These are my top four records of 2014 since fives are for chumps. I’ve included what I think are the best tracks on each release, as well as what makes these records so special to me beyond the fact that they’re great music.
4. Life After Deathrow – Boosie Badazz
Best of: “The Fall”
This album means: Home.
I’m not going to lie, I was excited when Boosie finally got out of prison. He’s a legend in Louisiana, and, like Kevin Gates, a symbol of my home. His string of features were mostly garbage though and it felt like he had faded away. Once this tape came out though, it blew away all those disappointments and gave light to a Boosie with better beat selection and some killer lyricism (“‘We got you on six bodies and two attempts’ / I said, ‘Sir, you’re lying cause I don’t do attempts'” on the damn INTRO). Although the middle of the tape suffers a bit from the 2002-era Boosie sound, it ends strong with emotion-packed “O Lord.” He gets “Louisiana’s Tupac” for a reason– Boosie’s better than ever.
3. My Krazy Life – YG
Best of: “I Just Wanna Party (ft. Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock)”
This album means: Finding happiness in my musical progression.
With skits that come off as a clips from a gangster’s life in the style of The Slim Shady LP and good kid, MAAD city, this album was another surprise for me. I transitioned pretty quickly from underground backpack nonsense to mainstream rap. MKL is just another sign of that– I enjoy this album way more than any pretentious mess from some kid in Maine. My favorite album of all time is arguably GKMC and MKL gives you the exact other side of the issues in Compton. That’s such a dynamic shift to me– the seemingly shallow antagonists that haunt Kendrick are the ones that won’t stop popping back up in my playlists. The production is killer and YG creates a few near-perfect tracks. The only reason it goes behind #2 is my lack of familiarity with most of the tracks and the album’s lack of diversity. Its high points are higher than most of #2’s, so it still deserves a lot of respect.
2. Oxymoron – Schoolboy Q
Best of: “Prescription/Oxymoron”
This album means: Driving in the snow.
This was the fourth album I bought in Columbia (after Born Sinner, Trap Lord, and My Name is My Name). I have vivid memories of driving back from Best Buy listening to this album and clearing snow off my car while hearing “Gangsta” and “What They Want.” There are some moments on here that really haunt me– 2 Chainz’ verse on “What They Want,” Q’s young daughter popping up every so often in the midst of songs about selling drugs and murders, the flawless production on “Prescription/Oxymoron.” Although the bonus tracks can really drag this album down, its base edition is a well-done rollercoaster of messages and moods. Every song, from the celebratory “Collard Greens” to the aggressive “The Purge,” feels purely Q. If this was a competition between the deluxe editions, My Krazy Life would probably edge ahead of Oxymoron; with base editions, however, Q just barely ends up ahead of YG. His persona, his life are so evident in these tracks, it’s hard to speak ill of this unbelievably authentic record. It gives me the same kind of memories that obviously motivate Q to write his songs, things you don’t forget and shape you into your final product.
1. Monster – Future
Best of: “Codeine Crazy”
The album means: Everything I’ve felt this year.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that my biggest complaint is that a single skit kind of bugs me. A few years ago, I would have written off Future as some “autotune garbage, not real rap!” and called it a day. Instead, some random kid on /r/hiphopheads links a single song off of Monster (“Throw Away” which fights with “Codeine Crazy” as my favorite off the tape) and I had to download it. Come 2015, it’s the only thing I still keep on repeat. Maybe it’s because it’s so recent compared to other releases like Oxymoron. But I mean, I have a slight issue with the hook on “2Pac” and “Abu’s Booming” irks me, but that’s it. Monster exceeded my expectations for a simple tape and beat out my feelings for any studio release this year (including Honest). Monster means more to me than a mixtape; it means emotional turmoil, anger, sadness, talking nonsense with friends, loneliness, happiness, partying and sitting alone in the dark. Future’s clarity and honesty allow his music to really hit home. It means so much more to me than any other tape this year. It’s a comforting step in my journey with hip-hop. I can’t even see the stairs behind me anymore. Just another couple of flights of some good music. Monster just happens to be the last one of the year.
Honorable Mentions and Accolades
2014 had a lot of killer singles– hell, a lot of albums and tapes almost made it on my top four by sheer strength of their singles (cough cough, Mastermind). But these aren’t just albums with good singles; these are albums I didn’t spend enough time with or just didn’t sit right with me despite knowing I should.
Album I Should Appreciate More
Pinata – Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Madlib’s work is constantly referred to as “dusty” and “brilliant” and other terms that people who think vinyl makes sense use. Gibbs is impeccable, and songs like “Thuggin'” and “Deeper” are A+. But most of the album just faded past me, I felt too slow to appreciate it.
Neon Icon – Riff Raff
I absolutely love “Time.” I genuinely do. “Kokayne,” on the other side of the energy spectrum, is like liquid cocaine in your veins. “How To Be The Man,” “Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwwdinz” are fun as hell. “Jody 3 Moons” is probably my favorite skit. All in all, a pleasant surprise from Jody.
Best Traditionally Southern Album
Cadallactica – Big KRIT
It’s a problem when a single made to hype up the album is better than most of the tracks on the actual album. “Mt. Olympus” was a-damn-mazing and arguably overshadows even the title track off this album. That being said, KRIT undeniably holds the title of New King of the South.
Best Shower Album
2014 Forest Hills Drive – J. Cole
I really liked listening to this in the shower. Don’t ask me why. Cole can speak the common man’s truth and this has held my attention a lot longer/better than Born Sinner. Biggest problem is the le wrong generation speak Cole occasionally gets in to, but this is still crazy good.