5. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Released: October 24, 2014
Through and through, the album sounds more seamless, crisp, surprising, and profoundly abrasive than the last record. The features blend effortlessly into every song’s narrative and tempo, with raunchy verses from Gangsta Boo and serene musical features from indie-act Diane Coffee being placed perfectly on the record without missing a step. The project breezes by, yet it remains dense in content. It is intense without being difficult to listen to, and it is just lyrical enough to still keep your attention within it’s grips. Without a doubt, we are witnessing the moment where these two MCs eclipse their own discographies and become more important together than anything they’ve represented in the past. In an era of hip-hop where duos or groups seem as temporary and facetious as ever, we finally have two genuine collaborators who are building a discography so deep and undisputed that it’s just their given right at this point to be respected and referred to as one of the best, if not, the best hip-hop duo currently existing in 2014.
4. YG – My Krazy Life
Released: March 18, 2014
The first studio rap album to really be put into contention of 2014’s finest was YG’s debut, My Krazy Life. MKL was the more ratchet, hood, criminally-inclined cousin to Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. The heavy DJ Mustard production and the reaching into the crates of years past to emulate west coast classics kept YG’s day-in-the-life album experience truly soaking in and oozing out the views of dirty alleyways and the glorious palm trees of Bompton. Littered with bangers and party anthems alike, MKL is fun enough for everyone to like, and technically sound enough to still be taken seriously among the year’s best.
3. FKA Twigs – LP1
Released: August 12, 2014
LP1 serves not only as a brilliant introduction to an artist, but tells a multi-dimensional story in such emotional depth that creates the illusion by the end of the record that we’ve known her for quite some time. She seems to be an old soul in a new outfit, in the best way possible. Not only is the record promising, it feels as if she has already mastered her own territory and is finding a perfect, uninhabited space in music to exist in. Through the seamlessly integrated splashes of pop, punk, and even country melodies all across what is being framed as an “Alternative R&B” record, FKA Twigs is definitely venturing into a land that has very few footprints. Twigs, though, has been very vocal about her distaste of the genre and label of “Alternative R&B”, but it should be said that whatever trailblazing, refreshing musical lane The Weeknd and Frank Ocean somewhat pioneered, I think we have finally found a suitable, exceptional first lady.
2. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
Released: December 15, 2014
R&B’s D’Angelo reemerged out of nowhere. Late this year we learned of his upcoming album Black Messiah and soon after, the album was released in its entirety for download and streaming. However, just because the album was released out of nowhere, do not think that D’Angelo put it together over night. Recruiting some of music’s best, like The Root’s Questlove and rapper Q-Tip for the album’s writing and production, Black Messiah is the year’s best kept secret and an amazing first project after D’Angelo’s 14-year hiatus. Although many premature year end lists missed out on this album, D’Angelo arguably put out the year’s top album and the best R&B project since Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE.
1. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Released: June 13, 2014
Lana Del Rey’s third studio album Ultraviolence is her best project to date. After her debut album Born To Die instantly gained her a cult-like following of loyal fans, Lana has continued to progress as an artist. With heavy production from The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach, Ultraviolence vastly contrasts to the hip-hop influenced production of Emile and Jeff Bhasker on Born to Die, but it still continues to impress listeners, just in a new way. Since its release, Ultraviolence has been critically recognized for its greatness by many, yet it was noticeably snubbed by the Grammys, receiving no nominations. Do not let its lack of nominations fool you, as Ultraviolence is not only Lana’s best and most complete project yet, but it is 2014’s best and most complete project as well.