While some cry that that Hip hop is in a dying state, the genre quietly had a huge year. This list is partly for the Hip hop heads, but partly for y’all who aren’t big fans, who may want to be knowledgable going into 2014. Here is our year-end recap of what we thought was significant, and our opinions on the projects as a whole.
(Part one of this list was written by Charlie Johns, while part two was written by Jesse Kilgore.)
Notable Listens of Late 2012:
Captain Murphy’s Duality:
Duality serves as a great example of unorthodox hip-hop. When the project dropped, the identity of Captain Murphy was a mystery only known by those featured on the tape, and surprisingly, they kept tight-lipped. In fact, the entire release of this project was a bit strange. The download was of a 34 minute long audio file, released along side a video, but I’ll talk about that later. Being that it was one long audio track, it was very easy to get lost, which only adds to the uneasy feeling that this tape gives off. This is accomplished through masterful production by Murphy himself, and a motif of a “How to become a cult leader” video. Now, the video that was released in tandem with the tape was something I had never seen an artist do. The video itself is very well produced, and is sure to be the way Murphy intends Duality to be consumed. Take the Captain’s advice. If you have the time and have your mind opened, Duality is a great listen, and is something of a standout in the recent past.
Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City:
Kendrick Lamar crafted a modern day hip-hop masterpiece. This album was the kick in the mouth the rap game needed. We hadn’t gotten anything with this sort of depth, complexity, or influence in the recent past, so when the project dropped it saw universal acclaim. It was much deserving of this. Serving as the follow up to Section 80 was a big task, knowing that the LP was also a success, just without all the recognition. Kendrick tells a very dark and enthralling tale with GKMC, with topics covered such as his troubled past, gang violence, and the overbearing influence of drugs on his life. A song like “The Art of Peer Pressure” really does take us through an interesting set of motions. Starting with a melodic instrumental paired with relatively carefree lyrics that talk of Kendrick being with his homies. The song soon takes a sharp right into a dark tunnel of his past, delving into a moment that is hard to rationalize by just saying he is with friends. Kendrick also manages to get a deeper message across on a few of the more conventional radio songs. “Swimming Pools” and “m.A.A.d. City” are both able to be powerful if you listen and read into the lyrics, but are lively enough to get radio play. Another thing I can really commend K on are his choruses. Christ, the dude can hit a hook. I think that is an aspect that makes GKMC so special. I remember so much from it just because the hooks really do their job of latching onto my brain and not letting go. Kendrick Lamar did something great. He was able to make an album that both had wide public appeal, but stays mad compelling to us hip hop heads that really appreciate a well-told tale.
Notable Listens of 2013:
Lil B’s Pink Flame:
Brandon McCartney, AKA Lil B AKA Lil B the Based God is a California rapper from the bay area who has exploded with Internet fame in the past couple of years. This fame comes mostly from this ability to change from a very fun, carefree, ignorant rapper, to an inspiring, uplifting, and positive messiah. His biggest and farthest-reaching mixtape of 2013 is February’s Pink Flame. This mixtape was full to the brim with personality and charisma, and was incredibly well received by fans, but debated among Hip hop enthusiasts. What is significant about Lil B is the discussion that he starts. Lil B’s tracks seem to be very hap-hazardly thrown together, with little to no thought put in. As Lil B has expressed countless times, however, is that this is entirely intentional. Having the emotion of the moment flow through his songs is what matters most to the Based God. What it really comes down to is how you personally interpret the music. If you listen to it on a base level, his tracks really are just the product of muddy production and silly freestyled bars. On a deeper level, the represent Lil B’s creativity, and the sound he thinks are fun and meaningful. What Lil B makes people discuss is if fun hype tracks can be just as good as very meaningful, compelling songs, like those of Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper, which is what is what a lot of music fans need to think about.
Joey Bada$$’s Summer Knights:
Joey Bada$$ has had an interesting run so far in his young career. His first mixtape, 1999, saw universal acclaim, while his Pro Era clique gain substantial popularity in the wake of it. In July, to follow up the subpar Rejex, the Brooklyn emcee released his third mixtape, Summer Knights. What unfortunately needs to be said is that this is Joey’s first solo project he dropped after his life long friend and fellow rapper Capital Steez took his own life. His death shook Pro Era, given that Joey and Steelo had a type of synergy that is rare in the rap game today. Now for the project. What is most important about Joey Bada$$, and in some ways, Pro Era as a whole is their new New York sound that they have created. This is the main argument I have heard for why they are constructive for Hip hop today. Their sound, however, is so heavily influenced on the sound of 90’s New York boom bap that it really is impossible for them to truly progressive. I would argue that the haze and grime of both the Underachievers and the Flatbush Zombies move New York forward much more than Pro Era’s nostalgia. For the project itself, Joey’s rapping is pretty uninterested, only sounding actually hungry on a few tracks, one of those being “95 Til’ Infinity.” Production wise, Summer Knights is certainly a step up. Since Joey has a very deep roster of producers in the Pro Era clique, the project comes off as diverse and varied. As a whole, Summer Knights isn’t too progressive, but certainly isn’t bad.
Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris:
No one can take away Earl’s bars. His rhymes have always been well written and clever as hell. On Doris, we hear Earl move a bit away from lyricism revolving around rape to talking about his actual life. In some ways this is a welcome change; it’s great that Earl isn’t the one trick pony that can only write rhymes about the girl he has tied up in his basement. In others, his flow could be described as uninterested on this LP. I always get the vibe that the dude is doing this for the paycheck, just by the attitude he exhibits on these tracks. This was a positive release, in the end. Earl continues the solid legacy in his ‘discography,’ if you could call it that, and he lives up, as always, to the OF brand. Earl was able to widen his fan base quite a bit with this LP, and I hear the name come up for more legitimate reasons, more than just how shocking some found his first mixtape, EARL. I don’t think that Earl’s sometimes repulsive bars had no value, however. I actually think that if Earl had stuck to a more outrageous writing style, I would have left Doris with more. The songs were solid, but maybe a bit void of personality compared to EARL, which was sometimes unpleasant because of how drenched it was with character.
A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord:
With a renaissance of sorts for the trap sound in 2013, we were given Trap Lord. Ferg has always been the voice that stands out in the A$AP Mob for me. Rocky is cool, and his flows are nice, but Ferg shines with charisma and humor. Speaking of which, Trap Lord is a mad funny project. It’s really nails the loud, dumb, and fun sound that is so great about the trap style, and Ferg’s flow and tone blends perfectly into the mix. His rhymes are thick with flex bars, but given that Ferg is aware of the sound he is going for, they make the tape all the more entertaining. And that is just it. Trap Lord is super entertaining and easy to get through. Even if, in some ways, a bit falls flat, the next song is there to make it a good moment. When Ferg has a more intimate moment with the song “402,” and it doesn’t do much for the tape as a whole, the next song is there with a hook that goes, “I fucked yo bitch, nigga, I fucked yo bitch.” These moments are what make Trap Lord such a cool and constructive project. We don’t always need to have culturally sensitive bars. Sometimes we need some noise that will just make you move and give you a laugh.
Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2:
This is was very excepted project out of the self-proclaimed rap god, Eminem. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 was Em trying to tell his fans he was going back to the sound of his prime, given that the name suggests that this was a sequel to his incredibly sucessful, The Marshall Mathers LP. For me, what is synonymous with Eminem’s greatest tracks is that they challenged what Hip hop was, and this album did nothing but wallow in nostalgia. To give credit where it is due, Eminem spits really well on this project, and churns out some really catchy and engaging joints. Unfortunately, they don’t have the added bonus of doing anything new. Eminem’s classic points to rap about have all been covered in a bigger and better way before this LP. Just for a quick example, the opening track “Bad Guy,” is meant to be rapped from the perspective from Stan’s son. We really don’t need another “Stan” because it is an incredible song already and on its own. This is a lot of what MMLP2 is to me. It’s charted territory, it’s expected, and overall, it is a record that Eminem has made before. What really helps people connect with Em are his honest, heavy, and uncensored bars. We are just hearing these types of bars for the 5th or 6th time, so they aren’t as emotionally engaging and meaningful as they was the first time we heard them.
Death Grips’ Government Plates:
Death Grips dropped a real gem in October of 2013. Government Plates deviated from what the fans had come to expect from this heavily experimental Hip hop trio. The new project had its leg much more in the electronic pool, rather than the predominately drums and keys production of their past releases. Government Plates ended up being one of their most debated releases among fans. Some saw the change in sound as Death Grips finally bending to what the popular sound of today is, while others saw it as a really fresh change of pace. Both sides of the argument are understandable, but at the end of the day, this was a great release for the group. They kept their already progressive sound moving forward. Government Plates truly does earn and deserve its spot in the Death Grips discography.
Flatbush Zombies’ Better Off DEAD:
Better Off DEAD was a really rare release. This was the second mixtape out of the Beast Coast trio, the Flatbush Zombies. Groups of rappers normally make me nervous; it takes such talent and reciprocity to have several emcees synchronize in a way that produces good music. Luckily for us, the Zombies pull it off in an incredible way; they are the complete package. First, Meechy Darko, who many would call the lead emcee, has a voice that practically was made to spit. The deep and textured gruff of his delivery only adds to the general grime of his lyricism. Next is Erick “The Arc” Elliott, who produced this mixtape, and jumped on more than a few verses. His production is absolutely terrific on this project, with variation and personality being its best traits. Rounding out the trio is Zombie Juice, who is a solid rapper with a really unique height to his voice. Truly a key part in the trio, however, Juice can easily be distinguished as the least notable of the group. These three dudes come together in a huge way that makes Better Off DEAD, in my opinion, the most unique mixtape that came out in 2013. Seriously fam if you are going to pursue any project that we talk about, this would be the one. I can only see good coming from this group in 2014, so look out.
Deep and complex at times, and ugly at others, clipping released their new album, Midcity. Clipping matches some ridiculous flows from California Rapper Daveed Diggs, with incredibly glitchy and experimental electronic production by Jonathan Snipes and Rail. The instrumentals get to point where it is tough to discern their purposeful messiness as meaningful or just trying to be off the wall. The best example of this is on the track “five” where a dog whistle introduces itself into the melody. What I think really shines on this album, though, is the rapping of Daveed Diggs. The dude is such a technically solid and sound emcee, with some absolutely dynamite flows. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the intro track, where Daveed spits some absolutely unreal fire, with some super clever bars. “intro” as a whole is a good mirror for this entire project, actually. The production is so disjointed, and is seemingly just a tangle of electronic noise, with smooth verses in between the assaults. Midcity is such a fascinating and different listen than so much of what the 2013 rap game had to offer. Mad compelling, must cop.
Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet:
Because the Internet was Childish Gambino’s second studio album that was dropped to much excitement, but little vitality. His fans were pretty hyped, given that months earlier, Gambino seemingly disappeared from all of his social media outlets, thus making another project unlikely. There are more than a few tracks that stand out as distinct and enjoyable on this LP. His rapping makes this a very entertaining listen. Tracks like “Sweatpants” and “The Party” display this well, with machine gun flows and tricky word play. Childish is a vibrant rapper. For the majority of this project, however, his writing is full of self-pity and sadness. Not to say this cannot be done well; a song like “No Exit” does a lot of compelling things production-wise and over is something unique. In my mind that is what this record needs more of. Because the Internet is in no means a bad release. Gambino fans however, over hype it as the most thought provoking album of the year.
Pusha T’s My Name is My Name:
Serving as a followup to his very early 2013 mixtape, Wrath of Caine, Pusha T released his debut solo album, My Name is My Name. Pusha T was part of the mid 2000’s rap collaboration, Clipse, who released what many to see as a modern day Hip hop classic, Hell Hath No Fury. With Wrath of Caine under his belt for this year, Push was still unproven as a solo artist, with the project only leaving fans with five or so compelling joints. My Name is My Name, released October of 2013, is something new and different for the rap game. Push’s tone is so incredibly weathered and mature for today’s trap sound. His bars are full of very literal wordplay, which is surprisingly absent nowadays. His rappers he chose to hop on the project all add constructively and fit well thematically and sonically, which is a change from many modern features. The only real complaint that I have is that the album was sitting on a layer of modern pop-rap tracks. These types of tracks are only found in a few spots through this LP, but they unfortunately make their presence known. A song like “No Regrets” was a major bump in the road while I went through this album. Overall, Push created one of the toughest sounding listens of 2013, and it came off as incredibly fresh in the process.
Still looking for Acid Rap, Wolf, and Yeezus? Check out our second part to this list!