Now that 2013 is nearly half-over, it’s clear the year’s two biggest hip-hop stories eclipsing everything else are Kanye West’s album/baby/stunts and Jay-Z’s sudden commercial announcement about his new album. While they are rightfully big news, some really great stuff–from impressive new-comers, promising up-and-comers and veterans returning-to-for–are getting lost in the mix. So, before you read another Yeezus review from someone who hasn’t heard anybody else rap this year, let’s take a look at 10 incredible hip-hop tracks from 2013 Ye and Jigga had nothing to do with.
A$AP Rocky featuring Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, YelaWolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big KRIT
Every few years, hip-hop remembers how much fun a solid posse cut can be. From bringing together a bevy of great artists who might not otherwise collaborate, to the replay value and ensuing discussions of “who killed it best?,” the posse cuts are one of the most enjoyable and unique aspects of the genre. This year’s finest might be Harlem’s A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train,” uniting MCs with heritage and styles from all over the hip-hop map. For the record, we think Danny Brown’s verse (“Weed a different color like a hoodrat bra and panties / And my flow be overhead like pots and pans in pantries”) takes home top honors
One of the year’s most anticipated mixtapes was Indigoism from Flatbush rap duo The Underachievers. Setting 2013 off to a great start, members Issa Dash and AK decimate the project with sharp lyrics, charismatic flows and an outstanding ear for production. The opening track “Philanthropist” quieted all fears that the release wouldn’t live up to expectations, greatness right out the gate..
Chance the Rapper
Chicago MC Chance the Rapper has already become a serious contender for breakout star of the year with his must-hear mixtape Acid Rap. The release’s lead single, “Juice,” served as a perfect introduction to the artist, showing off his melodic flow, poignant commentary and sly sense of humor. A perfect fit within Chicago hip-hop’s family tree, Chance maintains his city’s tradition of balancing a disarming honesty with an original sound.
Shad and Skratch Bastid featuring Cadence Weapon
Last week, in-between the birth of Kanye’s baby and Jay-Z’s world-stopping Samsung commercial, one of Canada’s greatest MCs dropped a free EP, The Spring Up, with producer Skratch Bastid. Vancouver’s Shad, the favorite north-of-the-border MC for many hip-hop fans stateside, is joined by the other frequently championed Canuck Cadence Weapon for a track about the joys and pains of travel. Shad bears the rare trait of being as innovative as he is entertaining while still sounding wildly accessible. If you’ve never heard Canadian hip-hop before, this track might be the best place to start.
Marco Polo featuring Big Daddy Kane
“Nite and Day”
One of the all time greats, Big Daddy Kane’s had his busiest year in recent memory with his live band-backed soul and hip-hop project The Las Supper. Between their gigs, he recorded a track for celebrated east coast producer Marco Polo’s free Newport Authority 2 project. On it, a track called “Nite and Day” tackles sage advice about maturity without faltering into the desperate heavy-handedness that plagues most attempts at “Grown man rap” today. Kane’s as smooth an operator as ever, and “Nite and Day” is proof he’s still as gifted in the booth as he is on stage.
Java Starr featuring Scarface
Denver MC Java Starr originally hails from Minnesota, and so by collaborating with Texas rap godfather Scarface he’s intertwined several different hip-hop legacies to formulate “My City.” Over a brooding beat produced by The Legendary Traxster, it captures the sinister vibe and vibrant imagery of all the classic Rap-A-Lot singles with a definitive twist that makes him an exciting name to watch. It’s also always great to be reminded that Scarface is one of the most consistent rappers of all time.
Killer Mike and El-P featuring Big Boi
A decade ago, even the most discerning hip-hop listeners who had both “The Whole World” and “Deep Space 9MM” on the same playlist probably never imagined the artists involved would ever intersect. If you ever needed a reason to defend 2013, you could start with the fact that this year gave us Killer Mike, El-P and Big Boi together on the same track. Off the former’s upcoming free release Run the Jewels, “Banana Clipper” finds Mike and El-P trading back-and-forth rhymes, followed by Big Boi reminding us why he’s still cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.
Billy Woods and Blockhead
If Billy Woods’ History Will Absolve Me wasn’t listed among your 10 best albums last year, it’s probably only because you didn’t hear it. Fear not, Billy Woods is back with another release, the wonderfully titled Dour Candy, this time produced entirely by Blockhead (Aesop Rock’s “Daylight.”) If the lead single “Tinseltown” is anything to go by, Woods is as potent and cynical as ever. The prospects of him now backed by the beautiful contrast of adorned Blockhead beats might find the ever-sharpening Woods besting his best.
Sims and Astronautalis
“This Is the Place”
Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree have become one of rap’s hottest secret sensations in recent years. With a grind that’s brought them from cult hero status to underground royalty, as a crew and as individuals they’ve made some of indie-rap’s most memorable tracks. Their latest comes from member Sims, who collaborated with fellow Twin Cities MC Astronautalis for “This Is the Place.” An examination of pre-emptive nostalgia, its infectious hook, thought-provoking lyrics and emotive Cecil Otter production are sure to resonate within even the most jaded listeners.
Tyler, the Creator
Odd Future mastermind Tyler, the Creator’s latest Wolf is precisely the album longtime fans knew he had inside him. A step forward in both production and performance, it’s Tyler’s strongest statement since the collective first burst out three years ago. Fear not, the 22-year-old Tyler hasn’t suddenly mellowed, but there’s a lot of growth on the new album, perhaps most heard in “Answer.” While Tyler’s still tackling his feelings with the aggression that first drew listeners to him, his focus for self-expression has never been more powerful. Believe the hype.