While 2014 may go down as the worst year in history for Hip-Hop albums, there were several artists who cut through the clutter. This is for all of those who didn’t follow the trends and made some of the best music of 2014. For the best Hip-Hop album of the year, check out Part II.
Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons
2013’s Italian opera inspired murder saga Twelve Reasons to Die showed Ghost could master the concept album. It’s no wonder Tony Starks kept the momentum going with 36 Seasons. It doesn’t hurt to hear New York legends AZ, Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap, and Ghost on the same album. This album would be ranked higher if it was not released so late in the year. Ghostface is still the best member of the Wu-Tang Clan.
PRhyme – PRhyme
Lyrics. Check. Beats. Check. What else could you want from Royce Da 5’ 9” and DJ Premiere? The duo delivers just good hip-hop. Something that was in short supply in 2014.
Logic – Under Pressure
2014 seemed to be about the emcee, producer combination. Logic’s collaboration with No I.D. is no exception. Thankfully this album skips commercial for a solid debut by Logic. The future looks exciting, especially if Logic is helping to lead the way.
10. Ab-Soul – These Days…
Surprisingly These Days… was the last album to drop from Top Dawg Entertainment in 2014. After label founder Anthony Tiffith promised six albums in 2014, it was disappointing that the prestigious label only dropped four. The music on this last album dropped in June certainly didn’t disappoint though. Of all his Black Hippy label mates, Ab-Soul seems the most disconnected from this world. This makes his music more spiritual than his peers. Whether this is intentional, and looking at the alubm cover it sure seems that way, Soul balances his way through intelligent and ignorance making a superior record in 2014. The most interesting and climatic point comes on “Closure.” He’s not really rapping here but he is almost telling a story of a morning after that lasts a lifetime. The loneliness is haunting. Move over Kid Cudi, Ab-Soul is 2014’s lonely stoner.
Notable cuts: God’s Reign (Feat. SZA,) Closure, Hunnid Stax
9. NehruvianDOOM – NehruvianDOOM
This album is short and to the point. Bishop Nehru raps over MF DOOM beats. It’s uncomfortable and doesn’t seem like a formidable matchup. That is when MF DOOM is at his best. This is a nice glimpse of a 19 year old Nehru who has salivating potential. No wonder Nas signed the 19-year-old rapper to his new label. Listen to this before the word gets out on Bishop Nehru. Be thankful DOOM ever comes out of the woodwork.
8. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Piñata
Freddie Gibbs has never been a bad rapper. But he has never been anything more than an average rapper. A full-length feature with Madlib has changed all of that. While the duo collaborated earlier on three EPs, it took an album to extract the full potential from this matchup. Feature is the best way to describe this album because it sounds like the hip-hop soundtracks to “Shaft” or “Shaft.” Madlib hasn’t produced as well as he does here since collaborating with MF Doom on “Madvillian.” That collaboration catapulted Doom as one of the greatest underground lyricists to ever live. Hopefully Piñata does the same for Freddie.
Notable Cuts: High (Feat. Danny Brown,) Uno, Scarface, Thuggin’
7. Common – Nobody’s Smiling
This year Common has no time to call out “Sweet” rappers. Common’s face says it all. The violence has to stop in his hometown of Chicago. Common and No I.D. cut through the clutter. The duo have never made a bad album. But the best moment here comes when Common is reminiscing about another favorite producer J. Dilla. Common goes back to a time when violence and the death of his friend weren’t on his mind. This track seems like a distant memory. It’s the last time we’re left smiling. Vince Staples makes two guest appearances reassuring that he is the future of Hip-Hop. His “Hell Can Wait” EP doesn’t hurt his cause either. Common sounds just as relevant here as he did in the early 90s. Common’s lyrics are still powerful, he collaborates with some of the best talent, all over inventive No I.D. production. Now that’s something to smile about.
Notable Cuts: Rewind That, Kingdom Feat. Vince Staples, 7 Deadly Sins
6. The Roots – And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
If you want to rap after the age of 40, just ask The Roots how it’s done. Black Thought continues to be the most underrated rapper ever. The Roots continue to produce incredibly potent music. Even after album number 11.
Nina Simone beautifully introduces all of the characters on this album. This is The Roots second concept album in a row. It is a character study of nocturnal dwellers of the night. They are the saddest souls because they are always surrounded by darkness. They are the outcasts. The ones that will always be alone.
There is a beauty in Simone’s voice but overall there is a sense of sadness. These characters all have flaws that are going to be dissected into minute detail. This album is for the “sex addicted introverts, suckers for a pencil skirt.” But through all of this sin these characters have a chance to leave it all behind but always hold on to their tangible surroundings.
This album further explores the paradoxes contradictions of people praying to God. Shouldn’t they want to go to heaven? But when they see God they turn their back on Him reminiscent of Judas & Peter. The concept album is The Roots most profound effort in exploring spirituality, religion and people’s relationship with God. Which The Roots have not shied away from in the past (See God 2.0)
This album isn’t for the dreamers. It’s for the people who “dreamed a little dream of me but that was an anomaly.”
These people are not fighting for the kingdom of God. Notable guest, Greg Porn is praying, “all thugs go to heaven or to a new hell where there is a Wi-Fi connection.” So he can pay for his sins on PayPal. His idea of getting saved is as dated as they were in the church in the dark ages. Only this time the technology is updated. He is putting up the appearance that he is praying but is not serious showing these contradictions again.
The Roots remind us that it’s not all fun and games like their Tonight Show gig. This is at least their fifth album in a row that focuses on the dissonant notes of life. We are wasting our present when we are looking towards the future. By the end of the album it’s hard not to think about tomorrow with so much turmoil going on in the world. Even though the sun shines, we never know what’s around the corner.
Notable Cuts: Never (Feat. Patty Crash) Understand (Feat. Dice Raw & Greg Porn,) Tomorrow (Feat. Raheem DeVaughn)
Want to see who made the cut for best Hip-Hop album of the year? If so, turn the page for Part II.