The year 2014 was certainly an interesting year for hip hop. The early 2010s saw hip hop flush out tired acts from the 2000s and bring in a batch of young creatives ready to advance the culture. However, in 2014 not only was there an ever-growing schism in US hip hop, but there was a resurgence of grime in the UK spearheaded by Skepta alongside BBK (Boy Better Know).
In 2012 Atlanta’s trap scene was beginning to enter the mainstream, with songs like Nicki Minaj’s ‘Beez In The Trap’ doing exceptionally well. However, by 2014 it had taken over the charts with artists like the Migos and Rich The Kid evidently running things. With songs like ‘Versace’ spreading like wildfire via the internet, it was evident where hip hop was headed, and a schism was beginning to form.
However, 2014 also saw the release of tracks such as ‘German Whip’ and ‘That’s Not Me’ in the UK. Furthermore, young crews like Lewisham’s The Square and Tizzy Gang were garnering attention from major music publications and radio. These factors combined led to a very sudden resurgence in the UK’s grime culture following what had been an embarrassing and negligent lull in the culture.
What accompanied this sharp resurgence was an increase in grime radio shows such as Rinse FM’s The Grime Show, Radio 1Xtra’s Gimmee Grime and Radar Radio. However, aside from a dominant trap scene and gritty London grime, other forms of urban music were still alive.
Many artists surfaced in 2014, and the diversity of style, aesthetics, sonics and brand were just astonishing. The following list is a thorough showcase of all the classics released in the year 2014. There are some big names you might recognise and some more underground names you may not have heard of. So take a look at our list of the top ten
The ten best hip hop albums of 2014:
10. Snakes & Ladders – Wiley
In spite of his erratic behavioural patterns and Twitter rants, it is impossible to deny that Wiley is a fantastic musician and a pioneer when it comes to UK music. Known as the ‘Godfather Of Grime’ the amount of music Wiley has released since his arrival in the mainstream in 2001 is unfathomable.
The rapper has released 15 studio albums, 13 mixtapes, two instrumental CDs, and that’s not counting the thousands of vinyl units he sold independently in the early noughties, as well as the random Twitter zip file leaks he threw on the internet in the early 2010s. His 2014 album, Snakes & Ladders includes his hit single ‘On A Level’ produced by Skepta, as well as his extremely popular Stormzy cover, ‘BMO Field’ freestyle.
9. The Formula – The Square
Another album from what some may label the grime renaissance, The Square (if only for a short time), were undoubtedly one of London’s most potent crews. Comprised of Novelist, Elf Kid, Streema, Faultsz, Prem, Hilts, DeeJillz and Syder Sides, the crew mostly consisted of individuals from Deptford, Ladywell and Brockley.
Coming up organically via local Greenwich and Lewisham urban media outlets such as OSM Vision and KNW ME TV, the crew was led by their frontman, Novelist, who, along with Faultsz, is the only artist out of the whole crew, is still actively making music. In their prime, The Square were untouchable, and their compilation album The Formula is grime in its purest form.
8. Broke With Expensive Taste – Azealia Banks
As troublesome as Azealia Banks is, it’s fair to say she’s a talented young lady. Akin to Wiley and similar to Kanye, it looks like ingenuity comes hand-in-hand with lunacy and offensive behaviour. A Harlem renaissance artist, Banks still has a sound that no one else has managed to create or pull-off.
Banks has the ability to make music that is catchy and authentically hip hop while simultaneously staying true to the genre of house. It never felt forced or phoney. She brought things to the forefront of her hip hop music that are usually taboo because it was true to her, as a native New Yorker. One thing, in particular, that was a big part of her music was ball culture, she thereby used the word c*nt a lot in her music and spoke about homosexuality a lot. Both are extremely taboo.
Broke With Expensive Taste was an amazing album overshadowed by the young rapper’s Twitter fingers. Nonetheless, it appears here at number eight.
7. Under Pressure – Logic
The rapper’s debut album Under Pressure was an excellent album that showed Logic as a versatile and, most importantly, a rapper with a genuine passion for hip hop beyond just wanting money and fame. With the album executively produced by No I.D., the standard edition of the album purposefully had no features on it as Logic wanted himself to come through.
However, although the standard edition did not contain any guest verses, the deluxe edition, which was released later, featured appearances from Detroit rapper Big Sean and Childish Gambino. Speaking with music publication XXL, Logic explained that the album was “the duality of who I am. Being Bobby and being Logic, being under pressure personally in all the things I go through in my life”. The album was a quality debut album and stood out in 2014.
6. Cilvia Demo – Isaiah Rashad
Part of the 2014 XXL Freshmen Class alongside Chance The Rapper, Jarren Benton, Jon Connor and Vic Mensa just to mention a few. Isaiah Rashad is similar to Joey Bada$$ with regard to the fact that he’s an underrated and underappreciated artist. Furthermore, he could rap circles around any of today’s mainstream mumble rappers.
However, similar to Joey Bada$$ it hasn’t stopped Rashad from releasing music to great acclaim, and the sam can be said for his incredible debut album Cilvia Demo. Featuring his label-mates SZA, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock, Cilvia Demo could be described as a downtempo, lo-fi progressive rap album, but really and truly, it’s more than that. The album quickly developed a cult following due to its quality. The album explores issues around substance abuse, absent fathers, growing up poor, and police brutality against blacks.
Cilvia Demo is a must-hear album for fans of old school hip hop with a new school twist.
5. The Pinkprint – Nicki Minaj
This 2014 album was received extremely well by the hip hop community and music critics alike, after Minaj’s 2012 album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, which was blasted by hip hop and music critics alike for not only featuring trashy pop songs such as ‘Starships’, ‘Pound The Alarm’ and the god-awful ‘Whip It’, but for the fact that Minaj then attempted to offset that with ultra-sexual gangsta tracks such as ‘Beez In The Trap’.
The Pinkprint, a play on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, featured an array of extremely successful singles that were not only hip hop but were authentic and good. Furthermore, fans enjoyed the fact that unlike her 2012 album, the project was extremely cohesive and didn’t jump around from genre to genre. Singles such as ‘Feeling Myself’ featuring Beyonc and ‘Want Some More’ were in regular rotation on radio and hip hop felt that it had reclaimed Nicki again. A quality album.
4. Oxymoron – Schoolboy Q
Schoolboy Q, another 2014 XXL freshman, is a fantastic artist and is a rapper who can put together an incredible body of work. Oxymoron was not just critically acclaimed it was critically adorned because of its storytelling. The album, in its standard form, is 12 tracks long. However, the deluxe version is a whopping 17 tracks long.
Oxymoron debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, and was even nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Rap Album’ category. The album in all its glory features production from Pharrell, Tyler The Creator and the acclaimed Boi-1da. Furthermore, the album features guest verses from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Tyler The Creator and A$AP Rocky. If that is not an all-star lineup, then I don’t know what is. It has been dubbed elite and is simply a fantastic album.
3. Cadillactica – Big K.R.I.T
Released in November of 2014, Cadillactica is a phenomenal album. It is a true amalgamation of US hip hop because in tracks such as ‘Soul Food’ you can hear the influence of New York in the drums, you can hear the G-funk of LA in the bass but you can hear the grit of the South in the vocals and the soulfulness of Chicago artists such as Common and Kanye in the backing vocals
K.R.I.T’s vocal performance on this album is nothing short of phenomenal. With regard to the rapper’s performance on the album, Jonah Bromwich of Pitchfork wrote how “K.R.I.T. is such a gifted storyteller that he’s often able to transcend the hackneyed concepts from which his songs are built.” Cadillactica captures the “quintessence of the soul-infused Southern sound” that people love, and it truly was one of the best albums released in 2014.
2. Rebel With A Cause – Ghetts
Anybody who puts this much thought into an album deserves to be somewhere near the top. From the sonics to the aesthetics, to the lyricism and subject matters addressed in this project, everything about it is of quality. The album shows how an album can be multiple things at the same time but has to transition slowly but surely and be crafted in the right way to make sense, and Ghetts does just that with this album.
The album starts off fiery, rebellious and full of fury. This is complemented by the sonics of rock-infused grime. However, as the rapper goes deeper and deeper into the album and gets more introspective, it’s almost as if track by track, someone is turning the guitar amp down because it gets more and more acoustic, his delivery becomes less frenetic and more laid-back. Furthermore, the bass becomes less grimy and becomes warm and round.
Rebel With A Cause is not the kind of album that you just cherry-pick singles and move around. One has to listen to it from track one to track seventeen for it to make sense. It’s a masterful album and one that, for the most part, is completely looked over and disregarded. But an avid music listener knows a good album when they hear one, and Rebel With A Cause is beyond good.
1. 2014 Forest Hills Drive – J. Cole
J. Cole’s third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, is definitely the best hip hop album of 2014 there is really no competition. No other respected, mainstream US hip hop artist released a project in 2014, leaving a nice open spot for Cole to jump in. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Tyler The Creator, Drake and Kanye West had all chosen to release albums in 2013, which meant that the majority of the big-hitters of albums were on the bench in 2014. Similarly, in the UK, a lot of rappers chose to release their albums in 2015, such as Krept & Konan’s Long Way Home and JME’s Integrity. 2014 was a practically uncontested year in the upper echelons of rap.
J. Cole, along with Drake and Kendrick, is considered one of the best rappers of the new school, and when the conversation of top artists comes up, he is sure to be included, and it’s no surprise why because 2014 Forest Hills Drive is sensational. The album’s name is the address of the house he grew up in while living in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Featuring production from the likes of Vinylz, Willie B and Pop & Oak, the album was handled primarily by Cole himself and, as a result, debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. Speaking on the album, Cole once revealed in an interview that when he moved to Forest Hills Drive, it was a big shock to him because it was way nicer than where he was living before.
Speaking with NPR Magazine, Cole disclosed that prior to Forest Hills Drive, “we had to move from this military base to, like, this real, real rough neighbourhood, this trailer park — and not like Eminem 8 Mile. Kid Rock-style. This is just the hood on wheels, you know what I mean? This is like — so from that neighbourhood, which really woke me up. That neighbourhood was like a reality check for me.” He continued and divulged, explaining that after his mother re-married, he “moved to Forest Hills Drive, which was a life-changing experience for me, cause I got my own room. We had a front yard. We had a driveway. It was just a real nice home that felt like we really was barely in there. You know what I mean?”
The album is smooth yet conscious and lyrical. Untouchable in every way.