10. Jack White – Lazaretto
Released: June 10, 2014
Lazaretto is rib-rattling, confident, and risky, and is the most dramatic, conventional project Jack White has ever put out. It is an exciting, fruitful listen, but is traditional and typical, which are two words not usually associated with White’s catalogue. From the varied moments of western and folk instrumentation to the sweeping country melodies all layered with White’s piercing lyrics and musings, this second record is almost the minimalist, simplistic sound of The White Stripes flipped on it’s head. The real risk Lazaretto runs, though, is drawing the line between established and mundane; a line frequently skipped over and back upon through all eleven tracks. Still, Jack White’s second swing at the solo plate proves to be more than a worthy-listen with its fair share of highlights and quotables, and is a cutting reminder that Jack White’s average is still well above average.
9. Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica
Released: November 10, 2014
When it comes to traditional, organic Southern hip-hop, Big K.R.I.T. is definitely the best representative of that sound in this new, internet-generation of rappers. With his latest release, Cadillactica,K.R.I.T. literally creates a polished, wholesome world of his own where he flexes his experimental muscles as much as possible without stepping away from his hearty, Southern roots. Cadillactica is not only a great, cohesive, polished rap album, it is K.R.I.T.’s crowning accomplishment, through and through. It is an album that thrusts him into the spotlight while demonstrating major progress and evolution. Where he once sounded as if he was trying to prove himself or conform to industry standards on his debut, his second album shatters the “sophomore slump” myth by having K.R.I.T. sound as comfortable and confident as ever on his most risky, experimental production to date. KRIT did not just deliver the biggest project of his career, he also delivered one of the greatest rap projects of 2014.
8. J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Released: December 9, 2014
“Check your birth date nigga, you ain’t the God/Nah you ain’t the God/Nigga, Cole the God” Bold, isn’t it? Let’s keep it straightforward: 2014 Forest Hills Drive was the first project J. Cole has ever released where he revels and fully stands by the fact that he has nothing to prove to anyone. Finally comfortable with his own place in hip-hop but moreover life in general, Cole blessed the world (randomly) with a project that explores his own exploration to find happiness—something he initially thought to exist in the fame and excess of being one of the world’s most famed rappers, but something he realized was invested in the very place he left to pursue it all. Cole elegantly sings in the intro to 2014 Forest Hills Drive, “Do you wanna be happy?/Do you wanna be free?” pondering where a place happiness and freedom could really exist. The answer he found to these questions, just so happens to be his album title, and the place where he grew up, adding additional substance to the age old trueism, “home is where the heart is.”
7. Travis Scott – Days Before Rodeo
Released: August 18, 2014
Days Before Rodeo was far from expected. Travis Scott has found a way to give fans what they didn’t know they wanted to hear, all of this while emulating his influences and crafting it into a masterful, album quality project that lacks a terrible song throughout. He has not only fashioned an appropriate response to 2013’s Owl Pharoah, but he was continued to innovate and surprise the ears of many by twisting and churning familiar elements of music into entirely new sounds and spaces. Travis Scott has not only continued his legacy of innovation and pioneering a very specific, new sound, but he has dropped one of the best releases of the year, by far. Travis proclaims himself on the distorted, warping “Basement Freestyle”, “It’s my year/I got it now”, and i’m finding it very difficult to disagree.
6. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Released: February 25, 2015
Serving as Annie Clark’s magnum opus, her self-titled 2014 album St. Vincent was an unorthodox, otherworldly and fierce proclamation. It is ambitious, daring, and sonically is everything but complacent. Writing wise, St. Vincent was able to dive into some of her most witty, sharp moments all while spilling some of the most personal lyrics we’ve ever heard from her. All clocking in at a short 40 minutes, St. Vincent is an exhilarating, intense, beautiful ride into the strange.
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