2013 in Albums: Ten Years of Influence
Issue 9, Volume 113
It’s hard to believe that 2013, the year of “Thrift Shop” and Miley Cyrus’s risqué transformation, was 10 years ago. Music styles have changed and trends have evolved, but 2013 should not be left in the dust. Here is a look at the albums that shaped both 2013 and music as we know it.
LONG.LIVE.A$AP - A$AP Rocky
Following the release of his wildly successful 2011 debut, LIVE.LOVE.A$AP, New York-based rapper A$AP Rocky was looking at a $3 million deal with RCA Records and an expectant fanbase. After nearly 8 months of delay, Rocky delivered his first studio album, LONG.LIVE.A$AP, solidifying his status as a talented lyricist, producer, and storyteller. LONG.LIVE. is where Rocky’s musical versatility shines—he holds his own alongside stars like Action Bronson and Kendrick Lamar, while also softening his vocals and taking a more melodic approach on genre-bending songs like “I Come Apart,” featuring Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch. This dynamic creates a unique sense of flow and rhythm present in his music to this day. Though Rocky occasionally features alternative artists on the album, he made sure to include songs like “[EXPLETIVE] Problems,” an iconic posse cut featuring Lamar, Drake, and 2 Chainz, which hit number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100. LONG.LIVE. foreshadows Rocky’s future as a unifier and curator of styles from Harlem to Houston, bridging EDM beats and operatic vocals with aggressive, self-satisfied bars, and—perhaps his biggest achievement on the album—drawing from his experience as part of hip hop collective A$AP Mob to create unexpected partnerships. Rocky’s psychedelic rap was and still is revolutionary, influencing rappers like Travis Scott and later contributing to the boom of subgenres like cloud rap and trap. Through his unique sound, Rocky’s work remains an inspiration for rappers today, and his innovation within psychedelic rap has secured his longevity for a decade and counting.
Comedown Machine - The Strokes
How does one top a debut album that was credited with bringing indie music into the mainstream, causing The Strokes to be called the “forefathers of a bold new era”? For the NYC-based rock band, this was the essential question. In previous albums, lead singer Julian Casablancas handled the bulk of the songwriting and production, whereas on Comedown Machine, The Strokes display their teamwork, leading—in part—to the vast stylistic range across the 11 tracks. They bounce from ‘80s synth on “Happy Ending” and “One Way Trigger” to classic Strokes garage rock on “All the Time.” Casablanca’s falsetto vocals paired with Nick Valenci’s and Albert Hammond’s daring guitar solos proved the band could beat their name-making debut. The album’s fourth track, “Welcome to Japan,” is an outstanding radio hit with witty one-liners like “what kind of [EXPLETIVE] drives a Lotus?” The track is loaded with nostalgia—the guitar riffs, background synths, and muted drum beats are disco-esque, and call upon The Strokes’s influences of Blondie and A-ha. Though the album garnered mixed reviews from fans expecting an Is This It sequel, Comedown Machine proves the ability of The Strokes to transcend expectations and provide listeners with a multifaceted display of collaboration and experimentation. Today, this level of experimentation can be seen in bands like Cage the Elephant and Arctic Monkeys, who use raw instrumentation and high energy vocals to emulate and expand upon the “garage rock” genre that The Strokes repopularized.
Nothing Was the Same - Drake
“I make songs for the people,” Drake said before dropping his third studio album, Nothing Was the Same. “I want you to be part of it… just don’t be surprised when I’m singing or using melody.” Known for his fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and soul, Drake shows his introspective side on Nothing, adjusting to the fame he earned from two of his biggest successes, Thank Me Later (2010) and Take Care (2011). He takes a Kanye-esque approach to Nothing through his self-declared people-geared mindset—he is embracing his popularity, but acknowledges his roots and the people who helped him along the way. One instance is exemplified on his “Started From the Bottom” lyric: “Story stay the same through the money and the fame / ‘Cause we started from the bottom, now we’re here.” Nothing highlighted Drake’s talent as a catchy songwriter and master of flow, but also cemented his place in the mid-2010’s rap scene, combining old-school era flows and melodic rap. This use of melody in addition to bars would prove to be very influential, inspiring a generation of artists like Post Malone and Juice WRLD who used the genre to sing freely about their upbringings, struggles with relationships, and desire for fame, inspired by the confessions and emotion prevalent in Nothing. They also mimic his production styles, opting for gloomy, melancholic backing tracks—like the Wu-Tang inspired loops on Nothing—and frequent use of beat changes to convey varying emotions.
Clearly, Drake fulfilled his promise of making an album for the people to enjoy. Nothing hit number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, and to this day is cited as one of Drake’s most influential albums, echoing his “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2” verse: “Only real music is gonna last / All that other [EXPLETIVE] is here today and gone tomorrow.”
Pure Heroine - Lorde
Pure Heroine perfectly captures the hazy, nostalgic memories of young adulthood. For Lorde, these moments and emotions were ripe and immediate. Lorde, only 16 years old when Pure Heroine was released, ushered in a new pop era—one that criticized the mainstream for its shallowness and dealt with the loss of youth while remaining catchy and loveable. The album’s lead single, “Royals,” brings these ideas to center stage with its overt criticism of the consumerism and luxury in mainstream pop culture in lines like “But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece / Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash / We don’t care.” Lorde’s refreshing take on pop was widely praised amongst critics for its contemplation of modern culture—she was even dubbed “the future of music” by David Bowie. This has largely been the case, as Pure Heroine’s influence can be seen in rising stars like Olivia Rodrigo and Gracie Abrams, who aspire to make meaningful music dealing with mental health and other hefty subjects. Pure Heroine serves as a reflection of encroaching adulthood, spinning a cautionary tale of the celebrity world, as exemplified by tracks like “A World Alone” and “Ribs,” whose sentimental and nostalgic lyrics are laid over Lorde’s signature melancholic pop melodies. The commercial success of Pure Heroine seems contradictory to its principles, but it comes as no surprise—it is exactly what pop music needed more of.