As always, my emphasis is on indie and small labels, and I generally don’t write anything about stuff on Def Jam, Columbia, Sony, etc. Not that there’s not good music to be found there, it’s just that that’s not the spirit of my site.
This is the best indie hip hop I heard in 2014, with a few major label exceptions.
TOO LATE TO LISTEN TO ENOUGH TO LIST BUT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE MADE IT IF I’D HEARD IT EARLIER:
Ghostface Killah-36 Seasons.
The Kid’s still got it.
MIGOS-Rich Nigga Timeline
This is the first time I ever heard a rapper sing as a cow (listen to “Move”). A playful, silly, smart mixtape–too many rappers sound hard, but Migos is clearly having fun. Even when he’s rapping about doing time in prison and selling drugs.
10. YOUR OLD DROOG-Your Old Droog
For some reason, Droog’s sound and style makes me thing of rap-rock but in truth this is pure hip hop. And there’s a section of “Nutty Bars” where he goes off on vanilla wafers that’s truly extraordinary. Great rap from a young, NYC newcomer.
Half the songs on the full length are available on a freEP from Soundcloud. They also happen to mostly be the better half of the album, although the whole thing is pretty great.
9. JETPACK JONES AND BROCK BERRIGAN-Shades of Mary
“Do you wanna roll or what? Let me hold that butt!” Because every top ten list needs a kick-back rap record.
8. NAS-“The Season”
All we get is a single, but it’s the great Nasir over a J Dilla beat, so needless to say it’s amazing.
7. BIG BOI-Mash Up Mondays
The Outkast member and producer throws Kid Cudi in the pool with Stevie Wonder, Bobby Hunter against Pharrell, and, best of all, remixes Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” with monstrously heavy bars from Big K.R.I.T. It may not be an album, it may not even be legal, but damn it’s awesome. If you’ve never liked mash-ups before, you’ll like these.
6. HOMEBOY SANDMAN-Hallways
Queens-born Homeboy Sandman broke in 2008, receiving accolades from several respected New York critics, and landing an emcee gig at NY’s longest running poetry slam. In 2011, he signed with Stones Throw, and this year he released his most interesting album yet. Most of his material continues to straddle the line between gangsta reveries and political polemics, but it does so well and so often (even within the same song), that it can be hard to get the message he’s sending. This is an album you have to stop and listen to, and even then you won’t catch it all. He’s got lyricism, flow, wit, and power. True power.
5. SNOH AALEGRA feat. COMMON-Bad Things
4. ACE COSGROVE-Us vs. Robots
Ace Cosgrove’s mixtape, with stellar production from I.V., Black Diamond, and others, is a true showcase. He can do the righteous, black power thing (“Burning Slums”), the bouncy sex joint (“Damn She’s Right”), stoner rap (“High 4”), and fast-talking bullet train money songs (“Getting Loot”). And it all sounds natural and effortless. Awesome.
3. DEJ LOAF-Sell Sole
Crazy, powerful hip hop from a female emcee. There’s definitely not enough of this around these days.
2. AMERIGO GAZEAWAY-Yasiin Gaye (The Departure)
When it’s done right, “Mash Up” is a misnomer. There’s nothing crammed, shoved, or forced-to-fit in producer Amerigo Gazaway’s masterpiece mixtape that blends Marvin Gaye’s vocals and music with the likes of Mos Def (real name: Yasiin Bey, hence the mixtape name) and other talented artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Tammi Terrell, and Talib Kweli (as well as some original in-studio music).
The result is an album that sounds like an original, instead of two great songs crammed into one decent one that rides on the coattails of the originals by giving you just enough familiar hooks to keep you amused.
1. FREDDIE GIBBS AND MADLIB
Grimey rap. If we never ever get the promised collaboration between MF DOOM and Ghostface Killah, we can at least say we got this.