23 December, 2013@8:57 am
The major labels often release the biggest albums of the year, however that doesn’t always insure quality. It was hard to find 10 releases that we rated @@@@ or above from the major label system, with many of the releases on this list only scoring 3.5. That being said, here are the “best” major label albums of 2013.
10. Mac Miller – Watching Movies With The Sound Off – Rostrum / Universal – Despite this album cover making our “worst” list this year, Mac Miller proved you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Largely self-produced, save contributions from Pharrell, Alchemist, and a few others, Mac delivered a decent LP with Watching Movies that didn’t take itself too seriously.
9. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP – ASAP Worldwide, Polo Grounds, RCA – A$AP Rocky made his leap into the majors with Long.Live.A$AP, a flawed but fun release that made him a household name. Packing two of the biggest club hits of the year with “Fuckin’ Problems” and “Wild For The Night”, he also had one of the best underground posse cuts of the year on “1Train”, featuring Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, and Kendrick Lamar. Coupled with a handful of solid solo cuts, Rakim Mayers did his thing on Long.Live.A$AP.
8. J. Cole - Born Sinner – Dreamville, Roc Nation, Columbia – J. Cole’s sophomore LP received mixed reviews from critics, yet almost everyone could agree that it was a solid LP, despite its flaws. He ruled radio with “Power Trip”, yet went more introspective on the album, putting himself out there on “Let Nas Down”, a gamble that paid off with a Nas featured remix in the end. While Cole has yet to make the all-encompassing LP that resonates with everyone, third time may be the charm.
7. Talib Kweli – Prisoner Of Conscious – Javotti Media, EMI, Capitol – The oft-delayed final album for Capitol from Talib Kweli was once feared to be his “commercial” album, yet that was hardly the case. He made a respectful radio ready cut with Miguel on “Come Here”, and brought the best out of Nelly on “Before He Walked”, neither of which sacrificed his core sound. What we actually got in the end was another solid LP from Kwel, and perhaps the closest companion to the Reflection Eternal LP, boasting additional, solid collaborations with RZA, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Curren$y, and others. To top it off, Kwel followed up with a second LP on Gravitas, released independently at the tail end of the year.
6. Childish Gambino – Because The Internet - Glassnote, Island Records – Rarely do we see successful artist transformations from one medium to another, but Donald Glover may prove to be a better musician than he is actor. Because The Internet was an incredibly put together LP, written, produced, and performed by Childish Gambino, that not only was musically rich, but high on concept as well. An incredibly self-referential project that extended to additional viral materials such as short films and a 75-page screenplay, this was far from just a vanity project.
5. Kanye West – Yeezus – G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam – A largely polarizing album that left people with a “love it” or “hate it” response, wasn’t something you could needledrop, or listen to one time and throw out the window. Kanye’s sparse, pared down LP was actually his heaviest, and consecutive listens proved it to be his most bold. Excellent moments such as “I Am A God”, “Black Skinheads” and “New Slaves” found ‘Ye rhyming with both middle fingers up, while songs like “Bound 2″ and “Blood On The Leaves” were more traditional fare from Mr. West. Not a perfect album, but undeniably solid, Kanye’s “Fuck You” to the industry still had us all in approval.
4. Drake – Nothing Was The Same – Young Money / Ca$h Money / Universal – Love him or hate him, Drake makes solid LP’s, as he has proven once again with Nothing Was The Same. Building on the blueprints of Thank Me Later and Take Care, Drake again teamed with 40 to create a well balanced album, packing in anthems like “Started From The Bottom” and “Worst Behavior”, to smoother songs like “Hold On We’re Going Home” and the controversial “Wu-Tang Forever”. Its easy to hate on Drake, but his albums always reveal his talent.
3. Jay Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail – Roc-A-Fella, Roc Nation, Universal – Jay-Z turned the industry on its ear and established some “new rules” with the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail. Given away free to the first million Samsung customers that downloaded the app, he forced the RIAA to recognize the album as a Platinum selling release, despite its unconventional release. This move was pretty amazing, since his wife was able to take money out of the pockets of their direct competitor, Apple, by releasing her unannounced Beyonce LP exclusively on iTunes. The result was an LP that became the most talked about thing of the moment, instantly resonating with its fanbase. Songs like “FuckwitmeuknowIgotit”, “Holy Grail”, “Somewhere In America”, and “Tom Ford” became instant club anthems, skating way past Jay’s own choice of single, “Picasso Baby”. The #NewRules allowed the fanbase to decide the singles for the quickly announced LP, in a strange case where the album didn’t need a record company to work it; it worked itself.
2. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name – G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam – All year long, Pusha T boasted that he would have the best album of the year. That point is debatable, but damn if he didn’t release one of the strongest, uncompromising major label releases of 2013. This is Pusha T at his darkest, with the closest thing to a “single” being “Sweet Serenade”, a song about the sound of gunfire in the streets, featuring a subdued, filtered-out Chris Brown. Much of the album was ridiculously raw for “commercial” rap standards, as songs like “Nosetalgia”, “Who Am I”, and “Numbers On The Boards” defy the sound of the major label polish. Remarkably produced and intricately written, King Push exceeded expectations with this spirtual successor to Yeezus. This is educated thug music.
1. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – Shady / Aftermath / Interscope – Many times when artists try to create sequels to their classic albums, it’s merely a poor attempt to try to capitalize on or relive their past glories (here’s looking at you, Bacdafucup Part 2.) That being said, Em took a bit of a risk naming his eighth studio album The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which not surprisingly had the gravitas to back it up. Perhaps the best use of Rick Rubin all year long, and the clear difference between “producing” and “executive producing from the couch”, MMLP2 brought back out the lyrical beast in Eminem, and found him writing some of his most complex verses ever. An amazing feat, considering this is his 17th year, and he is already wildly rich and successful. What motivation does Em have to produce this level of quality this late in his career? Yet he still does. Well done, old friend.
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