Needless to say 2014 won’t be remembered as one of Hip-Hop’s best years. In fact, one might say it was a darn right bad year for anyone in music not named Taylor Swift or Sam Smith. With no releases from Jay-Z, Kanye, Nas, Lil’ Wayne, Andre 3000 or Kendrick, an end of year wrap up initially seemed like a tall order and a consensus on an overall top 10 list of albums would be nearly impossible. So I put together a team of some of the most diverse, yet opinionated Hip-Hop aficionados, critics and culture representatives to look at the year 2014 in Hip-Hop. Our case for the best Hip-Hop album of the year…
DJ Premier & Royce Da 5’9 – PRhyme
2014 was a year dominated by rapper/producer duos, though the majority had no option but to take a backseat for a collaboration more than 10 years in the making with the DJ Premier and Royce Da 5’9 LP. Once originally a Slaughterhouse project, PRhyme introduced a new sound for the duo highlighted by the full-on samplings of Adrian Younge’s catalog that kept intact the signature rap and scratch styles of each individual. Premier is in rare form providing a melodic backdrop over drumtastic resonances that compliment the barrage of punch lines and intricate rhymes spewed from a sober-minded Royce. Many can even make the argument that the lyricist outshines Hip-Hop’s greatest producer, which is something we haven’t witnessed since Guru’s display of wordplay wizardry on Gang Starr’s Daily Operation. Listening to joints like “Courtesy,” “Wishin,” and “To Me, To You” warrants such mass appeal. —Alex Bracetti
2014 will go down as an unremarkable Hip-Hop year. DJ Mustard beats and Young Thug crooning notwithstanding, there was no real movement to get behind. One of the few standouts was Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Piñata. Originally titled “Cocaine Piñata” this album took a few years to make and the time spent to perfect it shows. It continues the tradition of Madlib only working with select, capable MCs to do a full length LP with (the previous being Jay Dilla and MF Doom). The beats evoked a blaxploitation cinematic vibe that feels raw and airy, substantially more effective than Ghostface “36 Seasons” managed to accomplish. Madlib always does just enough to add suspense and variety, a beat switch here, insert movie dialogue there, but never overshadows Freddie Gibbs. Gibbs who is a talented but sometimes one dimensional evolves and takes full advantage, showing off the full repertoire of his skill and insight. He channels his inner “Predator” era Ice Cube, blending, gangster bravado, introspection, hood narratives and socio political commentary in songs like “Shitsville” and “Thuggin.” Other standout tracks include “Deeper” one of the better storytelling tracks I’ve heard in a while in which in he laments his girl for moving on in life while he was incarcerated. And there’s “Real” a diss track towards his former label boss Young Jeezy. Piñata was one of the few gems of 2014 and by far the most cohesive and consistent. —Jeffrey Barreau
Between January and December of 2014 nearly 300, yes 300, rappers released a body of work all clamoring for notoriety, money, or self expression. Everyone from well known artist such as Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj to up and comers like Azealia Banks and Kid Ink all wanting the top spot but in my opinion there’s only one man who has successfully claimed it. J. Cole’s third studio album Forest Hills Drive was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated albums of the year after his sophomore album Born Sinner solidified that he was way too talented to fall due to the freshman debut curse. Again, while there were many great projects out there 2014 Forest Hills Drive is one of the few that creatively and financially lived up to the hype. Certifiably Gold, and debuting at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, this body of work showcased the growth and maturity of Cole while still maintaining a youthful and current appeal. The entire album feels like a one on one sit down with Cole discussing his views on life, love, childhood and the future with a reminiscent old school Hip-Hop feel.
My Krazy Life was one of, if not the most important album of 2014. Excluding the lyricisim provided by the Cali native, the production of the project reminds me of Hip-Hop classic albums like Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, Dr.Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggstyle. For many years many Hp-Hop lovers have craved an album that you can play from start to finish without fast forwarding. Thankfully YG and DJ Mustard premiered a product for us to enjoy for many years to come. Despite the album’s not so impressive sales, My Krazy Life remains well respected amongst industry executives and tastemakers.
Seven studio albums in today’s rap climate is a win in and of itself, and more so a notch on the belt of one of the more scrutinized MC’s of all time, Rick Ross. Criticized for his lifestyle or lack there of as some would say, Rick Ross is one of the more successful MC’s turned executives of our time. Love or hate him, you undoubtedly have to respect his climb. In a well known story, Rozay has gone from hypeman to sidekick, to signed artist to BAWSE. His track record is what it is- unique. In my opinion, one of the first artists to grasp the importance of visuals and the assistance that Social Media can be, Rick Ross has built himself and his Maybach Music Group from the ground up, turning a hobby of purchasing expensive cars into a full fledge way of life, facilitating the careers of others along the way. From Triple C’s to Masspike Miles, to Meek Mill, Stalley, Wale, and now Omarion he has juggled endorsements, hate, health issues and many women / earnings along the way.
In traditional Rozay style, Hood Billionaire, takes listeners down the journey of the hustle. Via paying homage to his mentor, Kenneth Boobie Williams, whom he has continued to honor along the way, Rick Ross delivers street anthems such as “Elvis Presley Blvd,” “Nickel Rock,” “Keep Doin That” and “Neighborhood Drug Dealer” with the help of heavyweights such as Yo Gotti, R Kelly, Lil Boosie, Snoop Dogg and Project Pat. Adding something for the ladies with the K Michelle feature “If They Only Knew” Ross has once again shown why he is top tier in today’s rap game. Not to be confused with the greats, or all-time Top 10 roster, Rick Ross is to be accepted on his own merit, regardless of his street-credibility; fact remains, it is only entertainment – not the bible. Toast to the Hood Billionaires. —Devon Hyman
Cadillactica is an album that doesn’t belong in this era, and because of that I’m glad that it arrived in 2014. While most artists continue to drive down Weallsoundthesame Blvd, Big K.R.I.T. drives base heavy down forgotten roads that once ruled in the past.
Songs like “Mt. Olympus” and “King of the South” demand you have a neck brace on stand by while infusing the lyrical content that many thought he lacked, while tracks like “Pay Attention” and “Third Eye” slow the mood down but don’t make it an R&B album.
Cadillactica is a complete album, not one that relies on a hit single or twenty guest features on twelve songs to carry it, instead it provides hope that it is possible for an artist to create a body of work that makes one proud to be a lover of hip-hop music. —Joseph Thomas
Budden put together one of his most collectively sound projects when he poured his heart out over 11 songs on the Some Love Lost project. Technically an EP, it makes the list because it’s everything an album would be. Budden returned to his Mood Musik ways for a set of emotional songs that delve into his relationships, his legal battles, his family and his personal struggles. The songs average 5 minutes because Joe tries to stretch every song to tell the listener everything he is going through. In our interview he admitted that he needed to put the album out because “people needed to hear from me now and they needed to hear what I had to say about a few things.” Still, he reached in and provided far more than one could have expected. “Different Love,” “Alive,” “OLS4,” and “Only Human” are odes for any person who’s ever been through any type of adversity. “Dream On” is the most upbeat track on the project but he doesn’t waste type bragging about wealth or fame, it’s a song of inspiration. There’s no fillers on the album, not a wasted verse. Just real raps, gritty thoughts and the final product, Some Love Lost is the best album of 2014. —Kevin Benoit
In a genre where concept albums are far and between, Pharoahe Monch masterfully connects his 2011 LP W.A.R. with the release of PTSD, an album that details life as an independent artist dealing with depression.
Lyrically sharp is an understatement, as Pharoahe details his thought process on “Losing My Mind” with “My family customs we’re not accustomed to dealing with mental health/
It was more or less an issue for white families with wealth/
Void, I defected, employed self annoyed
Went independent, enjoyed stealth/
Now doctors prescribed sedatives and Prozac/
The rent’s cheaper in the ghetto but you can’t go back.
PTSD deals with issues that are considered taboo as a society, especially those who are celebrities and therefore deemed shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Pharoahe fearlessly lays his emotions down while passing out the syllabus on how to rap. —Joseph Thomas
Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint
The symbolic reference to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint in Nicki’s The Pinkprint is pretty much dead on. An album culminating the experience growth and life times of an artist at their peak. Where it falls short in comparison to me was the trend setting innovation. The Pinkprint is perfect release for Minaj’s career as a balance of a much needed Hip-Hop appeal after years of Pop/Rap but amid the 20+ tracks there seemed a lack of cohesion or direction and ended up sounding more like a test run of sorts. While it was great to see a more genuine stripped down side of Minaj some of the listings fall short of greatness and crowd the album as emotional fluff pieces. That aside the album does regain some great momentum with assisted tracks by Beyonce, Jeremih & Meek Mill. All told it is definitely worth a full listen. —George Robinson
Kid Ink surprised me with his sophomore album, and I’m sure he surprised a lot of people as well. He didn’t make the most noise this year, but his album was a pretty quality foray into the world of Hp-Hop. He’s not the most lyrical artist coming out the West and he doesn’t represent the gangsta lifestyle others may portray, but there’s a knack to bring a story over a great production and honestly you can’t go wrong with that. The formula is simple on My Own Lane, team up with some of the best artists, like Chris Brown, Tyga, Pusha T, King Los and August Alsina, then get them to spit hot fire on beats from some of the hottest producers in the game right now, like DJ Mustard, Cardiak, The Runners and Sake Pasé. Sounds simple enough, but this was one of the few Hip-Hop albums all year that put it all together for an entire cohesive album. —Kevin Benoit
After years of frequent collaboration, Producer/emcees Alchemist and Evidence finally released a full length LP under the Step Brothers moniker. The star of course is the production, the instrumental version of the album alone warrants a few front to back listens. Alchemist continues to cement himself as an expert daring beatsmith, using the weirdest of samples whilst not losing that sinister, menacing, signature ALC sound. Evidence cements himself as the slow flow king, and Alchemist uses his much improved emcee skills to keep up, clever wordplay and wild references abound. Guests such as Roc Marciano, Styles P and Action Bronson all add their trademark flair. This was a fun one. —Jeffrey Barreau
Killer Mike and El-P bum-rushed the indie scene with last year’s critically acclaimed debut, Run the Jewels. Now Hip-Hop’s unsung heroes are bogarting it—generating mainstream buzz with a follow-up that embodies the political overtones and social commentary of the times. Both rappers spit with the same urgency that made the first LP a dynamically sound listening experience, managing to strike lightening twice in a bottle, and unleashing it on wax in the process. Straight head-banging beats combined with socially conscious, mean-mugging rhymes all day, every day. —Alex Bracetti @AlexBracetti
We’d like to hear your thoughts on our list. What did we miss? What doesn’t belong? What would you add?