As more best-of lists continue to trickle out, you start to get a better sense not only of the quality of 2013’s hip hop output but also of the lens through which the criticsphere and Internet et al viewed the culture. It seems like every release and, for the most part, every artist fit snugly within a particular aesthetic, all of which are easily translatable into think pieces.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this zeitgeistmania – though it does tend to both marginalize and overrate records that seemingly don’t fit within an archetype (ahem… Chance the Rapper). But it’s an interesting way to put everything in perspective. Here are a few of the major rap buckets we all dipped our ears in in 2013:
The “Fuck Off We’re Legit” Zeitgeist: Doris by Earl Sweatshirt, Wolf by Tyler the Creator, Watching Movies With the Sound Off by Mac Miller
Going into 2013, two of these extremely young guys had already put out massively successful records and the other had a cult favorite. It’s not necessarily that they had a lot to prove, but it’s clear they all wanted to prove something. Each put out a lyrically evolved record that rap nerds couldn’t deny, and suddenly Mac Miller was a big name producer. This seemed to be a year in which a lot of younger artists with massive teen fan bases decided they wanted to “grow up” a bit and make music adults would appreciate.
The “Singrap” Zeitgeist: Still Goin’ In by Rich Homie Quan, 1017 Thug by Young Thug, everything by Future
My favorite trend of 2013, bar none. Led by Future – who didn’t have a major album release but did have a slew of megahits – these guys made the weirdest and most fun music this year. While Kanye and Drake alternate between singing and rapping along pretty clearly defined boundaries, the vocals operate on an amorphous sliding scale, with repetitive cadences suddenly swirling into unhinged melodies with desperate emotion dripping through. Plus lots of records with Gucci Mane, who I almost gave his own personal zeitgeist.
And Future co-wrote “Body Party” by Ciara, which is the best fucking song of 2013 and maybe ever.
The “Rap City” Zeitgeist: Long.Live.A$AP by A$AP Rocky, Trap Lord by A$AP Ferg, Summer Knights by Joey Bada$$
New York zeitgeist 1 of 2, these guys spent 2013 appropriating styles that dominated ‘90s radio and video shows and bringing those sounds back to the mainstream.
The “Hood Psychedelia” Zeitgeist: Better Off Dead by Flatbush Zombies, Indigoism by The Underachievers
New York zeitgeist 2 of 2, these guys spent 2013 introducing kids in the projects to acid and pineal glands and other such things.
Between these two trends, New York City finally reestablished itself as an interesting and youthful creative presence in rap. Which is good because our King sort of failed us.
The “Tired Old Men” Zeitgeist: Magna Carta Holy Grail by Jay Z, I Am Not a Human Being II by Lil Wayne
Both of these guys are suffering from serious star fatigue. Lil Wayne may or may not be on drugs but he’s widely perceived to have lost some of his druggy mojo. Jay Z goes to great lengths to let us know that he isn’t on drugs but that he can in fact afford sunglasses made by Tom Ford. Jay Z’s album at least got mixed reviews, Wayne’s was universally panned. Both have ceded the critical spotlight to their protégés to a degree that is a little embarrassing.
The “Honesty Is the Best Policy” Zeitgeist: Nothing Was The Same by Drake, Yeezus by Kanye West
Aside from being the year’s best, these two albums and their corresponding tours defined hip hop in 2013 way more than anything else. I’m calling it The Year of Honesty (Future even had a hit song call “Honest”). Kanye is looking at the world through a telescope, Drake is looking inside himself with a microscope, but both are fundamentally structured around an artist giving you their most raw and honest interpretation of the world. Which is a pretty rad development for popular hip-hop if you ask me.
Featured image courtesy of Nah Right