Welcome to the 2014 edition of HipHopDX’s Year End Awards. In keeping with tradition, this is the time of year when we collectively reflect on all that has transpired in Hip Hop during the last 12 months. To be sure, there have been high points and moments many may consider to be the exact opposite. We aim to cover them all before the calendar flips on what we expect to be a monumental year for the music and the culture.
Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, DX’s editorial staff and a stable of freelance contributors will update this page with those that made this year memorable. Check back each morning for a fresh round of award winners. Salute to the victors and runners-up who made 2014 the underrated year that it was, and we hope our selections make you debate and reminisce while being entertained during a safe and happy holiday season.
Emcee Of The Year
Before making Krit Wuz Here as his “last hurrah,” Big K.R.I.T. was going to quit being an emcee. He’d go back home, get a job, and settle in. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Mere living is a lofty enough goal. But he stuck it out. And after languishing in the waiting room between good and great he dropped Cadillactica on us this year. The applause was deafening on this side. K.R.I.T. had discovered lightness and it was glorious. So much of what made him great was so heavy. He seemed like a lone torch bearer looking for his Olympic flame. And, say what you will, but maybe that “Control” verse allowed him to turn that torch back on to himself. “Mt. Olympus” followed and then the slow, steep world building of Cadillactica. He’d work with other producers, and he’d do less sampling. Sure, all of that happened. But no one told us he’d learn to control the rumbling in his writer-ly southern soul. That, he’d learn to mix his twin cam with love ballads that were odes to some deeply held belief. The result was a K.R.I.T. that came firmly into his own this year. Still deeply connected to the heritage of ‘Kast and UGK, but with a dash of his own comedy, his own swagger, and (as a clean break) his own thoughts.
2014 gave us both Shyne Coldchain II and Hell Can Wait from the sensitively blunt Long Beach emcee, which means he’s been spitting gems all year. But it would be his latter project that you’d find yourself gawking over. The way he sought to explain the myriad realities of gang life and the apprehensions and rage present in one human was challenging enough. But he did it while connecting it to wider culture. And tell me we’re not all that kid now, his house burning down and the real danger may be his homies ignoring it.
Under Pressure was filled with so much studentry of craft that it was no wonder the Maryland emcee leapt so much since his previous work. It was all that was missing. His crazy backstory ensured he’d always have stories to tell, but could he tell them in a language of his own? This year the answer is yes.
Producer Of The Year
Last year’s runner up tore the crown from last year’s winner through sheer force of will. He’s been ubiquitous in 2014, ushering in and building upon the sound he doggedly crafted on YG’s standout My Krazy Life, then repackaging that for the masses. The results have been unquestionable as he’s led the rebirth of Fergie as well as the West Coast’s shadow side. And all mention of his twangy two-notes tend to fall on deaf ears now, as the man may be single handedly keeping the Rap industry afloat with not only his own beats, but his copies. Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” was not fathered by Mustard in theory, but its DNA is a 99.9% match. There are countless other examples of this phenomenon. And in a copycat league like this one that may be the ultimate compliment of all.
Mike Will Made-It
Take a close listen to the monstrous baselines on his December release Ransom and you’ll immediately be transported to your happy place. Mike Will Made-It made some of the best Rap music this year and they were both anthemic like the madness that was Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone” and boutique like ScHoolboy’s album cut “What They Want.” Of course there was “No Type” as well, and the thumping, jitterbug “Move That Dope,” and he did all this while piloting his own label.
Dahi’s 2014 was a breakout for the young producer, as he became the one you call when you have something to get off your chest. That bat signal was tilted upward by more than just SZA and Ab-Soul, with the man finding himself on Tinashe, Mick Jenkins, and even Madonna’s new let-me-close-my-eyes single “Devil Pray.”
Rookie Of The Year
There’s been a bunch of career revivals this year (Dilated Peoples, Cormega) and a ton of new kids on the block. But no one lit the flame at both ends the way Vince Staples did in 2014. There’s the obvious storyline regarding his hesitancy toward music. He’s fond of saying things like, “Rappers are on the corner begging, too.” And this why he’s so fascinating. His hyper-awareness and intuition lend him possibilities in the booth most emcees take years to learn. At 21, he can’t help but catch your eye as the guy standing in the eye of the Hurricane with no way out. He drags you down through the torrent with him taking you on journey you’re not sure you’ll survive. On Shyne Coldchain II it was “Nate,” an adolescent journey through familial destruction and on Hell Can Wait it was “65 Hunnid.” A chronicling of a familial destruction of another kind entirely. Whatever he did, he gave it to you straight, and with his storytelling spreading its wings we hope he’ll be gunning for awards for years to come.
Logic is a slayer of demons and they’re mostly his own. Under Pressure was a textbook in how to handle situations that would break most. Abuse, an absentee father, poverty, degradation and, finally, the salvation of music. It is old hat to say that music can transcend, but we’re pretty sure that music saved another life when it took residence in a corner of young Sinatra’s heart. His lyrics are always poignant and historical. They act like a bridge between his tumultuous past and his quickly moving present, begging you to take a look at another reality when you cannot yet change your own.
The recent Dreamville signee wound up your clock when he exclaimed, gravely voiced, his “dreams of being rich.” That tenor is what would get him an audience with young Simba, and his debut Cozz & Effect is what’s going to keep you around. Whatever we had in store for 2015 we’re excited for the growth of Cozz: The guy with the talent to be Cole’s Beanie Sigel as he builds Roc-a-Fella part deux.
Underrated Artist Of The Year
This is the second year in a row Raps’ won this award, and she only keeps on getting more potent. Her Beauty and the Beast – EP grabbed you by the throat in a different way than 2013’s She Got Game. The Jamla emcee excelled with a snarl, calling out XXL for her Freshman cover snub, and the other women in the game who stand diametrically opposed to her understated, southern aesthetic. There’s no gimmicks, and in a world and era where people often need a syrupy hook, she may continue to maintain within the limited world of folks who value high-quality of Raps over all else. Still, the music continues to be incredible, and if anyone can raise the consciousness without compromise it’s the queen of Jamla.
We’re going to try and write this without mentioning ‘Christian Rap.’ That moniker that shall not be named has often stood on the outside of the Rap spectrum. Too spiritual, or preachy, or corny or all three. Lecrae does none of those things, rising in rapid succession because of his devotion to both the craft of music and his lifelong inclinations. That’s why he managed to outsell most of Rap independently, and that’s why he needn’t compromise his message while he courts fame.
Mega Philosophy was a singular vision with no filler. Just uncomplicated boom-bap, slice of life raps that lingered in your aural diet until you called it quits. Mega’s mild mannered grownup flow hit close to home, and it provided Golden Era flashbacks without the nostalgia ruining your sleep cycle.
Comeback Of The Year
G-G-G G Unit is back. Of course, there were complications and cross-outs (ahem, Game). The 50 Cent crew filled with talented emcees in their own right came through four deep at Hot 97’s Summer Jam snatching chains (maybe), making enemies and hyping up the tri-state crowd with wafts of gunsmoke. Their ode to “Grindin’ My Whole Life” lit the blogosphere on fire, setting the scene for the return to a more aggressive form of Hip Hop lyrical content. Beauty Of Independence was a tongue-in-cheek Rap reintroduction, as the revival drew minions that hadn’t touched Hip Hop in years. Now we all patiently await 2015 and the release of both a solo 50 album and a group album for G-Unit. And, if Dre’s got some time, maybe he can hop on a track or two. Since D’Angelo dropped this year, we know anything is possible.
Evidence, DJ Babu and Rakaa literally came out of nowhere in 2014. Directors Of Photography was their first album since 2006. Imagine, when they last dropped, Facebook had yet to open it’s doors to anyone but college students and the iPhone was still in Apple’s secret labs. It was an extraordinary reintroduction, as the trio did, quite possibly, the best work of their long careers. It’s interesting that it should happen now, as Hip Hop has finally begun to allow their legacy acts to start to get the credit they deserve. It was also a lesson in patience. Only make it when it feels right.
Midnight Life felt like the clouds were clearing for Quik. He was fresh and spry, precisely tossing out his brilliance in controlled, funky-as-hell doses. He went all analog, purposely, and made an expensive masterclass in music making. And so the legendary West Coast everything is now back in his rightful place: with his music on the tip of your tongue.
Production Of The Year
“Move That Dope” by Mike WiLL Made-It
Mike WiLL Made-It continued his stellar sonic streak with this rock-hard Future single, one whose stellar sonics featured murky keyboard accents, blaring sirens and, of all things, an ode to Salt ’N Pepa. The beat was so scintillating that it transformed Pharrell into some sort of hardcore rapper, one whose rapid-fire ratchet rhymes held their own with Pusha T’s nose-candy raps. Now that’s an amazing beat.
“Tuesday” by Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin
In an era where manic beats typically rule the charts and the clubs, this understated gem gained traction because, after all, who doesn’t like celebrating something counter-culture — like hitting the club on a Tuesday. The light, atmospheric and airy synths were a perfect match for ILOVEMAKONNEN and Drake’s tales of pill poppin’ – or in Drake’s case, your pill poppin’.
“Sanctified” by DJ Mustard and Kanye West
DJ Mustard’s known for taking it to the club on the strength of a note or two, so the reworking co-producer Kanye West must have done to Rick Ross’s “Sanctified” may have been magical, possibly divine. West raps with aplomb over the paradoxically soulful yet bombastic selection, as do Big Sean and Rick Ross. It’s a splendid musical collision, one where sonic genres, attitudes, tempos and energies combine for aural ecstasy.
Verse Of The Year
Big K.R.I.T. “Mt. Olympus”
Southern rappers tend to flow with Texas-sized chips on their shoulders when it’s time to showcase their lyricism. In Big K.R.I.T.’s case, he carries Mississippi on his back as he ascends to Godly Rap heights on the spectacular “Mt. Olympus.” After a first verse where he addresses Kendrick Lamar’s rhymes on Big Sean’s “Control” and not crowning Andre 3000 King Of Hip Hop, the ’Sip rapper shifts into a higher gear on the cut’s second verse. He snaps so hard that it sounds as though he’s about to combust, raising his intensity, increasing his speed and ratcheting up his venom as he lays claim to being the King of every castle. Like many lyricists before him, K.R.I.T. wrestles with creating art in a genre where success isn’t always measured by quality: “What’s good for Hip Hop may not be good for my soul.” Thankfully, he keeps flexing’.
Jay Electronica “We Made It”
There he goes again. Rap’s reclusive savant reemerged from another self-imposed –or so we’re lead to think, ha – exile to deliver a mind-blowing verse on the searing “We Made It.” Part history lesson, part social indictment and all the way lyrical mastery, Jay Electronica dazzles with his references, his effortless flow and his God talk. Bow down.
J. Cole “Fire Squad”
On the final verse of this 2014 Forest Hills Drive selection, the North Carolina rapper takes aim at Eminem, Macklemore and Justin Timberlake. He makes the case that these White artists are (presumably) among those who have “snatched the sound.” It’s a lyrical passage that is provocative and problematic, controversial and confusing. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it is thought-provoking and that it references Wu-Tang Clan. We’re sure Drake is proud, if nothing else.
Video Of The Year
“i” by Kendrick Lamar
It starts with beef, quickly goes into peace and proceeds with Kendrick Lamar getting his groove on before traveling throughout the streets of Los Angeles – spreading peace and love throughout the process. It’s a rare video that is both edgy and somehow feel-good. There’s also Ronald Isley portraying some sort of gangsterfied chauffeur. Having an Isley Brothers sample on “i” may have helped him land the role. Either way, it all results in a captivating music video that seems to channel Collateral and The Dark Knight, two meditations on characters whose journey through their respective cities has a ripple effect. In Kendrick Lamar’s case, it’s to spread peace, love and happiness.
“Studio” by ScHoolboy Q f. BJ The Chicago Kid
Despite the way it is often imagined and sometimes portrayed, hitting the recording studio is typically a bland experience. ScHoolboy Q knows this, so he spiced it up with the video for this catchy cut. As he fantasizes about playing Operation with his lady’s anatomy, the TDE rapper’s video visually delivers the goods, featuring a collection of shapely women in various stages of undress – and with the AC seemingly running to the hilt. The black and white imagery adds a nice touch, as it accentuates the longing for an impending late-night rendezvous.
“TiP TOE WiNG iN MY JAWWDiNZ” by RiFF RAFF
He may have sworn off molly and coke this month, but RiFF RAFF must have been on something serious when he made – or at least approved – the bizarre clip for this NEON iCON standout. With a bevy of snow bunnies, a skull that intermittently gets draped with paint (not the candy variety, though that would be a nice touch given his Texas heritage), owls perpetually ready to take flight, ice stalactites and a slew of Jordans, the video stands as a crowning achievement in the long line of RiFF RAFF’s video canon. We were hoping to see that Mango Lexus, though.
Disappointing Album Of The Year
Wu-Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow
When we got word in 2011 that Wu-Tang Clan would be dropping a new album, there wasn’t a fan in sight who wasn’t excited for the comeback. Over the next of couple of years, various members of the clan spoke out on whether or not the album would come out and it wasn’t looking promising because of the chemistry issues seemingly rampant within. Three years later, the Wu-Tang Clan drop off A Better Tomorrow to much fanfare, which is the first album from the collective in seven years. Though any album featuring the legendary collective is an event, this one was marred by talk of a pay scale within Wu’ as well as other group issues. The album flows like a classic Wu-Tang album but many of the records played with the Wu-Tang sound, a wrinkle many weren’t ready for. Plus, with the vibe seemingly off between key members, it seemed this was a project going uphill from the beginning.
T.I. – Paperwork
Almost two years after dropping Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head, T.I. returned with his ninth studio album, Paperwork. The album had a bag of notable moments, though, unfortunately, it also had moments of sheer bewilderment. And with all the lead up to the album (comparing it to classics like Aquemini and The Blueprint respectively) it just didn’t manage to live up to it’s incredible billing. A shame, because the featured very strong singles like “About The Money” featuring Rap’s resident weirdo Young Thug.
Wiz Khalifa – Blacc Hollywood
In August, Wiz Khalifa let go his fifth studio album, Blacc Hollywood. The album appealed directly to his now monstrous fan base. The feature, and an amazing one, was “We Dem Boyz,” a stadium record eerily similar to his ubiquitous “Black and Yellow.” That record was actually nominated for a Grammy, and the rest of the project followed a similar set of Wiz’ tropes: uber catchy and yet ultimately jagged songs meant more to entice than inspire.
Non Hip Hop Album Of The Year
Jhene Aiko – Souled Out
Jhene Aiko’s debut studio album, Souled Out, won us over this year as the best non Hip Hop album of 2014. Aiko built up the anticipation for her album with her Sailing Soul(s) mixtape and Sail Out EP. With Def Jam executive NO I.D. handling most of the production for the album, Aiko was free to lace the 12-track offering with her heartbreak-driven lyrics. Upon its debut, Souled Out topped the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Aiko grew to “it” girl status during the year as well, drawing rumors of several high profile relationships.
D’Angelo – Black Messiah
Neo-soul pioneer D’Angelo returned to the spotlight with his long awaited album, Black Messiah. Its sudden arrival seemed almost as mystifying as the artist that created it. Although its been nearly 15 years since the R&B recluse released his last offering, Voodoo, Black Messiah is a sure sign D’Angelo hasn’t lost his soul.
FKA Twigs – LP1
Anchored by its strong singles “Video Girl,” “Two Weeks” and “Pendulum,” FKA Twigs’ LP1 is a superlative debut. The U.K. songbird has captivating vocals that are both soothing and smooth and her range is to be admired. LP1 is a magnificent crossover album for the rising star, who straddles both the pop and R&B genres.
Collaboration Of The Year
Common And Vince Staples – “Kingdom”
Common and Vince Staples’ “Kingdom” is a track fans can feel from Chicago, IL to Long Beach,CA and beyond. It packs a powerful message that resonates with listeners outside of the rappers’ own stomping grounds. The Def Jam labelmates detail the destructive, violent behaviors that plague communities across the country with vivid, gritty lyrics. Throw in a gospel choir to bolster the chorus and you have a hit.
Rich Gang – “Lifestyle”
Whether you knew the words or not, Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” was almost inescapable this year. Birdman’s latest proteges happen to be two of Atlanta’s most promising young rappers: Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. The duo teamed up seamlessly over the London On Da Track produced-banger. Sure, it may be difficult to decipher Thugga’s lyrics but that didn’t stop you from singing along. “Lifestyle” is a classic rags-to-riches anthem that dominated Rap radio stations across the country this year, for months.
Jay Z And Jay Electronica – “We Made It”
Jay Electronica and Jay Z hijacked Drake and Soulja Boy’s triumphant tune, “We Made It.” The Roc boys flipped Soulja’s hard-hitting beat into a thought-provoking track, equipped with historical references and playful jabs at Misses Drizzy. While each rapper’s verse is distinct in its own right, it’s difficult to decide which Jay came out on top here.
Most Important Freestyle Of The Year
Eminem, Slaughterhouse And Yelawolf – “Shady CXVPHER”
Eminem rounded up the Shady Records crew for an epic label-exclusive cypher. The impromptu rhyming session depicted each member of the Shady label in their own hometowns and in their own element. It was used as promo for the subsequent Shady XV album, which featured a mix of new and classic material from the Shady roster. Beginning with Kxng Crooked in Long Beach, CA, the unprecedented cypher visited Joe Budden in Jersey City, NJ, Yelawolf in Gasden, Alabama, Joell Ortiz in Brooklyn, NY, Royce Da 5’9” and Eminem in Detroit, MI. Each rapper held their own. But Shady, well, he was sort of… shady and took the moment to low-blow pop singer Lana Del Rey. Nevertheless, the Shady Cypher was 19-minutes worth of pure, unfiltered Hip Hop.
King Los – “5 Fingers Of Death Freestyle”
After explaining to Sway that he had departed from Bad Boy Records, yet remains cordial with Diddy, King Los took on the “5 Fingers Of Death” freestyle challenge on Sway in The Morning. Five beats “weren’t enough” for the Baltimore-bred rapper, who seemed to weave through each one effortlessly. Without a cell phone or notepad in sight, Los obliterated the tracks, causing Sway to lose control of his headphones and mic., on his own show.
Logic – “5 Fingers Of Death Freestyle”
Logic’s “5 Fingers of Death” freestyle on Sway in The Morning may not have been entirely off the dome, but it’s hard to deny the young Gaithersburg, MD rapper’s lyricism. Drawing from the narrative he told on his debut Under Pressure, Logic’s freestyle on Sway’s radio show reflected on his family’s dysfunction. When he flips the script and rhymes on the spot, his clever wordplay shines and it’s evident he’s passionate about Rap. Despite a few made-up words here and there, Logic came prepared.
Story Of The Year
Dr. Dre Becomes An Almost Billionaire
Only a mere $560 million (pre-tax) separates Dr. Dre from his nearest Cash Kings competitors Puff Daddy and Jay Z. At least that’s what Forbes reported in its annual list of Hip Hop’s highest earners. Beats’ sale to Apple for $3 billion last Spring sent ripples through Wall Street and tidal waves through the culture. Rap’s waited impatiently for roughly a decade for the release the much ballyhooed Detox, but it appears the Good Doctor’s focus on headphones netted infinitely more than simply another platinum plaque. Though technically Dre has yet reach a Billi’, he can at least add two new accolades to his nearly untouchable lore: The $620 million he received from the Beats sale is the “highest annual total ever evaluated by Forbes” as well as more than the combined total of the remaining 24 Cash Kings in 2014. Maybe now Aftermath’s chieftain feels financially secure enough to release a batch of new music.
Solange Attacks Jay Z
To this day we’re still not sure of the specific reason for Solange Knowles’ leg-tastic attack on Jay Z in New York’s Standard Hotel elevator. Was it truly because Hov was hovering too close to Dame Dash’s ex-lady Rachel Roy? Was it because Hov planned to keep the Met Gala-party going with Rihanna without Beyonce? The details are still murky, and maybe it’s better that way. Family business is family business and most of us aren’t famous enough for our funky family business to fascinate a planet. But if there is a winner in this uproarious occurrence it’s the bodyguard who stopped the elevator mid-fight, giving the Carter family time to reattach their cool. If only Ray Rice had been as fortunate.
Cash Money’s Implosion?
The house that Baby and Slim built seems to be slipping into its next era. Lil Twist hit Twitter in October blasting YMCMB, labeling his management team “the worst management team in the history of management teams.” Reportedly he was upset because his the label would not release his latest project. Tyga did the same the same week, charging at Young Money for holding up his album Gold, which he says has been ready for release for a while. Fringe acts are one thing, but when the face of the organization unleashes a series of the same accusations, as Lil Wayne surprisingly did earlier this month, it’s difficult not to ponder how the future will look for Cash Money.
Tweet Of The Year
Azealia Banks’ Timeline
When Azealia Banks blasted Universal Music Group for delaying Broke With Expensive Taste, she did so over Twitter. When Azealia Banks blasted T.I. for backing Iggy Azalea; for calling her a “musty-mouthed thot-bot;” for not threatening Snoop Dogg for e-attacking Iggy the way she believes he e-attacked her, she did so on Twitter. When Azealia Banks revealed that the reason Broke With Expensive Taste sounded like “literary nonsense” was because she also penned a fable with the same name, she did so over Twitter. From January 2014 to December 2014, Banks kept interest piqued by tweeting early, often, and earnestly. Say what you will about the Harlem-lyricist. Just be wary about what you say to her on Twitter. Clearly that’s her home court.
Weezy Airs-Out Baby
It only took four tweets to stop Hip Hop in its tracks. On December 4, Lil Wayne targeted Cash Money CEO, Bryan “Birdman” Williams as the reason Tha Carter V is still loitering on a hard drive. “I want off this label and nothing to do with these people but unfortunately it ain’t that easy,” Weezy tweeted. “I am a prisoner and so is my creativity…” The macro story is still unfolding. But on a micro level… damn.
Anonymous Secures Release Date For Lupe Fiasco
If there’s an example of the influence Lupe Fiasco carries, here it is: On Tuesday, October 14, the official Twitter account for powerful hactivist group, Anonymous fired off a tweet to Carrera-Lu’s label, Atlantic Records. The tweet stated simply, “You have 24 hours to present a statement announcing the immediate release of @LupeFiasco’s album.” On Wednesday, October 15, Atlantic Records’ official Twitter account released a tweet stating, “@LupeFiasco’s #TetsuoAndYouth 1/20/15.” Atlantic never went on record confirming that the release date was prompted by Anonymous’ threat, still, the hacktivist group claims victory. Here’s what’s interesting: in 2010, Atlantic Records agreed to release Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers after fans of the emcee navigated the legal system and held a New York City sanctioned protest outside of the label’s headquarters. Somewhere some music executive is sitting back shook like, no one man should have all that power.
Instagram Of The Year
Snoop Jokes On Iggy Azalea
It all started as a joke. It was supposed to be harmless and hilarious but instead, things escalated into a heated exchange. After Snoop Dogg posted a filtered photo of a sunburned woman with cornrows joined with the caption: “Iggy Azalea no make up” via Instagram, the actual I-G-G-Y found out. Instead of sharing an image of her own on Instagram, Iggy took to Twitter to air out the OG and his bodyguards. The social media sparring continued with Snoop Dogg sharing more Instagram images explaining the “beef” started playfully. Once the headlines reached T.I., he decided to squash his protege’s feud with a phone call to Snoop. No harm, no foul.
50 Cent Claiming Floyd Mayweather Can’t Read
The ALS ice bucket challenge captivated the country during the year. So when 50 Cent set out to pour a bucket of ice cold water over his head, it seemed believable. But the rapper had other plans. Instead, Fif challenged undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. to read a single page of any Harry Potter book, offering to donate $750,000 if he completed the task. The champ declined Fif’s offer by posting a picture of two checks worth $72,276,000. We’re guessing there isn’t a written test with a reading portion to join the Money Team.
Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” Artwork
Nicki Minaj shut down the internet in July by sharing the racy cover art for her rump-shakin’ anthem, “Anaconda.” Once the image of Nicki — in a pink g-string and Jordan 6 Retro GS — surfaced online, it immediately went viral. From bedsheets, to phone covers, to your best friend’s desktop, Nicki’s booty was everywhere. Thankfully, the music video for the song packed just as much ass.
Trend We’d Like To See Die
Hip Hop Defending Justin Bieber
The shocking part wasn’t that a video surfaced of Justin Bieber dropping N-bombs as part of a racist joke about Black people and chainsaws, nor the second video of him singing racism carols. The shocking part was the number of Hip Hop notables that sprinted to his defense as soon as the heat turned up on the Biebs. Young Money President, Mack Maine said Bieber “has legitimately adopted the culture of Hip Hop—African-American culture and doesn’t have a slave mentality.” Soulja Boy reasoned that since all of Bieber’s homie’s are Black, then he can’t be a racist (which worked about as well as it used to on Jerry Springer). Usher, Nick Cannon, Lord Jamar, you name it and chances are they chimed-in defending Justin Bieber’s naive, childish actions. Whether Justin Bieber is a racist at heart is between him and his convictions. But sincerely… who knew Hip Hop had that much love for a Canadian Pop singer?
People Saying 2014 Was The Worst Year For Hip Hop Music
Better be careful what you toss into the echo chamber—you never know how shortsighted it will sound when it inevitably bounces back. If there’s a nominee for Rap Word Vomit Of The Year it’s the number of times artists have regurgitated the fallacy that 2014 is the worst year in Hip Hop history. Not only is that comment supremely difficult to digest for anyone old enough to remember Snap Music (which is just about everyone), but it immediately dismisses the incredible projects released by legacy acts Run The Jewels, Pharoahe Monch, Dilated Peoples, PRHyme, Jeezy. It immediately dismisses the supremely talented array of fresh faces releasing major label records like Logic, Vince Staples, Big K.R.I.T., ScHoolboy Q, J. Cole. It immediately dismisses the resurgence of female emcees, million dollar albums, apps for all and all of the other awesomeness 2014 delivered. If 2014 was a year of wackness, then the future’s so bright that even the nights are sunny.
Reunions That Produce Underwhelming Music
Sometimes it’s awesome when your favorite band gets back together. They blitz the media with tales of strife and triumph for a few weeks. They go on a mini tour or two and perform their greatest hits. The sheer excitement of it all is enough for the you from 10 years ago to do backflips in celebration. But when that reunion is marred by a batch of craptastic songs, it’s like a piece of your soul got smacked out of you never to return. Unfortunately in 2014, a couple of reunions left us with that exact feeling.
Trend We’d Like To See Continued
Artists Proving Hip Hop Isn’t Dead
It’s difficult to not celebrate the success of Killer Mike and El-P’s Run The Jewels series, just like it’s difficult not to celebrate Reach Record’s Lecrae for debuting at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200. Def Jam’s return to releasing quintessential Rap records is also appreciated. Logic’s Under Pressure, Big K.R.I.T.’s Cadillactica, and Vince Staples Hell Can Wait are the type of albums that seemed to be extinct commercially back in 2006 when the mantra was that Hip Hop is dead. And J. Cole’s roughly 375,000 first week (for 2014 Forest Hills Drive) with such a brief marketing window further highlights arguably the most encouraging trend within the modern era: Range is returning to Rap.
Lyricism Returns To The Forefront
The list is consistent. J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, Lecrae, Killer Mike, El-P, PRHyme, Big K.R.I.T., Vince Staples, Logic, Migos, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera made major names for themselves in 2014 largely, if not completely, off the strength of their bars. But the most interesting anecdote on lyricism stepping back into the forefront is this one: Reportedly, Cassidy received $250,000 to battle Dizaster during “Ether.” That’s right, for the first time there’s a market for a medium where emcees can make a living without the beat… without the beat.
The Return Of Analog
Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow was initially recorded analog before being converted to digital prior to its release. DJ Quik recorded his celebrated comeback project, The Midnight Life on analog tape. “It’s not a trick. It’s a sound,” DJ Quik explained in an exclusive conversation with HipHopDX. “It means something. It seems like it makes the records last longer.” Even Logic has debated recording analog instead of digitally. It has been said that the 90s are back. Who knew that included the technology?
Mixtape Of The Year
Rich Gang – Tha Tour Pt. 1
In October, the two artist everyone loves to hate, Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, combined forces for Birdman’s Rich Gang Tha Tour Pt. 1 mixtape. The lead record from the mixtape was the infectious single “Lifestyle,” which no one actually knows the words to but you can’t help but sing along. Many thought Rich Homie and Young Thug would create a mixtape that couldn’t match up to the success of the lead single but were sadly mistaken. Almost every song on this mixtape will have you nodding your head vigorously even if you don’t know exactly what they are saying. There is no denying that the two auto-tuned emcees showcased their skills to create a mixtape with nothing but bangers.
CyHi The Prince – Black Hystori Project
Seems like someone did their homework for their Black Hystori Project mixtape. Cyhi The Prince took notes on his flaws and corrected them when making this project. The conceptual mixtape celebrated the legacies of individuals who were instrumental in the political and cultural advancement of African Americans. This is arguable one of his best bodies of work and the Stone Mountain, Georgia native showed versatility and immense growth. The G.O.O.D. Music underdog set out to show the world that he isn’t the weakest link in the bunch and that he deserves a spot at the top. You can definitely see the change in his creative outlook with this project and we hope to see more of this in the future.
Vince Staples – Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2
There is no doubt that Vince Staples has had an amazing breakout year. In just about 29 minutes, with impeccable flow and delivery, he was able to captivate our minds and tell us the story of his life of escaping the hood. The 21-year old emcee from Long Beach excels in imaginative wordplay and has showed nothing but growth on his fourth mixtape, Shyne Coldchain 2.
Album Of The Year
PRhyme (DJ Premier And Royce Da 5’9) – PRhyme
In what most considered a down year for Rap, there were some notable anomalies. Both independent artists and female emcees dominated both sales and the charts. And let’s not sneeze at the notable collaborations and dam-good albums from older artists sonning their younger counterparts. Plus, a joint album between frequent soul-collaborators Royce Da 5’9 and DJ Premier anchored by Adrian Younge samples? But, what was of no surprise was the album itself. A richly textured fortress of beats and bars, some called it 90s nostalgia running a legitimate muck. We called the beginning of something… beautiful. Everything about this reintroduction to boom-bap was mention worthy. Whether it be Jay Electronica maniacally snatching the spotlight from Royce on “Two Me, To You” or the triumvirate of Royce, ScHoolboy Q and Killer Mike on “Underground Kings,” the album continued to live up to it’s billing. The sheer gall of it, though, was to make an album as Hip Hop purist as this one at a time like this. Is this what nobody selling records has wrought? It seems like emcees are going back to the cupboard and coming back with what made them love Hip Hop in the first place. And, If that’s the case, you can count us in.
YG – My Krazy Life
My Krazy Life was a jagged deluge of sparseness, combining a DJ Mustard come into his own and the straightforward energy of YG. Mr. “Toot It And Boot It” went completely above and beyond the trajectory of what most thought his first album would be, and, in so doing, truly ushered in the renewed reign of the West Coast. My Krazy Life could easily have been put out by Death Row in a now ancient Hip Hop past, and is a natural successor to that vein of L.A. Rap tradition.
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Piñata
It’s of no surprise that all three of these albums are all full on collaborations or spiritual ones. This unlikely duo continued that 2014 tradition, creating a masterpiece in the process. At the core was cross-pollination, matching the diabolical energy of Gibbs with the off-kilter production of Madlib to create 2014’s Rap Frankenstein.
Underrated Album Of The Year
Mac Miller – Faces
With his 2013 album Watching Movies With The Sound Off gaining runner up as best album last year at HipHopDX, Mac Miller does it again by dropping off this woozy, stellar mixtape. Faces was extremely underrated and it’s crazy that almost no one talked about it after it dropped. With this project he aimed to turn the doubters into believers by showing off just how much he has grown as an artist. Though the content is very drug induced, with this being the eleventh mixtape of his career, the growth doesn’t go unnoticed.
Rapsody – Beauty & The Beast
Rapsody just might be one of the dopest emcees out right now, not female emcees, emcees period. Last year she won runner up for Mixtape Of The Year here at HipHopDX for She Got Game and won the award for Underrated Artist Of The Year. Another year and people are still sleeping on the North Carolina native. Her Beauty & The Beast EP gave off a golden era Hip Hop feel with her wordplay, rhyme patterns and metaphors. One things for sure about Rapsody, you can always feel the passion in her songs.
Cormega – Mega Philosophy
Cormega teamed up with Large Professor for Mega Philosophy, the sixth studio album (including best of album, Raw Forever) from the New York emcee. Cormega hadn’t dropped an album since Raw Forever in 2011 and didn’t disappoint with his latest efforts. Cormega let it be known that label executives, “for the moment” fans and artists who don’t do it for the love of music are to blame for the state of the music industry at this moment. Mega set out to change the game with Mega Philosophy and he did just that.