This past year was another strong one for albums with releases from many of the top names in hip-hop (such as Kanye West, Jay Z, Eminem, Drake, and J. Cole) as well as releases from much of hip-hop’s rising class (including Mac Miller, Danny Brown, and A$AP Rocky). As far as Canadian hip-hop goes, we saw the long-awaited return of the godfather of it all, Maestro Fresh Wes, as well as the latest releases from two of Canada’s future legends, Classified and Shad. We saw the emergence of budding artists like Sese and Quake Matthews, the return of established artists like Wale and Pusha T, and many, many more albums in between. We liked a lot of albums this past year, and we loved a select few even more. Without further ado, The Come Up Show presents its favourite albums of 2013.
A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP (Released: January 15th)
“When this album dropped I was still getting to know A$AP and becoming more and more intrigued with every listen. A$AP is by far not the best lyricist, but sometimes simple is better, and when listening to songs off Long.Live.A$AP it is not hard to quickly pick up the lyrics and sing along to them. Whether A$AP’s on his thug flow on tracks like “Jodye” and “Angels,” or just having a good time rapping about living life like on “PMW” or “Wild For The Night,” it’s an entertaining listen throughout this album.
Also, features can make or break certain tracks but the artists that A$AP got to feature on this album, such as Gunplay on “Ghetto Symphony” or “1Train” with Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T., they all give their songs backbone and challenge A$AP Rocky’s verses in a positive way. There are a couple questionable tracks off this album such as “Hell,” “Pain” and “Phoenix” but the good songs on Long.Live.A$AP outweigh the bad ones in a big way. If you haven’t already checked out this album, I would suggest you do that A$AP.”
“I quickly became a fan of A$AP Rocky after stumbling upon “Purple Swag” one day during a Soundcloud shuffle session. So it was obvious that when Long.Live.A$AP dropped that I’d immediately become an admirer of the album. “Wild For The Night” showed how versatile Rocky was willing to be with his music. The whole album was packaged perfectly with a diverse selection of songs for everyone. Whether you wanted one to help you get into a partying mood or another for when you wanted to relax, the album definitely had something for all listeners to enjoy.”
Classified – Classified (Released: January 22nd)
“I listened to this album a lot in January and February. Much like with Classified’s previous albums Self Explanatory and Handshakes and Middle Fingers, his self-titled release steadily grew on me with each listen. “3 Foot Tall,” “That’s What I Do,” “Anything Goes,” “Growing Pains,” “Familiar,” and “New School/Old School” started getting heavy rotation, each song taking its turn as my favourite off the album. That’s what makes Classified’s music so good: replay value.”
Sese – Age of Aquarius (Released: March 25th)
“Honestly, listening to Sese’s music for some time now, I was always impressed with whatever he came out with next. It showed improvement lyrically, with song structure. It seems he’s always pushing to try new things and learn. Age of Aquarius was his first EP (all his previous work were free downloads) and it had a lot of success. Age of Aquarius was a big stepping stone in his career, following up with Sayzor Ramone which is seeming to do well. Age of Aquarius was one independent Canadian artist’s album I kept on my travel playlist for the entire year, and I get sick of songs easily switching it up every few weeks.”
Quake Matthews – Corrado (Released: April 4th)
“All I have to say about Quake’s album release this year is it has content. I’m big into “mood music”. I like my ignorant rap; hip-hop that makes you think, learn and rewind it twenty times just to get the full meaning; my underground rap where they spit the most outlandish sh*t; club tracks etc..everyone has a preference. Quake’s Corrado album is a great mix of them all. Jumping in with “Feel”, “Let It Be”, “Dance Song”, those three are enough to secure a listen to the entire album.
Sometimes it’s hard to complete a whole album, skipping through songs but there’s not one song worth skipping on Corrado. “Old Ghosts,” “I Hate Money,” “Lucy,” “We Can Do Better,” “Fan In Me,” “What Would You Do,” “Me & Henny,” “TMZ,” “Mint Under My Pillow,” “Where Do I Go,” and “Boy To A Man” (in that order) all make a complete, enjoyable listen. This is one you can throw in while you’re doing whatever and vibe along with the whole time. My least favorite would be “TMZ” but that’s just personal preference. If you haven’t heard Corrado yet, I advise taking it in fully. It shines light a lot more on Quake’s thought process, his views on things, and definitely his most personal project as a whole.”
Kanye West – Yeezus (Released: June 18th)
“The moment, in which you push “play” on Kanye West’s Yeezus, you quickly realize that this isn’t going to be the traditional sound we’ve come to expect from Kanye. However, that may be the best part. The fact that Yeezus is anything BUT traditional is why this album ended up as one of my favorites this year. Although the project clocks in at 38 minutes, the journey throughout the album seems much longer. Whether you like the project or not, you can’t discredit Kanye for being one of the most innovative and creative people on this earth.”
J. Cole – Born Sinner (Released: June 18th)
“It may have been snubbed by the Grammys, but Born Sinner was one of my favourite albums of the year. I’ll admit, I was skeptical that he’d ever be able to top The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights after his okay-but-not-great Cole World: The Sideline Story, but Born Sinner really shines. Conceptually, the album flows very well from song to song, and Cole’s got some excellent ones on here: “Power Trip,” “Forbidden Fruit,” “Chaining Day,” “Crooked Smile,” “Let Nas Down,” and “Born Sinner” all come to mind.”
“No matter what J. Cole releases it’s bound to be pure genius. Born Sinner was no exception to that theory. I will admit when I first listened to the album I wasn’t the biggest fan. It was hard to actually enjoy the album because I compared each song to the ones from previous albums and mixtapes. But after listening to “Crooked Smile”, “Power Trip” and “Let Nas Down” I looked at the whole album in a completely different light. “Is She Gon Pop” is played constantly and currently even holds a spot on my Top 25 Most Played playlist on iTunes.”
Wale – The Gifted (Released: June 24th)
“There is a reason why Wale is referred to as the poet of rap, because when he’s spitting his rhymes you can’t help but snap along to the flow. The Gifted was released at the start of the summer and that album is still making it’s rounds on my music player. The first three tracks “The Curse Of The Gifted,” “LoveHate Thing” and “Sunshine” are combine to make one spine tingling listening experience that will leave you singing along to the hooks and bopping in your chair to the verses that Wale is laying down.
Wale adds a little bit of everything into this album. There are some conscience raps mixed up into this album, such as “Jesus Piece (Golden Salvation)” and “Simple Man” as well as a few tracks that you can will leave you with a relaxed vibe, such as “Gullible” or “Rotation.” As well, there are some club bangers and a couple love songs throughout this album like “Tired Of Dreaming,” “Bad” and “Clappers”. If you are going to name your album The Gifted, you’d better bring some smarts to the table, and that’s exactly what Wale brought.”
Maestro Fresh Wes – Orchestrated Noise (Released: June 25th)
“I’ll admit, I hadn’t listened to a Maestro track for a while before this year besides “Stick to Your Vision,” since I was a kid at least. When Orchestrated Noise was coming into fruition (hip-hop word of the year in interviews of 2013) I got more excited to be able to listen to it because Maestro was the first hip-hop concert I attended as a kid, and it brought back memories in a way almost of those times. Like any concert I see, I always play the artist’s music ten times as much, especially if they did a great show because recording is one thing, performing is another and having both skills makes you an all around artist which in the long run prevails.
After seeing the 25th anniversary show for Maestro’s Symphony In Effect where he went through Orchestrated Noise in its entirety, I was hooked. Maestro opened a lot of doors for Canadian artists we all love today, which I think puts Orchestrated Noise in the best of the year alone. The content of the album is a whole other story, with an array of features from Lights, The Trews, Rich Kidd, Adam Bomb, Classified and more. Songs like “Dearly Departed,” “Gladiator,” and “Black Trudeau” are instant favourites.”
“As much as I agree with Colton, I have to disagree on one aspect: “Stranger” gets my nod for best song off the album. It’s tough to top Maestro and Saukrates together on a track.”
Kayo – S.L.A.V.E (Released: September 17th)
“Serenity Lives Around Virtuous Energy – or S.L.A.V.E, Kayo’s latest release since signing with Half Life Records – is one to be remembered in 2013. Starting off strong with The Escape Movement , Kayo found himself battling a set of expectations of how he thought things were going to go; anxiousness and frustration led to him taking those thoughts into mind and as spoken about in the Rich Already: Prologue was the inspiration in to the creation of the project.
“Don’t Bring Me Down” sets the tone as the opening track for this amazing project and really shines light on a few of those feelings, leading into personal favorites like “S.L.A.V.E”, “Rich Already”, “Jaded” and “Apology Accepted”. S.L.A.V.E has lyrical content and singles along with a variety of songs for all types to enjoy. As said on the album, “young king in the making, bear witness to the heir now” couldn’t be more true. Closing out the year strong with S.L.A.V.E, this is one you definitely want to take in if you haven’t. Serenity Lives Around Virtuous Energy, and Kayo shows you just why that is with this one.”
Drake – Nothing Was The Same (Released: September 20th)
“Nothing Was the Same is not just a great album showing Drake’s wider range of subject matter and rhymes- it’s an album that we can all relate to. What I love about NWTS is Drake’s absolute honesty. He’s never shied away from addressing personal issues on past records; NWTS is no exception. Each track directly speaks to something we can all identity with.
Drake hasn’t lost his trademark touch for extended tracks and lulling, pounding beats. I was glad to find that, like clockwork, he was slow jamming in the middle of most songs, just like in “Cameras/ Good Ones” on Take Care and “Shut it Down” on Thank Me Later. Some of my favorites on the album happen to be his slower songs, such as “Connect”, “Come Thru”, and “Own It”, an extension of the anticipated “Wu-Tang Forever.” Whatever Drake does, he does it well, and he keeps it real.”
“Drake’s highly anticipated third studio album, Nothing Was The Same was a project that actually lived up to the hype surrounding it. Shattering his image of being an “emotional rapper” Drake takes his career to new heights on his latest offering. A solid offering from beginning to end, NWTS includes a star-studded cast of artists and producers alike. Every single song on the album has value, which is rather unique these days, proving why he is the best artist out right now.”
Danny Brown – Old (Released: October 8th)
“I consider Old to be my rap album of the year. Everything about it is as perfect as can be: the production, the lyrical content, the consistency, the flow. Old is neatly cleaved into two parts: the first part explores Danny’s past, and it is far from pretty. We hear him paint vivid, ugly pictures about his drug dealer life and the atrocities and poverty he witnessed. All of Side A feels like a drug induced nightmare; disconnected and apathetic. We hear him constantly reprimand himself for the life he has chosen yet simultaneously lash out at others around him for simply not understanding him. In a way, this is behaviour we can all relate to on some level and therein lies his brilliance.
Side A is a great buildup to Side B, where we now see Danny enjoying his newfound fame. Even the intro on “Dope Song” feels like a movie. DB’s basically saying “f*ck y’all, this is my life now” and we are treated to some real bangers. Out of context, it seems like benign club friendly jams but comparing it to Side A, Side B lets us know that there’s something lurking underneath and Danny’s just trying to escape it, be it with copious amounts of sex or drugs. Numbness and escapism are themes he is exploring constantly throughout the record.
The lyrical content doesn’t make the whole album, though. The production here is absolutely top-notch and timeless. Most of the beats are handled by a guy by the name of Paul White, who absolutely kills it on every track he’s on, as does SKYWLKR. Toronto jazz prodigies BadBadNotGood and UK Grime dudes Rustie and Darq-E-Freaker also do their thing.
All in all, Old is a near-perfect album and one I have been listening to constantly since it came out. This is Danny Brown’s best work and a perfect entry point into his strange psyche.”
Pusha T – My Name Is My Name (Released: October 8th)
“Though production on this album could have been slightly more advanced, Pusha T is the epitome of an emcee. He is no rookie to the game so every line in his songs comes with a story or with meaning. To press play on a CD and hear the powerful first verse on “King Push” there’s no way one would continue to say Hip-Hop is dead. It took one listen before I became almost obsessed with this project. Lyricism is the foundation for this album and with Pusha’s bold demeanor he proves that he still is a force to be reckoned with.”
“Pusha T is a rare breed of rapper. From his lengthy Clipse past, we all know exactly what he’s going to rap about, and yet, he manages to make it sound so good that we don’t care that we’ve heard the same narrative before – we actually enjoy it. That ability alone has to be worth something.”
“Proclaiming that MNIMN would be “Album of the year. Hip-hop album of the year. For sure,” Pusha T had many of us anticipating the release of his debut album. Sticking to his drug-dealer persona in which he is so well-known for, Pusha still managed to execute a great rap album. The tracklist is what makes everything come together so beautifully. “Numbers On The Boards,” “Suicide,” “Who I Am,” and “Nosetalgia” remind us as to why he has been able to hold his place as one of the best rappers over the years.”
Shad – Flying Colours (Released: October 15th)
“I wasn’t sure what to think of Flying Colours at first. My expectations were so high following his previous effort, TSOL, that I was looking for much of the same clean, polished, well-defined narrative on Flying Colours. Instead, I was greeted by songs like “Lost,” “Progress,” and “Remember to Remember” – songs which, instead of conforming to my expectations, confronted and challenged them. After each subsequent listen, I left with something new; my perspective on things shifted.
Oddly enough, those same songs that initially clashed with my preconceived notions of what Flying Colours would be have become some of my favourites. The same goes for his album as a whole. Chedo’s used the metaphor of music as food before, and it applies well here; Flying Colours is like a home-cooked meal that leaves you feeling better and more whole from the experience. Flying Colours wasn’t the album that I was hoping for. Rather, it challenged those expectations and surpassed them – with flying colours, I might add.”
“When you listen to as much music as I do, it sometimes feels like a chore to get through some albums, but when I first listened through Shad’s Flying Colours album I never thought to myself, “When is this song going to be over?” There were a few people skeptical as to whether Shad could make an album as big as TSOL but to me this album is a magnificent followup to his last successful album. The first track “Lost” was such an amazing choice to have as the opener, right off the bat Shad brings his regular hype and upscale lyrics to the table and it doesn’t stop until the last track “Long Jawn.”
Shad will hype you up with tracks like “Stylin’,” but he’ll also leave you feeling thought provoked using his wordplay and storytelling, which is evident in songs like “He Say She Say” or “Progress.” It’s a rarity when you can actually play a Hip Hop album loudly without having to worry about content or language, so be sure to turn this one up. In the words of the man himself, “A lot of cats want to see the best watch, well if you want to see the best, watch!” ”
Honourable Mentions:The Ascent (Wiley), Beautiful Death Machine (Swollen Members), Extended Play (Statik Selektah), In Dark Denim (Antwon), Magna Carta Holy Grail (Jay Z), No Love Lost (Joe Budden), Run The Jewels (Run The Jewels), Tales From The Underground (Raider Klan), Watching Movies With The Sound Off (Mac Miller)