The Best Hip-Hop Records of 2014

The Best Hip-Hop Records of 2014
An excerpt from 2014: A Year In Review
By Nathan G. O'Brien on Scene Point Blank

If you haven't done so, please check out previous installments of our 2014 year-end best-of coverage:
The Best Albums of 2014
The Best Cassettes of 2014
The Best Reissues of 2014

Its unlikely that there's another year-end rap list like this one, as outside of a few guilty pleasures I have little interest in the popular, hook-driven, thinned-out drivel that passes as "hip-hop" these days. Call me a grumpy curmudgeon if you must, but do so knowing that are very few things that I'm as passionate about as rap music. My approach to hip-hop is like that of a big man holding down the lane on a basketball court: Don't Bring That Weak Shit In Here.

Run The Jewels (El-P & Killer Mike) – Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
There's a common misconception that Kim Kardashian and her bare naked cosmetically enhanced buttocks broke the Internet. But that's impossible because the Internet was already broken by Run The Jewels 2. 

On the surface El-P and Killer Mike may seem like an oddball paring. But onstage, like on wax, their interplay is seamless; surely a result of extensive recording and touring together. El-P, for all his titled cap buffoonery takes hip-hop very, very seriously. And Killer Mike, well he just goes hard. One of the things that makes Run The Jewels work so well is the personality that that pair have cultivated as a duo. While their music is tough-as-nails hip-hop, their outwardly appearance is a satirical caricature-like ode to a much more dangerous time in rap music.

Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron (Top Dawg / Interscope)
Oxymoron is the first album out of the TDE/Black Hippy camp since good kid, m.A.A.d city catapulted Kendrick Lamar to stardom. And with its arrival, Schoolboy Q has emerged much in the same way: a conflicted individual whose rhyme scheme and subject matter is as varied as his beat selection.

Apollo Brown & Rass Kass – Blasphemy (Mello Music Group)
If you've heard one Apollo Brown loop you've heard them all. And that's a compliment. Dude is so consistent it should be illegal. Paired with D.I.T.C. legend OC and fellow Detroiter Guilty Simpson, he's made some of the best hip-hop in recent memory. This year he teamed up with veteran Cali emcee Rass Kass and the results are no different. Rass Kass been in the game for a minute—with releases dating back to ’96—and is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence thanks to Blasphemy. The synergy between the two is irrefutable; recalling rap history’s most revered deejay & emcee combos.

Dilated Peoples – Directors of Photography (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
Continuing the revitalization that began with 2011's Cats & Dogs on through to Lord Steppington, his Step Brothers collaboration with Alchemist earlier this year, Evidence regroups with fellow emcee Rakaa Iriscience and deejay DJ Babu for the first Dilated Peoples album since 2006. The result harkens back to those early underground backpack days: hard beats, record scratching, and slick dual emcee interplay.

Has Lo & Castle – Live Like You’re Dead (Mello Music Group)
Two relatively unknown emcees coming together to create an album that is rooted in boom-bap but has a fair amount of experimental parts interwoven throughout it. Live Like You're Dead recalls Native Tongues legends like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest but still manages to sound unmistakably current.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (Madlib Invazion)
Piñata is straight-up gangster rap. Madlib’s beats, which are culled from old-school soul, funk, and Blaxploitation, are the backdrop to Gangsta Gibbs signature misogyny, drug dealing, and pistol play. He’ll give the listener a glimpse of his softer side but he always holds back just enough as to not compromise his rugged ghetto-hardened exterior.

Ratking – So It Goes (XL Recordings)
Ratking is a group of youngsters from NYC made up of rappers Wiki and Hak and producer Sporting Life. They mix an alluring cocktail of post-everything/no-nothing (punk, wave, EDM, graffiti culture, whatever) noise that is strangely and undeniably hip-hop. So It Goes is their debut full-length LP.

Meyhem Lauren & Buckshot – Silk Pyramids (Thrice Great LLC)
Meyhem Lauren, the man responsible for the standout mixtapes Respect the Fly Shit and Mandatory Brunch Meetings, returns with an official album alongside legendary D.I.T.C. beatsmith Buckshot. And as expected from these two New Yorkers the result is straight boom to the bap. Silk Pyramids is the perfect soundtrack for a transit commute through the city, which is a great way to judge a rap record's worth.

Gangsta Boo & Beatking – Underground Cassette Tape Music (mixtape)
In what very well may be the Internet’s greatest achievement to date, Memphis’ legendary Gangsta Boo and Houston’s mostly unknown Beatking join forces to intermingle the best parts of their respective cities’ rap histories. Underground Cassette Tape Music is dark, sinister, hood shit, and a re-energizing shot of down south hip-hop that pays homage to the past in a brand new way.

The Voyagers – Rise of the Black Kings (mixtape)
This Connecticut group released once of the year’s best mixtapes to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. Plug in your headphones, close your eyes, and get transported back in time to an era of hip-hop when everyone was sporting construction boots, baggy jeans, and puffy jackets; and the beats were simplistic and big. This is a lot like Flatbush ZOMBiES but more focus on lyricism and delivery than psychedelic gimmickry. Rise of the Black Kings is on some Pharcyde / Lyricist Lounge / early Wu-type ish. Totally banging.

Timeless Truth – Dominican Diner EP (Timeless Truth)
Oprime39 and Solace, the largely unknown New York City-based duo that makeup Timeless Truth, returned with a new EP. Dominican Diner is a perfect combination of laid-back summer-y hip-hop and traditional New York rap at its most authentic.

Your Old Droog – Self-Titled EP (mixtape)
Amidst a shroud of mystery and speculation this 20-something Russian white guy from Long Island dropped one of the best rap records of the year. And it’s not the best just because he sounds like a younger, hungrier version of a certain legendary rapper (who many people still believe him to be despite there being loads of inarguable evidence to the contrary) but because he’s really fucking good.

HaLo – Mansa Musa (Guest Starring Masta Killa) (Jamla)
Although Wu-Tang's Masta Killa gets a mention in the title he appears on only five tracks. Mansa Musa is ultimately emcee HaLo's big coming out party, as much as it is a vehicle to showcase Jamla Record's production team, The Soul Council. Ka$h, AMP, Eric G 9th all contribute tracks, as does their newest member Nottz. But the brunt of the workload behind the boards is attributed to Khrysis, whose muted bass hits deep and lends the album a sonically cohesive tone.

Adrian Younge & Souls of Mischief – There Is Only Now (Linear Labs / Essential Music)
Producer Adrian Younge's highest profile project to date was last year's Twelve Reasons To Die with Ghostface Killah. Using the momentum from that record he's teamed up with Oakland veterans Souls Of Mischief for another outstanding concept album. There Is Only Now is a fluid stream of storytelling raps. It's largely uninterrupted, save a few interludes by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who plays a radio DJ who is narrating the developing plots in the story, not unlike Lynn Thigpen in The Warriors.

Mutual Daps – Self-Titled (Megakut / Solidarity)
Heads may remember Luke Sick from Sacred Hoop and more recently Grand Invincible and Grand Killa Con. Mutual Daps, his latest project, is a Bay Area supergroup of sorts with fellow emcee White Mic and producer TC BoneLoc. Mutual Daps takes the listener on an underground rap journey through the Bay, flexing a variety of styles from boom-bap to G-funk and back again. This thing is so chock-full of guest spots that it plays like a Bay Area variety show. Emcees QM, Philo, Lightbulb, Trunk Drank, and Z-Man all get verses. Although TC BoneLoc has the majority of the production credits, DJ Eons One, Brycon, and Sick himself also contribute beats. And DJ Quest and DJ Pause take turns adding cuts to a few tracks. Destined to be criminally underrated, Mutual Daps is underground hip-hop at its finest, courtesy of some cats that have been in the game a long-ass time.

There are a few things that didn't make the cut. Both Wu-Tang Clan and Ghostface Killah put records out but due to their late in the year release dates I was unable to digest them properly. In addition I left deejay and producer-based albums off the list. A-Villa's Carry on the Tradition got a lot of play around HDD HQ though. And I would urge mix fans to find Unearthed, DJ Revolution's mix of the Coalmine Records catalog. As for additional mixtape suggestions, both Ugly Frank's Bobby Hill EP and Da Mafia 6ix's Hear Sum Evil are worthy downloads.

Follow Nathan on Twitter at: @OMG_NOB

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