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We Major: Counting Down The Best Hip Hop Of 2014 With Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez , December 15th, 2014 09:33

Our US hip hop correspondent Gary Suarez - the Rib Eye King - gives us his top 25 rap albums and mixtapes

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There's no sense in trying to decipher or understand why major labels do what they do. Like newspaper and book publishing, theirs is an endangered corporate species grappling with untenable traditions and undesirable realities. Gold is the new platinum, an economic corporeality that leaves corner office decision makers increasingly wary of pulling the trigger on the album launches of even proven talents. Well past the quaint notion of slipping release dates, major label hip hop has become so unreliably tardy it's starting to lose friends and stop getting invited to parties.

Nowhere is this problem more evident than in the YMCMB multiverse. Despite boasting one of the most blogged about rosters in hip-hop, several of its best-selling artists have spent the year in release date limbo. Nicki Minaj dropped no less than four singles specifically intended for The Pinkprint - which was released today - the delayed follow-up to her two back-to-back Pink Friday records. The most successful of the bunch, 'Anaconda' audaciously sampled Sir Mix-A-Lot's ubiquitous 1992 hit and - assuredly thanks to an RIAA move last year to count digital streams towards certification - achieved double-platinum status in the U.S. Nevermind that it was reductive dreck, a nostalgic pop pummeling delivered by Nerf sledgehammer.

Despite the insipid balladry of her most recent track 'Bed Of Lies', The Pinkprint looks likely to be the only one of YMCMB's purported album releases to come out before 2015. We're more likely to find that missing Malaysian plane than to cop Tyga's The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty in stores on December 23. Lil Wayne, who featured alongside Drake on Minaj's exceedingly awful 'Only', announced back in October that the first volume of his long-awaited Tha Carter V would drop on December 9. The lack of traction for his five middling 2014 singles seemed to guarantee an imminent date slippage, though Weezy now publicly claims that YMCMB refuses to release any of it.

After 2013's feast, majors have proven unprepared for the subsequent famine. Hopeful rumors around a possible surprise album from the likes of Jay-Z or Kanye West appear to have been just that. J Cole and Fabolous both announced December records out of nowhere, but they're not even in the same weight class as Hov and Ye sales-wise. Rick Ross delivered two full-lengths mere months apart, the more recent Hood Billionaire tracking to sell some 100,000 fewer copies in the U.S. in its first week than the earlier and equally dull Mastermind. Eminem's half-return in the form of a Shady Records compilation in late November may serve as a makeshift spreadsheet tourniquet, but it won't stop the red ink hemorrhage. The thing to remember about empires is that empires fall. The dynastic reign of acronyms like MMG and YMCMB had to decline at some stage.

If we're being honest (in the Future Hendrix sense of the word), 2014 hip hop wasn't about the old guard. This is a time of marvelous flux, where the proliferation of Bandcamps and Soundclouds achieved symbiosis with the insatiable music media beast. Majors played a key role in this, getting behind breakout hits by Dej Loaf, O.T. Genasis, O.G. Maco, iLoveMakonnen, and Bobby Shmurda - sometimes beforehand, sometimes shortly thereafter. In a year where the biggest stars in hip hop couldn't drop a single worth a damn, here came these young guns hollering 'I GOT NEXT'. Whether or not the industry will support or trample these promising artists remains to be seen, as the recent expulsions of Chief Keef and Trinidad Jame$ make painfully clear. Yet the public's acceptance of their sheer sonic and stylistic differences from the previously bankable players suggests that hip hop is moving forward and moving on.

When we look at some of the DJ Mustard-helmed success stories of 2014 - Kid Ink, Ty Dolla $ign, YG - it's become clear that the myopic focus on Atlanta has been a distraction. Jeezy and T.I. came through with new albums packed with old ideas, the former doing a considerably better job than the latter. With good singles under their belts together and respectively, Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug need to yield proper albums in 2015 or they're as good as done. Yes, Migos' self-sustaining mixtape model appears to be working for them, but as we've learned from tepid tapes like 1017 Thug 3 it might not yield the same results for the likes of Thugger. And while Father may have quietly dropped one of the year's best albums, the rest of his populous and prolific Awful Records crew hasn't. Atlanta could use some breathing room.

Outside of Atlanta and outside of the major label machine, rap may have had one of its best years ever in terms of innovation and creativity. Artists like Mndsgn, Ratking, Travi$ Scott, and Yung Lean have taken the genre in remarkable and progressive directions, expanding hip hop's palette with fearlessness and aplomb. As 100s, DonChristian, Partynextdoor and Swedish Gravity Boys Bladee and Thaiboy Digital proved independently, there's so much untapped potential in the rapper-turned-singer arena that Drake has inadvertently opened the door for. The Hellfyre Club blew A$AP Mob, Odd Future, and just about every other ballyhooed crew to smithereens with a compelling quartet of records from Busdriver, Milo, Nocando, and Open Mike Eagle. Operating on their own terms, seasoned cats Freddie Gibbs and Madlib put every insufferable Real Hip Hop proponent in his place with the blaxploitation-inspired masterpiece Piñata.

Below you'll find my personal picks of the 'Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums of 2014'. Many of you will no doubt be aghast at the omissions, almost as much as some of the inclusions. Some of you will likely react by dismissing the list outright. It is for this reason, among other arguments, that I remain a vocal critic of (and protesting participant in) this ugly business of year-end list-making. During this ugly season, subjectivity is not rewarded unless it somehow matches consensus. It's not entirely your fault, aggrieved reader, but rather a blame shared with music writers who actively conditioned you over the previous eleven months to go with the flow. You've been psychologically abused by a chorus of chummy didacts, and I want to de-program your Run The Jewels-fixated brains. Remember that these are the same writers who bombard you with the latest Drake and Kanye minutia and call it news. They don't have your best interests at heart. But I do. Trust me.

I love you more than them. I love you enough to tell you the truth. Amazing things are happening in hip hop that may have escaped you. Chris Crack, Cities Aviv, Smoke DZA - do any of these names ring a bell? If not, suppress your conditioned responses long enough to give these excellent records a shot. You deserve to hear what you've been missing. You deserve to be happy. Let me help you help yourself.

Or nah.

25. Mndsgn - Yawn Zen (Stones Throw)
24. Thaiboy Digital - Tiger (Gravity Boys)
23. Chris Crack - Kickin It Wit TW (New Deal Crew)
22. Bladee - Gluee (Bladee 1000)
21. Kevin Gates - By Any Means
20. Milo - A Toothpaste Suburb (Hellfyre)
19. Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy (Mello)
18. Father - Young Hot Ebony (Awful)
17. Smoke DZA - Dream.Zone.Achieve (R.F.C.)
16. Rome Fortune - Small VVorld (Small World)
15. Antwon - Heavy Hearted In Doldrums
14. Young Roddy - Route The Ruler
13. Busdriver - Perfect Hair (Big Dada)
12. Ballout - Welcome 2 Ballout World
11. Chimurenga Renaissance - Rize Vadzimu Rize (Brick Lane
10. YG - My Krazy Life (Pu$haz Ink)
09. Dej Loaf - $ell Sole
08. Cities Aviv - Come To Life (Young One)
07. Iggy Azalea - The New Classic (Virgin EMI)
06. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!(WARP)
05. Yung Lean - Unknown Memory
04. 100s - IVRY (Fools Gold)
03. DonChristian - Renzo Piano
02. Ratking - So It Goes (HXC)
01. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (Madlib Invazion)

Dec 15, 2014 9:40am

Haven't heard a lot of the stuff on this list, but love the Don Christian, Milo, Freddie Gibbs/Madlib, Cities Aviv & 100s records. Couldn't get into Flying Lotus and didn't really get into YG. Apollo Brown/Ras Kass would definitely have made it into my top 10, that album seems to have passed by quietly but it's brilliant. And dare I say it, I loved RTJ2 as well...

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Dec 15, 2014 10:24am

Surprised to see Yung Lean on any year end list to be honest. Can't see the appeal of his lyrical content or delivery but his instrumentals are always excellent. Might listen to it later thanks

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Dec 15, 2014 11:06am

I can respect your #1 selection but most of the rest show a lack of good taste in hiphop. How is DJ Quik's Midnight Life not on there? That's a joke! But Iggy Azalea is? How about Azealia Banks? I don't see her anywhere.
You have Iggy Azalea, but none of the better mainstream records either. Flying Lotus's album isn't even rightly classified as a hiphop album.
On an independent level, where too is Souls of Mischief and Adrian Younge? Where is RTJ aka El-P and Killer Mike's album?
Overall this is a horrendous list and undermines the credibility of The Quietus to speak on hiphop.

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Dec 15, 2014 11:29am

Nice one Gary. Though why the RTJ2 dig...

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Dec 15, 2014 2:01pm

Yeah, the RTJ2 dig was just beyond arseholish....loads of people love it, you don't...but to suggest they've all been duped into liking it is just dickish

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Dec 15, 2014 2:58pm

Appreciate the list and the leaving off of RTJ2. I like it, but El-P's done better.

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Dec 15, 2014 5:41pm

no soulja boy?

automatically discounted

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Dec 15, 2014 9:40pm

Overall fantastic list (thrilled to see Driver and Cities Aviv) but Antwon is the worst embodiment of every single thing you warn against imo.

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Dec 16, 2014 3:52am

I feel bad that Stalley's album isn't appearing on more end-of-the-year lists.
I get that DJ Mustard is the man of the hour in hip hop right now, and that 'My Krazy Life' is way better than anyone expected YG to do, but I've listened to 'Ohio' way more than I've listened to 'MKL'.

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Dec 16, 2014 9:37am

Unlike many others, I'm not losing sleep over your omission of RTJ2: I think it's painfully inconsistent and basically not as much fun as everyone seems to think it is. Personally, there's way too much reverb on both their voices and I've never been the biggest El-P fan.

However, and I know it;'s only two weeks old, but not including Hail Mary Mallon's second album is an error of judgement. It's a much improved LP from their first album and I've only seen the405 give it the time of day it merits.

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Dec 16, 2014 4:26pm

As it was your glowing review that put me onto the Apollo Brown/RasKass album, i'm surprised to not see it here. But i've been digging a load of the rest and agree they're some of the years best.

And in defence of these end of year lists, there's penty here i haven't checked and will be spending the early part of 2015 doing so. Thereby keeping my tastes diverse and myself deservedly happy (as you put it). Cheers.

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Gary Suarez
Dec 16, 2014 11:21pm

In reply to danobedlam:

Honestly, that Apollo & Ras Kass record was a painful omission. If I'd done a Top 30, it would surely have made the cut.

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Doc Duc
Dec 17, 2014 12:24am

Wait a minute....We've been programmed to like Run The Jewels but the Iggy Azalea love in is a naturally occurring phenomenon?

GTFOH with that ish!!! RTJ2 was a free download on an indie label, if music writers like it, it sure ain't cos of payola or keeping their PR paymasters happy.

Some of the best albums of the year are on that list, but I doubt most of those albums will be remembered this time next year.

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Tim Space Debris
Dec 18, 2014 1:03pm

Hey Gary didn't you hear Black Portland, Underground Tape Cassette Music, Heat Vol.1, $hmopcity, Wet 2, Life After Death Row, Bullet, A Que Fresco, Tony, Gangster Stripper Music etc. etc. Your list seems out of touch pretending to be in touch. Writing off Young Thug for one shite mixtape appears a little fickle and knee-jerk ie. trying to start a backlash. Probably DJ Mustard's worst year since he hit the scene really, 2 On notwithstanding. I like My Krazy Life but Oxymoron is the real killa. I've gotta say your credibility is suspect.

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N Glover
Dec 18, 2014 8:04pm

The Suarez doth protest too much on RTJ but hey... No Young Fathers? Busdriver is good but going over old ground. Ratking a disappointment after their debut efforts.

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Dec 19, 2014 10:35pm

Oh, it's instead of an 's'. That's clever.

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Jon Thomas
Dec 20, 2014 9:41pm

No Clipping?

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