There’s only a few hours left in the year but there’s no denying that 2013 was an amazing year for music, let alone hip-hop. After a slow and sad 2012, it was only right that we got blessed with new albums from the likes of Kanye, Drake, Tyler & more this past year. The UPC team got together yet again to bring you our selection for the Top 25 Hip-Hop Projects of 2013. After much discussion and debate we finally have our list ready for you. Take a look at our selections below and be sure to let us know what were you favorite projects of the year in the comments below.
25. Yung Lean – Unknown Death 2002
Is it possible that one of the years biggest cultural movements was started by a 16-year old white Swedish rapper? Yung Lean and his Sad Boys have steadily been infecting our soundwaves for a good part of 2013, pinnacled by the release of his debut project Unknown Death 2002. Though some may take it as a joke, Yung Lean has built a following of #sadboys who aren’t afraid of letting their emotions get the best of them. What came as an even bigger surprise was that his debut stayed in rotation and we couldn’t explain why besides the fact that it was the realest shit we’ve ever heard. With assistance from his homies Yung Gud and Yung Sherman on the beats, Lean created his own wave of music that quickly rippled across seas. Sad is the new swag. – Djordje G.
24. Juicy J – Stay Trippy
After dominating Southern hip-hop in the ’90s and early ’00s as a key member of Three 6 Mafia, Juicy J has quickly become one of raps biggest comeback stories after signing to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang in 2011. Reaching out to the games young guns has proven to be a smart move for the juiceman, who has found a way to stay relevant while pushing 40 years old.
Stay Trippy is not conscious rap. In fact, it is the complete opposite. But hey, are you really expecting the same guy who rapped in 2006 about how he “gon walk up to a girl tell a bitch I’m Rick James” to all of a sudden make a complete 180 and get Dead Prez for a feature? Nah. This album exists for one purpose and one purpose only: turning up. Try blasting “Scholarship” ft. A$AP Rocky at a house party, watch as females flock to the dance floor, and realize why we included Juicy J on our top 25 list. – Eli S.
23. Eminem – Marshall Mathers LP 2
A sequel to his 2000 classic Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem’s opening to Marshall Mathers LP 2 not only marks the reintroduction of Stan’s brother, but murders Mathers in the first seven minutes. In many ways, this album marks a new phase for Eminem and Slim Shady in his career – while his brash mockery of pop culture is noticeably not as prevalent as it used to be during the early ’00s, Marshall Mathers has perfected the art of flow and cadence while better articulating his latest struggles as an adult. Furthermore, the album addresses his past struggles with his mother on the song “Headline,” marking a dramatic transition from the album’s namesake. Granted, we miss the Eminem that would brutally embarrass the Britney Spears’ and N’SYNCs of America, but his masterful ability to weave together heart-felt narratives, and do so with such precision, earns Eminem a spot in the Top 25. – Brad W.
22. Logic – Welcome to Forever
Though the idea behind Logic‘s three-part Young Sinatra mixtape series is a bit campy, the content of the projects, especially the latest: Welcome to Forever, is certainly exceptional. I struggle to find a better rapper from the DMV (…sorry Wale) in recent memory. Though Logic likes to peg himself as a “lyricist,” what makes his album really shine is his natural rapping ability. He rarely touches on anything intellectual, like Chance does, but rather possesses a natural and intangible rapping ability that is untouched by many. Welcome to Forever, which earned Logic a spot on XXL’s Freshmen List, showcases these natural rapping abilities perfectly. The production, which features VMG’s 6ix and Chicago’s own C-Sick, is equally astounding. Welcome to Forever is a definite listen in 2013, and perhaps you, too, can realize why Def Jam signed the young emcee to a million-dollar deal. – Boswell H.
21. Migos – YRN
Who wasn’t screaming “Versace” this summer? And this is before Drake jumped on the track, which sent it into an even wilder frenzy. I had the opportunity to see Migos perform for the first time in NYC this summer and it was something for the ages. Not only did everyone know the words to all of their songs, but it also made it clear how many bangers these guys supplied in such a short time, many which came off YRN. Between their catchy songs and unique rap patterns, YRN was definitely a staple of summertime madness when going out and has us eager for YRN2. – Djordje G.
20. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
After El-P and Killer Mike meshed so well for Mike’s R.A.P. Music album, there was no surprise when the two joined together again under Fools Gold Records to release their joint EP, Run The Jewels. The ten-track EP showed us all how well these two work together with tracks like “Sea Legs” and “36” Chain.” Appearances from Big Boi, Until The Ribbon Breaks, and Prince Paul helped made this EP one of the best true hip-hop projects of 2013. – Luka L.
19. M.I.A. – Matangi
With so much going on with M.I.A.’s new album Matangi there is not much that can be said. There’s almost too much going on in her songs, but the ambient explosion of cultural samples and EDM beats somehow find their harmony within each piece, which make you start to wonder if your Macbook took flight down the stairs yet still ended up sounding wonderful (thinking of “Come Walk With Me”). – Robert M.
18. Jay Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
Many account the successes of Magna Carta Holy Grail to Samsung’s presale which gave 1.2 million copies to its users, but despite this huge number (which wasn’t counted by Billboard) it still reached #1 on the charts this summer for several reasons. One of them being the production alone, with contributors like Timbaland, Pharrell and Mike WiLL-Made It, the album was destined to be a smash despite people claiming Jay Z didn’t put in any effort. Hov responded to those doubters on tracks like “Beach Is Better” where he spits for less than a minute but the song goes so hard no one even questioned it. Other notable tracks include the summer anthems with features from Justin Timberlake on “Holy Grail” and “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” which includes a nice verse from the boss Rick Ross. Jay himself even ranked it at #6 of all his albums released so this clearly was no throwaway. – Hannah W.
17. The Underachievers – Indigoism
AK and Issa Gold, collectively known as The Underachievers, arose out of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY as one of the headlining groups in the Beast Coast Movement. Their first notable mixtape, Indigoism, included seventeen tracks of relentless verbal assassination, similar to their counterparts in Pro Era, and traverse a vast range of production, from traditional boom-bap to newer experimentalism. Most tracks explore the current viewpoints on spirituality and the use of drugs and psychedelics to better understand the universe of urbanites. Some call them the hippies of Beast Coast, other call them the intellects – we believe they have proven themselves, even next to their peers Joey Bada$$ and Flatbush Zombies, releasing one of the strongest free mixtapes in 2013. – Brad W.
16. Mac Miller – Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Many of you may be surprised that Mac Miller‘s sophomore album Watching Movies With The Sound Off is on the list. Hell, even I’m surprised. Without any of his singles blowing up on the radio and his mixtape fandom behind him, Mac is now making artistic music showing pretty big growth in his lyricism and production. With an impressive list of features, Mac trades verses of philosophy and drugs and typically keeps up with the likes of Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, and Tyler the Creator. Mac may seem a little out there, but he’s okay with it, and his production alone seems to be able to carry this and future albums of Malcolm. – Mitesh B.
15. Joey Badass – Summer Knights
After landing at the #4 spot on our 2012 list with his stellar debut tape 1999, Joey Bada$$ was primed for an even bigger 2013. The Pro Era frontman and centerpiece of the Beast Coast movement didn’t disappoint with the July release of his sophomore effort, Summer Knights. While some may argue the tape falls short next to 1999 because it lacks the same youthful energy, it’s important to recognize how much Joey has grown as an artist in the span of a year. The 18-year-old Flatbush, Brooklyn native lost his PE teammate and close friend Capital Steez to suicide in December 2012, a tragic event that definitely had an impact on Joey’s music. Since he dropped 1999, Bada$$ has grown from a 17-year-old kid, seemingly just happy to be in the game, into an 18-year-old man fully focused on spitting his heart out. He shows vocal maturity on Summer Knights — his voice has gotten deeper, and more aggressive — and the overall tone of the project is much darker.
Joey proves how hungry he is on tracks like “Amethyst Rockstar,” confidently rapping, “When did rap turn into a fashion show? Too many makeup artists won’t let their passion show.” If you’re looking for the same playful, coming-of-age vibe that accompanied 1999, you might not enjoy Summer Knights. However, this mixtape shows growth in a young artist who’s poised to be here for a while. Think of the project as a musical stepping-stone for Joey, who combines razor sharp wordplay with boom-bap beats from guys like DJ Premier, Statik Selektah, DOOM, and Alchemist. Who else is doing that right now? – Eli S.
14. Flatbush ZOMBiES – Better Off Dead
As only their second mixtape ever released, the Zombies from New York have brought more to the game than expected once again. After the release of DRUGS, the Flatbush ZOMBiES worked on this album and really expanded on the subject of death hence their name. Even in their promo video shot for the mixtape, the zombies begin to dig a grave, awhile smoking and rapping to a highlight of the tape, “Death”. This promo alone created an anticipation that was well deserved for such a solid tape. More is to be expected from the trio, as they seem perfectly capable of making more mixtapes to come. – Robert M.
13. Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2
How many gourmet chefs do you know who choose to trade in the cookware for a microphone, and within the span of two years become one of the most respected names in hip-hop, with a flow oft-compared to that of the legendary Ghostface Killah? That list begins and ends at Queens native Action Bronson. And after dropping Blue Chips in 2012, fans couldn’t wait to hear the follow-up to Bam Bam’s first full-length collab with Party Supplies.
With Blue Chips 2, Bronsolino picks up where he left off, dropping ridiculous one-liners to the tune of some incredibly creative beats. Lines like “The rap Dennis the Menace with Dennis Rodman in Venice inventive/She took a bump then started dancing like Elaine Benes” are what make a Bronson project so much fun to listen to. No other emcee would even think to rap over 1960s Mexican American rock band The Champs’ “Tequila,” a song you probably remember from the classic 90s movie The Sandlot. Most of all, Blue Chips 2 is just a whole lot of fun; it’s a breath of fresh air in an industry that can at times feel suffocated by recycled beats and copycat verses. – Eli S.
12. A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord
With Trap Lord being Fergenstein’s first full length release, it has A$AP Ferg exploring his abilities as a rapper, singer, and artist. Fans of the A$AP Mob had previously only seen and heard Fergy on Rocky’s mixtape and album, as well at his live shows when the two would perform “Kissin’ Pink.” Overall this album became more interesting than anything, on his obvious hit single “Shabba,” it is really apparent as to why Ferg has had success in the rap game. His personality also speaks through his music and it’s hard not to like the guy. Moving past the crowd favorites, he remains loyal to his original sound in “Let it Go” but definitely experiments with his vocals and alternate angles in tracks like “Hood Pope” & the end of “Cocaine Castles.” Claiming the title Trap Lord is a little demanding but not far fetched as the album managed to turn many heads in 2013. It further established depth and diversity throughout the mob, showing it is possible for other members to live outside of A$AP Rocky’s shadow. – Robert M.
11. Vic Mensa – Innanetape
When Chicago hip-hop/soul/jazz/everything collective Kids These Days broke up over the summer, I was heartbroken. Luckily, the breakup gave frontman Vic Mensa renewed vigor in his solo career, and what has come out of it is Innanetape, a carefully crafted and meticulously executed project which shows his adeptness without a live band. Kids These Days had just released Traphouse Rock, and it was one of my most favorite projects of 2012 so I must admit, I was skeptical when Vic first started on his own. If Innanetape is any indication, however, I have nothing to be worried about. Innanetape allowed Vic to step outside of the musical box that he had been confined to in the past, and in that comes some of the best music of 2013. His raps range from frenetic (I think he raps in 7/8 time at one point in “Lovely Day”) to melodic (“Time is Money”) and it’s like we truly get a look inside of Vic’s mind, which moves nearly a mile a second. Vic, the founder of the Savemoney clique which includes Chicago rappers Chance the Rapper, Joey Purp, Caleb James, and a plethora of talented others, has had some trouble stepping out of Chance’s shadow, though he shouldn’t. This project was an exceptional work on its own, and the fact that it is so unique from Acid Rap just goes to show the raw amount of talent spilling from the city of Chicago right now. I suggest you get in tune. - Boswell H.
10. Danny Brown – Old
Rounding out our top 10 is Danny Brown‘s third studio album, a 19-track testament to everything the Detroit emcee represents (namely: pills, weed, and anonymous sex). The toothless, fro-hawk bearing rapper stays true to himself with Old, something that is inherently valuable in hip-hop, or for that matter, in life, period.
Brown brings back cassette player nostalgia by splitting his project into a Side A and Side B, and both parts deliver the goods. The first half consists of deep story telling, giving listeners insight into Brown’s emotions. The second half is more experimental, pushing the boundaries of rap music with EDM-influenced trap beats. Terrific guest verses from Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, and A$AP Rocky add flavor to the album. – Eli S.
9. J. Cole – Born Sinner
In the first fifteen seconds of “Villuminati,” Cole flat out states that, “It’s way darker this time.” J.Cole departed with the basketball-themed albums and chose the darker route in Born Sinner. Along with the addition of Truly Yours 3, Cole gave the alCOLEholics some great tracks with amazing production that you can listen to straight through with no skips. Hell, even the skits and interludes are dope. With Cole waiting out in the pouring rain to give Jay Z his CD, it’s clear that he has had a challenging road to get to where he is today and all we can do is sit back and see what Cole will serve us next. – Luka L.
8. Childish Gambino – because the internet
Childish Gambino’s musical past has been diverse in the last three years – 2011’s Camp intimately displayed the racial and intellectual complexities of being a hip-hop artist while 2012’s Royalty explored more trap-influenced, feature-heavy songs. because the internet finds a way to merge his previous work into one indie-experimental album. Whether or not you choose to peruse the script, Childish weaves together of a cohesive narrative of the disjointed and self-governing nature of 2013’s internet culture. Disjunctive songs like “WORLDSTAR,” “crawl,” and “no exit,” contrasted again melodic tracks like “3005,” “Oakland,” and “shadows” illustrate the multiple personalities of intellectual, music-nerdy listeners. While some of Donald Glover’s artistic choices did not succeed and alienated us, because the internet was still a fantastic album that will grow on hip-hop fans as they re-listen again and again. – Brad W.
7. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP
An early January release can be the reason to blame why many people forgot about this album come end of the year. However, there is no denying the impact this project had as A$AP Rocky‘s New York style clashed with his syrupy Houston influence to produce a dark, sinister, and apocalyptic sound. Long.Live.A$AP was continuously delayed which made us want it that much more, landing #1 on the Billboard charts even after leaking nearly a month early. When the masses finally got what they waited for, they ate it up faster than that fat kid demolishing the cake in Matilda. Bangers such as “Fuckin’ Problems” and “Wild For The Night” ran the soundwaves on the radio and at social get togethers. Hip-hop fans were blessed with the feature heavy “1 Train,” and even the female fans got a treat with “Fashion Killa.” The early release marked the beginning of dat pretty motherfuckers influence in 2013′s music, style and culture. – Djordje G.
6. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
After his return from boarding school in Samoa, Earl Sweatshirt definitely made noise with the long awaited and highly anticipated release of Doris in late August. With collaborations and features with artists such as RZA, Tyler The Creator, and Pharrell among others, Earl really set a bigger name than he had already for himself despite his absence. With the classic bunching of rhymes and complex phrases back to back that Earl became known for, Doris deserves the spot it has earned through critics. – Robert M.
5. Pusha T – My Name is my Name
G.O.O.D. Music’s own Pusha T finally stepped out in the scene with his new label and his debut solo LP, My Name Is My Name, in 2013. The album starts off with “King Push” and you can already tell Push has stayed in his lane with the gritty drug references and dope flows like he had back in his Clipse days. MNIMN has 12 tracks and features Kanye West, Pharrell, Rick Ross, The-Dream, Kendrick Lamar, Future, Young Jeezy, Chris Brown and Kelly Rowland. One could say that talking about drugs all the time can get tiring but Push paints a vivid image in his rhymes which makes MNIMN one of the best projects of the year. Also if you have any doubts about the album, maybe I can direct you to this guy and he can help you change your mind. Remember, EVERYTHING IS PUSHA T. – Luka L.
4. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf
Tyler, the Creator is quite literally living out his dreams out and there’s nothing you can do but admire it. We all wish we were having as much fun as him 100% of the time. But that’s not to take away the hard work and effort he’s put in to build the OF empire. In 2013 we saw him follow up his debut album with Wolf, the third installment in his trilogy of releases. The story gets crazy (like anything and everything related to Tyler) but draws in the listeners unlike any other release this year. He’s built the framework for what might be one of the most amazing musical collections ever released. Wolf is laced with incredible production from track to track, jumping between outrageous yet gripping cuts as well as deeper songs that have him taking an introspective look at things. Guest features from his OF family and legends like Pharrell on tracks like “Rusty” and “IFHY” give fans an array of song selection exploring the frontman’s somewhat bipolar tendencies. Tyler went to on create a fictional destination in Camp Flog Gnaw that gave him the ability to take listeners on a journey. It showed a growth and expansion to his sound that we can only hope to see more of in the coming year. – Djordje G.
3. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Kanye himself deemed it “Drake Season,” and after Nothing Was The Same there is little argument against this. From start to finish the album encompasses all emotions possible including tracks like “Worst Behavior” where Drake shows no shame in flexing alongside his OG, to “Too Much” where he lets open his emotions yet again including messages aimed directly at his family in somewhat of a Take Care fashion. Obviously there are the tracks that still make you want to call your ex and hug your mother, but his confidence shown against Jay-Z’s verse on “Pound Cake” deserves recognition. On top of all that he became an ambassador for the Raptors and just finished a tour with Future and Miguel, so with that being said, who was doing it like Drizzy was in 2013? We’ll wait. – Hannah W.
2. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
Chance The Rapper probably had a bigger 2013 than you did. He definitely had a bigger one than I did, and to put it plainly, Acid Rap is the reason why. The project, which was Chano’s sophomore tape, landed him tours with Macklemore, Mac Miller, and Eminem in addition to his very own headlining tour, which sold out various venues across the US. What was so spectacular about Chance’s rise, however, was the speed at which it occurred. To call this rise meteoric would be an understatement. To put it in a U of I context: he went from barely selling 100 tickets for a show at the Canopy Club in August of 2012 to selling out a homecoming show in October of 2013, None of this would have been possible without Acid Rap, which seems to touch on all aspects of being a youth in the city of Chicago. Chance effortlessly flows from some of the most meaningful lines in music this year (“Paranoia”) to some of the most fun tracks (“Favorite Song,” “Smoke Again”), showing his true versatility not just as a rapper, but as an artist. Acid Rap is definitely a solid, end-to-end tape which I can listen to frequently and not get the urge to skip any tracks, which is becoming increasingly rare in today’s musical climate. After this year, however, it’s hasn’t really become a question of if Chance will blow up, but to what level he will peak. If 2013 is any indication, though, Chance may soon be able to reserve a spot on the list of the titans of Chicago rap (Common, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, etc.), and I couldn’t be more impressed. – Boswell H.
1. Kanye West – Yeezus
Kanye West’s continued to push the boundaries placed upon him by listeners and the media in 2014 with his sixth studio album Yeezus. His daring marketing campaign, projecting at the time the fresh single “New Slaves” on the sides of sixty-six building internationally, controversial performances on SNL leading up to the album’s release, and minimalist album artwork created a never-before-seen marketing campaign for a hip-hop album. Fans of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy who were hoping for a pseudo-sequel were forced to meet Kanye West and listen to the most ambitious major-market release on his unquestionable terms.
This forty-one minute bombastic attack on audiophiles illustrated the most bleed-dry, morally gray album from Kanye West in his career, engaging listeners in aggressively honest and addictive way. Opening the album, “On Sight” discomforting, drone-like production from Daft Punk paired with Ye’s bold state “Yeezy season approaching/Fuck whatever y’all been hearing/Fuck what, fuck whatever y’all been wearing/A monster about to come alive again” clearly sets the stage. “Black Skinhead,” “New Slaves,” and “Blood on the Leaves” all elucidate Kanye’s recent frustration with the music and fashion industry. Featuring Chicago artists Chief Keef and King L on “Hold My Liquor” and “Send It Up,” Yeezus reaches for underground and street artists alike in a gritty, industrial, hearkening for the inner grunge within music fans alike.
Beyond the physical album, who has made a larger artistic statement this year surrounding an album? The sixteen-bus pyramid stage and futuristic clothing used on his “Yeezus” tour with Kendrick Lamar redefines modern expectations of hip-hop performances. The video for “Bound 2” with Kim Kardashian has been one of the most discussed and most parodied videos of the year. Yeezus will last the test of time, incorporating edgy sounds currently popular in Trap, EDM, and Industrial Rap to unabashedly paint a distraught mural of ignorant luxury. For all of this and much more, Yeezus is UPC’s Best Album of 2013. – Brad W.
Curren$y – New Jet City
Dom Kennedy – Get Home Safely
Audio Push – Come As You Are
Big KRIT – King Remembered In Time
Casey Veggies – Life Changes