With another year of new music coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the five albums we feel stood out amongst the rest in the genre of hip hop.
After careful consideration and debate amongst staff writers, we were able to assemble our best shot at a “Top 5 Hip Hop Albums of 2014,” list. From the biggest rap stars in the genre, to some underground Internet sensations, we deliberated long and hard to select five albums that stood out among the rest.
Even though it was a consensus among us that 2014 could easily be a forgotten year in rap, it wasn’t without it’s pleasant surprises. For every heavily anticipated album that flopped (The Marshall Mathers LP 2), there was an unexpectedly solid project (Oxymoron) released as well.
Regardless of how the year can be summed up as a whole, we came to the conclusion that these five were the cream of the crop.
1) Run The Jewels 2 — Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels might possibly be the most harmonious rap duo we’ve heard since M.O.P.
After storming the hip hop beaches with their debut album Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P did not disappoint with their sophomore project, Run The Jewels 2 in 2014.
This album exemplified indie hip hop in every way imaginable, with socially aware lyrics and the most contemporary production there is right now.
To put it bluntly, Run the Jewels as a whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike any other ordinary collaboration, it’s nearly impossible to decide who the Batman, and who’s the Robin in this whack-rap-music-fighting-duo. It’s a trap easily fallen into, and one we’re more than happy to avoid on this album.
Whether it’s pressing play at home or at the venue, Run the Jewels bring it. The aggression and enthusiasm, matched with clear cut technical skill from years of practice, puts Run the Jewels 2 as our rap album of the year and top five for overall album of the year.
For more on “Run the Jewels 2,” check out Blake Schwarz’s full album review here.
2) Hell Can Wait — Vince Staples
Evan reviewed this EP not long after it was released and his feeling haven’t changed since.
While it’s difficult to showcase an artist’s skill in only 24 minutes, Vince Staples used the short run time to his advantage and left out a lot of the frills that we commonly hear included in today’s music.
There are no skits or interludes—simply seven tracks of captivating lyricism atop production that is perfectly tailored to his strengths.
It’s been a quick run up the charts for Staples after dominating on the track on Earl Sweatshirt’s self-titled album. He proved that the spotlight will not phase him, and that his gritty rhymes and vibrant storytelling are good enough to notch this album at No. 2 on the year.
For more on Vince Staples’ “Hell Can Wait”, check out Evan Hogenkamp’s full album review here.
3) 2014 Forest Hills Drive — J. Cole
Reception of this album has seemed to become a point of contention among a lot of devout listeners in the community of rap listeners. Even amongst us, as Brian and Evan included it in their top five while Blake left it off.
But after listening to Cole’s latest release, we found it to be an intentional reversion of his original sound that saw great success with his first universally recognized mixtape, The Warm Up.
As Brian mentioned in his album review a few short weeks ago, Cole has a very specific lane and when he stays in it, he’s extremely successful. Previous studio works such as Cole World: The Sideline Story and Born Sinner saw him stray from those boundaries in some ways.
On 2014 Forest Hills Drive, it became abundantly clear that Cole’s tastes had crept back to what he favored in 2010, and his lyricism followed suit.
As you actively try and search for your favorite aspect of this album, you realize it’s not necessarily what it included, but what it excluded. There aren’t any features by artists on a hook, or a guest verse on any track. From the production to the visuals, 2014 Forest Hills Drive is more subdued than any other mainstream release in recent memory.
The underlying message of showing gratitude to those who sacrificed for your well being, along with the dangers of blind ambition, is what makes this album noteworthy in a genre as superficial as rap.
This album was good, but its rank across this list is most certainly helped by the year it was released. You can read Brian Lendino’s in-depth album review here.
4) Cadillactica — Big K.R.I.T.
It’s time for the world to educate thyself on the wonders of Big K.R.I.T.
K.R.I.T. has established himself as one of the most consistent rappers in the game over the past few years and Cadillactica only bolstered that notion. The album employs tracks both lyrically captivating and abstract in thinking. He also produced ten of the tracks himself.
The acronym K.R.I.T. stands for “King Remembered In Time”, and although Cadillactica is only his second studio album, K.R.I.T., is the unanimous “King of the South” after the high praise being sung by critics and fans alike.
5) Pinata — Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
Again, in a year where a lot of the rap sounds commercially contrived, these two are certainly doing their own thing without pandering for commercial success with silly hooks or hollow boasts.
Comprised of Madlib’s serious beats matched with Gibbs’ unique flow, Pinata is an easy pick for 2014’s top five, even if it comes in at No. 5.
As frequent collaborators as these two have been over the last couple years, it’s no wonder their sounds fit like peanut butter and jelly. They just go perfect together.
Whether or not rap music’s “State of Emergency” is truly in the rear view or not, the artistry behind a DJ’s craft has been nearly eradicated with the shift of attention being placed almost solely on today’s MC’s. Madlib isn’t the turntablist that Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash or Kool Herc were, but his work on this project does prove that there is still intricate production out there.
Brian Lendino, Evan Hogenkamp and Blake Schwarz all contributed to this post.