I guess I really am more blogger than rapper these days. Snide comment aside, 2014 was a weird year for music. For every Black Messiah which dropped, we had a one-hit wonder make their way into the fray. Artists spoke out about Ferguson, and sometimes did more harm than good. Azealia Banks decided to go at everyone. And I still wanted Dugee F Buller to do a full-length GDLU. But, this isn’t an editorial devoted on running down every 2014 happening. Without further ado, I present, in no real order, my top seventeen albums of 2014. You’re probably wondering why three of these are #DARBusiness. Well, simply put, these albums were some of my favorites of the year. For albums where there aren’t embeds, click on the cover art to hear the albums on Spotify. If you like it, be sure to support your favorite artists and buy it if you can.
Albums in this sense are projects which had more than 7 songs. That’s why projects such as DK aka Wayne Watts’ Windows Theory 1, Dugee’s GDLU, Jay Wyse’s Choose Wysely and other EP-length projects are not included in this list. Be sure to check out the projects I just named as well.
Speed on the Beat – Death of the King
I’ll admit to being a little partial to this one, since it is my own album. However, the story presented and the way it’s presented is nothing short of Pulp Fiction-esque. Taking storytelling cues from Pulp Fiction, Lost, and Breaking Bad, I set out to present an album about a man who was on the verge of losing everything and how he had to claw back out to get where he needed to be (but presented it in a way that was somewhat jumbled and not fully revealed until you listen through using the “alternate” chronology. However, the lo-fi aesthetic can rub people the wrong way. Did I know that going in? Hell, yes. However, while the lo-fi creates a somewhat unreliable narrator and calls to question some of the events, thus creating a more complex album, the aesthetic sometimes masked some of the project’s lyricism. The story was great, but it’s because of the story that the lyricism is somewhat overlooked, both by myself and by other listeners. That and the fact that DOTK is personal as all hell and somewhat exclusive by design.
Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron
I got tired of “Studio” after the tenth listen. However, Schoolboy’s album was something to sit back and say “damn” to. Why? Well, it, just like one of my other top sixteen, was the complete opposite of a GKMC. And thankfully so. Oxymoron wasn’t as cohesive as that other album in on the list, though. For every high the album produced, we got an “eh…” to decent follow-up. That kind of took me out of the groove for the album. But, its rawness gives us an album that’s a great introduction to Schoolboy Q if you’ve missed out on him before for some reason.
Stalley – Ohio
Stalley’s proper debut was an album that was great for when it dropped, but subsequent listens lose a tiny bit of its glossy paint. That’s not to say that the album is bad. If it were, I would’ve had it in my worst albums list. It’s just that it suffers from some of the same flaws that kept me from being completely enamored with, say, Live from the Underground. It’s more of a mood album with the concept of showcasing life in Ohio through Stalley’s UGK-colored glasses than a conventional “classic.” It’s still, by all means, an album that I’d recommend.
Logic – Under Pressure
I’ll have to agree with some critics when they say that Logic sounds like Cole, Kendrick, Drake, etc. That didn’t mean that the guy’s proper debut wasn’t a good album. When Logic was comfortable with actually being Logic, it made for some pretty memorable music.
Cooley – 47/Fly Rebel Society – reFRSH
While the projects are completely different, they made up a uniformed look at one of the more underrated collectives in the DMV. For more on the FRS, be sure to check out my review of reFRSH over on Thee Arteest.
Shokus Apollo – Apolloveli
Apollovelli by Shokus Apollo
Apolloveli is an album that’s a bit infuriating in its approach. Why? The album is great, but some of the songs on the album left me wanting more. For instance, “RNF” is a vibe-heavy “smokers’ anthem.” However, the song is only about two verses. It’s unconventional, yes. But, it left me wanting another verse, even just some “shit talking” to flesh out the track.
True God – Pursuing Happiness
Pursuing Happiness by True God True’s probably planning to have me catch several fades for saying this, but PH is an album that you kind of have to be in the mood to listen to. Even though it’s lighter than, say, Three7One, it’s still some pretty heavy stuff (even if the beats aren’t heavy). That kind of inaccessibility at points may scare some people away and not allow the album to get a fair look. It’s an album that’s incredibly personal, possibly even more so than DOTK. And like DOTK, that personal aspect is its greatest strength–and the reason why more people may not be able to get into it. It’s still an album deserving of one of my top seventeen.
Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy
When I first heard of OME, I was blown away, mainly because this guy was doing something similar to what I’ve been doing with the “no-fi” stuff. Dark Comedy is a surreal album, one that has a sense of “awesome” that I can’t really put into words. Why would this album get placed over, say, a DOTK? Well, it’s more cohesive by design. DOTK is a purposely jumbled album and focuses more on the story versus, at points, the lyricism. If you’re looking for a lo-fi album with a less-overarching story that isn’t as focused on the presentation versus the content at points, Dark Comedy is your album.
Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Taste
This album was years in the making and it really started to seem that Ms. Banks would be known more for pissing people off (she often had legitimate points, though, regardless of how she spoke on them) than music. Then, this album dropped. It’s not perfect, but what it lacks in “perfection,” it makes up in a willingness to buck conventional hip-hop trends and with a healthy dose realness and honesty (they are different things, by the way). Why does Broke get on this list? Well, it made me actually listen to Azealia Banks versus dismissing her when she started to tweet/speak/do whatever. I’m late to the party, but she’s actually pretty intelligent on a lot of topics, even if it gets missed in her going in on people.
J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Contrary to many hip-hop sites, I did not find FHD to be in my top five. It’s a good album, but (if I were ranking) it suffers from a few things that keep me from saying it’s top five. Mainly, I’m referring to Cole’s embracing of the corniness of some of his lines. Yes, it shows honesty. Yes, it shows that he’s “aware.” But, instead of focusing on the “too easy” lines, he could have just made a couplet or two showcasing the Cole we’ve seen glimpses of. However, even with its “corn” factor, it was one of the better albums of the past year.
Iggy Aza–I can’t even finish that one without laughing. I had to have one laugh on this one, right. But, one album that actually surprised me was Honest by Future.
Sure, it had one of the most ridiculous songs in recent memory (“Trophy”) and Lil’ Wayne comparing his sex to racist murders (“Karate Chop”), but the album was solid. It was catchy, it showcased Future in a light that wasn’t just sing-songy foolishness (even when he was doing sing-songy foolishness). Plus, the album showed a lot of growth from the artist. On top of that, it’s trippy, but not too trippy.
Wale – Festivus
I’m aware that this was (technically) a mixtape. But, Wale’s mixtape was better than a lot of peoples’ albums this year. It was an ample prelude to The Album About Nothing and showcased more of a “freer” Wale. If he can continue this freedom into 2015, I’ve no doubt that TAAN will be on a list similar to this next December.
D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah
While this album isn’t exactly hip-hop, it features many elements which present themselves in hip-hop, so I feel it fits. D’Angelo pulled a Beyonce, presenting an album seemingly out of nowhere. That’s pretty much where the comparisons between the two albums (need to) end. Black Messiah was the album that not too many know they needed, but once it dropped, they knew they wanted it and had to have it. Memes about D’Angelo’s lyrical complexities aside, the album is heavy while still giving you the groove.
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Honestly, I don’t think I can say much about this album that hasn’t already been said. Just…go…listen. NOW!
Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica
This album, if I were ranking, would be my album of the year. If you want to know more about Cadillactica, just check out my review of it here.
YG – My Krazy Life
If the Grammys are too hung up on…others to see that this album deserved a nomination, that’s their loss. I’ll be honest: when I first heard some of the songs off the album, I wasn’t that impressed. I liked them, but songs such as “Who Do You Love?” and “My Nigga” were more club-worthy anthems than memorable songs. However, when I listened to the completed project, I was given, in some ways, a sequel to GKMC in the sense that Krazy showcases another side of being a young black male in Compton. But, the album has managed to stand on its own, shedding that somewhat pejorative label of being “just like GKMC.” Why? Well, simply put, it’s a bit of an antithesis to GKMC. Unlike Oxymoron, I personally found Krazy to be more cohesive as mentioned above.
Blu – Good to Be Home
It’s Blu. It’s his most solid albums since Below the Heavens (which is still one of my all-time favorite albums). Isn’t that all you really need?