10. Magna Carta Holy Grail by Jay-Z
I have to be honest because I did not like Magna Carta… Holy Grail at first; I had to listen to the album several times before giving it a stamp of approval. Overall, Jay-Z did a great job of connecting with the fans and their modern taste in music. At the age of 44 Jay-Z still finds a way to remain relevant in the hip-hop game. As I went to a couple of clubs since its release, I witnessed people go crazy over songs like the title track “Holy Grail (feat. Justin Timberlake),” “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit (feat. Rick Ross),” “Tom Ford” and “Part II [On The Run] (feat. Beyoncé)”. All four songs were very successful records and I enjoyed all four joints, respectively.
Additionally, “Open Letter” serves as a relevant record which addresses President Obama and the Cuba incident. “JAY-Z Blue” talks about his daughter, Blue Ivy. Other stand-out tracks include “Heaven”, “Nickel and Dimes”, and “Holy Grail”. Furthermore, “Heaven” questions religons while “Holy Grail” talks about his struggle with fame over the last years of his life. “Nickel and Dimes” features the Brooklyn emcee talking about his journey and process towards success.
One of the reasons why Jay-Z has great albums is because of his production team. The producers on MCMG album included Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams, No I.D., Hit-Boy and many more. The producers definitely injected a unique sound into the record and also made sure to include a heavy amount of energy, as well. Despite criticism, Magna Carta… Holy Grail, although it may not be Jay-Z’s best work, is enjoyable and acceptable as another solid album.
9. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 by Eminem
As the top-selling hip-hop artist of the last decade, it is surprising to think Eminem is no longer in the spotlight like he used to be. Notedly, he uses this lessened fame to be more creative in his musical endeavors – most easily seen in his recruitment of rock/hip-hop producer Rick Rubin. From the introspection and powerful narrative of “Bad Guy” to the quirky diss aimed at his father on “Rhyme Or Reason” to even the powerful requisition on “Headlights” featuring Fun.’s Nate Ruess, Eminem took a remarkably different tonal quality on this record as compared to past albums.
Nonetheless, one cannot deny the focus and down-to-earthliness Eminem possesses on this record. Despite the stray from a classic sound and the quixotic flows (save for the single “Rap God”), the album remains a solid effort overall and certainly more focused, coherent and well-rounded than its predecessor Recovery.
8. Born Sinner by J. Cole
Following up with a less than impressionable debut, J. Cole, Jay-Z’s protégé, the emcee/producer from North Carolina presents himself on a much more impactful note than ever before. Born Sinner features a more personal side to the world of J. Cole and neglects the more commercial-friendly sound as executed on A Sideline Story.
Trying to shake the “boring” label, Cole delves into a bit of a darker vibe with a more direct and personal feel both lyrically and within his production. The singles may not be as numerous but they are definitely stronger; the Miguel-assisted “Power Trip” and the radio-friendly “Crooked Smile,” which happens to feature TLC, and the impressive revelation-filled power track “Let Nas Down” all make this album have more stand-out tracks.
Some claim the replay value on this album is very little and the critics seem to gripe a bit about this one, but one thing is for sure and that is that J. Cole centered on increasing the quality of his music rather than reaching for a quantity of sales or plays or hits.
7. Run The Jewels by Run The Jewels
In case you didn’t already know, Run the Jewels is the hip-hop duo of Killer Mike and El-P. Their self-titled debut is not their first foray into the booth as a team. El-P was the sole producer on Killer Mike’s stellar R.A.P. Music, which was one of 2012’s best projects. The followup can best be described as hip-hop that punches you in your fucking face!
El-P handles all of the fantastic production once again, but also lends his hand equally when it comes to spitting verses. The chemistry between Mike and El-P is nothing short amazing. Listening to these cats go bar for bar illustrates the essence of hip-hop and keeps you wanting more. And you’ll get more, and more, until the album ends before you even know what hit you. Wanting to listen to the entire album every time you pop it in the deck is the hallmark of a truly great LP. The lyrics are ferocious, the beats are lush, the vibe is cohesive, and the run time of the project is perfect. It’s an easy listen, yet absorbing as well. Mike spits:
This album takes a stand against all rap challengers, and these two are worthy of being at the top. Truly an album for anyone that claims to be a fan of hip-hop music.
6. Yeezus by Kanye West
Kanye West’s Yeezus album is the most polarizing record in recent memory. West, who has been infamous for grabbing headlines, has made an even bigger spectacle out of himself in 2013. From debuting new music on the side of skyscrapers, to theatrical and intense interviews, to kitschy music videos, Kanye made you feel something this year. And at its very least, Yeezus garnered the strongest reaction in popular music in 2013.
The music of Yeezus is jarring and daring. Many of the album’s sounds can be very off putting to the average rap fan. Those who long for “old Kanye” get a teaser with “Bound 2,” but despite having a soul sample, it is also extremely crude and sparse. Many will consider Yeezus the nadir of West’s catalog, but I consider it just a step below his best work and among the best albums of 2013.