It’s been four years since the magical musical journey that was 2013. Similar to 2016 it was hard to keep up. It was a great summer for hip-hop and an emerging year for Alternative R&B. We saw comebacks from legends, and debuts from some of the hottest in the game now. All in all 2013 was definitely one to remember, especially for a then rising college senior like myself. Time truly flies, but these albums still ride. Check them out and of course, let me know if I missed any!
YEEZUS – Kanye West
Manny’s Favorite Song: New Slaves
So I’m going to have to lead off with one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of 2013. YEEZUS was the rebirth of Kanye and the follow up to his previous solo masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. According to Ye, YEEZUS was one of his best projects along with 808’s. His fans obviously have different views, but the raw emotion and feeling is present in both projects. Coming off the mega album with Brooklyn legend Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, Ye did a total reset. The “hip-hop” album had heavy EDM (electronic dance) and electronic/euro synths and influences. With singles like Black Skinhead and New Slaves the controversy rolled in louder than thunder. Not to mention, I Am a God (ft. God), which sparked massive uproar from Ye fans and haters alike. To be completely honest, I thought the album was revolutionary from start. The energy and feeling is fully evident from start to finish. The overall message was a “protest to music” as Ye referred to it. Yeah there was some religious uproar from I Am a God but he highlighted real issues with his songs as well as sharing this raw frustrations in the world. The second verse on New Slaves was habitually mentioned as one of the best verses of 2013 as well. Eventually the album grew on everyone. Upon its release, I can easily say few people were vibing to this project; I’d easily be the only one within miles bumping it. Slowly but surely more and more grew to appreciate it, and it gained the respect it deserved come year’s end. Per usual, YEEZUS went platinum like every other Ye project before it. If you all remember this album was surrounded with epic rants/meltdowns on radio and talk shows, as well as nightly rants on the YEEZUS tour. I.e. “HOW SWAY!!!” So the album definitely made a lasting impact on the year and Kayne’s legacy as a whole. In addition, YEEZUS influenced much of the music to come. Many artist began incorporating the industrial/electronic sound with their music. Such as Travi$ Scott, Ty Dolla Sign, Gambino, and others began their heavy experimentation phases post YEEZUS. The album as a whole rages on through industrial influenced beats and ends on a high note with the only Kanye-like song, Bound 2 whose music video was used as a satire to classic/poorly made music videos. Ye also tapped the legendary Rick Rubin as executive producer and an impressive squad of features to round up the producing team. Notables include the then up and coming Travis Scott, Mike Dean, Daft Punk, Frank Ocean, and No I.D. As we know in 2017, Ye is an on and off Trump supporter, has blond hair, and is borderline psychotic. Hopefully, this is just another Ye phase before another excellent body of work. As a Ye stan, I can only hope so.
ACID RAP – Chance The Rapper
Manny’s Favorite Song: Favorite Song ft. Childish Gambino
So taking us back to 2013, young Chancellor Bennett had one underground mixtape to his name, 10 Day. That’s it. He had no Grammy nods, no Kanye features, no Kit-Kat commercials, and no late night show performances. This psychedelic infused journey is filled with catchy ad-libs, notable features, and production you’ve probably have not heard before. At just twenty, Chance released the tape for free and after some traction became, arguably, the best mixtape/project of 2013. Tracks like Cocoa Butter Kisses, Pusha Man, and Juice became summer stoner anthems that set the tone for many deep conversations and car rides. Rumor has it that Chance recorded the tape fully on acid and that’s what allowed him to create the sounds he did; nonetheless, he created something of beauty and lore. His feature list includes notable mainstream and underground acts such as Action Bronson, Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Saba. The recurrent themes range from his random everyday interactions growing up in Chicago, love, depression, and just having a good time and enjoying life. In addition the production team had so much undiscovered underground talent, it’s almost hard to believe all these people came together for the project. Notable names such as Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox, and brandUn DeShay rounded out the production team. Acid Rap gained so much attention that eventually eventually led to his super fandom in 2016-2017. Using his stardom Chance was able to put on his Chicago extended family such as D.R.A.M., NoName, and the Social Experiment Collective.
Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
Manny’s Favorite Song: Touch ft. Paul Williams
The French robot duo were no strangers to the limelight, being well known in the electronic music industry since the early to mid-nineties. Who remembers those blue alien like dudes who sang One More Time late night on Toonami? I do. These robots managed to partner with animation legend Leiji Matsumoto to produce Interstella 555. Daft Punk took a new direction and paid homage to their roots by incorporating sounds early synth/funk and combining it with modern production to release Random Access Memories, their most successful commercial release to date. Prior to this their resume already included the successful euro-house tracks (One More Time, Harder Better Faster Stronger, and Around the World) from the past as well as scoring and producing the soundtrack for Disney’s Tron: Legacy sequel in 2010. Features and collaborators on RAM include Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), Paul Williams, Giovanni Giorgio, Nile Rodgers, Chilly Gonzales, and Panda Bear. Some of these names you probably wouldn’t recognize on sight, but checking out their past works you’ll see that Daft Punk had a suitable team. A team suitable enough to score them Grammys for Album of The Year, Best Electronica Album, and Best Engineered Album. Singles like “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself To Dance” ran the airwaves that summer and the majority of 2013. What makes the album special is the combination of its commercial songs (like those mentioned above) as well as the complex composed tracks like Touch and Giorgio By Moroder remind fans that they still are the heavyweights when it comes to electronic music. This album makes a strong statement in the times where branches of the genre such as trap and dubstep were making waves in pop culture. Daft Punk told the world that they should remember where the music of today originated! In 2017, Rumors are flying through the social media sphere that Daft Punk is going to provide the music for the next Tron movie. So, as always, we don’t know what to expect from the French robot duo.
BECAUSE THE INTERNET – Childish Gambino
Manny’s Favorite Song: Telegraph Ave (Oakland ft. Lloyd)
The Jack of All Trades, Donald Glover, reinvented himself musically with his 2013 album Because The Internet (BTI). Prior to this album, Gambino gave us fun beats with rebel-hipster lyrics that any minority nerd could relate too. He explores themes of maturity and love beyond confusion on this project. Tracks such as 3005, Flight of The Navigator, and Pink Toes, explore the complexity of love and how we as humans react to it. In addition, Glover takes the next step in psychedelic tones with strange-like sampling and modification to the typical rap beat. At times, the album loses its “rap” sound and explores with more alternative R&B/pop. He also has fun with some tracks and reminds us that he still has bars on tracks like Sweatpants and Worldstar. Guest features included Chance The Rapper, Azealia Banks (pre-social media villain), and Jhene Aiko. Gambino released his album just days before Beyonce dropped self-titled album, and to be honest true fans were not bothered. He still competed in album streams and sales despite the inconceivable hype around Beyonce’s first ever visual album. Since BTI, Gambino has recently dropped a soul/funk album Awaken, My Love! which easily was one of the best albums of 2016. He has also since then won a Golden Globe for his work on his FX show Atlanta, and landed roles as young Lando Calrissian for a new Star Wars movie and as Simba in the upcoming Lion King live action movie. In my opinion, the album was the turn for Glover. After he produced this renewed sound it allowed him to fully explore his creativity in all avenues of expression. Who knows what’s next for this creative genius.
The 20/20 Experience (Part 1) – Justin Timberlake
Manny’s Favorite Song: Strawberry Bubblegum
Easily the smoothest album of the fantastic 2013. I didn’t know what to expect with this one, being that it had been seven years since JT dropped any music. He started off strong with Suit and Tie as the promotional single. But the beauty of this album, like most, comes from the sum of its pieces. The album is almost wholefully dedicated to his wife Jessica Biel, focusing on the beauty and simplicity of lust/ sex and the deep appreciation and admiration of love. Throughout the album JT dedicates his songs to the times he’s had and wants to have with his wife. He also teamed up with his go to man Timbaland to make the smooth 50’s influenced pop synths. Tracks like Strawberry Bubblegum, Spaceship Coupe, and Let the Groove Get In take hazy abstract rhythms mixed with classic soul to deliver messages of sexual innuendos in the form of fun “dance with bae” like music. Of course per JT standard, it debuted at #1 and won a few Grammys for Suit and Tie (Best Music Video) and Pusher Love Girl (Best R&B Song). The album was 2013’s best seller, ending at Billboard’s Number One Album of the Year. There are no skips with this album as you take a relaxing journey through the wonders of love. Part 2 of this two album series was a little underwhelming despite a heavier hip-hop influence. The sequel seemed a bit more commercial than we all wanted it to. So Part 1 definitely overshadowed part 2. Since then, JT has been working in film producing music for films The Book of Love and Trolls (He has already signed up to do the Trolls 2 soundtrack). He’s working on his next album, which he says will have a heavy “Southern American ” influence, referring to his roots in Memphis, Tennessee. Hopefully he brings back more tracks like That Girl.
Watching Movies with The Sound Off – Mac Miller
Favorite Song: Red Dot Music ft. Action Bronson & Objects In The Mirror
Self taught Pittsburgh musician Mac Miller earned my respect with Watching Movies with The Sound Off in 2013. For some reason when a lot of music from big names are being released I like to take a second to slow down and appreciate releases from less superstar artist. In 2016 it was ASAP Ferg’s Always Strive and Prosper that caught my ear despite releases from Ye, Drake, and Beyonce. In 2013 Mac Miller did the same amongst releases from Wale, Ye, and Cole. Mac Miller was always an underground talent especially with catchy songs like “Nikes on My Feet.” However, in his mixtape career he never really wowed me. That all changed in 2013. He gave us down to earth beats and covers topics from drug addiction, love, and of course all the slack he got for being a white rapper. Nonetheless, Mac delivers a solid mellow and deep project, High profile features include Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Action Bronson, Tyler The Creator, and Earl Sweatshirt. Production was headed by Miller himself under the name Larry Fisherman followed by big names such as The Alchemist, Pharrell, Diplo, and Chuck Inglish. Easily one of the best hip-hip albums of 2013 simply because of the unique sound and non-antic hip-hop. Watching Movies also paved the way for consequential growth that followed. His next two projects GOOD AM and Divine Feminine shows a wiser Miller leaving trippy vibes behind for a more conscious flow. Divine Feminine specifically, was one of the best projects of 2016 because of its perfect combo of Mac’s clever delivery and mature sexual references with R&B vibes.
LONG.LIVE.A$AP. – A$AP Rocky
Manny’s Favorite Song: Goldie and Wild for The Night (Ft. Skrillex and Birdy Nam Nam)
2013 kicked off with the mainstream debut of A$AP Mob’s front man, A$AP Rocky. After giving us arguably one of the best mixtapes of the decade (LIVE.LOVE.A$AP), he had no choice but to deliver or he’d be a bust. Well, he did. Rocky shared with us all sides of him on this album. We see the heavy hitting New York style on tracks like Goldie and the musical opera 1Train. Then he shows us his multi-dimensionality with tracks like Wild For The Night featuring dubstep hit maker, Skrillex, F**kin Problems (super hit), and I Come Apart ft. Florence Welch. He shows us that he can be the dude from Harlem that just spit bars, the fashion icon in the making (at the time, he’s definitely a fashion icon now), and the lover of music by incorporating dubstep and alternative pop into his mix. As a Native New Yorker, it was refreshing to be hearing a NY rapper on airwaves with people rocking with it whether they’d been a fan or not. The album introduced new audience members to A$AP and New York hip-hop in general. He also helms a lot of the production under the name LORD FLACKO. His production game really shines on tracks like Suddenly, Ghetto Symphony (S/O to V-Don too), and Fashion Killa. Those three are each so different whether it be the heavy OG sampling (Suddenly) or the moody beat (Fashion Killa) and the hardcore NY-style beat (Ghetto Symphony.) Versatility is the key statement on this great project. Since then, A$AP Mob and Rocky have gone through a lot – especially the sudden loss of their leader and innovator Steven “A$AP Yams” Rodriguez. This took a toll on the group, but especially Rocky. With Yams as inspiration (and co-exec producer) Rocky gave us AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP in 2015. In 2016, the MOB as a collective dropped their debut album Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends featuring a baby Yams on the cover to commemorate him. In all, this album put the team on the mainstream map and it was only the beginning for the crew back then.
Nothing Was The Same – Drake
Manny’s Favorite Song: Too Much ft. Sampha
Someone else who had big shoes to fill was Aubrey Graham a.k.a Drake. Coming off his Grammy win for Take Care fans all over were anxiously waiting on how he could follow up. With a single that sounded more like an anthem. Started From The Bottom, Drake began to gradually build the anticipation for his third album. Drake took his simp lyrics and themes and drew from more of his experiences and combined them with some of the best transition and production we’ve heard in awhile. Every song on the tracklist had beats that would transition into the next song flawlessly. Major props to 40 for executive producing. In addition it showed off Drake’s ability to switch his flow, while maintaining the sappy tones that a majority of his fans love. In my opinion keeping the healthy mix between bars and sappy R&B was the best thing he could’ve done. My unpopular opinion is that besides So Far Gone, NWTS is definitely Drake’s magnus opus. The work was so full and balanced. Features on this album remained at a minimum with the only rapper being JAY Z, and then singers Jhene Aiko and Sampha. For most American listeners this was the first time they heard Sampha grace their ears. Which leads me to my next point, why was NWTS so important? Besides bringing Sampha into mainstream light, NWTS was Drake metaphorically cementing his place as one of the hottest rappers in the game. So much, that even Kanye was calling Drake “the hottest out.” This release made three hit mainstream projects in a row for Drake granting his success the ability to self sustain. Meaning he can produce mediocre projects like Views and More Life and the masses will still swoon.
MAGNA CARTA HOLY GRAIL – JAY Z
Manny’s Favorite Song: Tom Ford (prod. Timbaland)
I remember scrambling on the night of July 3rd, 2013 trying to find a link ready to stream and play JAY Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail (MCHG), the Brooklyn superstar’s first solo album since 2009’s Blueprint 3. They hype was too real because of his genius marketing and the pure brand strength of Hov’s name. In the weeks prior the release was being ramped up by a series of commercials put out by Samsung, which also let the world know that the album would be available via Samsung app only on July 4th. Me and my boys were looking for stream links, bootlegs, hell even someone with a samsung phone! Holy Grail marked Hov’s 12th platinum solo album and 13th overall if you count Watch The Throne with Ye. The album also received a massive nine Grammy nods, and winning one for Best Sung Collaboration for Holy Grail ft. Justin Timberlake. The main thing to take away from MCHG is the juggernaut production team featuring: Timbaland, J-Roc, No I.D., Boi-1da, Mike Will Made-it, Hit-Boy, Mike Dean, The-Dream, Swizz Beats, Pharrell Williams, with consultation by legend Rick Rubin. The production on the album is very unique and crisp. It was almost like a showcase of some of the toughest beats each producer could create while having Jay spit over them. The lyrical delivery is where the album lacked. Overall, if you pay attention and are a long standing Jay fan you hear the laziness and comfort in the album. Despite this, the album still got plenty of love and was still one of the most anticipated releases of 2013. Since then Jay has been focusing on his businesses outside of music, opening a sports management firm, working on documentaries, producing music for a NBA 2K game, opening a venture capital fund, as well as other things. Recently he has been dropping a couple of guest features here and there, could this be a sign that new JAY-Z music is on the horizon? Who knows, but I’m sure it will be as anticipated as MCHG was.
WOLF – Tyler, The Creator
Manny’s Favorite Song: Cowboy & IFHY ft. Pharrell
The Odd Future front man Tyler, The Creator capitalized on his first commercial success GOBLIN and came back to let everyone know he’s still the same Tyler. His creativity reaches new heights as he tells a story after every track on the album, which was nice. The highlight as always is the way his production and storytelling mesh together regardless what approach he takes. He can take a happy beat and tell us funny banter or keep it real with a grimey beat and tone. The whole album is a fun journey through Tyler’s mind no matter how creepy or graphic it can get. On Colossus he tells us a vivid story of how he ran into some fans and how irate fame can really get him. Solely produced by Tyler, the album takes twists and turns in and out of the grimey violence were used to hearing. I personally like the versatility seeing that every song is the brainchild of mostly Tyler and OF, along with few (big time) collaborators. Odd Future members like Frank Ocean, Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, and Earl Sweatshirt lend their talents to the project as well as big names like Pharrell and Erykah Badu. Out of all the projects on this list, WOLF was probably the most vivid and weird. The project can be ran start to finish and the journey is exciting every time, especially the mini skits with Salem, Slater, and Wolf. since then Tyler has continued his work with his clothing line and released CHERRY BOMB in 2015. Another great project where Tyler explored the same versatile story telling mixed with alternative and rock influences. What’s wild is that WOLF was released when Tyler was only 22 years old. So it is super exciting to see what he will bring us next whether it be his music, his directing, or on tv.
Cupid Deluxe – Blood Orange a.k.a Dev Hynes
Manny’s Favorite Song: You’re Not Good Enough
Renaissance man Dev Hynes released his sophomore album as Blood Orange late in 2013. Amidst the cold weather we were blessed with the warm, emotional, and hazy vibes from the UK singer/songwriter/producer. How he imagined to create such a beautiful project after completely switching his sound from his previous monikers of Lightspeed Champion and Test Icicles baffles me. It’s no surprise that a solo project from Hynes wasn’t short of musical greatness Thanks to his previous work with other artists; whether he lent his pen to write or his ears to produce. He has worked with notable acts such as Florence and The Machine, The Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, Theophilus London, and even unreleased work with Britney Spears. Hynes is a sonic genius in his own right, and Cupid Deluxe proves it. Blood Orange takes us on a love-infused journey filled with hazy funk production. He can get real deep cut emotional a la You’re Not Good Enough or get very upbeat and funky like on Uncle ACE. The album feels like a roller coaster ride through space time that makes me feel so many things at once. The highlight of this album definitely comes from the production on every song and the clear emotional pictures each song draws. One point you’re in some sexually driven ballad and the next you are in an 80’s love movie walking down the street after the first kiss scene. Truly magical. Since then, Mr. Hynes has released his third project under the Blood Orange name, Freetown Sound. At no surprise, the album was one of the most highly regarded independent releases of 2016. One can only wonder what kind of sound he will tackle and beautify next.
La Familia – J.Balvin
Manny’s Favorite Song: 6AM ft. Farruko
As a Latino I had to make sure I did my research and see if any groundbreaking music from my culture had come out in 2013. Since the turn of the 2010’s, Latin music, to me, had taken a bit of a back seat. Aventura had broken up, Reggaeton became repetitive, and I kept finding myself only listen to old school music. In 2013, among the bachata upstarts and duo break ups of the Latin music world, J. Balvin broke into the scene and revitalized reggaeton for everyone with La Familia. The Colombian artist brought us elements of past stints of reggaeton and infused it with his unique voice and versatility. Although this was his third studio album, the strength of the singles brought him and his music to the limelight. Songs like 6AM ft. Farruko and Tranquila had the traditional bass drop of old school reggaeton but also included unique EDM based production. It was a healthy mix between two elements that got overdone in years prior. The album peaked on both Colombian and US(Latin Rhythm) charts at number 1. After 2013, the success of this project catapulted him to the top of Urbano music appearing on several features for a variety of different artist. Not to mention, he eventually became a bit of a fashion icon within the Latino/a community. Whether it be Jordan Retros, bombers, ripped jeans, or weirdly color hair, Balvin spread his style and his music boldly after La Familia.
Pure Heroine – Lorde
Manny’s Favorite Song: Buzzcut Season
Sixteen year old Ella Yelich-O’Connor AKA Lorde released her debut album in 2013. The New Zealand teenager gave us her take on mainstream culture and the status of music in her young angsty eyes. Gaining popularity through internet covers and acoustic shows in her home country, Lorde eventually released an EP on soundcloud that received so many plays (60k) in such a short time that her label decided to make one song, Royals, a single. Upon her release and four very strong singles (Tennis Court, Teams, No Better, Glory and Gore) Lorde found herself as the face of new pop. Classified and dream-pop, indie-pop, indielectronica, you name it, we get such a unique style from Lorde that just “pop” can’t encompass it all. The album features dreamy and minimal producing that is almost trance like. In contrast, Lorde’s vocal range and delivery compliment the minimalist tones that actually end up bleeding emotion and angst. On Royals and Tennis Court O’Connor takes jabs at the mainstream culture and its emptiness. Songs like Ribs and White Teeth Teens focus on more serious material like growing pains of adulthood or teenage self esteem and image. While she still lets loose and has fun banter on Still Sane and 400 Lux. The album saw overwhelming critical success and well as some coveted accolades. Lorde became the youngest person to chart #1 on Billboard Hot 100 since 1987. In addition, Royals won Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at the 2014 Grammys. Need I remind you she was 16 at Pure Heroine’s release?! Since then she’s toured internationally and is getting ready for her sophomore effort, Melodrama due out this summer.
So – here there they are. My thirteen most important albums from 2013. If I missed any or if you have any other random music/pop culture list ideas. Let me know via twitter – @manny_NES!
Under-promising and over-delivering,
The Talent Orange