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Top 10 Hip Hop Albums of 2014

December 30, 2014
It’s 2014, does anyone even blog about hip hop anymore? Is there anything worth saying about a genre desperately attempting to revisit its bright beginning with debatable success that can’t be covered in 140 characters or voiced within a frantic 6 second looped Vine? Better yet, will anyone pay attention when there’s much more digestible short-form gif-lists or better yet half-nude bikini models to scroll through on Instagram?
Not only is there proof in validating the list of dope albums below (and hopefully peeping y’all on some knowledge), but also analyzing the year’s best in the context of how we got here, and where is we are going. Since 2012, I have – somewhat pugnaciously – claimed that hip hop was “back”, and that the crowning of Kendrick Lamar signified the completion of this transition. But, as I noted, this would not have happened without the influence of stalwarts Kanye, Jay-Z, Lupe, and others who also blessed hip hop heads with acclaimed music in 2012 and 2013 that helped lift Kendrick, and more broadly – rap, to a new throne. 2014 was different, outside of Rick Ross – there was a noticeable lack of so-called heavy hitters releasing albums this year. But that’s ok; the sign of a genre coming into its own again is its ability to be sustained without the legends carrying the weight. And I don’t know about you, but I am definitely still listening.

Onto the most fire albums of the year:


STN MTN/Kauai - Childish Gambino

10). Childish Gambino – STN MTN/Kauai

I’m convinced that Childish Gambino knows something that we don’t. After conquering the mixtape game, and releasing two fire albums, Bino was up to it again in ’14 by releasing a two-part album dropped strategically in unison as half mixtape, half official release. STN MTN, one half of the project, is most easily found on DatPiff and was – for lack of any better definition – a tribute to mid-2000’s southern mixtape game. Covers of ‘Southern Hospitality’, ‘U Don’t Have to Call’, and ‘Go DJ’ bring the listener back to 2004 while simultaneously showcasing Childish’s grade A lyrical prowess. In his typically meticulous style, down to the DJ Drama shout outs and faux-Atlanta club radio promotion spot, the project feels wholly authentic and stands as one of the strongest southern hip hop revival efforts in memory. The other half – available on Spotify – is Kauai, which, like its name predicates, is a free-spirited, island-themed effort which effectively counters the clubby sounds of STN MTN with melodic, open ended tracks like ‘Retro [Rough]’ that sound like nothing else in hip hop today. It even features Jaden Smith throughout the album as “the boy” (???). While Gambino has proven he is certainly capable of a more focused and powerful hip hop album that might have claimed a higher spot on this list, the creativity and originality of STN MTN/Kauai feels more like a blueprint for up-and-coming artists than a fluke release.
Mastermind - Rick Ross

9). Rick Ross – Mastermind

The Teflon Don had a huge year in 2014, releasing two banger albums consistent if not surpassing of his resume to date and flooding the streets with anthems like ‘Devil is a Lie’, ‘Sanctified’, ‘Hood Billionaire’, and ‘Elvis Presley Boulevard’ throughout the year. In fact, the similarities between Mastermind and Hood Billionaire – strength of trap-based production, top class features, and the simple but catchy lyrics – make parsing out the two nearly impossible. Ultimately, and I am getting picky here, the former edges out the latter as it remains truer to Ross’s mafioso persona, while the latter feels more fantastical and even cartoonish. Maybe that’s simply that Mastermind dropped first, and it might take years to criticize both impartially, but one thing that cannot be disputed is that 2014 was Rick Ross’s year.


2014 brought on a slew of monster singles that begged you to grab the closest Aux cord and play on repeat – most of which were the product of out-of-nowhere artists trying to cash in with the next club banger. Bobby Shmurda, OT Genasis, and Rae Sremmud all blessed us with standalone hits, however it was ‘Tuesday’ – a track that Drake found, liked, remixed with his own verse, and subsequently put the world on – that lifted the peculiarly named I LOVE MAKKONEN as the breakout artist of the year. Choosing to listen to the entire self titled album by the Atlanta based producer/rapper was one of the more ambitious decisions of the year for this backpacker, but it turned out to pay off in spades. Tracks like ‘Don’t Sell Molly No More’ and ‘Swerve’ mesh progressive beats sure to shape mainstream rap in coming years, with lazy, careless lyrics that accomplish nothing but emphasize the turn up. However, what really pushes this album into my top 10, as well as boost anticipation for MAKKONEN’s upcoming projects, is the alternative, innovative songs like ‘Doubted’ and ‘Rumor – Acoustic’ that showcase his real music IQ both as a lyricist and producer.
 Run the Jewels - RTJ2

7). Run the Jewels – RTJ2

45 minutes of straight pulse pounding energy, smirk-eliciting lyrics, and incessant head bopping; these are just a few of the symptoms I felt the first (and 10th) time listening to El-P and Killer Mike’s unique concept project Run The Jewels. Full transparency, I totally slept on the first iteration of this dynamic duo in 2012, but the Twittersphere buzz around the follow up effort was – thankfully – too loud to miss. El-P’s production is reminiscent of a perpetual bank robbery (hence the name of the project) and Killer Mike and P’s lyrics balance between devastating and politically charged. As has been already been said a million times – including by that small unimportant site Pitchfork which garnered RTJ2 with the coveted Album of the Year award – both of these artists are cruelly underrated in the game, mainly due to the fact their most brilliant moments have come on relatively underground efforts. Thus, in a way, RTJ2 is the feel good story of 2014 hip hop – a dope concept album that proves not only that hip hop doesn’t  have to be boxed in to expectations, but also that every dope artist deserves their day.
Ab-Soul - These Days...

6). Ab-Soul – These Days…

Those familiar with WB4HH know that Ab-Soul is one of my favorite contemporary rappers (who stands only behind Kendrick in the Top Dawg dynasty – sorry Schoolboy Q) whose previous release Control System earned my top spot as 2012’s best hip hop album. Needless to say, his follow up effort was not only arguably my most anticipated album of this year, but also Soul’s first time in the limelight. As is so common in the hip hop – as a matter of a fact in music in general – fame can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. And while Ab remains true to his unique lyrical pacing and left-brained, conspiracy based content on memorable tracks such as ‘Hunnid Stacks’, ‘Stigmata’, and ‘Ride Slow’ – he struggles to straddle pleasing his day one fan base with the pressure of reaching new ones on the sing-songy ‘Dub Sac’ as well as the trap-sounding ‘Nevermind That’. To be clear, there are no “misses” on These Days…, instead the effort unfortunately falls flat in the wake of one of the most inventive works of recent memory (reminiscent of It Was Written by Nas) and thus pales more in comparison than it probably should. In Ab Soul’s defense, ultimately doesn’t success make us innately more positive/upbeat anyway? As Diddy cameos on the project “What? Soulho eating now! Nothing more to it”. True.
J Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive

5). J Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Despite all of the hype around J Cole’s “opus” album – that it’s a track by track story of his life, that he produced all the beats and raps himself, that it was released out of the blue without any promotion or label attached, that it’s fire enough to to cook ramen without a stove(!) – I still had my doubts that Forest Hills was an instant classic. Why? Well for starters, Cole has always delivered good, not great, albums – and that distinction is everything when we are talking about a genre where thousands of artists are vying for the throne every year. J Cole’s supporters lean on his mixtape resume when claiming his all time status, but frankly that’s similar to saying a player is great because they win in the preseason. However, it turns out that the hype was well backed, as Cole masters each and every track with a rare talent that he is apparently perfecting. Yes, some tracks get a little too granular in their content and slow in delivery, however these arguably unimportant miscues are overshadowed by the surplus of quotable, catchy, and yet highly thoughtful and relevant anthems like ‘Wet Dreamz’, ‘GOMD’, and ‘No Role Modelz’. One aspect of Cole’s game that has never been in question is his lyrical ability, which may have reached a new peak in ‘Fire Squad’. In all, the album likely won’t grace any GOAT lists, but it definitely lifts J Cole out of the murky ‘meh’ ground he was stuck in for the majority of his career to date.
Mac Miller - Faces

4). Mac Miller – Faces

A year ago, I called Mac Miller’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off the comeback album of the year for its maturity of both content and composition, it’s diabolically clever lyrics, and a brand of production style that was becoming uniquely his own. 2014 saw this maturation of identity continue to peak for Mac in the form of Faces, a lengthy and varied collection of tracks occupying that grey space between a mixtape and a full album. Faces sort of came out of the blue for Mac, whose fans are by now used to him releasing tracks through obscure means, beginning with a SoundCloud link to ‘Diablo’ – a brilliant sampled track that effectively serves as a banner for Mac’s newly defined artistic direction. This single, along with other peculiar yet captivating songs ‘Angel Dust’, ‘San Francisco’, and ‘Grand Finale’ are produced by Mac himself under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman and feature Mac delivering seemingly endless drug references, thoughts of death, and on the brighter side your usual rap references to money, girls, and “Polo Jeans”. Almost to complement these darker themes, Mac includes a stretch of tracks (‘Insomniak’ and ‘Uber’) later in the album that feature Rick Ross and Mike Jones (WHO?!?) and could easily fit in rotation on Hot 97 alongside Drake, Kanye, etc. Throughout, the album is difficult to digest and convoluted in its meaning, but that’s clearly a reflection of Mac’s current view on life and we are all better off for it. Transparently, this (like Acid Rap in 2013) was the album I couldn’t stop listening too this year, and sans a few filler tracks and a non-cohesive theme it may have snagged the top spot on this list.
Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron

3). Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron

2014’s first major release came from one of the most fascinating (and talented) artists in the entire game – however coming off the heels of back to back dope releases including the instant classic Habits and Contradictions, expectations were soaring. Where his fellow TDE mate Ab Soul, who if you remember was under similar pressures, did not quite deliver – Schoolboy shined, delivering hit (‘Collard Greens’) on hit (‘Break the Bank’) on hit (‘Man of the Year’) before the album even dropped! Filling in the spaces in between are playful and intelligent but gangster themed tracks that are undoubtedly Schoolboy’s unique style he self proclaims as “Biggie and Nas put they ass in a blender, sprinkle some 50 [Cent] and came out this nigga”. ‘Hoover Street’ is a dark dive into drug dealing (Biggie), and ‘Blind Threats’ is a cerebral look at his struggle to out of it (Nas). It’s all rounded out by ‘Studio’ a bonafide club hit (50 Cent) that has put Q on a short list when it comes to both mainstream and underground rappers.
 Isaiah Rashad - Cilvia Demo

2). Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo

The undisputed rookie of the year in 2014 was Isaiah Rashad, hailing from Chattanooga, TN but signed to…. You guessed it – West Coast-based TDE. His debut is brilliant from beginning to end, a slew of tracks meshed together so the whole album feels like a homogenous mix of laid back vibes and smooth confidence (Isaiah and his crew reportedly smoked blunts and drank champagne throughout the recording of the album to achieve this). The result is an album which, not surprisingly, works whether you’re rolling a blunt or turning up, or just lamping at the crib. Standout tracks, and trust me it is difficult to highlight anything among this consistent release, include ‘RIP Kevin Miller’, ‘Menthol’, and especially ‘Heavenly Father’ which could go toe-to-toe with any for song of the year. Time will tell whether Isaiah struck gold with his “demo” or if he is onto something bigger, but I’ll let you know that I just pressed play on ‘Hereditary’ on Spotify so I need an hour to lay back and enjoy life.
 Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata

1). Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata

At its purest, hip hop music requires an emcee spitting rhymes with his producer laying a dope mix in a brief performance whittled from days of memorization and years of experience and knowledge. And as simple as it sounds, the spark between these two entities as well as the wax to keep it burning through an album (much less career) is an extremely intricate and difficult thing to do. So when gangster rapper Freddie Gibbs collaborated with corrosively independent, sample whiz producer Madlib – most heads (including myself) were equally confused by their Jekyll and Hyde relationship. Looking back, meshing Madlib’s credibility in the game, which belongs in the upper-echelon, owed to his unique production ability that runs alongside J Dilla’s and MF DOOM’s in its modern influence on the game, with Gibbs similarly West Coast independent mindset on a project which took over 3 years to complete, the expectations should have never been in question. However, to actually listen to the unexpectedly intimate song material and faithfulness to a 70’s Blaxploitation sound is to understand the real potential of pure hip hop. Let’s be clear, the album thrives from Madlib’s phenomenally consistent production – best displayed on ‘Thuggin’ and ‘Robes’ (another candidate for track of the year) – but Gibbs’ also holds his own lyrically across the album, especially on ‘High’ and ‘Knicks’, adding his name to a short list of rappers set to make power moves in the industry. While it is unclear whether this dynamic duo will work together again, Piñata (like Run the Jewels 2) will stand as a testament to the power in connecting outlets across coasts, styles, and ages.

Honorable Mentions:

Logic – Under Pressure

PRhyme – Self Titled

NehruvianDOOM – Self Titled

Without any big-hitters delivering this year, hip hop was lifted by a motley cast of up-and-comers, underground stars, and underrated veterans to deliver a dope, varied collection of albums. And with Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson, Kanye West, A$ap Rocky, Drake, and countless other stars planning on dropping projects early in 2015, hip hop’s new ceiling keeps getting higher and higher.



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The Top 10 Hip Hop Albums of 2013

January 9, 2014

What a year for hip hop! One of the major topics I’ve covered with WB4HH has been the resurgence of the hip hop game, and 2013 marked with emphasis that the game is back on its feet after being nearly down for the count in the late 2000’s. Driving this comeback is a mix of brilliant newcomers like Chance the Rapper, living legends still making magic (looking at you, Jay-z), and surprise gems from rappers critics like myself had effectively written out of relevance *cough* Mac Miller *cough*,  and with seemingly ever clique across the map dropping quality releases, it was impossible to cut this list down to ten without omitting albums that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Without further adieu, here are my top ten favorite albums of 2013:


10) Magna Carta Holy Grail – Jay-Z

Jay-Z arguably had a bigger year outside of the record booth as a sports agent, movie producer, and business-man!, and its undeniable that MCHG ranks on the bottom half of his legendary body of work, but Hova’s time-tested recipe for making classic albums did not fail in 2013. The main ingredients this time around included infectious Timbaland beats, exclusive high-profile collabs with his inner-circle buds JT, Rick Ross, and Beyonce, and his simple yet poignant lyrics directed at things most of his listeners can only dream of (cars, art collecting, fashion, and a lot of zeros in the bank). While these consistencies make MCHG seem borrowed and repetitive, that’s largely due to Jay-Z’s unavoidable imprint on the genre. Like a business presentation delivered by a master speaker, this album does the job without any wasted time or effort, trading risk and ingenuity for proven success – and frankly the genre is better off for it.


9) Old – Danny Brown

After years of anonymity, Danny Brown exploded onto the scene last year with the release of XXX and as everyone’s favorite featured artist. 2013 started off similarly strong for the Detroit rapper with another classic verse on A$ap Rocky’s posse cut ‘1 Train’ and the release of the surprisingly genuine track ‘Grown Up’, but for a rapper who is an overnight cultural icon in the game despite having made rap music for over a decade, the pressure to deliver an album as uniquely energetic and novel yet perspective as his previous work was nearly insurmountable. When the aptly named Old dropped in late September, this pressure was evident. Despite its brilliantly clever lyrics and oddly catchy hooks on tracks like ’25 Bucks’, ‘Dope Fiend Rental’, and ‘Red 2 Go’, Danny Brown often succumbs to his sudden fame with in-your-face, mindless tracks that occupy was too much real estate on the CD. At the end of the day, Old is a confirmation that Danny Brown is one of the best talents currently in hip hop, but also a reminder that balance is integral in crafting a truly great work.


8) My Name Is My Name – Pusha T

Raw. Powerful. Uncompromising. These adjectives synonymous with the classic criminally minded hip hop albums from Mobb Deep and Raekwon & Ghostface Killah are also applicable to Pusha T’s latest work, My Name is My Name. However, following the blueprint of legendary albums doesn’t alone lead you to success, and this ballsy strategy of minimizing hooks and features only pays off in spades when executed properly. Fortunately for hip hop fans, Pusha T (with help from an all-star production team including Kanye West, No I.D., and speculatedly…. Joaquin Phoenix???) delivers one of the most consistent and cohesive projects of the year, led by bangers ‘Numbers on the Boards’ and ‘Pain’ and filled with strong standalone cuts ‘King Push’, ‘Let Me Love You’, and ‘Nosetalgia’. What perhaps is most impressive about MNIMN is its proud unoriginality; a statement from an artist who has earned his spot in rap prominence that great hip hop music involves nothing more than dope lyrics and original beats.


7) YEEZUS – Kanye West

YEEZUS was impossibly unavoidable in 2013 – an album magnified by Kanye’s out-of-studio antics and bordering-on gross infatuation with Kim Kardashian evident, his non-promotion and no-cover strategy that worked brilliantly, and the seemingly assumed critical acclaim which was universal and heavy. I, too, had initially praised the album after seeing Kanye premier several of the tracks at Governor’s Ball in New York and listening to the leaked album a few times – but interestingly I grew tired of it quicker than any other album on this list. Yes, the album is incomparably solid in its storytelling and production. Yes, there isn’t a weak track to be found. Yes, YEEZUS influenced hip hop arguably more than any other work this year. But no, this is not Kanye’s best album, in fact it may be his weakest. The lowest moments of Ye’s career have been when his ego has got in the way of his music, and unfortunately with YEEZUS we are forced to digest his amazing ability alongside of his enormous head.


6) Wolf – Tyler, The Creator

Respect for Tyler, The Creator among hip hop heads has never been in short supply – the skateboarder-turned-producer/rapper who founded music & fashion cash cow Odd Future at the age of 20 teems with artistic potential – but his horrorgraphic and imature lyrics border on obscene and often loses coherence and relevance to most listener’s lives. With 2013’s Wolf, Tyler seems to have come into his own, displaying his brilliance as a beat maker and story-teller within more manageable themes centered around the trials as well as enjoyment of youth. Sure, there is a heavy dose of anger and absurdity that helped Tyler amass his huge following, however these are made fully digestable like in the case of ‘I.F.H.Y. (I Fucking Hate You)’, a beautiful collaboration with Pharrell. In the whole scheme of things, lyrics only mean so much next to the full production of an album, and as evident in ’48’, ‘Bimmer’ and ‘Rusty’, Tyler is in an exclusive group when it comes to crafting sounds. While Earl Sweatshirt was easily the most anticipated OF artist at the beginning of 2013, the success of Wolf paired with the disappointment of Doris saw Tyler re-establish this crown.


5) Nothing Was The Same – Drake

Drake did not start from the bottom, but in 2013 no one disagreed that he was “here”. Myself, among scores of other hip hop bloggers, have been guiltfully bumping Drake since he landed in 2009 while simultaneously omitting the Toronto-based rapper from any “top-10” lists for his apparent lack of realness. However, as the years have passed the rap game has become more liberal in its definition of gangster-ness while Drake has continued to lift his stock as one of the best in the game. Nothing Was The Same is impressive if only in its ambition and diversity – a statement of achievement that boasts, “yes, I can pull anything off”. But, its not only the range that drives NWTS to the top-half of this list, its the stellar tracks – ‘Tuscan Leather’, ‘Wu-Tang Forever’, ‘All Me’ – that give you goosebumps of anticipation at the first bar in a unique way listeners and critics simply have to appreciate. In a year where Kanye’s ego finally usurped his music – its easy to argue that Drake is the new top dog within mainstream rap.


4) Watching Movies With The Sound Off – Mac Miller

The undoubted comeback album of the year, Watching Movies With The Sound Off exemplifies the true  talent and taste of Pittsburgh’s prince. 2012 brought Mac Miller to the limelight of hip hop for the worst reasons – his sampling of Lord Finesse’s ‘Hip 2 Da Game‘ on ‘Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza‘ brought a ten million dollar lawsuit along with a seemingly bruised reputation already reeling from the weak college-targeted release of Blue Slide Park. Free of these third party expectations and effectively backed into a forgotten corner of the game, Mac responded with the most creative and cleverly guest-featured album of his career. Given his circumstances, it is truly astonishing how Mac not only compiled such a cast of artists (from Action Bronson, to Schoolboy Q, to Jay Electronica in one of his only verses in years) but utilized their unique styles collaboratively to create tracks greater than the sum of the parts. While features don’t alone make an album, Mac’s ability to rhyme competitively with each while keeping it fun displays what may be unmatched in the game. If 2013 becomes Mac’s last year of relevance, it is still more than enough to make hip-hop forget his embarrassments of 2012.


3) Blue Chips II – Action Bronson

Action Bronson earns the #3 spot on this list with his second release of 2013 (after the dope but too short Saab Stories), a project which didn’t surprise anyone or innovate the genre in anyway. Instead, Action cooked up the same recipe he is infamous for; exclusive DJ production, top-notch lyrics that blur the line between intoxicatingly dope and hilariously funny, and skits that have helped round out some of the most solid hip hop projects in the past three years. Blue Chips II is evidence the Queens native is only getting stronger, 19 tracks that are nothing more than iterations from his base style, yet flourish with a purity and cleverness that are unique as his talent. It doesn’t hurt to have the criminally underrated producer Party Supplies helping Bronsolino out on the boards with off-center retro samples for the second time (Blue Chips being the first, duh) and who also has seemed to improve his methods in the past two years. The result is an album that may lack the scope and creativity of Old or Nothing Was The Same, but holds tried and true to the essence of rap music to create a sound that only gets better the more you hear it.


2) Long.Live.A$ap – A$ap Rocky

Though it dropped virtually 12 months ago – A$ap Rocky’s debut studio album did not wilt underneath the massive anticipation the entire game expressed for the burgeoning Harlem rapper, nor did it fade it away after the monumental release of Kendrick’s Good Kid M.a.a.d City. Rather, it shined in such a way I tweeted that it may have been better than any release throughout the previous year. Twelve months later, I still jam to the monumental bangers ‘PMW’ feat. Schoolboy Q, ‘Fuckin’Problems’, ‘Ghetto Symphony’, and not to mention the posse-cut of all-time ‘1 Train’. A$ap’s genius is apparent not only his Houston-influenced smooth lyrics and taste for innovative, yet classic production (this is the guy who put Clams Casino on the map), but also his keen ability to craft an album that is ambitious without losing its cornerstone theme – and thus Long.Live.A$ap is a project that will go down as legendary and envelope pushing – relevant and foreshadowing of a draped-out meets Diplomats hip hop future.


1) Acid Rap – Chance the Rapper


I was put 0n Chance The Rapper late last year – via his 2012 debut mixtape 10 Day –  and was immediately hooked. The high school aged Chicagoan’s project showed so much promise that even its patchy-ness and sometimes awkward lyricism was forgivable, yet even the most optimistic hip-hop heads did not expect the step up Chance took with his second project – Acid Rap. Listening to this year’s best rap album may seem underwhelming at first; it features drawn out tracks that cover relatively menial topics of a young man’s life with a lingo foreign to any hip-hop fan who has grown accustomed to NYC for the past decade. However, as you give Chance a few more listens – it becomes apparent that the brilliance of this intentionally left-brained album is in its subtleties. What is immediately known when bumping to Chance is his unique ability to write and deliver a beautiful hook (see: ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’), but what comes later is his abstract demeanor mixed with poignantly socioeconomic and political statements that most closely resemble – though at a longshot – Andre 3000 or even Jimi Hendrix. Chance is that rare talent where everything he outputs affects the entire genre in someway, simply because all eyes are on his casual genius behind the mic. He also leads a 2013 class that is making more and more apparent the fact that hip hop has graduated from a material-based power to an intellectual one, and WB4HH could not be more excited for 2014.


Honorable Mentions:


Because of the Internet – Childish Gambino

Innanet – Vic Mensa


Born Sinner – J. Cole


Summer Knights – Joey Bada$$


Yessir, Whatever – Quasimoto


Indicud – Kid Cudi

Consider Yourself Peeped!
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The Evolution of Hip Hop In The Past 25 Years

November 19, 2013

25 Years of Hip Hop(Click on Image to Watch Hip Hop Progress from ’88 to 2013)


Encapsulated into a finite form (in this case, a digitally ubiquitous GIF detailing the top ten or so albums of the year for the past quarter-century), hip hop’s complex and combative, yet collaborative and co-dependent existence seems fluid, even purposeful. That’s because the evolution of music – like human culture – is perpetually affected not only by its creators, but also by the unpredictable environment within which it is governed. Let’s take a journey down the path modern day hip has taken, from N.W.A. to A$AP Rocky, and along the way reveal how each new step the genre took  initially felt groundbreaking, but within the whole picture was always inevitable.


Hip Hop Map - 1988


Though many heads would (justifiably) argue that hip-hop had already made its mark by ’88, landmark albums from N.W.A., EPMD, and Public Enemy  raised the bar on both coasts and ushered in the competition-driven game which has been the norm ever since.


Hip Hop Map -1989


1980’s hip-hop – characterized by it’s aggression and repetition –  ended on a lighter note with unprecedentedly alternative albums like De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet and Rising’ which inspired groups like A Tribe Called Quest to promote positivity in the ’90s.


Hip Hop Map - 1990


Often overlooked as fans skip from the late ’80s classics to ‘Low End Theory’, 1990 saw the debuts of many pivotal East Coast hip hop groups including Gangstarr, Brand Nubian, and – of course – ATCQ.


Hip Hop Map - 1991


Hip Hop was resided on the East Coast in 1991 but strong debuts from 2Pac and Cypress Hill (not to mention Scarface in Houston) began to shift the conversation away from who rules New York City.


Hip Hop Map - 1992


Things really started to heat up for ’90s hip hop – specifically the West Coast – when ‘The Chronic’ came out in ’92. This top 5 album ever drowned out spectacular efforts from Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth and The Pharcyde.


Hip Hop Map - 1993


Arguably the pinnacle of Golden Age hip-hop, 1993 saw the Wu-Tang Clan reclaim East Coast supremacy with top 3 ever album ’36 Chambers’ while the West Coast fought back with Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ and who can forget ’93 till Infinity by Souls of Mischief??


Hip Hop Map - 1994


Nas and Biggie dominated the nation’s airwaves with two of the greatest releases (read: debuts) ever while Outkast and Common dropped classics from previously quiet hip-hop epicenters Atlanta and Chicago.


Hip Hop Map - 1995


Though your casual fan might pass over 1995 as filler between the famous summers of ’94 and ’96, real heads appreciate the dark brilliance of Mobb Deep’s ‘Infamous’, Raekwon’s ‘Only Built for Cuban Linx’, GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’, and Bone Thugs N Harmony’s ‘East 1999’ all which helped re-establish criminal hip-hop as the catalyst of the genre.


Hip Hop Map - 1996


The seemingly unstoppable inertia hip hop experienced in the mid-90’s came to a peak in 1996, where artists across the nations from Jay-Z in Brooklyn to 2Pac dropping his opus ‘All Eyez on Me’ delivered upon the exceptionally high standard of the era.


Hip Hop Map - 1997


The tragedies of Biggie and 2Pac’s death put a noticeable damper on the genre as impostor emcees drowned out more deserving gems from female artists Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot.


Hip Hop Map - 1998


After a year where hip-hop seemed to lose its direction, refreshingly intelligent albums from Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Outkast, and Jurassic 5 set up the stage for “conscious” rap to make its mark on the genre.


Hip Hop Map - 1999


A solid year in hip-hop, 1999 saw the brilliance of Eminem come to full fruition with ‘The Shady LP’ and his help on Dr. Dre’s classic ‘Chronic 2001’, as well as someageless underground staples from MF DOOM, Binary Star, and 8Ball & MJG.


Hip Hop Map - 2000


With hip-hop fully integrated at a national, genre, and – hell – racial level in 2000, the plethora of styles (from Ghostface Killah, to Dead Prez, to Deltron 3030) has never been represented so impressively.


Hip Hop Map - 2001


After years of ambiguity across the hip- hop game, Nas and Jay-Z’s rivalry in 2001 not only produced two classic albums but helped re-establish NYC as the epicenter alongside respectable works from De La Soul, Immortal Technique, and Aesop Rock.


Hip Hop Map - 2002


While East Coast hip-hop held its ground in 2002, it was “underground” groups like Atmosphere, People Under The Stairs, and Blackalicious (among others) who produced some of the most memorable music of the year.


Hip Hop Map - 2003


With mainstream hip-hop nearing its peak (ubiquitous releases from 50 Cent and Jay-Z magnify this), the contrast between radio friendly and alternative rap was never more apparent. Ironically, powered by Zion I, Cunninlynguists, and Brother Ali, the underground benefited with  unparalleled exposure.


Hip Hop Map - 2004


2004 was the year of Kanye, but more than the impressiveness of ‘College Dropout’ was its effect on promoting fringe artists (i.e. The Roots) into the mainstream as well as placing “conscious” rappers like Talib Kweli within the same conversations as top 40 machines like Lil Wayne.


Hip Hop Map - 2005


The year The Game (briefly) revitalized West Coast dominance, and infamously quipped “lookout for Detox” – album which almost a decade later we have tossed our binoculars – saw strong albums from just about every hip-hop mecca EXCEPT New York City. 


Hip Hop Map - 2006


The year Nas famously claimed “Hip Hop Is Dead”, a moment which I later claimed was a turning point for the genre’s current renaissance, actually produced some quality albums from legends like J Dilla, Ghostface Killah, and Living Legends – and brilliant newcomer Lupe Fiasco. 


Hip Hop Map - 2007


2007 was Chicago’s year, with Lupe, Common, and – OF COURSE – Kanye releasing gems, not to mention NYC and LA staying virtually silent after Nas’s condemnation of the game.  


Hip Hop Map - 2008


Hip hop in 2008 was largely bastardized from its NYC and LA roots, creating an indie mindset that felt foreign and aimless yet sometimes produced dope music including The Root’s ‘Game Theory’, Ye’s ‘808s and Heartbreaks’, and ‘Murs for President’.


Hip Hop Map - 2009


Still recovering from the dredges of the mid-2000s, hip hop showed fleeting promise in 2009 with solid releases from Kid Cudi and Jay-Z (?!) however still was dumbed down by artificial artists like Lil Wayne and Rick Ross.


Hip Hop Map - 2010


2010 should be considered as the year that hip-hop cleared the hump – responsible for both genre-shifting works like Kanye’s opus ‘MBDTF’ and Nas’s collaboration with Damian Marley ‘Distant Relatives’, as well as the emergence of the next generation of greats with debuts from Drake and Kendrick Lamar.


Hip Hop Map - 2011


Not since the 90’s was hip-hop’s future so promising as it was by the end of 2011 – after Kanye and Jay-Z re-established the competitive hierarchy within the game with ‘Watch the Throne’, The Roots proved they could outdo their already phenomenal career, and artists like A$ap Rocky, Danny Brown, and Action Bronson helped Kendrick and J.Cole (and others) form a new era of great emcees. Not to mention, the blog game changed with the launch of WB4HH! 


Hip Hop Map - 2012


Yes, Seattle-born white boy Macklemore basically ran shit in 2012, however it was fellow West Coasters Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul (of TDE Entertainment) who produced three of the top albums of the year. New York wasn’t quiet in ’12 either, with quality tunes coming from Nas, Action Bronson, and Joey Bada$$.


Hip Hop Map - 2013  
While 2013 has yet to end, it has already produced enough dope music to make(cough) 1998 and (cough) 2004 shake in their knees. Classic releases from Kanye West and A$ap Rocky paired with coming-of-age works from Tyler the Creator, Mac Miller, and Chance the Rapper.

Consider Yourself Peeped!
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The Top Ten Most Significant Freestyles of All Time

February 17, 2013

No single output of hip hop more purely defines its rugged sound, raw confidence, and hustler wisdom than freestyle rapping. Hell, the very “big bang” of hip hop can be traced back to 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in Morris Heights, Bronx on August 11, 1973 (seriously), where allegedly DJ Kool Herc began to freestyle rap over an extended and scratched sample initially meant for break dancing for the first time ever. To this day, the most fundamental form of one’s interaction with hip hop involves freestyling lyrics over a Youtube instrumental or – even better – the human beatbox. While these fleeting creative moments are usually embodied in dark and grainy videos of drunk frat bros rapping over each other in a sloppy cypher (we’ve all been there), a few truly gifted lyricists – famous and obscure – are able to turn the extremely difficult task of rhyming, flowing, AND weaving together a complex story simultaneously into a fine art comparable to rehearsed lyrics.
Freestyle Cypher
Measuring such a ubiquitous form of hip hop is out-rightly impossible – of the minuscule amount of freestyles that are actually recorded, the infinitely diverse ways to spit a verse and subjectivity towards each artist’s unique style convolute any potential semblance of a “best of” list. However, gauging freestyle raps by their overall significance is much more feasible and important. Each of the ten freestyles below helped mold not only the underground freestyle game, but the hip hop game itself, by pushing the boundaries in terms of lyrical style and flow.
The ultimate goal of any emcee with the balls to rap off the top of their head is the reciprocal “ohhhhhhhhhh!” from fans, and below are ten of the most successful attempts at eliciting that primal response:

Percee P and Lord Finesse Perfect the Freestyle Battle
Percee P vs Lord Finesse by whirler

 Many heads claim the 80’s as the Golden Age of hip hop, where budding styles were formed at the apex of ingenuity and raw competition. It was this mix of qualities which spawned the freestyle battle, where two rappers would schedule a time a place to test their skills against each other in a battle for supremacy. In March Madness fashion, losers of a specific battle would effectively be knocked out of relevance, leaving a top tier of of talent who carry a larger-than-life mystique into each battle. Percee P and Lord Finesse were the cream of the crop of this generation, thus their 1989 battle in the Bronx was already legendary before it even happened. The actual battle surpassed these lofty expectations, and gave us all a unique look into the formally structured yet free-minded flows that bolstered more talent than most rehearsed verses of the time and influenced New York rap for the next decade. It’s debatable who actually came away a victor from this battle, but does it even really matter?

Supernat at the 2008 Magic Convention


The irony of the “freestyle” is that so rarely are they truly spontaneous, uninfluenced performances that the name would suggest. That’s what makes freestyle specialist Supernat such a spectacle – an artist whose gift for literally rhyming off the top of the head has made him a hip hop legend despite never having released a produced album of acclaim. The above video is just one piece of evidence of this Indiana native’s unique talent – as he virtually writes the book on free-association by pointing out objects in the crowd and mixing them into a crafted pot of lyrics. Sure, his punchlines might not bang like, say Eminem’s, and he is performing at a magic convention (not your ideal hip hop gathering), but the complexity of his lyrics within his seamless flow is almost unbelievable its so good. Perhaps a magic convention really is the fitting setting for Supernat’s live raps, as witnessing his ability to conjure up a dope verse from anything – for almost 6 and a half minutes no less! – is as mystical as hip hop gets.


Biggie Ignites in BK



 Perhaps the most recognizable freestyle of Biggie’s career – not only was it was featured in the movie Notorious, YouTube forces you to watch an ad before viewing it?! – the fuzzy video of what was supposed to be freestyle battle in Brooklyn from way back in 1988 displays Biggie’s unmeasurable promise for the first time. The genuine surprise by his audience, the simple but previously  uncovered lyrics, and the emotionally driven confidence that grows throughout the brief battle verse until his opponent (in white) is forced to simply walk away into obscurity, this minute long recording has everything you ever need for a perfect freestyle video. Like so many of Biggie’s raps – freestyled or rehearsed – this performance is equally complex and accessible, and thus universally appreciated by fans across the hip hop spectrum.

Common Gets Cerebral


 Touted as one of the greatest thinking minds in rap yet largely absent from your average “top lyricists” post, Common holds a uniquely understated position in hip hop largely due to his “conscious” rap themes that simply don’t elicit the cinematic features of gangster rap. However, much like his peers Mos Def and Talib Kweli – who appear later on this list – Common is able to drop lines that elicit responses including but not only “wait, did he really just do that?!”, “wow…”, and “holy tits” but on this track, produced by the talented DJ Honda, the listener is forced into silence by the Chicagoan emcee’s awe-inspiring talent. In fact, its hard to believe that Common hadn’t written this 16 down until the very end, when he stumbles his last bar spitting “this shit for my man Honda. Regardless of how “free” the verse is, its hard to imagine a more technical rhymed verse in all of hip hop.


Eyedea & Slug on the Wake Up Show



Practically living embodiments of “rappers come in all shapes and sizes”, Minnesotan hip hop pioneers Slug and Eyedea (you could throw fellow Rhymesayer Brother Ali in the all shapes and sizes category as well)  have risen through the ranks of rap through the merit of their skill alone. Plainly seen in their visit to Tech and Sway’s Wake Up Show – the standard in on-air freestyles – is Sway’s outright surprise at these white dudes from the Midwest mastery of the mic. Both the late Eyedea – a former Scribble Jam victor – and Slug – of Atmosphere – flex their respective styles over 8 minutes with rhymes honest enough to be unrehearsed but refined enough that you would swear they were. If the look on Sway’s face doesn’t fully convince you that these two are , then the frequency of “ohhs” heard in the background will.


Big L Puts Jay-Z On



In one of my earliest posts for WB4HH, I stated that Big L was the “greatest rapper never heard“, as the Harlem lyricist was killed before signing his first major record deal. Maybe I should have revised the title to say “barely” heard, since Big L’s most known tracks are not his recorded tracks – though they are pretty dope too – but instead his impeccable freestyles most easily found stumbling through Youtube. The proof in the these grainy recordings is undeniable to the point that I assume people who don’t name Big L as one of their favorite freestylists must have not listened to this gem. The best part of this specific track, however, is a young Jay-Z pre-Reasonable Doubt with fire in his bars like he were envious of L’s ability. It’s the late Big L who ends up owning the track in one of the rare instances where Hova is usurped by a fellow artist.


Eminem and Proof Ambush MTVNews



Remember when MTV was still cool – when TRL was actually watchable and VJ’s (never really knew what that stood for) like Kurt Loder gave up-and-coming artists like Eminem and his mentor/D12 compadre airtime to express their own style? If not, the above video will surely remind you, a raw clip of Eminem trading fiercely creative and edge-pushing bars with his de facto mentor Proof in an old jeep on some random Detroit block that originally aired on MTV News as part of interview segment. There’s no doubt Slim Shady’s 8 Mile freestyle battles were far more significant for the Detroit native’s career, however his twisted wordplay and incredible ability to free-associate two completely unrelated terms within the same bar were best suited for this type of careless, white trash-esque cypher. More simply put, this freestyle is basically a free associated version of ‘Just Don’t Give a Fuck’ – which was released on Em’s first successful album The Slim Shady LP, which they were promoting at the time – without the dementedly cute beat. On another note, it would be unjust not to recognize the late Proof’s incredible freestyling skill, which made up for a relative lack of complexity with a criminally smooth flow.

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Prove They Belong Among Hip Hop’s Elite



Serving as proof that Biggie and Jay-Z aren’t the only great lyricists from Brooklyn, cerebral emcees Mos Def and Talib Kweli gave the New York hip hop scene a refreshing breath of air in the late 90’s that had lost many of its legends, with their collaboration project Blackstar. Their only full album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Blackstar, is one of the seminal conscious rap projects – an ad hoc collaboration simply based on the two rapper’s chemistry that created classics such as ‘Definition’ and ‘Respiration’. However, real heads know the duo’s talent is showcased on their lesser known side b tracks, including ‘Soundbombing’ a studio freestyle as lyrically astounding as it is authentic, where both emcees use their incredible talent to spit uplifting raps about their unique stylings rather than their crime sheet and macho personalities. The output is a timeless track where imperfect rhymes and the occasionally rough passing of the mic help hold a genuine that makes their truly great rhymes that much more impressive.


Wait, 2Pac & Biggie Rhymed Together Once???



 Scouring YouTube for the above videos I saw this clip which I originally thought had to be fake – 2Pac and Biggie on some set in LA doing a combined interview, nearly too drunk to speak yet more than able to spit freestyles. Scrolling down the comments – which is never a good idea on YouTube unless you are looking for a quick laugh – is especially annoying, as users debate who “won” this “battle”. The truth is the two barely conscious stars employ their own polar coastal styles with the mastery only they could muster. Granted, neither mogul is on their respective game, but given their history the fact that they shared well drinks and bars together is significant enough.


Honorable Mentions:


Method Man Defines ‘Rhyming in the Park


Mef commits verbal manslaughter on this hard-to-find classic Wu Tang freestyle – there’s not even a video – however like all of the Killer Bees, his true talent ultimately shined brighter with a notepad and pen.


‘Joey Bada$ Shines Bright at 15


This is reportedly the video that got the talented youngster from Brooklyn noticed, but with its sprinkled in double rhymes and sloppy control it is more than apparent that the most promising BK rapper in 2012 still needs some work to be recognized among the greats.


Eminem Simplifies Your “Best Lyricist” Conundrum


After hearing Slim murder it on Tim Westwood (a UK-based radio show notorious for hosting freestyles from some of hip hop’s best), your #1 on this list will be occupied. (Best raps at are around the 15:00 mark)


Consider Yourself Peeped!


Top Ten Hip Hop Albums of 2012

December 28, 2012

2012 In Hip Hop


In case you had been preparing for the apocalypse and thus sleeping on hip hop the past twelve months, let me start by saying that you have missed a diverse, creative, yet standard bearing blend of releases doper than the genre has seen in a decade. Driven by a blend of brilliant newcomers and resilient veterans producing music that is equally genuine as it is innovative, 2012 was a perfect storm for hip hop. With conscious rap riding on the inertia that has been building since The College Dropout, and the genre officially no longer feeling the pressure of having to be club friendly – thanks, EDM – rappers and producers alike displayed an artistic freedom and competitive nature largely removed from the overindulgence of the mid-late 00’s.
The greatest barometer of any genre of music are the albums released, as they portray not only the quality of the individual artists but also – in its reception – the hierarchy of the game, be it sales and/or critical reception. Thus, when I say that hip hop in 2012 was fantastic, what I mean is that there were a myriad of great albums dropped from artists of every shape, size, and color (literally). Whether we are experiencing a brief illumination or a new standard of rap to last like the Golden Age of the mid-90’s is still to be seen, but there’s nothing wrong with basking in the sun when its out right (and they say bloggers are too pessimistic)?
Here are the top ten hip hop albums of the 2012: 

10.) Cruel Summer – G.O.O.D Music

Released: September 14, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘The Morning’, ‘New God Flow’, ‘Sin City’

Every complaint you can throw at Kanye West & Co’s long-coming collaboration album is probably merited: over half of the album was pre-released as singles, it had no central concept/theme, it was Kanye’s worst output since 808’s (or better yet, ever), however the amount of talent racked up in the credits of Cruel Summer proved to be just enough to float the project. Beyond the seminal club hits everyone had already heard a million times – ‘Mercy’, ‘Clique’, ‘Cold’ – there were few surprises on Cruel Summer, but those surprise moments showed flashes of brilliance within an otherwise forgettable album. Namely, the track ‘The Morning’ – which pulls of an incredible reggae-influenced hook between classic verses by Common and Raekwon, who spits the ironically excellent line “the jeans cost $500, fuck.” – Ghostface Killah’s out-of-the-blue verse on the remix of ‘New God Flow’, and the ominous bassline of ‘Sin City’, help remind us that Ye and crew are still sitting on the throne of hip hop.

9.) The Dreamer, The Believer – Common

Released: December 20, 2011*

Top Tracks: ‘The Dreamer’, ‘Ghetto Dreams Feat. Nas’, ‘The Believer’

Ok, so The Dreamer, the Believer was actually released in the last week of 2011, but leaving Chicago’s Prodigal Son of hip hop off this list after missing my ‘Best of 2011’ list would be a blogging crime. The Dreamer, The Believer – Common’s ninth studio album and first full project alongside producer No I.D. since the 1996’s Resurrection – is by no means a “breakout hit” or album of the year material, but instead, as we have come to expect from the veteran emcee, is a solid project that bears the standard of his conscious and alternative style. The opening track “Dreamer” might be the albums best, setting off the album’s journey-esque production with an uplifting beats that fades into a Maya Angelou spoken piece that again seamlessly transitions into a Nas featuered ‘Ghetto Dreams’ and after the ELO sampled ‘Blue Sky’. By the time you realize it, you are halfway through the album and anticipating the next verse from the multi-talented rapper.

8.) Rare Chandeliers – Action Bronson

Released: November 15, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘The Symbol’, ‘Bitch I Deserve You’, ‘Gateway to Wizardry’


One of the biggest complaints about hip hop is how over-the-top and exaggerated rappers’ claims of swag and gangsterism have to be in order to be seen as cool. The competitive nature of one-upping your rival with a bigger chain, more girls, or another (rented) Lambo is so ridiculous its hilarious when taken out of context. That’s what makes the Albanian-born Flushing, Queens resident Action Bronson – along with his partners in crime Meyhem Lauren and Roc Marciano – so brilliant, as he spits shamelessly boastful lines like “stash the work in the asshole of a Pitbull” and (my favorite) “catch me on Maury with my bitch” that straddle the line between sinister and comical so delicately. Rare Chandeliers is more than just a foray into the lighter side of being a G – which turns out to include eating “lamb laced with fennel” and taking baths where “two women wash me” – its as raw of a mixtape to come out of NYC in years. Spanning under 40 total minutes, the project consists 13 originally produced tracks by producer of the year Alchemist containing unmistakably East Coast hip hop basslines and 1980’s influenced samples while Action and crew rap hardcore 16’s that seldomly feature a hook. It remains to be seen whether Action Bronson can break through to the mainstream with his admittedly one-dimensional rhymes, but if Rare Chandeliers is a testament to his diligence and ability, I would not be surprised to see bigger things from him in 2013.


7.) Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color – Brother Ali

Released: September 18, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Letter to My Countrymen’, ‘Need A Knot’, ‘Just Fine’


Similarly to Common, Brother Ali has staked out his own nice in the rap game with five impressive albums where his persona is that of a conscious elder statesmen figuratively saving the rap game from itself. In Ali’s case, being a nearly blind albino rapper from Minneapolis who came up beneath Atmosphere in the early 2000’s only to surpass Slug in both skill and appeal, his genuine struggle and phenomenal penmanship is more than enough banter to produce an album from. While Mourning in America is immediately recognizable as Ali’s uniquely altruistic and methodical style, much of his newest release is different than his older work. His latest LP is much more heavily politicized than Us or Undisputed Truth – just take a look at the album art – probably due to his close relationship with Immortal Technique and frequent appearances at Occupy Wall Street, his longtime friend/producer Ant retired before the album and was replaced by the talented newcomer Jake One, and yet the project seems to appeal to a more PG audience as Ali’s maturity seems to be getting to him. However, by the end of the album – specifically ‘Just Fine’ which is my favorite track of this past year – it becomes apparent that a softer, less raw Brother Ali is still more talented in terms of both lyrical ability and storytelling than 99% of rappers out there.


6.) Habits and Contradictions – Schoolboy Q

Released: January 14, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Sacrilegious’, ‘There He Go’, ‘Gangsta in Designer (No Concept)’, ‘niggaHs.already.know.davers.flow’


2012 was undoubtedly the year of Black Hippy, pronounced most loudly by Kendrick Lamar’s hugely praised debut album Good Kid M.a.a.d City but also voiced by the spectacular sophomore releases by Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q. The latter Los Angeles native’s project Habits and Contradictions is aptly named, as Schoolboy’s bipolar, ADHD affected lyrics take you on a roller coaster ride from the dreary guitar plucks of ‘Sacrilegious’ to the boisterous chorus of ‘2 Raw’ featuring Black Hippy colleague Jay Rock. The album embodies the idea of controlled chaos with the beyond-his-years authenticity of storytelling that seems to be s common trait among Black Hippy’s collective, reaching high and low emotional points within minutes almost seamlessly. At 18 tracks long, the project can seem a little exhausting at times, but the unique and addictively good cuts like ‘There He Go’, ‘Gangsta In Designer’, and ‘Hands on the Wheel’ featuring A$ap Rocky lift the effort as a whole and leave high expectations for Q in the future.


5.) 1999 – Joey Bada$$

Released: June 26, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Survival Tactics’, Hardknocks’, ‘Waves’, ‘Slippin’


To say that the 17-year old Brooklyn native Joey Bada$$ has hip hop heads giddy with excitement and expectation after the release of 1999 this past Summer would be an understatement. Bada$$ – who was born AFTER the release of Illmatic – reminds many of the likes of Nas, a thoughtful rapper with a subtly brilliant flow and eye for dramatic storytelling. 1999‘s Golden hip hop feel does nothing to hint that the young rapper wants any separation from the legend, and instead proudly bears the standard of the greatest era in hip hop with hard NYC rhymes from Joey and guests and samples from Lord Finesse, MF Doom, and J Dilla. Instead of paling in comparison to the immortal beats like Lord Finesse’s ‘Slippin’, Joey Bada$$ maneuvers with the skills of a seasoned pro, penning some of the best 16’s spit all year long. Though the mixtape drags in a few areas, most noticeably in the 13-minute posse cut ‘Suspect’, as a holistic project it shows that classic hip hop’s seemingly impenetrable inner-circle might have to make some room for BK’s newest phenom.


4.) Food & Liquor II = The Great American Rap Album – Lupe Fiasco

Released: September 25, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Form Follows Function’, ‘Cold War’, ‘Unforgivable Youth’


Naming your rebound album after a pitiful disappointment (Lasers) the “Great American Rap Album”, and then filling its cover with nothing is ambitious, audacious, arrogant, and not to mention hugely risky. Yet, Lupe embarks to fill these impossibly large shoes on the sequel to his onus Food & Liquor (2006), utilizing his unique ability to mesh mainstream appeal with underground consciousness. Save a shameless sample of the classic ‘T.R.O.Y.’ for ‘Around My Way’, the Chicagoan emcee nearly succeeds. With top notch production and mixing meeting Lupe’s sneaky wordplay and emotion-driven storytelling on practically ever track, the album certainly doesn’t lack listenability – but the thought provocation Lu achieved on his first two projects doesn’t fully translate on F&L2. Perhaps its the wearing down of Lu’s singular approach – ‘Bitch Bad’ feels preachy, like ‘Hip Hop Saved My Life’ – or the lack of “new” topics to him to conquer – ‘Hood Now’ feels too much like ‘All Black Everything’ – but the album doesn’t really get rolling until ‘Brave Heart’. However, save it to the one-of-a-kind hip hop talent to hide the truly genius tracks of the album towards the end, including the lyrically brimming ‘Form Follows Function’ and the ballad-esque ‘Unforgivable Youth’ and ‘Cold War’ to raise the album to one of the year’s best.


3.) Life is Good – Nas

Released: July 13, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Daughters’, ‘Stay’, ‘Cherry Wine’


Life is Good is an album that encapsulates Nas’s entire hip hop career – and not just because Nas holds his ex-wife Kelis’s wedding dress on its cover. “Life is Good” is instead better viewed as a mantra Nas is determined to follow as a talented yet unassured rap vet, which – whether the Queens native is conscious of it or not – comes through expertly through the myriad of tracks on the album. Nas splits air time between the reminiscent ‘A Queens Story’, the uplifting ‘Daughters’, the conscious ‘World’s An Addiction’, the appealing ‘Cherry Wine’ – featuring the late Amy Winehouse – and so much more with the efficiency and effectiveness that only a rap legend can provide. The album – similar to Nas’s tumultuous career – is not without its mistakes, including overdone club attempts like ‘Summer on Smash’ and ‘The Don’, as well as the already done before conscious tracks like ‘Back When’. But, as those who place the rapper in their “top 5” echelon know too well, when Nas is on there is nary another artist who can contend with his ability.

2.) Good Kid, M.a.a.d City – Kendrick Lamar

Released: October 22, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’, ‘Money Trees’, ‘The Recipe’


As an avid hip hop fan but sucky blogger – I promise at least 1 post per month in 2013!! – it takes a truly revolutionary moment to lock me to a chair and pump out a lengthy post about how an album has changed the face of hip hop. Good Kid M.a.a.d City was THAT album in 2012 – 2011 belonged to Watch the Throne, in case you were wondering – an uber-hyped debut album from an unlikely source; a genetically defected conscious rapper with a definitive innocent streak hailing from gang-ridden Compton, California. Lamar’s appeal through during first two superb mixtapes – Overly Dedicated (’10) and Section.80 – was this underdog type of persona, an ‘Average Joe’ with a knack for writing with substantial content in his lyrics and straight poison in his pen. The reception of GKMC was so universally positive the only initial explanation is that K.Dot hypnotized the whole industry, but upon listening to the entire project – which follows Kendrick through a typical teenage day in his hardknocks hometown – the immense artistic ambition shown from the young rapper is stunning. Track-by-track, the concept album is not necessarily as approachable as your standard rap artist, but listening to every hip hop head’s new lyrical favorite master his own view of the world through the mic is a truly unique musical experience.


1.) Control System – Ab-Soul

Released: May 11, 2012

Top Tracks: ‘Bohemian Grove’, ‘Pineal Gland’, ‘ILLuminate’


Kendrick may have stolen hip hop’s heart in 2012, but it was his Black Hippy co-conspirator Ab-Soul, whose whose open-minded approach and stop-and-go slang make him immediately recognizable on any track, who crafted the years best album with Control System. Ok, yes the druggy-with-a-distrust-of-the-political-system is by no means original in hip hop, but Soul’s delicate balancing of spaced out swag and cerebral ideology, as displayed in tracks like ‘SOPA’ and ‘Double Standards’, absolutely is. As Ab-Soul’s fourth project, a level of comfort is felt both in production – the opening track ‘Soulo 3’ is paced as a warm up to the rest of the album – and lyrics – he cleverly whips “you got pro-gress, you got con-gress” on ‘Terrorist Threats’ – and holistically the album covers a range of alternative but surprisingly relevant topics without staying at any too long. I may be one of the few bloggers not to put GKMC at the top of this year’s hip hop output, but while Kendrick is likely to stay in the limelight for years to come, 2012 was the year of Soul.


Honorable Mentions:
Vicious Lies, Dangerous Rumors – Big Boi
Channel Orange – Frank Ocean
Respect the Fly Shit – Meyhem Lauren
The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis


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From Kanye to Kendrick: Why ‘Good Kid, m.a.a.d. City’ Signifies the Longtime Coming Resurgence of ‘Conscious’ Hip Hop, and How It All Leads Back to Kanye

October 29, 2012

If you have been reading music headlines, been anywhere near social media, or had a hip-hop oriented conversation in the past few months- if you’re like me, you’ve done all three – then you are more than aware of the buzz Compton, CA born hip hop prodigy Kendrick Lamar has been receiving for his major-label debut, Good Kid m.a.a.d City. The tangible excitement from the hip hop community – born from Lamar’s acute skills as both a lyricist and story teller as evidenced in his two phenomenal mixtapes, Overly Dedicated and Section.80 – began when the album title was released this Summer and grew to an astoundingly full fruition at its release last Monday. The respect shown for the Black Hippy leader – which has so far included a 9.5 ranking from Pitchfork (the de facto gospel of indie music), over 200,000 units sold, and most surprisingly, universal promotion among fellow rap artists across the country – is arguably unmatched in the past half a decade.
So what exactly separates GKMC from being just another great album in 2012 (there have been quite a few this year already) anyway? For starters, the aforementioned skills that allow Kendrick to simultaneously analyze the holistic complexity of a situation and relay it to you on a primal level in Nas-like fashion, which provides unique depth and meaning to his music. Even in a genre so diverse in tastes, talent like Kendrick’s  is something everybody can agree on. In a similar vein, Kendrick’s Rick Ross-esque album sales and recognition from fellow artists (Talib Kweli tweeted: “Congratulations to the homie @kendricklamar for making an album full of classic bars. If u front on him u probably a failed rapper”), is simply unprecedented for a conscious rapper in the last twenty years. For the majority of hip hop’s fans, Kendrick’s success means that for the first time in recent memory the game is – at least temporarily – focused on someone they can relate to rather than a business mogul or drug dealer caricature. All put together, Good Kid m.a.a.d. City – along with similarly conscious albums in 2012 by Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Lupe Fiasco, and Nas – to penetrate deeper into the mainstream and have a longer lasting impact on future of the game.

If you haven’t already, you need to listen to all the above…

The significance of K.Dot’s recent release got me thinking, when was the last time an upcoming rapper arrested both the radiowaves and underground internet outlets in agreement, universally attracting to both the heart and periphery of hip hop fandom? Kid Cudi gained mass appeal with weed driven rap anthems, but his mix of rap and experimental pop is too off-center of classic hip hop. Similarly, Lupe Fiasco scored passionate audiences above and under ground with Food & Liquor (2006), but those groups tended to lean towards different sets of tracks from the sometimes musically bipolar rapper. To find an album that signified such a marrying of acclaim and popularity, you have to go back to Kanye West’s The College Dropout (2004).

Kanye’s debut, like GKMC, is undoubtedly hip hop through and through, thus it’s impact shifted the very base of the game. This impact included revolutionarily personal and honest themes that magnetized fans – like myself – who previously associated closer to rock and indie genres than rap, as well as uprooted the standard of masochism that was one of the weaker aspect of mainstream hip hop. It’s not as if “feelings” weren’t discussed before the first few bars ‘We Don’t Care‘, but not since A Tribe Called Quest had it been engineered to sound so appealing.
Between ATCQ and Kanye, “conscious” rap was confined in the underground, where ideas and effort often outpace pure talent and lead to good music that struggles to expand out if their ironically self-dug niches. While the underground is the blood and guts of the hip hop, it is also a staging area where nearly all artists fail to pass through. That’s what makes Kanye, Kendrick, and others who have burst through to mainstream so special and so influential – with their fame and notoriety, a part of the underground is able to show its face. With Kanye’s rise, “conscious” rap was brought back to life and made the standard for up and coming talents like Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, J. Cole, Kendrick – the list goes on – who meshed skill and honest content to produce music with real meaning and without predetermined content or geographical constraints.

At the end of the day, Good Kid m.a.a.d. City is an album – or a short story, as he calls it – that only Kendrick Lamar could have made, a coming of age story told eloquently through a mix of faith-themed candid skits and genrelessly production featuring a range of insanely dope samples. Add in K-Dot’s one-of-a-kind ability to tie in story-telling, philosophy, and vices alongside each other seamlessly, and you get a perfect recipe (pun totally intended) for an amazing album. However, the album’s positive reception and perceived overarching influence on the entire hip hop community is something that has been building since Kanye made it cool to wear a backpack again. In a way, the inertia off of Kanye’s original conscious cross-over finally met an artist with the talent to match it, creating somewhat a hip hop perfect storm.

And no, I’m not talking about Hurricane Sandy

About a year ago I wrote a post about the state of hip hop, detailing how it was no longer “dead” after Nas – and many others – validly claimed about 5 years prior. Looking back now, I realize that my expectations were too conservative for the future of the genre. But, little did I expect 2012 to shatter my expectations and be responsible for some of the better albums in recent memory, many of which are still mainstays on the radio and blogosphere. While people will surely cringe to hear me praise Kim Kardashian’s beaux (did I really just write that??), no one can deny West’s trailblazing influence in creating this new standard for mainstream success.
Who knows what the future holds for Kenrick Lamar, and hip hop as whole, but with his monumental release this past week it is surely looking optimistic. Somewhere likely in Paris, LA, or New York, Kanye West is holding Kim Kardashian’s ass and smiling.

…Maybe I had it the wrong way.

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The Ten Greatest Rap Names Ever

October 15, 2012

In the overtly image-conscious hip hop game, zero-ing in on a unique, fitting, and memorable name is not a task to be taken lightly. In many cases, clever and often genius names like Devin the Dude, Alchemist, or A Tribe Called Quest help garner attention amidst the cluttered game (just take a look at the map above) as well as depict a rapper’s, producer’s, or group’s unique brand of hip hop. On the other hand, names like Flo Rida – you really want people to know you’re from the state where geriatrics go to die? – and Drake – the assumed name for every shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch model ever – prove that the gift of discovering a fitting moniker isn’t for everybody.

*The Magnificent Map of Rap Names

While at the end of the day, skill is still king, here are ten rappers whose names help us further appreciate their dope blend of hip hop:

10.) Ol’ Dirty Bastard

It may seem a little predictable to have the infamous ODB to this greatest names list, but what “best of” hip hop category is complete without the Wu Tang Clan properly represented? The Brooklyn-born emcee famous for pioneering a singing-rapping style, picking up welfare checks in a limo, and dying of a drug overdose in 2004 kept a the childhood nickname given to him by de facto Wu Tang leader RZA because – as Method Man puts it in an interviewed which appears on 36 Chambers – there’s no father to his style. Blending this idea of originality with his gritty, shock-value style and association as a legendary member of the hip hop community, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the essential embodiment of, well, an old dirty bastard. Before he died, Russel Jones (his real name) went on a naming spree that produced monikers ranging from Dirt McGirt to Big Baby Jesus – seriously – but we will conveniently overlook these and remember him by his memorable, original title.

9.) No I.D.

Sometimes simplicity works wonders in the realm of name-making – case and point, Chicago native and super-producer behind Common’s rise to fame, No I.D. Like most great artist names, No I.D. is not only is the producer’s 4-letter title expressive of his unclassifiable and boundless production style, it also spells his name, Dion, backwards. Before the Illuminati rumorers invade, can’t it be enough for a classic producer – and current VP of Def Jame Recordings – who relies on intricate basslines and subtle samples for his specialized sound to have an equally classic and subtly clever stage name? I think so.

8.) Dilated Peoples 

Los Angeles-based Dilated Peoples was one of the few underground groups of the early 2000s to see the light of day in the form of mainstream success, thanks to the popularity of Alchemist-produced ‘Worst Comes to Worst’ and Kanye West collaboration ‘This Way’. However, like so many  counterparts, this short-lived notoriety was just the tip of a two-decade long career of making dope music that married their trademark West Coast attitude with a penchant for progressive yet stoner friendly beats. Hm, their play on the word “pupils” is making a little more sense now, isn’t it? Cleverly sneaking the double entendre past your typical casual listener, the Dilated Peoples insinuate their affection for getting high within a name that more seriously interpreted hints towards the trio being watchful and open-minded about the darker ills of society – think Public Enemy or Dead Prez-esque. In a game where albums nestle gangster tracks next to weed anthems without batting an eyelash, this surprisingly intelligent duality works like magic.

7.) Slick Rick the Ruler


For the man nearly unanimously hailed as “hip hop’s greatest storyteller” as well as “Guinness World Record holder for most chains worn on a daily basis”, having one of the greatest rap names ever is simply second nature. The London-born and Bronx-raised hip hop legend – whose eyepatch resulted from a childhood incident with broken glass – seemed to be destined for the mic with a slick (get it???) flow and awesomely creative lyrics that were years ahead when he released ”The Great Adventures of Slick Rick’ in 1988. While his career was marked by volatility both on and off the mic, The Ruler’s status as an innovator of “cool” in the game has never been questioned – just like the dopeness of his infamous moniker.


6.) MURS


If Slick Rick is the standard for cleverly sounding rap names, L.A. native and Living Legends star MURS seems like a guy with little imagination and even less understanding of the macho themes of the hip hop game. However, as is descriptive of his atypical rise to fame, MURS proved that not everything is as it appears skin deep, and what initially comes off as an unfortunate nickname for your nerdy classmate Murray is actually an acronym for “Making Underground Raw Shit”. Not bad, eh? Especially considering MURS  has singlehandedly carved out his own brand of rap best described as thoughtfully free-minded – a true testament to his West and East Coast influences – and, along with Felt collaborator Slug, has become a household name in the hip hop community. Whether you can still consider his latter releases, including ‘MURS for President’ and ‘Love & Rockets’ , underground and raw is up for debate, but let his massive dreads be a calm reminder that he doesn’t give a hell what you think.


5.) MF Doom


As obscure as any artist in the genre, English-born emcee and producer MF Doom (aka Zev Love X, Viktor Vaughn, Metal Fingers, King Geedorah, The Super Villain, etc…) embodies the exaggeration of “putting on a character” when he creates his unique and impressively complex style of hip hop. Infamous for sporting a Dr. Doom mask – responsible for his stage name, MF (Masked Face) Doom – almost always in public, as well as sending imposters to shows that don’t sell enough tickets for his liking, the underground legend is both hated and adored by fans for his uncompromisingly pure approach to the rap game. No matter what side you stand on, there is no denying Doom’s brilliant mind responsible for his plethora of  instrumentals which mesh cartoon themes in with rare soul samples that have been “borrowed” by Masta Ace, Ab Soul, and others, as well as his collaborations with highly acclaimed artists Ghostface Killah, DangerMouse, Nas, and Madlib. Just like the character he portrays himself as, MF Doom is truly an evil genius in the hip hop genre.


4.) Snoop Doggy Dogg


…Or isn’t it Snoop Lion now? For this eternal West Coast hip hip icon it doesn’t really matter, since his aura alone is enough to explain Snoop Dogg’s hip hop fingerprint. In fact, even his “government name” – Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. – is awesome and probably could have sufficed for a successful career. However, “cool is as cool does” and the objectively random but rhyme friendly moniker Snoop Doggy Dogg was created by the rapper from the family nickname “Snoop”. Maybe the reason his name is perfect is the fact that Snoop really does look like dog, or that he was able to name his classic debut album Doggystyle, but the reason isn’t really important when the result is universally appealing. There are few artists like Snoop Dogg/Lion for which their absence would reshape the hip hop universe, and the Long Beach legend owes at least a bit of his super-success to his amazing name.


3.) Del the Funkee Homosapien


If Snoop Dogg is the embodiment of West Coast coolness, then Del Tha Funkee Homosapien is the embodiment of its creativity and open-mindedness. People have given themselves titles since before Alexander the Great, yet only a left-brained emcee from Oakland, CA with a knack for saying what’s on his surprisingly conscience mind would have thought to call himself “The Funkee Homosapien”. An underground staple since his debut I Wish My Brother Was Here in 1991, Del has taken on a number of roles from solo artist, co-founder of The Hieroglyphics, honorary member of The Gorillaz – remember ‘Clint Eastwood‘? – to the spectacular collaboration with Dan the Automator cleverly named Deltron 3030, yet has never reigned away from his core style displayed in his initial solo albums like No Need For Alarm (1993). Though it could be argued his notoriety is somewhat skewed by his cousin, Ice Cube’s, major success, there is no doubting that Del left an permanently abstract and funkee mark on West Coast hip hop.


2.) Busta Rhymes


Brooklyn-born emcee Busta Rhymes is notorious for his complex rhyming technique, loud personality, and even louder style – the picture above is simply phenomenal – but is often forgotten among the Brooklyn legends of the mid 90’s. In fact, Busta – who got his alias from Chuck D when he named him after NFL wide receiver George “Buster” Rhymes – went to high school with Biggie and Jay-Z, premiered on A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Scenario’, and is working on his tenth album since 1996’s The Coming. That’s not necessarily to say Busta Rhymes is underrated – his erratic releases from the spectacular ‘Break Your Neck’ to the unbelievably overdone ‘Arab Money’ have always kept him a shade away from the best ever conversations – but it could be argued that his name is. Despite its simplicity and, for lack of a better term, obviousness, Busta Rhymes is an onomatopoeia for god’s sakes! Not to mention, its pretty damn clever too.


1.) Ghostface Killah

Is this really a surprise to anyone? It has been argued by some (including myself) that the Wu Tang Clan perfected the style of underground hip hop in their 1993 debut Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), from the raw lyrics and innovative sampling, to the inclusion of skits and interviews throughout the album, and even to the intelligently relevant monikers which the clan adopted. Case and point, the raw and imaginative Staten Island rapper Ghostface Killah, whose name need not be taken literally – insinuating the rap star as a secret assassin –  to be appreciated for its genius.  The story behind Ghost’s name is as mysterious as the aura it elicits; all we really know comes from a Method Man interview within their epoch album “now you see him, now you don’t!”. There are few things that are blindly agreed upon in the hip hop universe, but the argument over best name ever is pretty much undebatable.
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