By watchLOUD Staff
Mainstream rap in 2014 wasn’t that great – yeah, we know – but what’s better than bitching and moaning about 12 months of hip-hop is digging deep below the surface to find quality music that many people might not know of. 2014 had plenty of that.
Our first annual Best Rap Albums Of The Year are a mix of big and small artists. Some don’t get the attention they deserve, while others have loyal fanbases that support them no matter what. Here at WatchLOUD, we took a wide-ranging look at the entire scope of rap music released this year. Then we chose what’s unique, what works, what grabbed us. And what we got was hours and hours of joy. We don’t have time for all that pessimism.
So fire up your Spotify and get ready to add a lot more albums to your library, because these are the 25 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2014.
25. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
If you don’t like your hip-hop aesthetically experimental, skip this one, but if you hoped Azealia Banks would shoot for the same sound her smash hit “212” laid the groundwork for, Broke With Expensive Taste is for you. Structurally, the album is all over the place. Araabmuzik supplies a Harlem banger here with “Ice Princess,” Lil’ Internet drops a throbbing club anthem there with “Heavy Metal and Reflective.” The overarching sound is electro rap, with Azealia going Bladerunner over futuristic beats the likes of which we’ve never really heard before.
What holds the album together across 16 songs is Azealia’s adroit, agile raps. She is a chameleon, able to rhyme slow or quick with the sharpest disdain. It’s one of the most unique albums of 2014, but it might take some time for people to get used to.
24. YG – My Krazy Life
YG exceeded expectations on his major label debut My Krazy Life, pairing not only with DJ Mustard for radio hits like “Who Do You Love?” and “My Nigga,” but also with Metro Boomin’ for the divergent “1AM” and Terrace Martin for the vulnerable “Sorry Momma.”
The success of My Krazy Life, however, owes not to YG’s lyrical skill, for which there’s a low ceiling, but rather for his penchant to craft fun, simple hooks packaged for dancefloors, lowriders, and beach parties. The album follows an arc parallel to that of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d. city, only YG is in the streets that Kendrick poetically observes. Perhaps that’s where the split in fanship is – Kendrick lovers would prefer to be at home, but YG listeners can’t help but spill champagne on a club couch.
My Krazy Life is fun, painful, buoyant, and dark, all at different times. It is an invariably West Coast record, and in today’s pandering environment of pan-regionalism, YG’s album is a wakeup call for artists to get back to their roots.
23. Joe Budden – Some Love Lost
Joe Budden has had quite a year to say the least and goes deep in his latest EP Some Love Lost. The Slaughterhouse rapper lets us in on his mindset over the past year since his previous release No Love Lost. The EP gives us the fourth installment of his infamous “Original Love Shit” along with seven original songs featuring singers Emanny and Felicia Temple. The reality TV champ goes in on tracks like “Alive” sharing how he feels about the current state of his life as well as his opinions of what’s going on in the world. “Seein’ young blacks gettin’ killed weekly that’s a moot fact/ If these coppers shoot at me, trust me I’mma shoot back…”
22. Von Pea – To:You
Von Pea has a way of rapping like he doesn’t give a fuck. Not about his rhymes, but about your feelings. The more sarcastic side of rap duo Tanya Morgan gives us an album full of that Brooklyn bullsh*t in his collaborative project with producers The Other Guys, To:You. From the first to last bar Pea gives you an earful of inconvenient truths running the gamut from relationships (“Chasing Amy”) to regional pride (“So East Coast”) but Rap’s Larry David is at his best when he’s being a good natured a—hole. “I try to approach the top but they tellin’ me my pants aren’t leathery, so I scream til I’m f*ckin hoarse (Horse) like Heather B.” Now go tweet that and cop the album.
21. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait
When the searing synth of “Blue Suede” rips through your headphones, it can only mean action. Ever since he pulled the rug out from under Earl Sweatshirt with his guest verse on “Hive,” Vince Staples has been the poster boy for ice cold flows and no bullshit spit; the siren of “Blue Suede” is less a warning that he’ll break something than an alert that he’s already breaking it.
In today’s market, it doesn’t make much sense for a major record label to sign and develop such a talented spitter as Vince, but No I.D. has given the kid ample room to suffocate beats in whichever way he chooses on Def Jam. Only “Limos” screams radio with that Teyana Taylor hook; the other six songs on Hell Can Wait are doused in gasoline and primed for a lighter.
The EP extends the 21-year-old’s bleak outlook on America as a black kid growing up in Long Beach, but Vince’s music is a soundtrack for maintaining and overcoming, not remaining depressed. For all it’s anger, Vince’s tale is one of triumph – “Played a lot of roles in life but never played the victim / Never paid a toll for stripes, I earned them on them lonely nights.”