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Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy.  Each week, we discuss recent hip-hop tracks.   Today, we take a look back at our favorite – and, therefore, without qualification, The Best – records of 2013.  Our scientific process:  We polled our ten writers, scored those choices, and came up with the final list you’ll find below.  In total, 51 albums received votes, but it all came down to two products of the Chi.  Now, get on your feet and make some noise for our distinguished panel of  Marcus DowlingPhil R, Aaron Miller, Joshua Phelps, Steven Place, Russ CP, Damion M, Bri Younger, Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious, and Hip Hop Hooray’s Leah Manners.


10. A$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$AP

So, A$AP Rocky – who I’ll refer to simply as “Rocky”, because typing out the dollar sign every time is both a chore and stupid, and I like to imagine Sly Stallone trying to spit beats to woo Adrian – has made it to the promised land: the Rec-Room Therapy top 10 list.  A year and change after he rose to national prominence with the Live.Love.A$AP mixtape, his proper debut saw the New York native making waves for all the right reasons, including unabashedly hitting on morose smoke show Lana Del Rey.  Released in mid-January, it set the bar for what was to come the rest of the year in terms of rap, and rather fittingly, is propping up our list in terms of quality.

The album starts on a dark note, thunder and lightning clashes accompanied by some synths that wouldn’t be out of place on “Quantum Leap” or in an Asian massage parlor (not that I know either, of course).  Then bam – a chopped and screwed “ughushers in our boy Rocky, rapping over a booming bass track and trap snare, accompanied by a simple and slightly distorted motif, that progresses and evolves with the song.  This is Rocky is announcing his arrival on a larger stage, his impending immortality through his art, an his self assuredness of his place in the pantheon of rap greats, with a direct shout out to Three Six Mafia and Southern Rap.

But it’s the second song, “Goldie” that truly sets the mood for this album.  A pulsing, riotous song that’s just plain fun, it has the feel of an anthem.  Whenever this song comes on, I feel invincible.  If Rocky does one thing great, it’s transmitting his swagger to the listener.  You can just visualize him perched on the stage, grill-a-glistenin’, the crowds lapping up his persona.

This album has a gaudy cast of guest appearances, with verses from Schoolboy Q, Santigold, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Drake, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Joey Badass, Gunplay, ASAP Ferg and Florence Welch (thanks, Wikipedia!).  It’s significantly more diverse in sound than 2011’s mixtape, an obvious product of working with a few more beatsmiths this time around – and though I’m a huge fan of regular collaborator Clams Casino, the result is a range of sound more interesting and surprisingly cohesive.

Rocky’s future is bright as long as he keeps picking tracks this good, and putting out verses this strong.  Whether he’ll achieve the immortality he craves might not be up for debate after a few more efforts of this caliber.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez


9. 2 Chainz: B.O.A.T.S. II #MeTime

In many ways, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time is the product of its moment in time.  It boasts a stable of both au courrant producers (Mike Will Made It, improbably now a household name; Pharrell Williams, improbably tightening his pop cultural stranglehold; Diplo, probably not doing a lot) and the hard-hitting, largely unsung heroes of Atlanta’s mixtape circuit (Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Wonder Arillo, D. Rich).  It has guest spots from world beaters (a hornball Drake making yucks; a fiery Lil Wayne making up for “Yuck”; Fergie rapping and shouting out Shabba Ranks) and crossing-over upstarts (Cap 1, Rich Homie Quan).  It has a song called “Mainstream Ratchet”, which manages to sum up not only 2 Chaniz’s entire existence, but also the current state of urban radio, where, coincidentally, Mr. Chainz is quite popular.  It has a song about uploading a sex tape to YouTube and another – immediately proceeding it – about uploading a sex tape to Netflix.  Technology!

But, despite all of this, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time still feels like an anachronistic document.  In a year where most rappers trended towards scaling back their sonic pallet or scuffing it up (see: most everything on this list), 2 Chainz was moving the opposite direction.  He made an unapologetic blockbuster – or, at the least, a blockbuster in its own mind.  He made a shiny, gold-plated throwback to event records of the late 90s – an oversized collection of fourteen big-budget songs that genially aimed to rupture car stereos and ear buds and club speakers.  He made a Michael Bay film.  He took the fifteen-minute car chase in “Bad Boys II” and expanded it writ large:  a gratuitous, emotionally low stakes experience executed on such a grand scale, with such undeniable precision and confidence, that the end product is inexplicably enrapturing, whether you want to admit or not.

And, no lie: Not a lot of the Rec-Room staff is on-board with this record.  It made two lists.  2 Chainz is hardly a great rapper, and we’ve all heard him fumble through more than a few ill-placed guest verses.  If you’ve groaned over past cameos or sludged through his uneven debut Based on a Tru Story, I can understand not even giving B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time a shot. But you’re missing out.  Tity Boi is a blunt object, no question, but on his own territory, on production that is far more ambitious and unusual than it needed to be (“Where U Been” and “Mainstream Ratchet” are gleefully demented highlights), he shines, doling out incessantly quotable and flat out hilarious non sequiturs.

When you want to join the 2 Chainz party, come find me:  I’ll be in the corner, listening to B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time with a stupid grin splashed across my face, chuckling to myself every ten seconds or so.

Phil R


8. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: Blue Chips 2

Action Bronson’s heavily anticipated sequel to 2012’s Blue Chips dropped last month to the kind of critical praise that seems to grow with each of his projects.  Brooklyn-based Party Supplies is back on production, having clawed through YouTube for samples that reach as far back as the 50s but rarely up to the age of consent – Tracy Chapman’s 1995 hit “Give Me One Reason” is about as modern a loop as you’re going to find.  For a rapper whose references run laps continuously around the 80s and 90s, Bronson and his formula work swimmingly on “Flip Ya” as he flips tall sex-tales against a noir-tinged sax solo fitting for a Steve Seagal film.  “Contemporary Man” was allegedly left off the first Blue Chips installment due to the the tiny, litigious issue of getting rights to the biggest hits of John Mellencamp, Peter Gabriel, Huey Lewis and Phil Collins.  Here, it anchors the middle of the mix and reveals Bronsalino’s strengths but potentially some hills to climb as well.  Bronson meanders fantastically from fornicating (“hit shorty where the child sleep”) to food (mother of said shorty makes “soup with the cow feet”) to fashion (British icon Beau Brummell,) anointing himself Pistol Pete in the same breath as coaching Party Supplies to get it together.  Bronson is high on wax, so much it’s hard to imagine him as the point guard type. His releases are more the aural equivalent to the And 1 basketball mixtape videos: an A.D.D. approved, machine gun barrage of singular verses so spectacular that you easily forgive when they don’t really add up an actual song.  That look is absolutely perfect for a mixtape, and the love-fest for Blue Chips 2 comes well-earned.  I’m only left wondering if, now that he’s in the pros and on a major label, whether these skills will translate into an album with the kind the cohesive, raw narratives that he’s displayed sporadically in the past.

– Joshua Phelps


7. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris

Earl Sweatshirt is not the best rapper on earth, but he could be. Run the Jewels may be, hands down, the illest and best technically executed record of 2013, but Doris is my favorite shit this year. Built on the kind of hype that only teenagers and the internet can bring, this clever little bastard has stepped squarely into the forefront of New Rap.

Living up to the self-fulfilling mythology of the OFWGKTA camp, the first single “Chum” served as a gritty, emo, broken home anthem for a kid who seemed to be actually living his moment, rather than manufacturing it like so many others these days. His crew is the perfect mix of self-esteem and self-sabotage, a culture of over-stimulated, over-educated, yet still, at-risk middle class youth in rhyme form.  And it has the craziest, most intricate come-up story in years.

Fame and exposure has solidified this fucked up group of weirdos into a formidable, hydra-headed rap beast of epic proportions: Tyler as cult-leader, Ocean for the mainstream R&B Trojan Horse, Mellowhigh(hype) for the classic get buck crew connection, and Earl as potential lyrical phenom.

Doris can be a spotty album.  It has its flaws. The production is dark and dirty, bordering on lo-fi, and the loping, trappy intro track “Pre” may just find you distracted enough to have serious doubts.  Those doubts are laid to rest at the 1:47 mark. Out of the gate, Sweatshirt hits the beat with a sickness. Kid has weight. The lines are delivered with a backhanded swag – an implied “fuck you” in every bar. It’s the moody inner dialogue of an artist at odds with just about every standard rap cliché in the book, even if he is destined to live them all out.  The rhymes seem to come from a place of coded language and rhyme patterns that sort of hover over the beat.  A track like “Hive” shows Earl as heir appararent to the masters of internal rhyme – Eminem, MF Doom, etc.

There’s next-level sampling too, from familiar R&B breaks and fusion from David Axelrod to weird prog shit like Can.  On “Knight”, Domo Genesis and Earl start out over a lonely sample of the Magictones’ 1971 “I’ve Changed”, keeping this track rooted in some old school magic, but the gradual 16 bar pitchdown of the vocals, punctuated by an out of tempo, finger on the record type stop between the verses, adds a sinister reminder that these kids are young and weird and here to fuck your shit up.

There are guest stars, big and little. Tyler of course. Casey Veggies. Vince Staples. Mac Miller, and, oddly enough, my least favorite offering on the album, “Molasses”, featuring the RZA.  You win some, you lose some. Genius he may be, RZA’s just one of those dudes that needs to stop messing up other peoples tracks and get back to doing vegan Kung Fu on a mountaintop or some shit.

Doris won’t change the world, but it definitely had a big effect on 2013.  I just hope Earl doesn’t end up all Citizen Kane-d out after a record this good.  I can’t tell if this record speaks to an organized trajectory of an artist with a plan, or just a fluke excuse for me to use the word zeitgeist.

Either way, I’ll take it.

– Aaron Miller


6. Pusha T: My Name is My Name

“I rap, n*gga about trap n*ggas / I don’t sing hooks,” Pusha T makes clear on My Name is My Name‘s opening track “King Push”. He’s setting the scene for what’s to come, putting it up front, stating what’s obvious to longtime fans:  Pusha T really does only rap about trap activity, and if you’re a newbie that might have only picked up the album because he rolls with Kanye and G.O.O.D music, you’ve been warned.

“Numbers on the Boards” – the album’s minimal, surprise hit – reiterates what he’s already told you, but to a beat that you bump on the highway when you’re going out with your people. It rides the kind of uptempo drum pattern you’d hear  at one of those small NYC hip-hop venues at 2:00 a.m. when everyone is trying to get hype.  The only unfortunate part is that people are more likely to lose themselves in the beat without really hearing the word play my man is dropping, which is formidable, “Simple Simon” and CB4 references and all.

Fortunately, the core of My Name is My Name is all about wordplay.  “Sweet Serenade”, “Hold On”, and “40 acres” give you a chance to sit back and appreciate this man’s ability to spit.  This is the part where you get to hear about Pusha the man, what he’s about, what he struggles with.  He may not be Biggie, but his ability to tell his story is unquestionable.

But it’s the end of the album that’s the sweet spot in the corked bat.  The last four tracks are bangers, and picking a highlight depends on who you ask.   For my money, “S.N.I.T.C.H.” takea the prize.  The title is an acronym for Pharrell’s hook (“Sorry, n*gga, I’m trying to come home”).  It’s perfect.  It’s genius.  It took my dumb ass three or four times to realize what was going on.  Pharrell is one of several high profile cameos in the homestretch: 2 Chainz and Big Sean pop up on the wheezing “Who I Am” and Future sad-tough talks the chorus of “Pain”, but it’s Kendrick Lamar that absolutely rips “Nosetalgia”.

People come to rap their own preferences.  Some tune into instrumentals, first and foremost. Some are partial to lyrics.  This album offers something for both groups. You can bounce to this album without ever paying attention to what Pusha says. Its melodic like that. But you’d be doing yourself an injustice because the man spits on every single track.  Lyrically, the guy is gifted and unlike many who waste this skill, he actually uses clever word play to tell the story of his life.  If you like rap music, you love this album.  With all due respect, to quote Mr. Lamar, there weren’t five rap albums that came out this year better than this.  Perhaps not even one.

– Damion M


5. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels

I showed up early. I showed up every time.  I saw them together and I saw them solo. I took off work and I bought a $30 t-shirt. If there was a better album in 2013 than Run The Jewels, show it to me. Where is it? Yeezus?  Pleezus.  Trap Lord?  Crap Lord.  Death Grips or some shit?

Nope.  Run the Jewels is an instant hip-hop classic.

I still can’t figure out how it worked. I mean, really, I would’ve never put El-P and Killer Mike in the same room together prior to 2012, not even in my wildest Fantasy Rap League scenario.  There was no warning. They never really hung out before.  It doesn’t even make sense.  They are both mad old and established.  Mike sounds like the hungriest man alive on every track ever, and last year’s R.A.P. Music sent chills up industry spines, putting the current flossed-out game on notice.  Meanwhile, EL-P has been rap game famous, like, three times over and just keeps on keepin’ on. Why do they need each other when they have such solid lanes to occupy?

Run The Jewels, that’s why.

The production is airtight, El-P at his synthed-out best.  Everybody has this album.  I don’t even need to examine it on a technical level or get into the little details that separate this from your average rap record. But after a million listens I have come to this conclusion:  Anybody can make banging party raps and almost anybody can shove a political message down your throat in a serious rhyme, but it takes some real ass vision to blur the lines between the two and make a party record that feels like an ideological manifesto. The feel of this record reminds me decidedly of Public Enemy or the good Ice Cube records:  The execution is deliberate and deadly, but it jams.

These guys are heavy and urgent, and their idea of fun is both lending you a helping hand and punching you in the face – for half an hour.


What happens when you fuck with Killer Mike and El-P?  What happens when you underestimate a nice guy or turn your back on an adversary?  What happens if you get to comfortable with your surroundings? What happens when you doubt your role in the Game?

You get your shit jacked. Literally. Figuratively. Whatever. You’ve been warned

In an industry bloated with snakes and fakes, these two have thrown down the gauntlet.  Run The Jewels offers up a one-way conversation.  It tells the competition to bow down.  It tells the listener, “Don’t worry, we got this. Hip-hop is safe for the moment.

– Aaron Miller


4. Danny Brown: Old  

Danny Brown hasn’t had the easiest path to success, and if XXX was his final stab at getting known before throwing in the towel, Old is his classic, established artist album, and it’s close to flawless.  From the macabre and depressing but lyrically deft Side A that addresses the least idyllic aspects of growing up in Detroit, to Side B’s emphatic experimentation with EDM, trap, and hyperactive aural assaults, the album showcases an artist who can cover a spectrum.

Brown, with his gap-tooth smile, goofy laugh, and sideways hair, has embodied and embraced his own brand of weird on an otherwise largely bland hetero-normative rap landscape.  That’s not to say Brown doesn’t inscribe his own terms of misogyny – but as anyone who listens to rap knows, there are some trade-offs to be made between appreciating rap and being permanently offended – and that shouldn’t be overlooked when taking the album as a whole.

Only somewhat lackluster features from Ab-Soul, A$AP Rocky and others really detract from Old, which only serves to emphasize the singular talent of Brown to carry a track.  The beats selection is impeccable, from boom-bap reminiscing to bass-dropping club bangers, Brown has put together an incredible lineup of producers, several of whom were previously unknown or unheralded.  For jokes and composure in chaos, give Side B’s wilin’, crazy, drug-on-drug-fueled Brown a chance.

Leah Manners


3. Drake: Nothing Was the Same 

Drizzy Drake’s Nothing Was the Same comes in third place for best rap album of 2013 on this very scientific poll.

I know what you’re thinking:  Of course the softest alt-blog in the game puts the softest rapper-crooner in the game’s softest album right near the top.

Stop it.  Stop it right now.  We are the experts, this is our top ten list, and if you’re reading this blog, the odds are good this is the only rap album you listened to all the way through this year. (Don’t lie – you guiltily skip the more jarring Yeezus tracks.)

So what about Nothing Was The Same?  Yes, Aubrey “Jimmy” Drake Graham is so soft he inspired his own massively popular Twitter hashtag on the subject. And yes, this album is one long, expertly produced expression of heightened narcissism. But it is damn entertaining. Drake hurts, he has big chips on his shoulder, and he relishes in the kind of too-clever comebacks that only come to mind hours after a perceived insult – and don’t we all. He’s too honest, and ridiculous (especially out of context), and the last thing you mention when then someone asks “what have you been listening to this year?”. But America – and BYT’s expert rap bloggers – find it satisfying.  Schadenfreude and tears, bitches.

But at what cost?

For one: this wedding season, get ready for a fuckton of “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” neatly sandwiched between your “Mambo No. 5”, Coldplay and other Stuff White People Like.

-Russ CP


2. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap

In April, Chance dropped his second mixtape, Acid Rap (The first, 10 Day, is also well worth a listen). Hailing from Chicago – a city whose violence is as documented as the stars it has yielded – Chance’s music still manages to feel good. It’s no party, but it is a celebration. It’s honest and vulnerable, but not overly depressing in spite of itself. He’s clearly affected by the circumstances of his hometown (see standout track “Paranoia“), but he doesn’t let it become him. After all, he’s still young, and there’s still girls and drugs and life where others have lost theirs.

It’s one of those rare projects that makes you stop what you’re doing and listen before telling someone else to do the same. Chance commands attention from start to finish – a quality he maintains from wax to stage. Amid clever wordplay packed over plush instrumentation, Chance seemingly grows up before our very eyes, all the while questioning his faith, relationships, and his life in general, before bringing us back home, juke-inspired beat and all. By the end of it, you feel like you know him or at least want to know him. As Chance triumphs, so too does Acid Rap.

– Bri Younger


1. Kanye West: Yeezus

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there’s a moment wherein Mercutio, Romeo’s close associate, teases his friend by saying that his amorous dreams about Rosaline were the result of a visit from Queen Mab.  The Queen was a fairy that informs dreams with misguided passions: “Lovers dream of love,” soldiers dream of “slitting throats,” lawyers dream of winning lawsuits, et cetera.

Leading into the release of Yeezus, the influence of Queen Mab was not just a dream, but a reality for Kanye West. From his engagement to Kim Kardashian to touring the great art galleries and fashion houses of Europe, and seeing all of the dream-like opulence and absurdity life had to offer, he clearly came back with both an edict and a mission.

The edict? We are all misguided sheep (or better, “New Slaves”) being led to corporate slaughter.

The mission?  Kanye was to because Yeezus – the re-incarnation of the son of God, thus “[making him] A God” himself – and we were to “Send It Up,” because the lamb of God – who would take away the sins of the world – had returned. Have mercy upon him.

In a manner similar to Jesus Christ, Kanye became an outcast driven by otherworldly truths decided by hip-hop’s cultural gods. He was a “Black Skinhead” who wanted to bleed groupies and naysayers and only leave “Blood On The Leaves.” He’d celebrate with the “Bound 2” him Mary Magdalene Kardashian and “[He’d be] In It,” making a black power fist until her blood curdling orgasmic screams would universally resonate like so many auto-tuned wails.

Yeezus is an audacious album that, similar to the holy gospel, nobody needed to buy, but everybody would eventually hear. The world felt Kanye being influenced by his religulous Queen Mab-style passions in 2013, and it would appear that – with his spree of “turn ups” in the media continuing – that this will continue into 2014 as well.

Hearkening back to our earlier point, Queen Mab leading Romeo to Rosaline was something that was never meant to be. As well, one can only hope that Kanye’s aggressive pursuit of misguided dreams will come to a close as well. As incredible of a creative tour de force as Yeezus is, we’re still in a place as a culture wherein Mr. West – the architect of this quasi-religious insanity – must awaken to the reality that his ideals may be right, but that his vision can neither be seen nor attained by those who do not dare to dream that they are similarly Gods themselves.

– Marcus Dowling

Honorable Mentions


Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady

The Electric Lady is one of the more ambitious albums to hit the mainstream R&B/Pop market in a few years, and that might be why it seems to polarize opinion among consumers.  Some folks love it, some folks find it grating, but what they cannot deny is the amount of talent Ms. Monáe has.  So while the she may not get the same degree of love from your laymen and women as many lesser acts do, Janelle Monáe has definitely hit a sweet spot with critics and enlightened consumers of her art.

The Electric Lady is a concept album, consisting of parts IV and V of her seven-part Metropolis series.  Monae reassumes the role of Cindi Mayweather, an Android sent back in time to thwart the efforts of an evil secret society.  If this sounds a bit high concept, don’t worry about it – what’s important here is that Monáe has hit an artistic zenith, incorporating elements of soul, funk, R&B, Motown, jazz, and gospel into a melange of good music.  Her songwriting is top notch, the music is bright and crisp, and the guest spots elevate it into the rarified air reserved for the elite.  A particularly inspired four song sequence features guest spots by Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange (Knowles) and Miguel; the transitions are so smooth that it really does feel as if you’re listening to an old radio show.  I think Electric Lady‘s place outside this top 10 on this list has more to do with the fact that it straddles so many genres and styles, and as such doesn’t fit neatly into any category.

Janelle Monáe played a sold out show at the recently renovated Lincoln Theatre just a few weeks back, and from what I’ve heard, it was the usual brand of showmanship, energy and flair.  She’s a brilliant, brilliant musician, and this album is a ton of fun.  Give it a listen if you haven’t yet, from start to end, and let it wash over you.

– Jose Lopez-Sanchez


Kevin Gates: Stranger than Fiction

In a genre that traffics in cool, Kevin Gates is about as uncool as it gets.  He’s depressed, suicidal, paranoid, struggling, insecure, bitter.  And he’ll be the first to tell you this. “Hurts to see every car I wanted, but behind the wheel I ain’t the person in it / Chick I wanted wanted someone popular and I ain’t that popular,” he raps on Stranger than Fiction‘s “Don’t Know What to Call It”.  “Every bitch I’m with finds out I ain’t shit after just three weeks of fucking with me” is the equally chipper story of “Smiling Faces”.  (Don’t worry, it’s “beware of smiling of smiling faces.”)

Gates major label debut is full of admissions like this.  Hell, it’s pretty much composed of entirely of them.  “I just want to point out that it sounds like Kevin Gates has some disturbing and dark mental problems,” Leah Manners wrote in an internal Rec-Room communiqué this summer.  But that’s what makes Gates such a compelling narrator.  He’s unflinchingly honest, even when its gets uncomfortable for his audience.  He’s allergic to fronting.  And with that line of credit established, each stranger than fiction tidbit means a little something more.

But let’s take a step back: A major label put out Stranger than Fiction.  After some time in jail and then languishing on Cash Money’s bench, he broke through in early 2013 with The Luci Brasi Story, a mixtape good enough to land him a deal with Atlantic Records.  In fact, that’s the record most likely to end up end-of-the-year lists.  And with good reason: It’s one of the year’s better mixtapes.  It has some absolute bangers (“Paper Chasers”, “Narco Trafficante”, “Flex”, to name a few ).  But while The Luci Brasi Story often sounds like a record that could have been made by other rappers (“Weight” is practically a Jeezy song), Stranger than Fiction is something only Gates could have made.   It’s claustrophobic and angry and utterly engrossing. I don’t think Gates’ lines even rhyme half the time.  Which is insane!  But the man owns them so thoroughly that you don’t think twice about it.

On “Tiger”, he claims to have the heart of a jungle cat.  I would make fun of this if I didn’t wholeheartedly agree.

– Phil R


M.I.A.: Matangi

Matangi is M.I.A.’s fourth album and intriguingly finds that when a artistic maestro is left alone in the dark, it’s the best time for her brilliance to come to light. 2010’s Maya was a fairly terrible album and left her an arguably aimless pariah. It’s the artistic equivalent of M.I.A. attempting to be all of her art-house heroines as major label artists, and falling short. There’s little bits of Patti Smith, of Lauryn Hill and so many others, but so little of the Mathangi Arulpragasm that so many lost and misguided hipsters grew to admire. Matangi changes all of that.

In the three years since Maya‘s release M.I.A. has split from her long-term fiance Benjamin Bronfman, been able to assume the empowering spirit of motherhood, and see all of her spiritual children – Kreayshawn, Rye Rye, Chippy Nonstop, Kitty, Brooke Candy, and so on, and so forth – all fail in varying degrees of absolutes in the less-than-desirable opportunities for stardom that they have been given. Cultural superstar women and marginalized peoples aside, hipster culture is at a place where its values of progressive freedoms are arguably finally being realized. Thus, it stands to reason that an album that guides the progression of outcasts by questioning the necessity of Y.O.L.O. as a creed (“Y.A.L.A.”), the true freedom of digital freedom (“Come Walk With Me”) and demanding that living fast and dying young “Bad Girls” become “Warriors” training “in the dance” has credence. If the finally truly mainstreaming hipster revolution needed a set of anthems to still keep things real, M.I.A. – in finally being herself as a top-tier artiste in pop music – saved the day.

– Marcus Dowling


Prodigy & The Alchemist: Albert Einstein 

“For the money I’ll bounce around the earth / A few hundred thousand put me straight for the summer.”

As Prodigy’s hip hop contemporaries celebrate two decades in the game with garish art history leisure rap, the HNIC returns with ravenous bars that make you feel like you might get robbed at the merch table after a show.  Albert Einstein marks the return of P and longtime collaborator Alchemist in an effort much less rushed but infinitely more urgent than HNIC 3.  Alc’s stark pianos and synths paint the perfect canvas for vintage Mobb Deep menace, whether it’s hammers and baseball bats on “IMDKV” or the deliberate assassination of a foe in front of his daughter’s school bus on “Confessions.”  You’d be forgiven for thinking you might be getting a breather from the onslaught as “Breeze” evokes the 80’s dock shoe sonics of Alchemist’s 2012 Yacht Rock effort, but P interjects with the hardened wisdom that “you either gon’ do life or you gon’ get killed.”  You might not listen to this at a barbecue but if you’re looking for something to rattle you like a George Pelecanos novel, this is the record.

– Joshua Phelps


Cassie: RockaByeBaby

“It’s not pop.  It’s not R&B.  It’s Cassie.”   This is was how Cassie described RockaByeBaby – her debut mixtape, and the first full-length recording she’s released since the Bush administration – prior to its release in April.  It’s is nice little slice of bravado, something you would expect to come out of the mouth of Don Draper, and something you would probably chuckle at if it weren’t for one thing:  That’s probably the best encapsulation of RockaByeBaby out there, and in typical Cassie succinctness, she nailed it eight words.

Of course, it could be argued that this is pop.  And R&B.  And rap.  Check the top shelf production from Mike Will Made It, Young Chop, and Da Internz, among many others.  Check how she hijacks beats from2 Chainz and  Kendrick (“M.A.A.D. City”!) and makes them her own.  Check the features from Pusha-T, Meek Mill, Rick Ross, Too Short (!), and Fabolous – all of whom deliver, even Wiz Khalifa, who manages to not be bad at rapping on “Paradise”.

But, really, RockaByeBaby is all about Cassie.  She floats through this mixtape with an effortlessness that’s jaw-dropping.  She can be sweet and seductive and cooing one minute, hard-nosed and mercenary and dismissive the next.  She can talk as dirty as anything found on The-Dream’s latest raunch-fest, IV Play.   She fucking raps.  Cassie has built a cult following over the years – as the existence and popularity of last year’s unofficial Cassie Trilogy attests to – and for good reason, but even her biggest fans have to be surprised by the range on display here.  It’s the sort of performance that makes an album built of disparate parts feel as cohesive as something as singular – and insular – as, say, The Weeknd’s trilogy.

If the success RockaByeBaby – the most downloaded female mixtape  ever on DatPiff – doesn’t motivate Bad Boy to let Cassie release a second proper album, I don’t know what will.  But even if Diddy sits on his hands, we’ll still have RockaByeBaby.  There are days that I think this is best record released in any genre this year.

– Phil R

Rock The Bells Music Festival -San Bernardino, CA - Day 1

Individual Lists

Russ CP
1. Drake: Nothing Was the Same
2. 2 Chainz: B.O.A.T.S. II #MeTime
3. Gucci Mane: Trap God 2
4. A$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$AP
5. Future: F.B.G.: The Movie
6. Kanye West: Yeezus
7. Danny Brown: Old
8. Big K.R.I.T. King Remembered In Time
9. Migos: Y.R.N.
10. A$AP Ferg: Trap Lord
Marcus Dowling
1. Kanye West: Yeezus
2. Drake: Nothing Was the Same
3. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
4. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels
5. M.I.A.: Matangi
6. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris
7. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: Blue Chips 2
8. Ghostface Killah: Twelve Reasons To Die
9. Wale: Forlain
10. Mac Miller: Watching Movies with the Sound Off
Jose Lopez-Sanchez
1. Kanye West: Yeezus
2. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
3. A$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$AP
4. Drake: Nothing was the Same
5. Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
6. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris
7. Danny Brown: Old
8. Kevin Gates: The Luca Brasi Story
9.  M.I.A.: Matangi
10. A$AP Ferg: Trap Lord
Damion M
1. Future: F.B.G.: The Movie
2. Drake: Nothing was the Same
3. Pusha T: My Name is My Name
4. Action Bronson: SAAB Stories
5. Prodigy & Alchemist: Albert Einstein
6. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris
7. Yo Gotti: I Am
8. Lil Qayne: I Am Not a Human Being II
9. Kanye: Yeezus
10. TIE: Jay Z: Magna Carta Holy Grail; Meek Mill: Dreamchasers 3
Leah Manners
1. Danny Brown: Old
2. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels
3. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
4. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady
5. Shad: Flying Colours
6.  TIE: Rabbi Darkside: Prospect Avenue / The Underachievers: Indigoism
7. Big K.R.I.T. King Remembered In Time
8. Kanye West: Yeezus
9.  Lizzo: Lizzobangers
10. TIE: P.O.S.: WDELH/MDS/RMX / Death Grips: Government Plates
Aaron Miller
1. Run The Jewels: Run the Jewels
2. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris
3. Danny Brown: Old
4. Quasimoto: Yessir Whatever
5. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: Blue Chips 2
6. Joey BadA$$: Summer Knights
7. Rapsody: She Got Game
8. Oddisee: Tangible Dream
9. Mellowhigh: Mellowhigh
10. Chance The Rapper: Acid Rap
Josh Phelps
1. Kanye West: Yeezus
2. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels
3. Pusha T: My Name Is My Name
4. Danny Brown: Old
5. Prodigy & Alchemist: Albert Einstein
6. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: Blue Chips 2
7. Kevin Gates: Stranger Than Fiction
8. Chief Keef: Finally Rich
9. Oddissee: The Beauty In All
10. Cam’ron: Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1
Steve Place
1 Casey Veggies: Life Changes
2 Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
3 Pusha T: My Name is My Name
4 Ty Dolla $ign: Beach House 2
5 Travi$ Scott: Owl Pharaoh
6 A$AP Ferg: Trap Lord
7 GrandeMarshall: Mugga Man
8 Tyler, the Creator:  Wolf
9 The Underachievers: Indigoism
10 Drake: Nothing Was the Same
Phil R
1. Cassie: RockaByeBaby
2. Danny Brown: Old
3. 2 Chainz: B.O.A.T.S. II #MeTime
4. Kanye West: Yeezus
5. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels
6. Kevin Gates: Stranger Than Fiction
7. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
8. Pusha T: My Name is My Name
9. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: Blue Chips 2
10. KA: The Night’s Gambit
Bri Younger
1. Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap
2. Drake: Nothing Was the Same
3. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris
4. Pusha T: My Name is My Name
5. Eminiem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2
6. Young Thug: 1017 Thug
7. Kanye West: Yeezus
8. Mac Miller: Delusional Thomas
9. Tyler, the Creator: Wolf
10. John Legend: Love In The Future