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Eargrub’s Notable Hip Hop of 2014 (Part 1)
2013 may have had massive albums like Acid Rap, Wolf, and Yeezus, but 2014’s Hip hop releases did not disappoint. This year was home to production trailblazing, modern classics coming from artists you wouldn’t have expected had it in them, and fresh faces who shook our expectations and torn up the scene. Get your fire emojis ready fam, here’s the most important Hip hop of 2014.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2:
The sequel to Run The Jewel’s 2013 smash hit self-titled project, October’s Run The Jewels 2 is an album that flows and cascades powerfully like a mighty river. The duo (composed of Killer Mike and El-P) had a great balance of verses on their first release, but for the sequel Killer Mike seems to have sauntered into the emcee spotlight. His verses were the one’s dropping my jaw. This isn’t to say that El-P doesn’t have his place here, the dude provides much needed lyrical support as well as some of the craziest production from 2014. El-P plays a very Madvilliany-era Madlibesque role on RTJ2, providing distinct and unduplicable production while still jumping in on tracks and dropping verses. In fact he drops some of the most memorable gems here. Continuing on, most of the hooks are crazy strong earworms, especially on the first half of this LP. As testament, I’m not sure I’d trust a person who doesn’t blast the chorus to “Lie, Cheat, Steal”. That’s another thing, this is an album that demands to be listened to at a high volume. I’m not a dude who needs their music booming by any means, but mothers are going to try and ban this album for how much ear damage it’s going to cause. RTJ2 is musical masochism at its finest and I was not fully ready for how kick ass it is. Shit’s real bananas.
Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo:
This young Chattanoogan TDE member released a debut EP way back in January that perfectly walks the line between deeply personal introspection and universal accessibility, and I for one think people haven’t been giving Isaiah the credit he deserves. Cilvia Demo accomplishes all the little things in a release that you don’t need but nonetheless love when they are present. The tracks don’t over stay their welcome, the struggles that are explored are very relatable, and each song has its own well-executed sound. I mean, it’s even the little stuff. Personally, I love a title track that is characteristic of the project as a whole, and “Cilvia Demo” is just that. The release was very well described by the emcee himself when he talked about its development: “At first it was going to be like eight tracks for one-in-a-half-minutes, just verses. Then it was going to be some alternative, black-power shit. Then it was going to be some eclectic-alien shit. Then it was going to be some Southern-banging shit. Now it’s kind of all of that, except for the banging shit. It ain’t with the intention of turning up to it, that’s not my shit. I just want you to vibe out to it. Have a good time and put you in a certain mood. It’s real peaceful, real calmful.” And I can agree with all of that (especially “calmful”), but here’s what I have to say: Cilvia Demo is a project that is honest enough that you can connect with it on a very human level. It’s raw, sentimental, and passionate. I couldn’t say this is the best release of 2014, but it’s lasted among my personal favorites.
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!:
Flying Lotus has one of if not the most impressive discography among his contemporaries. But there’s an immediate caveat: FlyLo’s music can’t really be compared to anything else, so it’s tough to even conceive the idea that he has people he’s trying to best. His fusion-Jazz/electronic/Hip-hop/alien-sounding releases are out of the best corner of left field. Flying Lotus is like the kid in school that’s super wild and listens to the best bands and keeps to himself but is the person you wish you were hanging out with. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you with full confidence that Flying Lotus is a human like us. And not to transition too seamlessly, the sound of You’re Dead! is very other-worldly and tough to explain. To add to that, by their nature heavily instrumental projects such as this are highly conceptual, so any and all meaning is up to interpretation. And I guess this is all to say that I can’t tell you much about what this album means, but I can tell you concretely that You’re Dead! is a damn beautiful LP. From track one to 19 this project is a steady stream of emotional, formidable excellence. It’s a shame that we are a musical society of single tracks because this is a release that I would never advise listening to bits and pieces of. So, being that my words can’t do its lush production and resonance justice, sit down for a while and explore You’re Dead! from beginning to end knowing that it’s one of a kind.
Travi$ Scott – Days Before Rodeo:
May I present the mixtape that made Kanye West rethink the sound of his new 7th album: the followup to 2013’s Owl Pharaoh, Travi$ Scott’s Days Before Rodeo. Travi$ Scott finally dropped the project with the breath and sound he’s been trying to achieve for years. Simultaneously trappy and timeless, as well as both ignorant and sincere, I see this mixtape as a huge success for the Houston rapper just by the amount of engagement people seem to be having with it. But, also, I think the main success of Days Before Rodeo is how it’s such a great amalgamation of so many things. The lyricism is one part honest introversion, staying very heartfelt and intimate on a track like “Drugs You Should Try” and another part entertaining ignorance on a track like “Basement Freestyle”, which mixes farty synths, steady basskicks, and a hook of “All this money on the table / We don’t want relations, we don’t want no conversations / Fuck around and change your world.” On the production side, we’ve got another spectrum with one side being dark, heavy, and ever trudging forward (fittingly so) on a track like “Zombies” to “Drugs You Should Try”, which is an absolutely beautiful blend of space-y guitars and an overall cloudiness of production, slowly adding in some well-placed 808’s and high hats. This mixtape dances between the monstrous and the whimsical and I hardly noticed a middle ground. Other notes: Travis has a real ear for completion in his music, but with that being said, the bonus track is a great post-mixtape suppliment. Just as a single track it’s ridiculously fun. And “Bacc” isn’t really meant to be thought about in regards to thematic prevalence, but if you do, god damn. What an unflinching shift in tone. Either way it’s a wild way to end the tape.
Lil Herb – Welcome to Fazoland/Pistol P Project:
Chicago Drill emcee Lil Herb dropped two grab-bag mixtapes that were pretty hit or miss. Both lacked concentration, which isn’t too shocking since the music from the Drill scene is usually pretty one-dimensial. The reason why I’m writing about both of these releases is that I think they are entirely too slept on for the potential that they show. In my mind G Herbo has already separated himself from most of the other Drill scene artists with these two projects, so now I’d really love to see him capitalize. I have a feeling if this dude focuses on his it project, whether that be his label debut, a concept EP or otherwise, I can see him making it critically. Like, I cannot listen to “Real” and not have high hopes for this dude’s career. If he uses the success of his Welcome to Fazoland mixtape and becomes a bit more selective with his collaborations like he has been with recent collabs like the “Fight or Flight” remix or the recently released “Knucklehead” joint with Earl Sweatshirt, I can see him making some huge waves. So, have your fire emojis at the ready, and here’s hoping Herbie really focuses and hones his sound in 2015.
YG – My Krazy Life:
Compton rapper YG wowed his critics by dropping an album that wasn’t just rich in narrative but expansive in its listener base. This is the project this year that I heard most on the radio, which is important whether we like it or not. Enmeshed in gang culture and soaked in project influences, you can’t expect YG ever to wear his heart and emotions on his Blood-red sleeve, but a song like “Really Be” has such a great place on this project. YG seems like a dude who needs to talk about what he’s seen. We also should hold this album dear because DJ Mustard’s pioneering production probably won’t be heard this focused and thriving any time soon. DJ Mustard produced My Krazy Life and helped give the release much more of a distinct identity sonically. But, according to this, the two have some heavy beef. But, you can read our extended review if you want more reasons to mourn this loss of this connection. Also, side note, I’ve purposefully not mentioned Blame It On the Streets. On the low it’s pretty butt. The only new joint that is notable is “2015 Flow”, which, to YG’s credit, rises above the rest of the album.
Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait:
I’m going to be straight up with y’all and say that Hell Can Wait is most likely my favorite release of this year. So, fair warning, this may be pure subjective bias-ridden praise, but here’s a bit of my reasoning. Firstly, I think Vince Staples is one of the rappers in Hip hop with a sound that is unarguably solidified. The release that Hell Can Wait is working up to, whatever it may be, will be the same sound we hear on this release, just further sharpened and tightened, because it is far from needing work.Vince’s rapping is characterized by flow that is impeccably confident, lyricism that is blunt, well written, and culturally expressive, and smart production choices that rock your conscious. As said by California emcee Earl Sweatshirt, “he’s a freak, dude . . . He takes the shortest amount of time to do the tightest shit. I like to keep Vince around when I’m writing shit because I think he’s better than me.” Vince is a rapper’s rapper. He doesn’t dip into the stereotypical flex bar territory and stays comfortably and successfully in his own domain, rapping about his upbringing and the violence and chaos that surrounded it. Plus, Hell Can Wait is the project that is still affecting me. Just now, as I was listening to “Fire” for this write up, I caught a the bar “My momma had me where them babies havin’ babies at” and got goose bumps. Everything in Hell Can Wait is just so well put together. Literally the only flaw I could hear is that the hook on the closing track is kind of weak. Past that the rest is golden.
I’m also a big fan of Vince’s other 2014 release Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, which you can peep our review for here.
Death Grips – Niggas on the Moon:
We’ve got an extended review of this project here, so I’ll just be underscoring some of our defense of this project and its place in the Death Grips discography. Niggas on the Moon is the first half to the group’s supposed last release, a double LP entitled The Powers The B. This was dropped right around the time that Death Grips revealed this image, announcing that after they drop the second half of the LP the group will be officially broken up. That being said, I think that however Jenny Death turns out, the heads will be appeased. The first half of this LP didn’t get this guaranteed appreciation. In fact, many DG fans saw it as a misstep in the same vein as 2013’s Government Plates. I, for one, enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was as masterful as The Money Store, but it really isn’t the runt that everyone is thinking of it as. This project stands on its own and has some really crazy tracks that deserve to be considered. Like, “Up My Sleeves” is like walking through a tornado with a broken record player whipping through the air around you. What else do you expect from Death Grips? I think when people get annoyed with Death Grips for not aspiring towards their fans’ expectations they are selling this experimental act we hold so dear short. Appreciating Death Grips requires understanding the music along with its rebellion and chaos, and knowing that your expectations as a listener is what Death Grips is going against. After all, defying expectations is what Death Grips is all about. So with that being said, listen and dig in, because Niggas on the Moon is deeper than others give it credit for.
A$AP Ferg – Ferg Forever:
A$AP Mob member and a born and raised Harlem emcee, the self-proclaimed Trap Lord A$AP Ferg released his second major project following 2013’s Trap Lord. Ferg Forever is a super fun oddball of a mixtape that displays Ferg’s ability as a rapper and (surprisingly) a vocalist very well. The Fergestein has made leaps and bounds in terms of progression since Trap Lord. This isn’t to say that every track is as off-the-wall, unexpected, and innovative as one of the project’s singles “Doe-Active”, but it keeps you on your toes. What I need to give Ferg some props for past how animated his vocals are here is how much love he is showing to the game’s female rappers. We’ve got contributions from MIA, Crystal Caines, SZA, and the darkhorse of female rap, MZ 007. There’s also lots of great production choices by Ferg. He recruits the likes of Mississippi big brother Big Krit, the youngin Childish Major, Clams Casino, and Mike Will. I think Ferg Forever is a great mixtape but could do with a bit more focus. I’m not worried about Ferg in 2015. This project helped shed light on how smart of an artist he actually is. I know he has some stuff we aren’t ready for.
Also, “Let It Go 2″ is everything we could have asked for and more.
Freddie Gibbs/Madlib – Piñata:
The long awaited Freddie Gibbs and Madlib connection came up huge in early 2014, being considered critically one of the best, most well-refined albums of the past couple of years. The heads had hopes high enough to give the release an almost unfair amount of anticipation and hype. But the two talents come together in the smoothest way possible. Gibbs enters with a deep, eclectic voice to deliver very eloquent story telling while Madlib continues to march forward through his well-worn stomping grounds of melding samples into beats to create production that fully stand on its own. We went in depth in our extended review, which you can find here. If all you want are the facts, all you need to know that this is the most timeless project of 2014. Piñata is the project that will be among the classics of our era.
Mick Jenkins – The Water[s]:
Mick Jenkins arrived on the scene this year and instantly became the artist who is likely next up in the Hip hop game. He’s being very smart on how he’s building his foundation. His The Water[s] mixtape is a great example of this. He established himself as the new lyrically sharp conscious rapper on the block, dropping really smart bars like “just before you forgot about him, overlooked or started doubting, I doused it with the flow and started talking all this water shit / It’s like I started drowning, in truth, the thought is pounding / I started counting the loopholes in they stories that they tell us”. I am also really loving the character he’s playing on “Jerome.” Character tracks allow an artist to really explore another sound while still keeping a strong identity otherwise. It’s something that rappers new and old have had immense success with, whether it be MF Doom or Tyler, the Creator. Demographic wise, the best way I can decide his reach is that he is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, and that comes from him being a really respectable artist. He’s tackling the issues that need to be talked about. Past that, I think that the dude is set up to be a mad compelling act in Hip hop. Coming from the city of Chicago while the violence of Drill music is so prevalent and being so well spoken and respected really early on in his career, I could see him being Chicago’s Kendrick Lamar. Watch out for Mick in 2015 y’all.
Still looking for Oxymoron, No Label 2, or Banco? Peep the second part of this list here!