After an action-packed 2013 in hip hop, many of the heavyweights decided to have a “rest year” it seems.
In fact, the following Top 10 will be conspicuously devoid of the most prominent MC’s – but that’s not due to me being contrary, it’s simply because those choice few that did release albums generally underwhelmed. And so it was left wide open for the underdogs to run through 2014.
Honourable mentions should go to Big KRIT, DJ Quik, Black Milk and Nicki Minaj.
All in all, it’s been an average year for hip hop – hardly any classics, but quite a few really solid joints… And so the year 2014 gets a 5.5 out of 10 from me. Peace and have a great 2015!
TOP TEN OF THE YEAR
Depending on your viewpoint, Logic’s official debut album, after a number of mixtapes, was well received, brilliantly executed and a massive success, OR… An absolutely shameless rip-off of Kendrick Lamar. I’ll leave it to you to decide, but it’s worth checking out, nonetheless (although it’s no classic, sorry). Like Logic, although in a far more overt way, the principal concern with Your Old Droog is how he has entirely – 100% – modelled his whole rap persona/flow/lyrics and (probably walk) on Nas. Listening to his debut album is just absolutely bizarre, a dead ringer in every conceivable way. However, get past that and you’ll probably enjoy this a lot.
Totally cheating by putting these two together in one spot (again). However, since they have started beefing, it seems apt to remind them of their somewhat symbiotic relationship. YG’s album was just a brutally effective club gangsta rap joint, and DJ Mustard’s shit was clearly along the same lines. Both dope.
8) Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons
It would be fair to expect little new from another Ghostface album, and “36 Seasons” ended up being a pleasant surprise by enlisting fellow OG’s like AZ and Kool G Rap to excellent effect. The “script” ends up being a bit immaterial, but the music is well above par and extremely coherent throughout, whilst Ghost and his pals go pretty hard. I kinda enjoyed this more than “Twelve Reasons To Die” actually.
7) Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Whilst “Black Up” was clearly superior (and one of my favourite rap albums of the last 5 years), the follow up from Shabazz Palaces is still incredibly interesting. In fact, I probably still haven’t soaked it all in months after its release. If you are bored of the same old same old, then albums like this will challenge your outlook on hip hop in the best possible way.
6) Royce Da 5’9″ & DJ Premier – PRhyme
An album with only eight full songs and an interlude, but FINALLY we get a DJ Premier joint album with a top-level lyricist. It is no coincidence that the best songs generally feature guest MC’s (such as Jay Electronica, Common, Ab-Soul and Killer Mike). Royce still brings the heat, but he usually sounds like he tries just a bit harder when he has company – that’s because he’s one ultra- competitive artist. It also puts into context a joint Primo/Nas LP – I don’t think it would work, that ship has sailed.
5) Pharoahe Monch – PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
It’s easy to forget that this even got released (same with Common’s “Nobody’s Smiling”, which was regrettable). But Monch did a brilliant job on PTSD. It’s probably my favourite album of his, in many respects, and well over 20 years on, the guy is still doing it at the highest level. PM is an enigma, but when the stars align, it’s a wonder to witness.
4) Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
It’s come to the point where anything that comes out of Banks’ mouth in interviews genuinely annoys me (I have my reasons). However, there is no denying that her debut album – which was more of a shock release than anything else this year, in many ways – was quite superb. It’s a genre-mashing smorgasbord of fascinating beats, with an artist who can genuinely sing and rap her arse off. The whole world is praying she can get her head right and have a prosperous career – at 23, she has time on her side, at least.
3) J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
It’s no great surprise that Cole has sold FHD by the bucket load – the surprise campaign gave enough time for his fans to anticipate it, and the “no singles” approach worked well. It’s an intriguing album in many ways, and as I’ve repeatedly said before, J. Cole will never be a legendary rapper, but that doesn’t mean he can’t release good albums that sell healthily and add a lot to the game. The response to “2014 Forest Hills Drive” will only embolden Jermaine, and he probably needs that shot of confidence.
2) Iggy Azalea – Reclassified
Look, I’m as shocked as you are. After spinning “The New Classic” a few times, I basically forgot it even existed until “Fancy” started worming its way into my brain. But I stand by my review of the re-up “Reclassified” – as a Hip Pop album, it just WORKS so well. That’s due to a sequence of intelligent decisions, fun instrumentals, catchy choruses and an MC with decent delivery. No, it’s not the highest of ambitions but there is no doubt that if you are assessing an album on what the artist aimed for, then Iggy Azalea undeniably achieved what she set out to do. It’s also worth mentioning that this is another album in my Top 10 that hovers around the 40-minute mark in length – in fact, over half the list does so, including the number one album of the year…
1) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
It’s almost a shame that RTJ2 didn’t face stiffer competition this year. It wins 2014 hands down by default. However, that would be a massive disservice as frankly, it would be in contention no matter what era it had been released in. Everything about this album is just so fucking cool. Killer Mike and El-P have incredible chemistry together, and this is a rare example of a sequel besting the original. It’s a short, sharp shock (11 songs, 40 minutes) and it demands your attention. The fact that they gave it away for free to fans before the official release was just so fucking gangsta, and when I told my little cousin what Run the Jewels did, he lost his god damn MIND. It’s amazing what Mike and El have accomplished in the past 3 years, and you really want them to keep it going. A flawless RTJ trilogy would – in my eyes – put them up there with that magical early-90’s run from A Tribe Called Quest. But forget hypothetical albums, this is an essential part of the here and now. The first album was the right hook, but RTJ2 bottles up the frustrations of the world into a succinct uppercut. Bravo.