To possibly deem one album the best of the year is a hard task. We blend our favorites with which ones we thought were the best quality and then pool together to come up with a definitive, be-all-end-all list of the best of the best. With so many notable mentions, this year more than ever before found a wide array of contenders. But, without further ado, here are The Hip Hop Speakeasy’s Top Ten Hip-Hip Albums of 2014.
10. Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron
Many of Schoolboy’s tracks have stayed relevant; songs like “Man of the Year,” “Collard Greens,” and “Studio,” are heaters that will remain as some of the year’s catchiest releases. Lyrically, Q jumps around from pouring his heart out on “Prescription-Oxymoron,” to chanting about the money he’s making on the Alchemist-assisted “Break The Bank.” If there’s one thing we can learn from Oxymoron is that there’s more to Q than his “gangsta rapper” label.
9. Common: Nobody’s Smiling
After his 2011 album The Dreamer/The Believer, I totally wrote off Common. With one-off releases like “War” and “Made in Black America” and the overall concept of the Nobody’s Smiling, he had me intrigued.
While I wouldn’t say Common completely executed this concept – bringing on young Chicago talent to speak on the on-going violence on the city’s south and west sides – it is refreshing to see him switch it up.
The tone of the album is significantly darker than anything he’s ever done. And unlike every Common album since Be, Common sounds inspired and hungry.
8. Pharoahe Monch: P.T.S.D.
P.T.S.D., Pharoahe Monch’s follow-up to his 2011 album W.A.R., progresses thematically from its predecessor – which tackled issues of violence, political corruption, social uprising, and freedom – into a project that dives into issues of mental health and depression.
Aptly named Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this album paints the picture of someone who is weary of the fight. P.T.S.D. is one of the strongest albums to come out this year for its ability to sharply venture into the taboo territory of depression and suicide in a genre of music that has long been known to uphold the facade of riches, flash, glamour, and fame. Issues of depression have also been frowned upon in black communities, something that Monch touches on in “Losing My Mind”:
“My family customs were not accustomed to dealing with mental health/
It was more or less an issue for white families with wealth.”
The entire song is a great summation for the theme of the whole album. Monch feels like a person suspended in time and space, as equally as he is trapped in the dark middle ground between family values that are unable to empathize with his mental illness, and a culture that renders it virtually non-existent. While the album is not all gray tides, gracing us with hard-hitters like “Bad MF” and the strictly dope “Rapid Eye Movement” alongside Black Thought, Monch shows a vulnerability on this album that is more relatable to everyday people than most music that has been at the forefront this year. For that reason, P.T.S.D. gets our salute as one of the best albums of 2014.
7. Logic: Under Pressure
I caught on to Logic really late, but not before getting excited to hear the young rapper’s Def Jam debut. When Under Pressure dropped, it had many tinges of music we’ve heard from him before, but there was a certain bit of maturity and more of a no-bullshit attitude that really set this album a part from any of his prior releases.
Under Pressure deals with a lot of Logic’s life growing up like we’ve heard before, but on this record, his songwriting and production talents have soared. Songs like “Buried Alive” show remarkable creativity through vocal chops layered on the beat, and even Logic’s not-half-bad singing accompaniment on the track.
Everyone already knew Logic was lyrical and could spit five hundreds words per minute, but he needed to prove himself on his major label debut. He did just that with a stellar release full of multiple standouts and proof that Logic isn’t a gimmick, but rather a skilled lyricist with a bright future.
6. J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Throughout the album, J. Cole reflected on his childhood, growing up, fame, and more. Songs such as “03 Adolescence,” “No Role Modelz” and “A Tale of 2 Citiez” are among the many stand-out tracks off the album.
Overall, 2014 Forest Hill Drive project was a fantastic album that separated J. Cole from a lot of rappers within the mainstream hip-hop realm last year. With little promo and press, J. Cole was able to sale over 300,000 copies within the first week of the album’s release. J. Cole showed his versatility as a lyrical, mainstream emcee with a long future ahead of him. J. Cole’s latest album is truly a work of art that will be remembered as a pivotal release in hip-hop history.