This weekend I got the chance to link up with Markus Cook and Jack Larsen. Cook is from Cincinatti and has recently started putting out his own music, both songs premiered through Smooth Waves. Jack has been releasing music for a little while longer. The Chicago native was featured on the song “27” by Kevin Abstract on his debut album MTV1987. The two are currently working on a track together that will be premiered through Smooth Waves some time soon and Markus is working on the music video for his song “Sans1995.” Enjoy the photos below and listen to some of Jack and Markus’ music while you scroll.
2014 was a wild year for hip-hop/ rap and we were here to document almost all of it. The following ten projects are my favorite of the year, in no particular order.
Ab-Soul, These Days…, TDE
These Days… is Ab-Soul’s best project to date, slightly edging out his 2012 debut album, Control System. The album never really seemed to garner much attention outside of Ab’s fan base, and most blogs overlooked it on their top albums of the year list. However, it is deserving of much more praise. With jazz-influenced songs like “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” and bass-heavy, street bangers like “Nevermind That,” featuring Rick Ross, the album has something for everyone. From the impressive list of featured artists, to the slightly controversial album artwork, everything was well thought out and executed perfectly by TDE. Ab gave us exactly what he wanted, and it was beautiful.
Kevin Abstract, MTV1987, N/A
Kevin Abstract took the internet by storm in 2014. Going from an artist who was well known in the smaller, underground blog community to being posted on Complex, Billboard and Pigeons and Planes regularly. Even more impressive than his rise to stardom was his debut project, MTV1987. The 12 track tape paints a vivid picture of what growing up and coming of age in an era dominated by social media is like. With only 3 features, MTV1987 gives new listeners an idea of how versatile Kevin is on the mic, being both a rapper and a singer. Thisis a project that will be relevant for years to come. The influence of MTV1987 can be seen everywhere, ranging from Twitter to Soundcloud. A new generation of young people armed with ideas and MacBooks are pushing the boundaries of contemporary art and music.
Theophilus London, Vibes, Warner Bros Records
Vibes is, in Theophilus’ own words, a “real Palm Springs, smoke a joint, hit some mushrooms, go to Joshua Tree, bathe in some motherfuckin’ volcano water… shit like that.” He doesn’t lie, the album is, for lack of a better term, incredibly vibe-y. The whole thing is a hodge podge of different sounds, hitting different ranges of music, from vintage 80’s inspired disco and psychedelic pop, to contemporary hip-hop. This is largely in thanks to the flawless executive production of Kanye West. It’s not everyday that the presence of Kanye West isn’t overwhelming, but on Vibes, he takes a step back and allows London to shine. London’s camp took a huge L in first week sales, barely pushing 2,800 units. However, this isn’t something that’s going to take over the radio and mainstream music. Vibes is a work of art, wonderfully ambitious and experimental.
Mick Jenkins, The Water[s], N/A
Chicago was the hottest city of 2014 for hip hop, followed closely by Atlanta. Chief Keef, drill music, gun violence, GBE, Lucki Eck$, Chance, Alex Wiley… the list of prevalent artists and themes goes on and on. With all of that going on, and all of the artists trying to follow in the footsteps of musicians like Chief Keef and Chance the Rapper, it’s hard to differentiate real talent from those biting off of pre-established talent. Enter Mick Jenkins. I could say a lot about Mick: how socially conscious his raps are, or how progressive his sound is, but I’m not going to say anything about that. I’m going to say one thing. Take an hour out of your day and listen to The Water[s]. If you don’t want to take the time to listen to it all, at least listen to “Dehydration” and “Martyrs.” You can learn something from Mick, and not many rappers teach with their words anymore.
Mac Miller, Faces, Warner Bros Records
Faces is the sound Mac Miller has been searching for for most of his career. He became successful with the frat-rap style that spread like wildfire through college campuses across the US and then ditched that, going after a different sound. However, there was still too much of a college influence on his music, and for a few years he had only mediocre releases (see Blue Slide Park and Best Day Ever). Then, Faces dropped, a tape that seemed, at first, to hold too many songs–24 in all–with no real theme or a unifying sound. And that’s exactly what Mac Miller is, an artist that you can’t label. He’s going to give you laid back songs about drugs, “Angel Dust,” and then 17 songs later he’ll randomly drop a banger with MMG’s Rick Ross, “Insomniak.” Faces is one of the few projects that dropped early on in 2014 and remained relevant after countless listens.
Riff Raff, Neon Icon, Mad Decent
Look past the white man with cornrows, NEFF sunglasses, vintage windbreakers, and the absurd Versace references and realize that Riff Raff had one of the best albums of 2014. Maybe it’s because of how relaxed this album is; it’s not someone flexing guns and talking street violence, but more a change of pace. The album is full of a range of music, featuring comical songs, 80’s disco reminiscent of the soundtrack for the 2011 movie Drive, rock and roll, and actual rap songs. Riff Raff takes the script, rips it up, flushes it down the toilet, and then rewrites it entirely. You probably hate Neon Icon, but that’s okay, stop being so serious.
In a bold move, J. Cole and Roc Nation released one of the best albums of the year without dropping any singles, only alerting the public a few weeks before the release date and having no featured artists. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is Friday Night Lights J. Cole. This is what we’ve been missing from music, and Cole specifically. “You can listen to Born Sinner. You can listen to Sideline Story and hear it, coming out. I wasn’t liking it— I wasn’t happy,” Cole said in an interview with NPR on December 12. Since “letting go” of the things that were holding him back, he’s been able to reconnect with and recreate music that he’s happy with. He holds nothing back on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, being brutally honest on songs like “Wet Dreamz.” He also talks about his quest for material items and wealth on “Tale of 2 Citiez.” You can’t help but be happy for J. Cole with this release–quality hip-hop from a quality human being.
Travi$ Scott, Days Before Rodeo, EPIC/ Grand Hustle/ GOOD Music
If you’re looking for lyricism and content that’s on par with other albums on this list, you won’t find it here. With features from the hottest artists at the moment such as Migos, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan, Days Before Rodeo perfectly embodies the current state of hip-hop and rap. Somehow, the tracks maintain street credibility while also being mainstream enough to appeal to a wide audience. Full of overly simplistic lyrics like, “Call her ticket, cause I really want to meet her (meter),” Travi$ does the most with, well, not a whole not. Expert production and a wide array of different sounds on each track make this the best project of the year.
Childish Gambino, Because The Internet, Island/ Glassnote
There’s not one bad song on Because The Internet. Childish Gambino has done nothing but release quality music since his mixtape days. However, with every release, he gains a new set of critics. He said it best on the song “Be Alone,” off of his first EP, tastefully named EP, “Hard for a Pitchfork, soft for a Roc-a-Fella.” What he’s saying with that line is that his raps are too raw and real for blogs like Pitchfork too handle, but too soft and not street-worthy enough for big record labels like Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records. It’s incredibly unfair that Childish Gambino is still viewed with that lens, as he’s one of, if not the most, talented artists out right now. The only other comparable artist is Drake, who seems to get praise from nearly everyone, all the time. Gambino continues to push the envelope, experimenting with different beats, themes and deliveries, while artists like Drake stay in their comfort zones, dropping albums awfully similar to their last release.
Curtis Williams, Danco James, Two-9
Curtis Williams and Two-9 records are going to blow up in 2015. Thanks, in part, to the fact that Atlanta is playing host to one of the biggest hip-hop movements at the moment and, because they have put together one of the more promising, young collectives in hip-hop. Danco James is one of those tapes that people are going to look back at in a few years and ask themselves, “how did I miss that?” With a smooth, stoner vibe to the project, Curtis comes correct with all 15 tracks. Only straying from the laid back mood on a few uptempo songs like “Box Logos & Box Chevy’s,” “Bong Interlude,” and “Drugs.” Look for Curtis and Two-9 to make big moves in 2015.
2014 is nearing its end and Kevin Abstract’s career is just beginning. The young artist has seen incredible growth in the past year, dropping off MTV1987, touring with his group of friends and being featured on pretty much every big blog out there. With his latest track, “bubblegum/ iwb” he shows, once again, that he’s not afraid to explore new sounds. The production from ROMIL, Bear Face and Kiko Merley is phenomenal. Stream all ten minutes of “bubblegum/ iwb,” below.
We’ve been rocking with Kevin for awhile now and with every release and interview we find that we like the young artist more and more. He was recently interviewed over at Complex and one of the quotes from him that really stuck out to us was this right here:
“MTV1987 is a product of the Internet,” Abstract says. “I am addicted, I’m lost, I’m frustrated, I feel alone when I’m not, and sometimes I’m happy. I’m happy when I get notifications. Why? ’Cause it makes me feel important for a moment. Just for that moment. How fucking sad is my life that I need a notification to make me feel important? Then everything’s back to normal. I’m not saying this is good or bad. I don’t know, maybe I’m just stuck in hell.”
That quote perfectly sums up the effect that social media, and the internet, has had on those growing up in this time period. The false sense of accomplishment and shallow popularity that comes as a product of social media is a very real issue.
You can check out the full interview over at COMPLEX and be sure to watch the video for one of our favorite tracks off of MTV1987- “Hell/Heroina.”
When I look back on 2014, so far, the only projects that really stand out to me are mixtapes. Sure, there have been a few good albums, but mostly, I’ve listened to unofficial projects. Thus far, 2014 is the year of the mixtape, I could give you a list of the 50 best tapes of the year but I’ll stick to giving you my 12 favorite projects.
This list is chocked full of variety, from sing-song club hits to drug infused trap rap to indie rock, there’s a little bit of something for almost everyone. So, without further ado, here are the Best Projects of 2014, thus far. Compiled by writer JW.
12.) Hyype- Divine Minded Chicago rapper Hyype has had an impressive 2014. His mixtape Divine Minded is making my list for two reasons. One, he’s a pretty small time rapper at the moment, but his music is deserving of much more attention. Coming out of Chicago, surrounded by so much emerging talent makes it hard to stand out, but through Divine Minded he distances himself from the competition. And, two, the project is actually very good. From start to finish it maintains a professional sound. The features, production, theme and lyrics are all top notch. Some stand out tracks are “Siege,” “Black Attire” ft. Lucki Eck$ and “Benz.” Download Divine Minded HERE, you won’t be disappointed.
11.) PARTYNEXTDOOR- PND 2 If you’re a fan of PND then you’ll love PND 2, otherwise it’s just more noise. However, being a very big PARTYNEXTDOOR fan I loved PND 2. As the debut studio project for PND this is pretty great. It’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Sticking to his guns throughout the project he gives listeners a slurred, viby, late night at the club, R&B influenced tape. Don’t download this one in hopes of finding exceptional lyricism or anything groundbreaking. Full of hypnotic beats and catchy hooks PND 2 is great to listen to while hanging out by yourself. Some of the standout tracks are “Her Way” and “Recognize.” Download the project HERE.
10.) Allan Kingdom- Future Memoirs I’m not going to lie, on first listen, I didn’t really care for Future Memoirs. Then the single “Already” ft. Kevin Abstract dropped and I couldn’t handle the way Allan danced all over that absolutely insane beat, and the way he held his composure throughout the whole song so well. Anyways, I went back and checked out Future Memoirs, it’s as good as everyone says it is, if not better. On the song “Wavy” he kills the track with a mixture of rapping and ‘pre-pubescent’ crooning that puts whatever the hell Yung Thug is doing to shame. Spooky Black is also featured on the song and the Minnesotan duo sound incredible together (if you ever read this Allan or Spooky, do a joint album, shit would be fire). Other standout tracks are “Evergreens” and “Souls.” Stream and download the tape right HERE.
9.) Kevin Abstract- MTV 1987
It’s not everyday that someone comes along, pretty much out of nowhere, and is able to speak for an entire generation of kids. However, Kevin Abstract has proven that he can do just that. His debut project MTV 1987, as he puts it, is an album for “all of the self-conscious kids who would rather be in their bedroom pretending to be someone else online than going to a high school party and attempting to socialize. The Internet is dark but I feel safe here” (via Billboard). The project was premiered through Billboard and only features 3 other artists. Kevin is only 17, which blows my mind, and already has his own aesthetic, sound and following, there is only one place for the Corpus Christi rapper to go, and that’s up. Some standout tracks are “27,” “SAVE” and “DRUGS.” Stream the project HERE.
8.) Curren$y- Saturday Night Car Tunes Curren$y, much like Drake, has made a career out of creating a lot of songs that sound the exact same. The Jet Life rapper has been in the game for awhile and he hasn’t shown much versatility on the mic. But, that’s okay. And you know why? Because he’s so damn good at doing what he does. I’ve never grown tired of his high-out-of-his-mind delivery and raps about nice cars. Saturday Night Car Tunes is the perfect tape to listen to while you’re (blunt) cruising through town late at night. Download the project right HERE.
7.) Joey Fatts- Chipper Jones 3 Joey Fatts’ career started as a homeless 21 year old who got his big break when A$AP Rocky recruited him for production on his debut album Long.Live.A$AP. The 21 year old had only been making beats for a year, but he worked with A$AP, and the rest is history. Joey’s mixtape Chipper Jones Vol. 3, which released a few weeks back, is HOT. We’re talking, on fire. The tape consists of 10 tracks and Joey’s production and lyrics are dynamite throughout. Chipper Jones Vol. 3 features the likes of A$AP Rocky, Waka Flocka and his cousin Vince Staples, among others. Stream the project right HERE.
6.) Big K.R.I.T.- See Me On Top 4 Big K.R.I.T.’s fourth installment of his See Me On Top mixtape series is flames. The Southern rapper sticks to his roots throughout the project, but at times shows hints of being the rapper that’s radio friendly and versatile. The tape, which only released last week, consists of 20 tracks, most of which K.R.I.T. produced himself. There are a few songs that standout, most notably his freestyle of Drake and Wayne’s “Believe Me.” He spits with such confidence that it’ll leave you speechless, wondering if Drake and Wayne even did the original version justice. Then, there’s “Smoke in Mirrors,” an incredibly smooth joint that he hums through with ease. His album Cadillactica should be here sooner rather than later so be sure to keep an eye out. See Me On Top Vol.4 can be downloaded HERE.
5.) Raury- Indigo Child Raury has burst on the scene in the past few months. From meeting with Kanye West, to signing a major deal the young artist can’t stay off of blogs. Indigo Child is a bold first tape. The lead single, “God’s Whisper,” is a blatant stand against the conformity of everyday life and quite literally ‘sticks it to the man.’ This whole project is incredibly refreshing. It’s not everyday that a tape can remind you of late 70s rock and roll, Kid Cudi and Frank Ocean at the same time and somehow maintain a cohesive rhythm and identity. Hats off to Raury on this first project, we want more from him. Stream the project HERE.
4.) Mick Jenkins- The Water[s] Mick is able to branch out to a mainstream audience without losing any of the quality that we’ve come to expect from him in the past via past tapes like Trees and Truths. With socially aware lyrics and a progressive flow, layered over jazz infused beats, The Water[s] is a treat to listeners ears from start to finish. Songs like “THC” make it all too easy to zone out and enjoy the music. His deep voice mixed with the hectic beat create a perfect unity of sorts. Similarly, on “514,” later in the tape, his deep delivery pairs with the laid back production in the exact same way. Mick has a sound that’s pretty rare these days and a deeper message that’s delivered in every song, something music’s been missing. Download the project HERE.
3.) Mac Miller- Faces I said this earlier this year in my review, and I’l say it again; If this had been a two part mixtape it would be SO MUCH MORE POPULAR. At 24 songs long this is just too long to properly enjoy. Think of how much better it would have been if he dropped off Faces Vol. 1 and then a month later given us Faces Vol. 2. This tape has too much quality that isn’t being talked about. Ever since Mac left the frat rap scene and branched out to this trippy, producer, wild style of rap he’s been so much better. From the trippy, laid back “Angel Dust” to a hard hitting “Insomniak” track with a feature from MMG’s Rick Ross this is a complete project. Watching Movies With The Sound Off was Mac Miller coming into his own sound and Faces is his total transition into what we can expect to hear from him in the future. Download the whole tape HERE.
2.) Curtis Williams- Danco James Danco James… where do I even start with this project? It came out as a complete surprise to me. I had heard Curtis Williams a few times and I knew he was dope, but not to this extent. This tape is an absolute banger. I can’t emphasize how good this is from start to finish. It flows perfectly, Curtis’ lyrics are on point the whole time, the production is beautiful, the features match up perfectly with Curtis’ vibe and the theme of the project. Sit down for 45 minutes and listen to this from start to finish. Listen to this before you go to sleep, or at a party, it doesn’t matter where you are, this is going to be relevant. Download it right now HERE.
1.) Travi$ Scott- Days Before Rodeo Let’s get one thing straight, this isn’t a ‘free mixtape’ this is 12 tracks of album quality material. You don’t feature Big Sean, Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, The 1975, Migos, TI and Peewee Longway on a mixtape. This is so good that it has me worried for the release of Rodeo, Scott’s debut studio album. Topping this will be a feat in itself. However, Travi$ definitely has the resources to do so. Some standout tracks are “Skyfall” ft. Young Thug. From a production standpoint this song is beautiful and somehow Young Thug is incredibly tolerable throughout the whole 5 minutes. Another dope song is “Quintana Pt. 2″ which features a secret verse from TI and will have you saying “I’m finessing” all day long in your head. Get the tape HERE.