1. Souls Of Mischief & Adrian Younge - There Is Only Now
For another year, Adrian Younge shines at the top of our Best Of list, this time with with accomplished west coast crew Souls Of Mischief. This is a project I wasn’t initially sure about, I knew it was gonna be dope, but I wasn’t sure that it would top Adrian's Ghostface collabo. Well it did! I’m a little disappointed I didn’t see this album at the top of more "Best of lists" but oh well, their loss. This album is so rich on so many levels, lots of layers from production to lyrics to skits, and you really get the sense that it took some calculated efforts to put the project together. The only thing it requires, is for you to listen from beginning to end. I know that may sound like a lot to ask for today but this project well deserves it. The intriguing storyline pulled me in from the first track and heightened to an amazing degree once I heard the Busta Rhymes track (Womack's Lament). Souls Of Mischeif crew kept my attention for the entire listen and showed off their talents as versatile lyricists with each track and the multiple production change ups. Definitely a project with lots of different music attributes to offer yet still very much cohesive in sound. To sum it up, the album sounds like a marriage between vintage Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Souls Of Mischief all upgraded to 2014.
2. Bishop Nehru & MF DOOM - NehruvianDOOM
Aaaah yes, the album I’ve been anticipating pretty much all year till its release. I admit, I didn’t know much of Bishop before I heard that this collabo was in the works, but when I heard that the two were linking up for a project, I really sought out to listen to Nehru’s Music, but not on some casual listening tip, I really took the time to dissect the lyrics on his previous Nehruvia Mixtapes. Now maaan, when I got to listening, I totally understod why DOOM decided to work with him. This may sound cliché but it’s still worthy to note that Bishop is really advanced for his age, as he says in the line from “Great Things” - “A walking Diamond, yet they treat me like feldspar”. The young brother is really one of kind in terms of what he chooses to express in his music, just take note to the thought provoking subject matter on his latest track “Breath”. What emcee do you know under 21, let a lone older, that takes the time to do a song on the importance of breath? If you ask me, I’d say a pretty intelligent one. But as I move back to the subject of this NehruvianDOOM LP, I must say that they both collaborated successfully on the project. I was really excited to hear new DOOM production, especially the skits and the multiple beat change ups near the end of certain songs. I could totally hear DOOM’s signature production stamp over all of this, with a variety of new beats and that’s really where the album really grasped me, not to mention his stellar lyrical contributions on the 3 closing tracks. Bishop’s lyrics shine through as a young aspiring emcee eagerness to showcase his skills on the come up, and DOOM plays the role of a big brother mentor, showing him the ropes to success and having his back through out the obstacles of the game. NehruvianDOOM is a project that has stayed on repeat for quite some months and will continue to be revisited as there’s a handful of depth both lyrically and production wise for this project. It was certainly one of my favorites of the year.
3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata
This album was a project I was anticipating since the ending of 2013. They had done a great job prepping the fans with a series of EPs leading up to this project and it made me excited about the full length to come. Boy did they deliver! Madlib just has a way of bringing out the best in Emcees, and Freddie couldn’t find a more perfect fit for his style of rapping on this project. This is another album where you can almost appreciate every track, although there are some really major standouts that make this project all the more wonderful. My favorites are Deeper, Bomb, Robes, Broken, Lakers, Knicks and Shame but there’s much more to ride to. Salute to Gibbs and Madlib on this raw/soulful project, hopefully we can get a part 2.
4. Blu – Good To Be Home
Blu’s "Good To Be Home" LP was one of those albums that kind of crept up out of nowhere. I really wasn’t expecting it to be so good. Also recognizing that it was a double album provided some hesitation, but boy was I mistaken. This project really delivered from a cohesive vibe perspective. Like, Bombay’s Soulful production really brings out the best in Blu !. I don’t think there’s one unlistenable track on this double LP. It just flows from track to track, and the guest features contribute successfully to the project as well. Overall, this is a true modern day West Coast project. It has all of the personalities of the vintage west coast hip hop sound with lots of soul infused. The beats really remind me of something Madlib would do. My highlight tracks are Home, The 50z, The LA, Dre Day, Well Fare, He Man, and Can’t Stop Won’t Stop which is my favorite Posse Cut of the year. It’s just an awesome record from beginning to end.
5. Cormega – Mega Philosophy
Mega really put his stamp on this Album. I’m a fan of his first two albums, and generally his output as an emcee, but this one here really took his emceeing to another level. There’s a great sense of maturity in his lyrics and the production backdrop from Large Professor makes the music shine even more. In taking in the album, you could also tell that Mega really took the time to craft this into something that would be relevant for years to come. His thought provoking single “Industry” kind of sets the tone for general reflective subject matter you’ll hear on the album. My favorite tracks are A New Day Begins, Industry, More, Rise and Valuable Lessons, which is one of the best closer tracks I’ve heard for an album this year.
6. Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons
I have to admit, I really didn’t expect to hear a new Ghostface LP this year, after I found out he was doing a collabo project with production team Badbadnotgood due for a release next February, but out of nowhere he comes and hits us with this announcement sometime in early November. Yes, the sudden “36 Seasons” LP with production by the Revelations and and host of guest verses from accomplished Brooklyn Emcee "AZ". Hmmm! What’s Tony up to I asked? I didn’t know it was an actual concept LP at first, but when I got wind of this, it made my interest in the LP all the more heightened. If you don’t know already, I’m a sucker for concept albums. I feel there’s so much more creative sides artists could explore if they go the concept album route. Furthermore, the thing that makes this album great is somewhat similar to why I liked the Souls Of Mischief x Adrian Younge LP. Ghostface does an awesome job following through on the story line and the guests also do an amazing job portraying their character roles with their lyrics. I also have to note that the Revelations and Lil Fame do an amazing job with the production. The different production backdrops really suit the scenes described in each track. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this LP. For a project that came a little late in the year, with little anticipation, I was really pleased with the outcome. Keep em coming Starks!
7. Black Milk – If There’s A Hell Below
I was initially stoked for this release when I heard Milk’s single “What it’s worth”. I can say that that song is probably my favorite Hip Hop single of the year. You find Black in the pocket on so many levels of that track, from the beat to the lyrics, the subject matter and the flow. That song exemplifies Black Milk at his best on all artistic fronts, so when the album finally came out, I was expecting to hear him more on that tip. To my pleasure, he definitely delivered! What I like about this album, very much like his last “No Poison No Paradise”, is the conceptual route he took. There’s also some great reflective raps which detail his struggle to balance his artist creativity with everyday survival along with his responsibility to family and community. With each new project I definitely hear Black maturing and developing more as an artist. I believe that that’s huge for his career because it encourages much more greatness to come. My two favorite tracks are “What It’s Worth” and “Story And Her” (a must listen for its creative concept!), but there’s lots more dopeness to offer on this release. "If There’s A Hell Below" can now be purchased via Black Milk’s Bandcamp page. Support Quality Hip Hop!
8. The 1978ers (yU & Slimkat) – People Of Today
yU had told me about this project back when I interviewed him back in 2011. It’s amazing to think that this project has been in the works for well over 2 years. I suppose that’s the reason why it sounds so well crafted and put together. I’ve always been a fan of yU. He’s one of the most slept on brothers in the game, but dope is dope and he's been definitely getting my support. Him and Slimkat fit really well as "The 1978ers", the album has a really warm, soulful and reflective vibe. There are tracks that just take you into a whole reflective mind frame about the state of “the people” today, which is why the music works so well to represent the LP’s title. One of the songs that had me smiling was the dedication track to John Robinson (Lil Sci) and Graph Luva. The joint called “Give It Up” was so dope to hear, because you get a chance to hear a fellow emcee paying homage to independent emcee’s that came before him, and what’s so ill is these brother’s he’s paying homage to are still alive, and still pursuing music, they are not recognized in the famous or revered realm of artists like Jay-Z, Nas, Rakim etc. but what’s dope is that yU is recognizing them and paying respect for their important contributions. Now, that says a lot about yU’s personality, and it’s probably the reason why he’s so brilliant when relating to "the people" in his raps. Slimkat also nailed it with thte beats! I thoroughly enjoyed this album and I hope you do too. Big props to Mello Music Group for putting this out!
9. Run The Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P) – RTJ2
I have to admit, I didn’t check for the 1st RTJ project, but due to the hype, yes, the hype!, it gave me the intentions to give this project a listen. I must say I haven’t been a huge fan of El’s productions in the past, but it definitely fits for the aggressive rhyme styles on this project. What I enjoyed most, was the depth of the subject matter on this LP. Mike and El are droppin’ some lyrical gems in critique of the status quo and succeed at keeping you entertained for the entire project. This might be one of the livest albums of the year! A little guilty pleasure of mine is the “Love Again” track with Gangsta Boo, it’s one of the favorites on the album that hit me instantly. I’ve had to catch my self a few times and caution not to repeat the hook out too loud. But beyond that, it’s a really thought provoking project. Big ups to Killer Mike and El-P, and major props to Mass Appeal on their first official label release. Looking forward to more dopeness from Nas and the team.
10. Pharoahe Monch – PTSD
I would be remised if I didn’t recognize Pharoahe’s "PTSD" LP as another one of the best full length’s this year. It kind of crept up on me as with a lot of releases this year, but it definitely made an impact. It’s one of those releases that you might possibly forget in the year, due to its lack of hype, but good music is good music, hype or not, and that’s why I really wanted to recognize this project for its quality. Pharoahe spits intricate and clever as usual, but what I really liked about the album is its ability to stick with the "Post Traumatic Syndrome" Theme. The title alone is something that is intriguing enough to require one’s attention, as mental stress is a real thing that I feel is an issue that doesn’t get enough recognition or necessity for healing as it deserves. Much props to Pharoahe for tackling such an issue and making it into an entertaining concept album as well. My favorite track on the album is “Losing My Self” featuring Mr. Porter. It’s one of those songs that hit you instantly as a quality record. Big Ups to Pharoahe and W.A.R. Media for delivering with this amazing project.