Top 5 Hip-Hop and Rap Albums of 2014

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Madlib & Freddie Gibbs’ new cover art for their album.

Christian Santiago, Staff Writer

I’m going to be honest here, 2014 was not that impressive of a year in terms of music. 2013 was a year that was hard to rival. It seemed that in 2013, everyone had a major release that impressed across the boards. While 2014 was not strong, there were still a couple of highlights that impressed the hell out of the music industry. So this is my personal top 5 EP’s, LP’s and mixtapes of 2014. *Please note, I really only listen to hip-hop/rap. That being said, all these projects are hip hop/rap albums. Sorry Taylor Swift fans, 1989 isn’t on here.*

 

Honorable Mention: III – BADBADNOTGOOD

 

#5: 2014 Forest Hills Drives – J. Cole

“With every ounce of strength in his veins to snatch the crown from whoever yall think has it…”

Did anyone expect this album to be this good (except Moneer)? While J. Cole was technically a skilled lyricist, there was something boring about him. He just didn’t have the presence to really stick in people’s conscience as much as a Drake or a Kendrick. Then he dropped off the face of the earth to make this album, and everything changed. Jermaine is hungry, but not for the crown (which he doesn’t even think exists), he’s hungry for attention. He’s hungry for proof that he is a capable rapper, and he’s proved it. The beats are fantastic and his storytelling is sharp. He is facing issues not many people are willing to talk about, like white privilege in hip-hop and the riots in Ferguson. The reason why this isn’t higher on my list is because it came out in the last weeks of 2014, thus it did not have enough time to make a huge impact on this year. But this is still an album to make an average listener into a hardcore fan.

 

#4: #000000 & #FFFFFF – The Neighbourhood

“I paint it all black and paint it all white…”

As someone who never really listened to much music outside of hip hop, I never heard of The Neighbourhood, or their song “Sweater Weather” before. But when I heard that an alt-rock band made a hip hop mixtape (yes, an alt-rock band made a mixtape) my level of interest was piqued. Also known as “Black & White”, this mixtape impresses on every level. The Neighbourhood definitely knows their hip-hop culture, because they picked the best of the current generation to appear on this mixtape, with features from YG, G-Eazy, French Montana and Danny Brown. He even got famous DJ and producer, DJ Drama, to host the mixtape. As “the first band to do a mixtape”, they definitely set the bar high for other acts to come.

 

#3: RTJ2 – Run The Jewels

“Run The Jewels is the answer, your question is ‘What’s Poppin?’”

The first Run The Jewels album was an amazing experiment. With production handled by Brooklyn producer El-P and Southern rapper Killer Mike, Run The Jewels was a strange dynamic duo that combined the gritty, trap-esq  beats with killer lyricism perfectly. Many people thought that when Run The Jewels announced a second offering, they couldn’t live up to the original and fall to the dreaded sophomore slump. But not only did they meet expectations, on some level they surpassed them. If you’re looking for amazing lyrics with banging production, this is one pairing you should check out.

 

#2: Oxymoron – Schoolboy Q

“…all the college students loving Q, we gon’ turn it out until the neighbors wanna party too…”

After the success of good kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar, west coast record label Top Dawg Entertainment was feeling the pressure to have another hit record. Enter Schoolboy Q  with Oxymoron. Q basically made a modern day gangsta rap album and succeeded across the boards. While we live in an age of hip-hop where stories takes precedent over beats, and while Q isn’t the most skilled lyricist, he still delivers funny lines and catchy hooks over beats produced by heavyweights like The Alchemist and Pharrell Williams. The features are also fantastic, with modern greats like 2 Chainz, Tyler the Creator and fellow TDE signees Kendrick and Jay Rock to old school legends like Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan and legendary west coast rapper Kurupt. Q really wanted an authentic 90’s west coast sound with a modern twist, and the Oxymoronic idea came one of the best gangsta rap albums in a long time.

 

#1: Piñata – Madlib & Freddie Gibbs

“…pants gon’ be saggin’ til I’m 40, still lyrically sharper than any short bus shawty”

This album has been anticipated since 2011, and it was absolutely worth the wait. Producer Madlib and Indiana born rapper Freddie Gibbs made a modern classic. Described as “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax”, Madlib brings his signature style of production yet again. Piñata is both a dark album and a light album, an album that describes the hardships of the gangster lifestyle to instrumentals that makes you think of a summer day in Los Angeles. In many ways this album is a lot like Madvilliany, the infamous pairing of Madlib and MF DOOM. But while it’s younger brother used  60’s cartoon samples to drive home the idea of a supervillian, Madlib uses 70’s slow jams as the primary samples to drive home the idea of the gangster lifestyle in the summer. Before this album, I had never heard of Freddie Gibbs before (except for a fantastic feature on Danny Brown’s last LP, Old). But Gibbs delivered, with a flow that can last for days and concepts not many people talk about post 2005. There are almost no flaws to be seen with Piñata, and with features from modern hip hop heavyweights, it’s no wonder this album is on everyone’s radar and will be for a long time.