Sunday, 3 January 2016

Top 10 Favourite Hip-Hop Albums of 2015

Happy New Year everyone! It’s that time of the year again when we look back and determine what some of our favourite albums were. I waited until 2015 was fully complete to make sure I didn’t miss any surprise albums. For the most part, people agree that this year is one of the best for Hip-Hop in a while. While this idea may be supported, I believe it was just a good year with a handful of great albums and a slew of just solid albums that may have been over-hyped. With that being said, there were 10 albums that I believe are worthy of being replayed in the future and worthy of praise. So without further adieu, I give you my top 10 favourite albums of 2015. This is not a list of the albums I think are the "best" – the most technically cohesive albums – but simply my subjective list of my favourite ones. The criteria are simply most replay value and impact on me and Hip-Hop as a whole.

10- Compton – Dr. Dre:
Dr. Dre finally came out of the hole he’s been hiding in and released his third and apparently last album of his career. I know many people were very disappointed with this album as it wasn’t on par with 2001 or The Chronic. For me, I didn’t grow up with those albums and even though I enjoy and respect them, they didn’t really place high expectations for me. I approached Compton with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised with what I got. The production from Dr. Dre was stellar as expected and most of the features impressed me, especially newcomers Anderson Paak and King Mez. Legends such as Ice Cube, Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, and The Game delivered while more contemporary artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Jon Connor and BJ the Chicago also got their shine. While sonically it doesn’t flow as well as I would want it to, it still is an enjoyable listen.

9- Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples:
For his major label debut, Vince Staples saw fit to give us a double disc album filled with some of the best production you’ll hear all year. No I.D., DJ Dahi, and others really pulled through with providing Vince with some very detailed gritty beats that match his style perfectly. Vince Staples is a West-Coast Gangsta rapper through-and-though with a unique flow and interesting point of view. His stories are very vivid and his lyrics are very introspective yet he still conveys this feeling of danger and grit in his delivery. The featured artists all do their thing on this album, with Jhene Aiko and James Fauntleroy stealing the show. At 60 minutes, this album never bores me and is definitely worth the listen.

8- The Documentary 2 – The Game:
Speaking of West-Coast MCs dropping double disc albums, The Game finally dropped an album that I can fully back and enjoy from front to back. For this list, I’m combining both discs of this album as I believe they complement each other very well. The Game dropped over 2 hours of music that proves that not only does he still have it, but he is capable of reviving the old-school G-Funk Hip-Hop sound, especially on disc 2 of this album. As expected, the feature list is extremely long, ranging from legends to more contemporary artists, but this time the features add to the album’s grit and stories instead of feeling misplaced like Game’s last few releases. With an album this long, filler is expected but I give it a pass simply because the amount of great songs from both discs is way too high. I personally love disc 2 more, but disc 1 is also a very good listen. Be sure to check this one out if you haven’t and don’t sleep on The Game if you think he doesn’t have it in him. This is a worthy sequel to the classic that is The Documentary and will definitely be remembered in time.

7- I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt – Earl Sweatshirt:
This album came out very early in 2015 but still managed to get a lot of plays throughout the remainder of the year. Earl is one of those rappers that is undeniably a lyrical genius that requires multiple listens to fully absorb his bars. Unlike his 2013 release Doris however, IDLSIDGO was an album that I understood right away because Earl was relatively more straight forward. He rapped about his frustrations with his fan base, his relationship problems, his grandmother, and other deep topics. The features were all placed very perfectly in the album, especially Vince Staples who destroyed Wool. The production was handled mainly by Earl himself and it sounded dark and menacing, which matches his content perfectly. At almost 30 minutes, this album is a great quick listen and with each listen I took something new away from it. It’s definitely worth the listen so be sure to check it out.

6- Live From the Dentist Office – Injury Reserve:
This was an album that caught me by surprise. I’ve never heard of the Arizona rap group Injury Reserve until Anthony Fantano of the Needle Drop gave this album an extremely positive review so I was curious to see what the fuss was about. After listening to just the first track, I knew I was in for something awesome. This Hip-Hop trio seems very heavily influenced by Jazz, Alternative, and even Electronic music which seep into their music. I’m a sucker for Jazz so this kind of music was perfect for me. As for the rapping, each member of this group brings his own personality and humour to every song making the album a very enjoyable listen. They are very funny, but can also rap about deeper topics as well. This is one of those albums that I can play at any time and enjoy it for just being a simple, fun, and creative album without over-thinking the content. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t!

5- 90059 – Jay Rock:
90059 was easily one of my most anticipated albums of 2015 simply because every verse Jay Rock has dropped since Follow Me Home has been nothing less than fire. I made sure I didn’t listen to any of the singles to make sure I don’t spoil any of the surprises that might come up in the album. When it dropped, I copped it right away and all of my expectations were surpassed. This album is only 11 tracks long but is packed with awesome Gangsta rap from Jay Rock. His delivery is so vicious and on point that you believe all the stories he tells. Every member of TDE appears on this album, and every member kills it (although I would have loved to hear an Isaiah Rashad verse and not just a chorus). There is an awesome Black Hippy posse cut which only makes me want an album from the group even more. Jay Rock also has a handful of tracks that are more introspective, soft and down-to-Earth such as the soulful Gumbo which is one of my favourite tracks of the year. In conclusion, Jay Rock gave me exactly what I wanted, which is a very dark and creative Gangsta rap album that I can play over and over again. Be sure to check it out!

4- Love Story - Yelawolf:
I'm not sure why this album isn't getting the praise its deserves because this is one of the most unique albums you'll hear this year. This album is so criminally overlooked and under-appreciated, and I hope with time it leaves its mark. Yelawolf came back from his disappointing debut and instead of repeating what he did on his mixtapes, he did something different. On this album, Yelawolf fused Hip-Hop and Country music masterfully, and the product sounded 100% organic. Yelawolf sang a lot on this album as well and surprisingly held his own! The themes on the album are very deep and dark, and Yelawolf approaches topics such as fame, love, depression, addiction, and even abuse in a very raw way. The production on this album is some of the best I've heard in a while. All the instruments sound great and Yelawolf just flows over the music so perfectly. This album is 18 tracks long and near 75 minutes, but to be honest I never feel bored listening to it. I revisit this album constantly and will continue to do so in the future. I hope Yelawolf continues to make music like this. Be sure to check this one out if you haven't. Even if you're not a Country fan, you may still appreciate what Yelawolf does here.

3- King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T:
This is the album I had to wait for before I wrote this top 10 list simply because I knew it had the potential to be one of my favourites of the year. Even though this album hasn’t been out for long, I played this album more times than I can count since it dropped in late December. Pusha T doesn’t seem to be slowing down after the success of the excellent My Name Is My Name and is striking while the iron is hot. This album is only a prelude to King Push which will drop at some point this year. Now if the quality of a “prelude” album is this high, I’m left with nothing but high expectations for his next release. To me, Darkest Before Dawn is an even more cohesive and creative album than his last and has more replay value. The features are all excellent, especially Beanie Sigel whose verse on Keep Dealin’ is one of the coldest verses of the year. Pusha T’s wordplay and metaphors are at an all-time high and his delivery is as vicious as ever. Every time I listen to this album, I pick out a few awesome clever lines that stick in my head. I really hope people don’t sleep on this album and remember that Pusha T is a legend for the stuff he did with Clipse. Be sure to check it out if you haven't!

2- Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco:
My top 2 albums were basically solidified since the beginning of the year. Lupe dropped this gem way back in January of 2015 and I’m still listening to this album in January of 2016. This album is Lupe’s return from what seemed to be the end of his career. He finally evolved as an artist and picked the production that suits him best and delivered some of the densest bars of the year. This album is a very tough listen to digest. Once you give it a shot, you can appreciate the complexity and proficiency of his lyrics and the impact they have. Lupe covers topics such as love, politics, urban violence and equality, the prison system, and just going off lyrically on tracks like the monstrous Mural. The seasonal concept of this album is executed perfectly and the instrumental interludes are gorgeous and tie the album together very nicely. It’s definitely Lupe’s best album since The Cool and easily one of my favourites of the year. Give it time and it may become one of my favourite Lupe albums in general!

1- To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar  
Of course this album is my favourite of 2015. It’s a no-brainer. I understand many people couldn’t vibe with the production and the content of this album, which is totally fine, but I thought there was not a single misstep in To Pimp a Butterfly. The content is easily what makes the album so great, and the lyrics delivered poetically by Kendrick over the lush production only makes me love the album more. To me, this album is the best produced album since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. The list of contributing producers for this album is one of the most extensive of the year, but the album is still the most cohesive of 2015. Kendrick definitely went above and beyond with this album and I don’t know how far he can push the genre from here. This album gave me the same feeling good kid, m.A.A.d city gave me when that album came out, which is “what the hell is he gonna do next?!”. But hey, I’m open to new sounds and experiments and will be patiently waiting for his next album.

Honourable Mentions:

Sour Soul - BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah
A very dope collaboration between the Wu-Tang legend and the rising Jazz trio BBNG. I hope this leads to more creative output from Ghostface and more Hip-Hop collaborations between BBNG and other notable rappers.

It’s Better This Way – Big K.R.I.T. 
Another solid Big K.R.I.T. mixtape filled with is signature production and Southern flavoured rap.

Pharaoh Height 2/30 – Lupe Fiasco
A great short EP filled with stellar lyricism from Lupe.

A Special Episode Of – Open Mike Eagle
A great extension of Mike's Dark Comedy filled with witty and funny lyrics.

B4.DA.$$ - Joey Bada$$
Another album that was difficult to leave off from my list, a very cohesive and well executed East-Coast debut album from this very talented rapper.

The Ecology – Fashawn 
A very solid West Coast Hip-Hop album.

Biggest Disappointments of the Year:

Cherry Bomb – Tyler, the Creator
A very messy disappointment following Wolf, which was a great album. The vocals weren't mixed well and the content wasn't anything special.

Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson
Some of the chances taken by Bronson didn't pay off and led to some very awkward moments, still a decent album but not an impressive major debut.

Surf – Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment
Decent but did not match the quality of Chance The Rapper's Acid Rap. I understand these are different projects but my expectations were very high and they weren't met.

At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky
Had high expectations for this due to his great debut album Long.Live.A$AP, however this album was filled with very boring tracks and mostly disappointing features. Not horrible but not that great either.

The Incredible True Story - Logic 
This is a good album but did not give me half of what his debut Under Pressure gave me. Some great beats and good lyricism, but the concept didn't work and the content wasn't as deep as what I wanted it to be

Favourite Non-Hip-Hop Album of the Year:

The Epic – Kamasi Washington 
This album is 3 hours of pure Jazz awesomeness. There are no missteps in this album and Kamasi manages to convey so many emotions with the music. Each disc is stellar and the all the musicians kicked ass.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Top 5 Hip-Hop Albums of 2015 So Far...

Well June is over and it’s that time of the year were I count down some of my favourite albums of the year so far. Usually I only do a top 5 for the midyear list, however I felt the need to at least have some honourable mentions due to a great year for Hip-Hop so far. There were many albums released this year that absolutely floored me, so picking the albums that would make this list was not an easy task. However after a lot of thought, I came up with my top 5. So without adieu, I give you my top 5 albums of the year so far and some honourable mentions.

5- B4.DA.$$ - Joey Bada$$
After a series of great mixtapes and notable features, I had extremely high expectations for Joey’s debut. With rappers like Logic, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt delivering stellar debuts after their mixtape careers, Joey was up next. Not only did B4.DA.$$ exceed my expectations, it showcased how deep of a lyricist Joey can be. With many great heartfelt and introspective tracks, Joey dropped a solid body of work. However, he still kept that gritty New York boom-bap sound and dropped tracks that showcased his technical skill as an MC. His worldplay is better than ever and his ability to tell stories became apparent with B4.DA.$$. Every feature on this album works very well and fit perfectly into the scheme of the album. If you haven’t checked it out yet be sure to do so and support it. For my full thoughts on this album, click here.

Standout Tracks: Paper Trail$, No 99, On & On, O.C.B., Like Me, Curry Chicken

4- Love Story – Yelawolf
I always liked Yelawolf as a rapper and appreciated the unique flavour he brought to Hip-Hop. However with the long-awaited Love Story, Yelawolf’s Country influences dominated this sophomore album in the most cohesive and creative way possible. Now personally Country music is not favourite of mine in terms of music genres, but Yelawolf’s incorporation of it with Hip-Hop was done in a very enjoyable way. Yelawolf chose to sing on a large chunk of this album, and while his voice isn’t the best, he still manages to sound great. Tracks like Devil in My Veins show his ability to craft a great country song, while his great rapping is still present on a large bulk of the album as well. The album also has some of the catchiest hooks of the year on tracks like Whiskey in a Bottle, Empty Bottles, and Till It’s Gone. The production is immaculate all across the board and sounds clean and well layered. Yelawolf gets introspective about his past, getting abused as a child, and as the title implies his love story with both women and the Hip-Hop culture itself. The only issue I have with this album is the song American You, which sounds like a very derivative and cheesy pop-country track. This has to believe an intentional movie because it sounds like a satire and the rest of the album sounds nothing like it. Besides that, the album is amazing and has me looking forward to what he does next. It may not be your cup of tea, but it may just make you appreciate this fusion of genres more.

Standout Tracks: Devil in My Veins, Whiskey in a Bottle, Empty Bottles, Love Story, Disappear, Fiddle Me This

3- I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt – Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt is easily one of the best lyricists in the game right now. His debut Doris grew on my after its initial release, and now I see it as one of the best of 2013. Earl’s lyrics are incredibly complex, the wordplay is mind boggling, and the rhyme scheme is very impressive. On this new album here, which came unannounced, Earl gives us 10 songs and roughly 30 minutes of just him. He raps with more energy than usual, and his lyrics are more straight forward and not as coded as before. As a result, this album is a short yet a sweet listen and has a high amount of replay value. Earl gets very personal on this album, rapping about his grandmother, his place in the industry, and his relationships. The overall sound of this album is very dark, and the featured artists all contribute to add feel to that atmosphere. Lines like “fishy niggas stay eating off of hooks” and “I don’t act hard, I’m a hard act to follow” stick in my head. The beats are produced mostly by Earl himself, with the exception of one produced by Left Brain, and they’re very dark and gritty. The features are good for the most part, with Vince Staples’ feature on Wool being my favourite. I really hope that at some point these two collaborate and make and album/EP because every track they’re on together is incredible. While this album does not top Doris, it’s still another stellar addition to Earl’s consistent discography and I know that his best work is still ahead of him. So be sure to check this out and support it!

Standout Tracks: Mantra, Grief, Faucet, Wool, AM // Radio

2- Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco
I honestly lost faith in Lupe when Friend of the People came out, and I think that’s why I love this album so much. This is probably the best come-back album since Mos Def’s The Ecstatic in terms of delivering quality music after a slew of disappointments. I hope this come-back magic continues with artists like Kanye West and Lil Wayne this year. With Tetsuo & Youth, Lupe delivered his most lyrically dense album yet filled with the best production he’s been on since The Cool with contributions from S1, DJ Dahi, and more. Lyrically, Lupe delves into issues with finally leaving Atlantic Records, the prison system, love, and the issues young Black Americans face. Lupe’s bars are filled with great wordplay and metaphors. Don’t believe me? Just listen to Mural and prepare to be blown away. The hooks are also great and the features from Guy Sebastian, Nikki Jean, Ab-Soul, and all the guys on Chopper bring lots of diversity to the album. The theme with the seasons flows very well and the instrumentation sounds great . I’ve heard many people say this is a return to form for Lupe, and while I see where they’re coming from I have to disagree. I see Tetsuo & Youth as the evolution Lupe has been trying to undergo but has been unsuccessful at doing so up until this point. This is a new Lupe, and I’m extremely excited to see this face of his career. If you haven’t listened to this album, I highly recommend that you do! Click here for my full thoughts on this album.

Standout Tracks: Mural, Prisoners 1 & 2, Deliver, Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood), They.Ressurect.Over.New, Chopper

1      1- To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
As if you didn’t see this coming. What more can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already? It’s a damn near perfect album. In my opinion, this is the best produced album since Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. It’s sonically a stellar fusion of boom-bap with West Coast funk, jazz and even spoken word. The album is very dense and delves into Kendrick’s thoughts as an adult, in contrast to good kid, m.A.A.d city which delves into his life as a kid. We get a mature look into Kendrick’s opinion on politics, spirituality, sex, and Black culture. The album is also a lyrical masterpiece, with Kendrick delivering one poetic verse after another. And while there are many serious topics on this album, Kendrick still gives you fun catchy songs like King Kunta and For Free? to make the album more diverse. Wesley’s Theory is still the banger of the year for me, How Much A Dollar Costs is still the best story told in a Hip-Hop song this year for me, and These Walls is still one of the best songs about sex I’ve ever heard. There’s not much more I can say other than if you have been living under a rock for the past few months, go listen to and support this album. It’s this type of music that should be pushed and supported, especially on a mainstream level. For my full thoughts on the album, click here.

Standout Tracks: Wesley’s Theory, These Walls, King Kunta, u, The Blacker the Berry, How Much A Dollar Costs, Mortal Man

Honourable Mentions:

The Ecology - Fashawn:
I talked about this album earlier in the year. I thought it was great that Fashawn finally came back and proved that this album was well worth the wait. The production handled mainly by Exile was excellent and the rapping was on point as well. However, a couple of filler tracks prevented this from entering the top 5. Still a great album that I recommend you check out. At least check out the song To Be Young because that is easily one of my favourite songs of the year so far. 

Sour Soul - BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah
This was an album I loved the second I heard it. And don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a great album, it’s just the more the year went on, the more albums that I preferred dropped. Regardless of that, this is still an album I play a lot because of the excellent chemistry between Canadian Jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD and the legendary Wu-Tang rapper Ghostface Killah. The music is smooth and jazzy and Ghostface’s energy is great as always. The features are stellar and the album itself is a great listen so check it out!

A Special Episode Of - Open Mike Eagle
Following the success of his last album Dark Comedy, which was my third favourite album of last year, Open Mike Eagle struck while the iron was hot with a set of very solid songs on this very short EP. And while it's a great easy short listen, it's the main reason it didn't crack the top 5. It's simply too short! The EP is still worth a listen and is filled with awesome songs like Dark Comedy Late Show, Raps for When It's Just You & the Abyss, and Ziggy Starfish. He's as witty as ever and the production is very solid as well. Be sure to check this out if you haven't. I would even say it's a great introduction to Open Mike Eagle if you're trying to get into his music. 

White Men Are Black Men Too - Young Fathers 
This new album from Young Fathers is a return to their original sound of the initial EPs they dropped a couple of years ago. This album is very noisy and yet has some very awesome grooves and tons of energy. Young Fathers come through with many conceptual tracks as usual, and their blend of various genres works perfectly. The only thing that held this back from the top 5 was feeling like this is the farthest away they’ve gone from Hip-Hop and I didn’t want to include it in a “Top 5 Hip-Hop Albums” list. The album is still stellar and if you’re willing to trying something a bit experimental then go ahead and give this a shot. 

Summertime '06 - Vince Staples
This new highly anticipated debut double-album from Vince Staples is one of the best albums I've heard all year. The production is stellar for the most part and Vince's gangsta rap style is perfected over a set of great gritty tracks. The features are all great and despite being 20 tracks long, it managed to impress me and it flowed very smoothly. So the problem? It literally just came out like 2 days ago and I only gave it a couple of listens. However I have the feeling that this album will only get better with more listens and will be a contender for the top 5 end-of-the-year list. Till then, be sure to check this thing out and support it.

Biggest Disappointments of the Year So Far:
- Mr. Wonderful - Action Bronson: Lots of filler and some bad singing, still a decent listen though, just wasn't impressed 
- Cherry Bomb - Tyler, the Creator: Couldn't hear a lot of what he was saying
- Surf - Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment: Just didn't click with me 
- At.Long.Last.A$AP - A$AP Rocky: Half this album bored me, and the other half was only decent

*Note: while these albums did disappoint me, none of them were really terrible and I still got a couple of dope tracks from them. They just didn't live up to my expectations.

Favourite Songs of the Year So Far:
Wesley's Theory (Feat. George Clinton & Thundercat) - Kendrick Lamar
Mural - Lupe Fiasco 
To Be Young (Feat. .BJ the Chicago Kid) - Fashawn)
Mantra - Earl Sweatshirt 
Devil in My Veins - Yelawolf 
Paper Trail$ - Joey Bada$$
47 Bars - Ab-Soul
Terry - Action Bronson 
Smuckers (Feat. Kanye West & Lil Wayne) - Tyler the Creator 
Gunshowers (Feat. Elzhi) - BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah 
Still Running - Young Fathers 
Senorita - Vince Staples 
Holy Ghost (Feat. Joe Fox) - A$AP Rocky 
Glory - Lil Wayne 
All Day - Kanye West 
U Mad (Feat. Kanye West) - Vic Mensa
Them Changes (Feat. Flying Lotus & Kamasi Washington) - Thundercat 
Road to Perdition (Feat. Jay Z) - Jay Electronica 
California Roll (Feat. Stevie Wonder) - Snoop Dogg
Jungle - Drake

Favourite Non-Hip-Hop Album of the Year So Far:
The Epic - Kamasi Washington: 3 hours of some of the best jazz music I've heard in a while, lives up to the title!

Albums That Came Out That I Missed But Will Listen To ASAP:
Every Hero Needs a Villain - CZARFACE
God, Money, War - King Los
PeteStrumentals 2 - Pete Rock
The Thief and the Fallen - Jedi Mind Tricks 

Anticipated Releases:
SWISH or So Help Me God or whatever he ends up calling it - Kanye West (its Yeezy, duh)
FWA (Free Weezy Album) - Lil Wayne (actually excited for this after some dope features from him)
Lead Poison - Elzhi (maybe, hopefully)
TBA - Jay Rock (maybe, hopefully)
Views from the 6 - Drake (actually liked some of his last mixtape/album)
TBA - Nas (if it comes out)
King Push - Pusha T (if it comes out)
Tha Carter V - Lil Wayne (if it comes out)
TBA - R.A. the Rugged Man (expecting something hopefully)
Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) - Jay Electronica (lol, one can hope)

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly": The Next Classic

I’ve spoken about Kendrick Lamar numerous times on this blog, and he’s probably the most popular rapper in the Hip-Hop world right now, so I hope I don’t need to provide a history lesson on the guy. He first blew me away with his independent debut Section.80 back in 2011, a very cohesive and conceptual album where Kendrick addresses many issues that plague the youth of today. Upon listening to this album, I immediately went back and checked out the very solid Kendrick Lamar EP and the explosive Overly Dedicated. I knew from then that this dude was going to be someone to look out for. I loved his flow, his stories, his passion and of course the social commentary he puts out.

Kendrick then signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records label, which also houses the legendary Eminem, and things just went up from there. Kendrick dropped good kid, m.A.A.d city, an album considered by many as an instant classic and one of the best of the decade so far. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a classic just yet, but I did understand the praise that it received, calling it my favourite album of 2012 myself. It had stellar production that could appeal to both the mainstream and underground fans, and featured Kendrick telling the story of his life in the city of Compton. I thought that the album was stellar and I had no idea where Kendrick could go from there. From there Kendrick started putting out some verses that proved that he wasn’t going anywhere, from Pusha T’s Nostalgia (which was my favourite song of 2013), Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude on Ab-Soul’s last album, ScHoolboy Q’s Collard Greens, and who can forget that Control verse. But for the majority of 2014, Kendrick stayed silent. He dropped the first single from this album “i”, which was a positive song for self-love. I did initially like the song, and I still do, but I do have to admit that at the time I wanted him to do something else. After a couple of Grammy wins earlier this year for that song (about time), Kendrick dropped The Blacker the Berry, and that song only made my mouth water more for the album. I needed to hear it right away! The album was announced and set to be released for March 23rd, which I thought was great because it meant that I didn’t have to wait much longer. So a week before the album was supposed to come out, something weird happened with the label and it dropped a week early. After staying up to get the explicit version for the album, I finally got my hands on it and listened to it. So how was it? Well, I can honestly say that not only did Kendrick manage to top all of his previous albums, he also managed to put out one of the most creative, conceptually, and socially conscious albums I’ve heard in a while.

The album opens up with the incredibly catchy Wesley’s Theory, which also features the eccentric Thundercat and funk legend George Clinton. The song starts out with a sample of Boris Gardiner’s Every Nigger Is A Star, which sets the tone of the track. The beat is produced by none other than Flying Lotus, one of my favourite producers. The beat sounds so funky and jazzy at the same time, and has a great groove, especially when the chorus hits and both Kendrick and Thundercat contribute great vocals. The movement from Kendrick’s part to Thundercat’s part always gets me and Thundercat’s lyrics specifically are very strong in terms of the concept. The song delves into the concept of how uneducated rappers get signed and receive million dollar checks, and then go out and spend their money on useless materialistic things for status. But then, the second verse delivered from the perspective of Uncle Sam explains how even when African Americans are given riches, the system is designed to imprison them again either through contractional obligations or through their taxes. It’s a very serious topic, but it still done in such a catchy way that I play this song the most from the album. George Clinton’s contributions at the end of the song are great as well, and the delivery he has is chilling. The song to me sounds like if you took a young Dr. Dre from the 80s and placed him in 2015 and told him to make a G-Funk beat with The Chronic feel. It’s that good!

For Free? (Interlude) then follows, and is actually the shortest song on the whole album but also the jazziest. Produced by Terrace Martin, this track is the most light-hearted song on the whole album. Kendrick goes off about how he’s still perceived as this entity for women to approach for monetary gain. Kendrick reverses the roles and takes the popular “this pussy ain’t free” and puts it from his perspective with the hilarious “this dick ain’t freeeeeee”. It’s absolutely hilarious but still has a deep meaning behind it.

King Kunta in my opinion should be the next Hip-Hop anthem. If this song doesn’t get extreme radio play, at least on the Hip-Hop stations, then I don’t know what else the Hip-Hop listeners need. Kendrick seems to be rapping with a familiar flow and content about how he’s the best and criticizes other rappers for being whack, having ghostwriters, and biting each other’s styles as well as his own. So while the content isn’t anything new, his does this over an extremely funky beat that would’ve also fit into that 80s Dre influenced G-Funk sound. I love the lyrics in the chorus specifically when Kendrick plays with words and says “Where were you when I was walking? Now I run the game got the whole world talking, KING KUNTA, everybody wanna cut the legs off him, black man taking no losses” . It’s extremely catchy and I love the guitar solo at the end.

The album then mellows out a bit with the laid back Institutionalized featuring Bilal, Anna Wise, and none other than Snoop Dogg. At first when I saw the tracklist, I have to admit that I was hesitant. Snoop Dogg on a track? I was really hoping he doesn’t mess it up and I was pleasantly surprised with what he brought to the track. He had great flow and provided narration to the track. Bilal sounded great, and the chorus he delivered was excellent, saying “shit don’t change til you get up and wipe your ass”. Kendrick delves into this concept, talking about the influence that he has, but how he still has love for his past, and how the people he’s around still influence him.  It’s a nice change of pace for the album.

These Walls follows and it is also easily one of my favourite tracks on the whole album. It also features Bilal and Anna Wise, but additional contributions from Thundercat. Basically what the song is about is Kendrick’s perspective on sex. To be honest, the concept did not click with me the first few listens, thinking that he was talking about walls closing in on him in terms of pressure. However, when I finally figured out the concept when I gave it a hard listen, I felt dumb as hell! This is probably one of the best songs I’ve heard about sex. It’s done so elegantly and poetically and it sounds so soulful. It’s definitely a highlight; however it did not prepare me enough for the next song.

"u" is one of the most depressing yet powerful songs I’ve heard in a while. The first half of the song is delivered in an extremely aggressive flow from Kendrick, in which he speaks from the perspective of a person angry at Kendrick for not being a great influence. This person criticises Kendrick for not being a great role model and how his influence didn’t even reach his younger sister who got pregnant at a young age. The song then undergoes a metamorphosis and switches up into a more mellow but even more depressing segment. Here, Kendrick is delivering this sloppy, intoxicated verse in which you can literally hear him crying as he is spitting his verse and you can hear the sounds of the bottle and the alcohol. It’s an extremely emotional track and the beat is fantastic as well.

After that intense experience, the album then switches back to being light-hearted (sorta) into the song Alright, a song produced by Pharrell. This song sounds like something we would be used to hearing from Kendrick. He’s just spitting over a dope beat and delivers a dope hook. The character of Lucy is introduced for the first time, who returns in the song For Sale (Interlude), but in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month and haven’t listened to the album yet, I won’t spoil what she represents.

Momma follows, and it features Kendrick rapping about needing to return back home. He discusses all of his accomplishments and the knowledge he obtained, but then says that none of that matters because home is where true knowledge comes from. Then, we get to Hood Politics, a track with an immaculate beat. There is not a single complaint I have with this song on a technical level. The beat is just eerie, grimy, and that bass line is hypnotic. Kendrick raps from what I believe is the perspective of another younger individual in Compton, but I have heard other interpretations. It’s basically a representation of the youth and their mindset. I love the wordplay and energy in this track, and the Killer Mike line was awesome!

I want to say that the “song” How Much A Dollar Costs follows, but this one right here is damn near a short film to me. I can visualize every single detail Kendrick says in this song, and it is truly a great testament to how amazing of a storyteller Kendrick is. In this track, assisted by James Fauntleroy and Ronald Isley, Kendrick raps about the frustrations he has with a homeless man. The man requests a dollar from Kendrick, but Kendrick does not feel comfortable with this because he knows he’s only contributing to this man’s drug addiction. The interchange between the two is riveting and the finale is jaw-dropping.  

Complexion follows, and to be honest it is probably my least favourite song on the album. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy this song a lot, but in comparison to the other songs, it’s not as stellar. I thought the beat was a bit more accessible and traditional in comparison to the other songs, but it was still good. The main thing that saved this song is actually the beat switch up near the end and Rhapsody, an extremely underrate rapper, absolutely destroying the track. She knew a lot of people will hear this album, so she knew she had to deliver a stellar verse. Having the female perspective on this issue hits home and adds a lot to the track.

The Blacker the Berry then comes in, and the content of this song juxtaposed with Complexion makes this transition absolutely incredible. Kendrick delves into police brutality and the targeting of young black males in America, but also touches on the hypocrisy in the black community and black-on-black violence. This song pissed some people off, but I see where Kendrick is coming from and I appreciate his perspective and having the balls to drop this song as a single. The beat is ferocious and the hook assisted by Assassin was great. The song ends abruptly and finishes off with a nice jazzy outro that perfectly moves into You Ain’t Gotta Lie, a song that I feel is very underrated. I haven’t heard enough people talk about this song and it’s a shame because it’s very catchy and deep. Kendrick tells the listener from the perspective of his mother that you don’t have to lie and put on a different persona just to fit in and be accepted. Kendrick delivers this message by singing, and it actually sounds great in my opinion!

Then, we get a new version of "i", and this version is a great improvement on the single-version. Kendrick sounds more aggressive, more coherent, and the new chorus is more powerful on the album version. After the crowd starts a fight, Kendrick directly addresses the crowd and delivers a powerful spoken word piece on the origin and meaning of the N-word, as a direct response to Oprah. It’s by far one of the most impactful moments on the album and left me speechless.

The album finishes off with Mortal Man, a 12-minute monster. This song is probably one of Kendrick’s most important songs, and not just because of the surprise ending with the Tupac confrontation. On this song, Kendrick has the guts to say that he has freed the listener's mind, and asks the listener: “if shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?”, meaning if Kendrick’s image gets degraded for whatever reason, will the fan remain loyal? Will you stick by Kendrick no matter how the media decides to alter his image? That’s up to you to decide. The production on this song is breathtaking. The beat has so many layers to it, and the instrumentation is flawless. The beat on this song and the one on Wesley's Theory are tied for my favourite beats on the album. Of course the Tupac confrontation was amazing, and the way the "To Pimp A Butterfly" concept was explained was absolutely poetic and beautiful, but to me the initial part of the song is still on par in terms of emotional impact. It’s a great conclusion to a damn near perfect album.

I know I said I won’t be doing lengthy entries anymore, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. Kendrick Lamar is easily my favourite artist right now. Is he the best lyrically? Maybe, maybe not. There are rappers out there that I feel can go toe to toe with him, but no one currently makes better albums in my opinion. Kendrick is 5/5 for me so far and I don’t see how he can do wrong at this point. The man has an incredible ear for beats, stellar lyricism, and most importantly great vision and creativity. This album right here is going to be an album I will remember for the mid-year list and even the year-end list. The only album out there right now that can remotely compete with To Pimp A Butterfly is Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth. To me, it’s one of the best albums of the decade, and probably the best  album I’ve heard, regardless of genre, since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Janelle Monae’s The Archandroid. I don’t like throwing the term “classic” out easily because albums take time to reveal their influence, but out of most of the albums to come out recently, this is the one I can say with great confidence has the most potential. I highly recommend you check this album out if you have not. It’s fantastic! 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

"The Ecology" and "Sour Soul": A Triumphant Return and a Stellar Collaboration

The Ecology - Fashawn:

     For those of you who don't know, Fashawn is a West-Coast rapper from Fresno, California. He gained a lot of attention for his 2009 release Boy Meets World, an excellently produced album filled with great lyricism and storytelling. I do have to say that I didn't listen to Boy Meets World and acknowledge it's awesomeness until I listened to The Ecology first, so I feel like I have a different perspective and reaction on this new album than most do. Many people have been anticipating this album for the past 6 years, but I'm still new on Fashawn so I didn't have a lot of expectations. All I knew was that he's a dope rapper from the few features I heard from him like on the last Step Brothers album. I was hoping to be impressed, especially since many people hold him at a high standard and that the legendary Nas co-signed him and signed him to his Mass Appeal label (which gave me RTJ2 last year). So I picked up this album, listened to what Fashawn had to offer, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

     The album kicks off with Guess Who's Back, a song where Fashawn raps about his come-up, his grand return, rise to fame, and his devotion to Hip-Hop as an art-form. The song also has beautiful vocals and a great beat. Confess is one of my favourite tracks off the album, with a great beat that sounds very Middle-Eastern influenced, and Fashawn going off spitting dope braggadocios bars. Something to Believe In is probably the song that will get the most attention due to the Nas feature, and I have to say it did not disappoint. While Fashawn did hold his own, I still think Nas destroyed the track with a lengthy verse mentioning his status in the game and even throwing some political bars in there. 

     Higher and To Be Young follow and are by far my favourite tracks on the album. They both feature piano-based beats that have a very sentimental feel and an emotional vibe, which works with the content. On Higher, Fashawn talks about the high bar that he has to face because of the success and acclaim of Boy Meets World and how people's expectations are too high. He mentions their refusal of seeing him evolve as an artist and doing something different. It ends off with a very heartfelt sample of a phone call from his daughter. To Be Young is my absolute favourite track from the album, because the beat is absolutely hypnotic and dope. It features excellent vocal contributions from BJ the Chicago Kid, who kills the hook. Fashawn goes into storytelling mode, which I loved, talking about an instance in which he watched his friends commit a murder, his experiences with his mother's drug-dealing husband, and finally experiences with lust and women. 

      Golden State of Mind follows, and it is a great ode to the West-Coast. Letter F is another great track, filled with great bars and wordplay, backed by a great beat from the one and only Alchemist. After this track, the album levels off for me, on a good level though, and remains consistent.  Mother was one of the best songs from the latter half of the album, which features a beautiful tribute to Fashawn's mother. He mentions the experiences he had with her, watching her indulge in drugs, but still have that strong love for her. It hit home for me. The album finishes off nicely with F.T.W., which sounded like a triumphant end to a great album. 

    The production on this album was primarily handled by long-time collaborator Exile, who produced all of Boy Meets World and one of my favourite underground Hip-Hop albums, Blu's Below the Heavens. Other producers that contributed to this album include DJ Khalil, Beewirks, The Alchemist, Quince Tones, Jo Caleb, and ATG. Overall, I felt that the production was very solid, especially the tracks produced by Exile. The beats all sounded very layered, had great drums, soul-samples, and excellent rhythms. The features are all dope, with Nas and Dom Kennedy dropping excellent verses and all of the vocalists made excellent contributions. 

    The only negative I have for this album is that the first half slightly out-shadows the second half, but that doesn't take away anything from my enjoyment of the album. Overall, I think this is a great album and a very solid follow-up to Boy Meets World. I heard that many fans were disappointed because it did not live up to Boy Meets World, but like I said I heard The Ecology first, so I didn't have the high expectations that most fans did. I do see where they are coming from, as Boy Meets World is more consistent with the sound and lyricism, but The Ecology is still a great album and I highly recommend it!

Sour Soul - BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah:

     This is an album I've been waiting for every since it was announced. I hope that I don't have to give a history lesson on who Ghostface Killah is, as I've mentioned him multiple times on this blog. I will say that he is easily my favourite Wu-Tang Clan member, and is also the most consistent. BADBADNOTGOOD (who I will be referring to as simple BBNG in this blog post from now on), is a great jazz trio from Montreal, Canada. I'm a huge jazz fan, and they absolutely blew me away with their stellar mixtapes BBNG and BBNG2 and then followed them up with a very solid debut album titled III. Their rendition of other popular tracks, original material, and improvisational tracks always impress me. So when I heard they were collaborating with Ghostface, a rapper that has been on a creative streak lately, I couldn't wait! So what's the result? One of the best albums of the year.

     The album starts with a great instrumental piece, and follows with the title track, which is a great track. Ghostface's lyrical content is traditional Ghostface, throwing a lot of tough hard bars with roaring energy and immaculate flow. On this track, Ghostface takes shots at the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, and also touches on the food industry and GMOs. Six Degrees follows and is a track that has been out for a while. It features a stellar verse from Danny Brown, and both rappers trad stories over a great spacious beat. Gunshowers is easily my favourite song and it has also been out for a while now. It features Elzhi with  my personal favourite feature on the album. It's a stellar verse with that signature Elzhi flow (I need an album from this dude ASAP!). Stark's Reality follows and is probably my favourite instrumental piece on the album, but Tone's Rap, the track it leads into, is probably my least favourite. Not saying the track is bad, it's just I wished for more energy from Ghostface, or a slightly smoother flow. 

     The album picks back up with more solid tracks, including the awesome Ray Gun with the mysterious and infamous MF DOOM (as DOOM). Both rappers spit dope cartoonish bars with comic book references. This track displays great chemistry between the two rappers and only makes me wish their collaborative album DOOMSTARKS would just come out already! The beat switch up on this song was amazing! It sounds like the theme song for a villain taken straight from a superhero movie, and I loved every minute of it. The album closes off strong with Nuggets of Wisdom, Food, and Experience, the latter being another great instrumental piece. Nuggets of Wisdom details Ghostface's conversion to Islam, and is done very beautifully with poetic verses laid over one of my favourite beats on the album. On Food, Ghostface compares food to other human characteristics and their influence on our thoughts and health, similar to what Big K.R.I.T. did on Soul Food, but done in a completely different and original way. 

     Now you guys know I'm not great at describing the specific technical aspects of the production, so all I can say is that the music behind the MC produced by BBNG is damn near flawless. The music from each song builds upon the next and is never redundant. Each song flows seamlessly into the other and the jazz influences that BBNG bring to the table are welcomed by me, being a huge jazz fan. So shoutout to BBNG for the stellar music. I have to show love for my fellow Canadian artists, and you guys knocked it out of the park! 

     As for negatives, I only have a slight issue with the track Tone's Rap as mentioned earlier, and another issue is that I wish the album was longer. The latter complaint isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact it's a good thing. What I'm saying is that the music is so great I wish I got more of it! All I got to say is that I hope this isn't the end of the collaborations between Ghostface Killah and BBNG. I would also like to see BBNG collaborate with other rappers for a full album like Elzhi, Earl Sweathshirt, Freddie Gibbs, or any rapper willing to take a chance and step outside their comfort zone, because it definitely worked with Ghostface. So in conclusion, I think the album is stellar and is definitely one of my favourites of the year so far. I picked up the CD, and apparently there are vinyl copies on gold out there, which I'll be looking out for. So pick it up! 

Monday, 16 February 2015

"B4.DA.$$" and "Tetsuo & Youth": A Great Start To A Promising Year in Hip-Hop

Before I start talking about these albums, I would like to mention a couple of changes that will be happening to this blog. First, I want to drop the "ALBUM REVIEW" tag from the articles about specific albums. I feel this needs to be done because I don't want to refer to myself as a music critic. Even though I never did, I don't want to convey that idea. Another thing I won't be doing any more is assigning a rating for each album. I don't think I need to do that any more simply because I don't feel comfortable assigning a grade on a piece of art, whether I enjoy it or not. Finally, I'm going to attempt to condense these articles as much as possible to get straight to the point in terms of what I like and don't like about each album. This way, I can give you my opinions more efficiently and it makes it faster for me to put out articles given my busy schedule. So without further adieu, I give you my opinions on the highly anticipated albums from Joey Bada$$ and Lupe Fiasco, B4.DA.$$ and Tetsuo & Youth.

     Joey Bada$$'s official debut album B4.DA.$$ has been a long-awaited album for me for a while. Joey has consistently impressed me with 1999, Summer Knights, and PEEP: The APROcalypse with his immaculate flow, clever wordplay, and that old-school throwback feel. However, I was always hoping he would eventually mature and start creating his own sound. Many people criticize him for having an old-school sound and completely dismiss him for that, which I don't particularly agree with, but I still wanted him to evolve. With B4.DA.$$, it seems like Joey has finally come around as a fully realized artist with the best debut album I've heard in a while.

     B4.DA.$$ features Joey Bada$$ rapping about some of the most mature topics he's every covered in his career. With Save the Children, Joey opens up the album talking about the over-looked violence that goes around between young Black Americans and the hook itself attempts to enlighten African American youths to become educators, republicans, and businessmen. It's a great start to a stellar album. Paper Trail$ is another highlight on the album, where Joey raps over an amazing beat provided by none other than the legendary DJ Premier. On this track, Joey raps about the contrast between his life before and after the money, explaining the benefits it may have, but the draw-backs it presents. I loved his spin on the classic Wu-Tang line when he says "Cash Ruins Everything Around Me". The album continues with very solid tracks like Big Dusty and Hazeus View and the next highlight for me was Like Me, which features vocals from BJ The Chicago Kid. The track begins as an innocent love song but eventually evolves into a critique of police brutality very creatively. It's tracks like this that show how creative of an MC Joey can be.

     No. 99 and Christ Conscious are a display of that classic Joey, where he is just going off over grimy production. Lines like "Cause I'm a microphone killa/especially when my head is going off that liquor/specially educated, heavily medicated/give me that beat and I'll put you next to Dilla!" were hard as hell. Following this slew of hard-hitting tracks, we get a bunch of very introspective tracks like On & On. On this track, Joey tells the listener how he wants everyone to see him when he passes away. It features a very beautiful beat with great synths and great vocals from Maverick Sabre. The album closes up with 2 of my favorite tracks on the album, O.C.B. and Curry Chicken, where he talks about how his fame has lead to him becoming distant from his family, but he still looks forward to coming back home for his mother's cooking. They are very sentimental tracks that hit a core with me.

     In terms of tracks I don't fully enjoy, I can only think of Escape 120. It's not a bad song, it has good verses from Joey and a speedy Andre 3000-ish flow from Raury, but the beat didn't do anything for me and the hook wasn't that great. I respect the fact that he tried to step out of his comfort zone for a little bit and do something different, but it didn't do anything for me. Aside from that, B4.DA.$$ features great production from the likes of Kirk Knight, Statik Selektah, Chuck Strangers, and even contributions of The Roots over the Dilla beat for Like Me. The production is very soulful, very consistent, and overall has a distinct sound from his previous projects. Joey comes with great bars, introspective song concepts, and managed to put together in my opinion his best project to date. This even tops 1999 for me. So be sure to check it out. I know this will be an album I will be remembering near the mid-year list and maybe even the year-end list. It's a great debut from a great lyricist. Be sure to buy it and support it. You won't be disappointed.

     I stated multiple times on this blog that Lupe Fiasco has always been one of my favorite rappers of all time, but lately he's been disappointing me. Ever since Lasers came out in 2010, Lupe has been releasing some lack-luster projects with weak production and an uninteresting rapper. With that being said, he still had tracks that showed that he still got it, like Around My Way and Double Burger With Cheese, but I wasn't expecting much from this album. I avoided all the singles and the drama behind this album so that I can approach it with an open mind when it gets released. But from first listen, I thought to myself: this must be one of the best comeback albums in Hip-Hop.

    The album opens up with Summer, a great instrumental piece and it blends seamlessly into the monstrous track Mural. I dare a rapper to make a song better than Mural this year. This track was almost 9 minutes of some of the most creative bars I've heard in a while. It's a very dense track that always leaves me speechless. I can go on for days de-cyphering the lyrics and talking about them, so I'll leave you with my favorite part of the song here:

"I prefer girls to reign all over the world
And not rain like, rain man or rain like rain dance
Or rain like a slight chance of rain when it's raining
Or rein like deer slaves to santa claus sleigh man
But reign like queens that reign over made man
And not queen like queen killer, rhapsody bohemian queen
But queen like white glove wave hand
And not wave hand like it's a heat wave
So you make a fan by waving your hand
I'm talking wave like you saying "hey"
Man, and not hay for horses and hoarse like you almost voiceless
You gotta treat your vocal chords like it's a fortress
And treat every single one of your words like reinforcements
And especially when you're recording
Cause that's the portion that's important"

     Blur My Hands follows, which was actually a song I wasn't looking forward to at all given Lupe's last collaboration with Guy Sebastian with Battle Scars, but it actually turned out pretty soulful and great. Guy proved me wrong by singing the hook very smoothly. Dots and Lines was great as well, with Lupe talking about his career, warning other rapper from signing deals with major labels, and it had a great hook. Although the placement of the banjo in the beginning and end didn't make sense, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. With Fall, the album gets a little darker with Prisoner 1&2, which is one of the best conscious tracks I've heard in a while. He starts off talking about prisoners in general, police brutality, and the harsh conditions in prisons. The second part of this track takes the opposite approach, taking the perspective of the prison guards wanting the prisoners to get life sentences or the death penalty out of jealousy because they are also stuck there. After a collection of very solid tracks with beautiful contributions from Nikki Jean and a great sax solo from Terrace Martin on Body of Work, the album reaches Winter and it gets very dark and presents my favorite part of the entire album.

     The Winter section opens up with Chopper, a 9 minute posse cut featuring great grimy gangsta-rap verses from the likes of Trae The Truth, Trouble, and Glasses Malone. The beat is nuts, the hook is great, and even Lupe finishes the track off visciously. Deliver has Lupe rapping creatively about the the violence that goes on in Chicago, or other cities in general, saying that it is so violent that the pizza man can't deliver pizza to your neigborhood. I thought the second verse in particular was stellar, with Lupe describing the ghetto as a dead-end for Black youths and pointing fingers at the hypocritical white man for trafficking drugs and making it mainstream on television via shows like Breaking Bad. Madonna is a heartbreaking track that looks from the perspective of mothers who have to see their sons die from the violence in the ghetto. Adoration of the Magi is another great track with a great jazzy beat, and Lupe has very solid verses, especially that third verse. The album finishes off with They.Resurrect.Over New, which is a very creative track with great verses from Lupe, were he uses a fast paced flow that sounds incredible. The beat itself sounds awesome, it is very creative and futuristic, and it reminded me of the same feeling Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica track gave me. Ab-Soul's verse is incredible as well and the vocals that finish the track off were great. Summer is a very nice finish to the album, which leaves a very optimistic outlook on the overall theme of youth, violence, and corruption the album presents.  

    Aside from the lyrics, another aspect of the album that impressed me was the production. For the first time since The Cool, Lupe is rapping over stellar beats that fit him. Even though I don't think this is Lupe returning to his original sound, I do believe this is Lupe evolving to a sound that actually works. Lupe finally sounds comfortable rapping over this type of production. So shout-out to DJ Dahi, S1, and all of the other producers who helped put this album together. The features overall were great, the album flowed very well, especially given the album is almost 80 minutes long! I thought the album was very artistic, it sounded great, Lupe seems reinvigorated, and I can finally say that Lupe Fiasco is finally back. So thank you Mr. Jaco for proving me wrong. I didn't think you could do it, but you impressed me for the first time in years. I'm looking forward to seeing what you will do in the future, especially now that you're off Atlantic Records. So overall, it's a great album! Be sure to check it out, buy it and support it! This is the album to beat this year!

So what did you think of B4.DA.$$ and Tetsuo & Youth? Were you impressed or disappointed? What were your favorite tracks? Let me know by dropping a comment.!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Top 40 Favorite Tracks of 2014

Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2015 is filled with happiness, love and prosperity to all of you. For the past few days I've been trying to narrow down what my favorite songs of the year are. This was tougher than I thought because of my "no artist gets more than one song on the list" rule. If it wasn't for this rule, this list would consist of mostly Run the Jewels, QuESt, Open Mike Eagle and Freddie Gibbs tracks. Their albums were filled with amazing songs. However, I had to narrow down my favorite songs from all the albums I listened to plus extra singles from random compilations and non-albums singles. I was able to gather 40 songs that I loved the most and I gotta say this list is pretty solid in my opinion and I recommend all of them. This list might include a couple of non-Hip-Hop songs as well. So without further adieu, I give you my top 40 favorite songs of 2014!

40- South California (Feat. Tunji) - CunninLynguists:
Coming from their very solid 2014 album Strange Journey Vol. 3, South California is a great song about Natti and guest rapper Tunji's experiences in Cali meeting beautiful women and falling for them. Their descriptions of the time they had matched with excellent flows and great lyrics make the song very heartfelt and blissful. The beat produced by none other than Kno is beautiful. It sounds very exotic, euphoric and colorful giving Natti and Tunji a great platform to lay down their romantic encounters. It provides the perfect sound to the atmosphere and setting the song implies making you feel in South California. It's a great song that I highly recommend. 

39- Kanye West - Atmosphere:
This song comes off of Atmosphere's latest album Southsiders, which was actually a solid album. While Slug's style has changed a bit, I do still think he raps well and puts together great songs. Kanye West is a prime example of that. The beat sounds great, it's very synthy and bassy, the female vocals were nice, and the piano sample was cool. It is produced by none other than Ant. The lyrics revolve around the idea of love and, in his own words, Slug uses Kanye because "It’s about when you love something so much that people misinterpret that as something bad because you just don’t give a (expletive). The truth is that you don’t give a (expletive) because you love it so much and some people just don’t understand. To me, Kanye, himself, exemplifies this concept. Kanye is slang to me for loving something too much." It's a beautiful song that I highly recommend.

38- Step Masters - Step Brothers (The Alchemist & Evidence):
Lord Steppington is one of those albums that came out so early in 2014 that I feel many people forgot about it. It is the long awaited collaborative effort from West Coast MCs and producers Evidence and Alchemist. As expected, the album was stellar, featuring great beats and hard core bars. Step Masters is one of the lead singles from this album and it is a perfect representation of what you could expect from this album. The beat is atmospheric, hard hitting yet still loud. Evidence and Alchemist come thought with great braggadocios bars, but still manage to bring energy to a pretty spacious beat. If you haven't listened to Lord Steppington, listen to this track because it will let you know what you're in for.

37- House Rules (Intro) - Slaughterhouse (Crooked I, Joel Ortiz, Royce da 5'9" & Joe Budden):
As the title implies, this song is the title track and the intro to their 2014 mixtape House Rules. The mixtape came out earlier in the year but I remember bumping it hard when it came out. This track is a great start to the mixtape. All 4 members bring energy to a grand beat, and this intro serves as a bar fest. I like how Joel starts the track and the rap-singing Royce does in the middle of his verse. Crooked is vicious as always and Budden had a solid verse. Its a great start to a solid mixtape. Check it out!

36- Cody Macc - Cozz:
Cody Macc is the real name of Dreamville MC Cozz, a rapper I've been sleeping on. I only just recently listened to his album Cozz & Effect and I regret not listening to it earlier because it may have had a shot at my top 15 if I gave it more spins. Until then, this track is why I like Cozz. His flow is excellent, the beat is amazing, and what sold me was his energy and aggression. He just goes off! Here he talks about the frustrations with his life, career, women and other materialistic things. Its a great track and it makes me go back to the album all the time. Give it a listen and if you like what you hear listen to the album. I highly recommend it!

35- Hands Up - Vince Staples:
This track is my standout track from Vince Staples great EP titled Hell Can Wait. Ever since his verse on Hive, I've been waiting for Vince Staples to drop a solid project and Hell Can Wait delivered. The reason why I loved this song the most is because it deals with an issue that made headlines this year with Mike Brown, Eric Garner and other cases: Police brutality, specifically towards African-Americans. He talks about people who were a product of police brutality and the hook on this song is done in a very clever way. Vince tells the listener to put their hands up, but in a meaning that fits the song. Its a riveting track that I highly recommend.

34- 24 Freestyle - VMG (QuESt, Castro, Jon Bellion & Logic):
This was a track that was released on Logic's 24th birthday. It features VMG artists Jon Bellion, and Castro as well as Logic (along with QuESt who is no longer a VMG artist I believe, but he was at the time). They rhyme over a great beat with an Asian flavor that is produced by Logic himself. QuESt kicks the freestyle off and to me is the best on the whole song. He kills it with great bars and immaculate flows, especially the double-triple time he does near the end when the beat stops. Castro has a brief but dope verse. Jon Bellion actually steps out of his comfort zone and raps, when he's usually known for singing. He is braggadocios, funny and totally holds his own. Logic ends the track off perfectly with great bars and information about his upcoming album at the time. Its a great track for the Hip-Hop heads so check it out!

33- Lilies (Feat. Sirah) - Lupe Fiasco:
2014 featured Lupe dropping some mediocre to whack tracks that include Next To It, Pussy, and even Mission (which had great content but a weak beat and hook, sorry). Later in the year, Lupe announced that he will release a mixtape called Lost in the Atlantic, which he claims is a project he's doing because Atlantic Records refuse to release his album. I took it as bullshit because he's done this before and tricked us, but whatever. This song however is actually one of his best songs in a while, possibly since Around My Way. The beat is great and Lupe is actually flowing pretty well on this beat, something they he hasn't done well in while in my opinion. The content is typical Lupe, but done well. The hook is the weakest part, but it gets better after multiple listens. So be sure to check this track out, and I hope his upcoming album Tetsuo & Youth will be dope like this (but I still have my doubts though).

32- Love Don't Live Here No More (Feat. Kandace Springs) - Ghostface Killah:
This track right here is the second track on Ghostface Killah's newest album 36 Seasons which actually made my top 15 albums of 2014. This song is one of the coldest songs I heard all year. Ghostface raps about finally being released from prison after 9 years (hence 36 seasons) and happily going over to his girl's place to finally see her. However, when he gets there, he finds out that she moved on and is with another man. As a result, Ghostface is heartbroken and feels betrayed. It's a story that I'm sure many guys can relate to (with the exception of the 9-year jail sentence part). The hook is beautifully sung by Kandace Springs and it makes the song feel very tragic. It's a great song and I highly recommend it.

31- Kiss the Ring (Feat. Elzhi & Fashawn) - Markis Precise:
I'm gonna be honest when I say I've never heard of Markis Precise. From what I've read he's a producer from the West Coast, but I've never heard any of his other material. The way I got to this track was when I heard Elzhi had a new song. This got me pumped up because Elzhi has been one of my favorite rappers for a while and he barely puts out music. Fashawn is also on this track, and he does great, but Elzhi steals the show for me easily. The beat is great. Its very soulful which is the perfect type of beat for these two rappers to go over. This is a track made for the Hip-Hop heads so be sure to check it out.

30- First Step - Diamond District (Uptown XO, yU & Oddisee):
Another track for the Hip-Hop heads, First Track is the first official song after the intro on Diamond District's latest album March on Washington, which was a very solid album. The beat is produced by Oddisee himself and all three rappers lay solid bars. They are all boom-bap type rappers but going over this beat still made listening to the song interesting because it doesn't sound boom-bap-ish. Personally, I thought Oddisee stole the show, but they all did their thing. So be sure to check this song out.

29- Fight Or Flight - Lil Herb:
Lil Herb was a total surprise for me because I did not expect to like him at all. I assumed his style was similar to Cheef Keef, Lil Durk, and Lil Bibby (which is not a shot to those artists, its just not my thing). However, even though Lil Herb raps about similar topics, he's the first rapper from that crew to grab me on a lyrical level. He's very aggressive, passionate, and he has great flow and all of these characteristics can be found on this track. This song can be found on his awesome 2014 mixtape Welcome to Fazoland, which didn't get as much credit as it deserved. This track has Lil Herb rapping about what motivates him to keep going, his street cred, and it moves into the next track on the mixtape very well. The beat is great. It contains a nice soul sample and a weird 8-bit sounding sample during the hook. Its a great introductory track for Lil Herb and I highly recommend it.

28- The Shady XV Cypher - Eminem, Yelawolf & Slaughterhouse:
The Shady XV compilation was a pretty disappointing collection of mediocre songs. However, the cypher that came out in promotion for the compilation was excellent. It features most of the Shady Records roster laying down great verses. Crooked I kicks it off with a great verse and probably my favorite right behind Eminem, however give him an extra couple of minutes and he may have over took Em. Joe Budden follows with a pretty underwhelming verse, but the momentum picks back up when Yelwolf comes in. His verse is performed so creatively and his backdrop was probably my favorite. Joel Ortiz was dope, but I felt his verse was a bit too short. Royce and Em finish the cypher off perfectly, with the latter going on for well over 6-7 minutes. If I were to rank them, I would order them as follows: Eminem > Crooked I > Yelawolf  > Royce da 5'9" > Joel Ortiz  > Joe Budden. Be sure to check it out.

27- Droog's Anthem - Your Old Droog:
There's no other way of explaining what this song is other than a dope rapper spitting. Recently, Your Old Droog has been doing many interviews and concerts to get his name in more people's minds because of the whole Nas controversy that was going on in the beginning of the year. Now with his debut album, he is almost at a point where he has removed himself from that image. Droog's Anthem was my favorite from the album/EP because it was more upbeat and fun to listen to again and again. It's one of the few songs that has an actual hook that is actually pretty catchy. Droog is spitting crazy over a very East Coast beat, giving this song a very 90's feel. So be sure to check this song out. It's dope!

26- Easy Rider - Action Bronson:
Action Bronson is one of the coolest and funniest dudes in rap right now. Aside from his eccentric personal life, his rhymes are packed with funny, absurd, and very explicit references. Easy Rider is his lead single for his upcoming album Mr. Wonderful and it is produced by Party Supplies whom Action Bronson has already collaborated with on his Blue Chips mixtapes. The beat sounds awesome, something that can be taken out of a 70s action movie or something. It's very catchy and it's impressive to see a rapper like Action Bronson rap so effortlessly over a beat like this. Action tells a story of being on acid in the mountains, having a crazy night, waking up naked at the Hilton with a girl that looks like Seal's cousin, and even playing some Coltrane music! The song ends with a very good guitar solo. The video is crazy, but still super dope so be sure to check it out if you haven't!

25- The Neighborhood (Feat. Cocaine 80's & Lil Herb) - Common:
Even though Common's Nobody's Smiling was pretty disappointing to me, it was still a good album with many songs being some of the best of the year. My favorite however is the opening track to the album titled The Neighborhood. It starts with James Fauntleroy of Cocaine 80's singing about troubled youths and the bad decisions they make by joining gangs. Common then spits a dope verse over a Curtis Mayfield sample about him coming up in Chicago describing his life and Lil Herb follows up with the same content but the timeline has moved to the current scene in Chicago. This is great because it helps show how the city has changed in many ways, but still suffers from the same problems. Lil Herb sounds aggressive and steals the show surprisingly but Common sounds great as usual. Its a stellar start to the album and definitely worth checking out!

24- Break The Bank - ScHoolboy Q:
I still think ScHoolboy Q's Oxymoron was a great album and even though I don't play it as much anymore, some tracks, especially this one, still get played on my phone. As the title implies, Break the Bank features ScHoolboy rapping viciously about blowing up and being the best at what he does. He references his drug dealing days, his gangster affiliations, and even takes a shot at Kendrick telling him that he's taking the throne. His delivery is incredible, and with each bar ScHoolboy gets more aggressive. The beat is produced by the legendary Alchemist and it sounds awesome. It's probably the most hardhitting track on the album and one of The Alchemist's best in a while in my opinion. Be sure to check this song out if you haven't, especially if you're into hard core Gangsta Rap.

23- Ego Death (Feat. Aesop Rock & Danny Brown) - Busdriver:
I've always admired Busdriver, but from distance if I can say that because he always sounded creative and eccentric but I still couldn't get into most of his music. I can say that about his latest album Perfect Hair as well, but in that album were many gems including Ego Death. Before I get into the verses, I have to mention the stellar beat produced by Jeremiah Jae, a producer I'm not familiar with. It sounds very dense, heavy, and cacophonous. It sounds perfect and is probably one of my favorite beats of the year hands down. Busdriver kicks the track off with the best verse in my opinion. His verse is very dense and his flow is excellent. Aesop Rock follows with a solid verse and Danny Brown finishes the track off with a typical dope aggressive Danny Brown verse. Don't ask me what they're rapping about, I'm still trying to decypher it. The hook is surprisingly catchy for a song this coded. All in all, it's a great track that I high recommend!

22- Sanctified (Feat. Kanye West & Big Sean) - Rick Ross:
Love him or hate him (I personally don't like him that much), you can't deny that this track sounds absolutely amazing. Coming from his 6th studio album Mastermind, which was actually okay, Sanctified is a stellar display of braggadocios raps. The beat is produced by Kanye West and DJ Mustard and it sounds gorgeous. The soul singing adds to the classiness of the track and I wish Kanye did more beats like this instead of the ones on Yeezus. Thankfully, Big Sean only does the hook and has no verse, but I did hear he initially did have a verse but it was scratched off (thank God!). Kanye kicks it off with a hilarious verse going at the people that criticized him for Yeezus, saying he'll make another one for the fans, and ends the verse off in a hilariously blasphemous and over the top way of saying God sent him a message saying that he's being too aggressive. Rick Ross drops an okay verse, it does the job and keeps the momentum of the track without ruining it. Overall, the song sounds great and I still play it regularly. Check it out if you haven't!

21- Understand (Feat. Dice Raw & Greg Porn) - The Roots:
Understand comes from the 11th album ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin from legendary Hip-Hop band The Roots. Even though I still thought the album was good, it was probably my biggest disappointment of year at the time because it did not live up to Undun and will probably rank last or second-to-last in terms of Roots albums for me. Still, this band is so good that their worst album is still solid so I'm not trying to knock on their craft. Back to the track, Understand is an amazing song. It has a great beat filled with awesome organ samples, hand claps and drums. Dice Raw does the hook, and it's absolutely amazing. He talks about how people search for God, but soon give up and shake their hands when God comes with help, alluding to the fear people have for change. Black Though, like usual, has a stellar verse delivered from the perspective of a drug dealer who wants to leave his hustle but is on the verge of death. Greg Porn also delivers a verse that has some clever wordplay, especially with the "pay for my sins" line. It's a short track with a lot to digest so be sure to check it out, you won't be disappointed!

20- Parental Advisory - Jay Rock:
Jay Rock has been releasing flawless verses ever since he dropped Follow Me Home back in 2011. From the Numbers on the Boards remix, his feature on ScHoolboy's Los Awesome, the Black Hippy track Black Lip Bastard, and Kendrick's Money Trees, I've been looking forward to Jay Rock's next album for a minute. Unfortunately it did not drop in 2014. However, we got a stellar song to hold us on till it does drop titled Parental Advisory. The content, delivery, and production can all be described as follows: classic West Coast Gangsta Rap. Jay Rock is as aggressive as ever, and drops some vicious rhymes. The beat is nuts and I'm pretty sure I heard Ab-Soul's vocals during the hook. It's a great track that we can bump till the album drops, and I'm sure the day it does will be a great day for Hip-Hop. Be sure to check this track out if you're a die-hard West Coast Hip-Hop fan. 

19- Mt. Olympus - Big K.R.I.T.:
When I talk about Mt. Olympus, I'm referring to the original version and NOT the Reprise version on the deluxe edition of the album. I personally did not like the simplification of the beat that was done on the album version. The original version has a great beat that sounds very luxurious and grandiose and is perfect because it makes Big K.R.I.T.'s delivery sound even more powerful. Big K.R.I.T. delivers a relentless speedy flow that he's not usually known for. He raps about his place in Hip-Hop, the Kendrick-Control controversy, and the respect he deserves in the industry. Although he won't admit it, I'm pretty sure the hook contain shots at Miley Cyrus but more importantly Drake, and I'm surprised not a lot of people have pointed this out. It's an awesome track the proves Big K.R.I.T. is not a rapper you want to mess with on a lyrical level. Be sure to check it out if you haven't!

18- Lunch Money - Pusha T:
Pusha T has been on a roll lately. He dropped his official solo debut My Name Is My Name last year to great reviews and a spot on my top 10 albums of 2013! Not only that but his track Nosetalgia with Kendrick Lamar was my favorite song of 2013 as well! It seems like Pusha T wants to keep the momentum going. After MNIMN, Pusha T announced that he will soon release a new solo album titled King Push and Lunch Money is the first taste that we have received so far. So how does it sound? F**king amazing! The beat is produced by Kanye West and it sounds so weird and unorthodox. It is something I would have never imagined Pusha T rapping over. However, Pusha T delivers great verses and manages to ride the beat well with his charisma and energy. The hook is great, Pusha T drops some braggadocios bars, and claims that he's the only dope boy quotable. The beat-change near the end is awesome and the track as a whole is one of the best bangers of the year. If you haven't checked it out yet be sure to do so. You'll be missing out if you skip this one!

17- Better In Tune With The Infinite (Feat. LaTonya Givens) - Jay Electronica:
When it comes to Jay Electronica, there are two main questions that people ask: "Where the f**k is Jay Electronica?" and "When the f**k is Act II coming out?". For me personally, I believe that the album will come out eventually, but we still have a long wait. So I decided to stop caring until an actual date is announced. However, earlier in the year, Jay Elect dropped this gem which actually made me think Act II was coming because the title "Better In Tune With The Infinite" was on the leaked tracklist from a couple of years back. Act II obviously did not come out, but this song is still beautiful. It starts off with a monologue by Elijah Mohammad and then an excerpt from The Wizard of Oz. Then Jay Elect spits for about 50 seconds on some deep shit. "It's frustrating when you just can't express yourself" he raps and continues about his feelings towards himself and his music, and then concludes that both entities can never die. The vocals at the end are beautifully sung and the overall aesthetic of the song is powerful and uplifting. It's a great track for self-promotion and it serves as a great feel-good song. Be sure to check it out if you haven't yet!

16- The Imperial (Feat. Action Bronson, Royce da 5'9" & Black Thought) - Statik Selektah:
This song comes off of underground East-Coast producer Statik Selektah's 6th studio album What Goes Around, which is an album filled with great collabs over nice soulful, old-school sounding beats. The best song is easily The Imperial. Why? Well you get Action Bronson dropping a hilarious verse and Royce da 5'9" following up with a pretty solid verse with nice wordplay and great flow. But that's not what makes this song stellar. At 4 mins, Action Bronson and Royce take up like 2 mins, leaving the rest for Black Though to knock this out of the f**king park. What happens when you give Black Though, the GOAT, 2 mins to rap? You get one of the best verses of the year. You get stellar wordplay, immaculate flows, amazing delivery, and quotables for days. My favorite is easily "Now who's your top 5? Jay, Biggie, Pac, Nas? I ain't tryin' to hear another name if it's not mine!". His verse is so aggressive and authoritative that you believe this claim. He finishes the verse off perfectly making this song easily one of my favorites! Check it out! 

15- Body & Blood - clipping:
I'm gonna be honest when it comes to clipping. I listened to Midcity and CLPPNG and even though I enjoy the rapping and some of the production, they weren't albums I was absolutely in love with. I respect those albums, but they're not for me. I thought CLPPNG was great in parts, but there was a chunk of 4-5 songs in the middle that I wasn't feeling. However, the second song on this album titled Body & Blood was a song that I thought was stellar. The production is loud and chilling and it makes your skin crawl, which is appropriate for the content. In the song, MC Daveed Diggs raps about a sexy woman that lures men in only to kill and eat them. It's a f**ked up concept that resembles something from a horror movie but I have to give credit where credit is due. Diggs sounds great on a beat, his flow is vicious, and his rhymes are actually impressive. It's done very well and even the hook is ironically appropriate. It's not something that I feel many people can get into, but it's definitely worth checking out if you want to step out of your comfort zone.

14- Napoleon - CyHi The Prynce:
It was very hard for me to leave out CyHi The Prynce's stellar come-back mixtape Black Hystori Project from my top 15 favorite albums of the year. It was easily one of the most solid and consistent mixtapes of the year. Hell, give me time and I might end up removing Ab-Soul's album and placing it at the #15 spot. Until then, if you still have you doubts about CyHi, check Napoleon out and you will feel embarrassed for sleeping on this talented MC. In the song, CyHi compares his aggression and passion to that of historical figure Napoleon, then continues with bars over bars with no hook. The amount of words he rhymed with Napoleon is outstanding. What makes this song so much more impressive is CyHi's great metaphors, and on this song his displays possibly the best wordplay in a track all year. Lines like "Remember selling nicks at night, no Nickelodeon/Now I'm pulling chicks at night feelin' like Scorpion", "But, I went into some classes overseas/Now all I do is study abroad... Get it? Study a broad?" and "Huh, and rap is like college/I'm working on my doctorate cause I already mastered it" stand out easily. The beat produced by M16 is excellent as well and provides a perfect platform for CyHi to go off. If you haven't checked this track out, get off your ass and do so. You will not be disappointed!

13- Turkey Dog Coma - Flying Lotus:
Flying Lotus put together one of the most creative albums of the year with You're Dead! Now unfortunately, I'm not the best at describing the technical aspect of beats because that's not my expertise. As a result, I won't be able to tell exactly what makes this song amazing in technical terms. However, I can say that this song contains probably the best musical moment of 2014. FlyLo put everything into this song and it sounds very soulful. I'm not saying it sounds like something J Dilla would make but it gives me the same feeling. I noticed that the song actually has 3 phases, the first being very energetic and exciting, the second being more simple but more emotional and even romantic in ways, and the last phase is very smooth and atmospheric and blends into the next song perfectly. It truly is a great song and it saves the album from the underwhelming Dead Man's Tetris. If you haven't checked it out, be sure to do so. You won't be disappointed!

12- Courtesy - PRhyme (Royce da 5'9" & DJ Premiere):
I loved the new self-titled collaborative effort from Royce and Premo and PRhyme landed in my top 15 list! It was awesome seeing DJ Premiere step out of his comfort zone and but together beats by sampling only from Adrian Younge. It showed his skill and versatility as a producer and just goes to show why he's one of the best. However, my favorite song from the album is one that sounds like a typical Premo beat and it is titled Courtesy. This track sounds incredible. It is lead by an organ sample and has scratching in between the verses instead of a hook. This formula is typical classic Premo. Then, Royce lays down a couple of verses filled with bars-over-bars of classic boom-bap Detroit style lyricism with that classic unorthodox Royce flow that he's famous for. He's flow is pretty much the definition of what a lyrical MC should sound like. He has punchlines for days, great metaphors, and excellent delivery. Be sure to check this track out if you haven't, especially if you're a Hip-Hop head!

11- R.I.P. Kevin Miller - Isaiah Rashad:
I've said this before, Cilvia Demo was surprisingly the best TDE album to come out this year and it was great enough to land on my top 15 list. While I do think Soliloquy is better lyrically, R.I.P. Kevin Miller is so catchy and so well put together that I played it more than anything from Cilvia Demo. The beat is absolutely fantastic; the piano is chilling and the beat itself is very atmospheric and nocturnal. I just love this beat so much. Then, Isaiah comes in with some dope bars about his home town, drugs, his aspirations, and his overall skill as an MC and hook writer. It's very braggadocios but it sounds so good! I love the way he rapped this song in at least 2 or 3 inflections but layered them all on top of each other making it sound so gutter and raw. When he says "I'm just tryin' to make the top fall off", chills run down my spine every time. It's a great track from a rapper that has potential of being one of the best in the game. I can't wait till Isaiah Rashad drops a new project. Be sure to listen to and support this dude's music!

10- Dark Comedy Morning Show (Feat. Toy Light) - Open Mike Eagle:
Open Mike Eagle's stellar 2014 album Dark Comedy, which landed at the #3 spot on my top 15 favorite albums list, was an album I felt was made for me. His awkward sense of humor and witty punchlines appealed to me and made his album easily one of my favorites. From Qualifiers to Doug Stamper to Idaho to A History of Modern Dance, this album was filled with excellent songs that I was considering for this list. However, I decided to choose the song that serves as a perfect start to the album; Dark Comedy Morning Show. First of all, the beat is amazing. It sounds very layered and well produced, it has a weird guitar base that is really hard to describe so listen to it for yourself. The vocals that land near the end of the track are hauntingly beautiful and the hook is very nice and done by Open Mike Eagle himself. When it comes to the rapping, Open Mike Eagle displays witty punchlines, awkward bars, and hilarious references that grabbed me immediately. The opening bars alone stood out as soon as I heard them: "Dark comedy, cold as the ocean/Add a 'lol' cause nobody seems to know when I'm joking/For those who haven't heard of me/I'm bad at sarcasm so I work in absurdity". Excellent song so be sure to check it out! It's a great start to a damn near flawless album.

9- Untitled (Feat. Anna Wise, Bilal, Terrace Martin & Thundercat) - Kendrick Lamar:
There is speculation that this track will be featured on Kendrick's upcoming album. It was performed on one of the last episodes of The Colbert Report and we still do not have the CD quality of the song. And I'm gonna be honest, if I did have the CDQ, this song would be ranked way higher. The  unmastered version held it back from being in my top 3 because lyrically this song is absolutely incredible. In this song, Kendrick is attempting to spit game at a female, but ends up telling her about the career advice he got from Asian, Indian, Black, and White men. As a result, he displays the stereotypes associated with these different cultures, but how ultimately all want to give Kendrick something, with the exception of the White man that wants to capitalize on Kendrick's talent by taking it away for profit. The Asian man tells Kendrick to search within himself, the Indian man tells him to invest in property, and the Black man tells him to focus on women and sex. The saxophone interlude by Terrace Martin is breathtaking. Kendrick finishes off the track with words of wisdom, telling people to stay true to their art as well as words to empower black people after the Ferguson and Eric Garner incidents. It's an amazing song and I can't wait for the mastered official version!

8- Shitsville - Freddie Gibbs & Madlib:
This track from Freddie Gibbs & Madlib's acclaimed album Pinata is a modern take at the hypocrisy in our society. Freddie rants about how people will criticize him for doing things that may seem immoral, wrong, or illegal but are fake because they aren't perfect either. At the end of the day, no one is God so we shouldn't be criticizing others for not being perfect. The hook for this song is great and finishes off saying "You motherf**kers just like me, but you acting like your shit don't stink". Freddie Gibbs raps with a lot of energy and conviction and displays excellent double-time. His flow sounds perfect and you believe what Freddie Gibbs has to say. The beat produced by the legendary Madlib is, as expected, excellent. It's very well produced, layered, and it has a great flow to match that of Freddie's rapping. It's a perfect coupling of beats and lyrics that will satisfy any Hip-Hop head. If you haven't listened to this track, be sure to do so!

7- Tree of Life - Ab-Soul:
Ab-Soul's latest album These Days... was a great album, landing the last spot on my top 15 (however this may change as I've been considering bumping it down for CyHi). Tree of Life was the first track to leak from the album and it serves as the lead single. It is produced by Curtiss King and the beat sounds incredible. It sounds like something not many rappers would touch, but a creative MC like Ab-Soul takes this track and rides it perfectly. On this song, Ab-Soul displays clever wordplay and punchlines, especially on the third verse that follows the Joey Bada$$ sample. He raps about weed, nature, money and his career by comparing them to trees. The song also has a catchy hook with a Jay-Z reference when he goes "Breathe easy". The album version also includes a short freestyle over a very creative and glitchy beat produced by DJ Dahi. It features even more lyrical overload and wordplay in which Ab-Soul raps using his name in the majority of his bars. It's this type of creative wordplay from Ab-Soul that proves that he still has it in terms of being dope and thought-provoking with his rhymes.

6- Under Pressure - Logic:
Of course you guys should know that when I say Under Pressure, I'm referring to the extended album version and not the short single version. When the single leaked, it got me excited. Not because of the great energy and flow Logic was using, but with how the song ended with a sample of the story telling that may be present on the album. When I got the album, I noticed that the album version is a monster, standing at a little bit over 9 minutes. The first part of the song is a banger with a great hook, were Logic has clever wordplay saying "Every diamond in my chain is a milestone". His energy, flow, and delivery is excellent. However, when the song mellows out to a jazzy beat and Logic starts rapping from the perspective of his sister, father, and himself is when the song goes from being good to incredible. The beat produced by Logic himself is great and fits perfectly with the sincere and heartfelt mood. Logic raps from the perspective of his sister, who hasn't heard from Logic in a while and has resorted to popping pills. She also talks about her getting raped when she was younger and how her boyfriend who beats her left. He then talks from the perspective of his father who is very proud of his accomplishments but asks him to stop talking about his drug habits. He also calls him for favors and other materialistic things for his new girlfriend after which Logic hangs up the phone. We get a short interlude of his brother calling which is very emotional. Logic wraps up the song by rapping from his own perspective, apologizing to his family for not being there when he was focusing on his craft. He talks about how people he doesn't know have been asking him favors and how his relationship with his mother ended. It showed me that Logic is capable of being a great story teller and painting pictures with his rhymes. Please check out this track, especially the extended version. You will not be disappointed.

5- Jazz - Mick Jenkins:
On his critically acclaimed mixtape The Water[s], which should've been an album in my opinion, Mick Jenkins relates water to positive things including health, prosperity, truth, and power. On this song, he is relating it to truth, while the lies are expressed when people keep "talking all that jazz", hence the title. The concept of the track alone is incredible. Mick Jenkins makes references to many jazz musicians including James Moody, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck and many more in his attempt to tie the concept of the track together. Even if the concept goes over your head, like it did at the beginning for me, the overall sound of the track is excellent. I still believe that this track is one of, if not, the most well put together tracks of 2014. The bars are very dense and are filled with jabs at many stereotypes and things he finds unpleasant, such as rappers that bite each others styles for money as well as groupies. The beat produced by OnGaud is great. It starts off very smooth an mellow but as the verse continues and the hook comes in it becomes more dynamic and explosive. The hook itself is one of the catchiest hooks of the year displaying Mick's ability to write infectious hooks while still giving you dense bars. It's a damn near perfect track that I play all the time so be sure to check it out!

4- Fire Squad - J. Cole:
I call J. Cole's latest album 2014 Forest Hills Drive a come-back album because it truly showed Cole returning to his roots of being personal, cocky, and lyrical without sacrificing his art for radio play or derivative cliches. It got rid of the cheesy hooks that were on Born Sinner and it features J. Cole back to form. My favorite track from this album, and also his most controversial, was easily Fire Squad. The beat sounded very old-school and J. Cole rapping over this type of beat sounded very refreshing. In terms of the content, J. Cole gets straight to the point: He's the best and you can't say shit about that. While I don't agree with that, I can appreciate his cockiness. He backs it up with solid braggadocios bars and makes solid comparisons at the back end of the second verse. The third verse is when things get serious. J. Cole claims that white people have snatched the sound created by blacks and used it to blow up even more so than those who created it. I personally agree with him. He's clearly not dissing any of these artists, but he is simply pointed out how labels see the white artists more easily marketable than black ones which causes them to get richer and bigger more quickly while using black music. It's crazy to see an artist as big as him say something like this without fearing the consequences. It's a daring track filled with great bars, a great beat, a catchy hook, and a lot of conviction. I'm sure you all have heard it but if you haven't, get on it!

3- The Jungle - Pharoahe Monch:
Pharoahe Monch, a seasoned Hip-Hop veteran, was capable of coming back from W.A.R. by dropping a stellar album titled PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that actually made it into my top 15 albums of 2014. It delved into this disorder that affects millions of people ranging from war veterans, teenagers, and everyday workers. But my favorite track off this whole album is also one of my favorite songs of the year and it is titled The Jungle. So many things to say about this track. First, instrumentally this songs is great. It has a nice guitar lead that sounds very chilling that paints a grim atmosphere of New York. Then comes Pharoahe Monch with his signature flow that is absolutely immaculate on this track. He raps about how drugs have influenced the youth in New York, and how many teens take them to take on a certain image. He talks about the violent drug dealers and how they aren't people you want to mess with. When Monch comes in to tell these kids to step away from drugs, they are easily distracted by lust and their need for sex. Monch still tries to educate these kids about their heritage and some of the situations going on in the world that relate to their culture and background such as Botswana, Sudan and Ghana. He then talks about why they take the drugs and the effects they have on them. All of this is done using the metaphor of a jungle, with each character being portrayed as a certain animal and the city itself is the jungle. For example, he spits "Just then I lost the little monkey's attention/As he stared into the distance focusing and squinting at a/Beautiful gazelle that was grazing in the grass with/Muscular legs and a rhinoceros ass" referring to the kid being the "little monkey" and the attractive female being the " beautiful gazelle". It's this type of creative wordplay and metaphors that put Pharoahe Monch on another level when it comes to lyricists. It's a great song that I found myself playing over and over again all year. Check it out!

2- Early (Feat. Boots) - Run The Jewels:
I gave RTJ2 the number 1 spot on my top 15 albums list and QuESt the number 2 spot so I decided to flip things around for my favorite songs list (sorry for this spoiler). Again, I don't wanna go over what made RTJ2 possibly one of the best albums in a while for a second time because I'm sure everyone else has praised his album. Even though I mentioned Crown was probably the best song on the album, Early was the song I played the most. For one, the beat is amazing. El-P really shows his versatility as a producer by giving us a beautifully layered beat that continues to grow as the verses grow and has an explosive end. This beat doesn't sound like anything he's done before and serves as a great platform for what the content is. Killer Mike starts the track off by rapping about an incident he had with the cops when they arrested him in front of his family for possessing a small amount of weed while his little boy watched. Killer Mike comes off extremely humble in this song, states that he respects a badge and a gun, but gets arrested anyway. He talks about how guns were pointed at his family members, specifically his wife, and this just goes to show how police brutality against African-Americans still exists and is a big problem. El-P on the other hand talks about the same issue but has the real meat and potatoes behind the situation. He has a very politically charged verse; he talks about the American Civil War and how racism exists and is implemented by the government. It's great to hear both perspectives from super lyrical MCs, especially that one of them is black and the other is white. The whole song is an anthem preaching towards equality and against racism. The hook performed by Boots is the second best hook I heard all year (the first coming up soon). His glitchy vocals in the chorus and the end of the track are breathtaking and amazing to listen to. Overall, it's a damn near perfect track with great verses, a stellar beat, and an amazing vocalist on the hook. What more can you ask for?


1- Dying Words (Feat. Lizi Jai & Mickey Factz) - QuESt:
Where to start with this track? First off, I'm going to reiterate what I said before; Search Sylvan is my favorite project of 2014 along with RTJ2. This very conceptual mixtape released by QuESt follows his struggles, frustrations, and the hardships he endured to become a successful rapper. On Dying Words, QuESt reflects on his achievements and considers if he's done enough already to make an impact on the world. He talks about how he has become impatient with his career when rappers like Chance the Rapper seem to be getting bigger and bigger while he continues to remain unheard. He also talks about wishing he was closer with his family when he was younger instead of being careless and rebellious. He ends his verse making a promise to his mother that he will give her everything in the world before his dying words. It's the realest song of 2014 and it hits a core with me. Not in a long time has an artist connected with me the way QuESt does, especially on this song. Even though the overall sentiment of the song is towards a positive outcome, the way the hook is sung sounds so tragic and it completely juxtaposes that of the verses making the hook a real tear jerker. This is the best hook I've heard in a long time. I can't remember the last time a hook made me feel this way, especially in what is being said which I will share here:

"In our dying words
Will we make the right decision
In our dying words
Will we say just how we feel
In our final hour
Will we be able to speak
To the ones we miss the most
For it's only god we seek
In our dying words"
The song ends with an excellent spoken word piece by Mickey Factz who according to the Searching Sylvan Website is a mentor and close friend to QuESt. It's packed with moving poetic rhymes about whether our art will last or vanish but leaves the listener with an optimistic tone. It's a damn near perfect end to a damn near perfect song. I have no issues with this track. It's my favorite of the year and I don't see myself taking this statement back. So please, check out this song, but I would recommend you listen to this track within the context of the mixtape for a greater punch. Also, be sure to support QuESt and buy his music in the future. Enjoy!

So what were your favorite songs of the year? What are you looking forward to in 2015? What do you think of my list? Did I miss anything? Please let me know by leaving a comment. Have a great year everyone!