In years past, we at The Smoking Section would give you our top-ten favorite albums and mixtapes in two gigantic slideshows. Typically, they were never ranked. This year, however, we’ve switched things up, ranking what we thought were the all-around best projects – with mixtapes and albums included, but “albums” used as the loose term to cover everything – and dedicating a week to them. So no more debating, “oh, but Rapper A HAS to be No. 1, while Rapper B should totally be No. 9.” Don’t worry: we’ve saved you that step, so now all you have to do is direct your vitriol to the comments section and social media.
With that in mind, this first segment in our Albums of the Year series will focus on our No. 10 through No. 4 picks, detailing why we thought each was, simply put, the best of the year. From Tuesday through Thursday we’ll publish our No. 3 through No. 1 picks in long-form because f*ck yeah longreads.
So without further ado, here are our favorite projects of 2013.
10. Vic Mensa – Innanetape
Sure, we know Vic has been making music for a while now, but the Vic Mensa story started earlier this year when he stole the show from Chance The Rapper and Twista on the former’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses” from Acid Rap. Since then, his buzz has been off the charts, and things went nuclear when he dropped his project.
Unorthodox. Creative. Incredibly rapped. And a sh*t ton of fun. Innanetape takes us through the mind of a teenager in the Chi on the cusp of stardom. “Hollywood, LA,” “Holy Holy” and “Fear & Doubt” make you turn down the lights and absorb his poignancy while “Tweakin” and “YNSP” are lyrical E. Honda slaps to the ears.
Vic is on his way. And it starts with Innanetape. — David D.
9. Audio Push – Come As You Are
Audio Push’s Come As You Are could have easily been an exercise in overcompensation – an extended plea for acceptance from “real rap” fans who only recognize the duo from their 2009 dance-rap hit “Teach Me How To Jerk.” Instead, it’s an assured re-introduction that transcends any notions of “most improved,” one that borrows a few tricks from some of their more noteworthy contemporaries while grounding them in the pair’s cruising California cool.
Under the guidance of imprint boss Hit-Boy, Come As You Are is impressively produced, with flourishes of live instrumentation accentuating Oktane and Pricetag’s shifting cadences and bending flows. The west coast is far from in need of saving, but for Audio Push, the idealistic ambition seems to have provided the requisite motivation. — Samir S.
8. Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips 2
Action Bronson and Party Supplies delivered on another batch of zany rappity-rap. The production’s mostly simple, effective loops played right into Bronson’s hilarious rhymes once again. Bronsolinho held it down throughout, but a few features, most notably from Ab Soul, further bolstered its value.
The project sounded like it could’ve been recorded over a long weekend but that comes to its credit. It easily beat out albums with exponentially larger budgets. Plus its self-aware, laissez-faire leanings, like Action rhyming over Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” because it’s awesome, added to its allure. Oddly placed commercials had us wondering if we turned our adblock off, though. — S. Cadet
7. Gee Watts – Watts Up
No amount of equipment can make a wack artist great. And on the flip side, if an artist has that ‘it’ factor, nothing can mask it. Plain and simple, Gee Watts has that spark and Watts Up was his coming out party to the Hip-Hop underground. The young Midwesterner’s project consisted of such standouts like the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Watts R.I.O.T.” and “Nasty,” both songs that have Gee just throwing around his lyrical weight like a football at a cookout.
His lyricism is layered, and it takes multiple listens to really grasp what he’s saying and how he goes about it. The deep and thought-provoking “Premature Hate” is another example of how gripping the whole project is. Admittedly, Watts Up is slightly rough around the edges, but it’s a testament to the infinite well of potential greatness that this young man’s music has. — Raj
6. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP
Every bit the quality project that we were hoping for, considering how much of a pleasure Live.Love.A$AP was, Rocky’s major label debut had a little bit of everything, from guilty pleasure radio jams (“Fuckin’ Problem,” “Wild For The Night”) to deeper rap nerd cuts (“PMW,” “1 Train”). Even if you don’t think that the project as a whole is full of killer, can’t-miss cuts (it’s not), Long.Live.A$AP offered us anywhere between five and ten songs that we know by heart. A job well done. — AJ
5. Danny Brown – Old
“Open wide, hoe!” Danny Brown slings at us in “Dope Fiend Rental.” Yes, you’ll have to open wide for Old, because it’s at once a dope, albeit intense, project. The album was broken into Side A and Side B, and Brown showed up in fine form throughout both sides. We couldn’t get enough of the record, and the zany beats couldn’t have matched the emcee better. As Brown struggles with life and drugs, he reminds us that when he’s on he can really hold his own with any other rapper. — Julie J
4. Big K.R.I.T. – King Remembered In Time
King Remembered In Time plays like a companion piece to KRIT Wuz Here, informed by the same self-doubt and vulnerability, this time from the perspective of an artist who has tasted success, but hasn’t reached the heights he’s dreamed of just yet. His evolution as a lyricist continues here, with his subject matter expanding into even deeper self-reflection (“Meditate”), vivid conceptual stories (“Banana Clip Theory”), and extended metaphors (“Bigger Picture”). In addition, the palette of sounds he employs is becoming even more varied, evident in his masterful use of a James Blake sample on “R.E.M.,” and a violinist on “Multi Til The Sun Die.”
With a discography as strong K.R.I.T.’s, it’s become more and more difficult for the young Southerner to compete with his own work on each project. King Remembered In Time keeps the bar raised high, while standing out as a unique project for K.R.I.T. personally as well as among his peers. — Greg Whitt