Words by Robin Johnson & Ben Sherak
It’s a wrap for the first seven months of 2014 and that means it’s time to acknowledge the songs that were most impactful, catchy, interesting, fun, original, and well-crafted. We’ve rounded up the cream of the crop for one list: The 15 Best Songs of 2014 (So Far).
15. Future – “Move That Dope” Featuring Pusha T & Pharrell (Honest)
Of all the entries on this list, “Move That Dope” is most indicative of hip-hop radio’s status quio, but if that includes vivid writers like Pusha, innovative weirdos like Future, and all-around talents like Pharrell, the radio just might be a great place to love hip-hop. Future, breaking drunk-robot form, uses a human voice to deliver inhuman, confounding flows that challenge the listener in teh ebst of ways. Pusha continues to expertly poeticize his Kanye-sized attitude (“Wearin’ designer shit that I misspell”) and Pharrell smoothly slides out of the producer’s chair long enough to deliver a wrap-around-the-beat double-time finishing move.
14. Chance The Rapper – “Home Studio” (No Album)
“Home Studio” is the only bonafide rap record that Chance released this year, but it’s packed with enough giddy wit to last an album. Chance packed this jolt of celebration with line after line of swift lyricism: “You gon’ set a bad example for the average bear / You a Yogi, you should idle while in child position,” “Just don’t count your sheep before they hatch, your chicken ‘fore your eggs, or eat your dinner ‘fore you say your prayer,” “Beat the tortoise by a hair (hare) in a old ’44 Taurus on a spare with a wax finish,” This song is just bursting at the seams with wit.
13. Alex Wiley – “Vibrations” (Village Party)
Village Party, strange young Chicagoan Alex Wiley‘s second release in two years, was a record of astounding melody, innovation, and ADD. It was catchy and piercing at almost every turn, and neither adjective could be more fitting for the tape’s biggest standout, “Vibrations.” Wiley summarizes his attitude and mission statement nicely here–”I just do my own thing, OK, and hope it all works out,” before burning the house down with one of his typically head-spinning double times and tearing into a hook that’s at once passionate and party-ready. This track even does auto-tune well.
12. Drake – “Trophies” (Young Money: Rise Of An Empire)
If Drake wasn’t acting out skits on SNL, he was either hosting the ESPY’s, gearing up for a tour with Lil Wayne or dropping some very dope guest verses. This single from the Young Money compilation album was so clearly its highlight that it’s hard to imagine it as being on that album. There are few better examples of Drake’s all-around dominance than this record.
11. Isaiah Rashad – “Heavenly Father” Featuring SZA (Cilvia Demo)
Just signed last year, Isaiah Rashad has already proven to be on the level of TDE’s previous rap artists. “Heavenly Father” is sheer poetry at heart and his EP, Cilvia Demo, proved that despite being only 23, his soul is well beyond his years. Isaiah Rashad deserved his spot on the 2014 XXL Freshman List as well as to be voted on this list, twice.
10. Mac Miller – “Erica’s House” Featuring Treejay (No Album)
The funniest song of the year’s thusfar also one of the best. Mac Miller, cozying to his role as the rap game’s increasingly trippy former-bro cousin, raps like he’s bored with the acid he just took. He’s self aware, he’s absurdist, he’s hilarious: “Let’s go to Syria and have a war / Stop fuckin’ calling me Macklemore / That’s not my name, well kinda…it’s kind of my name” he drools on the intro. “I love like a folk singer and fuck like a crack addict,” he croaks in the first verse. “Still having sex with blind people / They say my pussy smell like pine needles / Bust a nut in the poultry section at John Eagle / Look a chicken in the face like, bitch, I’ma eat you,” he proclaims proudly in the third. Mac Miller has become some strange Odd Future-Madvillain hybrid, with a sprinkle of a calmer Eminem, and we’re all the better for it.
9. Imagine Dragons – “Radioactive” (Remix) Featuring Kendrick Lamar (No Album)
The fact that Kendrick appears on this list two (and a half) times without having released a solo song this year is a testament to his sway, not only over trends and fans, but over the quality of any record he touches. A greater testament to that: the fact that Imagine Dragons‘ “Radioactive” is a more or less a moderate/solid Coldplay song, that, molded by King
Midas Kendrick’s hands, is suddenly the 9th best hip-hop song of the year. Introduced during the chill-inducing Grammy performance, K.Dot’s frantic, poetic closing statement on the Dragons’ hit is a moment that stays with you long after the record is off. The verse is sort of a “Control” aimed at his demons and the surrounding universe, and the results are something that bleeds far deeper and more powerfully than a mere boast.
8. Common – “Kingdom” Featuring Vince Staples (Nobody’s Smiling)
Ten studio albums in and Common still has it. Linking back up with his main producer, No I.D., “Kingdom” carries a triumphant melody and a much needed message towards Chicago’s gun violence.
7. Big K.R.I.T. – “Mt. Olympus” (Cadillactica)
When K.R.I.T. released “Mt. Olympus,” he kicked down the door and came straight for the jugular. The Mississippi country boy just wants to be heard and K.R.I.T. takes the opportunity to snap on this one. His upcoming album, Cadillactica is set to be released later this year and when it does, hopefully the world will be listening.
6. Schoolboy Q – “Prescription/ Oxymoron” (Oxymoron)
Not only was Oxymoron amongst the most celebrated albums of the year, but Q also brought gangsta rap back to the forefront. He showed us just how disturbing it is be an Oxycodon addict and then, to turn the narrative on its head, showed us what it’s like to sell it right after. Chilling details coupled with production handled by TDE’s in-house producers Digi+Phonics makes this one of the best tracks of the year so far.
5. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Real” (Piñata)
Madlib‘s never sounded angrier. Not that he actually raps here–it’s entirely Freddie‘s show, and more on that later–instead, the rollicking first beat for “Real” is the most animalistic, beast-on-a-hunt feeling beat that the perma-stoned West Coaster has ever produced. Even the second instrumental on the two part assault, while sounding like vintage Beat Konducta, still packs a serious whollop, with a kick drum like a cannonball. Meanwhile, Gangsta Gibbs lets off one of the most passionate and thorough disses in recent memory (in history?). Most people quote the vivid tales that Freddie lays out as plain evidence against Jeezy (“You ain’t take security, so we ain’t take a seat,”) but what really makes this record special (aside from Freddie and ‘Lib’s pure ferociousness) is how Fred shows us that the beef is tied to true emotion, that it was born of a friendship–“I looked up to you, put that on my mama.” That cuts deep.
4. The Roots – “When The People Cheer” Featuring Greg Porn and Modesty Lycan (…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin)
The Roots really can do no wrong. They are veterans in the game and their music always comes with stellar production and a meaningful message. Taking a conceptual approach to every song on the album, “When The People Cheer” sets the tone of the album hitting on anti-rap themes and community stereotypes of seeking guidance in the wrong places. Between Greg Porn and Black Thought’s verses, it’s nearly too much poetry for one song, which is why it landed in the top 5.
3. Rick Ross – “Sanctified” Featuring Big Sean and Kanye West (Mastermind)
Ross, Big Sean and Ye’ swap hooks and verses in between sips of sanctified refreshments, all the while sporting DONDA apparel for this one. This is Ross’s song, but Ye takes the most time at the podium to address the critics and to justify his rants. Ye hasn’t dropped the follow up to his Yeezus album yet, but he did manage to take over someone else’s song and steal the number 3 spot on this list.
2. SZA – “Babylon” Featuring Kendrick Lamar (Z)
SZA is holding her own as TDE’s first female signee while representing the label’s more eclectic side. Her EP, Z, as stated by Kendrick Lamar, is laced with hidden messages and “Babylon” is one of the deeper songs that has a dual meaning. SZA sings about a complex love/hate relationship in a spiritual context. Kendrick Lamar’s clever wordplay adds more meaning to thought, sending the emotional roller-coaster ride out of control. TDE has clearly taken over this list, and for good reason.
1. Young Jeezy – “Seen It All” Featuring Jay Z (Seen It All: The Autobiography)
Young Jeezy prides himself on authenticity. In fact, he’s one of the realest rappers out here (unless you’re asking Freddie Gibbs). Before rapping, drug dealing was Jeezy’s means of survival and the testimonial track “Seen It All” gives us his truthful encounter of selling white. Hov takes us back to his Reasonable Doubt days as he recounts his vision of pushing keys through Marcy Projects. Originally made for Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, the single will be featured on Young Jeezy’s upcoming studio album Seen It All: The Autobiography. It’s no doubt why “Seen It All” is number one–it’s the G-code standard for sifting out rap counterfeits.
Alex Wiley – “Forever” Featuring Mick Jenkins
Ratking – “Canal”
YG – “Really Been” Featuring Kendrick Lamar
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Uno”
Drake – “Days In The East”
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