While some would say that we had a pretty lackluster year when it comes to hip hop albums, a point could be made that we saw some new legends solidify themselves as such. Beloved emcee J. Cole delivered big on his latest album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which is the most recent of all the albums on this list. People have labeled it as “boring” and “just another J. Cole album,” but other fans, including myself, believe that it is exactly the type of album the culture needed. It’s positive, real and above all it’s honest.
Now, Jermaine definitely gave us a great album, but he’s not the only one who delivered on their studio effort this year—in fact, he doesn’t even hold the top spot.
5. Thelonious Martin, Wünderkid
Chicago is home to a litany of tremendous emcees, but one could definitely argue that there is just as much talent on the production front. One of the standouts from Chi-town is Thelonious Martin, who reaffirmed his quality as a producer with his wonderful, recently-released album titled Wünderkid. It’s well-done cover to cover, especially because of features from many including Mac Miller, Michael Christmas and Joey Purp—but it’s the sample-based, eclectic production that shines most on this joint. Overall, it’s an easy listen that’s hard to not enjoy.
4. Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo
If you knew who Isaiah Rashad was before signing with TDE, congrats. Rashad only had a handful of singles (and a fan-made mixtape) out before earlier this year, and just by listening to those it’s easy to see why Dave Free and co. pounced on the Chattanooga rhyme slinger. His debut project to the world came in the form of Cilvia Demo, a southern-inspired, 14-track project. It displayed Rashad’s ability to deliver intricate, metaphor-driven verses as well as create harmonies and write hooks that are infectious and enjoyable. It’s a great introduction to the 20-something artist, and I’m excited for more.
3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Cocaine Piñata
Freddie Gibbs and legendary producer Madlib seem like an unlikely pair, but even the oddest of couples can make something great. Well, that something great came in the form of Cocaine Piñata, which some would argue as the year’s best hip hop album. While it narrowly missed the top of my ranking, it is a very entertaining and quality album from the two. Gibbs’ hard-as-rock, gritty lines mixed with Madlib’s signature production makes for one hell of a concoction, and was one of the best rapper-producer collab albums to be released in recent years.
2. J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive
J. Cole is one of the most respected and well-received artists of this generation, and solidified his legacy with his latest album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. This was a prime example of quality, true hip-hop by one of the best to do it today. It has elements of story telling mixed with intricate wordplay, all over some pretty smooth production. It’s sold over 350,000 units so far, and surely going to keep thriving into the new year. It does lack a certain “wow” factor, but overall it’s a deep album that requires multiple listens—there’s layers to this album, you really have to peel ’em back to truly capture each message Cole is relaying.
1. Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels 2
Killer Mike and El-P followed up their critically-acclaimed album Run The Jewels with the sequel, aptly titled Run The Jewels 2. The off-the-wall lyrics combined with the superb, crisp production really makes this album what it is. The chemistry between the emcees also really adds to the album’s overall value, and makes it a fun, satirical ride that most any hip-hop fan could enjoy. Together they form a pair that is unmatched by most factions in today’s generation, and that is going to take them very far.
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