Ethan’s [REVISED] Top Ten Albums of 2013
2013 was the greatest year of music in recent memory. Last year I could barely fit five albums into my “Top Ten”. This year we actually made it to ten. Legitimate list length! And to think 2014 may be even better.
Honorable Mention: Troy Ave – New York City: The Album
Quite simply, Troy Ave is the future of New York hip-hop. Dudes like Lord Sear have been pushin’ his tracks all year, and this mixtape (the Best Mixtape of 2013) was his official hat tossed in the ring. Scram Jones’ “Hot Out” was the song of the summertime. “New York City” featuring N.O.R.E of Capone-N-Noreaga, Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Raekwon, The Chef of the Wu-Tang Clan was another instant-classic track to add to the soundtrack of the summer. Rollin’ down the 10 in sunny LA with that track pounding was good feels. “Everything” might be Pusha T’s best track of 2013, which is saying something when his album is ahead of this one. And “Classic Feel” sounds like mid-90’s New York hip-hop. The city’s in good hands.
10. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name
A man cursed to never top Lord Willin’. MNIMN is good, not great. The hype outshined the actual end product. For Pusha’s next one, he’s gotta get Pharrell to produce the whole thing and take it back to that “Virginia” shit. When it comes to pure MC skill, he’s probably the best rapper on this list. His albums should reflect that. Pusha’s Ma$e impression is spot-on, tho.
9. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
An album that makes a man who doesn’t dance wanna dance; a feat not perfected by many since vintage Ginuwine. “Pusher Love Girl” is at least a finalist for track of the year. Every song on this album is two songs for the price of one. Which begs the question why JT recorded a second volume. Timbaland hasn’t been relevant since Aaliyah’s last flight, so this album is a revelation on multiple levels. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is another monster two-songs-in-one jam. The Album of the Year for making out, if nothing else.
8. Jay Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
The greatest musical event of 2013 was Funkmaster Flex droppin’ bombs on MCHG the Wednesday night that it leaked, the night before July 4th. Twitter’s first real communal reaction to an album release. Just a cool, exciting, futuristic moment. Like, I would sincerely purchase the version of this album with Flex yellin’ and goin’ nuts over it. That good. Jigga’s best album since The Black Album. The old man can still put in work. Twenty-seven years after Licensed To Ill and Rick Rubin is still influencing my musical life. “Oceans” and “Part II (On The Run)” are some of the best tracks Jigga’s recorded since that DeShawn Stevenson diss track over the Too $hort beat. And yet, the two best tracks on the album (at least beat-wise) are the two sub-one-minute tracks, “Beach Is Better” and “Versus”. Flex must have dropped that “Beach Is Better” beat about a hundred times that opening night and bombed it like it was Kuwait. “Heaven” might be the most underrated track of 2013, mostly based on Justin Timberlake’s Julian Lennon impression. Also glad Jay and Nas buried the hatchet, ’cause the two of them on a track together just sounds right. Just hope Sean Carter has enough lyrics left for Watch The Throne II next year. If not, Skillz is always available to write something real quick.
7. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Earl may never be topped; but Sweatshirt gave it a shot with Doris. A darker sound that hasn’t really been heard in hip-hop since the Gravediggaz. Tyler is the heart of Odd Future and one of the greatest producers since Pharrell, but Earl Sweatshirt is the best rapper in the group. The Ghostface, if you will. Frank Ocean’s strongest track of 2013 wasn’t him singing on MCHG, but rappin’ with Earl. The breakdown beat at the end of “Chum” is as close to N.E.R.D. as anyone outside of Tyler has ever gotten. In a way Odd Future’s beats are just a continuation of In Search Of…, which is only (arguably) the greatest album of the 21st Century. Goes to show how good an album is that Mac Miller is on it and it’s still high quality. The background noise on “Hoarse” almost sounds like coyote howls, which fits California perfectly. Basically if you can get RZA to guest on your album, you’re probably gonna make my top ten. “Knight” may be my favorite end-track of 2013, since it’s basically my favorite new rapper spittin’ over a Wu-Tang beat. Sweatshirt’s 2013 Coachella set was the greatest live performance of 2013, outside of Blur’s epic show. Earl’ll be a force to be reckoned with in 2014, when he (hopefully) releases Gnossos.
6. Kanye West – Yeezus
The greatest producer of our generation sparks it off right out the bat with “On Sight”. A driving beat with a self-proclaimed genius talking about putting black dick in your spouse. I’m not married, so this one’s on you. “Black Skinhead” has become the go-to beat for ESPN sporting events. Not a song you would picture the Worldwide Leader using to lead into NCAA games involving young black kids being not paid to risk their lives to make rich white men millions on millions. Bet this: “New Slaves” will never be played by ESPN over a college football game. “New Slaves” was the first viral sensation after its performance on the sides of buildings the world over. A Musical Moment™ to rival Jay Z’s Funkmaster Flex MCHG explosion. “I Am A God” is probably the greatest song title since “Nonstop Disco Powerpack”, or whatever Cam’ron’s last track was titled. Never thought I’d hear a rapper with balls big enough to rap over Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”, but oh yeah, Kanye, of course. At this point, the only Nina track I’m still clinging to nobody messin’ with is “Sinnerman”. Beenie Man on “Send It Up” is one of the most wonderful album surprises of 2013. Dude’s been reggae hall toastin’ for decades, so it’s nice to see Yeezy give him some love. Music video aside, Yeezy’s live version of “Bound 2” on Jimmy Fallon with Charlie Wilson and a children’s choir was one of the most beautiful musical moments of 2013. Best use of a children’s choir since those kids were singing “Death will hunt you down” on Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors last year.
5. Tyler, The Creator – Wolf
A couple less uses of the word “fag” and this could have been the album of the year. Have to constantly remind yourself that Tyler’s barely twenty-one. I was a terrible person at twenty-one. (Still pretty terrible at thirty.) I’m a beats guy more than a lyrics guy, personally; so I’m a bigger champion of Tyler than most, since he’s the best producer in the game right now, outside of Pharrell and Kanye. Tyler has openly discussed his admiration for Pharrell and N.E.R.D. and In Search Of… and this album more than his last two espouses that admiration. “Jamba” bangs as hard as any track this year. Tyler’s lyrics have never quite kept up with his beats. Almost makes you wish he would do Special Blends albums like MF DOOM did, remixing other rappers spittin’ over his beats. I could hear every rapper in existence rap over that “Slater” beat. “Colossus” was the 21st-Century update of Eminem’s “Stan”. The “Partyisntover” beat could have easily slid right into In Search Of…. Earl’s verse on “Rusty” was his best of 2013. Good marketing on Earl’s part. Put your best shit on the album that’s gonna sell more, so people might buy yours as well. Basically if you can get Erykah Badu to guest on your album, you’re probably gonna make my top ten. Tyler actually shows some real human emotion on this album. “Answer” and “IFHY” are heart-bleeding tracks begging for attention. Everybody’s had the one girl they adored who didn’t return said attention. That shit makes your whole body ache, and Tyler articulates it in a way that’s difficult to voice.
4. Lorde – Pure Heroine
As one gets older, it’s always a little distressing when a kid does something incredible that you know your old-ass will never do. Pure Heroine is one of those distressing things. A teenage kid from New Zealand came outta nowhere to take 2013 by storm. I admit I was a bit late to the Lorde bandwagon, I didn’t even hear “Royals” until I heard Raekwon’s “Royals (Remix)” and looked up who was the amazing girl singing the chorus, immediately downloaded the album (legally, natch) and was blown away. Especially by the first three tracks, “Tennis Court”, “400 Lux” and “Royals”, possibly the strongest three-track intro of any album this year, besides the #1 album on this list. “Team” has a beat that any hungry rapper could freestyle over for four minutes. Wouldn’t be surprised if Lorde somewhere down the line did a whole album with rappers as guest stars, like the Black Keys did with Blakroc. She’s already nailed the drug pun album titles thing.”White Teeth Teens” was this year’s “Super Rich Kids”. Lorde has that teen angst thing down pat and brings you back to a younger restless version of yourself floating down the road in your dad’s car with the windows down, arm hanging out, staring listlessly at the passing trees at night with maybe a little something special in your system, the entire world at your fingertips and the future a bright, shiny ball of endless possibilities hanging just ahead of you. “It drives you crazy getting old.”
3. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
Beyoncé done went and fucked up everybody’s year-end top ten lists with this buzzer-beater of an album, which is why this list is attempt #2. The album kicks off with greasy-ass Harvey Keitel and ‘ol Bey belting out “Pretty Hurts” a song about how tough it is to be attractive. Gee whiz, that must suck. “Drunk In Love” features Bey running circles around her husband’s wack-ass guest verse. “Blow” is just, well, hrmm [fogs up glasses]. “Partition” is the strongest track on the album, with a trap beat that Gucci should freestyle over, like yesterday. “***Flawless” might be the most quotable track, with that “I woke up like this” mantra that I tell people every time I got a cowlick. And the album ends with a sweet song about her daughter, which a musician legally has to do if they’re a parent. The album is practically perfect production-wise. Frank Ocean has a quality cameo, hell even Drake sounds good. Beyoncé managed to push out a better album then her husband Jay or her little brother-in-law Kanye in 2013. The Queen stays the Queen.
2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
“Do dope, fuck hope.” A mantra for any year. Who else would write a verse about being reincarnated with a girl you like as sister and brother and killing each other and their mother to come back as a socially-acceptable couple. Killer Mike, that’s who. Prince Paul as Chest Rockwell, I mean c’mon. Funcrusher Plus was El-P’s sordid introduction to the world with Mr. Len, it displayed a fucked sense of life and a funked sense of production. El-Peezy takes this same approach with Killer Mike, setting the listener off-kilter from the get-go and continually pummeling them in the eardrums with solid lyrics and even solid-er beats. “Job Well Done” bangs hard; a classic El-P track with an actual quality rapper on it, instead of boring backpacker New York rappers. What other group is gonna drop a Christmas rap outside of RTJ and Run-DMC. “I fuck in my church shoes” is as Mike D a lyric as anyone has ever recorded. “I move with the elegance of an African elephant” is one of the prettiest lyrics of 2013. Next year’s sequel could be even better.
1. HAIM- Days Are Gone
Siblings have an unspoken mental connection. A brother catching his bro cutting hard across the court for a no-look pass. A brother getting weird hunger cravings and getting a call from his sister a few days later that she’s pregnant again. (Guilty.) When siblings form a band, it can produce incredible results. HAIM are the first cool all-girls group since Heart. The first four tracks are blow-your-skull-out-the-back-of-your-head incredible. “Falling” makes you wanna leap off a tall building (in a good way). “Forever” makes you wanna make out with that girl you don’t see a future with, but you really like smoochin’. “The Wire” — which they fucking destroyed on SNL — is an arena anthem banger. The guitar feedback midway through that track reverbs your brain out the back of your head, JFK-style. HAIM just sounds BIG. Eighties synth-pop, overproduced and just begging to be banged LOUD. Pounding give-you-a-headache-but-in-a-good-way drums. The title track is the most eighties synth-pop of all the tracks, fitting the mood of the album in its entirety. This album makes Cool Uncle Ethan wanna fly back east and teach his nieces guitars and drums so they can be the next hip all-sister band. I wanna read about my youngest niece crashing a car into a swimming pool fifteen years from now, The Who-style. Thanks, HAIM!
Early predictions for Best Album of 2014: Madlib & Freddie Gibbs’ MadGibbs; Jay Z & Kanye West’s Watch the Throne II; Killer Mike & El-P (aka, Run the Jewels)’s Run the Jewels 2; Earl Sweatshirt’s Gnossos; Nas’ Untitled Project; Adele’s Untitled Project; Q-Tip’s The Last Zulu; Madlib & Mos Def’s Moslib; and Frank Ocean’s Untitled Rick Rubin Collaboration.