and Kool Aid?
Okay, “best of 2013″ might be an exaggeration. I haven’t heard everything that came out this year, and I don’t listen to major label music (mostly)–but some major albums were so damn good I had to buy them and include them here. Also, I’m just doing one list of rap, rock, soul, dance…Everthing. Because more and more bands and albums don’t fit neatly into any one genre. And just because rap is on here, don’t expect Kanye or Jay-Z. Even if I didn’t avoid major labels, I didn’t find their albums at all interesting this year. And you won’t find a bigger Hova fan than me. (Sighs heavily.)
15. Eminem-The Marshall Mathers LP 2
I regret my opening salvo on this album. Or at least some of it. It’s a grower. I’m at a point with Eminem, and rap in general, where easy hits and beats don’t move me like they used to. And this album reeks of expensive samples and production. But the more I listen, the more I hear the kind of witty little clips, like “I’d count my blessings but I suck at math,” that made me a fan in the first place. Any other rappers still this good after this long in the game? Not really.
14. The Obits-Beds & Bugs
If there had never been The Strokes, this would have been The Strokes. Probably.
13. STS-Gold Rush III
The third mixtape in the series, and he shows zero signs of falling off. Why don’t more people know about STS? Why isn’t he bigger?!?
Get it here
12. Chic Gamine-Closer
Rhythm and Blues
If Motown were getting started in the modern era: Great harmonies, clap and dance songs, and voices as beautiful as En Vogue.
Maybe it’s just because I miss The Breeders, but 1990s grrrrl pop still gets me.
10. Joey Bada$$-Summer Knights
Nobody twisted words and images better than Joey this year. And I saw him on MTV, so I guess this is officially the year he broke.
9. This Frontier Needs Heroes-Hooky
An ironic name for an authentic collection of singer/songwriter tunes that lack hooks but have gentle, insightful lyrics.
8. Marnie Stern-The Chronicles of Marnia
I never get tired of this chick. She’s like a Jimi Hendrix with a vagina. Or 1990s Liz Phair if Liz could shred.
7. Chance the Rapper-Acid Rap
Psychedelic hip hop
Childish Gambino with the edge of Lil’ Wayne and the sense of humor of your drug dealer. If your drug dealer was U-Turn from Weeds.
Last I checked, he was still giving it away for free here.
6. Atoms for Peace-Amok
Alt-rock supergroup fronted by Thom Yorke. Fucking incredible. And I never would have bought this if I hadn’t seen them on Colbert Report.
5. Said the Whale-Hawaiii
Yeah, it’s with three “i”s. That’s not a typo. Great, sunny, shiny pop with just a taste of experimental oddness.
4. Action Bronson-Blue Chips 2
Wow. Get it here.
3. James Younger-Feelin’ American
Honest to God excellent rock and roll.
2. Ron Littlejohn & The Funk Embassy-Shining On
One of the best soul records of the past 20 years. Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin, eat your hearts out.
1. No Malice-Hear Ye Him
If you’d have told me a few years ago that Clipse would break up and Malice would prove himself as a solo act, I would have been dubious. If you’d have told me he’d make a Christian rap album, I’d have said no way. If you’d have told me it would be my favorite album of the year, I’d have punched you in the mouth. But here we are.
With this album, Malice did something few rappers can: He got older, he got wiser, and he changed. Really changed. And got better. Take a listen, older rap Gods: This is what honesty and maturity sounds like. And it’s still hip hop.
One of the best parts of running this blog for over ten years has been getting my small readership of about a thousand souls to hear stuff they probably won’t hear anywhere else. That’s one of the main reasons I don’t review RIAA material–they have the resources to reach you through regular commercial means. Smaller artists and independent labels don’t have that power.
And EPs are even smaller: Artists who are trying to get out there, get noticed, and share only the very best of their catalogs. These are the ones I liked the most this year.
I’ll be posting my “best albums” in December.
10. Tonstartssbandht-Russian Tour Tape
Review and stream here.
9. Los Waves-Got a Feeling
Review and free songs here.
8. The Dirty Nil-Summer Mixtape 2: Covers
More delicious, dirty, aggravating punk rock. It was good, but you’ll have to take my word for it because the band has already taken it down off Bandcamp. I’m not sure why they do that, but it’s very aggravating. Review.
7. Ash Reiter-Night Moves (Bob Seger Cover)
I’m not doing a big feature on covers this year, but Ash Reiter’s tremendous voice and soulful take on this Bob Seger classic had to get mentioned.
6. e-dubble-Big Ships/Plan A
A/B singles from one of my favorite indie rappers.
5. Jim Hickey-Railings
Three short songs showcasing an edgier update to the breathy, Al Stewart sounds of the last 1970s.
This got on my list on the strength of the driving funk of “Your Face Is On” and stays on because of the jammy, classic rock hit feel of Julie July.
It’s a 30 minute beats/samples record, I’m sure it’s illegal, and it’s fucking Zappa as Hell. Frank would have loved it.
The mixture of electronica and AM radio pop sounds a little like Jim Hickey (above), but Panama’s music has more of an epic feel. Listen to it twice and you’ll want to keep it forever.
1. Misun-Summer Bootlegs
Much of this is remixed from 2012, but since I didn’t even hear of Misun until this year, I’m listing it. They’re amazing.
I never thought a white guy would be the heir apparent to Ghostface, but Bronson’s delivery–and the weird, random grit of his verses, put him squarely in that realm. He’s a little more linear–think Nas meets Ghostface–but he’s got the agility, creativity, and balls-out brash confidence to take the throne.