‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…
Well, this isn’t entirely true. In reality, your parents are somewhere attempting to shatter the world record for the least amount of noise made while wrapping presents. Your younger siblings are probably huddled around the family room television watching The Grinch, waiting to catch the elusive Saint Nick and deliver his snicker doodles alongside his glass of milk. For fear of being annoyed by the young ones, your relatives are poking around every room other than the guest room in search of nothing in particular. And you? Well, you could’ve been anywhere in the world, but you’re here with us. And we appreciate that. To show you how thankful we are, The Listening presents our list of our favorite artists of the year 2013. Whether you are looking for your latest music fix, grasping for midnight-hour stocking stuffer ideas, or biding your time until the gifts are unwrapped, we’ve got you covered.
2013 was undoubtedly a tremendous year for music, to say the least. Chock full of stellar tunes, classic moments, juicy controversies, monumental occurrences, and shocking events, this year had a little bit of everything in store for us as fans and is sure to go down in the books as something memorable. A handful of artists did what they do best: consistently release quality material for us, the Listeners. Janelle Monae released her second full-length album, titled The Electric Lady. The fourth and fifth installments of Monae’s Metropolis Suite series were met with critical acclaim from a variety of publications, anchored by the infectious single “Q.U.E.E.N.” which features fellow female R&B game changer Erykah Badu.
Similarly, the Cocaine 80’s collective continued their winning streak with the release of yet another tremendous extended play, The Flower of Life. The project once again sees lead singer/songwriter James Fauntleroy and famed hip-hop producer No I.D. push the smooth, lo-fi, experimental sound of the 80’s a little further in multiple directions. The pair is not without help, though, as fellow group members Jhene Aiko, Common, engineer Rob Kinelski, and session musicians Kevin Randolph and Steve Wyreman all make their presence felt through quality contributions.
In addition to those who we can always count on to deliver quality music, several new acts made their first splashes in the big pond we refer to as the music industry. Atlanta-based artist Fortebowie released the Vice Haus EP early on in the year to rave reviews, and has created a solid buzz for himself moving forward. The EP demonstrates a wide-ranging skill set for Fortebowie, including great lyrical ability, catchy crooning, and passion-laced subject matter which combine to give Forte his own original style that will only cause for anticipation to rise as we await more from the youngster.
Neo-soul/funk band The Internet also made waves this year with the release of their sophomore album Feel Good. Led by Odd Future members Syd and Matt Martians, the group’s album was a hit with both critics and fans behind the catchy single “Dontcha”. The group simply sounds fun and infectious in every sense, and you’ll find yourself with their music on repeat the more you listen to it. One thing is for sure, though: the Odd Future collective is surely a talented group of people.
Chicago emcee Chance The Rapper arguably made the biggest splash of the year as a newcomer with the release of his Acid Rap mixtape. The project, which has made countless year-end lists, is just as fun and upbeat as it is serious and introspective. Raised on the infamous south side of the Chi, Chance spits with no agenda and simply details his struggles, vices, triumphs, and gratitude in a completely artistic and honest manner. Trust us, this 19 year-old is too talented to be slept on for too long.
While there were a few standouts in the freshman class, 2013 also treated us with the metamorphosis of a few sophomores. Eccentric Detroit emcee Danny Brown released his Fool’s Gold debut with Old, a project which all of his fans are sure to find enjoyable in some form or fashion. The album, which is Danny’s first official release since 2011’s XXX, is essentially playable in the same manner which cassettes were played decades ago (note: songs titled “Side A” and “Side B”). The album is split directly in half, and contains equal amounts of Hybrid Danny and XXX Danny. Whether you’re a fan of gritty, boom-bap, hardcore raps or you prefer the electronic, fast-paced club raps, Old has plenty of whatever it is you enjoy.
Staying in Detroit, producer/emcee Black Milk has stepped his game up as well. Dropping his fifth solo album No Poison No Paradise, Black Milk has arguably released his most well put together project thus far. While past projects have shown Black’s ability to delve into the realms of electronic sounds and live instrumentation, his latest effort shows that he has learned how to incorporate the production skills demonstrated on previous works and make them work simultaneously. This results in a sonic backdrop which is seamlessly and soulfully sewn together. If that wasn’t enough, Black Milk’s skills as an emcee have anted up as well. Black shows improved technical writing ability as well as a deeper, more introspective subject matter on his latest project. When an artist reaches his potential while simultaneously raising the bar for it, they’ve done something right.
The final artist who we feel has shown substantial growth this year is GOOD Music’s Pusha T, the younger, more materialistic half of rap group Clipse. After being forced to some degree to go solo (due to his brother Malice adding “No” to the front of his name and focusing on his book), Neighborhood P decided to link up with one of the best producers in hip hop (who will remain nameless until later in this article) to craft what fans anticipated to be a classic. A few pushbacks and mixtapes later, and Pusha delivered. His debut, My Name Is My Name, is exactly what you want a Pusha T album to sound like: dark, lavish, boastful, and unapologetic. We look forward to hearing more from King Push, who already has plans to begin work on his next album at the top of the new year.
We would be remiss to go through our favorite artists of the year without highlighting those who delivered the most surprising impacts. In his return to music after more than five years, Justin Timberlake delivered a tremendous body of work with The 20/20 Experience. Spawning hit singles “Suit & Tie” (featuring Jay-Z) and “Mirrors”, JT’s return was with a vengeance, and was seemingly a free 101 lesson of “How To” for everyone else making R&B in 2013. And just in case one semester wasn’t enough, he provided us with 20/20 Volume 2 before the year was out.
While the stellar nature of Timberlake’s return couldn’t have been predicted, R&B diva Beyoncé’s impact on the year was even more shocking. Beyoncé hit 2013 like a thief in the night, snatching up multi-million dollar endorsement deals and embarking on a super successful tour, all the while preparing an entire visual album which was met with complete social network frenzy following its surprise iTunes release. The self-titled album is definitely worth the commotion it caused, as Mrs. Carter uses her fifth studio project to delve even further into the women-empowering topics which have made her a fan favorite.
Finally, the most talked about, most criticized, most controversial artist of the year was none other than Kanye West. After being one of the first mainstream artists to effectively utilize alternative promotion (choosing not to release before the album release, yet screening music videos on the sides of skyscrapers is genius), Mr. West’s Yeezus album was met with all sorts of feedback. Whether you felt the album was unlistenable or a classic, it had you talking about it in one way or another, all the while Kanye vowed to “turn up” on the people in charge of corporations which have made us New Slaves in 2013. We’re not sure what to expect from Kanye in the coming year, but we do know that his 2013 has set a tremendous platform for him to utilize.
In summary, 2013 was without a doubt a great year for us, the Listeners. New artists, artists showing growth, perennial producers, surprises, and standouts all made great impacts on the year in music. While we never know what the new year will have in store for us, we do know one thing: we will be Listening.