There were several points this year where I had a crisis of faith about this whole hip-hop thing. I’ll be forty in a week, which is Too Damn Old to be listening to a 19-year-old brag about having sex and getting high. There were many times this year that I felt like the old guy at a club full of people half my age. Metaphorically speaking, of course; I’m Too Damn Old to actually go out to a club. I get up when those kids are coming home. But each time I felt like telling hip-hop to get off my lawn, I’d hear something that would remind me why I love this music and why I shouldn’t give up on it.
I made a point of challenging myself to listen to music outside my comfort zone, and as a result I got into a lot of stuff that otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered listening to. The Cali swagger of DJ Mustard, the gay bounce of Big Freedia, two rap concept albums, even some R&B. The best thing about 2014 was that some of the best and most thoughtful rappers of the year were either young kids (Vince Staples, Wara) or old-ass men like myself (RTJ, Open Mike Eagle). There’s room for everybody in hip-hop, so long as you’ve got skills.
15. Shabazz Palaces, “Lese Majesty”
14. DJ Mustard, “10 Summers”
13. Tink, “Winter’s Diary 2”
12. Big Freedia, “Be Free”
11. Flying Lotus, “You’re Dead!”
10. Azealia Banks, “Broke With Expensive Taste”
9. “D’Angleo, “Black Messiah” (The only reason why this isn’t higher on the list is because it came out last week and I haven’t had much time to listen to it.)
8. Kate Tempest, “Everybody Down”
7. Wara from the NBHD, “Kidnapped”
6. Ghostface Killah, “36 Seasons”
5. Andy Stott, “Faith in Strangers”
4. Madlib and Freddie Gibbs, “Pinata”
3. Vince Staples, “Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2”
2. Open Mike Eagle, “Dark Comedy”
1. Run the Jewels, “Run the Jewels 2” Let me say that I did not want this to be my number one. I’m the kind of idiot that hates to like what everyone else likes. I actively wanted to dislike the second RTJ album just so I could be different, but dammit if it isn’t almost perfect. The beats hit hard, and El-P and Killer Mike have added more gravitas and thought to their shit-talking rhymes. As a bonus, both are hip-hop lifers who are overdue to be appreciated by a wider audience than just hip-hop nerds like myself.