The first six months of 2014 have been nothing short of awesome for hip-hop music. Although we’re only halfway through the year, there are already several projects to be unofficially considered for Album of the Year. Some of these albums were released as early as a couple of weeks ago, while others hit shelves a few months back. I’m a little late to the party as far as reviewing each of these albums goes, so I’ve done the next best thing and compiled a list, in order of release, of the year’s best (so far). I recently saw XXL Magazine compile its own top 25 list, but the group of Einsteins behind that piece made some glaring omissions. All the albums I chose, save one, were not included on that joke of a list, so here goes. I tried ranking them, but it turns out that shit is borderline Sisyphean…
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (March 18th)
If we were to rewind a couple of years, a lot of hip-hop fans would be scratching their heads at this pairing. But if anything, Piñata symbolizes the arrival of Freddie Gibbs. The Gary, Indiana product has made huge strides as an MC, armed with crafty lyrics and one of rap’s tightest flows. Madlib, the other half of the equation, has collaborated with some of hip-hop’s best and has developed a reputation for tailoring his beats to his partners’ strong suits. This project is no exception.
Gems: Deeper, High ft. Danny Brown, Thuggin, Broken ft. Scarface, Lakers ft. Ab-Soul & Polyester the Saint, Knicks
Cunninlynguists – Strange Journey Volume 3 (April 1st)
The purist in me would’ve shit all over this album for having too many guest appearances, but they were nowhere near the nuisance I’ve often thought them to be. The ‘Lynguists waste no time pulling you into their world, and masterfully cover the entire spectrum of the human condition in just under an hour. In travelling that spectrum, you will laugh, you will cry. After listening to Strange Journey Volume 3, you’ll feel like you went through a revolving door of emotions, and you’ll be better for it.
Gems: Strange Universe ft. Del the Funky Homosapien, South California ft. Tunji, Guide You Through Shadows ft. Substantial & RA Scion, Castles ft. Aesop Rock & Sadistik, The Format ft. Masta Ace & Mr. SOS
Pharoahe Monch – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (April 15th)
Going back to the Organized Konfusion days, Monch has been quietly putting out gems for nearly 25 years, unjustly excluded from conversations debating hip-hop’s greatest MCs. PTSD, his fourth solo effort, is a portrait of mental unraveling and the ensuing struggle to return to some sense of normalcy. Featuring production from Jesse West, Marco Polo, and Lee Stone, among others, the album is easily the Queens MC’s most personal; the epitome of grown-man rap.
Gems: Rapid Eye Movement ft. Black Thought, The Jungle, Broken Again, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, D.R.E.A.M. ft. Talib Kweli
Army of the Pharaohs – In Death Reborn (April 22nd)
The term “hard body” gets thrown around rather loosely when it comes to hip-hop music. You haven’t heard hard body hip-hop until you’ve heard AOTP’s latest effort. Unlike the other albums on this list, this crew spews out vitriol and braggadocio over boom bap beats for all 14 tracks. You won’t find even a hint of vulnerability on the album, but you will feel like taking on the entire world head-on afterwards.
Gems: Luxor Temple, The Demon’s Blade, Headless Ritual, Visual Camouflage, Sumerians
Blu – Good to be Home (May 19th)
With his latest solo effort, the West Coast MC will walk you through a summer in Los Angeles in an hour and a half. Over soulful production by Bombay, Good to be Home could also be interpreted as an ode to Blu’s youth, as if pulling up a chair and looking back at all the shenanigans he got into as a twentysomething. If anything, you’ll be left with a pretty good idea of who Johnson Barnes is, and of how LA molds its youth.
Gems: The Return, The West, The 50z, The Summer/Angel Dust ft. 2Mex, LMNO & Imani, Red & Gold ft. Prodigy, Mitchy Slick & Phil da Agony, Well Fare ft. Thurz & Casey Veggies, He Man, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop ft. Alchemist, Evidence, Tristate, Donel Smokes, Krondon, Chace Infinite & Planet Asia
Meyhem Lauren & Buckwild – Silk Pyramids (May 27th)
Queens up-and-comer Meyhem Lauren, rhyming over living legend Buckwild’s always on point beats, has made a more than worthy follow-up to 2012’s Respect the Fly Shit. If anything, Silk Pyramids demonstrates Buck’s versatility as a producer, veering away from the classic horn-sampled beats of the 90s, as well as how far Mey has come in his craftsmanship as an MC. For a more detailed review, rewind two posts.
Gems: 100 Mph ft. Action Bronson, Street Hop ft. Troy Ave & Retch, Aztec Blue ft. Hologram, Silk Shirts and Yellow Gold, Been Official
Skyzoo & Torae – Barrel Brothers (May 27th)
Barrel Brothers is Brooklyn in a nutshell. Over beats by Oh No, Illmind, Black Milk, DJ Premier and Apollo Brown, to name a few, slick-talking, silver-tongued Skyzoo and Torae, always rhyming with a chip on his shoulder, have created an authentic New York sound that’s been M.I.A. from hip-hop for quite some time.
Gems: All in Together ft. Sean Price & Guilty Simpson, The Hand Off, 4 Bar Friday, Memorabilia, Rediscover ft. Blu, The Aura, Got it From Here
Buckshot & P-Money – BackPack Travels (June 24th)
A collaboration literally spanning the globe, Brooklyn legend Buckshot and New Zealand’s P-Money went short and sweet on this one. 10 tracks and not a filler in the bunch. I wasn’t familiar with P’s work, but after listening to BackPack Travels, it’s fair to say that the man is unjustly slept on. This album doesn’t have the grimy sound Buckshot became known for with Black Moon, but the elder statesman delivers nonetheless.
Gems: Just Begun ft. Raz Fresco, Clear Light ft. Chelsea Reject, We in Here ft. David Dallas, Killuminati