2014 has not been the best year for hip-hop. With plenty of albums released, hardly any of them have been notable, or even listenable. Of course, there have been a few, however little the number, exceptions: Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron was a strong release in February, with Q’s brash tone of voice coinciding with his often meaningful lyricism. As was the case for Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Piñata in March, Run the Jewels’ self-titled second album in October, and the Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers’ Dead.
Unfortunately however, the bad heavily outweigh the good this year. Pharrell Williams released G I R L back in March, and so solidified to many that the original N.E.R.D. member should stick to producing for others, or rapping as a part of the collective. Or, of course, making everyone feel “Happy”. This, however, was not the worst. In fact, you could say it was the best of the bad. The next album to penetrate the vulnerable hip-hop spectrum was Rick Ross, with his dreadful Mastermind record; an album packed full to the brim of garbage, money, women and cars – all the things we want to hear in hip-hop, right? Ross also released another album in 2014, entitled Hood Billionaire; a similarly atrocious album, with even more egotistical themes, and irritatingly boring features (besides, perhaps, Jay Z).
It was at this point in the year that I was wondering if, and indeed hoping that, the rest of the year would bring a higher standard and quality of music, and would at least bring some decent albums. Alas, this didn’t really happen. Nick Cannon, actor and ex-husband of Mariah Carey, released an abysmal album entitled White People Party Music – the title says it all, really. Iggy Azalea then sprung onto the scene, releasing The New Classic, which had hit singles such as ‘Fancy’, ‘Black Widow’ and ‘No Mediocre’; none if which were actually any good, despite their high charting positions. Not only did Azalea release bland and generic music this year, she also got into an internet scuffle with fellow hip-hop artist Azealia Banks. Stemming from 2011, after Azealia Banks tweeted her anger at Azalea being revealed as the only female on the 2012 XXL Freshman cover, Banks recently revived the on-going feud between the pair by tweeting, regarding the recent trouble in Ferguson, “its funny to see people like Igloo Australia silent when these things happen… Black Culture is cool but black issues sure aren’t, huh?”. Whether you agree with Azalea or Banks, the name ‘Igloo Australia’ is ingenious – unlike her music. Nicki Minaj graced the hip-hop scene with the release of the horrific ‘Anaconda’, which I don’t feel I really need to talk much about – you’ve all seen and heard the song (but if you haven’t, I urge you not to bother). 50 Cent’s Animal Ambition was a highly anticipated album, however it simply did not live up to expectations. With pretty poor production, lyrics, and overall song quality, 50 seems to have lost his touch. Perhaps he’s more focused on his business ventures, such as his headphone company SMS Audio, and is at the moment neglecting his music. This list of horrific albums could extend for a while more, but you get the picture by now – hip-hop was rather poor this year.
The ‘mainstream’ hip-hop of today does seem bleak. Rappers like Future, Chief Keef and French Montana are like plague to the hip-hop world; they come with desperate lines about money and women, cars and drugs, repetitive and pretty harming-to-the-ears production, and quite frankly appalling flows. What used to be mainstream hip-hop was Jay Z, 2pac, Notorious BIG; and now we have this. It’s easy to say that the quality of hip-hop has declined over the past few years; but on the bright side, with that comes the new underground hip-hop, quickly and assertively taking it’s place. Rappers like Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and even Drake are taking over the scene.
2014, as has been the case for the past two or three years, was the year of the underground, often alternative, hip-hop artists. Schoolboy Q had little mainstream success in 2014 in terms of singles, however when his album dropped at number one in the Billboard charts, and sold 139,000 copies in the first week, he was proven to be a big player in the game. Flying Lotus’ album You’re Dead! was highly rated amongst all critics, with its odd production, and unconventional-sounding style – it’s a perfect example of the alternative hip-hop I’m speaking of. Logic released his debut album Under Pressure, which proved the Maryland rappers incredible flow and excellent choice of production. Just before the end of the year, J Cole released 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which surprised fans and critics with its brutally honest tales of trying to fit in with his peers, as well as trying to find himself in the world. This, coupled with the excellent production and superb rapping ability, cemented this album as a firm favourite of 2014 for many. Finally, the album to top the year off, in my opinion, is Run The Jewels 2 by the collaborative effort of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and El-P, of the same name. The production of the record was top notch, the rapping was never a let down, and above all, the lyrics were superb; with a great mixture of political and satirical lines. Will the future of hip-hop continue to move in this direction of underground artists and sounds?
I hope it will. Well, it will if the current mainstream rappers continue to make the abominations they like to call ‘real hip-hop’. Collectives like Black Hippy will continue to thrive in the future of hip-hop, with acts such as Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul on their roster, both of whom are huge names in the scene at the moment. However, I don’t think the aptly named shit-hop will ever completely disappear from our ears. Unfortunately, people like shit. Artists like the aforementioned French Montana and Rick Ross continue to grow and grow in hip-hop, gaining more and more of an ego with little to back it up but record sales and club receipts. As more people buy their music, they’ll make more and more music, and hip-hop will, as a result, become worse and worse. Unless the new underground hip-hop can bring about a change in the way the mainstream rappers think about and create their music, I don’t think we’ll see a really good year of hip-hop any time soon.