2013 was an eventful year in hip-hop. In the past twelve months, we were treated to a ton of new releases from highly anticipated artists and underground mainstays. Over time, we’ve formulated an opinion on them and assessed if it’s been a good or bad year for hip-hop. Every year is significantly different, but we’ve collectively talked about standout LPs that were too excellent to ignore. Rarely do we love something upon first listen; it takes time to dissect all the pieces.

With 2014 right around the corner, we’ve realized there have been a lot of rap albums in constant rotation. There have been certain albums that met expectations this year from Mac Miller, J. Cole and Juicy J. There have also been particular albums that exceeded our preconceived notations by artists like Drake, Kanye West and Pusha T. And you can’t forget those sleeper hits by names like Kevin Gates and Run The Jewels. To be fair, these albums are in no particular order, we just wanted to highlight the few we really enjoyed. Read through and reminisce with us with The 25 Best Albums Of 2013.—Written By Eric Diep, Andrew Asare, Miranda Johnson, Emmanuel C.M. & Dan Rys

Kid Cudi, Indicud

Label: Wicked Awesome, GOOD, Republic

It’s still surprising to see Kid Cudi’s rise to fame. From being introduced to rap fans as Kanye’s hooksmith to growing into one of G.O.O.D. Music’s flagship artists, Cudder created a lane for his druggy and ambient music. After experimenting with rock in WZRD, the now independent artist treaded familiar territory with his latest album Indicud. Produced and written mostly by Cudi, the best moments come in his collaborations (Michael Bolton, Haim), as well as songs that show him in his zone (“Burn Baby Burn,” “Immortal”). While new fans might not fall in love with this, the lonely stoner wins over his dedicated fanbase through a wide range of songs that are pretty excellent.–ED

Freddie Gibbs, ESGN

Label: ESGN

Freddie Gibbs makes it very clear that he wants to separate himself from Jeezy and CTE. Calling ESGN “the definitive Freddie Gibbs album,” the 19-track project is authentic street raps that aren’t for the weak hearted. In typical fashion, Gibbs is technically at his best, weaving in everything from clever pop culture references to hard gangster narratives to displaying his impeccable cadence. Though the Gary, IN. native is aiming for crossover success, it doesn’t take away from ESGN’s obvious steps forward in that direction.–ED

Tech N9ne, Something Else

Label: Strange Music

Not a lot of rappers can achieve the milestone that Tech has done. On his 13th studio album, the self-described King Of Darkness delivers his best attempt for mainstream appeal in Something Else. There’s plenty for everyone here: dark emotional songs (“I’m Not A Saint,”) trap hyphy bangers (“Dwamn”) and radio-friendly cuts (“See Me”). Despite the fact that Tech is exploring heavy metal rock with his Therapy EP, you can always count on him for a solid hip-hop album.–ED

Kevin Gates, Stranger Than Fiction

Label: Bread Winners Association

Welcome to the big leagues, Kevin Gates, we hope you're here to stay. With a series of lengthy and descriptive mixtapes under his belt, Gates' Stranger Than Fiction was the best installment of cinematic rap that 2013 had to offer, with Gates hanging his storytelling cap on the same mantle as guys like Ghostface Killah and Nas. Gates doesn't tell a story so much as he bleeds it, with cutting tales like "4:30 A.M." and "Tiger" so emotionally raw that it can leave a listener stunned. And then there's a track like "Thinking With My Dick," which features Juicy J and makes you feel like the world isn't all that bad. It's just a little...strange at times.—DR

2 Chainz, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time

Label: Def Jam

B.O.A.T.S II: Me Time was the follow up to 2 Chainz' 2012 Grammy-nominated LP, Based on a T.R.U. Story. The album peaked at the No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 with features from Pharrell Williams, Fergie, Drake and Lil Wayne. Although 2 Chainz' sophomore album earned the No. 21 spot, it did include noteworthy singles such as "Fork," "Feds Watching" and "Used 2" that had a video reuniting the Hot Boys.—MJ

Yo Gotti, I Am

Label: Epic Records

Though Jeezy was MIA during 2013, music still had the blessing of a trap-to-rap MC with Yo Gotti’s I Am. While hits like “Act Right” and “Respect That You Earn” were similar to that of the ATL MC, Gotti’s formula worked as I Am debut at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B and Hip-Hop album chart. Guess putting pride to the side helped for the Tennessee native.—AA


Ghostface Killah, Twelve Reasons To Die

Label: Soul Temple

Tapping into Tony Starks, Ghostface Killah maintains vivid storytelling translated from comic-book form in Twelve Reasons to Die. With the help from producer/composer Adrian Younge, Ghostface’s use of heavy-sampling and a signature delivery with tracks like “Ememies All Around Me” and “An Unexpected Call” created a gritty and gripping concept album.—AA

Tyler, The Creator, Wolf

Label: Odd Future Records

Tyler the Creator is a provocateur, but for good reason—it’s helped him become better. The leader of the Odd Future crew’s second album Wolf displayed radical maturity—both musically and lyrically; partnering with fellow Odd Future members Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt, alongside Pharrell Williams and even Erykah Badu on songs involving gripping narratives of personal frustrations and heartbreak. Coupled with vivid lyrics and stark synth production, Tyler’s fascinatingly still weird but insightful and musically pleasing.—AA

French Montana, Excuse My French

Label: Coke Boys, Bad Boy Records, Maybach Music Group, Interscope

French Montana's debut album shines with its wealth of singles and high energy. It conveys French's knack for selecting beats and song making ability. What it lacks in lyrical dexterity, it makes up for with surefire turn-up anthems like "Ain't Worried About Nothin'," "Freaks" and "Pop That." French's Bad Boy debut is filled with big beats and bigger boasts.–ECM

Big Sean, Hall Of Fame

Label: GOOD Music, Def Jam

Big Sean's second studio album helmed an abundance of positive reviews over the course of the year, selling over 100,000 copies. The chart topping LP, which features appearances from Nicki Minaj, Miguel, Lil Wayne, Nas, and others, provide plenty of radio-friendly cuts. Here's hoping we see a lot more of Sean in 2014. —MJ

Childish Gambino, Because The Internet

Label: Glassnote

One of the most creative albums of the year, actor/rapper Chidish Gambino meshes both his talents together for a very innovate and impressive album. He ditches the goofy-comedic rap lyrics with introspective bars that tell a story about a boy who is trying to find himself in life. Accompanying the album was a 25-minute Clapping For The Wrong Reasons short-film and the digital 76-page script that works in perfect unison with his music. The music itself is really polished and well-produced, showcasing his growth lyrically and musically as he frequently sings on records. Because The Internet is a brave album from a young man who wants to be respected as a top notch MC.–ECM

Mac Miller, Watching Movies With The Sound Off

Label: Rostrum Records, Universal

Mac Miller swayed away from his cheesy raps with a much mature experimental sound with his sophomore LP Watching Movies With The Sound Off. Along with several guest appearances from Ab-Soul to Earl Sweatshirt and Action Bronson, Miller improved lyrically as he bridged the gap between hip-hop and party anthems with records such as “Gees” and “The Star Room,” which displayed a much more strikingly viewpoint of an independent hip-hop artist.—AA

Juicy J, Stay Trippy

Label: Taylor Gang, Kemosabe, Columbia

Juicy J plays to his strengths: strippers and drugs on Stay Trippy. Juicy does not disappoint by constructing an album that sheds the underground sound of Three 6 Mafia and uses plush strip club friendly production. He proves his mega hit "Bandz A Make Her Dance" was not a fluke. He also provides chant-worthy, party starters like “Bounce It,” “Smokin,’" and “Wax.” Lyrics were never Juicy J's specialty, but with his impressive resume on knowing how to turn up, Stay Trippy is second to none.–ECM

Dom Kennedy, Get Home Safely

Label: The Other Peoples Money Company

Released in October 2013, Dom Kennedy's Get Home Safely continued to solidify his place in the rap game with feel-good anthems that transport you to the sunny streets of L.A. Entailing features from Ty Dolla $ign and Nipsey Hu$$le, the sophomore album made waves in the hip-hop community, even cracking the top 30 by selling more than 10,000 units. —MJ

Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels

Label: Fool's Gold Records

Sleek, intense and compelling, El-P and Killer Mike took the classic tag-team approach similar to wrestling WWE style for their collaborative EP Run The Jewels. Conjuring up a mixture of eclectic sounds ranging from early hip-hop nostalgic “Banana Clipper” to the rock-heavy “Job Well Done,” Run The Jewels did more than shock—but shed light to a winning formula that could translate into a new highly anticipated full-length album. —AA

Wale, The Gifted

Label: Atlantic Records

Wale's The Gifted was arguably his best work to date. The MMG signee had big supporting singles like "Bad" and "LoveHate Thing," which held much stain on the charts, even ruling the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 100 during his release date. The D.C. spitter shows considerable amount of progress as an artist and will only go higher from here. —MJ

Danny Brown, Old

Label: Fool's Gold Records

After a two year hiatus from his breakthrough mixtape, XXX, Old finds a sharper and more patient Danny Brown delivering a strong cohesive concept project. Old still features Danny's drug-filled rockstar tales but shows his maturity and constant battles with his past. The 19-track album is split in two sides, reflecting on Brown's past, his present and his nightmares, showcasing his honesty and depth as a writer.–ECM

Jay Z, Magna Carta...Holy Grail

Label: Roc Nation

When Jay Z drops an album, he makes sure people stand up and take notice; with Magna Carta...Holy Grail, he did just that, partnering with Samsung for an album release that made first effort since Watch The Throne went platinum within a day and instantly soundtracked everyone's Fourth of July barbecues. And it has its share of big songs—"FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt" has one of the best beats of the year, "Holy Grail" was a massive radio smash, and "BBC" was one of the slept-on songs of the year. But despite its obvious success, it marks the second album in a row where Jay rapped about his Basquiats. Mothafuckas can't rhyme no more, 'bout crime no more, but there can be a little more variation in subject matter than that.—DR

Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

Label: Tan Cressida, Columbia Records

Doris is Earl Sweatshirt’s first full-length album for Columbia Records and his official return to music. Doris find Earl forgoing the violent lyrics that was a signature of OF in its early days and shows his well rounded skills as a MC. The production is mostly dark and menacing yet never unsettling. It’s not always focused and takes extremes at times, but it fully shows his rapping ability as he effortlessly stacks his words, vividly illustrating every details of whatever story he wants to get across.–ECM

J. Cole, Born Sinner

Label: Columbia, Roc Nation

After a two year hiatus, J. Cole gifted hip-hop heads with his sophomore LP Born Sinner. The project that features guest appearances from Miguel, Kendrick Lamar, and TLC served as the follow up to Cole's 2011 debut Cole World: The Sideline Story. As a current gold LP and previously with the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 100, which beat out Kanye's Yeezus for first week sales, Cole's second studio album should be at the top of everyone's year-end list.—MJ

A$AP Rocky, Long.Live.A$AP

Label: ASAP Worldwide, Polo Grounds, RCA

It's the album that refused to be ignored. Despite coming out in January, it seemed like Long.Live.A$AP kept cropping up over and over again, with "Fuckin' Problems" becoming one of the biggest singles of the year and "1 Train" offering the best posse cut of up and comers in recent memory. Rocky pulled Skrillex for this album, and crafted a song with him that was not only excellent, but made the word "Skrillex" palatable again. His Clams-Casino-meets-DJ-Screw aesthetic made for an album that was as catchy as it was unique, a description that fits its creator to a T.—DR

Pusha T, My Name Is My Name

Label:Def Jam Recordings, GOOD Music

Song for song, it's tough to put any album in the same category as Pusha's proper solo debut. In the space of a trim 46 minutes, Push coaxed the best verse of Rick Ross' year on "Hold On," made Kendrick Lamar get dark and grim on "Nosetalgia" and even rapped over a beat that seemed impossible to make into a hip-hop track on "King Push," all while keeping his lyricism at the absolute highest level. The worst song on this album could find its way onto a top ten list. If this is what a post-Yeezus world sounds like, sign us up immediately.—DR

Kanye West, Yeezus

Label:Def Jam Recordings, GOOD Music

Simply put, Yeezus changed the way music sounds. Like 808s & Heartbreak a half-decade ago, Kanye's musical vision expanded the parameters of what mainstream hip-hop could be, and very well could wind up shifting everything about the next half-decade of music in the process. Whether you're talking about the sonic force that is "New Slaves," the braggadocio of "I Am A God," the raw emotion of "Hold My Liquor" and "Blood On The Leaves," or the honesty and introspection of "Bound 2," Kanye captured it all in an album that sounds like nothing else this year. It's album of the year material. More importantly, it's Kanye doing what Kanye does best: throwing the rules out the window and redefining what is possible.—DR

Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2

Label: Aftermath, Shady, Interscope

The return of the platinum blonde hair meant Eminem was back. Three years after his widely praised album Recovery, Em tapped into his former self for Marshall Mathers LP 2. Slim Shady, along with the characters and stories from the first installment, are peppered throughout his latest effort. The Rap God also displays his lyrical prowess on songs like "Love Game" with Kendrick Lamar, the tribute to his mother in "Headlights", and the old school rap-rock ode “Berzerk.” Em also supplies the world with another Rihanna collaboration that ups the expectations for fans every time their name is paired together. Overall, Eminem proves once again that his second wind is just as good as his glory days.–ED

Drake, Nothing Was The Same

Label: OVO Sound, Young Money, Cash Money, Republic

2013 is Drizzy season. While plenty of hip-hop heavyweights released their albums, Nothing Was The Same impacted the culture in many ways. Drake probably didn't know his entire album dominated the Internet, with constant lyrical reminders on social networks that "mothafuckas never loved us" or other musings. The OVO general is at his highest point of his career, perfecting his formula of singing and rapping that truly carries the album from start to finish. With 40 in his corner, the pair executed tighter levels of their dark, lush sound that became easily identifiable. The compelling cuts—“From Time,” “Too Much,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home”—as well as obvious anthems like “Started From The Bottom and “Worst Behaviour” display leaps of growth. At this point, Drake knows what he represents and is going full force to stand above his competition. Started from the bottom and now he’s here to take the throne.–ED