We Major: Counting Down The Best Hip Hop Of 2014 With 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
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.
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)