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20 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2013

Kanye, Jay Z, Eminem and more – who made the best albums this year?

2013 was a huge year for hip-hop, with high-profile releases from some of the biggest names in rap – including Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Eminem, Lil Wayne – doing battle on the charts and in fans' hearts. It was also a great year for underground flag-carriers like Run the Jewels and Ka and regional stars like Yo Gotti. At times, it felt like (almost) every rapper in the world put out an album this year. So who did it best? Read on for our Top 20.

Contributors: Jon Dolan, Will Hermes, Jeff Rosenthal, Rob Sheffield, Matthew Trammell, Simon Vozick-Levinson

2 Chainz, BOATS 2: Me Time

Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings

11

2 Chainz, ‘B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time’

2 Chainz was inescapable this year, cresting on a string of show-stealing features and an impactful 2012 debut. On his follow-up, trap's reigning king expanded his domain: the Pharrell-produced "Feds Watching" evoked late-1970s car-chase melodrama as a soundbed for 2 Chainz' luxury raps, and album cuts explored a breadth of topics from fallen homies ("Live and Learn") to on-demand sextapes ("Netflix"). The man's chains still glisten on the cover, but his charisma shone the brightest.

Jay-Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail

Courtesy of Roc-A-Fella Records

10

Jay Z, ‘Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail’

Jay Z rates his latest effort his sixth-best ever – dead center, halfway between transcendent classics (Reasonable Doubt) and time-stamped missteps (Kingdom Come). That's spot-on. The legendary MC explored of-the-moment sounds, textures and tempos in ways only he could – see the proper noun stop-and-repeat hook on "Tom Ford" and the spacey, WorldStar-primed "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt." Even on a bit of an off day, Jay is still plenty impressive.

A$AP Ferg, Trap Lord

Courtesy of RCA Records

9

A$AP Ferg, ‘Trap Lord’

If A$AP Mob are today's Dipset, Ferg is the Juelz to Rocky's Cam'ron. The Mob wingman delivered two of New York's biggest street heaters this year with "Work" and "Shabba"; the rest of Trap Lord expanded the crew's sonic reference points, landing somewhere between Bone Thugs for the Tumblr sect (check his mournful croning on "Hood Pope") and an SNL parody of a Nineties-era Bad Boy compilation. Good, hearty fun for all.

Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

Courtesy of Columbia Records

8

Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Doris’

Odd Future's brightest cult star lives up to his reputation as an unholy verbal wizard on his long-awaited debut album. He also upends it — pushing past the amoral bomb-lobbing that won him notoriety with a newly introspective style, perfectly suited to third-eye-opening beats courtesy of Pharrell, RZA and Earl himself.

J Cole, Born Sinner

Courtesy of Columbia Records

7

J. Cole, ‘Born Sinner’

Releasing your major-label rap record the same day as Kanye took balls. So did staying true to hip-hop's vaunted edutaining tradition with a set of hypersmart, excellently self-produced tracks that recall, well, vintage Kanye in their ability to dramatize the tension between Hov-size career ambition and post-Pac truth saying.

Pusha T, My Name is My Name

Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings

6

Pusha T, ‘My Name is My Name’

The cockier half of the Clipse didn't choose to go solo — he had to after his brother found God. Pusha, in turn, found Kanye West, whose stark and twisted production helped make My Name Is My Name feel like a more lyrically focused companion piece to his own Yeezus. It's the year's sharpest hit of street philosophy.

Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

Courtesy of Chance the Rapper

5

Chance the Rapper, ‘Acid Rap’

The second mixtape from this 20-year-old Chicago MC is the ultimate in psychedelic hip-hop. Chance spins Lil Wayne-meets-Hendrix language swirls punctuated by the real-life observations of a kid who grew up in a world where "it's dark a lot . . . easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot."

Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP 2

Courtesy of Interscope Records

4

Eminem, ‘Marshall Mathers LP 2’

On the sequel to his 2000 masterpiece, Eminem taps the maniac genius who first scared America into submission — Stan's little brother even came back to murder Mr. Mathers. But on "Headlights" he made peace with his estranged mom in what's gotta be Slim Shady's huggiest moment ever.

Danny Brown, Old

Courtesy of Fool’s Gold Records

3

Danny Brown, ‘Old’

The year's most gripping hip-hop street-life narratives came from a crazy-coiffed Detroit native with a gift for vivid introspection and a taste for wild beats, from the Detroit techno of "Dubstep" to the avant-trap of "Side B (Dope Song)." It doesn't get much more disturbingly real than the raw-sex chronicle "Dope Fiend Rental."

Drake, Nothing Was the Same

Courtesy of OVO Sound

2

Drake, ‘Nothing Was the Same’

With Kanye breathing fire in rarified air, Drake is the people's rapper, a smart kid conflicted about his fame, heart, family, everything except his mic potency. But what makes his lonely fantastic voyage matter is its emotional weight, which gets crucial amplification from Noah "40" Shebib's whirlpool beats.

Kanye West, Yeezus

Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings

1

Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’

Kanye's electro masterpiece is his most extreme album ever, which is saying something. No wonder the late, great Lou Reed embraced Yeezus, since it's basically the Metal Machine Music concept translated into futuristic hip-hop, all industrial overload and hypertense egomania and hostile vibes. The music is part Eighties synthblitz dark wave, part Jamaican dancehall. But it's all Kanye, taking you on a guided tour of the dark shit inside his brain. He rages about racial politics ("New Slaves"), he demands his damn croissants ("I Am a God"), he comes on like a robot sex machine ("I'm in It"). He kibitzes with the Lord, who agrees Kanye is the shit. And he ends with the Seventies-soul send-up "Bound 2," maybe the most audacious song he's ever written, not to mention the most beautiful.

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