DO NOT BE SALTY ABOUT MY LIST. THIS ISN’T A LIST ABOUT WHAT WAS THE “BEST” OF 2014. IT IS A LIST OF WHAT I WAS THE MOST INTO. THIS IS AN OPINION PIECE. FUCKERS.
2014 was a wild year. I dated and broke up with my first serious girlfriend, I entered into my final year of college and maybe school for the rest of my life, and I expanded my tastes further than I ever have before in music.
2014 was also the year a rapper in a dress was the most discussed rap act of the year. 2014 saw a song blow up because of a simple 7-second video where the hat thrown just never came down. It was also the year people decided posting a picture of damn near anything with the caption “Mood” was a great joke (please stop fucking doing that in 2015.) Most importantly, 2014 was a year of progression and growth in music. In specific, these are the projects and albums that I feel progressed music in the most forward of directions. Enjoy.
RATKING – So It Goes
Hot damn. These kids know what the fuck is up and I doubt many people in the world could tell them otherwise. Sporting Life, MC Hak, and shining star Wiki took to 2014 with a force with the release of their debut album So It Goes and I, personally, don’t think my ears will ever be the same. RATKING isn’t worried about anything else happening around them, mashing chaos-creating beats with the some of the wisest raps you may ever hear out of two 18-year-old kids. And how could I mention RATKING without profiling their biggest asset; the half Puerto Rican/half Irish lyrical gunslinger Wiki whom I think has the best delivery (in a traditional sense) of anyone out currently. So It Goes narrated nearly every skateboard ride and long walk through Chicago’s downtown streets this year, all the while making me feel as big as the buildings surrounding me. As thoughtful as it is boastful, So It Goes channels the brilliant New York hip-hop minds before them all while setting their own standard for how New York hip-hop is to sound from now on.
Alex G – DSU
Now here’s an album I would not have picked to be one of my favorites of 2014 upon first listen. However, after obsessing over DSU since it finally grabbed my full attention a month of so after it’s release, I realized how beautiful and unique of an album it was. 21 years young and a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Alex G’s style of creating songs that probably would have been gigantic 20 years ago is oddly refreshing in a sea of artists trying to create the next big sound. Taking lots of influence from 90’s alternative rock, Alex G creates an incredibly humbling nostalgia feel on DSU that a young person or older head can appreciate. The amount I listened to this album during the extremely beautiful fall months of 2014 is staggering, yet extremely reasonable. DSU gives off a sort of humbling auburn glow that deep down comes from Alex G’s passion in his music. Definitely can’t wait to see what he has in store next.
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
How could I not include FlyLo on my year-end list? The L.A. trip-hop producer had one of the best years of any musician (with his FlyLoFM radio station included on the newest Grand Theft Auto videogame) and this honestly only feels like the beginning of the FlyLo dynasty in mainstream music. You’re Dead! is a great example of this. Filled with free-form jazz similar to the like his relatives John and Alice Coltrane, You’re Dead! sounds to me like exactly the album FlyLo has been seeking to make his whole career. Though abstract and definitely a switch for FlyLo, You’re Dead! contains cuts of the true FlyLo style that kept old listeners listening and new listeners flocking to see what all the fuss was about. The addition of all the amazing artists featured on the album such as Kendrick Lamar, FlyLo’s rap alter ego Captain Murphy, as well as bass virtuoso Thundercat definitely adds to the star quality of You’re Dead, too. Either way, I think You’re Dead! will go down as the FlyLo’s most monumental album because of his drastic sound change compared to 2012’s Until The Quiet Comes.
Hurt Everybody – Hurt Everybody EP
The gods! Okay, so even though the Hurt Everybody dudes are the homies, it doesn’t change the fact that their self-titled EP was one of the best Chicago hip-hop releases of the year. My favorite part about Hurt Everybody is their repetition, despite what some might say, and how though it may be simple; it still is incredibly theirs and theirs alone. Supa Bwe continued in the footsteps of fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper in making us love his not-so-perfect singing voice by not trying to make it something its not (an incredibly honorable thing to do in the age of auto-tune.) Carl, though somewhat soft spoken, may be my favorite rapper, lyrically speaking, in the city routinely making me listen to his verses several times to understand it fully. And last but not least, the young gun of the group, Mulatto Beats brought it all together with beats that either made me want to tear the roof off any given party, or lay down after a long day with a king size and a pair of headphones. There isn’t a song I routinely skip while listening to this project, and I can’t say that about many other albums on this list. I think I speak for everyone when I say I can’t FUCKING wait to hear more from Hurt!
Woo Park – Smokes
Chicago’s neo-soul wonder band Woo Park is a group you may have never heard of, but are six of the best musicians in the city and might actually be the best live band actively performing in Chicago too. Trust me, these guys tore my own apartment to shreds on Halloween night this year so much so I had random people asking me in the weeks to follow if I was at “Justin Mackie’s Halloween party.” Smokes, the groups’ debut EP, is filled with tunes you’d have to be cemented into the ground not to dance to. Mixing neo-soul with generous dollops of many other styles, Woo Park is a proverbial musical snack mix, and I’m sure most anyone can find an element of their sound they can vibe with.
FKA Twigs – LP1
One of the many breathes of fresh air that came this year in RnB is FKA Twigs. Dainty yet mighty, Twigs might not be the best singer around but her personal and provocative lyrics about love and lust matched with some of the most avant-garde production of the year created something incredibly genuine and real. LP1, Twigs’ first full-length project, exhibits tons of promise for the young artist still only several years into a musical career. I think my favorite part about Twigs is her tendency to be a musician last, while letting her artistic sense sculpt most of the sound and image design. Twigs is an amazing example of how it you do not need to be musically trained to make incredible music. So don’t let all those music majors out there tell you otherwise.
Arca – Xen
There wasn’t a piece of music released in 2014 that changed my tastes more than Arca’s Xen. It may never sync up like most music does, but its off the wall composition will leave you deeply entranced. The young Venezuelan producer got his first big recognition working on Kanye West’s Yeezus as well as producing most of FKA Twigs’ first two EP’s. What excites me about Arca is his freedom to do whatever it is he wants; whatever direction it may be. At times, his songs take on a sort of reggatone sound but besides that, the songs that make up Xen really don’t sound like anything you’ve probably heard before. Xen is an incredibly honest album that is exactly what it is: the future.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
The second coming of D’Angelo took most of the world (including myself) by surprise when he “pulled a Beyonce” and dropped his first album in 14 years earlier this month in part as a statement against the decision to not charge New York Police Officers with the murder of Eric Garner. Much more mature sounding than 2000’s Voodoo, D’Angelo takes listeners on a roller-coaster ride of music with sounds of civil-rights era music to classic D’Angelo sounding numbers. The record is incredibly straightforward as well as laced with amazing musical and writing ability. Honey sweet guitar licks paired with incredible harmonies give Black Messiah a sort of home-cooked legitimacy I didn’t find in any other release in 2014. Though it just barely made it into my list due to its release date, there’s no doubt I’ll be playing Black Messiah in the years to come.
Lucki Eck$ – Body High
When 2014 started, I had no idea who the hell Lucki Eck$ was. In the year to follow, I practically couldn’t get away from the 18-year-old rapper from Chicago’s west side (and I am HARDLY complaining.) Lucki doesn’t use much energy when rapping, and it’s exactly that that makes his verses so hypnotizing. Whether it’s “Reflections” (one of my favorite songs of the year) or “Witchcraft” (another one of my favorite songs of the year), Lucki’s raps about drug addiction or drug selling as well as love lost and found with a divine maturity you probably wouldn’t expect out of a high-school aged kid. This intelligence mixed with an incredibly bad Xanax habit makes for a spectacle similar to the likes of early Jim Morrison or Cobain, though I hope Lucki’s path is much brighter. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that Body High was the vibe album in Chicago hip-hop of the year. You might just need to be xanned off your ass to feel its full effects.
Rich Gang – Tha Tour Pt. 1
Ayyye I get one ignorant ass pick for my favorite projects of the year, right? Well, I am very happily blowing it on Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Pt. 1. Rich Gang, compiled of mostly Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan (with Birdman mostly just saying “RICH GANG” all the time), is a hip-hop super group that had one of the biggest years of anyone. Rich Gang is very simply and undeniably catchy. Their songs, though extremely simple and lacking content, routinely have an undeniable ability to get stuck in your head may it be a simple Thug lyric that he says extra-scratchy or Birdman just saying “Rich Gang” in the seemingly hundreds of ways he does on the mixtape. Sometimes I find myself yelling “730!” which is the very simple chorus of the song “730” (probably confusing the fuck out of everyone around me.) Tha Tour Pt. 1 was my go to album to listen to when leaving the house for the first time to start your day in 2014, and the confidence it instilled through its oh-so fun demeanor made me a happier person each day I listened. Am I saying Rich Gang was the key to my happiness in 2014? I think I can only answer that by saying in my best Birdman voice “RICH GANG!”
Nao – So Good EP
I first heard about the UK’s Nao when her debut single from her So Good EP dropped with A.K. Paul, brother of Jai Paul who I find to be the most interesting musician (not so) active today. Nao’s voice has a sort of innocent, Barbie doll tint to it, which is incredibly cute even though her songs often speak of the struggles of love. Though So Good is only 5 songs, it shows lots and lots of promise from the young singer who seems to be looking to retake RnB away from the trash of years before. “So Good”, the EP’s single, is a solid tie with several other songs for my favorite song of the year. I can’t wait to hear more.
Mac Demarco – Salad Days
I must say, I did not expect Mac Demarco’s Salad Days to be so put together. The ragamuffin surf-rock hero from Canada’s last project, 2, was a sing-along indie power release that was surely amateur but Salad Days is something much more mature. I got the pleasure of seeing Demarco perform at the Hideout Block Party this fall and was gifted one of my favorite sets of 2014, complete with an impromptu performance of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’” which was a duet between Demarco and a random fan pulled from the audience. Though they sang none of the real words of the song, the performance showed off Demarco’s willingness to let things go as they naturally go, an element that makes any musician a stellar performer automatically. Salad Days is the 2014 album for the “shit, it’s way too nice out for the windows to be up in the car” days that we were very commonly and luckily blessed with in this years Chicago summer. I’ll always look back on Salad Days fondly because of this.
Travi$ Scott – Days Before Rodeo
I don’t think anyone matured more as an artist in hip-hop from their first release to their most recent more than Travi$ Scott with Days Before Rodeo. I mean, the production is flawless, the features are damn near perfect, and tape is a solid mix between bangers and things more abstract. It’s nearly impossible not to listen to Days Before Rodeo completely through, which is a great way of telling whether or not a project is amazing or not. One song that sticks out the most to me is “Skyfall” featuring Young Thug. The song dives in and out of deeply depressing lyrics that leave you not sure to jump around or sit down with your head in your hands, thinking about life. The production and beats on Days Before Rodeo is near perfection, too. And to think this is just the mixtape before the album….shit, I’m excited for 2015.
Alex Wiley – Village Party
Lil B – Ultimate Bitch
Tinashé – Aquarius
D.R.A.M. – #1EPICSUMMER
Strange U – #EP2040
theStand4rd – theStand4rd
Freddie Gibbs + Madlib – Piñata
Jack White – Lazaretto