3. Earl Sweatshirt, "Doris": For a while there Earl Sweatshirt was a myth. We finally met the real guy behind the persona on the long-awaited "Doris," and his music was far more interesting than the buzz that accompanied his yearlong disappearance from public life. Earl tells you more about himself on songs like favorites "Burgundy" and "Chum" — his feelings about his parents, his friendship with Tyler, the Creator, the claustrophobic crush of attention — than he's revealed in hours of interviews. It all rolls out in dense, dazzling verses packed with triple meaning with a world view that's refreshingly honest and devoid of pop aspirations.
4. J. Cole, "Born Sinner": Kendrick Lamar wasn't the only elite rapper chest-thumping and backing it up in 2013. J. Cole moved the release date of "Born Sinner" to the same day as Kanye West's "Yeezus." On purpose. Thanks to this bold move, June 18 turned out to be the day of the year in music (check out Nos. 5 and 6). While Ye initially outsold him, Cole's sunny outlook, smart humor, nimble production and positive energy eventually won the day. Cole lays out just why he's different from his rivals on favorite "Let Nas Down" and lays down his own I'm-the-greatest verse with the help of Lamar himself on "Forbidden Fruit."
5. Kanye West, "Yeezus": Abrasive, angry, sometimes absurd, but endlessly fascinating, "Yeezus" is a punch in the face to the status quo. Grouse all you want about West's lyrical content, ridiculous statements and outsized ego, the man's production work is so far in the future you might as well call it science fiction. He opens the album by declaring "Yeezy season approaching ... a monster about to come alive again," and he's still in the news raging about this or that six months later. The surprise here is that there's plenty to identify with. Who hasn't just wanted their damn croissant? And when West twines his voice with Nina Simone's in the opening to favorite "Blood on the Leaves," it's just plain beautiful. Who cares what he's saying?
6. Mac Miller, "Watching Movies With the Sound Off": Few might have predicted Mac Miller would hold his own against Cole and West on June 18, but he turned it into something of a Mexican standoff with an impressive 19-track album that announced him as a producer and lyricist worth hearing. Miller moved to Los Angeles and went all in, delivering an album with unexpected depth, a masterful sense of mood and an excellent feel for the groove that in many ways rivals "Yeezus" for its constant inventiveness. New friends like Jay Electronica, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler, the Creator, and Schoolboy Q help maintain the energy. And just when you think he can't keep it up any longer, 15 or so tracks in, Diplo shows up on favorite "Goosebumpz" and the party goes on all night.
7. Drake, "Nothing Was the Same": This was my most anticipated album of the year, and while it didn't satisfy like "Take Care," Noah "40" Shebib's production is stunning and I learned more about Drake than I ever expected to. Ignore all the swaggin' and braggin'. Listen to the personal verses about his relationships with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj on the sprawling "Tuscan Leather" and "the issues at hand we're not discussin'" with his mother on "Too Much," featuring Sampha, and tell me you can't relate. Favorite track and leadoff single, "Started From the Bottom," told us to expect something different, and "Nothing" delivered in some really interesting ways.
8. Parquet Courts, "Light Up Gold": I miss Pavement. Since it looks like Stephen Malkmus and the guys aren't going to give us new music, I've been looking for a suitable replacement. Brooklyn's Parquet Courts comes the closest to reproducing the elegant anarchy of my '90s slacker heroes. Songs like "Master of My Craft," ''Borrowed Time" and favorite "Disney P.T." remind me of how clever wordplay and minor chords used to make me so happy.
9. The Civil Wars, "The Civil Wars": We can live with it if this is the last new material we'll get from the Southern gothic duo that served as a cornerstone of the seemingly short-lived folk rock movement. The apparent breakup of Joy Williams and John Paul White was the saddest story in music this year and came as they released an album that showed unbound potential by turning up the guitars and the tension. The emotion here is razor sharp, opening with favorite track "The One That Got Away," a song that stings like a switchblade to the cheek.
10. Danny Brown, "Old": Danny Brown threw the biggest curveball of 2013, and the result was one of the year's most harrowing albums. Brown mostly put aside the toothless jester persona that drove his breakthrough "XXX," returning to songs about street life in Detroit or the post-party reality of his newfound success. He relates the horrors of a trip to the store on the menacing "Wonderbread" and ignores messages from his daughter as he crushes pills on a hotel room menu on "Clean Up." ''Hipster by heart but I can tell you how the streets feel," Brown raps on the dreamy "Lonely, "Everybody thirsty and they're looking for a refill."