Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums

1. Kanye West
(Def Jam)

Kanye West has been on a bit of a tear of late, hitting the media circuit to express as best he can the next few chapters of his ever-evolving manifesto for artistic domination and to explain, when asked, exactly where he was coming from with this year's monstrous Yeezus LP. In a career during which Kanye's relentless strokes of musical genius often draw a calmed sigh of relief following one of his more maddening, narcissistic public eruptions, Yeezus proved his most divisive release to date.

It was a thoroughly abrasive record that took many quite a bit of effort to swallow. Social media platforms lit up upon its release as fans tried to square themselves with the uncomfortable aggression and unabashed misogyny that coated the record's vitriolic lyrics. Sonically, Yeezus was equally challenging, a grinding mix of unsettling electronic drones and squelches, pounding drums and unexpected rhythmic shifts crafted in tandem with the record's enlisted EDM superstars Daft Punk and Hudson Mohawke, light years removed from Yeezy's soul beats of yore.

But it was that challenge, and Kanye's inextinguishable drive to extend his creative limits, that produced so many of the record's most rewarding moments, from the sheer brutish audacity of cuts like "I'm in It" and "I Am a God" to the fragility shown on "Hold My Liquor," not to mention the curious use of Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit" as the base sample for a bitter song about failed affairs.

While you could quibble about many of the details, Yeezus is an incredibly bold and impressive complete unit, and it's hard to imagine anyone but Kanye — a certified master of the stylistic pivot — pulling it off. (Kevin Jones)