To close out 2014, here is a playlist of all our favorites tracks from this year. It has been an up and down year overall but here are the standouts. Make sure to play this at all your New Years Eve Festivities tonight!
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.
Smooth Waves Vol. 7 comes just in time for you to unwind after a stressful first semester and is perfect for winter break. This playlist is chocked full of songs that we’ve been playing the past few weeks. Volume 7 provides the perfect mixture of “turn-up” and “sit back and relax.” From Theophilus London to RL Grime we’ve got you covered.
1. “The Light in The Addict”- Action Bronson ft. The Black Atlass (prod. by Party Supplies)
2. “Do Girls”- Theophilus London
3. “Fire”- Vince Staples
4. “Yesterday”- Riff Raff ft. Snoop Dogg and Collie Buddz
5. “Jus Know”- PARTYNEXTDOOR ft. Travi$ Scott
6. “IDFWU”- Big Sean ft. Kanye West and E-40
7. “Pretty Flacko Part II”- A$AP Rocky
8. “Look At Wrist”- The Cool Kids Remix
9. “Drop”- Tayyib Ali ft. Lil Uzi Vert & A$AP Ant
10. “Pussy Overrated”- Mike WiLL Made-It ft. Wiz Khalifa & Future
11. “Deliver”- Lupe Fiasco
12. “Kingpin”- RL Grime ft. Big Sean
13. “Without You”- Spooky Black AtillA Remix
On this week’s edition of The Week In Review we take a look at a lot of quality music from a wide variety of artists that we’ve been listening to lately. From Mardi Lex to Nas, Smooth Waves has the past week covered.
Nas- The Season
It was cool to see Nas flow over such an old track from J. Dilla, RIP. Very reminiscent of old school New York hip hop. Who knows what this one will end up on in the future. Take a listen below.
Earrly Mac- #nextroom
Earrly Mac has continued to catch our attention with his fresh new sound and overall vibe. The track below is slowed down and tells the listener a story about slaying in the room adjacent to your homies. We can definitely relate to the situation that Earrly Mac brings to light.
Lil’ Wayne- “Gotti” ft. The Lox
Instead of the Carter V Lil Wayne drops off a very mediocre song. Not much to say about this one, Wayne falls flat and The Lox fail to impress as well. Give it a listen below and who knows when we’ll get Tha Carter V.
Theophilus London- Vibes
Who would have thought that Theophilus would have an album that’s in contention for the best of the year. The record was executive produced by Kanye, so all of the beats are fire. Theophilus also creates a wild, almost cinematic experience for the listener by having tracks weave in and out like scenes in a movie. Stream the full album below.
SMOOTH WAVES ARTIST Mardi Lex- “Spark”
Fresh off the release of LIFE RHYMES, the boi Mardi is back with some flames. “Spark” is an uptempo song that doesn’t slow down for a second. Peep the single below and stick with us for all news Mardi Lex.
Ro Ransom’s Ro Ransom Is The Future
Here’s JW’s review of RRITF, definitely an interesting read.
Curtis Williams came out of nowhere this week with a brand new track titled “A Rap About A Girl.” We were caught off guard when we saw a very rare image of Lindsay Lohan posted up as a perfect 10 as the single artwork. Who cares what she was putting up her nose awhile ago, she could really get it. Before we get too off track, here’s “A Rap About a Girl.”
Hyype- “Will Smith”
No one cares what you were for Halloween. Hyype IS Will Smith. The Chicago rapper put out a video accompanying his brand new track “Will Smith.” New music from Hyype is always something we look forward to. Peep the video below.
The album doesn’t come out until November 4th, but that did not stop Theophilus London from putting his album online to stream. “Vibes” is executive produced by Kanye West so you know it is bound to be good. Stream the entire project below and make sure to support and get your copy on iTunes November 4th.