Whether you’re in favor of its present state or not, no one can debate that in 2014 music became increasingly interesting along with accompanying spirited discussions. There were ludicrous moments like Jay Z getting attacked by Solange in an elevator, and then there was Big K.R.I.T.’s spirited response to Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse, ushering in the year of the Mississippi emcee. Azealia Banks maximized Twitter’s potential to be used improperly (sort of). Eminem returned with Shady XV, and blew everyone’s freestyle ambitions out of the water with the “Shady CXVPHER.” We finally got something of Jay Electronica, who was more active this year than he has been in some time. Somehow, some way  Nipsey Hussle upped the ante by taking last years method and upsurging it 10x. And a whole gang of older Hip Hop artists dropped their best works in some time by the way of Directors Of Photography, Nobody’s Smiling and Mega Philosophy.

Heading into 2015 it’s anyone’s guess as to what will impact the culture, though sure bets lie in Kendrick Lamar’s scheduled release with hopes of Kanye rummaging through souls on his follow-up to Yeezus. This leaves questions: How much longer will Drake retain his industry chokehold? Who will be the next rising star to shock the world? Which unorthodox marketing strategies will be employed next? Who will bounce back after being considered a disappointment or staying quiet this year? While we wait for these mysteries to reveal themselves, HipHopDX ends 2014 taking a look back at a few albums that we missed. Travis Scott, Kehlani, and Aphex Twin are completely distinct acts, only the first of which can be neatly categorized as Rap, but that’s  not at all.

 statquo-atla

Stat Quo – ATLA

Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

Stat Quo hasn’t had the same sort of mainstream success that we are accustomed to from Dr.Dre/Eminem proteges, but that hasn’t stopped him from releasing solid material over the years. Although he hails from Atlanta, Stat’s style is more along the lines of G-Unit street talk than the trap rap that Jeezy and T.I. have popularized in over the last decade. Given his namesake, Stat has ironically always been an artist that is difficult to easily categorize. After years of anticipation, he finally released his debut studio album in 2010 with Statlanta to some disappointment by those who thought the project mediocre by the rapper’s standards.

ATLA, Stat’s second studio effort, is a giant step forward. His clear delivery meshes well with the mellowed instrumentals, such as “Feel It” and “4 Wheel Drive.” On “OutKast Relax” A.O. and Dueno lace Stat with a Aquemini-style beat as he pays homage to the legendary duo while positioning himself as an outcast in the game. He even takes listeners on an autobiographical ride with “Michael,” as he relates his personal struggle to Michael Jordan.

 the_Wow

The Wow – LGNDRY

Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

It’s becoming exceedingly rare to find a contemporary group in the vein of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth or Gangstarr in which an emcee and a producer form a duo. Based in Los Angeles, rapper K.O. The Legend and producer Balthazar Getty are intent on carrying the tradition while simultaneously breaking new ground. Not only is the group’s DNA reminiscent of the 90’s golden era, but their music is as well. Getty, a former DJ turned beat smith, frequently incorporates scratching techniques and boom-bap into his cuts like a new era DJ Premier while fusing them with contemporary stabs.

LGNDRY is a treat for Hip Hop connoisseurs who are up with Top 40 radio and desperately miss the days of Eric B. and Rakim. Tracks like “Calm Down” are a perfect representation the duo’s primary modus operandi— head-nodding boom bap fused with screwed vocals. “Whatchu Need” is a call back to old school West Coast sound. The duo link up with Method Man on “Masterpiece” for the real prize of the album.

 DaysBeforeRodeo

Travis Scott – Days Before Rodeo

Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

With collaborations with 2 Chainz and Kanye West to his credit, Travis Scott may be the most known unknown in Hip Hop today. In 2012, Yeezy himself deemed the Houston producer worthy enough to join G.O.O.D. Music’s production sub-label, Very G.O.O.D. beats. On the compilation album Cruel Summer, Scott crafted one of the album’s most entrancing moments with “The Morning” and “Sin City.” It’s only a matter of time before Scott becomes a true household name, and his 2014 release, Days Before The Rodeo is a giant step toward that goal.

Days Before The Rodeo is the result of a composer not wanted to be known for any particular sound. Consequentially, all the main regions of Hip Hop are represented. Scott provides complex yet catchy rhythms that his lyrical cohorts manipulate accordingly, such as “Mamacita” featuring Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug. He even dabbles with auto-tune on “Drugs You Should Try It” for one of the more memorable tracks of the album. Big Sean and The 1975 collaborate on “Don’t Play,” a track that could have easily torn up the club even in the 90’s.

Raury 

Raury – Indigo Child

Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

When the internet found out that Kanye had invited Atlanta native Raury to come to the studio, it goes without saying that the singer became kind of a big deal seemingly overnight. Understanding how PR works, Raury capitalized on his big moment by releasing Indigo Child as a free download. While most male singers with a Hip Hop connection severely limit their subject matter, Raury prefers to explore the expanse of the world without coming across as a college professor in the process.

Indigo Child is a persuasive indication that Raury won’t be regulated to just internet fame for long. Stylistically speaking, it’s difficult to ignore Raury’s resemblance to Kid Cudi. On “God’s Whisperer” he mixes tribal chanting/clapping with the sort of soaring vocals Cudi popularized. He navigates through a relaxed, hushed melody on “Woodcrest Manor Master” while he sing-raps some real talk about his thoughts on a spoiled relationship.

 lucki-ecks-body-high-artwork

Lucki Eck$ – Body High

Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

Anyone that has been following Hip Hop for the last 20 years knows that Chicago has always been a mainstay in the genre, from Common to Do Or Die to Kanye to Lupe. However, in the last decade or so a multitude of talented artists have emerged, including Lucki Eck$. For those looking for an alternative to the dread-shaking drill rap of Chief Keef and Lil Durk, Eck$ has a mellow flow that works well on the melodic, slowed down instrumentals he frequently spits on.

Body High is an appropriately titled project that specializes in creating a chilled vibe from start to finish. Like his counterpart Chance The Rapper, Eck$ frequently relays his innermost thoughts on wax for a personalized, graspable feel like on “Told Me” and “Reflections.” But he never lets one forget his skills on the mic, like on “Crime Pays” where his lyrics shine on a stripped, minimalist instrumental.

kehlani-cloud19 

Kehlani – Cloud 19

Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Arguably, Kehlani looks more like a model than a Hip Hop singer, but is she completely serious about her craft. A former ballet dancer and child prodigy, the Oakland native has gained attention in recent years for her unique style, which she herself describes as “feel good music.” Kehlani’s description is not the case of an artist erroneously self-aggrandizing, as her music is breezy sounding without being shallow. She wants her listeners to have a good time while adopting a sense of self-worth.

Cloud 19 is a collection of positive sonic vibes buttressing a supremely talented songstress, such as “FWU” where she literally sings the praises of a love interest. She manages to pull off a DJ Mustard-esque club jam with “Act A Fool” that distinguishes itself from the typical. On tracks like “Tell Your Mama” she sounds like a long lost member of The Native Tongues, promoting positivity without sounding corny in the process.

 FINAL MASTER SYRO DIGIPAK.indd

Aphex Twin – Syro

Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Richard David James, aka Aphex Twin, has been perched on top of the electronic genre for over twenty years. A lot of Hip Hop fans came to know Irish musician strictly through Kanye West — historically one of his go-to musicians for sampling. And like Kanye, Twin is a master of his trade, which is why he broadcast an image of the Syro cover on a blimp across London, UK, to signify the impending release.

With the release of Syro, Yeezy has a new garden of enticing sounds from which to repurpose into his own material. When one looks at the tracklist for Syro, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that a virus had claimed the life of your computer, tablet, or smartphone. However, Twin’s album is both daring and engagingly exploratory. From the jazzy electronica of “produk 29 (101)” to the neo disco of “minipops 67,” Twin added another impressive album to his lengthy discography.

 omarion-released-his-mmg-debut-sex-playlist-last-week

Omarion – “Sex Playlist”

Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

It’s sort of mind-boggling to think that Omarion has been in the game for over 10 years, but the former B2K star is a veteran by even the harshest scale. Even though Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group powerhouse isn’t necessarily known for R&B acts, Omarion’s bold move to the label has had a noticeable impact on his career over the last few years. He has quietly aided in some of the most beloved tracks on the critically acclaimed compilation series Self Made for his work on cuts like “This Thing Of Ours” and “The Zenith.”

But on Sex Playlist, arguably one of the best R&B albums of the year, Omarion proves once again that he is not only good for a catchy hook or two. Rick Ross has always been regarded as an expert when it comes to picking instrumentals, and his choosy attitude has clearly rubbed off on Omarion. Songs like “Post To Be” and “You Like It” feature Omarion singing on tracks that compliment his voice well.

 Gangsta-Boo-and-Beatking-Underground-Cassette-Tape-Music

Gangsta Boo & Beatking – Underground Cassette Tape Music

Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Most people know of Gangsta Boo due to her ties with Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat during their respective glory days, but in recent years she has more than proved that she can stand on her own. Her mixtapes Street Ringers Vol. 1 and Still Gangsta continue to influence many female rappers that currently dominate the mainstream. Beatking first garnered a name for himself in the Houston Hip Hop scene, and has since gained followers from all over the nation. The two artists have their own distinct styles, but pairing is rooted in chemistry.

With Underground Cassette Tape Classic, Gangsta Boo continues to excel in the gutter, bouncy delivery and catchy hooks that propelled her to stardom in the first place. Beatking laces her with the classic Memphis sound on tracks like “Ain’t Shit Changed” and “Slab Crusher,” the latter featuring the legendary Memphis M.C. 8ball. Boo flips a classic with “Like A Pimp 2015,” and even collaborates with Paul Wall on one of the standout tracks, “Roll Hard.”

 Popcaan-cover-art-final1-650x650

Popcaan – Where We Come From

Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Dancehall and Hip Hop can be a tricky mix at times, with most artists preferring to sacrifice their roots in favor of an easily accessible bubblegum sound that comes across as cheap. Hailing from Jamaica, Popcaan has already established himself as an expert artist in terms of balancing the two genres without making contrived pushes for Top 40 radio. In 2014, Popcaan seemingly came out of thin air with the release of the critically acclaimed Where We Come From.

On Where We Come From, Popcaan and Dre Skull fuse elements of dancehall and pop music into an engaging blend. Popcaan often uses the dancehall stage to probe societal issues such as “Ghetto (Tired of Crying),” where he goes on a mournful diatribe centered on violence. On the title track, Popcaan reinforces that his mission is to alleviate the problems of the world through positive vibrations

 Hiatus-Kaiyote-By-Fire-EP-Cover

Hiatus Kaiyote – By Fire (EP)

Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Melbourne, Australia quartet Hiatus Kaiyote were one of the first acts signed to Salaam Remi’s relaunch of Buddah Records. Within a year, they landed A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip for the remix to their breakout single “Nakamarra” and eventually landed a Grammy nomination. Their debut project Tawk Tomahawk, managed to make its way around a few very special “best-of” list due in part to their interesting mix of neo-soul, jazz, Hip Hop and electronica influences among others. As 2014 creeped around its closing corner, they dropped a short and immensely sweet three track EP By Fire.

The 12:21 minutes of almost unparalleled musical quality essentially trumps a vast majority of full length projects released throughout the year. Alongside the gut punching opener, following track “Luputa” features a level of bounce that almost throws them into acid jazz territory. In fact, lead singer Nai Palm comes off with the swagger of a young Jay Kay in explosive ender “Molasses.” If their sophomore follow-up Choose Your Weapon manages to even partially improve upon By Fire, expect a possible classic.