To create a broad narrative about rap in 2013 would be, at best, reductive. Things are simply too fragmented, even among the most visible artists, to make sweeping statements with any hint of honesty or seriousness. But a lot of exciting things happened–one of the genre’s biggest names seemingly lost his mind and made a pseudo-drill record in Paris; a superstar hopped on a regional curiosity’s single to promote his album, only to have said curiosity make a better album than the superstar; Killer Mike and El-P actually made a record together, only to be shown up by two industry cast-offs with even lower profiles; Juicy J learned how to use the internet. Despite some disappointing turns from flagship artists, it was a stellar year in hip-hop. These seven albums make the strongest case.

by Paul Thompson