20 Amazing Hip-Hop Projects From 2014, So Far (Videos)
2014 is entering its fourth quarter. As a whole, the year has seen some amazing musical developments in Hip-Hop. Mainstream artists like Common, The Roots, and Rick Ross (coincidentally, all Def Jam Records acts) have made statement albums, adding to respected and evolved catalogs. Veterans such as Cormega, Pharoahe Monch, and Dilated Peoples have made returns to the spotlight, meeting the listeners’ vivid expectations and making new fans along the way. Meanwhile, emerging talent ranging from YG to Your Old Droog to Mick Jenkins have dazzled critics and fans alike, with thoughtful, fully-conceptualized releases, free and commercial.
Simply to shed light on the great year presently underway, Ambrosia For Heads opted to compile a chronological list of 20 projects (albums, mixtapes, EPs, etc.) to celebrate 2014. To bring a panorama of great music into the discussion, we also offered samplings from each. Dive in, and enjoy the last eight-plus months of music:
Cilvia Demo by Isaiah Rashad (January 28, Top Dawg)
After success developing and branding four MCs from Greater Los Angeles, Top Dawg Entertainment was at the helm for a relative unknown in Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Isaiah Rashad. Following 2013’s “Shot You Down,” the label launched a full project (like they’d done in the early 2010s with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q). Cilvia Demo keeps everything in-house (and still managed a Top 40 debut) for the then-22 year-old. What was within was raw talent. Rashad offered insightful perspectives from a place (geographically, and in terms of fame) that’s rarely heard at this level from artists in Hip-Hop. What’s more, despite his age, Rashad showed strong ties to his Southern forefathers, only adding to his sources of wisdom and ability to reach farther appeal.
E&J by Dag Savage (Johaz & Exile) (February 4, Dirty Science)
Exile’s track record for for making potent breakthrough albums for MCs may be the best in the last 10 years. After acclaimed LPs with Blu (Below The Heavens), and later Fashawn (Boy Meets World), he makes a full debut by Johaz in their tandem, Dag Savage. The duo’s name seemingly comes as a play on sex-columnist/author Dan Savage, and this album is not short on relationships as a muse. On his own Dirty Science imprint, E&J burns-and-enhances just like its namesake. Released digitally in 2013—Exile and Johaz really started permeating the musical consciousness in the slow-moving months of 2014. With an organic, word of mouth journey, this LP features pleasingly, sample-suited beats, with Everyman rhymes from the former front-man of San Diego, California crew Deep Rooted.
See: “When It Rains” featuring Aloe Blacc
The Black Hystori Project by CyHi The Prynce (February 24, Mixtape)
Like much of the current G.O.O.D Music roster, CyHi The Prynce is without a retail album. However, the Georgia MC who first appeared on Killer Mike’s 2009 Underground Atlanta compilation has only gained skill and momentum five years later. With that, G.O.O.D’s founder, Kanye West executive produced The Black Hystori Project. Released in the closing days of Black History Month, this 18-song mixtape is thematically made in the honor of luminaries ranging from Huey Newton to Barry White to Jean-Michel Basquiat. With very little help (Jon Connor, King L), CyHi made powerful statements and found his musical pocket. A onetime Def Jam Records artist, this sixth official mixtape may be the tipping point for ATL’s well-kept secret.
OXYMORON by ScHoolboy Q (February 25, Interscope/Top Dawg)
Following Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 rise to super-stardom, Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records partnered to take an elevated interest in another Black Hippy artist: ScHoolboy Q. A vastly different artist than K-Dot, Quincey Hanley’s South Central upbringing was colored with gang affiliations, sports, and addiction. These elements played into his major label debut, OXYMORON, an album that Heads seemed to find in line with his Top 200-charting independent releases (2011’s Setbacks, and 2012’s Habits & Contradictions). However, this time Q’s party invited veteran guests such as Kurupt, Raekwon, and Pharrell, as well as his contemporaries. Reaching new fans with a more Pop-minded sound (ScHoolboy later blamed his major label stakers), this album had the Hoover Street native’s brutal honesty, concrete-rooted perspective, and ability to make a hit.
See: “Break The Bank”
Yasiin Gaye by Amerigo Gazaway (February 27, Mixtape)
In the tradition of Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, DJ/producer Amerigo Gazaway made a detailed project combining two visionary musicians. Yasiin Gaye carefully and thoughtfully fused the work of the late Marvin Gaye with that of Yasiin Bey (p/k/a Mos Def). Released in two “sides,” the free-streamed project is among the finest music made in 2014. Sadly, some of the folks who hold the rights to Mos and Marvin’s catalog disagreed. Amerigo’s Bandcamp page, the source of the music, was forced to take down the efforts. However, Heads in the know still know where to look to find some evocative ’70s-’00s mash-ups that are as good as any audio architecture as of late. More than just matching up ideas and records, this mix went incredibly deep to make an educational, fully-comprehensive audio experience that Heads will be coming back to for years to come.
See: “Inner City Breathin'” featuring Tammi Terrell
Mastermind by Rick Ross (March 3, Def Jam/Slip-N-Slide/Maybach Music Group)
On his sixth studio album, Rick Ross got a little bit more personal. Surviving a drive-by shooting a year prior, the self-proclaimed boss goes further into his own untouchable status. Mastermind plays to that attitude. The Miami, Florida MC’s fifth #1 release is an ensemble effort, with Puffy Daddy on executive production. From Kanye West to Keith Sweat to Jay Z, the stars came out in droves to support Rawse on his latest. The ever-evolving booming sound dating back to Port Of Miami held true, with Rick Ross waxing his mafiaso truisms on the album, showing that he cannot be faded on the block or in the landscape of Hip-Hop.
See: “War Ready” featuring Young Jeezy
My Krazy Life by YG (March 18, Def Jam/CTE World/Pu$az Ink)
As Los Angeles’ mainstream Hip-Hop is being redefined by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kid Ink, and Tyga, YG calls back to the late ’90s Gangsta Rap party that seemingly ended too soon. From the streets of Compton, this patiently-waiting veteran dropped his studio debut after four years of plugging away at his sound. Like Snoop Dogg with Dr. Dre, or Ice Cube with DJ Pooh and Sir Jinx, YG entered with a production partner who brought so much charm to My Krazy Life. DJ Mustard, responsible for eight of the LP’s 14 tracks, made thumping records (in the vein of Too Short and The Click) that nodded to strip clubs and candy-painted convertibles alike. For an album that did not run from its ties to the Tree Top Piru street gang (the same one DJ Quik chanted 20 years ago on “Dollars and Sense”), artists like Drake, Rich Homie Quan, and K-Dot fit snugly in, on songs about loyalty, hopelessness, and refusing to live by any other code than that of the streets.
See: “Who Do You Love?” featuring Drake
Between Heaven & Hell (Deluxe Edition) by Add-2 & Khrysis (April 1, Jamla)
Like Dag Savage’s E&J, Add-2 & Khrysis tiptoed into the water in late 2013 with Between Heaven & Hell. However, it was in April of this year that the Chicago-to-Raleigh tandem would fully release their conceptual breakthrough. Dropping on 9th Wonder’s Jamla imprint, this effort featured highly-personal commentary on the violence in Chicago, paying immense dues in a blog-era Hip-Hop culture, and some good, old-fashioned bragaddocio. The Away Team’s Khrysis provides some of his finest production in recent years, while the patiently-waiting Add shows the masses that he can execute a whole album as an MC. The latest incarnation of Jamla shows incredible promise with projects like this.
See: “Death Of Chicago”
PTSD by Pharoahe Monch (April 15, W.A.R/InGrooves)
For much of his 25-year career, Pharoahe Monch has clutched dark subject matters in his rhymes. Arguably, the Queens veteran MC has never been as cohesive and personal as found on PTSD. On the fourth solo LP, Monch delves into his personal depression, touching on suicidal thoughts, career lows, and his surprising struggle with asthma (given his amazing deliveries). Not just stuck in the darkness, PTSD shows P’s bounce-back, adding hope and arc to his narrative. One of the most intricate wordsmiths of the last 20 years continues to amaze, and put tremendous purpose and concept into his albums. Although it lacked the club-friendly moments from his Rawkus or SRC days, Heads could easily argue that PTSD is in the running for Monch’s finest solo set.
See: “Broken Again”
A Thousand Cuts by Locksmith (April 15, Landmark)
A veteran of mid-2000s Bay area group, The Frontline, Locksmith stepped into his own with A Thousand Cuts. The onetime E-A-Ski protege had powerful, personal commentary on race, molestation, and the systems of life in America in 2014. Hard deliveries, varying beats, and evocative themes and subjects make A Thousand Cuts live up to its name in every way. Locksmith proves to be one of the brightest stars from Northern California since Mistah F.A.B. With an onslaught of videos, along with some highly-effective freestyles in promotion of the album, Lock’ may be one of the best comeback stories of the 2014, albeit one that deserves exponentially more attention.
See: “Hardest Song Ever” featuring Leah Tysse
Respect The Architect by Blueprint (April 22, Weightless)
After 11 years releasing nationally-distributed albums, Columbus-to-Cincinnati, Ohio’s Blueprint (Greenhouse, Soul Position) chased a new theme in Respect The Architect. The MC/producer who previously released 1988 on Rhymesayers Entertainment in 2005, made an album more geared towards early ’90s Hip-Hop. Using classic samples of the Marley Marl/DJ Premier era, ‘Print attached his booming, melodic vocals with commentary on everyday living. This serves as a unique progression from Adventures In Counter-Culture, which dabbled with New Wave and Pop. Printmatic returned to his hardcore roots for a record that goes down in history as some of his most potent and stylized work.
And Then You Shoot Your Cousin… by The Roots (May 19, Def Jam)
Eleven albums in, The Roots continue to amaze. The Def Jam-era Roots may be dark thematically, but they are incredibly effective. Like their label-mate Common, The Roots look at the violence of society, and react through art. With an ensemble including mainstays/Money Makin’ Jam Boys Dice Raw and Porn, as well as Raheem DeVaughn, And Then You Shoot Your Cousin clocks in at just over 30 minutes, functioning as a quick, quirky-yet-deliberate commentary on where the Philadelphia icons are after 21 years making albums, from those thriving off of vibe to the most recent five, which are immersed in theme and concept.
See: “Never” featuring Patty Crash
Good To Be Home by Blu (May 19, Nature Sounds/New World Color)
Blu’s output of music in the last four years has been seemingly met with a different reception than his first four. Good To Be Home, finds Blu sounding like he is being true to the title. With relative unknown Bombay taking a full role on the boards, Blu looked at his city, and made intricate, pensive commentary on its place in things. A double-album, the 20 tracks externalized as needed, but also kept things in the signature cerebreality that is Blu. Like NoYork, Blu opened his creative space to a heralded list of guests, including Prodigy, Casey Veggies, and Alchemist—to a greater result than before. Blu’s artistic freedom, and his constant dream-weaving prove to be in step with the times, as the once cult-championed act shows why he needs to be trusted with the reigns.
See: “Well Fare” featuring Thurz & Casey Veggies
Your Old Droog EP by Your Old Droog (June 3, Mixtape)
Take away the hype that added to Your Old Droog’s mystique, and what do you have? One dope MC. A reported native of Coney Island, Brooklyn, Droog has been kicking around (rather low-key) in the New York City underground for several years. Rolling with guys like DJ Skizz, Marco Polo, and DJ Eclipse, Droog embodies that intricate headphone lyricism that reminded many Heads about the fun and intimate relationship with the music from the mid-1990s. The 10-song, self-titled EP was faceless thoughtful rhymes that seemed like a time capsule from a pre-Rudy Gulliani New York City, paving the way for the latest Internet-made Rap sensation.
See: “Loosie In The Store With Pennies”
Dominican Diner by Timeless Truth (June 10, Timeless Truth)
New York City’s Hip-Hop scene has been seeing some sonic resilience in recent years, through artists like A$AP Mob, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, and Bishop Nehru. Out of seemingly thin air though, blood brothers Oprime 39 and Solace (as Timeless Truth) added to this list. Dominican Diner, a retail EP, picks up upon 2012’s Rockit Science. With hard, raspy rhymes, this duo calls back to acts like Blahzay Blahzay, The Beatnuts, and Natural Elements with simple, effective messages rooted in Metrocard travels. An enjoyable listen, Timeless Truth joins Bam-Bam, Roc Marciano, and Ka in their ability to make albums that feel like cassettes in a bygone era of Walkman walking the five boroughs.
See: “Out Of The Loop”
Nobody’s Smiling by Common (July 22, Def Jam)
In his 22nd year releasing albums, Common is out to make a statement in 2014. In the midst of street wars in “Chiraq,” Common looks to his city, and decries the senseless violence, especially plaguing teens on Nobody’s Smiling. Now a Def Jam Records artist, Comm worked closely with the man who helped him garner so much acclaim in the mid-late 1990s, No I.D. Sounding nothing like Resurrection or One Day It’ll All Make Sense, this release has a sound and lineup of guests (including Lil Herb and King L on one of the LP’s cover packagings) rooted in the moment, just like its message.
See: “Kingdom” featuring Vince Staples
Mega Philosophy by Cormega (July 22, Slimstyle)
After a five-year hiatus Queensbridge veteran Cormega returns with his sixth LP, Mega Philosophy. A product of the early ’90s Hip-Hop scene, ‘Mega opted to join his longtime friend Large Professor on a full tandem album. The former incarcerated street figure famously name-checked on Nas’ “One Love” now opted to put aside drug references and work to restrain profanity on an album that was rich in global perspectives, and fearless commentary. As he’s done for 23 years on wax, ‘Mega also brought focus to pure Hip-Hop lyrical displays, welcoming the likes of AZ, Redman, Styles P, Raekwon, and Black Rob to his thoughtful, matured essay.
Directors Of Photography by Dilated Peoples (August 12, Rhymesayers)
After an eight-year hiatus, Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu reunited in Directors Of Photography. Once again independent, the Los Angeles trio reforms following some strong strides as solo acts, that they carried into their onetime Capitol Records stars. In turn, an honest, cohesive, and deeply-considered LP was met with strong commercial performance (a Top 50 debut), and critical cheers. In focus, the third-eye act staked their claim as alternative-L.A. pioneers, identified new goals they’re reaching for, and spoke on the crew’s hiatus and regained momentum. Old friends like Defari, DJ Premier, and The Alchemist came out to support, while the crew welcomed Diamond D, Vince Staples, and Sick Jacken to the cypher.
See: “Let Your Thoughts Fly Away”
The Water[s] by Mick Jenkins (August 12, Cinematic)
Chicago’s wave continues to crest. Mick Jenkins, a product of Cinematic Entertainment (Big K.R.I.T., Joey Bada$$, Smoke DZA) delivers one of 2014’s revered mixtapes in Water[s]. Deeply influenced by Jazz, this slow-moving, thoughtful, and heavily-medicated Mick made an album (albeit a freebie, a la Section.80), that was unlike everything else. For Heads in search of something youthful, informed, and yet seemingly irreverent, The Water[s] quenched. Joining Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa, Mick suggests why Chicago is having a Hip-Hop renaissance in real-time, that will be a delight to watch over the next several years.
What Goes Around by Statik Selektah (August 19, ShowOff/Duck Down)
On his sixth album, Statik Selektah continues a trajectory of quality mixtape-style albums that dates back to the mid-2000s. For his latest, a second go-round with Duck Down Records, the Massachusetts-to-Brooklyn DJ/producer expands his Rolodex of guests, and refines the theme of songs, based on collaborations. This effort brings UGK’s Bun B and De La Soul’s Posdnuos together for a once seemingly unlikely marriage of MCs explaining their undying love (“God Knows”) for the culture. Action Bronson, Royce Da 5’9 and Black Thought unite for some slick wordplay, showing that the Word is immortal, while Snoop Lion gets back on his pimp-ish alongside Tha Ranjahz’ Wais P, Ransom, and Charlie RED. Statik’s influence on artists, and their trust in his ear is growing. This effort and its polish are worthy of retail purchase.
See: “God Knows” featuring Bun B, Posdnuos & Jared Evan
What are some of your favorite projects from 2014 in Hip-Hop music?