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Each year, the indie hip-hop albums always deliver much stronger product than their major label counterparts, so it’s harder to narrow it down to just 10 releases. That being said, 2013 was a strong year for independent hip-hop, with many of our favorite artists returning to the game. Here’s our picks for the 10 strongest independent albums of the year.

10. Havoc of Mobb Deep – 13 – Nature Sounds – Rumors of Mobb Deep’s demise played out on the world(star) stage in 2012, but in 2013, Hav and P more or less patched things up. While the duo didn’t drop a new LP together, that didn’t stop them from both delivering solid solo albums, supporting each other on both projects. Hav’s LP showed tremendous growth for him as a producer, and quelled any doubts we may have had about him as a solo artist, with some of his best production in years.

9. Ka – The Night’s Gambit – Iron Works Records – The former Natural Elements relief pitcher finally got his time to shine, and with The Night’s Gambit, delivered his most cohesive release yet. Unapologetically dark, gloomy, post-boom-bap New York rap at its finest.

8. Demigodz – Killmatic – Dirty Version Records
– Years in the making, we finally saw the Demigodz come together as a team for their answer to the Wu-Tang crew LP. Coupled with incredible displays of lyrical dexterity from Apathy, Celph Titled, Ryu, Esoteric, and the family, alongside blazing beats from DJ Premier, Marco Polo, and others, this album delivered on all fronts, and pleased fans across the board.

7. Danny Brown – Old – Fool’s Gold
– Danny Brown surprised everyone with Old, a well-balanced LP that gave depth to his on-stage, off-the-wall persona. Perfectly balancing out his fun party songs with deeper, more introspective material, Brown really came into his own as a fully realized artist on Old. Dun Fact: This album was originally going to be called O.D.B. (Old Danny Brown), but the estate of Russell Jones wasn’t having it.

6. Cage – Kill The Architect – Eastern Conference Records
– To everyone’s surprise, Cage came out of semi-retirement, and to even bigger shock, reunited with producer Mighty Mi for Kill The Architect, on classic, defunct imprint Eastern Conference Records. The two did what they do best, crafting the spiritual successor to Movies For The Blind, yet it was its own animal entirely. Quality beats, lyrics, and song-writing from top-to-bottom, proved these dudes still got it.

5. J-Zone – Peter Pan Syndrome – Old Maid Entertainment – What happens when indie rappers decide its time to join the real world and… get a job? J-Zone delivered perhaps the most interesting and hilarious conceptual LP of the year with Peter Pan Syndrome. He’s only gotten better with time, now showing off his own drumming skills, next to his cut-and-paste sampling brilliance. Can’t leave rap alone, the heads need him.

4. Inspectah Deck + 7L & Esoteric – CZARFACE – Brick Records

- One could argue that Inspectah Deck never got the classic solo LP that each of the other core members of the Wu-Tang Clan did in those early days. CZARFACE more than makes up for it, delivering the best LP to date from either Deck or 7L & Esoteric. 7L produced his ass off on this one, recognizing the sensibilities and architecture of what makes a classic Wu LP, while Eso and Deck’s styles complemented each other perfectly. Look for CZARFACE II next year.

3. Prodigy of Mobb Deep + Alchemist – Albert Einstein – Infamous Records – It’s been argued, in recent years, that Prodigy had gotten lazy on the mic, and could never replicate the success he saw on “Keep It Thoro”. That may have changed when he spent some time in prison, giving him ample time to sharpen his bars, as evidenced here. Coupled with wall-to-wall production from Alchemist, P showed he’s still shinin’. Al on the other hand, seems to be in the prime of his career right now, producing some of his greatest beats ever, which are all over this remarkably consistent LP.

2. Adrian Younge Presents 12 Reasons To Die, Starring Ghostface Killah – Soul Temple Records – Like 7l’s work on CZARFACE, producer Adrian Younge figured out what makes a Wu-Tang LP tick, and got the formula down to a science with 12 Reasons To Die. Perhaps Ghost’s best LP since Supreme Clientele, the duo nailed the cinematic concept, telling the origin of Ghostface Killah, with gorgeous, live production that sounded like it was sampled from records that were 40-years old. On his tenth album, Ghost released one of the best albums of his career.

1. Killer Mike + El-P – Run The Jewels – Fool’s Gold
– After topping many year end lists with both Rap Music and Cancer 4 Cure in 2012, Killer Mike and El-P took a victory lap this year with their collaborative Run The Jewels project. Evoking the feeling of classic rap duos like EPMD, Outkast, Red & Meth, etc, the two traded barbs over some of El’s best production yet, delivering the definitive indie hip-hop album of the year. Appealing to both street and backpack audiences, this was a record that everyone could get behind.

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15 Responses to "HHS 2013 Year-In-Review: The 10 Best Independent Albums"
  • Tom says:

    btw, I was speaking on the Danny Brown album which is released on Fool’s Gold/Warner Brothers. lol

  • DJ Pizzo says:

    @tom well, unless you are buying direct from Percee P outside of Fat Beats, pretty much all indie albums are distributed by a larger entity. Back in the day, Caroline Distribution, which is owned by EMI / Capitol, handled Stones Throw, Def Jux, Eastern Conference, Nature Sounds, etc. Not sure how it works now since HHS isn’t into retail these days.

    Fool’s Gold is a fully functioning independent label like those others listed, that happens to be distributed by Warner. Next year they could take their business to Caroline. Some of these other imprints like Roc-A-Fella are an extension of their parent company, like Def Jam, so thats kind of how these lists are broken up. If that makes sense.

  • Chad says:

    missed epidemic’s LP and ugly heroes. whoever reviewed ugly heroes completely missed the point. that album is a classic, like it or not.

  • bobby2000 says:

    I agree with putting Run the jewels in first place, most of the selections are good, I think Roc Marciano’s latest album should have been included though.

  • Millz says:

    R.A. The rugged man legends never die. Wake up!

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