2013 Rapper Of The Year Award Goes To......
2013 was a huge year for hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar proved Jay Z’s old adage, “It’s funny how one verse can fuck up the game”, Kanye declared himself a god (amongst other things), and Hov laid out the new rules with a “Million sold before the album drop”. One rapper avoided the hype and let the music do the talking; that man is J. Cole (no I didn't just misspell Kendrick Lamar).
J. Cole had a huge year releasing a plethora of the quality material. His Truly Yours 1 and 2 EPs were better than most albums. This says a lot considering these were essentially all his throw away tracks that didn't make it onto Born Sinner. Don't believe me? Just listen to 'Cole Summer', 'Head Bussa', or 'Tears For ODB'. Actually, just listen to both EPs from front to back. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
With his album release coming Cole decided to launch his Dollar and Dream Tour. Performing in 10 cities with shows for only $1. The shows saw thousands of fans lining up for hours in front of venues in hopes of sharing a unique and intimate experience (for only $1!). Since only a small percent of fans actually got in, many left disappointed. This just created deeper demand for his What Dreams May Come True Tour with Wale. I was lucky enough to attend one of the Toronto shows and it was nothing short of phenomenal. The overall production, combination of live band and DJ, his charisma, song selection and stage presence demonstrated why he is one of the best rappers to see live.
J. Cole also combated the sophomore curse with the release of Born Sinner. A stellar album that is quite possibly the best hip-hop album of year. Not to mention the fact that he handled the majority of the production himself (“Fuck your beats nigga, I produce my own albums”). There are too many standouts to go through all them, even the interludes are amazing (see Ain’t that Some Shit which showcases his rapid fire flow). Two tracks that need to be mentioned are 'Forbidden Fruit' and 'Let Nas Down'.
'Forbidden Fruit' uses the same sample that A Tribe Called Quest popularized with Electric Relaxation. Kendrick Lamar handles the hook while Cole drops smooth braggadocious bars including: “I’ma drop the album same day as Kanye, Just to show the boys the man now like Wanyá”. This lines is even more impressive considering J. Cole went on to outsell Kanye’s Yeezus.
On 'Let Nas Down' J. Cole discussed his struggle to make a hit while staying true to the art and his frustration when he found Nas was unimpressed with Work Out, “You the one yo why you make that shit?”. The song on it’s own is one of the best on the album, but the fact that Nas responded with a verse of his own truly showed the level of respect Cole has garnered. The remix closes with Nas saying “Now I'm playin' Born Sinner loud, saw you live rock the crowd/ Like wow, you made your nigga Nas proud/ So you ain't let Nas down/ It's just part of the game, becoming a rap king”. Getting any positive response from Nas would have been huge but a whole verse, where one of the greatest of all time calls you a rap king is one of the biggest honours you could receive in your career.
Outside of his own projects he also dropped a number of the hottest freestyles/verses of the year including: Jodeci Freestyle, Winter Schemes, his guest verse on Bas’s Lit and Justin TImberlake’s -TKO Black Friday Remix. Where he addresses Kendrick's Control verse and even tries out the Versace flow. On Born Sinner he said “When I say that I’m the greatest I ain't talking bout later” and in 2013 he proved it.
Honorable mentions: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Jay Z, Kanye West