Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2013 (So Far)
For hip-hop and R&B fans everywhere, these past few weeks have been overwhelming — in a good way.
So far in 2013, well-missed R&B stars from Justin Timberlake to The-Dream have finally stepped back up to the mic. In the hip-hop world, new rules have suddenly replaced the old promo model with artists dropping albums with little warning. Some without artwork, like Kanye West, and others with the assistance of mobile technology such as Jay-Z.
Before these artists debuted their latest albums, fans were highly anticipating the release, hoping they didn’t disappoint. Thankfully, they delivered and exceeded expectations. Check out the Best Hip-Hop and R&B Albums of 2013 (So Far).
‘Watching Movies With the Sound Off’
‘Watching Movies with the Sound Off’ feels more like listening to a cinematic feature minus the visuals. The production on Mac Miller‘s sophomore LP overpowers the aural sense and each track feels like a new scene with head-nodding beats surrounding it. On the tranquil, ‘S.D.S.’ Mac Miller walks us through a series of random imagery, one of him almost getting hit by car and him drinking Jameson whiskey. On the creepy ‘Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes,’ Miller “conversates with Jesus” all “while the Devil’s on his trail.” Overall this independent project goes the distance and is easily worth repeating.
Danish duo Quadron molded a spacey, acoustic and sometimes jazzy sophomore release for ‘Avalanche.’ Reminiscent of neo-soul acts such as The Foreign Exchange, the duo brings the sounds of love with traditional harmonies that you can’t help but tap your foot to. The angelic vocals from singer Coco O meld well with the heavenly production from Robin Hannibal. The only feature comes from rapper Kendrick Lamar on the love lost ‘Better Off,’ a collaboration that will attract listeners unfamiliar with the soulful act.
The-Dream called his fifth album, ‘IV Play,’ but the songs delves right into the good stuff from the jump with ‘High Art,’ featuring Jay-Z, as he proclaims he can’t wait to “hit your body with that yapper.” Throughout the project, the producer-singer crafts a coherent low-tempo mix of direct sexy tracks that are meant to lead listeners to skin-to-skin contact. High falsettos and slow-hitting bass sets the mood. The-Dream lends the mic to Beyonce and 2 Chainz on ‘Turnt,’ Kelly Rowland on ‘Where Have You Been,’ Gary Clark Jr. on ‘Too Early’ and a host of other features for the bump-and-grind project.
‘Talk a Good Game’
Kelly Rowland uncaps a case of sweet slow jams on ‘Talk A Good Game,’ her fourth studio album. Early on in the project, the singer gives exact instructions on her between-the-streets anthem ‘Kisses Down Low’ produced by Mike Will Made It. The rest of the 12-track LP (15-track deluxe) continues on in the same fashion with easy listening R&B. The singer gets more personal on ‘Dirty Laundry’ as she opens up about a past abusive relationship, but most of the album is a journey through love’s ups and downs. Features from Beyonce, Michelle Williams, Kevin Cossum, Wiz Khalifa, The-Dream and Pusha T, rounds out the solid LP that can be easily pulled out for a night cap.
Wale ushers in the era of new black rap soul on ‘The Gifted,’ his third studio album. The No. 1 chart-topping LP goes back to fundamentals of sound as the rapper spits over real instruments. Wale taps Stokley Williams, a member of famed ’90s group Mint Condition, for production assistance on ‘LoveHate Thing’ and ‘Gullible,’ among others. The D.C. native unfolds his thoughts on fame, hood life, relationships and the consequences that often comes with them. Yet he still gives way for one booty-anthem — ‘Clappers’ — featuring none other than Nicki Minaj and Juicy J. Through it all, Wale remains honest no matter what side he’s showing.
James Blake is haunting on ‘Overgrown.’ The electric-soul takes lightly from R&B, new wave and house music, but is more like the ghost of these genres — one that has been lurking in its own dark corner for some time. Blake plays with silence and other clicks, booms and sizzles that slowly drag along, building a chilling vibe. His hums and harmonies echo throughout each track painting a background for a foreground of lyrics of let-down. Somehow everything around you moves in slow motion when listening to ‘Overgrown,’ yet it’s a necessary daydream to put yourself through.
‘The 20/20 Experience ‘
With no warning, Justin Timberlake stepped back into our presence with ’20/20 Experience,’ after a seven-year absence. Timbaland provided a safe formula of groove-ready tracks backed by his signature power percussion on the singer’s third studio album. J.T., who is now married, lets his butterflies flutter on wax with a soothing falsetto on tracks such as ‘PusherLoveGirl’ and ‘That Girl.’ But it was evident the former N-Sync lead was on his grown man tip with the release of ‘Suit & Tie,’ that gives you more lounge two-step than club bang.
‘Yeezus’ is a disturbed Kanye West at his most afflicted since ‘808 & Heartbreaks.’ On his sixth studio album Yeezy roars and wails, occasionally with auto-tune. The rapper/producer manages to craft an experimental sound completely unique to his own. Kanye smashes dancehall, new wave and throbbing, muffling bass together that keeps you on edge. Throughout the project Kanye goes from extreme boasting of his supposed ‘holy’ essence on ‘I Am God’ to completely breaking down on ‘Blood on the Leaves.’ The whole project is a venting session for the king of the soap box.
Unlike his contemporaries, J. Cole steers clear of twerk anthems and one-dimensional hooks from the land of strippers, money and weed on ‘Born Sinner.’ Although the title could have been flipped as an excuse for wretched behavior, the Roc Nation rapper constantly checks himself — along with you, the listener. The production lives on the darker side of the light spectrum and weaves in gospel hymns. Cole stays in his lane, serving relatable storytelling for the ears of those who prefer being just human for once and not Gods, Hovs — or Yeezuses.
‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’
Jay-Z has it all at his fingertips and has no problem bragging about it on ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail.’ From rocking Tom Ford to his European excursions and pricey exclusive art pieces, the new project is an overview of his extravagant lifestyle. The 43-year-old rapper dropped his 12th studio album on Independence Day with no single preceding its release, but he didn’t need one to garner interest — he’s Hov after all.
The project is a collaboration of hip-hop genius with production from Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Pharrell Williams. On the LP, he gathers features from Justin Timberlake, Rick Ross and his number one, Beyonce. The album’s bounce meter is at an all-time high and the energy matches Jay’s current roll of success as he expands his business empire and revamps the industry with #newrules.