2014 was an interesting year, because what appeared to be a hot start, music wise, it tapered off and really didn’t pick up until the 4th quarter. Racially driven arguments that were sparked with the Mike Brown incident seemed to drive a more passionate feel when it came to the music that was being made. The MVP of the year has to be J. Cole for his appearances in the public showing support in Ferguson and marching through the streets in New York for the Eric Garner protests. He also came through out of nowhere on a 3 week notice and dropped arguably the best Hip Hop album of the year, and the numbers spoke for that appreciation that people had for his stand-up-guy approach to those situations. New faces that came into the game this year hope for a promising 2015 and beyond, but in music like in life, there are no guarantees. In 2014, there was a glimpse of good things to come from both Hip Hop & R&B, both genres of which have had come into question about the amount of lackluster music that has come out (depending on which circle you roll with). My top 10 of 2014 consists of some newcomers that have set a high ceiling for themselves and veterans who still float by the radars of the masses.
TDE represented with dropping 4 of the what was planned 6 albums in 2014 (Jay Rock & Kendrick did not release). The winners were Isaiah Rashad & SZA, the young gunners that have a strong outlook on their music careers. Having seen them perform live as well, I know that there’s a lot going for them in the future. Logic, who had been putting out free music for his fans for years, dropped an album that revealed more about him that sparked more interest from outside of his predominantly white base of fans. Under Pressure had great production, all the while keeping consistent with his ability to rhyme, which was never doubted to begin with. Big K.R.I.T stepped up to the plate with his second album. Much of like the same from his debut & mixtapes, but stepping outside of the box to reach out to new producers, that had a different spark on his album that was appreciated by most. Black Milk & Skyzoo are a couple of vets that don’t seem to get the love like they should. Skyzoo for his rap ability, and Black Milk for much of the same but he also lays down dope production. Since I was put on to their music, I haven’t been disappointed thus far. Black released a Top 10 album last year with No Poison No Paradise, and he followed up with If There’s A Hell Below. Skyzoo teamed up with Torae for Barrel Brothers, and it was straight up bars all around. The same can be said for the collaborative effort of Royce Da 5’9 & DJ Premier on PRhyme, which came around late and caught me for a pleasant surprise. While it’s short in length, it qualifies for replay value. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib finally delivered with their Piñata album that was foreshadowed with multiple EPs that started with Thuggin, and the end result was a smooth effort that definitely held its weight for the year. For those who had only heard Freddie spit over trap beats, this was a different vibe that either sat well with you or you didn’t care for. There’s no denying that he can rap with anyone, however.
R&B still isn’t what it used to be, and quite frankly it may not ever get back to that point, but that doesn’t mean that there’s some talent that’s out there to entertain in the meantime. BJ The Chicago Kid’s The M.A.F.E Project had more of a commercialized sound blended in with the soul that was captivating on Pineapple Now Laters, so it was good, but not memorable in my eyes & ears. Tinashe & Jhene Aiko share similar traits, but with one you get more energy tracks, and the other you have more ballads and songs that’ll put you more in your feelings. Respectively, Aquarius & Souled Out had their purposes, but it was Z from SZA that sparked another level of creativity and originality that stood out. Because she’s not on their level of popularity, she won’t stay there for long. She’s solidified a base, and given that she toured with Jhene in 2014, it’s an opportunity for her to build. Majid Jordan and Nick Hakim were my underrated male R&B acts, because their EPs were really good. You’d think that anyone on OVO (including PARTYNEXTDOOR) would have garnered more attention, but that didn’t seem to be the case for Majid Jordan. Although they have more so a House vibe than a straight up R&B, their contributions to this year’s music shouldn’t go unnoticed. Maxwell, of all people, picked up Nick Hakim to join him on tour, so that must mean something. Where We Will Go Part 1 & 2 are EPs that show promise for what could be a 2015 where you’ll hear more about him. The pleasant surprise had to have come from D’Angelo & The Vanguard because it’s been 14 years since his last album, and although I did see him at Made In America in 2012, I didn’t imagine that the album would sound as good as it does. Having the older cats come through sounding than dudes half their age. The music must age like fine wine. Miguel also came out of nowhere to drop a drop 3-track EP, so maybe it’s a foreshadowing of what male R&B will come to be in the upcoming year.
The City of Toronto had a good year, musically, of a good chunk of projects that I heard. Redway’s Years Ahead and Tre Mission’s Stigmata were my favourites (outside of the OVO representatives, Majid & Party), and showings from Tory Lanez, Luu Breeze, and P Reign heightened the expectations that look for a promising 2015. We’ve been a city talking about how much we have potential and that every year is going to be the year that we show everyone what’s up. It must be a good time, since the Raptors are on the come up as well. That should reciprocate everywhere else. It’s an exciting time. That being said, below you’ll find my personal 10 of 2014. It’s hard to pick, because there were good projects toward the end of year that made me change up the selection, but this is what I was left with. Here’s to a prosperous 2015. Enjoy (Links direct to my reviews of the albums selected)