I’ve always been a fan of hip-hop and rap. The production and originality grabbed me from the get-go. The fact that it was a simple two-part recipe, a beat and a lyricist, always amazed me, because the result was always the same, true art born from thoughts on the mind put to rhythm. I quickly learned that it was way more than just thoughts, it was a culture built on telling stories about life and the challenges of growing up under particular circumstances.
As a kid growing up, I remember trips to Best Buy to grab CD’s with my siblings. My brother went to the Rock isle, my sister browsed Pop, and I craved something more, something with a parental advisory on it! Naturally, I ended up in the Hip-Hop/Urban isle. I got started with Nelly and Ludacris, which opened up a whole new world of music for me. Then I really started to dive in and to this day, some of my favorite music and a solid chunk of my most memorable shows include more hip-hop then you might assume, as far as your average white guy goes.
The list below not only includes my favorite tracks from the hip-hop world this year, but it also serves as my account for who will become extremely influential within the entire musical ecosystem, as well as in art, media, and pop culture.
10.) FALSIDE (FEAT. JUAN DEUCE) // LAKES
“Home is mighty heavy when them thorns are handed out when you’re born, put that cross on my back, I’ll rock it until I’m gone”
Hailing from Providence, rapper Falside provides us with a hypnotic single that moves and sways in the most fashionable way that a beat can. With a repetitive sample throughout the track, the beat is simple and straightforward, leaving plenty of room for Falside to preach some truth. With a flow that is loud and clear, every intense word is enunciated to the fullest with meaning and passion attached to it. It’s a great track to throw on that party playlist, with somewhat of West coast feel with that synth melody throughout the track. The Juan Deuce feature is also a nice plus on this single, they both work extremely well together.
9.) ROME FORTUNE // NO EVIDENCE
“Runnin’ everyday like the President, pull up to your muthafuckin’ residence”
This track might even be one of my favorite songs of this year, all around. The heavy electronic beat, produced by Blood Diamonds, is extremely heavenly, eerie, and super catchy. The beat-clap combo is solid and creates a nice tempo to lean back to. With a vocal mix that closely resembles Pharrell from the N.E.R.D. single “Rock Star.” The yelling, the intensity, and the soul that hinds behind the rap will always be something that gives me chills.
While this song is solid, I highly suggest listening to the full album. Tracks like “4 Seasons,” “Workin’ Gal,” and “Why” hold up just as strong when compared to this one. Rome is an awesome force to be reckoned with and I’m curious to see what he does next year.
8.) CHOOSEY // MIDDLE FINGER RAP
“Excuse us, we probably sound crazy, pardon the dream, we sayin’ that just to keep this party poppin’ at ease and all along got my thoughts on monopoly, product in the profit not the game inside the box, try stopin’ me!”
Oh, damn…that drum roll to kick things off!? Really?! Too cool! From the start, after that horn blast comes in with the laid-back beat, it’s incredible. Choosey has a voice that commands your attention. He touches on real issues, while also keeping his flow loose enough to have fun and include the lighter elements of life, as well. I love how his words are strong, emphasized with meaning and right in the middle of the mix. Hailing from San Diego, and currently residing in Los Angeles, Choosey shows some solid skills on this track and really makes me want to hear more.
Through the song it’s easy to get lost in the instrumental peaks in the track. A demanding horn blowing throughout it and the occasional female vocal sample wailing in the background, Choosey always finds a way to push you forward so it feels like your face-to-face with your hopes and dreams. In the end, you’re left with no choice but to take charge of your own destiny and push, push, push.
7.) JEREMIAH JAE (FEAT OLIVER THE 2ND) // SURVIVAL
“Staring at the stars to remember where we started, still near the bottom but I’m never going back, started on a path that was ludicrous, you dudes crashed”
Harness your chi on this one, center your vibe. At least that’s what is suggested towards the end of the track. Sometimes, we need to take time to sit back and think about life. We’re responsible for being aware of our surroundings and it’s hard to tell where you’re going without studying the past. Unfortunately, society usually continues making the same mistakes.
With Jeremiah Jae speaking the truth over a subtle piano melody and quiet beat, try listening closely to the words on this one. He’s trying to talk about more important things other than objectifying women, huge parties, or being a “G.” Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that stuff, but there’s a time and a place. Jeremiah has other things on his mind, pressing issues that need to be noticed if we’re ever going to figure out a way to coexist. Speaking about society and the wars we’re in with one another and within ourselves, the picture of a harsh reality is painted.
While the song is somber and touches on heavier issues, there is also a sense of hope and a dull light that shines through at points in the track. A truly beautiful instrumental and an even smoother flow over it make for one hell of a powerful, yet relaxing song.
6.) CAM JAMES // ELEVATOR
“Then she hopped up out the Lincoln, Felt the room change, it went cold, everybody heads turnin’ quick, Swear to god her aura like gold…links, can’t believe it’s real, so I don’t…blink ”
Here is one for a late-night cruise through the streets of your chosen city. Ominous tones and a slow beat are perfect for the theme of this track. Hailing from Georgia, about an hour outside of ATL, there are definitely some Southern-inspired production elements and twang to this song.
One of the darker ones on this list, something about the mysterious feel of this song really grabbed my attention. The subtle guitar picking and reverbed-out kick and snare hit give it a really roomy, spacious environment. With eyes closed, we’re taken into cave where Cam James is kickin’ it with a DJ making dope hip-hop. Think about it for a second, yea… let’s make that happen.
His voice is strikingly sharp and as he spits each word out we’re confronted to face our own inner voice and contemplate where we’ll be when the song finishes. This track cuts deep like a flesh wound, but somehow I can’t get enough.
5.) THEOPHILUS LONDON // DO GIRLS
“And she told me sad story how her life is tough she never go this far, but I was callin’ her bluff. She was stuck and thinkin’ about the girl she loves, All the guily pleasures, man, this shit addin’ up”
With Kanye West producing this track for London, it’s obvious that this would be one of my picks. Now, I now Kanye gets a lot of heat for being the way he is, but this isn’t about him, nor is it my place to give commentary on his life at this point, that’s a whole other essay. The importance of him collaborating with London on this track is a true show of respect on his part for what he sees in Theophilus. I’ve always enjoyed his tone and the colorful nuances he adds to his raps. While this track definitely has a more mainstream appeal than some of the other more raw, underground hip-hop tracks in this list, I still feel that this holds up pretty well.
It’s got a really steady groove with haunting synth tones and dirty guitar licks, plus the fat synth-bass line looping with the hits of the kick-snare rhythm is undeniably contagious. The subject matter is most definitely of the more sexual and raunchy of songs in the list, but to me, he doesn’t get too nasty with it and mainly uses it to describe what could possibly involve a struggle between the mind and body, having to remember who we are and why we make certain decisions. While he claims he could turn a lesbian into a straight girl throughout the song, he also shows how women can be portrayed in culture as pure objects. Maybe it’s a story of something that actually happened to him, but either way, the song paints an interesting picture and gets me thinking about a lot of issues.
4.) TKAY MAIDZA // SWITCH LANES
“I don’t know why they think were alike, when I win it’s like I give them life. I don’t know why they think were the same, they link it up but I know I’ll switch lanes”
Teaming up with producer Paces, Tkay brings fire to this beat and fully utilizes every second of this track, filling in spaces with quick lines, solid timing, and powerful vocals for the main hook in the chorus. Rapping over a bright melody, her voice is infectious, brings a pop singers’ mentality into a rather intense track. Paired with a deep bass sound and electronic elements similar to an old school break-beat song, this track could stand alone as its’ own dance track, ready to be remixed by the EDM world. Thankfully, it’s not just an instrumental track, she spits some crazy phrases and that makes it is one of the best tracks from this emerging artist from South Australia.
I recently caught her performance at Culture Collide in Echo Park this year and she truly had the audience captivated and grooving to her sounds. With just a DJ behind her, she held the mic and held it down. Bringing solid energy and presenting her insane lyricism and vocal control was quite the treat. Truly exemplifying how the voice is an instrument, Tkay is certainly at the start of a long career making great, genre-bending hip-hop.
3.) THE KOREATOWN ODDITY // TITLE SEQUENCE
“ ‘Cause when I get pissed and annoyed, I just take a walk through nature, smoke a splif and enjoy it. Life change paces at the flip of a coin or a drop of a hat”
Nothing but pure class and sincere words are thrown around on this new one folks. Another L.A. native with strong opinions and a creative mind, TKO’s flow, lyricism, and poetic wit are beyond incredible. In this track, the beat is barely even in existence, but it’s so gorgeous and fluid. The strings sample and the acoustic guitar picking create such an unusual, yet fitting background to rap over. He is probably the only one in the game right now that could pull it off. This is one of the best hip-hop tracks I’ve heard this year and it doesn’t even have a beat until after 2 minutes into it! This is because it doesn’t really need one; his voice carries the mix extremely well. It doesn’t hurt that this video is insanely creative and fun to watch, too.
2.) SLIM JEFF // TJOCKIS
“Wallin’ on a budget, but fuck it, I was working for the man, thirsting for a gram when the fat cats scram with the spoils, toil all day for a little, but nickels ain’t addin’ up”
With some soft keys for the intro and soulful horns progressing through the track, this jazzy, old-school vibe is exactly what Slim Jeff thrives on. While I wish the track was longer, he creates a quick little journey in just over 2 minutes. He is one of my favorite artists of the year, after having seen him perform at an art show and discovering his fine art/fashion brand NDS.LA, I realized that he is exactly what I love about the marriage of hip-hop and art. They go together so well and with Slim Jeff, it’s an even better combination because of his knowledge and connections within both worlds.
He teams up with some solid underground producers and record collectors that have a way of picking the perfect samples to pair with Slim Jeff and the lyrically smooth vibe that he gives off in each song. Having recently played shows in Miami for Art Basel and gigging around LA in art galleries, he is staying busy and keeping his game on point. I still feel extremely thankful to know that music like this is becoming relevant again. Something is different about Slim Jeff than most emerging hip-hop artists and I can’t exactly pin point how, but it could be due to the fact that he is an L.A. local and has an “act local, think global” mentality with everything he’s involved in. Keep an eye out for this dude next year.
1.) PELL // THE NEVER (FEAT. LV BABY)
“I used to dream ‘bout love, but dating’s bad for my budget, it’s hard enough that I’m heartless, I sleep on every discussion”
Recently included on Spotify’s Spotlight list for artists expected to blow up next year, Pell is certainly, as an artist and person, worthy of creating a lasting name for years to come. Hailing from New Orleans, he popped onto the scene this year with a huge splash, due to the release of his stellar debut full length Floating Like Dreaming and him playing lots and lots of shows.
With a steady beat, smooth bass line, jazzy feel, and catchy hook, this song deserves a spot on every year-end list out there, regardless of genre! The chorus and main hook in this track has such an old school feel to it. It’s truly an anthem all on its’ own. In this track he also drops where he found the title for his album with the line “I fell asleep in the deep end, but now I’m floating like dreaming.” Teaming up with LV Baby was a smart move, as he also adds an interesting twist to the wordplay in the track. If you’re looking for inspiration and something to keep you going on your journey, just follow Pell, according to him he “won’t quit ‘cause the journey forever.” Well said, that’s exactly how I feel.
(Editor’s note: Senior Editor Kavit has fallen seriously ill and was unable to complete the writeup for this list. However, he has submitted the following six tracks as his top picks for the best hip-hop tracks of 2014. Check them out below and please send him your prayers and thoughts.)
1. YUNG LEAN// KING OF DARKNESS (UV boi فوق بنفسجي Edit)
Looking at myself like
Why you wearin’ that stupid human suit?
I don’t feel no pain
I don’t care cause I don’t feel no pain
I don’t really care
I don’t feel no pain
I don’t care cause I don’t feel no pain
2. RALEIGH RITCHIE// STRONGER THAN EVER (MJ COLE REMIX)
Cause I’m a big boy
An adult now or nearly
If I pull the wool back from my eyes
I can see clearly
The world is at my feet
And I am standing on the ceiling
And I fall, fall, fall, when it all comes down
And I won’t be crushed by the weight of this town
I fall from the sky but I won’t fall forever
I fall but when I’ll rise I’ll be stronger than ever
3.YOUNG FATHERS// GET UP
I meant to make a metaphor for radicals
Taking off my clothes at the lido
All I got is my decadent credo
I don’t think that I could watch you posing dead
You’re a revolution
4. ARCA// THIEVERY
5. TALIB KWELI (FT. ABBY DONSON)// STATE OF GRACE
Why should I support music that constantly disrespects me?
And make you dismissive
Of the efforts of those who get left
Music is the light when it’s dark
And the way that you spit your dark is a big part
If you ain’t using all
The talents God provided you with
For the betterment of man,
Understand you ain’t nothing but a waste
6. SZA FT. KENDRICK LAMAR// BABYLON
I can’t recall the last time
I took advice from anyone
I can’t recall the last time
I took love from anyone
I’m sure I’ll be the death of me