Hey, pal, got a second? Yeah, you, double-taking, index finger pointing at your tit, spinning 360 degrees to see if you are indeed the person who was just addressed–got a question: how much of a downer was this year for Hip-Hop?
Don’t side-eye me like Cam’ron. I see your face contorting. It was kind of a downer, right? All the big names outside Drake dropped so-so projects, and all the good projects were up-and-comers who might not have reached as many people as they should’ve. Accurate, no? Yeah, exactly. So it gave us more time to listen to sh*t outside the genre, outside the culture–all that rock, R&B, electronic and pop.
Which we’ve compiled here, 13 other albums that you should’ve heard besides Magna Carta… something something. We forget. You forget, too, yeah? Heh, we see you nodding in agreement. Well click ahead to see this other stuff that came out this year. Remember, this isn’t the list, so let us know in the comments what else you listened to.
Wavves – Afraid of Heights
One cannot overemphasize how necessary it is to have a gigantic pop-rock project dominate each calendar year. Last year was fun. This year was… Wavves. For those familiar with Nathan Williams and his band of recalcitrant stoner beach bums, this isn’t a surprising development: songs like “Demon To Lean On” and “Afraid of Heights” showcased great, addicting pop music, mirroring the best of Weezer’s early discography.
The band was going this way with 2010’s polished King of the Beach. All they needed was Rihanna producer John Hill to achieve that “wall of sound” slick and sheen. — Ryan J.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Just pure, unadulterated ear candy, served hot and fresh from the legendary French duo. Dance all night to “Get Lucky,” take a breather and vibe with “Fragments Of Time,” get back to dancing with “Lose Yourself To Dance,” and GET READY TO F*CKING DESTROY SOME ALIENS WITH “Contact.” SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS, THE VARIETY ON THIS ALBUM IS STAGGERING.
It’ll definitely be a project worth returning to, time and again. — AJ
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
This is Grantland’s resident music critic, Steve Hyden, on Modern Vampires of the City: “If the band’s discography encapsulates a single night, this is where the party ends, the revelers exit the apartment, and the host sits alone at 3 a.m.” This is also the best way to summarize VW’s fourth studio album, a gorgeous juxtaposition of the maudlin and promising, a “mature” album from a band that sang previously about the trials of an upper-middle class upbringing, albeit intelligently and earnestly.
The wait from VW’s sophomore album to this was three years, but was it worth it? You bet. — Ryan J.
Deerhunter – Monomania
Monomania is the album The Strokes have been trying to make for the past six years. Really. But that’s just an off-the-cuff remark that we’ll let sit on its own, because let’s not make comparisons when talking the ‘Hunter, bro.
The Athens, Georgia, group’s fourth album was one hell of a good time, blending rust-encrusted guitar licks and ‘80s synth to create the perfect balance between garage rock and something like psychedelic dance pop. Really. Julian would’ve been totally jeal. — Ryan J.
Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Jonathan Rado and Sam France are young, Californian and comprise the core of Foxygen. But their sophomore album, We Are…, makes them seem like they’re Brits who’ve been transported from The Village of the 1960s because the album reeks of classic influences like The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. The thing is their music doesn’t pander nor is it disingenuous era schlocking. Foxygen’s music (like the breezy “San Francisco” or Jagger-tastic “Oh Yeah”) hums and rattles and shouts and shakes like something listeners have never heard before–or recently.
Not bad for two twenty-something Los Angelinos. — Ryan J.
Blue Sky Black Death – Glaciers
Blue Sky Black Death have been making “atmospheric” and “cloudy” instrumentals way before those two adjectives were trendy. Glaciers is the production duo’s latest EP that is the length of an album. Their attention to detail is both exquisite and hypnotic, and a welcome break from some of the rappers whom they work with. — Julie J.
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Local Natives’ follow-up to their jovial 2010 debut, Gorilla Manor, finds the group maturing in sound and content. With loss, both professional and personal, as the backdrop for the album, Local Natives strips away the happy sounds for an album that sounds like a catharsis for the band and the listener. You can listen to songs like “You & I” or “Three Months” and feel the band working through the sometimes debilitating pain of loss and grief.
That’s not to say the album is a downer. Quite the opposite, as tracks like “Black Ballons” and “Heavy Feet” shine. Instead, lead singers Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer are your guides through the pain and help you come out the other end of it, be it from a failed relationship or the tragic loss of a loved one, with a sense of acceptance and the ability to move on. — Dr Hip-Hop
Haim – Days Are Gone
To call Haim’s debut really fun is like saying LeBron James is just a good basketball player. Their flare for catchy pop-rock tunes that drop the saccharine flavor of people like Katy Perry or Nicki Minaj has made Haim some of 2013’s break-out stars. You can’t listen to a song like “Forever” and not hear the reincarnation of Pat Benatar, or the spirit of early Madonna in the infectious “Days Are Gone.”
Days Are Gone represents the natural progression and evolution of pop music as it’s interpreted by strong female performers today, dusted with early Aughts punk and indie rock. If Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City was the soundtrack of 2012, the Jewish sisters from L.A. might have locked down 2013’s. — Dr Hip-Hop
Lorine Chia – Naked Truths EP
R&B’s indie scene continued bringing the heat in 2013, with Lorine Chia’s being a huge contributor. This writer, singer and emcee followed up her incredibly addictive Lorine mixtape with an EP that runs the gamut of contemporary hip-hop and R&B. With a level of professionalism and heart that makes everything from the club ready “Bout It” to the sexy “Fly High” sound like it’s coming from an industry vet, you can tell it’s only a matter of time before she has her moment. If you doubt it, just give this EP a listen and fall for the hype. — Dr Hip-Hop
Lady Gaga – ARTPOP
Lady Gaga has created some incredible pop music over the years, and ARTPOP has its moments where it reminds us of that fact. Plenty of it feels like cheap coke pop that can only be enjoyed under strobe lights, which is not to be taken as a compliment. However, the other highs are so high that they balance the crap out. “Do What U Want” with R. Kelly achieves this wonderful, contemporary feeling of an ’80s-era jam. She has her other moments, like the entertaining “Donatella” that serves as a back-handed ode to the designer and commentary on the fashion industry.
Overall, the highs outweigh the lows, as Mother Monster shines on. — Julie J.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Perhaps it’s the ease with which The National seem to churn out really good albums that they’re sometimes dismissed as “boring.” In any case, they added another notch to their belts this year with Trouble Will Find Me, a meticulously built record of cathartic indie rock that has the band sifting through the rubble of some emotional wreckage. Melancholia rarely sounded this good in 2013, and lead singer Matt Berninger’s doom-and-gloom baritone is the perfect vehicle for the proceedings. — Samir S.
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
Forget about what Grammy voters thought. In a year full of especially ubiquitous singles, Justin Timberlake probably had the closest thing to the album of 2013. The sequel to The 20/20 Experience rubbed some shine off JT’s massive comeback, but the first set of songs alone had more than enough staying power–whether it was big band showpieces (“Pusher Love Girl”), colorful dancepop tracks (“Let The Groove Get In”), or arena-scaling anthems (“Mirrors”)–to last through a few different changes in seasons. — Samir S.
Rhye – Woman
Singer Mike Milosh’s androgynous, Sade-esque vocals made for an interesting conversation starter, but Rhye–his collaboration with Danish producer Robin Hannibal–turned out to be a lot more than just a captivating voice hidden in the shadows. Their debut album, Woman, is a quiet storm at its most graceful; calling it “smooth” almost seems too harsh a description. The opening 1-2 punch of “Open” and “The Fall” is as good an introduction to an album (or artist) that you’ll hear this year. — Samir S.
Disclosure – Settle
The thought of garage meeting house in 2013 automatically sounds like a logjam of minor chords and forced transitions. Yet the cuts on Settle aren’t easy to deny. Disclosure’s album hits on all fronts with pop sensibilities and infectious compositions from front to back. There’s even some new wave and a J Dilla sample reserved for the geekiest Hip-Hop writers’ dancing shoes. — S. Cadet
Sango – North
Sango’s quietly redefining what “urban” can, and perhaps should, sound like heading into 2014. North shows off his great understanding of sequencing, dynamics and, most importantly, music which simply sticks with you for multiple spins.
Any capable artist can sing or rap over his beats on North and do well for themselves. Yet these instrumentals stand extraordinarily well on their own. His otherwise dissonant influences from ’90s R&B and today’s Southern rap to electronic music showcase his budding talent and, soon enough, R&B’s overlords may have to let him into the game if he doesn’t forcefully create his space first. — S. Cadet
The Internet – Feel Good
Led by the overwhelmingly groovy vibes of the lead single, “Dontcha,” The Internet’s Feel Good more than lives up to its name. The listen is a cross-blend of sounds that Odd Future’s more crooning-driven acts have become known for. For those still not up on game, don’t beat yourself up. Make amends now and head into 2014 with one of the most replay-worthy projects of the previous year as your soundtrack for spring. — Justin Tinsley