Traditionally, lyrics have been the most important element of rap music, and while the most talented producers may not be as recognizable as the most famous rappers, they are becoming just as in-demand for their beats. In rap's earliest days, the MC was secondary to the DJ. The increased focus on the sonic qualities of rap music over has resulted in some of the most interesting rap beats. Here are the ten best rap beats of 2013.
See also: The ten best rap lyrics of 2013
10. M.I.A. - "Bad Girls" (Danja) The thing that sticks out about Danja's "Bad Girls" beat is the strong Mid-Eastern aesthetic, and that alone is enough to make the track one of the most unique tracks of the year. Where many songs have attempted to pull off a similar effect, "Bad Girls" takes more authentic elements of regional world music and incorporates them into a song that is still purely hip-hop. When the beat takes off at the beginning of M.I.A.'s first verse, it's a powerful moment, and the intensity doesn't let up until the song is over.
9. The Underachievers - "Root Of All Evil" (Mr. Bristol) On the strength of a menacing piano melody, Mr. Bristol created an instrumental with an unbelievable pocket to rap in. The great strength of this beat, beyond the sound selection, which is masterful in it's cohesion, are the places where the individual sounds enter and exit the music, perfectly accentuating the flows of the two MCs. Yes, there's an art to creating an instrumental for its own sake, but this is rap; if it doesn't work well with lyrics, it doesn't do much good.
8. Mac Miller - "Goosebumpz" (Diplo) You rarely see an artist opt to use one of his bonus tracks as a single, but it's clear why Mac Miller did for "Goosebumpz" on Watching Movies with the Sound Off. As enthralling as the track is, it sticks out like a sore thumb on the decidedly moody album. To be fair, though, there aren't many albums on which the wonky "Goosebumpz" would have fit in. Using an obscure, Balkan hand-clapping sample and the seldom-used but frequently effective bird chirping, Diplo created one of the year's most original beats.
7. Drake - "All Me" (Key Wane, Noah "40" Shebib) Key Wane's beat would actually be relatively ordinary if not for an exceptionally well executed, distorted vocal sample that provides the most intriguing melody throughout and blends seamlessly with the subdued synthesizers and snappy drums. Near the end, the beat goes through an unusual tonal change, highlighted by what sound like video game sound effects, but it totally works. The whole thing does, even the Azis Ansari sample that kicks the track off.
6. Pusha T - "Numbers on the Board" (Kanye West, Don Cannon, 88-Keys) Perhaps the most idiosyncratic beat that cracked the mainstream this year was the beat for Pusha T's "Number on the Board," which is minimal and disjointed, like much of Kanye's production this year. But this beat, perhaps even more than anything on Yeezus, finds perfection in simplicity. The idea behind minimalism is that nothing more should be able to be removed to form a cohesive piece, and that certainly can be said of this beat.
5. Run the Jewels - "Run the Jewels" (El-P, Little Shalimar) Constructed by the beastly El-P, who also raps throughout the album, "Run the Jewels" is hardcore. In all the mayhem, the subtle touches that El-P laces this track with can be overlooked, but their effects are most definitely felt. Beyond the prevailing guitar strokes, dirty bass and drum line are yelps from dogs, muted trumpets and various glitchy effects that make the already unusual beat even more distinctive. Not to mention pulse-raising drum rhythm during the refrain.
4. A$AP Rocky - "PMW" (T-Minus, Nikhil Seetharam) With Long.Live.A$AP, Rocky made the perhaps conscious decision to depend less heavily on Clams Casino (though Clams has all but disappeared this year, so perhaps that has something to do with it), but he needed to find another source for moody, cloud-rap beats. T-Minus provided that with the best beat on the album on "PMW." The composition relies on subtle shifts in sound selection and balance to create a truly epic atmosphere. Listening to the instrumental alone feels like sightseeing on a low-flying plane that occasionally crosses mountain crests to reveal something truly extraordinary.
3. ¡Mayday! - "Shots Fired" (Plex Luthor, Gianni Ca$h) "Shots Fired" feels like some crazy dancehall/hip-hop blend with elements of noise music thrown in for good measure. The beat boasts some crazy hand-drummed triplets and ska-like guitar strokes that you don't usually hear in rap music. The chorus somehow manages to musically climax, while keeping the chill island sound of the rest of the song thanks to a perfectly configured organ. What's perhaps best about the beat is that it is a journey, avoiding the repetitiveness that so easily befalls many rap tunes.
2. Danny Brown - "Kush Coma" (SKYWLKR) Alexander Pope once said of poetry, "The sound must seem an echo to the sense," meaning that in the best poems, the sound created by the words somehow should reinforce the theme of the poem. Of all the beats made in 2013, SKYWLKR's "Kush Coma" arguably accomplishes this best, communicating a sense of simultaneous body paralysis and mental blastoff. Truly, it feels like you just took a way-too-big bong hit and you are currently going out of your mind.
1. Kanye West - "Black Skinhead" (Kanye West, Daft Punk, Gesaffelstein, Brodinski, Dean, Lupe Fiasco, No ID, Jack Donoghue, Noah Goldstein) For "Black Skinhead," Kanye West not only created several of the most memorable sounds of 2013 -- the pulsing primary melody, the distant, warbled wailing and the powerful "Black" vocal -- he tied the whole concoction together into one primal groove that is remarkably danceable for song that drives so forcefully against the grain.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.