2014 was an interesting year for hip-hop, and was nothing short of surprising in many aspects. From disappointing releases to free projects, this year was full of good and bad moments alike. So I’ve taken to organizing some of these interesting and memorable moments in hip-hop last year into the list of 2014’s Top Ten Surprises.
10. The Lackluster TDE Albums
Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, the CEO of TDE promised us six albums in 2014. That’s number one. Number two: the albums that did release did little to match the potency of Kendrick Lamar’s famed good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
Now pushing out six albums in one year is a nominal feat in and of itself for a small label, especially when the hype surrounding the roster is insane. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Isaiah Rashad and SZA were all supposed to drop albums this year, but we saw everyone release an album save for Jay Rock, and the unforgettable Kendrick Lamar. What happened? Who knows, but even with the four albums we got, they were generally pretty underwhelming.
Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo was an artsy effort that fell short due to subpar marketing and promotion not really making this album as known as it should have been. It slipped through the cracks quietly, but even after listening, the album leaves a lot of room for improvement for the Tennessee rapper. SZA’s Z was a trip, prevailing by stretching out dreamy tones and hypnotic singing that left little to be desired lyrically, but much appreciated musically. Schoolboy’s album was the most commercially successful of releases by TDE. Content-wise, the album found Q all over the place by rapping on trap beats, confessing skeletons in the closet and making obvious radio hits. Ab-Soul’s album was the most underwhelming for it’s lack of above-par lyrical content listeners have come to expect from the conscious emcee, as well as the overall linear trajectory the album takes; the replay value of These Days… is very low. Perhaps Jay Rock and Kendrick’s albums will make up for the lackluster performance by TDE in 2014. Only time will tell.
9. Waka Flocka Flexing Over J. Cole’s “Fire Squad” Instrumental
I hope you didn’t miss this, because I almost did. Waka Flocka Flame makes his Hip Hop Speakeasy debut by impressing the hell out of me on his freestyle verse over J. Cole‘s “Fire Squad” instrumental.
The usual trap rapper takes a moment to rap with his well-known, fiery flow on this boom-bap instrumental. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a crucial element to making artists interesting and, quite frankly, listenable. Nothing gets more tiring than an artist doing the same exact thing album after album, or mixtape after mixtape. So hearing Waka Flocka on this instrumental is refreshing to say the least and the track easily catches the attention of anyone who has never paid mind to the Atlanta rapper. Who knew Flame could get serious for a second and show us what he can do behind a mic for real?
If you haven’t caught wind, stream the “Flockmix” of “Fire Squad” by Waka Flocka Flame below and enjoy the rapper dishing out rap slander left and right on this hard-hitting track.
8. OG Maco’s Racially Conscious Breathe EP
Similar to Waka Flocka Flame’s surprise release (mentioned above), OG Maco dropped an impressive, conscious effort entitled Breathe EP. The “You Guessed It” rapper showed that there’s more to him as an artist than HUAH‘s and internet stardom.
In light of recent events between citizens and police officers in the United States, OG Maco embodies the “Black Lives Matter” movement on this three track project. The EP finds Maco rapping over a starry, boom-bap instrumental produced by the one and only Chuck Inglish on the first track, and more familiar trap beats on tracks two and three. The subject matter is fairly conscious for a rapper made famous off of his commercially-friendly hit.
“Get Down” starts off with a quick few bars in one breath, and then the subsequent bars keep up the potency by posing questions about peace and violence, poverty, commercialism, the United States and its judicial system, and much more. Damn. OG Maco killed it on this one. If you have any negative sentiments towards this rapper, think twice and bump this EP and be amazed.
Download Breathe EP via Soundcloud.
7. Lil Wayne Joining the Zulu Nation & His Beef With Cash Money
Did anyone see this coming? Didn’t think so. Lil Wayne made headlines this year on two separate occasions. The first time was when it was announced that the Cash Money head joined the legendary Zulu Nation.
I was debating on whether or not to include Q-Tip‘s positive remarks about Migos, as well as his approval of Wayne’s Zulu membership on this list, but decided that Wayne’s surprises this year were greater than Q-Tip’s opinion.
Weezy then faced some interesting trouble as of late with the apparent delay of Tha Carter V. And doing what rappers do best, Lil Wayne took to Twitter to vent his frustration and ignite the publicly known debacle happening over at Cash Money HQ. Besides “feeling like a prisoner,” Wayne directly blamed Birdman for the delay of his forthcoming album. Who knows where this will lead, but the idea of Lil Wayne disassociating with Cash Money Records…and possibly going independent!? Hey, it’s fun to speculate a little bit.
6. Big Sean’s Untitled EP
It would seem that the easiest way to surprise us is to drop an album out of nowhere. I mean, that’s what surprises are right? Big Sean dropped an untitled EP out of nowhere on September 12th featuring four tracks, including the infectious “IDFWU.”
While Big Sean handles the majority of the album spitting solo (save for E-40’s feature on “IDFWU”), many producers graced the beats on this project. Kanye West, DJ Mustard, and Mike WiLL Made It are just a few of the big name beat makers who have credits on this short, but powerful EP.
The project was celebratory, released after Big Sean was signed to Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation. The EP also preps listeners for the Detroit rapper’s next album. With a more trap-oriented vibe, I wonder how much this untitled project reflects on Big Sean’s music right now, but only the release of new music in 2015 will tell.
Download Untitled EP via DJBooth.net.